Nowhere Diner

Her problems faded out of sight in the rear-view mirror and she relished the roar of the highway wind. It carried with it the sunny smell of the cornfields and the biting aroma of potential rain. She pressed her foot down until she smelled gas.

Flatlands occasionally broke into crisscrossed grids of main streets, salt-ridden franchises, and dust-turned-mud parking lots.  She wished for green lights and turned the concrete settlements to shrinking specks in the car’s mirrors.

The storm caught her after the state line, shoveling sheets of rain against her windshield and casting the road in kaleidoscopes of headlight, asphalt, and street sign. With sliding tires and a hollow stomach, she turned her little car towards the next glow of neon civilization. Leaning over the steering wheel, squinting into the storm, she found the buzzing lights of the diner at a crossroad.

The busgirl nodded at her to find a seat.

Night came on fast outside. From the window she watched the bleary horizon disappear in the dark and rain. The storm did not lessen. Impatient, she ordered food when the waiter asked if she wanted coffee. Amidst the plastic menus, the plastic seats, and the plastic cheese on her tuna melt, it was hard to imagine the wild crash and howl.

It still raged when she peeled herself off the booth. She walked towards the door keys in hand.

“You should wait out the storm.” Someone said when her fingers were on the doorknob. She twisted to look at the young-ish man in the booth near the door. He had a cup of coffee and a half-eaten veggie burger in front of him. He was the only one in the diner looking at her.

“With you?” She was too tired to properly sneer. The long clear highway was gone, replaced by a blind run through the night and her mood had soured. The last thing she wanted was trouble in a nowhere diner.

“Oh,” He frowned at her insinuation. She noticed his book now, open and propped to the side of his plate. “No. Please don’t, it’s a small table. I mean here, in the diner, like everyone else is. It’s dangerous out there, in that type of storm.”

“That type?” She said, not asking, as her brows knit together. She grimaced her lips into a polite smile. “Thank you, I’ll be fine.”

The man shrugged and shifted himself back to his book. He looked back up again when the bell above the door fell silent. Outside the blur that was her remained for a moment, visible in the diner’s exterior floodlights. As he watched, she faded, rubbed out by the highway storm.

A thief once, a thief always, I stole the first line of this piece as part of the Legal Theft Project

Sick Strange Darkness

She’d always resided behind his eyes. In the darkness floating above his bed, the space between his waking thoughts and the blurred abyss of sleep. Since his twelfth birthday, when his father had passed the binding to him, she’d found him in his dreams.

Now watching his own son turn fitfully beneath the bed covers, plagued perhaps by her warm sepia eyes, he turns away. “Come home.” Her voice hums deep inside his skull.

He’d thought to be free of her. He’d even thought himself clever. If the cursed cuff, that evil twist of metal, was her call, her beacon, surely it’s departure would free them? He’d pushed it over across that velvet table himself when the cards had spoken. Won by another in a poker game, he was done with the thing, with her.

That night she came to him as she’d never before. With hair like webs and skin that burned at its touch, he drowned that night in his sheets. Three days later he was able to wrest himself from the warm depths of her arms. He woke up to a brilliant morning in a hospital bed. The doctors did not understand, but his father, now old and white-eyed, did and would not speak to him.

He leaves his own son’s room and walks the hallways to keep her at bay. One by one they’ve succumbed to her. Half his house sleep. He no longer bears her alone, she spreads like the inky silk of her hair into everything.

He comes to his bedroom door. It is locked, barred from within so the bed cannot tempt him. It does. He is tired, every blink is a small fight to stay away from her warm black depths. “Come home.” She whispers, her breath against his cheek.

His sheets would be cool, unused and soft. She would be so very warm. He leans against the door as if he could fall through the wood and into the hazy depths of her realm.  “Come home,” says the voice inside his head. He closes his eyes.

Raw Rambles picked this amazing cover by PHOX for us to write to for the Music Challenge this week. See what she wrote with their rendition of “I Miss You” in mind here. 

A Surgeon’s Hand

The first slide of her hand was effortless, easy, done before she had thought through just how to begin. Flesh parted like rubber beneath her scalpel. Across the table, Ali breathed heavily through her nose. Tera ignored her lab mate’s distress and continued the assignment.

After another two incisions Tera peeled back the clammy square of skin with a gloved finger. Beneath, the larynx was intact. She noted the bloodless vocal folds and her mouth twitched with pleasure beneath her mask. Faced with their success, Ali stumbled away gasping.

Her lab mate wasn’t the only one experiencing problems. More than a few of the students stepped away from their own cadavers, staring upwards at the ceiling while they fought for bodily control. In the corner of the classroom, an unfortunate young man heaved the contents of his stomach into a trashcan.

Their instructor surveyed his under-performing class with a frown. No amount of encouragement returned the blanching pre-meds to their thawing assignments. He only brightened when he peered over Tera’s shoulder. “Good focus Ms. Rivera.” He nodded to her and moved to the next occupied table.

“You too Ms. Gallagher, lateral incision well done.”

Tera looked up, curious. The instructor moved on, trying to coax the retching man into the hallway. But the other student still at her cadaver, Ms. Gallagher,  met Tera’s eyes. The two shared a smile beneath their respective masks. While their classmates wrestled with churning stomachs and clammy hands, they returned to the task at hand with precision and ease.

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.