Choices
Alexander Patterson
Publication date: December 8th 2015
Genres: Fantasy, Historical, Young Adult

Richard Örlendr died over a thousand years ago. He lived in Norway during the Germanic Iron Age and trusted in the judgement of the gods. That is not to say he did not question them when they gave him a dragon, nor did he blindly follow their orders when they told him to go to war. But, when one god told him to kill another, Richard was unable to rely on their wisdom. He had to turn to the Norns.

The Norns guide fate. They shape it past, present, and future; however, it is not set in stone. A hero can change his fate. A hero can chose his destiny. The Norns can weave a new life, but what happens if the Norns are dead? Do heroes have greater freedom? Or are they locked into their destiny since there is no one left to weave?

 

Except

“Don’t cry,” Vincent said.

“I’m going to the stars!” Elizabeth cried out, small tears forming at the corners of her eyes. Elizabeth quickly dabbed at her eyes, before embracing Vincent. “Happy Birthday Elizabeth.” Elizabeth stepped away from Vincent, her broad smile slowly changing into a sly grin. “It’s your birthday too, you know.”

“And we’ll celebrate that tomorrow” Vincent quickly responded. “But today it’s your birthday. Once we get back we can do something for mine.”

“And I’ll hold you to that. We’re not going to repeat last year, I won’t have you skipping a celebration each year.”

“I’m your older brother –“

Elizabeth laughed, “We’re twins! We have the same birthday, for all we know I’m older.” This was true, Elizabeth and Vincent were twins, although it was hard to tell unless you already knew that fact. Elizabeth had blond frizzy hair, brown eyes, and was quick to give a gentle smile. Vincent was different. He had black hair, green eyes, and was one of the most serious people that the city had seen. He rarely ever smiled, except for when he was with Elizabeth.

“We can argue about this on the way up to the surface.” Vincent smiled, swiftly turning as he led Elizabeth towards the surface, towards the stars.

Elizabeth briskly walked besides Vincent; she had to take two steps to match one of Vincent’s long strides. “Where are we going?” She asked. “Jacob found a hole in the Border this morning. We should try to reach it before curfew.” Elizabeth nodded in agreement. Being caught outside during curfew would be bad. Curfew was one of the most important laws, for many reasons: most important of which was after the lights went out, it was nearly impossible to see your outstretched hand, let alone safely navigate the twisting streets of the city.

It wasn’t far to the Border, or so it was called. The Border really wasn’t much of a border. It was more of a chain link fence that served to represent the end of the lighted city. The lighted city had once stretched far into the darkness. It was once a sprawling city, but when the doors to the surface were shut, the lighted portions of the city shrank back until only the city center and a few acres of farmland remained. The areas that were once populated fell into a state of darkness.

The lights began to flicker as they neared the Border. “We should hurry.” Vincent said. “They’ll check the perimeter soon.” Vincent and Elizabeth wandered down the Border, poking and prodding at the fence, until they found the small cut in the fence that Jacob had described. “Here we are.” Vincent said, as he gently lifted the flap of the fence, forming a small hole for Elizabeth to crawl through. After she made it through, Elizabeth turned and reciprocated the favor for Vincent.

After they were through the Border Vincent pulled two thin flashlights from his coat pocket. Handing one to Elizabeth, he looked into the thick veil of darkness that stretched out before them. “How far do you think it goes?” Elizabeth asked.

“It shouldn’t take more than half an hour to reach the exit. If we hurry we can be in the starlight in an hour.”

“Let’s go then!” Elizabeth said as she rushed forward.

They walked through the derelict city, carefully avoiding the mounds of rubble that occasionally blocked their path. They went forward slowly, relying on the small beams of light that emitted from their flashlights. They chose not to talk as they went through the darkness. Vincent was lost in thought, thinking about the tales of monsters and stories of what life was once like in the city; while Elizabeth was consumed by her dreams of the stars. She thought back to the descriptions that her grandmother had told her; she thought back upon her childhood drawings – knowing that in just a few minutes she would be standing underneath the starlight, that until now she had only dreamed about seeing.

They were close to the passageways now. The dark building that surrounded them receded into an open plain, the fragmented road started to decay into a smooth pathway covered in grass. The road straightened until they came to a massive arch way that spanned the road and ascended up into the darkness high above the reach of their lights. “Where do we go from here?” Elizabeth asked.

“I don’t know. As far as I can tell, this is the farthest anyone’s been from the city. I think the road will go up eventually.” Elizabeth walked into the gaping maw of the arch, eager to greet the stars with her own eyes.

They walked forward in silence, steadily growing more and more anxious as the road began to rise, sloping upwards towards the surface. “What did you say?” Elizabeth asked.

“What? I didn’t say anything. What are you-” A voice drifted up towards them from the dark recesses of the passage. Elizabeth and Vincent briefly looked at each other. “Run?”

“Run.” She agreed. They ran down the road their, flashlights sending dancing beams along the walls around them. A small alcove appeared along the wall to their left, set into the far wall was a metal door. “In here” Vincent whispered, as he pulled opened the metal door. The door screamed out in a shrill cry, as the rusty hinges were forced into action. The door led to a small storage room. Elizabeth closed the door behind them, filling the room with the moans of the door. The room was crowded with shelves. The shelves were filled with miscellaneous instruments that were once used for maintaining the dark roadway outside. Cans of grease, and boxes of light bulbs lay underneath a pile of dust near the back corner while a mound of cardboard boxes threatened to collapse to the left of the entrance.

They waited in silence as the voices steadily approached. Vincent turned off his flashlight and motioned for Elizabeth to do the same. The room descended into darkness. They waited in silence as the voices steadily got closer. The tense seconds stretched into minutes until the voices became audible. Two men were speaking, that much was clear, but their words were like guttural growls. Their footsteps thudded down the road, until the men came to a halt outside of the storage room.

The voices stopped outside of the door. The muffled sounds of a make-shift camp slipped in through the door as the two men set heavy packs on the ground. A dancing light flickered into the storage room, underneath the door, as the men started a small fire.

“We can’t stay here.” Elizabeth whispered.

“We can’t leave either. Vincent reminded her. “I don’t think we should trust that those two people will simply let us walk by.”

“We can’t leave through the door, but…” She gestured up, towards the back of the room. The metal for a small vent glinted in the firelight above the metal shelves. “We should be able to climb out.” Vincent nodded in agreement “let me go up first,” he said.

“Be careful.”

The light from the fire outside illuminated the base of the shelves, but the top shelves were shrouded in darkness. Vincent could barely see the bars that he used as handholds, as he climbed up towards the vent. The entrance to the vent was clasped shut by two rusted prongs. The first prong fell off with a simple nudge, but the other was held firmly in place. Vincent looked down at Elizabeth. “It’s rusted shut” He whispered. “Hand me up a flashlight.” Elizabeth complied. Vincent held on to shelf with one hand, twisting his body to the right, as he leaned down to take the flashlight from Elizabeth. The shelving shuddered under the pull, but remained upright. Vincent straightened, and gently tested the flashlight against the prong. Steadily pushing harder against it until the prong popped off with a soft click. “Alright, I’m in. Let’s get-”

The vent entrance collapsed outwards, slamming into the shelf before falling to the ground with a thud. The door was thrust open as two men stormed into the room. The dim light concealed their faces; they each wore an assortment of mismatched garments. The first man wore baggy khaki pants, tied to his waist with a frayed rope, and he wore a leather jacket; in his hand he wielded a long metal pipe. The other man was short; he was wearing jeans and a black duster, which made the short knife in his hand all the more terrifying.

They didn’t notice Vincent, but instead turned on Elizabeth who held her flashlight like a small club. Vincent pounced from the shelves with a cry, tackling the man with the club, while Elizabeth lunged at the other man, swinging her flashlight towards his head. Vincent rolled on top, trying to rip the club from the man’s grasp. He clawed the man’s hands, while the man punched at his gut. Vincent leaned forward, head-butting the man in the nose. He felt the crunch of cartilage and bone; the man grunted in frustration as Vincent pulled the pipe from his hands. He turned around in time to see Elizabeth hit the other man in the head with her flashlight. She groaned and put a hand to her chest, as Vincent pulled her through the door. He quickly shut the door behind them and jammed the door shut by wedging the pipe in between the door and the floor.

“You okay?” Vincent asked after he had caught his breath.

“No.” Came the weak reply. Vincent turned around, Elizabeth was sitting down. Her side was drenched in blood, but she looked oddly calm. Vincent chocked back a sob, rushing to her. He ripped off part of his shirt, searching for the wound. A long, jagged, cut ran down her chest going down to her left hip. He tied the scrap over what looked to be the worst of the wound. He carefully put one arm under the crook of her knees, and the other behind her back. “I have to take you back,” he muttered as he picked her up. Vincent turned back towards the city when more voices came up through the darkness. The words were in the same language as the two other men.

“We’re trapped.” Vincent said as he stopped, turning slowly around. “No. No, no, no.” He muttered to himself. “Not trapped. We can still go up.” He started to run up the sloping road. “We can go to the surface. They’ll be help there. Up top, they can help us.”

“Vincent.” Elizabeth murmured. “It’s okay.” Vincent kept running. “I need you to know that it’s okay.” Vincent began to cry, hot tears streamed down his cheeks as his footsteps echoed off the tunnel walls. “I want you to know that I love you. You’re my brother, you’re the best brother that I could ever wish for.”

“Save your energy. We’re almost there.” The road began to level out, until a gentle breeze started to drift in towards them. “Feel that Elizabeth? That’s the stars. That’s the starlight.”

They emerged out of the tunnel and onto a plain. Before them stretched the world, and above them in the night sky lay a blanket of darkness. The stars were smothered, blotted out by the years of pollution and war. Vincent fell to his knees as he cradled Elizabeth. He wept as he looked down at her gentle face. She lifted her hand, placing it gently on his cheek in an attempt to wipe away a tear saying “Don’t cry, I’m going to the stars.”

 

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AUTHOR Q&A:

What made you want to write this?
I had been tinkering with the idea of a story revolving around a hatchling for about a year when I had the first of many surreal dreams. I walked out of a subway station, it was dark and the streets were deserted. Within half a dozen steps, I was attacked by a man. He demanded my money and as I fumbled for my wallet, the gun went off. I collapsed to the ground and experienced an Assassin’s Creed-esque conversation. Everything melted away save me and a small, blue dragon. He whimpered and begged me not to die. He told me if I died, then he would die with me. All my doodles, little scratches on math notes, everything that he was would disappear. No one would read about him. It would be as if he never existed. Then, I woke up and immediately went to my computer. It has been three years since that first dream, and I am relieved to say if I die now, at least my blue dragon will have the chance to live in the imagination of others.

What inspired you?
I cannot possibly list all of my inspirations here. Dozens of books, movies, and artists have captured my imagination and allowed me to create this work in turn. My largest inspirations, however, are songs. I followed the swells of John Powell through the crests of chapters, lay in beautiful melancholy with Ólafur Arnalds, and relieved stress with Taylor Swift and Imagine Dragons. And on top of these wonderful artists are dozens more. From Peter Hollens to Aeralie Brighton, each contribute to the world in ways I know I can never do. They create beauty from nothing but their imagination and talent. They are my inspiration.

Why are some of the names modern while the rest are Anglo-Saxon or Old Norse inspired?
Two of the characters, Richard and Aiden, have modern names. Truth be told, Richard and Aiden are not their real names, though I doubt I will ever talk about what those are. Choices is told as if it were Richard telling the story to a modern audience. Because of this, Richard is an unreliable narrator. He wants people to like him, and thinks he will be more relatable with a modern name. Everyone else can have their real name as they do not need to be likeable.

Why does Sweden not exist in your novel?
This is one of those cases where the short answer and the real answer are actually the same: the story works better without it. To be technical, Norge is a microcosm for the world if the Old Gods were real. It is a depiction of how I believe the world would work if monsters stalked the forests, and supreme deities imposed their will upon us. Thus, keeping Norge isolated from everything else helps me to create this setting. To be blunt though, Sweden simply does not have a role to play in the story and in a story where I go into enough frivolous detail it is far better to have a land simply not exist than to shoehorn in reasons for Sweden to not get involved. This decision was one of the many things which inspired me to write the Author in as a character.

Are you the Author?
Yes and no. I am the author in that I wrote Choices and in that I dreamed of the dragon ‘Aiden’ before writing Choices; however, I do not have any doubts about both the character of Richard and the falsity of the story. The Author in Choices is my way of looking into how writers develop stories. I do not mean this in a pretentious, ‘my writing is a philosophical inquiry into the nature of writing,’ sort of way –in fact Choices is far from a philosophical inquiry. What I mean is I thought it would be fun to explain my writing decisions to myself in a canonical format.

 

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