Displaying items by tag: fiction
Orange smoke swirled, thinned and finally revealed a hideous face, fanged and horned. “May I be of service, Mistress?”
Gerutha - Queen of Nordheim’s witches - smiled. “You're solicitous for a demon, especially Loki’s demon.”
“I must serve as my master directs. I may as well keep things pleasant.” The demon Gron bowed.
“Until I step on a magical line or leave a syllable out of an incantation?” Gerutha raised a long, scruffy sarcastic eyebrow at her slave for hire.
Gron raised his head. His gray lips twisted and he offered a fang-packed grin. “That goes without saying, Mistress.”
“I acquired this child a few hours ago.” She patted silken hair on a delicate seven-year-old head.
Gron sucked his right canine. “There were times, Mistress, when you'd eat babies for breakfast.”
Gerutha shook her head. “Never breakfast, Gron, only luncheon.”
“Still, you'd not hesitate to cook them up.”
“Ah, boiled baby, what a treat!”
“So is this one for the pot?”
The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not “get over” the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal, and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again, but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same, nor would you want to.
~Elizabeth Kübler-Ross and David Kessler, “On Grief and Grieving”
Part 1 – Denial and Dollhouses
Wren. She fit her name perfectly. Small. Shy. Quiet. Quick-witted. Mousy-brown hair and sharp, dark eyes completed her almost anthropomorphic quality – as though she were an animal trapped in a human body and perpetually perplexed by her state of affairs. She melted into the background if you weren’t looking for her. She was my best friend.
It’s still hard for me to talk about what happened. I’m still not sure I really understand anything about the events of last year. I still have trouble believing it. I keep expecting her to walk through my bedroom door, smile in her shy but confident way, and ask me if I want to go for a run. I thought I was the only one who really knew Wren. Maybe not. But this isn’t about me. It’s about her. And I think people need to know who she was.
Wren was well-liked by most people, though hard to get to know and slow to let people in. Generally, people admired her brilliance. Or were jealous of it. She didn’t have movie star good looks, but she had her own quiet charm. And she was always happy when she ran.
She was an amazing runner – star of the school’s cross country and track team and never-ending source of pride for Mr. and Mrs. Rabast, the husband and wife dynamic duo who had coached our school team from nothing to provincial champions three years in a row. Wren was their biggest success and they talked about her incessantly, in and out of training.
Thor falls off the coffee table and rolls under the couch. I scootch down, dig the fragile piece out of the dust bunnies and popcorn, and set him carefully on the coffee table.
Dana moves her Valkyrie a few spaces toward my Odin. “You are so screwed, Rocky,” she gloats.
Even though I’ve been out of chess competition for a year, my big sister is still the only one who can beat me. Dad tried grooming her for grandmastership a few years ago. But Dana has other plans. She’s going to be one of those scientists that combine two scarily difficult things, like astrophysicist or neurobiologist. She doesn’t have time for endless rounds of chess practice, club meetings, and tournaments.
I was Dad’s consolation prize. I’m not as straight-out talented as Dana, but I love the game, and I don’t care if that makes me a geek. When my brain lights up with a series of moves it’s like tiny alternate universes playing out inside my head. The world just makes more sense when I’m playing chess or even thinking about it.
At least, it did until about a year ago.
Dad’s truck rumbles up the driveway just as Dana puts me in check. But the reprieve is not entirely welcome. The Norse Gods set is one of the fancy ones Dad gives me every birthday and Christmas. “These are not to play with,” he always cautions me. “These are collectors’ items.” I try to appreciate his gifts, but I can’t help wishing I’d get Celtics tickets or a new gaming console instead. So sometimes I play with them anyway.
The evening sun glinted off Johnny’s coppered skin and the flask in his hand. His effortless cool poured from him in the way he held his cigarette and the way he drank from the flask.
He had tucked his shirt into his back pocket the way I’d asked him to, and his dark hair was styled so he looked like Marlon Brando, although much younger. He sat on the fence flawlessly: legs apart and feet hooked under the second cross bar. He stared eastward over his shoulder through his dark Ray Bans.
I loved that he needed so little direction to capture a mood.
I lined up the shot in my Vito B and clicked off three successive shots.
“Great! Keep doing what you’re doing!” I called to Johnny. “Your turn, Dean!”
Right on cue, Dean biked over from his waiting spot. I followed him with the lens, clicking off three more pictures. When he reached Johnny, he took the flask from him. Click. Then the cigarette, resting it casually between his lips. Click. Then he pulled back for the punch. Click. When he made contact, Johnny’s nose broke. I heard it over the click of my camera. The blood sprayed up into the air in a perfect arc. It would make for a glorious picture. My project was to show how hyper-masculinity was destroying manhood as part of my submissions portfolio for the fall.
The small cottage swallowed in weeds and vines might as well be a hole in the brambles rather than a home. The thistle-covered trail in front of me led out into the thick forest away from my hovel. If I attempted to run on the path to free myself, my bare feet would bleed and suffer for days. I had to consider possible infection, and the time spent in the forest until I reached the nearest village.
Staring at the road, I sighed. A magic carpet would be useful. Or anything with wings to fly me right out of here.
Mama called from the threshold, a dark glare stitched on her face, her long hair always kept better than mine. “Grace, get in here, now.”
My heart sank. Something in her shrill tone told me she was up to something, and when I glanced at a mysterious object clutched in her hand, I shrank. Before I could enter the house, she placed her hand on my shoulder and gripped it. “What is this?” The half sewn sock I’d tried to make from Mama’s stolen red-checkered scarf, dangled from her hand.
My stomach lurched. I couldn’t very well tell her it was part of a plan to hike that rough road out of here.
“Nothing, Mama,” I answered, trying to soften my voice and hide any deceit. “Is just a skirt I’m making for Bunny.”
She raised her hand and slapped me across my face. “Liar! No shoes or socks allowed! You little witch.” She squeezed the fabric. “It’s ruined!”
Another slap across my cheek and I crashed on my hands and knees, getting a good view of her perfectly shined flats covering thick socks. She once tied me to the barn for taking those shoes for two days.
They say lightning struck at the exact moment I was born and caused the power to go out, as if mother earth herself had bore the brunt of the pain of childbirth. I was too young to remember it, obviously, but it’s something that has always stuck with me after I overheard my mother tell it to her friends one night.
No, my earliest memory comes from a different kind of thundering crash when I was four years old. I was playing with my favorite doll when the sound came from the hallway. By the time I crept over to investigate, my mother was on her knees holding the shattered pieces of her beloved antique vase.
“I don’t know what happened,” said my older brother, Francis. “It just fell over.” But I could see clearly in his mind that he knocked it over on purpose and was proud of his achievement. Even at the age of six, he was already inflicting his little vendettas in order to get attention.
“It’s okay, honey,” said Mom. “Careful you don’t cut yourself.”
Her actual words weren’t nearly as pronounced as the voices in her head cursing him as a stupid, spoiled little brat.
“But you pushed it over,” I said.
Francis opened his mouth to contradict me, but my mother spoke first.
“You shouldn’t blame people without any evidence, Amelia,” she said.
My brother glared at me while Mom cleaned up the mess. It didn’t take a mind reader to see that he hated me for ratting him out.
His grandmother’s huge old roll-top desk had lots of little drawers, different sizes with odd things in them, like shells and pebbles and foreign coins and paper money. Granma had said the desk was over a hundred years old. For a moment Billy Carson looked at its scarred surface and thought about where it had come from and who had sat there before Granma. But only for a moment. Mostly he wondered about money. He didn't think he could use the foreign money. It was probably no good in Kentucky. Some of the shells fell on the floor and were crushed under his feet. One little drawer had dozens of business cards. He tossed those aside and they, too, fell to the floor. When he pulled the drawers out and laid them on the desk top, he noticed that one drawer wasn’t as long as the others.
He leaned forward over the desk and stuck his hand in the spaces where the drawers had been, searching each one. One was also shorter than the others and he could feel an open place behind the drawer stop. He felt wood back there, a shelf. His fingers brushed something crinkly. He'd always been the shortest guy in his class. He could barely reach this. Carefully he pinched it between the tips of two fingers and pulled. It moved slightly, but his fingers slipped off. He repositioned and pulled again. After five tries, and continuous swearing, a rolled up wad fell out of the desk. Money! Twenty dollar bills. Billy’s heart raced as he counted them. Nearly three hundred! Jackpot! He’d been searching for more than an hour. He knew she had to have a stash somewhere. All old people did. At least that's what his buddy, Toofer, said. Toofer always had a lot of money. He had told Billy that he took it from the old people in his big family. Lots of people lived in Toofer's house.
Jericho told her to meet him at midnight, at the abandoned barn near the turnoff for their holler. Nobody remembered who originally owned the barn, but it didn’t matter now. Who would want to claim a pile of leaning planks of wood that gravity was about to pull all the way down to the grass? She climbed over the stack of 2x4’s that used to be a door. She’d brought a flashlight, but it was cheap. She could only see a few feet in front of her. A quarter moon shone through the gaping roof, illuminating the packed dirt floor. A few rust-eaten farming tools hung on the wall. Naomi wondered if they’d disintegrate if she touched them.
“Where the heck are you, Jericho?” she muttered, hugging her arms in front of her to brace against the chill of the night air. She never liked the dark, and now the blackness was especially terrifying since she could never predict what she’d see when she closed her eyes.
“Whoo, whoo!” Jericho yelled as he stumbled into the barn, arms stuffed with candles and chalk. “You scared, little girl?” He dumped his goods onto the floor in the middle of the barn where they landed with a thud.
“What is all this?” Naomi asked, picking through the candles. She smelled a pink one. “Is this one strawberry scented?”
Jericho plucked the candle from her hands. “Book didn’t say nothing about whether or not you could use the smelly ones. These were all Mama had. Raided the bathroom stash.” He began to create a circle with the candles, stepping back occasionally to admire his work.
“You read a book? Dear lord, this is serious,” Naomi joked but still, she was curious. She was normally the one who could be found poking around their barebones school library in between periods. Jericho never really took anything seriously, least of all, school.
She was mortified. It was hideous and unfair what her parents were doing to her.
An outcast she would be.
Was it her fault that she had dropped her cell phone? Well, maybe since she tried picking it up just after applying lotion to her hands. But the phone had struck the tile on its edge, cracking the face so badly that the device was useless.
Staring at the phone all Sara could see were thousands of spidery webbed cracks across the screen. It was useless - just useless.
Why wouldn’t they just buy her a new phone? Her parents were mean, that’s why. Just mean and stingy.
Of course, this was her third phone in less than eight months. Was it her fault the tile floor in their house was so hard?
Every time she dropped a phone it broke. Stupid floor!
Now, her parents had refused a fourth phone. How cruel could they be?
“What are binomial coefficients?” Mr. Soren does not pause for a reply. “The answer is the binomial theorem. It demonstrates how-”
Mr. Soren talks on, but my brain cannot process what he says. I stare at my open Pre-Calculus textbook, desperately trying to absorb all I can about this day’s lesson. He moves on to Pascal’s Triangle while I am still lost. I glance around. My classmates haven’t followed what he’s taught, either.
So goes every class. Mr. Soren stands at the blackboard, lectures for twenty minutes, then sits at his desk to read a newspaper, leaving us as confused by the end of class as we were in the beginning. We essentially learned to teach ourselves. Not an easy task with advanced math, especially when the teacher refuses to answer questions or guide his students in any way.
After Mr. Soren sets down his chalk, a classmate of mine timidly raises her hand. Annoyed, our instructor stops halfway to his chair. His eyes bore into hers. “What?”
She lowers her arm, clearly trembling. “I don’t get it.”