Sunday, July 27, 2014

Some memories of AmeriCorps and very stormy nights

I'm driving, driving, the sky is dark with clouds, lit with lightening, and the night is alive with memories, remembering another dark and stormy night.

Imagine driving down the interstate, it being raised on a slight embankment, and instead of seeing earth all around, covered with crops as it would normally be, there is only water, with here and there the tops of trees or lonely buildings poking above it.

We were told of another emergency shelter that we could stay in that night, only, as we get near to where our exit is, there's still water on both sides of the road, and as far as we can tell the whole town is under water. So we drive on into the gathering night, yet another storm comes, blessing the earth with water it does not need. Lightening flashes and all we can see around us is water, water everywhere. A few times as we've been traveling, there have been places where water has made it up to the embankment upon which the interstate is built and we slowly, cautiously creep across it (thankfully oftentimes there is a car in front of us so we can see that you are able to cross safely). The lightening flashes yet again and to left, over the fields of water, it appears a funnel cloud is forming. Thankfully it doesn't touch down, but it spooked us even more in an already stressful situation.

I think this is the night we decide to stay at a hotel, somewhere on higher ground, where we feel safe from the lurking horrors of the night.

Another day, another drive. We are making a delivery of blankets for the Red Cross over the Illinois border. The National Guard is in the process of rescuing and evacuating a flooded town and as it has been most days for a few weeks, it is rainy.

We drive around “Road Closed” signs and, again, drive over some small rivers of water. At one point our road is circling around a large hill and when we look down in the valley, where you would normally see cows or horses grazing, we see not one but two large barges towing other barges, lazily chugging around the valley in order to escape the raging Mississippi which refuses to stay in its banks.

Another night, another storm. We are sleeping in the tiny town hall of a tiny town. The building serves as post office, school, community center, as well as town hall.

We are awakened from sleep because the National Guard, whom we have been helping to build a wall around the the town, is pulling out because the sky is falling again and they think this is a losing battle. While we have rested the Guards we have worked with have been replaced with others, who did not know our vehicles have been left on higher ground and that we need a ride. New orders are issued, new logistics figured out and, after saying a few hurried goodbyes to the townspeople who still refuse to leave, we climb aboard to sit in back of a military transport which is designed to hold 30 instead of I and my 2 companions (our leader is up front guiding the Guard to the small church where we parked, where we hope the water hasn't reached).

The canvas in back is left open and, because these vehicles are so big, they not only go on roads which have a few shallow rivers flowing over them, but plow over roads that are completely submerged. So our view from the back is sometimes more eerie than ever, the whole world is made of water, even that upon which we travel, with here and there a tree or the top of a building poking up.

In 2010-2011 I was a part of the Americorps Saint Louis Emergency Response Team and I and 3 others where a part of responding to the Southern Missouri Floods where we help the National Guard fill sandbags, helped the Red Cross however they needed us, and assisted a town in coordinating their volunteer efforts. It was a surreal time but I met some amazing people and worked with some amazing people.

Oh, and the residents who refused to leave where able to keep their town hall from flooding. The Guard had built a wall around the entire town, but the water breached it. But, their hall was the heart of the town and in their saving it the residents saved their hearts and many of them returned after the waters had receded (though, depending on who you talk to, that may or may not have been unwise).  

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Conqueror of Monsters

The idea of this first began when I saw the picture you will see if you follow the link at the bottom of the post. Well, I suppose it goes back further to when I did a storytime at the library about “friendly monsters” but the picture brought the idea above my subconscious. The picture then caused me to think of Frankenstein's monster and how he became a creature of terror, for he didn't begin that way. Then, after the idea was underway, someone called MicroSFF who I follow on Twitter had this post:

"Are you a monster hunter?"
I look up from honing my spear and nod.
"You kill them?"
How to explain not all monsters are bad? "Yeah," I say.

After that, I decided I should take the idea and run with it. Maybe someday I will turn it into an actual story and not simply what it currently is. Without further ado:

They call me the Conqueror of Monsters, they think I break their wills, subdue them to my wishes but really all I do is talk and, more importantly, listen. I speak softly, calmly, and bring gifts. Nothing fancy, just things I know the “monsters” need. Yeah, the villagers bring “sacrifices” but they often run the other way screaming after they drop the present off. Not exactly an endearing behavior.

I first go amongst the villagers without letting them know who I really am, as if I'm just passing through and I begin to silently recruit. Though all I recruit are brave, they may not be whom you would expect. I get the soft spoken ones, the ones who when they were a child mended broken wings and the broken souls of those who others had given up on long ago. I get the ones who don't shy away from the pain and suffering of those around them but instead steadfastly attend the wounds that are both inside and out.

The idea of sending virgins has some merit behind it for, ideally, a virgin still possesses innocence and with innocence there is sometimes a willingness to love and care despite outward appearances. But, most of the time the villagers expect the virgin to be eaten and they beat this idea into the poor girl's head so she screams and screams into the monster's face until monster is reminded of all the reasons why they hate they often end up killing her or leaving her for other beasts to happen upon. It is a sort of self-fulfilling prophesy. Every once in awhile their innocence wins over their misguided ignorance which the villagers have put in place and when the “monster” comes slowly and cautiously towards her she realizes that perhaps it doesn't want to harm her and she succeeds in taming the “monster” and, thus, the idea of offering of a virgin is reinforced. Or sometimes the monster is so disgusted by the screaming child and the idea which put them there that they move on. But again, often the wolves or bears eat the poor thing so the villagers think it was the virgin that appeased the beast and made it go away.

This type of success is actually what started me along my present tract (the taming, not the leaving). I used to be the typical old-fashioned monster killer and was quite good at it, traveled far and wide, but in my travels I began hearing of these tamings. So I started interviewing the successful virgins and was surprised when the first few asked if I also wanted to interview the monsters as well.

I began to find out that there was something all of these monsters had in common, they had all been desperately lonely and their deepest longing wasn't for blood or pillage but for companionship. They had become monsters because throughout their lives they had been repeatedly spurred and rejected by humanity. When they were young they would often try and save humans from drowning or wolves or some other predicament but instead of thanks they saw fear and sometimes disgust.

I'm sure you remember the story, how Frankenstein's monster saved the little girl, when she realized what had saved her, she just screamed and screamed; then Frankenstein's monster realized just how alone he was, how despised he was, so he began to despise.

Basically the thing all monsters have in common is that they are truly unique, either one of a king begotten of mad scientists or mislead magicians or, as in the case of the dragons, endangered species. Most of the time they are very aware of their appearances, perceive themselves as scary, so they are shy and keep to the shadows. Well, though I can say truthfully that some are quite beautiful once you get to know them, they are often quite intimidating and impressive so when most people happen to notice them “lurking in the shadows” they're quite startled which leads to fear, which reinforces the monsters whole idea about themselves.
So over time the monsters, in their loneliness and rejection, become bitter and finally hateful. In other words, they become a monster, they didn't start out as one.

Can you guess why I recruit the villagers I do? Because how I deal with monsters, how I defeat them, is to become their friend and then help some of the villagers to do likewise.

Yeah, it's more tedious and time-consuming than chopping their head off but it's more challenging and I never really liked killing anyway.