Clean Slate

Dear Hatchling,

Read this first. It’s important.

You are a phoenix but you look like a human. When you go out into the world and meet humans, do not tell them that you are a phoenix. They will not understand, not believe and most likely lock you up. Whatever you do, do not go out amongst humans until you have read all of these notes. Frankly, the inside of the shell is no longer big enough to write everything down.

Humans will tell you that a phoenix is a bird. Ignore them. Do not contradict, because as previously mentioned, it will not go well for you.

When humans tell you that a phoenix dies in fire and rises new-born from the ashes, nod and agree. It’s nonsense, but again, as previously mentioned, just go with it. Apparently when my shell forms it will steam a bit for a few years, and when you hatch out it will disintegrate into fine powder after a few years. Humans tend not to pay attention to fine details like that, so misunderstandings arise.

When it is your time to be reborn, find somewhere really good that no human will find. Best not to let them misunderstand any more than they have to.

For your information, millions of years ago, when you were already old, the dominant creature was something called a dinosaur. Back then, you looked like a dinosaur, but bigger and meaner than any other dinosaur. When these humans were evolving from a monkey in a tree, all phoenix kind got together to decide on a new shape. We discovered that if you want to know what a human has been eating recently, dive at them, screaming, from the sky in the shape of a huge bird, and they will show you their current meal and whatever they ate yesterday.

Back then, the result was an ambitious monkey, frozen to the spot, relieved, and grateful to have not yet invented underwear. However, there came a time when the response was to throw rocks and sharp sticks, so now you look like a human. A very big and aggressive human.

It is for the best.

At time of writing, you are old and immensely fat. At time of reading, you are newly hatched and in need of a good meal. When you get old and fat, you will need to find a convenient cave, or in this new era, an abandoned nuclear shelter.

Just remember, you are immortal, but you only last thirty or forty years before you are reborn and forget everything. Be grateful that humans invented paper, and ink, because it makes passing on the memories so much easier.

When the shell forms around you, write on the inside all of the things you read on the inside of the shell you hatched from. Especially the bit that explains how to read. I know that makes no sense, but word is that even though we must have an innate ability to read, if you leave out the instructions on how to read, you won’t be able to read.

My personal opinion, recorded on the inside of the shell over millions of rebirths, is that this is magic. The instructions on how to read are not meant to be read, but form a spell which works just by looking at it.

At least, that’s what it said on the inside of my shell I read before I hatched.

I also found the bit that said “kick here to exit” pretty useful, so I’ve passed that on to you.

Apart from that, before the shell forms around you, write separate notes on all the things you really want to know in your new life, because you will remember nothing. Put those notes somewhere really safe, nearby, and make a note of that in really big letters on the inside of the shell.

Now, on to the important stuff. Humans come in two distinct shapes. It’s pot luck what happens to you in the shell. Regarding shape number one, on pages ninety-seven to one hundred and twelve, you will find notes on what it means to be a woman. Regarding shape number two, the notes are at the bottom of page one hundred and twelve.

Regarding my choice of location for rebirth, this was not really my choice. My friend, Susan, who is also a phoenix, stepped in front of a bus. For a human this means serious injury and possible death, but as an immortal phoenix, this means a surprise rebirth. You will notice that your shell is next to a pile of dust. That is the remains of Susan’s shell. With such a sudden rebirth, and what with being unconscious after the accident, Susan was doomed to wake up in a blank shell, so I promised to be here to go over the basics.

A blank shell is the worst thing for a phoenix. Everything you were will be lost.

For Susan, I’ve written the how to read spell on the outside. Maybe it will work.

That’s the introduction done. Best of luck with my future. The main notes are typewritten and were prepared some time back, because the modern phoenix needs to move with the times.

Specifically, Times Roman.

Best wishes, your former self.

# # #

Written in response to the BlogBattle prompt Blank.

Image from Pixabay.

19 thoughts on “Clean Slate”

  1. Nice way how the story unfolded and we discover with the character what is going on. Of course I enjoyed the little bits like ‘kick here to exit’ and that instructions for being a woman takes 15 pages while they’re a note at the bottom of a page for a man. My imagination was sparked by trying to imagine how these eggs are formed, and ultimately I conjured up something more like a cocoon. Regardless, this is quite an interesting premise!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It was a bit of a weird one – I already had a draft of something completely different, an idea I liked but an execution just felt wrong, so I went to do the evening round with the sheep.
      Then, as you do, I started thinking about an immortal being with a renewal life-cycle, like a butterfly with an endlessly looping metamorphosis, and how knowledge might be passed from one instance to the next.

      (I decided to ignore the small detail that this is pretty much what we humans have to do anyway, passing knowledge down the generations.)

      Liked by 1 person

  2. You know when you read a story, and it has just the right amount of world-building, plus it’s the sort of thing you do, and it’s so good that you really wish you’d written it? And then you realize that now you can’t.

    So you go back and read the tale a second time because it really had that certain something. Bravo. : )

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m going to put that down to writing it twice. I literally wrote it in my head while I was doing the evening round with the sheep, and then had to re-create/re-write it all over again at the keyboard when I got in.

      I think there was an awful lot more padding in my head that got pruned down at the keyboard.

      Like

  3. Another great piece Mark. Start the New Year in good form…. as it that synonymous with the recycling of time here? The old year dying and the new forming. Do we learn from the previous one or start afresh making the same mistakes year after year?

    Fascinating concept too. It reminds me of Roland exiting the Dark Tower remembering briefly what went before as he steps back into the dessert where he started before his memory resets. Is this a life parody for death and rebirth? Does a soul die or find new life? The reset losing all before.

    I also think forgetting might be a major assist too. Imagine living forever and the potential for boredom through longevity. Or waiting knowing that life proper will expire as the sun dies and then what?

    Great story and so like the inside the egg annotation instructions.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I must admit, the new year aspect was not a conscious choice. On the other hand, my subconscious does seem pretty good at chucking out all sorts of odd connections, and really my head just latched on to recycling and rebirth.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Ah, this was great! I loved all of it. The humour was lovely, and the idea of the story itself was really cool if — in a way — kinda heartbreaking. Especially: “A blank shell is the worst thing for a phoenix. Everything you were will be lost.” Reminded me a little of Highlander, in a way. I could read more about these phoenixes!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s one of the trickiest things about doing #BlogBattle – is there a book in this idea, or a short story collection, and if so, do I have the time to write it?
      I already have a list of phoenix questions – how many are there, how do friendships pass from one iteration to the next, how often does one help another through a blank-shell event…?
      My November one with the genie is in the same category. I’ve found the time to draft one additional story, but there’s scope for so much more.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s the tricky bit, but it’s also the beauty of it! When the ball keeps rolling and you don’t want it to stop, you know you’re on to a winner. Having the time to write a book is another matter entirely, something I’m well aware of, haha…

        Liked by 1 person

  5. “… and grateful to have not yet invented underwear.” LOL Written as a letter to my future self sort of thing, this was pretty funny! 🙂 Where’d this idea spur from, and are there more plans for using this in something else? ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This is the trouble with my head – no telling where these things come from. I was literally walking across the fields to check on sheep and thinking about “blank” because my first attempt at this prompt was rubbish. I started from the immortal life-cycle and passing things on, and then the jump to the phoenix.

      It feels like it ought to have a future, and oddly enough, I was thinking about it this afternoon as I checked on the sheep in a growing easterly storm. More letters seems to be the way to go, perhaps a small network of phoenixes corresponding.

      It takes a bit of discipline, but letters can really work, and I’ve done a few epistolary stories in the past. The trick for this would be to get two or three distinctive voices, so as a project that puts it way off in the future since I’m currently writing a multiple 1st person narrative and maintaining those distinctive voices is exhausting.:)
      (I did have to look up what epistolary meant when an editor mentioned it.)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. (LOL yes, when I first heard it used casually by a writer friend a couple of years ago, I had to look espistolary up too.) I do hope you’ll be able to ruminate on this phoenix lore some more in the future! But I’d love to hear more about your current WIP and characters!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Epistolary: It was that weird moment when it turned out that I’d done something “clever” and there was a word for it. All I did was write a story that worked best as something like a set of emails to home telling the family how things were going. It just happened to be a synthetic warrior telling it’s creator how the war was going, and how it’s understanding of the war was changing.

        But, hay, ewe are forgiven for the use of ruminate. 🙂

        The current WIP is a monster, and the bets are still open whether I win, or it does. I’m writing book 3 and have finally got it to the point where the first pass of editing can happen. It’s also where I find out how much the voices have drifted over the years since I started this one about 2015.

        I suspect that even the “easy” voice has changed, and its really just me in a bad mood with the brakes off and whatever vestigial social skills I have completely suppressed.
        The only thing that feels truly right is that the “me” character is loud, angry and energetic, and I seem to read that faster than the more staid and pedantic character he periodically clashes with. I’ve no idea whether I’m really reading faster or it’s just the impression of the writing, but whichever it is, I says I have got something right.
        (I will not be introducing my angry character to #BlogBattle as he does not even come close to PG13 and is more like a foul-mouthed PG45.)

        Liked by 1 person

      3. It’s always fun to discover we’ve been clever without realizing! 😀

        Well, I suppose I could just say you could chew the cud over the idea for a bit. 😉 haha

        Sounds like epic fun to write, at the very least! I rarely drift past PG13, though, so I doubt I’ll ever meet this angry man of yours. Still, I hope you continue to enjoy the writing of him!

        Liked by 1 person

      4. He’s not someone you bring out in polite society.
        Looking at it, my narrator in my urban fantasies has similar traits, but not so extreme, and that one really gets toned down in some of the flash/shorts I’ve written. Funnily enough, the set of letters I did as that character is probably bordering on PG13, because he’s on his best behaviour writing to a customer unhappy with a magical nose-job, or to the local council protesting about the need for planning consent for the new mountains in his garden.
        Apparently I’m quite good at writing characters who default to outraged frustration.

        Liked by 1 person

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