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. 

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. 

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. 

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. 

Props to be Seized

For the longest time, her mother’s room was forbidden space. Occupied or vacant, the door at the top of their townhome stairs remained closed. Rare glances within revealed a foreign landscape tucked into their home.

It was all going away. Where, she didn’t know, into trucks and then somewhere else probably. Words like eviction and seizure had been used to frighten her before, but had not been explained in any way she could take hold of.

For a short time, the townhome remained with the old locks, bread molding in the cupboards, and empty unmade beds. The unfamiliar space above the stairs still loomed over her. She climbed steadily under its heavy gaze. There was no longer any taboo to trespass upon.

She pushed the door wide and let the handle spring back with an ugly sound. Everything was just as it had always been. The wide bed, an oak wardrobe, the vanity. Once, she’d illicitly run her fingers over the carved wood and mirror glass, only to retreat at the sound of her mother’s footsteps.

Now she ignored the pretty thing and its gathered tools of deception and cultivation. She wasn’t looking for damning secrets. Those had been plundered, aired, and punished.

She checked the nightstand, the shelves in the closet, under the bed. Finding nothing, she became creative, searching behind the framed paintings, between the mattresses, and beneath the wardrobe. There were no battered shoeboxes filled with scribbled drawings or finger-painted memories. No ugly pictures tucked into books, no old schoolwork or macaroni presents hidden on the highest shelf.

She tossed aside the metal grate of the heating vent. It scraped a curl of paint from the wall. She felt a nostalgic thrill of panic before she noted the emptiness of the vent. Not a single faded report card or polaroid.

It was just her mother’s room, without hidden depths or regard, filled with props to sell an empty life. She didn’t close the door when she left.

This week, Raw Rambles challenged me to write something inspired by one of my favorite songs, Imogen Heap’s Hide and Seek. Her wonderful piece can be read here.

Flash Fiction: Pilgrim’s Pride

Her son glowered at the truck’s dashboard, fingers curled into fists. The seven year old had won his football scrimmage, and been in good spirits when they’d left the field. But now, as they cruised down pitted highway towards a celebratory BBQ dinner, something had gone wrong. She knew her son. This anger had a righteous bent.

Danielle turned the dusty volume knob, muffling the patriotic bluegrass playing over the radio. “Everything okay?”

“No.” He said, his gaze locked on the windshield.

Without the radio the old truck’s clatter overtook the cabin. She nodded and watched the ever-oncoming horizon. “Do you want to talk about it?”

He leaned forward and turned the volume knob. The song was ending, just guitar melody without the rusted voices of old folk singers. “They’re lying. It’s just a lie.”

The music ended and a commercial for weekend sales overtook the airwaves. He was a bit young for cynicism, Danielle thought, disillusionment was for the teenage years. “Interesting opinion.”

He finally looked at her, frowning. “Mr. Parker told us the actual story, the truth. There’s no pilgrim’s pride, they killed the Native Americans. That song is just lying.” He sputtered with pent up indignation. “Its wrong.”

A month ago the word he would have used was Indian. Danielle suppressed a smile for the sake of her seven year old’s own pride. Mr.Parker was the new second grade teacher. The students loved him, the town’s entrenched parents less so. While Mr. Parker was ignoring the Texas mandated textbooks, warnings of a dreaded political correctness hovered like a miasma over the pop warner bleachers and PTA meetings.

Personally Danielle was going to enjoy the small army of enlightened little leaguers schooling their families on every thanksgiving and fourth of July. “Mr Parker is a good teacher. But calling it a lie is a little harsh, don’t you think?”  Danielle said conversationally, watching him from the corner of her eye as she drove.

He didn’t answer. Children are used to being told they are wrong, and he waited with a stubborn set of his chin for the correction.

“People want to believe it, even if they know it’s not exactly right. Some are just hopeful, they want it to be true. There isn’t anything wrong with that.” Danielle said. Her son settled back into the front seat, still wearing his frown.

She waited for him to deliberate. It’d taken him a month to forgive Danielle and her husband for their part in the Easter Bunny hoax, longer still for Santa Claus. Occasionally Danielle wished her son paid less attention in Sunday school.

“It doesn’t make them right.” He said stubbornly.

“No it doesn’t.” Danielle sighed.

This odd, and particularly difficult, music challenge was posed to me by Raw Rambles who wrote her own piece. Per the rules, I had to write something to, or inspired by Crosby, Stills, & Nash’s rendition of “My Country Tis’ Of Thee”.

Discerning Folk

“The shades don’t come out for just anyone. Discerning folk. The dead usually are.” Ralph says. You smile and drink the beer he’s poured for you. It tastes like the soapy stuff you drank in college. The bar is only half full and the patrons are not demanding, so he talks to you.

“It’s their prerogative to be picky,” Ralph explains. He owns the only bar in Cairnbrook and has never truly met a shade in all his sixty-two years. And he’s just fine with that. A couple times, when driving the west highway, Ralph has seen something in the trees. “Never looked any closer than a glance. A shade got its end at the hands of the living. They have no cause to like us.”

You ask if they are dangerous.

Ralph looks at you while he gathers up old coasters, gauging your age, your clothes, your humoring smile. He nods. “Some more than others.”

You ask a question, then another, and again until Ralph holds up a hand, waving it about like he’s dispersing flies. “Different, same as you and me. They’re still people in a way. Different in what they want, what they do, who they’ll suffer.”

Ralph refills your beer. You drink because you are supposed to, but close to midnight and the bar is clearing out. Ralph doesn’t tell you to leave. “Don’t go looking, they find you if they’re so inclined. But that’s for them to decide. The teenagers try sometimes, getting drunk and scaring themselves.”

You ask what happens to them.

A snort, and Ralph pours himself a beer this time.”Mostly nothin. Shades don’t bother themselves with that foolishness, they know young and stupid when they see it. But you, you should know better, and they know it.”

You look at the clock. After midnight now. Ralph follows your eyes to the clock. “Stay, next round is free.” He knows what you are planning, and it makes him nervous. You smile again and promise to be careful.

He watches you finish your beer, jaw tight and nostrils flared. Ralph doesn’t touch the money you place on the bar.You thank him and leave the bar, ready to wander the streets of Cairnbrook until you find her.

This week I challenged myself and Raw Rambles to write to Patsy Cline’s Walkin’ After Midnight. Check out the piece here.