Kage Baker actually did have a real life. It was kind of strange, and she tended to hammer it into the narrow gaps between world-building and writing things down – but she actually did possess access to an IRL universe.
She didn’t like most of it very much. The real world – local news, global trends and situations, geo-political games: it all tended to upset her. She was afraid of road rage people. She was afraid of the deranged strangers who mutter half-audible threats behind you in grocery store lines. She was afraid of the interpersonal tensions that make the lunch room at work into a mine field. She dreaded phone calls after 10 PM; when, she said, people only call to tell you they are dead.
To hide from personal pain, Kage wrote. Nothing matters but the work: a philosophy taken from her own life, her own solution to those times when things are intolerable. She didn’t always keep what she wrote in those times, but just writing it down got her through the Dark Lands.
Sometimes writing – like any other art – is more about survival than anything else.
What I remember most is the light.
It was a silver light, at the beginning of things. Everywhere, even at night – beyond the fire that burned in the spear-slit doorway of our cave, the light of the moon and stars was blue-white on the snow and the pale stones. It was almost as clear as day – we see well in the dark – but in daytime, the light had a glitter to it like the sea; like waves you couldn’t see danced and sparkled in the sky. I suppose it was ice in the air.
I had seen the sea twice, though, before all the grown-ups went away. It was a half-day’s walk, carried in a bag on someone’s back. We went twice; the second time, I was big enough to run on the yellow sands of the beach. The grown ups caught salmon, and on the way home there were silver scales glittering in every bag, and on every shoulder. That’s why I remember the light so clearly – everything shone, everything danced like fish scales in the sun.
And then, after Artur and Iris and Eiluned came and took me away, the light of the entire world changed, It was red and gold then, everywhere and all the time; when I napped in the cool white halls with the other, stranger kids, all the shadows on the walls were a pale pink glow. At dawn the sky burned white, and at sunset it smoldered down into the red earth, and when it rained the distant rocks to the South and East were purple. There wasn’t any ocean, but there was the lake; it glittered pretty well. But the light was never, ever cold.
I didn’t mind. I wasn’t cold, either.
It was terribly cold, the day I was left behind. I was all wrapped up in fur and leather, though, even with the long socks that tied to the bottom of my tunic: so I was warm, and I ran around and played until I got tired. Then I lay down in a safe little cavelet I knew, and went to sleep. Nobody had told me we were moving camp that day, I guess because I was still mostly part of the baggage. Momma told me not to go to far away, but she always said that. And I didn’t listen, and so I was asleep in my hidden place when all the grown-ups walked away. I like to think they hunted and called for me – I’m just about certain they did. But I didn’t hear them, and they didn’t find me, and when I woke up and walked home they were all gone away.
They took most of the skins, and all of the food. They didn’t bank the fire completely, though – there was nothing to burn out of control in the cave – so I could feed the fire and keep it alive. I could probably have stayed alive for several days like that, if nothing grabbed me when I went out to search for food and fuel. But Artur and the others were watching, because it was their business to save children who were left behind. It was barely dark when I heard them calling softly outside, so as not to surprise me, and then a big man came pushing into the firelight. There was a lady with him, and another person behind them in the shadows.
I’d never seen anyone other than my family, but my momma had told me there were other people in the world. She taught me to be polite to them, because new people were a gift in the empty world. So I made the welcome sign with both my hands (because I couldn’t remember which one I was supposed to use in mixed company). They both smiled at me at that, and Artur answered with his own big right hand and said, “Hello, little flower. My name is Artur, and these ladies are Eiluned and Iris.”
Artur was fine – just a big man, with sandy-yellow hair and bright grey eyes. Eiluned was all right, too, though she was darker than my momma. But she looked like a person.
Iris, though … Iris was the ugliest person I’d ever met. Her hair was short and curly and black, like paint. Her eyes were small and squinchy, and black, too, which made her look blind to me, and I could barely look at her nose; it looked like the end had been cut off, leaving her nostrils gaping and exposed. Her skin was a colour I would have thought was pretty on a piece of agate – but I’d never before seen a lady the dark brown of jasper, so it was strange and scary. Her face was small and scrunched up on the front of her head, and when she turned to the side, it looked like part of her skull was … just gone.
Iris was pretty much the most disturbing thing I had ever seen in my life.