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Month: December, 2013

Hope Reignited – A Tribute

This a short story I wrote a few years ago. It’s a tribute to a hero of mine.

Hope Reignited

By Luc Haasbroek

Heaven was silent.

No trumpets chanted. No cherubs sang. They were bringing in the prisoner.

Inaritu was forced into the Clouded Hall by two hulking seraphim. He was shackled and when they thrust him forward, he fell to his knees.

The Clouded Hall’s beauty would drive a mortal to madness. Golden pillars supported a roof that never ended – clouds roosted in the heights. Ivory balconies looked down out into a sky lit by three suns. But Inaritu saw only a slaughter pen.

“Inaritu,” boomed a voice from above; a voice like a thousand war horns “you have been brought before the Tribunal to answer for your crimes.”

The voice belonged to the Archangel Azorian, He sat on a golden throne at the other end of the Hall and he was clad in golden armour. They said that armour had been forged from the shattered swords and shields of a million victories.

“I am aware of why you have brought me here,” said Inaritu, meeting Azorian’s gaze, “but if it is a criminal you seek, perhaps you should look to yourself.”

Azorian said, “I cannot defy our Laws.”

“And that is your flaw,” Inaritu whispered.

“Speak up,” Azorian said, drawing his sword, “I fear the Tribunal has not heard you.”

“Enough.”

It was another angel who spoke. She sat beside Azorian on a pearl seat. Her voice was as icy as Azorian’s blade. She was Mella, Archangel of Wisdom.

“Inaritu,” Mella said, “you are charged with interfering in the lives of mortals in the land of South Africa, in clear defiance of our Laws.  How do you plead?”

“Guilty.”

A shocked silence rippled across the Hall.

“You are accused of influencing the course of events on Earth…” said Azorian awkwardly, as if he was unsure Inaritu had heard Mella.

“I know what you accuse me of,” Inaritu said, forcing himself to his feet, “I don’t deny my actions. I did what was right.”

“You can’t lecture the Angel of Righteousness on what is right,” Azorian snarled.

“But I am. You watch from your ivory tower as the innocent suffer, but when I ease their pain you call me a traitor. Where is the righteousness in that, Azorian?”

“The Law states…” Mella began.

“The law is nothing,” Inaritu said, “I am the Archangel of Hope. Where hope is extinguished, I will be there to reignite it.”

Heresy.” Even the Archangel Mella was on her feet now, “the law must be upheld.”

Her words hung in the air like a guillotine waiting to fall.

“Then uphold it,” said Inaritu softly, “but know this: it will not stop me.”

“This is treason!” Azorian roared, raising his sword.

“This is hope.”

“Then hope will be punished.”

“Inaritu, you are hereby stripped of your rank,” said Mella, but doubt shadowed her words, “your power and your wings. You are to be reborn as a mortal and to live out the rest of your days as one of them.  As of this moment, you are no longer an angel of Heaven.”

“And when you die, Inaritu,” Azorian hissed, “you may find the gates of Heaven barred to you.”

“I will pray for you,” Inaritu whispered.

And then he fell.

*

Candlelight danced in the windows of a small hut in a faraway village. Inside, there were moans and words in Xhosa – “Push! Push!” Then screaming.

Jewels of sweat still clung to the mother’s forehead when her baby was handed to her. He was tiny, wrapped in a tattered blanket.

“What will you call him?” asked her sister.

The mother smiled down at her child. There was hope in those little eyes.

“Nelson,” she said.

The Dance – A Short Story I Wrote Two years Ago About Cats, Death and a Foonewal

 The Dance

by Luc Haasbroek

You know me.

And I know you.

We’ve met many times, and we will meet again. We always do.

Still don’t remember me? Here’s a clue: I’m your best friend. Your worst enemy. Your parent. Your child. Your teacher. Your pupil.

I am nothing.

And I am everything.

I am Death.

Ah, I see you remember me now.

And you hate me, don’t you? You’re frightened of me. Please don’t be. I’m not who you think I am. I’m not a bully who strolls around taking swipes with his scythe. I’m not the player who rolls all the dice and holds all the cards. I’m not the cause; I’m the consequence.

But you humans just don’t understand that. Even today you paint me as the joker playing sadistic games for his own amusement, treating lives like easily-replaced toys.

Death isn’t a game, friend. It’s a dance.

Yes, the steps change – sometimes we tango, other times we waltz. And it’s true that the dancers come and go – some leave, some join in. But the dance of death never stops. We jive from dusk till dawn, baby. Always have, always will.

And I know all the steps.

I’m not the choreographer; I’m a dancer, like you. I’ve just owned my dancing shoes a lot longer than you have.

Of course, people try to upset the dance. Try to escape the ballroom. They try.

Perhaps you’ll be the next to try. Just remember this if you want to cheat me: the dealer always wins.

Well, not always.

There have been some…irregularities. But they are the exception – the rare, rare exception – rather than the rule. They are so rare, in fact, that I keep a record of them.

I have a book filled with these tales (for they truly are extraordinary) and I think it is time someone should hear them.

Are you ready?

Don’t be frightened; take my hand. I’ll be your guide. Close your eyes. Feel the rhythm.

Shall we dance?

*

It was a Tuesday afternoon that I met her, the girl who changed everything.

It was hot. I remember that. Even at four in the afternoon Durban was already putting on her succulent summer nightgown.

I was there on business. A man was going to die. Or so I’d been told. Things don’t always work out the way they say – often I’m dispatched to collect someone, they come within a hair’s breadth of my fingers, only to make a sudden recovery. Dodge death by a whisker.

I don’t like this. It wastes time. I’m on a very busy schedule (not as busy as my opposite number, but a busy one nonetheless) and I can’t afford to spend the afternoon waiting for Pops to kick the bucket only to find out that his bypass was a success.

That particular Tuesday I was waiting for Neville Kumar, 76, pneumonia, doctors said he wouldn’t make the night. The whole Kumar clan crowded around his bed, holding his hands, telling stories of family holidays gone comically wrong, while I waited in the corner. And waited. And waited.

Then – lo and behold – something interesting happened; Old Kumar began to splutter like an ancient Citi Golf. While the family gasped, I cleared my throat, got into character and took centre stage.

As I was about to begin my standard speech (“Hi, I’m Death. Don’t believe me? Here’s my business card…”) Kumar abruptly stopped coughing. The guy stopped. I was about to carry him away and he stopped.

There was a pregnant silence, then the old man smiled. Smiled. What a let down.

I left. I had more important things to do than listen to Aunt Carol reminisce about that time the rickshaw collapsed in Mauritius. I took a shortcut, passing through the fence and into the neighbours’ garden.

It was there that I met her.

She was sitting on a rock, drawing in the sand with a stick. I barely noticed her. I strode past, not sparing her a second glance.

Then she said, “Have you come for the foonewal?”

I didn’t think she was talking to me, at first. I carried on walking, but just as I was about to depart, I realized that I hadn’t noticed any other life force around. I stopped, and turned around.

She was about five. She watched me from the rock with eyes like diamonds. There was something about her stare – like armour-piercing rounds. She was x-raying my soul (please entertain the fantasy; I like to believe I have one).

“Well?” she demanded.

“Whose funeral?” I said cautiously, unsure if she really was talking to me. It was impossible, but…

“Tibbs’,” she said, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world, duh.

“Who’s Tibbs?”

“The kitty.”

That explained it. Animals weren’t my field. I was in charge of people; there was a whole other department for animals.

“Sit down,” the girl instructed, gesturing to a rock across from hers.

“I’m sorry,” I said slowly, “but I’m really busy, I…”

“Sit.”

There was no point arguing – this little girl’s word was law.

The girl watched me with steely eyes.

Sit.

“Uh…alright,” I said, and awkwardly made my way over to the rock. I kept looking over my shoulder, thinking (hoping) this might be a prank set up by those idiots from the Life & Growth department.

“What’s your name?” Little Miss Bullet Eyes demanded.

“Ah, that’s a tricky one,” I said, “It’s a foreign name.”

“Tell me.”

She was drawing in the sand again.

“I doubt you’d be able to pronounce it.”

The girl shrugged.

“And, err,” I said, watching the girl doodle (she was writing the word Tibbs repeatedly), “what’s your name?”

“Thandi.”

“That’s a very nice name.”

“That’s what Mrs Singh says. She’s my teacher.”

“Mrs Singh is a smart lady. How old are you, Thandi?”

“Four and a half.”

She showed me the appropriate number of fingers.

“And Thandi, you…you can see me?”

“Yes, silly. Hold this.”

She handed me a blue plastic spade.

“Dig.”

“Sorry?”

“Dig.” Thandi pointed at the patch of earth between my rock and hers.

“What for?” I asked.

“Just dig.”

That was the first time I ever took orders from a human.

I dug. I don’t know why I dug, but I dug. Maybe I was just too shocked to argue. Maybe it was the way Thandi watched me; nodding when I did something right, like move a stone out the way, shaking her head when I made a mistake. For about five minutes I sat there, soil sailing over my shoulder, being judged by a four and half year old girl. She seemed impressed with my efforts (if I may say so myself), inspecting the patch of earth which had now metamorphosed into a hole, thanks to yours truly.

“Good,” was Thandi’s verdict after she’d examined my hole. She then turned to the shoebox lying beside her, opened it, and took something out. The something was embalmed in tissues.

“Is that Tibbs?” I asked as she laid the Kleenex mummy in my hole.

Thandi nodded.

“Was he your cat?”

“No.”

“Then whose was he?”

Thandi shrugged. “I found him.”

“Then why are you burying him?”

“Because,” Thandi said, plucking a carnation and laying it on top of Tibbs, “he lived. Would you like to say the youjelly?”

“Um, I… I didn’t really…” I looked between the dead cat and Thandi’s wide, expectant eyes, “Okay, alright. Um…Tips was…”

“Tibbs.” Thandi corrected.

“Tibbs. Right. He was a very…a very good feline.”

“What’s a flea lion?”

“It’s a…a kind person.”

Thandi nodded seriously, as if this was exactly what Tibbs was.

“He…he will be missed,” I concluded. Hey, I never said I was creative.

“Yes,” Thandi agreed, “Cover him up.”

I did as I was told. While I patted down the soil I asked, “Thandi, what did you mean, he lived?”

“He was alive,” Thandi said, gathering a handful of carnations, “He was a cat.”

“I know, but why are you burying him? He doesn’t mean anything to you.”

“But he meant something to someone,” Thandi said, setting the carnations down on Tibbs’ grave, “He…Mommy!”

A woman wearing enormous sunglasses appeared at the garden gate, shouldering a dozen shopping bags.

“Bye Tibbs,” Thandi wished the patch of ground, then waved me goodbye and ran off, “Mommy!”

I sat there for a while. Maybe an hour after Thandi had gone inside.

But he meant something to someone.

That sentence echoed around my mind. I felt hollow as I left that garden. I went back to work, of course – there was always something to be done – but I never quite felt the same after the burial of Tibbs.

A part of me had died that afternoon, I told myself. I had left something behind there. So I returned. Often I would spend my free time sitting on that rock, the grave (already starting to be blanketed by grass) at my feet. I saw Thandi often, playing in the pool with her friends, soccer with her dad. But I doubt she saw me.

But he meant something to someone.

That’s what I thought every time I was called out to a job. This person meant something, I would think as I carried away a soul. Maybe not to me, but to someone.

They affected me after that. Every job. Before that things had just been business. But after Thandi, they were…personal. I became…I became…depressed.

I’ve handed in my resignation.

The department was shocked. At first. Then they laughed. I didn’t care.

They’re finding me a replacement, you know. First time they’ve ever had to find a replacement. That’s what the guys in the other departments talked about around the water cooler.

“…you hear about Death?”

“…ya, bru, got all Dr Phil on us…”.

I don’t know when my replacement starts, but I wish him luck. I hope he realizes sooner than I did how crazy this job is.

I don’t know a lot of things. General knowledge isn’t required in my field of work. But I do know that after Tibbs’ foonewal, a part of me didn’t die, as I had thought. A part of me came alive.

It took me a lifetime of being Death to learn that there’s a lot more to life than dancing.

Quote of the Day

My spirit animal bites

The Big Secret

Image

Recently, I was asked to teach a few Grade Eights the secrets of How To Write. I didn’t think I was really someone to ask, but because I love the sound of my own voice and I thought at the very least I could throw a chalkboard duster at someone who fell asleep, I agreed.

It got me thinking about something I hadn’t really thought about: my rules for writing.

As for the secret to writing?

You place a day-old magpie egg under a sleeping tabby cat at midnight. Then you make the egg into a smoothie and drink it while dancing counter-clockwise in the moonlight to the Best of Abba. If you do that while wearing jeggings, Mufasa will appear in the sky and say “Now you have the power to write. Mamma mia, here I go again.”

If that doesn’t work, here are my other rules:

1) Write what you want.

Seriously, just write whatever. Write what would you would write if no one was ever going to read it. If you want to write about fashion-savvy raccoons with relationship problems, do it.

2) Stick by your work

People tell you to believe in your work. That’s hard. Sometimes the story you’re writing will feel bad, or worthless, or like no one’s ever going to want to read it. You might want to delete the whole thing. But you have to keep writing. The story goes that Stephen King threw away the first draft of his novel CarrieCarrie went on to sell 4 million copies.

3) 2nd draft = 1st draft – 10%

4) Have fun.

This is the golden one. Writing something purely for the love of it gives it an authenticity, and I think someone once told me that the key to making friends is authenticity. I think it’s the key to making readers too.

Interview with the Tonight I did a few years back and other found things

Just found an old interview I did. Interesting to look back. Fourteen year old me thought the performances in the Harry Potter movies were good *shivers*. But, damn, do I still love acting.

http://www.iol.co.za/tonight/books/a-true-dreamer-takes-the-lead-1.983550#.Uptv_cQW1p8

Also, I stumbled across the site for the play I’m talking about in said interview. The play’s called Tree Boy. Acting in it taught me so much about storytelling. And that South Africa has a secret treasure house of unknown but extraordinary theatre-makers.

http://treeboy.wordpress.com/2011/04/05/tree-boy-in-performance-not-so-fresh-from-grahamstown-on-to-hilton/

I remember one day in rehearsals (I was 13) asking how loud I should perform. The director stared at me in silence for a few seconds, then said – with quiet fury – “How long is a piece of a string?”

Psi and things changing

I first had the idea for my novel Psi in early 2011. Back then, the story was called Viet Psi and was about five psychic soldiers in Vietnam. I began writing it and quickly ran into a slight snag: I knew nothing about Vietnam. I relocated the characters to a place I did know about, Durban.

My plan was to introduce a new main character in each of the first five chapters. So in Chapter 1 we’d meet Character A, in Chapter 2 Character B and so on. Except when I wrote about Character C, a boy called Richard who could create fires with his mind, I found myself writing the next chapter about him too. And the next. I forgot about the other characters. The story became Richard’s story.

From there, Psi took some unexpected turns. Characters I’d never planned showed up, like the author/telekinetic Oscar Ford and the gorgeous, intelligent but strange Claire Rautenbach.

Psi ended up drawing inspiration from an array of places: dragon mythology, murder mysteries, Robert Frost poems, a song by the Eagles, popular science and a childhood game that I loved a lot.

It’s a very different story to the one I set out to write. But, maybe, that’s a good thing.

Huh? Luc Haasbroek has a blog?!

Indeed I do, shocked reader who totally isn’t me. The journal’s begun. Pour yourself a glass of whiskey. Equip your moustache. Hope you enjoy it.