Small came out of The Brady Patrick Collection and is in my opinion the best of the three such DLC stories in A Short-Lived Dream. This was an idea that had been around since my re-watching of DBZ up until Mecha Frieza's defeat in preparation for writing His Majesty's Pet in late 2015 and early 2016. I wanted to explore a bit more the Nameless Namekian's past as hinted at by Mr. Popo following the Saiyan Saga.
This story was specifically crafted to be similar to other Brady Patrick stories, so it had to be a short character-driven tale - a moment of deep emotion, as if suspended in glass. I really didn't have much planned for this story beforehand, even though I wanted to write it. I just wanted to dive into the setting that I found interesting and explore it in an improvisational way. The only thing I came up with beforehand was that there'd be a saber-toothed cat like there always is in random filler scenes in the anime.
The prose style developed further from the more colorful and terse style seen in Ice Age Coming. This is one of the better stories in terms of that style, I think. This style actually goes in a different direction once we get into the back half of ASLD stories (basically from Sandboys and onwards). But yeah, this was my attempt to perfect the Brady Patrick style. Each Brady Patrick DLC story had a different goal associated with it (Shame being a parody story and Superior being a more explorational meta text); this one's goal was simply to be the best Brady Patrick style story I've ever written. Not sure if it is, to be honest, but I think it's likely it's at least in the conversation. I'll find out when I re-read it after this commentary.
I got drunk for this story, as per usual for early ASLD one-shots. I wrote the first draft of the story from 3:31 pm to 4:30 pm on October 29, 2016. The entire story was written in that hour or so, although I also did some minor editing to the opening paragraph later that night. I gained some distance from the text before editing it for the final time on November 1 from 12:40 am to 2:21 am. The story was significantly edited in terms of prose and tone, but the story did not change at all in that process.
As this is a relatively short one-shot and almost all of it was improvised, there's not much else I can say up here. I didn't dive into it with any themes or specific character progression in mind. Basically, I felt something indescribable when watching that episode where Popo explains Kami's past and wanted to recapture a bit of that feeling through the process of writing this story. The process of writing to me was more valuable than the end product in this case, personally, although I think this is one of the strongest one-shots on the entire wiki too.
The cold winds were rising. He shivered and hugged his knees. Legions of clouds swirled and foamed, swallowing the moon. Nothing moved in the frigid wasteland. A tepid, trickling liquid found its way down his forehead, landing in a puddle in the dust. Weren’t they coming for him? How much longer would he have to wait?
Remembering nothing, he brushed the blood away. The boy looked up instinctively, but the clouds were a great wall of jet, blocking out the sky. The wind was screaming through the canyons and plateaus. Stumbling to his feet, he pressed his palm against his forehead; his tears were frozen against his cheeks.
On the nearest mountainous spire grew a lonely tree – a gnarled hand reaching out towards him. Pebbles cascaded down to the empty gully below. Something had moved. Eyes wide, he wiped his blood-stained hand on the rags that were his clothes and prepared for the worst.
Who was he? Why was he here? A cough of thunder shook the rocks. Something moved between the branches, black as death. “Who’s there?!” he yelled in a language even his tongue hardly remembered.
Only the hissing gale gave response. He leapt from stone to stone until he had gained so much distance from that tree that he could no longer see it. Still, he felt as if he were being watched. It was a strange feeling for the boy who had spent his whole life alone in this wild world.
Fading spots of sunlight broke through his mind. His eyes were closed, his arms wrapped around his shoulders. His lips trembled uncontrollably; there was ice in his chest. Once, there had been more warmth, more light… more of his kind. But those memories were as fractured as these hills.
Opening his eyes, the boy beheld a shadow racing towards him, swimming through the fierce winds. Thick as smoke it came, elongated and emaciated, with bony wings and empty eye sockets. Reaching out for him, its fingers were as dead as that tree.
Gasping, his breath frosting the night, the boy raised a hand to shield his face. His fingers were shaking. The shadow passed right through him, like a breeze sighing through cherry blossoms.
When it was over, he was on his knees, gazing at the churning, midnight sea overhead. His blood ran fresh through his eyes. Breathing hard, the boy let it wash over himself. The heat was comforting.
A sudden, guttural growl made him flinch. There, to his left, a grey-and-black spotted four-legged beast was perched on a rocky outcrop, its eyes shimmering lifelessly in the darkness. When lightning punched through the soot-drenched cloudscape, he noticed its fangs – two curved daggers so long they couldn’t be contained in the monster’s maw. It eyed him desperately, its ribs poking out from under its dirty fur. The boy knew what that meant.
The beast was on him in a flash, but he was faster. The boy jumped away, using all of his energy to run and fly and climb and live. There was a voice in his mind, whispering to him soothingly, obliviously, but he couldn’t make out the words under his own panting. The predator’s hot breath was on his neck, and the boy knew he could not let up. He would not. They were coming for him. It couldn’t end like this. His parents would never know what happened to him if…
They came to a sleet-covered spire, where the grass cracked like glass beneath their feet. The boy lost his balance as he slid across broken ice before falling forward. Screaming, he rolled over and was met by a blur of silver. Kicking, punching, crying, he tried to fight the thing off, but it was no use. The beast was hungry. It would have its due.
They went tumbling off an icy cliff, and hollering, the boy grasped onto the four-legged fiend’s fur. From such a height, he knew he could not hit the ground and live. The beast clawed at him wildly, and though he felt its gentle paw-strokes across his skin, he did not let go.
When they crashed onto the ground, the animal did not get up. It had been below him. His knee hurt. His forearms were dripping blood. But he was alive. Crawling off the furry animal, the green-skinned boy sat up against a nearby rock and sighed. He wiped his nose and raised his head to the sky again.
Where are you? Why did you leave me here? I want to go home.
Suddenly, the clouds opened up, and he caught a glimpse of the stars, which hung like suspended jewels on a jet-black canvas. The winds died for a moment, and all he knew was silence. His icy puffs came quick and hard. He didn’t want to be alone. Somewhere out there, he knew…
The predator stirred, causing the boy to crawl as far away as he could. But he was too tired, too hurt to now put up much of a fight. The beast rose, crimson droplets falling from its old fur. Its lower jaw hung partially detached from its head, swinging grotesquely. At once, the storm clouds returned in force, silencing the stars, and cold droplets began to fall – more hail than rain.
A black bird landed on a nearby rock and cawed.
The beast studied the boy with weary amber eyes, let out a soft whimper, then turned and limped away, leaving a trail of blood in its wake. Shivering, the boy hugged himself and tried to stand. The wet cold bit at his open wounds.
Lightning painted the sky. That was when he saw it. The light shone on it unnaturally, and the boy realized that the large mass in front of him was not just another jumble of rocks. Its hull was white, and it had a glass window and four spiked legs. It looked like a fat animal, but it had no fur, and he knew it wasn’t alive.
Hail clinked off the stalwart machine, making music of the miserable night.
Something in his mind told him he knew what this machine was. His head was pounding; his wound ached. The bird shrieked again. He stood and approached the white-metal behemoth cautiously. A flood of memories came to him then – of sunlight and laughter and someone holding him dearly and whispering in his ear. He clutched his chest. In his mind, the boy could see his father looking down on him sadly, his antennae twitching, murmuring something to him that he could not hope to remember.
The boy reached the underbelly of the object, which was as huge as a hundred of those furry predators. A quick pulse of excitement flooded his heart, and he knew what to say.
“Piccolo,” the boy whispered anxiously.
The metal creaked under the roar of the hailstorm; a platform descended from the underbelly of the spiky monstrosity. The black bird took flight, screeching in fear. He gasped. How did he know to do that? He didn’t remember. Running up to the descended platform, he said the word again.
It brought him into the belly of the beast, where the boy could taste the staleness of the air. Low red lights shone inside the metal space ship he knew somehow was his. How he knew… he did not know.
“Dad?!” the boy called hopefully. He began to run, continued to shout, searching, searching, hoping.
It was as his voice bounced off metal walls with cold indifference that he came to realize he was still alone. It was warmer in here – neither rain nor wind could penetrate this place. For that, he was happy. And yet… That old familiar feeling, a shiver in his chest and spine, returned to him, and the boy collapsed on the floor, his arms and forehead throbbing.
As his eyes grew heavy, the boy pleaded silently and uselessly to be somewhere altogether different. His eyes drooped, and once again, his mind reminded him of the sun and green grasses, tall, leaf-covered trees, and a man looking down on him with a soft and loving gaze, which the boy knew would keep him warm for the rest of time.
- This story was the easiest to name out of the Brady Patrick DLC stories. I think I had the name almost as soon as I came up with the idea of using the Nameless Namekian.
- The NN's head wound is similar to Goku's.
- The evocative imagery and careful descriptions were influenced by my writing in Scelerat.
- Hunter vs. hunted seems like a theme I explored a bit in TBPC, but I don't think I ever did it with as much care as in this story. Not only was this a story that tried to reach the limits of what I could do with Brady Patrick Collection style prose, but in terms of actual plot content, it's very similar. The idea of being chased, of fighting for one's life in utter isolation, is about as pure a Brady Patrick idea as there comes. It is stripped of all the other unnecessary plot points. It's just the Namekian vs the predator. This boiling-down, or simplifying of the plot, was an attempt to reach the natural, fundamental states of loneliness and despair and will and courage and all that jive. The Cooler story Scelerat is very similar in this regard, and that's one of the reasons why I like that story so much. The most successful BP stories are those which parallel physical and mental isolation. All of them try that, in some way or another, but I think the fact that Small is able to completely remove all other sentient beings aside from the Nameless Namekian induces a sort of lonely purity that was not achieved in any other BP story.
- This story utilized fragmentation to portray memories. In general, I think that is a very effective and cool way to show memories, but it was also done because the Nameless Namekian hit his head. I was working with the idea that his memories are like the blood that he feels dripping down his forehead at the start. The violent hit he takes (which if I remember correctly, happens in canon) has parallel physical and emotional reactions. This style of fragmentation becomes more prominent in my writing since this story, but that's mostly due to the influence of American and European Postmodernism on my writing style in general.
- I like the focus on sensations in this story. This story is more of a visceral experience than a thematic one. That's not to say there aren't themes involved, but I think they are less significant here than what I usually do.
- The shadow figure is pretty trippy. I don't think I want to comment on it, as that might be too revealing.
- The saber-tooth cat was based on several different female lion videos I had watched shortly before writing this story. I wanted to portray the animal as being free and wild, but at the same time, barely surviving in a harsh environment. This also reflects upon the Nameless Namekian, though to a lesser degree, since he only needs water to survive. There is certainly a level of sadness involved with the saber-toothed cat, a sort of biological inevitability to the beast's situation, but even acknowledging that, as I do in the story, is not a means of coping with the sadness, nor was it ever meant to be.
- The cloudy sky is an important part of the story. It's usually impenetrable, but every now and then, lightning gets through, and notice how just after the great tumble, the sky opens up. It would be silly of me to reveal the meaning. The sky, however, is an important aspect of this story. There is more use of literary naturalism in this story than perhaps any other story that I've ever written.
- One thing I tried to do was slowly reveal the Nameless Namekian, for I don't think in the beginning it's very obvious who he is. I slowly reveal that he's speaking in a foreign tongue, and then there's the reveal about his green skin relatively far into the story. This is a technique I often use, but I usually resolve it and reveal the physical aspects of a character earlier than I did here. The reveal of exactly who he is only comes after the climax of the saber-tooth cat chase.
- Loneliness is an icy feeling when boiled down to its utter primacy.
- Now re-reading, I'm not particularly fond of the Nameless Namekian's italicized internal thoughts. Not sure those are needed at all. Feels a bit desperate in its attempt to make the themes more obvious.
- The beast's bloody impotency following its wound is a nice foil for the Nameless Namekian's personal struggles. It's also just a really sad image. I once saw a female lion with the same injury, and, as can be expected, it is absolutely a death sentence. The cruelty comes from the fact that such a death sentence is not instantaneous. That pain as to be endured until starvation sets in. Similar to that idea is the fact that the Nameless Namekian is separated from Katas, his father, and really has no hope of ever getting back to those happy, warm feelings that he can taste in the fractured corners of his mind. But at this point, he is still too hopeful and innocent to realize that.
- Much of the blood imagery seems to be mimicking tears.
- Bringing him into the ship was a decision I made at the last second. I did it to recapture that feeling of boundless hope that existed when Popo and Bulma went in the ship for the first time.
- Forgotten memories are the worst things in existence.
- There is significant tension between will, directed thoughts, and instincts. We get that with the "Piccolo" reveal. The boy seemingly remembers nothing, but the word finds its way off his tongue on its own, it seems. This is based on a phenomenon I've experienced myself where I don't remember something, but my body reacts as if I did anyways. It's a strange sensation, and I don't really know how to resolve such a thing like that, if it can be resolved.
- So the ending of this story is very interesting to me. As I often do, I dealt with the concept of hope here, and it wasn't treated in a positive way. Additionally, the folly of seeking comfort in memories is a theme that is becoming apparent to me, and not one that I wrote with intent. Rather, this is a theme that developed naturally with my drunken writing. It's a sad ending, which is not uncommon for The Brady Patrick Collection stories. It was also interesting that there was an emergence of hope with the ship. There was no hope before, and no hope after. That false hope was building towards a more conventional ending, but I took it in an uncommon direction instead. One cannot seek comfort in the past, especially when the past is just an idealized feeling of warm emotion. What can the Nameless Namekian do with that? That level of paralysis is reflected in his setting - being trapped in Yunzabit Heights is not a means to progression. For the Nameless Namek to progress as a person, he must leave that cold place, and similarly, he must leave behind his past and make a future worth remembering, worth living. We don't get that resolution in this story because that resolution is how things go in canon. Rather, I was writing towards that "breaking free" of Yunzabit Heights, of his loneliness, with how this one-shot ends.
This story has exceptional prose, and I quite like the way I was able to use the saber-tooth cat and the Nameless Namekian together. It's a very uncomplicated story, I think, in terms of plot. The thematic and tonal stuff is more nuanced in my opinion, but I don't want to get into that, revealing all my little secrets and techniques and whatnot. But I do think this was a successful, unique story that tackled an aspect of Dragon Ball lore in a cool way. It's not the best Brady Patrick style story, but it is closer to the top than the bottom, and it's clearly the best BP style story in A Short-Lived Dream. I think what makes me like some of the others (such as Scelerat) more is simply because I like those characters in those stories more. I think the technical aspects of this story are the best of any BP style story; I was able to work with natural imagery in a really great way too, experimenting with descriptions and metaphors, so that was really helpful for future stories of mine and it turned out quite beautifully (in my opinion). I will give Small an S-.
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