Week 4: Follow the Star

Written for the fourth and final week of Advent, representing human beings.

It was Christmas Eve, and it was snowing, and David was on his way home.
The headlights of his car cut a path through the snowflakes as he rumbled on, thinking about his wife at home, and his two kids, and his brother. He was thinking about lights all over the house and a brightly-decorated tree and warm food—lots of it. In the back seat were a number of presents that he had picked up and gift-wrapped, all for his family. They were going to listen to old and scratchy records and drink hot chocolate. Then they’d fall asleep, he supposed, and wake up on Christmas morning to cinnamon cupcakes and gifts to unwrap.

The snow was a swirling grey and white, and David was just thinking that it was only another couple of kilometers and a turn round a corner until he got home, when the engine sputtered, gasped its last and died.

David’s eyes widened. “Oh…no!”

He was all alone in an empty, small road, and there were nothing but trees all around, and snowflakes everywhere.

David sat in the car and stared out the front window as the wipers continued clearing the snow away.

It’s cold, he thought.

It was cold too, a long time ago, in the fields around Bethlehem. A young shepherd boy drew his wool cloak firmly around him. He was with three other men of his village, and they were all trying to stay awake and watchful of the sheep around them.

Yet despite his best efforts, the shepherd boy found himself dozing off…ever so softly, that he didn’t notice it until he was aware of a bright light shining down upon him.

It was a light without heat, and streamed down from a star high up above, a star that burned brighter than all the rest.

And the boy heard singing.

And he wasn’t quite sure of the words, but he awoke with one thought in mind:

Follow the star.

Months later, the same phenomenon occurred, but now the star shone in the skies of the East. From his balcony, a old king observed its glow. He knew its presence meant that the world would never be quite the same again.

The sound of hoofbeats reached his ears, and he saw, from afar, a white horse with a brightly-clad rider on its back gallop through the gate and towards his palace. The king left the balcony. By the time he made it downstairs and outside, the rider had stopped, but had not dismounted.

“Greetings, Balthazar!” he cried. Then he sobered. “You know what this means, don’t you?”

“I do,” the king said. “Wait here for me as I saddle my horse, Caspar.”

“We must tell Melchior, too.”

“Yes,” Balthazar said. “Then we shall follow this star together.” He hastened toward the stables.

“And don’t forget to bring a gift!” Caspar called after him.

“Will we ever see it again?”

The shepherd boy stood at the top of the hill with his uncle, watching the last of the star’s light wash over Bethlehem.

His uncle leaned on his shepherds’ crook. “No. Not us. But maybe others will. Forever and ever.”

Before they parted ways, the wise man Melchior asked the same thing of his companions.

“Will we see it again?”

“We won’t,” said Balthazar. “But it will always be there. For people who need it, and for those who know where to look…”

It was a story David had told his children year after year, the kind of story that nobody is too old to believe in, part-bedtime tale and part-valuable history. He remembered it just before he dozed off behind the wheel, waiting for the snow to stop falling, waiting for a trucker (or someone, anyone) to come by and give him a ride, waiting for the whole thing to suddenly prove itself to be a dream. Then he would put the key back in ignition, hear the engine rumble again, and hit the gas and be home in a few minutes.

David woke up, suddenly, joltingly. He wasn’t sure why, but in the back of his head, there was a ringing like a chorus of voices in a heavenly tune that he would not remember again. He looked out the window.

The snow had stopped falling. And the sky was clear; dark as a plum, but bright with a few distant stars.

One of them shone brighter than all the others.

David remembered the story—how a star had shone brightly above shepherds and wise men alike, both at different times, yet leading to the same place. How those who had seen it had not waited for someone to take them there or for a better time to leave; or even, of what they would leave behind.

He looked at the snowy ground. It was bright enough to see his way home. He tilted his head up at the star, shining right above the place where he knew the house to be…

David opened the door and got out of the car. He opened the trunk and found a brown sack inside. He opened the passenger door and piled all of the presents inside.

Then he put on his bright red hat and slung the sack over his back.

Below him gleamed the freshly-fallen snow, and above him glittered the stars. David started walking. Walking, all the way home.

David was named after the Biblical king, because I read somewhere that Jesus was like his descendant or something? I forget. Anyway, he also emulates a popular holiday figure at the end of this story :)

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Week 3: Freed

Written for the third week of Advent, representing animals.

She dreams of lush green grass underfoot and of soft rain falling on her broad, grey back. She dreams of chittering bats in the evening and shrill birdsong in the morning. And she dreams of other voices; low, soft rumbles echoing in her bones, loud trumpeting like thunder across an empty sky.

She opens her eyes and sees dull concrete and steel where trees should be. And in place of a family, she sees strangers. Humans.

They look at her and smile and marvel with wide eyes, or just glance in her general direction without expression, and none of them ever really see her.
She sighs. It’s just another day.

It’s been years since she’s ever seen another creature like her, but elephants have a very long memory. And she does remember what another elephant looks like, smells like, sounds like. She remembers mothers, aunts and cousins.

And then some people came and lured her away and put her on a big boat, and when the doors opened she was here.

She hasn’t been anywhere else since then.

She’s pretty sure the world is bigger beyond her few square meters of space, but she doesn’t know for sure how big. She doesn’t even know that outside the gates of the zoo, people around the world know her by name. They know her as the little lonely elephant who shouldn’t be alone.

The elephant doesn’t know the battle being fought in her name. Word of her plight flies around the globe, and names are added to a growing list of people who seek justice for her and convince the zoo that they have to let her go.

People don’t have nearly as long a memory or as big a brain as the average Asian elephant, but there is a young woman in a country far away who remembers her visit to the zoo as a little girl. She remembers a great grey beast with cracked feet and a placid, but sad look in its big eyes. Resignation, she realizes now. That elephant had a look of resignation.

She thinks about the elephant who hasn’t seen her family in years, and she thinks about herself.

She hasn’t been home to see her family in nine months, and she already misses them.

A glass window opens out into a foreign city that she wasn’t born in, and the woman remembers the elephant. She’s going to help set it free.

The birds land on the rocks in her enclosure and they tell her stories. The world is changing, they say. Things are going wrong. But there are some good places left.

I wish I could go, says the old elephant. I wish I had wings.

The birds chirp and chatter and rustle their wings, and soon they’re gone, and the elephant’s alone under a grey sky.

It takes a while, but at long last the word gets out. The elephant is leaving the zoo and going free. And the world goes crazy with triumph.

In her apartment far from home the woman sees the news and leans back on her chair, a soft smile on her lips as she imagines the elephant from her childhood finally on her way to where she belongs. She’s going free after thirty years.

That’s good, thinks the woman. That’s really good.

For the first time, the gate is opened for her. Not to let someone in, but to let her out. The elephant takes step after step after cautious step, into a big truck, and soon she’s rolling past cages and big enclosures, saying goodbye to the other animals, and she passes by reporters and crowds and wonders what all the fuss is about and where she’s going now.

She’s not sure, but she has a good feeling about it.

And then the truck stops, and lets her out, and the air feels different. She smells the sea for the first time in years. They put her on a boat and the boat crosses the sea and the elephant realizes she’s not ever going back to the zoo, never again.

She closes her eyes.

And when she opens them again, she sees lush green grass underfoot and feels the wind of a strange place rushing past her big ears, and though a crowd of people still surrounds her, she can’t see steel or concrete for miles and miles—just trees, real trees, and they look just the way they did when she was a little calf. This place is strange and different, but at least it’s not the zoo!

And far in the distance she hears it. Trumpeting, like thunder across an empty sky.

The elephant takes step after cautious step, and though her legs are hurting, they carry her far into the jungle, deep into a wider world than she ever knew before.

Inspired by the Free Mali campaign.

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Week 2: The Hiding Tree

Written for the second week of Advent, representing plants.

With one skinned knee and a muddy shirt, Toby ran across the park as fast as his little legs could carry him.

The voices of the bigger boys reached his ears. “Yeah, run you little coward, but we’ll catch you!”

Toby fought back tears, and tried to go faster.

The boy had never known a day without being teased, picked on, pushed around or hurt by the other kids in town. Perhaps it was because he was very small for his age. Perhaps it was because his grandmother grew strange plants in their garden, and children thought she was a witch. Most probably it was because he didn’t have a mother and a father like most children did indeed have.

He had a mother and a mother.

What’s so wrong about that? Toby thought angrily. The boys’ voices grew louder, and Toby knew he needed a way out. Or at least a hiding place. He caught sight of a large tree.

It was forked down the middle, almost all the way down into the roots, and split into two thick trunks with branches that curved up and up into the sky, underneath a canopy of thick leaves.

Toby heard footsteps behind him. He jumped up, grabbed hard, pulled himself higher.

“Hey! Where did you go?”

For some reason, Toby found a perfect foothold everywhere he put his toes, a convenient place to grab wherever he reached. It was like the tree was designed to be climbed, only nobody had ever climbed it. The bark didn’t scratch or itch, there were no ants crawling around it. And the branches seemed endless. With his light frame, Toby could go higher and higher and not be afraid of falling.

“Come out, Toby, you little creep!”

Those voices now seemed faint and far away. Toby was not completely concealed behind the leaves. He peered through and saw the boys searching the park. He sniggered. Idiots.

“He’s rabbited,” one of them said. “Come on. Let’s go.”

“Yeah, and wait for his mommies to come looking for him!” Their laughter echoed, but Toby felt very, very far from it all.

The boys left, and soon the park was empty.

Toby tilted his face upwards. Perhaps he could go higher still…

He inched his way up a long branch, like a worm, and found another fork in the branches. He straddled it, like on the back of a horse. It felt a little tight and uncomfortable. Toby shifted position—there, much better.

Legs trembling, he started to stand, pushing his little head between the leaves and breathing in their fresh scent…

The wind rushed past his face, and Toby blinked in the sunlight.

He had climbed all the way to the top of the tree, and around him the park, and the road beyond that, and the houses beyond that still, were laid out below him like on a map.

Toby leaned back on a branch, a branch that was there right where he needed it. He stood very still and watched the world continue on around him while he remained there, in branches that felt as strangely safe and familiar as either of his mothers’ own arms.

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Week 1: A Ruby in the Desert

A tale for the first week of Advent, said to represent stones.

One thousand years ago, or maybe more, there was a powerful king who ruled over a large and wealthy land.

They had built it around an oasis in the desert, and despite their barren surroundings flourished and prospered.

And wise men and rulers from all over would stop by to trade and see the sights of this glorious city, a ruby in the desert, perhaps even catch a glimpse of the mighty monarch.

And rarer still was a glimpse of his queen, the most beautiful woman of her time, for she was like a lovely flower he zealously guarded away from other eyes, another possession that belonged to only him.

But though the people lived well, they lived in fear. For the king had a quick temper, an iron fist, and a very great pride.

He was selfish and greedy, and walked with his head held high, knowing that none would dare to challenge his rule.

And as he walked through the marketplace, accompanied by royal guards and attendants of all kinds, the crowds parted before him like waves under the hull of a ship.

In the marketplace the king passed by a mining cart, laden with all sorts of precious gems and jewels that had been found deep in the caverns of mountains miles away. And on top of a heap of stones, one gem caught his eye. It was a ruby, almost flawless; big as a man’s fist.

Its gleam was reflected in his eyes as he plucked the ruby from the top of the pile and held it up to the light, and claimed it as his own.

No one objected.

The king brought it home and instantly locked the jewel away in his treasury. Then he left to plan his next great project.

His architects and artisans proposed a grant monument for him; a vast statue, a likeness of himself in sandstone, laden with precious gems. It would be the greatest creation in history, they promised, and it would rise behind the palace and last for ages to come, and the king’s children and his children’s children would stand in its shadow and marvel at the sight, and kings and queens of other lands would tremble to look at its glory.

The king loved the sound of it. And so the building took place.

Many months went by before the statue was finished. Under the mighty stone limbs, men slaved away in the heat of the sun to bring the figure to life.

At long last, it was finished. Diamonds adorned the statues’ neck, and precious garnets on its fingers. And the king’s prize, the red ruby, shone from high on the statue’s crown. Its face, exactly like the king’s, gazed down with pride and power and ferocity, a cold sneer, upon his subjects.

And that king looked up into the stone face that was his own and smiled, and thought that now, he was immortal.

And he went home, and the sun set and the moon rose over the statue for years.

But things change.

War came to the city, one invader after the other, all seeking to take their riches, seeking vengeance for the lands they had conquered, and the king sent his armies to fight them off, blood spilling on the desert sand. But little by little, his grand city went into ruin. The people began to despair. And soon they began to starve.

The king’s wife grew tired of him and his cruel ways, and gave her heart to one of their enemies, the monarch of a city not very far away. He would not lock her away from people or keep her from going where she liked.

Eventually she ran away to him, and in his anger her husband declared war on her lover, and their last great battle caused both cities to fall into destruction.

Finally, their enemies brought the great statue toppling to the ground. The ruby fell off and sank deep into the desert sand.

In the end the once proud king died, ill and alone, on the banks of the single river that flowed through the desert. His people left the ruined kingdom and scattered, seeking refuge in other lands.

In the years since then, time wore away any other trace of the city. The oasis dried up, and desert storms wrecked the buildings. The statue was lost beneath the sands for ages.

Travelers, on camels, passed through the barrenness that was once the great kingdom. Fighter planes buzzed overhead at great speed, terrifying marvels that the city never lived to see.

For thousands of years it remained forgotten until a convoy of three little jeeps puttered into the desert.

A team of archeologists jumped out, and began to excavate the place where the city used to be, seeking information and forgotten riches.

They found old artifacts, jewelry, tools. They managed to uncover the face of the fallen statue. And one man dug up the ruby.

It was chipped and scratched now, and had a dull sheen to it. Try as he might to polish it, it couldn’t shine the way it did back in ancient times, but there was no way for the archeologist to know that. The ruby would never return to its previous, glorious state, but he thought it was good enough.

He passed by the statue’s excavated face, taking the ruby away from under the king’s very eyes. And the king, only a memory, only the slightest hint of a shadow of likeness on the stone surface, was not there to stop him.

And he wrapped it up and brought it home, far away to a museum in a city with more great buildings and people and majestic sights, from young lovers on benches to musicians playing guitar under streetlamps, than the king could ever imagine.

The smaller pieces of the once great empire found their way into galleries and collections all over the globe, but the king’s mighty statue remained where it was, and continued to crumble into dust.

And for ages to come, it lies beneath the sands, an unseen reminder of a forgotten story.

Inspired by ‘Ozymandias’ by Percy Bysshe Shelley.

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Little Legolas Inks

This is how I cope after watching The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies.

Once upon a time (like hundreds of years ago) Legolas was a little elf who (probably) went to elf school.

The pets in Mirkwood

‘Young lady, you are getting on that boat!’

Fire and death

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Animated Trailer Review #2: Inside Out and Sabine’s Life in Relation to Pixar

Pixar Studios, which was founded in 1995, has always had a way of releasing films that can’t be more timely for certain stages of my life. At an age where I was discovering creativity, I had A Bug’s Life. At an age where I began to have a desire to see the world and explore, I had Finding Nemo. When I was fourteen and deciding what I wanted to be, Ratatouille guided me through the process of following one’s dream. When I went through a ‘green’ phase and was obsessed with looking after the environment, there was WALL-E.

With similar timeliness, Up came out during the last few months of my maternal grandmother’s life and during a time when mine and my sister’s school was moving locations. It reminded us of how life was really an adventure because of the way it keeps changing. Toy Story 3 came out at a point in my life when everybody was telling me I was growing up and therefore had to leave my childhood behind. And with ‘adulthood’ came a whole lot more responsibility, but the thrilling prospect of being in control of your own life– very much the struggle of our favorite redheaded princess in Brave.

And then, at an age where the pressure of going to college started to loom over me and my friends, we had Monster’s University. This is reassuring on multiple levels, because even if Mike and Sulley ended up getting kicked out of university, the film ended on a really hopeful note– and as we all know from the first film, they end up becoming really successful.

That’s why, at an age when you try to justify and rationalize everything that goes on in your head with limited understanding of your own self as an individual, I am very excited for the release of Pixar’s newest film, Inside Out.

This movie is about the emotions living inside each member of a small family, with emphasis on the only child, who’s probably about puberty-age. Each emotion is represented by a different character. The trailer gives the audience a good look at how they function:

In the comments section of this video on YouTube I wasn’t surprised to see a lot of people bashing it for supposedly playing to gender stereotypes. I just want to see the whole thing for real and decide then. If anything, the writers have definitely got this little girl’s reactions down in a way I can totally relate to. The emotions within her head have no obvious reason for behaving the way they do, which is often the case with teenagers. And I was laughing the whole time and thinking ‘Oh my gosh. That is just right.‘ It looks like a whole lot of fun, especially since we get to see how the minds of the parents work as well, in contrast to their daughter. The sneak peek establishes pretty quickly that nobody is spared– we’re immediately shown the flaws in everyone’s character, and it’s all hilarious.

Inside Out will be released in 2015, in which case I might actually be watching this film from Down Under!

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Animated Trailer Review #1: Le Petit Prince

This week I’m reviewing two more new trailers that have caught my eye and my fancy. Both of them are for upcoming animated movies. The first one immediately got my attention from the familiar title alone. It’s based on a classic French book that you really should know.

I got a good feeling from this film adaptation of ‘The Little Prince’. Was it the animation? Yeah. Definitely the animation. This film uses two different styles, and the effect is really cool. It really distinguishes between the two stories; that of the little girl (Amelie Jr. haha) and the old man (who weren’t even characters in the book, so why are they here? Idk. Just roll with it, cherie) and that of the titular Prince and the stranded aviator. Like why don’t more people do this in mainstream animation? Both styles are lush and beautiful, and the overall mood of the film is gentle and childlike. Yes, I got that feel even though it’s in French and I only understood like 5% of it. But I remember The Little Prince being a great, poignant book, and as with all movie adaptations I hope the film will be the same.

Meanwhile, Pixar is releasing their movie Inside Out. It’s about–get this–the emotions that rule someone’s mind and decide their actions. I’m going to review that in a separate post, under another context. Hit the link to read how Pixar films have related uncannily to my life.

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