White Walls

Her makeshift room only had two real walls, which she didn’t mind, as two presented problems enough. She leaned back on the simple twin bed and stared upwards at the glaringly bare space.

A screen of dark wood and sectioned paper divided her corner from the rest of the living room. The bed’s blue comforter, while rarely used, was a good color. Even her laptop, humming comfortingly on a pillow, possessed a border of tiny rhinestones around the logo. But the walls…

They were empty and she had nothing to fill them with.

Legal Theft: Stacked Odds

“Heads I win, tails you lose, your choice.” Aiden dangled the quarter in front of his sister’s magazine, forcing her attention away from the glossy pages. He widened his eyes in innocence when she pursed her lips.

She pushed his hand out of the way. “You’re gonna have to do better than that.”

“Worked on Mason.” Aiden flopped down RV’s thin carpet and picked up a magazine from the stack. He turned randomly to the middle and started flipping pages.

“Mason is seven and he still eats dirt.” She watched Aiden absentmindedly peruse the magazine. They’d lost most of Aiden’s books when they’d had to run back in Boulder. The nine-year-old was still mourning the loss and trying to find substitutes, at least before their father delivered on his promise to get more. “Just don’t mark up the quizzes.”

Aiden snapped his eyes to hers, his expression too serious to be genuine. “But then how will I ever find out if I’m a summer or winter?”

She snorted and pushed at Aiden’s shoulder with her foot. “You’re an autumn.”

He rocked back with a small grin and returned to the slick pages. Aiden managed about five minutes before he closed the magazine and sighed, bored again. “When’s dad coming back?”

Their father had been gone almost two days, which was nothing, but there was precious little to do illegally parked at the back of a campground.  They’d made friends with the family camping next to them, but the only kid there was the seven year old Mason. Aiden tired of his company almost as quickly as he had the magazine’s. She, worldly at thirteen, had better things to do.

She got up from the sunken couch cushion and began pulling open cabinets. If either of them got tired of instant mac and cheese cups, Mason’s family had fed them before. “I don’t know. You hungry?” She asked.

Aiden, still sprawled on the floor, heaved a deep sigh. “I’m bored.”

She closed her eyes and breathed through her nose. “I–” The sound of tires on gravel interrupted her. Aiden rocked to his feet and they peered through the dirty RV windows together. A sleek black car rolled up the campsite drive and parked.

“That’s not dad.”  Aiden voiced what they both knew.

I’ve outdone myself this week. Not only have I stolen a first line this week from a Librarian over at The Gate in the Wood, but I also stole a character from More than 1/2 Mad

“We’re Gonna Smash ’em Now”

All he wanted, he thought, were happy students. What Principal Velozo had was a demoralized varsity football team, a consistently trespassed chemistry lab, and a horde of sullen hipsters. The first two problems were beyond him. After their star quarterback quit, few teenagers were willing gamble their egos at filling the spot. The chemistry lab remained a mystery, and in truth the administration was beginning to think it best they did not know what it was being used for after hours.

His colleagues didn’t know what he expected. Teenagers, by nature, were unhappy resentful creatures. Wringing any school spirit or civic pride from the student body was an absurd expectation.

What they didn’t understand was the source of Principal Velozo’s delusion. He was a rare specimen, one of the individuals who’d adored their high school years. Fond memories of boisterous pep rallies, chaste sweater-clad cheerleaders, and pre-dance jitters rang dissonant against his drab and disaffected students.

It was with that dissonance in mind that Principal Velozo had perused the stalls and tables of the local swap meet.  He’d not expected to find anything beyond the cheap pair of trainers and perhaps a card table he’d come for, but the old anthem’s 45 had presented itself.

Behind the table covered with similar faded records and battered vinyl slips, a blond smiled at him from a folding chair. There was something familiar about the sportive cut of her clothes. She’d smoothed her clean red skirt and stood when he found the 45.

Principal Velozo had bought it for the dollar she’d asked for, and promised to put it to good use.

Next week’s pep rally was announced to the usual chorus of rolled eyes. The teachers ushered their students into the gym, and then sat as far from them as was permitted. The cheerleaders, midriffs peaking above their tiny skirts, stepped up and did their best with cartwheels to get any rise out of the stands. Aside from a few pitying claps, the watching students were silent. Even the football team standing on the sidelines looked a little embarrassed to be included in the show.

Everyone looked up when the record scratch sounded over the loudspeaker. Jaunty male voices started their harmony over the grainy music. The sounds of the horns, the enthusiastic support of the pep squad, and the singers’ simple command filled the gym, be true to your school. 

The song rolled over the stunned stands and something Principal Velozo had never seen happened. Someone in the stands, a skinny degenerate with raccoon eyes and ripped leggings, stood up and cheered. Her cigarette coarsened voice rang clear, she would be true to her school.

A moment later, a pale drama guy in ugly tight jeans joined her cry. They pumped their fists as they both sung along. Their peers jumped up around them, joining the throng and the song.

The school’s staff gaped, some pushing themselves away from the rising crowd. No one knew what was happening to the teenagers or why Principal Velozo was smiling. The cheerleaders were caught in the rush too, they grabbed megaphones while the football team roared.

The song ended but the chaos did not. A freshman cheerleader grabbed the school flag and broke the pole over her knee with a warrior’s scream. She brandished the makeshift spear into the air and held a megaphone with her other hand. Everyone would be true to this school!

Football players formed ranks behind the cheerleaders, who began a chanting march to the alma mater. The students poured from the stands to join them, surging around their teachers. Principal Velozo was no longer smiling as his school began to rank and file, leave the gym on a warpath towards the Prep Academy.

Raw Rambles and I are exchanging inspiration occasionally. This week I was sent Be True To Your School by the Beach Boys. Check out what she did with the song too!

 

Beaches That Don’t Exist.

The coaster station was little more than a few concrete benches and a termite ridden veranda. Beyond the litter ridden tracks, a full parking lot housed the beginnings of a tent city. Lane checked her phone, shielding the cracked glass from the sun. Two hours until her next train.

Never the idle type, she followed the sound of gulls and the thick smell of salt. Past dirt lots and gas stations, then into residential streets with glass mosaics set into their sidewalks. The straps of her backpack dug into her shoulders and her ill-fitting boots opened up old blisters as she walked. Lane ignored the discomfort; she was going to see the ocean.

Midday sun baked everything, summoning hazy heat waves off the gates and the tiled driveways behind them. Lane could already feel a red burn stretching the skin over her nose. It would be worth it, she assumed, to experience every movie set’s paradise first hand.

The street ended abruptly with dirt and dried green scrub. A narrow path of softer silt wound its way to the cliffside and down out of sight. Beyond that, the gray blue expanse of the pacific ocean made a glittering horizon.

The scrabbly plants bordering the path raised scratches on her legs. Lane maneuvered down the first furrow set into the cliffside, using  the makeshift steps others had created with now rotted wood. One turn and then another, Lane could taste the brine on the wind.

Half way down and Lane’s boots hit cement again. Covered in damp sand, the bit of pavement led right to a gate. The iron thing blocked her path, the sandy cliff walls high on either side. Lane tried the handle which didn’t turn.

She pushed at it again, the noise of metal on metal ringing through the cliff walls. Lane was considering the climb when someone cleared their throat behind her.

“What are you doing?” The man asked, behind him a young woman in a bikini squinted at Lane’s rumbled tshirt and unwashed hair.

“Trying to get to the beach.” Lane said, turning her back to the gate. The woman whispered something into the man’s shoulder while her manicured fingers fidgeted around a sleek phone.

The man took his sunglasses off revealing gentle wrinkles in his tan skin. Against his cream polo his face seemed almost orange. “This is a private beach.”

“Oh.” Lane picked up her chin and met their eyes. The young woman edged back under Lane’s attention. “Then where is the public one?” Lane asked.

“I don’t know. There isn’t any in this county anymore.” He edged off the path,  making space for her to take leave. “They’re all private, we pay for them. You should go elsewhere.”

“To the beaches that don’t exist.” Lane narrowed her eyes.

He tightened his jaw in answer then pulled another phone from his pocket. The threat was clear, leave or we’ll call someone to make you.

Lane left them muttering to themselves as she trudged up the path. As she walked back towards the station, Lane’s face burned and flushed red under the sun .

Not so stolen, I was challenged with the setting “beach” by Kate Kearney at More than 1/2 Mad. 

Photography Club

“Hi.”

The greeting came out of the dark behind me. I choked on air and dropped my tongs into the developer tray. After picking those out, I looked over my shoulder. Lena Zarake smiled at me in the dark room’s red light.

“So pep squad is going with a serial killer theme this year.” In my defense, between the lighting and her uniform she looked like something out of a pulp slasher flick. That and Lena had managed to sneak into the photography rooms after hours, which was my thing.

“That would be better than Under the Sea.” The freshman hoisted herself onto the edge of a sink and started peering over the mostly empty workstation. I let my print sit in the tray, the image over-developing into indistinguishable silhouettes. Hopefully she wouldn’t look too closely at the photos drying above us.

“Again?”

“They already have the decorations.” Lena explained with a shrug. Hands on her bare knees she leaned a forward. “So this is photography club?”

Photography club was a lie I told my mom so she wouldn’t get suspicious when I came home after dark. This was a somewhat illegal after school job, and my little sister’s shot at college. “Its very exclusive.”

Lena rolled her eyes. “Whatever, I don’t need to know. Look, I’m having a party Saturday, you should come.”

She attempted her smile again, teeth stained red like everything else in the dark room. Maybe it was the devilish quality to the light, or maybe it was the fact that Lena Zarake didn’t like me, but it was hard to keep from suspecting something. “Uh huh. Your brother know about said party?”

“My brother is too busy with his photography club to notice what I do. A bunch of people from the prep academy are coming too.” Lena’s smile grew more impish. “What do you say?”

My frown was the result of being bullied by a freshman more than an aversion to a houseparty or its affluent attendees. Lena was popular, so it was bound to be packed. Prep students meant the thing would be funded and fueled by consequence-free privilege. I ignored the twinge beneath my breastbone at the prospect of hearing about it second hand for months afterward.

“And you’re inviting me now, and here, with no one around. Worried about your reputation?” I hoped the question sounded wry, instead of achingly bitter.

Lena sighed and hopped off the sink counter. “Its not my reputation. Like you’d ever accept if I invited you in front of anyone. It would ruin this malcontent thing.” She gestured at me with open fingers, as if pointing to an aura around me. “Whatever, you’re invited, come if you want, or don’t.”

She was good, I’d snuck into the campus darkroom first and felt dismissed. “Maybe, things have been busy.”

“With photography club, I know.” Lena left with one more red grin and a wave.

I shook my head, maybe it would pay to ask Fen just how much his sister knew about our extra-curriculars.

Legal Theft: A Friend’s Company

“This way.” He slipped his too warm hand into hers. Her fingers didn’t fit against his right. He pulled her away from the park map and up the pavement walk.

Strung bulbs lit the path and cast shadows into the trees. She loosed her hand to point at a dark feathered shape as it winged above them. “An owl.” She guessed and dug her hands into the safety of her jacket pockets. He agreed, it was probably an owl.

They paused at a break in the trees to see a sliver of the wind chopped water. The lake stretched into the distance, through she could catch the twinkle of lights on the other shore.  She set her elbows on the wooden beams fencing the path. Looking through the border of silhouetted branches, she couldn’t see him hovering.

But she could feel him when he set his forearms next to hers and leaned into her shoulder. The heat radiating through her jacket burned in the night chill.He pushed himself into the corners of her view. “This was a good idea, though I’m glad the others cancelled.”

Her mouth moved into a smile, no teeth. She loved this place and its deep little patches of wildness just off the broken asphalt. She loved it enough that she’d stayed the course for the company of a friend. Under the wind’s drone, inside her skull, she murmured that this was not a good idea, she’d made a mistake.

She straightened away, welcoming the cold air as it rushed between them.

He took the invitation to wrap his arm around her and keep them walking. She bore the yoke of his appendage with eyes locked forward.

The fork in the path offered an escape and she took it. There were homes to get to, back to another whose arms did not weigh awkwardly on her shoulders. Their cars waited in the empty parking lot and she hurried towards hers, but not before the embrace.

It could have been an innocent gesture before this night. But now, arms around her, she could only see it for the betrayal it was. He brushed his lips over the top of her head before she was able to pull away. She held herself a step beyond his reach before risking saying goodnight.

They parted then, and she closed herself in her car and mourned the loss of a friend.

This week’s Legal Theft was started by More than 1/2 Mad, and I was charged to steal a map, an owl, and a betrayal. Which I did, as I am an obedient thief. 

Flash Fiction: Winter Winds and Summer Songs

The nocturne whistled through the little village, thready and almost lost on those long in their beds. Its notes pricked the ears of prowling cats and curled hounds’ tails. Like an icy brook’s pervasive gurgle in an otherwise quiet wood, the song seeped its way through the streets and scratched at skulls. Soon, all the village tangled their blankets in agitated sleep.

Behind the little fenced yards and down the long dirt paths, the tall moor grass rustled their own melody. Koli, perched atop an old stone, leaned back and harmonized. He pressed the bow harder to the fiddle’s upper bout, making the strings buzz against his fingers. With the wind in accompaniment, Koli closed his eyes and set his bow to string, sending new notes to echo into the restless village.

The night air spiraled about him, momentarily deafening his song. Like him, it was a cold mischievous thing setting teeth on edge and creeping fingers up unwary spines. The zephyr’s caress tousled his hair, it played its fingers across his shoulders, whispering a warning that pulled his skin tight with fear. Summer is here.

A soft crackle of brush erupted into a storm of percussive hoof beats. Wild roars, the sonorous cry of horns, and vicious baying all rolled over the rough hills and down the dirt paths. The village roused, for all the good it would do them, at the summer hunt’s song.

Koli slipped from his perch and the winter winds closed fog over his path. The summer court had no place for his creeping mischief and subtle melodies.

This piece is in response to Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie‘s most recent special Wordle prompt.