This is the last episode of Azinae, but I've got an exciting announcement, so make sure that you read this post to the end!
(Click here to read the previous episodes)
Episode 15 - The Scarred Reflection
We all glanced at one another, solemnity written across our expressions like age. Somehow I knew, even before they spoke, what each would choose.
"I want to stay," Astrid said. Then, turning to her husband, as though fearful of his answer, "Ulysses?"
"You know I've always wanted to stay too," Ulysses said quietly. With a quick grin, he said, "I always look my best in Azinae."
Astrid flung her arms around her husband's neck. "Can we get a little house by the water--not too close, of course, I couldn't stand it--and raise a bunch of wonderful Azinaean children?"
"Our little gang of octopods," Ulysses said with mock solemnity. Astrid laughed.
"You should stay, Merlin," Dirk said quickly. "Really, buddy. Earth is wonderful--I know you care about people there deeply--but... I just feel you could do so much good here. You're a peacemaker. Help the Azinaeans make peace."
At first I thought that Dirk was trying to indicate how useless Merlin's nonverbal, nonmobile life on Earth would be in comparison to his abilities in Azinae. Then I saw that Dirk was truly sincere and that his comment had nothing to do with Merlin's cerebral palsy, and I was ashamed all over again for thinking like an Earth-dweller. Merlin had always been a teacher. The silent lessons he taught on Earth were worth every moment in his wheelchair. But Azinae simply needed him more, to help repair centuries' worth of enmity amongst the Kinds.
Merlin thrust his hands into his pockets and nodded. "I know. I mean to stay. But you?"
Dirk mirrored his brother's posture and was uncharacteristically quiet for a long time.
"I see," said Merlin at last.
"For what it's worth, I think you're right."
"You do?" Dirk met his brother's gaze.
"Azinae needs me, Dirk. But Earth needs you. Your grit. Your optimism. Your genuine compassion."
"Shut up," Dirk said gruffly, and looked very pleased with himself.
"You won't be alone," I said. "I'm going back too."
"I thought you hated Earth," Ulysses pointed out.
"I hated it because I hated myself," I replied. "I know better now. I've had my adventure here. It's time I finished mine there. It's time I really cared about something other than myself--see if I can do some good."
Ulysses' eyes traveled over my scarred face. "I think you're off to a good start."
At our request, we shared one, last wonderful day together in Azinae. The weather was clear and the air golden with sunlight. I did not want it to end. All my life, I thought I had craved adventure, heroism. Now I realized that what I truly craved was the peace that followed the suffering, the foundation of unspoken friendship, the victor's rest.
The Tree took Dirk and I in the night, while we slept. It was the best way, really. The pain of parting would only have been magnified otherwise. I awoke in my own bed, staring at the lazily whirling ceiling fan with bewilderment and wondering why the Kinds had built a house over me while I slept. Then reason filtered into my consciousness and I thought that I must surely have dreamed the whole thing--Azinae, the Healing, the Half-Tree, the Whispers...
But the scars on my face--reflected in my dresser mirror--told otherwise, and, for some reason, I was desperately glad. I wanted to be reminded of what I had suffered, not because of its horror but because of its redemption. I was not the same Connie who had disappeared from Earth, and I did not want to be.
I picked up the phone on my bedside table and dialed a number hastily. The phone rang three times before a sleepy voice croaked into the other end. "Yeah?"
"Got home safely, Dirk?"
"Connie! I just... What the...? Oh, we're home, aren't we?" There was a long pause. "I forgot how comfy my bed was."
"Hey!" Dirk crowed. "Lookit the date, Connie! It's the day after we left, the day after the high school reunion. That amazing Azinae Tree! I was wondering how I was going to explain several months of disappearance to my clients. Guess I won't have to."
He paused. "You all right, Connie? I mean... being back?"
I knew what he meant, and my reflection gazed back at me, the reflection of a man I felt I hardly knew, but who was ready for anything now.
"Yeah, Dirk," I said with quiet conviction. "I'm more all right than I've ever been."
Who wants to help me write a novel?
Thank you to all of you who participated in making Azinae a story that not only spun you through a surprising adventure, but that threw me many surprises as well! This has been a fantastic "experiment."
Some weeks ago, a friend approached me and said, "Hey, I love Azinae! If you ever turn it into a book, seriously, I would buy it!"
Well, there's good news: I'm going to turn Azinae into a full-length novel. There are some things I think I can do much better, and some things I still want to explore in the world of Azinae. Here are some of them:
And that's just for starters! So here's my suggestion: I'd like to form a core group of Azinae-creators who will help me shape a full-length novel from the current Azinae story. What would you like to see more of? What could be better?
If you like the idea of helping to shape a story toward publication, click the graphic below to join my new Facebook group and participate in the conversation!