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Let's Free: Quarterly 3

Discussion in 'Completed Fics' started by The Teller, Sep 3, 2016.

  1. The Teller

    The Teller King of Half-Truths

    Holy timeliness, Batman! In an epic quest to try to do an entry for all the quarterlies, here's my entry for the Quarterly 3: December 2015 edition, "holiday fic!" Due to somewhat mature themes, this will be a PG-13 entry! If a mod thinks the topics covered warrant a full M-rating, just let me know *fine print: my response will not be immediate, as I'll have very limited time to check up on things for the next few days*. I THINK there may be one instance of a past/present tense confusion somewhere in the fic that a beta pointed out, but I can't remember where they said it was. Oh well. Just getting that out of the way first since I know I usually let a minimum of ONE of those slip into the final product. Hope you enjoy!

    "Let's Free"

    It was when the townsfolk first started putting on jackets in September that the first Terminus Reap merchandise hit the shelves. Snowblowers that had been left unmarked were suddenly marked down 10%, with a neon pink or yellow sign saying "Terminus Reap Sale Now!" taped onto the sides of them. Of course, rakes were not part of the Terminus Reap festivities, so they went ignored by big businesses, even though the townspeople needed rakes more immediately than they needed a snowblower. Axes, both ones made for adults and special kids' axes, also went on sale, buy two and get the third free. Branch clippers were usually sold right next to them. Special flavors of hot cocoa started being stocked, with the implicit threat that they would be removed from the public after the Reap season was over. They were always among the most popular flavors, so they always sold out quick, and people tended to forget they even existed after the Reap season passed, only to be startled again the next year when the flavors were reintroduced. Sleds and thick clothing, both decked out in the white and blue Terminus Reap coloring, were also on sale. Most people complained about how there was all this Reap season merchandise being sold in September, and that the Reap season doesn't actually start until December, but nobody ever does anything about it. They complained about how all this commercialism blatantly ignores September's Veterinarian's Day (or they complained about how Veterinarian's Day doesn't get any commercialism), and seriously downplays the importance of November's St. Joy's Day. The fact that traditionalists say that Terminus Reap season begins on the second week of November and St. Joy's Day happens to fall on November 6th every year doesn't help disprove the notion.

    Brian was once one of those purists, but ever since having kids of his own, he's been slowly coming around to the idea that maybe it was good to celebrate the true meaning of Terminus Reap for a longer period of time, and if that meant more commercialism and dumbing down the meaning of Terminus Reap, then so be it. Besides, it made Sol and Luna happy. Brian had told his kids "No" on the idea of getting new kids' axes in September. But now that it was the second week of November, his defense on his position was starting to lose credibility. Sol and Luna wanted new Terminus Reap axes, even though they had perfectly usable ones from last year, and they wanted them now. So, Brian agreed to take the children to the general store and get them new axes, on the condition that they start compiling their donation pile early. The kids eagerly agreed.

    Driving across the greater Icirrus City area, Brian saw the white and blue banners start to appear on official buildings. Many were being scrubbed early. Most houses in the area already had Reap colors displayed, along with all of their lawn decorations put away. Their mailboxes were draped with decorative white and blue Reap veils. There was at least one car that had its trunk draped, but most people think that's taking it too far. It was a very porous drape, so visibility wasn't too much of an issue, but the safety concerns were still there. The family passed by a truck selling end-of-the-season crops off the side of the road. Corn, squash, pumpkins, and all other sorts of fruits and veggies were piled onto the trunk space of the truck. The children were more interested in axes, though.

    At the general store, Terminus Reap music was playing on the overhead speakers. It mostly played the classics, or remixes of the classics. The classics, including the timeless "Let's Free," were all minimalistic and somber, talking about the gathering of loved ones and the shedding of the old and excess, of the beauty that awaits upon reawakening, and of the inevitability of the end. The remixes jazzed it up considerably, although the messages behind them were still mostly intact. There was a hot new song playing that all the out-of-date people hated that was death metal. Brian hated it, but his kids knew all the words.

    "You know," Brian said, as his kids were busy picking out white or blue kids' axes, "Terminus Reap isn't about getting new stuff. There's another holiday for that. It's about the exact opposite. That's why you make donation piles every year. You're supposed to be getting rid of stuff you don't need anymore."

    His kids didn't hear or understand.

    "But we don't NEED our old axes anymore!" said Luna. "And Mikayla and Jenique are getting new ones!"

    "ALL the boys in my class are getting new ones today!" whined Sol.

    'All lies,' thought Brian.

    He remembered back to when he was a young boy, and how excited he was to go shopping for a new axe every year with his parents. This was why he wasn't too upset with his kids forgetting WHY they were getting axes. As Brian and his kids were leaving the aisle, another family walked in, with their children running to the axes section to pick out their axes. Brian thought to himself that he would need to get new branch clippers before Terminus Reap as well, as his current pair had actually rusted over during the current year. Maybe he would surprise Sol and Luna with a pair as well, even if it defeated the purpose of Terminus Reap.

    ~~~

    On December 5th, it was Terminus Reap. Like with most years, there had been an early, heavy snowfall just prior to Terminus Reap, no doubt thanks to some extraordinarily powerful Ice-type Pokémon. The marsh area was completely frozen over, with no skate marks on the frozen surface yet. The wild buzzing of the local Pokémon were nowhere to be heard. They had all either migrated away, or were dead. There were no stray Cubchoo rooting through the trash. There were no cars on the road. The whole of Icirrus City was peaceful, quiet, symbolically empty, and dead.

    Brian woke up first. After getting ready for the day ahead, he woke up Sol and Luna. At first they were unhappy about being woken up so early, but once they realized that it was Terminus Reap, they quickly got excited and sped through their morning routine. They wanted to get outside as soon as possible. Once everybody had bundled up and gotten their axes and clippers, the family went out, passing by each of their donation piles that would be taken to the town square's designated donation building later on that day, ready to begin the holiday trek up to Dragonspiral Tower. Other families on their street soon joined them. At first, the talking was kept to a minimum, but as the townsfolk neared the forest, the chatter increased, both in quantity and volume. The children danced on ahead of the adults, excited to get to the tower as soon as possible, and inevitably they danced their way back to the adults once they figured out that the adults weren't keeping up with them, only to soon after dance on ahead again, repeating the process over and over. The adults calmly chatted with one another, catching each other up on what they've been up to since the last Terminus Reap.

    Slowly, the whole town made their way to Dragonspiral Tower. The tower itself was painted white with snow, the moat surrounding it frozen over, as it was every year. All of the healthy dragons had migrated away by now, so there were no seemingly distant roars to be heard. But it was not Dragonspiral Tower that was the focus of Terminus Reap. It was the forest surrounding it. As the townspeople looked around, they surveyed all the dead trees around them. Though somewhat clustered, the trees were randomly colored either a dark brown or a fiery red. The children all went up to the red trees, Sol and Luna included.

    "Sol! Luna! Wait for the signal!" yelled Brian.

    All of the children stopped themselves from chopping away, though that didn't stop them from assigning themselves red trees, with a few children bickering with each other over who gets to chop a particular tree. The adults had to step in to decide on things. From off in a distance, back at the Icirrus City town square, the ancient bell, rung once a year now for centuries, and had once been used to warn villagers of potential invasions from other settlements, rung twelve times. Though there was once significance to the number twelve, it has long since been lost to time, and the bell is now rung twelve times just to give the bell use, to give the townspeople enough time to pick out red trees and prepare themselves, and to make sure everyone actually hears the bells. Upon the twelfth rung, the adults cheered on the children as the children started chopping away at the red trees.

    As Brian was cheering on Sol and Luna, there was a small child, just barely standing, next to her mother, who was also standing within earshot of Brian. The child was Cindy Luhue, who looked like she was no more than two. She was clearly way too young to participate in the festivities.

    "But why are we only cutting down the red trees?" she asked her mother, Wu Luhue.

    "Well," Wu said, kneeling down to Cindy's height and putting on a bright smile, "a long time ago, a terrible virus struck the forest around Dragonspiral Tower. It turned many of the trees red, and when a tree turns red, it's as good as dead. It will never grow again, and will never produce any fruit. But it won't wither and crumble because it's so big, so every year, we come out here and chop the red trees down so that there's space for all the healthy brown trees to grow in the spring!"

    "Ohhhh..." replied Cindy, who seemed to have a basic grasp of the concept.

    Once the children had gotten tired from chopping away at the red trees, the adults took over, finishing the job the children had started. The children would start clipping the branches of the healthy trees, taking away the excess weight the trees would otherwise be burdened with. Any trees that fell would be collected the next day by lumberjacks and disposed of, and the stumps and roots would be taken care of at a later time by professionals. One of the adults was playing "Let's Free" loudly on an mp3 player.

    "Daddy," asked Luna, while Brian was busy hacking away at a tree Sol and Luna had started on, "did Mommy die and leave us so she could be happy?"

    Brian froze. He knew that one day his children would ask this question.

    "Terminus Reap is all about getting rid of what you don't need and starting over anew in the new year," said Sol, as if he was quoting from a textbook. "It's why all the animals go away, all the food dies, all of Mother Nature closes up, we have to get rid of all the toys we don't play with anymore, everyone puts away their lawn decorations because they're considered excessive, and when everything dies, they reincarnate to a better life next year."

    His own children were trying to corner him with logic.

    "Yeah, so if Mommy died, she reincarnated and has a happier life now, right?" asked Luna. "Was she not happy with us? Didn't she love us? Is that why she hasn't visited us?"

    Brian was on the verge of tears. Eclair...his lovely, long auburn haired wife that he had spent so many Reaps with, the woman who gave the both of them two beautiful, intelligent children. The woman who died suddenly around Terminus Reap five years ago.

    "Maybe I should die so that I can reincarnate and visit Mommy!" said Sol, excitedly.

    Brian had to suppress the tears. What kind of monster would tell his own children that their mother never loved them? Who would tell their children that they didn't love their parent hard enough? Who would give them the impression that their own birth mother chose to walk away from all of them? Worse, that she would rather die than to be with them? Perhaps Terminus Reap had not thought about children who would want to take their own lives so that they could be with a deceased loved one? The fact that his children thought this was like a stab in the heart, and he felt that he had failed as a father in some way, that he had failed Eclair as a husband. He would never allow Sol and Luna to think this way about their mother or playing with their own mortality again.

    He turned to them and smiled.

    "Honey, son, your mother didn't leave because she was unhappy. She loved you both more than life itself, and she would never leave because of you two. She just happened to die around the time of Terminus Reap. Sometimes, that happens. People die without warning, and there's no way to prepare for it. We should all be happy that she DID reincarnate and IS enjoying a happier life now. She hasn't forgotten us, and she is constantly watching over us. Mommy would want all of us to enjoy our life as it is right now and not be sad that she is gone. And she certainly wouldn't want one of you to reincarnate just to see her again. You two both know that you wouldn't be able to come back once you reincarnate, so Mommy would be sad that you'd be leaving me alone. We don't want to make Mommy sad, right?"

    "Right," they both said.

    "Good. Now, come help me cut down some of these branches."

    Sol and Luna picked up their branch clippers and went with Brian to one of the healthy trees that had many useless branches that needed trimming. They would give their donation piles away in a few hours after that. Later on, they would all watch classic Terminus Reap cartoons from decades ago and eat a feast that utilized every part of the Miltank, and sleep early, for the vast amount of food would make them very tired. Such would be the tale of all the residents of Icirrus City this, and every Terminus Reap.

    The End
     
  2. This hit me like a brick wall. So as I'm reading the one-shot I'm like, I'll probably be commenting on how good your world-building is (it really is!) and how it's a creative take on the Quarterly's prompt (it also really is!), but then I read this line and...there's suddenly so much more to talk about.

    On one hand, I'm impressed with how much this fits with the theme of the holiday. As I said above, your world-building is very solid, and I was enjoying finding out more about the Terminus Reap and the children's odd fascination with axes. Sol conveniently pointing out the parallels (which IMO was a bit too explain-y but it was necessary for the world-building - maybe tone it down a bit?) between the holiday and his mother's death was pretty great in capturing how the story succeeds thematically.

    But on the other hand, the inclusion of this part of the narrative feels a bit out-of-nowhere? With how the introduction played out, I thought this was going to focus on the tradition vs. new aspect of the holiday (seeing as you're already working with dichotomies with the kids' names! :p ). But then Luna drops that bomb and suddenly the focus shifts to that, and I think you can smoothen out that abruptness a bit. As it stands, I'm confused as to what the story wanted to focus on by the end because a bulk of it is building up what this holiday is about, but then the last few paragraphs introduce a whole other aspect that isn't hinted at apart from the mother's total absence in the first half. (It's also odd that you conclude the story by going back to talking about the holiday and giving a more overview type of ending as opposed to the very focused narrative you had with Brian's family.)

    Of course, outright mentioning the mother earlier in the story would be a big giveaway given her absence and it would lessen the impact of the reveal of her death later on (plus it's a pretty by-the-book way of tackling it), so I think what you can improve is the concluding paragraphs where Brian and his kids talk about Eclair. Right now a lot of it feels very jam-packed, what with Brian going from mourning his wife to rationalizing the situation after just one paragraph. I think you can space this out a bit, let Brian progressively react to the kids and let Sol and Luna react to how their father is taking what they're saying (or maybe even letting Sol and Luna insist on the matter as Brian seems to have been avoiding the topic?). Giving that part of the story the same depth as the holiday world-building would make it a much more effective parallel IMO.

    It's a very well-written one-shot - like I said, I really like how you built up the Terminus Reap and the whole idea of cutting down trees. I just think you need to strengthen the inclusion of the mother more, because as I mentioned, I thought the parallel was great. Good job with it! :)
     
  3. The Teller

    The Teller King of Half-Truths

    Okay, to be completely fair here, I only chose the names Sol and Luna for the quick shoutout to Sun and Moon. I'm sorry I led you to believe I was smarter than I look! >__<'

    Ah, another lovely case of "write by the seat of your pants!" I didn't know I wanted to include the mother's death until about halfway through the story, but when I came up with it, I was like "this is too good to pass up! It fits thematically perfectly and everything!", so in it went. I wanted the mother's death (and the children's response to it) to be a sudden and abrupt change of mood for the entire story, to startle the reader. Going off of what you just said, that was a resounding success, but, going off of what you just said, I'm starting to wonder if people would like that.

    Aaaand here's another fine example of "how do I end this?" The father/child speech was wrapped up, but the story didn't seem finished yet, so I went back to more world-building.

    Can't say much more at the moment, but the ideas you suggested are really good, and maybe sometime in the far-flung future, I can incorporate them into an edited version of this story. As always, thank you so much for the review, and I'm glad you enjoyed the story!
     
  4. JX Valentine

    JX Valentine Ever-Discordant

    And now let's talk about the exact reason why I nominated you for Most Improved Writer.

    It's sort of weird, to be honest, but the short of it is ... when you do serious stuff, it's great. Almost every part of this story fit together incredibly well and created this somber, almost resigned atmosphere. And the best part about it is that it starts off feeling like it's about to be humorous. Here, you have a guy riding around, observing the blatant commercialization of yet another holiday in as much cynicism a character can muster without devolving into a stereotypical holiday special protagonist ripe for a revelation or three. And it even is a little funny because it has a point. When you remove the commercialism of the average American holiday from its context, when you relabel things like Christmas or Valentine's Day with alien names, it does sound ridiculous, doesn't it? So for that reason, absolutely, Brian's commentary (or, well, the narrator's, combined with Brian's observations of how quickly stores jump on this stuff) is fantastically relatable to the point where it's almost even painful.

    Then, of course, you have Terminus Reap itself, which is funny in its own way because it's bleak. As in, when you take a step back, it is literally a holiday in which small children beg for axes. It's a celebration centered around the death of a forest. It's a celebration whose entire point is letting go of the dead. This just folds back into the commercialism thing because when you think about it ... celebrating the bleak stuff isn't a foreign concept to our holidays either. (I mean, Halloween, for one.) So when the story invites us to take a step back and examine how modern holidays work, it's just funny because, well, it's real. It's a wink and a nod to the intelligent reader, and as such, it just feels incredibly fulfilling to get.

    But then you bring up the dead mother. And that's when things go from good to great. Because it's at that point that we see Brian for what he really is. He's not some cynical father inwardly sighing over having to shell out his wallet or teach his kids not to be shallow. He's a single father trying his hardest to be strong for his kids and do the right thing so shortly after his wife and their mother up and died. If the Grinch's heart grew three sizes on a holiday, mine just flippin' ripped in two when I read that part, and it only got worse when Brian explained to his kids what death actually means. What's worse, all of a sudden, his cynicism towards the Terminus Reap makes perfect sense—because when you have a holiday that almost downplays what death actually is, explaining that to your children (especially when it directly relates to their mother) must be hard as eff.

    And every moment there just seemed real. Sometimes, I admit you tend to be over-the-top when it comes to describing emotions, but here, every word of what Brian was going through hit just the right note. When he held back tears, when he questioned himself, when he searched for just the right words to explain to his children where their mother was—all of that came together in just the right way to summarize just how powerful his grief was without going overboard and dampening the effect. And that's difficult to do with grief! So to see a balance here after what had been a slow, steady, solemn march just felt like a satisfying moment to cap off the story. (The fact that you don't end the fic by restating a moral or with hugs and kisses but instead with Brian and his kids picking up their axes and continuing into the forest is a quiet but equally satisfying cherry on top.)

    Also? While like Dramatic Melody, I was also more than a little caught off-guard by the presence of this other story (especially when attempting to judge whether or not this story fits the prompt in question), I realized ... that it was the point. Not that was the point, but that it was the point. Ultimately, Terminus Reap is a day of the dead, a day when you clear out the old in order to make room for the new. But then you have Brian, who's resisting the literal embodiment of Terminus Reap (that is, its commercialism) while struggling hard to embrace what it actually means. In other words, he rejects both Terminus Reap's imagery and its message of letting go of the dead in order to begin to live again. And he doesn't even come close to embracing what this holiday means until the very end, when he figures out a way to speak to his children. In this sense, this is a holiday special because it sets out to do what a lot of Christmas specials do: show a character struggling with the meaning of a holiday, only to realize what it truly means through interacting with its images.

    Of course, the story isn't 100% perfect, I admit. For example, I sorta feel like some of the sillier elements (Cindy and Wu Luhue, namely) took away from the effect just a bit. In fact, the explanation for how Terminus Reap came to be seems to stick out a little and could possibly be integrated a bit better into the story. (Perhaps in the previous scene, as that covers what Terminus Reap is now?) Likewise, I feel like some parts of the beginning dragged a bit. (Perhaps cut down or break up some of the larger paragraphs?) But to be honest, I also feel like these are only minor points in what's otherwise a thoroughly enjoyable story.

    Long story short, I was impressed by this one-shot, and at the risk of being overly blunt, I honestly hope you do more stuff like this. Or at least do the whole "balancing emotions incredibly well" thing in future fics, humor or not. Because hot dang, this was a fun read.
     
  5. The Teller

    The Teller King of Half-Truths

    Ok, first of all, thank you so much for the review! I'm really glad you seem to like it so much.

    And now for the bad news: like, half of what you said was NOT what was running through my head when I typed this story, what, nine months ago? Can someone accidentally write a superb piece of writing? I think so! As I told Dramatic Melody, I'm sorry I led you to believe I'm smarter than I really am! If you got all of what you said out of my story, then I'm more than glad you found it. I just...I just wanted to write a "winter Day of the Dead/typical Hollywood 'Christmas has become too commercialized'/ingenious plan by corporations to get you to buy Buy BUY by saying you should junk Junk JUNK all your old stuff once a year and replace it" story. You know, simple stuff.

    Reading through your comments, I found it very interesting what you have to say. I'm glad that you felt that the piece felt "real" to you. I was kinda thinking about old 80s and 90s Christmas kids movies like Home Alone and A Christmas Story when figuring out how to describe what the town was like during the Terminus Reap, along with bits of my own childhood recollection of what my town was like during Christmas time (which was in the Midwest; so, think someplace like Philadelphia). Having Brian go though all the things he did in the story that you talked about...I can totally see where you're coming from, and I like that you were able to come to those conclusions. I think what I wanted to have happen is that Brian doesn't realize the psychological effects having a holiday downplay the permanence and seriousness of death has on a child's brain until Luna asks the piercing question. It's only then he realizes that maybe this holiday isn't exactly all it's cracked up to be. But I really like your interpretations too! Makes me feel a whole lot smarter.

    I feel a bit sad that, for a Pokemon story, no Pokemon were actually in it, and a Pokemon was only referenced twice. When I got my betas to read this, I just replaced the word "Cubchoo" with "bear" and "Miltank" with "cow" and nothing from the story changed for them. I think this is the second time now I've referenced How The Grinch Stole Christmas in my stories and I might have a problem. But, I'm still sticking with throwing in these silly little references (Cindy Luhue), especially because the challenge had something to do with Christmas (in this case, reimagining it or replacing it). I threw in Wu Luhue literally because I thought the name sounded funny out loud and Cindy needed a parent for that scene.

    If you want something from me that's a little more serious than I normally put out, then might I suggest sauntering over to Tales Comics Presents, where I wrote a fanfic to Firebrand's superhero story The Amazing Hawlucha Man. Though it's only one chapter right now, I plan on writing more in the future, once my schedule clears up. As for other super-cereal stories, well, that all depends on the prompts and my imagination. I don't have any chaptered fics going on right now, and as I'm sure you've noticed, I only really appear when there's a challenge or contest to be had on the site (The Fifth Gate was too ambiguous for me to consider and came up at a really bad time for me, hence my not participating). I have an idea for the next contest entry and I want to continue my famous (?) Grunt Anthology with Skull and Aether entries, so we'll see how those come up in terms of seriousness. I promise to at least try to do the whole "balancing emotions incredibly well" thing in future endeavors ("humor or not"? I like to include funny moments, but I consider most of my entries to not be catalogued as "comedy"). Thanks again for the review and gushing and nominating me for Most Improved Writer!
     

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