It started a while back, I really couldn't tell you exactly when. I remember it began when I still looked like a little kid, before all the growing. That time I wandered off during the parade, when you couldn't find me and I showed up at the door claiming I just got lost… that wasn't the whole truth. When you went to the restroom I noticed a woman wheeling around this strange looking man. He waved at me and, I know I shouldn't have, but I followed him and the lady as they strolled away from the parade. They live in a house at the very edge of the city, if anyone ever bothered looking around they might find it, but of course no one ever does. He seemed pleasantly surprised to see me and the lady even more so. When I asked about his hair he laughed, but not in a mean way, but in a way that seemed… nice. He said he was old, probably the oldest man in the whole world. He couldn't explain how he'd gotten that way though, he said that no one in this city would never be able to listen long enough for an explanation to make any sense. That's why he lived away from them, to keep himself from having to defend himself to people who can't deal with anything they don't understand. You should have seen the smile on his face when I told him that I would listen as long as it took him to explain. I don't know how long I sat listening but I eventually drifted off and woke up at our house. I didn't know how to tell you so I just lied and for that I'm sorry.
That wasn't the last time I visited the house though, the old man's explanation was more of a story and he had so much more left to tell. School always taught me the same thing, the same math, the same science, the same books the same everything! And that stupid line about our city's motto, secure and immutable?! What the hell kind of motto is that? But what if it hadn't always been that way? What if there was a time when things were different, when things were better. The old man told me about a Book that only this guy called Destiny could read, a Book that contained every wonderful thing you could imagine. Another guy called Time made sure that those wonderful things made it out of the Book and into our lives. Imagine the sun moving across the sky! Imagine water falling from above or plants popping out of the ground, or people like me, people who get taller and stronger! That's the way the world used to be… But not anymore. It was only after going to that house a couple times that I noticed I wasn't all that small anymore, doors didn't seem so big and I was suddenly taller than all my friends. And you know the rest of that story.
I don't blame you for everything, I know this was just as new for you as it was for me, but I wish you could have seen things from my perspective for once. All the kids at school called me a freak, my old friends were to small and childish to play with and the other kids like me could only see me as child. Breaking Stephen's arm was a mistake, and I know that I came across pretty psychotic trying to explain it, but if you'd just listened to me before then maybe I wouldn't have exploded like that! I was alone, teachers couldn't put up with me, the school had no idea what class to put me in so I studied in the hallway, all our neighbors avoided me and all the people on the street stared at me, and you… You were supposed to be the one person I could talk to and… Well you let me down. What was it you called me? An uneven burden? That hurt… a lot. I get that I haven't made things easy on you, and you constantly complaining about how unfair your life is didn't exactly help. So, I broke those windows for a reason, smashed those doors in because I had to, I needed something else to change, because you never would! You think you were miserable? Dealing with your angry little girl while everyone pitied the poor single father raising a freakish hellion, at least they cared about you! I was always the problem and everyone made damn sure I knew it…
The only person who listened was the old man and the lady. They sat down with me and held me while I cried, you know, kind of what a father should do. But I suppose you set me straight on that one… I found out the lady was a nurse and she offered to guide me through the changes that were going on, though there was no stopping them from happening. Apparently, I was aging, something that the old man said used to happen to people all the time. I asked about you, asked the old man why you hadn't aged, but he said you had, everyone in the city had, but they all forgot.
And doesn't that just sum it up perfectly? You all forgot! You're so focused on what you're supposed to be doing that you forgot to actually be real people! You told me that it might just be some people's destiny to be miserable, that some folk are just beyond helping and I just need to learn to accept it… WHO THE HELL SAYS THAT TO A CHILD?! The old man and the nurse told me stories about Time and his children, how much he cared for them and how much he sacrificed for them. It helped me realize that you're a pretty crappy dad, and that maybe I'm not the problem. If it's my destiny to make you miserable then I might as well just leave and screw the whole system. You don't deserve a daughter and you never deserved a wife… But you'll like the next bit of the story, it sounds an awful lot like you…
You see, Time and Destiny stopped getting along when Time screwed up and left his post. Destiny hasn't talked to him since. Can you imagine being so stubborn that you can't accept that people screw up, that sometimes people aren't always perfect? Writing someone off just because of a few mistakes? But why am I telling this to you, you're just the poor martyr with a child in need of your charity. And you know what happened? Without Destiny to watch over him Time made an even bigger mistake and ended up nearly dying. Do you even know what Death is? It's when a thing is made so broken that it can't be itself anymore, sound familiar? Apparently, Time was the reason we were all aging and why the sun moved and why trees grew, and when he got hurt all of that stuff just stopped. But if it happened once then I'm sure it can happen again. The old man told me that Destiny is still out there somewhere and that he can make things right.
And that brings us to why I'm leaving… it might all just be a story, there may be no point in going to find Destiny… But I can't live here anymore knowing that out there things could be better. You know what's funny? I'm actually going to miss you, but I have to go, there's nothing left for me here anyway…
Chapter 1 Scientists once performed an experiment, just an innocuous little test on ants that seemed to be of very little importance to everyone, including the scientists themselves. Ants tend to search for food, bring it back to the colony and then repeat the process over again, but why? Well if they didn't they'd die right? That's where the scientists came in. They provided enough food each day for the ants to survive just fine with no need to go out and forage for their own food. But, just in case the ants decided to forage anyway, the scientists switched out the food the ants would be looking for with plastic replicants. They then observed the ants leave the nest each morning, trek long distances to areas where they'd found food before, discover the plastic food that the scientists left for them, pick it up and return it to the rest of the colony. Naturally when they got back to the nest they found themselves unable to eat the plastic food so they ate the real food the scientists placed in the nests for them. Now any rational person might have figured out that, since there always seemed to be food lying around the nest, going out to get food would be pointless, but that's the thing about ants, they're not rational! They are incapable of looking at their situation and realizing that, just because they've always done things a certain way, doesn't mean that that's the only or even the best way to live their lives.
The city Jennifer is leaving boasts an uncanny similarity to these ants. Within the city change had slowed to the point of total unimportance. Immortals with bodies that never require food, water, shelter or the vacating of bowels strolled around the city going about the play of life that served no purpose but familiarity. Why would a person ever go to work if the money they receive is going to be used on food that's unneeded and to pay off a house that'd been paid off years ago? Why do children go to school to learn lessons they've already learned hundreds of times over? The answer is a pretty simple one, they forgot. Like the ants the people had become so indoctrinated into the lives they lived that old memories seem to be stripped of everything but the how and when, and the who and why faded into obscurity. It would have been pointless to ask one of these city folk why they did what they did, because they'd simply stare at you funny as they explained slowly (as you must obviously be thick) how it is they accomplish their tasks. Over time muscle memory had overtaken them, and their minds, confused as to the situation, figured the muscles must have it right and acted accordingly. So the city lived on in stagnant monotony, no one ever questioning, no one ever wondering if things may be off, but all blissfully playing out the roles they'd been given, like characters in a book.
Jennifer had experienced this frustrating experience on multiple occasions, being that she had done the unthinkable and actually managed to change. The most awkward part about growing up in a town where growing up is not a thing that one does is the consistent lack of clothing tailored for someone whose size may not be the same in one moment as it is in the next. Of course the tailors within the city could have made clothes for the unusual child in exchange for the money her father worked for each week, but both the tailors and the father refused to do so; if the child was going to inconvenience everyone by growing then she should be the one to deal with the consequences that came with it. Which is exactly what Jennifer did. At first she wore clothes that were much too small for her and revealed clearly to anyone in her presence exactly where she was growing, but the male attention this caused made her father quite irritable and Jennifer returned home one day to find all of her old clothes gone, replaced with one of her dad's jackets and a pair of women's leggings that seemed to belong to an older woman, but who that woman was Jennifer couldn't have much cared. Shoes proved a problem though as the local cobbler only sold shoes of specific sizes to specific people and Jennifer's feet were quite a bit larger than the records he had on file. Not to be defeated though, Jennifer decided that walking barefoot was a perfectly pleasant form of getting around and smiled smugly as people watched her strut across the cracked streets with nothing separating the stones from her feet. It wasn't until a talk with Rachel, the old man's nurse, that Jennifer was gifted a pair of boots that, while not perfect, certainly fit enough to beat out the blisters the alternative produced.
It was these boots, those leggings and that jacket that adorned Jennifer as she walked calmly through the streets of her enemy occupied city. Even forgetting her odd habit of aging Jennifer was still very much considered an odd girl and her mismatched clothes did nothing to help that persona. Jennifer was not an especially tall girl and her already short legs looked even shorter with her father's massive jacket covering up a third of them. The jacket itself was quite a nice one if you happened to be a fairly large man; it had fluffy white fur on the collar, and the ends of the sleeves revealed a bit of the soft vertically striped insides. The insides, a warm maroon color, contrasted nicely with the dark tanned outer layer. Two large pockets adorned the sides near the bottom and, on Jennifer, they rested just slightly below her waist. Jennifer's favorite thing, and really the only thing about it Jennifer liked, was a little pocket on the front left side as it was the only aesthetically pleasing aspect of the jacket she'd found. Along with the jacket she wore the black leggings she'd found mysteriously topping her bed one morning, they fit nicely, and the black went well with her hair since they were almost the exact same color. Her hair was always a point of contention with her, she never knew how to style it so one day, in a fit of frustration, she gave up the whole ordeal altogether and let her hair fall where it may. Lucky for her, her hair wasn't all that long, and the small amount of brushing she did each morning to ensure it wasn't sticking straight up left her hair laying fuzzed out slightly along the sides of her face with the ends reaching halfway down her neck. Her bangs were always poorly trimmed and occasionally covered her eyes when she tried to run causing her to trip, cursing her hair the whole way down. She'd cut them but, as the folks in town so often pointed out, she'd look odd either way so she figured, 'why bother caring if it won't make a difference'? So her bangs remained long and unkempt and her face stayed partially hidden from a world that quite preferred it that way. Her nose which was a bit bumpy and, in her opinion, a bit too large was one facet of her face that most people thought was cute, but the nurse was the only person who'd ever said it, and Jennifer just wrote that off as her being nice. There's a feeling you may get when finally leaving a place very much like hell, or a person very much like Satan, or an event very much like the end of days, and that feeling, for whatever reason, isn't joy or relief, but instead comes out more like nostalgia. Jennifer pinched her arm as she walked and chewed viciously on the inside of her cheek every time that nostalgic feeling reared its rose-colored head. She refused to miss them. She would be happy or die trying. But the eternal sunset that rested over the gothic architecture imprinted a memory of something with unmatchable beauty and splendor, and it was this feeling that Jennifer had initially been drawn to and it was this beauty she now had to leave behind. She swore under her breath as she instinctively turned toward her scenic route, she knew she needed to leave sooner rather than later but that nostalgic parasite clung rigidly to her heart. Off to the east of the city, entirely frozen in time, sat a grove with ten or twelve winding trees stuck in a perpetual autumn that overlooked a small wooden bridge crossing a pond of the clearest water. The trees seemed to form a protective cover over the grove that made it difficult for anyone to find, anyone that is but Jennifer and the thirteen people, men and women, that sat around chatting on the grass while the rest of the city wandered home. Jennifer didn't see them that day and felt a sting of longing that she quickly squashed with a quick slap to the face. The grove people weren't really all that special, they seemed just like everyone else outside of the grove, but, in the grove, they looked happy… like they belonged. Jennifer once asked them why they chose to hang out there all the time and they all just shrugged, they, like everyone else, had simply forgotten.
The question, "why?" is a good one, one Jennifer asked frequently, as she weaved through the city's diverse architecture her mind began to wander… She wondered how the houses must feel being built for the sole purpose of protecting people from the elements yet they constantly must listen to people insisting that we should all spend more time outside; it does seem a tad bit insensitive. She considered bicyclists and those that refused to bike, why is there a distinction between the two? Jennifer figured that, if the bike was in fact the superior method of travel, then anyone not riding one would certainly be either ignorant or stubborn, but if the bikes were in fact useless then riding them is a painful task only a fool would undertake. The few instances Jennifer had pointed this out to bikers she'd come across had been less than fruitful, they merely sneered as if she'd insulted them, but that was a common theme for the girl in the puffy jacket, she wanted answers but she only ever got resentment.
The biggest question of all was one Jennifer asked her dad nearly every day for as long as she could remember and it all revolved around the tower looming silently in the center of the city. She caught herself looking toward the tower every chance she got, always curious as to why no one had claimed the spot on the tippity top to sit and watch over the city. Why even have a tower in the first place if no one's going to sit at the top? The few times Jennifer had tried to sneak up and claim the spot for herself she was promptly discovered and returned to her frustrated father who refused to see the flawless logic in her theory on towers and their need to be sat on. She figured, if houses are offended when people speak of how fantastic being outdoors is, then the poor tower must be in constant distress watching people so content with remaining at ground level. The only potentially valid alternative view Jennifer had ever heard on the tower's purpose came from the kind nurse who claimed that sometimes a thing exists as art, to be admired, to inspire, and to remind people of the possibilities life has to offer. Jennifer had considered this theory but eventually threw it out as, clearly, the tower hadn't inspired anyone in the city to do anything. Though, having admitted that, Jennifer had to acknowledge that the tower really was something spectacular; the tower emerged from a large square podium designed like a sandy brown Temple supported by stoic Corinthian columns that Jennifer always thought could hold up the sun. Atop the columns rested an embossed pediment that bore the images of figures Jennifer now knew to be Time, Destiny and the Book; Destiny reading and speaking the words of the Book while Time was pictured running to and from the creation that Destiny had revealed, placing everything in its proper place. From that podium, now barren and vacant, rose a mighty prism of shining golden brick stacking toward the heavens and finally reaching a crescendo in the form of a spire that weaved in and out with curved goldenrods forming open hands poised to offer up some priceless gift to an awaiting city. It was in the palm of those hands that Jennifer had wanted to claim her spot. She spent a lot of time looking toward the tower, picturing herself seated at the top, the setting sun off in the distance, the cool air gently brushing against her cheek, and the intolerant unfeeling world so far beneath her as to be rendered unable to ruin such a perfect moment.
Below the hands was an enigma that no one in the city had been able to decipher; each of the tower's four sides bore an enormous white circle lined with large black numbers ranging from one to twelve. Within the center of each of the circles three spears shot out toward the number eleven, each spear entirely reposed. No one could say what the symbol meant or why it had been added to the tower, the architect was mysteriously absent and no one could quite say who she had even been or what she had looked like. The symbol only succeeded in making people uncomfortable, producing a similar feeling to the man who, just as he's finally sinking into the sleep he so desperately needs, finds himself unable to remember whether or not he'd locked the door. As far as Jennifer was concerned, the symbol was a challenge, like the tower was daring her to try and figure it out and Jennifer was certain she was up to the task.
She smiled as a familiar black and orange cat brushed up against her leg, purring in mock appreciation of Jennifer's presence when Jennifer knew all she wanted was tummy scratches. It always baffled her the way that people get so emotional around cats, as if the cat choosing their company was some great honor, but Jennifer knew better, cats were a lot like her. If a cat doesn't run when you approach, it means that it trusts you not to harm it, but that doesn't mean it likes you. When a cat approaches you it means that the cat desires something from you, whether that's belly rubs or butt scratches it hardly matters, the point is the cat is certainly not doing it out of love for you, merely love of your services. Jennifer found something honest in that, something relatable and comforting. As far as she was concerned she had no qualities inherently bestowed upon her that would make anyone want to have anything to do with her, but to imagine a world in which people would come to her because of her achievements, well that seemed perfect. She stared down at the cat and fulfilled her request, five or so belly scratches and then her friend would disappear into the shadows. The first time Jennifer had met this particular cat she had been rifling through her garbage, an action that most cats did for no reason Jennifer could fathom. Usually her dad chased them off in a dance that felt like it'd been going on for as long as cats and humans existed, but this time Jennifer beat him out the door and to the garbage where she was entranced with the combination of colors on this cat. She'd seen many orange cats and many black cats, but the combination of the two felt refreshing, unique, relatable. She named the cat, Cat, because she'd declared her the cat above all cats, the cat from whom all cats derive their names and their glory. This honorable title seemed to do little to impress the cat and she ran off as most cats did. But Jennifer saw Cat again and again, she just seemed to show up whenever Jennifer was feeling lonely and afraid, not as an agent of comfort, but one of need. She would barter her presence in return for Jennifer's belly scratches, a trade both parties found agreeable.
Jennifer offered Cat her five belly scratches and, before leaving as usual, Cat's eyes lingered momentarily toward the horizon and, as if Cat was debating her next move, she raised a timid paw toward the sunset, held it there a moment and then spun around and bolted back into the shadows. "Wuss," Jennifer mumbled.
The time for musing and catching up with old friends was quickly coming to a close though, Jennifer knew that at this point it was stalling for the sake of stalling and the adrenaline that had finally given her the courage to leave was quickly running low. The time for memories had ended, it was time for action. The edge of the city faced a surrounding of barren soil and withered trees covered in thick layers of snow; few people had ever looked out into the cold unknown land, but all who did had run home promising to better appreciate the warm city they had. Shivers ran up and down Jennifer's spine as she shakily inched closer toward the edge of the city, a few tears began to run down her face. The snow did not appear pure and white, descending gently from the heavens, but swirled angrily, lit only by the twilight sun and, upon hitting the ground, took on a grayish hue that resembled ash more so than snow. Somehow the landscape managed to resemble the fiery pits of hell and the frozen abyss of Tartarus simultaneously. The sun set the ashy snow ablaze giving all observers the chilling feeling that they were watching the world burn around them. The blizzard raged and the frozen trees reached out of the ground like buried men struggling to rise to the surface and escape their icy tomb.
Jennifer willingly stepped off that last stretch of road and into the hell that awaited on the other side. The change occured mercilessly. Jennifer figured that the air was attempting to kill her as it beat against her small frame and viciously assaulted every bit of exposed skin. The icy sting quickly encouraged Jennifer to shove her hands and face deep into her jacket. Within the city the air was always still, never blowing save for the slightest breeze and so all those within had merely assumed that was the way air behaved, Jennifer was the first to remember that wasn't quite the case.
Fighting every urge to turn on her heels and bolt back into the safety of the frozen city, Jennifer rammed her foot deeper into the snow. She couldn't turn back, no, nothing behind her would ever hold power over her again. All the children that laughed in her face, the adults who judged her every step and her father who watched it all silently. She would not return from this hell to the one she'd fled, so long as they refused to change they would remain stagnant without her. So, with bellowing war cries, she dramatically overemphasized each step angrily cursing the wind for its betrayal.
"I thought we were friends you traitorous bastard! Why don't you calm the hell down, act like a man and help a girl out?! By the way, the fact that you're trying this hard and can't even scare off one little girl just shows how pathetic your little temper tantrum is!" The shouting helped and Jennifer soon found herself laughing at how absurd it was to berate the wind, but it made her smile so she kept going even after her lungs burned and her voice grew hoarse. Now strutting across the deep snow, Jennifer looked toward the sunset and shouted,
"I'm coming after you Destiny! You'd better have a damn good explanation ready when I find you!" Most people would've stopped at some point or another and questioned which direction they were headed and weighed out the pros and cons of each direction; the direction of the wind, the sun hitting your back instead of your face would be nice. Jennifer had decided against such time-wasting activities and strutted straight toward the setting sun fighting the oncoming air with each step, and, oddly enough, this is the only reason there's a story to tell here.