Inevitably, while I write/edit/refine WIP there are side projects. They really don't go anywhere but will distract we for an hour or so, while I cook on the true project. They're nice because it's a "just for fun" thing. It's not meant to be something more than what it is, a few thousand words written quickly with some characters who probably aren't as rounded as they could be. Side-projects span every genre and often start as what-if questions from books I've recently finished--which probably explains why they rarely turn into anything like a WIP. But they are delightfully fun to imagine and think about.
So I'll ask the question first and feel free to respond without reading the rest of the post. Or respond to it all I'm coolies with either. Do you have "side-projects" like these? Do they turn into anything or are they just fun for you to write?
This side project is entitled Rules for a Restoration, it takes place after a revolution as is about the next generation that's left to deal with their parents war.
Rule #7-M: The back way is my way.
It’s late after school, and I bypass the front entrance in favor of the rear. There are no poppers back there, no one waiting with a camera to snap one more photo of Turin Sirless on yet another first day of school. I’d complain, but it tastes sour on my tongue, just as it always does. When your very life is a symbol, anyone in charge can run it.
But no one comes to the back of the school, and thus it is safe.
Buildings couldn’t be remade fast enough for the growing population and things were just commandeered. Our school used to a mansion. A single family lived in a building where several hundred kids now go to school. The back hallways and passages are still smoke charred and burnt out. I drag my fingers through the ash leaving trails in my wake.
No one comes back here; no one wants to remember what the war did. So this part remains a silent unseen testimony. The bodies were removed years ago, while I was still a baby. If you travel deep into the cellars you can find the shadows they left imprinted on the walls. Not that I will ever admit to traveling the cellars but still.
I pick my way through the destruction. Ducking under a beam there, sliding through a doorway here, and always skipping the missing bottom stair. Overgrown gardens meet me in the back. Clearly, no one is supposed to come this way.
Safe in the knowledge I won’t be met by poppers, I ditch my sunshades. They’ll gather at the front gate, where the fence has been repaired. Few chance the back where the wilderness and started to reclaim its territory.
The gate back here hasn’t been refurbished and secretly I like it better. It bends as if the air has suddenly collapsed on it. The black and rusted rungs fold in on themselves in shapes I have drawn for hours.
As always, I check behind me, before ducking under the fence. No one’s ever followed me before, but what’s to say today won’t be the first time. That’s my mother’s favorite phrase. She says it’s saved her life more than once. At least that’s what the history books say. I don’t ask my parents about the war. It’s not that I don’t want to know, but it’s best to let some memories sleep in peace. So I let my history teachers recount the story of how my mother’s mantra saved her life when she checked behind her and found a tracker on her trail.
There’s no one here, but still I check. The over grown kitchen garden is empty save for me. I duck through the jungle of iron and vanish into the true forest beyond.
The sun instantly dims, and the air cools as I step among the trees. The wild things, I used to call them. They are unkempt and grow where they like. Where we in villages and cities across this nation struggle and grow specifically where we’re planted, here life is uninhibited.
There is no path, but I know the steps to follow. Long ago, when I was smaller, I learned these woods. My father taught me how to bend around the trees and how to move through the underbrush silent as death itself. We sometimes made a game of it. I’d move as quickly and as quietly as I could through the forest, while he tracked me. The goal was to make it to the lake, without him catching me. I suspect he let me win more than once. The lake has always been our hiding spot. As clear as the mirror that hangs in our one bathroom and smooth as ice. It stretches for what seems like an eternity.
My father and I spent long afternoons up here, while we waited for my brother to get out of school. I learned to swim in these crystal waters and caught diner on early grey mornings. This is my childhood bound into a single space.
I scamper along the sandy beach, losing book bag, and shoes, and letting the lone blank sheet of paper fly free. It’s code. One I never answer, but one that tells me I won’t be alone long. More importantly, it’s one no one can break. This is a code without words. No invisible ink, no cypher, no code word. Just a simple idea: a blank page for yes, I’m coming, no paper means not today.
Today, I’m not going to be alone for long.
Heedless of anything else, I head straight for the water. My mother will worry when I come home wet. She’ll see me drenched from head to toe and think I’ll catch a chill or that next time I might not come out alive. I’ll roll my eyes and kiss her gently and remind her father taught me well.
So for today, I shall chance giving her another grey hair or a winkle in her brow. I will not think of the horrors she will invent for where I’ve been. I will simply enjoy the sun-warmed water.
As I splash through the shallows and the water soaks my skit, and I wash off the first day. The voyeuristic poppers snapped up every picture of me they could. Stares from my classmates as we sat in history. It’s been the norm since I started, people are curious but cannot bring themselves to ask the question. It’s a topic Sooze and I have long discussed, her parents being famous revolutionaries as well.
Plunging my head below the surface, I pull myself out into the deeper parts. My skirt drifts around me and my shirt pillows out. They fill with water and drag me down. I allow myself to slip below the surface, floating in the water watching the sun dazzle the surface. To stay here forever is a dream. But my lungs scream out and compel me to the surface. Cracking the water, I flick the strings of my hair out of my face.
“You’ll catch your death in there,” someone shouts from the shore.
“So I’ll have caught it and it may never come for me.” I call back. “You could come in.”
“Naw, I’d like not to dance with death today.”
As I paddle back to the shore the speaker comes into focus. He’s not a stranger here, but outside of this spot, we don’t speak. That is Rule #1-M: Outside of the lake we are not friends.
The repercussions our friendship could tear everything apart. Marin is the son of Sommatist, those we revolted against in the years before I was born. My father slit their dictator’s throat. It would never be allowed. Even though we are now one nation; we live as a house divided. What is left of the Sommatists live in one section and we, the revolutionaries, share another. And always, always the Sommatists receive everything last. That is Rule #1-S.
Marin’s taken his usual seat on the beach when I crawl back to the land. His cloths are old and patched many times over. His cornsilk colored hair that normally licks his collar has been tied back for today. His books sit on the ground next to him.
I plop down in the sand next to him and spread out my skirts to dry in the sun. I pull out the pins, holding my braids to my head to let it dry as well. Marin scoots away.
“If I wanted to get wet, I’d’ve jumped in the lake.”
“Well perhaps you should, it would drown that sour attitude of yours.”
He rolls his eyes and pulls out his book. It’s full of words, words by Marin. I’ve never seen these words. No one has. It is a book fit only for the consumption of its author. Or as he tells me, it’s not ready for human consumption yet. I tried to tell him once that I should be allowed to see the book, after all it was my present to him.
A present for his birthday. It was several months ago; I overheard several of his Sommatist friends discussing it in the halls at school. Marin never has enough paper. To be a writer you have to practice. Marin practices all the time.
All Marin had was scraps of paper bound together with rubber bands. The pages shuffled together and never stayed neat. He’d fill every corner with his unruly hand. I found the book on a supply train. Soft leather coverings and strings to hold it shut. The paper, thick and heavy, sturdy enough for even Marin’s worst words.
“What’s it about today?” I ask, hoping for a snippet of his story.
“Nothing for you.” Is all I get in response. I leave him alone, digging in my bag for the key. To my brother and my parents, it is a nothing key. A good luck charm, I tell them.
The truth of the matter is the key unlocks a box I keep by the lake. There in the shade of the trees I find it. Old and worn down by age, there is my box. Inside wrapped in oilskins lay my sketchbooks. The ones I have dared to fill with placed lakes, aging trees, moments of imagination, and sketches of a boy I’ve tried to understand.
Marin is face down in the sand when I get back, words dribbling from his pen to the page. I settle on a rock and flip to a blank page. A wordsmith a work I title the page and set about sketching in rough outlines of Marin’s form. I grow bored with the detailed work and flit around the edges of the outline, drawing in what I think is flowing on his page. Worlds of sea monsters and hovercrafts. Here is where I dig in deep. Smoothing over the original lines with my imaginative world. Layering over the boy I know, just like our friendship.
Because we don’t exist as friends outside this space, there exists Rule #7A-M we leave the world and our problems in the forest. Here we talk of the future, where we want to go. What we think the world may be like outside of our town’s confines. Marin dreams of unending land. He’s convinced there exists a place where the sky and the land are caught in an eternal race, unimpeded by mountains or sea. Perhaps there is, but so much of it is probably contaminated by the war. It’s a miracle we have enough land to grow crops.
I dream of cities where buildings reach to kiss the sky. We have made so many fake plans that it is easy to forget our problems here. Family, friends, school, poppers. It all fades when confronted with a fantastic future. Hours have passed where we discuss nothing but what we will be and where we will go.
“So fist day of school, thoughts?” Marin asks as his words finally run dry on the page. The question stills my pencil. It breaks the rules. Granted, Marin doesn’t know all of my rules. The Rule #7-M is shared, but most are like all of my rules of my own design and secret.
“Like all other days,” I answer, trying to be as generic as possible. “Where are you going today?” I ask, redirecting our conversation.
“In what ways? Was it like all others?”
“I want to travel to see all of the hidden spaces, where people kept art during the war.” I will put our conversations back on track. “I read in a book, that many people have opened their houses and have copies of the art works where they were hidden. In the larger cities where there are several hiding places, they have tours.”
Holding my breath, I wait for Marin to answer, praying he will ask me about the pieces I want to see. Or if I will try and hire myself out as a painter, to reconstruct one of the pieces for a hiding place. Anything that will take me away from the reality of our lives. Let us journey into the future where our friendship won’t matter. He knows my dreams, why does he need my present?
“Is that how today was different?” Marin asks, titling his head. A smile plays at the corners of his lips and he flips his pen around his thumb. “You skipped class to see art?”
“No. You know I was in class.”
Marin and I share four out of our seven classes. He sits in the back with all of his friends and I sit in the front surrounded by people who call themselves my friends. But we don’t speak; Marin barely opens his mouth in school. Before our lakeside friendship, I’d barely heard him say four words, and we’ve been in the same class since our earliest years.
He wraps the chords around his book, and tucks it into his bag. “I should probably be getting home.”
“You’re leaving already?” Normally, we linger at the lake until we have to race home as to make the nightfall curfew. The sun is still well above the horizon, we’ve hours left.
Marin shrugs and drops the strap of his bag across his shoulders.