Displaying items by tag: fiction
“And he said unto Jether his firstborn, Up, and slay them. But the youth drew not his sword: for he feared, because he was yet a youth.”
Absalom Seaver stood between his sister Susannah and his brother Lemuel while, on either side of them, the little ones leaned against the burnished pine of the next pew, weary of the service. The church hummed with the voices of Seavers, Glasses, and Gustafssons intoning a funeral hymn. Overhead, great beams, like the ribs of a whale that had swallowed them all, seemed to shudder with the grief that clogged the room.
The final verse ended like a boulder coming to rest at the bottom of a ravine. At once, the minister, a dithering husk of a Glass and a cousin of the departed, began the prayer. Absalom listened for as long as he could stand it as Rev. Glass rasped his way from the churning of the Jordan to the light of heaven. Hadn’t he heard this very prayer before? It had been hardly three months since the last funeral. He glanced at Susannah, who stood with eyelids devoutly lowered. She had been crying a little, but he knew it was more from the fear and the horror than from grief. They hadn’t known Charlie Glass, particularly. He’d been one of those men Absalom had always tried to steer clear of. It was pretty certain he’d had a hand in the barn burning the week before.
Out in the churchyard, the families milled about among the gravestones, a number of which were barely weathered. Absalom waited with Lemuel and Susannah, who was trying to keep the little ones quiet. He could hear angry muttering coming from the knot of farmers gathered near a sprawling oak. Their voices rose as their curses went from coarse to foul.
“Oh, please, this is hallowed ground,” said the minister, flitting up to his restive congregants. “Remember, ‘A wholesome tongue is a tree of life: but perverseness therein—’”
Jane, heiress of Moorcroft Grange, climbed the ancient beech tree in the overgrown hedge in an attempt to rescue Harriet, the stable-boy’s cat. She crawled along the branch on which Harriet was balancing. It snapped. The cat yowled, leaped out of the tree and fled back to the stables. Jane and the branch crashed into the hedge.
She pulled herself to her feet and looked around. The estate gardens had become an uncultivated meadow. Wild flowers: buttercup, cowslip and yarrow invaded the long grass with bursts of colour. The grange itself was a burned-out ruin standing stark as bare bones against the red and gold sunset.
A white mare trotted towards her and nuzzled her neck. She heard no words, but the horse thrust a thought into her mind “Who are you? Where do you come from?”
“My name’s Jane,” she said, “How can I hear your thoughts?”
“Why shouldn’t you hear them? What’s a Jane? I don’t know that sound.”
She must be hallucinating, of course. Maybe she hit her head when she fell, knocked herself out and was imagining this. Whatever. Go with the flow. “It means precious gift.” She said, remembering her mother telling her the meaning of her name ten years ago, on her seventh birthday, a few days before running off with an astrophysicist and out of her life forever. Obviously she wasn’t precious enough.
The mare responded, “Bit of a mouthful. I’ll call you Gift. My name is Little Girl. Not very appropriate, I know, but it’s what Horse-Master called me when I was a foal.”
“Aaaaand …. begin!” the SAT proctor says, and settles in for a two-hour nap.
Five minutes later, Gyro stirs the proctor awake and hands her his test. “You’re done already, Einstein?” she says.
“Woulda been done sooner, Ma’am, but this archaic pencil-based technology –- filling circles and all – slows me down.”
“Back to your seat, smart alec,” the proctor mutters. “You can’t leave now.”
Gyro returns to his desk, the one in front of Spike, the 300-pound captain of the football team. Only a freshman, Gyro showed up for the October SAT session anyway for a few minutes of mental calisthenics, and now he’s stuck here. To pass time, he fills the circles on Spike’s test too, which turns out to be a good bargain all around: the proctor gets her nap, Spike gets his answers, and Gyro gets to keep his left arm screwed in its socket.
When the SAT session mercifully ends, Gyro passes beneath the drowsy proctor’s icy glare. He heads across the hall to Tech Prep’s banquet room, filled with round tables for this fall’s parent’s weekend luncheon. Every year, the headmaster loosens up the parents with a playful wager: he’ll send the entire student body on a Bermuda junket if the school’s brightest freshman can solve a near-impossible math problem. He’s never paid up, but this year Gyro has the student body abuzz.
There’s a different world inside the ocean. She can hear bits and pieces of it, walking along the shore. The rocky sand bites at her bare feet. She can taste the salt on the wind. She holds her sandals in her hand, letting the cold water wash over her feet. The shock of the cold shivers up through her nerves until she can feel it in her fingertips. She shouldn’t be here, she knows that. Girls disappear from this beach, or so she’s heard, but girls disappear all the time. She’s no one special.
She should be going back. Her walks don’t usually take this long, and they might notice she’s missing. That’s not what on her mind, though. She’s here for a reason, and she won’t leave until she sees it.
The high tide pulses against the sand. She gets down on her knees, ignoring the discomfort and pain. Her palm closes around a sharp rock, and she brings it to her leg. She winces, like always, but the waters sweep the blood and pain away. She wants to see it happen again. If it happens again, she isn’t dreaming.
The froth near her turns crimson, darker than her blood. It stains the sand as the waters retreat, faster than a changing tide should be. Then the sand glows. She bathes in the blue-green glow, watching the ocean until her cut stops bleeding. When the light fades, she’s just another girl.
She stands up quickly. She’s never seen anyone else make it glow. It’s her bloody beach, a strange secret she keeps, but she’s not sure why.
She slips on her sandals and hopes the sand disappears. They’ll have started looking for her by now. All they’ll find is her empty bed. She can’t have that.
Already stressed over the test she was about to take, it didn’t help when the teacher came over and handed her a slip: P. Thomas, Office, asap. She read it and didn’t know if she was relieved or annoyed, but decided annoyed. Yet, all she said was, “I’ll be right back.”
Pammy grabbed her purse and headed toward the office, hoping it was nothing. She knew juniors and seniors were called to the office all the time so it didn’t seem like a big deal, just really bad timing. She thought maybe it was to pick up prom tickets – as everyone had to sign a no drug/alcohol on premises pledge.
However, when she got to the office, the secretary who was on the phone motioned her toward the principal’s office. Pammy thought, “This isn’t good.”
She gave the door a soft tap, then slowly opened it, but as soon as Dr. Winston saw her, he smiled and said, “Pammy, come in, come in. Thanks for coming down so quickly.”
John Winston was a big guy, but he got out of his chair easily and headed in Pammy’s direction while his words were tumbling out apologetically. “I know this is short notice, but I just learned about this myself. We have a rep from the Sherman County education department who’d like to talk to some of our stronger students.”
“Party at my house on Saturday.” Olivia leaned forward eagerly, looking Adam up and down. I rolled my eyes behind her back; her attempts at flirting with him were the opposite of subtle. “You’ll be there, won’t you?”
Adam’s eyes lit up. “You know I will.”
“Great. 8pm. Bring some booze.” She winked at him.
“Lauren can come too, right?”
“I’m fine, don’t worry about it,” I said immediately.
“Don’t be silly.” He frowned at me. “You’re with me now, you get to come to parties! Right, Liv?”
“Uh, yeah. Sure,” Olivia said, sounding anything but sure. She raised her eyebrows at her friends, and I saw one of them try to suppress a smile.
Adam either hadn’t noticed, or just pretended not to. “See? We’ll be there.” He put his arm around me, and I tried not to squirm.
Jezenel Wilson pulled a hair tie from the chest pocket of her loose-fitting mining suit and gathered up the delicate strands of her long, red hair. Her pale, freckled face broke into a smile as she angled the spaceship toward the rough cave mouth that marked the entrance to her Grandfather's asteroid mine.
She landed the little ship and got dressed to go outside. After a quick whoosh of air, she exited the airlock and hopped to the asteroid's craggy surface.
Inside the cave, there was a circular port door that marked the entrance to what Grandpa called his hobbit hole. She had asked him when she was little what a hobbit was and he had told her it was from a book he had read as a boy.
"Lost my copy of that book way back in 2185, when I had that mine fire that nearly killed me," he had said. "Let me find another print copy and you can read it just like I did when I was a boy back on Earth."
He never had given her that book.
"Grandpa, I'm home," she called once she was inside. She eyed the dark path leading into the heart of the asteroid before turning toward their living quarters. The mine down there was deep and curvy and still full of ore, even after nearly forty years of extraction.
"Grandpa?" she called.
He wasn't in his room and his bed was made. A red light blinked on the com. She picked it up and punched in the message code, fearing the worst.
Drifting back home, moving absently through the burbling chatter and snapping flip flops that flow along the promenade, Daisy hovers at their patio, the scene of last night’s barbeque. She and Dad had celebrated with swordfish kabobs after her first terrifying lesson in his beloved Millennium Falcon. Milly, for short, the ’66 Mustang Dad had fabricated from 6 cylinders to a hybrid, was her father’s baby. Graduating from the Toyota she drove in driver’s ed, to ever gaining the confidence to fly solo in his legendary machine was a fantasy.
To mark the occasion, Dad offered Daisy, her first sanctioned beer. “You’re learning to drive; you should learn to drink beer and then conclude why you should never do both at the same time.”
“Way to message, Dad.” Daisy smiled, grabbed the beer and toasted him.
The hibachi, TV trays and beach chairs arranged exactly as they left them. Now a still life, for a party of ghosts.
Someone tugs her inside to settle on the vinyl couch. Inert, she is submerged by a running stream of neighbors, friends, pies, and casseroles that pool in the kitchen. She has no sensation when they hug her, her eyes unprepared to meet theirs, she can only hear their murmurings: “He was so young. Who will look after Daisy? An aunt, she’s coming. She’s in shock. Sixteen, or on the cusp.”
Yesterday, the surf was blown out so she and Dad messed around with a vintage longboard he picked up for $10, bright orange and ridiculous. Daisy pranced up and down all eleven feet of it while riding the sloppy foam. Naming the board Sidewalk, they laughed hysterically, capturing the attention of three teenage boys. Embarrassed, Daisy dove into the next small wavelet, bashfully hiding in her mother’s skirts. Dad assured her, once she came up for air, “Those guys just saw an amazing girl who didn’t care what they thought. That’s killer, Daze. U-B-U.”
My legs dangle over the edge.
One hundred feet above the ground, the cars resemble Matchbox toys, the streets illuminated carpets. Up here, problems should look smaller. They don’t.
I’ve lost one sneaker. Hopefully, it didn’t hit some poor bastard on the head—I don’t plan on hurting anyone, except myself. I wiggle my toes and notice I’m wearing mismatched socks. One green, one black. One foot’s happy, the other sad.
“You made it this far,” the monster says, perched next to me. Blistered leathery skin, hairless. It looks pinched with its hollowed eyes and sunken cheeks. I haven’t fed it since my last hospital stay.
“Don’t you wanna jump?” Crimson irises gleam.
Right. That’s why I climbed ten flights of stairs to the abandoned floor, ignoring the Keep Out signs. I pick a piece of lint off my AC/DC T-shirt and snort at the absurdity of this gesture. In a few minutes, Angus Young and the boys will be soaked in blood anyway.
So will the pavement.
A slimy lump gets stuck in my throat.
“You’re not having second thoughts, are you?” Its tone is ninety percent accusation, ten percent disappointment.
Arrith pulled her gaze away from the walls and focused on where the doctor was gesturing for her to sit. The chair was a sleek mixture of white cushions and steel rods and looked like it might recline. She sat down carefully, ready to lean forward and catch herself if the seat suddenly rocked backwards. It didn’t, which probably meant it was controlled electronically and wouldn’t move until the doctor typed in a command.
Arrith scooted back until she could feel the top cushion pressing snugly against her shoulder blades. She’d briefly considered perching on the edge of the chair, but had decided that such a position might look suspicious. It wasn’t as if she’d be making a mad dash out of a doctor’s office, no matter how much she might wish to.
The doctor’s dark blonde hair pulled back into a no-nonsense bun. She sat down across from Arrith and offered a smile that was too large and too bright to be genuine.
“Hello there, Arrith. Thank you so much for coming in today.”
Arrith nodded, knowing it was the polite thing to do. She wondered why grown-ups said things like that…as if she’d had any say over whether or not she came to this appointment. She hadn’t even known about it until last night, when her mother had stuck her head into Arrith’s room and casually mentioned it.
She had, of course, first frowned at seeing the book in Arrith’s hands.
“Is that for a school assignment?” she’d asked.