Shades of My Past

By Branwen Gillen

Author’s Note: This is based off a daydream I had during a serious depressive episode today. It includes a lot of personal introspection and recriminations. If you’re not interested in my existential angst, please don’t bother reading. If you continue, I hope it’s at least entertaining.

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I was sitting, holding my face in my hands in a darkened room, eyes closed, alone in the house. Blessed silence reigned throughout my parent’s home except for the one place I needed it most: inside my skull. My brain felt like it was trying to crack open its container and spill out onto the floor. The blank page on my computer screen wasn’t any closer to getting filled as words refused to spill out from my fingertips. My bed looked warm and inviting but I didn’t want to sleep the day away again.

The last few months I’ve had a changeling fantasy story on the brain. The problem, as ever, was the question of what I wanted out of it. An escape to a magical world? A fantasy place I could live happily ever after with my loved ones? A body free of pain? The more I pondered those questions, the more they rang in my ears as the start of a suicide note rather than a story.

The sharp rapping of claws being drummed on my bedside table brought me back to reality. They had to be a figment of my imagination, I was intimately familiar with that sound from phantasmagorical ruminations a decade past. When I saw that she was there, the tiny pale-skinned thirteen-year-old vampire that I dreamed of in my twenties. Long black claws, cat-like red eyes, pointed ears and black hair with a red lock caressing her cheek. She was wearing a black cheongsam embroidered with purple dragons, I remembered writing that scene for her but couldn’t for the life of me remember the name of the store or the clerk she bought it from.

“So I’ve finally gone mad?” I asked her seriously. She smirked and shrugged, “Not really, consider this more a daydream or a product of your feverish nightmares. You need to take better care of yourself; go see the doctor when you’re sick you know?”

I could feel the tears coming. “How can I take care of myself when I couldn’t even take care of you? I was supposed to make your life better, even if I can’t help people in the real world I could at least take care of you. Let you be happy, finally. That’s all I ever wanted.”

She sat up, a tentacle slithering from her wrist to wrap around the arm of my chair to pull me towards her. Reaching up, she ran her claws through my hair carefully and tenderly. “I’m happy when you’re not torturing yourself. I was everything that you wanted and things that you needed to explore. It was juvenile and reckless but you needed that, you needed to break out of your cage.”

“I was an asshole,” I admitted.

“But you learned better,” Sara insisted, smiling. “I’m your manifestation of the forbidden fruit, darling. As long as we’re all consenting adults it’s ok to pluck me off the tree and eat me every now and again, right?”

I nodded. “You’re still a part of me. I wouldn’t be as overt with you now but I can’t deny the desires you represent.”

“I know,” she said, slipping into my lap. “I just need to remind you that what you want is ok sometimes. No matter what it is, you can tell right from wrong. I trust you more than I trust myself in that respect. But I’m afraid that I’m not going to be the only one of us you talk to tonight.”

Giving her a wary look, I shook my head. “So I’m getting scrooged only by my old characters?”

“Hey, dreams dredge up some stupid shit,” she answered with a shrug. “And who knows, maybe it’ll be cathartic. I know you’re not the person who needed me anymore but…”

“I do still need you sometimes,” I sighed. “At the very least I could make things right for you.”

“You’re too nice,” she said, slapping me gently on the cheek. “Think about yourself a little bit, for me.”

I felt a strong hand grip my shoulder as Sara faded in my arms. Tsukiko span me around to face her, white hair framing her stern scowl. “Why can’t you finish me?”

“Phrasing!” I quipped. When I saw her drawing back her hand for a slap, I held up my hands to ward her off. “Ok! Ok! Sorry! Still in Sara’s mindset there, ok? I know this is a dream but even so I don’t want to imagine what one of your slaps is like!”

She lowered her hand. “Then, by all the gods, answer the damn question.”

“I got disheartened,” I confessed. “When I began writing Sara, I promised myself that I wouldn’t ever shy away from difficult subject matter. I thought that bad things needed to be confronted but… I feel like I went too far. That’s partly it. I also don’t know how to turn writing into a career and you’re… You’re really just fanfiction. For a game that’s undergone a whole new edition change. That I turned into a novel that I could try to sell, which failed. Then life happened, I got sick and needed surgery, I started concentrating on my health and finally came to the realization that I needed to transition. And… And I’m sorry I made you change gender against your will. I regret that more than anything. And what I did to Kuro and, well, everyone in that story.”

She looked stunned. Sinking to the ground, she flopped into a cross-legged sitting position. I hadn’t realized how big she was, sitting down on the floor she was still about as tall as I was sitting down. Though apparently my legs are so long that I’m shorter sitting than it seems I should be too. Tsukiko stared off into space for a while before saying anything and when she finally did, she gave me a noncommittal “Huh.”

“Um, just ‘huh’? No grand revelations?”

“I wasn’t expecting an apology from my creator,” she elaborated. “That takes a bit to process. If you feel guilty about what you did with Fate and the Iron Tiger, why do it?”

I pinched the bridge of my nose. “Because I am, or was, a horny idiot who didn’t think about the implications of what I was writing half the time. Or maybe because I was writing the equivalent of a tg bodice ripper without knowing it. Forced femme was an easy way for me to fantasize about becoming a girl without the guilt of making the decision for myself. What I see when I re-read Fate is basically torture porn and I feel guilty for that.”

“But everything works out in the end, right?”

“Sure, that’s the plan,” I sighed. “Writing conflict is difficult, it’s hard to know where to draw the line. Technically nothing should be taboo but…”

“You still feel guilty,” Tsukiko nodded. “I like who I’ve become and I think Kuro, Feather and the others will too. After all, you wrote us that way. That’s the point isn’t it?”

“I still think there’s something to be said for an otherwise apparently cis male becoming a girl and learning to love it,” I answered. “But it has unfortunate implications when it comes to consent that you need to address. Fate can’t really address those but I’d still like to finish it. But I still feel guilty. But I still want to finish it. And so I’m stuck in this recursive loop.”

“So my story is finding strength through femininity?” she asked rhetorically, staring off into space for a moment before looking to me and smiling broadly. “I like it.”

I blinked. “Ok, now you’ve surprised me. You’re really ok with it?”

“If it will help us both move on, yes,” she answered, standing up. “I’m much better off than I was, there’s peace to be found in that. And you left Rage in a rather precarious position last you left off, I think she deserves a happy ending too. I have to warn you, though, some of the characters that are coming are going to be worse to deal with than Sara and I.”

Scratching my head, I wracked my brain to think of characters of mine that would be harder to deal with than they were. As Tsukiko faded, my door slowly creaked open, revealing three girls. One was an Asian elf, standing next to a girl with red hair wearing a private school uniform, both around fourteen or fifteen. The girl standing behind them appeared to be Italian, I knew she was supposed to be around sixteen but her body had the curves of a twenty-year-old. “Oh, right, you three,” I said in resignation.

The Asian elf slapped me, hard. “How the hell did you ignore us?”

Rubbing my cheek, I wondered how vivid my imagination could get since that actually hurt. “What do you mean?”

“Look at us,” Lina said, striding over to my computer to lean against the edge of the desk, crossing her arms under her breasts. “Sure, you did some rotten things to people around us but we’re the characters who wanted the change that you gave us. Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful but how the hell did you not see us for what we are?”

“Admittedly, most of us wanted the change but didn’t expect it or consent to it,” Serphina observed. “Was that your way of absolving yourself of responsibility for your desires too?”

“I’m not trans, I’m just a transformation fetishist,” Naomi mocked me. “Coward.”

“Denial is an insidious thing,” I told them, looking down at the floor.

“You don’t have to apologize to us,” Lina said, “we got what we wanted after all. And you got to live through us for a little while, so I think we’re all square. But can you handle what you did to J.J.?”

I was starting to get angry. “I don’t know how many times I have to apologize for being a horny idiot. I wanted a relationship so badly, it was driving me insane. I did and said a lot of things I genuinely regret but I will not accept fault for everything. J.J. and Jobe, what I wrote for them was harsh but I don’t regret it. I only had a part in what happened to Jobe but I still don’t regret my part in it.”

“So what you did was ok because they’re assholes?” Seraphina asked.

“No, what happened to them was unconscionable,” I answered.

“But you don’t regret,” Naomi snarled.

“I’m sorry, I’m not perfect,” I admitted. “Part of me wants to see bad people get theirs. In J.J.’s case, the plan was for the character to learn better and become a better person. We never got that far, though. I know it’s cheap to do bad things to bad people so that it’s ‘ok’ when it really isn’t. Fiction and reality don’t mix well together like that. Part of me still wants to see bad people punished, even though I know that doesn’t work in reality and that rape is horrifying. Part of me still wants to have the fantasy – that I KNOW is a fantasy. I’m not a knight in shining armour. I’m not a knight at all.”

“The question is, can you live with that?” Lina asked.

“I guess I have to. I don’t want to go anywhere.”

“Well,” Seraphina said as the three girls began to fade, “tell the next character that.”

A sense of dread fell over me as the air in the room became heavy and oppressive. A fearful realization of what was being dredged out of my deep subconscious and spewed forth into the dream world settled like a chill into my bones. “No,” I whispered as a character I hadn’t thought about in a long time slid my closet door open and stepped out from the darkness. “No, not you.”

“Verily,” the knight said, shining plate mail armour reflecting my image like a distorted mirror. “We are Devilbane Chrysomer…”

“I know who you are!” I screeched, standing to confront the spectre of my childhood. “And I don’t want you here! Take that stupid fucking intelligent sword and shove it up your arse!”

He scratched the back of his head sheepishly. “I’m sorry, I’m not sure where this hatred for me comes from. We adventured for many years, from Greyhawk to the Abyss and back, when you were a child.”

“You have no place in my psyche anymore,” I spat. “You’re a child’s idea of goodness. A seed of what it means to be ‘a man’ planted in my brain by my parents that I weeded out and burned a long time ago. You’re not me, you’re what other people wanted me to be. I was never you. I hate you and everything you represent! Unthinking deference to authority! The death of individualism! Constant criticism! Naive goodness! Shallow thinking!”

“I don’t see the problem. Authority is necessary for organization and unity under the rule of law. Unity is strength. Just laws are good.”

“But authority decides what is good for you,” I snapped. “You don’t think, you obey. You’ve given up your free will, subsumed what you want for other people who tell you they have what’s best for YOU in mind, but miraculously their every suggestion makes you do what’s best for THEM. You are the result of hypocracy. You are everything about myself that I hated and I just want you to die once and for all!”

“If you hate me so, why do I yet exist?”

“Because I can’t dig you out of my brain!” I screeched, clutching my head as I fell to my knees. The pain was back, like a shard of glass embedded in the centre of my head. “You were my DnD character for ten years. You were how I connected to my parents. You were how I was allowed to escape myself when they were looking. I didn’t even dare to whisper what I really wanted.”

“We are not girls.”

“YES I AM!” I shouted, slamming my fist into the ground hard enough to open a gash in my knuckles. “I’m a girl. My name is Branwen. You can’t make me doubt that anymore, spectre. I’m not a child anymore.”

“And besides,” Sara purred, fading into existence curled up like a cat in my chair, “she has friends now.”

Devilbane drew Chrysomer from its scabbard. “Demon! I’ve slain more of your kind than you can count! I’ve faced the Demon Queen Lolth in her own den! You dare…”

“I always dare,” Sara interrupted, uncurling to stand. She seemed so tiny compared to the man she was facing but I knew better than anyone how deceiving size can be. “She doesn’t need you, in fact you’re hurting her. I might be the needs of an adolescent trying to understand how to be an adult but you’re a child’s need for simplicity and protection, perhaps even structure. Also denial. A defensive mechanism for her own brain while it was struggling with itself while it didn’t have the perspective to understand what it was going through. I wonder if someone will come along to kill me in time?”

He seemed confused. “Was that a threat?”

“You actually caught that? Oh dear, I thought I was being subtle.”

“Sara,” I interjected, my headache finally subsiding, “you’re not here to kill him.”

She pouted at me. “Awwww, but…”

Managing to stand, my head throbbing and the world spinning, I ran one hand through the demon princess’ hair and kissed her on the forehead. “Thank you but I don’t want you to kill anymore. I’ve got a better hero for this job. The one who really supplanted Devilbane.”

Sara looked confused. “Who?”

In answer, an arrow shot through the brick wall in the side of the house, ricocheted of the solid steel computer tower on my desk, penetrated Devilbane’s breastplate as if it were tissue paper and embedded itself in his chest. As he went down screaming, the wall burst into shards as she punched her way through the wall, floating gently down to land on the floor. She wasn’t as tall as Devilbane, but she was dark-haired and wore modern travel clothes with a compound bow slung over her back.

“Hi,” Atalanta greeted, tutting herself when she saw Devilbane still alive on the ground, stoically clutching his wound. “Ugh, wasn’t as great a shot as I thought. Mother’s going to drill me for that.”

Sara looked to me. “Who…?”

“Sara Waite,” I introduced with a smile, “this is Atalanta, my Scion character. Daughter of Artemis, wife of Kaguya Hime and incorrigible seducer of women.”

“Sorry,” Atlanta apologized, stretching, “I would have been here earlier but Kaguya Hime and Circe kept me up all night. What’d I miss?”

I shrugged. “Mostly a bunch of self-flagellation and introspection. Likely a bit of purging.”

“So I didn’t miss anything,” she said with a grin, nocking another arrow in her bow as she stalked over to Devilbane. Kicking Chrysomer out of his grasp, she planted one foot on his chest to keep him down. “And I really mean that. I didn’t miss anything. That means I meant to miss your heart right now.”

“I’m not an idiot,” he protested.

“No, you’re simple. You let people point you at targets they want dead and you don’t ask questions,” Atlanta observed. “You’ve got a lot of flaws, but mostly you’re a remnant of indoctrination. I’m your logical evolution.”

“Then go ahead,” Devilbane grimaced, his eyes on the tip of her arrow. “If you’re the more evolved species, supplant me then.”

She laughed. “See, this is exactly what I mean! Evolution doesn’t work like that, simple boy.”

Taking her foot off his chest, she knelt and set her bow aside next to Chrysomer. Planting her left hand on his chest, she wrapped her glowing right hand on the shaft of the arrow and pulled. It came free easily, without so much as a grimace from Devilbane. His armour began to melt, his body shrinking as a bright glow expanded to fill my mind with light.

As the glow subsided, I found myself looking down on a brown-haired girl around eight years old. I recognized the room from a house I hadn’t lived in for thirty-one years. The floor was scattered with He-Man and She-Ra toys along with the old first edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons books. She turned her head to look up at me, holding my old figures of Teela and ‘Evil’ Lyn. “You’re older me, aren’t you?” she asked ingenuously.

“I… Sort of, I think,” I said, choking up a little as I knelt. “What are you playing?”

“Teela and Lyn are going to going to rescue She-Ra from Skeletor and Hordak,” she said, pointing to where the two villains had She-Ra locked up behind bars in Fright Zone playset. “Wish I had a Wonder Woman figure but they don’t make any good ones.”

I chuckled. “Well, don’t worry, it’ll take a while but she’ll get the kick-ass movie she deserves. Um… This might sound weird but are you… Are you happy?”

“Yes!” she giggled, throwing up her arms. “I’ve got books to read and stuff to play with and… I feel like I was sadder before for some reason. But I can’t remember why, so I guess I’m better now.”

Forcing a smile, I patted her on the head. “That’s good. I might visit sometimes if that’s ok?”

She nodded. “Do you want to play?”

“Why don’t you play for me for a while,” I told her, standing up and letting the dream fade away.

“You could have stayed for a bit,” Atalanta told me. “You could have still used some friends, you know.”

“Is an imaginary friend for an imaginary childhood really a friend?” I asked myself. “But thanks, that’s a real weight off my mind.”

“But are you going to be ok?” Sara asked me.

“I think I feel quite a bit better now,” I said, nodding. “Thanks for getting me through.”

Opening my eyes, I found myself on the floor, feeling stiff and sore, with a blank page in Word on my computer screen. Getting up, I pulled myself into my chair, looked at the page and began to write.



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