Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Chapter 2.11 - A Small Happiness

   Chantia stared at the stick in her hand, a slight frown on her face as she waited for the result. She didn’t really expect the test to be positive (after all, Renard wasn’t even a toddler yet), but she had to make sure.

   The window on the stick changed colour. Two lines crossing one another appeared.
   Again? How can I be pregnant again? Didn’t we decide two children are enough?” Chantia muttered to herself as she stared at the plus sign on the stick. It wasn’t as if they couldn’t afford another child and she was sure she would love this new child as well, but she was happy with the two she had. Having another child so close to Renard…well, that certainly hadn’t been in her plans.

   Sam was reading a book with Arienne when Chantia found him. For a moment Chantia just surveyed the peaceful scene in front of her, taking in the warmth on Sam’s face and the utter adoration on her daughter’s. She knew her daughter loved her, but there really was no question over who Arienne was closest to.
   Chantia cleared her throat to draw his attention. He looked up, surprised, but upon seeing the expression on Chantia’s face, he closed the book and planted a gentle kiss on Arienne’s hair before getting up and approaching Chantia.

   “Everything okay?” he asked her concernedly. Instead of replying, Chantia just held up the stick, allowing her husband to see for himself. Sam, the traitor, was a lot more enthusiastic over the news than she had been.
   “We’re going to have another child? That’s great!” he exclaimed enthusiastically. “I know it isn’t quite what we planned, but I’ll be honest, I won’t really mind another pair of feet in the house.”

   Chantia groaned slightly. She had hoped for a little sympathy from him, but since he wasn’t the one who was going to give birth for the third time, she guessed a little sympathy was simply too much to ask for.
   To Chantia’s relief, her pregnancy with their third child went much smoother than her first two pregnancies. With Arienne and Renard she had been almost constantly nauseous, but with this child her nausea was minimal. She did have cravings for the weirdest foods, though.
   “Is that…spaghetti and ice cream?” Sam asked incredulously as he watched his wife wolf down the food in front of her. Chantia waved her hand in dismissal as she took another bite from the mash-up that was supposedly food.

   “Hmm. It’s pretty good, actually,” Chantia admitted. “Do you want some?”
   “Uh, no, it’s okay, thank you,” Sam quickly rejected the offer. Chantia couldn’t stifle a smile at the speed with which he turned the offer down. She knew it sounded disgusting, but for some reason she just found it so damn good.
   Pretty soon, it was time for their third child to be born. Unlike with the other two though, Chantia decided she wanted a home birth for her (hopefully) last child, with the result that Lyra Marquel was born safely at home.
   Not long after Lyra’s birth, Renard finally became a toddler. From the get-go, it was clear to Chantia that he was going to be far more difficult to handle than Arienne.

   “Renard, come here,” Chantia ordered her wayward child. “You can’t walk around in your diapers the whole day.”
   Renard gave her a cheeky little smile before toddling away from her as fast as his stubby little legs could carry him.
   Renard did not like wearing clothes; especially not pants. He was constantly finding ways to get out of his clothes and leading his parents around in a merry chase around the house as they tried to get his clothes back on him.

   Even Sam, who had been absolutely brilliant with Arienne when she had been that age, didn’t have much luck with the boy.
   “Renard, come to daddy,” Sam asked sweetly, holding his arms welcomingly out to his son. Renard gave him mischievous glance and before the boy even started to move, Sam already knew he was going to have to catch the child.
   That cheeky little smile appeared on Renard’s face again and true to Sam’s predictions, the boy turned around and ran away. It wasn’t difficult to catch the boy (after all, there were only so many places he could run to), but Sam made sure to punish the boy with tickles once he finally caught him.
   Arienne, on the other hand, was much less happy that her place had been usurped. She refused to do anything with her little brother, even going as far as to clumsily threaten to hit him with her books or toys when he came near her.

   “Get out!” Arienne demanded from her brother. It was her room, and he had no right to be there!
   Luckily though, it wasn’t much longer before Arienne’s birthday arrived, signalling her entry into childhood and the beginning of her schooldays. Chantia didn’t want Arienne to feel like she was getting less attention now that she was a little older, so she made sure to make a lot of noise to keep the girl entertained.

   She didn’t miss the amused glance Sam shot her though, and quietly made herself a promise to get back at him when he least expected it. At least Arienne was entertained by the noise.
   Sam helped Arienne blow out her candles…
   …and watched with a proud smile as she officially exited the toddler stage and became a beautiful young girl old enough to start with school.
   For now, however, it was her birthday and school was a worry for another day. She had things to do and games to play!

   …and little brothers to terrorise…
   “Rawr! I’m a dinosaur and I’m going to eat you if you don’t listen to me!” Arienne threatened her brother. Much to Arienne’s displeasure, the threat did not work on Renard. Instead he just laughed and clapped his hands together, before demanding “‘gain! ‘gain!” In fact, it impressed him so much that he kept following her wherever she went.

   Arienne sighed and pouted. It wasn’t nearly as much fun to be a dinosaur if she couldn’t even scare her baby brother!
   Well, she’d be a queen then. People listened to queens so he’d have to listen to her!
   Or maybe not. He still didn’t listen to her, but at least her mommy did!
   She felt much happier when her daddy picked Renard up and told him it was time for bed, and not her. She was a big girl now, and big girls didn’t need to go to bed at eight!

   Renard though, wasn’t quite ready for bed either. He kept babbling incessantly the whole time Sam readied him for bed.
   “An’ the’ she we’ ‘Raw’! Imma di’osau’!” the boy recounted enthusiastically to his dad.
   “Oh yeah?” Sam asked indulgently. “And then?”

   “The’ she sai’ Imma knight!”
   Sam laughed and gently tickled the boy. “Well, little knight, it’s time for you to go to bed,” he informed the boy who still showed no sign of tiredness.
   By the time he got the toddler calmed down and asleep, Arienne was already showered and readied for bed (by her mom’s orders. She might not have to go to bed at eight, but the next day was her first day at school so she was going to have to get up early). She held a book out to him in wordless request; one he obeyed indulgently.
   Arienne listened contentedly as her dad’s soft and low voice droned over her, the familiar warmness slowly lulling her to sleep. She couldn’t pinpoint the moment she lost track of story, but she did feel her dad give her a goodnight kiss.

   “I love you, daddy,” she mumbled sleepily. Her dad’s soft chuckles flowed around her in response.
   “I love you too, sweetie,” her dad replied warmly. “Sleep well, little princess.”
   Content that everything was right in her world, Arienne allowed sleep to pull her under.
   The next morning, she was much less content.

   “Do I really have to? Can’t I just stay here instead?” Arienne begged as she waited for her mother to finish cooking her breakfast. It was supposed to be her first day at school, but she really, really didn’t want to go. Who wanted to go to school? It was so much better to stay at home with her daddy, where they could play tag or have water balloon fights or...
   “School really isn’t that bad,” Chantia tried to reassure the girl. “There’s lots of people to meet and friends to make and things to learn…” Chantia shrugged and placed a plate of food down in front of Arienne. “You’ll see, it’s not that bad.”

   Arienne pouted and looked down at her food. “But I don’t want to go,” she protested sulkily, but to her dismay, her mom had no sympathy.
   “Well, you have to,” Chantia declared firmly. Arienne scowled sulkily and stabbed her fork into her food, reluctantly eating her breakfast.
   The route the school bus followed didn’t pass their house, so Arienne had to be dropped off personally. It was with a heavy heart and an uneasy discontent that Chantia watched her daughter enter the school.
   It was the first time her baby was out of the house without either of her parents watching over her.
   Chantia doubted anything bad would happen, but she couldn’t help but be uncomfortable about it nevertheless. That psycho that had threatened her family was still out there somewhere.

   Arienne came home that afternoon in high spirits, talking nonstop about her first day at school. Her bubbly personality had netted her several friends and she couldn’t wait to go back the next day to see them again. She had also decided she wanted to do ballet, so she had given her name up for ballet classes, which were to start the next day.
   With that announcement she bounced away from her mother, declaring she was going to do her homework in the brand-new treehouse Sam had erected that morning.
   Later that night, after she returned from work and all the children had been put to bed, Chantia found her husband sitting in the living room and staring at their family photo collage with a fond smile on his face. Chantia took a moment to look at the collage as well and couldn’t stop the smile from appearing on her own face.

   “I can’t believe we’re officially middle-aged,” Chantia complained as she sat down beside him. Sam absently threw his arm around her shoulders and Chantia allowed herself to snuggle to his side. “It feels like Arienne was born only recently and yet she is already in school.”
   “I know what you mean,” Sam murmured in response, a slight note of petulance in his voice. “Before we know it, she’ll be grown up and looking at boys and she’ll spend far less time with us than she does now.”

   Chantia laughed. “That’s still a far time off,” she pointed out. “She just started with school.”
   Sam sighed. “I know,” he agreed reluctantly and fell silent. Chantia closed her eyes in contentment and leaned into Sam’s embrace, relishing in his presence. She had no idea what the future held for them, but for now, this small happiness was enough for her. Her children were safe in bed. Her husband was by her side.

   All was right with the world.
Bit of a filler chapter, I know, but there were a lot of birthdays I had to get out of the way, and I really want to get the story moving again.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Chapter 2.10 - Spirits and Speculations

   Spring was newly arrived and the air was fresh with the scent of new growth.  The pond next to their house had finally thawed and the roar of the waterfall streaming into the water echoed through the small valley their house was nestled in once again. 
   Chantia was only peripherally aware of it, though. She was far more focused on the scene in front of her.
    Arienne gave one look at her brand-new bed before shaking her head.

   “Uh-uh,” she declared and buried her head in Sam’s shoulder, refusing to look at it any longer. Chantia sighed softly and closed her eyes in resignation. They had been trying for several hours now to get Arienne to sleep in her toddler bed, but the girl absolutely refused. The delivery people had been late in delivering the bed, so they had been unable to accustom Arienne to the bed before Renard had arrived. Now that he was here though, Arienne only focused on the fact that he was using her crib.
   “Ari, sweetie, you’re a big girl now,” Chantia tried again. “Big girls don’t sleep in cribs. Babies do.”
   “Uh-uh,” Arienne repeated obstinately. Chantia gave Sam a pleading look, silently asking him to try and convince the girl.
   Sam gently swiped a tendril of hair out of Arienne’s face, causing the girl to look poutingly at him, something she had refused to do to Chantia.
    “Won’t you do it for Daddy?” Sam gently asked the toddler. Arienne absolutely adored him, and they had both noticed that the girl had difficulty refusing her dad. She pushed her bottom lip out further and hung her head, but sulkily nodded nonetheless, finally giving in.

   Several minutes later, after being changed into her PJ’s and lowered onto the bed, she abruptly changed her mind again.
   “Uh-uh!” she declared again and reached out to Sam, begging to be picked up again.
    Sam closed his eyes with a grimace, but still took the complication in stride, sinking down to the bed beside Arienne. She immediately scooted close to him, clumsily throwing her arms around him and hugging him tightly.

   “I’m not going anywhere, okay?” he reassured her. “I’ll stay here with you.” He gently stroked her hair until she finally relaxed against him in sleep, allowing him to gently tuck her in.
   The next morning she awoke before her parents and upon realising she was alone in her new room, she threw a massive fit. Sam tried his best to console her, but she remained out of sorts the entire morning, refusing to do anything and generally just being a right menace. Chantia had thought she knew exactly how to handle her child, but she suddenly found she was completely unprepared on how to handle Arienne’s current behaviour.
    Arienne calmed down once they arrived at her aunt’s house. The weather was quite warm for a spring day and Mia had asked Chantia to pay her a visit; both because she wanted to talk to her sister and meet her nephew. Arienne was still sulking when they arrived at Mia’s house, but she perked up at the sight of a new place to explore.
    Mia was waiting for them by the door when they arrived.

   “Thank you for coming,” she told Chantia after greeting her and cooing appropriately over Renard. “I've been meaning to talk to you for quite some time now, but things have been fairly hectic recently,” she explained with an apologizing tone in her voice.
    “Is there anything in specific you want to talk about?” Chantia asked as they made their way to the door. Mia hummed in agreement and inclined her head.

   “It’s about the ghosts,” she confirmed, instantly gaining Chantia’s complete attention. “I think I might’ve found a way to reverse Damnation, but I’m going to need your help to confirm whether my theory will work or not,” she explained. “But more on that later. Let’s find a more appropriate place to talk.” With that she entered the house, expecting Chantia to follow her, but before Chantia could enter the house Arienne decided she had waited long enough. She stepped in front of her mother, preventing the woman from entering the house before eagerly toddling through the door herself.
    “She seems to be quite the handful,” Mia commented as she watched the child toddling into her house. 

   Chantia just sighed. “She is,” she agreed resignedly, thinking of Arienne’s poor behaviour of that morning, “but luckily not always. She’s usually rather very sweet, but she’s not very impressed with us at the moment.” She explained to Mia the entire situation about the toddler bed. Mia just shook her head in bemusement.
   “I guess that’s another reason I’m glad I don’t have any children yet,” was her reply.
   A little while later, the two women found themselves outside on the porch, finally ready to talk about the topic at hand.
    “You said you might’ve found a way to reverse Damnation?” Chantia offered, asking the other woman to continue the conversation. Mia inclined her head, agreeing with the statement.

   “Temporarily, yes,” she agreed, “but it’s a little complicated. I’m going to need your help.”
   “What do you want me to do?” Chantia asked. She was more than happy to help if it meant she could help her friends. Mia was silent for quite some time before she finally spoke again.
   “Will-o’-the-wisps,” Mia stated before raising her eyes to Chantia’s. “Do you ever encounter them?” Chantia frowned a bit, unable to see where Mia was going with the line of questioning, but nodded nevertheless. She encountered them all the time. At Chantia’s nod of affirmation, Mia continued. “Have you ever wondered how they fit into the scheme of things? I mean, into the tale Charlotte told us when we were children.”
   Chantia frowned slightly. To be honest, she had never really thought about it. All she really knew about them was what she had learned back in university: that there were many myths and legends surrounding them, but nobody really knew what they were.
    “I’ve never really thought about it,” she admitted honestly. “My guess would be that they’re somehow connected to the Damned – maybe they are the Damned. Why do you ask?”

   “That’s what I thought as well,” Mia agreed, “but when I thought about it, it didn’t quite make sense. If they are connected to the Damned, why are there so many? Surely there can’t be that many people who refuse to move on after death.”
   “We’re talking about all deaths from the start of time,” Chantia pointed out. “That’s a long time, and a lot of people have lived – and died – since then.”
   “I know,” Mia agreed, “but how long does Damnation continue? Doesn’t it stop somewhere? And if it does, where does it stop? What happens to those ghosts who had fallen so far into Damnation that they can’t go any further? Do they move on? Do they linger in this world? These questions continued to plague me, so I asked Charlotte a while ago. Her answers – though very philosophical – were…illuminating.”
   Chantia sat down, drawn in by the intrigue of the conversation. “Oh?” she questioned curiously. “What did she say?”
    Mia gave a short laugh. “Quite a lot, actually,” she admitted. “Turned out I wasn’t too far out in my line of thinking. There is a limit to Damnation, but it’s not a physical one – it’s a metaphysical, emotional limit.

   “You see, when a ghost falls into Damnation, they lose the ability to experience emotion. One by one, all emotion disappear, until only the one that caused them to linger remains. Everything they do – the way they think, the way they act – everything, is influenced by that one emotion. So in a way, indirectly, they become that emotion.”
   Chantia held up her hand, interrupting Mia from continuing. “Hold up,” she stopped the genius. “How can people become emotion?”
   “They don’t,” Mia agreed, “which is why I said they indirectly become that emotion. Humans are creatures driven by emotion. Everything we do is influenced by our emotions. We make our decisions based on our emotions. Even when we believe we are making our decisions based on cold facts, we are still relying on our emotions to justify our actions. Now imagine you are only capable of one emotion. All of your decisions will be made in such a way that that one emotion will intensify, because you have nothing else to base your decisions on.
    “Take for example, sitting on a chair. A normal person will think: ‘I want to sit down’. Why? ‘Because I’m tired’. Sitting down will reduce the energy expenditure, causing the person to feel ‘relief’. Now imagine a person only capable of fear. That person will think: ‘I can’t sit down’. Why not? ‘Because the chair will collapse beneath me’. You and I both know that won’t happen, because we trust the chair to be capable of holding our weight, but that person won’t think that. They will literally only be able to think ‘the chair will collapse’, so they will continue to be afraid of the chair, thus their fear will intensify.

   “Logically, the next question would then be: how far can it go? How far can a Damned go until it’s not possible to intensify that emotion any further, until the very limit is reached? When you stumble upon that answer, that’s when you finally understand just what Damnation is. It’s not about ‘losing yourself’. It’s about being so far gone that there’s nothing left for you to focus on – you’re literally just a husk filled with one emotion. You can’t even think anymore. The Damned cannot ever move on to the World of the Dead, because they simply cannot realise it’s possible.”
   Chantia frowned in confusion again. “And you believe you’ve found a way to reverse Damnation…” she enquired hesitantly, trying to get the conversation back on track again. “So you’re…what? Gonna give them back their emotions?”
    Mia shook her head, disproving Chantia’s guess. “No, that’s impossible,” she declared, “but I believe it might be possible to simulate the effects of some emotions, which will provide the Damned with a few moments of clear thought. If someone can convince them in that time to move on, then they can be whole again. There are no Damned in the World of the Dead, because the moment they enter that world they regain everything they had lost.”

   Chantia leaned back in her chair, finally understanding what Mia required of her. “And you want me to try and convince them,” she stated.
   Mia nodded in confirmation. “Well, eventually yes,” she agreed, “but that’s not what I need your help with right now. Right now, I need you to collect me will-o’-the-wisps.”
   Chantia blinked in confusion and her mind stuttered to a halt. How did will-o’-the-wisps fit into all this again?
   “Uhm, why?” she asked, trying to remember what Mia had said about the elusive little spirits.
    Mia sighed, apparently frustrated at Chantia’s inability to follow her line of thought. “You do realise will-o’-the-wisps are Damned, right?” she pointed out impatiently.

   “That’s what I said when this conversation just started,” she reminded the genius. “You just spent this whole time trying to convince me otherwise.”
   “No, I was explaining what they are and why there are so many,” Mia disagreed impatiently. “Weren’t you listening to anything I was saying?”
   “Mia,” Chantia declared, “I know this might come as a shock to you, but I can’t follow your thoughts. You leave out a few too many vital steps for me to accurately follow you.”
   Mia rolled her eyes and decided to forego the potential argument. “In anyway, I’ve developed a device – with a little help, of course – that will provide you with a means of collecting these spirits. If you can collect me several spirits of each emotion type, we can test out my theory and see if it works or not.” With that Mia disappeared back into the house again to bring Chantia the device in question and Chantia took the time to check up on her family.
    Arienne were seemingly worn out by her exploration of the house and were once again quite moody, but she seemed to have forgiven Sam for leaving her in the toddler bed that morning. Sam and Carl (Mia’s husband) were quietly watching TV together, so Chantia took the chance to give Renard over to Sam as well. She had the idea the device Mia had mentioned would require her to use both her hands.

   Mia came downstairs with the device and Chantia immediately appreciated putting her child down. The device was huge. Neither of them wanted to bother the men or the children, so the headed outside again where Mia handed the device over to Chantia and explained how it worked.
   After that, Chantia spent several nights out in the town, collecting spirits whenever she could find them. There were a lot of spirits scattered throughout the town, but Chantia had difficulty locating spirits with intense emotions, with the result that it took much longer to collect the spirits than she had been anticipating.
   “What exactly is it you do with these spirits?” Chantia asked Mia one day when she brought her the latest batch of spirits she had captured. To be quite honest, collecting the spirits and forcing them into the glass cages that contained them bothered her a bit. She understood the necessity of doing it if it meant they would be able to help the spirits later on, but she still felt bad about doing it.

   “I’m studying them,” Mia replied. “In order to find a way to accurately simulate the effects of emotions, I need to scientifically analyse what a certain emotion consists of. Studying these spirits will allow me to identify the trends and patterns among them that will signify similarities or differences.”
   “But does it hurt them?” Chantia asked concernedly.
   Mia shook her head. “They can’t feel pain,” she assured Chantia, “but even if they could, I’m still not hurting them. I’m just taking energy readings off them. The only reason I need so many spirits is so that I can get a reasonable sample size and reduce error as much as possible. When I’m done getting my readings, I can start my experiments and see whether my theory will work or not.”
   “How long is this research of yours going to take?” Chantia asked curiously. “I mean, I’ve been collecting spirits for several months now…”
   “Who knows?” Mia shrugged in response. “This kind of research takes a long time, Chantia. It might be years before we get any results. In the meantime, just keep bringing me more spirits.”
   Chantia’s life fell into a fairly comfortable rhythm. During the day, she took care of her children and continued working on Helen’s case as much as she could. Her progress was slow as she kept being stonewalled by people who thought she was only joking, but at least she still made some progress.
   During the night, she continued working as a ghost hunter; banishing poltergeists and helping ghosts move on. Although she was paid extremely well for each case she worked on, there wasn’t that much demand for a ghost hunter’s services, so most nights she ended up scanning the town for spirits to take to Mia.
   To Chantia’s surprise, she didn’t get any protests about her actions from the ghosts she shared a house with. The ghosts all avoided the spirits as much as possible, but none of them ever complained, to Chantia’s complete puzzlement. She had thought the ghosts would be extremely upset about the captured spirits.
   “Doesn’t it bother you?” she asked Charlotte curiously during one of the few times the ghost looked at the spirits.
   Her answer was a long time in coming, and when it came, it was utterly unsatisfactory.
   “Bother me?” Another long pause separated the soft whisper that was the rest of her reply. “No.”
   She drifted away, leaving Chantia to wonder about the truth of her words.
   Angelica was a bit more elaborate, but her answer differed a bit from Charlotte’s.
   “It’s uncomfortable,” the ghostly woman replied. “Seeing these spirits…it reminds us that it could be us, someday in the future. None of us likes it, but we understand why you’re doing it.”
   “Charlotte said it didn’t bother her,” Chantia pointed out, hoping to get a better explanation for Charlotte’s enigmatic ‘no’.
   Angelica hesitated before shaking her head uncomfortably.
   “Charlotte is…well, it’s not my place to say anything, but…she is the oldest,” the motherly ghost replied uncomfortably. With that she too drifted away, leaving Chantia to conclude that it would be best to drop the topic.
   It wouldn’t be fair of her to push the ghosts any further.
I don’t know much about toddler beds myself, but Ari needed to move into her room in order for Renard to have the nursery, so she got one. :)
I think I went a bit overboard with the explanation about the Damned. >.> I blame it on Mia being passionate about the subject.