Re-Imagining Star Wars: The Last Jedi

I always say that if I don’t like something, I should have something I think is better in mind. Obviously, there are other little details to fill in, such as the roles of Hux, C-3PO, R2-D2, and BB-8, but with that said, here’s my story of how I think Star Wars: The Last Jedi should’ve gone. I hope you enjoy. 🙂

When Luke receives the lightsaber from Rey, he closes his eyes and hears Obi-Wan say, “She will be trained.” This is to echo Obi-Wan saying the same of Anakin in The Phantom Menace (and we all know how that turned out). Obi-Wan then says, “She must know the truth,” to which Luke responds by opening his eyes, and after a flash of Luke in Return of the Jedi throwing away his lightsaber, Luke does the same with Anakin’s lightsaber. Shocked, Rey asks, “Why did you do that?” With a soft stare displaying the layers of wisdom in his soul, Luke replies, “You must forge your own path, find your own way. You will never see your way forward if you are always looking behind, to the past.” Walking ahead of her, Luke whispers, “Ben, she will not be a Jedi… like her… grandfather before her.” This is a subtle hint to the darkness Luke senses in Rey, her anger toward… he’s not sure. The Dark Side clouds everything. All he can see is that she is hiding a shadow of anger that could be used to draw her to the Dark Side, similar to how Kylo Ren was drawn to the Dark Side, away from Luke.

Yes, Rey is a Kenobi, and Luke doesn’t want her to know. In fact, he refuses to train Rey when she asks, making the classic excuse that she’s too old. Instead, he takes her up on her offer to return with her to join Leia, whose fleet is under attack (no slow bombers, though; I promise). Leading the attack is Kylo, who Snoke has ordered to kill his mother. Only then will Kylo have the strength to complete his training. With Snoke’s massive ship in the background providing weapons fire on other ships in the Resistance, Kylo’s ship speeds near his mother’s ship and from his cheek drops a single tear as he wrestles with himself. Teeth gritting, he shuts his eyes, lets out a breath, and massages the trigger just enough to launch the assault that delivers the final blow to the ship Leia is on, the explosion reflected in his drenched eyes. From hyperspace, the Millennium Falcon and a single X-Wing enter space to find they are too late, a grieving howl from Chewbacca echoing the pain in Luke’s heart. “This is Luke Skywalker. I am taking command of the fleet,” is Luke’s message broadcast to all ships before he orders a full retreat to a set of coordinates he sends to the Resistance ships. Snoke has won the day, and all Luke can do is run away.

That’s the set-up for the rest of the film, in which key questions raised in The Force Awakens are answered, such as who Snoke is and where he came from, how Snoke lured Ben Solo to the Dark Side (I’m thinking Ben was underperforming in his training, leading to thoughts of failure and jealously toward Luke and his own parents for how celebrated they all are as warriors who defeated the mighty Empire). Essentially, the film would then continue on with Snoke training Kylo, giving us a look at Dark Side training, making Kylo much stronger and an even greater threat than before. Spliced with this is Rey begging Luke to train her. “I want to help you, to help the Resistance. You can’t beat both Snoke and Kylo by yourself. They’re too strong. It will take the both of us together. Please, Luke, you have to train me.” But Luke is filled with doubt. “I can’t take the chance of Snoke turning you as well. If that were to happen, then all hope will truly be lost.” Eventually, Rey convinces Luke to show her how to make a new lightsaber, so she could at least stand a chance at defending herself against Kylo were they to meet again. Knowing Rey is already good with a staff, Luke instructs her in building a double-bladed lightsaber. “You got lucky against Kylo the first time,” Luke says. “You need a weapon you have complete familiarity with.”

After practicing with the double-bladed lightsaber (’cause, you know, that would be cool to see in the movie), Rey sneaks away to go after Kylo herself, believing the Force will empower her again, if need be. Once Finn and Poe realize she’s gone (Let’s say Luke didn’t sense her action because he was distracted by the grief he’s still feeling for Leia and Han.) and tell Luke she’s missing, Luke takes a part of the fleet to meet Snoke’s ship in battle, with Admiral Ackbar in command and Poe leading a squadron of X-Wings with Chewbacca and Lando (He’s back!) in the Millennium Falcon offering support. “Didn’t think I’d ever see the day I’d be flying this old bird again,” Lando comments. Luke and Finn sneak aboard Snoke’s ship, Finn showing off his anti-Stormtrooper aim while Luke thrashes through anyone stupid enough to put themselves anywhere near his lightsaber. In Snoke’s throne room, Snoke attempts to convince Rey to join him, and he reveals that he was using the Force through her during the events of The Force Awakens. He wanted to show her how powerful she could be if only she submitted to his training. He promises her the power to find her parents and to take revenge on all those who hurt and terrorized her while she grew up on Jakku (Rey had a tough life, yo, and now we see why she has a great potential for bursting out in anger.). Without him, Snoke reveals, Rey is powerless.

As Snoke motions for Kylo to attack Rey, she ignites her double-bladed lightsaber, and round two is on. But this time is different. Rey can only struggle to match the strength of Kylo’s strikes. And Kylo uses the Force to push her around, all while Snoke taunts her, asking her if she’s yet ready to join him, to no longer be weak. Realizing that she has nothing left, that she can’t win, Rey turns off one blade of her double-bladed lightsaber and holds the other blade near her, like Obi-Wan Kenobi did when he allowed Darth Vader to cut him down. But just as Kylo is about to deliver the death blow, a shadowy figure Force runs in from the background, and a green lightsaber halts Kylo’s strike before his red blade can make contact with Rey. “That won’t happen again,” Luke says, remembering how Rey’s grandfather had died the same way. As Rey falls out of the way, Finn sprinting up behind and dropping to offer her care, Luke and Kylo battle hard, Kylo’s hate now apparent to Luke as Snoke laughs at the sight of what he has accomplished. Though Kylo is far more powerful than when he left Luke, he still has trouble matching Luke’s skill. Valuing his apprentice, for now, Snoke uses his Force power to disrupt Luke, causing Luke to stumble or pushing Kylo into a dodge of Luke’s lightsaber. Eventually, Kylo is able to gain the upper hand, until an explosion rocks Snoke’s ship. The battle with the Resistance ships is still taking place outside, and the Millennium Falcon along with Poe’s X-Wings have managed to deliver a critical strike to Snoke’s ship. In the confusion, Finn opens fire on Snoke, distracting him enough to allow Luke to Force push Kylo, grab Rey and Finn, and get the hell outta there!

So, then we have Luke, Rey, and Finn escaping Snoke’s ship on a shuttle just before the ship jumps away, the Resistance having dealt a blow to Snoke’s ego. But all isn’t well as Snoke has proven that he and Kylo can overpower Luke, that Luke cannot be the only hope for defeating the First Order. As Rey trembles in his arms, tears flowing for her almost deadly mistake, for her trust in a power she now knows only came through her by Snoke, Luke assures Rey that next time will be different, that next time she will not face Kylo Ren in fear. “When next we encounter them,” Luke says, stirring Rey’s teary-eyed confidence, “you will be a Jedi.”

Roll credits. 🙂

With a soft stare displaying the layers of wisdom in his soul, Luke replies, “You must forge your own path, find your own way. You will never see your way forward if you are always looking behind, to the past.”


Writing Tip: Get The Villain Right

I recently watched a documentary that featured a quote that I feel hits the mark in a few different ways.

“I’ve always asserted myself as a villain because villains are always the more interesting characters in any story that I grew up reading and because the villain in any walk of life is the person who refuses to follow blindly and always wants to question things, and for me, art is supposed to be a question mark, so I’m merely asking questions.”
– Marilyn Manson, from the 2006 VH1 documentary Heavy: The Story of Metal

First, the quote speaks of villains in stories, showing why I believe the villain is actually the most important part of a story, which is why I personally find that Marvel movies tend to be forgettable, because they put the emphasis on the hero while the villain takes a backseat (really, though, I watch a Thor movie to see Loki, not Thor, and I’ll never forget Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight). To me, it’s the villain who holds everything together while we follow the hero on his/her journey. It’s the villain who makes the journey possible and necessary, so, in my not-so-terribly-humble opinion, a strong villain is needed for a strong story.

The second part of the quote talks about the nature of the villain. The villain is the one who doesn’t do what he/she is supposed to do but instead does their own thing for their own benefit. A villain can be seen as someone who wants to bust the status quo and shake up the world. Think about that the next time you hear about protests over issues such as minimum wage or lack of healthcare; remember that the current minimum wage or current lack of healthcare are the status quo, and the protestors want to bust that status quo for their own benefit, which, to the side wishing to preserve the status quo, makes them the villains. Also remember that corporations that strive to pay employees as little as possible and push to give people as little healthcare as possible are doing this for their own benefit, making them the villains as well, even though each on the opposing side sees themselves as the hero. This kind of makes me wonder if this world is mostly villains up against villains. Sure, we have our real heroes – those who sacrifice their time, effort, and even lives for the good of others – but I feel there’s a lot more villainy going on than people tend to realize or want to acknowledge.

Finally, the above quote discusses art and how art poses questions. I feel it’s important for art to ask questions, especially uncomfortable questions. A comfort zone is a safe zone, one in which risks are not taken and challenges are not faced. With fiction, in order to escape this comfort zone, uncomfortable questions should be asked, the status quo defied, and the mindset of villainy brought to the forefront, a mindset that bathes the truth we don’t want to see in a twisted light we have been raised to believe isn’t right or moral.

This is how to create an interesting villain, and, to me, this is the most important aspect of creating a strong story. It’s the villain who makes the hero stronger. If the villain isn’t done well, then what makes the hero a hero except for our predetermined images of what a hero is?

Reading Meaning

This past Saturday, I spent six straight hours finishing revisions for Chapter 11 of my first novel. Maybe total burnout had struck my brain, I don’t know, but afterward, I thought about what I wrote, focusing in on the possible meaning behind the repetition of a specific line.

For a tiny bit of background (no spoilers, I promise, which is why I’m not telling you any settings), I can say that the first scene, taking place in Chapter 10, involves the protagonist, Kara, speaking with another character, Roland. In this scene, Kara, who’s been charged with saving the life of every person on planet Earth, is having a “down” moment in which she has zero confidence in herself. Roland is attempting to talk her up.

“You’re not a failure, Kara,” Roland counters.

“I’ve always been a failure,” I counter back. “There’s never been a question about that.”

About to counter again, he stops himself and squints. “You know, maybe we do have something in common.”

If he mentions having an affinity for pronouncing the word ‘supposedly’ as ‘supposebly,’ then I will be seriously shocked.

“You’re stubborn, like me.”

Of course not; I’m too unique.

I part from a view of his gorgeous blues as my tone ensnares a healthy dose of reality. “I’m not like you.” My exhausted head droops as I finish, “I’m not like anyone.”

The second scene takes place in Chapter 11, as Kara confronts the antagonist of the novel, who is kind of attracted to her.

“What is your name?”

Turning from him, I cough out a laugh. “You’re about to murder everyone on the planet and you ask me my name as if it’s important?”

“Please,” he begs.

He begs?

Gazing up into his eyes, I see something that may resemble affection, like he’s actually come to care about me. But how can someone about to do something so unspeakably horrific have any sense of caring in him? I’d accuse him of being heartless for committing to destroy my world, but that would be a lie. My world is already gone, stolen from me years ago. Besides, I’m not sure that I have any caring left in me either. I mean, I never did wanna save the human race anyway; I only wanted to save myself.

“Please,” he softly repeats.

Maybe we do have something in common.

“Kara,” I exhale.

Maybe he’s devoid of the same thing I’m missing…

“It’s a true honor to meet you, Kara…”

…a need…

“…a pleasure.”

…something real.

If you didn’t catch the specific line that’s repeated in the two scenes, it’s, “Maybe we do have something in common.” Now, at the time I wrote it into Chapter 11, I didn’t realize I was repeating the line; that wasn’t my intention. When I did realize it, however, and I looked back at Chapter 10 to make sure I was remembering correctly and not just suffering from post-revisions severe brain fry, I began thinking about why that line is repeated.

What I came up with is that Roland is a good guy; he has a good heart. In that Chapter 10 scene, he’s seeing the best in Kara and trying to encourage her to see the same. But Kara rejects this because of the low opinion she has of herself. When Kara is speaking with the antagonist in Chapter 11, she thinks of him as heartless and uncaring. This is when Kara poses the same thought for the antagonist that Roland attempted to pose with her. She sees herself as heartless and uncaring so thinks that she has something in common with the antagonist. In other words, despite having good qualities, Kara only sees the worst in herself, which is why she believes she shares a common trait with the antagonist but not Roland.

This is also why I really like that little exchange at the end of the Chapter 11 excerpt, after she tells him her name, in which Kara’s thoughts align with the antagonist’s words. It’s like the two of them are on the same wavelength.

Anyway, those are my thoughts on my writings and analyzing my writings. Maybe I don’t intend to put meaning into every line or every action, but sometimes it accidentally sneaks in there somehow. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t think I’m some type of genius by any standard, even the lowest ones, but part of the fun of reading and writing is analyzing what’s been read or written. I like seeing meaning in things, especially when I know it wasn’t consciously put there. This makes me believe that maybe there’s more to our thoughts and our creations than even we know.

Can you read the meaning in your own writing? Give it a try. You may surprise yourself. 😉

The Fighting Granddaughter

Once, there was an old man who every day practiced martial arts. And one day, upon seeing the old man practice martial arts, his granddaughter came to him and said, “Grandfather, you’re so good at fighting. Teach me how to fight.”

But he refused.

She came to him on another day, and begged, “Please, grandfather. I want to learn how to fight.”

Again, he said no.

Another day, she came to him and pleaded with him, “Grandfather, come on. You have to teach me how to fight.”

Seeing how determined she was, and admiring her spirit to not give up, he finally agreed, saying, “I will teach you the most important aspect of self-defense,” and so her training began.

Firstly, the old man said to his granddaughter, “Martial arts is for defense only.” Following a nod of her head as a response that she understood, the old man then taught his granddaughter how to have a strong stance. He showed her how to deflect and how to block and how to dodge attacks. And for many hours he had her repeating punches and kicks. She mirrored his every move, trained hard, and was proud of what she was learning, and he was proud of her.

As the old man noticed his granddaughter becoming so sure of herself and her abilities, so did she notice this of herself, and with a hint of arrogance, she argued with her grandfather that it was now time for her to spar with him and learn how to face a real opponent.

Hesitant, her grandfather agreed.

She faced him in a ready stance while he simply stood there. He said, “Begin,” and she rushed at him and was knocked to ground before she realized what had occurred. She got back up, dusted herself off, stood in a ready stance, and again found herself lying in the dirt.

This happened again and again. The old man would stand in one place, say, “Begin,” and she would throw a punch that he would block and counter by throwing her to the ground. She would lunge at him with a kick that he would deflect then trip her to the ground. Again and again, he would stand in one place, say, “Begin,” and she would punch and be tossed to the ground, and she would kick and be taken to the ground.

And the more this happened, the more frustrated she became, and the harder she attacked him, trying desperately to win.

She attacked and he pushed her to the ground. She attacked and he threw her to the ground. Again and again, she would attack and he would stand in one place and he would deflect and block and dodge, and she would end up on the ground every single time.

Seething with anger, she pounded her fists to the dirt as she sat up, turned, and screamed at him, “Why do you keep doing this?! You said you would teach me how to fight a real opponent! Just beating up on me isn’t teaching me anything!”

Patiently, he answered, “I said I would teach you the most important aspect of self-defense.”

Battling the tears welling up in her eyes, she exclaimed, “But I’m the only one of us doing anything! I’m sure if you tried to punch and kick me, I could block and throw you to the ground! You’re not giving me a chance!”

Hands behind his back, the old man said, “Martial arts is for defense only.”

Still frustrated, she objected, “But that’s not fair! One of us has to be the aggressor! If you don’t attack me and I don’t attack you, then there won’t be a fight!”

As his granddaughter sat in her dirt and grass-stained clothes, breathing heavy, holding the most serious stare on him, the old man flashed an innocent smile, bowed to her, and calmly said, “Exactly.”

Exhaling, the granddaughter calmed herself, rose up, and stood before her grandfather. “Begin,” he said.

Taking a breath, she held her hands crossed in front of her and did nothing as the old man let out a young smile.

The Believer and the Skeptic

A believer was preaching in a park about how God created the heavens and the Earth and the animals and man. The crowd was in awe and marveled at his knowledge of all things mystical and magical.

Then a skeptic stepped forward, confidently proclaiming, “That’s not how everything came to be.”

Not one to step back from a challenge, the believer asked, “Then how do you think we became?”

“Through evolution,” the skeptic said. “We began from a single-celled organism, which split and split and mutated, and through millions upon millions of years of natural selection, everything you see around you, everyone you see around you, grew from that one source into all that you see today.”

The believer stroked his chin. “How did you come upon this knowledge?”

“It’s science,” said the skeptic as he proudly handed a book of science to the believer.

Receiving the book, the believer flipped through its pages, his lips curving into a smile as he said simply, “So that’s how God created everything.”

The crowd was in awe, marveling at his humility.

“What of your book?” the skeptic asked. “How can you still be loyal to its words?”

Closing the science book and handing it back to the skeptic, the believer said, “My book merely represents a beginning of knowledge, not the end of it, as does your book. There is still much to learn, which is why I study my book with as much care as you study yours. This is something we have in common.”

The skeptic looked upon the believer in disbelief. “Your faith is not shattered?”

Patting the skeptic on his shoulder, the believer responded, “On the contrary, my faith is strengthened. Of course God’s magnificence is so, that it could not be contained in a single book.”

A Certain Single Existence

Every morning, a boy would wake early to travel to the stream to fetch water. Every morning, when he would peer across the stream, there was a girl on the other side who, too, would wake early to travel to the stream to fetch water. No matter how many times their gazes met, they could not connect. It was as if they were as separate from each other as they were from the outside world.

Why should he believe in love when he grew up not seeing its example?

Why should she believe in love when she grew up without opportunity to feel it?

Every morning, they would wake early to travel to the stream to fetch water. Every morning, they would peer across the stream at each other, believe they felt nothing, and return to their respective villages where kids would play, young adults would sew and sow, and old adults would paint the portraits of those at play or work, or of anyone with the patience to stand still before them.

He didn’t care to pose for portraits for they always painted his soul half empty.

She didn’t care to pose for portraits for they always painted her as if she did not exist.

Frozen Eternity prompt

Recently, I received a writing prompt from Justina at Welcome to My Imagination that is, to be cliché, to die for. Seriously, this is the prompt she gave me:

To reach out would mean to die, but to never speak would mean a frozen eternity.

I spent 10 minutes with this gorgeous prompt and came up with the very short story you can read below. Oh, and please check out Justina’s blog. She writes wonderful short stories as well as Q&A sessions with the characters.

To reach out would mean to die, but to never speak would mean a frozen eternity.

Why did he choose such an eternity? Why would he not reach out, even to me?

I could’ve helped. I would’ve helped, in any way he required. But he didn’t trust me. He didn’t trust the vows we made to each other five years ago, this day.

I kneel beside the headstone, crunching the fallen autumn leaves as I settle before his final tribute. Sliding two fingers across those words I had engraved on the marble slab, I only say them in my head because I’m afraid to say them aloud: ‘To reach out would mean to die, but to never speak would mean a frozen eternity.’

He wouldn’t object to the message. It’s how he lived. Perhaps he was afraid to live aloud, the same way I refuse to speak those words aloud.

Perhaps he thought himself brave for facing his demons alone when all along he had an army behind him, ready to fight for him at his beckon call.

Perhaps he wanted to find an answer for himself, feel like he didn’t need help, and would never, and so would at least hold onto his freedom even while imprisoned in his own mind.

Maybe he didn’t need help. Maybe this was his answer. I don’t know.

Mother once told me that a man doesn’t seek love, only validation, and when he feels the woman in his life can no longer offer him the validation sought, he leaves her.

But what did she know? She was divorced three times.

Or maybe she had it all figured out. I don’t know.

“Is that why you chose to leave me?” I ask of the dirt as the unusually sunny day warms the tears dripping from my chin. “Is that why you chose to live in your frozen eternity?”

I can only wish he had chosen to die.

“What The Hell Is That On Your Roof?” Prompt

I recently participated in a writing prompt exchange with K.J. over at kj86chapman. She gave me a wonderful prompt that I spent ten minutes with and came up with the very short story you can read below. Hope you enjoy. 🙂

Oh, the original prompt looked like this:
“What the hell is that on your roof?”
“Oh, that’s just some sciency crap of my brother’s. He’s trying to communicate with extra-terrestrials. Lame, I know.”
Does it always blink like that?”

By the way, if you wish to send her an original prompt of your own, click this link.

“What the hell is that on your roof?” my friend Kevin asks as he stares through the open window carved into the side of my tree house.

“Oh, that’s just some sciency crap of my brother’s,” I say from the window carved into the other side. “He’s trying to communicate with extra-terrestrials. Lame, I know.”

Kevin is a space nut. He likes stars and planets and galaxies and supernovas and black holes and worm holes.

“Does it always blink like that?” he asks.

“The extra-terrestrial? Sure.”

Me? I prefer doughnut holes.

“That’s a real alien sitting up on your roof?” he gasps.

“The correct term is extra-terrestrial,” I say, still peeking into my neighbor’s house through the other window with my small telescope. “He gets so offended when you say the ‘A’ word.”

I’m searching for something interesting to look at. Not that I ever find anything interesting. Sure, there are times I’ve caught Mrs. Hanson undressing, but really, it’s not like she wears a secret agent suit under her clothes or anything. The second I spot her, I turn away as quick as I can. My older brother says she’s MILF, but he won’t tell me what that means.

“Wait,” Kevin says, still in shock. “How did you get an alien on your roof?”

“What did I say about the ‘A’ word?”

“Fine!” How did you get an extra-terrestrial on your roof?!”

I wish he wouldn’t yell like that. The last thing I need is for dad to come up to the tree house again and tell us to keep it down because mom’s trying to study and she can hear us all the way in the house house.

“Mike!” he exclaims. “How?”

“That’s just where he and my brother decided is the best place to send a signal.”

How can Kevin act like it’s a huge deal? It’s just an easily offended extra-terrestrial sitting on our roof, helping my brother tinker with some techy crap ‘cause my brother’s science fair experiment accidentally crashed his ship and now my brother wants to help him flag down another ship so he can get back home.

I step away from my small telescope, failing to see anything good at my neighbor’s house.

Plopping onto my bean bag as Kevin won’t quit gawking out the window carved into the other side of the tree house, I groan, “Nothing interesting ever happens.”

Of Love And Its Greatest Obstacle

Marcus enjoyed hosting dinner guests. He and his wife, Theodora, took great care to lovingly set the table with their finest dishes. Invitations were handcrafted with Theodora’s sweeping and circular calligraphy. And the meal was made of the freshest, finest food prepared with great care and love.

Following dinner, after some guests had departed, there were habitually six who remained, retiring to the courtyard to lounge below the twinkling stars, looking to them for inspiration as the companions discussed matters of importance. As a tradition, they each would have turns posing a question to answer, with only five of the six interested in taking part.

At this time, it was the turn of the gracious host, Marcus, a proud man who wore the most expensive robes, not because he could but because it was expected of him.

“How long has it been since our last dinner together?” Thomas asked, his wife, Uma, resting her head upon his lap to close her eyes for a nap.

Ronus, an older friend of the family asked, “A month?”

“I believe it has been,” Theodora said, resting comfortably in her large, pillow-filled chair.

Marcus lit up with a joyous smile as he stood, the only one who had yet to seat himself. “Then I have spent the past month thinking of a subject to discuss as well as the correct answer to it.”

Belly laughs all around, David, the younger cousin of Marcus, gestured to his favorite relative. “Well then, cousin, let us hear your question and your answer so that I may prove you wrong.”

Awash in amusement, Marcus held up a hand. “Prepare for disappointment, my cousin, for this is a topic of which you know nothing: love.”

Theodora beamed a smile at her husband as snickering friends caused David to swallow his jagged pride, allowing Marcus to continue.

Hushing everyone as if he had a great announcement, Marcus said, “Here is the question: What is the greatest obstacle to love?”

“A wonderful question,” Thomas said, scratching his dark beard. “I think you should also take this chance to bestow us all with your equally wonderful answer.”

With a bow of his head, Marcus said, “Lack of understanding.” Sitting on the cushioned arm of his wife’s chair, he said, “When one fails to understand his mate, her needs, her wants, the wishes of her heart…” He admired the sparkle in his wife’s deep blue eyes. “…Then he creates an obstacle to love, not only between himself and his mate, but also himself and himself.”

David eyed his more experienced cousin. “Explain that last part.”

“As you will discover one day when you court and marry a fine, young woman,” Marcus said to his close relative, “any obstacle between your mate and her happiness may at any time become her excuse to force you into spending a night or more sleeping on the couch.”

Laughter burst out as Thomas added, “And as the married of us know, the only love to be found while lying on the couch comes from oneself.”

The supporting chuckles and moonlit smiles continued as Ronus held up a mirror to himself, lightly brushing his gray hair over his ears.

But as the joyous sounds dulled, Marcus became curious of who could offer a superior answer. “Thomas, would you care to be next?”

“Well,” Thomas said, clearing his throat, “following a whole couple of minutes of thought on this particular subject…”

“As compared to a whole month,” David jested to Marcus as Marcus plucked a strawberry from one of the many silver trays of fruit set about, feeding the strawberry to his beloved wife as she lightly giggled.

“…I will have to say that jealousy is the greatest obstacle to love. I have witnessed, at a time or two, a mate growing unhappy and drained from the grip of an excessively jealous man, a man who will not allow his love to speak with who she wished, female or male; a man who will not allow his love to meet with who she wished, female or male; a man who can be her only friend, her only family, her only confidant. A jealous man is one who denies his love the freedom of blossoming and flourishing as a beautiful flower.”

Marcus nodded his head, almost impressed, but not quite. Still, he offered his friend the credit he deserved. “A wise answer, indeed.”

Thomas leaned back in his chair, casually folding his arms. “I know.” He led the laughs that followed his wit.

“David,” Marcus said as he noticed Ronus continuing to admire himself, “I have been waiting with bated breath to hear from you.”

With the charming smile of which he’s well known, David said, “The correct answer is indifference. For what greater obstacle to love could there be than not loving at all?”

“I believe you are on the right track,” Thomas said. He looked around as this time the chuckling began as he finished saying, “I am indifferent toward your answer.”

Marcus turned to his gorgeous wife, as fond of her as he was proud. “And last but certainly far from least,” Marcus said as he cradled his wife’s hand, “my exquisite wife, what do you believe is the greatest obstacle to love?”

“Other than your husband,” David said, bringing a circle of belly laughs to the surface once again.

Calming to a mere chuckle, Theodora sipped from her wine glass then said, “The greatest obstacle to love? Why, it is love itself.”

A smile of considerable satisfaction adorned Marcus’ face.

“You see, my husband, when a man falls obsessively for a woman, he can smother her with affectionate gifts to win her approval, not understanding that trinkets can never manufacture whatever feelings she does not have for him. A man who falls obsessively for a woman may become jealous and possessive; tread in fear with thoughts of another man possibly stealing her from his side. A man who falls obsessively for a woman may set himself on a path of indifference toward what she truly desires, if such desires are counter to what he desires for her as a man in love.”

Stroking his wife’s hand, Marcus said, “Well, I’m glad we were able to avoid such drama.”

A devilish grin forming across her lips, Theodora asked, “Avoid such drama? From where do you think I obtained my answer?”

Marcus laughed along with everyone else, placing a gentle kiss on his wife’s hand in good spirit. “Since I am no longer such a man, my darling, I will have to assume you trained me well.”

Theodora held her grin. “That’s why I married you, my dear. I felt you would take well to training.”

Turning his attention to Ronus, Marcus was about to prod an answer from him when David asked, “Ronus, why do you continue to gaze at yourself in that mirror?”

“Yes,” Thomas added. “What is this newfound fascination you have with yourself?”

With a raised eyebrow, Marcus said, “I think he’s turned narcissist on us.”

“It was bound to happen sometime,” Theodora said to continued laughter.

Ronus lowered the mirror, focusing his attention on Marcus. “You asked what is the greatest obstacle to love. This entire time, I have been looking at it.”

Puzzled faces engulfed the witnesses to this response.

“You are not wrong,” Ronus continued, “none of you. You are all correct in that lack of understanding, jealousy, indifference and even love itself can be obstacles to love.”

Ronus passed the mirror to Marcus. “But if you hold this in front of you and view what it is reflecting, then you should see that the greatest obstacle to love is the person who gives in to the conduct that hinders love, regardless of what that conduct is. And it is the same person who can choose to cease such conduct, remove that which hinders love, and love as one should.”

Leaning back in his chair, fingers clasped over his belly, Ronus smiled. “It is we who are both love’s greatest adversary and love’s finest nurturer.”

Confusion washed away as mouths hung agape. Marcus had no proud response. Theodora found no playful angle. David could not question what was meant. Thomas was denied an opportunity to insert doubt.

Picking a grape from a sliver tray, Ronus cleverly fed it to himself as he said, “Well at least the crickets are chirping in approval of my answer.”

Five Oracles

He stroked his daughter’s hair and smiled at her, his eyes begging for her to hear how proud he was to have her in his life.

But that’s not why they hiked up the mountain at sunrise this day. This day was the day that his daughter had come of age, the day when she would finally learn of her fate.

The father beckoned her to a dark entrance carved out in the mountain wall. “My daughter, my precious daughter, you have been confused about what your role among our people will be. You do not know what to do with your life. And so, now that you are old enough to make the journey, you will discover your destiny.”

“Is that why we’re at the Sacred Shrine?” she asked.

“Yes. Just as fathers before me have brought their daughters before you, and mothers have brought their sons, so will we now take part in this grand tradition.”

With a nervous nod, the exotic teenage girl said, “I’m ready, father.”

“Once you enter,” her father said, stroking his short, brown beard, “there will be five oracles. Each one will inform you of your destiny, but only one will be speaking the truth.”

The girl gulped loudly.

“It is up to you to determine which one is truthful. You may enter when you are ready.”

“Yes, father.”

He observed his daughter, her solid stature, her poise in even the most stressful of circumstances, then he looked to the entrance and then back to her.

As she eyed the obscure entrance, he looked to the sky, then back to her.

As she bit her lip, he looked to the ground, then back to her.

“You may enter any time now,” he said. “At this rate, the sun will set by the time you’re halfway there.”

“Yes, father,” she said with a spurted laugh.

Approaching the entrance, she took a deep breath, her hands carefully crawling along the jagged, rocky sides as she disappeared into the mouth of the Sacred Shrine.

The father sat, closed his eyes, and meditated in the warming sun as he waited for his daughter to return.

He listened as the wind spoke of its adventures flying free.

He drifted with the leaves fluttering down from their respective swaying branches.

He felt the immobile travels of each blade of grass surrounding him.

He hoped his daughter would get back quickly because he had to go and he didn’t want to relieve himself near the Sacred Shrine.

Plus, what if she caught him in the act of defiling the area around the shrine? How embarrassing would that be?

Opening his eyes, he stood and turned to see his daughter exiting the Sacred Shrine, her face awash in disappointment.

“What happened?” he asked.

Bowing her head, she said, “It was a waste of time.”

“What did the oracles say to you?”

“One of them said I would become a seamstress. Another told me I’d spend my life as a cook. The other two said I was destined to be a crafts maker and a barmaid.”

Her father stroked his beard. “You sound almost ill.”

“I am. I don’t want to be any of those things. Every time I was told what I was destined to do, I felt in my heart that I wanted to do something else.”

With interest, he asked, “And that would be?”

“I want to be a caretaker, like auntie. I want to care for the elderly, help them, listen to their stories, and learn from the wisdom they’ve acquired over their many years.”

She gazed up at her father, his proud eyes returning her bold stare as she added, “One day, I want to pass on what I’ve learned to whoever will listen to me.”

“So which of the five oracles were truthful with you?”

The daughter became frustrated. “That’s another thing! You said there were five oracles inside, but there were only four. Where was the fifth oracle? I even questioned the other four about the whereabouts of the fifth and they wouldn’t answer me!”

“My daughter,” the father said as he smiled, “I did not tell you there were five oracles inside the Sacred Shrine. I told you that once you entered the Sacred Shrine, there would be five oracles.”

He knelt down.

Eye to eye with his daughter, he pointed to her heart. “The fifth oracle is the one inside of you. And as you have discovered, it will always be truthful.”