Possibility. I like this challenge topic–it’s open-ended, non-literal (I was about to say non-linear, which it may also be, but I’m not entirely sure of that), and I can’t wait to see what else people come up with.
But I write these shorts based on what the images inspire in me, not necessarily what the theme inspires in me. Two images put Ghostlight back in my mind, no doubt because they both have forests in them. One was the image in the DP post:
This started me off thinking about Bette’s story (and that I’ve been neglecting it, but there are reasons for that)–the thick forest, the green and natural beauty, and the secrets and dangers it’s hiding.
The second is this image by Northern Narratives. Rainbows are always pretty, but with a story of ghosts and murder on my mind, this one jumped in as a juxtaposition to horror instead of a symbol of hope. Or maybe it is a symbol, and Bette just doesn’t know it yet.
This scene would happen at the end of Ghostlight, and I’ve intentionally left what just happened very vague. So if you’re confused, well, you should be! Spoilers!
Rain and fog still hung in the air when dawn began to break. As I finally pulled myself away from the grisly scene, leaving behind the bodies, the sword, and some piece of myself, I didn’t need help finding my way out of the woods. Whose knowledge was that?
This wasn’t right. I was leaving alone, leaving alive, and both of those things surprised me. There was no dread this time that something or someone was after me, chasing me and trying to make sure I never left. There was no one left to chase me; not that I could ever truly be free of what had happened. But when the tree line came clear before me, when I heard the sounds of early morning cars and trucks on the highway, I knew exactly where I was. This is where Graham tried to escape. Pulling himself on the ground by his hands, with some fatal wound, until someone stole everything that remained and left him there, dead. Who had killed my brother, I still didn’t know, even after all this, but I knew without a doubt that he had been killed, and how, and why. Someone took his life because of what he could, and however long it took me, I was going to find out who had done it and make them pay. I had no choice. He was my brother, and now that I was a ghostlighter, too, I might be next.
But today, I wasn’t Graham, and my life wasn’t going to end here. Step by bloody step, on my feet, walking away from the dark of the forest and the circle of ghosts, I stepped out of the trees and squinted into the early morning light. A rainbow was arcing across the sky above them. After what had happened, what I’d seen, what I’d done and what I’d failed to do, I was the only one to walk away with my life and be greeted by a goddamn rainbow.
I fell to the ground in tears until a passing car finally noticed the rain-soaked, blood-covered girl on the side of the road and stopped to call 911.
Dying, quite frankly, terrifies me like nothing else. The very idea of it is something that I cannot honestly focus on without getting seriously freaked out. I consider myself to be more spiritual than religious, so while I’m not sure what, I do feel fairly confident that something is out there greater than us. I believe humans have souls. I believe that what we do matters.
And yet…I can’t convince myself that I know what will happen to me when I die. Is there a Heaven? Will I go there? Or will be it a fiery abyss for me for some reason? (I actually don’t believe that Hell can exist as given to us in Biblical terms, not in parallel with Biblical Heaven. How can we exist in a state of pure joy and happiness for all eternity if we know people we loved in life are suffering in damnation at the same time?) Will I exist as some sort of ghostly spirit, lurking about in the material world yet never interacting with it? (Now THAT sounds like Hell.) Or will I simply cease to exist, end of story, into the ground with me and that’s that?
This latter one terrifies me most of all. It’s impossible to really conceive of an end to awareness, simply ceasing to be and that’s that. So that leads into considering awareness of only an endless dark abyss and absence of everything, which similar to a ghostly existence, sounds like Hell. Really, almost all these options are not desirable, for all that death is a part of life. Some sort of reincarnation or Heaven sounds good, but neither of those are things I can ever know to be true or not without the death part, the risk that they are wrong entirely and I just cease to be.
Which brings us back to: I don’t wanna die!
(As a sidebar, growing old has a lot of downsides I’d be okay with avoiding, too.)
We’re talking sci-fi here, too, of course, so let’s take a practical look at the popular options for How to Avoid Death Without Even Trying.
“Drink from me, and live forever.”
Vampires have a number of variations in fiction, so we’re going to take the basic and most often-used traits.
The Cons: cannot go into daylight or you will die, a stake through the heart will kill you, and holy items harm you.
The Pros: live forever so long as you avoid a few certain things, eternal youth, and by most accounts you get to be superstrong, fast, can heal all other wounds, and are nigh-invulnerable.
The If-y Parts: You have to drink blood to live, technically a walking corpse, and you might by your nature be a killing machine without a soul.
I’m not an outdoorsy person, but I like getting some sun now and again (with a heavy dose of SPF 30+), so no more sunlight is kind of a bummer, but I think I could deal with it. I would miss barbecues, though. It would be more awful if I couldn’t be awake during the daytime at all, but I don’t think that trait is prevalent enough to be a given. Avoiding getting stabbed in the heart and touched by holy objects wouldn’t be so difficult. So the cons are so far things I can deal with, if they are unfortunate and things to be on the lookout for. The pros speak for themselves and sound pretty good to me!
Now the If-y Parts, on the other hand…well, these are the things that are either in too much contention in the genre to be certain of or things I’m really not so sure I’d be okay with. Walking corpse is one of those things were in most fiction, they seem to get by okay. Vampires are cold to the touch, no pulse, but usually seem to get by just fine, no issues with a lack of blood flow and frankly their sex lives seem to improve if anything. But there’s a big issue for me here: that means never having kids. Some people don’t care about that, but I do, I want kids someday, and this would be a real big end to that idea. Then we’ve got nutrition. Blooddrinking is kind of nasty when you get down to it, and does that mean I couldn’t eat anything else? Or would food just not be as good anymore? I like food! I’d miss food a lot. I also don’t dig much on drinking blood from just about anything, from people to little furry forest creatures.
And finally, the soulless/killing machine factor is rather up in the air as well. I REALLY don’t want to be a soulless killing machine. I might not give a crap about that once I am one, but I’d like to not become one and go around killing people and so forth. Not on my agenda at all.
If I could get a definitive answer on the killing machine thing, I might go in for being a vampire. You get a raw deal on some things, but there are a lot of pros to outweigh the cons.
2) Immortals, Highlander-style
These guys start off not knowing they’re Immortal, but they get there after they die the first time. Which could lead to wacky hijinx, some serious confusion, or outright hysteria. The shocking reveal of their true nature aside, let’s get into long-term Pros & Cons.
Pros: You have eternal youth AND you’ve still got a pulse! Good for you!
Cons: Really, none, beyond the everyone you love will grow old and die around you part, but that’s a given for all of these.
If-y Part: For some reason, There Can Be Only One.
Why is that If-y when it’s the driving point of all six five movies (the 6th is a reboot that’s still in pre-production), the live-action TV show, the 3 cartoon shows, and at least one (crappy) video game?
I answer with another question: How many Highlander items did I just list? (11 10!)
This ‘there can be only one’ thing is total crap! There was only one at the end of the first movie, AND YET….! So it’s a load of BS, by the series’ very own vague continuity problems. On top of that, WHY can there be only one? Just ’cause seems to be the answer. You’ll get some bad apples in any bushel of a certain size, but it seems to me that most of these guys could’ve just, y’know, agreed to NOT kill each other and everything would be just fine.
But to honor the idea of the series somewhat, it would be a big Con if a handful of other people were really interested in taking off my head for a piss-poor excuse. Guys, I’d be happy to share my knowledge with you if just asked, y’know. On the other hand, avoiding a select few individuals and not getting into swordfights shouldn’t be all that difficult.
3) Immortals, demi-god style
Not actual gods, because that’s going outside the human race completely. But these are the demi-gods who pop up in fiction who are human descendants of gods and often are themselves immortal.
Pros: Immortality, eternal youth, and quite possibly some cool powers
If-y Parts: Your divine parents may be a divine pain in the ass.
Yeah, that’s all I got for this one.
4) Mutant Healing Powers
There are two big examples from pop culture I can use here: Wolverine from the X-Men, and Claire “The Cheerleader” Bennet from Heroes.
Pros: You heal everything, and you do it so fast that you are slow to age and possibly immortal.
If-y Parts: You don’t actually know if you’re immortal, and the government may want to perform experiments on you.
You can still feel pain, you can still bleed and breathe, and you don’t actually know the extent of your own immortality. Could you survive a gunshot to the head? Do you really want to find out? Also, there’s that pesky government that shows up in these stories more than others.
This one’s kind of ideal. How often do normal people stumble into life-ending situations? Far less than these people do in fiction, that’s for sure! So avoid those, avoid the government (how well you can do this may vary), and you’re pretty much set if you’ve got mutant healing powers. And if you’d like your immortality tinged with a little more uncertainty, this is the brand for you, my friend.
In the end, it will still be awful no matter what kind of immortal you are to watch the people around you die while you do not. Let’s not downplay this fact. And maybe, someday, you’ll realize you too would rather move on from this world, uncertainty be damned (or, possibly, you be damned). Is this a survivable tragedy for you? I tend to think it would be, but I’m young, and my experiences with loss are very limited. I know it would not be a fun time. And then how do you deal with this fact as you continue to live? Form only passing acquaintances? Only hang out with other immortals like yourself? (More difficult if you’re the Highlander variety.)
Or just continue to exist until you can finally figure out a way to face that fear of the ultimate unknown? If you’re immortal, then the choice is yours.
I almost didn’t write something today! I’m getting in just under the wire here. Phew.
So, since I was just playing around with this “Fright Yourself” website to ‘turn a picture of myself into a vampire picture of myself, I got to thinking about the ‘vampire genre’ and why I enjoy it. But, I’m not entirely sure of why I like it so much, really. I’ll tackle that one another day. Instead, there’s another trait or background note I often use for characters I play in RPGs and that I write into stories.
I didn’t notice this for a while, but I have a tendency to create characters with missing or dead family members. Usually it’s someone in the nuclear family–a parent or sibling–and the loss of this person changed the character and their family in marked and very permanent ways.
My long-time Buffy RPG character was a Slayer named Taryn, who’s father died suddenly a year or two prior to the game’s opening. Of course, she didn’t know at the time that he had in fact been turned as a vampire, which lead to further complications as the first season progressed. But, his death marked her family fracturing.
For one of my 7th Sea characters, I choose a background that meant my character’s family had been very specifically hunted down by the sidhe. He believed them all to be dead, except maybe one (a younger sister was still alive, it later turned out), and had himself fled and taken on a new name and life to escape the same fate.
In Ghostlight, Bette’s brother died under strange and partially unexplainable circumstances three years prior to the story’s opening, an event that influences just about everything she does and who she is at this point. As well, it lead to her parents separating as they tried to deal with their grief, and like Taryn, the death in general marked the fracture of her family.
Finally, a character I’ve written a number of pieces about, but never quite a fully-realized story, is the shapeshifter Silver. When her family and home community learn about her true nature, even as she saves their lives, they reject her completely. I don’t entirely know how her story goes, but I know it focuses on trying to find something that finally feels like home again.
I’ve never lost anyone in my immediate family. I’ve never really lost anyone very close to me to death at all, in fact. My family is very close, however, and it scares me to contemplate losing one of them in that way, permanently. I can only imagine that this kind of loss has to be…well, scarring.
From what I can figure, I think I tend to choose that character quirk because of how much that scares me. I have a hard time seeing a family functioning the way it once did when one of their own is lost, dead, and taken unexpectedly. That feeling of the emotional rug being pulled out from under you, leaving you entirely at a loss for how to feel.
There’s more I’d like to say, and more eloquently, but now I’m falling asleep at the keyboard. That’s what I get for putting it off. Maybe late,y I can elaborate as desired.