Pull the trigger without hesitation to take aim at this paradoxical world.

Ignition of January

One More Empty Seat

Where are you going? Will you leave me behind when you get there?

“Welcome back, class! I hope you are ready for this year’s curriculum! We have a lot of exciting topics on deck, so we’ll start with an extra saucy one: spirituality and guiding light.”

A new semester starts, and the air feels just a bit different. My cohort takes their seats, and the entire classroom is filled once more. All but one empty seat. Before class, many students congregated to meet one another after a long holiday break. A mix of smiling and excited faces was the norm, but four of us sharply contrasted with the upbeat attitude. One male student, normally friendly and optimistic, sat dead-serious in his corner of the classroom. Another male student was on the verge of tears, but trying their hardest to hold them all back. And one girl, almost camouflaging perfectly into the crowd, misspoke every now and then as something unusually slipped into her speech and patterns. And then, there was me.

“Religion is a construct as old as storytelling itself. It is timeless knowledge passed down for generations, with both a history of salvation and damnation in equal tow. For example, let’s look back at the old nomadic tribes of the pre-Roman civilization. These warring groups of people indulged in only their primal instincts of survival and pleasure with no hope of uniting or collaboration. Then religion was introduced, and slowly these wandering marauders had something to adhere under as the basis of Rome was underway…”

Unable to free myself from thinking of that empty seat, I began reminiscing on that person that once was. Nearby sat my cheery childhood friend name Kira who I touched-and-go with as I drifted through life. Drifter being an apt word, I was swept from place to place and I tried to find somewhere I could feel like I belonged, somewhere that accepted me and inspired me to achieve greater heights. In enough of these places I encountered Kira who had an innate fascination in me despite being rather callous in my demeanor. She enjoyed the times when I put my walls down, so much to the point that she frequently acquainted me with friends from all across her walks of life. One of these friends was Valen, a strange fellow, but brutally honest to the point of it being refreshing.

“But too much a good thing can also be bad. Take for example the Dark Ages, the height of Christian influence across Europe which stagnated if not retrogressed the technological advancement of humanity up until that point. Living fearfully under their God, people of this time did everything and more to appease Him to ensure their spiritual salvation in the afterlife, so much that they damned everything about their lives in the present. At the highest pecking order lied the clergymen who fully took advantage of the situation until their reign ended with the beginning of the Renaissance Era…”

Instead of pondering oh what he wasn’t, Valen put all his energy into perfecting what he enjoyed, which was having fun. Most people do things just to do things, busy as proof that they are living a worthwhile life. Valen sneered at attitudes like that as he enjoyed everyday and every life around him to the fullest. It helped me loosen my usually wound-up attitude as I realized these was more than looking towards the future in where I was trapped in, and instead enjoying what is and will only be today.

“The Renaissance is considered by many to be the bastion of what is truly means to be a free and creative human being. The exploration of the arts gave way to an explosive ensemble of objects and activities that are still being drawn upon and referenced today. But creativity, just like religion, has its outer limits of fulfillment. When human stop praying to God and instead playing God, what happens next? What is left to believe in?”

Class ends, and I ready myself to leave as I continue to ruminate on my thoughts. As I finish packing my books and getting up, I feel a tap on my shoulder.

“Hey Keir, are you busy this weekend? We’re hosting a small memorial for Valen, and I’d really love for you to join.

It is a chilly Saturday evening as I instinctively grasp myself for warm. The usually supple earth felt as hard as pavement as I tredged up a hill that faced the town we all resided in. At the top of the hill stood a lone tree beckoning in front of a once lush forest, all their leaves and otherwise littering the forest floor all around. This spot was a favorite hangout place of some particular people as I drifted by every now and then to accompany them. As I reach the base the tree, I find Kira and the two other classmates waving me over.

“Glad you could come, Keir! It means a lot that you could show up today…”

I wave away any signs of gratitude as I came more for myself than anything else. Kira quickly nods in understanding as she waves over more faces to come. Night began to break as the sun retired below the horizon for the day, and a decently sized fire was set ablaze to continue dancing light across reception present.

“Thank you all so much for coming here on your presumably busy Saturday evenings. Some of you may know me, but for those who don’t, my name is Kira. I was one of Valen’s best friends, and I arranged this memorial so we could talk about Valen one last time. He was a profound part of my life, and I want to know more about how he affected all of yours.”

I sat sit and drank in the serenity of the scene unfolding before me. Loss is painful, but loss doesn’t have to be suffered alone, and Kira knew this by organizing the whole event. One by one each member of the reception spoke, some faces I knew in passing, and some whom I have never met before today. One of my classmates, the same dead-serious colleague of mine from earlier this week, finally let loose and as he regaled all the great times he had with Valen. He enjoyed his time while they were together, and was happy that he kept in touch with Valen everyday until his passing. Another classmate, the one on the verge of tears, just bawled and sobbed as he was in the same boat as the former, but the loss hit him so much deeper. As the stories continued to be shared (mine including), one story hit me the closest. It was from a fellow I had never met, but apparently was a great friend of Valen’s for quite a while. They lost touch as he had to focus on school and his girlfriend, so it came as a knee-jerk reaction to learn that one of his old friends was no longer going to be around anymore. His story resounded the closest to mine, as I treated not only Valen that way, but most people in my life the same. It gave me more to ruminate on as the evening flashed by in what in seemed like minutes. The once roaring fire at the beginning of the ceremony was now a humble and quiet flame, signaling the end of remembering and the time of departure. Most got up, waved each other goodbye and left, but I stayed as I had more to think on.

“You mind if I stay out here with you a little longer?”

Laying down close to the fire pit to gaze upon the stars, I sense the grass adjacent to me being shuffled as Kira sits right next to me.

“If you pleas. I might be chatty today, I might not be. The gamble is up to you.”

Kira smiles, and lays down the mimic my star gazing position as well.

“Thanks again for coming out when you didn’t need to. You’re always a hard one to read, Keir, so I’m glad to you have some heart in you as well.”

I blink quickly, assessing the fact that I was probably insulted, but I let it go as I began.

“Truth be told, I mostly came to see how everything would turn out. I did come to pay my respects, but I came moreso to learn how I could feel. I’ve had older uncles and aunts pass away in the past, but as I didn’t know them intimately, the loss was not something prevailing within me. But I knew Valen, and he was one of the few people I would proudly call my friend. To think, someone our age could just leave us like this, it’s surreal. I’m crying even right now, but even these tears don’t even feel real. I still think I can message Valen and he would reply to me right back with a witty reply as he always did. It’s like a part of me doesn’t want to admit, that as much as I think I have control over my life, I don’t. Life changes dramatically in fractions of a second, which got me to thinking… what am I doing? How would I feel if I were to pass away right now?”

I pause as I was deciding how to take this conversation next, and I feel a hand wrap around me.

“I don’t know how you would feel, but I would certainty feel sad. I’ve had so many people leave me in such a short period of time, it feels like I don’t know how to be happy anymore. But I know this is a feeling that will come to pass, because most things do… but even if you don’t pass away, I get the feeling you’re going to leave me anyway. Not because you resent me or anything like that, but it feels like whatever you’re looking for, isn’t here.”

My eyes widen in the darkness as my mouth dries, completely taken aback my the way this line of conversation has gone. I want to respond with something, anything, but my body refuses. I just didn’t know what to say.

“It’s fine, though, because I’ve known you for a quite a while, and you quite clearly are different from all the rest. I don’t know much about how you spend your free time or free thoughts, but whenever we catch up, it feels like you’re making huge moves to get closer to the place you need to be. It scares me, because it makes me feel like I’m not only going to be left behind by you, but by life itself. But because I refuse to be anything but myself, and being myself feels like I need to be in touch with as many people as possible as often as possible, it sets me behind. I’m a little jealous quite frankly, it must be nice being free.”

I gulped as I summoned all my courage to ask the next question.

“Do you think… I will ever get there? You know… the place I need to be?”

With her free hand, Kira tilts her head into her hand forming the thinking pose, and responds quickly.

“I don’t know, do YOU think you’re doing all the right things? If you live your live with conviction and make an honest effort to adhere to those guidelines, I don’t see why not, you know?”

Just I had thought I had cried my last tears, fresh new ones come streaming out as I continue to cry once more. I cry for a friend I will never see again, I cry for the friends I will leave behind as I continue this now-lonely journey, and I cry for myself in remembering all the time lost in not be able to live by my own convictions. The hand once grasping mine lets go, and soon I see Kira’s face hovering perpendicularly above to my own.

“Some people look to the stars for guidance, others look to the expectations of their friends, family, culture, and society. Some look for guidance in community, both religious and otherwise. But some people like you, are asked to look within. What do you see, Keir? Where is it that you are going that people like me will never be able to reach? Whatever the case may be, I believe from the bottom of my heart that you will get there. And once you get there, your world will change in ways nor you or I could ever believe. “

This was a weekly crossover post between Sandbox Zero and the Altspace VR Writing Group.

Sandbox Zero’s Weekly Prompt was Looking for a Guiding Light and Meaning: Spirituality, Dreams, Fortune Telling, Astrology

  • Is spirituality necessary for human existence?
  • How are we finding spirituality in the age of decreasing interest in traditional religions?
  • Is there something missing from our lives that cause us to be intrigued by touristic spirituality?
  • Why do we dream/day dream, and what do you do about your dreams?
  • Is there anything in fortune telling and astrology or is it just a way to give hope and guidance?

ASVR Writing Group’s Weekly Homework Prompt was Describe your character’s first day of using CONTRAST.

edge-of-eclipse one-shots

Dialogue & Discussion