CROSSED GENRES’ April theme:
32: Portals (Submissions: April 1-30. Publication: August 2015)
“…look on every exit being an entrance somewhere else.” Alice’s rabbit hole, Chell’s blue and orange teleports, the T.A.R.D.I.S.’s doors… or a computer monitor, or the pages of a book. A portal can open across time, space, and imagination… and it can be closed to them as well.
There’s a story I’ve been meaning to write to this theme. It’s a follow-on to a novella I wrote on Wattpad last year. As soon as the realization came, so did the ideas, with set pieces to match. An orangutan demon, searching among rows of meditating monks like cabbages, looking for the man he’s supposed to deliver a message; war at the foot of a mountain, prayer-powered mechsuits against high sorcery; a dragon who eats the documents that Heaven has no room for in its file drawers. Two points of view (the two lovers in the letter below), told by two tellers, each with his or her own sympathy, in a frame story, and all of it converging on a girl I barely wrote about in THE EIGHTH KING—but for whom I have big plans, if I ever clear the decks enough to write the sequel.
CROSSED GENRES’ word count maxes out at 6000 words. I cut a point of view from the plan, cut the frame story, began. Two weeks and 3000 words in and Lin Ben isn’t even out of the monastery, isn’t even answering to his real name. Probably I could cut that in half, but it wouldn’t be enough. I have to concede what, in some chamber of my heart, I probably always knew: This is a novella, 20,000 words minimum. To do it right.
And, because it follows a novel that’s in queries and a novella that’s on Wattpad, it’s not a priority. I need to finish the War of Songs books—shit, I need to finish THE CLAIM—or I need to finish THE FLAME BENEATH THE STONE.
But, if I can’t finish the thing because I can’t sell it, at least I can share a bit of it. This is the first time I’ve written a love letter. I think I did all right.
With my heart in such a furor, I feel I ought to profess ignorance of where to begin. But there is only one possible beginning; for, if you throw this letter away in frustration, thinking it some delusion or, worse, a cruel prank, then all I have done to find you again is lost.
My name is Chesa. I grew up in the colonies of Therku, in the cold pine forests where the lumberjacks live. I met you on the way from Rassha to the Summer Palace, around a campfire. We had resolved to visit my father and speak to him of a marriage. At the palace, I fought a monster when you were called away, and I died. After a short interval, I began a new existence as a page of the Court Celestial, where I toil to this day.
I know it is a great deal to ask you to believe. I pray the nature of the being who delivered this message will convince you.
My Ben—if mine you still are—I have spent the years writing letters to you, on whatever spare scraps, with whatever broken or discarded implements, I could cadge or find. I could send you the book of my afterlife, if anyone would deliver it. As it is, I have relied on the indulgence of a demigod who finds me useful, and she tells me a single sheet is all she may slip into the subpoena-serving demon’s freight, lest it take notice of the document’s thickness and inform some more influential functionary. I hope the thought of receiving a summons from the Court Celestial did not fill you with too much dread; but perhaps the dread will prove worthwhile, in the end.
But I have already wasted too much time on salutations. I bid you, Ben, to contemplate the substance that now connects us, the stuff that catches ink in the shape of characters and faithfully conveys them to the faithful correspondent. (Are you faithful, Ben? The question does not gnaw at me as once it might.) These characters, of course, are not the perfect, dire shapes that form a summons from the Gentian Circuit; but there are many such summonses, and more each day, a copy of each remanded to some box in some closet in some hall built from bricks of hardened cloud, bound together with a mortar of ground starlight mixed with new rain. The Gentian Circuit alone must produce tens of thousands of sheets each day, each inscribed with the writing of the greatest spirits, demigods, and beasts on Earth, Hell, or Heaven, each summarizing events of consummate importance and all-permeating consequence.
Keep such things together long enough, and a certain kind of energy begins to collect where they are stored, and eventually to grow, and take on forms. They must be culled and gotten rid of periodically, after their usefulness has passed. Or so this demigod tells me, so she claims. It is a strange claim, but I have seen stranger things transpire in these unending hallways, and I can name no reason that she should wish to deceive me.
The Court’s preferred repository for paper that has passed its usefulness is a creature called the Shoat of the Sky, whose specialty is eating the inedible. It lairs at the summit of the Fragrant Heap, the great peak which looms over the Tanggang mining colonies. The tribute will be made on the first new moon of the coming year, when fireworks and festivities will preoccupy the mortals of the outlying towns.
The feed will begin half an hour after the sun has quit the sky. It will be hours before the last paper enters the Shoat’s gullet.
Do you understand, Ben? A door from earth to heaven will be open on that night. And I will be at the threshold, waiting.
I pray this message reaches you in time. I pray it does not betray its true nature to its carrier. I pray it finds a Ben who cares enough for me to climb a hill and dodge a pig. My prayers defy enumeration. I pray that you can read these words. Did we never speak of books, Ben, in all those weeks? How not?
Well, there is your subpoena. Be timely in answering it, I beg you. The Court Celestial barely runs without you, as any heaven fails without a sun.