Thursday, November 06, 2003
They ran down the rolling hill, down the dusty dirt footpath that wound its way through the birches and poplars that grew tall and leafy in the ravine. Juniper bushes reached out to grab their ankles as they flew past, allowing gravity to just take possession of their bodies as short, skinny legs pounded to keep up. Their steps grew quick and short as they attempted to slow, in order to cross the bump of bare rock that poked up through the dirt path. Once clear on the other side, they were off again, laughing as blonde hair streamed out in their own wind.
Winded and giggling breathlessly, they finally reached the bottom, where the ravine levelled out before diving again to the banks of the creek. Together, they collapsed onto the patch of ardent green grass, flopping onto their backs and sprawling out their limbs to let the gentle breeze play over their salty skin.
The leaves overhead rustled in the gentle gusts of wind, giving them a flickered view of the sunny, clear sky above. Patches of light danced and dappled over their tanned, youthful skin, ankles scratched white where the juniper bushes had left their marks.
Once their breathing and heart rate had returned to normal, Jenna pulled herself up into a sitting position, picking out a twig and a pine needle from her white-blonde hair and tossing them off into the trees with. Idly, she picked up another brown pine needle and played with it, bending it this way and that until it finally snapped in her fingers. Her game over now, she tossed it after the first one.
“I’m glad it’s finally hot,” she remarked quietly, her gaze flickering up to view the sky through the leafy branches.
“Yeah,” Elena agreed simply, now propping herself up on her elbows to look at her best friend.
They lapsed into thoughtful silence for a few moments, before Elena suddenly got to her feet without announcement. “C’mon,” she instructed, jerking her head towards a path to the creek.
Without argument, Jenna got to her feet as well, brushing off her bottom. She nodded, narrowing her eyes slightly to peer off down the darker trail. Returning Jenna’s nod, Elena started off towards the path, gently scuffing her sandals through the dirt, covering her toes with a thick layer of dust.
The path wound its way through the denser foliage. It was down here that the heavy evergreens grew, towering up into the sky. Birch trees stretched up in competition, but could not quite meet the high tips of the conifers, their leafy branches finally giving out in a wide splay that nearly hid the sky above and sunk the whole area into dense shade.
In the branches above, birds sang and squirrels chittered away to each other. The rat-a-tat-tat drumming of a woodpecker could be heard from the corpse of a dead birch. The girls adopted a strange gait, having to stop every two steps to swipe at the mosquitoes stinging their legs.
Soon though, the path opened, and the smell of damp woods was replaced by the smell of the creek. They could hear it now, rushing over the rocks. A few more feet brought them around a sharp bend, and now the creek came into view.
It was muddy brown; opaque although it wasn’t deep. Near the banks, the hull of a rusted shopping cart was poking up, and the basket had snagged some of the litter as it rushed through the metal mesh. The handle still bore the name of the nearby grocery store. The plastic case attached to it was smashed open, the quarter deposit stolen, although the square key still dangled lifelessly from its short chain catching the midday sun. Likely, some kids from the school had crashed it here, after robbing its small hold like cut-rate pirates.
They made their way along the bank, towards the foot-bridge. A black garbage bag had gotten caught there, billowing in the water. Last week, they’d managed to convince Jenna’s little sister that it was a body, and although they’d spun the tall tale themselves, they couldn’t help but eye it warily.
- posted by Deborah @ 7:17 AM
The afternoon sun dappling through the trees overhead blinded him partly, as he lay on his back in the wet grass and tried to recall why, exactly, he was doing as much. He knew he’d had a specific purpose in setting out that morning, but now, in the last dregs of a lazy summer afternoon, all reason had slipped away, and left naught by idle thought behind.
And so he had to content himself with his ruminations, idle as they may have been. His mother, he was certain, would never understand him, despite her claiming it was nothing more than his hormones speaking when he yelled at her in fevered anger. His father was a mystery; an enigma he’d never solve, and he’d just given it up at that. His sisters, of course, were a mystery of a different sort. Claire was two years younger, and yet she seemed already so much more mature. Already, she was after mother to let her wear all manner of paints and powders, and in recent months, she’d actually taken a liking to joining in the adult parties. He’d lost his partner in crime, with whom he could remember spending many long nights crowded together on the landing of the stairs, peering down through the banister at the guests below, and whispering delightfully insulting comments about the attire and manner of each guest; it was always a competition to see who would be first to break and giggle aloud, getting both of them sent back to their rooms and to bed.
But now, she was allowed up until ten at parties, and she liked to spend it waltzing around the sitting room with a tray of crackers, or perhaps, if she’d promised to be very careful and not spill a drop, a bottle of the wine mother kept especially for such fancy occasions. She enjoyed getting all dressed up, putting on her ruffled skirts and coloured hose, though she’d always declare to mother in what she was certain was her most grown up tone that, honestly, she was beyond such frocks and needed to get a grown up gown for these affairs. What would the neighbours think, seeing her dressed up as a ten year old. That she was only eleven never seemed to dissuade her. For she knew, as only girls of exactly eleven years of age can know, just how far superior eleven was to ten and how the same standards just would not do at all.
And Annabelle was worse. She was creeping up on sixteen now. In fact, he’d need to remember to get her some sort of present next month, although he had no idea what. She was a mystery because she did not want to be understood by him. To be understood by her younger brother would have been the biggest insult of them all. In her mind, she was already an adult, and had been since she was six. And he would always be a child (spoken in the most condescending tone possible, of course), even when he was forty and married. Annabelle (or as he called her, Bella-Anne, just to annoy her) was forever locking herself in her room, when she was at home at all. She was never out past curfew, of course, for what was there to do in town after ten, anyway? But she was rarely a moment early, either. And then it would be straight upstairs to take a long soak in the tub with her scented (or as he liked to call them, stinky) soaps and candles.
When they’d finally given her up for dead, she’d emerge, wrinkled and lightly pink from the hot water she kept adding, her curls pulled up in a towel and her body wrapped in father’s old robe. She’d heave a sigh at the comment that would inevitably come; in fact, they only really bothered commenting anymore because it seemed so much a part of the nightly ritual of the house. Often nights, when he had nothing better to do, he’d stake out the door, just to be the first one to comment; his favourite was asking if she’d honestly stank so badly that she’d needed so long to soak it off. Claire and mother weren’t nearly so witty, in his opinion. And so Annabelle would sigh and then storm off into her room, slamming the door behind her, and nothing would be heard for the rest of the night, beyond the muted strains of her newest record.
Mother, he was beginning to realize, was horribly simple and horribly dull. She needed no work; father’s will saw to that, and she took no serious suitors, spending only a few weeks or months on one project, before flitting off to the next. At least once a month, she’d throw a big party and invite all the well-to-dos, and in between, she’d amuse herself with bridge and the ladies’ auxiliary, and of course, planning for the next big soiree. She took only a passing interest in his life, and he even less in hers. So long as he was passing his classes and staying out of trouble, she was content. And so long as she wasn’t nagging at him and harping about his manners and appearance, he was happy.
And so life was very tiring at home. He was so bored with the business of women and girls. Father had gone and left him when he was only three, and now he was the only sane inhabitant within the entire structure. It was bad enough just with the three of them, but as he’d learned from years of observation, females never travelled alone. No, they always came in packs. And so, one day, the living room would be overrun with eleven year old girls, and the next, a troupe of sixteen-year-old-hopefuls would come trouping through the house, heading straight for Annabelle’s room. Then the third, the dining room would be commandeered for a meeting of the bridge club, and by the time the fourth rolled around, it was Claire’s turn to hostess again.
He’d made the resolution, not long after Claire had deserted him to her grown up parties, that he would stay out of the house as much as he possibly could. Mother didn’t seem to mind. In fact, she’d said, she wished the girls would follow his example and get out into the fresh air more often. What she’d meant, of course, was that she wished she had more time alone, without gaggles of teenaged girls filling her house. But he was glad to steer clear. He’d found an abandoned shack in the woods, and had taken it over as his base. One corner of the roof leaked, but a good three-quarters of the shack was still habitable. Over time, he’d managed to drag many of his treasures here. He’d even stolen the old hurricane lantern from the attic, and one of Annabelle’s old transistor radio’s. Just like a girl, really. If he’d asked her for it, she’d have said no. But he’d pinched it ages ago, and she still hadn’t noticed or asked after it. Just like a girl, indeed.
And now he was lying just outside of his little shack, in the small clearing that had perhaps once been a yard. The grass was damp from the rain during the night - the deep down damp that you don’t feel until you’ve been lying on it awhile. The sort that creeps up on you and you don’t even realize it at first. But it didn’t really bother him. The day was hot, and the dampness on the back of his shirt was actually rather nice. A light breeze played in the treetops, but heavy trunks kept it from reaching him so far below. The transistor radio was propped up against his side, its tiny speaker offering a tinny rendition of the current hits.
- posted by Deborah @ 7:16 AM
“I - didn’t mean to call them vampires. That’s not the right word. I don’t think there is a right word.”
“But you said vampires.”
“I know what I said. I’m saying now, I didn’t mean vampires. I just - you wouldn’t understand.”
“Well, son, it’s your job to make me understand.”
”They’re killers. Evil. They murder without remorse or conscience.”
“Like serial killers?”
“No! A serial killer is human. These - aren’t.”
”They look human.”
”They’re not. They’re - powerful. Fast. Strong. Deadly.”
”But they look human?”
“Yes. They look human.”
”Do you stake them? Use Holy water?”
“I told you, they’re not vampires!”
”Calm down. So you don’t stake them?”
“No. I - guess you could. I don’t know if that would work, though.”
”What does work?”
“You saw what happened to that thing.”
”A single bullet to the head. Close range. That’s gotta be messy.”
”It was necessary.”
“To keep it from killing anyone else.”
”How do you know he would kill someone else? Did he tell you?”
“Not a ‘he’. It’s not human. And no. It didn’t tell me. You just know because - because that’s what they do. They kill.”
”So you killed it.”
”To stop it from killing anyone else.”
”So - you’re a vigil ante.”
”No? Son, you took the law into your hands.”
”This isn’t the law. This goes beyond the law. The law couldn’t - The law wouldn’t . . .”
“So you shot it in the head.”
”Someone shot it in the head.”
”A wound that would easily kill a human.”
”I don’t know. I’ve never killed a human.”
”Surely you could guess . . .”
“Yes, the wound would have killed a human.”
”So, you’ll have to forgive me if I’m having trouble grasping this concept. He - it - looked human and died from a mortal wound, and yet, despite all evidence to the contrary, you want me to believe he - it - wasn’t human?”
”That’s the truth, whether you believe it or not.”
“You realize you don’t exactly have a leg to stand on, right son?”
”You don’t sound like you care.”
”I’ve done what I’ve agreed to do. The rest isn’t important.”
”You agreed to help kill him?”
The steel back door of the Blue Moon swung open with a loud groan of protest, slamming back against the chipped brick wall with a shuddering bang. The foot used to kick it ajar stepped down into the alley now, followed by the man to whom it belonged. His hairnet and stained apron easily placed him as a kitchen worker; he lugged along two industrial-sized bags of garbage, one in each hand.
Dropping one to the littered pavement that ran between the two tall buildings, he held the lid of the dumpster up, swinging in one bag of garbage, then another, grimacing against the stench that wafted out on the heavy, warm air.
With a soft gagging noise, Norris dropped the lid back down and turned to go back into the kitchen, wiping his hands on his apron as he went. He jumped, surprised to see a figure now standing beside the open door.
“Mara,” he greeted, once he’d recovered from the surprise.
The woman was short, lucky to even break five feet, yet her limbs all seemed too long and gangly for her body, giving her the eternal look of a prepubescent teen, just hitting their first growth spurt. Her boyish hair cut - short black strands chopped off unevenly, did little to age her appearance. It was only because of the depth of her eyes that he would place her in her early twenties.
She nodded hello, then jerked her head towards the open door, whence the clanking of dishes and the sizzling sounds of fatty meat being pressed to a grill could be easily heard.
“Hungry?” he guessed, breaking into an easy grin, as he hopped back up the little step and stood balancing on its rounded edge.
She nodded, yet stayed to the side where those inside would be unable to see her.
“Just a sec then.”
With that, he disappeared into the kitchen, his hollered greetings and instructions to the other busboys carrying over the other white noise of the kitchen. It was only a few moments before he returned with a chipped plate, loaded up with half-eaten sandwiches and hamburgers.
“Thanks,” she managed, reaching for the plate and protectively wrapping her whole lower arm around it, holding it close to her body.
He remained in the doorway, watching her with curiosity as she made her way into a sheltered corner between the dumpster and the opposing building. There, she crouched down, balancing the plate on her knees and quickly cramming mouthful after mouthful in.
“If you don’t slow down, you’ll choke,” he chided jokingly, to which she only looked up at him, attempting a small smile but unable to even fully close her mouth due to the sheer amount of food within.
He lapsed into a thoughtful silence then, idly watching her eat; staring without meaning to, but she didn’t seem to mind, if she even noticed. His mind was elsewhere, reflecting back on the events of a few nights prior. He could feel the familiar twitch in his chin, signalling the oncoming attack of tears, and shook his head to force them away, quickly drawing himself back to the real world.
In that brief time, she’d finished, and was now standing before him, holding out the plate to return it. He was surprised to find her staring at him now, head cocked to one side, eyebrows raised just slightly.
“It’s nothing,” he said quickly, automatically, as he reached for the plate, but she didn’t stop looking at him in that way.
“You better go, before Moony catches you here.” His voice was soft, yet still dismissive. Still, she didn’t move, holding her pose with a practiced ability to stay perfectly still.
“Go on!” he said, voice raising now, becoming angry. “I said it was nothing!”
Some of the noise nearest the door stopped, and an older man’s voice called out to him, “Cartier!”
He turned, yelling back into the kitchen that it was nothing, and when he looked back to the alley, she’d gone, leaving no trace of ever having been, aside from the empty plate he held in his hand.
Night had fallen now, as the back door of the diner swung open again, and Norris Cartier emerged once more. The stragglers of their patrons were being ushered out of the front door, and Norris was thankful that his job, at least, did not involve having to convince the old cat lady from the next block over to return home to her cats. What she saw in spending all day, every day, from open to close, sitting in a run down greasy spoon like this was beyond him.
He turned up the collar of his recently acquired leather coat, surprised to find that such a chill night had followed the close day. At least the cooler air cut down on the stink in the alley, he thought to himself with a wry chuckle.
Putting his helmet upon his head, he started for his scooter, leaning up against the spray painted brick, near the mouth of the alley. He dug his keys out of his pocket, staring longingly at the Harley Davidson logo keychain he used to hold them together. Some day he’d buy a real bike. Some day he’d quit this job. Some day, some day, some day life would be better. But that day wasn’t today, so he just hopped on his scooter revving the engine a few times and sighing at the pathetic whine it gave, rather than the throaty growl of a hog.
“Nice ride,” a familiar voice spoke beside him, startling him into overgunning the engine. The moped shut down with a shudder as he whirled his head over to look in her direction.
“Mara,” he breathed, looking startled.
“Didn’t mean to scare you,” she said with a shrug, turning to go.
“No, it’s all right. I just - what are you doing here? There’s - I can’t get you food now. We’re closed. If you’d come a few minutes earlier…”
She waved a hand to cut him off, shaking her head. “It’s not food. Just - wanted some company. But - never mind. It’s fine. I should be getting to work, anyway.”
“Work?” He hadn’t realized she had a job. He couldn’t figure why she’d come begging for handouts at their back door if she pulled in a salary. Even minimum wage would afford her three meals a day at the front door of the Blue Moon. The food might not be good, but it was cheap; Norris was still glad he’d convinced Moony to refrain from putting that on the sign over the door, though.
She just shrugged, and started off, back into the darkening night.
“Really, it’s fine. You want to go for coffee?” he called after her, causing her to stop and turn back to face him warily.
“My treat,” he offered, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a handful of change.
“Where?” she asked, still not coming back any closer, but not moving further away either.
“Uh - there’s a place just around the corner.”
She shook her head. “Starbucks.” She spat the word as if it were a curse.
“Um,” he said, looking a bit lost. “I - guess I could open the diner back up for a bit. I’ve - got the key.”
She seemed to consider this, then nodded, starting back towards the steel door that opened onto the alley.
“Not that one. The front door,” he said with a bit of a laugh, as he turned his scooter off properly and got off of it.
He let her in first, following her inside, and re-locking the door behind them. Nodding for her to take a seat on a stool by the counter, he flipped a switch, bathing the dingy place in a pale, yellow light. He set his helmet down on the counter, as he headed behind it, pulling out two coffee cups, and after checking them for lipstick stains, filled them with the lukewarm coffee that had been left to chill on the cold element.
After dropping a few coins in the cash register, he set hers down in front of her, nudging forward the milk and sugar before returning around to the customer side of the Formica counter. But she choose neither, idly swirling the oily coffee around in her cup before chugging the whole load back in one gulp.
He raised his eyebrows, looking surprised again as she set the empty cup down on the surface again. Looking at his own drink with distaste, he then offered it to her, and she took it and chugged it back in the same manner.
‘Thanks,” she said again, now looking around at the restaurant, turning her stool slowly to view the full 360.
“Yeah, no problem. So, uh - what made you … I mean, why did you want to get coffee?”
She shrugged, then spun on her stool again, this time faster, then faster still. He couldn’t help but laugh.
- posted by Deborah @ 7:16 AM
It was late in the year, and the snow was silently wafting down from grey skies above. The young girl had little worry in the world, and she looked not nearly her twelve years. Raven curls cascaded lightly around slender shoulders, contrasting starkly with the porcelain face; eyes, a stormy coal black, flickered intently over words on a page: yellowing parchment, marked with heavy, black ink, scrawled messily by an unconcerned hand.
With a sudden movement, she sharply took up residence on a nearby footstool, heavy gowns rustling - the only disruption in the silence of the room. From far off in the castle, muffled by the heavy wood of the locked door, a lone clock could just scarcely be heard, steadily ticking out the minutes - marking the laborious, continuous passage of time.
Though the note was short - filling only half of the page, the writing neither large nor small - only the shades of night, gradually falling, casting long shadows in the room, finally brought her reading to an end.
With a soft sigh, she lowered the page; her slender hand falling to her side limply. With another rustle of skirts, she rose again from her seat, standing a moment. Then three paces, hard-soled shoes rhythmically connecting with the hard wood of the floor, brought her to the long, narrow window.
She leaned lightly against its frame and stared blankly out at the darkening landscape beyond. The forest was nought but shadows, its foremost trees stretching black limbs into the purple sky. Ten leagues of snow-covered ground separated castle from the woods beyond, the terrain flat and the snow unmarked by footstep.
To the west, the sun was disappearing below the hills which marked the periphery of the kingdom, casting the land into gloaming. A path wound its way in that direction, through the wrought iron of the castle gates. Its snow was packed hard, black gravel thrown up by horses’ hooves as they trod along, taking others to and from the castle.
But for the room’s sole occupant, there would be no further comings or goings. The thick stone walls, lightly chilled to the touch, now constituted her prison, the room her cell. Though the door locked from inside and she wore no chains to bind her, her childhood home no longer brought asylum, only stifling confinement, be it imposed or only imagined thus.
Lugubriously, she turned from the window, the land beyond now covered with a blanket of pitch black. Now the only light in her keep came from the burning log ensconced within the stone fireplace. Flickering oranges, reds, and yellows danced merrily within the grate, but cast jumping, looming shadows on the rest of the room. The hollows of her narrow face seemed to twitch and twist in the glimmering beams.
Now, from far off, a marked and steady footfall could be heard; hard-soled shoes on a stone floor, echoing off of the cavernous walls beyond the shut door. Slowly, but constantly, they grew ever nearer, slowly slipping into conscious notice of the girl. She made no move, but cast her gaze askance to the door, listening intently as the sound grew ever-louder. With a resigned patience, she waited, as a charged man would await his executioner.
The footsteps drew up, then came to an abrupt stop. The noise was immediately replaced by a muffled clinking - the sound unmistakable as none other than jingling keys. One was shaken loose, but no noise came of it being inserted into the lock.
Rather, a sudden, sharp rapping came at the door, its contrast to the muted sounds of the chamber causing the youngster to start slightly. There was a pause, then the noise came again - louder and more persistent this time.
“Deirdre, yee’re to open this door!” The order carried through the wood on the wings of a shrill, female voice, marked with a common accent, but the solemn girl still made no move to comply or offer response.
“Deirdre!” The voice was sharper now, higher pitched, and showed signs of weary strain.
“You’ve a key,” the girl finally offered, her voice kept purposefully low and marked with a grievous solemnity.
“Why must ye always be so difficult, girl!” came the voice again, angry now, marked with impatience. Still, the room’s occupant did not stir from where she stood, staring into the flickering flames.
Now came the scraping noise of heavy iron in an old lock. Giving a groan of complaint, the bolt finally slid aside, clanking noisily into its new resting place. The handle reflected the fire’s light as it turned slowly, the brass polished just by constant use. Silently the door swung open, falling into the room and stopping just short of hitting the wall behind.
An aging woman peered into the room, looking stern and ill-mannered. Her dress was simple, but clean and well-kept, and her thick hair was pulled back into a severe bun. She stood in the doorway for a moment, backlit by the torches blazing in the hall beyond, before finally stepping foot over the threshold.
Immediately she withdrew a pack of matches from her pocket, and striking one, set to lighting the two torches mounted either side of the door, then the lantern set on the corner of the heavy desk. Deirdre did not even glance away from the fire nor make any other movements to acknowledge the new presences in her sanctuary.
“Yee’re not dressed,” the older woman said, grabbing the lantern securely by its handle and marching over to stand before the girl.
“No,” was the simple reply, as Deirdre was at last forced to look at the intruder who now blocked the view of the flames. Her expression was level but slightly challenging, as she studied the wrinkles that lined the aging face.
With a tsk of disapproval, the woman sized up the girl, not intimidated in the least by the defiant tone or expression, if, indeed, she noticed them at all.
“Yeer father is expectin’ ye downstairs in ten minutes,” the woman informed her, as she now moved away.
Deirdre resumed watching the dancing flames as the woman made her way over to the tall chest that stood against the far wall, carrying the lantern with her. With little care, she flung open the heavy doors, and began rummaging through the contents that hung with military precision. With a speed that hinted easily at a familiarity with the closet and its contents, the woman drew out a formal gown, of the finest silks - coloured brightly in reds and yellows. The frock was tossed onto the hulking bed, atop its heavy duvet. Shoes of a matching red were pulled lightly from a cubby beside the hanging garments and dropped to the small rug that covered the ground separating bed and chest.
“Ye’ll dress now,” the old woman snapped in order, nodding at the chosen clothing. “Yeer father will’nt be pleased with the delay.”
Deirdre tore her eyes from the fire, casting a brief, dismissive glance over at the selected garments, then at the woman bidding her. Eyebrows lifting so slightly as to barely be perceived, she just turned again to face the stone of the fireplace.
“Father is not pleased with much,” came her quiet and solemn reply.
“And ye’ll not be needin’ to give him more to complain about, now will ye?” With a sigh of impatience, the woman stalked over to her quiet charged and nudged her gently but persistently towards the bed.
“Father would not take notice if I were present or not, once he’s through with displaying me for his visitors,” she noted dully, as she allowed the woman to force her simple, black dress up over her head, not seeming to take much notice of such things.
“Ye’ll do as yer told, and that’s that.”
The old dress was tossed aside, to the cold floor, and the new one picked up. Deirdre just stood limply, now only in her undergarments.
“Not as if I’ve a choice,” she countered, though the spirit for fighting seemed to have left her.
The woman carefully wound her hands through the slim sleeves of the dress, approaching them from the cuff first, to finally come out through the opening for the wearer’s head.
“T’aint many as gets to pick their lot in life, so don’t ye be complainin’ too heartily ‘bout that. Seen plenty more unfortunates who take what they’re given in stride, and like as ye could do the same.”
Without waiting for a reply, the woman snatched up the girl’s wrists, one in each hand, and with a practiced motion, slipped the dress off of her own arms and onto Deirdre’s.
“I’d rather be poor and without shelter,” Deirdre replied petulantly, as her head emerged from the folds of fabric. She brought up a small hand to angrily brush flyaway locks of hair from her face.
“Ha! Yee’re not like to be sayin’ that once ye’ve tried it for a few days,” came the laughing response, as the old woman tugged the dress on straight, then set to doing up its many buttons, fingers still nimble despite the stiffness of age.
“And you would not be thinking that I had it so well, should you try being his heiress and daughter for even one fleeting hour.”
“So hard done by you are, right as rain.” The tone was not mocking, but it certainly did not mirror the girl’s seriousness.
The buttons now fastened, Deirdre found herself prodded towards the bed, and pushed gently to perch on the edge of it. Dropping into a crouch, joints creaking in protest, the woman set to unlacing the simple, hard shoes the girl had firmly fastened to her feet.
Deirdre did not bother with a reply, but set herself instead to sulking. She made no attempts to either help nor hinder the woman’s work, and soon found herself being tugged back to her feet, which were now encased in more formal shoes of a brilliant maroon.
”But why must I always do just as he orders?” she finally inquired, as the woman set to roughly brushing out her curls with a thick comb. She did not wince as the severe movements forced her head back, only to be pushed harshly forward again by the wizened hands.
“Because of him’s the one who be payin’ me, and yee’re the one who be havin’ to listen. When comes the day that yee’ve the money, I’d be more’n pleased to listen to ye,” came the reply, tone lighter than the words’ meaning.
Now finished with brushing out the tangle of curls, the woman turned the girl by the shoulders, grabbing the lamp up from where she’d set it and holding it before the young face.
“Yee’ve been leanin’ yer head ‘gainst the windowpane ‘gain, haven’t ye?” The woman licked her thumb, then rubbed the digit roughly against Deirdre’s forehead, fighting to remove a black streak that was there.
“Am I no longer allowed to even look upon the out-of-doors?” came the melodramatic reply.
“Ye’ll have to be takin’ that up with yer father. But keep yer head offa the glass, y’hear? Marks both it and ye up right badly, it does.” With that, she shepherded her young charge out of the room, closing the door firmly behind.
- posted by Deborah @ 7:15 AM
Liberty and Justice
The rhythmic clanking of the machinery was like a lullaby to Liberty. When she had first signed on with the Franklin Bros. Amusing and Astounding Carnival of Wonders, it had disturbed her; sleeping so near the inner workings of a Ferris wheel seemed a strange place for a bed. But by now, she had grown accustomed to the noises and found them soothing unlike most others.
She looked about the small cubby that she called her home – or at least it was her home for as long as they were stopped. On the road, she had no home to speak of, and moved from trailer to trailer as need and want dictated. But she liked the hiding place. She had ferreted it out within her first week of employment, and no one saw any reason to kick her out.
She had a small cot with a sleeping bag, and a small suitcase to hold her change of clothing and few personal effects. It was Spartan, but she felt it suited her and felt quite at home in the dingy hole.
It was a Tuesday night, around ten o’clock. Which meant that things could be expected to wind down within the next few hours, long before their two am closing time. Few people stayed long at the Franklin fairs. They were small and poorly managed. Those rides that were most popular were let go so long that only the most trusting – or the most naïve – of souls felt comfortable climbing aboard the contraptions. Those rides that failed to garner a following within their first month of use were shipped off to the next customer on the list. It left the whole affair with a sense of longing. And nobody quite knew much about anything, which never helped.
Noting the glowing hands on her ticking alarm clock, which rested on the closed lid of her suitcase (for who needed a nightside table when they had a hard traveling case), Liberty rose from her perch, sitting on the edge of her narrow cot. She pulled her black tresses up into a tight bun with a practiced ease, using only a single bobby pin to secure the mass of hair.
A ten dollar pill was picked up from where it lay beside the alarm clock and tucked into the tight pocket of the young woman’s secondhand jeans, patched so many times over, little of the original denim remained. With one last look around her home, Liberty ducked back out, passing under a few metal beams, before finding herself in the crisp night air.
The summer season was coming to an end here. Liberty knew they would soon have to head southwards, perhaps to a small town on the coast. No one visited the carnival once the temperature dropped towards freezing. And the fledgling company was having enough financial troubles without the weather against them.
Liberty strolled casually past the various eateries and gaming booths. Every now and then she would nod a hello to a fellow employee. Her natural charm and blessed good looks were generally enough to break the young men, mid-patter, from their routine. Several cheerful and goofy greetings followed her form as she wove her way along to the manager’s trailer, on the edge of the grounds.
She leapt up the three tin stairs, rather than climbing them one at a time, and rapped three times smartly on the metal door. Peering through the grimy window, she could see Mr. Franklin – the elder – seated at the folding card table that served as his desk. Knowing she was looking, he waved her to come in, without looking up from the money he was counting.
“Counting the money alone – isn’t that against company policy?” she questioned cheekily as she stepped inside, having to crouch slightly. She pushed the door shut behind her, and made her way towards the desk – a short trip, given the tiny proportions of the cabin.
“Yes, well, Tim has disappeared on the town again. So I’m not left with many options,” the man replied, jovially, but with a hint of resentment to his tone; the same hint that always coloured his speech whenever the topic of the younger and favoured of the Franklin brothers came up.
“Suppose he’s met a girl,” Liberty commented with a crooked grin, as she took up residence in a folding chair, across the table from the mustached man.
“Does he ever do anything else?” Trent’s voice was gruff and unforgiving. He shook his head, glaring at the dead men on the bills he was carefully organizing, as if it were they, and not his younger brother, who were unreliable and undisciplined.
“Look, I want to put in for a bit of time off. Not much – maybe a weekend? I need a break and I need it soon.”
“Libby, Christ, you know we need you on the weekends. How are we supposed to get by without a mechanic? What if it gets busy?”
“But it won’t, Trent, hun. We both know it. The season is almost over. And I have some . . . business to take care of while we’re here.”
“Nothing illegal, I hope. Just don’t wind your ass up in jail. Argue as you will, we still need your expertise around here. I think that blasted Tilt-A-Whirl is about to go out on us again.”
“Do you think it could possibly be because it’s two-hundred years old?” Liberty asked, offering a cheeky grin as she pulled out a crushed pack of cigarettes from the pocket of the mechanic’s shirt she wore. According to its embroidered name tag, she was ‘Earl’, and wanted to help you today.
“Don’t give me shit again. I know it’s a pile of junk, but it’s the best pile of junk we can afford. You get paid to deal with it.” He sounded gruff again, but Liberty remained cheery, perhaps knowing him well enough to know he never meant it when he spoke as such.
“Speaking of which-“ she chimed in, sticking out a hand expectantly. The other one was digging through her pocket for her lighter, having to fight with the taut denim to free it.
“Shit – it’s payday again?” Trent asked, setting down the money and leaning over to dig out a ledger from a cardboard box beside his chair.
“Three days ago, actually. But I didn’t need the cash ‘till now. I really need a few days off. And my pay. How about you give me Friday and Saturday off?”
“Saturday and Sunday,” Trent countered, as he counted out two hundred dollars from his money and shoved it across the padded surface of the table, in her direction.
“Deal,” she replied with a grin.
“That’s what you wanted in the first place, wasn’t it?” he asked, shaking his head a bit, but unable to suppress a smile of his own.
“Yeah-huh,” Liberty answered proudly, as she rose from her chair, and started towards the door.
“Just promise me you’ll stay out of trouble,” Trent bid, as he went back to counting, head bent over the money.
“Trouble always seems to find me, sir. But I’ll do my best.”
“That’s not very reassuring,” he argued, looking back up from his work.
But the trailer door was ajar, and the office was empty but for himself.
The raven-haired young woman jumped easy over the low picket fence surrounding the small lot of 713 Eglin Terrace. The house, once small and cozy like its cookie-cutter neighbours of the small wartime subdivision, had been let go. The fence, once white-washed, clean and bright, was now a dingy grey, its wood beginning to rot where it was exposed to the elements. The gate hung on only one hinge, and it seemed to be jammed three-quarters of the way open. The grass – what was left of it – was a browny-yellow, and marked frequently with dandelions and rough weeds.
Liberty carefully climbed the front steps, trying not to hit a weak spot in the old wood. Cracks and small gaps could already be seen here and there, where perhaps a mailman or Jehovah’s Witness had not been so fortunate as to make it to the top without injury. She crossed the small porch, with it’s saggy roof and burnt out overhead light, to reach the door. The screen door screeched in protest as she slowly wrenched it open, and pounded heavily on the wooden door behind.
After several moments of utter silence from the house, she pounded again. Still nothing happened, no answer to her call. She stepped back, carefully picking her way back down to the littered yard, to peer up at the windows of the second-storey above.
“Looking for Mrs. Mahi?” came a voice behind her.
Liberty whirled around, squinting as she now faced the sun to look to the young man who stood in the middle of the street, watching her curiously.
“Uh, yeah. Is she around? Do you know where she is?”
Rather than answer her, the young man was walking closer, squinting at her strangely, a grin tugging at the corners of his mouth.
“Libby? That you?” he asked, seeming unable to believe it even as he said it aloud.
“I – maybe? Who are you?” she answered, glancing around the deserted street suspiciously.
“It’s me! Weston!” He was now up to the open gate and coming through it.
Liberty stumbled back a few steps, just giving him a cold look.
“Oh, come on. You have to remember me. Weston? We grew up together? I lived just over there.” He pointed at a sunny yellow house down the street and across it, identical to the one they were standing in front of, but well-kept and cheery.
“Weston . . .” Liberty repeated slowly, shaking her head a bit. The faintest hint of recognition touched her eyes though, as she glanced towards the house.
With a sigh, the man relented, hanging his head a bit. “Oh, all right – Weezey. Surely you remember Weezey.”
“Weezey?” Liberty repeated, recognition of that name coming instantly. “But you can’t be! Weezey was scrawny and gawky and-“ She cut short as he made a somewhat goofy face at the insults of his former self. “Good God! It is you!”
“I told you,” he said, goofy grin still in place as she suddenly tackled him in a bear hug.
“I haven’t seen you since-“
“Since you ran off. Gosh, what? Twelve years ago?”
“I was . . . thirteen. So – that’d be it.”
“Christ! Thirteen years old. You were just a kid. I can’t believe you’re actually back. Where did you go? Run off and join the circus?”
Liberty shook her head, offering a smug grin.
“Wow – okay, so you ran off and joined the carnival. And now you’re back. You’re here. I can’t – I just cannot believe it. I waited for you for years. But there was never a word from our famous runaway.”
Liberty hung her head a bit, offering up a sheepish smile. “It – wasn’t a good time. I didn’t want to have anything to do with things here. And I didn’t want to be found. I remember reading a news story when I was ten, where the detective had tracked someone down through one bit of mail.”
“I thought maybe you’d forgotten about us here in the sleepy little hollow.”
“No! Not at all. I just – well, you know I could hardly come back. But I – I’m a grown up now.” She said it without fully sounding like she believed herself. “And we stopped in the next town over. I thought it was a sign or something.”
“You certainly have grown up, yes. You must have the boys lined up.”
Liberty suddenly adopted a sultry smile, nodding her head a bit. “Like what you see?”
“I certainly don’t not like it. But then – I have some boys of my own lined up.”
Her brow furrowed for a moment, then recognition suddenly sprang out across her face. “You’re -?”
“Been out for two years now.”
“Wow – I wouldn’t have thought it. Hm – okay, well, maybe.”
She started walking backwards towards the house, before taking a seat on the edge of the bottom stair.
“You sure you haven’t forgotten me?” Weezey asked with a grin.
“Of course not. How could I ever forget my Weezey? We were inseparable! I still carry that picture with me. Of that day at the diving rock.”
“That’s such a cute one! I have a copy up in my office at home.”
Liberty’s eyebrows went up. “Office. Wow. You are a grown up.”
“Own the house now,” he said, nodding at the yellow structure down the street. “Mom wanted to move down to Florida. She couldn’t bear to sell my childhood home, no matter how much I said I never liked it all that much. But the winters – they can get awfully bitter around here. So I bought it and let her leave with a clear conscience.”
“A home owner,” Liberty said, sounding more impressed now.
“I work from it now. I got into that whole dot com thing when it was big, and now I’m a bit stuck. Great job flexibility, and you can’t beat the hours, but I barely make enough to get by. I pick up a few jobs in the neighbourhood – most of the residents around here are older – so I make runs to the grocery store, or mow lawns, and do generally fix-it type tasks. I feel bad charging for them, but some of these old fogeys make more money on their benefits than I do with my full time career.”
The two childhood friends sat on that step for a good two hours, discussing their lives, loves, and the state of the world. But never did Liberty’s aunt come up again.
- posted by Deborah @ 7:13 AM
Copyright 2003 - debbo