Small-Town Politics

Prompt this time comes from Yeah Write.

“She killed her son.” Write on this sentence, but don’t include any violence in your story.

As I wrote this, I began to realize that the setting was basically the small town I grew up in. For anyone from there that happens to read this, I promise there’s nothing specific to anyone in town. Except for a specific line from a conversation I remember my father having at Ruthies, which I’ve slightly falsified. If anyone recognizes it, kudos to you.

 

The cafe was loud, in the way only small-town cafes managed. Patrons called fond insults across the room to waves of laughter. An old farmer couple sat at the counter, trading tips about what to expect with this year’s frost with the bad winter they’d had last year. Another group a few chairs away discussed lawn-care requirements. One of the men was particularly adamant on mowing styles, “You’ve gotta mow in a different pattern once in a while, or the grass starts to grow in that direction and it doesn’t cut so clean.” His argument was quickly followed up by, “Mulching, though. If you mulch it, it don’t matter so much.”

Before the conversation could get heated, and some of the customers were already turning to see what the first man’s response was, the door opened and a family of four tromped in, a couple and their eldest two daughters.

“Look who it is! As I live and breathe, it’s little Hannah!” the waitress said. She stepped out from behind the counter to hug the older of the girls. “Hand enough of big city life?”

“I missed the food,” Hannah said, returning the hug and then following her family to the table nearest the counter.

The initial thread of the conversation was disrupted for a few minutes as the various townsfolk asked her how she was liking her first year of college (“It’s different, but I really like it so far.”), where her younger brother was (“You know Peter. Probably trying to figure out how to let the Cooper’s cows out Monday morning so he can skip school to round them up.”), what she had decided on majoring in (“Dunno yet. Nursing maybe, or the school has a really good livestock management program.”). Everything settled back into its usual rhythms before too long, interrupted only by the arrival of Peter in a muddied jacket and jeans.

Not long after that the farmer couple stood up, excusing themselves.

“The boys are coming home to help us with some work on the farm,” Wayne said, pulling out his wallet and throwing a few dollars down on the counter. The waitress smiled as she cleared the plates.

“When will your jam be ready, Betty?” the cook asked, emerging from the back. “The stuff you gave us last year was gone before winter was out.”

“Soon,” the elderly woman said. “Ryan’s bringing Angie with him. She’ll help with the jam this year.” Betty held out hands wracked with age. “There’s not as much strength in these old hands as there used to be.”

The couple had almost made it out the door when it opened and the entire cafe went silent. Even the younger children who had been laughing loud enough to drown out nearby conversations quieted without prompting from their parents. The cook disappeared back into the kitchen. The door closed behind Betty and Wayne with a loud thud into the silence, depositing a worn-looking woman in her mid-thirties in their wake.

The woman cast a quick look around the room, eyes flicking from table to table, coming to rest on a cracked tile near her feet. She skirted the edge of the counter like a feral barn cat, a careful distance between her and everyone else and came to an uneasy stop a few feet from the register.

“What can I get you?” the waitress asked. Her voice was kind but impersonal. It held none of the warmth with which she had greeted Hannah or jokingly refused to bring another customer ketchup.

“Just a coffee please. Black’s fine.” The woman’s voice was barely a whisper, but more than loud enough for the silence broken only by the ice cream machine running in the back.

The waitress picked up a Styrofoam cup from the stash near the register and moved toward the coffee. Conversation began to pick up again, spearheaded by the old logger Joe at the counter.

“Jim,” he said, voice just a little too loud, “what was it you said about that skidder of yours?”

Jim stuttered for a second before he caught the hint. “Yeah. Yeah, a brother of the wife’s got it from a neighbor of theirs who moved from the city. Got it practically for free, too, but it’s not pulling right.”

“What’re you doing tonight?”

Jim clapped his hand on his son’s shoulder. “Travis’s in the basketball tourney at the school today, but we should be home by six. Want to come by and take a look at it?”

And with that, the conversation started up again. A brave soul from the back piped up that he’d had a similar issue with their old tractor and it had been something with the steering–took him sixteen hundred bucks before someone figured it out. Damn waste of money, but an easy fix.

The waitress handed the coffee over. The woman gave the waitress a fragile smile and dropped a few dollars on the counter by the register. She hastened out, not pausing to either retrieve her change or even see how much she was owed.

“Who was that?” the loggers’ daughter asked after the door closed.

“Don’t know her name,” the waitress said, emerging from the back with a fresh coffee pot. “Want some more?” A handful of cups slid toward her. “She moved here a few weeks ago. Kathy at the gas station says she killed her son.”

That bit of information was imparted in a hushed voice, but not hushed enough to limit the conversation to just the two of them.

“If she killed her son, why’s she not in jail?” Madison, Hannah’s younger sister, asked.

“We don’t know she killed anyone,” Nancy said, appearing from behind the waitress. Conversation stopped long enough for everyone to greet the cafe’s owner. “She showed up near the start of the month, lookin’ for some work. She’s nice enough.”

“Nice, maybe,” the cook said, handing Nancy her usual large glass of Dr. Pepper. “But everyone says she killed the boy.”

“Why would anyone kill their own son?” Jennifer asked from one of the tables near the side. “Now a husband I get…”

There was a chorus of good-natured laughter and her husband made a helpless sort of “well she’s right” gesture to more laughter.

“Better watch out, Rich,” the waitress warned, making the rounds to their table with the coffee pot. “All I know is what Kathy told me. And you know how it is over there. They know everything before anyone else does. Sometimes before the person it’s about knows it.”

“Ain’t that the truth,” Alyssa said from her booth on the side wall. “They congratulated me on getting engaged before Mike even asked me.”

“Kinda ruined the surprise,” Mike added. “But I got a card signed by all the employees before Alyssa even got back from the doctor the day she found out she was pregnant.”

“So where’d she end up getting a job?” Hannah asked, accepting a plate of pancakes from the cook. “Thank you.”

“Bank in town,” Nancy said, referring to the larger town down the road. “She’d worked at a bank in the city before she moved here, but I told her Donny wasn’t hiring, far as I knew.”

From there the conversation drifted away from the woman and her dead son, moving instead to the tribulations of driving those thirty-odd miles to work during the winter. The waitress promised to tell Tim, the town cop, it Jennifer’s fault if Rich disappeared in the next couple of years. Jim and Travis took their leave to the loud well-wishes of the entire cafe. It was an important tournament today, after all, and Jim reassured Joe that he was welcome any time after six or six-thirty. Hannah left before her family, citing an important paper she needed to get started so she could email the first draft to her professor before too late. Madison left with her, having made plans to meet some friends from school at the movie theater. They escaped out the door to a number of reminders to not “do anything I wouldn’t do!”

Talk moved on to the wolf packs in the area and how worried people were about their dogs and cattle. There’d been a sighting on the Jacobsen property and everyone knew they had more dogs than most of their neighbors had livestock. If they were coming this close to humans in this weather, there’d be hell to pay once it snowed and food got scarce. People’d have to watch their herds close.

The woman was essentially forgotten, until Jim started talking to one of his neighbors at the basketball tourney, telling him about the new woman in town who’d killed her son. Madison told one of her best friends after swearing her to silence. Katie went on to tell her brother and mother that night at dinner.

One. Two. Three.

WriteWorld Prompt: It did make one wonder what they looked like under their masks.

I’m trying focus on one different skill with each of these writing prompts. This time it was worldbuilding.

One. Two. Three. Turn.

One. Two. Three. Parry. Slice.

It was like dancing without music.

One. Two. Three. Turn.

One. Two. Three. Dodge. Stab.

And she was good at it. The seers always told her she would be the best, once she had the proper training. She hadn’t believed them until Hunter put a sword in her hand. It was like dancing, but better. It ended when the other person surrendered or died, a finite point, nothing so arbitrary as when the music happened to finish.

One. Two. Three. Spin.

One. Two. Three. Silence.

In the quiet she could hear her own harsh breaths, her pulse pounding in her ears. She could feel the ground, dirt turned to blood-soaked mud, rising over her toes and sticking her feet to the ground. As the silence faded to a more normal level she began to hear again. Screams and sobs and dying gasps, whinnies from injured and dying horses, warhounds baying to give chase.

Gods hands, but she was exhausted. How long had they been fighting anyway? It had to have been hours since the banners had been taken down. Her knees wanted to bend. She was covered head to toe in mud and blood anyway, it wasn’t like she could get much dirtier. She locked her knees, willing her body to not sway. She was tired, but she did not get to collapse like any other soldier.

“Neri?”

Her foot slipped as she turned toward the sound of her name, but she managed to recover gracelessly. Hunter gave her a brief bow, his right hand — his stronghand — fisted against his chest. His hair had slipped out of the binding and left bloody streaks on his forehead. He brushed the wisps away as he straightened, waiting for her acknowledgment. She was tired. She wanted to make him wait, but he was her designated heir and one of the highest ranked soldiers in her army. She lifted her weakhand and signaled him to approach.

“Are you injured?” Hunter asked. He sounded just as exhausted as she did

Her knuckles stung in places uncovered by her gauntlets, one of her ankles had been hurt when she had been forced to roll from her horse’s back near the beginning of the battle. Neri reached for a dull ache in her upper arm, left bare by her leather armor. Her hand came back clean, or at least no dirtier than it already was. “No. Nothing more than scratches and bruises. How are our people?”

“I’ve had no reports yet.”

Hunter, the only non-healer allowed to touch her, lifted her arm and visually checked for any tears in her sleeve. She knew there were no injuries there, but he raised his voice and called for a healer to come to them. Merrick was there before he could finish the request. Merrick unlaced her sleeve, pulling the padded fabric free from the rest of the armor. The sleeve fell to the ground and stuck fast in the mud.

“And the enemy?” Neri asked, looking back at Hunter.

She knew the answer just from the look on his face: the slightest crinkling of his eyebrows, smoothed out as quickly as it happened, a flare of his nostrils, a tightening of his lips, one sharp exhale. “Gone. Even the dead.”

Not that she had expected anything different. “Did they leave anything behind?”

“Several weapons. A mask or two.”

Neri took a deep breath, deeper than she would have allowed if it had been anyone but Hunter and her mute healer beside her. The enemy they faced had no name, as far as anyone knew. They called them the Masked Ones and nobody had ever seen their faces. They were taller, broader, and stronger than Neri’s people, but slower. It did make one wonder what they looked like under their masks.

The masks looked different on every one of them. Some were strips of black or red fabric, covering them from forehead to mouth. Most were made of some type of glass. Her archivists and scientists were yet unable to discover how they were made, heavier than the glass her people used for dining or mirrors, it resisted breaking even under the full stroke of a sword or an arrow’s direct hit. All were sculpted in different shapes, some animals she knew and some that could only be from nightmares or something worse.

“Get report from our bannerleaders. Merrick, go to those who need it more than I.”

The healer lifted his stronghand to his ear and then his lips. I hear and obey. Another quick flick of his fingertips. Your arm appears uninjured, but I would like to see it back at camp.

“I will find you when I am done here.”

Merrick blinked at her, one slow movement to show her exactly what he thought of her promise. She smiled at him and pressed her weakhand to his shoulder. It was a gesture of fondness, one she would have bestowed upon a younger sibling or cousin if she had used her stronghand.

He bowed, weakhand over stronghand — the bow of a lesser to someone far their superior, and turned back toward where a large black tent was rising on the outskirts of the torn battlefield. Hunter had gone while Merrick was looking her over; she could see him with a number of her bannerleaders. She was turning to go to him and receive report herself when she heard a woman clear her throat behind her. Neri looked back to see who it was and raised her left hand to allow the approach.

“Mistress,” Raki said, bowing with her stronghand to her heart. “It is good to see you uninjured. I was concerned when I saw Merrick attending you.”

Of course you were, Neri thought. Only chance you have of succeeding me is if Hunter dies first, otherwise he’ll pick his own heir. Most days she liked her second heir, but she had chosen her largely because it was far safer to have someone with her ambition and ruthlessness as second in line. Raki’s claim for the throne ended if she was any way implicated in Neri’s death. Second heirs usually made the best bodyguards, in fact, and Neri often considered placing her as head of her guards, but her absence on the battlefield wasn’t worth the additional peace of mind.

“I am well,” Neri said, turning her back on Raki to start walking toward the staging grounds. She would hear report herself, and address her soldiers. “How goes the retreat?”

“They’ve disappeared, Mistress. Melted into the hills like the animals they are. They’re probably halfway over the mountains by now.”

Neri made a noncommittal sound as she walked, stepping around a particularly torn up section of the ground. It was been the one she fought in at the end, she realized seeing her sleeve still lying in the muck.

“High Command wishes to see you, Mistress.”

“High Command can wait,” Neri said. “I will see to my soldiers first. Have they formed banners?”

Banners were the largest divisions within her army, named for the device they carried on their flags and emblazoned across the back of their armor. Each banner had four corps, highly specialized for whatever she could possibly need on the battlefield and off. She had been the Towerbanner Swordmaster before the previous King’s death several years earlier. Hunter was the Thronebanner Horsemaster and Raki a Mountainbanner Scout, a high ranking one, but not yet Scoutsmaster.

“Yes, Mistress. Shadowbanner lost a number of their third corps.”

Neri thought a moment. “Shadowbanner Archers?”

Raki nodded and lifted her weakhand to allow a scribe with a raised stronghand to approach. Her gesture was more casual than Neri would have given; her fingers were not tight together and her thumb was too close to her palm. Sloppy. Neri purposefully arranged her weakhand in a formal summons, drawing one of her attendants forward.

“Yes, Mistress?” Sophia asked, her right hand on top of her left over her heart. Sophia was left-handed, unusual, but generally considered good luck in a scribe.

“Hunter should be nearly done getting report. See he is brought to me on the staging grounds.”

“I hear and obey, Mistress.”

Sophia melted into the background, weakhand raised to summon one of her own attendants. Her hand was perfectly arranged, first three fingers pressed tightly together, smallest finger bent at the middle knuckle, thumb fully extended to the side.

“Raki,” Neri said, stopping and turning to face the other woman.

Her second heir stopped as soon as she heard her name, taking care to stay more than an arms length from Neri now that they were facing one another, so she could not accidentally touch her while gesturing. “Yes, Mistress?”

“See to the High Command. I will be with them once I meet with Hunter and my soldiers.”

Raki bowed, stronghand pressed to her heart. “I hear and obey, Mistress.”

Neri raised her weakhand in a gesture of dismissal, thumb tight to the side of her palm, four fingers spread. Raki bowed again and headed back toward the dirty white tent in the center of the camp.

Sophia had done her work well. Hunter was waiting for her at the stanging ground. Her soldiers were clumped loosely in their banners, chatting and lounging on the ground. A horn sounded at Neri’s arrival and the men and women surged to their feet, falling automatically into position. It was gratifying to watch. There was no jostling for position, no hesitation, no confusion. They all landed in perfect ranks within several seconds, weapons at attention. The Shadowbanner Spears looked especially imposing with the silver of their spearheads the only color she could see.

“You have done well today,” Neri said. She waited as the corpsleaders passed her words further back in the ranks. “The gods are pleased and, more importantly, I am pleased.”

Her pronouncement was met with a single, sharp shout from her army.

“The Masked Ones have been defeated here, but they will be back.” Again she waited for her words to be echoed by the corpsleaders. “For now, we will have several days of relaxation. Heal, rest.” Another pause. “Your bannerleaders will arrange guard duties.”

Neri bowed deeply to them, weakhand over her stronghand. That broke the silence among the ranks; whispers and gasps ran up and down the lines in waves. That bow was a sign of deep respect, the way a servant bowed to their master.

Her soldiers returned the bow as one, even those of high enough rank that tradition required only their stronghand. Hunter approached as the bannerleaders shouted dismissal orders.

“You wanted me?”

“Casualties?”

“Shadowbanner took heavy casualties, nearly a third of some of their corps. They were in the thick of things, as they usually are. Crazy, every one of them.”

“Raki told me.”

Hunter looked at her sideways. “Then what do you need me for?” He didn’t wait for an answer. “Towerbanner and Calicebanner also took a significant number of casualties, but their injuries were relatively minor. Overall, we fared better than I thought we would have. Fighting on a terrain as hilly and rocky as this isn’t our strength. I’d rather have to cross a river.”

“That’s why they dug in here, I’d imagine,” Neri said. She gestured for him to follow her, turning toward the High Command’s tent. Her attendants fell in behind them, Hunter’s attendants a few paces behind. “High Command has summoned us.”

“Summoned you, you mean?” Hunter asked. “They’re likely not too pleased with your last-minute change to their plans.”

Neri made a rude gesture, thumbs pressed together, hands turned slightly away from one another. “They were bad plans. Shadowbanner would have been decimated if we’d done what they wanted us to. They’re idiots, all of them.”

“Don’t say that too loudly,” Hunter advised, although he didn’t look around to see if anyone was listening. “There are ways to ensure you lose the throne.”

They were nearly at the High Command’s tent, even dirtier than it looked from a distance. A number of guards milled around, nearly all wearing the brown that exempted them from being pulled into the army, even during the worst of battles. Some few were wearing the black of her military. Those stopped what they were doing and gave her a full bow, although those in brown generally only pressed their stronghand to their hearts in passing.

“They have controlled others before me. They may control others after me,” Neri said, lowering her voice, “but they will not control me. I will end them first.”

“Neri,” Hunter said between gritted teeth. This time he did look around to see if anyone was listening. Most of the guards were too far away, and those that may have been close enough to overhear all wore Neri’s black. “That is a good way to guarantee you lose your throne, and probably your life.”

“They’re worried they’ll find you more difficult to control than I am, which is part of the reason I chose you as heir. Raki is too erratic for them to predict. Half the time I don’t know what she’ll do and even the seers were worried when I named her.”

“You dance the dance well,” Hunter said as they arrived at the entrance to the grand tent. She stepped through first, with Hunter right behind her. Their attendants waited outside, serving both to announce her presence to any who wished to speak to the High Command and to keep anyone from getting close enough to eavesdrop.

The members of the High Command rose when she entered, seven men and women more than twice her age, looking down at her from a dais.

One. Two. Three. Step.

“You may bow,” Neri said, chin raised, arms folded behind her back. The stance appeared casual, but it had echos of her army about it.

One. Two. Three. Feint.

The seven looked at one another and then bowed, weakhands over their stronghands, just as they were meant to. As they straightened, Neri positioned herself to bow in return.

One. Two. Three. Riposte.

She placed her stronghand over her weakhand, the way she would bow to a bannerleader who had done a particuarly good job following her orders, and inclined her head to them. They may have crowned her, but the throne was her own.

Teacup

From WriteWorld‘s Writer’s Block prompt: “Listen, teacup, you have no idea what you’re into here, okay?”

Written in first person, which I rarely do, while sitting in the dark at work.

“Listen, teacup, you have no idea what you’re into here, okay?”

Those were his first words to me. Crouched behind the only rock outcropping in miles of desert, I told him I could handle myself, thank you very much. We would be fine. This unnatural wind that stirred no dust would settle down and we would be on our way. That was when the earth exploded next to me. Not exploded like a bomb buried beneath the ground or from above, I learned to read the detritus of explosions and destruction for which the humans have no name much later. The earth itself exploded, sending Jaymee’s body into the air. Not flying into the air. One moment Jaymee was crouched next to me, the next it was only air and dust.

I looked at him then, really looked, and began to understand. His hair wasn’t so black it looked blue; it was so blue it looked black. He wasn’t wearing sunglasses because it was too bright outside; he was wearing sunglasses because his eyes were pure white—no discernible iris or pupil.

There were any number of things I could have said then. Things like, “Oh my god, is Jaymee dead?” Or possibly, “You’re one of them,” the names we did not say, even then. Maybe even, “What the hell is going on?” because I came from a respectable family beyond the desert’s borders and we never had windstorms that hovered six inches from the ground, or earth that exploded with no provocation. But I said none of them.

I said, “Teacup?”

Ma’Keth, I learned his name much later, tilted his head down, observing me from over the top of his opaque sunglasses. I could see the whites of his eyes then, could sense that he was looking me over, weighing me, but I couldn’t see his eyes moving, the way you can follow the gaze of a normal human. Adaptation, they taught me. One of the hundreds of things I learned. Track your prey, don’t let them know you’re staring straight at them. He smiled, a minute quirk of his lips that I wasn’t even certain I saw until he pointed westward.

I don’t remember what he said then, or for the rest of the two days we ran together toward some unnamed haven only he knew. That haven is still there, if you know how to find it. Leave the outcropping just before sunrise and you’ll arrive two days later just after sunset.

I’m one of them now. I know what made the earth explode. I know how to track and hunt and kill the shadows that walk in the sun. My hair became so blue it seemed black, my eyes whitened, my skin hardened, overlapping chitinous scales invisible to the colored human eye, but that sparked like quartz in the noonday to us.

And now, whenever I find someone in some far corner of the earth, someone who looks like they could survive this life, thrive, and excel, I look at them and say the same thing he said to me.

“Listen, teacup, you have no idea what you’re into here, okay?”

Untitled

Prompt line: “I’ve been alive long enough to know that those shoes do not go with that shirt.”

Written and read through in like an hour.

“Okay, but what’s the point of immortality if you’re going to spend it all…” Nadia’s voice trailed off from behind the changing screen—one of his favorites, dark lacquer and gold gilt, a massive dragon painted across three of the panels, brought with him from China years ago. Alex could almost imagine the hand gesture she made, and the expression accompanying it: a shape echoing rolling waves and her nose wrinkled. He laughed at the mental image.

Nadia stuck her head out from around the screen, brown curls tumbling down around her shoulders, nose wrinkled just as he’d thought it would be. “What? Why are you laughing?”

“Going to spend it all what?” Alex asked instead of answering, standing from where he’d been seated at the edge of his bed and shoving his hands in his pockets.

She pulled her head back and threw another shirt over the top. It landed in a heap of expensive silk at his feet. “Going to spend it all doing that. Alexander, you leave that shirt just where it is.”

He had reached to pick the shirt up, but he stepped back just in time. Nadia stuck her head around the edge of the screen again and pointed to one of the shirts lined up along the other edge of his bed.

“That one. In the blue.”

He tossed it to her, a lifetime of useless knowledge cataloging it for him. A heavier silk than the one she’d just thrown at him, more suited to the season. A nice blue that wouldn’t do much for her eyes, unlike the green one she’d discarded five minutes earlier, but matched her favorite necklace and earrings. He remembered when all silk was essentially the same, and it hardly mattered because most people never saw silk in their lives. And when the dye would have been richer, hand-dyed to perfection. None of these giant chemical vats people favored these days.

“Mother henning me.”

Startled out of his ruminations, Alex stared at the screen as though that would help him translate. He’d learned hundreds of languages in his life but somehow Nadia always seemed to be speaking a dialect he had never heard. “Mother henning you? Are you propositioning me?”

“Since when is ‘mother hen’ a proposition? Besides, you’re way too old for me. You’re what, six thousand?”

“Under two, thank you very much. What’s taking so long? If you’re not propositioning me, why do you care so much what you look like? Unless the love of your life is going to be there. What’s his name? B—”

A shoe flew through the air directly at his head. Alex had enough time to be mildly impressed at her blind aim before he thought to catch it, inches from his forehead. He turned it over idly in his hands while she talked, flicking at the stiletto heel. What the inventors of the stiletto would have thought of their weapon turned into the heel of a shoe he had no idea, but he imagined they wouldn’t find it as funny as he did.

“I would have thought you’d been alive long enough to get over the concept of the love of your life,” Nadia said, stepping out from behind the screen. She held a necklace out to him and turned her back, waiting for him to fasten it.

“I’ve been alive long enough to know that those shoes do not go with that shirt,” Alex teased, dropping the shoe over her shoulder and into her hands. She tossed it into the pile of other rejects. “That necklace belonged to Catherine the Great you know.”

“I do know. You told me that when you gave it to me.”

Alex fastened the necklace and smoothed it down. He kissed the top of her head and waited for her to turn around. “You look gorgeous.”

“Do I look gorgeous enough? There’s a room full of other women out there.”

“What’s-his-name isn’t there for them. Brandon. Braden. Bruce. He’s here for you. So go enjoy your party and don’t drink too much. I’ll make my appearance later this evening.”

Nadia gave him a grateful smile, but added, “You’re not dressing up as a gladiator again, are you? Because that works for Halloween but—”

“That wasn’t a gladiator. No gladiator I knew ever wore that.” Alex glowered down at her, but she just laughed, leaning down to adjust a strap on one of her shoes. “You’re going to drive me to drink. In all my years, I’ve never met anyone as infuriating as you. And I knew Cleopatra.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Nadia checked her hair once more as she passed the mirror, tucking a few invisible strands of hair back where they belonged. She blew him a kiss as she stepped through the door. “It’s Brian, by the way.”

“Right him.” Alex watched her go and turned to survey the mess she’d made of his room. “This is the last time I let her get dressed in here.”

Home

ImageI wrote this in a few hours at like midnight on my phone. Not as good as I’d like but I liked the atmosphere. Inspired by this post.

Home. She was home. What was left of it. If she closed her eyes and didn’t breathe in the grit, it was home. The way it had been before the war, before she’d let the idealism, the propaganda, get the better of her. “For the good of the people,” the signs had all said. Great posters twice the height of a grown man on every city corner. Men and women striking heroic poses in front of flags, machines she hadn’t even known the names of before she’d signed on. Before she’d watched her friends march off to war and never come home.

She came home. Maybe she shouldn’t have. There was nothing left here for her. The great red spot on Aeriope looked too much like blood now. She’d gone under Aeriope, the Great Moon as full and as close as it was now. Her grandmother had warned her. If she left then, under the bloodstain on the moon, she wouldn’t come home. Well, she’d come home. But there was no home left.

Don’t breathe. If she didn’t breathe, it wasn’t real. The pond was still clear, fresh water. They could still swim in it, she and her brothers and sister. It hadn’t turned acidic, no moldering fish bones littering the shores. The wind didn’t whip across hills burned barren. The trees weren’t gone, the grasses weren’t brown and brittle.

Holding her breath until her chest ached didn’t deafen her. She’d done her time. She knew what it sounded like to stand in a lifeless field. She knew the kind of silence that was louder than the height of any war. The absence of sound. Nothing but her own shoes crushing dead flowers. There should have been cattle lowing, hawks in the skies, the long-distant sound of the neighbor’s children.

They were supposed to have been safe here.

She couldn’t remember where the house stood. Great craters changed the landscape, the shape of the pond, took giant chunks out of nearby mountains. She couldn’t be sure where she was standing. Even the fences, once so carefully demarking pointless boundaries, were long gone. No splinter or post left behind. She didn’t know what had happened to the remnants. Didn’t want to know. Asking questions led to answers. If she’d learned anything it was that usually you just didn’t want to know. Not worth the pain of knowing.

White house, green grass, blue water. She fixed the image in her mind. Cattle, hawks, fish. Mountains covered in grass and trees as far as she could see, all the way to the end of the world. Even Aeriope before the bloodstain had been anything more than fuel for the old folks’ stories and the fortune tellers. If she tried hard enough it would still be there. It had to be.

It wasn’t.

Behind her she could hear what was left of her unit begin to get restless. The hooves she could almost pretend were cattle belonged instead to horses eager to get away from the stinging dirt. A hand pressed reins into her grip and without a thought, she took them. It was mindless, swinging up in the saddle and turning her back on the mountain range.

They fell in behind her, an amalgam of twenty-odd former soldiers and camp followers and refugees, following her down the broken path that had once been a driveway. If she was too quiet on their destinationless ride, her mind still in green meadows and clean water, no one said anything. They swept her along, tumbling across the open and featureless land.

It All Came Back to Shakespeare

To sleep, perchance to dream—it was bullshit, all of it. He knew it, but it didn’t stop him from returning time and again to Shakespeare. He didn’t know what Shakespeare had been thinking… or his high school AP English teacher. By itself, the line was meaningless.

No, that wasn’t strictly true. The line had meaning in context and out of it. To sleep—sleep or die. To dream—dream or… or what? Not that it mattered. An intellectual exercise, nothing more. His college philosophy professor would have been pleased, even if he could no longer identify a single difference between Aristotle, Diogenes, and Plato. Had Diogenes even been a philosopher? Was he even Greek? Well, he certainly wasn’t Roman. There was none of that –ius. Antonius, Augustus, Julius, Octoberius. Nah, that one was just dumb. He shook his head, the movement drawing his companion’s attention. He smiled faintly to assuage their concern.

Assuage. That was an interesting word. He wondered where it came from. Latin? Maybe, but he couldn’t find the root. French? Probably not. None of the letters made any weird sounds. It probably came from some weird mixture of Latin and Anglo-Saxon.

People said that the American accent was actually the original one and that it was the British accent that had changed in the time after the Revolutionary War. Hence the American use of “garbage” while the British tended to use “rubbish.” At least that’s what some people said. Supposedly Shakespeare sounded better in an American accent, although that didn’t explain the rhymes that appeared when done in what people think was the accent Shakespeare would have used.

To sleep, perchance to dream. To be or not to be. It was all bullshit anyway.

Stagnant

So, I haven’t written anything like this in… a very long time. But it came to me, so… here it is. It’s also posted on my facebook, so if it looks familiar, that’s why.

Inspired by this picture, stolen gratuitously from flickr.

He heard the first announcement for his flight and made his way from the coffee shop to his gate. But he never made it there. He made it as far as Gate G before stopping and finding a row of empty, uncomfortable, faux-padded metal chairs. He sat.

The second announcement sounded, echoing dully through the terminal. He wished he cared. It hardly seemed to matter, whether the flight took him back home to his empty apartment or if it went back without him.

The third announcement, final call, and families sprinting down the walkways, hauling children in a thousand different directions, and he sat. He picked a plane that he thought might have been the one he was supposed to be on, but he didn’t really know and it didn’t really matter, and watched it pull slowly away from the gate. It turned in that slow and ponderous way airplanes seemed to.

It turned its back on him and he let it go.