A Brazen Charm

The wind was, like everything else in the city’s sprawl, artificial. It rushed up from the baked freeways to blister the hillside homes of the rich. There it rippled indigo pools before cutting itself on the jutting angles of glass and concrete.

Stepping from the car onto the drive, she looked up at the pale planes and grudgingly admitted there was a brazen charm to the monstrosity hanging off the brown hills. The car rolled away, leaving her and her men on the drive.

Upon entering the white walls, those men lost themselves in the glittering crowd. They would enjoy themselves among the other guests until needed. She could not disappear so easily.

A sea of bronze legs, vicious clavicles, and ombre hair parted for her. She told herself it was the confident cut of her chin, the jut of her shoulders, the pale planes of her face. That the contoured faces noted a brazen charm that came from being where one shouldn’t.

The angle of their plump lips said otherwise.

The host found by the sparkling pool, having abandoned the conditioned interiors for a view of the illuminated grids below. Like her, he did not seem to belong here. His clothes were his own, rough, practical, and fashionable only two hundred miles to the south. The ugly gun at his hip would quickly offend any West coast sensibility.

But this was his home, carved out in the hills to overlook a kingdom.

She dipped her head in greeting and complimented the appeal of his house. He waived away the compliment, explaining it brought pretty women. It was probably the truth, but also a courtesy to her presence as he delivered the line with a rogue’s smile.

He knows she is a newcomer. An unknown mostly, except that she seeks to carve out her own place. A place on the hills perhaps. He asks how she is finding the city so far.

She admits that she doesn’t and that in kind, the city does not seem to like her either. They look out at the glow of the valley together. She smiles at the darkening hillside and the lights stretching beneath them. She intends to grow on it though, and tells him so.

This week I challenged Raw Rambles to write something to or inspired by Disclosure’s Magnets, which features a personal favorite of mine, Lorde.  The above piece, and last weeks post on Raw Rambles, is the result. 

Let Me At My Name

My name means pearl, smooth and pale

The treasure nestled in the cleft of slender throat

A soft bow, a weak glow

The collar about a housewife immortalized on screen

No edges, soft simplicity

The pride of sorority, an insidious slur of fraternity.

Let me at my name

The label of my make, my assemblage

Turn those pale orbs to teeth

The sharp things that gleam brightly from dark corners

A grinned promise to cheat behind fanned cards

The warning to those who would pry me from my home

To string me around their necks

The bared reminder that there is bite in me

It has been a long week, and I didn’t have time to finish the normal fiction, so you all get punished with something vaguely resembling poetry. Mindlovemisery Menagerie‘s Wordle prompt is to blame!

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. 

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. 

Wrong Things, Wrong Man

Gall and Wormwood’s night was just beginning. Two days’ hard ride from that miserable holding with no signs of pursuit, it was time to pause the getaway. They intended to enjoy freedom and the spoils taken along with it. Wormwood was already drunk, halfway out of his trousers and singing to the radio, while Gall danced twitchy-like in front of the sunken hearth.

They passed the things back and forth, ancient eyeglasses and yellowing pamphlets. Gall ran her fingers through a horsehair wig, Wormwood cinched a vintage belt around his naked waist. They toasted themselves and the haul, veritable gold from the golden age.

The keeper of the divey one-room inn watched the two sniff up oblivion and drink themselves into stumbling messes without comment. They’d paid him. Two apple barrels and a keg of cider, now safely locked in his grimy kitchen. As gun-toting thieves went, they seemed a decent sort. He retreated to the sole bedroom as Wormwood lost more clothes.

Outside the night deepened until the ground, forest, and sky all became pitch. The hearth’s fire burned down to embers. Gall broke into another bottle and offered Wormwood the first swig.  She shoved him when he didn’t take it. He shoved her back and continued to stare out the window. Behind the rain speckled panes, they could hear the wind tear at the trees.

Gall and Wormwood were not stupid, just drunk. He gathered his knives while she grabbed her rifle with swollen fingers. They set themselves at the door. Without the fire, they could feel the frigid air seeping through the walls and window glass.

Their nerves frayed by powders and herbs, it was not long before one suggested the other go out. Gall lost the hissed argument, and she left out the door, rifle bared. Wormwood lost sight of her in the black. He counted minutes and upon a quarter of an hour, he barred the door.

The decision bought him a moment. Wormwood used it to consider the possibility they’d stolen from the wrong man, or perhaps the wrong things, but probably a combination of the two. It was all he was afforded.

Glass shattered, crude metal flashed in the dark. In the dim of the dying hearth, he marveled at the broken window, and then the thick blade wedged deep in his chest. Wormwood slumped to the floor, his body ripping the machete from his assailant’s hand as he fell.

Wormwood looked up, eyes rolling, as the stranger placed a boot on his stomach. From behind the rough scrap mask, he thought he heard a deep and annoyed outtake of breath. The stranger twisted the blade with a wet wrench of bone and tendon and Wormwood died before he could think anything more of them.


Did I ever mention how much I enjoy Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie’s Wordle Prompts?