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Genesis 💫: Episode 3 – Restless
Gene tries to rest, but gets interrupted
This is Episode 3 of Genesis: Until The Stars Burn Cold, a fantasy story written in a psychedelic magepunk setting. It explores mental health through allegory along with an array of deeper themes: war and peace; love and loss; anger and forgiveness.
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Episode 3 – Restless
Gene’s mind was racing, but he walked at a casual pace. He had no idea how the old man had discovered his name, his past, or where he’d been staying, but now, at least, he knew he was being watched. Closely.
He weaved a winding, chaotic route through the yurts, just in case anyone was following him. He looked around for any obvious signs of surveillance, but the steady flow of strangers along the crowded paths made it impossible to keep track of anyone for long.
The weather was beautiful – cool and dry with a pleasant breeze. All around, people chatted casually, and children laughed as they played in the sun. The smoke of cookfires smelled spicy and savory.
Gene enjoyed the positive energy of the community, but the sheer number of people always made him uneasy. He began to feel more at peace as he neared the edge of the settlement.
On the outskirts, the shelters showed more signs of wear – and improvisation. Here, people made homes out of worn-out tarps, broken down vehicles, and threadbare yurts in desperate need of maintenance.
The energy was more subdued near the edge of the settlement. There was much less sound of human activity. Instead, chickens, goats, dogs, and cats wandered lazily along the open ground. The people Gene passed tended to either have a predatory hardness to their eyes or a glazed look resulting from some chemically or magically induced stupor.
He finally reached his yurt. The yellowed fabric looked like it had once been white, and each panel featured the swirling crest of Yamafumura in faded green. The painted design on the door had chipped away so much that it was impossible to identify.
As he approached, a small flock of birds scattered from where they’d congregated near his firepit. Gene stopped to glance at his stock of firewood, and he could immediately tell someone had stolen most of it. He shook his head, then tried to open the door. Still locked – a good sign. He fetched a key from his vest pocket, then entered the yurt.
The dwelling was dark and sparsely furnished. The crown opening was covered to keep out the elements, so Gene navigated by the sunlight streaming in through the door. He took off his bag and bandolier and laid them on the dirt floor next to the round center table.
After briefly stretching to relieve his sore muscles, he fetched a box of matches from the table and used them to light the two lanterns hanging from each center pillar, along with a thick candle that sat on a wooden shelf at the back of the room.
The shelf held nearly everything he owned that didn’t fit in his pack. He looked over a few sets of carefully folded outdoor clothes, some collapsible cookware, a handful of books, and several dozen cans of nonperishable food. Finally, he selected a tall can of soup with a label written in a language he couldn’t read. That would be good enough for the night.
He set the can on the table, then walked over to the pile of furs he used as a bed. He gathered them up into one large pile, then carried them outside, where he shook the dust out of them and stretched them out in the sun. He went back in and fetched the can of soup, along with some utensils, then laid them out on a stump next to the fire pit.
He had enough firewood for one evening, so he stacked it into a small pyramid, then lit some leaves and twigs to get a spark going. Soon, the flames took, and a fire began to warm the surrounding air. He went back into the yurt for a few moments, then emerged with a short steel shovel.
He took a dozen large, smooth stones out of a nearby metal bucket and used the shovel to place them carefully into the fire. He had a simple steel frame built around the fire that could support a cooking pot, so he stripped the label off the soup can and tossed it into the flames, opened the top with a knife, then set the can on a rack a few centimeters above the flames.
Gene walked back into the yurt to fetch a gallon of water from a pallet near the door, then returned to the fire and used some of the water to wash his hands before filling a steel cup and taking a drink. It was crisp and refreshing thanks to the chill temperature inside the yurt.
Soon, a cloud of steam began to rise from the soup. He carefully removed the can with a pair of tongs and set it on the stump with the rest of the utensils, then left it there to cool for a few minutes. Gene was so hungry that the simple soup smelled like a royal feast.
As the sun sank lower, the temperature rapidly dropped. In the fading light, Gene gathered up his bedding and brought it back inside, where he stacked the furs to insulate him from the cold ground.
Gene returned to the fire to eat his dinner. The soup was plain, but satisfying. It had some kind of red meat in it, along with a medley of vegetables, some curry spices, and some kind of noodles. The first few spoonfuls burned his mouth, but the warmth was worth it.
He ate slowly, savoring the meal.
A few times, strangers walked by without speaking, and for a while, one of the local dogs laid down for a rest in the warmth of the fire. The day gave way to twilight, and soon, bats began chasing fireflies through the air overhead. As he finished his meal, Gene started to hear drums, flutes, stringed instruments, and singing from the distant gardens.
The smell of woodsmoke from his campfire, along with his full stomach, helped to put his mind at ease after his confrontation with the old merchant. He knew he still had some major decisions to make, but he decided they could wait until the morning.
He stood up and stretched his legs, taking a few moments to get his blood flowing again, then used the shovel to gather up the heated stones from the campfire and place them back into the metal bucket.
Once he’d collected all the stones, he took a few moments to pour water over the cook fire and douse the flames. Soon, there was nothing left but a sizzling pile of charred wood and a cloud of smoke. He scooped up ash and dirt with his shovel and tossed them over the remains of the cookfire, then returned to the yurt.
He used a thick cloth to grasp the metal handle of the bucket, now hot due to the stones, then carried it into the yurt and set it in a bare spot on the floor before locking and barring the door behind him. The hot stones immediately started warming the interior of the hut to a more comfortable level.
Gene removed his boots and tucked them under the wooden shelf, then shed his outerwear and laid it in a pile on the center table. He yawned and stretched again, then started blowing out the lamps and candles around the yurt. His body ached from traveling and fighting. He looked forward to getting some rest.
He went to his pack to fetch a flashlight and a sturdy brass knife, then he laid them out near his bedding and blew out the final lamp before settling down and getting comfortable in the furs. For a few minutes, he listened intently to the sounds filtering in from outside, but eventually, his exhaustion won over his anxiety, and he drifted into sleep.
Soon, a familiar voice called out from the darkness. “Genesis.”
Its mournful echo made Gene shiver.
He opened his eyes to a bright light, then held up a hand to shield his face as he stood up from the floor. His dark skin contrasted with the smooth white stone of a corridor with no end, and his forearm bore a black band with the symbol of a crying eye in white thread.
As his eyes adjusted, he looked down at a black wool robe tied at his waist with a sash. He searched his memories for something that would explain his strange surroundings, but he couldn’t recall how he’d ended up there, or why.
The voice called again from behind him. “Genesis. Find me.”
This time, Gene recognized the speaker as his wife. He turned around and saw her smiling at him. Her dark skin glowed beneath a robe of fine white silk. Thick locks of dark hair framed her face, and her amber eyes shone like setting suns. A cherry-blossom pendant hung from her neck on a thin golden chain.
Gene reached out his hand. “Artemis!”
Artemis smiled back at him, then turned around and began to walk away. Gene tried to follow her, but the distance between them expanded with every step he took. As he chased her, the corridor slowly faded to gray, then darkened to a deep black abyss. Gene closed his eyes, but it didn’t make a difference. All the light was gone.
Again, the voice called out. “Genesis.”
This time, it sounded different, almost like a stranger. Gene felt something shake him in the void. He tried to resist it, but he couldn’t. He tried to breathe, but he couldn’t.
With a sudden jolt, he opened his eyes.
He was back on the stack of furs in his yurt. The hot rocks had cooled, allowing the nighttime chill to creep into the hut. The air smelled strange, like hot metal and decaying flowers.
Gene reached behind him to grab his flashlight and knife, then swiftly stood up from the floor. He turned on the light and saw the silhouette of some stranger leap backwards and make a sign. Suddenly a cascade of bright, dancing lights erupted from the stranger’s hand, and a deafening, high pitched sound filled the room.
Gene raised his forearms to cover his ears while keeping a tight grip on his weapon. Soon, the lights and sound faded, and Gene saw the intruder attempting to walk through the locked door with magic.
The wood of the door began to ripple like water under the stranger’s hand. Gene charged and tackled the mysterious stranger. Both of them fell through the swirling door onto the dirt outside. Gene dropped his flashlight.
He tried to strike twice with his knife, but the stranger was warded, so Gene tossed the knife away, then grabbed the stranger’s wrists and rolled quickly toward the darkened fire pit. They wrestled, but Gene was larger and stronger, so he managed to pin his foe to the ground.
From his dominant position, Gene paused to size up his opponent in the moonlight. The intruder was a dark-skinned teenage boy with black hair and amber eyes. Gene recalled seeing him chatting with the old merchant the day before.
Those dark eyes flashed with anger, and the boy struggled against Gene’s grip. Someone — or maybe both of them — had broken into a sweat, so it was harder for Gene to keep his hold.
The boy got one hand free and snapped, and an overwhelming force threw Gene into the air with a rush of heat and light. Gene hit the ground on the opposite side of the fire pit, which had come ablaze with strange yellow and white flames. The air smelled sharply of a chemical reaction, and Gene tasted blood in his mouth.
Gene tried to assess the situation, but his ears were ringing and he could barely see as his eyes adjusted to the magical fire. He sat up and shook his head, then tried to stand, but tripped and fell back to his knees. When his vision finally cleared, he saw the boy standing over him with the brass knife in his hand.
Gene looked past the knife at the boy’s face. “That’s no toy. Think you can use it?”
The boy held Gene’s gaze. “Yeah, I do.”
Gene saw the knife shake. It was only a tiny tremor, but to Gene, it was an earthquake. This boy was no killer. Gene grabbed a handful of dirt, then stood up slowly and glanced around until he spotted his camp shovel. The boy backed up but kept the knife pointed at Gene.
Gene tilted his head. “Can you do me a favor?” Gene took a step toward the shovel. The boy still hadn’t noticed it.
The kid swallowed. “What?”
Gene took a deep breath. “The next time you pull a knife on someone, use it.”
Gene threw the sand at the boy’s face. The boy flinched, then raised his hand in another strange gesture. Gene dove toward the shovel, then closed his eyes as he hit the ground. He felt a sudden blast of heat, as if the fire had briefly surged to three times its original size, then felt a rush of air that he knew could have easily knocked him off his feet.
After a moment, Gene stood up, shovel in hand, and prepared to charge, but when he looked up, the boy was standing with his hands in the air in a sign of surrender. He still held the knife, but he was no longer pointing it at Gene. “I didn’t come to fight you, Genesis. I’m here for Artemis.”
Gene shivered, and not only from the cold. He thought back to his dream, and then an intense headache washed over him, shattering his focus. He blinked and shook his head, then took a shaky breath. “Who are you? What do you know about Artemis?”
The boy lowered his hands. “My name is Neon. I’m her little brother.” He slowly lowered his hands, then held the knife by the blade with the hilt pointed toward Gene. “She sent me here to find you.”
Gene’s headache intensified so much he could hardly stand. He clenched his fists and teeth. “That’s not possible.” He dropped the shovel and collapsed to his knees.
The boy didn’t move. “I know it sounds crazy, but it’s true. She’s been speaking to me for months in my dreams.”
Gene growled from the pain. “Where is she, then?” His voice rose to a shout. “Where has she been the last five years?”
The boy shook his head. “I don’t know, she won’t tell me. She just kept appearing in my dreams, telling me to find you, until finally, I listened to her. I crossed the plains with one of the reindeer caravans.” He walked over to a stump and set the knife down, then returned to Gene and offered to help him stand.
Gene looked at the boy with a mix of confusion, anger, and pain, then released all of it with a sigh. His dark eyes took on a steely calmness. He accepted the boy’s outstretched hand, and his headache began to recede.
Several seconds passed as Gene cast his gaze around the area until he finally spotted his flashlight in the grass. He picked it up off the ground, then went and fetched his knife.
When he turned to face the boy, Gene saw a touch of fear in his eyes, so he raised his empty hand in a gesture of peace. “If you wanted to kill me, you could have done it while I was sleeping. You didn’t, though.” He waved the knife. “So, I won’t be using this on you.”
Gene approached the door to the yurt and tried to open it, but it was locked and bolted.
He rolled his eyes and turned to the boy. “How about you put out that fire and let us in? Then you can tell me what’s going on.”
Neon finally relaxed and gave a big grin. “I gotcha.” He snapped his fingers, and the eerie white and yellow flames immediately dissipated, then he approached the door and put a hand on the wood. Once again, the door started to ripple, until finally, he pushed through.
Gene heard the wooden bar scrape on the other side, followed by the sound of the lock, and then Neon opened the door with a mischievous grin. “Come on in! Make yourself at home.”
Gene shook his head with a sigh, then stepped into the yurt and closed the door behind him.
Maybe You Can Do Me A Favor?
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