Overlook: Overwhelmed and Overbearing

“If I catch you dramatically gazing out over the rooftops one more time…” He said, with heavy footsteps on the stone behind her.

Eyes still cast over the metropolis and elbows on the balcony railing, Wren smiled as her father came to stand by her side. Before them the city was coming alight as the sky deepened to dark colors. Smokey arches and squares of light marking the inhabited noble tower and hovel alike.

“You’ll do what?” Wren teased back, smile still active as she took a deep inhale of night air; it was finally cool enough to deaden the acrid smell of her family’s distant factories.

“Tell your mother she is working you too hard.” Her father’s voice was light and flat as fine steel.

It got her to snap her chin to the side, a high pitched noise of protest in the back of her throat. “She’s not. I’m fine.”

“You hide away on balconies when overwhelmed.” He said kindly, now the one smiling out over the city. “Have since you were a girl. During loud parties, when your studies became difficult, to get away from overbearing parents.” Her father quirked the last words.

“Why have a study with a view if I’m not to making use of it?” She said and they shared the next smile. Wren didn’t refute his observation, nor the reasons she occasionally found herself staring out over what was quickly becoming her mother’s city. “I’m fine, really. Please don’t say anything to her.”

Her father paused and Wren watched closely. It wasn’t his place to create trouble between his wife and her heir, at least in regards to the business. However, the family’s well-being was entirely his province. Wren almost groaned when decision stiffened his neck and he nodded to himself. “Not yet,” he said.

Wren rolled her eyes, which earned her another firm look. Wren sighed but smiled when her father settled his large arms on the balcony railing too. Together they watched the city settle into its evening.

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A Creature of Summer

The trees of the forest were pale, solitary things. Their white trunks grew straight, cold and unwilling to tangle branch or root with its fellows. The knight watched the trees from the narrow forest path; his horse marred the pristine snowfall with sharp hoof prints.

As he rode, swaying gently back and forth in the saddle, the knight hungered for a twitch or crack of branch, something he could raise his bow to. No boar, buck, or hare appeared and had not for weeks. The knight sighed and so did his mount.

The two eyed each other for a long moment, the horse twisting to look round its own leonine mane at the weakened mortal. The knight in turn, raised a brow and alighted a mailed hand on the grip of his broad sword. Hunger’s ache quickened the beat of their blood.

A sad twitch of the knight’s mouth. Neither intended to starve, if it came to such things.

It had not yet. The horse snorted and went back to plodding ahead. The knight relaxed and continued to survey the trees for quarry as shadows grew between the pale trees. Night turned the snow to tarnished silver. The knight tugged back on the horse’s mane.

Not so deep within the cold trees, a glint of gold hooked the knight’s eye. Somewhere in the forest there was something warm and bright. The horse, a blinkered creature of summer, bared its pointed teeth at the prospect of leaving the path. The knight went alone into the wild winter on shaking legs.

Bursts of breath misted from his bearded mouth and frost formed across his armor. But the knight pressed forward to the edge of a round coppice. Here the trees were cut back. The forests savage growth restrained by axe and shear, except for a short compact tree with glossy black leaves growing at its center. On a low branch, just within the knight’s reach, a golden ripe pear hung.

He could smell the pear’s syrupy sweetness easily in the chilled nothing air. His tongue ached. Every last bit of light caught on the pear’s lustrous skin, lashing his gaze to it. The knight did not step forward. The fruit’s gilt sheen was sickly and cold. Like the rest of these woods, it had never tasted sunlight. A trick, as always.

The knight grimaced through unsaid curses and challenges. He was not lost as he’d thought, but trapped.  Starving and weak he was in no position to insult the thing that had set the snare. The knight looked around the still, straight trees and swallowed his anger.

“I humbly cannot accept such a generous gift,” He told the pale trees and the cold shadowy spaces between them. The formula words kicked up a slicing wind. The knight’s teeth began to chatter as the dark deepened around him.

From the trees, a young man who was neither young nor a man stepped forward with annoyance carved in his pale grey eyes. The knight dipped his head, the prince of the winter court sneered.

This piece is a response to Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie’s weekly Wordle Prompt. 

Very Blue Eyes

The clock struck twelve, and she awoke screaming. Vera sat up, her fingers clawing the pink bedspread. At eight, she knew what a nightmare was, knew the seeping fear wasn’t real and that she shouldn’t be afraid, but Vera didn’t lie back down.

Nothing moved in her room as she gulped in air. Her Barbies remained lined on the shelves, the stuffed dolphin at her side provided fuzzy comfort.

But then the door moved. Vera yelped.

Mama stuck her head in, frizzy hair a halo around her head. “Vera?”

Vera flopped her head back to the pillow, too old for nightmares, or at least to admit to them. Mama turned on the light, and the heat in Vera’s cheeks banished even the memory of the creeping shadows. “Bad dreams sweetie?” The bed creaked a little as mama sat on its end. “The witch again? Or was it a bad school dream?”

She didn’t answer and mama waited. Vera tried to remember, furrowing her brow and picking through the dream’s hazy remnants. “A man said he knew you. He had very blue eyes,” Vera spoke into the edge of her blanket. “He was here.”

On the edge of the bed, her mother stopped, frozen in time. Just her mouth seemed to work. “Blue eyes?” Mama asked.

Vera nodded, feeling fear hollow her out again. They had been very blue, like the rings of fire summoned on the stove. Brilliant and bright as neon. Mama still didn’t move at the end of her bed, chest beating up and down with each breath, like a rabbit caught in the middle of a trail. “Mama?”

Very slowly mama got up. She pulled the pink covers back and drew Vera up too. Together they went to gather Vera’s brother from the other bedroom, and Mommy from the bed she shared with Mama. Her mothers exchanged very hushed words and then grim nods. They gathered no bags, or photos, or toothbrushes.

Together, Vera’s hand clasped so tightly it hurt in Mama’s, and her brother sagging over Mommy’s shoulder, they locked the front door and piled into their sedan. With her brother yawning in the car seat next to her, Vera twisted to watch their little house get littler and littler. From her shrinking vantage point, Vera imagined him, blue eyes bright in her pink bedroom, waving from the window.

Vera lifted her hand and waved before the car turned and the house went out of sight.

 

Some Elemental Hex

Aiden hated the rain in this state. Warm, like spit, or sweat. It came down from the soft grey clouds hanging low above the two-story motel. Dirty water ran in little rivers from its parking lot and Aiden walked in zig-zag to save his socks.

He got under the overhang made by the motel’s second floor as quickly as he could and tugged off his sweatshirt. It served no purpose now beside soaking his shirt and the tops of his jeans. Aiden glared out over the lot, predicting the walk back. He might have forgiven the weather for a little thunder in this storm. The Powers That Be rolling in the air above the otherwise drab outskirts of a flat city, his mundane and boring errand crashed by some elemental hex.

But it was just raining.

The zipper of his sweatshirt, balled and dangling from one hand, scraped the rough plaster walls as he walked down the row counting the room numbers. Aiden stopped at a door, rapping his knuckles next to the shiny black plastic square with a white seven on it. “Roy,” He called into the motel door. “It’s Aiden.”

He waited for half a minute before knocking again, this time hard enough to make his fist hurt. “Roy. C’mon, my dad’s gonna be pissed. I know he told you I was coming by.”

No one opened the door and Aiden exhaled a curse and went over to the window. Behind the bent blinds, the room was lit up. Aiden could see beer bottles, jeans thrown over a chair with a belt hanging off the belt loops, and bits of shiny black plastic over the floor.

Goosebumps rose on his arms and where his soggy hair still dripped tepid water down the back of his neck. Aiden jerked his free hand into his pocket for a card to jam between the door and frame. His dad’s friends were lazy assholes and petty cheats, he’d get chewed out for breaking in, but that was it.

Aiden didn’t need the card. When he went to push against the handle the thing dropped. The door swung open, sending Aiden into a forward stumble into the room. He caught himself and looked around.

All the lights were on. In the corner of the tiny room the bathroom door was open and the fan buzzed unhealthily. Aiden noted that some of the empty bottles strewn over the floor had small grease stains of lipstick around their mouths. “Roy?” he called again but no answer came from the open bathroom.

Away from the warmth outside, Aiden shivered.  The chill seeped deeper into his chest with each step towards the humming bathroom. Halfway there, Aiden stopped and cocked his head, his eye caught again by the shiny black littered around the room. He’d taken them to be bits of plastic, pieces of liquor store bag or similar trash. Aiden crouched and picked up one of the pristine black feathers off a wrinkled undershirt. Small, about the length of his index finger, with a luster like polished jet. They were everywhere across the musty carpet and over the fallen bedspread. Aiden let the feather fall from his fingers and followed a trail of them to the bathroom.

He stopped in the door, staring into the little motel bathroom. A shattered mirror, feathers, and the ripped rusty remains of a work shirt covered the peeling linoleum. Dried trails of red ran down the half-splintered sink. Aiden backed away, slowly breathing through his jumping pulse.

Aiden picked his way back, stepping precisely on the wet shoe prints on the carpet he’d made on the way in. He kept flicking his eyes back towards the open and still buzzing bathroom. Something– something Aiden’s thoughts kept sliding away from –had happened, but what mattered was that he wasn’t going to be picking anything up from Roy today. Aiden backed out of the motel room and gripped the door handle with a sweatshirt wrapped hand; he pulled the door closed and wiped it down.

As he stepped out into the warm rain, lightening cut the clouds out over the horizon. Aiden stopped in the downpour and counted. A single second later a sky-breaking roar rolled over the motel. Aiden started running.

This weeks Music Challenge is brought to you by Raw Rambles. She and I wrote something to or inspired by Phosphorescent’s The Quotidian Beasts.  

A Third Coat of Paint

Judith hovered a cup of coffee close to her lip, eyes locked on the computer screen. She flicked to the next tab and read through it too. Behind Judith’s computer chair, Penny painted on the walls, drawing spotty red lines on the eggshell paint with her stubby fingertip. Judith read the next tab, scrolling jerkily through the list.

Penny, her pink paisley dress stained with as much red as the walls, twisted to show her mother her rusty hands. “Mama, I need more paint.”

Judith gagged on her sob and she turned the computer chair, taking in the ruddy smears over the bottom half of the walls and the mess in her daughters hair. “No, Penny, stop that. Its enough of a mess alread–” she gulped coffee to cover her crisis.

The little girl’s smile persisted, curling her fingers around her skirts as she giggled. Judith returned to her lists with shallow breaths. They all said the same thing: torturing animals, bed wetting, a bad home life, arson. Judith breathed against the coffee cup, an odd calm cold calm settling in her veins. Penny slept with their calico cat Patches each night, she’d been potty trained early. The girl even refused to blow out birthday candles, too scared of the little oval flames…

Judith nodded at her computer screen. That settled it. This was just an accident, children had them all the time. It would be fine as long as no one found out. Fine as long as no one treated her differently, that was when the problems always started with kids.

Breathing easier, Judith set the coffee cup on the desk and stood. “Penny, we’re going to play in the yard for a little while. In the mud, isn’t that fun? Go get the shovels.”

The little girl raised her arms above her head with a shrill and wordless screech of delight. Her little feet pattered away and Judith calculated whether the hedge was high enough to stop the eyes of prying neighbors. It would have to be. Judith sucked in her breath and bent to haul out her daughters handiwork.

*****

“You’re painting the study, again? Its only been three months.” Her husband paused at the door, suit and briefcase in hand. The windows were already dark and the deep crimson paint shown wetly in the artificial ceiling light. Judith put down the paint roller and pushed herself up from the plastic floor coverings.

“Thought it could use a new coat– color I mean.” Judith smile puckered the corners of her lips, overly tight. “White just shows everything, you know? This is better. It’ll hide things.”

Her husband nodded slowly. “Where’s Penny?”

“In bed. She got very muddy in the yard, so bath time was exhausting.” Judith walked over to give him a careful kiss on the cheek. She was smeared with crimson paint and didn’t want to ruin his suit.

He smiled at her. “I’ll just say goodnight to her then. I like the red,” he said with a deciding nod.

Judith breathed out in relief. “Me too.”

This post is part of the Legal Theft Project. I took the line It would be fine as long as no one found out from More than 1/2 Mad for my own nefarious purposes. The original, Hidden Faces is here. 

An Exclusive Event

A smiling hostess shut the glass doors in his face. Closed early for an exclusive event, absolutely no access permitted to the club or its attached beach. The guests tonight were particular and very private. No exceptions, not even for a man who was stranded, his keys somewhere past the heavy and locked glass. fb_img_1535198317450

He stood there for minutes, waiting for the staff to come to their senses, to recognize the significance of his tailored linen shirt, the boating tan around his bicep, his platinum watch. To realize the club was about to lose its most valuable member, a regular, a patron. They never came to open the doors and usher him back with apology. He roared and tried the doors again. A waitress shook her head at him as she darted past on the other side of the glass. She didn’t open the door.

It took the better part of an hour to find the public access down to the beach, and another fifteen minutes to ruin his loafers in the surf. He avoided the curious looks from the denizens of the public beach, sticky children and their bulbous parents, as he made his way back to the white sands of his former club. It was miles apart and separated by rocky outcroppings into the water. As if god himself had seen fit to keep the glassy white sands for those who possessed the taste to appreciate it.

He climbed the rocks, further ruining his shoes, and his Chinos, and bloodying his hand when he slipped a little. But he dropped from the salt-dulled rock onto the white sand, his rage stoked.

The glittering beach was devoid of life, but above him where the club perched, the thrum of pleasant talk carried out over the waves. His loafers squelched on the pale steps leading up the cliff face. Wet hair fell in his eyes, rough sand stung the sticky scrape on his hand, and his legs shook from hours of exertion. He still climbed. He was angry and tired and bleeding, and someone needed to see his suffering, the injustice they’d enacted and would be paying for. He also needed his keys.

The landing was manicured but occupied. People stood in little circles, drinks in hand and laughter poised at the end of their tongues. The sunset was beginning to burn the sky orange. It framed him as they turned to stare with a multiplicity of eyes.

Round bird orbs, slited reptile ones, and the soft browns and blues of mammals flicked from his feet to dripping hair. A ripple went through them, interrupting the martini sipping and trays of caviar atop crème fraiche. The sun beat into his back and the heavy silence of their disdain enveloped him even as their strange eyes pinned him down to the landing, only a few steps from their party. The animal-people thrummed their diverse purrs, growls, and chitters of displeasure.

Finally someone spoke, a woman, long graceful limbs tipped with small feet unfolding herself from her chair.”How did he get in?” The he sliced the air as she tipped her cigarette towards him like a fencer’s strike. Her luminous cat eyes shriveled him.

“My keys–” he slapped the words together clumsily.

But they were shaking their heads. A private beach, a private club, apparently anyone could drag themselves up from the surf to crash an otherwise well-planned party. Something would have to be done.

The crash of the surf covered the sounds. Its roar covering the cries, the waves consuming the wet squelch and crunch under its own furious break against the rocks below.

A little late, but I wrote something for Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie’s photo prompt. 

Campfire Schemes

“Shenanigans needed to be had, for the sake of the group, shenanigans would be had,” the counselor said. She was shiny-faced in the campfire light, stocky and formless in the loose jeans and camp sweatshirt all the counselors wore. She swept the campers through the story of mild yet entertaining deviance.

Most of the campers were content to be drawn along, elbows on knees and chins in hand. The black expanse outside the first trunks of treeline was intimidating enough to limit most alternatives. Even some of the world-weary, forcibly apathetic older teens perked up at the allusions to college romance and darker delights. The counselors were only years ahead of them after all, scouts into the world that existed past eighteenth birthdays.

But at the back of the circle, several log rows from the warmth of the fire, the discontent were cold and unimpressed.

“I doubt real commitment to shenanigans,” Aiden muttered. He kept his voice low enough that only his sister Lara, daintily eating a s’more next to him, would hear. Another few uninspiring details wafted back to them and he rubbed his hands together for warmth. The motion came across laughably sinister, and Lara swallowed her giggle. A year younger than her, Aiden was at the age where he’d take it personally.

“What do you expect?” Lara asked once her mouth wasn’t full.

“Shenanigans. Real ones,” Aiden said, gaze locked and judging on the fire-lit circle of faces surrounding the storyteller. When he flicked a look sideways at her, the beginnings of a scheme was already twitching the corner of his mouth. “The camp across the lake is throwing a party tonight.”

“The rich one?” Lara didn’t ask how he knew this. Knowing the seedy details of any place was her brother’s specialty.

“Yup. A bunch of people are heading over. Stealing a few rowboats, actually having some fun.” Aiden dropped the information as the counselor had told her story, a short pause between each tidbit to bait the listener onward. “We should go too.”

“Whose a bunch?” Lara grated her voice to show how skeptical she was. She didn’t trust many of the campers in a midnight rowboat, much less one with her in it.

Aiden locked her gaze and directed it with his own around the campfire congregation, pointing out each prospective conspirator. A group of giggling girls their age, the shine of the fire in their hair. A rough, glowering teenager who hadn’t spoken much yet except to the sharp-eyed girl he’d arrived with on a rusted bus. And then the contingent of boys towards the front of the circle, broad-shouldered and grinning from the week’s flag-football wins.

“Come on, we’re supposed to be doing normal teenager stuff.” Aiden purred at her left shoulder as Lara lingered her gaze on the boys. Her brother’s soft smile was guileless and accompanied by wide-eyed sincerity. She shoved him a little.

“Laying it on thick there.” Lara halfheartedly critiqued his form.

His real grin came back crooked. “So, that’s a yes on shenanigans?”

Lara snorted but didn’t contradict him. At the center of the circle the counselor had finished her story and was gathering them together. Soon they’d douse the fire, head back to their cabins, and the night could begin.

A thief this week, but one only interested in some benevolent shenanigans. I grabbed the first line from Creatures, Critters and Crawlers as part of the Legal Theft Project.