Free to read online – my story “The Brightest Lights of Heaven” in FIRESIDE FICTION + story notes!

My story “The Brightest Lights of Heaven” is now free to read online in Fireside Fiction. You can also listen to a wonderful audio-version, narrated by the amazing C.S.E. Cooney.

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Story notes:

This story cuts deep through time and experience for me. It’s inspired by my own childhood, and by watching my kids (and other kids) play.

There was the time when I was about 11, like the girls in the story, and I sat beneath the stairs with my best friend in her apartment building, burning incense and reading a book on witchcraft.

There were all the times I saw my kids invent and play games, making up new rules as they went, negotiating them between themselves, losing themselves in the games, becoming the characters they played so deeply that they’d walk around on all fours barking like dogs for hours.

Making up a game that others want to play is a powerful thing. You can make others do what you want, conform to your rules, but (as I mentioned) if it is to be really successful, it does require negotiating and also skill at understanding what others are willing to do in order to make the game last longer. If you don’t make up a game the others REALLY want to play, they’ll stop playing. Kids who play in similar ways, or enjoy similar kinds of games often stick together. All these things figured into the inspiration for this story.

I’ve watched the kids playing in my yard, how they subtly negotiate and change the rules as they play, refining the game, making it fit each other’s wishes. Friendship and playing a game together are powerful things, a kind of magic, really.

Friendships are viscerally important to many kids. Losing a friend, because they move away or because they don’t want to play with you anymore, are devastating. Usually kids rebound, but the depths of pain and despair involved are not to be underestimated.

I poured a lot of my thoughts on play and friendship into “The Brightest Lights of Heaven”. I’ve seen how deeply the games kids play affect them while they’re playing, how it changes them (temporarily at least) into new creatures, new people. What if that magic were real? Human beings sometimes seem to become what other people tell them they are, and a game tells you precisely what you are, how to act, which rules apply, what the object of your existence is.

Moira and Rae are not monsters. At least not from the beginning. Moira is powerful. Even before she makes up the last game, the one that changes everything, she has the power to alter reality, however briefly, turning the mundane world into a grand adventure. Rae might be less powerful, initially, but the real magic of their play, good and bad, is in what they do together. Neither is as powerful alone as they are together, and they both know it.

I love writing about friendship, because I think it can be one of the most enduring and powerful forces in a person’s life. To have friends you feel at home with, at ease with, who understand you without you having to explain or justify yourself… that is some real world magic right there. In “The Brightest Lights of Heaven”, that power ends up changing everything for Rae and Moira, and leads to some very dark places.

They play the game out to the end, but even at the end, they are both still open to re-negotiating the rules of that game. They’re just not ready to stop playing.

 

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