Flash Fiction: Just a City

The two o’clock train was late, leaving her to bake on the station bench a little longer. She turned her face to the sun and enjoyed the way the concrete radiated it up. The heat also chased away the crowds, sweating round-faced people who abandoned the platform for conditioned interiors.

Their chatter and crash had filled the empty spaces between the cackle of scavenging crows and the distant sound of the freeway. Now her thoughts rushed to fill the quiet.

She wasn’t running from anything. There were no scars to cover with the endless miles between this place and the letters on her train ticket. No mob chased her out, she wasn’t escaping from any twisted webs. Her departure wouldn’t matter, and that was precisely why it was time to leave.

Now, alone on the concrete platform, perched with her bag on a concrete bench, it didn’t feel like a good decision. It was just a decision.

The destination on her ticket was only those letters and number. It was city. A place she’d picked only when prompted by the glassy-eyed attendant at the kiosk. She’d find out what she was running to when she got there.

Young and Quiet Things

Deep within the yew and cottonwoods, the beast waited. Across the gentle river, a town bolted their doors and did the same, stringing garlands of garlic flowers over their doors.

The beast’s belly was swollen, limbs sore and lacking their normal strength. She was young for her kind and had never experienced the waves of bone-deep pain before. Never had her body betrayed her so, the sharp aches overtaking her like a tide. She sunk against the base of a flowering yew.

Before she’d lost herself amidst the rotting trunks and towering trees, she’d wandered between midwife, inn, and doctor. They shied from her like their horses did from wolves, white around their eyes and nostrils flaring at her scent. When all had turned her away, they closed the gates. Fear, normally a gift to her kind, condemned her. Now, cradled only in moss and mud, she cursed the squat little town and its rank flowers.

The day ebbed away into night, the sky first deepening to amethyst first and then pitch.Her sensitive eyes welcomed the respite and the night air called steam from her burning skin.

In the depths of the woods, the beast gave birth to a son. The babe curled silent but warm as his mother on the forest floor. No longer alone, the took him in her arms and pressed her lips to his brow. He did not cry, as their kind were quiet things.

The new mother cradled her young, cleaning him as best she could with her shift and soiled coat.

Scenting blood nearby, an ambling bear approached the little clearing between the trees. Its head up and nose twitching, the animal stopped when as it came upon the two.

The beast met the bear’s glassy dark eyes. Her arms were occupied by the now squirming and bloody baby.  The animal’s nose twitched, scenting the thing beneath the gore. It whined deep in its throat, shuffling its swinging body backward. It left as quickly as it could through the dense undergrowth.

She watched the bear go, content to let it leave. There would be time for food later, for now, she smiled down at her son and wriggled her fingers before his face. Already quick and alert, the boy’s face lit up at the movement. She repeated the game and he squirmed with delight.

The beast settled against the flowering yew. Morning would come soon enough. The town would breathe in relief and gather their garlands, they’d go about their short lives and some would forget. The beast would not.

For now though, with her son pressed to her chest and the serene silence of the cottonwoods and yew around them, the beast could wait.

Glass Knives and New Kings

I remember Adam’s hand on my shoulder the night of our father’s funeral. It kept me standing there and facing down the flashing cameras. I remember his fingers digging deep into my tendons when I broke down and looked at the floor.

Adam lost his composure only once that night. When he stepped up to address the crowd beneath our balcony, his voice broke and for a moment the entire crowd went silent. Then, he cleared his throat and went on to deliver a speech the press would call robust and inspiring. They mentioned his momentary lapse into grief too. Everyone was sympathetic, their new king had loved his father.

Maybe Adam had. I used to think so. Now I try not to, think I mean, gets me too angry. Not that there is much to do down here but think. That, and bodyweight exercises.

I was there when my father died. It took me some time, three days after Adam received the news with wide eyes and a hand out to steady himself, to remember what I’d seen. I’m not good at a lot, but I’m great in a fight, and sizing up people is part of that.

When the assassin slipped a glass knife deep under my father’s ribs, quick and professional, I didn’t remember. It happened too quickly, I know now I should have run after her, but I didn’t. I went to him, to uselessly clutch at my father as he died.

It took me until the night of the funeral, as my other brothers and I followed Adam from the balcony, to remember where I’d seen the assassin before. She’d been here, on the white stone. So had Adam.

Good in a fight, and not much else, I confronted him. It was insane, he told me, I must be mad with grief. And because I always had before, I believed him again. It wouldn’t have been the first time I was wrong, too foolish and angry to think right. His guards tore down my door the next morning.

And so I’m here,  with a limited exercise regime and too much time to think. Adam comes down to see me through the bars, to ask why I did it, and to say he still loves me as his younger brother, even if he cannot abide my crime. He promises to spare me if I admit to it.

I won’t. I’m not good at a lot, and its probably for the best I will never be in charge of anything, but I’m not a murderer. And whether my eldest brother ever loved our father, I know I did.

This week I challenged Raw Rambles to write to Streetlight Manifesto’s The Three of Us. See what the ska inspired her to do here. 

Tenacious Niceness, Reliable Distrust

When mountain ranges cut across the horizon before and behind her and the blue Toyota still hovered in her rearview mirror, Terrin’s better judgment gave way to curiosity.  She slowed the car towards a turnoff.

In the passenger’s seat, Lys twisted and stared at their tail. The weak sunlight glinted off the sedan’s windshield as it approached. Alone, and in Shifter territory, this was the last thing they needed.  “Terrin, what are you doing?”

“They’re following us,” Terrin explained. A small turn out of packed dirt provided a break from the winding mountain road. Their car trundled over the uneven ground, rocking them back and forth in their seats.

“Yah, and now they’re catching us. Why are we stopping?” Sometimes Lys wondered what was loose in her friend’s head.

“They probably just want to see why we are here.” They pulled to a complete stop, heat rising off the car in the morning air. Terrin unbuckled her seat belt. “It’s their territory. We should explain why we’ve come.”

“And a deserted mountain road is the perfect place to do it,” Lys said and followed Terrin out of the car frowning. The cold hit her immediately. She fought a yawn “Not everyone can be won over by your tenacious niceness.”

Terrin couldn’t entirely hide her smile, she was nervous and Lys’ characteristic distrust was comforting in its reliability.  “Worked on you.”

The blue Toyota pulled into the turn off behind them. The two men who stepped outside were covered in vintage tattoos and wore their beards neatly trimmed. One even had suspenders over a rolled white shirt. They looked like outdoorsy hipsters, nothing like the insular pack of creatures Lys had described.

Do not think I don’t regret that occasionally,” Lys said beneath her breath. Terrin ignored the grumble for what it was and prepared a wide smile for the two wary strangers.

This first line (and one of the characters) was provided by The Gate in the Wood as part of the Legal Theft Project.

Dots, Strips, and Flickers

He didn’t stay to see the streetlights flicker on. His shoes hit sidewalk and he only stopped walking upon reaching the bus station. Two months this time. A new record since he’d walked out his parents’ door years ago.

The doors changed. Intercity lofts with broken buzzers, stucco mansions and their cheap tiled entryways, rusted commune gates. But the reasons he put his back to them and his feet to the road, those never changed.

A lumbering bus pulled to the curb and vomited humanity. He watched them shove against each other’s shoulders and disperse. Discarded food wrappers and bits of shiny plastic wrap tumbled in their teeming wake. A familiar knot turned deep in his gut.

People are parasites grown beyond their ecosystem, he thought. Cruel and careless, inconsiderate of each other and the world they lived in. He leaned against the stop’s bench and closed his eyes.

He wished it was just strangers, the people pouring in and out of buses packed beyond capacity, the masses. It wasn’t. His family abandoned long ago, old girlfriends and boyfriends, the people he’d wanted to call friends.

And himself, desperately needing something from them all and never getting it. He couldn’t stomach the crowded isolation for long, so he left in search of its purer forms, storming out, running away, until the lonelinesses drew him back.

Hours later, his bus trundled far away from the city. He watched it shrink away as the mountain road wove higher. In the dark and through the trees, the city was just dots, strips, and flickers of artificial glare.

It wasn’t enough to leave one city for another, one big depressing human settlement for a small depressing human settlement. He needed to get away from the grids of electricity and consumption, something that would finally break the gnawing dependence on his fellow humans. Somewhere where their synthetic light didn’t poison the sky.

Audacity and the Arts

The clumsy notes stopped, dropping the music room into silence. Miss Devitt exhaled through her nose. She slapped the small fingers resting inactive on the piano keys next to her. Only one person in the world could make her this angry. Teaching an idiot child the masterpieces was proving aggravating. “Theodore, pay attention.”

The boy winced and quickly resumed his graceless practice scales. Miss Devitt corrected his lazy wrist and a misplaced note with another rap on the knuckles.

Satisfied, though hardly pleased, she swept up from the bench and went to check on Theodore’s sister. The young girl was faithfully copying from a composer’s book at the center table. Miss Devitt sniffed loudly and the girl sat a little straighter, eyes widening in panic as she wrote.

Miss Devitt nodded at the girl’s elegant, if novice, script. There was hope for her at least. She was about to say so when the ungainly piano notes stopped again. Miss Devitt whirled.

With his back to her, Miss Devitt could not see his distant gaze but she knew it was there. His fingers hit a random key, and then another, moving between them dreamily.

“To your scales.” She commanded. The boy, lost in his idle thoughts, didn’t respond and Miss Devitt cursed the day she was ever charged with these impossible children. Next to her, his sister groaned audibly.

“Theodore!” Devitt snapped and charged, causing Theodore to rouse from his daydream and hit the keys with a burst of frantic noise. As Miss Devitt snatched his wrist and loomed, devising a punishment to definitively put the boy’s indolence to rest, he stared up at her in terror, sensing the last of his teacher’s patience dissolve.

The scrape of a chair interrupted them. Both looked over at Theodore’s sister as she stood. The girl leveled a finger at the music teacher. “Leave him alone!” She ordered, then squeaked at her own daring.

Miss Devitt blinked. Theodore took the opportunity to free his wrist while the she stared down the two seven-year-olds and the audacity of the whole situation. This was precisely why this country was going to shite. No respect for authority or the arts.

A long moment passed silently in the music room. Finally, Miss Devitt sniffed. “Very well, but be assured. The reasons for my resignation shall be communicated to your parents. Good day.”

And with that, she swept from the room and the twins were left without a music teacher. They looked between each other, until one nervously giggled, causing the other to burst with laughter.

That Yellow Haze

Only a hundred miles or so out of Memphis, Alex was aching for a beer and long night in the back of a smokey bar. It’d been weeks since he set down long enough to waste any time. He jabbed his finger at the RV’s radio until it played something that had some proper guitar.

Too far out for anything but trees and endless highway, he could only recall the light pollution laying over the city in a yellow haze. Neon clubs, flickering bars, yellow streetlights, pouring light into the night sky to challenge the stars.

Alex let his foot get heavy against the gas. The RV’s engine revved up, unhappy but obedient. The trees flashed endlessly by in the headlights, like old film on a projector reel. Memphis had always treated him well. Cheap beer, real music, and friendly groupies. They’d liked his crooked smile and Kurt Cobain hair, though none of the girls knew who that was anymore.

A pity, Alex thought as he yawned. He turned up the music slowly, watching the bunks in the back of the RV through the rear view mirror. No tousled heads emerged awakened and grumbling.

Alex eased off the gas some, Memphis would be there all night. The kids needed their sleep and he planned to wake them at the state line. Everyone needed to see Graceland at least once.

Because Raw Rambles has classy taste in music, this week’s Music Challenge is to Paul Simon’s Graceland.  Like me, she wrote something to and/or inspired by the song.