The advantage to saving everything and knowing where you’ve put it is that years down the road, you actually still do have it.
This was an assignment I did in September of 2006 for Ms McAssey’s 9th grade English class. We had to describe something in detail, that was the assignment. Just describe something. So I described my room. I wrote what I still consider to be a really eloquent, beautiful piece about growing up and how my room reflected nuances of my childhood and a kind of quiet fear of growing up. I turned it in and got a 50 on it. That’s 50 out of 100.
I guess I forgot to do the back side of the sheet. Isn’t that just magical.
Here it is:
A tall wooden door, stained a dark brown, leads into a chaotic room. All the amenities of organization have been placed about the room, a filing cabinet, boxes upon boxes, and a CD tower. It is obvious simply from a passing glance that these tools have yet to be fully utilized. A desk piled knee high with papers of seemingly no importance rests next to the door. Confused by years of arguments about organization, the owner has forsaken all attempts and papers, not having been needed for years, are crammed onto the miserable surface of the desk.
Upon said desk rests a computer, the newest feature of the room. It represents the need for change. Only three weeks ago the desk and arrangement of the furniture were positioned differently, or maybe, in all probability, less time has passed since the desk’s previous habitation. The computer screen displays a vicious show of flashing color as its speakers blare angry music into the hollow room. But hollow is all the room is, and with nobody there, the music is hollow to. As with anything, the sound is muted by the apathy of the fact that no one hears its message.
Adjacent to the desk rests a tank, its resident making futile attempts to escape through the top of its prison. Though loved and treated well, it only sees the need to break free. Each tear at the metal grates barring the top of the tank becomes exponentially more difficult as exhaustion slowly compiles with the notion of the pain of indignity and that its life may be spent fighting the machine of fate that is so dominant over those who can see no other alternatives.
On the opposite side of the room a nightstand sits next to a bed, its glossy red sheen reflecting the light from the southern sun. A small rug is laid out in a ray of light, lined up with the angle of the rays. The clock on the wall reads two o’clock and a watch, lost long ago begins an incessant alarm that shall not stop for the next sixty seconds. A little brown teddy bear is curled up on the end of the bed. Once loved, this is now meant only to be shoved further away at night until it is jammed between the wall and bed, to be forgotten until the ants take it away piece by piece. Other things at this point in the owner’s life have taken precedence to the bear.
The most important artifact of all, the blanket that once provided security and comfort is now folded and remembered only in dreams as time takes its sacrificed life from the box hidden high in a closet and labeled Childhood Memories into oblivion where all loved objects eventually go.
The light level in the room suddenly dims as a cloud passed under the sun. The bed is wrapped in an elegant array of folds and twists of blanket and sheet. It is pressed up against the wall, and the dressings are wrinkled for the sheets were impossible to tuck behind the wall. Near the luminous nightstand is a dresser where nick-knacks and gadgets are askew over the grey alarm clock. A few trophies and old certificates of silly mediocrities rest on the wall over the dresser.
Useless items that undoubtedly have failed to work any longer rest in corners of the room, not bothered to be taken from their places. A box under the bed is laid open on the floor and some items of minor meaning to their owner are saved for the fear that as soon as they are gone they will be wanted. Old stories, written years ago, lay on the floor. Their writer must have been reminiscing on the old days by finding an outlet in his writing. A plethora of magazines having to do with the hobbies of teenage boys rest on the floor, among them, secret love letter. These are things that are to be put in a box and hidden in the closet until twenty years have gone by. These things will be amusing in twenty years. In truth the box is already half destroyed and will be thrown out with the trash in a week, all these things will be forgotten, in twenty years no one will care. A pair of slippers sit under the night table. They do not fit their owner anymore but upon feeling them anyone can tell that they are of the softest fabric. It is no wonder that they remain there.
The windows are bright again, the cloud has passed. The dark purple blinds are pulled back and a Halloween decoration, taken out months earlier, sits near the window, its skeleton face staring ahead indefinitely. It is a monument to the trials of growing older. The holiday it represents no longer means anything to its owner, but like many things in the room, it represents the fear of letting go of anything, the fear of forgetting memories, the fear of losing childhood.
This is a story I wrote for an independent study class. Buuuuut…. I never turned it in. UNTIL NOW. And by now, I mean later, when I actually send it to my teacher. Of course, technically I’ve graduated- so I don’t have to! But I’m going to. Anyway, this is a modern remake, of an old Greek myth. See if you can guess which one it is. The answer will be listed at the end of the story with a link the relevant wiki article. Story fully stands on its own though, so enjoy.
There was a cold blurriness running across his face. He felt submerged, and the gentle tapping on his left cheek was growing louder and more obnoxious until his eyes darted fully open. His suit was drenched. Lou stopped hitting him. Cruddy shower-space, the dinky curtain ripped off and thrown aside in the corner of the bathroom by the door. He hated this place.
He was thrown a towel, which hit him in the face, and he blinked several times as he pulled the cloth from his eye. His expression was one of utter confusion, and he gaped around, darting out of the tub and from under the shower nozzle. The water rapped against the steel tub, a high clacking noise.
“Time to go. You don’t have time to change. I don’t want to be late. In all seriousness, I do not want to be late.” This was Lou, and he was serious. His voice was harsh as usual, but he was a product of his time. Unfortunately, his mistrust and general hatred for living things was entirely out of his hands. It had been brought upon him by years of continuous stress and cramped living spaces.
The boy in the shower was a shade of gray too similar to the outside world to be healthy. Every morning he ate rations, and always managed to sleep eight hours a night. He had been born after Year One. The howling winds outside and the notion that an inhospitable wasteland lay maybe two or three hundred feet in either direction were just another fact of life. His name had been given to him by his mother before they were separated after his birth.
That’s what Lou had told him. Lou didn’t tell him what that name was.
Lou might be his grandfather. He might be his father. Couldn’t be sure of his age. A little poisoning could turn a thirty year old man into a train wreck. The only thing the boy was sure of was that Lou was a friendly face trapped behind a thick window of bitterness, and that he was known to this man only as ‘Boy’.
The boy just wanted to sleep. Across the hall outside the bathroom he could see two crates, hastily packed, lying open next to the single bed in another room. Food, water; mostly in unmarked plastic cans. His briefcase was still under the wiry steel frame and thin mattress, just visible under the bed skirt.
Today was delivery day at Lilac Park. Every day was delivery day: basic necessities, and nothing more. Absolutely not a thing more. That had been the unspoken rule before it became law. The boy took a moment to dry himself off, but he left for the bedroom still dripping, wet down to his undergarments. He left a trail of water in his wake and went sloshing across the linoleum grabbing his case.
The older man knelt by one of the crates, searching for the power button. He always had trouble finding it. The boy stepped out and found the small sensor on the other side of the crate. It rang to life to a gleeful jingle and lifted slowly from the ground to a very low height. It slipped across the room with ease. The second crate followed suit.
When Lou finally opened the apartment door, after a moment of grunting, one of the gods was waiting. They looked almost human, but they couldn’t mimic the little things. Blank stares, dark irises, twitching, sometimes they smiled for hours for no reason. He wondered why they even bothered pretending. It was unnerving. For a long moment, it just stood and stared, and when it was finished with whatever it thought it was doing, it moved from their path. The hall beyond the vestibule was long, doors lining one side, and tall floor to ceiling windows on the other, the perfect view of the blank landscape outside. Gray snow fell and covered everything, but when strong winds came, the flakes of colorless ash would sweep away in a massive dark cloud with a gusto not dissimilar to fleeing. Lou never looked. He avoided thinking about the fact that he had survived. The world was empty now, and he had lived to tell the tale because he was in the right place when it mattered. The boy watched swirls of snow flit about in small spirals before flinging themselves into disarray, landing where they wont. This was an ongoing dance. One pocket of ash would twist and spin about, and when it stopped, others began until they were all sucked away by a gust strong enough.
The boy turned back to Lou, who stared resolutely away from the scene outside. The hall was sterile. There were no germs, no insects here or there, no bacteria. Life here was fragile, but protected. Above each door there was a red or green light, indicating which rooms were locked. No one ever tried to escape. There was, quite literally, nowhere to go. One could assume that wherever the gods came from was a potentially safe haven, but there was no method by which they could reach that place.
The boy gripped his briefcase tightly until his hands grew moist with perspiration. Some measure down the hall, two of the gods stepped forward to a door in synchronicity. The light above faded from a shade of dark red to a brighter neon and then switched to green. The door flew open, and they stepped in, feet in perfect alignment with each other. The door closed. The boy wondered if he was about to do the right thing. He wondered if bringing the case he held to Lilac Park was wise, or if it served any purpose.
Lou helped him slide the boxes into the stairwell. The listened in silence as someone was dragged screaming from their room. When you were taken it meant death. There was no reason to scream. It did not matter. There could be no negotiation, because the gods fundamentally lacked a more human comprehension of survival. The boy and the man pushed the crates towards the second set of stairs down toward the hangar and let them tip and slide down the with a gentle hum before coming to a quick stop at the bottom. Upstairs, the screaming came to an abrupt stop.
The boy planted his case atop the floating crate and leaned forward on his elbows, trying to relax, waiting for the hangar doors to open, and when they did, the awaiting ship that came into view was the same that they had ridden for years on the short skip over to Lilac Park. Gray paint, eight short wings, a large engine in the back. In the snow, against the backdrop of the dead sky, you couldn’t see this thing twenty feet above you. Two gods moved in and dressed Lou and the boy in heavy suits. The silence inside the gear was shocking. The boy grunted to check that he hadn’t gone deaf. He left his arms extended outward while the creature to his left secured a strap on his back.
It looked to the briefcase, laying unprotected, and it shuffled slowly over, seemingly unsure of where its leg joints were. The boy waddled over to the case and held it. The god backed away and looked at him. It could not comprehend what he planned to do, so it did not question his actions. For all its perfection it was helpless to understand what it meant to be merely human.
The boy turned away. Behind him, Lou shuffled uncomfortably. The two trudged across the floor toward the loading bay doors on the back of the ship. The massive maintenance robot on the ceiling turned a single eye to the two, and watched them briefly as it continued to work.
The man and the boy climbed the loading ramp and took their seats after securing the crates to the far wall. The briefcase went next to the boy.
Lou took his seat. They lowered their harnesses. When the bay door in the back of the ship closed, Lou asked removed his helmet just partially and took a quick gasping breath. “Are you sure you want to do this?”
The boy frowned and pulled up his an inch or two to say, “Put your gear back on. Don’t stick your neck out like that just to ask a stupid question.”
“It seems like a bad idea. We do whatever you want. You’re the boss.” Lou added.
There was a nod of acquiescence.
The ship grumbled once more, and they felt it buzz, and the boy was glad he had sealed his suit again. The lights came on slowly and then faded out. With a painful jerk, and ship lurched away, and all that could be seen out the few small windows was an impenetrable, dry, misty gray.
The ship cruised. It stopped its forward acceleration. Lou remained tense in the shoulders. Even through the thick garbs, the boy could see that the man was nervous. There was no conversation, although the boy imagined that his counterpart wondered if they would be killed for what they were to do. The old man had said that he knew it was the ‘right’ thing to do, but wondered if it wasn’t too late.
They never spoke in specifics. Only vague generalized statements about ethics. It didn’t seem like a healthy thing to think about too much.
The boy wondered if the people in lilac park would remember him. He wondered if they remembered anything from one day to the next. He wondered if they recognized that he was human, under the suit.
When he closed his eyes, that place was all he could picture. Anything else he tried to think about was like trying to hold onto the memory of a dream. Maybe that was why he was so confident that what he was doing was right. There was a certain naivete about the people there, a certain insanity that he found raw and appealing. Maybe it was because the gods chose to save them, or because the gods had chosen not to expose themselves to the people in Lilac Park. Those in the park who who had not been born after Year One were members of various selections of the old cultures. The first years they tried to speak with each other.
Then they gave up. There was no breaking the language barrier. The children there could not speak at all. They did not play. The boy could not be sure if he had ever heard them laugh. He doubted it. More than anything else he remembered how their blank stares were much like those of the gods.
The ship pulled to a slow stop and began its decent. When the door opened again, there was little beyond a glowing orange light to remind them which was to walk.
The boy wondered if the inhabitants of Lilac Park ever looked around when they heard the ship that they surely could not see.
Lou was standing next to him. He grabbed the boy’s helmet and shook with one hand motioning for him to return to reality. The ship would remain for twenty minutes, that was all they had. If they were left behind they could try to stay in Lilac Park, but that was their only option. They might be removed in the middle of the night and never heard of again, or they might be allowed to stay and live out their days, but there was no returning to the compound.
The boy kept his case with him. The act was to be largely symbolic. That was what the old man said. The boy hoped it would amount to more than that. They wriggled their feet through the deep silt-like snow, heading slowly for the orange beacon. Beyond that they would be able to see the faint outline of Lilac Park, and they would only have to walk in a straight line. It was just over the hill.
The boy listened to his heavy breath, for that was all he could hear. It was like being underwater. He felt immune to everything. They carried on.
At the crest of the hill they could see a bright outline in the sky. The large dome above the park. There was nothing physically there, but somehow it had happened that the snow never fell on Lilac Park. The grass remained green, and the air was fresh and bright, although he had been told never to remove his helmet in the company of the people in the park. Occasionally Lou would ride the crate down the hill to the white picket fence that marked the border between the park and… everything else. Today however, he was far too sober. They carried on.
At the fence, their backs to the gray abyss, they opened a section of the gate and slid the crates in. It was hot here, but not in the same way the rest of the world was hot. This place had not been microwaved. It had not been abused, it had been preserved. And the boy was about to ruin it.
The stepped with a heightened sense of confidence, because now that they had come, it was only a matter of time before the boy decided to open his luggage.
In the center of the park, the people waited, standing, staring at the crates, the lilac plant behind them, in a perpetual bloom. The boy waited at a distance for a long time. Lou wondered if that was what the world had come to.
The people here were strong and well-fed. Prime examples of human beings if not for their vocal muteness. None had spoken in years, so the boy assumed. He was right.
When he reached them, after resuming his walk, they opened the crates themselves and sat in no particular formation. They ate quietly, savoring the food with a kind of delicate reservation that may have been the result of years of hemorrhaging intelligence. No intellectual stimuli here. There seemed to be little left behind their eyes. Little ongoing thought.
When they finished, Lou collected the bottles and containers and placed them into the crates, which were then closed. Lou then looked at the boy. The boy returned the look, and then fancied the ceiling of the inverted snow globe that was Lilac Park. The snow swirled above but never touched, landing only on the outskirts of the green landscape. He opened the case.
A lighter. A single lighter. He removed it from the foam inside and sat down. The switch gleamed in the light of which one could not be sure of the source. He pressed it, and leaned forward across his own lap to touch the flame to a bit of grass before the crowd of people. Everyone watched intently. No one said anything. The lilac plant swayed in a gentle breeze. The flame darted about on the lone stalk of grass until all that was left was a spot of shriveled, fibrous dust.
The boy handed the lighter to the woman nearest to him, and with that, the air darkened, and the boy looked up again to note that the ash had begun to fall on Lilac Park.
Guessed yet? It was the tale of Prometheus. Check it, yo: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prometheus
A short story based off my first ficly “Somewhere Else In Town”. This time it goes more into depth about the narrator’s resistance to let go of the past, and his tendency to blame his brother for being too caught up in it.
My brother, Geoffry watched me from across the armrest with his signature smile, ears raised, looking like an ass. The previous night, while I was trying to clean up the remains of Thanksgiving dinner and finally get the kids in bed, he told me that this was the one. This was the second one this month, the fifth this year, but heck, who was counting? He followed me around the house, a begging, prodding tone in his voice until I dropped the mostly empty boat of gravy in the sink and screamed at him. I told him exactly what I thought about him living in my house at thirty-two while he waited for his career as an impressionist painter to take off. It wouldn’t be taking off any time soon, but getting himself off the couch would be a good start. I told him that he didn’t have the money for a girlfriend even if this woman was his perfect match, and that she probably didn’t have any use for a bum. He wanted to know if that meant I would drive him around to find her. No, it meant I was done driving him around. His grand plan of action was to cruise around till he saw her. I wasn’t going to have any part of that. He didn’t like hearing the argument that he was acting like a child. He told me that I sounded like dad.
In bed, I watched the ceiling fan collect dust. I listened to the kids breathing in the next room, and stretched across the king size, trying to fill the space to my right that Nathalie left when she ran away. You think you know when it’s “the one.” I chide my brother for saying that about every woman he meets. Maybe he’s just afraid that he’ll never find anyone, or maybe he’s right every time in the same way that I was “right” when I married the girl who left me and the kids. I sounded like dad. I got up to close the window; it was getting chilly out.
The next morning we slid open the left barn door, watching the trees sway in the breeze. Geoff and I hopped in the car and headed for town, bouncing in silence down the gravel driveway. He had won again.
I looked at the restaurant from the front seat of the Taurus that I had bought last year for too much money. Nathalie and I had been saving it for the kids’ college education, but when she left she took the car, and I was too afraid to call the police. Our fifteen thousand went to this car. Now I was using it to help my brother find someone he met at one of those free-coffee, two-minute speed dating groups that try to get you paired up with someone equally lonely and tired of rejection for the fair price of ten bucks a night.
He tried to explain that this girl was the whole package, and he was an excellent salesman for someone who couldn’t get his art out of my living room. Green eyes like spring and short dark hair. Tattoos everywhere. A girl like that sold me weed in high school. A girl like that got pregnant from Geoff when he was fifteen. Geoff hasn’t grown up. Geoff is a little stuck in the past. He needs to be babied, but I’m not sure I’m the person for the job.
I turned to him. He was talking about sitting around a long table, looking at a large hairy man, waiting for his turn with one of the women. The dating group. I asked if the fat man had “green eyes like spring” too. Only three women made an appearance, so seven men were forced to sit and wait. They held meetings on Tuesday nights in a small conference room in the admissions building of a local community college. It was Friday afternoon. My brother was still hooked on that woman, and we were hunting her. There had to be a law against that somewhere.
I was forty years old. I didn’t know what I was doing. The car engine puttered in the frigid November air, and I cut it. We were downtown, up against the curb. Too cold to think anymore. Only a few people on the streets stupid enough to brave that kind of cold. Seemed like it blew in overnight.
I had left the kids at the neighbor’s. Two and three years old, probably bored out of their minds being told to avoid the china cabinet by that seventy year old coot. Geoff’s habits were starting to get in the way of my spending time with more important people, and I was enabling him. I bit my tongue and swallowed the urge to take us back home immediately. Still, without Nathalie at home, part of the reason that I condoned Geoff’s behavior was because it gave me an excuse to run away from the single-parent lifestyle that I’d been forced into. It seemed like the only time I left the house to do anything other than work or shop was when I was with Geoff.
He nodded his head back and forth peering out the driver’s side window, trying to find the green eyes like spring. Quiet streets except for the howling gusts. No one really. Homeless man in an alley way, fetal position, back to the wind, but no one really.
Earlier we had cruised around, listening to the breaks creak as we neared red lights, listening to the growl of the engine as we left them. Empty roads for the most part. We passed the Chinese take out place in which I’m not allowed any more. I took my eyes off the road to look at the bowling alley where my friend was stabbed during my high school years. He was back on his feet within two weeks, but something about our town had been shattered for me, and for a lot of people. I might be the only person still living here all these years later. Geoff doesn’t look over; he doesn’t remember. After that it wasn’t long before the sense of security vanished. A few years back there were problems with gang violence. You can see a lot in forty years.
I wanted to stop at the supermarket for a snack. He told me we should keep moving.
I couldn’t have been sure if the sky was threatening rain or snow. It was gray enough for either, or a lot of both.
Eventually we found ourselves parallel parked in the center of town waiting for a miracle. Geoff was hopeful. The wind knocked a slew of brown leaves like a thousand tiny umbrellas down the narrow sidewalk, and my brother looked at me, grinning. Again.
Something about today just meant that I wasn’t going to get any work done. The architect gig was paying the bills, but I felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere. I designed the house I live in, my children’s bedrooms, but it was becoming almost too much to handle on my own, what with my trio of children, two, three, and thirty-two, running around.
When Geoff wasn’t talking, I wanted to turn the car back on and listen to the radio and kill the silence, and when he was talking, I wanted to drown him out the same way.
Back a few years ago when we were both a little younger and Geoff was a little more naïve–this was when my wife was still with me–he came over to spend a few nights on the couch. He’d been kicked out of his apartment after he failed to pay his rent for the second month in a row.
The clouds seemed a tint darker than before, like they were getting ready for something. An older man in a heavy coat hobbled through the wind, and as he passed by, I saw a woman with green eyes like spring and short dark hair entering the restaurant. She was holding a man’s hand. My brother didn’t notice. I stuck the car into gear and pulled out of the space, my turning signal clicking nervously, loudly. I told him we would look for her somewhere else in town, and asked him if he had thought about what he would say when he saw her.
The original Ficly: “Somewhere Else In Town”
Wrote this in September of ’09 for and independent fiction study class. Not sure how good it is, you’ll let me know.
The line about the inscription is a shout out to my grandmother, who came up with that phrase, as far as I know.
The sun lifts itself over the eastern hills, greeting chapped earth as dry and cracked as the chalky houses. This is cow country, or it used to be. The one road that leads through town is a stretch of pavement that used to carry three hundred people daily to and from… wherever. Now even those with their health brave enough to venture out onto the burning tar that used to be Main Street will avoid most of the houses. Those from which people entered and never left have a particular, easily identifiable smell, which permeates the air for almost fifty feet around them. One such house lies at the end of the road, where an elderly couple used to live.
Perhaps the story began two days earlier. Coffee grounds, two porcelain dolphins, a record, several bills, a family photo, and one piece of stale bread hit the floor as Eric Sanders cleared the kitchen counter. The utility company had just shut off everyone’s water. The cupboard held several gallons of water, but in the incredible heat, he was forced to preserve his precious resource, and wonder what measures he would be forced to take to keep Rebecca and himself alive. He moved onto the bed, next to her, naked. She never stirred, but her old wrinkled lips, cracking open asked, “How much longer, Eric?”
Her voice was hoarse, a pleading tone was prevalent in her whimper. He offered to get her some water but she refused. She would die later on, and he would never stop wondering if it might have made a difference, made her more comfortable, should she have accepted. He let his head hit the pillow in the dark room.
Opening her eyes, she looked towards the curtains, “It shouldn’t be so hot during the nights. Open the curtains, will you Eric? That’s nice, thank you. Morning already, huh? How long is this supposed to go on honey? I thought the police were going to bring us somewhere else. Like Alaska…” She sighed a deep shaking sigh, thinking of the cool air and snow. Her throat burned and she sat up, coughing and tearing until the discomfort subsided. Eric offered water again, she refused. He shifted nervously.
“What are you saving the water for?”
“Well,” she said, “We might need it later if we’re in trouble.”
She sounded almost as if she believed it. He asked what would happen if they weren’t around later. She avoided his question by coughing again. He spoke.
“The police couldn’t take everyone honey, and hey, I hear Alaska isn’t what’s it’s cracked up to be.”
She gingerly touched her tender broken lips as he said the word “cracked.” It echoed through his mind as well and he looked her up and down. Her feet were pale, and she moved slowly. It was hard to imagine this is what had become of the beautiful Katherine Sanders.
She waited for a moment, then, sitting up, “It isn’t hot there too is it?”
“No…” He whispered as a child might when sharing a secret with another. “I mean, honestly, I’m sure you wouldn’t much like it there.” He rarely lied to her, but occasionally denial was the best remedy for panic. “I’m sure it’s life as usual up in the north.”
“Well, why don’t we go? We could make it!”
Eric knew that she was aware they wouldn’t be able to. Two gallons of fuel in a ’97 Ford pickup wouldn’t get much farther than thirty miles, and there was nowhere to refill the tank. He smiled a broken smile, his lips bled. His tongue felt the upper portion of his mouth, and he scrapped against the dryness. He stopped smiling. Eric was now very stiff, sitting upright in a chair, in the partially lit room. He considered lighting up, but there was only one cigarette left, and the necessity to keep the windows shut would have left smoke in the room. He coughed at the thought.
Outside, he watched a sparrow soar into view of the window, and land gracefully on a leafless tree. It peered through the glass, looked at Eric, swayed on the branch, and plummeted to the dirt below. A hot wind blew across the farming town, which had been transformed into the set of a bad Hollywood movie in a matter of days. There was a moan from across the street that filled the air, and then silence. After several minutes two men came knocking at the door of the house with guns, there was no answer. From Eric’s window he watched the play, protected by the fourth wall.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before he turned from the presentation to look at his wife of 40 years, and he found that little separated his reality from the events unfolding outside. His thoughts were punctuated abruptly.
There was a knock at the door. Then a pounding. Before Eric had even considered answering the call, the door snapped open, swinging into the room on its bent hinges. A young man, sweating, but in altogether decent condition, moved into the apartment. His shirt was covered in a thin red paste. He fingered the trigger of a long rifle, the barrel gleaming in the light from the open window. He pointed at Eric, then Rebecca, and back to Eric. He grunted, angrily.
The man’s accent was foreign, to be sure. He shook slightly, pupils dilated. In another world he would have been another person, maybe somewhere else reading about the hell that was burning its way across North America but, ultimately, not caring, or at most, being too overwhelmed to be able to react. Perhaps his emotions were very much the same now as they might have been were he living in another world. Too overwhelmed to react.
Eric looked at his wife. The man made his demand again, but abruptly lowered his gun and started pacing, scratching the back of his head. His hands shook and he frequently twitched and then screamed. He spoke violently in sentences that were less than coherent. Eric stood, and, for the first time in the week since the temperature had so drastically increased, felt a cold sweat, and it was relieving.
Light crossed the man’s face. He couldn’t have been older than nineteen or twenty. Bullets may miss their mark, and loose their lethality, but desperation is a guaranteed killer. A haze gathered outside as the sun climbed, man’s eternal savior, man’s greatest damnation. Armed with two feet of lead and fire in a neat lock, stock, and barrel package, he approached the window, slowly, moving past Eric, who slid out of the way and went to fetch a bottle of water. What it was like to be trapped in a place where he knew not the language, Eric could not have understood. To be there during a bout with apocalypse? Eric shook his head. Days ago when he still had his strength he might have been panicked, but he enjoyed what he could only describe as an unnerving calm. The young man’s nose dripped with sweat.
Katherine had been staring during the proceedings, and she, being more or less ignored by the gunman, reached for an ashtray to throw at him. She moved slowly. Her old fingers gripped the warm glass surface of the diner-style tray. An aerosol can fell from her bedside table, and the man turned to look, still mumbling to himself. The reflecting light from her shallow ash tray hit the mans eye, and he stepped backwards. The object struck him in the nose with a resounding crunch.
His gun was lifted quickly, and as Eric began to run, or stumble, with a bottle of water in hand, a shot was fired, and Katherine fell backward on her pillow, her stomach shredded. Blood spattered the walls and mixed with that which was already on the man’s shirt. The gun turned to point at Eric, a shaking old man who dropped what he had been holding, and ran to Katherine’s side. He knelt but did not touch her. His knees hit the wood floor. Outside, the two men who had entered the home across the street exited, and one wiped his mouth. They began to run towards Eric’s home. He heard them beat on the door.
Panicked the man raised the weapon to shoulder height, and screamed in his broken English, “Water!”
Holding out his hand, offering the bottle to the man, who then grabbed it violently, Eric looked into the kitchen, towards his dwindling water supply, which had now effectively doubled with the death of his companion. Twenty years ago he had gone on a health kick and redone his kitchen to match his new lifestyle. He had changed the paint, and the appliances. He gave up on exercise four or five months later, but the kitchen stayed. He had bought an enormous stainless steel fridge to keep fruits in so he could eat one after a workout. The fridge was stainless steel because he liked the aesthetics and the idea. He liked being part of the modern world, and looking forward to the future. Those had been his emotions when he saw his fridge. Now it was empty. Now there was now future to enjoy with his fridge, and now even the modern world was gone.
Naked, on his knees, he gestured towards where he kept the water. This man was good looking, unnaturally so. His perfect face, symmetrical, became more beautiful by the second as, bewildered, Eric watched him back up slowly, but with a hurried nature. His good looks were a blatant insult to the destroyed beauty on the bed. Eric wanted to scream, to kill him, but didn’t. Instead he watched, thinking that it would all be over soon, that he would be joining Katherine very soon. The gunman pulled open the cupboard and crammed as many of the bottles as he could into his pants, shirt, and pockets. There were footsteps on the stairs down the hall. The gunman ran from the room, into the hallway, and heading towards the stairs on the opposite side of the building.
Moments past. An eternity. A fraction of a second. With the mangled corpse of his dream girl next to him, time was virtually irrelevant. Eric wanted to bury his head in her breasts and cry. He didn’t save her, he didn’t keep her safe. Her wedding gift to him, a framed picture of them, her inscription reading “Always and All Ways.”
Two men passed the door, one doubled back.
“Eric?” It was one of the farm hands. Likely one of the few people living or dead left in the town. Most had left early on when they still could. The man was silent, looking at Katherine’s remains.
Several gunshots follow in the street below. Eric woke up from his stupor. He went to the window to watch Katherine’s killer run off into the emptiness outside of the small village. His pursuer stopped and spoke towards the window.
“He won’t last long out there.” He said it with a quiet certainty, “Won’t last long anywhere I reckon.”
Eric shook his head. This was Cow Country, or it used to be.
Here’s a short story I did for an Independent Study class. It’s about a young girl’s disillusionment with her father. For this one, I really tried to write in a hugely different style than I usually do. You guys might know that I tend to write with a very cynical, pulpy tone. This is far from that. The end of this story is a little rushed, but I was starting the book when I started this, and eventually wanted to get the hell done with it. Enjoy! Remember to comment!
The moon, out passed the mist above the city, passed the bell tower, whose deep clang subsided into a quiet rumble, past the Bargello and its jutting endless battlements, from whence no one who ever entered ever left. The moon, out past the endless red tile roofs and dirty awnings, which still appeared clean when sun hit them in the afternoon. The moon through the open window and over her bare shoulder, pale. The floor, the big velvet chair, and the bronze of a naked man holding an apple by the door, all illuminated in a dim blue hue, as if waiting, waiting. When the wind would blow, it would send the thin decorative curtains sprawling into the room before settling comfortably, slowly, hugging the frame of the window gently, tickling her playfully. She never turned to look into the room. Why would she? Why, when what lay in the room was so incomparable to what lay out… there, in the world.
The city was usually silent, and although she may have heard a scream from the Bargello, she couldn’t be sure it wasn’t simply a minstrel singing. Otherwise, on those nights, when the lights went in the windows flickered and slept, there was nothing.
Flora was fifteen years old on most of those nights. Maybe last week she was a child, or an old woman. It didn’t matter to her because the silence was all the same, no matter which way she sat, or lay, or crouched.
Her father had told her not to stay by the open window.
He had locked the door, hoping she might find another nighttime hobby. Preferably sleep, although he wasn’t picky. She could do anything she wanted in the house, as long as she avoided promiscuity or, heaven forbid, think about what lay outside the walls of her father’s small castle. After she brushed too quickly past a porcelain vase one night on her way to bed, one of her father’s men walked, his face shrink-wrapped in sleep, to see what it was that had fallen. Flora had been wearing nothing. Her father had barged in, waddling and chaffing through his own thighs, tight red pants, lined with gold stripes. His belt did everything it could to stay up. When he would take it off at night, or when he had a woman in his room, Flora could hear the strip of leather through the door breath a sigh of relief.
But there he stood, with his inebriated, bleary-eyed companion, who was two hours away from a hangover, looking down at her childish body, as she bent to pick up the shards of the vase. He pushed his friend from the room and told her never to be seen in such a manner in his house again. One night when he wasn’t watching, she would go into the room naked and let the wind run over her body like water.
Those were days before her father began to worry. She didn’t know what to think at first. His behavior was brutish, uncharacteristic of a man like himself, but she didn’t know if she knew her father well enough to ask. It was not her place, and certainly should not have been her concern. There was a term that would never cease to confuse her. Her “place”…
One night she awoke, under her sheets, peering through the thinness threads at the outline of the tall bed post with the ball at the top and the curtain draping around her forming a cocoon. At first she wondered if the music from the bell tower had awoken her, but she heard her father’s voice by the door, whispering, “It’s going to be alright,” or something to that effect. It came as a shock to her that anyone would actually say something so generic, but after a moment the purity of his words hit her. He had fallen far.
She couldn’t close her eyes until he had left, but she continued to face away from him, so he couldn’t see the tears welling in her eyes. Even after his heavy steps, like shoes filled with water, had shuffled down the hall across the wooden floor, she couldn’t sleep. The sun fought its way around the world and back to her. A ray of light hit her drooping eyes and suddenly she knew she could spring out of bed and do as she pleased. It was morning. She fell unconscious, and was dead to the world for some time.
* * *
Lambent light danced across her face and licked her nose. A candle by the foot of her bed teased at the hanging fabric surrounding her, but did not touch. The room was dark, although beams of angry white light fought at the curtains by her window, climbing around and squeezing under by the floor. She sat, gazing bleary-eyed at the candle, entranced. There seemed to be a lacuna somewhere within her that she could not place, or name, or describe. It was all together rather irritating, and she might have tried to ignore were it not for the enchanting small blue flame by the wick of the candle that twitched and shuttered whenever she moved, or when there was a breeze. It was distracting.
Voices from down the hall interrupted her, hushed, as a whisper might slip between lips. For her, these sounds were those of someone screaming from a distance incredibly grand. Perhaps this was because she was sensitive to what she was not meant to hear, or because she could understand the desperation in her father’s voice. He spoke quickly and stuttered often, barking occasionally while someone offered consent or apology. She heard his signature waddle, his perambulation across the echoing floor, echoing indefinitely, ringing just slightly in her ears. Normally he was a quiet man, but his actions the previous night, and his rapid change to this forceful brute countervailed Flora’s opinion of him. She feared that he might be losing his mind.
She reached for the floor with her foot and tipped off the edge, landing with all the grace of a frog. She stepped to the window. The curtain was opened and light flooded the room as the metal rings supporting the curtain slid across the ornate wooden bar above the window. She turned. Wooden bed, wooden wardrobe, wooden chairs. If everything were removed, she would still have the wooden floor and her wooden door. If they took both of those things, then she might actually be rid of the mess of a legacy her father had created.
This was the reason for the conversation at the other end of the house. She knew this. She knew this because it was the only thing her father spoke of anymore, although never with her. She had become a ghost to him, only appearing briefly for meals, and passing the closed door of his office in between brief stints as a podiatrist in a back room of the house that held a black bag with some drugs in it. She never opened the bag, but holding it made her feel important, a feeling her father had never given her. She told her wooden doll that it had very stiff feet, and should try stretching. She hoped her father would not find her playing with the doll. He believed that she had outgrown it years ago.
She hovered by the closed door. Her father was too distrait to work. He sank into a chair, the legs creaking under his weight, but then he stood again and paced. Another man in the room grunted. Someone else agreed. Footsteps towards the door. This had happened before. There she would be, sometimes grinning sheepishly, sometimes stoic. She had learned to slip behind the door as it opened, but she didn’t often succeed, and the punishment was always severe. A hand on the knob.
Creaking, it opened in front of her as she slid lightly to the side. A tall man in a sweeping Grey robe stepped out, his crooked nose bending to the left. He saw her. For sure, he had seen her as he walked out, but he closed the door immediately behind him, walking away towards the entrance. There was no small smile on her face, no feeling of relief, and she couldn’t tell why. He had let her go, and she didn’t even know him. The speaking continued in rushed voices from behind the door. There was something dire about the anxiety in her father’s tone. It seemed like she had stood there for near an hour when her father finally made it clear what he was up to. Michele di Lando was a wool carder gone government official. These things meant little to her, but when he spoke of death; she understood that he meant to have that man killed.
It took her some time to realize how far her father had fallen. She watched the door, expecting movement, hesitated, and then darted away.
In the hall by one of her father’s bronze statues, on the windowsill of a large window deeply embedded in a wall dressed entirely in dark wood, she sat, or crouched on the balls of her feet, tearing as she thought of her father’s willingness to conspire to murder. There wasn’t much she could do, and certainly nothing she could say. She rocked slightly; almost hoping her father’s men would kill her instead so that he might learn a lesson. Naturally that was too much to hope for.
Flora’s insignificant salty drops of anger were wasted on the floor, which didn’t seem to care one way or another. She was almost asleep when the tears stopped. Noon came, and she rubbed her eyes, trying to see the light from the window clearly. There had to be somewhere void of, well, her father. He always filled his own shoes and everyone else’s, always wanted to be in control. Unfortunately, he thought that control was just ordering others around. If there was someone he couldn’t touch, it was going to be Flora. She pushed open the window, almost screaming with the effort of lifting the wood and glass from its three-year lock brought on by lack of use. Finally the dust and grime cracked apart and the window lifted smoothly. A gust of wind. There was a roof just out the window, covered in red shingles, like nothing else, and yet like every other roof she had ever known, this was her home. She crawled out, looked at the flowerpots hanging from the balcony just below her. No one ever stood out on these balconies unless someone was yelling for help in the streets below. Then all they would do is shout encouragement. A girl is raped in the middle of the night, and seemingly good people threaten the attacker, but no one does anything.
Still, somehow, it hit farther from home than hearing her father say that he wanted someone dead. She hopped down onto the balcony and climbed down the thick tiles on the side of the building. Twenty feet, maybe less. Her feet cup the cobbles stones and a shiver goes through her body, an incredibly long barefooted walk before her.
No one said anything to her as she began. Amongst the crowd she was just another dirty-footed child. She turned after about a quarter kilometer to look at the window she had clambered from. No one yet. The street in front of her was littered with the members of the human race, and the farther she walked, the more she felt at home.