Shadows of our Past

by Serilyn


Rain cascaded down in heavy sheets, each drop containing an ethereal,
rainbow-like colour before hitting the ground as plain water. All but
one of the travellers grumbled at this unusual weather. For unusual it
was, here, you see, rain is a very rare thing. We live on quite a dry
planet, consisting mainly of rocky landscapes of desert. There are of
course large, dark hollows all over the earth, which we suspect
contain great seas of water, but no one had ever returned from them to
tell. Also, we have rocky mountains dotted over out lands, their
slopes are practically vertical, making them impossible to climb, but
rumour often says, that on those high mountains, above the swirling
clouds, there are beautiful, lush forests. To most though, those are
just common old wives' tales.

Myself, I felt enchanted by the rain, I'd always been intrigued by
the way it went through such an enchanting array of colours before it
hit the ground, like a crystal shattering into so many pieces. A
sudden jolt of someone running into me quickly booted me out of my
roaming thoughts. They'd run into me with such force that ended up
landing in the milky white sand.

"Hey! Watch where you're going buster!" I shouted automatically,
glancing around for this rude personage. Surely they'd fallen over

But as hard as I peered around, I could see no one in the dim light of
evening. Blinking I stared blankly down at my hand for a moment. It
was pushed into the sand, and I could see rivulets of the milky liquid
running through all the scales of my long, thin fingers. I sighed, as
pretty as the white sand was, even in the rain, it was such an
annoyance if you fell over in it. As soon as water hit it you see, it
turned into something like mud, except a lot finer, if you fell in it,
it would splash up, and you couldn't fully brush it all off. The only
thing to do was to wait until it dried, at which point it would become
a fine powder, then you could furiously try to brush it off.

The others had heard me yell. Strange, it seems that I'd lagged
behind, but then… Who had run into me? I pondered this a moment as I
regained my footing and glanced about once more. There were my
footprints, hazy as they were now from the rain, leading this way.
Then, my fall, and… I could vaguely make out the disturbance in the
same where the other person, whoever it was, had landed. Just as I was
taking a step forward to investigate further the voices of my peers
broke through the rain, yelling at me to catch up and not lag behind
so much. They wouldn't believe me if I said some phantom person had
run into me and vanished, so I decided to keep quiet about it.

Evening was moving swiftly through the sky by the time we got to the
ruins. Why were we going to a bunch of ruins, you ask? Well for one
thing, they're stronger and better built than anything we could make.
We are generally a nomadic people, moving about across the wastelands,
but these ruins provide very good shelter for us when we need them.
Who built them, why, and where did they go? That we don't know.
Whoever they were, they were certainly long gone by the time we'd
started to develop any type of intelligence. A race that made huge
buildings of stone, so intricate and precise that at first we thought
they were built by the gods. The stone at least, had endured, while
most of whatever had been inside them was long destroyed by hungry
insects or prowling predators marking their territory.

This set of ruins in particular had what appeared to be a throne in
it, amazingly enough, there wasn't a scratch on it. So of course,
seeing it as something sacred, no one of us had ever dared to touch it

Everyone else had moved to the outer buildings now, so I was left
alone gazing at the strange, darkened throne. Before I knew it the
long days trek had caught up to me as my eyelids began to droop
unintentionally, my body's way of telling me in no uncertain terms
that it wanted rest, now.

I set off through one of the lower doorways, aiming to reach one of
the outer buildings. Unfortunately I'd taken the wrong doorway, this
one just lead to an empty room with carvings on the walls. A sigh
escaped my lips, as I leaned back against one of these walls, I could
feel the various indentations of the carvings digging into my back.
Curious, I turned and squinted in the failing light trying to make out
the image.

It appeared to depict some figures around the throne from the previous
room. Most of the throne had been scratched and worn away with the
years, so I couldn't make out who occupied it. Just the faint, bipedal
figures standing to each side of it. A claw of mine absently scraped
over one of the figures before I started to move away. A faint glint
of light caught my eye from the carving on the wall right near where
my claw had been resting. Frowning, I poked lightly at it, maybe it
was some small object stuck in the wall. Blowing away the dust, I soon
found that there were five, tiny glimmering spots on the carving, you
could only see them out of the corner of your eye though, so it was
difficult to spot them.

As I prodded the fifth of these strange spots of sleepy confusion I
heard a faint click sound from behind the wall. I could feel the faint
vibrations of movement underfoot, and stepped back in surprise as
slightly warm, and stale air gasped out around my legs. It took a
moment for me to comprehend what has happened, and to realize that the
new square of blackness in the wall at my feet was in fact an alcove.
An alcove that hadn't been opened for many long years.

Crouching down I hesitantly peered into the alcove, dumbly expecting
to see something without a light. Scolded myself I tried to calm the
anxiety within me. It must have been thousands of years since anyone
last opened this thing, no way anything could still be alive in there.

Rummaging around in the pouch at my waist I dragged out a stick of a
hard, grainy substance of ours, which is very flammable. Upon striking
it against small slab of rock, light blossomed in front of my eyes. At
first, dazed from the sudden change, all I could see was white.
However, as my eyes adjusted I began to make out the details. A medium
sized chest sat against the left side of the alcove. Carefully I
lifted it's lid, a slight popping sounded as if I'd broken the seal of
something, and inside I found a fabric so fine and soft that it must
have been made from the skin of some legendary creature. I was
hesitant to touch it because it seemed so delicate, my claws and
scales could so easily shred such a wonderful thing.

Closing the lid of the chest my eyes were now drawn to the back of the
alcove, where there appeared to be… Sand… ? I blinked, reaching
forward to brush my hand across it. As the sand tumbled down over my
hand I noticed something glistening, not the hard shine of a gem or
metal like the points on the wall. This was a soft gleam, it reminded
me of the rain as it fell from the sky. Something seemed to shudder
then, and despite my fears, I reached forward and grabbed whatever it
was that lurked in this alcove. Surely nothing living would be in
here… My own words pounded through my ears as I pulled with all my
might on this strange creature whatever it may be.

The light went out in a flash, yet there was no wind to blow it out. A
tearing sound shrieked through my ears as I fell back, the creature
that had seemed so insubstantial when I had been pulling it, now
seemed a solid, living thing.

I lay there for a while, just breathing deeply and staring into the
darkness above me. A small murmur sounded very near me. In fact, right
beside me. Sitting up, I blindly felt around with my hand, hissing as
the hot end of my dropped light came into contact with my fingers.
Gingerly, I relit it, and stared in utter bewilderment at the strange
creature nestled against me.

It appeared to have pale, pinkish skin. Skin that lacked any scales at
all apart from translucent nails on it's fingers and toes. Such a
strange creature, yet, also somehow… Familiar… I could have sworn that
I'd seen it somewhere before. Then I remembered the carvings on the
walls, bipedal figures with strange faces. Traces of a very light
substance that looked like crystals clung to some parts of the
creature still, but were easily brushed off.

I gazed down at it, wondering how such a small thing could survive so
long, with nothing to sustain it at all. It cooed calmly at me, not
afraid to meet my gaze, or the least bit disturbed about its

Tired and wondering if this was really just a dream I bundled the
small thing up and headed out to my room in the outer buildings. As
soon as I tried to step out of the main building it seems, the infant
began looking extremely distressed and making small whimpering sounds.
I stepped back, and it calmed.

Muttering "Fine then…" I set the creature down on the floor and
collected my sleeping gear from one of the outer buildings. It was
still there when I came back, glancing peacefully up at me. For a
moment before I walked in the doorway I thought I'd felt something tug
at me slightly, as if wanting me to keep away. But when I turned there
was no one there, just the cool desert air.

Thinking the creature must have been in some sort of hibernation, and
was probably hungry now, I tried feeding it. But everything I offered
it either refused, or didn't treat as food. I guess it either didn't
like my cooking or for some reason didn't need to eat. Either way, the
night was wearing on, so I decided to give my body a rest, maybe when
I woke up it all would turn out to be a dream.

It seemed like minutes, but it must have been hours after I'd shut my
eyes judging by the dawn light spilling through windows. I heard a
strange wailing sound echoing throughout the building. A truly
mournful, and bone chilling sound, it was enough to rouse me from my
sleep immediately. I half expected all my companions to come rushing
through the doors at any moment, also wondering about the noise, but
none came.

Glancing at the creature curled up at the edge of my blanket I could
only think, 'Well, surely it can't get any weirder than this.' as I
stood and carefully scooped up the small creature. A lazy yawn was
it's only protest at being woken, as it gazed about with hooded eyes.

The wailing seemed to be coming from the room with the throne in it,
and as I cautiously stepped up to the doorway I thought I could see
faint twinkling of light gliding about in the shadows. After waiting a
few minutes, I stepped fully into the room. It was bare as always,
with just the throne, though that wailing sound was louder here. I
tried to pinpoint it's origin, and found myself facing that very same
throne. Seems like there's something up with this thing after all,

Upon closer inspection, I noticed some of the lights, very faint ones,
were dancing around the throne. From a distance you couldn't really
tell, there was just an odd glimmer to it. The creature too stared at
the throne, each light reflection brightly in it's eyes, as it smiled
watching these things that I could barely see.

We stood there for some time, just gazing at the lights parading
before us. Upon squinting and looking as carefully as I could I
thought I could see a hand opened out before me. It wasn't like any
hand of ours, not long and scaled, it was small and pale, almost…
Almost a larger version of the creatures hands. My thoughts wandered
for a bit as I stood there. Then, I raised my own hand and placed it
upon the ethereal hand before me.

A strange tingling sensation swept through my body, the lights
increased, they looked like the rain. Rain cascading down the walls,
dancing all through the air, but as light as a cloud, as dry as the
desert. I glanced down at my hand, and immediately inhaled sharply.
For this wasn't my hand, this was that creatures hand, iridescent and
flowing with streams of colours and light. Stepping back in shock I
saw the dark shape of myself still standing before the throne. Then I
saw my body move, but it wasn't me that was inside my body.

For the first few hours I just sat there in that beautiful realm of
colour and light. But it did not move me, for I couldn't think, my
thoughts had frozen. The creature that was me had moved around in my
body, unsure at first, then it had moved into the room of carvings,
where it now emerged dressed in those fine and delicate fabrics that I
had discovered only hours before. It cradled the smaller creature in
it's arms, as it walked silently towards me then turned to the throne.
There it sat, with my body, dressed in garments from another era, the
smaller creature, which must be it's child, gazed at me with that same
air of tranquillity.

It was then I understood. Our predecessors, those who came before us,
hadn't moved on. They were still here, everywhere, just in another
world existing within our own. A beautiful realm, but a lonely one,
without touch or smell, taste or hearing. Whether they had been driven
here, or come here willingly I did not know, but now I was here, and I
did not know if I would ever be able to leave.

Raven's Comments:

There's a lot here that almost works, but falls just short of reaching its potential. For starters, there's the narrator herself. The first-person point of view often works well in short stories, but for it to succeed the character has to have a strong, distinctive personality that shines through in the way that he or she talks to the audience, as well as in the actions he or she takes. It's not enough to describe what happens, or what the narrator sees; we need to understand how she feels, and what her opinions are about what's happening, if we're going to identify with her as a person and care about what happens to her. Try to work situations and encounters into your stories that allow your character's personality to reveal itself. Interactions with other characters can be particularly helpful in this -- indeed, part of what makes it so difficult to identify with the narrator in this story is that we never see her interacting with anyone else.

Another challenge you have here is that your narrator is an alien being. Making a first-person narrator distinctive and interesting is hard enough when the character is human; when you're dealing with an extraterrestrial, you have to give the creature mannerisms and patterns of speech that make it a distinctly unusual personality. Including distinctly American speech patterns like "Watch where you're going, buster!" and "Seems like there's something up with this thing after all, huh?" make your character seem less realistic and believable as an alien life form.

Plot-wise, you start with a good premise -- the exploration of ancient ruins has been the basis for many successful stories. Unfortunately, the tone of the story doesn't really maintain the feeling of mystery and suspense that makes this genre work. Again, having some more characters to interact with, playing up the nervous tension they must be feeling as they're trespassing on ancient grounds, would probably go a long way to help the mood. The story also lacks a well-defined conclusion -- it seems to end without resolving or explaining much.

From an Applicability standpoint, you did fairly well at building the image into the story. You do, however, lose a little bit for vagueness: we don't get enough information from the narrator about her own appearance to really know what she looks like, so it's hard to build a mental picture of the character. Obviously it doesn't make any sense for her to just randomly spout off a list of her physical features, but you could sneak in this sort of information by mentioning the expressions or features of other aliens that she's talking to. You do succeed in giving us some key physical features by contrasting with the appearance of the human child, which is a very good way of doing it, but you couldn't have worked in much more detail there without jeopardizing the flow. The image of her sititng in the throne with the child is also a bit vague; here, you probably could have gotten away with some more detail.

On the technical side, your spelling and grammar are generally strong, though you have problems with tenses in a few places and used "it's" for "its", which is a pet peeve of mine. You do have fairly extensive troubles with punctuation, though, which cost you some points in Technique. I recommend checking out the book Eats, Shoots and Leaves, by Lynne Truss, which is a very entertaining and educational book on punctuation; I think it would help you a lot.

I see a lot of potential in you, Serilyn -- like I said, you get close to the mark in a lot of key areas. Keep writing, practice working on punctuation and characterization, and I think you can become a very good writer. Don't give up! :)

Spelling/Grammar: B-
Technique: C
Creativity: C
Artistry: C-
Applicability: B-

Final Score: 29.5 out of 50

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