Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Ministry of Lost Souls

 A former "longest story I've ever written and finished" that is now outdone by a little project that has gained a fair amount of attention on the Internet. Could probably use revision, but whatever. Sappy sap sap. (Inspired by Dream Theater's "The Ministry of Lost Souls")

Stepping out from the woods and into the pale moonlight, she found herself looking out upon the rushing water that had caused so much change, pain, and agony in her life. Flowing across smooth stones and around fallen trees, it seemed so inviting to those it hadn't hurt, like an old friend reaching out a soft hand. She knew better. She knew that the river was a vile deceiver, that it was deep, the shallow banks quickly plunged into a deep darkness.

The current in that bend of the river was so strong that it had become legendary. Stories were passed down from generation to generation of how a jealous ruffian had plotted to kidnap a Lady from a royal convoy as it went by the calm water. His plan was to hide in the river and, when the convoy went by, sneak out and jump onboard from behind. Fortunately, the One looked down upon the criminal, making the river's waves reveal him to the guards as they rode by. The man was killed by a flurry of arrows from those knights. Falling into the water, he had sworn to snatch away anyone who entered his watery grave. Ever since, few dared to try and swim in that portion of the river and those who did often returned with stories of how they swore the current truly was attempting to force them to join it.

She didn't believe in the old stories. They were meant to scare children, to keep them out of the water while their parents weren't around so they'd remain safe. She knew that the river was simply a river, the current merely a current. There was nothing supernatural about this bend in the rushing waters, just a natural change in how strong it was.

Stepping into the flowing water, her long, white dress floating along next to her, she inhaled a breath of the forest air. She had accepted her fate long ago, after days of toiling. This was what she had to do. She had to let the current take her away. This river had made this decision for her, so long ago...

It had been a clear day, and her and the other youth from their small town were going to go for a walk through the forest. Her lover by her side, she and her friends had laughed about the coming festival, about the latest adventures of the village idiot, of the possibilities of setting a wedding date. She and Jack had been friends since they were children and, just recently, he had finally confessed his love for her. Since then, they had become even more inseparable and the talk of the town was when they would be betrothed.

Coming into the clearing, the group stopped and gazed upon the river bend. As always, one of the more superstitious lads began to recite the tale of the ruffian. Rolling her eyes, she told him not be a fool, that it was just a child's tale and that she would prove it. She had turned and ran into the river before anyone could protest, wading up to her waist before diving in fully. She remained underwater for a few moments before surfacing, laughing at the hint of worry on Jack's face. She had yelled that all was fine, that there was no ruffian.

That was when she felt it. Her head was pulled beneath the waves and she felt herself spinning. The current had her. Back on the shore, the younger girls screamed as her head broke the surface again before being pulled back under. Jack ran forwards to join her until he felt a restraining hand on his shoulder. The eldest male of the group told him that his love was a goner, to let her go and not risk himself. Sneering at his older man's fear, Jack threw him off before diving into the freezing water.

Swirling about in the water, not knowing which way was up or down, she felt herself being pulled deeper into the watery depths. Her lungs burned from not being able to breath, her eyes were stinging from the murky river water. Just as she was beginning to accept her fate, she felt a strong, eerily warm hand grab her own. She looked to see Jack forcing her upwards, a look of grim determination on his face. Seeing her looking at him, he smiled that kind smile, his eyes' twinkling visible even in the river's depths, and she knew she loved him, that they were destined to be together forever. Since that fateful evening when they took a solitary walk through these very woods and he revealed she was "his heart's shadow, his soul's light", she wanted nothing more than to be with him forever.

Breaking the surface, she kicked her way back towards the shore. Her friends pulled her out of the river once she was close enough, covering her in a warm cloak to try and take the chill off. She turned back to look for her friend, her hero, her lover, her savior, her Jack to join them from the river. He never did.

"You should reconsider wandering further into that river, love. Too many loved ones have been lost by those who felt they could fight the ruffian current." A strange voice echoed from the shore. Her solitude had been violated, she could no longer die in peace and silence. Instead, she would have to deal with this person.

Turning back to the shore, she walked towards the intruder. She presumed it was a man. He was garbed in a huge, billowy cloak, so it was difficult to tell, but his voice was deep. As she got closer, she could see the moon's beams reflecting off a chilling, bone white mask that covered the upper half of his face. the rest of which was dominated by his cloak's black hood. What was even more striking, however, were his eyes. They were the deepest crimson, an unnatural color that made her instincts shiver in fright. She could not hold his gaze, no matter how kind the strange eyes appeared.

"I must ask what you were doing in that river this late at night. It's unsafe," His odd voice sounded like none she'd ever heard before, like it was being carried across a distance while being so nearby. Still, the caring tone came through. And it upset her. It upset her greatly.

Glaring into his eyes, forcing her to keep contact despite her insides screaming that they were wrong, wrong, WRONG, she sternly spoke to the stranger, "Why is it your business why I am here? In fact, what are YOU doing wandering through this forest at night? Perhaps you are a predator, searching for innocent women like myself to bring harm to. It would certainly explain the mask."

"My business is my own---"

"As is mine," She interrupted.

"But I assure you that I will not do you any harm, love." He said, ignoring the interruption attempting to dodge the question.

"I am NOT your love! Stop calling me that!" She screamed, shoving him aside as she stormed off towards the tree line. Tears glistened in her eyes as memories surfaced of how Jack had always called her love, about how close she was to being reunited with him before the stranger arrived. She'd planned this, planned it for day when she realized after nearly being trampled by a horse and crying at surviving that she yearned for death.

"I know why you came here," That otherworldly voice echoed from the clearing behind her just as she reached the edge of the forest, "I know how much you wish to die. How the light of living burns your insides like a flame within hay, how you feel you're merely a walking corpse awaiting your true death because, quite frankly, your soul has already died."

She stopped, the man's words striking her body cold. He said exactly what she'd been thinking, like he knew her heart as well as only one person ever had. It terrified her. With a sob, she lowered herself to the ground, pulling her knees to her chin and wrapping them in her arms. He was right. She'd lost everything on that day. Her life may have kept going, but she felt like her heart died in that river. And now all she wanted was to join it.

She heard the man's black boots step over to her, the twigs snapping beneath his heel. Crouching down, he lifted her chin to look into his eyes. Expecting to feel the unnaturalness of his gaze once more, she was surprised to find that the twinkle in his crimson eyes calmed her soul. She hadn't felt so at home in another's gaze since Jack.

"Love, I know that you feel you should have died with Jack. And I know how you feel you should have died when that horse escaped the carriage it was pulling and nearly crushed you as it ran by but , instead, it veered off at the last possible second into the hands of its owner.

"Your love died. Then death skipped you. It's killing you to live, so you just want it all to end so you can be reunited with the one man who ever truly knew you. You want to return to where he saved your life, killing you as he did, so that you can finish the job," He said, his voice filled with sorrow. His red eyes sparkled in the moonlight, his bone mask incapable of hiding his emotions.

"How..." Her tears had stopped since he had come beside her but she still found it hard to speak, "How do you know all this?"

The man's eyes flickered with thought, as if he was considering his options. He looked up at the moon, cloak's hood falling from his head as he did. His long, black hair shimmered in the light with a beauty she remembered rarely seeing. The darkness of his locks reminded her of Jack, but his hair was always cut quite short.

"Because I've been following you for awhile now. I saw what happened in the river with Jack and I saw you almost be crushed by the wild horse. I saw all of it. And I've seen your soul, love."

A laugh escaped her lips, making the man turn his head back towards her in surprise, "So I was right. You are a predator. Chasing a woman around and watching her until a moment of weakness. I guess this is when you commit your crime, with me hopeless, defenseless, and ready to die anyways."

"You don't understand Mia."

Hearing her name spoken by that strange voice struck Mia like lightning from the sky. If he had been following her, she would certainly know her name. Despite this, there was something odd about the way he said it. The tone of voice... it reminded her of one she had not heard but now distorted by some strange force.

The man took Mia's hand in his. His hand was unnaturally warm, despite the chilly spring winds that were still awakening from their winter sleep. His voice dropped to but a whisper yet he could have been miles away and she would still hear what he said, "You are the shadow of my heart and the light of my soul, Mia. You know I could never hurt you." With that, his bone mask shattered, revealing the face that she had longed to see, was willing to die for.

"Jack!" She cried out, her arms wrapping around him and her mind swearing that she would never let him go again. She didn't care how it had happened, she didn't care what she would need to do in the future, she didn't care about his new red eyes, all Mia wanted was to stay with her Jack until the death she had once yearned for finally came.

They remained embraced for what seemed an eternity yet when he released her, it felt like it hadn't been long enough. Looking into her soft, brown eyes, Jack knew he had to tell her everything. He knew there would be consequences, that he would be punished in the end, but he couldn't let Mia continue to live in such incredible pain. It was the Ministry who played this sick game and made him watch his love wither and wish death. Their rules could wait.

"Mia, I'm not alive." He said, holding her hands in his, "I died in that river."

Confusion flickered across her face. "But... Jack. You're right in front of me. I can feel the warmth of your hands. I just held your body against mine. You can't be dead. You can't."

He sighed, "And yet I am. It is difficult to explain."

"Tell me everything," She spoke sternly, as she always had when he'd try to avoid speaking by calling it hard to understand. Jack smiled remembering all their previous fights about such things. In death, even the worst of times shimmered with brilliance, "You know I'll understand."

"Indeed you will, love," Mia's whole world was in that voice, that smile, those eyes... "I died in the river before I had even saved you. When I dived after you, I was immediately grabbed by the current and my head smashed against the rocks below. I died instantly."

"Then how did you save me? I saw you. You pulled me out of the water, smiling at me as you did. Our friends swore they never saw you pulling me along, but I told them you did. They thought I was crazy."

"You were right. When I died, I went to... a place. They call it the Ministry of Lost Souls. It's a place outside of our world, outside of time. It was there that they told me how I'd died, how I'd been chosen to be a Guardian, and how you were the one I had to protect. So they sent me back as a spirit, allowing me one last time showing my face to you as I saved you from the water that destroyed me," His voice was strong, explaining such strange things. If anyone else had said something similar, Mia would consider them insane, but knowing Jack and how he'd returned to her from beyond the grave, she could believe anything.

"So, you're saying there's a building in the afterlife, or heaven, or... or whatever is out there, where they pick people to... to what? What's a Guardian?"

"First, it's not a building, per say," Jack said, smiling widely. Oh, how often he had corrected her like that and how often it had made her hit his harm in playful annoyance. "It's hard to describe exactly what it is. Imagine unending light, stretching off into infinite. I never saw anyone there, I merely heard a booming voice explain my duties as a Guardian."

"Again, what is a Guardian?"

"You know of them, Mia. In fact, as a child, we often wondered exactly what they looked like, if they had wings, if they carried weapons, how they spoke... I'm your guardian angel, Mia. I was chosen to protect you from harm so that you would only die when you were meant to die."

And somehow, she found she could accept that. She needed no other explanation. Jack had died, went to some Ministry, and was made her angel. For some strange reason, it made perfect sense to her. Almost. She still had a question. "So... to settle it, do you have wings?"

The lovers broke into the laughter that only pure affection shares. Even with their lives, everything they thought they knew, crashing around them, they could find times to laugh about childhood debates about whether an angel's wings were allegory or literal.

"Yes and no." Jack said simply after they'd recovered and found themselves sitting by each other instead of face-to-face. Untying his cloak and letting it fall behind him, he leaned forward and shifted a muscle. A single, huge white wing escaped from the folds of his back, wrapping itself around Mia. The feathers brushed her face. They were softer than anything on the planet. Nothing mortal could be so light and wonderful. She laid her head against his shoulder, rubbing her cheek against his unearthly soft wing while he continued, "We only have one until we've led our charge fully through life. Then we earn our other wing."

"So you saved me from the current..." She said wistfully, gazing into her lover's crimson eyes. They had been brightest blue before. They must have changed with his death. What had once seemed so unnatural were beginning to grow on her. "I presume you also saved me from the horse when I was in town a week ago?"

He nodded, "You didn't see me, but I stood in its path and commanded it to go to it's owner. After that, it was just a matter of sending off your Gremlin."

"My what?"

"Gremlin. They're the antithesis of the Guardians, sent by the Other to kill beings before it's their time. I believe that's why the Ministry of Lost Souls was created in the first place. All of us who were killed by a Gremlin before we were meant to pass on needed a place to go. I guess the One decided he could use us to counteract the very things that caused our deaths," Jack explained while entranced by Mia's face. She was even more beautiful now that he was close to her. From her wonderful hair to the hem of her white dress, it destroyed Jack to see her and to know what would happen next.

"You were killed by a Gremlin, then? In the river?" She said, motioning towards the bend of water that had caused so much change in her life and now Jack's unlife.


"But everything's better now, right?" Mia looked into his eyes with longing, "You're my Guardian and you'll stay with me and protect me from this... Gremlin until it's my time to join you. And then we'll be together in whatever place it is that we go to after all of this and our love will last forever."

She felt Jack's wing retract, reentering the folds of his clothing as he looked away, a glimpse of the pain at what had been said showing on his face. She sat up, removing her head from his shoulder, as he stared at the moon. Mia had seen that look many times before, that pose of looking to the stars to find the words he knew he had to say. It tore her up inside to know that he couldn't merely answer "yes". Something was wrong.

Finally turning back to his lover, Jack spoke in the same soft voice he'd used to reveal his identity to her earlier, "No, it doesn't work like that. I'm sorry." He took her head in his hands and kissed her forehead before looking into her eyes once more, "There's a rule in the Ministry. We can never reveal our true identity to our charges. We can appear to them to save them, as I did tonight, but to actually show our faces, to reveal our nature, to show them they are being protected is one of our cardinal rules. I am going to be punished... severely."

"But... why? Why is there such a stupid rule?" Mia growled, cursing the One despite knowing that such an act could lead to death.

"I do not know. What I do know is that I will lose my wing and my status as your Guardian. You will forget everything about tonight and be granted a new angel. And I will be forced to wander the heavens as a true lost soul, never allowed into Paradise. I'm quite surprised none of this has happened yet. The One must be feeling kind tonight by giving us this time together."

Mia refused to cry at learning that she would lose her one love again, that she would live on thinking him dead and when she finally died, he wouldn't be waiting for her. She couldn't accept that and merely crying would not help her. They needed to find a way to break the rules, one last time. Her keen mind ran through what she knew and what she presumed and, finally, she spoke.

"If you're going to be punished anyways, what if I die tonight?" She asked simply, looking at her feet as she did.

"What?" Jack was taken aback by what Mia said. She was contemplating suicide again, a sin he could not allow for he knew what happened to those who ended their lives prematurely and willingly. Those who chose to control their own fates by killing themselves were punished in ways too extreme to consider. "You can't kill yourself. I'd rather enter service to the Other than have that happen."

"But what if I didn't kill myself. What if a Gremlin does it? The same Gremlin that killed you?" She asked, shifting her gaze to look out to the river once more.

Jack's mind ran through the rules he knew as a Guardian. He wasn't well-versed in all of them but he knew the most important ones. "If a Gremlin kills the person a Guardian is sent to protect, the only penalty is expulsion from the Ministry, which is what is happening to me anyways. And a human purposefully being killed by a Gremlin isn't one of the rules that I'm aware of. A human who thinks they're committing suicide by natural causes is punished. One who knows of the Gremlin... I don't believe there is a rule for that. It's a loophole. You'd likely end up going to the Ministry to become a Guardian."

"Where I can then either turn down my post or reveal myself to my charge to be expelled from the Ministry. It works out perfectly," Mia said happily. They could do this... "We really can stay together."

"Yes, but I'm not sure we should."

"What?!" Mia shouted, jumping to her feet and storming towards the bend in the river, pointing at it angrily, "The only thing between us and being together is that silly river. All I have to do is jump in. That's it. Why would you think I shouldn't? Do... do you not love me any more?"

"I love you more than anything, Mia," Jack said, joining her at the river's edge. "That's why I don't want you to do this. You'll be forfeiting not only your life but turning your back on Paradise. You're sacrificing eternal bliss for me."

"Jack," She said, placing her hand lightly on his chest, "I don't want to live in a world without you, in a world without love. I learned from the past weeks that that is like living in a worthless world, like living in no world at all. I would rather take my place at your side, wandering forever between the Light and Dark than live in the Light without you."

He didn't know how to respond to that, how to reply to such devotion and willingness to sacrifice so he decided not to say anything. Instead, he swept her off her feet and brought his lips to hers. They knew then that they would follow Mia's plan. Lifting his love into his arms, Jack stepped forward, carrying her into the water. They weren't completely sure if the plan would work. The One did not take kindly to his creation being tampered with by mere mortals, but it was worth the risk. Their love was worth risking it all. If they were forced into the Dark to be together, so be it.

Mia felt the chill of the river as it pulled her under. She closed her eyes, flinched as the icy water filled her lungs, but it didn't matter for she could feel the warmth of Jack's hand holding hers and she knew all would be right in the end.

1 comment:

  1. This. This is beautiful. I listened to Ministry of Lost Souls on repeat and read this. and. I. Just. oh my god. You win, sir. You win everything. I'm keeping this blog as a favorite. Keep this up. Don't stop. Have a great fucking day :D
    Oh, and i totally just sent this to all my friends who love DT and this kinda stuff, and Mike Portnoy on Facebook xD