Author Archives: K.T. Hanna

A City called Safety

 As the light of the setting sun glints off the city’s steel facades, an explosion of movement spreads across the landscape. Those few seconds lend a magnification of power, gifting precious energy to those who were trapped outside when the blast hit.

Just as quickly as it began, where moments before was a flurry of noise, stillness falls. Occasionally a grain of sand gets carried closer by short-lived breezes. Then the sound starts. Lungs torturously filling themselves with the oxygen expended moments before. Moans of agony escape chapped lips as muscles rebel against the forced action. And then they wait, yet again, for the next day’s only reprieve.

If desperation had a taste, it’d be flesh and dust and sand mixed together, but taste is hard to sense over the stench of the rotting corpses littering the running field. The ones who didn’t make it this far. Those on the outskirts know that taste. They know they’ll never make it in time, not before they wilt or waste or get picked off by the roiling clouds along the horizon.

Those clouds inch closer every day. The acid rain rolls languidly along, melting everything it comes into contact with as it approaches the city. That’s what Safety was intended for. To withstand the predicted acid rain. But the blast came too soon, locking the populace in throes of despair with their beacon of hope but a shiny wish on the horizon. All that’s left is that daily frantic burst of speed. That one hope.

A thing at my feet whimpers, and I reach down with a twist of my hand to silence it. The sickening crunch is followed by the thud of the body and I smile. The sun can’t reach in here – it can’t touch me or my meals. I stand and watch, waiting for my food to reach me. The incoming supply is being delectably roasted out there.

I wonder what they’ll think of this city they call Safety.

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Before Now

I saw it in her lines, in the soft fall of her pale hair, in the curls that hung just the right way accentuating her eyes and nose. It was there in the soft rosy tint highlighting her cheeks and lips. Those lips and their penchant for turning down, a slight frown marring an otherwise perfect face.

It was always there, in the way her delicate fingers danced over the keys of a piano, holding the bow to a violin, or caressing skin she had no right to be touching – to rouse feelings no one human should be able to inflict on another.

In the gentle flutter of her eyelashes and that coy way she wound everyone around those same delicate fingers, tugging with deceptively strong hands to tighten the noose once she bound you to her. Pulling you closer and closer until you wanted to suffocate, or give into her every whim.

I always did and I gave up my world for her, for one look of approval from that otherwise icy expression. For just one sign that I melted her exterior, found her inner warmth. But even though I glimpsed it, there was never any permanence. Just fleeting temptation of what she never let anyone truly experience.

Controlling, but in a way no one saw until they were under her spell. Like magic, but real, and just as deadly. Sakura in name, and in nature, fleeting and yet consistent. Beautiful and tasty, hurt by the winter she could never overcome.

By the winter she would always imitate in the hopes that no one realized her true self. Empty and lifeless, like snow clinging to the branch before the spring light sends it plummeting to be devoured by the hungry ground around it.

The snow has melted and the frown is gone from her lips. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen her truly at peace with herself.  Dressed in lace and satin, she’s made up like a porcelain doll.

I lean down to kiss her cold, dead lips, my knuckles white as I grip the sides of the casket. If only she could have shown us this beauty before now.

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Like Chocolate

Even before the alarm blares across the compound I’m moving to the safehouse. After years of living in fear, my eyes can spy the faintest hints of the mist as it starts rolling in and my body aches with a phantom memory of where the left arm should be.

The water gives us forewarning and allows us to survive.

They might look like harmless tendrils of fog, but just one touch and the skin melts from your body. Trust me. I know. It took my limb, and only luck let them drag me away in time to save what was left.

It took over a decade to find this sanctuary – to find this perfect piece of land that gives us fair warning. As far as we know, we’re the last people left. Mist can be tricky like that. And this lulls you into a false sense of security. We learned fast to assume that all mist was dangerous.

We’ve grown adept at this race against the roiling clouds. Practiced at gathering the children and marching them down below into the air tight, poorly ventilated space we’ll have to spend the next twenty-four hours.

Every time I see those clouds, my mind wanders. To me, with searing agony burned in memories, I’ve always had a fear that it somehow knows. That it watches us. That it’s waiting for something none of us understand.

That it’s more sentient than not.

“Hayley?” My older brother’s eyes are filled with concern he refuses to voice. “You ok?”

“Yeah,” I answer, “Just cold.”

Every person in the compound is assigned a shelter and I watch them as orderly lines stream toward their designated safe areas. Shivers lurch down my spine and make me convulse, just a little. I wish I still had both arms. The need to hug myself is suddenly overwhelming.

Slowly, I turn around. Surely I’m seeing things?

Had I not changed directions at that specific point in time, I don’t think I’d ever have noticed. But it’s too coincidental to not be deliberate. The dull throb in my arm might as well be laughing at me. There is no gap anywhere in the fog as it rings around us. If I listen closely, I can almost hear it cackle with glee.

Any doubts I had of sentience vanish as I hear a straggler screaming in the pain I know all too well. It lingers in my ears as the stone gates close me underneath the earth in our imagined protection.

Just like the doors, it all clicks into place. The fog waits outside our compound, chasing us into our rabbit holes for fun when it needs sustenance – snapping us like a chocolate bar.

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Coughing Beans

We’d always been poor. But Ma and Pa made ends meet. No matter what they had to do. Scrounging for food in dumpsters, begging for food behind restaurants, buying what day old rations they could afford.

The mines didn’t pay well. It was grimey, gritty work. Pa came home with a cough. He was all right, he said. Said it until the day he kipped over, spluttering out mucus and blood all over the threadbare carpet.

One tear ran down Ma’s face, closely followed by a second. But only the first made it to the floor where Pa lay. She wiped the other back fiercely, like she didn’t want it to exist.

With Pa gone, Ma took on more work. Not just sweeping up hair down at Jay’s. The local barber wasn’t enough anymore. I could scrounge for me own food, but the littles? At five and six they couldn’t fend for themselves, and at ten I wasn’t old enough, strong enough, or clever enough to do so.

I tried though. For Jay and for Reno, who owned the rights to the market, I ran errands. Under shop-fronts with their corrugated iron roofs, where you always knew if it was raining, down through the desolate quarter with their holey walls and paper castles. We were poor, but there’s always someone worse off.

My meager pay didn’t help for much. It barely paid for my meals and still I was so dang proud of myself. The littles looked up at me, green eyes round like the fresh apples we couldn’t afford. They clutched at the shiny coins in my hands like I was the most amazing big brother ever.

Until Ma came home and coughed.

She never told me where her other work was. She never told me how much we needed to cover the rent of our shack and its missing corner of the roof.  She never told me anything until I held her, hugged her, and heard the rattling in her chest.

Ma tried to speak. I’m sure she tried to say she was alright. But I knew what happened to Pa when he said that – and the littles and I couldn’t lose Ma. Never. Ever.

There were rumors of course. Of things that could cure. Natural things. And of evil things. Things you had to sell body parts to get. I had a body, and parts. Ma had to live.

Jay said Reno would know. And I’d done Reno favors, so I asked. He watched me, an odd twitch to the eye with the scar running through. Rumor had it he could see into your soul. I always thought he’d done offended the wrong punter.

He watched me while I spoke, while I tried to explain that me and the littles couldn’t manage with Ma sick.

“You’re a big boy now, Jack.” He said, clucking his tongue and twirling the straw in his teeth.

I nodded and waited. There was a man behind Reno, but I couldn’t tell much about him. Each breath he took made his chest enormous. His eyes obscured by the shaggy brows above. A huge hulking shadow. The biggest man I ever saw.

“Tell you what, lad.” The man said and his voice hissed like a snake, deep and haunting to the bone. But I leant forward, because I had to know. “I’ll give you these beans, Jack. They’re magic beans. If you can get them to grow, I’ll help save your mother.”

I stood back and crossed my arms. Maybe I’m just ten, and maybe I’m none too smart, but I’m not completely stupid. “If I can get these to grow, you’ll help me Ma?”

For a moment he was silent, but nodded. “I’ll help your Ma, and you’ll owe me.”

Shivers ran down my spine, but I had to be big, didn’t have time to be a kid anymore. “Done.” I said, spat on my hand and shook with the big man before my courage wore off.

Beans. Couldn’t be too hard to grow, right? Never grew a thing in me life, but all I had to do was find earth dirt. I searched and I ran and I hunted up and down. Through the dead zone where the plagued went to die, through the desolate quarter and all through to the end of the poor… and I found it.

Between the high concrete walls of the outer crumbling buildings, there was a tiny sliver. Just a crack in this otherwise concrete jungle. I fetched stagnant water from a nearby puddle and pushed the beans down into the crack as far as my small fingers let me, and then I upended the liquid all over them.

I didn’t tell Ma, though I bathed her forehead and went without my own food so the littles could eat. They thanked me, eyelashes fluttering like butterflies while Ma suppressed the coughs wracking her thin body as best she could.

It had to grow. It had to grow.

The next morning I went back, with a break in the clouds enough to let sunlight rain down on us for one of the rarer moments we get these days. Where the light shimmers and for once the hope surges through that being poor might not be our sentence, but a better future.

The plant was stronger than I expected, with three buds. Against all those odds, it had grown, was growing, right before my eyes. As quick as I dared, I gave it more water, and watched for a few moments. Must’ve been my imagination, but I swear the concrete had new cracks that weren’t there yesterday.

After double-checking my end of the deal, I began the run to Reno’s market to let the stranger know. I’d just stop by our house on the way, to feed the littles and let Ma know everything would be okay.

Screams reached me long before I reached them.

I watched, hands limp at my sides while snakey man stood watching men drag the littles over their shoulders – kicking and screaming – away from our hovel.

“But I made the beans grow.” I didn’t mean to sound so sad. I didn’t even mean to speak.

“Yes, Jack,  you did. No more worries for you now, not with the littles gone.” His dark eyes look me up and down for a moment and his smile hurt my head with how wrong it was. “Remember you owe me. I’ve taken care of your mother for you.”

A cold pit formed in my stomach and I scrambled to run into our house. Coppery tang hit my nose as I barged in. Blood streaked the room, all the beds, even the meager food supplies.

Ma’s blank eyes gaze up at the open gash in the ceiling.

There is no magic.

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Refuge

When the alarm blares over the ancient megaphone system, I stop what I’m doing and hold my breath to count the sirens. After the third shuddering beep, my gaze drifts to the water and its winding path that swings toward us and our little city. Our overflowing city.

Like all of them along this river, we perch high above the wastelands. We’re all that’s left now. It’s only safe here because the pestilence can’t eat away at the rock base of the waterway.

On a bad day though, like yesterday, the stench still reaches us. It’s on those days the air reeks like the rotting flesh of the beasts left behind on the earth below; of the rotting vegetation left to die like everything that couldn’t make the trek to this altitude.

The sails of Refuge are visible over the horizon and the excitement causes my stomach to clench and flip flop. I welcome the nausea though, because this time there’s an added tingle down through my finger tips. This time – it’s different.

In the teachings, the books with their fading pages, we’re told that nature always finds a way, she always survives. And that’s where we are now – singled out by our nature to live.

Today, like every time Refuge pulls into port, some of us will get to move onto the next stage, to the next area. Not everyone can go at once, after all. They need to make sure they can accommodate all of us. Once a month they call a few of us out and send the lucky ones from each town on their way to a better place. It’s the chance to escape the close quarters here in the city and head toward the future our leaders promised mankind.

I can see the reflection of the sun, her bright yellow fingers dipping into the water and turning her shades of purple and pink before the gold swallows it whole. Sails whisper in the slight breeze as the hull groans a little while the vessel navigates the twists and turns of the river.

Our bags are packed, they’re always packed and with us no matter what we’re doing during the day. No one dares throw away their future on something so trivial. My mother clutches my hand like she has since I was a child and we weave through people to stand on our assigned dock awaiting the arm that may lead us to the ship.

Only in this light can I see the next city over, just a glimpse in the distance. A shiver runs down my spine. It could be the chill of the air ushered in from the water, but I know it’s excitement.

The metallic clang of the megaphone system whirrs to life again and three names drone over the speakers.

Isaac Davis
Michael Jones
Sarah King

My stomach churns at the pause after the last, and I can barely believe my ears when a final name is intoned.

Isabel Merrick

My heart skips a beat, thudding in my chest. I’m too young to remember before the rising, I wasn’t even born. My entire life has been about this, about getting called to move on. Even though it means leaving my mother behind, I can’t help be happy. I’ve been chosen for the next stage.

My time is short. There’s only a moment to embrace my mother and wave to my friends before I start the walk down the arm the Refuge extends for us to board. The footing is unsure, so I can’t run toward the ship like my brain tells me to. Instead, I pull my suitcase behind me and board with the others.

I huddle on the deck with the others from my city and those before us. There’s a sad smile on my mother’s face and I think I spy a tear. I know it’s not for me, but for herself and yet again being left behind. She’ll follow me soon though, she has to.

Two stops later and the people are sandwiched together. Claustrophobia threatens to engulf me, but I can see the splendor of gold on the horizon and I know it’s waiting for us. Refuge groans beneath the weight of all her passengers, fighting her way up stream and for a moment I wish she were bigger and stronger.

The excited buzz in the air is contagious and though I vaguely know the other people from my city, I stand proudly with them, eagerly awaiting our ascension to a new life.

Refuge slows, and a few of us elbow to the bow, eager to see our new home. I’m confused. The river appears to stop here, and no matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to see where the water flows to.

I crane my neck and suddenly the excitement vanishes from my stomach, replaced by true nausea as it clenches up in fear. The drop off in front of us is endless and black. I try to backpedal, but hands push at me from behind. Murmurs of surprise and confusion surround me and as the girl a few over from me falls we realize the sides of Refuge are falling away. The screaming starts.

There’s nothing to hold onto, only those around me. The wooden bow is suddenly slick and everyone reaches for each other, trying to find a way to hold onto the suddenly tilting floor.

My belongings dive before me and as my fingers lose hold of the other’s, I realize the G on the hull is newer, painted over another. Over an S.

Refuse.

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Leaving the Nest

She’d always remember that picture. The one that hung in the hall, visible when the guests walked in. Full of regal beauty, poise, and perfection on the day of her mother’s first principle role.

Odette spent her entire life trying to live up to her mother’s expectations. But her feet wouldn’t turn out just right, her legs were spindly, and coordination non-existent. And she hated her name – named for the white swan where her mother had always favored Odile, the black swan, despite the role being one and the same.

Time after time, day after day, year after year – her mother pushed her, prodded her, and scolded her in front of a class full of girls with the right figures, the right coordination and an actual ambition to dance.

In her twilight years, Odette’s mother wanted what her daughter would never be – a prima ballerina to take over the legacy, to continue the line of dancing royalty she’d created. And when it didn’t happen, Odette was shunned, locked away to think on her crimes, on her genetic failure to live up to her mother’s standards.

The bruises were easily explained away. No one thought twice about them considering Odette’s obvious clumsiness. Though they left no lasting external damage, the mottled purple fading through to green and yellow dug gouges in her psyche.

Until the whispers started.

At first Odette though they were from the other girls as she arched her back in a port de bras, but it didn’t take long for her to realize the voices were always with her. Soon, she began to take comfort in them, listen to them, and wish she could please them in ways her mother would never be pleased by her.

No longer alone, she bore the beatings with a smile, which only served to further infuriate her mother. Punishments lengthened and the ridicule became so nasty Odette could see the revulsion in her peer’s eyes.

She harboured the whispers, held them close, comforted them. Something would go her way soon, because she had a plan to be perfect – a plan to quiet everything once and for all.

The first thud of the golf club as it sunk into her mother’s skull had a sickeningly wet crunch to it. Sort of like a packed bowl of cereal with almost enough milk.

The second stroke resounded with a wet pop when she pulled it away from her mother’s head, the indent making a nest of blood and brains for that pretty brown hair.

The third stroke sprayed blood higher than Odette anticipated, coating her mother’s painting with an artful splash of red.

Odette stood there for a few moments as her mother twitched, as the eyes glazed over, and as the body finally lay motionless in a congealing pool of blood on the floor. She sunk to the ground, letting the golf club clatter beside her and smiled at nothing in particular. For the first time in her life, she found her mother’s favorite portrait appealing.

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We All Fall Down

Death has sounds. Coughing, spluttering, a strange sort of gurgle… I can’t help but notice them as I walk down the cobblestone street, scarf pulled across my face hoping to fend off some of the illness in the air. Though it’s not illness, we all know this, we’ve known it for some time.

It’s a plague.

We’re not sure how it reached our shores, and I don’t think anyone actually cares. What we care about is surviving, and the odds are slim at best. It besets and clings to people indiscriminately. Perhaps we can take solace in the fact that no one group is at more risk. Technically. I daresay the rich aren’t quite as prone.

The children play in the street, oblivious to their potential futures, to the plight of friends who can no longer come out and play with them. Their song sends shivers down my spine, and I’m not sure why.

Ring-a-ring o’ roses,
A pocket full of posies,
A-tishoo! A-tishoo!
We all fall down.

The edges of my shawl are threadbare, but I pull them around me to stave off the sudden chill. I’m not sure my mother will still be with us when I get back. And I can’t afford to think of how long it might be before I’m no longer here. I’ll turn into a blubbering mess like Dulcia did. We’re still not sure what got her first – the plague or the madness.

The stench of rot and decay assaults me as soon as I open our door. I gag at the smell, a stark reminder that not only does Death have sounds, but she has odors too. Horrible ones. My mother has passed. I was gone too long.

My heart hurts, I think, or maybe it’s my chest. They say that’s how it can start – a tightening of the chest, a hitch in your breath. Please let it only be my sorrow at her passing. I don’t want to die.

But who does?

“Edith?”

I turn, surprised to find tears blurring my vision as I try to figure out who’s calling my name. Though the sunlight is dulled by the clouds, there’s still enough light that only the silhouette is visible at first. Does Death work this quickly? Is she paying me a visit too?

“Edith? Has she passed?” There’s urgency about the voice that only matches one person – Alma.

I nod, suddenly unable to speak around the lump in my throat.

“Let us collect her, love.” Though her words are kind, I can hear the urgency, the need to retrieve the body and burn it. Burn them all.

I nod again and let them pass to retrieve my mother’s husk, their own selves covered as much as possible to avoid contact, to avoid breathing in whatever the dead flesh is secreting. And I wonder when it will stop, or if, in the end, there’ll be piles and piles of us with no one left to burn them.

Days blur into one another, weeks and far too much time, just like those tears blurred my vision. It’s lonely in my house, and as much as I scrub it, I always feel like mother is still there, still about to die and leave that smell. Maybe it’s embedded in my nostrils.

Our town has dwindled to barely a village. The Baker died three days ago, a few weeks after my mother. It’s a shame, I loved his breadrolls.

But this morning feels different, and I’m not sure why at first and go about my obsessive routine. I clean the house, and myself and leave to sit outside on the porch and watch the comings and goings.

Today there is sunshine, the first true blue sky in a long time. It illuminates the mostly empty streets, deserted houses and hopeless faces. As I undertake my routine nail inspection for signs of my own Black Death, I realize the children’s singing has taken on a different tone.

“Edith!” Alma comes running. I’m glad she survived this long too.

“What?” I ask, and even I can hear the despondency in my voice.

“It’s over.”

I blink up at her, and need to shade my eyes to see her face. The earnestness shines in it, her eyes afire with something I haven’t felt in a long time. “It’s really over?” I whisper.

She nods and pulls me up, close to her in a rare display of affection for both of us. She’s gone as soon as she arrived, probably to take word to everyone else. All of our depleted population.

And still, the sun beats down, improving my mood and I listen to them, truly listen to the song again as I shade my eyes to watch the children spinning in the circle. For the first time I notice they’re dressed the same as they’ve always been. I swear I’ve seen the same children spin and sing for however… long this nightmare has lasted.

Ring-a-round the rosie,
A pocket full of posies,
Ashes! Ashes!
We all fall down

And as they fall to the ground, laughing and giggling at and with each other, I realize what it is they’re making me feel. As if it’s rising up from between them, heralding a new beginning for us all.

Hope.

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July Prompt Discussion

KT: What were your first thoughts upon seeing this prompt picture choice?

Becca: Honestly, at first I thought, “Crap. It’s very pretty, but I’ve got no frakking idea what to write.”

Leigh: That’s pretty. I don’t really have a story for it though.

KT – I just thought it was so pretty. And it reminded me of Giselle. I love that ballet. I’m not sure why this picture made me think of it.I think I’m the only one of us who prefers setting pictures.

How did you progress to your story idea from those first thoughts?

Becca:When I buckled down and really started to focus, I was drawn to the rush of the fog/water around the rocks and to the one little stone standing on end in the middle. Standing stones have such a connection to lore and ritual, and I just started playing with the idea from there.

Leigh: I actually resorted to word association, and started listing the elements of the picture – Mists, moss, stones, etc. Then for each, I did word association, so like Stone went to permanent, altar, frozen, grave, and I came up with about 10 different ideas I started working with. Some were really trope, and I dismissed those quickly. I’d loved the Doctor Who episode The Tombs of Akhaten, and the setting just screamed an Asian influence, so I decided to riff off that.

KT: After my initial Giselle thought, I decided to challenge myself and do a 2nd person pov story. I’ve never written 2nd person before and really wanted to. Since my story was inspired by Giselle – I already had the story, I just needed to trial and error the point of view.

Did you encounter any difficulties while writing this prompt piece?

Becca: Trying to toe that line between the close perspective of this one, arrogant character who thinks he knows exactly what he’s getting into and also dropping these tonal hints about the truth of what was waiting for him. I mean, I’m not sure I succeeded necessarily, but it’s what I was angling for, so that was a challenge.

Leigh: It was really hard to figure out what to write on. Our other prompts had people in them, so there were clear subjects to focus on. With this one, I flailed around for a lot longer before figuring out details.

KT: 2nd person pov is much harder than I thought it was going to be. It took me several tries to get it right. I actually find settings far easier to write for. When there’s a character in the picture I find it far more difficult because I like to make my own. So, apart from getting the pov own, I didn’t really have any troubles with the prompt.

Any other thoughts on the picture choice and story meshing together?

Becca: Not a thought, really, but a fun fact: I gender-switched the MC. Originally, I wrote it as a female character, but I wasn’t liking how it sounded and couldn’t get it together. I decided to flip the hers to hims, and everything fell into place.

Leigh: I think by having just the setting, we did end up with very different stories, even more so than usual.

KT: I love settings. They inspire me in a way words, songs, and pictures of people don’t. This picture sort of called to me, in a melancholy way. Probably why I chose it.

Do you feel writing prompt fiction challenges you as a writer?

Becca: It’s definitely making me think differently. I’m such a planner usually when I write novels, so these shorter pieces have really been helping me learn how to just take a line or a glimmer of an idea and spin it out and see where it goes. It’s been fun.

Leigh: Definitely. I used to do a lot more short stories when I first started writing, but once I started doing novels, it was hard to go back to short stories. This forces me to really focus on the smaller things like sensory descriptions. Plus right now, while things are so hectic, it’s nice to take a little bit to work on the short stories.

KT: Absolutely. It helps me refine my process and I love some of the ideas we’ve come up with. With every short story I write, I feel like my writing is improving. Short stories are a great break from the way I plan my novels. I’m loving these prompts.

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The Lovers’ Stone

Commotion in the foyer coaxed you out of your room the day he arrived at your parents’ Inn. Him and his shining smile. The fall of his hair and his easy words lulled you. His party would join him in several days. Several days of wonderful abandon.

The stars in your eyes were a blinker to the cautions your mother whispered. The same cautions fluttered in your own heart, drowned out by love and infatuation.

Your obsession persisted through trysts in his arms in the hollows by your lovers’ stone. The way your lips fit perfectly against his, your breasts as if molded by his hands. You’d never felt so alive, so beautiful, so wanted, so wanton.

In a swirl of dust and gold his entourage tugged him from your grasp. Then the cold set in as you watched, and waited and wanted to cry.

His fiancé, regal in her splendor, dwarfed you with her beauty. With her fancy jewels, her silk gowns, and hair coifed to perfection. You felt the first seeds of doubt, but he washed them away with feverish kisses in stolen moments, behind the hay bales in the barn, left of the kitchen-midden.

In hurried, hidden, lust-filled moments you ignored all signs that could have alerted you. That might have saved you.

To see the meaning behind his words, the selfish intentions that stole your heart and fired the heat in your loins. To feel the betrayal while you watched in slow motion as the promises he made began to crumble.

He saw your uncertainty and smiled it away, kissed your tears from your cheeks, reinforced promises you wanted him to keep. Believed every word he said.

He said he’d meet you in the mists. He’d see you and cradle you in secret down by the telling stone, the lovers’ stone, where the fog swirled around the moss covered debris of the forest you played in as a child.

The stone, he said. He’d take you from here. Away from his riches and your family’s judgment. Away – just you, him and your love.

You waited, and waited, with your hastily packed belongings tied in the stereotypical handkerchief of the runaway. You sat with your eyes on the stone replaying the love you made there over and over again in vivid imagery that made you blush to recall.

 

But you don’t remember why you fell asleep, or how long it lasted. The pain in your skull lingers, whispering thoughts you can’t quite grasp, memories you can’t quite believe.

As you sit and think, your hope begins to dwindle, now as it did for those brief respites he was with that other, his, woman. You sit at the stones, feet hidden by the mist, and your mind starts to clear, leaving room for the pain in your head to convey its true origin.

The blow. The crack. The blood. The pain.

The knowledge that he never meant any of it.

You scream, you cry, and you seek, but the barrier of the mist holds you at bay. Holds you near the stones, at the stones, the vivid images you once treasured distorting with the truth you don’t want to believe.

Harsh reality hits you and now you call to him, whisper for him as the days melt into each other. Time has no meaning. There’s only lust and hatred, memory and betrayal, promises and lies.

You are the mist surrounding those mossy stones. Calling to the trees, for the wind to carry your word to him, to lull him and fetch him to you.

Just when you’ve given up making him see what he did, of making him pay – he’s there, at the border, the edges of your reach. His face is shadowed. Strain shows in the veins in his neck as they stand out against his pale flesh.

He says your name and for a fleeting moment you’re back there, here, in his embrace, whispering of love and dreams and futures and life.

Now he’s here, within your circle as the mist closes around him, and you. Around you both.

You pull him to you, your intentions to hurt him like he hurt you, to maim and leave for the mist like he deserted you.

“I didn’t know she’d do this…”

His words slowly sink in.

You don’t need to hear the rest. You know deep down what he’s saying, what he means. It wasn’t him. It was never him. Some of who you were returns, comes back to you – but you realize he’s crossed the barrier now. He’s decaying in the mists just like you are, like you intended him to.

It’s too late now.

But at least you have him, and the lovers’ stone with the moss and the leafy-canopy, forever tangled in the mists together.

~
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His Eyes

I remember his eyes, alabaster against ebony skin.

We vacationed there every summer, our family trip. I knew, if I snuck out into the garden at night when the moon was high and bathing the plants in just enough light to see him by that he’d climb down from his pedestal and run around the courtyard with me.

His dark form and chasing shadows made playing hide and seek fun, more difficult and sometimes spookier than any game played in the sunshine. Each night before I left, he’d smile at me and tell me that one day we’d see the daylight together. It always made me laugh because he never moved during the day.

I know because all he did during when the sun shone was follow me with his eyes, body held in perfect stone like semblance. It filled me with wonder the way he stood on one leg, always leaning at the same angle amongst the grass and flowers in the sun, his black skin hard as stone while his eyes held so much life.

When I started high school, family vacations became so passé. Any excuse, every excuse not to be seen with my parents. I forgot all about my childhood playmate until recently, flipping through the album and seeing him there, so alone, so real, so intense.

I wonder if he remembers me.

And then I realize how silly that is. But something reminds me of the fun I once had there, of the childhood memories I cherish even now and I think that maybe I should go and visit my old friend even if I’ve outgrown him.
Besides, one day it might be nice to take my future children to see him.

When I disembark from the ferry it’s surreal, everything just as I remember it, like I’ve traveled back in time. From the trees to the gravel path I walk on as it crunches underfoot and I remember how many scrapes and bruises adorned my legs from tumbles down it.

It’s all so real I can almost feel the pain and I glance down at my legs just to be sure. For a moment the shadows refract and I gasp involuntarily, then laugh at myself when I realize the grazes were just a trick of the light.

Even the people are the same. I would have thought time stood still except for the greyer hair.

The decor in the room is fresh and modern, at complete juxtaposition with the memories I hold so dear and I wonder if maybe other things have been modernized. Maybe he’s not here anymore.

Almost scared, I approach the window, my window, the one I remember clambering out of as a child. I didn’t realize I was holding my breath until I let it out in relief. He’s there, amongst the greenery, red flowers popping up around him. Maybe a little more weathered than I remember. Part of me wants to say hello right away, but we always had the best times after dark. Though I realize the imagination of a child was at work, the night still holds special memories.

When the moonlight hits the courtyard, it’s just the way I remember. It takes me back to the times I had not a care in the world and I run, knowing that this time he won’t move and come play with me, because I know he’s a statue.

But my knowing this means nothing when he blinks, steps off the pedestal and speaks to me as if I never left, eye glinting in the light of the full moon.

“Let’s play.” He says with that mischievous grin and I’m transported back to my childhood where we run and play and seek each other all night. It’s tiring and exhilarating, thrilling and creepy and I barely notice it as the time passes and my limbs grow heavy with exhaustion.

It’s the perfect memory and the perfect place and I vaguely remember his words before I fall asleep – the promise he always made me dancing on my lips. That one day we’d see the daylight together.

When I wake my body is heavy and I curse the muscle pain I’ve inflicted on myself, gallivanting around the night before. My legs are so weighted I can’t move them. My arms are stiff and rigid. Slowly, I open my eyes and want to blink away what I see. I can feel a scream building in my throat but there’s no way for it to escape.

It echoes in my head as I look out at the world through his eyes.

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