Author's Note: It's amazing seeing how some things seem to carry on even after all these years... including the mysterious person at the end who promises to reveal himself in the future. This was pretty much a midterm project for a creative writing class I took in 2000 and I had used this to cope with being on academic probation, processing my first ever breakup (although in retrospect it wasn't THAT bad but to a 21 year old with *zero* prior experience, it was traumatic), and realizing that maybe, just maybe, electrical engineering and computer science weren't for me... and also processing some odd dreams I had of strange ecosystems driven by fire and filled with funny-looking pine trees, lots of nasty shrubby undergrowth, crappy soil, and funny looking things that I learned in 2006 were called "palmettoes"... as well as of a strange, powerfully built man who showed up a lot in my dreams to remind me of who I am as well as reminding me that there was hope when all was dark, often coming to my dreams to help me find that last bit of strength or to extend a hand to give me that extra fighting chance.
I crept silently past the slumbering guards, taking care to remain
downwind and in the shadows. Step by step, I drew closer to my quarry, and
once I was within a quick sprint, all my muscles loosed and I locked in on my
target, a scrawny youth who had strayed too far from the village and was
unfit to survive. My jaws locked on his throat, quickly stifling any cry,
then my companions and I dragged him off, all in silence under the light of
the pale moon and distant stars. He would feed my kin tonight. As we tore
the flesh from his bones, we sang our praises to the Eternal Huntress who
guided us and the Earthmother who provided our prey. Thus the dance
continues from generation to generation, age to age.
But this night as we finished our meal and our praises, I heard a
loud noise, like thunder, and I felt the fire of a million suns spread
through my body. The last thing I recalled was hearing the Eternal Huntress
calling to me, but I never reached her, nor did I ever get to the
The first thing Shieng felt was the electrical bumblebee called
the alarm clock. Grunting as she swatted at the nuisance, she
crawled out of her dark den. She gazed into the mirror and stared at
the pale, world-worn creature that looked back at her. A year ago, her
raven hair made people think she was an Asian version of Rapunzel, but
now, it was a targetboard wire-wrapped by an overly caffienated (and
possibly intoxicated) electrical engineering student. Her muscles had
atrophied from months of slavery to the computer, and her eyes, once
bright and sharp enough to rival an eagle, were clouded from the
artificial lighting underground and sleep deprivation. A tarnished
copper parakeet on a steel chain completed the dim reflection. Once upon a
time, Shieng could pass for Peter Pan's twin sister, but now, she was a
grown-up full of grown-up problems.
Fifteen minutes later, Shieng trudged to math recitation. She grabbed
a seat in the front row, pulled out her night-blue notebook and wrote
down all the vital equations the teaching assistant (TA) scribbled on
the board. Differential equation after differential equation bombarded
her mind before she noticed a presence nearby. The fine hairs on the
back of her neck bristled and a small growl escaped from her. Doing
her best to ignore the person right behind her, she continued trying to
process the TA's ramblings. She felt like she was trapped in a cavern
full of snoring drunkards, a huge unsquishable mosquito, and a parakeet
high on LSD babbling to itself. As soon as the parakeet finished its
soliloquy, Shieng bolted from the room and hauled herself to the
subbasement electrical engineering lab.
She was about to plop down onto her favorite lab bench when she noticed
Daniel, a ghostly toothpick of a boy with finely chiseled features and
blonde hair sitting at the station next to hers. He glanced at her with
a dejected look, then quickly cast his eyes back to the radio he was
constructing. Shieng also cast her eyes away, then doing her best not
to look at him, she went to work on her project, a DAC digital-to-analog
converter). As she examined the emerald-green printed circuitboard, her mind
wandered to the forest to the north and when they used to hike there every
weekend. A familiar burning-sweet smell jolted Shieng back to her senses.
She looked at the soldering iron in her hand, then the plastic container she
kept all her resistors and capacitors. There was a new, still smoking,
crater in the blue vinyl. Continuing on her DAC, she still cast glances to
her left, while the enemy was gazing in her direction while she wasn't
Hours later, Shieng had finished wiring and debugging the digital
section of her project. Staggering her way back up to the surface, she
found the full moon had already risen, and she felt a loud rumbling
inside of her. She stopped by the convenience store to get a sandwich,
water, and fruit, devoured it, then headed back to her room. Exhausted
from the intensive work, she crawled into her private nook under her
The road to redemption is long and arduous, but everyone gets what
they strive for. To this end, I will accept the challenge you have given me
to redeem myself in your eyes. I shall succeed and join my ancestors in
the Neverending Wilds.
Shieng bolted up in the middle of the night and hit her head on the low
roof of her den. Rainbow-colored stars danced before her eyes, but she
crawled out and searched her desk frantically, as if trying to find a
misplaced final five minutes before the deadline. Even a badger
couldn't dig as swiftly as she could through the sea of circuit
schematics, chip manuals, and homework assignments and notes. Finally,
she breathed a sigh of relief as she pulled a silver ring inscribed with
a wolf's head on it. She examined every detail on the ring, and it was
exactly envisioned it, down to the runes on the inside. Without a
second thought, she put the ring on her left ring finger and removed the
cold steel chain around her neck. The ring felt warm and reassuring to
her, reminding her that she was not completely alone.
Following her instinct, she wandered outside. As soon as the moonlight
hit her, the ring glowed with a piercing blue light. Shieng felt the
tingling of hundreds of tiny electric shocks surge through her as she
gracefully fell onto all fours. Her eyes could make out all the details
of her surroundings down to the nearest ant fleeing from unseen terrors.
The intoxicating aroma of prey -- a mouse -- registered in her mind, as
did the reek of all humanity. There was a flash of motion followed by a
piercing squeak and a crunching noise. The mouse was by far the best
morsel she ever had in her life.
Suddenly, she felt herself irresistably drawn southwards towards where
most of the undergrads lived. As she journeyed south, she sensed the
foul reek of beer and cigarette smoke. A few drunken boys spotted her,
but they only whistled and called to her before staggering away. She
attempted to shout at them, but all that came out was a loud bark.
Soundlessly, she quickly made her way to her destination: the big oak
tree just east of the southeasternmost undergrad house. In one of the
lower floor windows she could recognize the thin silhouette as Daniel.
The hairs on the back of her neck stood up again. She wanted to charge
through the window and watch his life fade in her jaws, but she could
not find the resolve. A long, mournful howl escaped from her as she
faced the moon.
You have now identified your prey. I now give you this dagger, with
which you must redeem yourself. You have two days before you become
forever trapped, never able to return to the Neverending Wilds,
condemned to remain in that weak form.
I will do what I know is right and regain my honor. I will be strong.
Shieng was back under her desk with her thin blanket in her cluttered
room. On her left ring finger was the silver ring, in her right hand
was a dagger. She crawled out and examined the dagger in the sunlight
that had dared to peek into her dark grove. It was black in the golden
sunlight, but she could see the intricate runes carved on the hilt and
the pommel was inscribed with a wolf's head facing left. The dagger was
silver in the moonlight and glowed with an eerie blue light, but by day
it was dead. She sheathed it and attached it to her belt. She
grumbled, then went about to get ready for yet another day.
``Hey, Shieng, want to check answers for quantum with me?'' pleaded the
mosquito from her math section.
``Shieng, I don't know how to put this to you, but it's not going to be
mathematically possible for you to pass unless you ace the rest of the
class,'' chirped the parakeet as Shieng groaned at her midterm score.
``Ugh! It's that furry green pizza stuff again!'' commented a ravenous
seagull in the cafeteria.
``...to find tau, it's simply the resistance times the capacitance...''
droned the robot of an analog electronics professor in a sea of
``I will hold a special review session about DRAM next Friday at
noon...'' said the owl of a digital electronics instructor.
``The concert is in three weeks! You need to get that one passage right.
Count -- one two three and four one and a two and a three and four,''
chanted the metronome of the conductor as Shieng struggled with the
``Remember, we've got D&D on Saturday at noon and track on Sunday at
nine!'' shouted a wolverine as she ran past to turn in an optics homework
By now it was dusk and Shieng descended the two flights of stairs down
into the Moore subbasement yet again. All the schematics of her
converter and some extra wire were with her in case she needed it.
Everything was going smoothly until Shieng felt her hand drawn
irresistably to the dagger on her belt. She looked up from her
converter and saw Daniel sitting across from her. At the same time, she
noticed the fine lines of care and pain from the last three weeks etched
into his pale face. The dagger still called to her, thirsting for his
blood, but her hand went instead to the oscilloscope and fumbled with
the leads. The ground lead split into two pieces in Shieng's firm tug.
``Oops,'' she said as she watched the probe end fall onto the table.
She turned to the side to see if there were more cables, but it so
happened that she took the last one by her bench. The only cables
remaining were on the next bench, but they reminded her of the broccoli
from dinner. In checking the other adjacent bench, she tripped over
someone's tool box, grabbed the chair, only to have it fall with a loud
clatter. A deep growl escaped as she tried to get back up.
A pale hand reached for hers, but recognizing it, she recoiled and
shouted, ``Go away, I don't need you!'' Then she stood up and glared so
harshly at the owner of the hand that he seemed to age a bit more before
her eyes. He gave her a pleading look, but she did not relent, and he
slunk back to his lab bench to work on his radio.
The DAC was now twice as noisy as before when Shieng hooked up the
output to the oscilloscope. Maybe she miscalculated something. As she
took out her logic probe and multimeter, she smelled another vaguely
familiar burning odor. She looked down on her board and saw that the
capacitor she had just installed was leaking some bluish fluid. That
capacitor was supposed to be either ceramic or tantalum, not
electrolytic, and to top it off, she installed the capacitor backwards!
Cursing, she then disconnected the power from her DAC and wiped up the
mess as best as she could. For the next several hours, she continued to
resist that urge to grab the dagger or to invoke the ring and tried to
make more progress on her DAC.
Finally, about six hours later, she was able to have a digital section
that worked as well as she predicted in her schematics and preliminary
calculations. She still felt that intense desire to use the dagger, but
she thrust her hand deep into her pocket and found the copper parakeet she
thought she discarded. The urge became manageable again, and on her way out
of the cramped lab, she cast a forgiving look at Daniel. He smiled weakly
at her, and as he did, a few of the lines on his face disappeared.
Shieng continued on her journey back to the world of open skies. As
soon as she let go of the parakeet and allowed the moonlight to strike her
ring, she could feel the moon's radiance and the power of the Eternal
Huntress in her body again.
What is this other force driving me away from my quest? Why did I
stay my hand when I had the perfect opportunity? When I touched that
parakeet, it felt as if some other being had touched my heart and showed me
another way to redeem myself, but to do so, I would have to remain here
You have one more night to redeem yourself and accomplish what you
have been sent to do. But if you fail...
I will succeed and feel his warm blood pour over me! I shall slash
his throat and tear out his vitals! I will overcome this weakness and
return to the Neverending Wilds.
Instead of finding herself in her forest-like room, Shieng found
herself curled up in the big subbasement electrical engineering lecture
hall under the desks with her DAC in one hand, a beat-up book in the
other. Without a second thought, she stuck the leather-bound book filled
with hand-written scribblings into her backpack, hauled herself back up to
the surface, and went through yet another day, taking care to steer clear of
Daniel. What was she thinking last night?
The DAC apparently had taken a bit of a beating while she was sleeping.
The oscilloscope's green face grinned insanely at her, stuck its tongue
out, then frowned. Shieng squawked in frustration at the odd readings.
She moved the oscilloscope probes to various checkpoints on the digital
section and the beautiful sinusoidal and square waves appeared on the
screen. At the analog sections, although they had been buggy, Shieng
almost screamed when that same, wicked, crooked smiley face appeared on
the scope. No matter where she placed the probes on the analog output
section, it was the same.
An idea wandered into her, and she disconnected the DAC from the power
supply. She took out her multimeter and checked all the resistances.
Odd, the resistances were good, and then as she homed in on the last
possible checkpoint, the meter's hand swung insanely. Aha! There was a
short from a protruding wire and a large solder blob. Taking the hot
soldering iron next to her and a piece of copper solder ribbon, she
blotted the metallic lump until it was no longer shorting the circuit.
The choking-sweet smell of solder and resin filled her nostrils again,
but it had a hint of foulness to her. The ring was growing hot on her
finger as it never did before, but resolved to at least get the device
working, she ignored it.
For the next twelve hours, Shieng was perfecting her DAC, making sure
it met or exceeded the specifications the professor had set. An
inductor here, adjusting a resistor there, setting a bit high, making
another low. She could feel the joy in bringing a device to life by her
own hands, and as far as she was concerned, nobody else existed in the
lab. If she could get this thing working exactly as she wanted to, she
would be done with her project three or even four weeks early. Finally,
she machined a blue lucite case for her circuit in the machine shop. By
sunset, she had a functioning DAC that she could use to convert the
digital output from her CD player into analog output to her speakers.
She capered wildly as she made her ascent into the surface world.
Shieng climbed into her dorm's guardtower and faced westward to watch
the last of the sunset. She heaved a heavy sigh as memories of hiking
and redwood forests flooded into her mind, but at least she finished her
project! Once the last of the sun's scarlet and amber fires faded into
ultramarine shadows, she descended from the tower, stowed the DAC in her
room, and went outside to enjoy some fresh air, or at least an
approximation of it. At the same time, another image entered her mind,
one of a very different kind of forest, with asparagus-like pine trees, twisted
yet scrawny elms, gnarled oaks, stumpy cedar trees, and strange palm-like
shrubs that all eked out meager existences in sugar-like white sand soils that
leached every drop of water that touched it. It was an image of a wet land
serenaded by mosquitoes and owls, yet it was ruled by crackling fires that
burned with a soft, yet iron fist.
The moon was rising again, and suddenly she remembered. The ring glowed
with a blinding blue light, as did the dagger. Instead of falling to
all fours as she did before, she stood upright, her muscles bulging and
her senses sharpened. A reflection from a mirror someone had left
revealed a lupine face staring back at her with silver fur and very
human eyes. Except for her hands and posture, she was a wolf! She drew
the dagger, now with a life of its own, and followed the enchantment to
her destination -- the tree she had visited the last two nights. The
southern complexes were still bustling with life and music. Hiding
behind the tree, Shieng faced the moon, howled, then charged at the lone
target that had wandered outside on his way to an evening class.
Daniel paused a moment to tie his shoelaces when he noticed a silver
blur charging at him. Adjusting his glasses, he saw that the blur was a
wolf-like being with a dagger in its hand. The creature pounced on him
and pinned him down before he could flee. The dagger was aimed straight
at his heart, now racing in pure terror. He closed his eyes, and heard
the dagger strike something, but much to his surprise, it wasn't him.
It was the ground, and he felt the weight on his body disappear. He
looked this way and that for the werewolf, but there was no sign, except
for a bluish-grey, insubstantial mist. In the distance, he heard a wolf
howl mournfully as if asking for forgiveness.
I have failed to redeem myself in your eyes and in the eyes of the
people. But I chose to do so, for I have found redemption elsewhere --
through forgiveness and guiding a lost soul through life. I shall not
enter the Neverending Wilds with my ancestors. Instead, I will remain
here and forge my own path in life.
You, innocent one, have worked hard to redeem yourself in the eyes
of the Eternal Huntress and in your own as well. You have triumphed over
much, including your desire for vengeance, but you have only begun your
journey. Soon, you will have a quest bestowed upon you.
This is only the beginning? I thought I have already redeemed myself
There is still a rift deep inside you, one that will destroy you if
you do not work to mend it. Perhaps redemption is not a poor term -- for
the quest that awaits you is one to save yourself. I shall not speak more
of it -- you must find it for yourself.
What must I save myself from?
You know what you must do. Listen to your heart and be true to
yourself, then all of the answers will come to you when you search. I will
find you in the future, when the time is right, and I will reveal myself to
you then, when you travel to distant lands completely unlike the desert and
the chaparral you know best. Until then, I will be there for you in spirit
Like almost every other morning, Shieng found herself in her den, but
the ring and dagger were gone. The DAC was still there in its pale blue
lucite case. She looked at herself in her mirror to find that she
could still smile and that the forces of time decided to delete a few of
its marks from her face. A leather-bound book and the copper parakeet
were peeking from her camouflage green backpack. The parakeet shone
in the dawn's meek pinkish-gold light, and she put the chain around her neck
again. Her eyes scanned through the book to find many new scribblings, including
the beginnings of a story involving a mysterious large, powerfully built man who
promised to reveal himself to her in the future when she journeyed to distant lands.
Hope and the next adventure were in sight.