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.

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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. 

Something Blue

“Something old, something new,” Lively intoned, letting her fingers complete the work while she hummed the rhyme. She folded up her spare shirt and tucked it into her rucksack. A frayed scarf and copper necklace followed it as Lively mouthed the spell’s words, “something borrowed, something blue.”

Lively twirled a coil of her hair around her finger as she eyed the bag. It was barely half-full, sagging on the straw cot Lively shared with her sister. There was nothing else to pack. Everything else Lively owned, she wore now. Her canvas work pants and thick-soled shoes would do well on the road, the warm flannel shirt would hold off the chill when she wasn’t with her new husband.

They were set to leave this morning, before the sun could rise behind the clouds and turn the black night into another grey day. The harvest would continue then, after she left the neat rows of pear trees and near-wild blackberry patches behind for others to work. Lively’s betrothed was anxious to get back to his home.

“A sixpence in your shoe.” She finished the rhyme with a small huff of breath. The spell was supposed to bring a bride luck, a silly assortment of words to protect Lively as she left her fields for his chugging factories and ruins of the old world. Lively pursed her lips and grabbed the strap of her rucksack. It was light. There was room for more.

Whatever a sixpence was, Lively wanted more assurance than a whispered rhyme to an empty cot and a near-empty rucksack. She took the pack with her and left the cabin. The new morning air tasted wet and the path was dark, but Lively knew the way to Ozair’s workshop well.

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: A Dry Brand

She almost didn’t answer the call.  The singsong chime cut through the other audio playing from the speakers, interrupting both her game and the show playing in the background. While she found the small application easily enough, with its window vibrating eagerly on her screen, Sara hovered her mouse over the red hang up button.

It wasn’t that she disliked Bell. They were friends of the odd rare sort Bell allowed herself. Sara enjoyed Bell’s stark and off-putting honesty, often simply for the novelty of it.  But the other girl never called to say hi or propose anything normal, and Sara had a CS final project to procrastinate about and little time for Bell’s dry brand of shenanigans.

She pressed the green button instead.”Hey, Bell.”

“Hello,” Bell’s voice, without video, sounded buffeted from the computer speakers. Sara suspected Bell was hovering her chin too close to her phone. “I need a rifle.”

Sara rolled her eyes. Alone in her dorm room, no one saw. “Of course you do. Do I get to know what for?” There was a pause on the other end of the call.

“To shoot someone with,” Bell said.

Sara pursed her lips and exhaled through her nose. That had been a stupid question, not because it was inherently vapid to want know what someone was doing with high-power sniper rifle you illegally procured for them, but because Sara had expected a sensible and un-literal answer from Bell. “Sure. Send me what you want, I’ll see what I can do.”

Robotics, Rage, Reprisal

The Monae High School engineering club didn’t know what to make of Simon at first. His first day in the workshop was filled with the scratch of sketch pencils and the occasional buzz of machine while the members cast silent glances behind their glasses. Simon ignored the quiet and sat down to begin his design.

Eventually the club relaxed and chatter returned. Even if the varsity soccer player didn’t add much to their discussions of anime, message boards, and obscure video games, Simon was always willing to look over a sketch or muscle open a broken saw. Hunched over the workbenches, the club could forget the separate lunch table Simon frequented during the day.

Simon’s projects joined the others, their portfolios expanding over the year in preparation for the summer fair. The mix of robotics, electrical circuits, and civil planning models, grew in the locked cage in the corner of the workshop. Colleges and companies paid attention to the fair’s competitions, a winning design could do wonders for a career. Frustrated outbursts became common place in the workshop as the members perfected their entries.

Simon alone was largely immune to the tension and the resulting tantrums played out in those weeks. His project was finished, and while solid and well-made, everyone knew Simon was entering it for solidarity’s sake. Now he spent his time helping others work through last minute bugs and malfunctions. Outside the club, he finally joined them on the weekend for the newest superhero movie and attempted a cameo role in their dungeons and dragons game.

A week before the fair, the club left the locked workshop on a Friday afternoon, gently ribbing Simon for getting stuck going to prom. While he was imprisoned in a tuxedo amidst an exhausting crowd of drunk peers, they would be enjoying themselves in the final session of the D&D campaign.

The weekend passed and Monday morning brought disaster. Everyone in the club received text messages. They arrived at the trashed workshop and stepped in with choked horror. Shattered bottles covered the floor with sticky glass, ripped design books littered the tables and the project locker had been pried open. Their projects were played with, broken, and discarded around the lab.

Simon didn’t swear or rush to his ruined work like the other distraught members. He walked to the white board to read the inebriation fueled messages. The scrawl accused promiscuity, crudely discussed people’s sexuality, boasted the superiority of their graduating class, and announced exactly who’d been here two nights before.

The members shuffled around Simon, picking up the remains of their shattered work. As they cleaned someone managed a joke, a few laughed, albeit hollowly. They gathered and put away their projects to be scavenged from later, the fair would come again next year for most. Eventually, someone left to find a teacher.

Among them, only Simon was new to the casual cruelty that had invaded their workshop, painful now but ever present in the world outside the diversions they built and cultivated for themselves. The rest of the club picked up the pieces while Simon could only stare at the whiteboard and the names there, the tips of his fingers digging into his palms.

Simon might have been unfamiliar with the cruelty inflicted on the workshop and his friends’ work, but he knew things they didn’t. They didn’t have older brothers that dragged them from bed for early runs, or soccer practice after sixth period, or boxing matches on weekends. They didn’t know where the school elite, the people who’s names marred their whiteboard, went to smoke at lunch.

Simon left the workshop the way he’d entered it a year ago, silent and immune to the worried glances thrown at him.

The resulting fight was all anyone talked about for a long time. The engineering club even experienced a brief flash of popularity that none were comfortable with. Expelled, Simon never was allowed to come back to the workshop, but he caught a movie with the club occasionally over that summer.