I was born on a day of great portent. On that fateful day, the stars in the sky aligned in a way that caused many mystics to grow concerned that we were going to have some major problems. These wise men predicted catastrophes across the globe. Volcanic eruptions. Massive earthquakes. Tsunamis of epic proportions. Things looked quite bleak for humanity and many trembled in fear of the apocalypse that was to be. Since we’re still here, I’m sure you’ve guessed that none of the events they forecast happened. I can only assume this was because I arrived and saved the day. You’re welcome.
Now, I knew about the interest surrounding my birthday from my earliest days. My mother liked to tell me that little piece of trivia on quite a few occasions, usually when she saw I was feeling a little bit down. Bad day at school? Super star baby. Kids picking on me? Magical birthday. Dropped my ice cream cone? The stars hadn’t aligned right in that moment.
For someone so interested in divination and prophecy you’d think my mother would have told me about the other stuff.
“Forest!” my mother called. I had been in my room playing and ignored her until she got that tone, the one that suggested that if I waited ten seconds longer she was going to use more of my names. I walked down the hallway to the parlor and saw her sitting across from a man who was about three hundred and fifty-two years old, give or take a decade. His beard and hair were white with a stain of yellow, especially around his mouth. I think there may have been a hint of orange in his moustache, indicating that he loved Cheetos as much as the next man, or else he was a Navigator melange addict and was in the wrong story. He was garbed in a robe that seemed too fancy for him, with silver and gold threaded in patterns of alchemy and astrology. He gripped his gnarled staff strongly, as if it could propel him into a run if the chair turned into a boggart.
“Ah, come here, boy,” he said, beckoning me with his liver spotted hand, “girl, whatever you are. My eyes aren’t what they used to be.” My hair style must have confused him. “Excellent. Yes, stand right here. Hmm.” He eyed me up and down, poking his arthritic fingers along my facial lines. “Not exactly what I was expecting.”
“Forest has two little brothers, if you want to see them as well,” my mother said.
“Not a twin brother, I assume. I only want your children that were born on the day we discussed.”
“Just Forest, then.”
The old man nodded and continued probing me, turning my head to each side. “Any strange things? Unexplained accidents or explosions?”
“Well, Forest did somersault into a sandbox two years ago and has a bump on…”
“No!” he interrupted my mother, flailing his arms and smacking me in across the cheek. He made an impatient, disgusted sound. “I mean, to other people.”
“Any strange birthmarks or scars?”
My mother looked at me. “I have a mole on my left knee,” I said.
“Is it in the shape of anything interesting? A strange symbol or a bolt of lightning, perhaps?” The old man grew exasperated when I shook my head. “How about any mixed blood?”
“Yes,” my mother whispered hoarsely. “My husband has some ancestors that were…”
The old man leaned in. “Speak up, woman, I can hear about as well as I can see.”
“Troll!” she blurted out, then clapped her hand over her mouth.
“Ah, well, that’s unfortunate, but at least it fits the criteria.” He placed his hands on my shoulders and looked me in the eye. “You have potential, Forest. You might one day do great things, but you have to want to do them.”
He licked the end of his thumb and drew a sigil on my forehead in quick, jerky motions. “That’ll take a good twenty-five years to set in. I’ll see you sometime later, perhaps.”
I didn’t think much of that meeting for some time. The “great things” he spoke about weren’t done. I went to school, progressing normally from elementary school to middle to junior high, then on to high school. Nothing calamitous happened. My mother, a midwife, and my father, a blacksmith, didn’t die tragically, nor did my younger brothers. Our house didn’t burn down, the town wasn’t overrun by beasts, nor did we have any strange phenomena. I was a slightly above average student, but didn’t make any splashes anywhere. By the time I left my home town, I felt absolutely normal.
I was sent off to the mainland at eighteen by my parents, my mother bawling her eyes out behind a stained kerchief. My travels were adequate and uneventful. I arrived at a place with many buildings and a large word fastened above the gate.
“Caw-lee-gay,” I said out loud, trying to pronounce it. “Coh-leh-geh. Coo-leh-zhay.”
“It’s ‘college’, you dumb fuck,” a nearby student said as he walked past me.
Oh, college! Yes, I had heard of that place. Lots of learning and drinking and learning different ways to drink. Fantastic!
I was sure I was going to have a grand time in higher education, since so many people do. I didn’t. For the first time in my life, I was uprooted and disconnected from the stability I had grown accustomed to. I transferred schools four times and changed my major twice, unable to settle on what I wanted to do in life. I could have been a doctor with the eight years I spent in post-secondary education but wound up settling with a certificate. Some would say it was a waste of money. I say it was a total waste of money.
My twenties were horrible. At my worst I suffered from severe depression and slept twelve to sixteen hours a day. I felt trapped in an engagement and lived in a shitty town where people had given up on hope a long time ago. Every day I barely made it out of bed only to wish I could return to sleep so I could be something and somewhere I wasn’t.
Then, something snapped. If I knew what had snapped and changed I’d tell you, because I’d hate for anyone else to go through what I did. I dumped my fiancé, realizing it had been over for a long time. I moved back in with my parents for two months, then found a job and an apartment. I transferred and finished college. I met my spouse.
I was happy. Things were looking up, finally, but something was still missing. I loved my job, but it only affected a limited amount of people. I wanted to do something a bit more global.
I sat at my desk and began to write. I started and stopped many times, trying to figure out how I was going to approach it. Worst, the old pressures from my darker days returned. You know, those lovely, bleak thoughts that whisper about all the bad and none of the good. “It’s shy near impossible to break into writing.” “You haven’t published a word and no one wants to work with an untried author.” And there’s always criticism out there, trying to whittle a creator down that makes you wonder if that person is helping or just unloading their shitty days on your work.
“Write,” said a voice behind me. I turned and found the old man from my mother’s parlor.
“How did you get in here?” I asked.
“Write,” he said again, pushing my head down.
“That’s not really how writing works. I need to see what I’m doing.”
“Shut up and write,” he said, pushing my head forcibly against the desk.
“Ow! I’d ask that you not break my nose, thanks. I’ve only got the one.”
He released me. “I’ll leave you alone when you start getting things done.”
Suddenly feeling like a character in a best-selling series that won’t be named in this biography, my forehead burned. I touched the area he had marked all those years ago. “Ambition. You cursed me with ambition, you bastard.”
“Cursed? Many would kill to have a drive to succeed. Look behind me.”
I did and saw the ghosts of all the characters I had yet to create. Raulin was front and center, waiting to get things started with Al, Anla, and Telbarisk. Behind them stood Meghan and Noah in their respective masks. My masquerade. They all bore heavy burdens but stood strong. Out into the hallway spilled so many people. T’lana. Jack. Poor Rose-Aurora and Caertonn. So many possibilities, so little time.
“I want to do it. How?”
“You write and you don’t stop until you’re dead,” he said and vanished.
And so I began.