2013 Iron Writer Summer Solstice Challenge #16
500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements
A clothes line
Dougie savoured the last few drags of his cigarette. It was the only downside to his regular trip to the monastery – absolutely no smoking in or outside the building. On the upside, he’d be very well fed today; nothing fancy but well prepared meals, most of the ingredients home grown. More often than not he’d leave with armfuls of fresh produce. Dougie had been a self-employed plumber for more than twenty years. The regular answer to his wife’s enquiry about his day was, “seen one radiator you’ve seen ‘em all honey.” But the monastery was a very interesting place to work.
Today was his quarterly visit to check the heating, plumbing and do any other odd jobs required. The Brothers would make a list between visits and Dougie would spend the day fixing, mending, painting – whatever needed doing. Landing the monastery contract was a gift. Though he knew old Brother Francis, in his Aussie accent would have said “a blissing.” Brother Francis was the oldest and he thought, the nicest of all the Brothers. He was a cheerful, gracious soul. He would bring Dougie drinks, ask about his family and make sure he left with plenty of homemade jam. If Dougie mentioned someone who’d been ill or had problems, Brother Francis would always remember the details. He’d have been praying fervently for that person and would check with Dougie how things were the next time he came.
Dougie drove up the lane that connected the back of the monastery’s land to the road near his house. It was a handy shortcut that he only found by accident. As was often the case, the first sight that greeted him, apart from the monastery itself, was a washing line. Most times it was full of either bed linen or dark brown habits. It occurred to him once that he had never seen any underwear on the washing line. He mentioned it to his wife and with a dead pan expression she replied, “They must dry their smalls in private.” Dougie almost choked on his dinner, spitting potatoes and peas everywhere. He still laughed at the thought of it and hoped one day to happen upon what they’d labelled “the small private room”; but he never did.
This visit was however was to reveal something. Dougie needed to go to Brother Francis’ room to fix his chair. One of the legs was coming loose. He was working on the chair and caught his finger with the plyers. This made him jump and he knocked the books off Brother Francis’ bedside locker. Faded photographs spilled out across the floor. As he picked them up he spotted one that shocked him. It was a photo of 3 men on a beach. All toned and tanned, with long shaggy blonde hair, each holding a surfboard. Dougie was stunned to find such photograph in Brother Francis’ possession, but as he looked again he thought he recognised someone. The man it the middle; it was Brother Francis.
Could you explain how the talents come to be?
No. So far as we can tell, the manifestation of the talent is both random and indiscriminant. It may pass down a family tree or only appear once in the entirety of a family’s genetic history. Race, religion, gender, age, and other demographics are equally unimportant. There are Americans, Asians, Africans, and Europeans: every race is represented. The fact that there are more Asians with the talents is purely because there are more Asians on the planet. I like to think of it as someone winning the lottery, there is no pattern.
So what happens when the talent actually manifests?
Basically, they are removed from their homes and sent to live among monks in a monastery, as pupils. There are four monasteries, one for each talent, located in the place best suited to educate their students. I would tell you where, but its kind of a secret. As soon as they arrive, their proficiency with their talent is tested. Some can perpetually spin a stone dreidel, while others can drive themselves forward on a surfboard without so much as a wave. After the little test, they are placed in one of four tiers where they will be educated until they can be elevated to the fifth tier, which is graduation. In the first tier, one must garner more control over their talent. In the second tier, one must garner mastery over their talent. In the third tier, one must garner mastery over their attribute. For the final tier, one must garner mastery over the other three attributes.
The monks believe that the Earth was born and then given four attributes; the earth then had children, or humans, and passed these attributes on to its children. Each talent is associated with an attribute: passionate fire, restrained earth, tranquil water, and free wind. At the core of their belief system is the idea that once someone has mastered these attributes, and can balance them evenly, then and only then, can they truly feel existence. The road to mastering these attributes is fraught with failure and anguish, but once one has reached the end, it is that much more satisfying.
How long does this mastery normally take?
It really just depends on the person. People from all ages arrive at the gates of these monasteries, you have children with minds ready to be molded and you have forty year olds who are stuck in their ways and simply can’t change.
Are they forced to stay there until enlightenment?
Yes. Until they are complete, they cannot leave.
Is there a security system in place?
The monks themselves, they would sooner clothes line a pupil than let them leave.
Isn’t that a bit inhumane, taking and keeping people against their will?
The monks are cheery enough, radiators of kindness I would say, and their sole purpose in life is educating those with the talent to bend the elements, not to abuse their gift. It’s needed.
Guy Anthony De Marco
“All-American athlete Mick Ross, blonde-haired, blue-eyed surfing champion, thought he had it all. He was a dominator on the surfboard and a dynamo with the beach girls.” Staff Sergeant Miller switched the slide to show a handsome, grinning face. “He was no match for the Great White that ripped his arm off at Diamond Point in 1940.”
Miller changed the projected image to a horrific medical nightmare, smirking at the reaction of his audience. Generals rarely saw the damage their orders caused, and the black and white image was a stark reminder.
Brigadier General Hughes was the first to recover. “How’d he survive that wound?”
Miller cleared his face of emotion and snapped to face the grizzled Marine. “We don’t know.”
Hughes waved his hand. “Continue your report.”
Nodding, Miller changed the image to a peaceful stone structure surrounded by gardens. “We know Mick dropped out of his lifestyle within months, ending up at Aadheenam, a Hindu monastery recently set up on Kauai. He felt abandoned, and when the money dried up, he began to hate the United States.”
A muffled series of explosions made every eye turn towards the reinforced concrete wall opposite of the projector. Hughes finally broke the subsequent silence by grunting around his ever-present cigar.
“Mr. Ross smuggled in a radio set, using a metal clothesline as a signal radiator.” Miller brushed the displaced dust off of his shoulders, a futile gesture as more explosions in the distance caused another shower from the light fixtures. “He was convinced his comments about invading the west coast were reaching the Axis powers, letting the listeners know how vulnerable we were with the seventh fleet deployed to Australia.”
A larger concussion stuck the room, knocking over the crystal water glasses on the table.
“There goes Colorado Springs,” muttered the newly-minted Army one-star.
Hughes had half of his cigar in his mouth, and the other half jabbed at the Army officer. “None of that. Sit down and shut up.”
The one-star sat down and folded his hands on the table, keeping his eyes towards the ceiling.
Miller’s bladder kept reminding him how much coffee he had gulped before the meeting and just how scared he was at the moment. With his commanding officer glaring at everyone who twitched while he pulled out a fresh cigar, he knew better than to show fear.
“The area around the monastery is high in metallic compounds, so we think that’s what distorted the radiation pattern and attracted the enemy. They hit Los Angeles and San Francisco hard, using some kind of weapon that wiped everything out with a single explosion in the middle of each city.”
A mountainous mushroom cloud filled the screen. “The invaders began to land their ships all along the coast. While Mick Ross began this event, he had no idea how it would end.”
A deep, warbling thrum pulsed the atmosphere.
“We got company,” said Hughes. “We need to kick them green-skinned things off the planet. Regroup in Omaha. Dismissed!”
Brother Maximillian moaned. Chanted, whatever; he had never been good with official terminology. He knelt on a plank of painted, waxed wood and settled into his morning prayers. As he meditated on God, the Holy Virgin, and the angels, he dipped his feet into the water, hoping a fish would latch onto one of his toes, like in a Disney movie.
Through the calm of his meditation his ankle itched furiously, rubbed raw by the clothesline tethering him to the wooden plank. He imagined it a similar sensation to the cords digging into the ankles of someone being crucified in days long gone. All said, Brother Maximillian greatly preferred to be kneeling under a dark, starry sky, rather than on the stone floor at the monastery of Saint Bastard (patron saint of not owning a cushion), huddled around an ancient radiator for warmth during morning prayer.
He’d been going by Brother Max, feeling it more akin to the SoCal state of mind, but most just called him “Bro” (pronounced “Bruh”). Brother “Bruh” Maximillian cursed himself for not leaving the monastery (which was actually for Saint Bartholomew, not Saint Bastard) sooner. There were so many things he found that he’d been missing out on, within those hallowed halls. He’d never before seen the ocean, or been buffeted by an oncoming wave crashing on the sandy beach, nor a woman dressed as scantily as seemed the fashion. But most importantly, he had never fulfilled his childhood dream of going surfing … .
The sun broke over the horizon behind him as he finished his meditation. He shifted into a sitting position and dipped his legs into the cold, calm water. It would be a long while before the water warmed, and waves of a respectable size (the smaller ones were mocked at Wave Academy) would roll in, but he didn’t care. He untied the cord belt around his waist and let his brown hempen robe hang open to reveal a pair of red, floral-patterned swim trunks. A school of fish passed beneath him, he would have sworn he felt one brush past his calf, but swearing is frowned on by those On High.
It wasn’t long into the sun’s stroll across the sky that he was joined by others, mostly tourists and children learning to swim. There were, to his delight, other surfers. He watched them, learned from them, and built up the courage enough to stand on his board and begin riding smaller waves. He fell with embarrassing frequency, but with each successive lungful of water he felt as though he was drowning in happiness (which is much less dangerous than drowning in water).
A smile lit up his face as he decided he would never return to Saint Bastard’s, his first genuine smile in a great many years. He didn’t know what he would do, but whatever it was, Max knew he would never again be far from the ocean.