Letters to Addie: #2 – The Book Burning

March 9,

Addie,

I’m sorry I couldn’t write sooner; things have been … well, I don’t know the word exactly. Something just isn’t right. I tried to keep track of my thoughts on paper, like you said; likes, dislikes, opinions, things I’ve seen, words I know – the stuff that makes me me. But it’s all gone. I came home one day and the notepad had all the used pages missing. Then they recalled the paper. All paper, Addie. Notepads, scrapbooks, books, printed media. Everything had to be handed over by February 28th, and on the 29th, they stormed houses and tore them apart looking for paper, Addie – Paper! It was all burned they say. There was a public demonstration where officials set fire to heaps and mounds of the stuff, but it probably wasn’t all of it. Some say they just incinerated the rest in – what do you call those things… where they cremate people. Anyways, it’s all gone. Now you know why I’m writing this on a napkin.

I don’t know exactly what’s going on, but I’m starting to think you might be right. It’s like what you said that time, “control the medium, control the message.” I think you said it was a quote, but I can’t remember. All I know is I’m getting a distinct feeling that this is the beginning of something really, really big. I’ll keep you posted when I can. I hope these are getting to you. And I hope you enjoy the fruit basket I’m sending this one in.

I know I probably don’t have to say this to you of all people, but be careful. I love you.

Darcy.

P.S. Mom got hacked. They swapped everything out, but she seems to like her new name. Just some adolescent shit-disturbers, I think. She’s fine, though.

© Shyla Fairfax-Owen

Letters To Addie #1

 

 

Letters to Addie

January 30,

Addie,

I guess I’ll just start with – I miss you. It’s a funny thing, mourning the loss of someone who isn’t quite gone, but certainly isn’t here. I have these momentary lapses of memory. I’ll see something that reminds me of you, or come across a meme I know would make you giggle. I’ll pull up your name on my contact list to send it your way and then I remember that you won’t see it. So, yeah, it’s a curious thing; missing you. 

But I’m getting used to it, I think. Because you’re not gone, but the digital you is gone. Everyone acts like that’s the same thing, but it’s not. That’s why I’m writing this letter to you – to the real you. I want you to know I haven’t forgotten you. And I’m not mad. That day you unplugged and left, I said some pretty shitty things. I’m sorry about that. I didn’t get it, how you could just throw away your whole life over some fear of something that you couldn’t show me. I’m stubborn like that though; I need evidence, a digital footprint – anything. I’m still like that Addie; I can’t lie and say I believe you. But I miss you, and I’m finally ready to do anything to get you back. So I’m going to find the proof Addie. I’m going to see it, and then I’m going to know you’re right. That you’re not crazy.

So I’ll start at the beginning. I remember the first thing you said. “These thoughts aren’t mine.”  You kept saying your thoughts and feelings were jumbled. You started unplugging at night to try to clear them up, but that just made things blurrier. You said it was too late for you. Well, if you’re theory is right, there’s still plenty of time for me. So I’m going to start writing down my thoughts. Pen and paper, just like you said, so they can’t access them. You must be thinking, why now? Like I said, I miss you. 

I’ll write again soon. I love you.

Darcy.

P.s. mom is fine.


Unbelonging

“You could be an Alpha, you know. It seems like a waste to walk away like this.”

Aileas smirked and rolled her eyes. A female as the primary Alpha was a rarity, but not impossible. The issue at hand then was not whether she could be one, but whether she wanted to. She was smart enough, strong enough, and even vicious enough. But her heart would never be in it. Aileas would never be an Omega, but something inside of her indisputably made her an outcast. The pack needed surer leadership than she could offer; but Keir refused to see it that way.

Aileas’ decision to leave the pack came in the aftermath of a treacherous time for them. The winter had been a harsh one and the battles for territory had been in abundance. A neighbouring pack had waged war on them and it made for countless bloody battles. Their opponents were hardly a pack anymore. Aileas herself had proudly torn the throats out of four; three times in human form. The thrill of that winter was great, but the loss was greater. By the spring, her pack had dwindled from eleven, to five. Among the fallen had been their sibling Mysie, to whom Aileas and Keir had been like second parents.

“It’s about Mysie, isn’t it?” Keir asked for what seemed like the thousandth time this week.

“It’s not about Mysie, it’s about me. Once a lone wolf, always a lone wolf, right?”

“Not right. You were separated from your pack as a baby, Ail. You can’t keep pretending that defines you. This is your family, always has been.”

Aileas sighed. He was right. This wasn’t about her lone nature. It was about her curious nature. Humans were an all consuming question to her. It was a bit romantic, she supposed, but living among them seemed like a better thrill than anything she could get in the wild.

Sure, they interacted with humans on a pretty regular basis, but it wasn’t the same. Historically, humans had been the wolf’s greatest enemy – a predator that simply can’t be defeated. In fact, Lauchlan’s own line had been chased out of Scotland by humans in the 16th century. Most wolves just steered clear of people at all costs, but avoidance wasn’t appealing to Aileas. Instead, there was a magnetic draw she could not ignore. Inside, she knew what it meant. She hadn’t been born to wolves, but to humans. Someone had turned her; ripped her away from her cozy human life. She wasn’t angry though, or even looking for answers. She just wanted to know what it would have been like; what she was really meant to be.

“I shouldn’t have told you I’m going,” she whispered.

It was true. Unofficially, the correct way to leave a pack was to wander off unnoticed. But the idea of hearing the melancholy search howls in the distance, night after night, just stung too much. She loved her pack, and she wanted them to know she was going to be okay.

“Did you tell Lauchlan, yet?” Aileas asked, afraid of the answer. She hadn’t specifically asked Keir to keep it a secret, but she had hoped that he would, even if it was wrong to conceal information from the Alpha.

“No. Not until you’re gone.”

Aileas turned to Keir, less surprised than she should have been. He was facing forward, lying on the hill with his right elbow propping him up. His thick dark curls bobbed in his eyes, their emerald tint peeking through. His jaw was clenched, tense with several emotions. Since losing Mysie, there had been an unspoken anger floating between the two of them. It was obvious to Aileas that they were trying not to blame each other, and failing.

The next morning, Aileas roused when all was still. Without the darkness to blanket her indiscretion, Aileas couldn’t help but feel exposed and dirty. Having always felt abandoned by her blood pack, abandoning her adoptive family had an eerily cyclical quality that didn’t settle quite right. Her heart pounded against her chest, sweat spewed from her glands, and a burning fever rose in her. The unexpected guilt was throwing her body into chaos and the lack of control was bringing on a change.

After the night’s hunt, Aileas had gorged herself on fifteen pounds of moose, and it was all coming back on her now. Changing was always laborious and required an amazing level of self-control. Without that, the pain was excruciating, twisting her gut until it emptied itself onto the melting snow. Heaving, wrenching, writhing; Aileas had no choice but to stop fighting and let the change take her over. When it was over, her fur was matted with blood where her skin had been torn open recklessly.

Ashamed at both her ability to leave, and her inability to do it with grace, Aileas took off into the woods. No melancholy howls followed, and she couldn’t help but wonder if she’d ever know what it was to have a family again.

Too human for wolves, too wolf for humans. Aileas knew she’d simply never belong.

© Shyla Fairfax-Owen

 

Changeling

Lily’s feet slapped hard against the frosted ground but she did not slow her pace. She tried not to think about how cold it was, how dark it was, or how much it hurt to feel the twigs snapping underfoot. In the distance a low and soothing voice whispered her name; the sound tugged at Lily, but she resisted, and kept running. Her body was extra-cooperative, leaping over rocks and squeezing between tree trunks. Lily had always been a clumsy child, but not tonight, not when her life depended on it. Even her heart matched her pace, slamming rapidly against her chest.

“Liiiilllyyy.”

The voice was getting louder, and more intrusive. But Lily just ran faster. Overwhelmed by her own determination, she burst out of the forest and onto the highway, where a truck had to skid to a stop to avoid hitting her. Lily stared out at the driver, her eyes surely glowing in his headlights. She watched, paralyzed with shock, as he jumped down from his seat and rushed towards her. He was screaming nonsense. When he got close enough to reach out to her it sent her into frenzied hysterics. Lily screamed herself unconscious, her tiny and exasperated body collapsing onto the street.

*****

“Lily? Lily James?”

This time it was a man’s voice. It had a lot more urgency in it and was lacking the seductive nature of the voice she had been running away from. On the silent count of three, Lily sprung her eyes open, hoping her body would have jolted forward at the same time. She hadn’t moved, but she was staring into Mr. Cole’s eyes. They were scared and confused, much like her own. Recognizing the man, Lily allowed relief to sweep through her as she curled up tighter in his arms.

“Okay, okay,” he whispered affectionately. She must have started crying, but couldn’t quite tell. “Let’s get you home.”

Mr. Cole bundled Lily in a blanket and set her down in his passenger seat. She was quiet now, secretly listening for the voice to call her back.

“What were you doing out in the street Lily?” he asked as they moved calmly down the highway. There were hardly any other vehicles; symptom of a small town.

Lily wanted to respond, but she didn’t know how. Honestly, the whole ordeal was starting to blur over in her mind. She had been trying to get away, but was no longer quite sure what from. When she remained silent, Mr. Cole stopped speaking, and they drove the rest of the way listening only to the hum of the engine.

“Here we are,” he finally said.

The drive had felt long, and Lily was pretty sure she had been dozing for most of it. Her muscles ached and her head throbbed, so she put up no fight at all when Mr. Cole scooped her up and carried her to the front door. The only thing more comforting than being held by her elderly kind neighbor was seeing her front stoop. She wasn’t sure how long it had been, but it felt like ages since she had been home. When the front door swung open, she leapt towards her mother and locked her small arms around the woman’s heavy thighs.

The satin pajamas were familiar and warm; but to Lily’s dismay, her mother did not reciprocate. In fact, she seemed to stiffen uncomfortably. Lily was a perceptive child and could sense her mother’s fear. She threw her head up and stared at her, waiting; tears streaming down her cheeks.

“Impossible,” her mother whispered, a stunned expression worn on her face. “My Lily is asleep in her bed.”

Margaret looked down at the child clinging to her thighs. She looked just like Lillian – and yet. She looked to Ed for an explanation, but the old man just looked at her as though she were an alien herself.

“Perhaps not, Marge. I found her in the street; damn near took her down with my truck out there on the highway.”

Margaret looked down at the little girl. Her eyes were watering, her dress was torn, hair unkempt. And wasn’t that – yes, the blue dress she had bought her for her sixth birthday just a few months back. Deciding instantly that she must be in a sleep daze, Margaret dropped to her knees and stared into Lily’s eyes. She wanted to scold her for running away, but first, a gnawing in her gut told her she had to be sure. Margaret snatched Lily’s hand and flew into the house, up the stairs and down the hall to Lily’s room. She could hear Ed close the door behind them and follow. Inside, the room was dark and still. Margaret flipped the light switch and stood face to face with her Lily, snug in bed.

Frozen, Margaret watched as her daughter gently stirred awake. As her eyes fluttered open, Margaret instinctively pulled the other Lily behind her, blocking her from her daughter’s sight.

“Mama?” she asked groggily, rubbing her eyes with the corner of her blanket.

Shyla Fairfax-Owen ©

No Way Out

She had been real at some point; of that, he was almost certain. They had travelled to the New World together. Both had been cautious, aware of the risks, and prepared to face them. There was nothing left for them on Earth; they had agreed. They had looked one another in the eyes and promised that, come what may, they’d never regret the decision.

But Joshua was full of regrets.

Upon their arrival, they had faced a number of disastrous obstacles, not the least of which had been the climate. It had been said that the environment would be reminiscent of Earth and that bodies would naturally adjust to the minor differences. Evolution. But that wasn’t the case. It was cold when it should have been hot, hot when it should have been cold – everything came in extremes.

There were days when the UV rays were so strong that the slightest of exposure would peel away flesh in an instant. It was like acid. The medics couldn’t do much except give you aloe and empty promises of biological adaptation. Similarly, there were days when the cold would create a layer of frost upon the skin that would tug and tear until; once again, the flesh would peel. Again, the medics offered little in the way of healing. Time and adjustment – that was the best an optimist could hope for.

And Joshua was not an optimist.

“Climate change was pretty bad down there, too,” she’d say.

No. It wasn’t, he’d think. No one had known the true ramifications of climate change until they left Earth. Now, it all seemed a bit silly. From overpopulation to barren lands, Joshua had reached an excruciating limit on how well he could cope with extremes. He could feel himself growing resentful. He missed the predictability of Earth, of his job, of his meager day-to-day. He missed climbing into bed with her, burying his body inside of hers after a long hard day. It wasn’t like that in the New World. The work was harder, the days longer, the exhaustion far more detrimental.

Then the new viruses spread.

“You have to send us back! We aren’t equipped for this! It’s not working!” He screamed, pouted, and fought with the hoards of dissatisfied customers in the Diasporic Hell they called the New World.

If this was the future, Joshua wanted nothing to do with it. It was a world built upon lies, an ideology grounded in fantasy. Utopia, as it turns out, just doesn’t exist.

She had convinced him that having a family would make it all worth it, that there were no other options, that this was the way out. He had fallen for it – the illusion of sanctuary. And now, he was paying the price. Their bodies could not function, could not do what they needed them to do. The infertility chips had been removed, but the damage had been done. The damage, in all honesty, was ongoing.

She became weaker every day. Her cough was hoarse; her internal temperature was all over the place, and her raw exposed flesh was too painful to withstand his touch. Meanwhile, his outer layer had become numb and the dull, deep, pain had become a part of him.

Just when he thought it couldn’t get any worse, the harsh terrain took her. She was swallowed whole by the lie of a better tomorrow.

And Joshua was full of regrets.

Shyla Fairfax-Owen ©

(This is an independent follow up to: The Way Out)

The Way Out

I stood in the middle of the room, gripping the envelope until my fingertips drained of all color. A grave silence filled the surrounding space, from floor to ceiling and wall to wall. It was evening now, and the other household occupants had all headed off to the market to beg and barter for a meal. I had rushed home from work, too eager to put off this moment. And now, finally in it, I felt frozen in time; unable to move forward.

I had been one of the first people to apply for Migration. I did it before the drafting began; there had been more of those than we had expected. As the drafts came in my anticipation built, but the waiting period for applicants was much longer. Many of us had criminal histories and other ‘unsavory’ characteristics, so the Treaty Directors were being extra-thorough. If you were drafted, you had already passed the test.

I set down the envelope to compose myself. For weeks I had been imagining life on another planet; somewhere where I could have freedoms, rights, children. The planet had been being prepped for decades, made to emulate Earth as much as it could. It would be different, there was no doubt about that, but it would be something that we could all recognize. The system was going to be heavily dependent on the social contract, and life was going to be laborious. To me, that meant fulfilling.

And if I had been denied…

I looked at the clock. Josh would be home soon. It would be better to know by then; to practice my expression. If we had made the cut, I’d have to play down my excitement. Josh had always been opposed to leaving. He was convinced it meant giving up on the human race.There were a lot of anti-colonization groups that had been protesting the Migration Project since its conception, but Josh wasn’t like them. The issue was far more superficial for him. He was afraid; afraid to try something so new, so foreign. His white privilege had kept us afloat for a long time down here. We both knew it. Up there, things could be different. We’d both be the Other, and so would our potential children. It didn’t really bother me, though, it was the story of my life.

My mother had been a migrant worker when I was born. She had left Colombia as soon as she found out she was pregnant; afraid that if she put it off we’d be separated, and I’d be killed. At the time, the prospect of colonizing a new planet was real, but the details were still under wraps. Overpopulation was at its worst in Latin America and Asia at that point. North America was catching up, but many people had still been in denial about the inevitability. The American Dream still had a seductive ring to it, and in spite of everything, it still did for a lot of people – but not for me.

My stomach lurched, curling around itself, tugging at my nerves. Snakes. It felt like a hundred snakes wriggling about inside of me, trying to find a comfortable place to coil themselves. But there was no such place. There was just me, and the envelope.

I tore it open on a whim. Quick, like a Band-Aid.

My name, my age, my marital status, my partner’s name…

ACCEPTED.

I stared at the paper. It was real. It even provided a date for us to go in and have our infertility chips removed. It was real.

I read it again, and again.

ACCEPTED.

The door creaked open, snapping me back to life. I blinked, and noticed the tears streaming down my face. Josh entered, lugging a small sack of potatoes from the market. Normally I’d ask what he had bartered, always concerned I’d lose something precious. But not today. Today, I gained something precious.

Josh tried to smile. I tried not to. The silence lingered.

We finally had a way out.

A glint of hope flashed in his eyes.

Our lips met, unsure of what else to do.

Shyla Fairfax-Owen ©