Wander Away

The yellow moon glowed in her bedroom window. Like her mother, she could not sleep without the prickle of night air against her cheek. Laying beside the open window pane, the pure-smelling wind crawled over her blankets.

Her chest rose and fell restless as she stared out at the moonlit trees. The orb was full, casting everything outside into a story she might wander through.  Like a maiden, barefoot in the dainty light, off to find some ethereal journey. It stirred her heart until her chest and bed felt a prison.

There were other stories she could wander into though, spun in evening news cycles and on milk cartons. Vagrants who slept beneath those trees, hard-eyed teens breaking bottles behind the train tracks, missing girls eventually found in stranger’s cars.

She rubbed the itch from her feet and tucked her blankets over her shoulders until the night air only chilled her nose. She settled deep into her bed, ignoring the beckoning night. Next month, next moon, she promised.

The yellow orb waxed again until it hung swollen over the mountains, framed in the night by her bedroom window. She betrayed its ache in her chest for the warnings of the waking world.

Like the moon, her hips widened. She did not wander out into the coaxing night lest someone find her and her newly supple limbs. One day a man came to gently grasp her hand and she fell into his bed. Though she breathed the wild night seeping from their propped window, she did not steal away under the expectant moon, lest he notice the empty space beneath the blankets.

Her belly swelled like the moon that called to her. When her children shivered beneath their window, she closed the pane and only remembered the tonic night smell amidst the warm and sweet cloy of the nursery.

The moon waned. Her children grew, the man grayed. The chill of night air stabbed vengeful slivers of ice into her bones. When spared the timeworn chatter of husband and child, she slipped out into the yard and gazed beyond their little fence and smiled, feeling the cold and its deep ache.

Her wide hips shrunk again, the man could no longer grasp her hand, her children did not shiver beneath her window or call anymore. She looked up at the yellow moon.

It waited for her, casting the trees in white gold and cradled in the distant mountains. She breathed in the cold and it stole the warmth from her chest. With only one story left, she left into the night to wander in its dainty light.

Raw Rambles challenged me to write something to or inspired by Fleet Foxes “Blue Ridge Mountains”, which I happily posted above. 

Yet, Unbloodied

He stared at the space where his car had been only four hours before.  A minute passed, his shoes sinking into the sodden grass. It was long enough for him to contemplate the inherent unfairness of the universe and realize no amount of concerted willing would summon the dented sedan back to the muddy curb.

Not in the city even a day, he started walking across it.

Halfway across grids of stained asphalt and concrete neighborhoods, the tow lot was nearly closed. He considered the cars behind the chain link and barbed wire. Concluding he wasn’t the first person to think of it, he entered the office instead. The attendant looked up from her pink-covered novel. “We close in fifteen minutes.”

“Good think I’m here now.” The two stared at each other down across the dirty carpet. This was a battle she fought daily, he was as of yet, unbloodied. He spoke again before she could tell him to get out, “I think you have my car.”

“You think?” Her nostrils flared and she put down the pink book. Behind them the minute hand of the clock ticked up towards ten.

He gave her the license plate number and she roused the ancient computer and its block of a monitor. The hands of the clock twitched towards closing time.

“Four hundred fifty two. Cash or check.” The attendant printed the invoice and slapped it down on the ancient desk between them with a haste that was almost helpful. She pushed a ballpoint pen at him too.

Like the vacant space his car had become, he stared at the assemblage of numbers on the paper in front of him as his thoughts swelled against the banality of his predicament. The universe was so very uninspired in its cruelty. “I don’t have that.”

The woman tapped the laminated pages taped to the desk top. “Fee and charge breakouts are there. A hundred fifty is added for each additional day before pick up. We close in– four minutes.”

“I don’t even have tonight’s amount. How could I pay tomorrow’s?” Disbelief more than anything ruined his ability to act inappropriately. He looked up from the rows of charges. “What happens to my car?”

“It stays until the charges get larger than its value. Then the city auctions it. I’d say you have a week or two” He watched helplessly as the attendant picked up her book and sat down again. “Two minutes.”

Long immune to strangers’ misfortune, she ignored him as he internally worked out the math, and then the rapid stages of grief for the loss of his car. He left when the clock hit ten. Less than a day in the city, and he was already trapped here.

Thievery Abhors

The island’s docks were not entirely as I’d left them. Gulls cried, sailors swore, rope and canvas snapped in the wind as they always had. But the warriors coming down the dockside market street were new. I held up a hand to keep my crew steady. There had been rumors.

Black ink twined around the newcomer’s arms in stylized serpent’s coils. The fresh tattoos were dark and bright in the morning sun. I stepped down to meet them.

“So the old snake managed to take the castle?” This was the archipelago’s largest island and possessed the only fortress among them. Competing families fought for control of the stone castle. The bloody clashes crowned a king for a decade or two before they were ousted in the next spectacle. My own kindred lost the place a century ago. We’d largely given up on it since then,  Apparently, management changed again. I recognized the snake symbol, Rais had made a move.

The leader of the small band sneered, the corner of his nose twisting. “Not so old Fortunatta.”

I shrugged. My eldest brother ran the family now, I’d leave it to him to assure the snake we weren’t interested in his nest. My brothers and I still hunted merchants to bring wealth back to the isles, we had better things to do than fight over a meaningless crumble of stone and mortar. “Take any political matters up with Adan. It’s been a profitable season, I’ve got cargo to unload.”

It would be foolish to turn my back to him, especially with blood running hot from a recent victory. Instead, I waited for them to back down. The leader only smiled. “That’s good as we’re here to collect the tariff.”

I didn’t like his smug reaction to my sudden confusion. “There are no tariffs on Skye,” I said.

“Now there are. Things are going to be civilized from now on.” The leader said through yellow teeth. Behind him, others leaned forward ready. I wondered how many Captains had bought this amateur shake-down. “Twenty percent of the take.”

“Get off my dock. Pirates don’t pay taxes.”  Now I did turn my back on him.

He laughed as I walked back to my ship. “You’re going to have to take that up with the king. He’s quite serious about it,” The leader called.

I stopped, wishing the bruisers would have attacked me. It would have been a proper fight instead of shouted absurdities. I turned back around, conscious of my crew waiting still and ready to see what I would do. “Then the king can take it up with me.”

Their departure did nothing to quiet the brewing unease in my gut. Something had changed, and it wasn’t just the flags flying distant on those castle walls.

A brief continuation of the Thievery Series I started back in December.

 

Flash Fiction: Efficiency and Error

“There were only ten hours left.” Adam sighed through his chiseled nose and leaned down over his office desk at me. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen my boss elsewhere. The television I think. I had the absurd thought he must be attached to the sleek wood now, some sort of corporate centaur, half-man, half-polished mahogany. “Ten hours. What did I ask you to do in those ten hours?”

I refused to look at my hands. If I had done something wrong, I might have. Contrition certainly would have eased the temper brewing behind that desk. Adam possessed a formidable one. Behind the practiced calm and pressed suits, a ruddy spitting rage waited. I met Adam’s eyes. “Nothing.”

“And what did you do?” The pressed collar of his shirt dug into his neck. I watched a vein twitch at the corner of his still very full hairline.

He wanted me to say it, I would say it. It brought me some satisfaction, between the two of us, only one had done the right thing. “Something.”

A tight-lipped smile from him, a deep breath from me. “Yes, why?” Adam asked.

“He didn’t do it. Which you know. And he didn’t deserve it. Which you also know. Now you have to manage your own mess. I have no doubt you can.” It was the truth. Adam would salvage this. His honest smile and commitment to family values always went far with the constituency.

I’d sparred the object of Adam’s machinations. Sacrificial lamb, fall-guy, scapegoat, Adam’s youngest brother. That doe-eyed idiot was on a plane to the States by now, alive if not proven innocent. All in ten hours. Adam is efficient, so am I. We’ve worked together for a long time after all.

The rage never came, never boiled over. I pressed my back to the chair, waiting for the rubber band to snap. It did not. Cold seeped under my ribs. Adam matched my calm and with every tranquil second between us, my sense of error grew.

Adam nodded once, accepting my words with the precise motion. He motioned to his office door. I moved quickly, eager to escape the too placid waters. Adam would salvage the scandal, that I had no doubt.

The footsteps behind me in the hall were soft. Barely audible behind the accompanying glide of plastic and gunmetal on suit jacket.

Theif, scoundrel, burglar, bandit, rogue, call me what you will, I’ve stolen a first line and wrote this as a result, all for 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.

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.