Authors: Crystal Mack
By Crystal Mack
Copyright 2013 Apologue Entertainment, LLC
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.
The Pentrals is the first in a series of The Pentrals.
Published 12 Nov 2013 by Apologue Entertainment, LLC
Book Cover Illustrator: Jennifer Korff
Book Editor: Jenny MacBeard
Book Producer: Gary Mack
my bouncing ray of light
* * 1 * *
he sky is on fire. Although the sun will set in a matter of minutes, for now the horizon is ablaze with streaks of orange, yellow, and gold. The darkness of night has already settled in high above, creating a stark juxtaposition to the radiance beneath.
Darkness. I do not welcome it. Regardless of who I am, I would much rather celebrate the colors of the world than completely submit to the dark. It would be easy for me to lose myself in sadness, but I refuse to see the world as a place filled with gloom. I know deep down she feels the same.
I tear my glance away from the sunset to watch Violet, hair as red as the dirt below her feet. She is so still, I can watch without her catching me. Her stare is far away, lost in a tangle of thoughts, perhaps cataloging the palette before us. Violet and I are both artists. Canyon sunsets provide endless inspiration.
Quietly we sit together, the only ones on the cliff. From up here, way above the valley, the world seems so still. I watch as Violet’s long hair dances in the breeze, creating a series of knots for her to tackle later. Finally she stirs, reaching to grab a sweatshirt from her bag to offset the chill in the night air. I do not feel cold, yet I do the same and bend toward the bag. Violet does not mention it, but I think her skin is more sensitive than most. Many of her peers have developed a golden tan after years of living in sunshine but Violet’s pale skin is covered in lovely freckles—a look that sets her apart.
She pulls her knees up to her chin, hugging her arms around her legs. I much prefer stretching out on the sand, but it doesn’t really matter what I think. While her skin shivers in the evening air and bare feet feel the grit of the gravel, I feel nothing. She wiggles her toes to free the granules stuck in-between, a sensation I can only imagine to be irritating. There is much I have to piece together on faith about the scene before us, even while having Violet as a guide.
She stands up to leave, brushing the last bits of sand from her clothes. I want to look back and take in one last look at the sun before it disappears for the night, but it’s too late. Violet is already walking back to her carpod and I have no choice but to follow.
We climb in and Violet taps her home’s coordinates on the curved windshield. From here, the carpod will automatically take us home, traveling safely through the winding roads of the canyon. She slumps back into her seat, eyes watching the outside world. The red rock adopts a darker shade as the moon assumes its post. I take stock of her vehicle’s contents; the usual collection of fast food containers dictates a cramped passenger experience. Still, I do not complain. I can tell from Violet’s distant expression that she has heavier things on her mind. Even if I could say something, causing her additional grief is certainly not my place.
The sky is now black, but at street level, the world is systematically illuminated. I watch as streetlamps bounce bright beams against the reflective scenery as we drive by. Even in the dark of night, it is hard to avoid glancing at the multitude of mirrors displayed in town. Violet’s eyes catch a giant mirrored sculpture at the entrance to her neighborhood. Set in the median, several large panels of glass are perfectly placed, making it impossible for drivers to evade. Her green eyes flit from panel to panel, and once we pass the imposing structure, she lets out a small sigh. It can be distracting, I suppose, but most surfaces in Talline are reflective. Bridges, fences, houses: all made of glass and all polished to a shine. Everything adds to the canyon’s glow. In the brightness of day, the entire city radiates light.
When we pull up to Violet’s house, there are no lights on inside. It is not late, probably only a few minutes past eight, but Mrs. Rayne has gone to bed. Violet is an only child and has always been remarkably self-reliant, but recently her mother’s lack of concern for her daughter has bothered me. Would it be so hard to wait up until she got home or was tucked safely in bed? Turning 17 at the beginning of summer made Violet a legal adult, but her mother was slowly checking out even before that milestone. She rarely keeps up with what Violet is doing and doesn’t bother with basic acts of caring such as cleaning or cooking—hence the fast food containers. Violet does not seem fazed by the dark as we walk inside, but I have to work at masking my frustration. I do my best to echo her nonchalance.
I should feel comfortable in a dark room, but without light I just feel invisible, like I could fade away without anyone noticing. In this unlit house, I could be anywhere and it wouldn’t matter. Being with Violet is my only validation.
Violet flicks on a light and I jump to her side. The glossy surfaces of the kitchen seem to come to life, picking up the single overhead bulb’s gleam and spreading it all over the room. She grabs a bag of chips and heads up the stairs to her room.
, I think. I may not be an expert on food, but years of observation have taught me that just because something is edible does not mean it is beneficial. How many times has Violet eaten excess sugar that caused her body to shake? Or empty calories that made her fade? She flings the bag onto her bed as she passes her bedroom and walks into the bathroom. I linger just outside the doorway as she splashes some water on her face at the sink.
After grabbing a towel, Violet takes a long look in the mirrored wall. I look up at her face, so gentle and loving, and feel thankful to have her in my life. We ended up together by chance, but I can’t help but think it was fate. Not everyone gets to spend her days with someone so full of warmth and creativity, someone who shares so many of the same passions. When I look at Violet’s face, I see a version of myself, and it makes me proud.
Violet furrows her eyebrows, staring intently at the mirror. She carefully runs her hand over her right cheek, her eyes clouded with confusion and hurt. Her fingers trace over invisible lines on her skin; perhaps she is having some sort of allergic reaction that I cannot see. Her hand stops, covering her entire cheek from her view, and before I can try to determine her motive, she quickly flips off the bathroom light and scurries down the hall.
The lights are off in Violet’s room and she is buried under the covers. Something is troubling her mind, it was apparent at the cliff. I want to comfort her, but without knowing what is wrong, I would not know what to say. I decide to stay with her until she falls asleep.
I am forever bound to Violet. Whatever she is feeling, I will eventually figure it out. She may not open up to me, but I can read her thoughts through body language. I have spent many years watching her; it would be impossible not to know her completely.
After all, Violet is my Person, and I am her Shadow.
* * 2 * *
iolet’s breathing slows and I know she has fallen asleep. The next eight hours will provide a respite for what ails her, but for me, nightfall is my least favorite time. A Person’s slumber is the only free time a Shadow is allowed, and even that is limited. Shadows are required to stay with their Persons at all times, ready to replicate their movements and motions, but once you’ve been partnered with someone so long, spending every moment watching and learning her traits, you tend to know when an opportunity will arise. The idea of a break may be thrilling to some, but I seldom stray too far. The consequence of not being near when your Person stirs is far too great.
I slowly turn from Violet and let myself drift around her bedroom. It is so dark no passersby would notice my movement. I float by her closet, bedside table, and finally stop at her desk. The lacquered tabletop echoes the soft glow of her holopane. The light is faint, but the room’s many reflective surfaces make it seem much brighter. Digital text emanates from the computer chip within, currently sending a streaming ticker of news headlines.
Holopanes are everywhere, and range from small, portable models to gigantic screens in downtown Talline. The clear glass screens are used for most communication, from three-dimensional video transmissions to typed passages of text. At least one wall in every room in the city has been fitted with a holopane, allowing all citizens to easily stay in touch and up to date on the latest town developments. The remaining walls are usually mirrored. The sturdy glass makes for less environmental waste and more streamlined usability, while the chips inside allow Persons to track and save their work and conversations, so nothing is ever lost. Still, despite those conveniences, some like to dabble with materials of the past, like paper, when engaging in creative pursuits. Violet is training to be a digital designer, and though it has become harder as she’s grown, she tries to find ways to play with archaic artistic mediums.
Violet has always had talent. When she was younger, I'd watch with envy as she slid her fingers across the glass, dipping her tiny fingers into virtual paint pots to turn a once transparent pane into a world filled with rainbows, flowers and other colorful magic. Her drawings were so bright and vivid; I wanted to be a part of them. On the glass, her creations glow with the technology within, but for me, her art is even more alive on old-fashioned canvas. It isn’t often she gets to play with paper or pencils, as those materials are limited, but when she does, I can’t tear myself away.
Watching Violet sketch is my favorite part of the day. During that time, the world becomes still. I get to relax. We cannot communicate, but as she puts her finger to glass, I feel like I get to know her better. Her drawings are an insight to how she views the world and it’s fascinating. Violet finds details I would never see otherwise, as I am usually too busy focusing on the basics of size and shape.
I’d like to think of myself as creative as well, but not in the same way as Violet. Whereas her visions are brought to life through colorful means, I am more of a performance artist. What I create is always a true outline of Violet’s body, but as the sun shifts in the sky I get to stretch, lengthen, and interpret that shape differently. There have been times Violet has grown as tall as a skyscraper or shrunk down half her size because of me. I have to be faithful to the source material but I do get a bit of creative license. I love it.
And it’s why I dread the night. I look back at Violet, far away in a swirl of dreams, and I feel trapped up in her room. Lights out came so early this evening there was no chance to wind down. Though I usually fight the urge to stray, I feel confident that I will have some time to get out for a bit tonight. I take one last glance at Violet, and then silently slide down the stairs and under the front door.
I can’t feel the night breeze, but know it is blowing. Other Shadows trace the wind passing through trees on the ground below. I shudder; not from the cool air, but from the sight of those Shadows’ work. They are of a lower ranking than myself. As a Class Two Pentral, I have been given the chance to shadow a living creature, full of free will and endless possibility. But down there, in Class One, is nothing but confinement. They are sentenced to serve stationary objects for the rest of time. Day in and day out, they perform the same shapes, with little variance; little chance for expression. Though no shackles constrain these Shadows, Class One is a prison without escape. The monotony would drive me crazy.
, I say to myself.
That will never be me
I carefully skirt around the tree outlines. I know it’s cruel not to connect with these Shadows, who must be desperate for some sort of interaction, but I’m already taking a risk leaving Violet’s room and don’t want to put myself further in harm’s way. I pause at the end of the driveway, looking up and down at the houses on Violet’s street. Humble in size but grand in composition, the little bungalows are like diamonds peeking out from the Earth’s crust. Their shiny siding and angular rooftops vary greatly from the natural canyon walls in which they are nestled. Slowly, I work my way to the center of the street.