UPDATE: This is a short story I had written as an entry to the L. Ron Hubbard Writers and Illustrators of the Future contest. It did not win, as most obviously don’t. But, I was proud of the story and wanted to share it with you. If you like this story and want to see other writings I’ve done so far, go check out my first Short Story collection “Bill Baker’s Dozen Vol. 1 – Fresh Baked” (under my name as the Author…my last name means “baker” and I thought it cute to include in the “Baker’s Dozen”) and keep an eye out for an eventual second volume that I will self publish which will include the below story.
I also have a science fiction detective novel I’m in the process of hunting for an traditional print Agent and Publisher for. I’ve been looking for about a year (not full time, because I sadly have a life outside of writing). Failing to find one by the end of the year I will likely self publish it.
So, here we go…
The Next Turn
by William Boulanger
Jun NicKeen remembered the last flying of the Turn. She remembered being a little redheaded girl made fun of by the other Asiatic kids because of the strange color, which she got from her mother Keen NicSage. She had never been made fun of for it before kindergarten and she remembered the shame was a new sensation – that’s how she marked the date of the last flying of the Turn.
She also recalled the sight of them, rising from the clouds at the base Asiat City, as they flapped the flipper arms with impossible grace to elevate them upward toward the blue sky, many with heavy deposits of what the television announcers called Earth, from which large plants grew in a way that look unlike any of the fungus or moss she’d seen from the depths of the city, where her father worked from an office managing janitors and Repairmen.
No one knew where they flew to as they rose up into the heavens, though some have claimed to have seen them return in smaller numbers in the night, sinking below the cloud base that the ancient city rose out of. But no one believed them. They said when the Turn left, they were gone forever – only for another generation to ascend roughly two decades later.
The ancient lantern festival to welcome the Turn was just days away. Skiff pilots near the clouds had seen the Turn near the surface, hunting the Oni-Fuka, wild sharks the fishermen usually catch to provide meat to the city’s residences. The traditions say that when the fishers begin to see the Turn, it is only days until they fly.
Now warned, the lanterns needed to be painted in the traditional method. Jun’s mother, Keen, had taught her how to do it as a child, having learned it in the previous flying of the Turn herself.
“Jun,” she had told her, “I am so excited for your first lantern festival. It’s only my second, unlike your father. We don’t celebrate with lanterns in my city. This is so much fun.”
“What do you do in your city?” Jun recalled asking her mother in wonder. Okaasan was from the Westerlands, in a city called na h-Alba. She rarely spoke of her city or her people, nor how she had met her father.
“We would burn the Clavie and dance around it as the Turn flew by.” She explained. “Clavie are barrels made of trees found deep in the clouds, discarded by the Turn as they fly away.”
“What are trees?” she remembered asking, to which her mother showed a tattoo on her arm. Jun did not understand what she was seeing until she had seen it again upon the shelled back of a Turn. The giant green creature was magical in its flight. But the tree on its back did not droop all the way down and wrap into the roots that held it to the earth on its back.
Her mother explained this was because the tattoo on her arm was an ancient mark of her people, that told of the cycle of life and the connection of all things. “Like In and Yo!”
“Yes.” Her mother had rewarded her with a Wester-cookie of baked dough and chocolate chips as they watched the paper lantern covered in depictions of Turns float glowing into the sky with the beasts.
Jun was a woman now, almost 26 years old. She knelt in front of the small shrine for her mother, with the black and white photo of her Okaasan painted into color and the smell of incense burning.
At the end of her prayer she clapped her hands together twice, indicating she was done with her whispered remembrance of her dead mother. Then, her familial duty complete, she went out to the balcony to prepare to launch her lantern for that year’s festival.
She had no children to share this festival with, a fact her father disapproved of. Already in her early twenties, she not only hadn’t married, but had chosen to go to University – as had become common for unmarried women of her generation.
Jun looked down from her balcony alone, her father celebrating with his friends at the local izakaya – a pub of sorts that she learned was like what they had in her mother’s homeland, where they served free food called “tapas” while you drank beer that was very different than that of her city.
At the base of the city, below the forbidden levels long since abandoned to prehistory, the rolling clouds crept in all directions to the horizon. A large cloud-ship drifted between the skyscrapers, no doubt full of tourists. Normally such ships were used for Oni-Fuka watching and the tourists would keep an eye out for the large sharks to crest out above the mist.
But, today, they were waiting to get close ups of the Turn.
“What a waste of Yen-Yaun.” Jun commented to herself. “But what do you expect from Basement Dwellers?”
Everywhere in Asiat would get a good look at the Turn in flight except those who lived just below the cloud line. People there were so rural and provincial – harvesting the lichen and moss growing on the old pipes coming from the forbidden undercity and operating the massive hydroponic farms that provided all of the vegetable and fruit produce.
Scientists said that most of that could be grown above cloud – in the light of the sun – without using nearly as many resources. But, above the clouds were for urbanites and people of culture and not those who’d grown used to the artificial ultraviolet farm lights and otherwise lived in the fluorescent lights of homes without blocked windows.
Between the Sharkers and the Dwellers, Jun and the elite were able to have the good life, a life her father had worked hard to provide her through his work at the Company, managing the systems power and outfitting the adventurous Repairmen who delved into the forbidden city to keep the ancient systems in operation – many of whom did not come back alive due to what Jun’s father called “classified dangers.”
Jun thought about her Okaasan again. “Mother, you wouldn’t approve of me thinking poorly of Dwellers and Sharkers. You said they were honorable ways to live in your city.”
She was of two heritages but knew very little of those of her mother’s city, where they worshiped the sustenance provided by their undercity and told stories of a bottom deep below whence the Turn lived on a substance like the earth they carried on their back – in forests of ancient trees.
Horns began to blow from the lower depths of the city, echoing off the building walls. The horns grew in a cacophony, warning of the rising of the Turn.
“Okaasan,” Jun prayed as she made a decision, “forgive me for my ill thoughts to the Dwellers and the Sharkers. Watch over them and the Repairmen who delve deep. Help me to use my new education to find a way to honor the Turn and their home.”
Two claps and she lit the lantern. Shadows grew from the clouds far below.
Jun released the lantern so that it and her wishes, in line with the traditions of her father’s people, would rise to the heavens with the Turn to be blessed by the Gods.
Then they began to emerge! Long and oval, the Turn began to slip out of the clouds. Their shells were streamlined, with colors ranging from olive-green, to yellow, to browns and blacks. Their large limbs, like the flippers Jun wore at the rooftop pools on campus, flapped in the wind with impossible grace. A nubby tail stuck out from each shell, beyond the rear limbs, scaled like the heads with their black beaded eyes.
They made no sound of their own as they flew. Only the creaking of the trees upon their back interrupted the silence that followed the heralding horns. That and the gusts of wind as they pushed upward into the sky.
Somewhere down below, if her mother’s legends could be believed, there were shells of Turns yet to be born, like snake eggs grown by the Dwellers. Somewhere on the surface of a sub-cumulous world of legend.
Jun watched in wonder as they soared up and up above the buildings toward the sun amidst lantern after lantern – a sight that would become even more brilliant as the sun set and the Turn continued to emerge for days on end.
She made a vow to match her prayer. She would finish her degree as a power-maintenance engineer. But, unlike her father who operated from the safety of an office, she would join the ranks of the Repairmen – something no woman had done – and she would go deeper than any other and find the truth below. She would go and meet the Gods of her mother.