Monday, March 8, 2010

Santiago's Hindrances ~ Draft

As well as the fictitious characters of books and stories, real people have to deal with obstacles every day of their lives. Whether it be paying back some bills on time, or slaying the metaphorical dragon that stands in your way, you will always come across some sort of obstruction.

Santiago, the star of The Old Man and the Sea fights obstacles that most people couldn’t even comprehend in their lives. He battled carnivorous sharks and a demonic marlin, as well as competing with old age and his loneliness without Manolin. Somehow, the old man won, and he now has a story for the ages to tell.

The great marlin is Santiago’s primary objective in the story, and in that sense, his greatest obstacle. “Now alone, and out of sight of land, he was fast to see the biggest fish he had ever seen and the biggest fish he had ever heard of” (63).

For three days, the old man and the fish fought for the victory, and after many hours of reeling and hoping, Santiago finally slew his adversary. It was not an easy task, however. When the old man returned home, he was physically and emotionally stricken, despite the fact that he beat the fish.

If Santiago thought the battle was over after simply killing the marlin, he was sadly mistaken. As he thought “The shark was no accident” (100), his boat is attacked by several unremorseful sharks attracted to the flesh of the bleeding marlin.

Somehow, the elderly fisherman drives away the carnivores, but not before they strip the fish down to the bone and leave Santiago with nothing but a glorified skeleton. The sharks crushed Santiago’s spirit when they stole what was rightfully his.

Though the old man had to deal with numerous external conflicts, he had to deal with his own mental demons. In this case, the demon came in the form of loneliness. As Santiago speaks “’No, you’re with a lucky boat now. Stay with them’” (10), and in doing so he is urging Manolin to not be with him, though the boy is one of the only things that make the old man happy. In saving Manolin from his own “bad luck”, the old man is creating his biggest obstruction of all.

Several times throughout the story, Santiago longs for the boy, whether it is to assist him in something or simply to provide conversation to. Like the delirious sociopath he may have became, Santiago talks to himself and the surrounding animals to fill the void of solitude the world has granted him.

Lest anyone forget, Santiago is an old man. Catching small fish is probably difficult for the wizened fisherman. It must’ve taken an extraordinary amount of strength and willpower to even contend with the great marlin. And after time, even his body starts to break down, as he states “I hate a cramp. It is a treachery of one’s own body” (61-62).

This leads to several questions regarding the old man and the state of his body and age. If he were younger, would that have necessarily made the oceanic battle easier? If Santiago’s hand was healthier, could he have fended off the sharks better? Sometimes, the biggest obstacle in our lives is simply one of chronology.

Though the odds were tremendously pitted against him, Santiago somehow came out on top of his adventure with the great marlin. He clashed with sharks, brawled with old age, and wrestled with seclusion.

How many others could have survived against those threats, let alone defeat them? Even though he was ensnared in a bleak realm of restrictions, the old man carved his own path with his abilities that contradicted his many weaknesses and obstacles.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Short Story ~ DNA

Since the beginning of man, humans have loathed those different from themselves, simply by having a different set of genetics. Whether it is skin, hair, or eye color, or a mental ability or disability, someone has always hated another person. The case remains four hundred years into the future. Following decades of poverty, disease, and war, the Earth in the year 2446 is ruled by three powerful monarchs, and the world is therefore split into three territories. Democracy is a lost word. Free speech is forgotten. Trepidation of a rare but powerful mutant gene creates terror in even the most sophisticated human soul. This is a small fragment of a future that will not necessarily become, but one that very well could.

The eyes of Ashe Randall flashed open, awaking to another overcast day. He scanned the room quickly, just to see the myriad of twin-sized beds and their teenage occupants, all boys between the ages of thirteen and sixteen. Yes, just another morning in the austere M-4 boardinghouse of Westpoint in the Torak Region. And there he was: a portrait of William Torak himself, sitting next to the door. His truculent eyes were locked in artistic anger, watching over the sleeping teens. A world powerful tyrant acting a twisted guardian angel. Ashe disregarded the painting and worked his way through the maze of bunks that had been his home for four years. In M-5, I’ll finally get a full-sized bed, Ashe thought, noticing the incompatibility between the small beds and his own height.
After traveling two stories to the ground floor, known as the Recreation Area, Ashe grabbed a bagel and watched one of the five television channels, The World Report. Thankfully, no one else was awake yet, so Ashe watched a bored looking reporter in peace. Apparently, some seditious rebels had burned down a small government office in the Empliss region, but of course, they were immediately killed on site.
“One of the free thinking and dangerous men was a Zaliph,” the TV reporter said vapidly.
Those words threw Ashe into a depression instantly. Zaliph was the name given to a human born with an extremely rare mutant gene that grants the host superhuman speed, strength, and intelligence, as well as complete manipulative abilities over electricity. About one in five –hundred-thousand people are born with this gene, and once the government finds who a Zaliph is, they slaughter them. Simple as that. Though only a handful of cases exist of a Zaliph rebelling against society, every one of the three world governments feels threatened, and a constant and tenacious public paranoia was developed.
Why would a law-abiding sixteen year-old honor student care about the death of a human monstrosity? The answer is quite simple. From his birth, Ashe Randall has been a Zaliph, and has been living with a surreptitious ability all his life. Like Ashe, most Zaliphs live among normal humans for their whole lives, as long as they never expose their powers.
Ashe chewed his bagel, thinking about his existence. No one can know the truth. Not even Silva. Silva was Ashe’s girlfriend who lived right across the street in boardinghouse F-4. They were in the same class in school, and had known each other since the age of seven. It was just last year that they decided they loved each other, and had been “dating” ever since.
A low, electronic wake up bell signaled six o’clock, and Ashe heard the stirring of his many roommates on all three floors. Not wanting to get trapped in the anarchic breakfast surge, Ashe signed himself out of the boardinghouse and walked onto the street. The paved road sat beneath a forever overcast sky, a memento of the past nuclear battles. Behind Ashe was his square sleeping quarters, and the other male boardinghouses sat juxtaposed, facing the female inns across the street. And directly across the road, at the entrance of the F-4 house, was a sixteen year-old girl with long, jet black hair, ironically named Silva. She smiled softly as Ashe trotted across the empty street and embraced her.
“I missed you,” she whispered into the ear of the one she loved.
“Just since yesterday?” Ashe rhetorically asked, smiling and facing her, but not letting go. Silva leaned forward and kissed him on the mouth.
“Shut up. Let’s get to school, okay?” Silva slipped her hand into Ashe’s, and they started down the street towards the public district. Oh, Silva… Ashe thought dolefully to himself. I want to tell you the truth, but I can’t know your reaction… or what you might think or do.

And so an average day started. The ugly brick building in the center of Westpoint housed a library, hospital, and a school for those wishing an education separate from military training. The subjects available to sixteen year-olds were arithmetic, language arts, and world history, where one learned of times around the turn of the century, around the year 2000. This class interested Ashe the most, as they portrayed a world ruled by many countries, with elected leaders and something they called “religion”. It sounded ideal, far much better than the world he lived in, though he would never admit that out loud, for fear of his own well being. However, today’s lesson ended with a distressing note. At least, to any Zaliphs that happened to be listening.
“Today”, the usually lofty Mr. Rossetti drawled, “we will be visited by a special government agent. This man is originally from the Rozen region, but now he works for the Torak. Now I want no one to be alarmed, but this man is a Zaliph”.
As soon as the words passed his lips, the class erupted in panicky clamor. Ashe tried to remain his best from turning pale. From across the room, Silva wasn’t talking, but she looked worried. “Quiet down!!” the teacher yelled. “This man is from the government! He is to be trusted and respected. Otherwise, he could probably kill you,” he ended frankly. This time no one spoke.
A boy that had remained phlegmatic during the educator’s speech raised his hand. “Why is he coming here? What has he been assigned?”
Mr. Rossetti smiled. “They say, from interviews, that a Zaliph knows one of its’ kind simply by looking into their eyes. The mutated eye has a small difference from the human eye. When a Zaliph looks into a human eye, he simply sees whatever color we see it as. However, when he gazes into another Zaliph eye, it appears as a humanly impossible color, such as yellow, red, or purple. We cannot see this, but they can.” Ashe felt his heartbeat rise to its apex. This was true.
“The job of Agent Hasigawa is to detect a Zaliph, apprehend them, and kill it.” Now all the students fell silent, but everyone looked relieved, including, Ashe observed with dismay, Silva.
“He will wander our town for a few days to confirm that all the residents of Westpoint are not Zaliphs. If you come across him, treat him with respect, and make sure he can see your eyes. Class dismissed!”

“That was kind of frightening, huh?” Silva commented to Ashe on the journey home from school. “Do you think anyone we know could actually be a Zaliph?? And what if… hey Ashe! Are you okay? You look sick.”
Dammit! Ashe thought angrily. I’m letting myself appear afraid! “Yeah, I’ve got a little headache. I’m okay,” Ashe lied.
“Oh well,” Silva said, stopping at the entrance of F-4. “I’ll see you tomorrow?” She fell into Ashe’s arms and kissed him for a few seconds.
I hope, Ashe thought.
“Yeah, definitely! Enjoy your dinner,” Ashe replied, hiding his emotions. Silva waved as she disappeared into the boardinghouse. Ashe sighed as she left his vision. Now, with words that sent a chill down his spine, a new voice spoke.
“That really is unfortunate… now I’ll have that on my conscious for a week!” A tall man of old Japanese decent dressed in a business suit stood not more than thirty yards away. But Ashe didn’t notice what the man was wearing… he was looking at his eyes. His cruel, violet eyes.
Without waiting for his body to become numb, Ashe sprung into the air and climbed the boardinghouse windows to the top of the F-4 roof. His eyes jumped from one corner to the other, searching for any possible weapon. Before he could complete his search, the man talked again, this time mere feet away from where Ashe crouched.
“Search: complete. Though you may already know, my name is Hasigawa. I do not care what yours is; it’ll simply be a memory in a few moments anyway. I hope you weren’t too close to that girl downstairs,” he said. A strong wind arose and blew his black bangs off his face. The air also changed… and the clouds got darker. I may actually be in luck, Ashe thought hopefully.
“Such a handsome boy, too,” Hasigawa smirked, pulling a dagger from the inside of his jacket. “Maybe blood will add to your physical attributes.” A roll of thunder, and Hasigawa was flying at Ashe, dagger poised in hand. As fast as he could, Ashe jumped off the ground and dodged, but not without a minor slash wound on his arm.
His arm was leaking blood, but that wasn’t the only source of liquid. Light drizzle covered Ashe’s bare arms, and his hopes were confirmed. A storm had arrived. Despite his lack of electrical abilities, Ashe called upon his mutant abilities. I need to be accurate… I only have a single chance… Ashe thought feverishly. He felt a slight surge from his own body, but a larger one from the lightning bolt the pierced the sky and was guided into the torso of Mr. Hasigawa. He never even had a chance to scream.

Ashe looked down at the charred corpse, fear growing within him. They’ll know a Zaliph lives around here… its impossible no one saw me climb this damn building. His arm stung as the pain augmented, and blood merged with the raindrops. Westpoint is no longer safe for me… I’d be endangering me and Silva… a single tear fell on the cold concrete ground, only to be engulfed by the now driving rain. Ashe stood up straight and turned towards the town line.
“Goodbye, Silva,” he said aloud. Seconds later, he was dashing and jumping from rooftop to rooftop of the prisons the people called “boardinghouses”. As the rain pounded against the flesh of Ashe Randall, he thought of where he would go, who he would encounter, and what he would do in the new life he had to create.

Monday, December 21, 2009

"Fire" Book Review

"Fire", by Kristin Cashore, is a fantasy-adventure-romance novel. It takes place in what appears to be medieval times, in a land known as "The Dells". In relation to the previous book of Cashore, "Graceling", "Fire" takes place about 30 or 40 years before Katsa debuts in "Graceling". They have no real connection to each other, though they share the same antagonist, in "Graceling" as a corrupting king and in "Fire" as an evil little child. Like its predecessor, "Fire" has a female protagonist dealing with a self conflicting attribute they were born with.

In "Fire", the Dells are teaming with mutant animals known as monsters. They are basically the same as normal animals, except that they are born with fur and scales and feathers of marvelous colors, such as indigo and scarlet and fuchsia. Humans are often hypnotized by the beauty of the strange animals. Carnivorous monsters are also born with a blood lust of other monsters. Here lives Fire, a human monster. No one can resist her stunning figure, with a head of hair blazing with shades of red, orange, yellow, and some pink. Like all monsters, Fire can control the minds of anyone she wants, simply by thinking. Everyone except Prince Brigan, the brother of the king of the Dells. What started out as a hatred for one another would turn into a friendship and eventually love between Brigan and Fire. However, the kingdom is caught in a three way civil war, and though she may not want to, Fire will end up saving the whole kingdom. Her abilities don't go unnoticed, though as a young Leck (evil king of Monsea on the other side of the mountains that separate the Dells and the Seven Kingdoms where Katsa lives) kidnaps and attempts to control Fire. Fire will have to make some intense choices to escape her captor, who has a Grace similar to hers: the ability to control minds.

I thought "Fire" was an excellent read. Cashore writes descriptively about the settings, emotions, thoughts and dialogue throughout both books I have read by her. The lingering thought of "what's gonna happen next" kept me sad and needy every time I set down the advance copy I was fortunate to read. Not quite as feminine as Sarah Dessen's works and not quite as complicated as Stephen King's works, "Fire" is a great stimulating balance of human error, human love, and inhuman abilities.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Adventures in Audio

For centuries, mankind (or just me…) has been torn between their materialistic possessions and the moments in their lives that define who they are. Personally, I try to make it by with as little expensive possessions as possible. However, I can sometimes be swayed to buy something I really want, like, or need. I believe this is human nature, to pursue endlessly until all the things that are wanted are eventually acquired. Some people, and even some religions, have noticed this habit and try to prevent it as much as possible to limit their earthly belongings and hold on to the memories that make them who they are.

Orange, red, and gold fill the canvas that is the treetops behind me. I am wearing an uncomfortable yet fancy uniform, and my alto saxophone is locked between my hands on a football field, several hours away from my home. Others surround me, in the same uniform, with assorted instruments, but with the same look of frozen intensity. I find myself at another marching band competition, about to begin our show “Rush n’ Roll”, featuring music by Rush. With literally seconds given for mental, physical, and emotional preparation, we are finally ready to perform and be judged. As we step into carefully planned formations and positions, Geddy Lee (vocalist) screams out of my saxophone and Neil Peart (drummer) beats seven separate drums behind me. Before any of us know it, 12 minutes have passed, and our final note is being held.
After our performance, there is a lot of waiting around to do. Sometimes we wait for awards for up to five hours. During this extensive musical duration, we eat, listen to the other bands, and, if it happens to be a particularly arctic evening, huddle together for warmth. Eventually, the award ceremony begins. Being in the smallest group division, our category (group 1A) is always called first. As the lowest placing schools go by, our anticipation and excitement grows. 15 minutes later, it is 11:30. We are riding home, with 1st place in our possession.

Orange, white, and black envelop my cranium as I nod a heavy rock beat. Holding back the lyrics I want to resonate, I increase the volume to its maximum, letting the Japanese metal composition flow through my mind. All the distracting noises of the world are canceled out, thanks to my Skullcandy “Hesh” wrap-around headphones.
I acquired my monstrous headphones at a Theory store at the Holyoke mall, on the day my pathetic ear buds finally gave out. I only intended to purchase an inexpensive pair of ear buds, perhaps in a vibrant green or purple, but when I laid eyes on the huge tiger-colored headphones, I had to have them. I asked the heavily pierced clerk how much they were, and the answer discouraged me a little. 50 dollars for the insane technology. He may have just been getting me to buy his pricy merchandise, but the clerk told me of his personal pair, and actually let me listen through them. Never before had I heard such clarity, and as the clerk’s lips moved up and down, I noted the ability of noise canceling. Eight minutes later, I walked out of Theory with a new pair of Skullcandy headphones.

As far as enormous headphones and band competitions go, I have the best of each. My competitions give me practice and experience I will need for future performances, while my headphones give me enhanced audio enjoyment. Without my headphones, I would have to resort to a lesser music projector and be without the clarity of two speakers hugging each ear. Without the competitions, I wouldn’t have something to look forward to in the late autumn, and that would be excruciatingly boring. I will stick to my theory, in saying that humans are more connected with their memories and experiences, though the occasional expensive treat is always accepted and (I believe) required to keep the sense of humanity.

Friday, September 11, 2009

A Different War

Ender's Game, Ender
How I Live Now, Daisy
A shuttle station

It was not like before.
Smoldering structures and a tormented landscape lay before the eyes of Ender Wiggin on his third return home. Something had gone terribly wrong in the months he was gone, and it was obviously not the buggers as it had been before. This time, it was old-fashioned war: humans versus humans.
The shuttle that brought Ender didn’t stay long, of course, so he was left in a devastated shuttle station with little more than his belongings, several armed soldiers, a couple broken vending machines, and a girl about 17 years old.
At first, Ender thought (and hoped) that it was his sister, Valentine. Alas, it soon became true that this was not so as the figure walked up to Ender and introduced herself.
“Hello,” she said simply. “My name is Daisy. I’m here to explain the condition of the Earth you’ve been protecting for all these years.” Ender already knew the answers, but he let Daisy continue. Talking would reduce his lack of comfort from the natural gravity and flat ground.
“As you’ve noticed,” Daisy continued, “war has broken out while the majority of America’s fighters were away in space. Naturally, we were defenseless and useless against the assault. This is the state most of the country has been in for about a year now. Nowhere is safe, but they told me you’ll manage fine on your own.”
“They were right,” Ender said as he surveyed the area. “There’s no need to put more lives in danger. He noticed that the girl had not asked his name. So they know about my planetary murder even in homeland warfare, Ender thought coldly.
If Daisy was disappointed at Ender’s words, she didn’t show it. “Okay then. There’s a bus waiting outside the station. I have another shuttle to greet”. Sure enough, another shuttle was landing over Ender’s shoulder.
It was just then that Ender noticed the soldier on the glass roof above. He couldn’t tell what side he was on, but he made a fair assumption a rocket flew from the man’s launcher and collided with the incoming shuttle. One fireball and shockwave later set off a storm of bullets from the surrounding soldiers into the ceiling, shattering the glass causing the assailant to fall to the concrete below. The rocket wielder was a distraction. Through the double entrance doors came about 30 other armed forces, and the fighting began.
Ender felt a push on his back. Daisy grasped his shirt and pulled him into a nearby bathroom, away from the bullets. Ender wasn’t used to having someone else make the decisions, but he made an exception since it wasn’t his war this time. The gunfire echoed around the restroom, but at least the two could hear each other.
“Like I said,” Daisy panted, “nowhere is safe”.
“Our first priority is to escape the station.” Ender had never fought on Earth before, but he knew how to survival tactfully. “I noticed one wall that was torn down when I arrived. It’s behind the fighting with sufficient cover. We can run from there”.
“They told me you were the best,” she said with a sad smile, “but I was skeptical.”
“Everyone always is,” agreed Ender as he led the way into the firefight. About half of the forces on each side were already dead, but, just as Ender planned, there was no one near the hole in the wall. So they ran.
In the long run, luck was with them. There was a lot of cover, and the only soldier who noticed their escape was one of the militia that greeted Ender. The gunfire was still audible after Ender and Daisy had made it through the hole, but the station bus waited in the back for the return to the city.
For a rare moment in his life, Ender didn’t know what to do next. “What do I do to help repair this broken place?”
Daisy smiled. “Do what I do. Even the smallest things I’ve done so far have improved the city’s welfare”.
“In that case, I will return with you to end this war.” The second war in two months, Ender noted to himself as he and Daisy stepped onto the bus, towards his next mission.