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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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. 

Flash Fiction: Good and Bad Children

They warned against wandering in the willowwacks. The great rises of wood, fen, and moss-covered stone held dangers for the lone adult, more for an underfed child. But she was a sharp and foolish creature, not yet consigned to being a small thing in a great and terrible world.

Their warnings were routinely crafted and deployed, figments to entangle her with the dreaded lesson of or else. The good children escaped the shadows between the trees, clever yet always abstractly obedient, the bad ones did not, and were rarely mourned.

But she was more cunning than most children, and some adults, and could see the webs they wove with their stories. Be good, be kind, be obedient. All qualities that benefited them more often than her. Soon, she began to wonder if circles of ghosts, their eyes liquid with need, really convened beneath the trees. Or if worst creatures really jumped between the curls of mist, metal glinting beneath their hoods as they lured children astray with memories of chocolate and butter.

She was sure she could resist both, having tasted neither.

The willowwack’s fog and trees and glens were great towering things, that could bestow a quick death at the bottom of a swamp, or draw a long one of wandering starvation between the endless black trunks, or a lingering addled end from the yellow air that rested along the ground, but those fates came for both good and bad children.

It was with this in mind she watched the fog veiled trees of the willowwacks, with neither reverence or challenge. As other children strove to be good, lest the metal wolves and ghosts pluck their minds away in the night, or darted as close to the dark trunks as they would dare, shrieking all the while, she contented herself with being right. At least until her shoulders grew strong enough for a pack, and her legs long enough to climb the moss covered stone.

Wrote this one from Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie’s Wordle Prompt. 

 

Flash Fiction: A Celadon Escape

Thick sunlight permeated all corners the salvage yard, shimmering above the towers of shining metal and cracked rubber in waves. I sagged against one of the rickety piles. The twisted frame of an old car door dug into my spine as I hid from the noon sun. The bit of shade was worth the discomfort.

Not so far off, but barely audible over the grating hum of the machines through which the industrial offal was made useful again, Alan argued with the yard’s owner. It didn’t sound like the negotiation was going well for us, but it was hard to tell. Everything was hazy amidst the bloody tang of iron. The smell was baked into the dust at my feet and the air in my lungs.

The arguing stopped. Alan rounded the scrap tower, his steps clipped and full of a nervous energy I’d never seen before. I smiled at him vacantly, which only caused Alan’s nostrils to flare with worry. “I’m fine,” I muttered, abashment pulling more color into my face than the sun could.

Alan pulled me from my hiding spot to where the yard’s owner drove over a mud-splattered junker. Painted celadon-green beneath the dirt, the car didn’t look as if it could get us out of the lot, and certainly not the hundreds of miles we needed to put between us and this place.

He leaned me into the passenger’s seat, ignoring the narrowed-eyed suspicion of the man who’d sold us the car. Money exchanged hands and Alan swung himself into the driver’s seat. The engine started with a wheeze that shook the car, but it started. I breathed deeply when we passed under the barbed-wire gate, and more easily when the dappled shadows of the forest overtook the road.

A weird piece from a fun Wordle Prompt. Make sure to check out Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie‘s other prompts as well.

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. 

Blight and Bloom

We cut the trees and bled the rivers for our mills. We burnt the green away and harrowed the soil. We built our houses, fields, and lives nestled in the forest’s wound. It is human nature to build.

And build we did. Our settlement became the seed of a great city, though its fulfillment was lifetimes away. First, they came.

From the groves and glens we spared, they slipped from shadow and sunbeam to walk among us. Many things. Dark things, with skin the color the frozen earth. Light things, whose hair fell down their backs like noon sun. Beautiful things, deadly things.

With them the blight and the bloom descended.  Crops died, withering in field, cellar, and kitchen. Others grew. They budded and swelled. Tomatoes grew fat overnight until they broke their stems and burst overripe on the dirt. Wheat rotted in the fields days after planting.

Our bodies, foreign to the wilds and its ravages, perished. Young and old, godly and sinful. Their touch was as capricious as spring rain. As some of us shrank down to bone and skin, other’s grew large with growths and weeping sores.

They played and punished like gods.  And for a time we prayed and repented as if they were. But they were cold and grinning things, and we and the beginnings of our great city had trespassed.

The forest reclaimed our fields and began its work on our homes, retaking its flesh as vines pulled apart window slates and floor boards we’d cut from the trees. Our home was almost unmade.

Still, some hoped. We’d planted seeds of steel, sweat, and stone in the old forest, and those are not easily dislodged. With this spirit, the eldest children of four families remained whole. They would not see their dreams of spires and great walls denied. Three sons, Ward, Wolfe, and Wilde,  and one daughter, Wren,  sought out the beautiful deadly things at the tree’s edge.

Nothing said on that day is known. But a bargain was struck, for Ward, Wolfe, Wilde, and Wren walked past the tree line and were not seen again for some time. With them, the deadly things departed.

Blight and Bloom faded from our lives. We nursed the living back to life and buried the dead beneath our fields. Our harvest was a good one that year, though not overly abundant, which many were softly thankful for.

The years passed and we remade our town. It was odd at first, building the tailor’s shop over the cobbler’s,  stacking house over house and winding stairs about it all. But so we grew, up and never out, lest we disturb the treeline and the things that waited there.

Ward, Wolfe, Wilde, and Wren returned to the town when it was an ugly tottering thing, too afraid to of its borders to grow properly. They were children no more, but decades into life and smiling like the blight and bloom had never come.

There were those in the town who thought to turn them away.  On their left hands, they wore shining rings,  and with their right, they led children to our gates. The toddlers and babes were beautiful people with hair like summer and skin like frozen earth.

The wise did not against the four and their children. We flung the gates open and sung songs for their return. They’d saved us so many years ago, they’d saved a city that would eventually be.

Not sure if I did this right, but I attempted the “Stories By 5” prompt which can be found here. 

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.