Pine Needles and Grocery Bags

“Dad?” Nora shoved the kitchen door with her hip, peering into the room in search of help. It was empty and clean. Nora sighed and shuffled in, her arms hugging brown grocery bags. She leaned them down on the counter island and lept after an escaped onion.

Produce secured, Nora looked around and frowned at the empty sink. So no one had made anything. She left the groceries sitting with quick steps and followed the sounds of deep vocals and piano. The music swelled from the living room. Nora stepped in without announcing herself. Their tree was set up in the corner, electrically aglow.  Pine needles sprinkled the carpet.

Her father was alone in the armchair, their tree skirt crumpled at his feet. The Christmas box was open and Nora could see old cards. scattered within. The woman singing over the stereo mourned in a deep trill. “Hey dad, you found the skirt. Good.” Nora turned the corners of her mouth up.

“In the box with the rest of this stuff.” Her father waived the photo in his hand at her. An old Christmas card, one he’d insisted on despite his wife and teenage son’s rolled eyes. Nora had been ten. Too young for the indignity to smart. “She hated letting anyone else take the picture. Hated posed pictures,” He said, voice rough.

“Yup.” Nora supplied before he could continue and bent to pick up the tree skirt. “Glad we insisted though, so we have it. You hungry?”

“What time is it?” He was looking at the picture again, holding the edges carefully so his fingers did not touch anyones’ face.

“Seven. Dinner time.” Nora turned and switched off the dirge. Only the low thrum of electric lights took its space and Nora winced at the silence.

“–She liked that song.” Her father barely flicked his eyes up, still locked to the photo.

“That doesn’t sound like her.” Nora swallowed around the stutter in her throat. She set a hand on her father’s shoulder and squeezed. “It sounds like you. It sounds like Liam. But mom didn’t like sentimentality. Come on, I’m cooking.”

He didn’t respond and she almost plucked the photo away. Nora would have liked to rip it up, she savored what it would feel like to have the glossy print tear between her fingers. Instead, she kept her itching fingers at her sides until he looked at her. She smiled, forcing every ounce of warmth she had left through her teeth. “Come on. Don’t make me cook alone.”

Her father didn’t move at first, and the pressure grew in the back of Nora’s throat. He straightened his arms and pulled himself up.  Once standing, he kissed her on top of the head. “Shouldn’t you be worrying about school? Instead of me.”

“Its winter break dad,” Nora said. She led the way back to the kitchen and did not see her father’s face fall.  The grocery bags still sagged from their own weight on the counter. Nora started to unpack.

He cleared his throat. “Any word from Liam?”

When she shook her head, he only nodded.

Raw Rambles apparently likes depressing Christmas music, and she challenged me to write to it. Above is my piece, here is hers. 

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A Noose, A Knife

They dragged him, a man on each arm, through the morning’s grey fog. His boots kicked up peat, driving deep furrows into the marshy soil. Brown eyes rolled in his head, darting frantically above the old rag silencing his tongue.

His captors, strong-armed men from the quarry, kept their gaze on the path ahead. The moorlands were treacherous past harvest, when the rains grew heavy and incessant. Their task was grim. They pulled the condemned up the last rise. At its top, the affected and responsible waited with a ready noose.

The widow’s face was set like the craggy stone of the moors. Her surviving son hid stern and pale behind her shoulder. He looked away from the struggling man, but his mother did not. Next to the widow, the vicar sniffed from the cold and hunched his torso over a leather bound bible. The Lord of the lands they gathered upon, wrapped warmly in a fine winter coat, held the rope.

The condemned man did not pause his struggle, even as the Lord set the rope over his head. It burned red into his neck, bright in the rain’s dim downpour. The man kicked at them and swore beneath his gag, but the quarry workers hauled him up without difficulty and the widow, vicar, and Lord watched his boots kick in the empty air. Only the boy looked away.

When the body stilled one no one moved to cut the remains down. Dark times called for dark warnings. They left him swinging beneath the tree branch.

No one bothered to turn a parting glance they shuffled down the rise. The rain fell harder now, and even if one of the condemning parties had looked back, the storm obscured any view of the gallows and its makeshift justice.

Had someone turned, they might have caught a flash of a knife’s blade in the gloom. Or perhaps, if they had strained, the snap of a cut rope or the thump of a body’s fall would have reached their ears. But the workers, the widow, the vicar, and the Lord were intent on escaping the growing storm.

Tis the season, so I chose CocoRosie’s Gallows for this weeks Music Challenge. Raw Rambles and I had to write something to or inspired by the below song. See her’s here.

An Eternity Of One’s Own

They promised her a beautiful eternity if she could smooth the edges from her tongue and cool the molten roll of her hips. As the air-conditioned pews and jewel-toned glass eased others to their knees, she wobbled on newly tanned legs. With less than two decades to her name, a life felt like an eternity itself to spend with careful steps and swallowed words. She went elsewhere.

The next to tempt her with forever whispered from the pages of the greats. Laid out on the green between looming university edifices, her thumb traced the immortalized thoughts of the dead. Unlike the humble eternity of her adolescence, the dry pages promised prestige, her name gracing their covers and the most brilliant tongues for years to come. But in so doing, she’d consign herself to shelves.  Locked away until contemporaries leeched her eternity for their own. She was not interested in an everlasting prison of footnotes.

She rejected the eternities in hallowed service or ivory towers and followed a path carved by the slights of early adulthood and hollow-eyed men. They pressed bottles sloshing gasoline into her fingers and set fires in her chest that she turned towards the thick-necked businessmen who stole her rent to build bombs. Her eternity would be a legacy, a deserved scar on the cheek of the oppressor. But the fight is long and history is often forgetful. Any eternity gained, would be enjoyed, yet again, only by others. She slunk quietly away from their rallies and basement plots.

With little direction, except the pursuit of a proper eternity, she wandered down stained sidewalks and deep into the neon belly that exists in all great concentrations of people. There she found others searching for their own everlasting nights. The music beat timelessly on, one song always evolving into another. Arched feet, arched back, she never had to leave the floor as the pills and powders locked her exhaustion and worry deeper than she could reach. She finally found eternity, nestled within an oblivion that was entirely her own.

I charged Raw Rambles to write something to or inspired by Grimes’ Belly of the Beat, for our Music Challenge series. Check out her piece here.

Flash Fiction: She Soared

She soared, barging out the front door and taking the building’s stoop with a single leap. Her yellow high-tops hit the sidewalk so hard the ache echoed up into her ankles. Above her, two stories up, a bare-chested man leaned out the window to holler down, “Baby, don’t be like that.”

She raised her chin to the sky and the rumpled man ruining her view of the blue expanse and the downtown towers. The people sharing her sidewalk turned their attention towards the brewing storm on the pavement. She basked in it, knowing he’d bake. Words coiled on her tongue.

She bit them back. She’d save her sinning for someone who’d appreciate it, use it to warm a bed they wouldn’t bring another into. Silently, she snapped her heels behind her and started walking, the bounce of her steps sending her sundress swishing around her hips. The afternoon wind lifted her hair, sunning the back of her neck.

She swished away and he called after her, “Baby– .” The bystanders waited a moment longer to see if they’d get their show. They never did. The block ended, she turned, and they never saw her again.

Music Challenge time again, Raw Rambles asked me to write something to or inspired by Lake Street Drive’s Saving All My Sinning. This is what I wrote, see her’s here. 

Flash Fiction: We Move Lightly

We are of a different kind. Unlike others that spread over the ice, and mud, and into their sprawling clay hovels and towers of metal and glass, whose births and deaths come and go in mere cycles of the sun, a simple exhale of our breath may summon hurricanes. Our steps sink deep into the shifting snow and hit the ground beneath. They exist blinded and swathed by snow, never knowing or touching the earth below it.

Do not hold yourself above them, we matter no more than these quick-lived beings. The value of a life is not measured in its length. Instead, watch where your steps will land and understand the weight with which they do.

They are lucky, and may throw themselves into passions and down many paths, dipping about like swallows on summer winds.  We must be cranes, still and deliberate lest our steps upset the waters.

So, my daughters, as you leave the cradle of our realm to walk amidst them, be kind if you can, and harsh if you must, but move lightly.

For this weeks Music Challenge, I asked Raw Rambles to write something to or inspired by City of the Sun’s Everything. Without lyrics to rely on, this was more troublesome than I thought it would be. 

Peace in an Unquiet World

Utah shook the batteries out of the silver discman and spun them on the studio floor. Cullen said the ritual wouldn’t squeeze any more use out of the little cylinders, but they were the only ones she had. It was the middle of the night,  the market and Cullen’s shop were closed. Utah needed to learn what happened to Yoshimi.

The switchboard was up and running the nighttime stream, its lights basking the radio studio in sleepy crimson. When she leaned towards the bulky technology and strained her ears, Utah could hear the song currently wafting out on the airwaves.  If she really needed to, Utah could interrupt the stream and play the album, but her listeners across the wastes, hinterlands, and blasted mountains depended on Outlast Radio to get them through the night.

Instead, Utah popped the batteries back into the discman. The little rectangle on the front of the device turned on woke with dim illumination and Utah’s smile unfurled. Cullen didn’t know what he was talking about.

Utah slipped the headphones over her ears and spread herself on the floor, staring past her studio’s red ceiling as the music began again.

Yoshimi fought robots, evil-natured pink machines, to keep them from defeating and eating the seemingly hapless singer. It was a strange dreamy song and it ended without resolution. After listening to the mechanic beats and feminine screeching in the fourth track, it never came.

Utah frowned upwards through the wistful fifth and sixth songs on the album, as if she could discern Yoshimi’s fate in the rotting ceiling of her makeshift studio.

The line between her brows eased as the album continued. The songs linked themselves with mellow melancholy that was not logical, but entirely at peace in they unquiet unsatisfactory world they sang in.

Utah exhaled, feeling her limbs ease against the normally uncomfortable floor, and she listened to the album until the batteries in her discman truly died.

As part of the Music Challenge Raw Rambles and I write every other week, this piece was written to Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Part.1 by The Flaming Lips, which I’d never listened to before. Check out what she wrote to, or inspired by, the song here. 

The Nature of Chaos

Chaos was not an unthinking thing. Prone to disruption over impulse, her path through the towering pines was purposeful. And her thoughts, like herself, were unquiet as she trudged deeper into nature’s cold heart.

The thick silence of the snowfall could not smother her, nor could the vast solitude of the endless trees quell her intentions. Where others might fall into lonely contemplation and lose themselves in the enshrined serenity, Chaos thrust herself into the ancient webs of land and sky until the very threads of it all shivered with entropy.

What are you doing?” The voice rumbled from the trees and earth around her, only to end the question with a single voice.

Chaos turned to the speaker, panting in the cold and from the effort of unmaking. A young man with deep hazel eyes glared at her from between two pines. The trees here stretched deep into the sky but the moonlight still managed to fall on them both. Despite the grace in his strong limbs, there was no mistaking him. The thing behind the brown- green eyes had never been human.

But then, neither had she. “Getting your attention. Nice flesh suit.” Chaos answered.

His expression hardened at her vulgar words. “Precise vocal cords have their uses.” He took a step towards her into the glen. “You’re not welcome here. Return to your walled temples.”

Chaos snorted. The mountains overhead recoiled from her presence and the silence of the forest grew denser, as if the trees could cage her influence. “No can do. Welcome or not, I’m here.”

Anger churned beneath his placid expression like molten rock. As ancient as he and his kind were, the stuff that formed her was older still. Before humankind huddled in their caves dreaming of gods, and masses of earth shuddered against each other to form mountains and ocean crevasses, before life had wriggled itself from those secret depths, primeval chaos reigned supreme.

Rarely welcome, she was here, as she’d always been, and would always be until she picked apart the earth, sky, and sea. He knew it, as did she. Chaos was just giving him a choice, now or then.

He sighed, and the wind rustled through the snow-blanketed branches. “What do you want?”

Chaos smiled for the first time since she’d set her path into the frozen pines. “Your help.”

This week is my fault. I challenged Raw Rambles to write something to or inspired by one of my absolute favorite bands, Lord Huron and their song Frozen Pines. The resulting weirdness is above, and you can see her piece here.