An Orange Unsteady Light

Laurie, Allison, and Kaitlin leaned forward in their folding chairs. The fire only illuminated the trees immediately around their little camp, casting the tall oaks in orange unsteady light. Everything else beyond their circle was black.

The three girls didn’t look at one another. Laurie, unprepared for the evening chill, huddled in her sweatshirt. Kaitlin sipped her coffee and grimaced at the bitter taste, she’d wanted a pumpkin spice latte but Allison had insisted they drink black coffee.  Allison ignored her friends’ discomfort and continued stripping the buds off a lavender sprig. Once bare, Allison tossed the sprig into the fire and the flames choked themselves, spitting olive smoke into the air.

Now they all looked to the center, mouths open and staring up at the plume. It reeked of lavender and the sweet chemical smell of cold medicine. Beneath the flames, and over the amethyst and tourmaline they’d laid, bits of an old dreamcatcher roasted away into ash. “So it’s anyone sleeping?” Laurie asked. “And we just get to tell them what to do?”

“Their bodies, yes. Get ready for it, it’s gonna be a ride.” Allison’s lips were tight, her nostrils wide. She closed her eyes, stretched her arms, and cracked her neck.

“What about people napping?” Kaitlin asked. Allison’s eyes snapped open and she glared across the fire.

“You’re so stupid,” Laurie said, looking at Allison for approval. “Who takes naps anymore except kids and old people?”

“I do,” Kaitlin said. Across the fire, Allison’s eyes rolled back into her head and their leader slumped. Laurie squeaked. Kaitlin didn’t notice and continue defending herself. “I took a nap in May.”

“Shut up Kaitli—.” Laurie started, her voice high with panic. The spell caught her mid-syllable, and she fell to the side over the flimsy armrest of her camp chair.

Kaitlin stared at her two collapsed friends, shrugged, and leaned back in her chair. She was ready when the smoke filled her nose and sent her consciousness spinning upwards into the night sky.

A theft, but perhaps, not a crime. This week I’ve stolen the line “I took a nap in May.” from Apprentice, Never Master for the Legal Theft Project. 

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Rubies in the Sun

The knife slipped, cutting through the apple and hard into her palm. Akira hissed and rushed to the railing of the ship, holding out her hand so the welling blood wouldn’t stain the front of her skirts. The droplets, bits of ruby in the noon sun, dripped into the waves below.

Akira rolled her eyes at herself. The cut’s sting turned to a throb. She’d change into something with long sleeves before anyone commented. Palm pressed to palm, she nearly turned away from the ship’s rail, except crimson flashed in churning water below. She paused.

Frowning down at the waves, she forgot the pain of the cut. In the dark blue and grey, lines of sparkling red ran through the water like veins. Akira snapped a glance back to the deck behind her, the rest of Calder’s crew were busy and not paying her any notice. She stretched up on her toes and bent her waist over the rail, leaning down to peer at the water and the strange lines still coiling under its choppy surface.

Something formed itself just beneath the waves. The scales were the color of a flat ocean at night, sparkling black. Across its coils, bands of blood red shone like rubies.  Compared to its leviathan predecessor, the serpent was an unimpressive thing, not even the size of the ship.

Still, Akira’s breath caught. It should not be possible.

The sea serpent’s coils unfurled, undulating in the water. It reared its head into the air and raised its eyes to hers. The slitted orbs were the color of the blood slowly dripping down her wrist. The sea serpent stilled, waiting for her command.

Akira’s mouth was dry, her head suddenly light with an exhaustion she’d not felt in years. Summoning took a physical toll, she’d just never expected to pay it again. Her gift was supposed to be spent, bargained and willingly given away. Despite that, and impossibly, the spirit before her still waited, paid in blood and ready for her instructions.

She stumbled over the next part, out of practice and without a request. Akira said the first thing she thought of. “Find a pearl. Bring it to me.”

If the spirit had a problem with such a simple task, it did not make it known. The serpent half dived, half dissolved, into the waves. Akira watched the empty water, searching for the flash of crimson or dark scales. The spirit was gone from her sight, but she felt a throb in her chest that pulsed in time with the cut in her palm.

A theft most foul! Thieves have made off with my first line. See what they did with it at the Legal Theft Project. 

Country Sensibilities

The venue used to be a family-style steakhouse set just off the highway overpass. Hidden behind a smattering of the region’s characteristic oak trees, it had been the perfect place for weary nuclear families to temporarily escape the close quarters of the car.

Now remodeled, it’s pleather booths ripped out and kitsch decor removed, the place offered traveling indie bands a venue with which to reach new audiences and gain rural integrity outside the over-saturated city music scene. More importantly, it promised a stage unadorned by regional, yet controversial, flags. This commodity was not found elsewhere within a hundred miles.

For their part, the locals did their best to support the highway-side venue in the hopes it would bring money into their dwindling downtown district. Mostly though, the venue survived on the local college and high school students hungry for anything that vaguely tasted of the distant cities they all aspired to in some facet. The lax carding by bartenders helped considerably. Young, disposable, and underage money was still money.

Cole passed over a damp bill in exchange for two soapy beers. He was tall enough that the bartender never gave him a hard time, but he still couldn’t quite meet the staffs’ eyes. Cole avoided them and pushed himself into the press of bodies on the main floor.

Cole didn’t care for the band, but his girlfriend liked it and his life was easier when she was happy. And Stephanie was happy, pressed up as close to the stage as the venue would allow and gazing up at the bespectacled scruffy lead singer.  Cole found the caterwauling reedy and whiny, but knew better than to say so.  He passed Stephanie her beer and quickly ceded ground.

Having retreated away from the stage, his back pressed against the venue’s back wall, Cole found the experience much less audible and far more bearable. Though he did have an excellent view of Stephanie’s adoring gaze up at the stage.

“She is a bad influence.” The voice came from his side. Cole looked down to see his younger sister, Lane, standing next to him. Her black curly hair fell loose over her shoulders and compared to the rest of the audience’s bared skin, was overdressed in a jean skirt and knit shirt.  She held a drink in front of her with two hands.

“You’re one to talk.” He grabbed her drink before she could do anything but gasp with indignation. Cole took a sip. It was coke, but without the sickly aftertaste of liquor. He handed it back to her. “Good.” He said.

“And you’re a hypocrite.” She said. Her huff was annoyed but lacked any real outrage. After Lane got her drink back she turned her disdain to the enthralled audience. “But at least we’re not easily impressed. Do you think all bands from the city try this hard?”

Cole heard Lane’s dig but didn’t answer. At the front of the crowd, Stephanie leaned past the stage and threw something to the singer. Cole’s stomach turned and he decided it was better he didn’t know what exactly of Stephanie’s the singer had just pocketed.

“Cole? Don’t tell me you’re actually impressed by tight jeans and the excessive use of flannel?” Lane’s question distracted him from the odd feeling in his stomach.

He snorted. “Can you even see the stage?” With her clunky boots, Lane just managed to top five feet. He doubted she could see anything over the churning crowd.

Her lips twitched. “I’m not wrong though, right?”

Cole finally laughed, “No. You’re right. They’re terrible.”

“They really are.” Lane stifled another laugh by taking a sip of her coke. Cole took a larger gulp of his beer and felt better.

I have no idea what I just wrote to. This week’s music challenge was brought to you by Raw Rambles, she charged me with writing something to or inspired by The Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth by CYHSY.  Check out here piece here.

Smoke and Stock

“So, after all that, you don’t care?” Calico dabbed at the gooey blood matting his boss’s mangled eyebrow. The eyesocket, red and swollen now, would be an ugly purple tomorrow. Laid out on the floor, Proper’s messy hair fanned around his face in a dark halo. He stared dully at the sagging ceiling beams and Calico shifted nervously next to him, glass crunching under his knees.

“Not very much, no,” Proper said after a minute of numb silence.

Calico breathed out in relief as Proper pushed himself up from the floor. A fresh rush of bright red dribbled out of Proper’s crookedly broken nose. He snatched the dingy rag from Calico and pressed it to his face.

“Someone’ll have take stock.” Proper mumbled through the rag. He looked around and realized he and Calico were the only people left to do so. Proper stood, swaying when his vision narrowed.

The air was smoky, but the haze carried the earthy smell of campfire instead of the sweet caustic scents that normally filled his establishment. Even his regulars, usually deadened to most in the world, had bolted when the windows shattered, kicked in by boots and guns. A week of profits, as well as the powders, herbs, and thick syrups the den plied were long gone, vanished with the roar of motorcycles.

“You seemed to care a lot, talking back to Blues like that.” Calico ducked behind their makeshift, and now splintered bar. “Storms, she took everything, even the hooch. Proper?”

His boss, half up the narrow stairs, had stopped on a charred step. The top level of the gambling den, which housed Proper’s quarters and personal collections, was a blackened mess. From his vantage point below, he could make out the destroyed bookshelves. Not all the volumes had been lost to flame, others had been shredded by hand. Proper bent to pick up a singed page.  The downstairs hadn’t been burned, only looted.

Calico looked up at Proper from the bottom of the stairs. “Blues might have left all that alone if you hadn’t given the lip.”

Proper turned slowly, staring down his last remaining employee. “Get out Calico.”

“What? Proper, I’m the one that stayed to make sure you didn’t choke on your own blood.” Calico protested.

“I don’t care, get out,” Proper said and continued up the landing. Calico swore at the now empty stairs, grabbed a half-crushed twist of herb from the carpet, and stalked out of the ruined den.

This week’s first line has been stolen from Bek as part of the Legal Theft Project. 

An Eternity Of One’s Own

They promised her a beautiful eternity if she could smooth the edges from her tongue and cool the molten roll of her hips. As the air-conditioned pews and jewel-toned glass eased others to their knees, she wobbled on newly tanned legs. With less than two decades to her name, a life felt like an eternity itself to spend with careful steps and swallowed words. She went elsewhere.

The next to tempt her with forever whispered from the pages of the greats. Laid out on the green between looming university edifices, her thumb traced the immortalized thoughts of the dead. Unlike the humble eternity of her adolescence, the dry pages promised prestige, her name gracing their covers and the most brilliant tongues for years to come. But in so doing, she’d consign herself to shelves.  Locked away until contemporaries leeched her eternity for their own. She was not interested in an everlasting prison of footnotes.

She rejected the eternities in hallowed service or ivory towers and followed a path carved by the slights of early adulthood and hollow-eyed men. They pressed bottles sloshing gasoline into her fingers and set fires in her chest that she turned towards the thick-necked businessmen who stole her rent to build bombs. Her eternity would be a legacy, a deserved scar on the cheek of the oppressor. But the fight is long and history is often forgetful. Any eternity gained, would be enjoyed, yet again, only by others. She slunk quietly away from their rallies and basement plots.

With little direction, except the pursuit of a proper eternity, she wandered down stained sidewalks and deep into the neon belly that exists in all great concentrations of people. There she found others searching for their own everlasting nights. The music beat timelessly on, one song always evolving into another. Arched feet, arched back, she never had to leave the floor as the pills and powders locked her exhaustion and worry deeper than she could reach. She finally found eternity, nestled within an oblivion that was entirely her own.

I charged Raw Rambles to write something to or inspired by Grimes’ Belly of the Beat, for our Music Challenge series. Check out her piece here.

Gargoyles and Gunmetal

He capered across the wall, and those rising to start their tasks looked away from him. The new morning sun shone off the buckles and rings that adorned his chest, flashing as he moved from foot to foot and then hand to hand, untroubled by the reluctant audience below.

One particular spectator kept the glinting metal cornered in her vision. His bright display was unusual within the bleak walls and thick stone buildings she’d slowly come to call her home. He was manic as the sun in summer, piercing the cold and burning up the clouds. Still, she refused to stare, lest he thought his stalking presence cowed her like the common laborers.

She did stiffen when he stopped his odd patrol to neatly perch over one of the settlement gates. There, he tilted his head down so his diamond-patterned mask grinned at those who sought to pass through the arch into or out of the holding. She pulled up the tattered swath of gray cloth already looped around her shoulders, covering her head and casting her own mask in shadow. Only then did she approach the gate.

On the heels of a departing merchant wagon, she took cover behind the shoulders of those anxious for an early start. Layers of mottled black and charcoal cloth blended her adolescent frame into the cold stone and drab crowd. She did not know if above the gargoyle of a man noticed her passing, but she took note of the shudder that passed through her fellow travelers.

Beneath her own gunmetal mask, pale lips twitched. She didn’t shiver with the herd around her, but could appreciate the effect.

A thief always, but a thief in good company now. Having stolen a first line from More than 1/2 Mad‘s post, I’ve written my own with it. Perhaps others have as well. See them at the Legal Theft Project

Frail Mysteries

There is a look I’ve come to recognize, it says, I know something you don’t.

There was a time I enjoyed it. When I was young, their covered smiles promised a mystery. Now it turns lips up in condescension, or down in distaste, and my stomach turns. The mystery is still there behind their hands, but it isn’t for me. They’ve made that clear.

Veiled judgment aside, I am still required to drink with them.

The sweet wine the servants ply doesn’t clear the taste their stares leave in my mouth, but it makes it all easier to swallow. I loosen my collar. I stretch a simper across my lips. I try to forgive those among the glittering crowd I count as friends. Soaked with apology, their glances lack the other’s edges. But they cut the same. I know something you don’t. 

I take some comfort in the frailty of mysteries.

It would have been simpler for them to share, but why deprive them of this conceited pastime? They certainly seem to enjoy it, for all its a fleeting game. Secrets break with only a few words, puzzles are built to be solved.