If only we could see our personal growth so clearly.
If only we could see our personal growth so clearly.
The package was heavy. He could have carried it in his pack, but soon enough he knew that he would be laying it down, and his heart would feel the ache of his empty arms. Instead, he trudged onward. The crags and ledges of the mountains rose on either side of him highlighted by the glitter of ice, and a dusting of snow. So tall they almost blot out the stars.
The last time he was here it had been day, and the sky was pale blue rather than the inky black of now. Instead of his own feet carving a solitary ascent up the glacier, he and Lucy had forged a path together. Two sets of tracks cutting through the crisp snow. Her laughter had rung out like the chime of a church bell on the clean air. He imagined that the sound still lived on somewhere, bouncing through the rocky passages of the mountains and soaring upwards into the air, like a bird.
Her cheeks had been ruddy with the effort of the climb, and her eyes sparkled with the satisfaction of a challenge met. That was his girl, most alive when defying expectations or testing her mettle. He had revelled in her thrill at looking back down over their progress, and his own thrill at the press of the small square box in his pocket. He had been on one knee when she had turned to appreciate the view. When she said yes, her smile had been even more radiant than the glistening snow-capped peaks.
“We should stay up here forever,” she had said. “At night, I bet the stars shine like diamonds.”
He had kissed her, “you would eclipse them all.”
Now he knelt in the snow once more. He imagined it was the same spot. His breath hung in the frigid air as crystalline wisps, and he couldn’t tell if the ache in his lungs was the cold air, the effort of the climb or the emptiness of his heart. He cradled the package to his chest as though he could infuse it with his heart, fill the void, and ease the ache. He said no words as he shrugged off his backpack and stood once more.
The stars had all come out to greet him. She had been right; they were diamonds of the greatest beauty. That was his Lucy. Always proved right in the end. He let her steal a smile from him at that. He opened the urn, and let the wind take her to the stars.
*This was my first entry for the Blank Page Challenge. The featured image was the writing prompt for this one. It wasn’t a winner, but there’s just something about this one that I love.
This is was a previous Blank Page Challenge which was unsuccessful. The prompt for the challenge was the image linked to this post. I really struggled with the prompt on that occasion and had to wrestle the piece out, but at the end, I really like the character.
Urma did not enter the world in a stately fashion. She was yanked from the birthing canal backwards and somewhat scrunched, with a mess of amniotic sac covering her face. Frantic attempts to gasp in air caused her to inhale some of the sac, and now there it was, clogged in her nose and mouth.
She was the third of the brood; her mother was a good birther. Blanche and Pearl were already suckling with mother, and she felt no need to concern herself with a runt like Urma, who was too stupid to work out something as simple as breathing.
Enter the Booted Man. She called him that for it was her first and most lasting impression of him. A pair of green rubber boots that were swimming in and out of her fading vision as she swayed back and forth, held by her feet. Then she wasn’t swaying; she was being swung. A wide arc ending in a sharp snap that she was sure would break the bones in her neck and end her gasping. His muttered curse was nonsense to her ears, but she felt the frustration in the growled syllables.
Then she was breathing! Great lungfuls of air scented with the fluids of birth, sweet hay, and shit. She was lying in warm straw, which the Booted Man used to rub her tiny body so that it was dry and clean, a job that her mother should have seen to, but never would.
Now that she was alive and safe, Urma felt put out. “What kind of birth is this? What kind of life is this?”
There were her sisters with a doting mother nursing greedy and insistent mouths as they ungratefully butted and jostled at her, yet she could not even glance at her smallest child who had fought to get out into this world, and she ignored the plaintive cries sent her way.
“Well mother,” thought Urma, “if you do not need me, then I do not need you!”
And that was that. Shunned by her family, she shunned them right back. Them and all their kind. The Booted Man who treated her so roughly and his ilk could take their leave of her as they pleased too. She needed nothing, and no one, to survive, and she would never bleat another syllable of remorse for her lost mother or any syllable at all.
The next two months of life were strange and difficult for Urma, cementing her view that the world was harsh and she was made to be isolated. With no mother to love her, and no mother’s milk to help build her strength, she was confined to the barn. There were no other rejected young ones for her to bond with and the herd was released to roam the field and eat grass. They would crowd outside the barn on occasion, bleating to one another of the strange youngster who made no sounds. She would shuffle around, trying to drown out the sound of them with the rustle of hay.
Blanche and Pearl would sometimes come. They had learned no manners still, pushing and leaping onto one another to peer at her.
“Urma?” they would say. “more like Ewwwma,” and they would baa loudly and coarsely at their hilarity. Urma never looked at them or acknowledged their presence. She imagined that one day they would be stew for the Booted Man, and that meal would taste bland and vapid just like them, but she never said it.
The Booted Man would come into the barn, but Urma would always run from him and his swinging hands. He spoke in loud grumbles of nonsense and the occasional snort. He was nothing to her.
Then there was the Girl. She had first appeared on the day of Urma’s birth and had earner Urma’s ire instantly when she held Urma close and fed her milk. Since then the Girl had come several times a day, always bearing milk. She fed Urma and cooed to her in lyrical tones with each feeding, a near constant and gentle stream of gibberish, but Urma would not be swayed. She sought no comfort from the Girl and fled the moment she was released.
After the first few days, the Girl no longer tried to hold on to Urma, trusting her to understand that she brought the food and allowing Urma her space and dignity. The distance allowed Urma to note the wide eyes that were lonely and a mouth that, when still, was turned down in perpetual sorrow. Urma realised that the Girl was sad.
Urma observed these things but did not soften towards the Girl. She did not bleat in greeting upon her arrival or allow the Girl to touch her springy coat, but she did try to be more gracious in accepting her gifts of food.
As the months passed, Urma noticed other things. She noticed the yelling of the Booted Man and saw the wetness of the Girl’s eyes on days when the yelling happened. Still, she did not soften to the Girl, but she hated the Booted Man even more.
The day came when Urma was released into the field with the rest of the herd. They regarded her with cold indifference, eyes unblinking as they turned their heads in unison to watch her progress across the grass. Every molecule in their collective bodies conveyed that she was unwelcome. She heard the whispered titters of Pearl and Blanche from within the safety of the circling herd. There would be no acceptance, not even now she was the same as them. Resolute, she turned her back and took her first pull of fresh grass. She did not taste a thing under their menacing glare, but she pulled and chewed anyway to show them how little she cared.
Then the Girl was there, climbing the gate, and for a brief moment, Urma was pleased. She had thought that now she was in the field, there would be no more soft voice to chatter at her. Ignoring the other sheep, the Girl strode straight to Urma and presented her with a gift. A bright pink nugget with a black centre. Knowing Urma as she did, the Girl laid the nugget on the ground and stepped back.
Urma appreciated that.
The greedy herd crowded forward, wanting what was hers. The Girl stepped into their path, shooing and pushing them away while Urma cherished the sweet taste of the fibrous pink shell and then the chewy dark deliciousness of the black centre. Urma felt a hint of happiness tugging at her.
Suddenly the Booted Man was there. He gestured and yelled, and the Girl shrunk away, but he pulled her from the field. She stumbled, and skidded along on her knees, grazing the skin and causing blood to well there. He did not stop. Yanking her to her feet, he dragged her behind the brown door of their stone home. Urma wanted to run at that Booted Man. She wanted to use her head and ram at his legs so that his knees would bleed, rubbed raw on the sharp stones.
She did nothing.
Yelling and crying echoed for hours in the house. Urma paced the fence. She told herself that she did not care, but when the Booted Man stormed out of the house and drove away in his car, face set in anger Urma found herself stood on a small rise to better look for any sign of the Girl.
“Looking for your mother?” Blanche jeered
“She’s a baaaad girl,” mocked Pearl.
Urma did not answer, but lowered her head and rammed them as she had wanted to ram the Booted Man. They departed hastily, stupid lambs with their heads full of wool. Urma had no mother, no sisters and no herd. She had only herself.
Then the Girl emerged from the house carrying a bag. She loaded the bag into the car and then drove that car straight through the fence which surrounded the field, splinters and planks flying. She pulled to a stop a few meters from where Urma stood. The herd scattered with angry bleats, Urma thought they were a ridiculous, frightened bunch of old biddies.
The Girl got out of the car. She spoke in halting words that held none of her usual soft cadences. Pulling her coat around her as though it were a shield, against what had happened, against what might come. Then she began to weep.
Urma did not know much about life and other beings, but she did know that the Girl did not deserve such sorrow.
Finally, the Girl approached and held out her hand. Urma panicked and shied away; this was not how their relationship worked. The Girl stiffed a sob and nodded in understanding. She laid down a new gift, a yellow and black nugget this time, stepped back then turned, and walked to her car.
Urma bent to eat the delicious treat and watched the Girl leave.
Hand on the open car door, the Girl looked towards the house. There was a finality to the action, a sense that once she turned from the house, she would never see it again. Never see Urma again.
The Girl climbed in the car, closed the door and reversed from the field. With a final glance at Urma, she turned the wheel and started to drive.
Urma found herself running, legs pumping as they had never done before, she let her cloven hooves churn dirt in her wake. The Girl pulled further ahead, almost to the end of the driveway, Urma was going to lose her. She would never return. Distraught, Urma did the only thing she could think of, something she was certain that she never would do again, she opened her mouth and let out a cry.
Red lights shone as the car fishtailed to a halt.
A few weeks ago I took part in the Blank Page Challenge. It’s a new fiction challenge featuring a picture or word prompt which must be used in a story of no more than 2000 words.
My entry didn’t make it yo the top three, but I do love it. It felt like the story told itself to me as I wrote it. It’s being featured today by the lovely Hollie on her blog today.
Please go check it out and let me know what you think.
Her skin was as pale as a moonbeam and her hair as black as the deepest part of the night where no such moon could shine. She stood removed from the crowds, her eyes demurely averted, never making eye contact with the theatregoers, but Billy could not tear his gaze from her.
Beautiful ladies might sometimes stand outside theatres, some even alone as this one was, but it was not her beauty that fascinated Billy. He was eight, and not yet sure why women were beautiful. The first thing that struck him as strange about this woman was the great black wings of shining feathers sprouting from her back. You don’t see that every day. The other thing he found strange, no one else was paying the winged lady in black a blind bit of notice. Did her marvelous show costume not impress them? Adults were often beyond his comprehension. They missed the most interesting things because they were always so busy looking in another direction.
His Granma’s wheezing cough averted his attention. He turned to offer her his clean handkerchief. Taking it, she smiled at his good manners, and they walked on into the theatre. Twisting his head to glance back, Billy saw that the lady in black was gone.
Jimmy Ducks paced upon the gangway with heavy and impatient strides. The stalls below him filled with expectant whispers, the cool air from the open door pushing the scents of popcorn and ladies perfume upwards to mingle with the dry tickle of dust and rigging grease. All of those whispering termites were against him. Muttering to one another of his disgrace.
“I heard he was drunk.”
“Let the rigging fall.”
“Nearly killed the poor girl.”
“Such a disgrace.”
“Never was any good.”
He could almost hear them saying it down there, but they would be sorry soon enough. People would stop laughing at Jimmy Ducks soon enough.
The orchestra stuck up a lively tune as 14 Japanese dancers in flowing gowns filled the stage. A dazzling display of beautiful colours and twirling ribbons. They spun across the boards with precision and grace, filling every available space but never colliding. Where one ribbon ended, another lady began. Billy sat back on his balcony. The dancing was ok, but he was waiting for the samurai battle, but that wasn’t until act three.
His eyes wandered and found the lady in black. She occupied the balcony opposite. Half hidden by shadows, she looked at the floor and not at the stage, waiting for her moment.
Billy wondered what part she would play.
Harker climbed up to the gangway. Man, he hated these stupid things, hated heights too, but they were short-handed, and he was the one walking by at the wrong moment. Didn’t matter that he was doing his own job, it could wait, they said. Scurrying up the last few steps, Harker was surprised to come face to face with a drunken Jimmy Ducks and his loaded 9mm.
“Don’t move Harker. I didn’t come here to be shooting you.”
Hands raised in instant submission, Harker hoped he looked compliant and not moving. “I ain’t lookin’ for no fight, Jimmy. Just come up fixin’ lights.” Jimmy nodded his acceptance but did not lower the gun. “Outta curiosity though pal, who did you come up here to shoot?”
Jimmy appraised him for a second or two, then leaned forward with a conspirators whisper, “Them!”
Taking the cue, Harker leaned in closer to Jimmy and whispered back “Who’s ‘them’?”
“They all think they’re better than old Jimmy,” he patted his chest with his gun hand, causing Harker to wince. “I’m going to show them, all those whispering maggots down there,” he made a sweeping arc with the gun to encompass the packed stalls and stage below. Harker took a breath, prayed, and grabbed the gun.
The shot was deafening.
The theatre fell eerily silent in the moment after the loud bang, the last notes of the orchestra dwindled away into the hush like a last plaintive cry. In the brief silence before the murmuring began to rise from the crowd, Billy heard the soft grunting of struggle that drew his eyes high above the balcony to the eves of the theatre where he found the two men fighting on the platform.
A second shot rang out, the dome of the theatre amplifying the sound so that it echoed down on the theatre-goers like a physical blow. The bullet went wild, across the stage, and part of the scenery fell away. The murmurs grew in a slight fever as they too began to look for the source of the shots, some dancers fleeing from the stage, others rooted to the spot in confusion.
The two men fought on, oblivious.
Billy scanned to the balcony belonging to the lady in black. Was she watching now? She was not. She was gone.
The third shot struck a member of the audience in the stalls. Terrified screams now filled the echoic room as those around the fallen man moved away in droves. The stage emptied, dancers no longer caring from where or why the shots were coming.
The wounded man in the stalls bellowed with such ferocity that he could not be mistaken for dead. His cries were pain filled and easy to pick out over the higher pitched wails of terror. The aisles were full of finery. Silk, wool and lace, all crushing together like an exotic stampede to escape this room of death.
Billy felt a hand on his shoulder, the sensation pulled him into the moment, and he knew that he and his Granma must get away from this madness, but the hand was not his Granma, it belonged to the lady in black. Cool blue eyes shone from her pale face as stark a contrast as seeing the moon in the bright light of day. She looked down at him and smiled.
Billy heard the final shot and scream of fear. The man with the gun was falling. The man he had fought leaned far over the railing, sweat glistened on his face, arms reaching down to the fallen man as though he may be able to save him still. The gunman was lifeless below, no amount of wishing or longing could undo that now.
A wail cut through the air, above all fear and pain. Grief makes its animalistic sound, refusing to be mistaken for anything but what it is, even to the ears of a boy who has never heard such sorrow before. The lady in black still looked at him. Not the fallen him over whom his Granma keened sorrowfully, but the one who now looked on.
“Time to get out of here Billy,” she said and held out her hand.
“What about Granma?”
“I can’t help her right now, that is a job for the living.”
“Well, what about him?” Billy gestured to the fallen gunman, “shouldn’t you take him too?”
“He isn’t allowed where you go. Something else will come for him.”
Billy took her hand. It was warm despite her pale skin. “Where are we going?”
“Somewhere nice,” she replied.
The noise is constant.
In the hall outside I can hear the rustle of starched uniforms, the squeak of a rubble sole and the endless movement of harried people with too much to do and not enough time to do it in. Inside the room, there is too much time and not enough to do. The four walls echo with the hum of machinery and the dry rasp of laboured breathing.
I feel guilty because my mind is full of the mundane and self-absorbed thoughts rather than me considering the man who lies a few feet away.
I don’t want to be here.
My foot itches. I wish I could take my shoe off and scratch it. You can’t take your shoes off in here!
I’m starving, should’ve had breakfast. I could really go for a lemon muffin.
Why is the air so dry?
It feels as though the air molecules are dehydrated and trying to regain their moisture from me. My skin feels too tight across my forehead, and an arid tickle has started at the back of my throat.
“Jenny?” His voice is barely a whisper above the crinkle of the sheets as he stirs.
“Hey, Grandad. You ok?”
“Tip top!” He gives a dry chuckle which turns into a cough. I fetch the water from the bedside table and hold it so he can take a sip. He struggles to swallow, and a trickle of water escapes his lips. I put the glass down and blot the side of his face gentle.
“Mom has just taken Nan for a cup of tea. They’ll be back in a minute.”
He pats the bed beside him. “Sit down a sec, Pet. Sit with a tired old man a minute.” I can never resist him. I was Grandad’s Pet from the day I was born, or so they all tell me. I perch on the very edge of the bed and take his hand in mine. Although old, he had always been such a strong, solid-seeming man. Swinging me up onto his shoulders as a child so I could see all of the world. Now, I am careful. His hands feel fragile. Like a bundle of autumn leaves and dried twigs, the slighted pressure could cause them to crumble into dust.
“What’s up with you then?”
He gives me the barest of smiles, as though it takes enormous effort to hold up the corners of his mouth, but exhaustion does not dim the sly twinkle in his eye. “What’s the opposite of coffee?”
I roll my eyes and return his grin. “Dunno, what’s the opposite of coffee?”
“Sneezy!” He replies and a dry cackle escapes him. Laughter fizzes up inside my chest and tumbles out. The joke is terrible, but I laugh because he is so delighted with it. It is so typically Grandad.
“What are you two up to?” Mom and Nan stand in the doorway looking slightly bemused. I look to Grandad, still swallowing down my giggles.
“Nothing at all,” he winks at me. “Alright now, it’s time for you to be getting on, let an old man get some rest and visit with your Nan and Mom.” I pat his hand and slide from the bed. I lean over and kiss him, feeling the hollowness of his cheeks under the wrinkled skin.
“Love you, Grandad.”
“Love you, Pet.”
I closed the door to his room, knowing I probably wouldn’t see him again.
This week I have the honour of featuring on the blog of the fantastic Rebecca Yelland.
Hop over here to read something a little “dark” from me.
You stand alone, blinded by darkness. There is no sight and no sound. All you can taste and smell is the tang of your fear. With all other senses rendered useless, you strain against your skin to feel. The blackness pushes back, both trapping you, and making you feel vulnerable as it stretches to infinity on all sides.
Your reward warmth. It slides up your arm, drawing goosebumps in its wake. You should invite it, but it freezes you with its heat. Not welcome a breeze, a snuffling breath.
It moves over your shoulder, brushing against strands of your hair that beg to flee this strange presence. Coldness touches the crease between your neck and collarbone and then pulls back, as though the terrible unknown has tasted you. You fight the urge to break into a blind run.
You need to see it but don’t want to at the same time. Your eyes stain at the edge of their field of vision until finally, they pull your head to the side. You see it, and part of you wishes to return to the unknown blindness. A pale porcelain face with black, gaping holes where eyes should be. In return, the sight of you is tumbling into the endless nothingness of its eyes. More terrifying than it looking at you, is the fact that it shouldn’t be able to, and yet it is. With its head in a coquettish tilt to the side, it considers you from an unfathomable abyss surrounded by the jagged edges of its shattered eye-holes.
Finally, a sound fills the space between you. A sharp cracking that reminds you of breaking glass and bones. The perfect smoothness of the face begins to crack and collapse. The china pieces tumble inwards, spinning into the nothingness contained within the creature. A ragged hole has opened, frozen forever in a silent scream.
It wants to make you scream too. The knowledge is imparted from nowhere but is so certainly true that it infuses every part of your being and each muscle screams at you to move. With your heart hammering terror through you, you turn on your heel and run.
It gives chase, arms outstretched in a twisted parody of longing.
The dark dissolves into peace, of a sort. The dream is gone, and the room comes into focus. Light seeps through the curtains but the terror drums in you still, with the strange feeling that it has followed you into waking.
This is a reworking of an old piece that needed a bit of love and a new lease on life.
The landscape stretched below us. A twinkling world, shrouded in rain. There were so many lives down there under those lights, all filled with joys and sorrows. For so long, I had felt nothing. The cooling bliss that was once a rush of joy had eventually stolen all other emotion from me. I was hollow now.
When they told me my mother had died, I knew that there was a feeling I should have. I reached for it. Rummaging around in the empty landscape of my soul, but I came up empty. Unable to mourn the loss of the feeling, never mind the loss of my mother.
“What the hell are we doing up here? It’s pouring!”
I slanted a look at her. She was still beautiful. Face drawn now with the addiction, eyes duller than the shocking blue they had once been. Her hair hung limp and drab in the pouring rain where once it had been a lustrous mane of golden blonde. She was a beautiful ruin.
“I’m not really sure. I used to come here when I was a kid. It was my happy place, you know?” She knew. She knew everything.
“And?” She drew the simple word out, perhaps trying to sound like she didn’t care. I could tell that she did.
“I liked to watch the lights,” I continued. “Imagining all of those lives being lived down there beneath them.”
“Lives?” She laughed then. It was almost her old laugh, but it held the tinny sound of emptiness. “That’s not real! You’ve tasted real living. All of that mundane Suzy Homemaker bollocks is a descent into madness baby, and there is only one thing that lifts you up.” She placed the syringe in my hand. It felt so light, almost weightless, but I knew it held a whole world trapped inside that clear plastic. “That right there is the candy-coated topping, it’ll take all your pain away.”
I looked at her. She talked like a camp movie villain, but the way her eyes suddenly came to life for the syringe was magnetic. They sparkled with anticipation and passion as she spoke of it. If love was real, then surely there was none greater than hers. Throwing her arms wide and turning her face to the rain she spoke with rapture in her voice, “It’s the only way to fly!”
I felt sick, “but I don’t want to fly. I only want to feel.” The words slipped out meekly, but it didn’t matter. The venom I hadn’t intended to show was still there. The accusation of thievery that I had never voiced outright but had felt for some time. She heard it too. Head snapping down to face me with ice in her eyes she mocked me.
“I want to feel,” she mimicked. Her eyes were walls of blue stone as she drew back her hand and slapped my face. “Can you feel that?” Hell yes I could. The stinging imprint of each finger caressed my cheek, “Bitch.” She drew back again and slapped the other cheek. I didn’t even try to stop her.
“You want to leave me is that it? I gave you meaning! I gave you everything when your family turned their backs on you. They threw you out in the street, but I stayed with you. I gave you bliss, and you want to leave me?” She was spitting the words at me, and the burn of the truth in them held more hurt that her fists ever could.
“I don’t know!” I cried, “Maybe?”
She now looked as though I had been the one to slap her. Mouth agape as the rainwater poured into it and then twisting in anger. Suddenly she was not quite so beautiful. “You ungrateful whore! You’re blaming me because they turned their backs on you at the graveside? They turned their backs on you and you now turn your back on me, is that it? They didn’t want you baby, but we do.” She gestured to the needle still cradled in my palm, pleading now, “me and the bliss, we want you baby. We need you.”
It glowed warmly there in the haze of the headlights, heaven wrapped in plastic. Begging to be slipped under the skin and take the hurt of the world away. It would heal me.
I knew better now. Comfort was tempting, but also temporary. Each high was shorter than the last, demanding more cc’s from the needle to fill the emptiness that consumed me when the warm fuzz turned back into a cold dark ache.
Heaven and hell wrapped in plastic and holding me hostage.
I watched my fingers unfold as though from afar. The syringe hung there for a moment, balanced on the tips of my fingers as though I alone could be the scales of justice. In the end, it tumbled to the tarmac, bouncing and then lying still. I stared at it for a moment, my reflection a strange halo in the puddle in which it lay, and then I crushed it under the heel of my boot.
She had watched the whole melodrama, eyes riveted to me, feeding on my pain like an emotional leech and then dropping silently to her knees when I made my decision. It was not the ending she had expected.
“How could you?” She moaned, hands scrabbled uselessly at the broken remnants of our life. “You’ve lost your mind.”
I was towering over her. Steady and yet shaking, unsure yet resolute. “I don’t need it anymore,” my voice faltered. I could do this. I had made my decision. “I don’t need you,” turning, I walked to my car.
“Don’t leave me.” She whimpered, “You can’t do this, can’t abandon me.” I glanced back at her. A sad figure huddled on the ground. I felt such pity that she was so broken, but I knew I had to save myself.
“I can’t stay,” I explained patiently. “You’re killing me.”
I got into the car and her voice followed me there. “Please,” she begged. I couldn’t. There was no going back now. No giving in. I chose to live and shut the door.
My throat was raw from shouting. My face stinging from the blows it had taken, hands still tingling from delivering them. I drove back down into the lights and I left my addiction on the bluff.