This story is by Danielle Erickson and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
Ander lay in the cool, dew covered grass, and stared into the vibrant night sky. Stars flowed like a river across black canvas. No wonder Van Gogh painted Starry Night so well. That’s exactly what he saw. He wasn’t improvising, but telling the true story of that night through his skillful fingers and brush. Van Gogh translated something not everyone could see into a familiar language, and wrote it on canvas in a way that others could read.
Sitting up quietly, he slipped his art pad out of a leather satchel, then lay back down to record the story of the sky. He gazed intently on the earth’s black and gold canopy. Quick, deft movements brought his brush to life, creating an invisible image in the darkness.
Ander settled into his secluded meadow sanctuary, where he could freely strengthen his artistry. Because the Tribunal of Justice had passed the Dusk Movement six years ago, special skills were no longer allowed to be used or showcased. He was fourteen when insufficient development of technology had threatened to send the country into a permanent depression. The law read “The humanities are a pursuit of the past. Our objectives must focus more on imperative means, such as technology. If any form of disobedience is discovered the convicted will find themselves punished by immense means.” Despite the movement, Ander had continued to create beauty. The world called to him, cascading around him, and sweeping him into a magical consciousness. The power of earth surged beneath him. Clouds enveloped him. Majestic mountain ranges beat as if the heart of the earth, and the sky waved like a regal flag of rebellion.
His carefully concealed sketchbook was the only evidence of Ander’s dissenting actions. Were his art to be discovered, he would be imprisoned and executed for treason. Though facing a firing squad would still his hand forever, Ander chose to betray his country rather than his heart.
Starlight faded, and night began to release its grip on Ander. Animals stirred, and the moon descended in the west. Ander gathered his tools, quickly placing his supplies in his bag. The grass below him rose and nudged Ander to his feet while he kissed the stars goodnight. Though Ander was fond of the night, morning sun was most welcome. His extraordinary relationship with the earth allowed him to float through the grass, fly with the wind and stand firm as the mountain. He was part of the cosmos, a child of Mother Nature.
Ander galloped across the field in the faint light of the approaching dawn. His unruly, dirty blond hair defying gravity as he loped through the knee-high greenery. His bag rhythmically beat on his hip with each lively bound, then Ander relaxed as he reached the narrow dirt path leading through the forest.
The sky faded from pitch black to a flaming orange spread on the horizon. Glorious colors begged to be recorded on canvas. In daylight, Ander was forbidden to retrieve his notepad, so he gazed on the awe-inspiring scene, committing every detail, color, and brush stroke to memory. Ander observed the trees as they swayed to the music of the wind, and the beetles as they danced in the dappled sunlight. As he approached the beautifully twisted tree that he knew marked one mile from his home, the mood of the morning shifted. Trees ceased their lively wave and trembled. Insects and rabbits abruptly retreated for home. Fear interlaced the air, hanging motionless all around Ander. Steely shadows crept forward, grasping at his feet and legs. Hesitantly, Ander slowed his pace, the unease that held the forest captive now flooded his heart and mind.
“Anderson J. Mundi.” A gruff and threatening voice bellowed out of the shadows. Hearing his full name being vocalized stirred confusion in him. No one knew his full name. Only his parents ever spoke to him in such a demanding tone. Neck and arm hair stood on end as he spun on his heels to greet the mysterious voice. A large, menacing body aggressively stalked from the forest. The man was ruthless as he approached, breaking branches and cutting vines. Ander’s mind reeled and his heart ached as every snap reverberated through his body. The stranger’s rancid breath plagued the air between the two men. The forest descended into deafening science.
“What can I do for you, sir?” The level tone of his own voice surprised Ander.
“Oh, just a friendly visit.” He answered stiffly. The man shoved his hands in the pockets of his tailored business suit, rocked back in his expensive shoes, and whistled a tune as if speaking to an old friend. Despite the disarming ease of the stranger, warning bells in Ander’s head blared at full volume.
Ander turned to walk away from the confrontation. The thug snatched his arm before he could take one step. Ander moved to wrench his arm free, but the stranger held firm. A swarm of men, overdressed in the same manner, rushed out of the woods and ransacked Ander. They ripped the supply bag from his shoulder, rifling through it violently. One man withdrew Ander’s art pad and leisurely ripped precious pages out, tossing them carelessly to the ground. Amusement glowed in the perpetrator’s faces while Ander’s tears choked him at the sight of such reckless destruction. Pages fluttered to the ground one by one, and each time contact was made, the forest’s life ebbed away. Vertigo infected Ander’s mind as his world began to decay. Continuous humming radiated from colorless shapes. Grinding mechanical gears replaced the soft whisper of leaves and bark. A sterile white cloth, doused in a foul smelling substance, smothered his mouth and nose. Amidst valiant struggle, Ander’s body suddenly went limp. The intruders lugged Anderson Mundi back the way they had come, while churning and humming escorted them through the draconian maze of machinery.
A powerful blow to Ander’s cheekbone startled him to consciousness. His weakened eyes discerned a pair of slender legs, following to a shapely torso and the face of a chiseled beauty with gorgeous sunshine-through-a-whiskey-bottle stained irises. The woman’s fist remained in rebound from his tender flesh.
“Anderson,” the threatening fist came rest on the stunning woman’s hip as she addressed him. “You have created much unrest in this world with your infantile fantasies.” She snorted. “We need to preclude your behavior. You must fully accept this legislated world. Oh, and the name’s Lily – like the flower.” Lily smirked with the last statement, mocking Ander’s passion regarding the natural world. At her side, a stainless steel table offered a small silver bowl and a brown glass eye dropper. Lily placed thick leather gloves over her starkly manicured hands, and casually plucked the bowl from the table, returning to her position directly in front of Ander. She leaned forward, leveling her nose with his, placing one of her hands on the bindings that bound him to the sturdy metal chair.
Arrogantly, she introduced her tool. “Lye. Burns flesh instantly. Contact can result in severe chemical burns and even blindness.” Liquid sloshed in the bowl as she spoke. When Ander’s expression belied more confusion, Lily sighed, rolled her breathtaking eyes, and deftly splashed the contents of the bowl onto His face.
Ander’s screams echoed, magnified a thousand times by the vacant warehouse, but his captors were deaf to his agony. The chemical seared his skin and corneas, smoldering everything it touched. He desperately wondered if it might eat through his skull, destroying his brain tissue while he was still conscious and fully aware of every blister leaping from his flesh. The depot was full of shrieks, and promptly Ander’s vocal cords could produce no more than strangled grunts. Though the lye burned for less than two minutes, every second held the span an hour. Finally, he slumped, bound upright only by the chair, while the acid seared his eyes, cutting him off from his beloved world forever.
Ander stumbled aimlessly down the winding path through the forest, The torturous ticking of gears accosting him from all angles. His brows knit in confusion, creating a ripple in the deeply scarred layering of his eyes, nose, and cheekbones. Nearly six months ago, Ander’s vision had been ripped from his grasp. He has been cruelly branded and broken. He whipped around to the sound of someone approaching, terror evident in his stance. Quick footsteps advanced on him.
The dulcet tones of a young woman’s voice breathed, “I found this.” She gently placed a rectangular folder in Ander’s hands and swiftly departed. He cautiously opened the folder and shuffled through each page. The song of a chickadee greeted his starving ears. The distinct fragrances of dirt and pollen reached his nostrils. Fresh rain drizzled, and then poured down on him. For the first time in six months, Anderson Mundi felt peace. His nature had been redeemed, and his beloved stars once more stood as sentinels on the canvas of his soul.