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Ai-la came to me when she was eight years old, dressed in a faded hospital gown, with her feet and arms bare and littered with coloured Band-Aids from IV drips. Other than being remarkably short and skinny, there was nothing peculiar about her appearance—she was yet another child who had unfortunately fallen ill to a fatal disease.

When I first found her outside the House in the dead of night, she was staring blankly at the black sky and shivering. I was immediately able to tell she was a newcomer by the look of her skin, translucent but slowly becoming an opaque white beneath the light of the gold lanterns.

“There are no stars here,” I said as gently as I could in the silence, not wanting to frighten her, as most did not take well to their unwitting transportation to the Other Side. The child remained still. “What is your name?”

She tilted her head and her dark eyes focused upon me, intense and perceptive. She took in my masked face and black suit, her expression unreadable. An old soul, I realized under her innocent scrutiny, surprised—I had not encountered one for more than a century, and never in the form of a child. “Ai-la,” she finally whispered, sounding out the two syllables like a song.

“Bro-ther.” A happy laugh, like the chime of a bell.

A strange sense of foreboding settled in my stomach. “Ai-la,” I repeated softly, her name a binding incantation. “Welcome, Ai-la. My name is Keeper.” She blinked owlishly at my words, but said nothing. Leaning downwards and taking one of her small, bony hands in my gloved fingers, I led Ai-la out of the artificial garden, and as was customary, through the wooden doors of the House where hundreds of other ancient souls lay dormant.

That night, I stood outside the House and lit another paper lantern, setting it afloat towards the inky sky that was already dotted with hundreds of the same golden lights, another makeshift star with an everlasting flame.

From inside the House, Ai-la began to sing. Her soft, haunting melody was the only sound in the oblivion of the realm. For the first time in these solitary centuries, I fell into a deep slumber at my post.

The building was burning. Gunshots echoed throughout the small room. The other soldiers were shouting, their tones cold and commanding. The little girl screamed, high-pitched and pained.

Guilt. It weighed down upon my uniform, dyed in the colour of fear.  

The child, yet another stranger to me, was pleading now. “Please, Sir! I will do anyth—”

Please let me atone for my sins.

Forgive me; this was not what I fought for.

Forgive me, dear sister. I don’t deserve to live.


When I came to my senses, I realized dazedly that the world was burning.

Angry, red flames had engulfed the House, my House. The spirits inside began to stir. They groaned and screamed. They pleaded to be freed from their wooden prison, and the ethereal fire heeded their wish. One by one, the flickering flames licked savagely at their invisible chains with hot tongues, reducing wood to splinters and splinters to ashes. It was like air leaving a popped balloon, the symphony of hundreds of lost souls escaping the House all at once, desperate to find new life.

One by one, the hundreds of lanterns in the sky dimmed like a trail of burnt-out stars, gradually returning the night to its empty, eternal darkness. The odour of charred paper filled the air. Slivers of black and gold drifted down towards me, settling around where I stood.

“Stop,” I wanted to cry out, but my throat was burning along with everything else, filled with a bitter, suffocating smoke. I tore off my mask, a reminder of the void within me, in a futile attempt to ease the pain. My dead, rotting heart was aching; it was suddenly filled with something I had not felt ever since my arrival here centuries ago: human emotion. I reached towards the vanishing lights, but to no avail. The names of the spirits had already left my grasp, the shape of those words on my lips forgotten, intangible.

“They are not yours to keep,” came a childish, admonishing voice next to me.

In her hand, Ai-la was holding a single match: a red flame danced upon the tip of it, a colour more vibrant than I had ever seen in this lifeless world. Her eyes were wide, pupils glimmering gold in the hazy smoke, her face serene.

“Sister?” I managed to rasp through the agony.  

Ai-la smiled, and the burning receded from my lungs, replaced by a gentle, soothing warmth. She tugged on my fingers with a startling strength, and I was powerless, unable resist her will.

“Keeper, it’s time to return home.” Her voice was louder and deeper than any little girl’s when she uttered those final, liberating words. I clung to Ai-la’s outstretched wings, defenseless, and let myself drown in her voice, shutting my weary eyes and surrendering to the universe.

The House continued to burn behind us, the fire unforgiving and all-consuming.

Redemption.

Like a leaf in the wind, I rose into the sky with Ai-la guiding me. Enfolded in the tremendous peace of the cosmos, together we flew through the passages of space and time. A blinding, white light surrounded me, bleeding bright into my veins as I was encompassed in its radiance. In that moment, every single memory of mine passed before me, cleansed at last from my burdened mind as the clocks of age were reversed, my soul set free.    

I squinted with watery eyes as a kaleidoscope of pure, impossible colours filled my vision. The steady pulse of someone’s heartbeat, my heartbeat, much too loud, thundered in my ears, reverberating through my tired bones and leaving me trembling at the core. The sensation of a thousand needles, pushing into my body and raking up my spine, danced upon every inch of my hypersensitive skin, each a delicate reminder of my newfound corporeality.

I gasped for Earth’s air like an infant breathing for the first time—an ordinary miracle.
Reincarnation is something that I would like to believe in.

What do you think about my sentence structure and character development? How is the clarity of the story—did you understand the plot? Any other comments or constructive criticism are welcome!

Critique for tWR: thewrittenrevolution.deviantar…
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Daily Deviation

Given 2015-03-29
With an entrancing narrative style, The Keeper by MoonshineChild is a piece that invites us to contemplate its nuances. ( Featured by SingingFlames )
:iconiridescentcatalyst:
IridescentCatalyst Featured By Owner Dec 27, 2015
I don't really believe in the concept, but like you said, would like to. To quote Harry Potter, "Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?" You created a very nice tone. While some parts were confusing, I understood the general concept. Your sentence structure was very nice. My teacher once told me to not repeat the first word of sentences unless it's for a specific purpose, and you did that. While there was a limited number of characters and settings, you described/developed them very well. I just realized you got a DD for this, so congrats! You deserve it.
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:icondreamelancholia:
dreamelancholia Featured By Owner Dec 27, 2015
That's one of my favourite quotes! 

Thank you very much for reading. :)
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:iconiridescentcatalyst:
IridescentCatalyst Featured By Owner Dec 27, 2015
It is a beautiful quote. You're welcome!
Reply
:iconrociobelindamendez:
rociobelindamendez Featured By Owner Apr 13, 2015
I love the imagery and use of words in this piece. It really enticed me as a reader. It was surreal and inviting, while being somewhat dark and unsettling –– I think it was a great combination. Could you clarify the plot, in particular the memory of the building burning with gunshots fired?
Lovely work, it inspired me to write more of my novel. Thanks for sharing :) 
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:icondreamelancholia:
dreamelancholia Featured By Owner Apr 14, 2015
Hello! Thanks so much for the comment. 

The Keeper was dreaming about his past life as a soldier. He was taking part in a war, burning towns and killing innocent civilians. He was simply obeying commands, but he was still burdened with the guilt. You can interpret that as being the reason why he was trapped for centuries on the Other Side. 

I'm so glad it inspired you. Good luck with the novel!
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:iconrociobelindamendez:
rociobelindamendez Featured By Owner Apr 15, 2015
Thought so :) I just wanted to confirm it. I really liked it, well done & thanks! I wrote a nice portion that night. 
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:iconshelleypalmer:
shelleypalmer Featured By Owner Apr 5, 2015  Hobbyist Writer
I absolutely believe in reincarnation.  This piece has a beautiful feeling and flow and the characters came across well. I wasn't sure of the plot but the piece was so compelling and well written it didn't seem to matter!
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:icondreamelancholia:
dreamelancholia Featured By Owner Apr 6, 2015
Thank you! If you have any questions about the plot, feel free to ask. :)
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:iconmidgetshinigami:
MidgetShinigami Featured By Owner Mar 30, 2015  Student General Artist
I believe in reincarnation, and I think you interpreted it pretty darn well here.
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:icondreamelancholia:
dreamelancholia Featured By Owner Apr 1, 2015
Thank you so much! :)
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:iconthedoorwithin:
TheDoorWithin Featured By Owner Mar 30, 2015  Student Writer
I don't believe in reincarnation, but this was a very interesting read. I enjoyed it :)
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:icondreamelancholia:
The practical side of my mind doubts it as well.

But thank you! :heart: I'm happy that you did.
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:iconpiratelotus-stock:
PirateLotus-Stock Featured By Owner Mar 29, 2015
Great work!!
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:icondreamelancholia:
dreamelancholia Featured By Owner Mar 29, 2015
Thanks! :heart:
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:iconmagnius159:
Magnius159 Featured By Owner Mar 29, 2015  Hobbyist Writer
I'm happy to see this featured in DD :)

Congrats!
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:icondreamelancholia:
dreamelancholia Featured By Owner Mar 29, 2015
Hehe, I couldn't believe it when I first saw it.

Thanks! ^^
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:iconkrasblak:
krasblak Featured By Owner Mar 29, 2015  Professional General Artist
Congratulations on the Daily Deviation!
:heart::iconbutterfly1plz::iconbutterfly2plz::iconbutterfly3plz::iconbutterfly4plz::iconbutterfly5plz::heart:
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:icondreamelancholia:
dreamelancholia Featured By Owner Mar 29, 2015
Thank you! :D
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:iconkrasblak:
krasblak Featured By Owner Mar 29, 2015  Professional General Artist
my pleasure :)
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:iconlintu47:
Lintu47 Featured By Owner Mar 29, 2015  Hobbyist Photographer
Congrats on the DD! :dalove:
Have a nice day! :love: by CookiemagiK
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:icondreamelancholia:
dreamelancholia Featured By Owner Mar 29, 2015
Thanks, and you too!
Reply
:iconlintu47:
Lintu47 Featured By Owner Mar 30, 2015  Hobbyist Photographer
My pleasure, thank you! Cuddling Practice by TheHugClub
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:icongyappumusoka:
gyappumusoka Featured By Owner Edited Mar 29, 2015  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Amazing, I enjoyed it very much. It deserves the DD.
Reply
:icondreamelancholia:
dreamelancholia Featured By Owner Mar 29, 2015
Thanks. I'm so glad that you liked it! :)
Reply
:iconlindartz:
LindArtz Featured By Owner Mar 29, 2015  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Congratulations on your very well deserved DD! :clap:
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:icondreamelancholia:
dreamelancholia Featured By Owner Mar 29, 2015
Thank you!
Reply
:icongelieta:
Gelieta Featured By Owner Mar 19, 2015  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Wow! Another amazing and interesting story! You are very talented! I love your style and choice of words! You should write more!=)
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:icondreamelancholia:
dreamelancholia Featured By Owner Mar 19, 2015
Thank you! I definitely will. ^_^
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:iconlittlejennycreek:
littleJennyCreek Featured By Owner Mar 14, 2015
Interesting story :) I like the way you mixed past and present and put a lot of story in a short text :)
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:icondreamelancholia:
dreamelancholia Featured By Owner Mar 14, 2015
Thank you! c:
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:iconrefugnic:
Refugnic Featured By Owner Mar 14, 2015  Hobbyist Writer
Hmm...what to say about this piece...for one, yes, reincarnation is most definitely a hopeful concept. In fact, in the light of the laws of nature, 'reincarnation' is about the only logical option, assuming that a 'soul' actually exists.

According to Newton's laws of thermodynamics, energy can neither be created nor destroyed. It can only be changed from one form to another. If the 'soul' exists, it would be some form of energy, an incorporeal force which inhabits our corporeal bodies and as such, like with all other things, the supply of 'souls' is finite in this universe of ours...which, in turn, suggests that if the widespread opinion that all souls go either to heaven or hell after dying and stay there was true, life would cease to exist sooner or later, simply because there are no souls left to populate the empty vessels born into the world...so yeah, that only leaves one logical option left...recycling. Or much rather 'reincarnation'.

Now that the philosophical component of the piece is taken care of, I'm not quite sure if I understand the plot all that well. I understand, that this 'keeper' was a soldier in his life who did terrible things to innocent people. And while I understand why his life in solitude was a just punishment for his crimes, I didn't understand why he would keep the souls that popped up on his doorstep from going away. Are they too criminals who undergo captivity as their punishment? If so, shouldn't have Ai-la's appearance have struck him as odd? I mean, what kind of sins could a girl as young as her have committed to be deserving of such punishment?

Bluntly put, I didn't understand the Keeper's role, though I did understand Ai-la's role...she was sent to set him and all the other souls free to be born again just like Jesus Christ died at the cross to free the souls of the sinners from the eternal damnation of death...you know, if the Christian church is to be believed :P

All in all it read really well, but quite honestly, for the aforementioned reasons, I don't feel a lot wiser now than before.
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:icondreamelancholia:
dreamelancholia Featured By Owner Mar 14, 2015
Do you believe that a soul exists? We may be nothing more than the product of our neural connections, and when those cease to exist... Oh Noes! 

Yes, that part of the story is a little vague. I imagine that when one dies, they aren't immediately reincarnated. So the Keeper's role here is to guard them in a "waiting place." For the souls it isn't a punishment, more of a necessity. The Keeper, however, is being punished by being forced to remain here. 

To lessen the confusion, do you think I should show the souls coming and going?

Thank you for such a detailed comment. :)
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:iconrefugnic:
Refugnic Featured By Owner Mar 14, 2015  Hobbyist Writer
I want to believe it. I want to believe that something more than a fading memory remains of us after we die. I cannot prove it of course, but at the very least I want to believe that all of our arts, all of our thoughts, all of our reason is more than just synapses firing at each other.

That concept I do understand and I've had a similar thought actually, which goes along the lines of the heaven/hell concept.
Those who get sent to hell get punished for their misdeeds until they're purified and then they get sent back into the fray. If they're good, they go to heaven, where they can just kick back and enjoy a good time...until they see it worthwhile/necessary to go for another spin on the mortal coil.
However it really seemed like a prison instead of a 'waiting stop'. What's more, that fire Ai-la caused was a release action...like a prison break. I think it would've been better if you had depicted souls getting purified and sent back on their way instead of having them 'sleep in the cabin'.

Though that would make me wonder, what exactly the Keeper's job would be...unless he's forced to serve them in one way or another.

You're welcome. :)
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:iconneurotype:
neurotype Featured By Owner Mar 13, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
I'm sorry - the first line in my message inbox looked interesting, but I straight up cannot see this font on my screen. Please consider why you are picking the tiny size - if it's because it looks better on your screen, then it may actually be your browser settings that are best adjusted.
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:icondreamelancholia:
dreamelancholia Featured By Owner Mar 14, 2015
I didn't do anything to the size; I only changed the font to Cambria, which is a common serif font. As for browser settings, I haven't altered text size.

There is an option at the top right corner which you can click to make the text larger. I think that should solve the problem.  
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:iconneurotype:
neurotype Featured By Owner Mar 14, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
Huh weird maybe it's hitting 10 pt... although sans is supposed to be better for onscreen. I'll take a look.
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