Monday, October 15, 2007

Exercise: Emotion + Character

The exercise this time was to combine an emotional experience with a character trait. We did the "pass to the right" method to generate a starting point: first, everyone wrote down an emotional experience they'd had in the recent past (for example, elation at finding something you'd thought was lost). We passed the index cards to the right, turned over to hide the written part, and each person came up with a character trait to write down (e.g., stubborn). The card was passed once more to the right, and the person receiving it had his assignment.

I got "Pessimism" and "Pleasant surprise at experiencing something familiar done in a new and exceptional fashion." As seems to be usual for these exercises, I've no idea where this one came from. The first line came to me out of a dream or something; I woke up in the middle of the night with it in my head, and thought that something needed to be written around it. It wasn't enough for a story, but it did fill out the scene nicely.

  Satan's girlfriend was dying.
  “What do you want me to do about it?” I said. “This always happens. You know this is going to happen.”
  He was in his all-black form, the one that looks like a negative image of Michaelangelo's “David.” With cute nubbly horns and a beard. It's his “feel sorry for me” form. “This time is different,” he said.
  “You always think that and it never is.” I turned to the minor imp whose one-on-one Satan had interrupted. He was staring at the Prince of Darkness, wide-eyed. “Tony,” I said, “good work this month, but you need to get the new souls worked into the rotation faster. Some of them are getting bored. This isn't Purgatory, it's Hell.”
  “Yes, sir,” he said, and snapped out of existence to the Fourth Circle.
  “Sorry,” Satan said, again.
  I waved a cloven hoof. “You know I'm not going to be able to do anything, right?”
  “This time is different.” He reached out.
  I really prefer to transport myself, and the Dark Lord knows I've been to his office enough times to go myself, but you don't really refuse the Big Boss when he offers you a ride. “What,” I said, to stall. “Is she dissolving into yellow slime instead of black this time?”
  “Just come on,” he said.
  I put my hoof in his hand and winced inwardly as he destroyed my corporeal form and rebuilt it in his office.
  “Why don't you fall in love with a demon, someone who could stand your powerful essence?” I had fingers now instead of hooves. Only nine, too. Plus I was about half a foot shorter and my tail was limp. He always does this when He's depressed. I wouldn't fix it until I was back in my office, though. If I drew attention to it, he'd just get more depressed. Probably start crying. Then we'd have acid tears eating through the floor, Asphodel coming up to see what was the matter, and I did not want to be in the middle of that. My day was bad enough already.
  Not as bad as Lucy's. Satan's latest girlfriend sat crumpled on the floor in a familiar pose, the kind they always get sooner or later. I walked over to look at her. “Or even one of the angels,” I said. “Imagine that. You could pine from afar. Unrequited love. Star-crossed lovers. It'd be beautiful. And far less messy.”
  “I know, you're right,” he said, watching me. “But there's something about these mortal souls. I just can't resist. They're all shining with hope.”
  I snorted, but didn't reply directly to that. The only reason he calls me whenever his girlfriends start to dissolve is because the rest of his executive staff makes fun of him for his mortal girlfriends. I don't see the point in making fun of him. I'd rather just convince him that all love is hopeless so he could get on with the business of running Hell. “I guess this means if I have anything for you to sign, I'd better do it now. Are you going to go into seclusion again when she dies?”
  “Just look at her,” he insisted.
  I knelt down. “What am I supposed to be looking at?”
  “Touch her.”
  Bloody hell. Of all the things. I sighed and reached out with my four-fingered hand and touched her arm, preparing myself. She was probably just one touch away from slime city.
  Unbelievably, my fingers passed through her essence. Not without feeling her, but she felt like she were made of the thick smoke we choke our souls with down in the Industrial Polluters division. No matter how I waved my fingers, though, she didn't disperse.
  “Weird,” I said, and then noticed the position of her hands. I jumped back, holding my four-fingered hand out in front of me. “What. Is. She. Doing.”
  Satan came closer, and his expression softened. “Aw,” he said. “She's praying.” He wiped a tear from his face and shook it to the floor, where it hissed and smoked. And the floor, by the way, is the hardest diamond we can get. My stone floor would've cracked in two.
  “She can' doesn't...He can't hear...” I sputtered, keeping an eye on my hand. If it started to smoke, I would have to get over to Medical right away. It seemed to be fine, though.
  “See what I mean, about hope?” he said. “None of them ever did this before.”
  I shook my head. “It's not the praying,” I said. “It can't be. It's just some...wait, is she a woman or did you just make her a human shape?”
  “What?” He turned to stare at me. The air grew warm.
  “Well, if she's a cat or something, she might be going to—okay, no! Clearly a human! Cats don't know how to pray!” I broke off that line of thought before my skin blistered.
  He turned back to her. “I think she's Ascending,” he said.
  I shook my head again. “No. That's impossible. It...uh...” I had to stop talking then, because Lucy was starting to sparkle. There was no other way to describe it. Small white lights flickered on and off inside her form, more staying on than flickering off. At the same time, her form drifted up toward the ceiling.
  “Hey, stop her!” I said, but Satan put a hand on my arm.
  “Let her go,” he said quietly.
  I looked at the ceiling. “She'll go right through Delipheon's office.”
  He shook his head, eyes fixed on her. “He's one over. That's just a storage closet.”
  I guess he would know. I watched, speechless, as the girl's slight frame straightened until she appeared to be standing in mid-air, hands clasped, eyes closed. Her whole form was shimmering now, the light warm, but not in the same way Satan's glare was. It was more like the warmth of coming in ahead of projections for the year, of having all my managers graded positively, of having Satan or Asmodeus pat me on the wings and say, “Good job.” It was the warmth of the end of the day, the weekend, of the first day of vacation. Of course, my days don't end, and I don't have vacation, and none of that other stuff ever happens. But for a moment, watching her rise through the ceiling, I thought that perhaps it might.
  I'm not sure how long it was we stood there staring up. Satan put a hand on my shoulder and said, “Now you see?”
  “Not really,” I said. “I mean, why remind yourself that there are good things out there that you'll never get to touch? What's the point, just to make yourself more miserable?”
  “That is my job,” he said. “And yours.”
  “Oh,” I said. “I see.” He smiled, a sad smile, but at least he didn't seem about to start crying again.
  “Want me to take you back to your office?”
  “No, no, I can make it,” I said hastily. “Just do me one favor. At least wait a week before falling in love again? I've got reviews coming up that you're going to need to sign off on, and I'd like to get them in before the next eon begins.”
  “Done,” he said. “But I might just take a look at some of your new souls coming in...”
  I groaned and went back to my office, rebuilding my form properly when I did. For a few minutes, I checked in on the numbers in the various divisions to make sure everything was still running smoothly. That settled, I pulled up the torture list and checked “false hope” to see what else we could develop along those lines. When it comes down to it, Satan might be a soft heart, an incurable optimist, and a lousy manager, but he's a brilliant innovator.

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