Summer Challenge: Natural Selection

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Summer Challenge: Natural Selection

Postby Love das flockige » Mon Jul 07, 2008 12:56 am

Part I- New York, December 1st, 1859

[i]New York looks its best in wintertime.[/i] The snow made everything sparkling. It hid the garbage and dirt on the streets, kissed the buildings and made them look brand new. [i]But it doesn’t mean winter is the most comfortable time of the year, [/i]Sarah Kersey thought with a wry smile, clenching her fingers inside her muff. She was a slender girl, almost too slender, her small frame making her seem younger than her 17 years. Her features weren’t terribly striking, although they were pretty enough. What made her special were her eyes, as green as the sea. Her brown hair was long, and hung like a sheet down her back when it was down. But today she twisted it in a complicated set of coils and curls, pinning it back like she had every day since she started to bleed. The mass of hair was hidden under her favorite winter bonnet, and a gust of wind threatened to blow the cap right off her head. She quickened her pace and nearly jumped into her uncle’s book store, the heat a shock.

“My word, Sarah, you must be chilled to the bone!” Her aunt Phyllis greeted her at the door, helping Sarah with her cape and bonnet. “I thought I told your mother to keep you in today. You shouldn’t be out in this weather so soon after your fever.”

“Really, Aunt, I’m fine,” Sarah insisted. “I ate today and my limbs are completely healed.”

“Well, I have some tea and cold meats in the back for you, just in case,” Phyllis ushered her niece to the backroom, weaving between waiting customers. “You must drink the tea, at least.”

“Yes, Aunt,” was Sarah’s dutiful reply as they passed her Uncle Gabriel.

“Sarah!” he cried. “Did you brave the cold just to come help me out today?”

“Only for you and Aunt Phyllis,” she replied before entering the backroom. As promised, her aunt had laid out cold meats, bread, and hot tea for her niece.

“Now, help yourself, child,” Phyllis said kindly. “When you’re finished, there’s a new arrival waiting to be shelved.”

“Thank you,” Sarah set down her bonnet.

Satisfied, Phyllis turned to go, but not before pausing at the door. “Has there been any other...changes?”

Sarah blushed. “No. Thankfully.”

Her aunt nodded, relieved, and headed out. Sighing, Sarah plopped herself down, petticoats flying. The wind had left her thirsty, and she welcomed the warming feel of fresh black tea. Although she didn’t say so to her aunt, there had been another instance of her ‘change’ this morning.

However, it wasn’t the first time the basin water had come up to meet her face on its own, so Sarah didn’t count it as a change. She stirred her tea thoughtfully, remembering the water quivering in her washbasin before rising up like a snake to wash her face. This had to be the fourth time, at least. Then there was the lemonade incident. The feel of the liquid hovering above her hand, twirling with her fingers, made Sarah shiver.

Yet so far, the tea remained in her cup. Sarah eyed the drink warily, finishing it quickly before rising to join her aunt and uncle.

The shop was in the middle of its morning rush. Gabriel’s Bookstore and Apothecary was small, but well loved. People came for books and for Phyllis’ herbal remedies, and stayed for Gabriel’s lively conversation and his wife’s gossip. Sarah donned her apron and surveyed the store, smiling at the familiar sight. She spotted the crate her aunt told her about. A fresh shipment of books! She couldn’t wait to get her hands on them. The sweet smell of new paper, the heady scent of ink, the weight and crisp sound of a never-opened cover...Sarah picked up a volume and read the title. On the Origin of Species. Darwin?? This was Charles Darwin’s new book! The very same she heard her minister condemning last Sunday. Could her uncle really be carrying this book in his store? Was it not a grave sin? Did it not go against the teachings of their church?

“Ah, so there’s the new shipment,” Gabriel was suddenly at her side. “I was wondering what Phyllis did with it.”

“Uncle Gabriel,” Sarah looked up at him, eyes wide. “You can’t carry this book here.”

“Why not?”

“B-because, it’s a...forbidden book!”

“Forbidden? By who?” Gabriel snorted. “By Reverend Joseph? This is the United States, Sarah. No one can tell us what to read or not to read. We have the right to carry whatever book we want in our shop. Now, stock them next to the botanical books, please.”

He winked at his niece and went to attend to a customer looking for Marlowe. Sarah watched him go, her eyes still widened in surprise. She looked back down at the book in her hand, its maroon cover daring her to open it. She glanced around, and then back down again. Gingerly, she opened the book, half afraid Rev. Joseph would pop up and condemn her to hell on the spot.

[i]'It may be said that natural selection is daily and hourly scrutinizing, throughout the world, every variation, even the slightest; rejecting that which is bad, preserving and adding up all that is good; silently and insensibly working at the improvement of each organic being in relation to its organic and inorganic conditions of life.'[/i]

Sarah stiffened. Natural selection. What could he mean?
“Excuse me, miss, but would you happen to carry Tom Jones?”

Putting the volume down quickly, she turned and gave her customer a brilliant smile.

“Of course, ma’am, right this way.”

Darwin and his natural selection would have to wait. But Sarah had an eerie feeling that his book, with its maroon cover, would be a very enlightening read.

[Edited on 7/7/08 by Love das flockige]
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Summer Challenge: Natural Selection

Postby Angelique » Mon Jul 07, 2008 4:48 am

A fascinating start. So far I'm digging the nineteenth century setting.
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Summer Challenge: Natural Selection

Postby steyn » Mon Jul 07, 2008 8:03 am

Really like this so far!
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Summer Challenge: Natural Selection

Postby Love das flockige » Sun Jul 13, 2008 6:13 am

Thanks for your reviews, steyn and angelique!

Part II


Darwin’s book kept Sarah up well into the night. It had been easy to acquire a volume- her uncle always lent her whatever she wanted, so long as the book was returned in saleable condition.

The book was dangerously fascinating, and most certainly as blasphemous as Rev. Joseph said. But to Sarah, it offered something else, something she desperately needed. Answers. [i]Could it be,[/i] she thought. [i]That this is the source of my change? This natural selection? But what am I adapting to? [/i]

If what Charles Darwin suggested was true, then her newfound ‘talent’ was not due to illness or possession. (1) It was something more.

Sarah looked over at her washbasin, the pitcher filled with water for her night’s washing. [i] I wonder...[/i]Slowly, she rose and approached cautiously. She stretched her hand over the pitcher, but the water remained still. Biting her lower lip, Sarah imagined the water rising up, its liquid smoothness cool in her hand. As if on cue, the water rippled, slowly at first, then more violently. With a tremble of the pitcher it rose, catlike, to meet her palm. Sarah gulped, willing herself not to gasp as she had before. Carefully, fearfully, she twisted her fingers. The water followed, forming an exquisite rope. Sarah glanced at the door, ascertaining it was shut, before returning her attention to the pitcher. Breathing heavily from the effort, Sarah lifted her hand over her head.

But she moved too quickly. The water leaped out of the pitcher, knocking it over. Sarah gave a cry and dove to save the porcelain, her practice session forgotten. She caught the pitcher as the water crashed over her head.

~*~

“Miss Sarah? What on earth happened to your hair?”

“What?” Sarah blinked in the morning light.

“It’s wet!” Ida, the Kersey’s maid, peered at her with concern.

“What do you mean, Ida?” Sarah replied calmly. “I merely was too tired to dry my hair last night.”

~*~

“Sarah, I’m heading out to meet with a friend,” Uncle Gabriel said as he put on his hat. “It’s just around the corner. Do you think you can mind the store until I come back?”

“Of course, Uncle,” was her simple reply.

“Phyllis is upstairs. Call if you have any questions, but try not disturb her. She’s-“

“Not feeling well. Yes, I know,” Sarah smiled. “Go on, I’ll be alright.”

“That’s my girl,” Gabriel said as he left. “Won’t be more than a quarter hour.”

The shop was empty anyway, and Sarah took the opportunity to review Darwin. She had read for only a few pages when the shop bell caused her to look up. A man had entered and was shaking the snow from his hat. He was of medium height, and had a strong, compact build complemented by a handsome face. He turned to look at her, and Sarah saw a sadness tugging at the edges of his mouth, threatening to creep into his black eyes.

“Good afternoon, sir,” Sarah greeted him. “How many I help you today?”

“I’m looking for Darwin’s book. You wouldn’t carry it, perchance?” The stranger’s voice was smooth and deep, with a hint of an English accent.

“Of course, if you’ll only follow me,” Sarah led him over to shelf containing the store’s natural history books. Darwin’s work was there, next to the encyclopedia on botanicals.

“Ah, very good,” the stranger said, picking up a volume. “Just what I was looking for.”

“Shall I wrap it for you, sir?” Sarah asked politely.

“Yes, please,” he replied, handing her the book. Sarah made her way to the counter to pack up the book. “Have you read it?”

She froze, packing paper in hand. “Oh, um, yes,” she answered. [i]No! You can’t tell a complete stranger you read Darwin! It’s completely improper!.[/i]

“And how did you find it?” The damage had been done.

“It was...an interesting read, to say the least.”

“Indeed? What did you find interesting about it?”

“Natural selection, sir. The idea is novel, and a bit difficult to grasp at first. But it makes sense. It gives a reason, real and tangible, for the diversity of our fauna,” she blushed. “I’m sorry, I’ve said too much. Let me pack your volume.”

But the man smiled. “Not at all. I enjoy literary conversation. I too, have read Darwin’s work. The book had been on loan from a friend, and I enjoyed it so much I decided to get my own copy. But look, here I am interrogating you, and I haven’t introduced myself,” he gave a little bow. “Mr. Roger Sinister, at your service.”

“Sarah Kersey,” she curtseyed. “It is a pleasure to meet you.” Sarah wrapped the book quickly and took Mr. Sinister’s pay. “Thank you for your business, Mr. Sinister.”

“Thank you for your honest opinion. I’m sure we’ll see each other again.”

And with that, he tipped his hat and left.

Sarah watched him leave, admiring his graceful gait. She barely had time to ponder Mr. Sinister, however, because her uncle walked in soon after. He was accompanied by an older gentleman, who walked with the aid of a cane.

“Sarah, I’d like to introduce someone,” He gestured to the gentleman beside him. “This is Professor Charles Xavier. He was my professor of philosophy at Cambridge. I’ve never met a more brilliant man. Professor, my niece, Sarah Kersey.”

Sarah curtseyed. She had forgotten her Uncle had gone to University in England. But what was his old professor doing here? “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Professor.”

“The pleasure is mine, Miss Kersey,” Xavier nodded. “Your Uncle has told me so much about you.” [i]Including your special talent. [/i]

“Excuse me, sir?” Sarah’s head snapped up. She thought she heard him say something about her having a ‘special talent’, yet again, she didn’t. [i]Don’t be afraid, Miss Kersey, [/i]came Xavier’s voice again. Was she...hearing him in her head? [i]Yes, you are. I too, have a special talent, as you can see.[/i]

“He can help you, Sarah,” Gabriel said quietly. “Professor Xavier has told me a lot about your condition. There are others, like you, many others. You’re not alone.”

“Others?” Sarah whispered.

“I’ll be dining with your family tonight, Miss Kersey,” Xavier said. “To discuss your possible attendance at my school.”

“School?”

“For gifted young people, such as yourself.”

“Gifted? Me?” Sarah took a breath. She was sounding like an idiot, and she knew it. “I’m sorry. I don’t really understand.”

“You will, in good time,” Xavier said kindly. “I merely wanted to come meet you, to see you for myself before I met with your parents. May I ask that you do a small demonstration of your talents for me?”

Sarah’s eyes met his face. “Right now?”

“Yes, preferably,” Gabriel said. “I’ll put the lunch sign on the door. Go on, Sarah.”

She obeyed, leading Professor Xavier into the warm backroom. Taking a pitcher from the counter, she placed it on the table before the older gentleman. “When I’m near water, I can...control it, somehow,” She reached her hand out and focused her attention on the liquid, imagining it rising, twisting, to meet her. As before, the water obeyed, silent and beautiful.

“Incredible,” Professor Xavier murmured. “A mastery over water, quite a powerful element. Miss Kersey, I believe you’d make a valuable edition to my school”

~*~

The Kerseys were hardworking people. Clement Kersey was a merchant, who owned a dry goods store on Broadway. Margaret Kersey spent the day tutoring girls while Sarah worked in Gabriel’s store. They owned a modest home near Mr. Kersey’s dry goods store, a warm three bedroom townhouse that boasted a large kitchen and servant’s quarters for Ida. They were a close family, and were understandably reluctant to consider parting with their beloved daughter and only child.

“We understand that Sarah’s change is unusual,” Mrs. Kersey said calmly. She was a quiet, demure woman from whom Sarah inherited her green eyes. “But she is my only daughter. I cannot have anymore children, you see, so I’m quite loathe to part with her.”

“You will be able to see her as often as you like, Mrs. Kersey,” Xavier assured her. “And she’ll be allowed to come home for the winter and summer recess. However, I truly believe that my school can help with her newfound talents. Sarah must learn to harness and control these gifts, or they could end up controlling her.”

There was a pregnant silence at the Kersey table. Then Gabriel spoke. “I think you should send her, Clem. It’s for the best.”

Mr. Kersey regarded his brother solemnly for several moments. He saw the truth in Gabriel’s words, as well as the pleading look in Sarah’s eyes. “Alright, Professor. When will she begin?”

(1) Posession refers to posession by demonic spirits, a probable excuse that would be used to explain mutants away at that time in history.

For those of you who are wondering...what's the big deal on a woman reading darwin? Women were still considered the inferior sex. The women's sufferage movement had not begun yet. As such, it would have been improper for a girl like Sarah, a merchant's daughter, to read such a complicated science book.

Thanks for reading, stay tuned for part III!
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Summer Challenge: Natural Selection

Postby steyn » Sun Jul 13, 2008 8:24 am

Mr. Roger Sinister? Rather a little :shifty sinister if you ask me. Surprised he didn't give his real name.
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Summer Challenge: Natural Selection

Postby Rowena » Sat Aug 09, 2008 1:27 pm

This story is really great so far. Sinister is such a fun bad guy, I'm glad you chose him. I like your character's power too, and the way you describe it. Looking forward to part III! :D
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Summer Challenge: Natural Selection

Postby Elfdame » Fri Sep 05, 2008 2:56 pm

I know you're busy Domino-ing all over the place, but ... if you have time, do you think you might conclude the story? Even though it's not in the official running? But, yeah, sometimes Life takes over and one must abandon a project midway. *sigh*
"Humanity is a parade of fools, and I am at the front of it, twirling a baton." From Chapter 9 of _Brother Odd_ by Dean Koontz / from Chapter 10: "Life you can evade; death you cannot."

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