Saturday, March 14, 2015

On Harvesters

Someone (hi, Kristine!) asked me for the back story on the Harvesters mentioned in the beginning of "Angel." I hadn't thought about it much, or at least I didn't think I had, but it turns out I actually had a pretty good idea of what they were. Wonderful hubby Dave helped me out with some of the details. :-) Here's some background on the Harvesters for y'all to enjoy. :-)

Harvesters are chosen (“Harvested,” if you will) as very young children. They’re chosen at random by older Harvesters. In areas of the world where people still leave unwanted babies on hillsides, exposed to the elements, some of them become Harvesters. The children who are taken by the Harvesters are forgotten by their families and the rest of the world. Their documentation disappears, and no one ever looks for them. No one knows where exactly the first Harvesters came from. Their teachings say that the first ones were selected by Death himself, and that he is responsible for the lists that each Harvester receives monthly. However, no one knows for sure, of course.

They are raised in the Center, a place that has grown as the world’s population has grown. It’s a city big enough to accommodate all of the Harvesters. They are raised and educated in such a way that they can fit in anywhere. The Center is out of phase with the rest of the world, so non-Harvesters can’t find it.
Harvesters live like most other people. They fall in love and get married, but they don’t have children. However, anyone who wants to raise Harvested children can do so. They become the closest thing the children have to families and the children will refer to them as such. Not all of the children are part of families, though. Some, such as Angel, grow up in what basically amounts to an orphanage.

Harvesters are not immortal, though they are immune to disease and most poisons, with the exception of aconite. They live roughly 150 years, but don’t show signs of age until a few years (five or so) before they die. Harvesters are also immune to the touch of other Harvesters. When they die, they just fall asleep and don’t wake up. It’s said that Death harvests the Harvesters personally, but again, no one knows for sure.
Contact with a Harvester causes death, though it isn’t immediate, and only if that person is on the Harvester’s list. It can be a touch as simple as brushing against someone while passing through a doorway, a handshake, or just the touch of the tip of a finger when accepting a drink. But that person will be dead by midnight. A Harvester’s touch won’t affect anyone not on their own list. Each Harvester receives their new Deathlist at the beginning of every month, and they must come into contact with each person on the list before the month is over. They do not choose the manner of death for anyone on their list, and the only set “expiration date” for anyone on the list is the last day of the month.

People don’t remember Harvesters once they leave the area, but they have to actually move on, not just leave the room or building, or leave to use the bathroom. This allows a Harvester to do various odd jobs to earn some money (generally under-the-table work that doesn’t require ID), but also ensures that they can’t be reported as a suspect if deaths are ever investigated (which sometimes happens if there are a large number of deaths in one area, or if any deaths seem overly suspicious). They are perceived as ordinary by regular people, as if they belong wherever they are.

The governing body of the Harvesters is the Council, consisting of six men and six women. A Harvester is eligible to be chosen for the Council once he or she turns 70 and can serve a term of ten years. After that time, he or she goes into semi-retirement, meaning that they aren’t required to do as much Harvesting, and serve in an advisory position for the Council. Often they also go into business in our world, with most of the money they earn going back to the Center. Since they are then living and working in an area for an extended time, they are not forgotten by the people around them, until they decide to move on (which they have to do after a few years, since they don’t show signs of age). They are not the only Harvesters working outside the Center, however. Any Harvester over 80 can choose to semi-retire (a Harvester continues Harvesting until he or she begins to show age, at which time they stop getting Deathlists) by sending a statement of their wish to do so to the Council. At this time, they can either get jobs in the real world (with any necessary documentation being provided by the Council) and send most of their earnings back to the Center, or do various sorts of work at the Center (work at the orphanage, operate small farms or greenhouses, work for the Newsletter, that sort of thing).

Harvesters don’t have many laws, though they are expected to obey the laws of whatever area they happen to be in. The primary reason for this is because to do otherwise would be taking advantage of the fact that people forget them when they move on. Therefore, there would be no way for them to be prosecuted for theft, murder, or any other crime. Also, they are absolutely forbidden to kill another Harvester. Since a Harvester is immune to the touch of another Harvester, the only way for one to kill another is to use a weapon of some kind, or else to poison the other with aconite. Aconite doesn’t grow at the Center, so it must be harvested from our world. The only reason aconite is harvested is to kill a Harvester who has been found guilty of committing a crime, whether in our world or at the Center. This may seem harsh, but it is felt that a Harvester willing to abuse his or her power in our world, or one willing to kill a fellow Harvester, is a detriment to their society as a whole, and one who cannot be an effective Harvester in our world. Death is a part of life, true, but Harvesters are only supposed to touch those whose time has come to die, not deliberately decide to take someone’s life whose name is not on his or her Deathlist.

The Deathlists are delivered psychically to each Harvester every month. They know the names, appearances, and locations of every person who is on their list. The people on the list are generally, but not always, grouped in the same area. Again, there is no set “expiration date” for anyone on the list—they must simply be touched by a Harvester by the end of the month. Once they have been touched, they will be dead by midnight of that day. And again, the Harvester doesn’t choose the manner of death for anyone on the list. So someone might be eating a handful of popcorn, turn to walk into the kitchen, slip and fall on a wet spot on the floor, and choke on the popcorn. Someone else might be hit by a car, and someone else might die from being hit in the head by a ricocheting billiard ball. It’s pretty random, but these things could have happened to them at any time—being touched by a Harvester just makes things like this more likely to happen.


This is a new story that's been kicking around in my head for a while. So far it's only a few paragraphs, but I know where it's going (I think). Just have to get there. Meanwhile, please enjoy the beginning of "Angel," by yours truly.  :)

She sat in a dimly lit corner of the only slightly better lit bar, like a hunter patiently waiting for her prey. A slight smile hovered around the corners of her lips as she considered which of the bar’s patrons would be her first victim. Calling this run-down dive a bar was being generous—it did serve beer (two brands: Lousy and Lousy Lite), and it did have a faithful clientele of people willing to drink the stuff, but that was about where the similarity ended. Well, except for the lone pool table in the corner, which was currently surrounded by some rowdy locals who seemed to be knocking the balls around more for something to do while arguing (mostly) good-naturedly, than actually playing a game.

                She knew who was going to die, of course. She had a list. Nine of the people in this joint were going to die, and for no other reason than that their names were on her list for this month. And the month was almost over. Normally she wouldn’t take out so many at once, but it just so happened that they had all gathered here tonight. Chances like this didn’t come along often, so she took advantage of them when they did. It wasn’t personal; it was just her job. As a Harvester, she got a new list every month, telling her whose time was up. There was never a specific “expiration date,” and she didn’t have the power to decide how anyone died. She just had to make sure that she came into contact with each of those people before the month was out.

                This life wasn’t one that she had chosen; it had been chosen for her. She didn’t have a name, or at least not one that she could definitively call her own (she did tend to introduce herself as Angel most of the time, simply because she found it amusing). All she really knew about herself was that she’d been selected for this life when she was too young to do anything about it. She had no memories of her family (though surely she’d at least had parents) or of a home (the center where she’d been raised could hardly be considered a home). Her appearance was striking and attractive—when people were paying attention to her. When she passed beyond their notice, she faded into fuzziness in their memories.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Scooter

 The scooter sat next to the old stone wall, sitting forlornly in the rain.  Although it was still in pretty good shape, on closer inspection, one could see that it had been around for a while, and had been well used and loved.  A dent on its upright bar had come from the time when its owner had run into a low cement barrier, winding up with scrapes and cuts on her arms and knees.  Chipped and faded paint were testament to the years it had spent in all kinds of weather.  Yes, it had definitely been well used and much loved.

Jamie thought back to her 8th birthday party.  All her family had been there, as well as her three best friends from school.  There had been cake and ice cream, music and games, and presents, of course.  Funny how all these years later she couldn't remember anything she'd gotten that year except that scooter.  That had definitely been the highlight of the party.  Jamie had wanted a scooter for months; all of her friends had them, and even though they shared with her, she still felt a bit left out when they went riding around the neighborhood.  She felt too silly to try to run alongside and keep up with them.  But now she had a scooter of her very own!  And what a scooter it was!  It was pink and white, with Hello Kitty logos all over it. It had shiny chrome on the handlebar and wheels, and it even had pink and white tassels on each handle.  Jamie fell instantly in love with her scooter, and nothing would do but for her to go for a ride immediately.  Her friends all had their scooters, as well, so the four girls spent the rest of the afternoon happily cruising the neighborhood sidewalks.

Time went by, as it usually does, much too quickly.  Jamie spent hours upon hours with her scooter.  She rode it everywhere she possibly could, and even some places she couldn' into the neighbor's ditch one mid-summer evening when she was 10.  She'd been following a footpath that had been traveled so much and was so well-packed that her scooter's wheels had no trouble rolling along it.  It crested a small hill and continued onto the neighbor's property, ending in what looked, in the twilight, to be just a soft, grassy field.  Jamie decided to see just how fast she and her scooter could go down the hill, and kicked off.  She gathered momentum, and soon she was going fast enough to feel the wind blowing her hair back from her face.  She threw her head back and crowed with laughter, relishing in the sense of freedom.  All of a sudden, she looked back to the path before her, noticing too late the rock directly ahead.  It wasn't a terribly big rock, but it was big enough to bounce the scooter up into the air, along with Jamie, and they both landed--KERPLUNK!--in the neighbor's ditch.  Fortunately the ditch was full, and Jamie wasn't hurt beyond a few bruises and scratches.  The scooter was also all right, having just suffered a few minor chips to its paint.

Over the next few years, Jamie and her friends acquired bicycles and roller skates, and two of the girls even got skateboards, and Jamie enjoyed all these things, but she always came back to her scooter and spent time just riding around on it.  She sometimes pretended she was a pharaoh in a chariot, and sometimes that she was skimming on a magical platform through the universe.  Her scooter took her on many adventures.  Eventually, though, Jamie got too big to ride the scooter, and so it got left in the backyard, leaning up against the stone wall that fenced in the property.  The sun faded its paint and hailstorms further chipped its finish.  Jamie's mother suggested many times that she give the scooter away, but Jamie just couldn't bring herself to do it.  She had too many fond memories of it, she said.  And so it stayed where it was.

Shortly after Jamie turned 18, her parents decided they were going to sell the old house.  Since Jamie was going off to college out of state and was going to be staying with friends, they said there was no need for the rest of them to stay in such an old place.  It constantly needed something else repaired, and they just didn't want to deal with it any more.  So the family held yard sales and donated to charities the things that didn't sell.  Everything they decided to keep got packed neatly into boxes and labeled.  Jamie got her things ready to go to college.  Finally, the house was empty.  It had been sold to a family with two young children, a boy and a girl.  The girl was about 8 years old or so.  The realtor had described the house as a "fixer-upper," and the parents were eager to start with the fixing.  The kids were looking forward to making new friends in the neighborhood.  After a last look around the house and yard, Jamie and her family were ready to leave.  Her parents and brothers were going to their new house, and Jamie was headed out of state to her friend's house.  Her car was packed to the brim with all her favorite possessions--all but one, that is.  Her beloved scooter just wouldn't fit.

And so Jamie wept a few tears for the piece of her childhood that she was leaving behind, caressed the scooter's handlebars lovingly one last time, plucking off the now-bedraggled tassels as she did so, and turned to walk away.  But she realized that she couldn't leave quite yet.  She tucked the tassels in her back pocket, then climbed on the scooter for one last ride around the garden paths.  She threw her head back to feel the wind in her hair, and for a few moments she was a little kid again, with not a care in the world except getting home in time for dinner.  All too soon, though, Jamie came back to her starting point, and had to come back to the present.  She wistfully parked the scooter in its place against the old stone wall and went to her car.  When she got in, she hung the tassels from the rear view mirror for good luck.  She looked at the scooter and said, "So long, old friend.  We sure had fun together.  Hope the new kids like you."  Then, feeling a bit silly, she pulled out of the driveway as a warm summer rain started to fall.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The End

Here's the fifth and final chapter of Dennis and Norman's first adventure!  Feedback is appreciated, but mostly I just hope y'all have enjoyed the story!
                                                                        Chapter 5
The next few days passed in much the same way as the previous one. Norman and Dennis would talk to each other about themselves; Norman would play his flute while Dennis danced through the skies; and in the evenings, Dennis would generally catch their dinner. As they traveled, Dennis told Norman more about the world around them.
“Now, take mermaids,” the dragon said one day. “You've got two types, fresh-water and salt-water. The fresh-water mermaids are friendlier than the ones who live in the oceans. I think it's because the water is warmer. It also might be because people generally aren't sailing big ships full of shiny treasure on the rivers or lakes. And gryphons are getting scarcer all the time. They're mostly up north now, where there aren't so many humans. They're very fierce, strong, and brave, but not real smart. Makes them easy for humans to hunt, unfortunately, which is why they migrated. And ogres have always kept to themselves. I don't know much about them, really. We dragons, though, can be at home pretty much anywhere. Mostly that's because we can camouflage ourselves, but also because we come in so many different sizes. There are some of us that are only about the size of cats. Those guys actually stay pretty far from humans, because they worry that people will try to keep them as pets.”
Norman was astonished at Dennis's knowledge of the world around them, and even more so to learn that there was more to know than he'd ever dreamed. He asked, “Will you take me to see mermaids and gryphons, Dennis? And of course I'd love to see the other kinds of dragons!”
“Sure, kid,” Dennis replied. “We'll go wherever you want to go. But right now, we've got to figure out what we're going to do once we reach that island, and how we're going to get the Dragon's Apple from that ogre.”
So the two young adventurers made their plans, tentatively at first, waiting until they actually reached the island to make them firm. After traveling for four days, they reached the east coast, and could see several islands just a short way offshore.
“Which one are we headed to, Dennis?” Norman asked with barely suppressed excitement.
Dennis pointed to the largest island in the group. “That one there,” he said. “It's good that it's so big. We'll be able to sneak up on the ogre better that way.” He flapped his wings to lift them into the air, and a few minutes later he was circling high over their destination in order to get an idea of the island's layout, and to see where exactly the gem might be. Soon enough, Dennis and Norman could both see a clearing near the island's center. There was a kind of rude hut to one side, and in the center was a pedestal with something gleaming brightly atop it. As they hovered overhead, what appeared to be a large, brutish man with a coarse sack slung over his shoulder stomped through the clearing and into the hut. Shortly afterward, smoke began to trickle upward from the chimney.
Dennis took them a short distance away, and then he and Norman sat down to cement their plans. They decided that the best thing to do would be to surprise the ogre, grab the gem, and fly away as fast as they could. And since Norman was determined to challenge the creature, Dennis would provide backup if needed. Once they had the details worked out, they crept silently to the edge of the clearing, where Dennis left to circle around to the opposite side, where he could make himself look like an extension of the pile of boulders which was sitting there.
Norman hid himself amongst a clump of tall, leafy bushes on his side of the clearing. He could see the gem sitting on the pedestal, the sun glinting off it's reddish-pink facets. The ogre had come out of his hut and was sitting in profile to Norman, his head bent over his meal. “Most likely the remains of the last poor soul who disturbed him!” Norman thought to himself, slightly more nervous than he cared to admit.
Knowing that Dennis was nearby to provide help should he need it, the young knight took a few silent, calming breaths, stealthily drew his sword, readied what he hoped would be a terrifying battle cry, and charged through the bushes. At the sound of branches cracking, the ogre leaped to his feet, spinning to face Norman. The youth charged forward, yelling at the top of his lungs. Unfortunately,
Norman was so busy running and yelling that he forgot to watch where he was putting his feet, and tripped over a head-sized stone in his path. “Yaaaaaaar-oof!” Norman exclaimed as he fell, while at the same moment his outstretched sword jabbed the ogre in the shin.
The ogre yowled in pain for a moment, clapping his great hands to the wound. Then, visibly collecting himself, he stood and glared down at Norman, who was now standing somewhat shakily before him. “I say!” the ogre exclaimed. “What the devil do you think you're doing? Do you normally go around waving swords at people who are eating their dinners? Well?”
This sounded all to familiar to Norman, who was gaping up at the ten-foot tall ogre. Finally, he found his voice enough to stammer, “W-w-well, n-no. But I've come to take that gem there, and I'm not taking no for an answer!” This last was said with a bit more bravado because Dennis was no longer disguised and had come to stand behind him.
The ogre looked from Dennis to Norman and back again, clapped a hand to his forehead, shook his head, and muttered, “I should have known. There's always a dragon involved!” He looked at Dennis again and said, “You told him that an ogre took the gem, didn't you?”
“Well, yes. . .” Dennis replied.
“And did you tell him why it was taken, or just that it used to belong to the dragons, and it has a curse on it, and that the two of you should come get it?”
“Um, I don't know why it was taken,” Dennis began, with a slightly abashed look on his face.
“Of course you don't,” said the ogre. “That would be asking entirely too much. All right,” he sighed, “why don't you come sit down, and we'll talk. Can I offer you some ham, or something to drink?” he asked with at least an attempt at politeness. When Dennis and Norman both declined, he said, “Suit yourselves, but I'm going to finish my lunch. Oh, and by the way, my name's Bob.”
After Norman introduced himself and Dennis, Bob the ogre asked, “So, what's your story, kid? Let me guess, you've just been knighted, and you decided that you need to 'make a name for yourself'
or something equally silly. Sound about right?”
Norman said “Well, yes, something like that. After I was knighted, I was originally going to slay the fiercest dragon in the kingdom. But then I met Dennis, and he offered to let me travel with him instead. And he told me about the Dragon's Apple, and even though it might be cursed, I wanted to find it anyhow. And, well, maybe fight the ogre guarding it, and then take it back to the king, to show that I'm worthy of being a knight. I just want to make my mother proud,” he finished in a slightly plaintive voice.
Bob said, “Well, I can understand that, Norman. Everyone wants to make their parents proud. And the gem is cursed, but if you really want it, I'll let you take it back to your king. My family's been guarding it for centuries, ever since we were asked to take it from the dragon kingdom. It gets a little old, sometimes, always having to keep everyone away.”
“You were asked to take it?” exclaimed Dennis. “But why? Dragons never willingly give up part of their hoard!”
“Well, normally that's true,” said Bob. “But the king dragon at the time—I forget his name—had dug up this stone, and boy, did he ever like it. Thought it brought him luck, too, because he suddenly had all the female dragons just flocking all over him. But then he realized it wasn't just female dragons that were coming around. It was every female, of every species, even some humans that got too close. The only creatures that weren't affected were ogres—seems we're immune to it, or something. Anyway, that king dragon sent for the head of my clan, and begged him to take the stone far away, and to keep it away from dragons or anyone else who wanted it. My ancestor agreed, brought it here, and called it the Dragon's Apple, because of its color, you see. We've done a pretty good job keeping it away from the world, but rumors to get out, and every once in a while one of us has to chase away some treasure-seeker. But as I said, it gets old having to keep everyone away, and without the gem, I might be able to have a normal life.”
Norman and Dennis exchanged glances, then the knight said, “Well, if you really don't mind getting rid of it, I'll take it back to my king. The curse doesn't sound that bad.”
Bob replied, “Well, just remember I warned you. I'll tell you exactly what the curse is. The curse is that members of the opposite sex will be attracted to whoever is holding the gem, whether they're male or female. So be careful who you give it to. And if you ever need to get rid of it, you can bring it back here.”
“I'll keep that in mind, though I don't think the king will want to get rid of it,” Norman replied. He walked over to the pedestal and picked up the gem. “Such a lot of fuss for such a small thing,” he said. “Hard to believe it could cause any trouble.”
After thanking the ogre for allowing them to take the gem, and for his advice, Norman climbed on Dennis's back once more, and the two took off, heading west. Everything seemed fine until they crossed the small stretch of water separating the ogre's island from the mainland. As soon as they passed over the coast, they noticed that birds began to follow them.
“That's kind of weird,” Norman said, looking over his shoulder at the birds.
“Want to know what's really weird? They're all female birds,” responded Dennis. “Don't look so surprised,” he continued, “of course I can tell they're females, I've got better eyesight than you do, you know.”
“That must be part of the curse,” said Norman. “But I still don't think it's as much trouble as Bob was saying it would be.”
They continued on, with the birds following them, and more continuously showing up. Eventually, though, they noticed that as they passed through different areas, the types of birds trailing behind them changed; no bird tried to follow outside of its natural habitat. As the day drew to a close, Dennis landed in one of the campsites that they had used on their eastward journey. Norman dismounted and began setting up for the night, while Dennis went hunting for supper.
When Norman wandered over to the small stream nearby for some water, he noticed that there were fish swarming near the banks. They appeared to follow him as he walked alongside the water's edge. “Weird,” he thought, then shook his head and headed back toward the fire he'd built. As he moved around camp, Norman saw mice following him but trying not to get too close. And then when he sat down, there were a lot of assorted animals watching him from the trees. He could see foxes, rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, all just clustered near the edges of the trees, and all staring at him. When Dennis got back, Norman said, “Look at all those animals, Dennis. They've been all around here ever since we arrived! Did you have any animals following you?”
Dennis replied, “No, but remember, Bob said that the curse affected whoever is holding the gem. I know it's in your saddlebags, but that must still count as you holding it, since they're your saddlebags.” He glanced over at the animals in the trees. “They don't seem to be bothering you, though, so maybe it's not so much a curse as a nuisance.”
“Maybe,” Norman said. “Well, let's see if we can ignore them for now, and have some dinner. You know, I'm really glad I met you. Not only have I had more of an adventure than I would have had on my own, but I'm getting places much faster! Can you imagine taking an extra few weeks to get back home, with all these animals all around me all the time? It would be horrible!” Dennis laughed and agreed with him. The two friends followed the evening routine they'd established, and then went to sleep.
When they woke up the next morning, there were even more animals, crowding closer to their sleeping forms than they had while dragon and knight were awake. Dennis and Norman both tried shooing the animals away, to no avail. Finally, they gave up, and resigned themselves to ignoring the other animals while they prepared to leave. After breakfast, Norman once again climbed on Dennis's back, who then launched the two of them into the air. Looking down, Norman could see the animals looking longingly upward before running to follow their progress to the best of their abilities. The
young knight almost felt sorry for the animals, and hoped the effects of the curse would wear off soon.
This was the pattern for the companions for the next couple of weeks. Everywhere they went, they, or specifically, Norman, were surrounded by adoring females of all species. Some were braver than others, but as long as Dennis was around, none dared come too close, for fear of becoming a tasty snack. At first, Dennis and Norman both thought it was kind of funny to have so many admirers, but by the time they were nearing the king's castle, they'd had enough. They were lucky enough to avoid other people, right up until they arrived at the castle. When they got there, the sight of a dragon landing in the courtyard threw the various courtiers into an uproar, as well as sending all of the nearby animals into a state of panic. When the dust settled, Norman dismounted called out, “It's all right! It's just me, Norman, with my friend Dennis! We have a gift for the king!”
To his dismay, Norman noticed that the curse was beginning to affect the females in the castle, just as it had while in the countryside. The animals were drawing nearer, as were the women of the castle, both noble and common alike. Norman really hoped the king would arrive soon.
Just as several of the noblewomen had worked up their courage to come near to Dennis's side, the king came into the courtyard and said, “Well, well, if it isn't young Norman! I thought you were going to slay a dragon, not bring one home! Is this the gift you mentioned?”
Just as Dennis was drawing himself up and huffily saying, “Certainly not!” Norman patted him on the shoulder and replied, “No, your Majesty. This is my friend, Dennis. He's been an enormous help to me. With him, I've flown to the eastern shore, where we met an ogre and retrieved a precious gem, which I've brought back to you as proof of my worthiness. I should warn you, however, that it's cursed. It attracts all the members of the opposite sex to the person who holds the gem.” With that, he pulled the pale red Dragon's Apple out of his saddlebags and held it out to the king.
“This is a fine gift, indeed, young Norman. I'm honored that you've brought it to me. I think I can handle a little curse,” the king said with a smile. “What are your plans now?”
Norman answered, “Well, for right now, I'm going to go see to my mother, and introduce her to Dennis. Then, if he wants to, I thought about traveling some more. Maybe head north this time to see if I can find some gryphons.” With that, he remounted, and Dennis took off out of the courtyard. Norman noticed with relief that the women had completely ignored his departure and were congregating on the king. “We might want to stick around for a few days,” he said to Dennis.
“Oh? Why's that?”
“Because,” laughed Norman, “his Majesty might want us to come and get that gemstone and return it to Bob!”
With an answering laugh, Dennis followed Norman's directions to his home. He hoped they could head out on another adventure soon. He could tell that he and this young human were going to be the very best of friends.