Tag Archives: short story

Wednesday Write-In #90

This week’s words are:

jungle, matchbox, sparrow, hog, mull

Image: mrssmithscottage.co.uk

Image: mrssmithscottage.co.uk

Wash Day

We wanted to play, Sid and me, but Mum was busy. She was always busy. We scattered as she hauled the tin bath, full to the brim with shirts and soapy water, out to the back door, nearly sliding on one of my Matchbox cars as she went.

‘Get out from under my feet!’ she yelled. ‘This place is a blimmin’ jungle, Rodney. Get those things cleared up, this minute!’

‘Sorry, Mum,’ I said, glad she had hold of the bath. That meant, with any luck, she couldn’t smack me one.

‘I’ll sorry you,’ she muttered, leaning the bath on the garden wall. I heard the gooosh as the wash-water poured away, and the squealing of Mr Johnson’s pig next door. Probably thought it were feeding time, poor bugger.

‘That disgusting hog,’ hissed Mum, kicking our back door closed. ‘Why he can’t just be turned into breakfast, I will never know.’ Sid looked up, puzzled, a line of drool down his chin.

‘Never you mind, Siddie boy,’ I said, wiping his mouth gently. ‘Nothing’s going to happen to ol’ Porky.’ Sid grinned at me and went back to playing, swooping his toy aeroplane around like it were a B-52, doing the ack-ack-ack under his breath. Dad had carved it for me, but I’d given it to our Sid last year. He’d never left it out of his hand since.

‘Get out to that pump, Rodney,’ said Mum, slapping the shirts onto the scrubbing board. ‘Bring your brother, if he’ll go. I need at least two buckets.’

‘Right, Mum,’ I said, hauling Sid up by his collar.

‘At least two, mind! And none of your half-full nonsense. I need these shirts sparklin’.’ She started scrubbing, her hands red and the shirts white as snow.

‘Yes, Mum,’ I said, bundling Sid into his old, too-small coat. He stood staring, thinking who knew what. Probably wondering, like me, where Dad had gone and why Mum kept washing his shirts, week after week, like she was expecting him home any minute.

Sid and me clattered out, a bucket each. The pump was at the end of the road, painted white and red. The women stood around it like a bunch of birds on a garden fence. Mrs Ellis from number 12 was a sparrow, small and bony; Mrs Jenkins from top of the road a crow, beak and all.

‘All right then, young Robsons,’ said one of them as we got close. I nodded and Sid grinned, showing all his teeth. ‘There’s a good boy,’ crooned another, but more of them turned away, their mouths tight. They carried on talking, but in low, far-away voices.

Sid held the bucket steady while I filled it. The pump handle creaked and banged as it went up and down, up and down, the water gushing out like magic. Sid giggled. I knew he wanted to stick his face in, and I hoped he wouldn’t.

I grabbed a full bucket in each hand. Sid scrambled up to follow me, wanting to take some of the burden, but I couldn’t let him carry it. He’d forget it, or spill it, or fall… We’d been too long already.

‘Come on, Sid,’ I said, half-gasping, getting a grip on the handles. ‘Don’t delay.’ We passed the post box and turned the corner, and our house stood at the very far end, looking like it were miles away.

‘Dad!’ burbled Sid, suddenly. ‘Daa-ad!’ He crowed, clapping his hands and pointing.

‘Don’t be silly, Sid,’ I muttered, trying not to let him knock me off-balance.

Look!’ he insisted, plucking at my sleeve.

I put the buckets down and squinted, doing my best to see. Our front door was open, and there was someone there, someone with his back to us. Someone tall and broad and wide…

I grabbed Sid’s hand and we ran, full-pelt. Sid yelled all the way, Dad! Dad! Dad-daaad!

And the man turned.

He wore a full moustache and a dark blue uniform with polished buttons on, and shiny boots. His hat was clutched to his chest, and his eyes were kind. Our mum stood in the doorway like she were nailed to the frame, grey and open-mouthed. Her nose was red. Her eyes flicked back and forth over the front step like she couldn’t figure out what it was.

‘All right, lads,’ said the man, bending slightly, smiling at us. ‘Your mum’s just had a bit of bad news. She’ll have lots to mull over in the next while. You be good lads, all right? You’ll be the men of the house, now.’ He nodded at us, slid his hat back on his head, and strode off.

I stood staring at Mum for ages. Eventually, Sid and me got a shoulder each under her arms and helped her to the kitchen. Sid went back for the buckets; one was gone, but he brought back nearly the full of the other.

I finished the washing, and hung it out.

Eventually, we grew into Dad’s shirts, Sid and me, and they were as starched and white the day we first put them on as the day they’d first been made.

 

**

Just a little note to say: this is my 500th blog post! Thank you all for sticking with me this far, and I hope we’ll have plenty more blogging adventures to come.

Tiger and Turtle

Image: layoutsparks.com

Image: layoutsparks.com

Tiger and Turtle

Truth be tol’, I feel like hell the day Turtle and me decide to ride the rollercoaster.

‘They ain’t gon’ let us on,’ I say. ‘Les’ jus’ bounce.’

‘Fool, I know the ticket guy, ai’ght? No sweat.’ I can’t do nothin’ but shrug, and hope my head stops hurtin’ soon.

Eventually, we facin’ the top of the line.

‘You two jokers, right?’ says Ticket Booth guy. ‘Git. You gotta be this tall –‘ he points at some grinnin’ fool on a billboard – ‘to ride.’ But Turtle, he knew a back door. Soon, we on board.

My head bustin’ like a neverendin’ punch, an’ Turtle talkin’, but I ain’t hearin’. Two seats in front, there’s a tiger sittin’, stripes an’ tail flickin’. He turns, growlin’, an’ I smell his meat breath.

Coaster starts movin’, an’ I lean across to Turtle, real slow.

‘Turtle, man,’ I say, so low he can’t barely hear.

‘What you sayin’?’ he yells, leanin’ in. He soun’ like a freight train.

‘Turtle, man! Up front. Up front!’ I’m flickin’ my eyes in Tiger-boy’s direction but it ain’t no good. Turtle, he refuse to see.

‘What in the hell wrong wit’ you, boy?’ He fling hi’self back into his seat and fol’ his arms like he waitin’ for church to start. ‘You crazy.’

‘You don’t see nothin’?’ The tiger smilin’ at me now, his teeth shinin’ gold. Plenty o’ room in that ol’ mouf for me an’ Turtle too, and then some.

‘Ain’t nothing there to see,’ Turtle say, lookin’ out at the world. ‘No, sir.’

My head fit to bust, then. Feelin’ like my skin gon’ split, startin’ right at the top o’ my head, flayin’ down to my footsoles. The ol’ tiger, well. He turn, his shoulder ripplin’ like a black an’ yellow ocean, like a cornfield full o’ shadow. He turn s’more, one giant paw comin’ to res’ right on the seat in front. My brain screamin’. The tiger’s eye like a dyin’ star.

‘Turtle, man – I ain’t feelin’ so good,’ I say, an’ it the truth. My eyeballs fit to come pop right out my skull and lie, fizzin’, on my fool cheeks. I need to get out my seat, but the coaster flyin’ by now. I strugglin’, Turtle beside me suckin’ his teeth, leanin’ out the side.

‘Quit yo’ wrigglin’!’ he snap, turnin’ to me with his eyes wide.

An’ then the tiger, he pounce. He fall like a hammer, like a mountain. He brung night with him, pure dark, full o’ noises and danger and the stink o’ death. Then I hear Turtle screamin’, an’ my head explode. I bust up an’ out, th’owin’ off my skin, my self, an’ my arms ain’t arms no mo’, my hands ain’t hands.

I got claws longer n’ my ol’ body. I got pelt. I got teeth.

So I sink ’em, ever’thin’, into ol’ Tiger-boy.

As we fallin’ out the coaster I hear him laughin’.

Welcome, chile, he say. I knew it was you.

Wednesday Write-In #88

plastic  ::  verdant  ::  gingham  ::  lighthouse  ::  bathe

 

Image: camperlands.co.uk

Image: camperlands.co.uk

The Sleeper

The wind rippled across the surface of the rain-sodden plastic, lifting it into sharp-edged waves. It crackled and snapped, spitting water up at me like it was angry. It was like an animal protecting its young.

‘Between me and you,’ said Brennan, ‘d’you think this is it?’ He didn’t look at me. He just stood on the far side of the sea of plastic like a lighthouse, passing his worried gaze back and forth over it with gentle sweeps of his head. The rain ran down the lenses of his glasses.

‘I hope so,’ I said. Brennan blinked and glanced over at me, frowning. ‘You know what I mean,’ I muttered, and he said nothing for a while. I shrugged deeper into the collar of my coat, feeling cold droplets bathe me right down to the bones. I wondered if I’d ever feel warm again.

‘I suppose it’d be a comfort for the family. What’s left of them,’ he said, eventually.

‘Exactly.’

The plastic reared again, and I caught the barest glimpse of faded, dirt-encrusted gingham embedded in the claggy, dark soil. It made the bile rise inside me, and an image flashed across my mind; a tiny, smiling face, straw-coloured hair in one long plait. The little checked sundress she’d worn that day in June when she’d vanished, disappeared from the verdant fields around her house, never to be seen again.

Never, until now.

‘Jesus,’ said Brennan. ‘Grab that rock, there, and weigh it down. We have to preserve the scene until Forensics gets here.’ I turned to do as I was told, and caught a glimpse of the farmer who’d found her, standing cap in hand behind a line of luminous tape. I could hear someone talking to him, asking him questions, but all he was doing was just staring, feet planted in the soil, eyes full of water, up at the makeshift grave that had been on his land for the better part of forty years. Maybe he’d raised his own family in sight of it.

I turned back to see Brennan struggling with the groundsheet, and hurried to help. We smoothed the plastic down over her like it was a blanket, tossed by a bad dream or a too-hot summer night. She settled into peaceful sleep once more.

I put my hand on the sodden plastic and I swear I felt it rise, like a little, contented breath had been taken beneath it, and finally released.

Wednesday Write-In #84

This week’s words were: murky  ::  favourite mug  ::  hasty  ::  myth  ::  murder

Image: pinterest.com

Image: pinterest.com

Crisis Management

I knew it as soon as she came through the door. Murky look in her eyes, mouth drawn tight, frown lines like steppes across her forehead. When she threw her backpack into the corner without giving it a second glance, I knew for sure.

Favourite mug. Kettle on.

‘I could murder a cup of tea, love. You?’

‘Thanks, Mum.’ She slid into her chair, folding her legs under herself like she used to do when she was tiny. I had to look away, just for a second, as the kettle started rumbling beside me. A blink or two, and I was fine again.

‘Everything all right?’ The kettle clattered and clicked, belching steam. She spoke, but I couldn’t hear her over its racket. I poured the tea, carrying the mugs to the table. She wrapped her fingers around hers without even looking – her fingernails are gone to hell again, I couldn’t help thinkingbefore telling myself to shut up.

‘So. Is it something at school?’ I blew across the surface of my tea, pretending to watch it ripple. I saw her lick her lips, and the pained flash that crossed her face.

‘I told you,’ she said. ‘I’m fine.’

‘Good, good. So, how’s Maths? I know you were having some difficulty last -‘

‘Mum, is it true? About boys?’

I coughed. ‘What about boys, specifically?’ I took a mouthful of tea and held it.

‘That they can – you know. Tell.

I swallowed. ‘Tell?’

She rolled her eyes at me. ‘Come on.

‘You’ll have to give me something else to go on, darling. I’m good, but I’m not a mind-reader.’

‘It’s embarrassing,’ she muttered.

‘Try me.’

She started to chew the inside of her mouth, and tilted her head so that her hair fell down over her eyes. She huffed several long, pained breaths in and out before finally managing to clothe her thoughts in words. ‘That they can tell if you – if you’ve done it.’

‘Ah.’ I took another mouthful of tea, wondering why it suddenly tasted like acid. ‘That old myth.’

‘Myth?’ she said, flicking her hair out of her face and gazing at me with those eyes, so clear. So like her dad’s. My heart lurched, but it passed.

‘Yup. Think about it. How would they tell? It’s impossible.’

‘Stacey says it’s obvious. Like, on your face, or whatever. She says it’s like you might as well wear a big sign on your back saying ‘Virgin!’ unless you – you know.’

‘Well, no disrespect to Stacey,’ I said, putting down my tea. ‘But she’s talking nonsense.’

‘Really?’ She smiled at me, her dimples showing. ‘Them’s fightin’ words, Mum.’

I grinned. ‘Bring it on.’

She laughed, then – a genuine laugh, head thrown back. I felt a throb of something large surge up my throat, and my eyes filled again, and I had to blink hard to keep it all in.

‘Go, Mum!’ she said, looking back at me. ‘So, it’s for real? They can’t tell?’

‘Nope. Nobody can. Well – maybe a doctor. But that’s all right, isn’t it?’

She shrugged, her eyes falling. ‘Well, it’s good to know.’

I leaned in, and put my hand on her arm. She didn’t pull away, but she didn’t look up. ‘There’s no need to be hasty about anything like this. Do you understand? You have time to make your own choices, in your own time, and don’t let Stacey – or anyone – pressure you. All right, darling?’

‘Yeah, Mum. Keep your wig on.’ She unfolded herself, shaking off my hand. ‘I’ve got homework, okay? See you later.’ She grabbed up her bag and was gone, her untouched tea still steaming on the table, and I nursed my heart for a few moments before hauling myself to my feet and getting on with making dinner.

I wish I’d had a mum like me, I thought, as the carrot peelings piled up and the oven warmedbut then I just put the potatoes on and forgot all about it.

Wordhunter

As we made our way home yesterday, my husband turned to me and said: you look good.

This isn’t an unusual thing, I’m happy to say. I’m a lucky girl. I married well. My husband’s full of compliments, most of the time ones I don’t really deserve. But anyway.

‘Oh, yeah?’ I said. ‘Why’s that?’

‘You look relaxed,’ he said. ‘Happy.’

That, friends, is probably because I decided to take yesterday off. I pushed myself away from my desk. I went into Dublin city for a few hours. I took a long, long walk. I saw some friends. I – *gasp* – bought a book.

Darlings, how I have missed thee... Image: commons.wikimedia.org

Darlings, how I have missed thee…
Image: commons.wikimedia.org

It was great.

I’ve made a few significant submissions in the last few weeks. I’ve been working hard. I plan to make some more submissions next week – short stories to magazines, entries to competitions, some more research into agents who (I hope) might like my work – and I’m glad I decided to take a day to myself yesterday, because this is the thing about writing, or indeed about anything at which you want to succeed.

It takes hard work, and not just for a day or a week or a year. For always. Relentlessly.

But that’s also the beauty of it. Working hard at something you love is the best feeling in the world. Having said that, though, sometimes you do need a break, and it’s okay to take one.

Image: abeforum.com

Image: abeforum.com

However, today it was back to the grindstone. It’s Friday, and for the first week in a few weeks I am able to take part in Flash! Friday’s weekly challenge. This week, the fiendish gamesetters decided that the compulsory element – which has to be included in your story somewhere – was ‘A Detective.’ The image prompt (I can’t find a usably small version of it anywhere) was the interior of a bus carriage – which I interpreted as a train carriage, but let’s not worry too much about that! – showing a pair of feet clad in admirably shiny black shoes leaning up against a pole.

You’ll just have to scoot on over to Flash! Friday to see it for yourselves, I guess.

In any case, I managed to find a story which I could fit, just about, into the wordcount, and which met all the requirements, and with which I was reasonably happy, and here it is:

**

In Her Footsteps

Day 214. Da and me get up early. Since we sold the car, we’ve been takin’ the train to school, and that sucks.

‘Got your spyglass, buddy?’ he says as we leave the house. I run back to get it, and my notebook. Can’t believe I nearly forgot ‘em! Gotta be on duty, all the time, if you want to be a real detective.

I flip through my notebook once we’ve found our seats. “Day 87: No siteings. Day 176: No siteings, no trale.” I’m better at spellin’, now, but there’s still no sightings, still no trail.

Then, I hear somethin’. Clack-clack-clack, real fast. I flip my glass to my eye. My mouth tastes funny as I look low down, at people’s feet.

There! Black, shiny, creased across the toe, just like Ma’s favourite shoes. The only thing she took with her when she disappeared.

I’m up before Da can stop me, but the lady’s not Ma. She never is.

**

So, there you have it. Far from perfect, but that’s not the point. The point is, you get back up on the horse/into the saddle/lace up your boots and start again. You keep on heading for that goal, and you keep on finding words and putting them down, and you never stop searching for your personal best.

Happy hunting! Oh – and, have a wonderful weekend.

I'm off to catch me some words... Image: teachwhatcounts.com

I’m off to catch me some words…
Image: teachwhatcounts.com

 

 

 

Wednesday Write-In #83

This week’s words were:

relapse  ::  busy bee  ::  ocean  ::  pacify  ::  putrid

Image: travelblog.org

Image: travelblog.org

A Traitor’s Grave

‘He wants to hear the ocean,’ gasped Lily, stumbling out of the putrid bedchamber with her arms piled high. Streaks of unhappy colour – browns and greens and off-yellows – yawned their way across the linens she carried. Old blood. Sepsis. Ill-humours. The heralds of death.

‘And how are we expected to do that?’ I muttered, falling into step beside her.

‘There has to be a way,’ she muttered, her face sweating and her teeth gritted. ‘I just – ugh!’ She stopped, throwing the soiled bandages to the ground. ‘I can’t!’ She slammed her fists against the wall and leaned her forehead on them, her shoulders quaking through her thin gown.

‘Lily, I –‘

‘Just leave me be!’ she snapped, and I drew my hands back. ‘Please, Maryam. I’m all right.’ She took in a deep breath, before pushing herself upright once more and bending to pick up the linens.

‘How is he? I mean, really?’ I asked, sinking my hands into the slimy, stinking fabric. Lily let me help her without a word, and that said everything.  ‘Does he – I mean, how long?’ We slipped into the darkness of the long narrow hallway, our feet finding the way without light, as they had done for all the years between our girlhoods and now.

‘He’s suffered a major relapse,’ said Lily, and even though I couldn’t see her, I could imagine her looking around for peeping eyes and spying ears. ‘It’s impossible to pacify him now. He’s like a starving man who’s forgotten how to eat.’ She paused, and I thought about how she licked her lips when she was nervous, and the shine in her dark eyes. ‘He has a day. Maybe,’ she whispered.

‘If I run, right now, and wake the Librarian, I can get a recording of the ocean,’ I said, my throat contracting. ‘If that would help. If it would help you, I mean.’

‘My busy bee,’ she said, her words stumbling. ‘It wouldn’t do any good. It’s the real ocean he wants, the real thing. He’ll know a recording.’

‘But – it’s impossible,’ I said, my eyes flooding, warm and wet. I blinked, hard, realising we’d stopped walking. We stood, in darkness, our Lord’s sickness between us, and only one day left. ‘It can’t be done, Lil. The ocean? Nobody’s heard it in a generation, not for real!’

‘Sssh,’ she said, like she was comforting me. ‘I know. He knows it, too. He’s playing for time, is all. But he’s too sick.’

‘But that means… it means…’ I wanted to fling the sodden bandages far from me, but instead I sunk my fingernails into them, feeling them rip beneath my hands.

‘You know I loved you, Maryam. Always,’ she said, so quickly I barely heard it.

‘Lily –‘ I said, but a clanging bell smashed my words to shards and turned my blood to ice. Voices shouted, and the darkness lifted a little as, somewhere close by, someone lit the first of the torches. He’s gone, I thought, and my heart clattered around inside me. The Lord’s dead.

‘They’ll be coming for me now,’ I heard Lily’s voice say, straight into my ear. Her lips were warm on my cheek.

‘I won’t let them take you,’ I wanted to say, but it was as if I had swallowed a handful of thorns. I won’t let them touch you I won’t let them butcher you I won’t I won’t

‘I won’t leave you alone,’ she said, shoving the disgusting bundle of cloth at me, making me stumble.

‘Wait!’ I screamed, but it was too late.

In the darkness, her sure feet found the top step without difficulty, and she fell without a sound.

They buried her alone, in an unmarked hole, because only the beautiful can be interred as handmaidens of the Lord, and only the perfect can join him in the sky. From the top of my tower I can watch the old soil reclaim her body – her traitor’s body. Or so they say, at least. I know better.

She promised she’d never leave me, and she kept her word.

Wednesday Write-in #82

This week’s words were:

signal  ::  resolution  ::  aggressive  ::  gunpowder  ::  fashion

Read on for what I made out of ’em…

Image: mattcornock.com

Image: mattcornock.com

Eyes Only

Autopsy commences 07:05:22 a.m., November 8th 2067. Subject: Prisoner #874431

Inscription found on sole of foot, left: ‘my name is sarah pinford and i had no choice i had to be part of the new gunpowder plot and if i had to i would do it again’

Inscription found on sole of foot, right: ‘i had made the resolution to do whatever i could before i was 15 y.o.’

Inscription found on inner arm, left: ‘this govt and its aggressive stance toward anyone not ‘Pure’ is the reason why we are doing this they have to be told that a human being is a human being and their laws cant crush humanity no matter what they think’

Inscription found on inner arm, right, partially obscured: ‘the signal was done by someone on the inside i wont say who but it was an act of heroism for which they shall always be remembered and when we heard it we knew it was time’

[NOTE: investigate these claims with immediate effect]

Inscription found across lower abdomen: ‘they can not tell us who to be any more they will not tell us we are Less than them we are not we are not we are not and i am not sorry’

Findings:

The subject (female, non-Pure, c. 25 years of age) is in an emaciated condition, significant tooth damage (probable cause gnawing, see below); evidence of parturition [NOTE: check for offspring/mate and apprehend]; organs Pure-equivalent in relation to size, weight, function [NOTE: recheck this data]; skin abraded with some skill. Subject managed to fashion a crude blade from the handle of a plastic spoon, used this to mark herself with her propaganda, which was exposed post-execution.

Recommendations:

No more plastic cutlery to be supplied to non-Pure detainees. Backlog in eliminations to be worked through – no non-Pure detainee to be permitted more than two days in cells. Root and branch examination of the Parliament, all leaks to be plugged. Purges to be stepped up. Prisoner #874431 to be cremated. This report eyes-only.

Dissent to be quelled at all costs.

Ends

Wednesday Write-In #81

This week’s words for CAKE.shortandsweet’s Wednesday Write-In were:

drawn :: sitting comfortably :: sag :: hiss :: ship-shape

image: sittingwithsorrow.typepad.com

image: sittingwithsorrow.typepad.com

I Am As I Am

I am sitting, comfortably tucked into my favourite chair.

I am watching the world pass, the people outside like clouds on a breezy day.

I am here. i am here i am here i am here

My house is ship-shape; I know where everything is, and nothing takes long to find.

When it comes dark, my curtains will be drawn, and nothing will disturb them until I do.

My bookshelves sag with tomes read and unread, and my walls are clean and bare.

My fire is a bright and jaunty hiss, and I am warm. I have enough.

I am fine, just as I am.

You’re fine, just as you are. Sure, you’ve plenty of nephews and nieces and they’re nearly as good as having your own, aren’t they? And you’ve a gorgeous wee house, you couldn’t keep it like a new pin if you had a clatter of youngsters running about getting their sticky mitts all over everything and knocking things over and widdling on the carpet and throwing up all over the place and coming in from school with a big hug for you and throwing wrapping paper everywhere on Christmas Day and winning prizes and gaining degrees and getting married and going on holidays and writing to you and sending you pictures of their lives and bringing their own children to meet you – ‘here’s Granny!’ – and emptying the fridge, now could you? Wouldn’t you rather have a bit of comfort in your old age and a bit of peace and quiet and as much you-time as you could ask for? I’d kill for a bit of a break from it, all the madness and the rushing and the phone-calls and the dramas and the weddings and the christenings and the birthdays. You don’t know how lucky you are, so you don’t!

lucky lucky lucky am i

And I am fine, just as I am.

I have no other way to be.

 

Wednesday Writing

There didn’t seem to be a Wednesday Write-In today, so I decided to improvise. One random word generator later, and the following words were mine:

Guarantee :: oar :: napkin :: silo :: slippers

Keep reading to find out what I made of ’em.

Image: dreamstime.com

Image: dreamstime.com

The Bearers

It all kicked off the mornin’ Daddy found an intruder in the silo. I knew somethin’ was wrong by the way he came walkin’ out of the barn – he looked like someone had glued his teeth shut, and he was in desperate need to yell.

‘Margaret,’ he said, comin’ up to the kitchen door, and leanin’ in. ‘Get my gun.’ His voice was quiet, which is how I knew he was real mad.

‘Now, Gus,’ said Mama, shufflin’ over to him. Her slippers whispered across the linoleum, and her arms went out like a statue of Ol’ Mary, except her robe wasn’t blue. ‘There ain’t no guarantee -‘

‘I asked for my gun, Margaret,’ said Daddy. ‘If you don’t fetch it for me this minute, I’m gon’ be forced to track through the house with my yard boots on, and there won’t be nothin’ you can say about it.’

‘Daddy, what’s goin’ on?’ I asked, wipin’ my mouth with my fingers as Mama left the room. I always got myself in a buttery mess when Mama made pancakes for a breakfast treat.

‘God’s sake, Lily! Use a paper napkin, or a washcloth, or somethin’,’ snapped Daddy, wrinklin’ his nose at me. ‘You’re raised better’n that.’ I hid my face as Mama came back, carryin’ Daddy’s shotgun. It was open, lyin’ broken over her arm like a freshly killed deer.

‘You can get your own cartridges, Gus Lamping,’ she said, handin’ him the gun. ‘I ain’t goin’ to have nothin’ more to do with this.’ Daddy grunted as he took the weapon from her, which would have to do for ‘thank you,’ I guessed.

‘Daddy! I’ll get your cartridges,’ I said, slidin’ down off my chair. ‘Please?’

‘Lily-Ella Lamping,’ he snapped, not lookin’ at me. ‘This ain’t no thing for a girl to be gettin’ mixed up in.’

‘Aw, please?‘ My heart was slitherin’ down inside me like it was losin’ its grip. ‘Daddy, I wanna see! Is it – is it one of them?‘ Sometimes, I wondered if the disease, and The Bearers who spread it, were nothin’ more than a fairytale Mama and Daddy’d made up, just for me.

‘Whatever’s in that barn is not for your eyes, child,’ said Mama, gatherin’ up her collar and holdin’ herself close. ‘You stay in here, with me.’

‘Yes, Mama,’ I said, watchin’ as Daddy slipped out through the screen door, trudgin’ around to the lean-to. I wasn’t supposed to know where his cartridges were kept, but I did. I imagined him findin’ the box, and rustlin’ around in it while keepin’ one eye trained on outside, and loadin’ the gun without even havin’ to look.

I watched, real careful, as he slammed the door to the lean-to shut. He raised the gun to his eye – judgin’ the distance, I guessed, between the house and the barn, just in case one of them things decided to spring out through the barn door – and then he shook himself, just a little, like a person does when they get cold, suddenly.

‘Jesus Almighty,’ gasped Mama. ‘Lily-Ella, you get away from that window. Right now!’ I blinked, and kept my eyes on Daddy.

He turned to face me, smooth-like and strange, just as a boat that’s lost an oar is likely to. He looked in through the window, and his eyes met mine. The whites of them had turned to red. He settled his grip around the rifle, and poised to aim.

Lily!‘ screamed Mama, runnin’ to me. ‘Get down!

The blast of Daddy’s shotgun and the impact of Mama’s arms came so close together that they were all mixed up in my head. She dragged me down off the chair and we hit the floor in a tangle of limbs.

‘Lily,’ I heard Mama gasp. ‘You gotta run, baby. You gotta run!’

‘Mama, what’s happenin’?’ I could feel her blood, hot and everywhere, spreadin’ across the floor beneath us. Her breath smelled strange. Her eyes were wide, and blue as the dawn.

‘I am your Mama, Lily-Ella,’ she gasped, pink bubbles foamin’. ‘Nobody else. You gotta remember that, baby.’ As her eyes slid closed, Daddy’s shotgun spat one more time, and then there was silence.

Feelin’ like a badly-made doll, all sewn up wrong, I inched my way back to the window. Beyond the broken shards of it, my Daddy’s broken body lay, his own shotgun lyin’ inches from his pale fingers.

The barn door creaked, and my eyes skipped up before I could think better of it.

I saw a man, as like my Daddy as his twin would be, and a woman like my Mama on a good day, wearin’ a dress so pretty that it shone. Her hair was neatly styled, and she was clean – so clean. She smiled with a bright ruby mouth, and opened her arms like they were made for runnin’ into.

‘Come on, Lily-Ella,’ she called, and it was my Mama’s voice only better, shinier, more happy. ‘Come on over here. Mama’s waitin’.’

It was an effort to close my eyes, but I did it.

Mama’s in the kitchen, Daddy’s in the yard, I sang to myself as I slid to my knees and out of sight. I knew that they didn’t need eyes to see me, though – I knew, even through the wall, that they could hear my heart. Feel my blood pumpin’. Hear my breaths, fast and cracklin’. They were comin’.

But they can’t hear my thoughts, I realised. If Mama and Daddy taught me right, and I know they did.

I looked, and saw that Mama’d left the gas stove on, keepin’ warm for the pancakes she’d planned to make for Daddy. I knew, too, that she kept her lighter in the pocket of her housecoat, even though she hadn’t been able to get cigarettes for years – not since the Bearer Invasion, when the world had gone to hell.

I wiped my eyes.

‘Mama!’ I called, getting back to my feet and starin’ out at the creature wearin’ her beloved face. ‘Hey, Mama! I’m here! Come get me!’

It smiled, and I smiled right back, my Mama’s blood still warm upon my skin.

 

 

 

 

Wednesday Write-In #79

This week’s words for CAKE.shortandsweet’s Wednesday Write-In were:

strawberry  ::  tag  ::  code  ::  lower reaches  ::  hideaway

Image: ceressecrets.com

Image: ceressecrets.com

The Summer of Forever

Burton’s Berry Farm was the biggest in the county. All the kids from miles around, me included, blagged summer jobs there; it was hard work for rubbish pay, but it beat pulling ice-cream cones for screaming kids down at the seaside, hands down. At least you could eat as you worked, and Burton’s fields were big enough that you could do a certain amount of loafing without being spotted.

The sun was high, a tag or two of light wispy cloud just barely flecking the perfect blue of the sky, the day Joey was put in my drill. The air smelled like dry earth, and the hsss of the irrigation system was almost enough to lull you into mindlessness. I was lying on my side, using the strawberry plants like a hideaway as I rummaged through their lower reaches in search of the fattest fruit. It didn’t taste as good, but it weighed more, and that was all I cared about.

‘Hey,’ I heard. A shadow fell over me. Squinting, I looked up.

‘Oh – hey,’ I saidmy head exploding with are you clean do you smell what’s your hair like did you brush your teeth this morning? He dropped to his knees beside me, making me squint as the sunlight flashed straight into my face. I gathered myself up, making space for him.

‘So. What’s the drill?’ he said, looking sideways at me, his eyebrows waggling. ‘Get it? Drill?’ He nudged me with the point of his elbow, shaking his long fringe out of his face. Is he speaking code, or something? I wondered, for a long, stupid minute, long enough for the smile to fall from his face and be replaced by awkward embarrassment.

‘Drill!’ I said, finally, bringing one dirt-encrusted hand up to my face. ‘Duh. Yeah. Good one.’ I laughed, but the moment had passed. I tried not to look at him as I showed him how to pick, demonstrating the quick twisting motion that helped the berry to roll softly into the palm of your hand.

‘Be careful not to just chuck them into the punnet,’ I said. ‘He checks for spoilage, and you don’t get paid for the mushy ones.’

‘Got it,’ he replied, setting to work. At least an hour passed in silence.

‘So, you’re in my maths class, yeah?’ His voice startled me.

‘Yeah?’ I said, shrugging, my heart pick-pocking in my neck.

‘Looking forward to final year?’ He squinted at me, his skin already reddening. His arms were bare, the sleeves of his t-shirt ripped off, raggedly, at the seam. I half-smiled at him.

‘Yeah, right,’ I said. ‘Hello, the big bad world.’

‘Tell me about it,’ he said, rolling his eyes. ‘What’s your plan? You know, for afterwards?’

‘I can’t even think about it,’ I said, trying not to hear my mother’s voice splitting my head in half. Get yourself down to that supermarket and apply for a job on the tills, do you hear me? It’s good work, and it’s steady work, and it’ll do you! Or are you too good for an honest job, you little madam?

‘You’re going to college though, aren’t you? You should, anyway,’ he said, turning back to the plants.

‘What?’ I propped myself up on one elbow. He was already pink across the cheeks, and a damp patch spread across his chest and down the hollow of his back. ‘Why d’you say that?’

‘Well – because! You’re good at English, right? You wrote that poem, for last year’s school magazine?’ I flushed, feeling sick.

‘You read it?’ I buried my face in the greenery.

‘It was good,’ he said.

‘Shut up.’

‘It was!‘ He chuckled.

‘Shut up anyway!’ I laughed, but the rolling sickness was still there, underneath. He was silent, then, but a smile lingered on his face.

After a while I stretched into the hollow I’d dug in the soil, where I kept my stash of water. I took a long swallow, and was thoughtlessly sealing it back up again when I noticed him glancing over. He has no hat, I thought. No sun-cream. No water.

‘Want some?’ I said, offering him the sun-warmed bottle.

‘Thanks,’ he said, flashing me a grin. He licked his lips and flicked his hair out of his face again as he reached for it. I watched as he raised it to his mouth, and watched his lips move as he drank his fill, and watched his freckling skin while he was distracted with other things.

‘Sorry,’ he said, handing it back to me mostly empty. ‘I took too much.’

‘Don’t worry about it,’ I said, lifting it to my own mouth again before the touch of his skin faded from the plastic.

My pickings for that day were way down, and they didn’t come back up again at all that long, hot summer. Turned out, the fields at Burton’s were the perfect place for loafing.