Marianne

An abundance of light brown hair, creamy skin and freckles made people stare whenever she told them she was born in Africa. It always amused her, seeing this prejudiced reaction in the people who ate at the restaurant where she worked. She sounded French, you see, and so they all assumed that she was a young photography student, maybe a dancer, who worked during the mornings.

She was a student, this was true, but not of what people always assumed. Her large eyes and pink lips seemed to give most people the impression that she was a dreamer, when, in fact, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. She hadn’t remembered a single dream she’d had at night for over ten years. This isn’t to say that she was without imagination – theoretical mathematics required more of the stuff than anyone who wasn’t studying it could believe, and Marianne possessed it in abundance. The simple logic of numbers, a universal language, was beautiful to her, and the deeper mysteries of unreal numbers and the roots of negatives fascinated her and raised a song in her heart.

It was hard for her to find a date – there wasn’t time between night classes, homework and her job at the cafe to go out anywhere. She got countless phone numbers from customers leaving a fat tip on their credit cards, smiling at her with cheeky grins, but she never copied them from the receipts, simply leaving them in the cash register where they belonged. She wasn’t interested in random men who saw her wrapped in an apron and looking like the picture of womanly virtue. Neither did she want the fawning boys in her class who drooled at the thought of a female mathematician. No, she was looking for something else, and she would recognize it when it came. She hoped.

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Alice in the Snow-Globe

Alice sat dejectedly in the window-seat and watched the snow swirl outside. She imagined that her house was the center of a snow-globe and that some little girl, quite like herself, was shaking it vigorously. She peered up out of the window and squinted into the white and gray sky, wondering if she could glimpse a bright blue eye, or maybe a brown or even green one, staring intently down. What would the big, snow-globe shaking girl do if she saw Alice inside the house? Maybe she’d be surprised enough to put the globe back down on a shelf.

Alice wished dearly  that it would stop snowing. She’d been outside all of the day before, wrapped up in a coat so snug that she could barely move in it. Despite the restriction of the padding all over her, she’d managed to build a snowman, and then, because he’d looked so lonely, she’d built him a friend. In the afternoon she’d played snow-fortresses with Charles, Mama-and-Papa’s friend. He’d also swirled her around and around, holding her arms, and she’d felt just like a snowflake that spun down in the cold air until landing lightly on the ground.

She lay on her back, curling her legs close to her chest so she could fit. She was getting big, too big for the little cushion-covered area next to the window, but she refused Mama’s many suggestions of “sitting in a chair properly like a lady,” and kept returning to her favorite haunt when lessons were over and Mama was still in bed, napping. She blew onto the glass and drew an outline of a cat with her little finger in the misty whiteness that had formed there. She stared at it for a while and wondered whether there would be chocolate to drink later because of the horrid weather. She rather hoped there would be, even though her oldest sister always complained that chocolate was heavy and would make her fat. The governess told her off for saying such things, and pointed out that in a winter like this they could all gain a few pounds, but Alice’s biggest sister only rolled her eyes and ignored her.

Stretching, Alice pulled herself up and out of the window-seat. She turned her back on the flurry and decided to walk to the library and ask Papa if she could have some chocolate. She wondered briefly why she wasn’t sick to her stomach from the way the little girl was shaking her house around inside her snow-globe; but her sister’s words flew into her mind at once. “Don’t be silly,” she told herself aloud, and stomped off in her white stocking feet to find Papa.

Under Ground

Lost underground, the girl sat alone and forlorn and waited for someone to find her. She’d been down in the tunnels all morning as well as half the afternoon already, and still, she was lost. It was a disconcerting feeling, and the girl didn’t like it at all. There were strange noises that came from all over, such as the bubbling of far and unseen geysers and the crunching of earth within itself as people moved around above and below. These sounds unsettled her, especially as they were the sounds of home to her and she’d never before found them frightening. Something familiar turning into a threat is one of the scariest things a person can go through.

The girl hugged a lumpy cloth doll closer to her. It was in the guise of a mole, and the girl had named it, for inexplicable reasons, Piggy. She looked into Piggy’s glass eyes and wondered whether he would come to life and speak to her. Maybe he’d be able to show her the way back to her cave. But he remained a doll, stuffed and mute, and she hugged him close again for comfort.

She looked again at the time telling device that hung on her neck. It was an hourglass, with a very tiny hole in it. Every morning, her mother would reach into the neck of her nightshirt and pull out the hourglass, and she’d turn it over. She told her daughter that if she didn’t lie down all day but stayed up and working like the good girl she was, she’d always be able to tell time, because of the tiny notches, painted red, that told her how many hours had passed since dawn. In their underground existence, night and day were mere formalities, but they kept everyone sane and working, the rhythm helping them.

The girl brought the glass closer and peered in the poor light at the notches. It was now twelve hours past dawn, and she’d been lost for most of those. She felt panic rising in her again and debated beginning to scream again. But the last time she’d done that, the earth had shifted and some crumbs of dirt had fallen onto her from the ceiling. She knew about cave-ins, of course, and the spill at deterred her from trying to call out too loudly again.

To pass the time and suppress her panic, she began a counting game that she’d begun teaching her little sister. She made Piggy jump up and down along with her whispered rhymes, and tried to invent more of the song when she ran out of numbers. When she grew weary of this game, she began to stretch her legs and walked up and down the empty corridor she was in. She tried, for the umpteenth time, to remember how she’d gotten here, but she was almost sure that she had at least one mistake in her visual memory of the way, and she knew, as she’d been taught since infancy, that one wrong turn could mean falling to your death or losing your way and going so deep into the earth that no one would ever find you. That was why she’d stayed where she was when she discovered she was in an unfamiliar corridor.

She wondered when her parents would come looking for her. She hoped it would be before suppertime. She thought of her little sister, eating at the large square table without her, and of her parents, whispering urgently to each other in the corner of the room. She imagined them going to the Chief and asking for more people to help the search. She tried to envision who it was who would find her, and she hoped fervently that it would be the Chief’s fifteen-year old son. The thought of his dark skin and red lips made her blush in a way that was still quite new to her. But it was as her parents always said – even Under Ground, life goes on. She hoped her life would go on with that boy in it.

The girl chastised herself suddenly for thinking of such things. There was no excuse for thinking of a boy when she was lost without food or water. She had her whistle with her, at least, but she wasn’t going to resort to it until she heard a search party nearby. The risk of the ceiling falling in on her was too great for using the whistle if she wasn’t absolutely sure she’d be heard.

Tired of the roundabout route her mind was taking, the girl sat back down, across from where she’d set a groove in the ground already, and began to listen to the sounds around her again.

 

Busker in Berlin

Let me take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of London…

He sang on Wilmersdorfer Strasse, dressed in khakis and a button-down shirt. If it weren’t for the fact that he was busking, he could be taken for any other professional walking up and down the busy shopping street. In fact, he probably was a professional, maybe a lawyer or a teacher, with a roof over his head at night, and maybe a family.

His hair was white and silky, and it fell almost boyishly onto his forehead. His face was wrinkled, and as his lips moved each line was accentuated, so that once you could see the deep lines below his nose and then you saw the valleys in his brow.

So how can you tell me you’re lonely, and say for you that the sun don’t shine?

He smiled at the photographer taking his picture. He looked to the photographer’s left, and saw a girl smiling back at him, so his own grew wider. He came to the delicate melodic part in the song that he loved most of all, and he closed his eyes as his fingers plucked the strings.

In our winter city, the rain cries a little pity for one more forgotten hero and a world that doesn’t care.

He finished the song and saw a Euro drop from the photographer’s fingers and into his small case, littered with coins. He nodded, grinning, at the pair, and they smiled back and walked on. He looked after them, although they didn’t look back at him. He saw them draw nearer each other, remembering that they had each other and being thankful for it.

He didn’t need to be out there on the streets of Berlin, singing and playing for strangers. At his age, he could retire comfortably and didn’t need the income. But he didn’t play for the twenty or so Euros that would accumulate within a couple of hours. He played for the joy and the sadness, for the truth and the lies and for everything else that a voice, words, and a guitar could express.

Whatever (Flash Fiction/Character study/something)

“Jessica!”

“What? I mean, sorry, yes, Mr. Jacobs?” I ask. I try to hide my phone underneath a mess of clothes on the counter. If he sees me texting again, I’m going to get fired, I just know it.

“There’s a woman right over there who’s looking at the very pricey dress-rack,” he says, smiling like he always does when he’s super-angry. He’s so creepy! “Don’t you think you should be over there? Helping her?

I sigh with relief. That’s all he wants. “I asked if she needed help, Mr. Jacobs!” I say earnestly, putting on what Jill, my co-worker, calls my suck-up face. “She told me she didn’t need any, thanks very much. Who am I to push her, right?” I think it’s an okay answer, but apparently Mr. Jacobs doesn’t.

“Well, if you haven’t noticed, young lady,” I hate this guy, I really do, “she also has a very big purse. Watch that she doesn’t steal anything!” He gives me that smile of his, with his eyebrows all sort of scrunched up and ugly – he plucks, you can so tell that he’s got a unibrow – and then he just stomps back to the back office where he spend most of his day arguing with his wife on the phone. Idiot.

I look over at the woman. She’s still looking at the dresses, putting her rich-lady hands all over them. I swore when I started working here that I’d never try on clothes again. I mean, have you seen how many people cough or rub their noses and then start feeling up the clothes? Gross!

Oh! Text. It’s Beverly again. We were texting before the idiot boss got on my case. She just sent a “?” because I haven’t answered yet. I text back: “Sry boss was here. So wut did u do last nite?”

She’s been trying to get me to ask that question all morning. She can be such a tease and a show-off. I don’t even know why I’m friends with her, but whatever, she works in the designer clothing store that’s also in the mall, on the floor above, and she’s bored too, so we text. I look over at the woman. She’s moved over the scarf section now. Wow, Mr. Jacobs was right, for a change! This one’s a stealer, I’d bet my nails on it.

I walk over and pretend to straighten the handbags that are near the scarves. The woman gives me this look – I hate rich people! She looks at me like I’m trash, just because I actually have to work, you know? Yuck. So what if my dad cut me off and my mom remarried to a loser who lost all his money gambling? That doesn’t make me any worse than this old biddy. Anyway, she’s rich but she’s going to steal something anyway. I know her type – they get a thrill out of it. I say she should just buy a baggie off my friend Tod and live it up at home with a bottle of mega-bucks wine and leave the stores alone.

I’m tailing her now, walking around and arranging everything she’s touched – I’ve got a bottle of hand-sanitizer behind the counter – and I think she’s getting annoyed, because she keeps sighing real deep and stuff. Ha- there! I just saw her let one of the weird necklaces we sell here fall into her bag!

“Mr. Jacobs!” I yell. “Come out here please!”

The woman’s really surprised by my yell, and she turns around to look at me, pretending to be calm. Mr. Jacobs runs out of his office, and asks me what’s up. “This lady,” I say. “She just put a necklace in her handbag. I saw her do it.”

“Alright, let me take it from here,” Mr. Jacobs says. He waves me away. What, now he’s not happy that I caught a thief in the act? Whatever, I’m quitting after my next paycheck anyway. I’m sick of working in this place.

Oh! Text. It’s Beverly. She says: “haha its a secret.” She’s such a – a – I don’t even know what to call her. I text back “whatever.” I don’t need her. I don’t need anyone. Everyone thinks I’m some kind of idiot, I swear.

Whatever. Seriously, to, like, everyone in the world – whatever.

The Evil, Most Feared and Loathsome Count William

The Evil, Most Feared and Loathsome Count William sat in his room and looked up how to make poisons on the Internet. He’d found several promising websites, but he wasn’t sure where he was supposed to get some of the ingredients. He had no idea what nettle-juice was, for instance. He also wasn’t sure that the forums he was looking at were particularly serious. Wasn’t Lithium just the name of a Nirvana song?

William got up from his computer in disgust. How was he going to become a proper member of the Evil Squad if he couldn’t even figure out how to poison anyone?! The ad he’d gotten in the mail had specified that he needed to have certain skills and be able to prove his aptitude at them before he’d be accepted as a member. He’d e-mailed them and asked what he needed to learn, and they’d answered with a terse reply, telling him that if he didn’t know what things he needed to know in order to be evil, then he probably wasn’t suitable.

He’d already got himself a name, though, and he was determined to manage to get into that group. He was evil, he knew it. Nobody liked him at school – they called him Will the Weird, not as good a title as The Evil, Most Feared and Loathsome Count. His parents didn’t particularly like him – they’d yelled at him for over an hour when he’d painted his room black and they’d almost disconnected the Internet as punishment. Then he’d told them that if they did that, he’d need to find where his dad hid his porn magazines and since nobody wanted that, they should probably keep the connection.

He also knew that he was capable of being cruel, which was part of being evil, of course. He’d been horribly mean to his little sister ever since she was born, and even now that she was thirteen and was coming into her own, he still managed to make her cry a couple times a week by taunting her. He saw this as being proper behavior for a Loathsome Count.

William strode up and down his room, looking at the posters he’d hung on his walls. Some were of heavy metal bands, but he didn’t actually like the music – he just liked the pictures of mouths dripping blood or skeletons on battlefields and the like. The other posters were hand-drawn, featuring violent vampires and women lying dead across tombstones. These had been made for him by Hannah, his next-door neighbor, and the girl he loved more than the entire world put together.

She didn’t think much of him anymore. When they were both freshmen in high-school, she’d gone in for his whole black, death, plague and misery sort of outlook on life. She had, in her own words, “grown out of it” and even though she still wore black, dyed her hair purple and had rings going all the way up both ears, she considered his “being evil thing” to be stupid, childish and beneath her. When he’d pointed at her necklace, which had featured a fang the day they had this argument, she’d said “it’s just a necklace, William. It’s just what I like to wear. It’s fashion, get over it.”

But William hadn’t gotten over it. He hadn’t gotten over her, either. But he had to, and in order to do that, he had to join this Evil Squad so he’d have somewhere to siphon his frustration to. He had a feeling that they gave assignments and stuff once you joined. That could keep him busy. Being busy would be good.

Finally, William sat back down at the computer, and instead of looking up poisons, he logged onto his instant messenger program. He had two screen-names that he used. One was EvilWilliam, which he’d been using for years, even before he decided to join the Evil Squad. The other, the one he used now, was GoodGothKid. He’d created this one only a few months ago.

He saw, with a leap of his heart, that Hannah was online. She messaged him almost at once.

BlackRoses: Hey!

GoodGothKid: Hey :).

BlackRoses: I’m so glad you’re online. I really need someone to talk to.

GoodGothKid: I’m here for you, you know I’m always here for you.

And as Hannah told him about her day, William pretended to be a guy called Tom who lived a couple states over, who was goth but not evil, and who Hannah actually liked.

Flash Fiction Thursday: Shana, Sorority Girl

Shana laughed, throwing back her head and opening her mouth wide. She had a laugh like no other, an uproarious, full-throated, loud laugh. At parties, people always looked behind them to see who had interrupted their shallow conversation so rudely, but then they saw Shana. After they watched her laugh, they couldn’t stay irritated.

“Are you, like, coming onto me?” Shana’s eyes were bright with mirth, her laughter having just subsided. She stared at the weedy, scrawny, pimpled freshman standing in front of her. He was resolutely holding up a bottle, ready to refill Shana’s shot-glass. It had taken mounds of courage for him to come up to her and ask, with what he thought was a sly, alluring smile, if she wanted a refill, babe.

“Well?” Shana’s eyes were already wandering, looking for someone else, someone cool and trendy and beautiful to talk to. There was quite a pick of young men – lots were in togas, this being their yearly let’s-crash-the-sorority-girls’-party-without-underpants-on event. Pimply freshman forgotten, she wandered over to where some tasty looking guys were gathered.

“Yo, hey, can you fine fellows pour a girl a drink or what?” She smiled coquettishly, her naturally blond hair flipping over one shoulder in an expert move to show off her bare shoulders. A black haired, toga-clad frat-boy turned to look at her. Shana’s smile disappeared. Her face fell, mouth hanging open stupidly, a look of shock stamped into her usually lovely features. The frat-boy looked her up and down, deliberately slowly, and grinned, revealing very pointed canines. When he spoke, Shana could feel the shiver creeping up her back like a line of ants.

“Hello, my heart. I told you we’d see each other again.”