The Writing Like exercises are rough style explorations, taken from both general and specific understandings of an influential author.
In honor of Anne Rice’s new book, Prince Lestat, coming out, the first Writing Like craft exercise is in her name.
Author Overview: Since the 1960s, Anne Rice/A.N. Roquelaure/Anne Rampling has been writing stories in horror/gothic, speculative, erotica, and fantasy genres. A well-known literary name, her work is known for being gothic, titillating, and poignant, but she is best known for her series, The Vampire Chronicles, which she has been developing since 1976. Her own stated influences are Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf, John Milton, Ernest Hemingway, William Shakespeare, the Bronte sisters, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Henry James.
My Connection: The first Rice book I read was The Tale of the Body Thief. After reading, I felt great inspiration for evoking emotions through writing and the potential for a balanced approach to long-term first person. This led to being a casual admirer of Rice until I came across The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty, when I became a casual fan instead. Though I haven’t read all her series (Songs of the Seraphim is on my list), the books I have read have been influential to my own writing.
3 Specific Sources: The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty (1983), The Tale of the Body Thief (1992), Blood Canticle (2003).
The Stranded Alien
Acceptance isn’t anything.
Humans will tell you otherwise, but acceptance isn’t anything, but the positive aspect of apathy.
I suppose you’re wondering why I feel the authority to tell you such a thing.
Who Am I to state this? How could I possibly know more than you?
You, after all, spend much of your time thinking and often decide that you have everything well enough figured out without the help of authors and their transcribed thoughts. After all, you are reading this in hope for entertainment, perhaps a simple and fleeting enjoyment or maybe, even, escape.
If it is the latter, then you should know that such resistance to your mundane situation in the world is not acceptance at all. Escape is rejection of the world as it stands; but this isn’t a self-help or new age book, so I’m not going to explain the intricacies of the human psyche or controversies of earthly reality. This isn’t about you.
It isn’t even about me, really.
Yes, I am telling the story, but that is only because I am the last one still alive. There is no reason beyond that.
Why am I the only survivor? Luck, perhaps, or grace of fortune. Maybe a curse though, depending on perspective. I’ve examined it, from all dimensions, and attempted acceptance, but have not succeeded.
Because here I am, to share this story; to not let it lie down and die in the mists of time where truth goes to non-exist in peace with unheard ancestors and lost civilizations.
I present this humble retelling of my experience; and what better place to start than the only place in which I can; the beginning, when we first came to Earth.
EARTH FOREST OF YUANMOU, CHINA
The Earth Forest of Yuanmou is a magnificent location, stone pillars packed with dense rock and dirt stretching upwards; earth dripping towards sky, standing as raised edifices of nature and time; calm for millions of years and through the sands of centuries, there have been many names more creative than Earth Forest, but nothing quite so apt.
Appropriately, this is where we landed.
The sky was brilliant cyan with ripples of ivory clouds, light brightly reflected from the tan, green landscape. We were lucky, for the location was private, quiet.
Fortunate to land on top of a pillar, we were not lucky to land at all; for we had never intended to stop on Earth, we’d only been passing by.
Our final destination was meant for the Orion sector, as Earth knows it, but that wasn’t meant to be.
The vessel systems had encountered an error of unknown quality, and in consequence, shut down. Only through the power of our intention were we able to land safely, instead of crashing in a blaze. The brush with death still haunts me to this day for I am not like you, I do not expect to perish within 80, 100, or even 300 years time. Age is an artifact of earth and the remote species that exist on it.
The trauma of near-death can still be felt in my bones. Even now, while writing this, I can feel the furious tingling that occurred in my skin. Heavy vibrations, immense pull of gravity, a center forced into being, a core that was never there before. In those brief moments, so long ago, I learned of Earth and that knowledge has persisted through the centuries.
So, now that you know I’m an alien, perhaps you’re curious as to where exactly I come from.
…Though, maybe not.
Humans vary in this regard. Some greatly revere the thought of celestial inhabitants, others despise the very notion that we could exist. Perhaps they are jealous, limited by terrestrial identity.
There’s a strong preconception amongst humans about alien culture that we like homogenizing our outfits or habits. This is simply not the case. Diversity is greatly welcomed in the celestial spheres because it could not be any other way. I am not like my friends, nor was I ever like my spacemates. Do not mistake me for a representation of anything, but myself.
And in this, though I remind us that this story is not about me, I am inclined to describe myself at the crash; I hadn’t expected such an emergency and thus, was dressed for leisure.
Leisure can be described in many ways, but most appropriately, it is meant for the comfort of laying and sitting for extended periods of time. To accomplish this, my robes were layered with patterned loops for polished stones to slip into like buttons, meant for ease of tightening or discarding needless layers.
My tendrils, which at the time maintained their youthful charm, were drawn into bunches by stardust twine that glimmered and made the faintest ringing noise if you listened closely. Since I come from a darker sector than my interstellar colleagues, I was wearing a unique shaded visor to be comfortable in earth’s interior lights.
Back then, I had taken such accessories and clothing for granted.
The jewelry was lost over the years, though I managed to keep one stone. Still, I miss my robes and fabrics. The crassness of denim jeans is enough to make me yearn for home, a feeling I don’t often give in to. Yet, this preference is developed much later in time than when we had landed, so let’s return to that moment.
At the time of the crash, I had longed for home.
It was I, and solely I, who complained of our circumstances.
While others scurried in a hurry to right things, I sat upon the ground and criticized their movement.
See, I am not like the others.
KAJ was the navigator for our trip with the vessel known as Liminal. Hir was a leader of great aptitude, with a knowledge of interstellar travel beyond any of us. When hir looked at us with an expression of worry, we felt sinking dread that we wouldn’t be leaving the planet any time soon.
“It isn’t rare,” KAJ reminded us, “Getting lost like this. A matter of sending a signal, then a recovery vessel will arrive.”
“But what of our deliveries?,” cried a lithe creature known as Solo, “We have schedules to meet, don’t you know?”
“Calm down,” insisted Solo’s partner, the fearsome artesian known as Nan, “We’ve got three century rotations before they’re needed.”
“You’ll make it,” promised KAJ boldly, gesturing for us to gather around, “Enjoy while we are here and I shall begin the signaling.”
“Should we not signal together?” I asked, because I had been listening closely to the conversation.
KAJ beckoned me to follow.
I did so with reluctance and still, to this day, I don’t know why. Perhaps there was a part of me that knew what would happen next. And even though I knew, and know; I don’t and can’t understand why…
Why the leader, our trusted and upmost authority, why would hir guide me behind the craft and push me off the edge? Why would hir smile as I fell, unaccustomed to earthly gravity, unaware and unknowing of the danger that I had literally been shoved into?
I don’t know.
Maybe a clever reader can figure it out. Surely, I am not clever enough and that is why. But this is boring you, back to the real story.
As I fell towards the ground, having been shoved off the pillar by my leader, there was wind in my ears and I was startled by how much it reminded me of music. What was interesting about this reminder wasn’t the music or even the air; no, it was the sensation of being startled. And then, the subsequent, following sensation of realization.
What was this? This pattern that looped within seconds as I fell through the air towards certain death… what was it?
Instead of thinking about KAJ above or how loud noises and smoke billowed from the pillar, I held tight to a polished stone that hung on a necklace and focused being in existence. From the speed at which I was falling, the startwine was dissolving. Other stones fell away, tossed upwards into the air. Holding tight to the last one in my palm, I stared down at the ground, which rushed towards me with aggressive ferocity.
What would save me? Nothing, I was certain.
You know better though, how could you not? I’d be worried for you if you did not.
But despite your humanly reservations, I landed on the ground. Quite hard, in fact, splayed out like a cracked egg. There was an imprint eight feet deep and oh, how I hurt.
However, I was not dead, clearly.
When I crawled out, Solo and Nan were beside the edges, lifting and helping me. They did not look as they had before. Instead, they had human shapes and were of human-make.
As I looked down, so was I. Still clothed in the tattered remnants of my prior outfit, I was me, but I was human, unmistakably.
KAJ had gone rogue, destroying the other shipmates, and taken Liminal with hir.
So, we walked the deserts and forests and found nothing, but more deserts and forests… until we found a cave in which humans were living. They weren’t like you, now. If we placed you beside these humans, it’d be very distinct that you are immensely different creatures.
“What happened?” I begged the two couriers to tell me their accounts of what occurred after I fell.
“KAJ has become corrupted,” explained Nan, settling beside a fire they had shown the humans to make – at sunrise, they claimed they were going to teach them how to make an oven, “The energies of this planet and the crash were too much for hir to bear. KAJ has gone into full survival mode, which means cutting out unnecessary baggage.”
“Like our delivery schedule,” interjected Solo, pulling at his new, straw-like blond hair, “And your persistent whining.”
I scoffed because even then, I felt right to do so. Their fire didn’t comfort me and these humans disgusted me.
I wanted to be back in the stars, flying and thinking of grander things than base survival on a terrestrial level. How I regretted my circumstances, how I wish I could go back and change my decision to take the cheaper flight. Oh, what I would have lost in mana, I would have gained in actually arriving to my destination.
This I spoke of willingly and readily to the two until they both turned away because they couldn’t bear to listen any longer.
It was all the same to me, for I had grown lethargic and fell asleep with little thought as to what might happen next.
Solo and Nan were gone when I woke.
Where? I do not know.
Days passed, in which I expected them to return. “Surely,” I told the humans, “They must be scouting.”
The humans had begun to speak with me in their own way, points and gestures, grunts and sometimes words of extreme uniqueness and interest formed by their crowded mouths.
Around the third month, I gave up on waiting for Solo and Nan to follow the humans on their nomadic journey to the next cave.
I wasn’t expecting to be taken to a network of caves collected like a city, however.
The humans had traveled to a canyon that housed a giant cave, in which existed a large interior that housed hundreds, if not thousands of smaller caves. It was shocking. The simple shock reminded me of the startle I felt while falling, and the sensation of realization crashed over me like a wave again.
“This earth,” I told Namin – matron of the humans – “It is astonishing, in a way.”
She nodded, “Fascinating.” It was one of her favorite words that she had gained from me.
Her cave was especially taken care of and painted with vibrant reds – blood, but also clay from the ground – and oversaw the descending caves that pockmarked the canyon, full of life and activity. Games were common, frequent and interwoven into daily life. Climbers leapt from edge to edge with barely any regard for their own life. It startled me and as Namin said, fascinated me.
Here, in these dusty caveworks, I would live far beyond Namin’s great-grandchildren.
Regarded as an elder, I was certain that civilizations must be occurring outside the sanctity of the canyon, but why I would want to take part in all that terrestrial nonsense? Eventually, the recovery craft would arrive and I would be located. I would be found.
I could bide my time and wait, be patient.
Namin’s descendent of fourteen generations, Anaroch, was the first to declare that the tribes should return to purely nomadic ways. She had traveled, against the advice of the council, to the cities and returned with a fire in her blood that soon infected the others.
In time, I had no choice, but to follow as she led us out of the caves and into the flatlands to build monuments to humanity.
She led with ferocity that still marks humankind to this day.
It was this ferocity that led to Anaroch being beheaded by her youngest son, Konstan, in his glorious fury during a tense conflict about whether the observatory should be placed on the north or south facing side of the village. Anaroch had demanded south and nowhere else. Konstan had lopped off her head.
The observatory was placed in the north.
It had been the final line in a long string of battles. I observed many of these, like I had observed most human lives during the tribe’s generations. Surely, I figured, after I’m rescued, I can tell great stories about my experience to whittle away time at boring parties. Maybe I’d even write a ballad.
Under Konstan, the cavedwellers turned land-owners. Soon after, they became pillagers and destroyers. It was not long before I was no longer welcomed.
I was exiled only due to the good fortune of people being too scared to stab me. Magic, they whispered I possessed, though where they heard such a word, let alone a fear for the concept, I will never know. I can only blame their dreams or visits to the cities.
So, I walked alone until I found an abandoned tomb. I would find peace within the dappled gray and brown stonework. Slightly, it reminded me of home. Here I stayed for many years, only bothered by an occasional wanderer, explorer, or looter, who provided me with news and stories, markers of civilization and where it was, tokens of their time – gold coins, salt discs, arrows and daggers, guns and recipes. Until one day, someone came and showed me a piece of paper that said I had to leave or else I’d be subject to arrest by the king’s guards.
This was what made me leave.
It wasn’t so much the paper itself, that had no bearing or power, it was that I took its arrival as a sign that there would be no hiding anymore. It simply wouldn’t be allowed. An interesting turn, and bitterly, I felt the startling realization that Earth forced me to feel whenever something crossed my path.
I didn’t start in the city; I had gone to a small home in the country at first, but grew bored quickly. I had been bored ever since my 50th year in the tomb. No one to analyze, nothing, but myself, which I know plenty about. I decided I would be a hermit of sorts, but that quickly disintegrated when I heard of the theaters.
Despite everything, I was still me and thus, flocked to where the music was. And my, how it had grown! Magnificent symphonies, reflections of the universe, gorgeous rhythms and explorations of soul. The First Viennese School was in its contemporary glory. I fed from the vibrations put forth like it was my own personal buffet. Though, in reality, it was not. It was everyone’s.
On a friday evening before a regular performance, I met Solo again. His appearance had changed, he’d become even more human. His eyes were dark, constantly darting around and he flinched whenever somebody walked past him.
“I’m going to Paris,” he told me, scratching his ruddy neck and attempting to slick his auburn hair back but the curly strands refused to be set down, “Heard good things, good things about things there.”
“Where’s Nan?” I inquired in the most relaxed fashion that I could, “KAJ? Have you heard from anybody?”
He shook his head, scratching vigorously, “No, na, nein, no, listen,” He set a hand on my shoulder and I grimaced from the skin flakes landing on my polished black silk jacket, “You can’t tell anyone who you are.”
“Excuse me?” I carefully removed his hand, noticing that he was exceptionally warm, “What do you mean?”
“Don’t tell anyone who you are,” he stressed, “of your origins, don’t do it. The questions, the watching, the hunting, it’ll never end.”
In his words, under the tone of his voice, I could hear a depth of experience that I could not imagine on my own.
“What has happened to you?” I whispered, guiding him to the back room, “Please, tell me, old friend.” I nod with a smile to one of the friendlier violinists, who nods politely while leaving the room.
Solo didn’t speak until the door had shut and I sat down.
Wringing his hands, he groaned and whined, then finally explained why he was pontificating his emotions in such a way, “I spoke to a man that I shouldn’t have, about us and where we come from. He wrote a book, but not the kind I thought he was writing, and now, now there are people looking for me. They’ve already killed him and Nan, they took Nan a year ago.”
“What are you doing in Vienna then?” I asked instantly, “Surely, they have contacts here?”
“Yes, it is dangerous,” he agreed readily, “But, I heard you and another was here.”
“Another?” I was briefly startled by the thought, “Who?”
“Liminal,” whispered Solo.
Shock went through my system and it was good that I had sat down because surely, I would have fallen then, “But… KAJ?” the words barely left my tongue.
“How do you know?”
“Burned hir to ash myself, three hundred and fifty years ago. KAJ wasn’t sending any signal, wasn’t even trying to fix the vessel anymore, just …sitting in a field, watching the clouds.”
“Strange,” I mused, “But why do you no longer have it?”
“Happened right after,” he admitted with a sigh, pulling at his curly hair, “I had gone to find a way to transport the vessel, when I came back, it was gone. Nan had been knocked unconsciousness, bound and blindfolded. Didn’t know who did it, until I heard it was seen in Vienna last week.”
A realization sunk into me, “You think I have it, don’t you?”
He laughed nervously.
“I don’t,” I insisted, “If I did, do you think I’d be here, playing music?” I laugh.
Our laughing, emotional and tense, layers over one another and becomes a sound so terrifying to us both, that we stop and stare at each other in the silence which results.
After a few minutes of struggle, Solo decided to believe that I was not the possessor of Liminal, which I was not, dear reader, please believe me too.
In only a couple days, we found Liminal in the artifact collection of a private interest, left alone in the warehouse, being prepared for display in an auction. It was easy to steal since Solo had set up a carriage in advance and scoped the area out prior to our heist. I don’t think of myself as a thief or a criminal by any perspective, but we took our craft back, speeding away to Paris and never looking back.
Many experiences and lifetimes had changed Solo, just as mine had gradually changed me. Impressions and crystallizations of our own terrestrial concepts of our celestial pasts had blurred the lines of which was human and which was alien.
Near Paris, in the rolling countryside, we housed Liminal in an abandoned wine cellar as we attempted to repair the broken components, especially the signaling charge. The years had taken their toll on the craft, just as they had on who we were.
Work became toil and elongated into years, lifetimes, and soon, we were being offered money to give our land to the country and if we did not, well, it wouldn’t be our land for much longer anyways. War was coming.
Again, shunted out into civilization to regard its meager evolution and be harassed by the constant startling realizations and euphonic epiphany that rocked through Earth’s terrestrial field that keeps time in forward motion, markers of insight and recollection that dot the line of fate through the chaos of existence.
Ah, but I digress.
Obsessed with the project, Solo forgot his own wise words of remaining secretive. He told artists, painters, writers, scholars, anyone who would listen, he’d tell them who he was and where he’d came from, especially if they provided him with a meal and shelter for his stories.
The number of people that fed into this and encouraged it baffled me. Humans are strange, sporadic creatures. Still, we were given great hospitality in many cases because of Solo’s willingness. It seemed that soon, in a nearby manor, we’d finally be able to get Liminal off the ground. The balcony was even large enough to encompass a launchpad and neither Solo or I could contain our excitement.
MASSIF DU SANCY, FRANCE
We worked for years, eventually tending to those humans who had graciously allowed us to stay. Once the wife had passed away, the manor was left in Solo’s name and I found that I had fallen deeply in love with him during our time together.
The way he focused on Liminal’s gears, how his worn skin would sweat and when he molted in 1902 to became entirely different, I continued to fall in love. He’d become a never-ending well of fantasy and eventually, I proclaimed my sensations. They were returned, though hesitantly but nothing like I had dreamed of.
I was happy for the first time on Earth.
Meanwhile, in his new skin, Solo gained a reputation for himself, known by the humans as an extremely eccentric art collector due to his constant search for alien-like technologies.
When Liminal’s final test was complete, the signal beamed into the ethers and we threw a grand party with all humans we knew for our success.
In three days time, there was a response from interstellar travelers and a rescue crew was being sent.
Now, surely, you are worried for my lover and companion since I did, after all, say that I am the last survivor.
I will not manipulate or pretend that this will end well, so it’d be best to get it over with. Rip the band-aid off, as they say now-a-days.
It started when the rescue vessel arrived.
We’d gotten oxen to carry Liminal to the coordinates that the crew would meet us. My emotions were tightly wound from weeks of anticipation, but nowhere close to how my partner seemed. Solo was tormented by the thought of returning to interstellar travel without Nan. He hid it the best he could, but I knew by the way he sat on the balcony when he thought everybody else was asleep. He’d sit at the edge and cry at the stars, Nan’s language on his lips as if simply trying not to forget what words the other had told him in the past.
Well, neither of us were able to manage anything beyond following direct instructions as the recovery crew introduced themselves and guided us onto the vessel. They loaded Liminal onboard and while watching, I felt odd about the situation.
“I’ll be right back.” I told Solo with a kiss, returning to the ramp outside to figure out the feeling.
A rescue commander took me by the arm and dragged me further away. I was reminded of KAJ and my worries darkened, “Shouldn’t we get going?” I asked, hesitantly.
“You’re staying,” the commander responded.
“W-what?” I asked, confused.
He made a gesture and I heard the vessel being powered up. Panic set in, but he still grasped my arm, “Let me go!” I demanded, “What are you doing and why for?”
“There’s a bounty on your partner’s head for stealing that crappy vessel of yours,” Taking a Soother Gun from his belt, the commander added, “Consider yourself lucky, or else you could be going to execution with him.” With the words, he drove the needle-tip of the gun into the crook of my elbow. My vision blurred and my energy began to fade. I dropped to my knees, unable to sustain standing.
They assumed Solo had done it all, crashed the vessel and killed the others. “Wait!” I called, in futile attempt, “Don’t go!”
But the commander was already on board. In a flash, the interstellar vehicle was gone, Solo and Liminal along with it.
And so, here I remained.
I suspect they consider themselves merciful for allowing me to live.
Under my thumb, as I write, I rub the polished stone held tightly in my hand. It is the only thing remaining from my true life. I hear the faint ringing of startwine and the sobs of Solo in the night.
Acceptance is nothing more than apathy for I will always be passionate about denying the cruelty of existence.