Monday, October 29, 2007

Piper and the Gren - Part 8 (Epilogue)

Sunday October 29th, 1995

Though the neighborhood legend would soon say that Old Man Medry was buried under a full moon on Halloween, the actual funeral was on a bleak Sunday afternoon. The cold mist made white noise against Piper’s umbrella as she looked down at the casket. She shuffled her weight uncomfortably. The grass squished beneath her feet. She and Oliver Blair stood alone in the Blair cemetery, but she could feel the eyes of the neighborhood on them, watching from behind their curtains. The official understanding was that Old Man Medry had died of a massive heart attack brought on by the excitement in the graveyard. But Piper, huddled under her umbrella, doubted his heart had anything to do with his passing.

In the awkward silence, Piper looked toward the road and was surprised to see Toady and Simon waiting. Despite their many attempts to visit, she hadn’t spoken with either of them since the attack. She hadn’t really spoken with anyone besides the police who took her statement.

“I was just looking for Old Man Medry’s secret tombstone,” she had told them. It was partially true, so Piper felt safe sticking to the story. She had become aware through her mother, however, that the town was not so quick to accept her innocence in the affair. The most commonly told story had her narrowly escaping when her midnight drug deal had turned into assault.

Additional controversy began when rumors spread that the police could find no record of William Medrier in their database. Most of those who believed the rumor felt it was most likely nothing more than a computer glitch since the mystery went away so quickly. But a small core of conspiracy buffs swore that Oliver Blair had put bribes in the right hands to make them stop asking questions.

Piper twisted her shoes against the damp grass and considered inviting Simon and Toady to join her at the graveside. She wasn’t quite ready.

From a tree-limb overhead, Piper felt a sense of loss that she recognized all too well. The gren crouched unmoving behind a cluster of yellow and orange leaves, his mottled skin invisible had she not known where to look. “More and more alike everyday,” she mumbled as she wiped a bit of moisture from her cheek. It might have been rain, but she wasn’t sure.

“I’m sorry. Did you say something?” stammered Oliver, shaken from his dazed contemplation.

“Nothing. I…I just don’t know what to say. I mean…I didn’t even know him. Why did you think it was so important for me to come here? I’d really rather be back home.”

Oliver nodded sympathetically. “No, you didn’t know him.” He glanced into the branches overhead, “…but you will. He was a…well, if not a good man exactly, certainly a good friend. I think you’ll be happy you came…later.”

A few moments passed before he continued. “I’m very sorry, Piper for everything that’s happened to you.”

Piper shrugged with feigned indifference.

“I know it’s been frightening,” Blair soothed, “and…certainly confusing. But, where we are now…all of us, is a good place for a new beginning.”

Blair fidgeted with his fingers as he spoke and Piper’s eye hovered on the gray-stone ring she had noticed previously. Compared to the other, more decorative jewelry Mr. Blair wore, the ring should have been completely unremarkable, but for one brief moment it seemed to shimmer with a soft jade iridescence. She blinked and found it was once again the same drab gray as the tombstones that surrounded them.

“I don’t know what’s so good about everything,” Piper retorted. “The whole town hates me and Medry’s dead.”

Oliver paused as he considered this. “Well, I wouldn’t say the whole town.” He nodded toward Banner Street where the two boys continued to wait in silent support. “And Will…well…Will had been ready to go for a while.”

A wave of grief washed down from the branches and Piper pondered the gren above. “So, what am I supposed to do about the gren?”

“Well, nothing specific. Just…get him out of that hole he hides in all the time.” He smiled at Piper. “And who knows…maybe he’ll do the same for you, eh?”

“I’m not hiding from anything,” Piper shot back.

“If you say so,” said Oliver flatly before changing the subject. “Look, along the lines of the whole… new beginning things. I wanted to give you this.” He pulled a key from his pocket and held it out for Piper.

She hesitated.

“It’s to the caretaker’s cottage,” Oliver continued. “As far as I’m concerned, there’s still a tenant there who’s paid in full as long as he wants it,” he smiled up toward the gren, “even if he does opt to sleep out back. The cottage is…safe for the gren and you can come and go through the back without people seeing you.”

Piper took the key and started to speak, but realized she didn’t know what to say. She settled on a simple, “Thank you,” before turning back to the grave.

Oliver brushed a bit beaded of mist from his suit jacket. “I think I’m going to step away for a while. Roger won’t be back with the backhoe for a few hours, so take you’re your time if you want.”

“What?” stammered Piper. “That’s it? That’s the funeral?”

Laughter erupted form Oliver as he took a step away. “Yup. Will was never one for long-winded speeches. I think he’d be pretty pleased with how this service is going.” He started to turn but hesitated. “If you need anything…really, anything…you know where to find me.”

As he walked into the steadily increasing drizzle, Piper turned her attention toward Toady and Simon…and the neighborhood behind them. She felt the now familiar pull of the gren’s attention and for the first time since the attack, she relaxed and let him in.

Memories washed over her. She saw Medry, his face noticeably younger and colored by the dancing light of a campfire. The smell of cooking meat and wood smoke filled the air and she recalled having caught a rabbit earlier that day. The Old Man was laughing, recounting a story, the details of which didn’t matter.

Piper smile and concentrated on a similar memory of her father…an unremarkable dinner-time conversation that she missed so much, but which filled her with warmth to recall.

The town still seemed petty and cruel in its rush to judge and condemn her, but Piper suddenly realized that she didn’t care so much anymore. The phrase “this too shall pass” had taken root in her consciousness and she found it suddenly difficult to get upset with the current mindset of people she barely knew. In all likelihood, she had a very long life ahead of her. And while the prospect of an average lifespan had seemed nearly infinite to Piper only a week ago, she found that a longer view had settled in her mind and had changed what she thought important.

Simon, for instance, who had placed himself in harm’s way to protect her in Critter’s basement. Toady, who certainly risked punishment just by being here. Even her mother, who struggled everyday to define a new life for herself in a world without her husband.

She felt warm despite the drizzle as she made her way toward her waiting friends. A song escaped her in a whisper as her feet splashed through shallow puddles. “All I can say,” she sang silently, “is that my life is pretty strange.”

Each boy launched into a barrage of questions as she approached, but she ignored them. “Guys,” she began. “I’m sorry I’ve been weird the last couple days. But…I need to ask for a huge favor.”

“You name it,” said Toady.

“Absolutely,” agreed Simon.

The sky was hazy and the crisp breeze was emptying the leaves from the trees behind the caretaker’s cottage. Glimmers from the surface of the lake far below sparkled through the newly bare limbs and through the mist she could just make out the ruins of the old Snyder castle perched three hills away. She thought of Guillaume Medrier, a life spent sequestered in this fieldstone house. He was vastly changed from the masochistic child he had been, but not enough to continue his friend’s growth. The gren had chosen her to further his understanding of friendship. It was a glorious gift and a horrendous burden.

She was pulled from her thoughts as a tiny shadow zipped behind the tree line and toward the back yard. Piper knew the gren would be waiting by the time they made their way around the back trail. She smiled warmly at Simon and Toady before saying, “I need you to learn sign language with me.”

The End





Message from the Author:

Please sign the guest book

Thanks for reading. As many of you know, this is the first story I’ve completed since I was in college almost 10 years ago. It’s been a struggle to complete and absolutely nerve racking to share with the faceless void of the Internet. I know many of you have opted not to take part in the comment discussions and that’s fine. However, as I finish up the story, I’d really love to put a name to the folks with whom I’ve shared this story. For this final chapter of the story, please send a comment, even if it’s just “I read this.” If, however, you’d like to say more and you’re like many of my friends and family who claim to “not know what to say,” here are some easy ones:

1) Did ya like it?
2) Did you see what was coming or were you surprised by the events that unfolded?
3) Did you feel cheated that some loose ends were left dangling?
4) What questions do you still have?
5) Would you read another story in this series? (I’m hoping yes since I’m currently working on one)

I’m not sure when I’ll have the next story finished, but I’m hoping it goes faster than the first time around. If you’d like to be here for the next story but don’t want to waste a lot of time checking back here or setting up an rss feed, I can send you an email before I post the next installment. Just email me at jkb at acrossthe dot net.

Thanks

This story is, among other things, about the loved ones around us that make us who we are. I’ve been particularly fortunate in this regard and would like to thank everyone who helped this story be what it is. Since that’s a huge list of friends and family, I’ll only name a few by name (but I hope the rest of you know who you are).

My wife, Moonshot, not only for forcing me to do much needed editing overhauls as she read and reread the story for me, but also for listening to me go on and one about the gren for the past 10 months. I probably would have strangled me months ago.

Simon, Mark, Jess, Elsa, Taltap, Emilie, Mouse, and Louis for letting me know what they were thinking along the ride. Silence can truly drive one to madness when he’s cumpulsivley wondering how people are reacting to his tale. Thanks for talking me through it in the comments section.

My brother, Jet. Not only did her contribute to my sanity by commenting, he also inspired much of the story by actually experiencing many of the hurdles Piper herself faced. He is, for me, the star of this piece.

A friendly nod to Cheeseburger Brown for continually proving that one can work a full time job, suffer through a commute, own an home with all the accompanying chores, spend time with his wife and kids…and still, somehow, find time to write.

And finally, to my daughter, Norah. Visions of one day sharing these stories with her inspired me to pick up writing again and also made it obvious that it needed to be a brave little girl who stood up to the gren. In addition, much of the story-plotting and daydreaming required to put this fable together was done while cradling her in my arms at ungodly hours of the night. This story would not exist without her.

Again, thank you for reading. I truly hope you enjoyed it. If you did, be sure to tell someone.

Your goblin-haunted guide,
Moksha Gren

19 comments:

Jess Austin said...

Great story, Moksha. After reading the whole thing, it seems it would take a more knowledgeable editor than myself to suggest any improvements. (Although take my mid-story, knuckleheaded dialogue concerns however you want.) By all means, keep writing!

I did suspect it would be Medrier at the funeral, but I thought he would get there more violently. Conflict without violence is to be preferred, so I'm glad I was wrong.

Moksha Gren said...

Jess - I'm glad you liked it. I plan to take your knukleheaded dialogue concerns to heart. Moonshot had mentioned this as an issue before I released it, I opted to let it ride. It is clearly something that needs fixing eventually, but hopefully not something that takes too much away from the story as a whole.

I decided to share this story in blog form so as to get real-time feedback. That's not the same thing as real-time ego-stroking. Problems, while less fun to hear, are far better instructors than blanket praise. So, I appriciate your candor and hope you'll continue to share your thoughts in future stories.

For the sake of discussion, I'll even share a concern that was said to me in private. One reader said they didn't like the gren using sign language. They felt it made the gren too...human. Thoughts?

Susan M. said...

I really enjoyed reading this and look forward to reading more in the series!!!

I don't feel cheated but it definately left me wanting more.

Thanks for the good read.

Mark said...

Nice ending, with the suggestion that she's going to introduce her friends to the gren. What better way to help "it" understand friendship than introducing people who stuck by her when everybody else would not.

In future stories, I'll try to be more public with my more critical comments (instead of sending a cowardly e-mail). Seems I wasn't the only one with concerns about the dialogue.

That said, this was well-written and obviously you spent time on it. I hope future installments go, as you said, "faster than the first time," because you already have the story in your head, not because you'll be less careful in the telling.

Mark said...

The sign language thing isn't that hard for me to take, because real animals can do some of it already. The Gren, obviously more self-aware than animals in our known world, certainly should be able to sign.

JET said...

I really enjoyed the story. I figured the ending out at the end of Chapter 7.
I am interested in what happens with the Gren and Piper.
Glad I could be an inspiration for the story. In case anyone was wondering, I was not almost molested in a cemetary by a guy named Critter..his name was Joe. okay..that's a joke.
Very well done Bro!

Anonymous said...

Congratulations, my friend. You are no longer a businessman - you're an author with a day job. I always knew it was only a matter of time. :) Next time someone asks you what you do, try "writer" on for size & see how it feels! I cannot wait for the next installment.

-Polly

Mouse said...

It was a great story, Moksha, I enjoyed it very much. Although I think I may wait until the next installment has been completely posted, rather than reading it serially. I kept forgetting what name went with what character (also a persistent problem for me in real life) and got a bit frustrated.
I give it 2 thumbs up. :)

Jess Austin said...

I loved the sign language thing. Weren't there some gorillas that learned to sign? The explanation was that they didn't have the vocal apparatus to speak a human language, but they do have the right mental faculties for "human" communication.

This is also a great way for Piper & Co. to make a commitment to the gren. That's a lovely detail to include right at the end of the story.

Happy Halloween everybody!

Elsa said...

I thought you did a good job of keeping the reader intrigued by giving just enough information, but making sure to leave something for the reader to wonder about. That is very important for a reader like me. I will suffer through something that I am not currently enjoying (especially if there is just too much description/extra info) to get to the resolution for which I am waiting. I didn’t have to suffer through your story:) Just giving you some insight into me as a reader and possibly others.

Is your target audience children/preteens? I ran the first 3 parts of your story through the Word program flesh-kincaid readability and it scored at about a 5th grade level. That is good, if indeed, your target audience is children. One thought I have based on the assumption that your target audience is children: Is setting your story in the past around 1995 (before many 5th graders were born) an essential part of your story? I am asking because much of the fun background for us, Gen Xers, would be totally lost on the target audience. A good thing is that even if the reader doesn’t get some of the references, it doesn’t seem to affect the story too much. Also, some reader’s would be a little turned off by reading something that takes place in the past. I am a reader that hates picking up a story set in the 80s for which you can really tell is set in the 80s because it takes me out of the story a bit. Now that could just be me! Other people may be ecstatic to go back a decade. Strangely, I don’t have the same objection to stories set anytime before or during the 1960s.

These thoughts were given at random and by a person that has no writing talent - just a reader, never a writer! You can take 'em or leave 'em.

Émilie B said...

Way to set us firmly into the mood for Halloween! ;)

I would have liked to place more comments throughout, but as this is a longer read than the average post, life was usually calling for me by the time I was finishing a chapter, so time for commenting was cut. I have to say that - while I appreciate this blog form story posting (first real experience with it) - I find out I don't enjoy reading from the screen as much, for longer texts. But this isn't (quite) on-topic, so let's focus back on your story...:

I really like Piper. I have a little trouble placing her age, because I feel she's a little too keen on analysing other people and her environment, but then again I guess I'm comparing her to clueless me at her age. Plus, it's not a bad thing, if we're targeting a younger audience, to design smarter heroes: the readers shouldn't be underestimated and/or their heroes should have a way of thinking and attitude that the readers can look up to. Piper also reminds me of Harriet from Tartt's "The Little Friend" (a book for adults, but with children protagonists... and sort of scary to boot!). If you're thinking of using Piper again in future installments, Moksha, you might like to have a look at that novel... it's quite long, and NOT fast paced at all, but it's very nicely crafted, and it might hold some ideas for your young smart and brave heroin.

The gren is cool. I thought it was a nice blend of scary, spooky, creature, interesting, original, quirky and fuzzy. It's great that he's this very scary being that will turn out to be a nice little fuzz ball... in a while yet. Now he's just on the verge, which keeps a tentative air to the emerging friendship.

Bonus points for setting the climax in a cemetery at night!

I'm keeping the RSS feeds to catch any future installments, whenever they show up.

Good job, Moksha, and good luck with future writing. :D

Anonymous said...

P.S. - I forgot to say how much I enjoyed the blog format. Feed reader + public transit made this perfect for me. In particular, I'd say you broke the story out into the perfect sized chunks. In fact, I had already been using DailyLit.com to read other books and stories in day-sized chunks by rss. Yours were just about the same length as what they use, so I'd say you have your finger on the pulse of the make-your-daily-reading-manageable movement! Of course it's no substitute for a gloriously bound hard copy someday...

-Polly

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear Moksha,

I enjoyed this story, and when each chapter was done I wanted to know more. That, in and of itself, means you've done some stuff absolutely right, my friend.

Meanwhile, in answer to your call for critique, here are some comments from a notorious hack, in no particular order.

* I felt that I was allowed to suspect too early in the telling that the gren was not a source of real menace, and that he would turn out to be a decent chap...uh, thing. This sabotaged some of the anticipation that had been building from achieving its ripest potential.

* I was confused at points by Piper's backstory (drugs, father). I think I needed some points spelled out for me a little earlier.

* Apart from the clue in the title, in the first chapter I was having trouble deciding who the protagonist was. You might want to cement that relationship between the reader and Piper a little earlier, for thick people like me.

* Your prose improved over the course of the telling. While the first chapter seemed to have undergone the most refining and care, it also suffered the most from some needlessly over-complicated phrases. As you relaxed into the telling you allowed your voice to become simpler, and I think it became much stronger that way.

Bring on the seque/prequel/*quel!

Love,
Cheeseburger Brown

Moksha Gren said...

Susan - Glad to have you aboard!

Mark - Thanks. The sign language made an appearance for several reasons. First, I wanted to avoid the gren speaking. I couldn't picture it without imagine bad cg lip movements in my head. So I opted early on to have his vocal chords destroyed outside of Edinburgh. It seemed logical to me that he'd be able to communicate this way (even with his missing fingers.) Second, I was watching a lot of "Signing Time" videos with Norah. And Thee, I grew up watching my cousin Sarah sign and liked the idea of a silent nod in her direction.

Jet - True, I probably should have specified that the assault was NOT something I took from your life. But when looking for something truly heavy for a little girl to confess to the gren...I landed very quickly on your problematic dip into drug dealing.

Polly - Wow, the Seattle Lurker shows herself! And it's wonderful to see you. I suppose it was inevitable that I'd end up beating my head against this thing called prose again. Thanks for having faith. Although I'm not quite sure if I'm ready to call myself a writer just yet. Let me get a few more stories under my belt and maybe even a few readers who aren't existing friends or family...then we'll talk ;)

Mouse - I know many people avoid the installment reading. Personally, I love it; so writing for this format suits me. As for forgetting who's who...I suggest walking around mulling over the finer points of my stories. If you spend an inordinate amount of time contemplating the story...you'll be sure to remember who is who. That's what I'd suggest for my next story. But, if you'd rather wait...I won't hold it against you ;)

Jess - True. I guess I was actually ok with the "human" criticism leveled against the signing. While I didn't put a huge spotlight on it, it was important to me that the gren turned out to be the more human of the two monsters introduced in this story. Oddly, signing seems more human to me than speech. Even the goblins are able to spit out a word or two.

Elsa - I'm not really sure who my target audience is. I wrote this story, I guess, for an older Norah and for myself. So it's full of stuff I think is cool. And while it deals with adult issues like death, drugs, and rape, it does so in a way that I'd let my pre-teen daughter read as an opening to discussion. So, while I didn't really set out to write a kid's story, I guess that's what I ended up with. And I'm ok with that. And though it may seem strange to have Gen-X nods in a kid's story...I tried to keep them peripheral. I look forward to explaining them to tweener Norah someday.

As for why exactly I set it in 1995. Simple, when I started writing this, I had yet to map out where I wanted the story to go after the curtain closed on this tale. I knew I'd write more, but I refused to allow myself to get sidetracked with the whole grand saga until I got a rough draft done. One of my great problems in the past has always been that I'd create a simple story...something nice and easy to practice my fiction. But, by the time I started writing...I'd have blown it into an epic that was so complex that I hesitated to tackle it as my return to creative writing. This time I put blinders on and stayed the course. However, to do that, I had to leave myself wiggle room for future stories. I figured by setting it in 1995, I had 12 years to play with.

Perhaps a more pragmatic answer than you were expecting...but it's the truth.

Emilie - No worries on the comments. I'm just thrilled you came along for the ride and liked what you saw. And as far as screen reading...I know some people print blog stories out to read at their leisure from actual paper.

I'm not sure I'd go so far as to ever call the gren a "nice little fuzz ball"...especially not to his face. He is certainly endeavoring to overcome his animalistic nature...but I don't think he's ever going to be cuddly. I don't think I'll be giving too much away by saying that this will be a theme in up-coming stories...the very human quality of "laying in the gutter with your eyes on the stars."

Also, while Piper's dialogue may, as previously discussed, be a bit advanced for her age...I'll stand by her analysis of folks like Critter. Notice that her insight into Critter's nature doesn't really start until the gren creeps past the window.

CBB - Thanks...both for the praise and the honest crits. I can't really disagree with any of them...other than maybe the one about Piper's past. I tried very hard to keep that hidden until Piper herself was willing to open up about it.

As for the rest...fair points, all.

Dave said...

Again, outstanding story!

I too, from the title to subtle hints, knew somehow that the gren would be a good person/thing too soon, but that's not really a bad thing.

And yes, a bit more about Piper, earlier on would set the tone and attach us a bit more to her.

Overall, an A in my book!

Jesse Erdmann said...

TALTAP WUZ HERE!

There, tagged your story for ya!

Actually I finished this Monday night, but I've been procrastinating on my response. My earlier private critiques were pretty much mollified, especially the one about Critter. At the time I thought he was going to have a much larger role in the story, but then Oliver Blair took over a lot of those responsibilities.

With regards to the dialog, like CBB I think once you settled into the story a lot of issues kind of cleared up. Maybe I'm biased, but thinking back to my own glorious past 12 year olds can be fairly serious people. At least during those brief moments between bouts of manufactured drama. That's the age when I first began what I still consider relatively deep religious and political internal dialog. And then there's the gren running by the window...

What really got me though is that I see a lot of parallels between your story and the little project I've been working on. Mayhaps someday it'll be finished and you can mock me for ripping off various thematic elements.

Simon said...

Moksha,

You had the good graces to email me your final chapter before I left on holiday, so those comments I emailed back shall stand largely in lieu of a grander comment here at your end. Well, your story's end. Though I do hope this comment also sort of stands as a sneer to anyone else who reads it that I got dibs on the last chapter before anyone but the author and his editor saw it.

Ha!

al said...

Great story, when is the next one? ;-)

Sheik Yerbouti said...

Very well-done story. By the end of Chapter 7 I knew whose funeral it would be, but I suppose it was obvious by then :)