A little short story about love – because I have a thing for turning mythos on its head 😉
The tales, the paintings, the bullshit Valentine’s Day cards we got in grade school – they were wrong, so they told me.
My hands trembled with the box, its contents heavy and unsteady. The voice inside of it haunted me and would continue to do so. I walked into the dock house, the sunlight streaming in through the dilapidated roof. Cobwebs and old bird nests decorated the rafters, the smell of seawater and old oil permeated through the space. Boxes and furniture tarps protected whatever contents remained hidden away, the curse of being unwanted.
Certainly no place for someone of her stature.
“Hello?” I managed to ask, the timbre sounding shakier than I had meant it to. Confusion and shame started settling in. I looked down as I walked my way across the creaky floorboards. Feathers littered the floor, the familiar tufts of gulls and pigeons. In the space between boxes, a large feather lingered. I paused in my trek, bending down to inspect. It was larger than any eagle’s I had seen, thicker and whiter than any vulture’s.
A loud creaking from across the room caused my hand to retract. I clutched the box to my chest, a thrumming heartbeat accompanying it.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve had visitors,” her voice loose and curious in the strangled space.
I looked up to find another place entirely. Where boxes had been were now pillars of marble and quartz. Where the sun had trickled in now streamed ribbons of dusk light. And in the place of the back of the dock house stood a throne of cushions – square, round, and oval-shaped – made of silk in different shades of red, rose, and gold.
She sat on a large white cushion wearing a floor-length gossamer gown to match, strings of pearls adorning her shoulders as cap sleeves. Her hair was pulled back, two curled strands framing her face. Her eyes were honey, welcoming, but in the way that predators fool their prey in making them comfortable before eating them whole.
“What gave it away, darling?”She gave me a pitying look. The box continued to beat against my chest – a constant reminder. “What? Were you expecting a little, fat cherub?”
“Maybe,” was all I could reply with. She stood up and walked towards me, her bare feet silent on the marble floor.
“All children grow up. Have a little imagination,” she cooed. Her eyes searched mine, her head angled to the side inspecting all of my insecurities. “It’s annoying, isn’t it?”
“The constant aching of love.” She smiled, snatching the box out of my hands. She turned around to walk back to her throne. “My payment, I’m assuming?” I heard her open the box, the squeaks of the hinges yelling loudly in the open room. She paused and looked over her shoulder. “Quite impressive.”
I nodded to her, unsure of where to go, what to do. “His name is Patrick.”
“Of course it is,” she stated matter-of-factly, slamming the box shut. She set it down on a cushion, a blend of smoke and light now emanating from her hands. The wisps of cloud condensed and thickened, materializing into a long shape. When it settled, the smoke revealed a small arrow, the size of a bowie knife, covered in a layer of gold. She gripped it in her hand, light peeking through the spaces in between her fingers. She walked toward me, motioning for me to take it.
It was still warm, and even more surprising, contained my name engraved along its shaft. “I thought this part was your job.”
She laughed, a tone of wickedness coming up from her throat. “Your desires, your actions, your consequences, love. I merely provide the tools.”
“What do I do?”
Her eyes flickered over to the box, licking her lips impatiently. She dusted off imaginary dirt from her dress. “How do you think it works?” When I didn’t answer, she rolled her eyes and gripped my hand in hers, the arrow now singing in the center of it all. “You find him, you look him in the eyes and you put it through his heart.”
A small gasp left my lips. I stumbled over my words.
“Love is nothing to be trifled with, darling. If his heart is open to your love, it will absorb the arrow. If not, well, I just recommend doing this in a private place.” She winked.
My body sagged. Tears rimmed my eyes at the prospect of Patrick on the ground, his heart lost to me in the way I didn’t want. “But what I’ve done already…I don’t think I can do this.”
She tsked me. “You knew the price when you decided you were desperate enough to seek me out. What’s done is done. Now, finish it.” She pushed my hands close to my chest, her own letting go. “You have 72 hours. If you don’t use it, it will disappear, along with your own heart.” I swallowed, the guilt settling into every muscle. “I suggest you use the time wisely.”
I clutched the arrow tightly, my name cutting into my palm. I looked up to find her sitting on the cushion again, the box given in her lap. She opened it, grasping the contents with one hand. Blood began seeping down her arm in dancing rivulets as her fingers clutched the dead heart, the tissue already tinged with gray. She smiled down at it, reveling in the scent and aura. My own ached in my chest. With every beat now, the room began disappearing, the mask of the dock house returning like water washing away paint. It crept closer to her throne, framing her in a halo of the ordinary. “72 hours, dear. Good luck.” She winked as the mask closed in, then took a deep bite into the heart, blood seeping into the fabric of her gown. For a moment, I could see her veins glow with a pulsing joy before disappearing in a swirl of marble and wood.
I looked over at Patrick as we walked down the street, the glow of the lampposts illuminating his smile. The arrow was a weight in my coat pocket, the gold burning a hole in the wool. The night was almost over, the end of the third day almost done. The rest of the evening was revolving around small talk and potential plans. We stopped in front of my brownstone, his fingertips lingering on mine. The minutes began to wind down, the voice of the rules, now a lament, still playing in my ears:
An eye for an eye,
A heart for a heart
For an arrow of love
For death ‘til you part.
I blinked away the memory of the heart I cut and gave away, fear and self-loathing making room for hope. “Hey, would you like to come up?”
This tidbit started off as a response to a writing prompt, then turned into a possible idea for a novel or series. As most things go, nothing really came of it, but I’m still digging the possibility of continuing (after a much needed polish).
It had been a long afternoon but Bekka continued to wait. She enjoyed the shade of the forest, the sound of the other animals amongst her, the wet air threading through the canopy of the trees. Birds darted back and forth and immediately fleeted when they realized her presence. With the exception of her relaxed breathing, she was stone. When all was said and done, she loved the silent strength of the forest the most. She had missed it dearly. She was beginning to doze off when she had heard fast footsteps hitting hard in the sand.
Bekka squinted her eyes and watched as the bandit stopped his sprint right in front of the tree she was sitting in. A branch blocked her camouflaged appearance, the leaves brushing against her face in the shadows. She rose her head as the bandit caught his breath, a satchel of prizes clenched in his fist. Bekka smirked and relished in the surprise she was about to unleash upon him. Terrified blood always tasted the sweetest. She silently stepped from one branch to a lower one, quieter than the wind. The bandit was breathing heavily but his grip on the satchel did not loosen.
Bekka smiled and wet her lips, leaning forward to catch his scent. “Hello, darling,” she growled. The bandit whipped his head around and was met with the dangerous weapon that was Bekka Brax. Bekka jumped and slashed at him, his blood splattering like rain on the brush around them. His leg now immobile, he drug himself toward the brush looking for any possible means of escape. Bekka stood there, watching him closely, enjoying the foolishness of men. She raised her paw to her face and licked it clean. “Go on, leave then. If you think you can outrun me, I’d gladly accept the challenge.” She put her foot back down, the taste of metal fresh in her mouth.
“Please, have mercy on me, creature!” the bandit screamed, his face now covered with dirt and sand. His hand still gripped the satchel but it was weighing him down now and he needed any unnecessary pounds lifted from him.
“Mercy? I’m not one for merciful acts but I will arrange a trade.”
“Your life…for those jewels you stole.”
The bandit looked at the bag and gulped down the stone in his throat. He closed his eyes and winced at the pain. There was more to these jewels than a thief’s agenda. “I…I can’t. I have to try, my family–”
Bekka rolled her eyes dramatically, her paws fidgeting with the anticipation. “Your life…for the jewels. I’m sure your family would rather appreciate you coming home alive and poor, then dead. Save your bravery for a different day.” She cocked her head at him and a low growl emanated from her chest. She watched as a thousand thoughts and coincidences flashed across his eyes before he resigned. His grip loosened from the satchel and he threw it across the ground toward Bekka. The bag opened just slightly, the sparkle of diamonds reflecting in her feline eyes. “Good boy,” she responded.
A moonstone ring hanging from a chain around her neck began to glimmer before a wisp of smoke surrounded her, transforming her from the panther in the clearing to a young woman. She cracked her neck and stretched her arms, her hair a bit disheveled from the fight. She picked up the bag on the ground, counted the jewels inside and stuck it in her own hanging off her hip. The bandit, now clutching his chest in shock, stammered in her presence. “W-witch!”
“Don’t call me that,” she replied between her teeth. “It’s unbecoming. And false.”
“You tricked me.”
“So I have.” Her eyes were the last to change, the slitted pupils becoming small circles, encompassing the gold of her irises. Her left eye had a large spot of blue on the outer rim. “What did you expect from a large, talking black cat?” The man began to stand, leaning his weight and good leg on the side of the tree. “Now, I would estimate that you have about a five minute head start if you want to beat the palace guards.”
“Hard to do that with a broken leg.”
“Easier than if you were dead…or would you rather me remedy that?”
The bandit shook his head and began moving, an awful limp slowing him down. Bekka watched as he hobbled away. The small part of human left inside her felt regretful for hurting him but sparing him was the easiest way. He would not be able to partake in a thief’s life with that injury but at the very least he had more time with his family. That was more than she could say for herself. A bandit had to appreciate another bandit for what they did have. Another growl from the animal started back up but she swallowed it down.
She heard yells and footfalls from horses in the distance. The palace guards had wasted only a little bit of time. She leaned against the tree waiting for their arrival, making sure that the bandit was a reasonable distance away. The lot of guards stopped suddenly at the sight of her, a sarcastic smile on her face. Her hand protected the bag at her side. “Hello, gentlemen. Such steadfast ambition. You nearly had him!”
The captain of the guard looked past her and the stains of blood clumping the wrestled sand in front of them. “Witch, what have you done with him?”
She was staring at her nails, flicking out dried blood from underneath the beds. If she had her cat tongue, it’d be a lot easier. It would be a lot easier to do a lot of things, like break the captain’s neck. “Can you blame me for getting a little hungry waiting for you lot to show up? Anyway, I got what you came for.” She tapped the bag at her side. “All missing jewels accounted for.” Murmurs threaded through the space from the other guards and Bekka listened intently. “Now, now boys, that’s no way to talk about a lady.”
“Lady?” the captain scoffed. “You are nothing but the King’s witch. Be grateful he has a need for you, otherwise I’d rip that blasphemous head from your body.”
Bekka raised a finger in the air. “Careful now, Captain. You wouldn’t want me to change into something a little bit more comfortable, now would you?”
The captain narrowed his gaze on her. “If you don’t report back to the palace by nightfall, I will be sure to find you. And you won’t like that.”
Bekka laughed under her breath, fidgeting with the moonstone around her neck. She rubbed the side of it. Warmth began seeping from underneath the metal and radiated back into her skin. She felt her organs tremble and her blood pump faster, stretching the tissue underneath her shell. Something fast, she ordered herself. She turned, facing her back to him, eyeing the path into the woods. “Please,” she dismissed loudly as she stepped a foot into the clearing. The smoke had already started to form around her. “As if you could catch me.”
I feel terrible, truly.
I normally write whenever possible but some rather important and time consuming changes all seemed to happen at the same time as a release of A Deathly Compromise. While I’m eagerly waiting for print copies to be available before the next run of promotions, I figured I could take some time to finally update you all and flex my writing fingers.
In terms of big changes, my husband and I have a baby on the way (due in April) and we just purchased-and moved into!-our first house. Between those two huge things on their own and prepping for the holidays, I feel a bit like this cat:
(So when I say I feel terrible, know that it is not just emotional sentiment.)
Nevertheless, to quote the great Walt Disney, we keep moving forward. While we’re still technically living out of cardboard boxes, we managed to decorate for Christmas and are in joyous disbelief that the place is ours (we’ll just ignore the fact that it’s really the bank’s). And while 2016 was nothing short of tumultuous, 2017 will undoubtedly bring some much needed joy and I look forward to it. I promise to not be so neglectful to this little corner of the universe.
So now that things are settling down and I can finally scratch that author itch, I spewed out this quick little A Deathly Compromise short, just for the holidays. It’s not spoiler-free and will most likely not be included in the sequel, so let this just serve as the in-between snack of the holiday meals. Enjoy and hope you all have a safe and wonderful holiday!
Although it’s been said, many times, many ways.
I watched the television as if it were an animal documentary. George Michael and his fantastic hair frolicked across the screen, belting out his infamous tune over his lost Christmas love. I pulled the fur-lined rim of the Santa hat over my eyes.
“Oh, Georgie, who were you trying to fool?” I remarked out loud, catching a nasty glimpse from a waiting visitor. I ignored her, draping my legs over one side of the armchair while resting my head on the other. A shadow loomed over my body and without completely looking up, a small smile escaped the corner of my lips. I would know his presence anywhere. His soul stirred up flurries in my stomach. “Is that a candy cane in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?”
He laughed. He began searching for something in his pocket and for a moment, I questioned the seriousness of my proposition. Before I could stand, a green, red and white candy cane, with a split in the curve, landed on my chest.
“Tease,” I called him as my fingers worked to unwrap the unruly plastic.
“Bum,” he replied, gently removing the hat from my head.
A hiss erupted from my mouth. “The light…it burns us.”
“Get up, I want to show you something.”
“Fool me once, Lux…”
“There are cookies involved.”
I swung my legs and my boots planted themselves on the ground, my body sitting up at full attention, the candy cane between my index and middle finger like a 1920’s cigarette. “Next time, just go with that, darling. No need for foreplay.”
Lux rolled his eyes and turned, the glimmer from his clothes made annoyingly bright from the hospital lighting. I caught up to his pace, now smooth and effortless, not a hint of flawed life among the steps. “Nice outfit,” he remarked, noticing the rather jolly and lightly stained seasonal nurse scrubs I had been recently adorning.
“One must learn how to blend in with the peasant folk when one loses their cover. Didn’t you learn anything from James Bond?” I asked.
“Connery, of course. So cheeky, great in bed.” He glared. “Kidding!” I was definitely not kidding.
“I liked Roger Moore.”
I groaned as we turned the corner to the main lobby. “Ugh, you would.”
He grabbed my hand and pulled me into the nearby janitor’s closet, his body providing the only illumination in the confined room. He held my arm and hand up, his other hand resting on the small of my back. “Close your eyes,” he whispered.
The moment felt fearfully similar to one of his last when he was alive. I obliged, my body leaning into his. The familiar warp of transporting sent shivers up my spine before it ended in an eerie calm. The frost of the night greeted me, soft flakes kissing my cheeks. The smell of hot chocolate wafted around us. My hips adjusted to the environmental shift before my body completely betrayed me and I fell to the floor. My head met ice. I looked up, Lux’s face holding back a laugh. He held out his hand but I smacked it away.
“Skates, it had to be skates!” I wobbled up, my hands bracing the ground between my legs while I straightened up.
“You just made Bambi look like he could do the moonwalk.”
“You….shut your mouth. Goddess of death here, not of grace.” My torso came up next, then my head, my hands rubbing up against legs for warmth. “Now, then…” I began to slip again but caught my balance with an arm spinwheel before I could fall back down the dreadful frozen earth. I huffed, the echo of fire from my eyes transparent in Lux’s. “You said…there were…cookies.”
He opened up the crook of his arm to allow mine to lace through it. “In a bit. They’re on the other side of the rink and we got a ways to go.”
“You couldn’t have just landed us on solid ground?”
“It’s about the journey, not the destination.”
“Have you been reading the verse of Jones lately? I feel like I’m talking to his parrot.”
He ignored my comments, the smile on his face never wavering. He guided me halfway down the frozen pond, looking around and stopping abruptly, about 20 yards from warmth and chocolate. His free hand reached for mine, turning me to face him. I was still in disbelief. It had been weeks now, yet my mind couldn’t fathom it. His fingers reached up to my face, pushing a loose lock of hair behind my ear. Fingertips trailed down the length of my jaw, his thumb landing on my chin. “Merry Christmas, Dee,” he whispered.
Before I could reply or fill in the space between us, he moved away, revealing the scene in front of me like a curtain. Disappointment turned into confusion before the faces and figures in the background sharpened. Amongst the bulk of snow jackets and dark colors, a familiar head with a lavender-colored knit cap erupted like a pleasant streak of lightning in the night.
Oh, what a year could do. She had grown like a weed in summer, perhaps a foot or more. Her smile was free of chains, loose breaths now residing between small bursts of laughter. Her mother and father were there, holding her hands, lifting her up and sending chips of ice into the air. My hands found themselves rubbing my arms up and down, recollecting her last embrace. Vince Guaraldi’s Charlie Brown score came out on the speakers, the vocals of the children’s choir and soft piano keys settling softly in the air. “She’s…so happy,” I said under my breath.
“You did that,” Lux said, his voice suddenly joining in the reverie.
I shook my head. “No. No, she was always happy, in a way. Now she’s…”
“Yes, that. She’s, she’s certainly something.” I swallowed down a happy sob, determined not to make myself look like a fool in the middle of a crowd of children and agile adults. “Is she…?”
“She’s doing great, Dee. Perfectly healthy.”
“Good, that’s good,” I said quickly, my voice cracking. I let out a long exhale. “We better go before she sees me.”
“Are you sure?”
I nodded emphatically, turning away and bracing myself for the last few feet between me and snow covered grass. He took my arm again and guided the way. We stood in line for hot chocolate and cookies, but I no longer had the urge. My eyes strayed toward Aria’s direction every couple of minutes, following the spot of lavender across the pond. I memorized her one more time, her muscles and limbs moving without restraint. When she was lifted into the air, the hem of her jeans rode up, revealing new rainbow socks. I laughed, silently wishing I could go back to being invisible. I could watch her all day. Lux handed me a mug of hot chocolate – cider for him – and placed his free hand back on my cheek, melting the snow on my face. I smiled at him, taking a bite of the cookie already in my grasp.
“Thank you,” I told him in sincerity, swallowing down the treat. He shrugged in the most Lux way possible, the remnants of cider now on his lips. I licked my own, trying to ignore the temptation. He was off limits now. I looped my arm through his once again and led the way back to the hospital grounds. A walk would do us both some good. Nevertheless, the warmth and joy from Aria’s laugh echoed in between us, melting away the cold of the evening. Some things were worth waiting for, worth sacrificing for. My cup toasted his as our steps found their synchronicity. “Merry Christmas, Lux.”
A/N: My butt needs to get back into gear with writing these short stories. I love this attraction so much so I need to make the time for it. Comments are welcome-hope you like!
New Orleans, 1925
Edward Gracey was a smart man, or rather, he would like to think so anyway. He had just graduated Summa cum Laude from Yale University, landed a job at an infamous firm in New Orleans and was finding good prospects for homes nearby. Luck was in his cards, most assuredly. He smiled as he parked his car down the street from the last prospect: a towering three-story Colonial piece with four large pillars gracing its entrance and iron facades framing the wrap-around porches on the first and second floors. Giant juniper trees stood its height along the right side of the house, symmetrical with the brick chimneys on the left. Overgrown shrubs and wax myrtles framed all corners, enveloping the home in a mysterious beauty.
Edward looked at the piece of scribbled paper in his hand. This couldn’t be right. The house was beautiful, but no way could it fit in his price range. His hand went up to the iron gate of the entrance, leaning his head so that he might get a closer look. He felt a prick on the outside of his wrist. A vine full of thorns had snaked through all of the bars–he could have sworn they weren’t there moments before but figured it a trick of the light–and they now had decorated themselves with drops of his own blood. Edward nervously chuckled, pushing away a small anxiety rising up in his throat. He heard the car door close shut and his trance broke suddenly at the sight of his fiancée in a buttercup yellow dress. Her rosy cheeks and matching lips suited the color, a vision of Spring in this eternal Autumn.
“Edward, is anything the matter?”
He crumpled the paper in his hand, stealing another glance at the thorns. “I’m afraid I’ve led us in the wrong direction. Or perhaps the clerk in the land sales office may have transposed the address. This can’t be the right house. We will return to the office and I shall inquire–” But her eyes had drifted from him and focused their attention on the manor. Her breath caught in her throat and Edward could honestly not tell if she was breathing. Her lace gloves were wound tightly on the iron bars, the vines now nowhere near her. “Darling, best you stay away. We know nothing of these current residents and their temperaments.”
To his surprise, she turned back and smiled. “Edward, it’s beautiful.”
He knew that tone. He was all too familiar with it. The vibrato of it shook him, the warm tone of it turned him into mush, the smile that accompanied it made his mind bend to her will. She only used that tone when she had her heart set on something and would do anything to get it. She was tenacious but always a lady; it was always what she didn’t say that made Edward jump to her requests. But at this, he would be a broke man in two month’s time and with a wedding to plan, it wasn’t logical. “Darling, it must be far out of our price range. And who knows if it is even up for sale?”
“But it is for sale,” came a voice from the gate.
A relic of a man appeared on the other side. His eyes were sallow and his face skinny; his large nose practically coming at them from the bars. He held an unsightly beagle by a rope leash, his other hand gripping a lantern. Dusk was beginning to fall and the fear on his face indicated dire consequences should the proper street lamps in front of the house were not lit. He stared at Edward and brought an insincere smile to the corner of his lips. As quick as it came, it went–he was unaccustomed to speaking with visitors, Edward guessed. Edward smoothed his waistcoat, stuffing the piece of paper in his pocket. “It is, you say? Unfortunately, I do believe I don’t quite have the means. The sales clerk–”
“If you show an interest, I can bring you up to meet the Mistress. She is preparing for an expedition to the West Indies and would like to sell the home at the earliest, at any price.”
“We would love to see the house,” his beloved blurted, her arm circling and nesting in the crook of his elbow. “Wouldn’t we, Edward?”
He looked into her dark eyes, a glimmer of mischief circling in her irises. It was that tone again. Oh, how she loved to use it and what a fool he was to fall for it. He smiled despite a bead of perspiration dripping down his temple. He looked at the groundskeeper behind the bars–his smile was so forced, it looked painful. There was certainly more than what he was letting on. Edward could swear he heard the whole house creak from where he was standing. Unsettling whispers in the twilight hour settled squarely on his shoulders. His free hand squeezed the piece of paper in his waistcoat pocket. He was a smart man. He’d be foolish to let a good deal go to waste. He swore the groundskeeper gave a subtle shake of the head but ignored it, turning to his fiancee instead. “My dear, sweet Leota, how could I say no?”
The groundskeeper let out a sigh under his breath and unlocked the gate. Vines snapped and Edward thought he heard small screams echoing out from the stems. Caked rust flaked off onto the grass as the groundskeeper held it open for them. “Welcome to Gore Manor.”
Walking out the front door was always easy.
The yells were gasoline, pushing her feet silently across the ceramic tile, the house dark and cold save for the light emanating from the bottom of the door to her parents’ bedroom. She didn’t have a lot. She prioritized her wallet and notebook, along with an extra shirt and shorts, and tucked them all away in a pink, plastic Hello Kitty case. It bent and fought with her – it was made for crayons and crafts and things that brought smiles, not frantic decisions – but she buckled the latches closed and held it tight against her chest.
She walked across the hall, the sounds of bumping furniture echoing in the walls of her ears. Her legs were a spider’s, her toes balancing on the threads of tile cracks, leading a haphazard path to the front door. Her head barely looked over the lock. She took a deep breath, clenching her jaw as another fighting voice filled the pause. She unlocked the door, her small fist turning the knob and opening it out into the night. The humid, Florida air made the weather stripping on the door hiss, the pressure of the house exhaling, syncing in time with her own breath.
It was summer and she didn’t think to change out of her pajama dress. Despite the warm air, her knobby knees still buckled under the halo of the streetlight in front of the house. Fourteen. There were fourteen houses in between hers and her best friend’s. It was late but they would open the door for her. She just wanted to sleep. She didn’t want to come back, but she would. She just wanted the dreams to go away, to hear nothing but a ceiling fan and passing cars. She gripped the handle of the case, the sweat from her palms making it seem very heavy. The street suddenly seemed very long, fourteen turning into fifty. The smooth concrete on her feet turned into glass, piercing through her arches and heels. The asphalt of the street was the River Styx; she didn’t dare step in.
She battled her consciences, the pointer finger on each of her hands rubbing the skin around the thumbnails. This was always the way. The nights when the street turned into Purgatory were often the worst. There was fear on both sides of the door. The plastic on the latches suddenly gave way, her minimal supplies dropping onto the driveway. Her body dropped, skinning her knee, as her hands reached out to them frantically. A couple of coins dropped, the corner of her notebook bent. Her eyebrows furrowed – she would never get the crease out of the paper. She folded her shirt back in, and clasped her hands on both sides of the case, forcing it shut. She brought it to her chest once more, her arms circling across it as she turned around and sat on the front stoop.
Tears began falling but she was used to the sensation of the salt water on her face. Sobs didn’t come anymore but she rested her forehead on her knee and forced it out. A gust from the west kissed her cheek. Her chest rattled one more time before she looked up. There were only fourteen houses. She closed her eyes, concentrating on the quiet. The house had fallen asleep, the fog of anger still hanging but thinning out into empty spaces. She stood up and turned back around, the street of unknown perils snickering at her back. Walking out was always easy, leaving was hard. She opened the door with one hand, the other carefully holding the broken case. She brushed her feet on the mat, careful not to track the concrete dust. When she made her way back into her bedroom and closed the door, she tried to rub away the weight in her eyes. Her bed looked unapologetically comfortable. Her friend’s was comfortable too – but it wasn’t home. It would suffice until the next night. She would have to find another case or a bag for her things, though she hoped she wouldn’t need to.
She crawled under the covers, her scrape brushing against the cloth and staining it with the smallest signature of blood. She ignored the pain, holding onto her pillow, the snores now coming from the next room. Wants and needs were two different things and she knew she needed to be there. She wasn’t the only one in limbo; the house wasn’t empty after all. She would escape one day, when the street held less dangers and more promise. There was hope, hidden away in dark corners, waiting for the opportunity to consume the dark, to consume the fog, to make her forget how many houses were in between.
—a little Dee short on an autumn day, you can read A Deathly Compromise here—
The rain hadn’t stopped in sixteen days, not that I minded. Each drop that landed on my lips tasted like autumn. In between curtains of downpour, I sat on the knoll and waited for the next band to come in from the sea. Soon enough, as the calendar pages decreased, the rain would turn to sleet then to snow. The wind was already slicing with bitterness.
What was so swell about winter, anyway? Everything was already dead. My work would be done and I would get bored waiting for life to pop through the cement cracks again. No, autumn was the present, the best of it, the climax of war. Autumn killed, twisted, dried up and metamorphosed everything. If it didn’t die, it hid, waiting patiently for my grip to loosen. Death was very much alive, thank you very much.
A leaf had blown into my lap, its crisp, maple edges landing perfectly between drops. I picked it up by its stem, examining the creases and small holes. The green had been fading, the majority of the leaf a light amber. Its cycle was near its end. A small spark left my fingers, sending a ribbon of light through the stem and upwards to the veins. For a moment, the amber seemed to glow a deep, warm gold before it faded into orange, then crimson, then a dusty brown before curling up its blades into a burnt fossil.
I smiled, hardly enjoying it. It had already been dead.
You ruined it, you know.
“Go away.” I clapped the ash of the leaf against the leg of my pants.
It may have liked how it looked once it parted from its home, did you ever think about that?
“Oh, all the time.” I rolled my eyes and curled my legs up, my chin resting on the tops of my knees. The silence that followed was deafening. The wind picked up from the west and the voice followed.
Do you like it, Death? Ruining it all? Playing with your food?
I didn’t answer. Acid pooled in my mouth. I stared ahead and thought of the last time I was on this knoll – breaths catching and the early autumn sun. I thought I was a mess then. He didn’t.
Ignoring me, then. Ignoring the inevitable. Do you remember, Death? Do you remember how I led you across the world with your hand in mine, our smiles matching as you ate it all away?
My knuckles were bruising black, flakes of ash flying away from them. I kept my fingers tight to my palm, the nails cutting away into the creases of skin.
What woke you, puppet? You’re back in your disguise now. This skin is not what it used to be. It’s used up. It’s ruined. I’d much rather have you in your natural state, a shadow. My shadow.
“Enough,” I growled, extra teeth breaking through. The wind had ceased, the flow of life hanging in midair as if the winter had come early to freeze it. My hand had made its way to my side, the tip of my finger touching an upturned root of a nearby tree. Slowly, as if gravity were taking a holiday, the leaves of the tree had begun to fall. They were floating down like a soft snow, suspended and taking their time to meet the ground, as if they wanted nothing to do with me. As they fell, they changed their colors, the small bit of sunlight shining on them like corners of a prism.
Amber to gold to orange to red to crimson.
As they reached the crown of my head, they all began to wither, the blades folding tightly inward, mimicking my fingers from seconds before. I opened up my palm, letting one fall in between my fortune lines. The moment it touched my skin, all of the leaves turned to ash, blowing away in a western gust.
It was quiet but my ears were still ringing.
A small nudge poked my shoulder and my black beast pushed his nose between my arm and side. “It’s alright, Cerb. Just the wind.” His eyes gave the softest glow of a cerulean blue before fading back to black. He sat on his belly, his paws facing forward, his ears swiveling to catch any disturbance. He let out a loud sigh. It was merely for show. He was more energy than life, more dead than alive.
He was both. I was both (well, perhaps more with one than the other). While the promise of winter was on the horizon, while the whispers hung dangerously over my shoulders, I relished in the autumn. Autumn was the picturesque landscape of limbo, both alive and dead at the same time, waiting for my instructions.
It wouldn’t all be ash.
Most would cover up, hide, attempt to keep warmth in their bones, wait it all out until the nuisance of spring. I wouldn’t ruin it. No, I would set it all free, it was just a matter of waiting.
The blue typewriter was always there, of that she was certain.
As she stared at the empty desk with the dust outline, she cursed under her breath. She should have taken it with her.
When her mother had called to say the place had been robbed, she didn’t think they would take the clunky beast of a machine. It was in one place for years for a reason. When she had moved away years ago, she deliberated taking it and eventually passed. There wasn’t a whole lot of room in her apartment and she had her tablet, after all.
The typewriter had been clunky, the carriage heavy and noisy. It had done a good job of masking the growls and yells in the night, the bickering back and forth, the sound of the world she knew crumbling around her.
The keys would get stuck and tick tacked along the keytop, the levers stamping heavy on the thick paper. If her father bought the wrong paper-and he often had-it smeared and bled, the ink soaking into her fingers, the words she dreamed of lost in the rivulets of black. The ink masked the blood, though.
And when the nights were quiet, when she could focus, her eyes straining by the dimming light of an old lamp, she had lost herself in the serif letters, dreaming of worlds far away from her own. There were princesses in deserts, scoundrels in sailing ships, liars and cheats who found love in those that looked past their paper mache masks. She typed slow but with purpose, stacking the pages as the night hours died away.
When the ribbons of morning light were starting to creep in with the fog, she had let out a heavy sigh and placed the papers on top of another stack in a box under her bed. Sleep, while evaded most nights, hit her hard, her shoulders slumping as she dragged her mound of atoms under the covers. Two hours would be enough.
She had taken the boxes of papers upon the move.
She sifted through them, tossing away the ones that had resulted in a physical twitch, keeping the ones where she smiled and reflected on the events occurring outside her bedroom door. The toughest fights–the ones with fists and screams and slamming doors–made the strongest stories. She held those close to her chest, as if hugging them would absorb them into her skin. The fights had ended with a final slam and squeal of tires.
She began to sleep more, see the sun more, smile more. There were still stories to be told but there was more time. The stacks had decreased considerably. A light covering of dust faded the bright robin’s egg blue to a stormy sky in summer.
When it was time to move forward, move onward, she made her mother promise it would stay. While the other key components in her room slowly disappeared, the small oak desk with the clunky typewriter lay half-forgotten, a beast in the kingdom of a lost girl’s memory and new gym equipment.
Seeing the ghost of it now, nothing but a ring of gray ash, she thought back to those princesses and scoundrels, the masks that she used to block away the world. Her fingertips reached out to touch the ring. She swiped away a break in them, a gaping door in a sacred circle.
Her mother came in then. Soft hands fell on her shoulders. “I’m sorry,” she whispered.
She nodded, her hand covering her mother’s. Her other hand, carrying a hardcover book, reached out and placed it within the broken ring. It was nothing special, a plain cover without exquisite lettering, but the letters spelled out her name on the bottom, a sticker with a “#1” floating high above it. She smiled, the rectangle oddly fitting in.
It would be alright. Perhaps the beast would make its way to someone else’s home, where the keys could tick tack and the levers could flip and the platen spool would ride back and forth creating other worlds. Perhaps it would be taken apart, the pieces of metal making their way to different people, the essence of their stories still lingering in the circles of consonants and vowels. Perhaps it would lie in the corner of a shop, waiting to be picked by another lost soul, preparing to be the vessel of the dreams they would create in the night.
Prompt #2: Ten years from now, you meet up with an old friend you haven’t seen in a decade. Write the conversation you have.
I looked at her and all I saw in her face were the sharp edges of vowels and hard marks on the angry flourishes of her words. My teeth were iron, unclenching just enough for a smile to escape the corner of my lips. The letters turned into phrases, flashing in red and snaking between us, the silence of a decade solidifying into a stone in my throat.
“Hi, wow, how have you been?” she asked.
“Hey, um great. Things are great. How are you?”
She nodded, jutting out her chin, undoubtedly wishing that she had taken a different path, left five minutes earlier, stayed home for breakfast altogether. “Things are perfect. I’m exactly where I want to be.”
I felt a familiar stab in the spaces of her words, the ever-present grandiose dagger of her tone being held over my back once again. “That’s awesome. I’m happy for you, happy you got to live your dream.” I wasn’t entirely innocent either. My words were green and foggy and so heavy they sank to the floor. My eyes glossed and the instinct to put my hand on my stomach gave me the strength to pull me from the past. She didn’t know how much she had broken me. She never saw the crack in the glass that she had left behind. There were so many things to say, amends to make. “I wish–”
“So, what’s the baby’s name?” she interruped, a shaking breath rattling from her mouth. Her eyes were glossed too. I told her and she smiled, no iron. The words were still there but they had begun to dim.
I wanted to be brave. “Would you like some lunch? I was just going to grab–”
“I’m actually on my way to a meeting. Maybe some other time?”
“Yes, of course. You have my number. It…it was good to see you.” She nodded again, her hand clenching the strap of her purse. There wouldn’t be another time. We both knew it. The damage was done. We said our awkward goodbyes and walked in our separate directions and I fought to keep moving forward.
That night, I found a picture of us from a cardboard box and cried. I knew she was more stubborn, more brave than I was. She wouldn’t do this. She didn’t live with breaks in the glass. She just bought new glass. But a part of me hoped that I was still there; a speck of a dust of a memory clinging to all the good things we lost.