Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Monday, December 26, 2011
Have a Fairy Merry Christmas!
Laura and Joey Alvin sat at the kitchen bench, watching their daughter giggle and dance and squeal.
The parents tried really hard not to show their concern, but it wasn’t easy when little Josie was having a particularly bad fit this time. The doctors hadn’t really known what the problem was, but they’d just called it fitting to get the Alvins out of their hair. It was nearly Christmas and the doctors had their own plans—not to be thwarted by irritating parents way too concerned for their children’s health. Laura and Joey weren’t the only pair to have been turned away with flippant diagnoses. Many other local parents had been told ‘they’re just fits…let’s leave it till the new year and see how little Micky’s going, shall we?’ or some variation. Yeah, just leave it till the new year…and who cares if your kid’s seriously ill by then.
Who cares if it’s too late by then.
Fits? Laura thought as Josie was seized by a particularly violent fit of giggling. The little girl leaped into the air and squealed, “Don’t!” though she was talking to no one and, as was usual lately, Laura began second-guessing herself, wondering if the little girl had said something other than Don’t even though that was definitely what it had sounded like. But in truth, the giggling squealing stage was the stage Laura preferred. It was the other stages that freaked her out.
“Three days till Christmas,” Joey murmured, chewing nervously on his lower lip as he followed his daughter’s crazed, jerky movements.
He didn’t even have to finish the statement. Laura knew what he was thinking: Three days till Christmas, and there’s no sign of improvement. In fact, she seems to be getting worse…
“That damn Dr. Verity pissed me off the most,” Laura muttered, tugging uncomfortably at her too-small jumper (how had she forgotten that the extra kilos she was carrying put this jumper off the list of possible wears?). “I mean, he was so condescending.”
Joey nodded, but said nothing, just rubbed at his chest with one hand as if trying to ease some discomfort there. Laura could relate to that. Her own lungs felt under pressure more and more as the hours passed.
“You are naughty!” Josie squealed, and suddenly she was on the floor, kicking and screaming and—laughing. She really was laughing. But her face was going all red and her eyes were wide and bright and crazed and she was…fitting.
That was how it looked. But there was nothing wrong with her brain, apparently. How Dr. Carter had known that without even looking at her brain, Laura still hadn’t figured out. But that was yet another thing to be done in the new year.
What if it’s too late by then?
“Emergency?” Laura murmured to Joey. “I mean, they are still open… They have to be, right?”
Joey frowned. “My parents are arriving in like, an hour.”
All the more reason to get out of here… Laura thought guiltily. “Well, I could take her, you stay here.”
The look she got from Joey then told her all she needed to know. She was not escaping this house, he would not let her. Not unless things got really bad with Josie, at least. Looking at Joey’s face, though, Laura didn’t think that point was very far off.
Josie sighed and lay still, grinning up at the ceiling. For a moment she was silent, then a tiny giggle bubbled up and out of her. “Yes,” she said. “Okay.”
And that was the last thing she said for the rest of the day, until it was bed time.
When Laura put her down to sleep, the little girl still wouldn’t focus her eyes on anything in this world. That was the only way Laura could put it. “Honey, are you feeling okay?” she asked her daughter, pushing back silky blonde locks of hair from the little girl’s forehead. “You’re having fun?”
Josie giggled, twitched, buried her head in the pillow then lifted it again. “They tickle.”
Laura paused, feeling strangely cold inside. She’d believed in fairies when she was a kid, but fairies had never taken over her entire life. Not like they apparently had with Josie.
“Are the fairies your friends, honey?” Laura asked, gripping handfuls of Josie’s bedspread and leaning closer to her daughter.
“No,” Josie said, shaking her head. She was still grinning, shuddering with the occasional giggle, but a strange look had come into her eyes. “They don’t like me. But they tickle.”
“They…don’t like you?”
Josie shook her head, then giggled loudly and burrowed back down into the pillow— “Don’t! Ahhh!”
Meanwhile, Laura was frowning. Since when do fairies not like people? I mean, Tinkerbell…
But then there were the old fairies, or maybe they were called faeries or something…the vicious ones from ancient myth. Maybe they didn’t like people. Maybe they tickled people to torment them.
You are insane, Laura told herself, even as she formulated words to say to her daughter.
“You’re talking to the fairies right now?”
“Yes. But they don’t listen.” Giggle. Squeal. Twitch. Gasp.
“What do they say to you?”
For a brief moment, Josie’s eyes seemed to focus. But then she was off in fairyland again, seeing nothing of the real world. Laura was sure she was not going to get an answer to that last question, and was preparing to kiss Josie goodnight. But then words slipped out, so softly spoken they were barely audible. They were words to chill Laura’s blood:
“They say lots of things…”
Unbidden, helpless tears sprang into Laura’s eyes and she cursed the doctors who had turned her child away, the doctors who she would not hesitate to sue if anything went wrong.
At the door to the bedroom, Laura and Joely exchanged words. “I’ll sleep in here tonight,” Laura told Joey. “I don’t want to leave her alone.”
“Shall I stay with you?”
“No, honey—you need your rest.”
His eyes accused her. “So do you. You’re not invincible you know.”
“Yes,” Laura said with a quaver in her voice. “I do know.”
They stared at one another. Joey sighed, reached out to touch her cheek. “We’ll be okay. Try not to worry.”
But what a hypocrite he was, when worry practically oozed out of his every pore. Still, Laura loved him for trying to reassure her. At least somebody was trying.
They parted ways and Laura rested in the lounge chair by the old cot Josie had used up until a year ago, before she’d got her first ‘big girl’ bed. Those had been days when Josie was still in this world, still truly engaging with others. Those days were gone now. Josie was in fairyland and Laura had no idea how to get her back.
Laura spent the night in her daughter’s room, and woke to a day of more giggling/squealing/dancing. Two days till Christmas. The day passed much as those before it had. Joey’s parents were in the house, and they reprimanded him and Laura for not getting help for Josie. They wouldn’t listen to any excuses, not even the ones where the doctors had refused to help. Laura longed for the day when Joey’s parents would run off back to their homes. She hated them, more now than she ever had at any other time.
That night, Joey stayed in Josie’s room, and though it was a terrible night’s sleep for Laura, she awoke to find her daughter still present. It was a strangely huge relief, as if she’d expected to find the girl gone.
Gone where? she wondered, but had no answer.
It was Christmas Eve day, and it passed as any other had done lately. “I think she needs a doctor,” Mrs. Geraldine Alvin told Laura for the thousandth time in the last couple of days, as if Laura had never thought of that herself before. “Why don’t you take her to a doctor?”
Laura just gritted her teeth and walked away.
Christmas Eve night, it was Laura’s turn again to stay in Josie’s room. She was tired, she truly was, but she sat in a way that she knew was terribly uncomfortable, just to prevent herself from falling asleep. When even that seemed not to be working, she retrieved a fire engine toy from the bedroom floor and stuffed it behind her back, making sure it dug into her flesh uncomfortably. That ought to be sufficient.
But when Laura woke in the middle of the night, she realised she’d slept for at least two hours. And leaning forward in her chair, she realised her daughter’s bed was empty.
Laura screamed, and Joey came running.
They waited and waited, but Josie didn’t come back. Laura became convinced that the fairies had taken her. They weren’t the only parents in town who had woken up on Christmas Day to find their children’s beds empty. Laura wasn’t the only parent to lose her mind and start mumbling about fairies. Joey wasn’t the only bereft parent who also had to take his spouse to a psychiatrist for evaluation. And the Alvin family wasn’t the only family destroyed by Christmas that year.
But the fairies had a good one, at least.
Monday, December 19, 2011
Thursday, December 15, 2011
The woman at the top of the mountain had wrinkles pressed so deeply into her face she resembled the crevasses surrounding them. The icy wind whipped her sagging cheeks, but she didn’t move.
“Hey,” Juliet hissed, her chattering teeth turning the word into a clattering mess. “Ma’am.”
“Oh God,” Maria said. “Oh, God, please don’t let her be dead. We’re already all the way up here. Lady, don’t be dead.”
Juliet hoisted her backpack higher on her shoulders. It hadn’t exactly taken ages to get up there – Mount McKinley was only a couple hours’ drive from their college – but time wasted was time wasted. “No. She’s not dead. She can’t be dead. This will work, and I will find out the answer to my question, and everything will be awesome.” She rounded on the old lady. “Everything will be. Super. Awesome.”
Maria reached out and prodded her.
The old lady’s claw of a hand flashed up and grabbed Maria’s wrist, her blind eyes darting open. Juliet let out a cry and staggered back; Maria screamed, and screamed, and screamed.
“Shut up,” the old lady croaked.
Maria shut up.
“Help me stand up,” said the lady. Maria hoisted the limp old body to her feet. The woman was bones draped in loose skin and layer upon layer of fur, unhindered by the bitter cold. And she turned her scarred clouded eyes upon Juliet and said, “You have come this far to ask me a question whose answer has been prophesied.”
The old woman’s hand let go Maria’s wrist, and Juliet hurried forward, her throat choking in anticipation. This sounded real, and for now, that was enough to convince her it was true. Juliet’s cynical side – admittedly diminutive at best – had hidden itself deep in a place that didn’t believe in fortunes and fates and soothsayers, and all that was left was blind hope.
“Prophesied?” she said. “What’s been prophesied?”
“Juliet Elizabeth Turner –” twin gasps from the two girls – “you have many truths to face.”
“Firstly, you must accept that fault is not always two-sided.”
Juliet stared, slack-jawed. “I … okay.”
“Secondly, if you require my assistance, you must accept that ancient law rules over all.”
Maria cocked one dark eyebrow. “Uh. Ancient law?”
“Don’t interrupt, foolish one,” snapped the old woman.
Juliet stifled a snigger. “Okay, go on.”
“Thirdly, you must accept responsibility for your actions to come.”
“Actions to come?”
“You will understand when the time comes, Juliet Elizabeth Turner.” And with that, the woman drew a bone, long and disturbingly human, from inside her furs. She held it out.
The woman’s half-smile dug a crag into her cheek. “That’s right, girl. Think carefully.”
From behind the old woman, Maria made an is-she-sane? gesture. Juliet shrugged, but felt uneasy making any motion. The blind lady seemed to have such a good grasp of the events around her. It unnerved at best, disturbed at worst.
“Remember … when you make your choice, it will all be over.”
Juliet took a step forward, lowering her hand. “What will all be over? Will I be able to forget? And what am I going to have to –”
The old woman’s grip on the bone started to shake. “Your time dwindles, Juliet Elizabeth Turner.”
“But I need to know if he –”
“Your time dwindles.”
One breathless second later, Juliet grasped the other end of the femur.
Dark clouds billowed and rolled across the sky. Maria, quivering, sat down in the snow and closed her eyes. Juliet could only stare, but then lightning flashed.
She blinked. And as quick as the flutter of her eyelids, both old lady and storm had vanished.
She stood holding a human bone at the top of a mountain.
The walk back down was long, confused, and filled with stilted conversation. Juliet held the heavy object in her gloved hand. Though it should have grown cold, it never did.
When they reached the ground, Juliet wondered if the old lady meant what she thought she did, giving her this object. Surely this couldn’t be the answer to the problem – surely it would only exacerbate her feelings of guilt about the whole ordeal.
It came to her that night. Fault is not always two-sided.
It was not her fault.
She was free.
Juliet took the bone in her hands and shattered it against the floor. It broke as if made of brittle blown glass.
Elsewhere on campus, her rapist woke up screaming, as he would the rest of his life.
Juliet slept in bliss.
Monday, December 12, 2011
Write 1-10k based on/inspired by on the following:
I believe she said something like... "Grant me the serenity to change the things I cannot accept, the courage to accept the things I find acceptable, and the wisdom to know when it's time to kick your butt."
Tuesday, December 6, 2011
Friday, December 2, 2011
Tom started at the old high school, what was left of it.
Crumbling buildings only half of which had roofs; dead weeds choking what had once been a magnificent botanical garden; drinking fountains long-since coated with the dust of renovation and years of changing weather. Everything had a dry, dusty feel, and Rachel was glad she’d brought along a bottle of Mount Franklin.
“See that square of grass over there?” He was pointing off into a distance so distant she had to squint to try and make it out. She failed. But she nodded anyway. She didn’t want to let him down, and pretending to match his enthusiasm was the best way she could think of to keep him happy. You should never have to lie to the one you love, her mother would have said. But her mother wasn’t here, and she didn’t know what it was like. She was old and decrepit and out of touch by now. So Rachel nodded, and hoped her own eyes gleamed with an excitement to match his, or at least to come close.
“We used to sit there at lunch time—and recess. We sat in the dorks’ corner.” He chuckled, shaking his head. “I know it’s hard to believe, but it’s true.”
This time Rachel’s smile wasn’t forced. She turned it on him and fell to her favourite pastime—studying him, appreciating him for the nerd he was. Tall, skinny, gawky even; his glasses weren’t that thick but he couldn’t really do much without them. He was red-haired and freckled to within an inch of his life. He wore a Temple of the Dog shirt and black jeans. A clean but worn backpack hung precariously from one shoulder, but he stood as if he’d forgotten about it entirely. He gazed off toward that distant patch of grass—Rachel could only assume it was all dead grass by now—unaware of her scrutiny, a fond smile on his face.
“Hard to believe,” Rachel agreed, still smiling at him. Then he came back to himself, looked to her, winked and took her by the hand.
Oh god, she loved it when he did that.
They walked all around the school ruins, and for a while Rachel actually lost herself in the walk down Memory Lane. Even if they weren’t her own memories, she’d always enjoyed Tom’s stories of his high school antics. Childhood too—he was a funny guy. Still, she was impatient to get on with their day, or rather, get closer to their night.
The school was just the beginning, though. They drove around town in Tom’s battered old Mazda 323, visiting old haunts and sharing the stories to go with them. Mostly, they were Tom’s stories—Rachel was from interstate and so her old stomping grounds were out of reach for the time being—but on occasion there was cause for Rachel to conjure some old memory of her own and share it. Tom shamed her with his attentiveness at those times; surely she could never reciprocate the way a good girlfriend should. But he wasn’t bothered—it was all in her head. Like so much of what plagued her every day.
“Okay,” Tom said at one point as they turned a corner onto a main street, “the house is coming up on your left.” The car slowed and Rachel craned her neck, very nearly pressing her face to the window in anticipation.
That was when she saw it.
Tiny, brown-bricked and teetering on stilts. You could see all sorts of crap underneath it, like it was the neighbourhood rubbish tip or something. Easier than gathering up all your stuff and heading to the real tip. Windows were broken, roof tiles were missing and weeds grew through the cracks in the porch. The porch.
Oh, and speaking of the porch, it totally sagged. You wouldn’t want to step up onto it, ‘cause you might fall down.
The way Tom had always talked about this place, Rachel had envisioned it as some kind of magical hideaway, a little fairy house tucked away in some mystic, lush garden. The garden wasn’t precisely lush, more overgrown and out of control. An example of nature rising up to reclaim its territory. In this case, human beings had stepped aside and let it have its unruly way.
She was still trying to comprehend what she was looking at as Tom’s car drew to a halt at the side of the road. “So, what do you think?” he asked, dragging her unceremoniously back to the present. “Pretty amazing, huh?” Um…yeah. “I mean, I grew up there. Trippy, right?”
“That’s really it?” she asked, trying to keep the disappointment from her voice.
“Yep,” he said with a nostalgic grin, “and yet, look how I turned out.”
At that, another genuine smile appeared on her face, and she squeezed his hand. “You turned out just great.”
“Wanna explore the backyard?” he asked.
Her heart sank. “Um…well… Is it safe?”
“Hmm…maybe not. We won’t go in or anything.” No shit, we won’t. “But you know, the grass should be safe.” Except for snakes and rats and stuff, right? There was a brief silence before Tom tugged on her hand and she turned to him. “But if you don’t wanna go in, it’s cool.” Looking at his face, she knew he was telling the truth.
“I’m sorry,” she said softly. “It’s just…”
“Don’t even say it.” He smiled and leaned over to brush his lips over her cheek, making her shiver. “I get it. And you’ve seen it now, anyway—that’s all I wanted.”
She watched him for a moment, waging an inner battle he was unaware of. Then she smiled and said, “No, let’s go—I want to see the backyard.”
The delight on his face then told Rachel she’d made the perfect decision.
They explored the backyard like intrepid adventurers, and nobody got bitten by any snakes. To Rachel’s surprise, a happy memory of her own childhood snaked its way into her thoughts as she climbed a particularly magnificent tree in one corner of the yard. In the memory, she and her best friend Josie had made a treetop fort—or that was what they’d called it—and had played Star Wars games. Rachel had been an Ewok called Kowee, while Josie had insisted on Princess Leia—Josie had definitely had the long, dark hair for it.
“Careful,” Tom called, laughing delightedly as Rachel climbed even higher. “I don’t want you to get hurt.”
“That’s nice of you,” she responded breathlessly, flippantly, “but I’ve got it.” Because suddenly she did have it—her confidence, something she’d been lacking for far too long. She was good at pretending, but this was the first time in a long while that she hadn’t had to. The smile that bloomed on her face at that moment was like the sun breaking through clouds.
“You’re so hot,” Tom murmured into her hair as she fell into him again at last, having forsaken the tree for his arms. “And you’re awesome.”
“So are you,” she giggled, and pressed her mouth against his. Gently. She liked to be gentle. But then suddenly things got a little less gentle. So much so that she thought her hair might be standing on end. There was a strange buzzing sound in the air—no, it was in her ears.
“Okay,” Tom gasped, pushing her to arm’s length from him, “we’re going before you get me into trouble here.”
And they picked their careful way back to the car hand-in-hand, the delight of the day shining on both their faces.
On the road again, they left Tom’s childhood climes behind. As they hit the highway once more, Tom said with a shake of his head, “Yep—that’s my neighourhood.”
This time, when he looked at her, she was smiling so much it hurt her face.