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The School of Ascension
By Shelley Clements
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2011 Shelley Clements
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Throw away Kid
At twelve years old, I stopped going home. I didn't say good-bye; I didn't pack a bag. I took what was important. I stayed with friends, calling in every night to keep them off my trail—Mom and Uncle Teddy "the peddie," who as of late had decided that lying in my bed with me was the way to my heart. I guess he figured Mom was passed out, so why not go feel up the stepchild? I tried to tell my mom what he was doing, and somehow it became my fault—something about my red hair and green eyes being from the devil or something stupid like that. I'll never understand her drunken, addled brain. The years that followed found me living in an alley. My memories are hard to recall; all I see now are the lessons I learned on the street. I do have my journals to help me remember.
So let me tell you my story as the observer.
"God, if you ever helped me before, and I know you have, please get me out of this house and away from these crazy people." That was Jennie's mantra for many years, and then she hit the street. She would hike two blocks over to the artesian spring tap to fill water bottles, spend lazy days at the docks where pleasure crafts bobbed with the freight ships, and about twice a week dip into the Y when Neko was working the early shift.
His brown eyes sparkled as she came in, her hat pulled low over her brow and a mass of curly red hair flagging behind her. "Jennie, girl, where you been at?"
She felt such shame to be living in a Dumpster, a nonperson in society. Living off of the fine eating establishments' trash like an alley cat was demeaning. Her degradation whispered from her eyes, so she didn't make eye contact much. Before she slept each night, she wrote down her hopes and dreams in the diary she kept with her meager belongings in a backpack. Before she closed her eyes, she prayed they would come true. Some nights were awful; her fears could not be put to rest. The cold bit at her toes and fingers, and the sounds of the street kept her alert. Often, early in the morning hours, she put her arm over her ear to muffle the noise from the street and cried herself to sleep.
That morning, she woke as the dump truck came down the small alley—not a nice way to wake up. She scrambled to slip on shoes and grab her bag; she flipped up the heavy metal top. The driver was positioning the forks to lift the Dumpster into the air when he suddenly saw Jennie standing on a weeks worth of paper. Her green eyes flashed in the morning light. The driver spilled hot coffee on his lap as his foot slid off the brake. Jennie jumped straight up in the air, clearing the side of the Dumpster as the truck lurched forward. The driver, stringing expletives together in surprise and anger, watched Jennie leap from the Dumpster and hit the ground running. She looked back once; her green eyes he would not soon forget. After he realized the reason she would be there at five o'clock in the morning, the anger bled off and sorrow replaced it. He thought about his kids still sleeping, warm in their beds, while this young person spent this frosty night in a printer's Dumpster.
Jennie's heart was bursting from her chest when she scrambled out of the Dumpster. After she had cleared the alley and no longer heard the cussing driver, she leaned against the wall of the building for a moment, pinching her waist to ease the stitch in her side struggling to slow her breathing. She recovered enough to move on before the dump truck finished in the alley. Jennie slung her backpack over her shoulder and headed to the Y. Ice crunched beneath her feet as she breathed on her hands to warm them. She wondered if the cat that had come to sleep in her hair had made it out in time. Then, memories of home flooded her mind—how her mom's day started with a cigarette and a beer followed by hacking up a lung over eggs. She wouldn't eat them if she were given the choice but they weren't made for her; they were for him. Everything was for Uncle Teddy, Jennie take off Uncle Teddy's boots. There was always a blue haze of tobacco smoke around her. Her lungs were as black as her heart.
Jennie hung around the double doors of the Y until she saw Neko behind the counter. She quickly walked through the lobby and past the desk where he was on the phone. Neko winked and smiled as he handed her a coffee with cream. She slid into the ladies locker room to grab her suit and cap from her locker and then headed to the shower.
In the cool water of the pool, she swam laps until her heart was beating fast and she felt all the kinks and cares flow away. She cleared her mind of everything but stroke and breath, stroke and blow, stroke breath, stroke blow. A voice spoke in her head: Alaric. Stroke breath, stroke blow. Make the connection. As Jennie stood in the shower rinsing her hair, she thought about the voice in her head. She was still thinking about what it could mean when she dropped a quarter in the cup for the banana she took from the breakfast bowl, waving to Neko as she headed out the door.
Chapter TwoAlaric's Vision
Alaric lay on his bed, trying to keep his breathing steady as his heart thundered in his chest. He opened an eye enough to peer into the darkness of his bedroom. A creature crouched inside the door; the moonlight glinted off its blue-black skin. Its elongated head held red eyes that shifted, looking for him. The creature swung its head back and forth as if to sniff the air. Alaric knew it hunted him, its ancient mind so evolved that it was splintered into disjointed personalities, each more evil than the last.
The light in us drew them across the universe, where they found a priceless treasure. To kill every human on Earth was sport, the planet just another conquest, but the soul of a young human was the sweetest nectar of all.
Alaric tensed every muscle and then sprang from the bed with a blanket to throw over the thing. Coming face to face with it, Alaric found he could read its thoughts. Distorted pictures of millions of alien ships filled with warriors and entering our small galaxy flashed in his mind.
Alaric's body stiffened as a spiral of fear burned in his stomach. He tried to block the creature's thoughts of destruction; to see its plan for the human race was devastating.
He darted to the hall closet, where he curled himself in the corner, trying to be as small as possible. Praying to God to take his life, to have mercy on his soul, he watched the doorknob turning. His fear was intensifying and his heart exploding—the thing was outside the door.
Alaric felt he was falling into a hole of insanity. Is this how a mouse feels when it is being cornered by a snake? How will it take my soul? Will it be sucked from my body?
To be enslaved by a brutal race, to know every evil thought of an insect murderer, to be present for unthinkable acts of savagery for all eternity?
Alaric's fear was so great that his eyes fluttered shut; he didn't have control of his body anymore. It was in the closet with him. The monster smelled like fresh blood. The thing grabbed his face. As he screamed, Alaric sat up.
He felt profound relief to open his eyes to the first rays of sunlight, a new day. As gratitude washed over him, tears slipped from his eyes. The pain in his chest dissipated as the sun came up, the light dispelling the darkness.
Alaric rolled off the bed. His universal history class was in an hour.
Professor Victoria was seated on top of the desk, her legs crossed yoga style. She looked like a harem girl seated on her velvet pillow. The room was quiet as she gracefully stepped down off the desk. She looked like a great feathered bird with her long neck flanked by her swinging earrings as she spoke. She always dressed in flowing silks, which added to her grace.
"It is most distressing to watch the news these days, my warriors." (She called the students warriors of the mind.) "How many more souls will be lost to civil war, human against human? We are the melting pot of the universe. This Earth school attracts many alien races, some that come to observe us and others that are born into our company.
"Most planets that develop life have only one race that evolves in harmony to allow a peaceful society. On Earth, the races are not all the same spiritual age, which causes an imbalance that leads to prejudice and hate. This is our greatest lesson yet—to learn how to get along with one another. How will we ever become the human race without understanding one another?
"Who has read Shakespeare's play Othello? What can you tell me, Claire?"
"Oh, I love this story," said Claire. "So he was a noble soldier in love with his young Venetian wife, Desdemona. There was a snake in their garden named Iago, and he was Othello's advisor. He sewed seeds of separation and distrust, ending in tragedy."
"Very good, Claire. You know your Shakespeare."
"Yes, Professor. I thought I would be an actress on the stage."
"What happened to that dream?"
"I am too short to be seen on the stage, and maybe I giggle too much." The class laughed and agreed with Claire's candid admission.
Professor Victoria called on Trisa. "Please relate this story to humankind."
Trisa rolled her pencil, her eyes watching her fingers' movements as she answered her professor's question. "We are all Othello's at heart—open, trusting, wanting to see the best in each other. In the shadows lurks Iago, whispering from within and through other people, giving us a sense of separation, a pervasive experience of fear, and limitation. As a result of this state of mind, we live in a trance of problem-based living, fueling an endless saga of struggle, seeping through the cracks of our noblest aspirations, manifesting as disease, conflict, and failure. Globally it is expressed as war, as economic and environmental madness. Iago is the dominant trance state of our planet. It permeates corporate business, international politics, and our economic system." Trisa had risen out of her seat as she warmed to the subject. Professor Victoria laid hands on Trisa's shoulders and then on her head, calming her.
"Yes, my child, you are right. What happened to our original vision—the one we had as children—that life is loving and benevolent? Our parents and peers told us to grow up, be realistic, and stop being a dreamer. It's time to look back at our earlier idealism, see its value. Do not accept the widespread belief that idealism is a symptom of youth and inexperience. The price we pay for this maturing is that we give up our passion and energy. Then Iago is calling the shots, and we are caught between our attempts to recover our vision and the need to protect ourselves from its seductive allure lest we be labeled naïve and a failure. Thus, we live fractured lives, developing a love-hate relationship with our innate sense of vision. Iago has been given many names throughout time. He is capitalism to the communist and communism to the capitalist. He is called the mind, the ego. Politicians tell us the source of our problem is out there beyond our shores. So we send our brightest and best to exterminate the enemy with bombs, imposing our fear and suspicion and anxiety on generations to come. How will it end?" With this she threw up her hands. She calmed herself by drawing her hands into a prayer as she closed her eyes before instructing the class.
"Please follow in your Evolution reader on page 52: 'Angels must be confused by war. Who can they help? Who can they clarify? Whose mercy do they cast to the merciless? No modest scream can be heard. No stainless pain can be felt.' Tell us, Alaric, what that means to you."
"It means the angels' hands are tied," Alaric responded. "They don't hear a cry for help or ease a muscle ache. They don't know who to help."
"That's right. Alaric, read the next paragraph please."
"'When I awoke to this truth, it was from a dream. I saw two angels conversing in a field of children's spirits rising like silver smoke. The angels were fighting about which side was right and which was wrong and who started the conflict. Suddenly the angels stilled themselves. They shed their compassion to the rising smoke of souls who bore the watermark of war.'"
Victoria came to stand in front of Alaric, placing her hand on his shoulder. "Who were the angels giving their compassion to, Alaric?"
He looked in her eyes. She was reading his thoughts. Alaric's mouth went dry, and his eyes began to water. Memories of home flooded his mind as he answered; they give their compassion to the innocent.
That's right, Alaric, the ones who are innocent. "It is a good word—innocent. To be innocent is to have the compassion of the angels. That is my wish, that you will be innocent today. She bowed her head and stood quietly. Class dismissed.
Chapter ThreeSchool of the Parsifal
Alaric found his way to Munich, sleeping in alleys hungry and unwashed. An old lady sitting on her stoop poked him with a stick to get him to move downwind of her flower stand. He was curled in a ball against the wall of an outdoor café when an animated voice woke him from his catnap. A woman's laugh full of sweetness rang in his dreams.
Her voice gave him the energy to lean against the wall. With longing, he looked toward a vision of complete loveliness. She turned her head to listen to her friends and then threw her head back as she laughed. Her sweet voice was carried to him. He imagined he could smell her silky, ebony tresses as the breeze caught them. Alaric inhaled—all he smelled was himself.
It seemed that she felt his longing. Her eyes met his, and she smiled and raised her glass to him. He wanted to be with her but was afraid to move from the wall until later, when she was there by herself, waiting for him.
Alaric introduced himself to Simone and realized she was in a wheelchair. She took his hand and with her soulful eyes asked him to tell his story.
She was breathtaking. She pulled him in close to her, and over dinner they talked. After Alaric filled his empty stomach, he felt better and more at ease. He told her about the loss of his parents, and she told him why she was in a wheelchair.
Simone was born in Innsbruck, Austria. Her family owned a ski resort, where Simone spent all her free time on the slopes. Her coach felt she was ready for the Olympics. She would compete in a new category called freestyle. Aerials were her specialty; she loved vaulting off the jumps made of snow, flipping in the air felt like flying.
Simone won silver and came home a hero. Her friends and family treated her differently; she had become the hope of the village.
She didn't take time off from training; she was preparing for the next games and the gold. She wasn't sleeping at night and had nightmares of failure. Her training wasn't going as smoothly as it had been before she won the medal.
The attention and pressure to perform distracted her. She became willful and argumentative. She wanted to do harder stunts but was unwilling to take direction from her coach. She was falling apart. While practicing an aerial, she failed to gain enough lift off the jump.
Simone came crashing down on her spine, breaking two vertebrae below her waist and paralyzing her lower body. She lay in the snow, knowing she was paralyzed. Her Olympic hopes died before she was rescued from the cold ground.
It was hard living in her ski town after that. She accepted all the well wishers until she started to feel their disappointment as well as their pity. They blamed the loss of their hopes and dreams on her. Their resentment became too much, and in desperation to get away, Simone checked herself into a rehabilitation center in Munich. She was determined to find a new dream for herself that didn't include skiing.
Nobody dreams of ending up in a wheelchair. In her search for answers, she found that she had lost who she was but began to realize that she had a unique opportunity to become someone new. She was deeply ashamed of her actions, and she had time to write letters asking forgiveness of her family, her coach, and her friends.
She found that everyone had moved on. The town had shifted its support to a young girl who was going to the Olympics in Simone's place. She was old news.
Excerpted from The School of Ascension by Shelley Clements Copyright © 2011 by Shelley Clements. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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