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Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Bored

((I wrote this one inspired by a Drama activity at Uni))

The ace of spades flew through the air, twisting and tumbling as it plummeted towards its target. The top hat was propped up on the other side of the room, the smooth velvet brim was slightly worn in places, showing just a little of the wear and tear of its life. The surrounding areas were scattered with most of a discarded pack of cards. The red and white patterns on their backs drowned his eyes as he stared down at the remaining few in his hand. Anton flicked his wrist smoothly, sending the Queen of Diamonds hurtling towards the hat, she bounced roughly on the edge of the brim, hitting into the wall and crashing to a stop, face down on the table.

Anton rested his elbow on his knee as he sighed, rubbing at his temple for a moment with his free hand, rotating the card smoothly a few times with his other as he stared at the litter of numbers and symbols laying around the table. There were even a couple on the floor which spoke very badly of his aim. Standing up slowly, Anton disappeared the cards quickly, checked his reflection in the mirror and then flicked his hand swiftly to return the cards to his fingers. He placed them on the dresser, leaving the rest where they had fallen. Anton scooped up the key to his hotel room, the over sized plastic key-ring clattering against the metal as he shoved it into his trouser pocket. He bent slightly to look in the mirror again, touching his hair with his fingertips, to encourage it back into the shape he expected.

He knew he looked tired, but somehow the tuxedo seemed to hold him up. His bow tie sat undone but the front of his shirt was as crisp and white as the front of a playing card. He unhooked his jacket from behind the door and held it over his shoulder with two fingers as he walked out. Anton’s face bore no emotion as he made his way towards the elevator, passing a maid in the hall pushing a cart of bed sheets and little packets of coffee. He tried to smile. She beamed at him in return, seeming, as many people did, mesmerised by the very idea of him. Anton held one hand up to her in greeting and then quickly flashed the other around from his side, revealing a bouquet of flowers. She gasped in awe and he passed them to her, sidestepping her cart and continuing down the hall.

He could hear her gushing thanks and amazement as he pushed his index finger solidly into the worn button, calling the lift. As it arrived with a satisfying ding he entered, folding his hands lightly in front of him, standing quietly amongst the passengers. Parents clung to children who had not let learnt the secret code of silence that hung over elevator travel. They babbled at each other about the holiday they were enjoying and Anton sighed. The energy of the people seemed to push against his shoulders as he rode down the floors. Eventually as they arrived at the ground, he was the first to step free. Anton turned on his heel smoothly and pulled his jacket up in front of him like a matador. He whipped it down again suddenly, loosing a flood of butterflies that streamed into the elevator, fluttering about in a haze of colour, to the delighted squeals of the children and the gasps of astonishment of their parents.

With butterflies swarming in weightless numbers around his head and up towards the ceiling, Anton swivelled effortlessly again and wandered away into the lobby, looking for something interesting to do.

X: Fortune

Ok, so... I was planning to write a series of stories based off of randomly drawn out Tarot Cards.
This was the first one I did.


X: Fortune

‘Hey rich boy!’
It seemed an odd sort of thing to shout at Toby as he stumbled out of the bar, foot slipping on the step, battered work boots scuffing up a cloud of dust around him. He turned unsteadily, casting his dark eyes back over his shoulder to where Frankie Hanson was standing, flanked by a group of guys all grinning and jostling like school children. Toby wiped his hand down his mucky, faded jeans and tried to focus on Frankie’s face.

He was right of course, technically. Toby’s family were wealthy, and it didn’t really matter how far from home he moved, people seemed to know that. He fronted up to Frankie, wondering what he had done now. It didn’t take much to annoy people like Frankie, when he wanted to find a fight, he didn’t have to look far.
‘Yeah?’ Toby slurred at him, unsure whether it was even worth trying to avoid the beating that he could sense coming. Toby was a small guy, slender like his mother, not towering and fit like his Dad. He knew he looked like a weakling, but when cornered, he could take care of himself. It was part of his feral nature, part of the reason some people seemed to instinctively have a problem with him.

‘How many fingers?’ Frankie jeered, showing Toby his middle digit. The group of jackals around him bayed with laugher as Toby narrowed his eyes. So, word had gotten out. He was sure that sort of thing was supposed to have stopped by the time he was twenty-five. He wondered if bullies ever really grew up.
‘You must be one dumb mother-fucker.’ Frankie continued as he stepped towards him, arching his shoulders. Toby took a step back, not so much out of fear, just positioning himself somewhere flatter, the tequila hadn’t helped his balance.
‘You know, some people have taught horses to count.’ the tough guy smirked, really enjoying the way Toby’s eyes darted to the door of the bar, wondering if anyone was going to come. Frankie loved having an audience, and his coterie of thick-necked individuals whooped along as he tormented his victim. ‘But then, I hear you’re more into dogs than horses…’ Toby grimaced, running about with a pack of wild dogs and coyotes didn’t do his reputation any good.
‘Fuck off…’ Toby mumbled, wishing he had stopped drinking earlier.

The knuckles of Frankie’s right fist collided with his cheek in a horrible crunch, Toby’s head whipped back as the pain shot through his face and his stomach turned a nauseating somersault. He stumbled, casting his hands out around him like he was looking for something to hold onto. The jeering stopped. Frankie was done talking, he was more interested in pounding Toby down, that was the real fun of the evening. As Frankie landed a kick into his ribs, Toby cried out, coughing and fighting him off vainly. The sound of the dull thudding echoed in his ears as he felt more boots connecting with him, the pain came in waves, both constant and sudden, over and over.

The stars glinted in the midnight blue sky, each slightly different to the one beside it, backed by the spiralling, swirling clouds, framing them like waves of a celestial ocean. The land below him was all purples and greens, hills rising and falling to echo the flow of the sky. The lake stretched out beneath him, a delicate patch of mirror where lilies reflected the stars. Beneath his legs he could feel feathers, the softest touch on his skin. He shifted slightly, looking at the way his fingers disappeared into the black, downy velvet of them.

Flying was like being suspended on a cloud of air, supported, yet free, wheeling sideways and round. He breathed in the scent of the night, of the great black bird beneath him. It was sweet and familiar, like a memory tied deep into the wilderness of himself. Toby closed his eye for a second, searching his mind for the ribbon that connected to this sensation. It only took a moment for it to come to him.
‘Cloe.’

Floating in the air, fingers deep in the feathers, he felt like he was lying with her, wrapped in her pale arms, dreaming in the waterfall of her black hair. She was all he ever wanted, all he ever believed in. But that was long gone, she had walked out his door years ago and not a single word had come to him since then. Cloe was out of his life, out of his mind most days, but always lurking deep in there, the thing he regretted, the gnawing itching knowledge that he had lost her. Toby had never wanted anyone the way he wanted Cloe, with a passion and a desire he couldn’t even understand, she burned inside his mind clinging to him like a scar, part of the pattern of his life.

The gritty taste of sand crunching between his teeth woke him, loud inside his head. Toby put a hand on the rough, gravely ground and slowly pushed himself away from it. The sharp pain made him grit his teeth as the ghosts of the evening re-visited him. Inch by inch he clambered onto his feet, hopping and limping towards the door of his house. It hung open slightly on its hinges, squeaking in his hand as he pulled it open, his other hand touching the dried blood on his face gingerly. One of the dogs came slinking around the corner of the house, edging her way over to where Toby leant on the door frame. She nudged his hand softly with her wet nose and he ran his fingers over her head.
‘Hey, Sandy.’ He patted the dog for a moment. She whimpered and barked at him, nipping at his hand.
‘It wasn’t like that,’ he told her, ‘Just leave it. Not now.’ Toby grumbled and staggered inside. The dog stood for a moment in the doorway before disappearing off into the distance.

The house had been turned over, there wasn’t much too take really, a few bottles of booze, a little cash. Toby winced as he righted a chair and eased himself down. He leant forward, elbows on his knees and head in his hands. They had trashed it, probably out of annoyance at his lack of a TV or stereo. Toby and technology had never gotten on. Suddenly he remembered his bedroom and struggled slowly to his feet, picking his way through the litter of broken plates and torn cushions which spewed their stuffing across the floorboards.

The only thing he owned that he really prided himself on were the stack of paintings he had created in the last few years. Some had been on display but most were leant against the bedroom wall. Now there was nothing more than broken frames and shredded canvas. Each one shattered into blocks of colour and strips of cloth. Toby winced away from the sight and felt it like another punch in the stomach. He had never been good at anything, at least not like the rest of his family, nothing except painting.

Toby dreamt of being like his older brother, athletic and attractive, his father’s pride and joy. Or his younger brother, a gifted author, loved by everyone. Toby was the middle child, lost between the cracks, only ever making friends with stray dogs, which he talked to more than humans. He often wondered what his father really thought of him. Sam Rochester had been born gifted, graduated college at eighteen and headed off to a distinguished career as a lawyer. Yet, his middle son could barely read and was completely innumerate. Somehow to Toby it had always seemed like an irony, or a punishment, though he wasn’t sure for whom. His parents both loved him, his mother spent more time convincing him he was wonderful than doing just about anything else. His older brother Andy had made his life a living hell as a kid, but Toby had never stopped believing Andy was excellent, just like he was always telling everyone. Modest, Andy was not. The day Toby had discovered he could draw was like a revelation, he never intended to make a living from it, but to be able to do something was more amazing than Toby could express. He had left home at eighteen, needing to be away from the Rochester reputation, and the loving, caring support of his parents.

He sank down amongst his destroyed paintings and fingered the torn canvas lightly. His head was aching and he screwed up his eyes. They had taken everything, he had to give, every feeble thing, because he was weak, because he was pathetic.

After a while, slowly, he began to clear up the mess, every bend and stretch making him grimace and flinch. As he righted a bedside table something clattered out onto his feet. Toby crouched slowly down to pick up the biscuit tin. He had forgotten about it, stashed right at the back there behind the old magazines and photos. He sat himself down carefully on the bed and pried the slightly rusted lid off the box. It looked older than it was, but he had kept it all the years he’d been away from home. The paper jumped as he pulled the lid away and he touched them lightly with his fingers, the softness of the folded paper a strange contrast to the sharp destruction around him. He pulled each one out, stacking them on his leg and on the bed beside him. In the bottom of the tin he heard the metallic rattle of something left inside. He retrieved it carefully and balanced the small round shape in the curve of his dust-covered palm.

His father had made it for him, years ago when he was a boy. It was a talisman, something of little power but great meaning. Sam was a magician of some ability, when he found the time. He had made Toby that little circle talisman to help him with his technology problem after Andy had shouted at him for destroying the television in their living room. Toby had only touched it, he wanted to change channel, but instead a rain of sparks and a horrible, pungent burning smell filled the room. Sam had crouched in front of him that night and pressed the little carved disc into his fingers.
‘Here, kid.’ he smiled, ‘this’ll make it easier.’
Toby smiled a little as he looked down at it, small and worn but still with the tingle of power about it. With that talisman he could listen to music without having to sit two metres away from the stereo, ride in cars, use a microwave. It had been so long living out away from civilisation that he had stopped needing it. He could walk into town from his house, he never used a phone. It struck him as strange that he should come across it then, after everything had been destroyed. His eyes fell back on the letters that littered his bed, he picked up one, delicate like a petal and carefully unfolded it. Cloe's careful printing. She knew he had trouble reading, but when they were younger he would receive messages from her, tucked through his letterbox. Simple little words, bearing with them all her heart.

Toby stroked the paper, spending time reading the words again, after so many years. The scent of the feathers the night before fluttered up into his mind. Now the memory of Cloe and that one little talisman were all he had left. He frowned a little and placed them lightly together back on the bed, walking off to the bathroom.

After a shower that both stung and relaxed him, Toby wrapped the towel around his waist and returned to the room, laying down on his bed, the torn sheets scattered around him. Half asleep, he contemplated where he had found himself. Miles from where he had been born, far away from the few people who ever cared about him, working part time, drinking, fighting, losing his paintings. There was nothing left for him, nothing worth staying for and no where to go. He could almost feel the kick of his subconscious telling him that was all he deserved. He was never any good for much more. He had been going through the motions in his life, living dullness like it was a career choice. Now, with nothing but a few letters and a talisman touching the back of his hand, he stared at the walls.

As the talisman sat against his skin, he could feel its influence on him. If he wanted to, he could pick up a phone and call someone. Anyone. Toby smiled to himself for a moment. With nothing left in his life, trapped by misfortune, he saw a little window. His fingers curled around the little disc of wood. It seemed to him there were two ways to go. He could either lay there, stare at the ceiling and slowly descend into the depths of self loathing, drowning in his bad-luck life, or, he thought as he slowly pulled himself stiffly into a sitting position, he could take that talisman, make a phone call, get on a plane for the first time in his life and make his own luck. His heart pounded in his chest as he considered it, almost like his inner self was cheering, like it had been waiting years for him to come to that conclusion.

Evening fell and he sat with his bag beside him, stuffed with the only clothes that had made it through the ransack in one piece. He clutched the charm tightly in his fingers, praying to Coyote the great trickster that when he made his own luck, it would be good. The lights of the cab glared into his eyes and he stumbled to his feet, limping towards the vehicle. The crunching tires rolled over the dry ground and Toby looked back over his shoulder out the little window to where his house sat abandoned, already partially forgotten with the thoughts of the future bubbling up inside him.

Running from his life in the middle of the night, he travelled over the land, tensely clinging to the little talisman like it was keeping him alive. Flying in a plane was nothing like flying had been in his dream, the low rumbles of the great metal bird unsettled him, and he didn’t sleep. Eventually they landed and he was a short car ride from his destination, talisman in one hand, scrawled instructions in the other, he found his way to the building. It had been years since he’d been in a city and the towers seemed endless as he gazed and squinted into the sky. The elevator was unnerving and he ran his thumb repeatedly over the surface of his charm, praying under his breath as the lift strained and groaned.

Toby had a lot of trouble identifying numbers and had to ask several people to get where he needed to be, but finally he stood outside the door and raised his fist to knock. A man pulled it open and smiled at him in a friendly manner,
‘Can I help you?’ he asked politely.
Toby stared at him for a moment, throat suddenly full of his heart, hammering to escape. He took a second before he could speak.
‘Is Cloe here?’

Salvation

In the end, it seemed like the dust was the only inhabitant of the place.
The only sounds were the banging of the church’s heavy wooden doors and the creaking of a rope on rafters. An eerie stillness loomed over the streets. The name of the town had been Salvation. A faceless, unknown citizen, long gone, had smeared a new name in red.
‘Downfall’ it was baptised, though not a soul was there to read it. The last testament to what had happened on that hot night.
July 1874.

***

The day it began, the new preacher’s wife stood alone at the crossroads of Salvation. She was surrounded by barren little streets and behind them, impenetrable mountains. They loomed, casting their shadow over the town. Her dark eyes locked on the inmates of the desolate little outskirt as they scuttled about their trivial lives.
Pathetic. Francis sighed and turned back towards the house she shared with her husband. He had been beguiled with the place, seeking out solitude and new souls. She saw only empty-eyed captives.
The house sat adjacent to the graveyard. Tombstones jutted out of the cracked ground like pallid guards. They surrounded the isolated cottage, fencing her in.

Nothing but the sound of the wind. Occasionally it carried with it the echoing voices of churchgoers singing ghostly hymns. She stared out the tiny window. This house was a dungeon. Francis felt a drop of sweat creeping down her skin. She shivered. She hugged her arms around herself against the gaze of those dark hills. Townsfolk said there were natives up there.
Flesh-eating.
Savage.

Why had Elijah brought her to this place? Confining her with these strange people, locking her away? Arizona, for God’s sake, it might as well be another world.

The shadows of the mountains brought a chill to the town, as the sun disappeared, not to be seen again until morning. The blue-blackness lay across the ground like fingers reaching out towards her, into her mind.
There was no way out.
And something in those hills had already set its sights on her.

By the next day, she would be buried.

Then, the rest of the town.

Darkness crawled its way into the streets silently. The citizens of Salvation shuffled off to the saloon or to their own little shacks. Elijah took his time to clean up the church and come home. She was alone. She lost her eyes somewhere out in the black.

Without warning she was jolted from her daze. Something was moving out there. Something was in her garden.
‘Elijah?’ she whispered.
The gate thumped against the fence sharply. Shaking, Francis walked to the door. Her pale fingers wrapped around the handle. The sound of her breath filled her ears. The door handle whined as she turned it.

A scream cut through the tranquillity of the church. Elijah’s head snapped up. The bible in his hands tumbled to the floor. The crash echoed around the empty church. A heartbeat past before he moved. Stumbling at first and then running, he clawed at the cumbersome doors, wrenching them open. Elijah scrambled across the graveyard, grazing his hands on the rough stones.

Blood.
His eyes stung as they rested on the drops of red congealing on the doorstep. The front door hung, limp and open.
‘Francis?’ He called her name, voice cracking and hoarse. ‘Jesus, God, no.’
His heart raced as he clawed at the furniture, slamming open all the doors, knowing already, he wouldn’t find her.
She was gone.
Elijah ran out into the darkness. The sinister streets of a town he had thought would be Salvation were mostly empty as he tore towards the Sheriff’s door.
‘Ted! God help me! Ted! Something’s happened to Francis! Something’s happened to my wife!’

Every man in town came out to search. Ted stood on the porch of his house and shouted them into groups and directions. Elijah could only hear the ringing in his ears. His fists clenched at his sides. A hand landed on his shoulder and he turned, jumping.
‘Padre, I’m real sorry about what’s happened.’
Silently, Elijah stared up at the old tracker, Isaac.
‘My boy and I will find her, no matter what. Alright?’ behind Isaac’s shoulder Elijah could see the tracker’s half Indian son Harry, shotgun in hand.
He nodded weakly as they turned to walk away.

Harry looked up at his father.
‘This weren’t Indians.’ He said quietly.
Isaac nodded gravely, ‘I know.’

The old gold mine stretched up in front of Harry. He held his hand up, shading his eyes from the sinking midsummer sun. Isaac walked slowly up behind him, boots crunching on the gravel-covered ground.
‘No one comes round here no more,’ Isaac spoke in a quiet drawl as he kicked some of the rubble with the toe of his boot. ‘Not since the mine was shut down.’
‘Guess there ain’t much reason to.’ Harry replied as he bent to light his lamp. ‘We better be gettin’ a move on, if we wanna get in there ‘fore dark.’
Isaac nodded slowly. He cleared his throat and checked his shotgun again. ‘You sure y’all wanna be coming down here?’
Harry shot him a look and raised his eyebrow. ‘You kiddin’?’
Isaac shrugged and started walking.

Down in the darkness of the mine the two men carefully picked their way between the rocks. Harry’s lantern shed an eerie orange glow across the damp surface of the cavern’s walls. Each footstep crunched out into the silence, punctuated only with the occasional drip falling from the low ceiling. As they moved further and further underground, a chill filled the air. Isaac placed a steadying hand on the wall. The wetness made his skin crawl. They’d been walking for hours; the mines were a labyrinth, seemingly endless tunnels descending further and further under the ground.

‘Pa?’ Harry called ahead to where he could see Isaac poking around in the rocks. ‘This is gettin’ us nowhere.’
‘You saw the tracks Harry. Someone came up this way.’
‘I know,’ Harry replied as he crouched down, dropping his knapsack down onto the uneven ground and placing his lantern carefully beside it. ‘I’m just sayin’. We ain’t...’ Harry trailed off. His eyes rested on something pale in the darkness.
‘Harry?’ Isaac called from level below.
Cautiously raising his lantern, Harry moved closer to the wall.

There is was. Beneath the rocks. A pale shape, limp and white. Harry’s lantern coloured the skin unnaturally warm and orange. His eyes locked on her form resting in a small opening at the base of the wall. It was just big enough to contain her and ran like a crack along the surface, close to the ground. He reached out his hand and touched her skin.
Cold. Like the rock.
‘Pa!’ He called out, his voice seeming too loud, too sudden in the empty cavern. Moments later, his father appeared behind him and together the lifted her.

Too cold. Too grey. Too still.
Isaac could feel the tightness in his throat. Her beautiful dark hair fell over her shoulders and stroked across his hand. He cradled her gently as they walked without speaking back out into the night.

Elijah was waiting. They’d left him with the women-folk as the night set in. Harry went in first. Isaac was a silhouette behind him in the doorway. The sound that came from Elijah was like nothing Harry had ever heard. It grabbed at his heart and twisted, hard. The preacher lurched forwards suddenly. Inhuman cries of anguish escaping his lips. He cradled her, rocking, babbling.

He wouldn’t wait. The Sheriff tried to make him, but in the end Elijah was so hysterical that they had to help him. Couldn’t have the man digging his own wife’s grave. In the darkness of the night, the men patted the earth down on the fresh burial. Elijah knelt in the dirt, unable to be moved, unable to speak. When finally they dragged him away, he slept with Francis’ grave dirt beneath his nails.

The next day, the town was suspended in quiet grief. People spoke in hushed tones. They glanced at the church, at the Preacher’s house where he confined himself. He wouldn’t speak to anyone. Wouldn’t open the door.

Elijah looked at the pages of the bible in his hands like they were filled with a language he couldn’t understand. Out the window he could see the new gravestone, pale and grey. His fists balled around the pages, soft and thin. They twisted in his fingers.
Time had no meaning.
Darkness washed in and filled his room. He didn’t even notice that he hadn’t moved. He stared down at the crumpled pages in his hands until she placed a gentle palm on his face.
‘Elijah?’
Her voice, tender and soft. It stroked his face with the sensation of her cool skin on his.
‘I’ve missed you. So much.’ He leant forward, head on her stomach. She stroked her hand through his hair. She leant down and placed her sweet, cold lips to his.

Soon enough, people started to talk. The Priest was back in the church, preaching new life. Resurrection. He was changed. No one was questioning that. But anyone could see there was something more. It wasn’t just that his wife was gone. He started to say things, disturbing things.
And every night she came to him. He knew it wasn’t her. He knew she was dead. But he couldn’t help himself. She was there, whispering to him in the darkness. Telling him she loved him.

One night she didn’t come. One night she walked out into the night alone. She walked to the boarders of the town.
They were coming.
The night was coming with them.
A slow smile slipped onto her face. Her dark eyes stared into the hills without fear. The first reached her and a hand extended to brush her face. She curved a finger in beckoning.
They followed.

They were a tide. Uncountable. Invisible. They moved into the town in silence and every door opened to them. The screams filled the night like a crescendo. Terror was on every tongue. The taste of it filled the air.

They were savage, but not savages. Not like Francis had always thought. These men who she could feel in her heart, like family, had once been like her. They had come to this place to work in that mine, and deep in the dark they had found something blacker than the very depths of the pit. They had said at the time that there was a shaft collapse. More than twenty men, buried down in there. Buried with that darkness. Waiting.

Her new brothers tore through Salvation like a hurricane, they pulled every soul from every house and slammed their bloody forms into the dusty street. She took her time. She watched how blood mixed with trail dust. She remembered how each person tasted.

Francis walked down the street, her hands swinging free. The red drips ran down her throat, staining her skin. All around her was chaos, but within, sanctuary. Then she saw him. She smiled.

In the doorway of the church Elijah stood, frozen. The screams burrowed into this mind, filling it with darkness. Her face, colourless in the night, her neck covered in something darker, something red. She smiled at him and his body shook. He stepped backwards. He slammed into the doorframe and stumbled, turning frantically he ran into the church. Slamming the door behind him, Elijah turned his back to it, panting. The candlelight from the chandelier above sent his shadow dancing up on the wall. She was coming. Coming for him.

The rope came into his hands. They shook as he untied it from the beam. Frantic and desperate he heard himself mumbling, ‘The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures.’

The words started to run together as he gathered the rope into his hands. ‘He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul.’ His voice was harsh, almost inhuman. As the cries from outside seemed to be reaching in towards him, he raised his voice to nearly a scream, with words he no longer believed. ‘He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name' sake.’

As he finally looped the rope together and knotted it, he dropped his head. There was a thunderous crash. The door shook violently with the impact.
He placed his feet on the polished wood of the pew.
He bowed his head, sobbing out the final words, ‘Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: For thou art with me.’
He wished he could stop his hands from shaking.
‘Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies; Thou annointest my head with oil; My... cup... runneth... over... Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days... of... my... life...’

A final choking breath.
‘And I will dwell in the House of the Lord... forever.’

***

When the silence fell over the town, there was nothing but bodies to bury. Isaac listened to the whispers that travellers shared in saloons. The whole county knew about Downfall. The name was the truth.

Harry and Isaac knew more than most about truth.

Harry took another shot of whiskey. He’d seen things no young man should dream of in the dark hours. They’d seen it coming. They’d fought as much as they could. But they were just two men. With the hunt that was starting, they were going to need more.

Exploration

((This story is from the Space Storyline. Ivy is a half breed alien who was trapped in a basement for her whole life. Uh-huh. I just liked the descriptions and stuff))

With one silent foot in front of the other, she crept slowly up the stairs. The carpet between her toes was softer than anything she’d ever touched and she screwed up her white toes to dig them into the fibres. She splayed her fingers and ran them gently over the polish of the banister, leaning in to examine the wood grain. The top of the stairs revealed an expansive hallway, lined with art framed in gold. She leaned up on her tip-toes, peering at the faces painted there. Ivy tipped her head. Her pink tongue slipped from her lips and tasted the air. Not real people. Her hand reached out, fingernails cut low and jagged, and stroked down the surface of the painting. Every bump touched her fingers, her palm.

In a second, she had dragged a small table over, throwing the vase and flowers onto the rug where the water glugged from the broken bone china making the carpet dark and soggy. She pulled her feet away from the cold water. Ivy didn’t like water. She clambered up onto the dainty carved-legged table and balanced, palms flat against the wall. The precarious table wobbled beneath her. She was nose to nose with this man. This pretend human man. He didn’t move, didn’t breath. She tipped her head again, staring into his blue eyes with her black endless gaze. Her tongue softly pressed against the paint, running up the surface, tasting the face of this man, who didn’t smell.

‘Uh...’
Ivy jumped at the sound of someone speaking. She tumbled backwards, the table easily over balancing.
‘Woah!’ Mack lurched forward and scooped her up, catching her awkwardly just before she crashed to the floor. ‘Hey, be careful!’
She looked up at him with wide eyes, her head nestled in his massive hand.
‘You ok?’ he smiled at her, green eyes flashing with humour.
‘Ok. Alright. Feel good.’ She confirmed.
‘Good, good. You really think y’all oughta be licking Lachlan’s dead relatives like that?’ He helped her back onto her feet and looked up at the stern looking man with a slightly damp face.
‘Not taste.’ She frowned and stepped sideways away from the soaking patch of thick carpet. Mack bent and collected the pieces of vase, placing them back on the table.
‘No, well, he’s not a person. He prob’ly tastes like paint.’
‘What dead?’ she tipped her head, tongue sliding out of her mouth to taste the air again.
‘Huh?’ Mack looked down at her. ‘Whatcha mean? What’s dead mean?’
She nodded a little.
Mack frowned and folded his arms across his broad chest. He looked down at her big black eyes, her innocent expression hiding a world of sins.
‘Dead means, when someone stops livin’. They, well, they got no heartbeat and they go all still. They don’t move about no more. Don’t breathe or nothin’. You bury ‘em in the ground, or sometimes people burn ‘em up in a fire.’
Ivy frowned up at him, her fingers wriggling against her leg. She didn’t know how to ask him more.
‘But y’all don’t have to worry bout that. There’s no one gonna be dead about here. It ain’t nothin’ to be worried about. Alright?’
‘Alright. Ok.’ She nodded.
‘You run along now ‘n play, y’hear?’ He smiled at her, reaching out to ruffle the white hair that jutted up from between her horns. She flinched away from him a little and his lip twitched. ‘Sorry.’ He mumbled as he shoved his hands back in his pockets, reminding himself she wasn’t the kid sister he left behind in Texas.
‘Sorry.’ She repeated.
‘Go play in the garden, it’s nice out there.’ He tried smiling, it didn’t quite make it to his eyes.
‘Light.’ She mumbled.
Mack frowned. ‘Right. Too bright for you, huh?’ he sighed and then clicked his fingers, ‘Hang on, I got an idea.’

Five minutes later he tracked her down again. She had found herself another interesting item to entertain her. In the reflection of a cabinet, full of fine exotic trinkets, Ivy stared at her face. Her colourless fingers clicking like she had seen Mack do. He walked up behind her, trying to make enough noise that she would know he was there. She turned, tongue resting on her white lips.
‘Hey there pretty thing.’ He smiled and she frowned at him. His smile slid away and he crouched, holding out what he had found.
‘Check it out.’
She poked her tongue out again, searching for answers to what he held.
‘Take ‘em.’ He smiled and put goggles on the floor in front of her. He had borrowed them from Ethan, who was more than happy to oblige, if it meant Ivy would be less inclined to seek shelter from the light near him.

Ivy reached out and picked up the goggles, examining them she discovered they were smooth, shiny and she could see herself in the glass. Mack grinned at her.
‘They go over your eyes. Makes it easier to see in the sun and such. You’ll be able to go anywhere then.’
She held them up to her face and tilted her head to look through the dark glass.
‘Ohhhh...’ She smiled, showing her sharp little teeth. Mack grinned back at her and nodded his head.
‘Cool huh?’
She lowered them and looked at him. ‘What cool?’
‘Cool? Umm... means, good. Nice. Something you like.’
She grinned. ‘Cool.’
‘The strap bit goes over the back of yer head. Makes ‘em stay where you want ‘em.’
She pulled them over her head, catching them slightly on the horns that curled around the sides of her scalp. Mack watched her organise the goggles, her fine fingers working carefully and confidently until she had them secured.

Ivy looked up at him through tinted glass and smiled. ‘Cool.’
Mack grinned. ‘Yeah. So now y’all can play out in the sun like the other kids.’ He found himself shaking his head at the bizarreness of the conversation. Ivy sprang to her feet and ran past him towards the back of the house.

The French doors gave way to the rough bricks under the soles of her feet, and beyond that, grass. She liked grass. She had been outside a few times now with Grisel, during the night. But it was different now. Even through the tinted glass, she could see the flowers that raised their heads to the sun. She could see insects. She could run. Ivy liked to run.

Within minutes of getting outside she could hear Crusader coming towards her. She spun on her heel, digging it into the dirt as she braced for his arrival. Her tongue ran across her lips as the dog surged towards her, darting out of the house, ears back, feet blurred.
‘Cruiser!’ She called and held out her arms to him. He knew better than to jump on people and pulled up just short of her. Ivy wrapped her arms around his neck and buried her head in his soft fur. Cruiser bent his head around, trying to lick her face, covering her new goggles in slobber. Ivy laughed and rolled around on the grass with him, her clothes picking up the colour of the ground.

The grass was cold under her as she laid, her breath rasping out in between giggles and sniffles. She looked up at the sky. It was endless, huge. Ivy didn’t really understand how things were, how many planets she had already passed. All she knew was she was not where she had been born. She was not under the ground any more.
My name is Dalton Elliot and I'm a dead man.
I don't mean that in the cute, 'I'm a dead man when my girlfriend gets home' kind of way, though that is probably true as well.
All too long I've been burning, like some kind of manic machine that's all gone wrong. That's what I am, wrong. And broken.
I can't tell you when it started, but for most of my life I've felt like I was getting away with something I shouldn't be. Which I think is partially to blame for my cheeky nature, although I doubt anyone else would call it that. I didn't stand out in high school. I didn't light any more fires than the next kid, I didn't disobey authority more than you would expect from a boy from Milwaukee. I had teachers who said I didn't apply myself and that I showed a lack of interest in what they were trying to teach. I was all set to start applying to colleges when it all changed.
If you've been trying to remember where you know my name from, I'll help you out. Up until last year you might have seen it on a t-shirt, on a poster, on T.V. Hell, I even heard they'd put it on the side of a bus. I'm a daredevil, for want of a better description of my job. I've been doing it for so god-damned long that I kind of take it for granted. I was spotted at seventeen, hired for some skate show that was travelling around. But by the time I was twenty-one I had the head line and a show all my own on cable. It was great. Like heaven. Touring the country with a bunch of guys willing to do pretty much anything just for the thrill.
Well, the thrill and the cash.
The show took off and for the next five years or so, I was a household name. Your kid brother's probably got the DVD. From the outside looking in, everything was one long party, one long line of school buses to be jumped. By the time the first show aired I'd broken all the bones in my right hand, both my collarbones and my nose, eight times. It was a great time to be alive.
It was the final show of the series that changed it all. We had decided to go live, (cause that's always a good idea when you're doing stunts...) and my stunt co-ordinater and best friend at the time, William had organised some of the most mind-blowing things I'd ever seen. He was the kind of guy who could create anything, any ridiculous idea I came up with could be manifested within a matter of weeks.
Personally I had little to no interest in the day to day logistics of planning the things I did. I didn't care about the angles, the safety mechanisms and the fire extinguishers. I was in it for the jump. I don't know what drew me to it, what still draws me there in some ways. I never really figured out the root of my need. But it is a need. Like an addiction, a desire. I desire the feeling more than any other. I need it more than comfort, more than food.
When the bike I was riding landed I ruptured the fuel tank. Sparks ignited and I was burnt pretty badly up one leg and along my stomach. I think I screamed, when the bike fell and crushed my already flaming leg. The scars are a bit of a mess, I'll admit. William was there ready to come to my rescue. I don't know what happened. I think it was fate.
I don't talk about fate much, I try to steer away from it, but this was one of those moments when something happens, something that shouldn't reasonably happen. Something unthinkable and unlikely. So much so that you just stare and watch in horror, the shock of it making you a dumb-founded statue.
I don't know whether he wasn't looking, whether he was trying to get to me. For the life of me I can't figure out why he didn't have an extinguisher in his hand. But as the fuel splashed onto him I remember having a moment of eye contact before the horror set into his eyes. He got too close, and from where I was laying half delirious with pain I swear I saw that fire leap for him. Like it was alive, like the fuel on him was an invitation the flame could never refuse.
To be honest, I blame myself to a certain extent. I was the star, the medics went straight for me, maybe if they had've seen William a few seconds earlier...
But they were looking at me and the fire just ate him up. He screamed, flailing madly, stumbling. They turned to him, but he was running, like he could get away from the pain and by the time they reached him, he'd fallen down.
I lay there, the bike lifted from my leg, the medics fussing and fretting around me and from where I watched through the legs of the crowd I could see William. I could see his death.
It was like something snapped inside me. Something woke up.
Something broken, something dead.
And all this on live T.V. Did you watch it? The way the camera man stood just repeating the same useless words over and over.
'Oh god, oh god...'
Apparently the ratings were through the roof.

I'd played with fire, in a sense for so long. But on that night, I think I saw something that I really wanted. Something I feared and loved at the same time. I wanted to touch it, be close with it. So from then on, I pushed further, I did things that were more dangerous, more lethal just aching to touch the face of the thing William had seen.
It was all self-centred, like most of my life, until I was twenty-five. I had been playing, walking the line with no regard for my self or others for years. And then one evening I found something new. I found another way.
In the most undignified, most uninspiring place on earth. A men's room in some crappy bar. I felt the knife slide into him with just the right amount of resistance, so that I really felt it. So that the vibrations of it ran up my arm and into my heart. He wasn't exactly the cream of human kindness. The guy was a low life, but then I can't exactly talk. He probably didn't deserve to die on the end of my pocket knife just so I could see the greyness in his eyes and feel the way death washed over him. I'm not sure. I have trouble with judgement.
I was found eventually by Jeremey Woodward, son of a senator or something, who in his spare time, hunted down all manner of supernatural monsters. I think if he hadn't thought he could use me, he would have hunted me too. He seemed to be able to see what I could see. The pathways of darkness the edges of people's minds where the death sneaked in. He didn't blink as he stared into that abyss. He wasn't interested in touching it, just controlling the bits he thought he needed to. He taught me a few things, let me off a leash every now and then to bring down someone who needed it. Jeremey would never really claim me as one of his little students, I wasn't neat enough for that, but if nothing else it was nice to have someone who understood what I was seeing, who knew the cold feeling of it all, the lovely, cold feeling.
I think to a certain extent he kept me normal, channelled all my weirdness into something productive and let me get away with all the crazy shit I enjoyed doing. I didn't feel like I had to kill people. Not all the time, I just dabbled. Mostly I was enjoying the high-life, the wine, women and song of the professional dare-devil circuit. It was a good time in my life, stable. And every now and then, late at night when I got home from a gig and Jeremey was sitting about in a suit like it was the middle of the day, he and I would have these wandering conversations about the reality of the world, the way things were and what we could do to change them. He was the one who taught me how to play with luck. I could balance the energy of luck on my palm, tilting it in my favour when it seemed less than likely. It became the most useful thing I've ever learnt. Kept me safe, kept me out of jail. I would play with the probability of the world, watching people, guessing what would happen and tipping the scales which ever way I felt like. Jeremey was all about balance.
I have perfect balance.
Just no breaks.
I can keep going forever, and sometimes I feel like I'll never die, no matter how far down the spiral I feel myself going.
My psychiatrist was reluctant to label me as a psychopath because he believes that my needs and actions don't come from something biological. It's not genetic. I'm sure my dad would be thrilled to hear that. I have the capability to love, according to him. So he's not really sure what to make of me.
He's right, I do love. Donna is my life.
She puts up with a lot, the urges to push myself to that place just before the darkness seeps in and takes me, the late night moments when I disappear. I try not to let her know about anything else. But I know she's on to me. She knows what I do. And I think she's the one person on earth I could never hurt.
Dr. Fang was Jeremey's idea. For some reason my incredibly controlled, repressed 'mentor' is a big advocate of therapy. He really, honestly believes that everyone should do it. So he introduced me to his pet vampire therapist. Don't ask me, it's all beyond me. But Dr. Fang, (as I affectionately termed him) is great, lets me chat away about pretty much anything.
The man is practically unflappable. I can tell him anything and he just sits there, blinking and nodding. I think he knows what I'm like, deep inside. But I don't think he can be scared of me. Death just isn't scary to the un-dead. Why would it be? So he gets me.
I have these pills now, that keep me in check. They're good, I get the urge to try stupid stuff, but not the urge to pull of people's faces. So it works out best for everyone if I take them. This kid made them for me, he's some kind of genius. I don't really know why he did it. I guess he could see that it wasn't my fault.
I snapped.
Everything was going along fine, I was a happy, go-lucky kinda guy. Stable girlfriend, slight death obsession. Luckiest man around. Then there was a girl. Just a kid. Too young, far to young to have that look in her eye. But she just reached inside me and...
I don't want to talk about it.
I have these pills now.
They keep me in check.
It's best for everyone if I take them.
Problem is, once I get off them, I never want to take them again, I want to keep running, forever. Why would I want to slow down? Why would I want to cloud the clarity of vision that allows me to do what I secretly love more than anything?
Right now, in the darkness of this room, I can have the clarity inside my mind to remember all of this, to explore my past and who I really am. But just as soon as that door swings open and someone walks in, everything will change. They'll see me from the outside and I know what they'll see.
I'm chained here.
My shoulder twisted in a way that it just shouldn't be. I did that within a half an hour of being put in here. It used to be my bedroom, but they stripped it last time I lost it. Now there's nothing in here. Nothing I could use to get out.
I can feel the grin on my face.
I can feel the redness of my eyes.
So how the hell did I end up here? One moment, world famous, rich, happy. The next I'm a gibbering lunatic out to kill women like it's a hobby, because I just can't help it, because it's just too appealing, like the last sweat treat in a box. Really I'm too dangerous to live unless I swallow those little pill, at least I like to think so...
So then there's the pills.
It's best for everyone if I take them.
It's best for everyone.
And when my girlfriend comes home, I'm a dead man.

Clever Jilly

She was born, and that was the start of things, but as she was orphaned that day as well she was raised mostly by books and a family of foxes and another of crows. The two adopted households were jealous rivals and fought for her attention and education. As a result she was wiley, clever, free spirited and swift.
There was one particular book left from in her forest home, the roof all covered in fallen leaves. This book held many secrets amd by the time she could speak, she had learned every word in it's heavy cracked covers by heart.
Now the Prince of this kingdom heard of this power and the seeming empty house that the book occupied, he knew nothing of Jilly Foxncrowchild and her little wild ways. The girl drank her bitter tea and saw that the Prince would arrive, not to marry and carry her away as seemed to happen to so many young women. Oh no, but he would be there to steal away her book and try to use the power for his own means, foolishly, without the wisdom to understand it.
She laughed at this image as she waited.
One morning, sure enough, the prince indeed arrived and with promises and threats he offered her a choice, a crown of gold and jewels from his own head, or a life in a dank prison.
Jilly smiled again and quickly chose prison, to the Prince's surprise. He grabbed the book and threw it roughly into the bag, ordering that the girl be thrown likewise into a prison.
Once in her cell the girl sat upon the floor and cried.
"Oh please have mercy, I'm nothing but a small girl." She wept and the guards heartstrings were pulled tight, they each in turn gave her thier dinners or roast meat and potatos. When she had eaten all their food she cried again,
"Oh please have mercy, I'm nothing but a small girl."
And the tears rolled down her face.
The guards felt thier chests ache as they saw her face and quickly handed her their cloaks from which she could make a bed.
Again she cried out to them, "Oh please have mercy, I'm nothing but a small girl."
The guards stayed up with her into the night, telling sweet stories and singing lullabyes until they themselves were drifting to sleep.
As the guards slept, Jilly smiled and quickly changed her shape, bending and tranforming into a tiny moth, she flew out of the bars and off into the night.
She saw where the Prince was reading her book, trying to learn the secrets contianed within, she flew in through the keyhole of the big oak door she slipped and while the Prince and his wise men slept all around her, she nibbled through the pages, eating away a secret word from each page. Then she flew home and slept in her own warm bed with her families. In the morning before the dawn rose she returned to her cell and chuckled at the guards, who slept on the cold floor with no cloaks and no food in thier growling stomachs.
The next night she performed the same trick, waiting until they were tired and resting, so she as a moth could slip away into the night. On the third night, she changed her form again, and ate a little more of the book. The holes now went through every page.
The next morning the Prince stormed into the prison, sure that the book was falling apart, he demanded she come to the chamber and undo the magic that seemed to be eating the book.
She smiled sweetly at the Prince and told him,
"Unless you know the secret, this book will disappear before your very eyes!"
The Prince was horrified and demanded that she tell him the secret.
She offered him a swift smile and quickly transformed herself into a black crow. Jumping up onto the heads of each of the wise men she tapped three times on their heads with her beak.

"Knowledge you may steal
But happiness never
And though you might be wise,
You'll never be clever!"

With that, she plucked the Prince's golden crown from his head and flew quickly out the window as she disappeared, so did the Prince's grand robe and his beautiful young face, leaving him just an old man, in a room of old men.
As she landed on the ground and transformed back to her own form, the crown jauntily on her head, Jilly laughed. She spent one moment and not a minute more wondering what would become of the Prince, and then skipped off towards the wood, and though the prince sent many men after her, to this day, no one knows where she ran to!

I updated

Hello...
quick message to say that i ended the Breathless story. I ran out of time the other day, but there you go!
:)

Breathless

The waxy green leaves of the small palm brushed against her skin as the breeze whisked through the openness of the varandah. She turned her face towards it, tipping her chin up to regard the effortlessness of the epic blue sky that stretched on beyond her vision. She had been sitting there for nearly an hour, just watching the changes and movements in the light.
He had been gone for nearlly two full days, and the dreams of what had been were no where near leaving her skin. She could sense him behind her, capturing something about his essence in the air. There was nothing to be seen, not a trace of his existance left in the house, only the memories.
She wondered how long it would be before he came back, or before the memory of him was so foriegn that she would wonder if he had ever really been there to begin with. Would he become another dream, another breathless memory as she saw the movements of the trees that surrounded her property?
There was no suggestion that he would ever come back, really he had no reason. Not a word had been uttered to suggest that he would return, yet some how the hope remained like a niggling cough at the end of a cold, not enough to slow her down, just enough to remind her of what had been.
She played with the silken fabric that surrounded her hips as she sat there. The bright colours of it seemed to be a symbol of who she was. She was never one to sit in shadows, not a nighttime beast. She was always and forver a daughter of the sun, and as she sat there, letting the sandy silky fabric flow through her fingers, she felt like it was a part of herself, an extension of something she had never dreamed but always wanted.
The longing for something she had never seen.
From the waist up she sat brazenly naked, her skin wanted the air on it, and there was no one anywhere near her property today. She could hear them coming long before they saw her house, long before the dusty trail rose up from the old cracked red road.
Her dark hair framed her face and shoulders. She was starting to wonder if she should get up, get on and move about, there was nothing to be done at that moment, not anything pressing at least.

Under her, the rough and soft thick carpet was patterned with geometric shapes, it seemed slightly out of place there, like it should belong in a Turkish cafe, rather than her house. But she loved it dearly. Her first son had crawled across it, his chubby little fingers grasping at the weave. He had giggled and placed his face against it, all so long ago now.
She wondered about him every now and then, letting herself worry for a moment that he was unhappy, or lost but she knew it wasn't true. He was alone, but he was happy, something he had learnt from her perhaps. One day a man would come back to her, where the child had been. He would be tall and strange, strong and ready for the world, much more than she would ever be.
He would come back one day, she told herself, as she stood up slowly.
He would bring her flowers and kiss her cheeks, he would laugh at her stories and tell her some of his own. No one would mention his father. No one would need to. She would be his world again, just like when he had crawled towards her eager face all those years ago.
She looked over her shoulder once, breathing the scent of the hot and dusty air and listening to the insects that were so loud on the breeze.

Songbird

Songbird

The first time I saw the features in the wood, I was eight. In the secret area under my old teacher’s house, disguised from the world, hidden away. You walked in the side door, heavy wood, the paint chipped and rotted away. Coming into the Under the House area you were confronted with an amazing collection that at first glance was just the sort of things that an old woman would collect over her life, things of no meaning, things long forgotten or broken. But then, on closer inspection, there was a world of wonder, things that captured the imagination, from brightly coloured costumes to little tricycles with trailers to pull behind. There was even a lamp just like Aladdin’s. She had stored that stuff there, paint cans and pieces of cloth, jars and bottles, like a ruse of meaninglessness. But really there was a world there, behind her dark green eyes, the world that she had invented and lived in whenever she could. The average person wouldn’t give a second glance to those objects, more likely to notice the washing machine and dryer and ignore the rest of it. But the real secret of Under the House was past all of it. Through the laundry corner, past the spare bathroom, its walls pasted black and white with newspapers from years ago, they contained stories of their times, stories that were now as obsolete as wallpaper in a wipe free paint world.
Past these things there was another door, sliding door covered in laminex plastic made to look like wood. The door rolled stiffly back with a little persuasion and revealed her study. Here there was a window, which always sat at my back, looking out into her garden, and then two walls, one on either side of us, covered floor to ceiling with books. Books I had never heard of, books I loved, books I thought I would love when I was old enough to read them. And she sat, always proud, always straight, facing me. The room was tiny really, and I often wondered why she didn’t take over all of Under the House for her books, make a real library of it. But then, where would all the magic props live?
I knew for a fact that there was an entire shed full somewhere down the bottom of her garden as well. I had been allowed access to it when I was older, more responsible, trusted member of something old. I was allowed to paw through all those things, smell the dust and touch the fabrics of the costumes. I went in there with a boy a year older than me, we both sat for as long as we could, on the premise of fetching her something she’d asked for. We rifled through, feeling the history on each piece, on the cloth and the props, imagining how many had worn them before us. Each playing the same role. I had seen photos of the girls who had played my characters before me. My characters. Each girl probably touched their costume, read their lines and felt that this was their character too. They all donned the same antique costumes and followed directions of a woman who had probably done the same thing herself, back in the days when she was on the stage.
I used to complain about going, I used to whine and sulk and tell my mother that it was boring. Every Tuesday at her house, Thursdays at the hall with the group and Saturdays at the Church, where the performances would be. I acted like I hated going, and every Tuesday that feeling was there. I didn’t want to do it, coming straight from school, I just wanted to flop and relax. Yet I don’t think I remember a single time when I was unhappy in her room.
As soon as I was Under the House, in a place where books framed everything, and words held power, I was a party to something magical. Something that let me be something else, that let me understand rhythm and momentum and the gaining of wisdom through art. I owe a lot to that woman.
I was there for ten years, every Tuesday. When I was eight, I saw the face in the wood. To be quite honest I’m not sure whether it really was wood, or whether it was a plastic like the door, with wood grain on it. Either way, while reciting something, I remember concentrating on the features, not human, in the wood. I stared and stared at them, amazed at my discovery.
There was a deer in the wood, with its antlers stretching, curving up elegantly over its head. The wood grain farmed its perfect shape, it’s slight, subtle face, each line a compliment to the creature. I never said anything to anyone about it. But from that day on, it was my focus point on the wall, where I would look every Tuesday as I recited Shakespeare or learned my Wordsworth.
I have never forgotten it. And years later it became a painting, one of my first. The idea was slightly changed, a man’s face took the place of the deer, the antlers remained. It was the Lord Hunter Cernunoss from Celtic history. The antlered man. I was never all that satisfied with the picture, though I had a friend who loved it dearly. It’s amazing what you bring with you from childhood.
Those years were happy, they were creative and social. And now, as I’m travelling through the countryside of England, years and miles away, I wonder why I ever left the stage.
She died, a few years after I had stopped performing, her funeral was filled with young people who were once children. She had touched hundreds in her long life, and the day they sold her things, I felt like screaming. My mother and I went to her house, a small house that her children had moved her to when she became ill. I had spent the last few years of my rehearsals in that strange living room, with all those books down the hall, in a cramped spare bedroom. When they sold the house, they sold all of her books. Thrown into boxes, it was a garage sale of literature and wisdom.
I can’t remember if I bought any books, I’m sure my mother would have, I think we bought some Shakespeare, but I do remember buying a little songbird in a cage. It was a music box. I don’t know why I remembered it so strongly, but when I saw it, I knew that it needed to come home with me. It wound up at the bottom and played a song. The little bird used to move, spin around, I think, but it had stopped working when I was a child.
I hung it from my curtain rail.
Strange that a little toy songbird should be the thing that I bring away from the woman who surrounded me with words.

Endings

Wednesday Morning 4am

When it ended, it ended with a song.
Peter had watched things changing over the years, six in all, longer than he had spent living any one place when he was growing up. She had kept him still. Most people at least have their high school years to settle and live in one location. But not Peter. He wasn’t so much a gypsy wanderer, as someone who was “asked to leave”. He lived now in a familiar world of memories and humour, coating his conversations with amusing lies and stories of the past.
Now that it had all finished, he found himself talking about Her more than he wanted to, it seemed to just slip out. Something to do with six years of his life revolving around another person. All of those memories were mixed up with Her; She’d been there through all of it.
Every time he talked about Her it was with a mixture of self-derisive humour and relief. There was something cathartic about mentioning Her name, as if referring to Her put Her further in the past.
He was thirty now, which came as some surprise to him, snuck up from behind, disguised in college years and romance. His hair had gone from shoulder length in university, to retreating back from his forehead. He had the decency to shave his head when it started to go, his friends still gave him grief about it, and mostly he found himself suddenly short of come backs. They had come with him through his life, before Her, though mostly, when it all ended, they were left without the ability to deal properly and express any kind of sympathy, short of buying him a pint. “Never mind son.” And so on. They avoided the topic and took him out. She was disappeared from their world, bar his mention. They all lived within two streets of one another, the house She and Peter had shared was now Hers, but he only moved around the corner. She didn’t come down the Eastern anymore, when they all went to play pool and drink. She ceased to exist.
Peter was inherently cheerful, though in an unsure sort of way. He had all the aspects of being an interesting charismatic person, wrapped in a layer of uncertainties. He was funny, well travelled, spoke French, he read a lot and was bold enough to admit when he didn’t understand or like a supposed classic masterpiece of Japanese literature.
Most of his life had been surrounded in music. It was important to him; the variety of it was a summery of his life. When he’d been living in France, the music was non-existent. They’d found other worlds of heavy metal, strange music that appealed to young boys in a country that was very much not their own.
The trip to Amsterdam had been a moment in his life he had never forgotten. The whole team of bedraggled rugby boys, used to their schoolteachers standing out in the field with huge down coats, while they trembled and shivered in shorts. The team had been sponsored to stay with the team they’d be playing. The local boys had been a similar bunch, who took the team out on the town in the land of grass. The school was less than impressed. “Tell us if you did it, or we’re going to call your hosts and ask them.” They threatened.
Peter and his sister spent hours trying to call his host and convince him to say nothing, but couldn’t get through. So he admitted it. Was suspended. Years later he met the kid who had been his host, “I never would have said anything, you should have called, man…”
A year after his rugby tour, with the team displaying new motto, “Rugby is better on grass.” He was asked to leave school for the first and last fight he had ever been involved in. He stood by it still. The guy was a git. But it was the end of his time in Paris.
She was something different, She was something new, something he hadn’t expected. Peter had a flat mate, in university, who’s name was Emma, she was a great friend, funny, easy going, all of the good things, but she was the only girl he had been close to. That was until he met Her. She was different; She was a real grown up woman. They moved in, got engaged, everything.
When it ended, it ended with a song.
He had noticed things going down hill, in a sort of slow spiral. They were too comfortable with each other’s annoying habits and boring moments. The night before he had been up to four in the morning, drinking and singing at the top of his lungs with his best mate.
Simon and Garfunkel ended his relationship.
She walked down to find him at eight as she left for work; he was asleep on the couch, stubble thick across his chin and cheeks.
“I can’t deal with it anymore. I’m finished. It’s over.” She stated and looked at him.
He rolled his head around to look at her through bleary eyes.
“Ok…” He was about all he could manage.
And it ended.