Sunday, 22 May 2011

Weekend Workshop: Sierra Forlorn


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“We’re here in Sierra Leone, a place torn by civil unrest and violence. Located in western Africa, control of the government is currently being disputed between the Revolutionary United Front and the Momoh government. Already, thousands have been killed over control of alluvial diamonds and the RUF has taken over much of the eastern and southern parts of the county in their campaign of blood. I’m standing with my friend Abubakarr in a small town in the Kono District, which is in the Eastern Province of Sierra Leone. Tell us what has happened to your town.”

“Yes. Terrible things happen.” The African man spoke in broken English, as he began to tell the tale of his broken town. “Men come from other country, they come here to murder and steal. We have nowhere to go. Soon they will come here too and take everything from us.”

“That’s terrible.” I said, making sure the camera got a close-up of the emotion in his eyes. The networks loved that.

“White men are not safe here, they will kill you for being here.” He went on, looking around desperately for any sign of the men he was referring to.

“We know that, and we’ll be leaving soon, but we had to make sure your story was told.” I assured him. He nodded and stared off into the distance. I put my hand on his shoulder and continued my report.

“This is the fear that the RUF has instilled in local population of this once peaceful town. Many African countries are plagued with what is widely referred to as the ‘resource curse’. Countries, rich in diamonds, are often burdened by the corruption of their leaders who use the resources to further their own agen-“

Before I could finish the sentence, gunfire erupted from somewhere on the eastern side of town. Abubakarr began shouting in his native language to one of the villagers as he ran by us, who shouted back and continued on his way.

“What’s happening?” I asked, looking from my shrugging crew to Abubakarr for an answer.

“They are here!” he shouted and began running with blinding speed into the thick jungle in the opposite direction.

Screams began to fill the village, and my crew took it as their cue to move and began hastily packing their equipment so we could get the hell out of there. I completely agreed with them.

“Come on, just throw it all in and go.” I urged them as men in uniform began to appear in the village, beating or shooting anyone who got in their way.

“They blocked the road.” Our driver announced from the front seat of the van. “We’ll have to hoof it.”

“We can’t lose the tape, this footage is too valuable!” I protested.

“Our lives are more valuable!” he shot back as he exited the vehicle and began to run into the thick jungle with the fleeing villagers. The remainder of my crew looked back at me impatiently for further instruction... shooting glances longingly at their fleeing companion.

“Follow him,” I ordered. “I’ll be right behind you.”

Without hesitating, they began to run – not daring to look behind them as the rebels advanced towards the edge of the village. I jumped into the back of the van, located the camera and pulled the tape from it. Then, just before I decided to make my run for it, I stopped… realizing that this could be my chance to really capture the true violence of this civil war and convince people that something had to be done about it. So I grabbed the camera and locked the van, pressing it against the tinted window to get a good view of the action taking place.

To my shock and horror, the men invading the village weren’t men at all, but children. I watched as they marched through the village, holding weapons and wearing clothes that barely fit them, beating and shooting people who were old enough to be their parents. It was heart-wrenching. I never would have thought that children who could barely hold the weapons they carried were capable of the violence I witnessed.

These weren’t children… not anymore. They had been turned into the monsters at the hands of a corrupt military that sought to further its own selfish agenda above anything else. They mimicked the acts of violence the RUF had imprinted on their susceptible minds ruthlessly, and without mercy – torching houses, beating men with pipes, and the older ones even raping women two or three times their age. They had been stripped of their innocence and turned into cold-hearted machines; tools of the RUF. I had come to this county for a shock story that would boost my career as a war correspondent. What I got, was first-hand experience of just how cruel this world can be.

They eventually found me, and took me hostage. I was forced to travel with them for months until the Sierra Leone Army pushed them back to the Liberian border and I was rescued. During that time, I learned more about human violence and its limitless than I had ever imagined and hoped to be possible. When I had been rescued and made it back home, I was praised for my bravery and offered the promotion I had been hoping for before my capture. But the experience had changed me forever, and from that day forth I became a humanitarian. I never again took for granted the things that most people do every single day and instead began to fight my own war for peace.

Too long have wars been named for the places, times, and ideas for which they took place. I am a soldier in the Human Civil War, and this is my call to battle. We are at war with ourselves, and it’s time for us to pick a side.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Weekend Workshop: Transhuman



“Abandon ship! Abandon all hope! Abandon reality! We murdered God and her cruel humor is our end...”

... the words wake me from my dormant state.

My world is a flashing red light. My vision pulses from dark to light in a pattern and dark shapes drift around the edges like ghosts haunting the corners of my mind. It is cold around me, like dark places in the earth where life refuses to live. I am a being of unknown nature, alive or not I have no way of knowing. Trying to remember how I got into this world hurts me, so I am forced to surrender myself to the sea of confussion flowing around me, making me inceasingly nautious by the second... assuming, that is, that time even exists here.

The ghosts fade from my vision and the blurs begin to define themselves as shapes that seem somehow familiar to me. A blaring noise echoes in my head, warning me of some danger I can’t decipher. I feel myself come back to life and compelled to move. I find myself caught in the middle of a tunnel, which sways back and forth as I will myself to move through it. I shake violently; on the verge of collapse as the tunnel spins like a child shaking a jar that contains an insect he captured. A horrible sense of dread washes over when I realize that I am completely alone.

Tingling sensations surge through me as my world grows and shrinks like I’m nearing the surface of a deep ocean. The shroud around me begins to clear and shapes form. I recognize this place; I’ve walked through it many times. But something’s out of place; I’ve never felt as alien here as I do now.

Something catches my attention. Movement. I freeze in my tracks, conscious of my every breath I take as my eyes dart towards it and I slowly adjust my head to face it. I see a flame flickering in the world beyond my own; out of my reach but within my sight. Jets of flame shoot out into the void from a vast structure that looms before me. It is unfamiliar to me and, inexplicably, it is also the source of my horror.

We murdered God and her cruel humor is our end...

Those words that brought me back to this place repeat in my head suddenly, overwhelming my senses. The beast that lurks beyond these walls taunts me, taking credit for inspiring the author of that message before his demise. My breath begins to fog the transparent surface of the barrier between us, I swear that I can hear its threats as words in my head. I do not know why or how, but I do know that whatever it is is evil, and desires to end me at all costs.

Voices! I must be going mad. I hear them in my head... random, nonsensical. Are they talking to me? I hear rushed words, yells, deafening screams. Where are they? Who do the voices belong to? Questions race through my mind and I race further down the path before me. A light at the end presents itself, bright and welcoming; surely it holds my salvation.

I burst out of the tunnel and into the light, feeling renewed as I enter the realm beyond. This is it; I have been led here for a purpose. Surely everything will be made clear now.

The voices and blaring sound are gone, making the low hum of the room stand out like the growl of an unwelcome animal. This place is death. I realize now that the light wasn’t my salvation as I survey the shells of the dead laid out before me. Their faces are familiar to me and I sense that they are like me, or that we were at some point. But like the familiarities of the world before this one, there is something out of place that I can’t explain, and it fills me with dread.

The urge to touch them is overwhelming, so I reach out with the hand I forgot I owned to find that it is identical to theirs. My fingers quiver and the hairs on my arm begin to stand as I draw closer and closer to the corpse of a young man. At the moment before my skin touches his dead flesh, his eyes burst open like black holes forming after the collapse of a star and I am sucked into the world behind his eyes.

I am engulfed in void. Time and space have ceased to exist, and I have left my body behind. I float for an impossible eternity, with nothing but paradoxial time on my noncorporeal hands. But, as in the world before, I discover the ability to navigate this place – able to move not only through space, but time as well. They exist sorely as concepts in my mind now; I control them here.

I see myself back in the tunnel at a time before the one I awoke in. The dead are alive once more, and I am among them as they go about their daily routines. Then panic strikes and the world is covered in the red light and the warning sound begins again. We awoke the beast that dwelled in the world beyond our own, proded it with our tools, tried to understand it, tried to become it. In the end, we got what we wanted, got what we deserved.

The memories come flooding back in torrents as the words begin to make sense to me now. The beast tempted us with great power, knowing that we would give into our lust and become the makers of our own destruction. Throughout the ages many have dedicated their lives in hopes of answering the single greatest question of their limited existence; what is the meaning of it? Though they were destined to fail, they never gave up the persuit of the answer. The one thing they all overlooked, however, is what would happen if they didn’t like the answer.

The beast offered us the key to unlock the secrets of our own bodies; those forms which would carry us from one plane of existence to another like a vessel accross a vast ocean of life. We accepted graciously, wasting no time in deciding what to add and what to remove. When we had finished and the answer didn’t present itself, we strayed from the path – spitting in the face of God and declaring ourselves the masters of our own evolution. We gave our species a new name, going forth beyond the confines of our limited dimension based in time and space and becoming “transhuman”. A wise man once set that those who do not learn from their mistakes are doomed to repeat them. How naive we were to think that we could play God.

So here we exist, barred from reality as we once knew it for an eternity; a word that’s very definition mocks us with promise of a finite pergatory. I do not know what we became, but we ceased to be children of the God who created us, listening instead to the beast who tempted us with knowledge. Just as it was then, we were punished for out sins – though instead of being cursed to grow old and die, now we are cursed to live on forever in nothingness until the end of the universe. Now I understand the dread I feel; the inability to die.

It’s a cruel irony that our species greatest fear should become our greatest hope – and that which we sought to be our eternal salvation would become our eternal destruction. I wish I could just go back and warn them them all of their impending doom. But I know it would be fruitless; its human nature to question the unknown and to pursue knowledge. It’s in our nature to destroy ourselves.

If thousands of years weren’t long enough to keep us from repeating our very first sin, then I can only pray to the God who we forsook that we will learn our lesson soon while we continue timelessly down the path of our existence... the hell we have chosen as punishment for our final sin.


Monday, 2 May 2011

Weekend Workshop 1st May 2011. “My Own Private Hell”.



My Own Private Hell

The dead of night; if only those who used the phrase truly understood its meaning. If only they could walk these desolate streets like I have; see the sky burn, smell the ash and decay, hear the screams. They pass me by, blissfully unaware of the hell they occupy, the hell that they share for a fraction of a second when their eyes meet mine and they see the demons tearing me apart from the inside. The spires of the Minster - standing watch over the shop-lined streets like ancient protectors – offer no refuge, damning me from the paradise it promises to others.

I wear their skin, their clothes, eat like them, act like them – but I am not one of them. That’s not to say that I am not human – to my knowledge I still am – but they aren’t capable of what I am. They look at me with their probing eyes; judging me, labeling me, and then move on having done more damage than they could ever possibly know in their limited minds. The man who said “ignorance is bliss” didn’t realize the devasation those words would cause.

A cool night wind whispers through my ears, teasing me with just enough temporary pleasure to remind me of the world at stake. I pull the parka over my shoulders closer and brace myself for the path I am about to travel – a path that I’ve walked many times. A path I fear with every fiber of my being.
I take the first step into the cold, paved road. It quivers and sizzles around me like the surface of the sun as I begin my journey through my own personal hell.

I walk down Stonegate of York. People go about their business, stopping in shops, drinking in bars, or just passing through. I feel like crying out to them as they pass. How can they not see what I see? How do they not know?

Shadows shift in the amber light of the lanterns hanging over the street, like burning silhouettes desperate to escape the scorched city. I move into more welcoming light, stopping at the window of a nearby resturaunt. Inside are happy people, enjoying their meals with their friends and loved ones... blissfully unaware of the devastation that will tear them apart.

Then another figure appears inside – a hooded form. As I look closer, I recognize it as my own reflection. I see the haunted look in my eyes - buried in the shadow of the hood over my head - unable to block out the dying world around me.

But wait... it isn’t my reflection - it’s the great shadow: the Invoked. The figure turns black and the eyes burn with flame. I can feel myself being drawn toward it as it beckons to me. It reaches out with its dark hand, inviting me closer. It feels like I’m falling down an impossibly dark hole, waiting to hit a bottom that doesn’t exist. It whispers to me. I don’t understand the words but I know their meaning. It is a warning – a warning of tihngs to come. As it’s deathly hand meets mine the glass cracks and shatters. I jump back suddenly as its horrible screech echoes through the street like a banshee’s wail.

The people inside the resturaunt stare at me, startled by my sudden movement. I walk briskly away to avoid any more stares. I’m near the end of the street now. Paranoia sets in and I can feel the shadows closing in behind me. The amber light intensifies behind me... but I don’t dare look back.

Then, an earth-shattering boom shoots  accross the sky. The shockwave knocks me to the end of the road as a hail of glass shards from the blown-out shop windows fall around me. I shake with fear, unable to resist the urge to look back down the hellish street from whence I came. I shield my eyes as the black clouds of night intensify into a firey yellow-orange. Flame roars through the sky like a match hitting gasoline. I can feel the air being sucked form my lungs and my bones ache as intense pressure pushes down on them from some invisible force. Just before the flame reaches me I see the dark figure standing at its center at a distance I can’t calculate. Is it a man or beast? These questions haunt my memory to their conclusion as I am engulfed in the flames and eaten alive...