Brief Encounters Final Short Story: The Trees

Our final assignment for my Brief Encounters course was to write a short story between 1400 and 1600 words. This is mine.

———————– The Trees ———————–

He pulls a splinter out of his finger. He should probably get a new shovel. The handle of this one is just falling apart. It cuts into his hands as he resumes digging. There’s sweat dripping off his nose and more slides down his spine. He takes off his old newsboy cap with a hole in the side to wipe the sweat off his forehead. The sun is directly overhead. It’s not the ideal time to be planting a tree, but she doesn’t like the dark. He glances at her.

She’s still asleep in the shade of the oak nearby, hands folded delicately on her stomach. Her blue floral dress lies against her skin, revealing the enticing shape of her body. His fingers itch to trace their way from her curly brown hair to her toes. A breeze blows her skirt a few inches up her thighs. He bites his lip. Those few inches beckon him to move closer, to reach out, to take control and cut the dress off her skin.

He grips the shovel tight and forces himself to look back at the hole. Focus.

It takes twenty minutes and three more splinters for him to determine the hole is both deep enough and wide enough. He drops the shovel and looks around. The vegetation of the forest hasn’t strayed passed the boundary set by the grass around the cabin. Even the animals keep clear. A squirrel peers at him from the side of a tree. He holds its gaze until it darts to the ground and farther into the woods.

Then he stares at her.

She’s always so beautiful when asleep. Her face relaxes away from the stress of the day, and she even smiles sometimes. She’s doesn’t do that much when she’s awake. He doesn’t know who the smiles are meant for, but he always claims them. He claims the subtle pink of her lips and the gentle curve at the corners. He claims the crinkles at the corner of her eyes and the dimple on her left cheek.

She’ll scowl when she dreams, too, and he claims those. He claims every twitch of her hands and every time her toes curl. He claims her hands when they find their way into her hair, getting tangled in the ringlets.

He claims her beauty, piece by piece, even if it’s not meant for him. It’s nice to believe it is, to believe he deserves her in his life. It’s nice to believe he can be given something precious to protect, that someone so dear could love him.

He glances down at himself. There are three more holds in his jeans, and his once-white shirt is now a kaleidoscope of dirt and grass stains. His hand runs through his hair. It’s greasy. He should shower and change before waking her.

But as he starts to move away, she stirs. He sits beside her and waits for her to reveal the two things he can’t claim.

After a minute, her eyes are open, and she turns them to him. He doesn’t move. It always takes time to get used to them. One is the deepest blue he’s ever seen, ice cracked open to reveal clear depths below. The depths hold all sorts of creatures fighting for attention. They flash by so quick he can’t catch them. The other is dark, so dark the iris blends directly into the pupil. The creatures here are on the surface, stare at him with accusing eyes. They claw into his brain and pull him down into her head. They demand she be heard and seen and respected. They demand he treat her well.

She blinks. Her eyes scan the other trees lucky enough to be accepted into his yard. They settle on the one waiting to be planted. He takes a deep breath. He’ll adjust to her eyes. He always does.

‘Come inside,’ he says. He helps her to her feet and puts an arm around her shoulders. ‘I want to shower before we eat.’

She doesn’t say anything. Her voice is the same as her smile. She never uses it unless she’s asleep.

The steps that lead onto the cabin’s porch creaked and the front door whined as it moved. They entered the room directly to the left, where two twin beds rested on a polished wooden floor between worn wooden dresses and walls made of logs stacked atop each other.

She sits on the bed to wait. He grabs his clothes, goes into the attached bathroom, and closes the door behind him. He wants her to watch him, but she’s too pure for that, and he needs to treat her well.

He emerges only ten minutes later, relieved to see her still sitting there. Her eyes don’t lift from the floor to admire his suit.

He caresses her cheek. ‘I’ll go get us our dinner.’

The kitchen is across the hall. He already has peanut butter and jelly sandwiches made with a piece of triple chocolate cake just for her.

The front door whines. He takes the food into the hall to find her in the front doorway. Her mouth opens and closes. She wipes her hands on her dress. One hand cautiously points outside.

He smiles. ‘We can eat on the steps.’

She nods. Her body relaxes.

They don’t speak as they eat. She watches her food. He watches her, memorizing her high cheekbones and the gentle curve of her jaw. The first time he saw her features, her head was thrown back in laughter. It was as if she looked to the sky to thank God she could feel such pleasure. A roller coaster rattled by behind her. She plucked at her t-shirt, which was soaking wet and clung to her.

He watched her and her friends eat their lunch and reapply their makeup. She highlighted her eyes with gold and her lips with luscious crimson. He couldn’t let her go. He couldn’t lose her light-footed walk or the way she covered her mouth with her hand when taken aback. And he couldn’t let her go back to whoever gave her the bruises. So he followed her.

And it was worth it. It was worth every meal they had together, every bruise that faded from her skin, and every smile in her sleep.

Her eyes slip closed. Her body goes slack. He’s just fast enough to get his hands under her before her head could hit the wooden slats. He brushes the hair from her face.

‘It’s okay,’ he whispers. ‘You’ll be safe soon.’

He glances at the cake. It’s only half gone. The serum must have been stronger than he thought.

She’s light, lighter than she was when he first brought her here. It’s not too difficult to carry her over to the hole and place her gently in the dirt. The sun disappears, and he looks up to find clouds drifting across the sky. He stands. There are darker clouds following. He should hurry.

He picks up the shovel. In the few minutes it takes to cover her, a light drizzle starts to fall. He goes into the house, retrieves his cap, takes off his suit coat and tie, and then steps back into the faint rain.

He takes his time planting the tree over her.

‘She played soccer.’ He removes yet another splinter and keeps digging. ‘Most of her friends were on the team with her, but they were mean. You should have seen her when I brought her here. This is better. You’ll protect her, won’t you? The trees are always willing to protect people.’

A gust of wind blows through the trees. It causes the white noise of the forest and rain to get louder, the leaves almost yelling at each other instead of murmuring. He looks up. The real storm will be here soon.

He manages to finish getting the dirt in the hole just in time for the storm to start. Thunder reaches his ears from a few miles away. Rain comes down so hard he can barely see the tree in front of his face.

He pulls out his knife and leans close to carve her initials into the bark. S.W.

It starts to pour. He’s drenched in a minute, but he doesn’t leave. He prays for everything about her, from her beauty to her purity and happiness. He prays she’ll have her favorite foods and prays she’s smiling outside her sleep.

He picks up the shovel. The thunder is getting closer. It’s ripping its way along the hills, warning everyone to find shelter.

But he takes the time on his way inside to move across the yard and trace the initials carved into the other trees.

Inverness Trip-Day Two

Today was the Isle of Skye tour, and it was certainly the highlight of our time in Inverness. No offense to the city, of course.

I woke bright and early, mostly because it gets so bloody bright at such a bloody awful hour. I was up on and off after 4:30, but oh well. That just meant more food and some power naps on the bus.

It was a lot of bussing, but given how spread out the highlands are, i was expecting that.

We saw a lot of mountains (munroes, the biggest mountains as classified by Scottish gaelic) and traveled in the valleys. Many  had stories behind them, like the Five Sisters and Glensheil. It would be a challenge to travel over them on foot, but that’s a challenge I’d certainly be willing to take. Oh well. I’ll save that for another trip.

There were sheep everywhere and lots of cows. The sheep always ran away, so we couldn’t get close enough for really great pictures, and the cows were far away, but it was neat to see. The sheep had their partially grown lambs and the highland cows we saw had a partially grown calf among them.

The highland cows are neat. They look like the rebellious teen of the cows.

One of the things I really liked was that a lot of the signs were in gaelic first, then English. It makes me wonder what the country would be like if the language was never banned. I, for one, would probably know a lot more phrases than I do now.

“Inver” means “place of,” I’m pretty sure. Therefore, Inverness (Inbhir Nis, if I remember correctly) is Place of Ness, and Invermoriston is Place of the Waterfall. So, I guess moriston is waterfall.

Anyway, I finished the day with some homework since I remembered that this is actually for school and not just for me to roam around Scotland (although just roaming around for two months would have been cheaper, probably).

All the people in our room are here tonight, at least. Last night half our room came in around midnight.

Goodnight.

Inverness Trip-Day One

I woke up bright and early to have breakfast and do some core work before catching my train. I got there and learned that somehow, after passing the bus station a dozen times, I never noticed the train station was right next to it. Oh well. The lady on the bus that informed me of this was very sweet.

Anyway, the bus ride was uneventful. I read without looking out the window for two hours, so when I did look out, I was amazed to see that I was in the highlands.

Rolling hills with streams and rivers and waterfalls in every direction, lush green filling the gaps in the form of trees and  wild grass, flowers and darker vegetation in the mix…it’s a rustic beauty I am ecstatic I have finally gotten to see.

I’m so excited to spend tomorrow amongst it all.

Inverness itself doesn’t have as much to do as we expected, so we spent a while wandering through shops and getting food. The guy at Subway was a full supporter of Scottish Independence, and one guy at a shop said our trip tomorrow was going to be a highlight of our time in Scotland.

A little after seven, though, me and the other woman staying at this hostel with me decided to explore. This involved at least two hours of walking around, mostly along the River Ness. We did not make it to the Loch, but we did find Nessie. I can’t put pictures on here (I’m on my Nook), but there will be some when I get access to a computer again.

We also found neat benches that must have been carved out of wood by an artist. They bend and twist and fold in wonderful ways.

There’s a really pretty lookout spot on one of the islands that we sat at for a while. I will probably add it to my list of perfect places to write, a list I will start right now.

Tomorrow will be fantastic.

Things I’ve Noticed that are Different in Scotland than in America

Some of these differences will be obvious, and this is (of course) in no way an extensive list, but these are things I’ve noticed so far that are different from what I’m used to.

  1. Milk-Not all milk here is fresh. It can be bought fresh, but it can also be bought in helpful containers that can be stored at room temperature until needed. That, my friends, is brilliant. It tastes slightly different, at least to me, but it’s still yummy, and that means less trips to the grocery store.
  2. Transportation-I will mention that they drive on the left side of the road here, but that one is obvious. What stands out to me even though I was expecting it is that people here like to walk and ride bikes and take public transportation instead of driving in cars all the time. It’s more active, more on-its-feet, and that makes me happy since it allows me to be on my feet more…and not just because there’s a loch (lake) in the middle of campus.
  3. Accents and terminology (“cheers,” “loch”)-The people speak with Scottish accents, of course, which means I’m back to remembering I have an American accent…something I’m not too conscious of most of the time. I haven’t picked up on too many terminology differences that I didn’t know about, but it’s interesting to hear them in use every day. The main thing I’ve noticed is that nobody Scottish seems to say “thank you.” They all say “cheers.” I haven’t been here long, but in the last five days I haven’t heard a single Scotsman say “thank you” instead of “cheers.” They must think us Americans funny.
  4. Nature-There are so many forests and fields and animals here. They’re just everywhere. Oyster Catchers and Ravens, bunnies and squirrels, forests and grazing grounds, cows and sheep, goats and horses, ducks and swans…I walk to class and see at least one, usually more than one. I’m used to only seeing squirrels (many, many squirrels) making their way through campus, so the wildlife diversity is fantastic. Granted, the squirrels here will apparently climb into your kitchen and eat your food if the window is open and they have even just a 1% chance of reaching it, but that’s a fun story to tell if it happens (which is has in at least one flat so far).
  5. The metric system-Everyone knows Americans are weird using our inconsistent and frankly strange system of measurement. Most of the world uses metric, so we should too (but in that case, most of the world drives on the right side, so Britain should do that, if we have to use metric). I’m lucky enough to have some rudimentary knowledge of the metric system, but that doesn’t mean much. The weight room is a nightmare. Doing math is a requirement to try to figure out that if I normally need a 15 pound dumbbell for this exercise, which weight do I need in kg, well that’s about 7kg, so 20 pounds would be between 9 and 10kg, and I want to squat about 120 lbs, and how much is that in kg…um….and so on and so on. I have figured out that 5kg is about 11 lbs, which helps, but I’m still staring at the weights for a bit converting things in my head and figuring out how to make the closest amount with the weights available. I’m not even trying with Celsius VS Fahrenheit yet.
  6. Dates.-I still get confused when the date says “19/6/2014″ because I immediately mentally inform the paper or screen that there is no 19th month and then have to remind myself that Europeans do it differently and will be confused by the way I write dates. Military time is a bit easier.
  7. Daylight-There is so much daylight. Sunset doesn’t happen until 11 or later, and on a perfectly clear day, the sky doesn’t actually get dark. And then the sun rises at about 4:30 in the morning, and by 6:30/7:00 my body is telling me I should have been awake two hours ago and am probably late for class. I’m not, but my sleep schedule still isn’t close to regulated because my body is still telling me to only sleep when it’s dark, which isn’t enough.
  8. Currency.-I love the lack of dollar bills (or I guess pound bills). They have coins for that, and coins to show 2 pounds. As someone used to change being worthless, it’s always a fun surprise to realize there’s more money than I thought. Plus, the bills are color-coded, and differ in size depending on the amount it’s worth. America can learn something from this.
  9. History.-Americans have history, of course, but there is just so much more of it here. Things date back thousands of years instead of hundreds, and it’s amazing to stand somewhere and think about all the things that must have happened in that spot…that standing on top of a single hill and watching all of the history of that place, you’d see battles and houses being built up and torn down and castles being built and travelers of all sorts of cultures passing through. That’s quite a bit more exciting and interesting than Europeans sweeping through America destroying much of the native’s cultures, although I’m sure it would be interesting to watch the American natives’ lives, as well.
  10. The most popular soft drink.-Here, it’s Irn-Bru, which is pretty tasty. It’s like orange soda just a bit tangier and better all around. In the rest of the world, the most popular soft drink is Coca Cola. Yay Scotland!
  11. Netflix.-The shows and movies offered are different, which is exciting, because that means I get to watch more British shows while I’m here. I just have to be careful not to be in the middle of one when I leave, since I probably won’t get it back home.

There are certainly many more differences, and probably ones that are less obvious than the above, but these are things I’ve noticed so far.

Territorial Dispute

I decided to read by the lake today and settled on a bench near a group of ducks resting. Therefore, I was in the perfect position to witness the beauty of a territorial dispute that only resulted in a few attacks.

First, the family that claimed the spot:

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And here come the intruders:

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Face-off, after the intruders were pushed back a little by one of the ducks:

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After much quacking and a bit of snapping at each other, the intruders issued a retreat:

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Okay, so it really wasn’t that exciting of an event, but it was interesting to watch and part of the glory of nature that I miss so much of, so I thought I would share.

[Stereo]typical Scottish Greeting

After a nice long wait at an airport, a nice long flight, a shorter drive, some food, and unpacking, I, along with dozens of other students in the International Summer School at Stirling, met with some of the interns for a walk up to Airthrey Castle, where we’d be forced to socialize for a bit more than an hour.

During the walk to the castle, a man in full Scottish regalia stood at the entrance and played his bagpipes.

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He later played for us inside.

Inside, our options for drinks were water, orange juice, apple juice, and wine. As Americans, many underage in our own country, it was quite interesting to see people take full advantage of the drinks available to us, being somewhat drunk by the end of our time there.

I, for one, got sick of the taste of the wine before the end of my first glass.

There were two things about this experience that stuck out in my mind the most.

First off, we were greeted in the most stereotypically Scottish way I could imagine, with a castle, bagpipes, kilt, and alcohol. There were even golfers behind the castle, and a short greeting in Scottish Gaelic during introductions and welcomes. The only thing missing was haggis.

The other thing was the wood carving inside the castle, which was absolutely gorgeous, especially these three little ones that look as if they’re ready to charge into battle (at least for me):

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The last stereotypically Scottish things I was greeted with was the gorgeous countryside, lochs, rich wildlife, and magnificent history all around. The campus itself is a great place to see the beautiful nature Scotland offers, with a loch in the middle and open country for a while on most sides. It’s so relaxing to run with views like this:

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While passing creatures like this:

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The Wallace Monument is visible from almost anywhere on campus, and the castles and older buildings in the area occasionally make me feel as if I have stepped back in time.

Everything about this country is strange because it’s different from what I grew up with, but at the same time it feels like coming home after there’s been redecorating. It’s different, but it’s just as comfortable and still a place to call your own.

It has been less than three days since my plane landed on Scottish soil, but I already know I don’t want to leave.

The Hunger Games: Final Blog Post

Blogging this semester has been fun, but with the year almost to an end, it is time to say goodbye and reflect on the journey taken since the beginning of the year. Although I was not always too fond of reflecting on things we discussed at length in class, I definitely enjoyed reflecting on things we did not discuss at length in class, such as Children of Men compared to The Hunger Games. 

I also enjoyed watching swing dancing videos for about an hour before remembering I was supposed to be doing homework (and then remembering that technically, I was doing homework).

From whatthebuck20 on tumblr.

As someone who was already a huge fan of The Hunger Games going into the semester, I can’t say I learned a lot about the books themselves, but there definitely was a lot of expanding on things I had already discussed with others in a less formal setting as well as learning the information behind those discussions. The guest speakers were sometimes not what I was expecting or did not connect to The Hunger Games, but that was a good thing usually since that let us make the connections instead.

This course was not one I would say was extremely challenging, but I learned a lot, and I think that’s more important. I would have liked someone to talk about PTSD. It was interesting to have a Holocaust survivor come speak to us about trauma and recovery, but in some ways I think Katniss’s experiences specifically are more like a soldier’s or the child soldier survivor’s, so an exploration of that might be beneficial.

So much was covered in this semester, which was great because it left a lot of room for us to pick and choose what we were most interested in and go from there from our reflections and final papers.

I definitely would have liked to experience something hands-on, such as a trip to Appalachia, jewelry making, or archery, and believe that should really be incorporated in this class in the future.

Farewell, my friends. May the odds be ever in your favor.

From tumblr user sadness-and-memories

Reflection on Hunger Games Presentations

The presentations last week were interesting. The most interesting to me was the presentation that compared The Hunger Games and its strategies to The Art of War by Sun Tzu. It was interesting to see how the Capitol and the Rebels implemented the different ideas Sun Tzu wrote about so many centuries ago.

However, I wish more would have  been included in the presentation. I understand focusing on a few of the Commandments given by Sun Tzu, but most of the presentation focused on only one of them and the others went by very quickly in the last few minutes. I would have preferred a more even distribution of the information between the commandments, or perhaps a focus on how the commandments were used by the Capitol and the Rebels.

I also enjoyed the comparison between the Irish Famine and the Hunger Games, mainly because it shows that people are treated the way they are in the books in real life, which is something important for people to remember.

The Nature of Evil in the Hunger Games

In our class discussion last Tuesday, we talked about the nature of evil from a philosophical perspective. What makes someone evil? Can a good person do evil things? And more importantly, is President Snow evil?

Oh, but look at that smile. How could he be evil? Image from http://victorsvillage.com/tag/president-snow/

Since we concluded that good is the opposite of evil, we first talked about what makes a person good and were introduced to different philosophical theories. First, goodness requires utility. This would be making the most people happy and keeping the most people out of pain as possible, such as saving a bus full of kindergarten students even if it means someone else will die. Of course, this allows for evil to be done in the name of good.

For example, President Snow enforces sending 23 kids to their death every year, but those people dying ensures that “happiness” of Panem, so it’s okay, right?

Next would be duty, such as duty to family, country, or protecting others, without worrying about any possible consequences. This would be saving someone’s life and not taking responsibility if that person turned out to be a serial killer that went on to murder others. You did the morally right thing, and that’s what matters.

Third is virtue, which means becoming a virtuous person with balanced reactions to things, such as being courageous when afraid, but not rash or cowardly.

Lastly is care, which is seen as the most important thing to focus on according to care ethics. This would be caring about those directly in front of you regardless of other circumstances.

Since those four things make up good, the opposite make up evil. Therefore, an evil person causes harm, is apathetic towards people, feels no duty to others, and worries about himself. There is also the difference between an evil person and an evil act.

An evil act involves pleasure in the individual causing harm to others.

An evil person involves pleasure from harming others resulting from apathy towards people.

So is President Snow evil? Let’s look at the facts:

  1. He enforces the Hunger Games.
  2. He poisons the people he sees as dangerous to further his own political agenda.
  3. All he cares about is keeping the districts from rebelling, even while they starve.
  4. In the movie version of Catching Fire, there’s this:

From Tumblr user arirendinella

From Tumblr user arirendinella

Given everything he does, I’d say he definitely commits evil acts, and while he may not have started out as an evil person, I think he became one, especially since the very last thing he does is be happy about Katniss killing President Coin.

The Hunger Games and Apocalypticism

Our guest lecture this week spoke about millenialism, or the belief that something catastrophic or progressive will bring on change that will save everyone…soon. A specific type of millenialism is apocalypticism, which is when a divine force is what sets this into motion.

In simpler terms, we discussed End of the World scenarios and beliefs.

There are many categories of millenialism, and a few of them can be related to The Hunger Games trilogy.

  • Catastrophic-This is the belief that something horrible will happen that leads to a new world order. Since the most common belief about the formation of Panem is environmental catastrophe, it definitely fits here.
  • Progressive-This one just says that a catastrophe does not need to happen for there to be a new world order. There just needs to be change.
  • Avertive-If people respond to warnings, the predicted disaster can be averted. This can be related to The Hunger Games since President Snow tries to avert the disaster caused by Katniss, although he fails.
  • Environmental-This is the one most applicable to The Hunger Games since Panem was formed through environmental catastrophe.
  • Nativist-Involves indigenous people reacting against colonial forces, or a group that sees itself as “native” reacting to the group they see as the “other.” Examples of this are Native Americans and the KKK. The people in the Capitol can be considered to fall under this one, since they believed themselves “native” to the Capitol and therefore, the invading Rebel army was the “other.”
  • Hierarchical VS Demotic-Demotic means the rebellion starts from the bottom of the social ladder and moves up, while hierarchical means the change starts at the top and works its way down. The Hunger Games is demotic.
  • Christian Dispensationalism-This is a catastrophe that ends with the Christians being saved and is not applicable to The Hunger Games.

We also discussed the leaders of millenial groups and how they gain power, and that is through charisma. However, charisma is not something someone can claim to have and work on doing. Other people give a person charisma by following and listening to him/her. President Snow and Katniss have charisma, since both of them are given power or kept in power because they are followed, although Snow aims for it and it just happens to Katniss.