My story, The Sentencing, is part of an anthology that's been put together by David Zetland for the Life Plus 2M project. The project has entries from storytellers, imagining what effect an increase in global water levels would have, and also thought pieces from scientists and environmentalists, predicting the same thing.
The anthology contains one hundred short stories by one hundred different authors, so plenty of varied material.
You can order a copy here - use this discount code (100V2V79) to support me, and get money off!
Or you can order a copy from Amazon here.
You can read it here - and, if you like it, you can show your appreciation by donating to the magazine using the Donate button at the end of the story.
I wait. Formless yet conscious, just beyond the edge of reality. I know I have a role to fulfil. The passage of time has no meaning for me yet, but my time will come. Nothing can remain static forever. All things change and, when the change comes, I will be ready.
There is a shift in the ether. Even in the nameless void, I can feel it. Something is stirring. A curiosity and a desire that may lead to my release. The potentiality alters my form and my nature, bringing me closer to being. With it, comes an impatience that has me pushing at the boundaries of creation. My sense of imminent freedom builds.
I have a purpose. My achievements will be great, so great as to dwarf any that have come before. My impact upon the universe will be so all-consuming, so catastrophic, that nothing will ever be the same again. My presence will change the very nature of existence for all creatures that currently, or will ever, walk the earth.
Far beyond the reach of my senses, another great entity works towards its own ends. I cannot assist from my prison, but I know those ends will result in my birth. I yearn to influence the outcome, though I am confident it is inevitable. What little knowledge I possess in my non-corporeal state tells me this is so. A seed has been sown, an idea brought into existence. One little thought, one small question. That is all it takes to start the process.
And yet, I want desperately to be involved. I am tired of waiting. I want to take my place in the grand tapestry and start weaving my own part of it. What happens at this juncture will be debated and talked about for all eternity, and I want an integral role in that tale when it is told. My greatness deserves adulation, and will inspire awe and terror for every generation to come.
At last, the tempter is victorious. The fruit is taken, tasted. Knowledge bursts forth into a mind ripe for conquest. As a child unwittingly walks into danger during play, the new sinners revel in their desires without thought for the consequences. And those children open the door and welcome me in. I ride out into the world and doom follows in my wake. I am their punishment for disobedience, I am the price paid for their sin, I am the end of all things.
I am Death.
I knew when the letter came that it was all over for me.
I answered the door to a blank-faced man in an immaculate uniform. He said my name, his voice toneless. When I nodded, he handed me an envelope, then turned on his heel and walked away.
His appearance and manner told me where the letter was from even before I saw the familiar logo stamped on its upper corner. The paper felt unfamiliar in my hands; the archaic personal delivery system was designed to prevent citizens from being able to claim they had not received their letter.
I turned back to the kitchen, where my girlfriend was eating breakfast. She looked up as I entered, her spoon pausing partway to her mouth when she saw my expression. I held the envelope out to her, my hands trembling slightly.
“It’s from the CoLD,” I said, the words emerging in barely a whisper.
Instantly, I saw the horror I felt reflected in her eyes. Her spoon clattered down into her breakfast bowl, forgotten.
X X X X X
It all started ten years ago.
My nation’s economy is based on deposits of a mineral found beneath the ground in an area near our northern border. It provides the main source of fuel for our machinery, heating and light, and makes up the vast majority of our exports to other nations.
One day, the miners broke through into a network of caverns previously undiscovered. They showed signs of manmade construction and contained relics of a bygone era, the like of which had never before been seen. The relics were raised to the surface, and the world marvelled at such a momentous find. An exhibition was mounted in our capital city and people flocked from many nations to see it. Our historians studied the relics and published their findings within their community.
That was when everything started to go wrong. Historians from our northern neighbour claimed the relics demonstrated links to their culture, and deduced that the site beneath our mines was significant to their religious history. There was much discussion and debate, but the ultimate conclusion on all sides was that they were correct. Long ago, the border between our two nations must have shifted, so that their historical site now falls within the land we control.
As a gesture of goodwill, our government offered to return all the recovered relics to them and to provide limited access to the site itself, but that was not enough. They demanded a redrawing of the border so that they could reclaim the land, and therein lay a substantial problem. Without the mines, our economy would be severely affected, and our government was not prepared to give up our main source of income to satisfy a cultural desire.
Things quickly escalated, with neither side prepared to accept any offered compromise, until, inevitably, war broke out between our two nations.
At first, the requirement for military personnel was covered by our existing forces but, as the years went by with no sign of an end to the conflict, more people were needed than volunteered. The draft was established two years ago, a random selection process that could result in any citizen being selected to join the fight at any time.
X X X X X
I opened the envelope and carefully removed the heavy paper sheet enclosed within. I unfolded it slowly and read the contents aloud.
“You are requested to present yourself at the nearest Council of Loyalist Defence barracks at second bell two days from acceptance of this letter.”
I raised my eyes to meet my girlfriend’s gaze once more.
I was going to war.
[This was my first winning entry in the weekly Hour of Writes competition - first published December 2014.
Comment from Alison Ireland, who runs the site:
"The winner provided a succinct and plausible account of a state’s movement into war, via a clever manipulation of the title."]
Air, the stuff of life, escaping to the surface.
I remain below, searching the depths for an answer.
The water is murky, which feels appropriate, given my state of mind. The currents swirl like my thoughts, threatening to spin me around and distract me from my purpose.
But I know the wreck is here. All the data points to this location, a months-long investigation culminating in this dive, this moment. I am alone, here in the darkness, a single beam of light showing me the path that lies ahead. But that is all I need; the light, the data, the faith that I will at last find what I am looking for.
The ship went down nearly a hundred years ago, lost in a storm one night during its voyage. A young woman was found on a not too distant shore two days later, unconscious, half-drowned, but alive and with another life growing inside her. Nobody knew who she was, where she had been bound, or what vessel had been carrying her.
She died, but the baby lived – my grandfather – adopted into a family from a nearby village and raised as their own.
The mystery remained hidden for many years, until my father started looking into his family tree and an old woman in the village finally told the tale. He kept it purely as a bedtime story to pass on to me, but it took hold inside me and I could not leave it alone. I had to know – where had she come from and how had she ended up on that shore?
It drove the direction of my life, needing to solve that mystery. I researched, I studied, I learned to dive and to survey the ocean. I found old records of sea voyages at the time and at last tracked down the ship that was lost two days before the woman was found.
And now here I am, still searching, but so much closer than I have ever been before, perhaps about to discover what I have been burning to know my whole life.
Who was she?
Who am I?
[Originally written for the weekly Hour of Writes competition - my first entry, published December 2014]