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Note: the concept of The Common People was created by Kielle and Phil Foster. If you'd like to archive, just ask. I appreciate feedback.

A Tale of the Common People

By Nichol

They named him Ash, for he was born one week after their house had burnt down to nothing more than a smoldering pile of feathery ash.

His mother did not want him. Her daughter, a girl-child with corn-silk hair, had choked to death in the smothering smoke of the same fire that had consumed their home. Ash was born coal-dark, bruised and blue, in the coldest part of winter, and he was no mercy to his mother. She did not want this fretful, squalling shadow of a dead, beloved sister.

His father was a ghost, a man with quivering hands and a dull voice and eyes that were vacant, as though the skull behind them was as empty as a hollow eggshell. There was no joy or grief at the birth of his son or the death of his daughter, only the quiet patience of a man resigned to hardship.

When Ash remembered his early childhood, it was, for the most part, filled with memories of being neither desired nor detested, not abused or adored. His father was a machine, with gears and pistons where a heart and soul should be, an automaton that rose with the sunrise to work at the local factory and fell into bed in the evening as the sun descended into the dark horizon. His mother slept and drank and wept for some sorrow she could not name. When she met her husband's overseer at the factory, she discovered she could forget her troubles in his arms, in warm flesh and hot desire.

One morning, Ash's mother came home and announced, with great melodrama, that she was leaving and never returning. Her husband accepted this with his typical stoicism. She packed her few, pitiful belongings, and left for her overseer's house. She did not kiss her son goodbye. Ash did not miss his mother. He hardly knew her.

Ash's father carried him into the kitchen, did something with the oven controls that Ash could not see. He then staggered about, sealing off the kitchen door with tape, and mumbling strange words about "Doing what we must" and "Being in the grace of the good Lord." Then his father stumbled into a pile before the open oven, and fell fast asleep.

Ash was hungry, so he went into the counter to put together a sandwich. As he lifted the food to his mouth, he smelled something. It was gas from the oven, leaking into the kitchen. Frightened, Ash dropped his sandwich and tried to rouse his father, whom he found unconscious. Terrified and fueled by instinct, he managed in a blind terror to break the sealing on the doors and ran into the living room. The door there proved to be locked as well, but Ash took a chair from the dining room and flung it through the living room window. Ash climbed through the hole, escaping the death-trap that had so briefly been his home.

The police and firemen came soon, and took Ash to special home where they fed him warm soup and gave him soft blankets to sleep in. Later, he learned he had neither mother nor father left. His mother had been shot to death while lying in the bed of her lover. His father was buried at the county's expense, having gassed himself in his own home.

The years changed with the color of the leaves on the trees, and Ash grew into a man. He had a kind and doting adoptive mother, and a friendly adoptive father who had always wanted a boy of his own to play catch with. He found his son to be unusually quiet and dreamier than most, but loved him just the same.

When he grew old enough, Ash went away to a good college where he joined the fraternity everyone joined, and dated all the popular girls everyone dated. He met a physics major named Colleen, who had long brown braids and a solemn mouth, who became his steady girlfriend. She wanted to be a Goth, she explained to him, because "death is the only sure thing."

"Life comes from death, too," Ash reminded her, which seemed to disturb Colleen's carefully cultivated melancholy.

"Nonsense," she sniffed, in that faux-British accent she worn as carelessly as her black clothes and crucifix, "death is death. It's nothingness. The void. It's the end of all that is."

Ash shook his head. She didn't understand him. "Things have to die so other things can live," he told her. "Life and death are two sides of the same coin. One person dies so another can live. Death feeds life. Life comes from death."

Colleen glared at him through eyes ringed with too much cheap eyeliner. "You're weird. Here, listen to this." She rooted in her purse for a small, leather-bond book she carried with her everywhere, and began reading from it.

"And I a smiling woman," Colleen read aloud, "I am only thirty. And like the cat I have nine times to die." She looked at Ash gravely. "It's from Sylvia Plath's 'Lady Lazarus'. Isn't it cool?"

Her boyfriend smiled at her sadly. "Yes, yes it's very cool."

The college grounds bloomed richly that summer, as though the flowers were competing for the most beautiful and vivid blossoms.

That autumn, not long after classes began again, Ash was called into the college dean's office. Tests for genetic purity had only recently become mandatory, and Ash feared the worst.

"I'm sorry, Ash," the college dean rumbled, "The test was positive, I'm afraid. You're a mutant." The dean was a large, balding man who reminded his student's of a friendly bear. He seemed genuinely upset as he handed the papers to his pupil.

Ash ran a shaky hand through his hair, which was blacker than any mortal sin. "Does this mean I have to drop out?"

"You're an excellent student, and you will be allowed to finish this semester. After that... there are a number of excellent colleges designed for students like you, students with... special needs. I'm sure you'll be very happy at one of them."

The tests were supposed to be strictly confidential, but somehow Colleen found out the truth. She broke up with Ash a week later, explaining, "I just don't think I'm getting out of this relationship what I put in, you know? I just think that it'd be best if, you know, we didn't see each other anymore." Colleen had dyed her hair electric blue, and had taken up cigarette smoking. Ash agreed sadly, and watched her walk away, out of his life, forever.

The college grounds were black and dead that autumn, and no matter what was done, nothing would grow. The trees withered and died no matter how often they were watered and fertilized, and even the most experienced gardeners were at a loss to explain why.

When the semester was finished early that spring, when the wind still blew cold, Ash bought an ancient car and started driving west. He drove toward the setting sun, toward the place where he had begun.

It was a sunken pit, black and dead. It was impossible to believe anything had ever grown here, that people had lived here, that Ash's own life had been created here.

This was the house were his parent's dreams had died along with his sister. It was no house anymore, only a barren pit. Ash parked his car and walked gingerly through the knee-high weeds towards this pit, his arms stretched wide. The cool wind beat at his face and brought hot tears to his hazel eyes. The sky was turning a thousand shades of soft pink and bruised blue as the sun sank below the horizon.

With every step he took, plants sprouted and bloomed in his footprints: cheerful daisies and proud laurel, friendly ivy and lilies as pure gold in color as the shining sun. When Ash knelt to touch what was left of the southern wall, thick myrtle bloomed under his fingers and covered the stark, severe gray ruin.

"Life from death..."

In the wind, he heard a little girl's laughter. Her voice called to him, chanting, "Ash! Ash! Ash!" and he whispered back, "April, April, April..."

On that day, flowers bloomed again over the ruined pit. And on that day, Ash learned to laugh with joy.


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