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Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Syar: One in a Thousand - All Done

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Underestimated? Yes. Undervalued? No. I had a lot of fun with this, hope you do too.

At 8:36PM EDT on August 18, 2005 the stat counter keeping tabs on the virtual ephemera of Radioactive Jam recorded visitor number 1000. Congratulations and thanks go to... Syar!

Since Radioactive Jam t-shirts are still dematerialized I decided to give Syar a different kind of prize.¹ Enjoy!
¹ Same for nos. 5000 and 10000? I think not.
(A)WAR(D) Of The Words
1000 words dedicated to Syar

"This was supposed to be... an ordinary... day," Syar said, trying to catch her breath. Her mute companion briefly looked up but offered no reply.
Not the Momma snippet! (Click to see full post) Still winded, Syar glanced at the object of her friend’s attention: an elaborately carved, brightly painted five-foot high pole, roughly a foot in diameter. She had literally stumbled upon the pole an hour earlier; Syar's initial curiosity, put on hold by the sudden appearance of the penguin, began to reassert itself. How did something so ornate end up in this frozen wasteland, Syar wondered. For that matter, how did we? All her bitterness and dismay came rushing back. “Not ‘how’,” she muttered. Syar clenched her fist, faced the cobalt sky and challenged, “Why?!”

No answer. “Right,” she said. “Just another test.” She lowered her eyes and slowly turned to view the snow and ice surrounding her, an unbroken expanse of near-featureless white stretching to the horizon in all directions. The scene held a terrifying beauty. With a conscious effort she pushed aside fear and resentment, and silently reaffirmed her will to survive. The sight of footprints on the snow brought a pang of guilt, and reminded her she wasn’t the only one battling the elements in this frigid place. As the wind resumed its pitiless assault, Syar turned away from the stinging cloud of ice crystals and joined her silent friend near the mysterious pole.

“Any guesses, Nadia?” Syar asked. “Have you seen one of these before?” Again the penguin looked at Syar for a moment, but offered no reply. Syar smiled. Despite the relentless wind driving through her skin, that ephemeral vampire piercing her, feeding, stealing warmth and leaving ice, Syar knew her dear friend would keep her safe and lead her home.

Something seemed wrong, though. She felt the thought begin to take form, but lost it. Syar began to shiver. Trembling, teeth chattering, she tried to focus on the strange totem-like object standing before her.

An hour ago when she’d first seen the pole, she hardly noticed the cold; the wind’s touch had been a silken caress. She had moved close to the pole, and had reached out to touch it when she noticed the penguin standing just beyond the pole. She took a step backward in surprise; where had the bird come from? Had it been standing behind the pole? No. Syar was sure she’d walked around the pole at least once; there was no way she’d have missed seeing the creature. She was working on this curious puzzle when she heard Nadia call her name.

“Syar?” Nadia said. “I’m here. Oh Syar, listen--”

“Nadia?” Syar shouted and whirled about, looking for her friend. “Where are you? Nadia!” Desperate and elated, Syar zig-zagged in short, frantic bursts, but soon slowed to a halt. “Where are you? Why can’t I see you?”

“I’m not leaving you, Syar,” said Nadia. Syar’s hopes rose again, then fell; except for the pole and the still-unexplained penguin, she stood alone on this field of snow.

…The penguin? Syar almost laughed out loud. Great. I’m cracking up, she thought. Is this how the world looks when you lose your mind? Endless snow and a totem pole, with a penguin channeling your best friend? Surrendering to the absurdity, Syar shook her head, looked at the motionless penguin and said, “Why not?” Her strength drained, she sat down on the snow and leaned against the pole.

As her back touched the pole, three things happened. First, she was startled to realize the pole felt hot. Not stove-top or flame hot, but warm enough to cause her to push away from the pole and jump to her feet. Second, as she rose she heard Nadia call her name. Third, the penguin began to run, away from Syar and the pole. Feeling confused and driven by reflex, Syar started running, meaning to catch the penguin or at least keep the bird in sight.

Almost immediately sharp pains caused her to break stride. She felt as if her lungs had turned into tiny, weak balloons, filled with fire and ice instead of air. Syar slowed, stopped and stooped low, trying to catch her breath. This was not good; whether from breathing this super-chilled air or some unknown cause, her usual triathlon-capable wind and endurance were nowhere to be found. After a moment she turned and headed for the now-appealing warmth of the strange pole.

Vision is a funny sense. The visual cortex is easily fooled by persistence tricks and distorted perspectives. Sometimes the mind simply refuses to accept unexpected input. At some unconscious level Syar understood this phenomenon might explain why she continued to walk toward a nonexistent – or at least no longer visible – pole. Though it seemed much longer, in reality she’d only taken a few steps before she realized there was no pole in this direction. Assuming she was disoriented she turned a circle, then another; no pole. She noticed her penguin-friend had stopped running, and almost seemed to be waiting for Syar to follow again. After one more fruitless scan, Syar started walking toward the bird who in turn walked away from her, leading them both…somewhere. Maybe.

“Hey! Chilly Willy! Do you know where you’re going, or are we just out for a stroll?” For a moment she thought she heard Nadia answer, but decided it must have been the wind.

They traveled thus together-apart, trudging through unblemished snow, the stoic penguin with the weakening girl a short distance behind. They walked for about an hour, she guessed; the accuracy of her internal clock was legendary. Or was it? She felt as though she had been forced off-course, out of her fast-moving yet familiar currents, slipping into dark, numbing pools of uncertainty and doubt. She imagined vague predators lurking, waiting for her to weaken further. Resisting the urge to give up, she continued to tread water in these pools. More than once she shouted, pinched her arm, slapped her cheek just to feel a twinge of reality-affirming pain or hear a human voice. When she finally saw the pole ahead she was at once surprised, elated, and relieved; she broke into a run. The penguin was waiting when she reached the pole. Thus she stood panting, out of breath from her brief final run.

Syar reviewed these events, trying to capture the elusive sense of something out of place, something not quite right. She told herself to relax, to look with eyes unfocused, see what seemed to resist observation. In a moment she knew the answer: this was not the same pole.

Like a diver’s splash and waves fading to ripples, this initially disturbing realization quickly settled, smoothed by hopeful pragmatism in Syar’s mind. “As long as it’s warm like the other one,” she murmured. Carefully she placed her hand against the pole; this one also emanated the warmth her body desperately needed to absorb. Syar knelt on the snow, wrapped her arms around the object and held herself against it.

The pole’s heat seemed to drive the chill from her, working from the inside out; she hardly noticed. She felt exhausted, and thought she might be able to fall asleep hugging the pole. She closed her eyes, wanting heat and rest. For some reason the penguin became quite agitated when she did this; it hopped and hooted by her side. Was it trying to get her attention? The bird’s antics barely registered in Syar’s mind. She briefly wondered about the mysterious poles: how did the first one vanish? Was this really a different one, or had the first one somehow moved? Thinking took more effort than she cared to muster, so she prepared to stop. “Who cares if there’s more than one pole, or if the things can walk around?” Her voice was slurred, then she gave a weak laugh. “Guess a pole would hop, not walk… Whatever. Not exactly earth-shattering either way.”

As the words left her mouth Syar felt a deep, rippling vibration flow through the snow beneath her legs. This sensation was followed by a powerful cracking sound then more vibration, stronger now. In a daze, she pushed herself away from the pole and looked around; everything had changed.

She heard Nadia shouting, sobbing: “It’s breaking! Syar – Oh God! It’s broken!” She sounded far away. Still dazed, Syar couldn’t find the penguin at first; her world had indeed fractured into dozens of snow-ice masses, slowly drifting apart on a blue-black sea. Using the pole for support she stood to get a better view. She finally spotted the penguin on an “island” some distance from her own, already unreachable.

Fatalistic thoughts took form and sought control. She sat down hard a few feet away from the pole, no longer interested in trying to stay warm. Syar considered the possibility that she might soon draw her last breath in this inescapable frozen waste. She did not fear dying; she cherished life yet viewed it as a souvenir, something she would remember when her days in this temporal form came to an end. Yet she knew the ache of Things Not Done, and could not deny she wanted more days, years… more time, with her family, her friends, her inimitable posse. How deeply she would miss – she turned suddenly, her morose contemplations interrupted by several different sounds. The noise of something falling and splashing into water dominated the sudden auditory barrage.

It was Nadia the penguin, of course. But now she saw more penguins. Five? Ten? She couldn’t count. They seemed to maintain constant motion: diving, surfacing, swimming, climbing. Then she realized what the other sounds were; hearing her Ragamuffins she leapt to her feet and ran to the water’s edge.

Confusion, joy and sadness overwhelmed her; Syar found herself unable to speak. The only thing she wanted was the one she couldn’t have: to somehow rejoin her friends. She stood at the edge of life, of relative safety and of despair. More than anything Syar hated change; she saw the grim irony of this triangle, this three-edged precipice before her. If nothing changed she would certainly despair and most likely die. There was no safe escape from all three.

“Help me, Nadia,” she pleaded.

“We can’t fight change, Syar. It’s just no good,” said Nadia. “Change always wins in the end. All we can do is stay focused on what matters most. When those things change, we’ll still be able to recognize them. Then we figure out the rest.”

“When did you become so wise, my friend?” Syar asked, her voice breaking. I can’t bear this pain.

“What made you decide to notice?” Came the sweet, sarcastic reply. Syar had been fairly certain a penguin’s facial muscles weren’t capable of delivering a smile; apparently she was mistaken.

Despair reared its head. “Why did this have to happen?!” Still unwilling to accept her fate, Syar directed her bitter challenge skyward.

Nadia replied, “It had to break, Syar. There was no other way.” She paused, then added softly, “But I stayed focused on you.”

Syar felt a lump form in her throat, but her eyes remained dry. And suddenly she knew what she needed to do. She might not defeat change, but she could certainly fight. What’s the most effective way to battle change? She asked herself. Answer: do the most unexpected thing. Syar tensed, then dove headfirst into the freezing sea.

Immediately she tried to rotate, to turn and face the surface. She wanted to see the water from her splash fall back into the whole, watch her waves fade to ripples as she slowly dropped to pain-free depths. Instead she found herself spinning, whirling like a skater or a football in a tight spiral flight. In fact she felt more like an airborne football than a sinking, drowning girl. She arched her back and felt herself begin to tumble. Trying to regain control she flailed her arms; she saw a flipper strike her feathered chest.

Syar had also been fairly certain a penguin could not scream under water; again she was mistaken. She finally righted herself and managed to swim a slow loop. Then she spotted Nadia, and the other penguins she’d recognized as friends. She decided to accept this most unexpected change, relaxed and quickly found her wings, so to speak, and swam to join the others. Syar learned the joy, grace and beauty of life as an aquatic bird. A penguin might be flightless in air, but few creatures match their ability to “fly” under water. Syar and her penguin posse rocketed up and down, dove hundreds of meters and enjoyed a sense of freedom and fulfillment of purpose unparalleled on the surface world.

It seemed like only a few moments had passed when Nadia swam beside her and said, “You need to surface now, and breathe air again.” Syar understood this; a penguin can stay submerged a long time on a single “breath,” but she had no need to push her physical limits. She directed her torpedo-like body toward the faint glow overhead and quickly ascended. With a final flex and thrust, Syar broke the surface…

Broke…

“…her fever broke. I screamed and nurses came running. They thought she died or something. She went right to sleep, so we've still been taking turns in here." Nadia’s voice.

Syar kept her eyes closed. As she “swam” back from the depths of a much-needed restful sleep, she considered her vivid memories. She could only begin to guess what must have really happened, but this did not concern her. She was right where she belonged, right now. She knew every person in the unfamiliar-feeling room, knew their names, their chattering voices, their hopes and dreams, how they appeared, even where they stood. These dear ones knew her as well, and this was as it should be. Let changes come; she and her friends would stay focused on what mattered most. With a weak smile, Syar opened her eyes.

27 Emissions:

Blogger Syar emitted...

ok, how freaky is this? I was just messing around with my template, changing YOUR link while cruising through YOUR blog and as soon as I turn around, its ME! on YOUR blog. I'm so honoured. this is a real good day. too bad LAUNCHcast wants to ruin the mood with jessica simpson. *kills LAUNCHcast*

I'm all a-twitter about my prize. the mute companion, the pole, the penguin, I'm too thrilled for words! ah, what sweet spoils for doing something I already enjoy : reading your blog. I know buttering you up isn't gonna get me another prize, but I figured I'd throw it in for good measure.

thanks for the honour RaJ.

P.S: and btw, I just noticed the little yellow monkey flitting around your converse clad feet. I knew he'd come up with an evil plan involving your shoes. curse his yellow self!

8/18/2005 10:42:00 PM  
Blogger Lou (a.k.a. rainpuddles) emitted...

Congrats Syar! Can't wait to read the rest of the 1000 words dedicated to you!

8/18/2005 11:45:00 PM  
Blogger ScroobiousScrivener emitted...

A pole and a penguin. Have you been reading Toy-Fu?

8/19/2005 05:10:00 AM  
Blogger Nadia emitted...

Excuse me while I wrestle with feelings of insane jealousy and extreme inadequacy.

8/19/2005 06:30:00 AM  
Blogger Radioactive Jam emitted...

Scroobious - I don't think so, though I feel strangely compelled to check into it now that you've hinted at some connection to last night's neural dance.

Lou - thanks for the subtle application of PRESSURE! :-D

Syar - thanks - again - for hanging around, and for noticing certain easily-overlooked details. I'm just glad you landed before the comment-spammer hit (another first). Yes. Visited by a pointless, inane digital automaton, sometime between you and Lou. Although I'd have no trouble spewing a thousand word RANT on this newest annoyance, I'd rather post "fan" fiction.

8/19/2005 06:44:00 AM  
Blogger Radioactive Jam emitted...

Nadia - you? Inadequate? It is to laugh; not possible under any circumstances. As for jealous -- well. I better leave that one alone, at least until I finish the story. :-P

8/19/2005 06:52:00 AM  
Blogger Cate emitted...

Ach. So jealous!

BTW, RaJ, do you see what that monkey is doing to your picture? That little bugger is everywhere.

8/19/2005 12:45:00 PM  
Blogger Demosthenes emitted...

This one is all you, RaJ. I've got my hands full with eliminating rogue animals as it is.

8/19/2005 01:20:00 PM  
Blogger Glo emitted...

Oh. That's so cute. I'm so jealous. I've got to win one of these some time....

8/19/2005 03:51:00 PM  
Blogger Radioactive Jam emitted...

I'm thinking relatively frequent Random Awards might work well here, since the visitor numbers remain *ahem* something less than astronomically high.

8/19/2005 04:08:00 PM  
Blogger jedith emitted...

Congrats Jam! I truely emulate you! 1000 people is a magnificant accomplishment for any blogger. Maybe I will too attain 1000 comments...someday.

8/19/2005 05:15:00 PM  
Blogger Lou (a.k.a. rainpuddles) emitted...

Dang... I knew I was close... visitor 1002! (Is that right?)

Now do you count by page loads or by unique visitors?

8/19/2005 11:37:00 PM  
Blogger Radioactive Jam emitted...

Lou - pageloads, yes. There were a few others between Syar's "grand" one and yours. I used pageloads mainly because it was the closest to an interesting milestone, and therefore gave me an excuse to do something fun.

8/20/2005 07:45:00 AM  
Blogger Demosthenes emitted...

Let it be known: I have an invisible counter. HA-ha. I think it works... but I don't check it often enough to pinpoint who has which comment. But I will try. But now you all have the insecurity of wondering what comment you are but never REALLY knowing. Unless you just don't care... which could easily be the case.

8/20/2005 12:27:00 PM  
Blogger Demosthenes emitted...

...hm. Should have seen THIS coming. Firstly, my log max is 100. So that means after 100 hits I can't tell anymore? Or what? And I have to go to the website to see the hits. Is that right? And it only shows hits. What about comments, do I have to count 'em up manually?

So many questions, so little time.

8/20/2005 12:31:00 PM  
Blogger Lou (a.k.a. rainpuddles) emitted...

Well we're 255 words into the story. Very interesting setting... the South Pole! I hope she was smart enough to wear sunglasses, wouldn't want her becoming snow blind... or wait... has she?

8/20/2005 01:22:00 PM  
Blogger Lou (a.k.a. rainpuddles) emitted...

Hey Dem! I just started using the stat counter thing. I'm not exactly sure what the "log" is, but it'll keep recording visits past 100. And as far as I can tell, you'll need to add up the comments yourself. If you know anything more RaJ, please share with us!

8/20/2005 01:24:00 PM  
Blogger Nadia emitted...

Am I the penguin?

8/20/2005 09:19:00 PM  
Blogger jedith emitted...

Yeah, I was wondering how you find out how many hits your blog has. I am interested to see mine.

8/21/2005 09:07:00 AM  
Blogger Radioactive Jam emitted...

Lou - no auto-counting of comments, far as I know. At least not with Blogger.

Nadia - your question touches on deep philosophical and Zen-like issues. The rest of the story (available soon) should provide answers.

Jedith - www.statcounter.com. It's a fairly simple process; if you get stuck let me know.

8/21/2005 02:48:00 PM  
Blogger Syar emitted...

dude. you rock. this is excellent. between you and dem, I might have enough reading material to last me a week. (this is a compliment, I am a notorious speed reader)

nadia as a penguin? hmm, this reminds me of an episode of buffy where she goes off to the desert to find her mission and purpose and whatever. a mountain lion guided her. I like my penguin better.

8/23/2005 12:41:00 AM  
Blogger Lou (a.k.a. rainpuddles) emitted...

Great story... 1093 words and counting!

8/23/2005 01:23:00 AM  
Blogger Nadia emitted...

"...the stoic penguin..."

Yes. Me. Stoic. And. Flightless.

8/23/2005 02:28:00 AM  
Blogger jedith emitted...

Wow... deja vu. I could have sworn that this post was actually a previous post of yours. Whilst visiting your site, I noticed the high number of comments on this particular post which I did not remember before. I visited the site and noticed new comments combined with my old comments! Strange. I must be losing it... or the le monstre Jaune is doing it to me!

8/23/2005 03:31:00 PM  
Blogger Radioactive Jam emitted...

Syar - hope you like how things turn out, and I hope you don't mind my dropping in a few things I spotted on your pages. If I misapplied them, let me know. I'll blame the monkey and set things right.

Lou - thanks, I appreciate the encouragement (and count-checks!).

Nadia - your character is at once whimsical, wise, and crucial to the story. I figured you could handle the responsibility. :)

Jedith - I've been adding Story bits to the end here, and simply up-"Dated" the post to keep it first. The comments are along for the ride, is all.

8/24/2005 09:36:00 AM  
Blogger Syar emitted...

RaJ, I love this. really I do. I would've taken it over 10 million radioactive jam tshirts. (I would've taken the 10 million and one t shirt, but that's all details)

the change, the ragamuffins (MY lovely ragamuffins), the cool symbolism and stuff. it so hit a chord. you read my girls in pants post didn't you?

“What made you decide to notice?” Came the sweet, sarcastic reply.

this made me feel guilty. I've been aware of nadia's wiseness forever.

but I still love the story. SO SO MUCH! mucho gracias, RaJ. you outdid yourself. I'm starting to worry if I'll sound like a brown nosing suck up, but I really have so many praises and thanks for this.

8/24/2005 10:19:00 PM  
Blogger Radioactive Jam emitted...

Syar, you're welcome. And while I *wish* I had psychic powers I'm pretty sure I don't, so anything you recognize here was likely triggered by something you wrote.

Except for the part about missing Nadia's wisdom. Sorry, you're not allowed to derive any guilt from that. I needed a tone change and a lead-in for the penguin smile, and that's what leaked out of my head. :)

Glad you enjoyed it. Now I really need to get cracking on a t-shirt or similar treat. With my luck the next milestone award will be won by someone vying for the title of Most Offensive Person Ever. Or something.

8/25/2005 06:59:00 AM  

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