The Town and the North [Flash Fiction]

Once upon a time, there were train tracks. Along the tracks, somewhere midway between their beginning and end, was a town. It was small and rustic and old, the kind of town where you married the boy you played with when you were four and grew up to be just like your grandparents, grumpily proclaiming that things were different in your day, even though they really weren’t. It was the kind of town that few people left, and if they did leave, you knew they weren’t going to come back. It was the kind of town that could fulfill your dreams; your dreams were small and simple because you didn’t really believe there was a whole world outside of the town, a world where you could do something different than what your parents did before you. It was the kind of town that killed any aspirations you had above your station and strangled your imagination because it interfered with what you were supposed to do to make your family proud.

Nobody in the town knew what the train tracks were. The train that had once run along the edge of town had been diverted to a different route so long ago that nobody in living memory even knew what exactly a train looked like. The children in the town knew that if they ever worked up the courage to leave, they would follow the tracks. On long summer days, they dared each other to go farther and farther down the tracks, always turning away with frightened giggles when they reached Old Gabby’s farm a little outside town. Everyone knew that Old Gabby was crazy and that his dogs were vicious, and whenever the children heard the barks, they would lose their nerve.

They never went the other way down the tracks. That way, North, lay something more frightening than dogs and crazy old men, something that parents didn’t even need to warn their children about; the kids learned quickly enough that when they tried to go North, their skin began to prickle, their hair stood up on their arms, and the world seemed to darken. Nobody every talked about it. It was the kind of town that didn’t like to voice certain things.

That became a problem when one day in late autumn, a woman ran into town from the North and fell, panting and red-faced, onto the mayor’s porch. She managed to scratch a word in the snow before she passed out: “Help.”

Creatures of the Mind

Far off in the meadow,

Resides the fairy queen.

She’s always dressed in yellow,

Her face always serene.

**

High up in the cloudy sky,

Santa Clause snores away.

His wife bakes him apple pie,

For warmth on chilly days.

**

Deep down in the earth,

The devil plays at cards.

He welcomes to his turf,

All sinners, cheats and bards.

**

In every theater around,

Dionysus spends some time.

He helps sew up the gowns,

And always shares his wine.

**

The graveyards hold Death,

In all his austere glory.

He’ll take away your breath,

When it’s time – don’t be sorry.

**

In recesses of our minds,

Inside the hearts of all,

Live things we can’t define,

Unreal creatures, great and small.

 

 

Flash Fiction Thursday: The House on the Hill

There was a house on the hill. It was a run-down old thing, with shingles fallen off the roof, and the door halfway off its hinges. The windows were all boarded up, except for one round window at the top of the house. In front, there was what used to be a lawn. Over the years it had turned into an almost-meadow, high weeds and the occasional wild flowers growing wildly. Then there was the fence. It was tall and made of iron, and not one bit of it was rusted. The strangest thing was, there was no gate. Nobody remembered that there’d ever been one. It was as if someone had left the house to rot and built a fence around it afterwards.

The Hensley brothers sat with their backs against one of the big oak trees that kept their own house separate from the hill behind it.

“You think anyone’s ever been in there?” asked Tommy. He was ten, and his pajamas featured a pattern of Pokemon creatures.

“What, you mean like mom or dad or the kids at school?” answered Jake. He was barely six, and his world view encompassed only those people he knew. He was unfortunate enough to have his mom still picking out his clothing, and his pajamas featured multicolored, grinning bunnies.

“No, stupid, I mean anybody. Anybody in town. One of the older kids or the cops or someone.”

“But how? There’s no way to get in!”

“Bet I can figure out a way.” He got up and yanked Jake up off the ground.

“Tommy? Tommy, we’re not going up there, are we?” Jake’s hand was held so tightly that he was stumbling after his brother trying to keep up and not fall and be dragged on the ground. Tommy marched resolutely upwards, and when Jake started getting breathless, he picked him up gingerly and brought him the rest of the way. He stopped at the tall fence and plopped Jake onto the ground.

“Stop sniveling, Jakey! Look, we could make this place into a club-house, right?”

Jake looked up hopefully, wiping his dribbling nose with the pack of one muddied hand. “Could we? Could we really? With secret meetings and stuff?”

“You bet. Now, all we have to do is this. Look, you see my hands? They’re like a step now, right? So step on, and I’ll lift you as high as I can so you catch onto the top.”

Jake scrambled onto his brother’s cupped hands and held onto the fence rails as he was raised slowly up to the top. He reached out an arm, and caught hold of the one of the raised spiky bits with one little hand. Tommy saw this, gave a whoop and let go of Jake’s feet.

A moment later, there was a crumpled Jake on the floor clutching his leg and a very white Tommy sitting next to him. His mind was very focused on two things at the same time. The first was that he had to get Jake back home quickly because that leg was definitely broken, and the second was how was he going to explain this to Mom??

It was years before either brother went up that hill again.

Flash Fiction Thursday: Just a Box

There’s a cardboard box lying on the floor. That’s all, just a box, taped together at the bottom and top, no bigger than a six-pack. Why am I thinking of beer? Oh, yeah, it’s because I’m holding one. Fancy that. I look at the bottle, then look through it to the box on the floor. The empty room takes on a tinge of green. I stop looking and take a long, fulfilling gulp. Oh, dear. Now the bottle’s empty. Might as well smash it as hard as I can against the wall.

It doesn’t shatter or anything. Damn. Even the damn bottle doesn’t do what I want it to do. I want it to smash, to crash, to splinter. I want it to make a noise in this too-quiet room. It’s much to quiet in here. It’s creepy, like she left a damn ghost here or something. I look hopefully around again, almost wishing I’d see her body swinging. But no, the room’s just as empty as it was when I got back from the train-station earlier today. That damn box is still on the floor.

I try to recall the past months, but I’m finding it kind of hard to concentrate. Guess the barman was right for telling me to quit it and go home. It’s not even nine, and the idiot told me he wasn’t going to serve me anymore. I told him where to put his head and went and bought a beer and started walking home. When I ran out of one, I bought another. That one, the one I threw, is the fourth. What? It was a damn long walk home. I needed the fluids, or the sustenance, or something.

Truth is, I just needed something to fill up the ache. I thought that maybe, just maybe, when I got home I’d find all her stuff back here. I’m home now, or what I used to call home, and she’s still gone. So’s her sofa, and TV, and her clothes and her dishes and everything else. I can still smell her here, though, even through the stink of beer coming from my own mouth.

And that damn box is still there on the floor. Is that all that was mine in here? Or did she leave me some stupid long letter about meeting the stud-muffin of her life and leaving with him? I don’t know. I collapse on the floor, the room suddenly spinning worse. I decide that whatever’s in there, it can’t hurt more than what I’m feeling right now. So I let myself drift away, knowing that the box and a headache will be waiting for me tomorrow.

___________________________

As a proud participant in Flash Fiction Thursday, I urge you to check out the others at: http://unabridgedgirl.wordpress.com/

Soot

Prologue

A cry split the cold morning air. The child, who only moments before had been chasing the pigeons, had fallen down and scraped her hand. She lay where she fell, propping herself up on the uninjured hand and looked aghast at the scraped palm on the other. The scrape looked at first just like skin that had peeled off, but soon little droplets of blood oozed out and began to trickle down to the child’s wrist.

Her wailing hadn’t ceased, and within a few minutes the stone courtyard where she’d been playing was full of people balking at the tremendous noise she was making. A woman scooped her up, ignoring the blood smearing across the white cloth of her apron and took her inside. The stone courtyard emptied as people grumbled and then went back inside the large stone building and got back to work.

“Hush, now,” murmured the woman soothingly in the child’s ear. “There, there. ‘S alright. ‘S just a little scrape.” The child had stopped her wailing by now and had subsided into hiccuping whimpers, tears still streaming silently down her face at the subtle, pulsing pain in her palm. The woman’s face was averted from hers as she put the child down on a wooden stool beside the fireplace, and the child took this opportunity to look at the blood on her hand again. Tentatively, looking quizzically at the redness, she stuck out her tongue and licked it. The taste was strange and metallic, mixed with the dirt that had stuck to the blood. She shuddered a little.

The woman bustled around her, moving around the fireplace, fetching a basin and water and setting it over the fire to heat. Absentmindedly, she patted the child’s matted hair between motions. She got a clean cloth from somewhere and, when the water was hot but not too hot, she took it off the fire and placed the basin beside the child. She dipped the cloth into it, wrung it out, and then tenderly washed the child’s scraped hand. The warmth stung, but the child was calm now, her big eyes fixed on the woman’s face.

“There, now, y’see?” the woman said, taking the child’s other hand and washing it as well. “No more tears now, there’s a good girl. Don’t hurt so bad now, do it?” Her eyes finally met those of the child. The woman gulped.

The child’s eyes were black. The woman couldn’t tell where the pupil ended and the iris began. It seemed like the child had only extremely large black holes set within the whites of her eyes. For all that, she was still only a child. Maybe two years old, three at best. She was skin and bones, almost, although her cheeks retained the roundness of a baby and had a healthy pink flush to them. The child’s hair color she couldn’t make out for it was too filthy and matted, bits of twig sticking out of it here and there making it look as though a bird had idly built its nest there one morning while the child still slept. The child’s limbs all looked to be working and normal, if too thin. The woman thought to herself, instinctively, that the child was probably full of lice and that she needed to be scoured immediately.

But then she met those eyes again. The woman bit her lip, thoughtfully.

“You got a name, child?” She asked abruptly.

“Thea.”

“Ah,” the woman said. She bit her lip again, hard. She looked around her, making sure they were alone and that no one had heard the child utter her name. No one in the large, bustling kitchen had been paying them any attention. It was near supper-time, and they were all busy. She would be told off for not helping tonight. The woman brought her mind back to the child before her and came to a decision. In years to come, she wondered whether she’d been taken on by a fit of madness or whether it was just that the child was much too thin for comfort.

“Your name isn’t Thea. Y’hear me, child? Your name isn’t Thea. You’re gonna be my daughter, and you’re name’s gonna be-” she hesitated, thinking. “Your name’s gonna be Soot, cause o’ your eyes, little one.”

“Soot,” the child repeated. “Soot,” she said again, touching her small nose.

“Soot,” the woman agreed.

Silas (3)

Footsteps sounded from around the corner. Silas became even more still than he’d been before. His breathing made no sound and his limbs were poised for movement. He hoped the footsteps indicated that the job was almost over. He was tired and hungry and extremely annoyed at Mr. Smith for giving him faulty information.
The sound of footsteps grew louder, and the man who was walking began to whistle cheerily. Silas, hidden in the shadows, waited patiently until the man walked passed the alleyway where he was crouched. He caught a glimpse of a rather short, stocky man, suit coat flung casually over his shoulder, expensive watch gleaming in the lamplight. This was him, indeed.
Silas rose from his crouch and began walking behind the man, matching his footsteps to his so as to mask the sound. His boots were, of course, almost completely silent anyway, but there was no point in taking chances. The streets he and the man walked through were deserted, it being very late at night – late enough to be considered very early in the morning. They walked down one street and then another. The man never looked back and kept up his merry whistle and his brisk stride. After about ten minutes, the man walked up to a fancy skyscraper, obviously housing luxury apartments, and began to push the buttons on the coded lock to the front door.
Silas stood now to his side, about twenty steps away. He was hidden in the shadows once more. Everything was in readiness. He put the small tube he was holding in his hand to his lips and blew.
The man stood stock still for a moment, and then crumpled to the ground. Silas was already at the end of the street.

Lucy’s Diary, Later on May 16th

May 16th, Night-time, Library

Dear Diary,

Oh. My. Gosh. I know I wrote in you only this morning, dearest, but I hope you will forgive my indulging in scratching my pen over your pages once more today, and I sincerely hope you’re not weary of me yet!

I have been waiting patiently all day for a moment of solitude in which to tell you of the exciting events that followed directly after my last writing in you. Oh, I’m not speaking about my joining Sophie and Maria on their way back to Pratt and Smith this morning – I did join them, and we had a nice walk back to the school, as the day was all May sunshine and breezes, though it is now rather cold.

No, no, Diary, I am speaking of what passed in the few short minutes between my concluding my writing engagement with you this morning and the meeting with the girls. I can barely breathe at the strangeness of it all, but you must judge for yourself the events which I shall now relate.

I got up to leave the diner this morning right after the guy I’d seen on the plane had left. He had finished his phone call in what seemed like a huff, and fairly stormed out of the place. On my way out, I paid the waitress at the cash register at the counter, and I idly asked her where or what Gaitec’s Reach is. She had no idea, so I simply smiled and turned to walk out.

Who should I bump into as I was leaving? Why, who else, but Mr. Mysterious Airplane Man! He knocked you right out of my hands, and we both bent down to pick you up at the same time. Our eyes met for a brief moment, and I cannot describe the lure his gaze, intelligent as it is, had on me. But, Diary, I worried about you first and foremost and I picked you up immediately and left the diner with as much dignity as I could muster.

He ran after me, though! I have never been more surprised in my life. He told me his name was Michael – which was odd, because I’m sure I heard him addressing the man he was talking to on the phone as Michael. He asked me, in a hurried, abrupt manner, what my name was. I don’t know why I did it, but I said it was Annie. I didn’t – couldn’t, wouldn’t – tell him my real name! I don’t know him, after all! He asked me why I had asked the waitress about Gaitec’s Reach. I had to reply that I just liked the sound of the name, because what else could I say? That I was intrigued why he would be searching for some obscure place by that name? That wouldn’t have made any sense.

For some reason that I cannot fathom, he asked me for my cell number. I have one, you know, for emergencies, though my cousin will give me hell if she sees me making outgoing calls on it… Still, I gave him the number, which is even more unfathomable to me – because, as I pointed out before, I don’t know him!

Ah, Diary, what foolishness, what folly – I know you would reprimand me if you could. But this man, this Michael, he seems, for lack of a better phrasing, in NEED of something. I have an odd instinct that I could help him somehow. Then again, perhaps I’m entertaining a mere school-girl crush?

Oh dear, it’s very late, Diary. I have stayed up and out way past our curfew, and now must hasten to my room and my bed or I will surely be found here and I don’t feel like spending time in detention if I can help it at all.

You may call me silly, and I’ll admit to being so, but I will leave my phone on tonight, on my bedside table… Who knows, right?

Much love to you, my dearest confidante,

Lucy