night blossom.

A small fanfic that blossomed into something I rather liked.

-/-

There were times when she smelled flowers.

Not the ones that he had planted outside of their window – English lavender, peach & white gladiolas and yellow buttercups – but the ones that grew by the bay, that held the ocean spray in the velvet of their petals. He would go out to sea, gone for only an afternoon or night at a time, and each time would bring back of sprig of wildflowers from the docks. She woke up to their smell next to her pillow, the first peeks of sunlight illuminating them in the new day.

She groaned, her fingertips clutching the empty pillow next to her, lines of sheet forming to meet in the heart of her palm. The wildflowers spilled over the edges, filling the room with their scent. She turned her head, her eyes squinting at the window. He stood there, his jacket off for once, his shirt loosened from his trousers. He held his hand on the windowpane, looking out over the bay but turned when he heard her stir.

“Morning,” she mumbled, pillow fluff half hanging from her mouth. He smiled, walking over to her and sitting on the edge. His nearness pulled her body up like a magnet and she draped an arm over the back of his shoulders. She rested her chin in the crook of his neck, taking in the salt air still pressed on his skin.

“Good morning, love,” he whispered, the stillness of the dawn not yet ready for anything other than hushed voices.

“Tell me,” she uttered. It was more of an order than a request, a permission for him to lose the weight of what he held onto.

He took a deep breath, in and out, his chest letting out a small shudder. She felt his heart in hers, the layers of skin and organs the only barriers between them. “A calm night, all clear. The town remains safe on the water another night.”

“And?”

He smiled, looking at her, the moon still an echo in his eyes. “I saw it again.”

His past. It still haunted him, drowning him in dreams and nightscapes. “Tell me,” she repeated, a gentleness in her tone. The serenity put him at ease again, his muscles loosening just an inch.

“I keep thinking the day would be more soothing, but the night helps more. The stars help. They keep me on track, keep me sailing back to you. I keep seeing the gates and the river and the shadows. So many shadows.”

She rubbed his back in small circles, her hair draping down his collarbone.

“I feel like it’s suffocating me, sometimes. I feel wound, constantly waiting for it to end. I see this blackness, this rope of black smoke choking me.”

“Honey-”

“But then I open my eyes and I see you. I see you in the stars…and then everything just disappears.” His voice was normal now, no longer a whisper, a small wave of nerves rippling off his tongue. She kissed the curve of his ear, pulling him into the bed, clothes and all. She wrapped her arms from behind him and across his chest. He tightened and loosened all at once, the pain of the day folding back into hibernation.

“Sleep, darling. You’re here, you’re home.” The petals crunched beneath their bodies, the remnants of the sea enveloping them, welcoming them back into pleasant dreams.

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A night in limbo.

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.

“I notice autumn is more the season of the soul than of nature.”

—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.
Then brown.

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.  

all of the pieces.

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.

Short Writing Prompt: You are an astronaut. Describe your perfect day.

Written: 1/1/15

They say you can’t hear anything in space.
On a good day, I hear many things looking out into the void.

I hear my heartbeat like a thunderstorm in June. It is the envy of the entire Atlantic Coast. I hear my organs pump and my skin rub up against the suit and exhalation of breath and the release of skin from eye crease sweat when I blink. On a bad day, there are noises all around in the form of beeps and boops and manic alarms.

Today is a good day.

A whispering, low beep plays its monotonous melody in the background. I float above it, waiting for the chime before the intercom speaks. I wait for the winds of passing nebulous gas, the rolling bass of rotating moons and planets around me, the light timpani percussion as rolling debris or asteroid rock tap on the space craft.

It is not quiet in space. No, it is a symphony of strange.

I creep up the east wall and peek out the porthole. Earth is spinning softly on its axis, a sleeping baby in a bassinet. My fingers graze the glass and on a bad day I can hear the pain in my heart echo out in every corner of my brain. Hope drowns it out on a good day–it swaps out the somber string notes for a crooner’s brass, a song for the morning and the discoveries I’ll bring home.

It is not quiet in space. It is loud and beautiful in my madness.