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. 

Advertisements

Flash Fiction: Fairs Fair

The library beckoned. Just visible beyond the cracked chamber door, past the bedroom, a separate room of oak, lined floor to ceiling with thick book spines. Aiden could smell the savory leather and woody pages from his place in the hallway. He closed his eyes, half on his toes, and steeled himself. There was ill-advised and then there was insanity. Sneaking a look at the headmaster’s collection was a definitive step into madness.

The door yawned a little wider. Aiden whined deep in his throat, he’d been doing so well. His fingers had kept themselves to their own pockets and he attended lessons most days.  He’d even made a friend who used words like unethical and imprudent. Things were going decently for Aiden at the strange school nestled into the side of New Orleans.

Another inch, and then another, the door slowly creaked itself open like dancer revealing skin.  Aiden could see more now, the hint of a desk in the warm glow of good reading light.  His feet decided for him, ball to heel, silent in his worn shoes. Aiden moved slowly into the larger room.

He ignored the larger bedchamber for the attached library. The pale light pooled in the doorway and Aiden could see it was more of a study than he’d supposed, complete with a desk and chairs. Except for a solidly carved cabinet, books completely took up the walls. Aiden’s fingers twitched at his sides.

The desk was set with its own enticements. A delicate silver orb with etched lines in geometric patterns, a small pyramid the color of dull charcoal. The air hummed on a frequency that drained the blood from his face. It fluttered in his chest, dumping electric adrenaline into his veins.

Aiden stepped fully into the library. As if set out for him, a single book was laid open on the desk’s surface.  He moved around the desk, already reading as he turned. The words themselves were fascinating but set within the text were drawn concentric circles pierced with lines and arrows. Scrawled next to them were handwritten notes in a script he did not recognize.

“You should take it.” A voice said. Aiden jumped, stumbling backward into the shelves. He looked up, Lark smiled at him from the doorway. Aiden almost apologized to the other student, then remembered where he was. This wasn’t Lark’s library.

“Why?” Aiden asked, now half-poised as if to bolt. If he got out it would only be Lark’s word against him. There were worse odds. The headmaster didn’t seem to like Lark.

“Because you want to read it. I won’t tell.” Lark said.

“I don’t trust you,” Aiden said.

“No reason to.” Lark agreed and stepped into the library as if it was his own. “But what have I to gain by admitting I was in the forbidden library too? There is no harm in reading, learning. That is why we’re here. And you won’t ever get another chance at that.” Lark flicked his eyes down at the book.

“Is it dangerous?” Aiden asked. He straightened and took a step towards the desk. Lark had a point.

“What isn’t? Still, the reward is often in the risk. Don’t you think?” The older boy’s smile was conspiratorial.

Aiden nodded slowly, knowing he was being told what he wanted to hear. But the headmaster had been clear, Aiden wasn’t to attempt anything this advanced. This was his only chance. Aiden reached down and closed the text before taking it in his hands. The leather was strangely warm.

“The door was open.” Aiden reasoned.

“Yes, it was,” Lark said. He stepped aside so Aiden could leave the room with the book embraced to his chest. Outside the softly lit library, the bedroom and the hallway seemed overly dark.  Aiden paused when Lark spoke again, stopping him. “Fair’s fair though, don’t tell anyone I was here either, hmm?”

“Yah. Fairs fair.” Aiden said. He didn’t stay to see if Lark remained in the library, but Aiden heard the door snap shut as he left.

Tickets and Trouble

They never left the back door open, but it was always unlocked. Simon strode towards it, cringing a little when his boots sounded too loud and the noise echoed off the wide alleyways flanking the theatre. The stagehands, hunched over their cigarettes near the door, looked up when he approached. They lobbed a few crude propositions his way and giggled when he buttoned his coat higher.

Simon breathed a small sigh of relief when the handle opened. He stepped inside and snapped the door closed just as quickly. The cold quiet of the outside cut off, replaced by the hum, patter, and roar of the theatre’s workings.

The dim overly warm corridors, formed with looped rope and false walls, presented a problem. He was quite lost before a patronly man carrying what looked to be a bushel of silk scarves stopped him. Praying the dark hid his face well enough, he stammered out a name. The man pointed him towards the actresses’ room, down one makeshift passage, without as much as a blink. Simon hurried away, unnerved by the man’s indifference.

Verity Kast’s dressing room door was ajar and Simon angled himself so he would not be seen, before knocking on the frame. Her voice, he recognized it from on stage and off, called from within, “come in.”

Simon toed open the door so it swung in. He leaned sideways past the frame but did not take a step inside.  “I certainly will not.”

A rustle of dressing gown and shuffle of bare feet was followed by the appearance of the actress at her door. When Verity recognized him, she rested herself against the frame. “Well, this is a pleasure. I did not expect you so soon. Tonight is only the dress rehearsal.”

Simon dug into the pocket of his coat. He withdrew a folded envelope, marked with a broken wax seal of a rose shade. “A single ticket, to opening night, personally addressed and gifted to me. Are you trying to get me in trouble?”

“Simon–”

“Mr. Ivanov.” He corrected.

Verity’s plum-stained lips quirked as she fought a smile. “Mr. Ivanov. How can I get you in trouble, if you haven’t done anything wrong?”

“I haven’t, nor do I intend to.” He said flatly and held out the envelope. This close he could see the brush of freckles over her nose, dark against her deep olive skin. “Which is why you should take this back.”

Verity held Simon’s gaze with hers for a long moment before she complied. Her fingers brushed his as she took the folded paper. “You know, if your sisters had found it, you could have explained me away, simply a poor besotted actress with sights above her station. You wouldn’t be in trouble.”

“And set them on your trail?” Simon adjusted his gloves.

“You admit some regard for me then?” Verity asked. She played with the envelope, running her oval-cut nails under the paper’s crease.

“They are protective, and … dogged when crossed. You have a good career, I don’t understand why you would put that at risk.” Simon looked away from her, back the way he’d come. It wouldn’t do for him to get lost again.

“Of course you don’t.” Verity straightened with a sigh. “Straight back that way, then two lefts once you pass costuming. That’ll get you into the alley. Next time I’ll send tickets to your sisters, do you think they’ll bring you along?”

Simon paused, “I can ask.”

“Do.” Verity slipped her hand around the doorknob, leaning on it as she teased him “now go, before I get a reputation for having young men in my dressing room.”

“You mean you don’t already?” Already half turned away, he raised an eyebrow at her.

“Not in polite circles. I’m more careful than you think.” Verity said, her slow grin more crooked than it been before. “Goodnight Simon.”

Verity shut the door before Simon could correct the uncalled-for familiarity. He stood staring at the closed dressing room before he shook his head at himself and turned to find his way out.

Summer Shade

The placid water of the bay looked like pitch beneath the railing of her ship.

Mar could not love her home as she’d been raised to. So, she’d left to seek dark sands. The trip took months between the burning of bridges and the intricate preparations for her arrival here. Now, as the rest of the crew shivered when the desert coast’s wind bloomed in their sails, Mar kept warm by the crude fury in her chest and the ring turned over and over between her fingers.

Mar remembered taking her hand and how the silver had looked curved against her dark summery skin. The ring had faded, but the skin had flushed. All Mar remembered then was the kiss, always a bit sharp, but she had truly never minded that.  They’d talked then, and before, of the places they’d come from. Of endless dunes and bright night-markets, of pink dawns and white clouds.

After they spoke of what they would do. How they’d survive and in turn, help others do the same. How eventually, they would thrive. Mar had been optimistic, her less so, but they’d always suited each other that way.

Mar swallowed and stared over the water. She did not banish the memories, though a part of her begged to. From the deck of the ship, she watched the dunes turn silver in the moonlight for the first time. It looked exactly as it’d been described all those idealistic years ago, so beautiful it made her heart ache.

This week’s piece was written to Frank Ocean’s Pink+White. I challenged Raw Rambles to do the same. Check out her fiction blog here. 

Outside the City

Afternoon thunderstorms brought clear evenings. The summer air cooled and became hospitable if you were willing to risk the mosquitoes. Unlike the rest of the household, Lane wasn’t, and waited for night to fall completely before opening her window and creeping out onto the roof.

The ranch house was two stories with the bedrooms all set in the upstairs. Her’s overlooked the dirt road leading up to the front of the house. Lane considered the overhanging roof her personal porch, accessible only by twisting out the window and onto the angled shingles.

She glanced at her phone and leaned forward down the roof to check the drive. The truck was still missing and Cole had vanished into a friend’s mini-van an hour past curfew.  He was lucky his parents were already out,  Lane had heard the teenage hooting from outside all the way up in her room.

Confident she was alone to spend her Friday night as she pleased, Lane settled on her back and cradled her head against a skinny arm to watch the stars. It was the only good thing about her new foster placement. This far out of the city, she could see every speck of light in the midnight sky.

Lane didn’t know the constellations, so she just traced them with her eyes, and debated learning them. It probably wasn’t worth it. Her next placement might be back in the city.

Uncounted minutes or hours later, Lane jumped a little at the crunch of gravel and dirt under robust tires. She didn’t straighten or scamper back inside. Without streetlamps, she would only be spotted against the yellow backdrop of her window. Instead, Lane stayed down. If she turned her head she could see her foster parent’s truck down the slope of the roof.

Below Lane, Hannah stopped the engine and stepped out the driver’s side. The older woman was sure-footed on wedge heels and held her sweater balled in a hand.  Wyatt came around the front, trailing his fingers over the truck’s hood. He wrapped an arm around his wife’s waist and leaned in. Hannah’s giggle was cut off by the kiss.

The two stayed that way, swaying back and forth until one broke and leaned back an inch.  Lane could hear the sleepy smile in Wyatt’s voice, “You look wonderful tonight.”

Hannah answered him with another long kiss before the two strolled, leaning on each other, up the porch steps.

Lane waited until she heard the front door click to breathe out a tight sigh. She’d known there was something weird about this family. Couples only acted like when they had an audience.

Whatever she’d just encountered,  it was outside her experience. Shaken, and slightly ashamed she’d witnessed what was meant to be private, Lane took one more look at the stars and went to fold herself back through the window.

For this week’s music challenge  Raw Rambles set me to writing something to, or inspired by, Eric Clapton’s Wonderful Tonight. Above is the result.  See what she did here.

The Right Machinery

He’d gotten the idea staring into the pod’s green glass. Its exterior was only mildly reflective; his dark image on its surface seemed to stare out from within like a ghost trapped inside. The plan had formed from there, changing from hope to scheme to design. Until it had become an untested prototype in the corner of his workshop.

Taller than himself, wrapped in burlap and protective plastic, the pod was ready for the next fog. His fingers ached any time he walked past.

It’d taken the better part of a year to find the materials in decent condition, months after that to trace the scintillating wires and their arcane purposes, more time still to turn the emerging machine it to his own purposes. Created long ago to hold people and keep them alive, most of the pods had broken at the end of the golden age and failed their occupants, turning them wraiths. Now lashed to the world only by memory, these ghosts emerged from the fog that formed them, inscrutable, untouchable, and miserable.

He’d seen a potential in his reflection on the glass. Containment was the answer. If he could hold the wraiths, study their memories, question their seemingly ceaseless mourning, then maybe he could understand how they’d come to be. It was not their deaths that intrigued him. Death was easy to explain. Bodies broke, insides malfunctioned, only so many things could be replaced.

Death didn’t interest him, it was final. But suffering? Suffering he could work with, suffering could be tinkered with, inspected, and potentially fixed with the right machinery.

In his experience, you learned things from pain.

He intended to learn from theirs.

Flash Fiction: Blue as the Horizon

Tristan could not remember his mother’s face. He knew her hair was a warm and pale like the morning sun, and that her skirts were silk because he’d clung to them through thunderstorms.

Her voice changed in his memory, clear as feast day bells and laughing while Tristan’s father spun her around the ballroom, breathy with secrets when Tristan caught her padding towards the stable in the night’s cold middle. She’d asked him not to tell in that feeble wintery voice, and Tristan never had.

He never told, but someone did. Tristan could not remember his mother’s face, but he could always summon the way his father’s eyes had blazed and then darkened beneath graying brows.  He could remember his mother’s pleading, her voice high and breathless.

When he pictured her now, she wears black buttons down her front of her dress.  She is still and silent. Wings, dark and shiny like ink, cover her face. Her hands hold the feathers there and her skin is as pale as her hair, yellowish like rancid cream.

Tristan can not remember his mother’s face, hidden beneath black wings, but he knows her eyes are blue as the sea’s horizon on a clear day, blue as his are.

Another Friday, another prompt. This time I attempted MindLoveMisery’s Menagerie’s Photo Challenge.  The featured image, and the photo which inspired this flash fiction, is by Laura Makabesku.