Halfling

“Let’s look at the third problem now. Seven-hundred and twelve divided by fifteen.” The chalk squealed against the board, but Mrs. Pipridge didn’t even flinch. “How about,” she said, back still to the class as she finished writing. “Donald.” She turned, and her eyes gleamed with something malicious as she pointed them in the boy’s direction. “Donald?”

“Yes, Mrs. Pipridge?”

“Will you please explain how we can find the answer to the question on the board?” It was incredible how her voice became sharper the more polite she was. Donald looked at her, his mind shutting down as the numbers swam in front of his eyes. He lowered his head and saw that the answer was written carefully, painstakingly, in his notebook. He’d worked so hard with his tutor to learn long-division, and he’d finally got the hang of it. But he couldn’t manage to get a word out. He stared, terrified, at Mrs. Pipridge’s leering face and opened his mouth, willing himself to speak.

Mrs. Pipridge sighed, and Donald felt as if her breath was like the iciest of December winds, penetrating through his sweater and right into his ribs, making his heart freeze and contract. “Fine. I see you have nothing to contribute, as usual. Laura, how about you?”

Donald heard titters from behind him and felt something sticky and wet hit the back of his head. He didn’t turn around, though. He knew that if he did, he’d receive a spitball right in the middle of his forehead. It was no use telling, either, because Mick and Tommy, the boys behind him, always managed to hide all evidence of straws and chewed-up paper by the time any teacher reached their desk. They were pros.

The new school was exactly like the old one. It was supposed to be liberal and progressive – Donald didn’t know what the words meant, but he’d heard his house-mother throwing them around a lot in meetings – but the kids here were just like kids everywhere. Sure, there was another halfling here, but she got as much crap as Donald did. She just shut up about it, like him, because that was the only way to get through the day.

The Other One, as Donald thought of her, had it better than him, though. Everyone knew that she’d got it on her father’s side and that her mother, a war-hero, had killed the one who’d injected her. The Other One could at least embrace her humanity entirely and disown those parts of her that were so different. But Donald didn’t know who either of his parents were. For all he knew he wasn’t even a halfling; he might be pure Aylyen, although he didn’t think so. His skin wasn’t nearly green enough for that, and while he did only have three long fingers to each hand, his toes were absolutely normal, pink and stubby just like any other kid’s, and the doctors said that was a sure sign that one of his parents had been an H, not an A.

He sometimes wondered whether the Other One ever wondered if she’d be happier with other A’s. Donald wished sometimes that he’d been taken along when the A’s left Earth, but he knew it was a pipe-dream. Aylyens wouldn’t want a halfling either, would they? He was stuck in the middle, between two vastly different worlds, and there was absolutely no way out that he could see.

Mad Mary [Flash Fiction]

“Either stay, and do as I say, or go.”

I went. Many would have stayed, and been called fools for it. In my small village, I’d seen the same thing happen many a time, and always the women would throw contemptuous glances at their peer who wore long sleeves in summer and tried to spread powder over her face and neck so the bruises wouldn’t show.

And yet, now that I’m alone, walking along the path that leads from the village to the bigger city that lies somewhere by the sea, I wonder who is the real fool. I went because I couldn’t stand him anymore – not his smell, or his heaving, sweaty weight groaning above me, or his fists in my stomach when I burned the crust of the bread. Mother surely didn’t help. She told me to take it and do as my husband said. She thought that I must have been doing something wrong for him to become so angry. I tried to tell her that the devil shown out of his eyes, but she told me I was mad.

So I went. I left everything. There was no one in the village who would help me, for it wasn’t only Mother who thought I was mad. I’d been called Mad Maiden Mary all the way up the aisle, and only when I was good and married in front of God, the Church and everybody did they stop. And then only because I wasn’t a maiden anymore.

It’s my eyes. They’re large, and one is blue while the other is green. The green one used to be blue until an accident that Mother never explains happened when I was just a babe. I gather that something stuck in my eye and changed all the colors around and made it that bright green that throws everyone off. I also talk to myself, but only because there never seems to be anyone else to talk to, and I guess that God made me chatty by nature.

I walk on, my dress growing ragged at the bottom because I keep stepping on it. I don’t know how far the seashore is, and I don’t know what waits for me there. But it has to be better than what I left behind.