Displaying items by tag: short story
I spent last period roaming the halls, killing time until visiting hours. I’ve noticed that if you walk with a purpose, like you have somewhere important to be, no one ever stops you or asks for a hall pass. Chemistry was enough torture for one day, with Ms. Beck squawking at me every five minutes. “Mackenzie, are you listening? Mackenzie, you’re not paying attention. Mackenzie?” I just wanted to put my fingers in my ears and scream. And if I had to do another class today, I think I probably would have done just that. I can tell when I’m about to lose it. So, I was doing us all a favor and skipping Economics.
I timed it pretty well. When the bell rang, I was at the front steps of the high school, the first one to the parking lot. I had buckled myself into Dad’s old Honda Civic before the masses even left their classrooms.
As I drove, I flipped through the radio stations, never resting on one for more than a minute or two. I really can’t stand the crap on the radio, but I need the noise to fill up the car.
From the forest, Rayme heard Mother’s scream, a high-pitched squeal known to scatter flocks of birds. The sound jerked Rayme’s head up, slamming her heart to a halt. She dropped her secret project--a lost cause now that Mother had returned. She climbed down the wooden rectangles tacked to the tree housing her fort. Along the forest trail, she ran tripping and panting.
Where the trail opened into her family’s lawn, a man’s body sprawled out, his legs scissoring across the grass like he was in mid-sprint on his side. Rayme stopped short when she saw a deep gash at the man’s temple.
If she had not lost her tongue, the croak from her throat would have been a cry. Rayme slapped her hand against her mouth, sidestepping the body. The whites of his eyes stared her down. Blood splatter stained his blue tunic. One of his arms bent back, torn from the shoulder socket. A black and blue mark covered his wrist.
In the grass, Mother knelt in front of the body, covering her mouth with both hands. Her straw-colored hair was pulled back with a braid wrapped around as a headband crowning her reddening, terrified face. A tear rolled off her cheek.
“Get down here now, Ben!” she screamed from the kitchen. Her screechy voice was chalk on cement: bumpy, jagged and unsure of its direction. My name wasn’t even Ben, that’s how messed up she was.
“Heard you the first six times!” My answer banged along the walls to where she sat and held off her demands for long enough that I could get into the smoke filled kitchen. It smelled like menthol.
Clothed in a faded pink bathrobe, she sat limply on a bar stool and leaned heavily against the countertop island in the center of the kitchen. She took another long drag of her cigarette. “Can I help you, your royal hagness?” I quipped.
“Don’t you dare talk to me like that, Ben. I will slap that petty little smirk off your face so hard you won’t even remember how to talk back,” she croaked and then let out a gargled cough.
I see a hawk circling overhead and I pause for a moment, entranced. It glides on the high, unseen currents, dipping to one side and then to the other. I haven’t seen a hawk on one of these trips before. They prefer live prey. Behind me and across the field, where my path meets the trees, a couple of large crows are picking apart a dead squirrel. My dead squirrel.
I can hear the earth groaning beneath me.
It started when I was 12 and taking confirmation classes at St. Mark’s. I left church each week confused by the lesson on the Ten Commandments. What was adultery, or covetousness? Who wanted his neighbor’s ass? I certainly didn’t.
Before I steal his flesh, I weave my dark hair into a neat braid and tie it with my favourite yellow ribbon. Then I study the monster in the cracked mirror: her brain-stuffed skull, swivelling eyeballs with chocolate brown irises and bone white skeleton. As she breathes, her ribcage lifts and falls, her papery lungs expanding and deflating. The yellow-white fatty streaks glisten on her beating heart, and her pale intestines shift and twitch.
“This time tomorrow,” I tell her. “You won’t be vital organs encased in death. You’ll be alive again, a proper sixteen year old, not a skeleton freak. No more spells. No more stealing from fresh corpses. You can step through the black gates and leave here forever.”
Spirits soaring, I pick up the heavy spell book and place it back beside the silver dagger in Nana Bee’s empty sarcophagus. But then I picture the boy’s ashen face, half peeled, blood-soaked, and guilt lodges like a sharp bone in my throat. I cough it away, then slide my metatarsals into battered trainers, grab the jagged rock from beside the waxy candlestick and creak open the mausoleum door. I step out into the sun-streaked morning and follow the narrow dirt path.
I bend to trace the swirly writing on the boy’s parents’ gravestones.
“Rebecca and Stephen Harrison,” I whisper. “Gone but not forgotten.”
Will they bury his fleshless bones here? What will they carve on his headstone?
Silence settles, dense as an ocean, over the mossy graves. I grip the rock and glance at the spot where the boy sits every weekend, reading or texting or listening to music, his navy rucksack spilling bread and cheese, or crackers and Marmite, a carton of apple juice, chocolate, crisps. Maybe peeling him alive would be easier if he wasn’t weird, like me. If he didn’t bring that skull with him. If he didn’t always talk to it.
I wander over to the giant sycamore tree and park my sitting bones on the long grass. Then I lie back, longing for the tickle of the blades on my skin and the gentle breeze kissing my cheeks. I rest the rock on my breastbone, and the boy’s image ripples, wraith-like, above me. His blonde hair shimmers, his flesh melting away, his eyeballs popping out, and blood streaming off his bones and rotting innards. I gulp and sit up. I draw a smiley face with a twig. I chew on the tips of my hand phalanges.
"You'll find him under the school," Erin says. "If you dare to look."
"Who?" I ask, with my heart half in it.
"The prince," she whispers. My pale sister, blue eyes glittering, red lips so alive. She buzzes as if she has bee wings on her back. She's sweet and shivering, perched on her tiptoes all the time, like she's just about to zip off and make honey.
I laugh and trudge on by, leaving her standing by my locker, fluttering, her lips pouted childishly. I drag myself to the science labs, and I don't look back. I don't want to give her the attention she is after. When she says stuff like that- and she often does- I roll my eyes, laugh and then try to put it out of my head as best I can.
"Could we not talk this through?"
Sir Marlon the Quite Polite (King Robert VI had run out of good titles for his knights some time ago) was sure this wasn't the way dragons were suppose to talk. Especially to people who looked like proper knights, with the regulation flowing white cloak (recently laundered), gleaming sword (it was new), and manly and rugged hairstyle (he was a tad confused by this, but had tried to grow his out a bit nonetheless). Admittedly his trembling hands probably didn't help his case, but all dragons, especially enormous ones with evil amber eyes, should know the rules around this sort of situation.
Hoping it was just a misunderstanding on the dragon's part (anything that big was bound to be a little thick), he resolved to try again. "Halt, foul beast," he cried, placing an iron-clad foot on a convenient rock and striking what he hoped was a heroic pose. "I have come to rid the kingdom of your--of your--" he struggled for a word, "--pestilence!"
I was doodling a Cessna 172 Skyhawk. Just like the planes my dad flew. The wings were looking nice, and it was the best sunset I had ever drawn. You should have seen those rudders. Amazing rudders.
And then she smiled at me.
At first, nothing. I was lost in the sky, right along with my Cessna. Its wings spread across the college-ruled notebook paper, the propeller blazing toward my algebra homework.
But there was a double-take. Again, I looked up. She was still smiling. Smiling with those massive green eyes. At me? Of course she was smiling at me, I was the last seat in the back row. But I said nothing. It would have been okay to stay silent, but I stared. At least three, long seconds. I imagined these were like the last three seconds of a kamikaze dive bomb.
I am never sure what to do with my brother Carl - he's so stupid and clumsy, always falling down and hurting himself. He blames me, of course, just ‘cos he can. My Momma whups me, he grins, I cry and then plot to get him back somehow. Plots never work, though. He's just plain bigger than me, even is he a year younger.
It was like that time last year, we was on our way home from the store, both of us loaded down with the food Momma sent us to get. We was getting company that night, some big-time important wizard that Momma wanted to impress. Carl was horsing around, walking backwards and trying to skip at the same time, even was he carrying the eggs and the glass bottles with the pickled nettles. I told him to walk normal or give me the breakable stuff, but he didn't want to carry the bags of turnips and onions, ‘cos they was real heavy. He carried on clowning and of course, what I was afraid of happened - he tripped and fell over backwards, landed smack dab on top of the bag on his back. There was a crunch.
Carl started to cry that his tail-bone was bruised, but I didn't pay him no mind. I was already rolling him over to get at the bag and see what was broke. I got it off of him and opened it up. Inside was a mess of glass and pickled nettles, wild rice and egg insides, all smushed up together. It looked disgusting and smelt even worse. Carl was blabbering behind me about how Momma was gonna whup me good for this (and, believe you me, I was just gonna turn round and whup HIM one for that) when I saw something move in amongst all that smushy mess. I thought maybe it was just the bag settling, but then it happened again. I peered closer, shushing Carl over my shoulder. I opened the mouth of the bag a bit more and what did I see, but a teensy, little baby dragon?
The chill air was a welcome relief from the heat of the forge, yet every sound rang crystalline clear in the pre-dawn stillness. A scuff against the cobbles seemed to reverberate, and the jingle of a coin pouch echoed painfully. The man grimaced at each sound, swallowing curses under his breath, for he feared even the soft mumblings would draw undue attention. A slight canvas sack was slung over his shoulder, bumping against his bulging pack with every step.
The sack appeared to be empty, but for a slight weight at the bottom, barely visible through the rough cloth. His fingers curled and re-curled around the bag, teasing fibers loose until they stood in a confused mass around the neck of the bag.
At the next step, the man unwittingly frightened a drowsy bird, which took off in a burst of indignant squawks and a flutter of wings. A single feather drifted through the fog, moisture beading on the delicate vane before it fell to the street. He regarded it for only a moment before pressing on.
A month ago, he had been Alec the Blacksmith, renowned in Baleigh for his skill and dedication. Today, that man ceased to exist.
The sack brushed against the narrow wall of the alley, sounding a dull clang that was curiously muted. For a moment Alec stared at the wall, twisting the sack in his hands, then with an inarticulate cry he gathered his considerable strength and hurled the simple sack at the wall. It struck and stone chips flew from the force of the impact.
Daring to hope, he twitched open the sack, peering inside. In the darkness, it should not have been visible, yet the crown glowed slightly; enough for Alec to realize it was unharmed. Despair gripped him again, and drove him to run, flinging himself haphazardly down the narrow corridor. The sack, swinging by his feet, tripped him before he had cleared the alley. Alec hit his head, and his vision sparked, lights blinking and fading as he tried to clear his mind.