She opened her eyes slowly to darkness. The darkness held her. Her eyelids closed. A jolting thump, thump, thump, told her she was moving on a bumpy road. How long would they travel? The box she was stuffed inside provided little room to move and made the rough road unbearable.
Thoughts of her homeland gave her hope that one day she would be free. Before the box, she lived in West Africa in the Sahel region. Her small community was surrounded by woody vines, shrubs, and herbaceous plants. She remembered yellow fever trees with white thorns. The thorns could draw blood if she wasn't careful. She vowed to draw the blood of her captors when her strength matched theirs. Her people called this brilliance, the one time through many prayers when a warrior could use the power of the sun for strength and guidance.
"How much money did we make?” Pete asked, wanting his cut.
"Not as much as I hoped, but we sold a lot of tokens on the side though,” Leo responded carefully. The amount of money they gave Leo didn't cover their expenses which he realized after the deal was made. He wasn't sure how long he could keep his incompetence from Pete who had an inner rage that came out often after his wife left him. It was a thought he didn't want to dwell on. Pete let out a sigh. He folded his hands in his lap and decided not to ask any more questions. Think before you speak he thought, controlling his temper the way he was taught in anger management class. They drove on in silence.
Unable to rest, Esmeralda thought about the last place they went. Her captors called it Arizona Red Rock, a high desert terrain area with warm weather. A big tent was set up during the night for the locals. The men sold tickets. She was in there for about three days. The tent had low lights. She was weak in the dim lighting. She prayed for brilliance.
They called her Esmeralda. She despised the name. Born into a wealthy family that traded along the Senegal river, Ebele wanted for nothing. In her village, she was a queen. She adorned herself with beautiful gold and silk garments, handmade by the best weavers in the town. She would not take a name other than her own. ’Ebele! Ebele! Ebele!', she told herself. She would not forget who she was.
Ebele heard the white-skinned man speak foreign words. She understood some by being around them for so long. Money. Sell. Sold. Would she be sold to someone? Most of the conversation Ebele did not understand, but the word sold reminded her that she lost her freedom.
She could not break free by herself. The darkness was too intense. She would use the light and her prayer for help. With enough prayer and the sun, she would use brilliance to power the Chakram, a circular gold, and silver ornament. Her captors did not know this was a weapon hidden in plain sight around her neck. She prayed once again for brilliance.
Esmeralda. The false name brought on dark memories of a battle lost. Pale men forcefully took control of the prosperous trade route her people survived on. Many were lost in one day by outsiders that killed family and friends for her prosperous land. A powerful spell forced her into the box after her Chakram had its way with three captors long ago. Her willpower, now stronger than the spell, waited on brilliance.
The truck stopped next to a grassy rest area along the dirt road.
"I've been driving all night. Let's take a break" Leo suggested, pulling into the remote camp.
Pete grew agitated thinking about the money due to him. He decided to confront Leo. It was now or never.
"I want my cut."
Leo turned off the engine, then stretched back in the seat.
"I've decided something."
"What?" Pete asked. Ready for a fight.
"I think it's time to sell Esmeralda," Leo answered, his voice bearing a humble defeat.
"We've been trying to turn a profit renting her, but no luck. I think we can do better if we sell her outright to the next circus.
"How much do you think we can get?" Pete asked, pushing back frustration, now that they were talking.
"Well, she's authentic. Built over 125 years ago in Africa. She's the only fortune-telling machine I've seen from that era. I was told it was custom-made for a slave trader that trapped the soul of a female warrior to entertain his guests. I have the original papers that shipped with the box, written in Swahili. She's in good shape, even with us renting her out to that Big Top Circus in Arizona. I bet we can get a least twenty-five thousand dollars for her as is. Hell, the gold ornament around her neck must be worth at least that." Leo continued, confident his friend would accept the idea. "If I get twenty-five thousand, I'll give you fifteen. The sale will square us."
“The sale will square us for Esmeralda, but what about the Big Top Circus? Where’s my cut for that?” Pete demanded.
“I used most of that for gas and maintenance for the truck. I didn’t forget Big Top. That’s why I’m giving you a bigger cut for her, to compensate.”
“What maintenance? It’s been gas, junk food, and booze since Big Top, and I bought the booze. So where’s the Big Top money... Leo?"
While the men argue, dawn poked its way inside the truck from the sky roof. It made its way to the box where Ebele was. As darkness surrendered to light, the strength needed to break her bonds came through after months of saved energy in her Chakram. The box exploded from within, releasing Ebele from exile.
"What the hell was that!" Pete gasped as both men ran to the back of the truck. Leo jumped on the bumper, trying to open the roll-up door, but it was off its hinges.
"Help me!" Leo yelled. Pete pulled the door upward from the opposite side until the hinge sprang back in place allowing the door to fully open.
The 250-pound fortune-telling box made with wood, copper, and glass lay wholly destroyed, with pieces scattered over the interior of the truck. What stood in its place was a Kiswahili female warrior, in a black and gold leather pleated skirt, the material skin tight over her upper torso. Her left arm held a tattoo image of a Katana sword with blood drops on the blade, symbolizing battle kill numbers. Her right hand held the energy-filled Chakram, as she ran the razor-sharp edge of the weapon across Leo's throat.
Horrified, Leo took a step backward, hands holding his severed trachea. Bright red oxygenated blood flowed between his fingers. He looked at Pete as lightheadedness caused him to fall off the truck face up onto the moss-green road. Pete backed away, hands raised. His eyes were on the woman that stood in the truck while Leo's body jerked and twitched until it lay still.
"Hold on there," Pete spoke in a high-pitched voice. "You want money? I got money." Pete lied. I'll give you whatever you want. Take the truck. The keys are inside. You can sell it for a good price."
Money. Sell. Price. Those foreign words Ebele understood. She jumped out of the truck into a crouching position, Chakram at the ready. Pete was already running at top speed from the murdering woman he did not know.
Instead of chasing him, Ebele stood up and spun the Chakram around her index finger allowing it to gain speed. With a flick of her wrist, it flew towards Pete, shaving half his head off as he ran. His lifeless body fell to the ground. The razor-sharp weapon returned to its master, dropping at Ebele's feet. She carefully picked it up, wiping the blood from the Chakram onto her tattoo then putting the weapon around her neck as an ornament once again.
Two new blood drops appeared on the sword's blade, increasing her battle kills to five. Now that she was free, she allowed the sun's brilliance to guide her home. She walked the dirt road, following signs with written words she did not understand.
Copyright © Darnell Cureton. *All Rights Reserved * DarnellCureton.Com
First Grade Bedtime - a 50 word story
Lights are out. A coat-draped chair turns into the mummy watching my bed. Malfunctioning WiFi turns the nanny cam’s playful green light into the red-eyed demon watching me, too. The wee, perilous hours of the night require defensive weapons of choice: a blanket pulled overhead and Duracell flashlight.
Copyright © Darnell Cureton. *All Rights Reserved * DarnellCureton.Com
Published in Fifty Word Stories -2018:
I want to be anywhere with anyone
Well not anyone, that's
not what i meant, i
just mean an anyone that
will fit this impossibly uniquely
shaped hole in my chest, the
one i stay up late over, worrying that
maybe there really isn't anyone
out there at all to fit it.
not anyone, just the right anyone
who can turn anywhere into home.
Well not anywhere, maybe right
here in this room with the little
christmas tree and me. the lonely
glenn miller records playing and
drifting up to me seductively, tugging
at my arms until i find someone to
slow dance into eternity with. or maybe
at two cafe chairs breathing into two warm
cups of coffee with our knees pressed
against a rainy window. in a library, the
furthest aisle of books where it will
feel like we are the only ones that exist
between the stories. in a sweaty, crowded
bar or club where the music is so loud
and the drinks so hard that you can
shout I LOVE YOU and i will never
hear and you will feel safe and brave
all at once. on the roof of a car
looking up at the starry night like a blanket
of blackness wrapped around us, with
little sparkling holes to breathe through.
i suppose anywhere would do, with the
much longer, and
i suppose anyone would do, in the
he traces his hands against my face
and he becomes the artist, I am the
masterpiece that haunts his eyes in sleep
he knew in a second, he knows me well
his mouth carves into my own
knife to wood he refines mine
in soft layers til he finds no flaws
he speaks with touch and
his hands have seen war but now they learn
to have peace, softly and slowly,
unsure with gentleness like a new thing
his heart is undressed and it speaks my language
last year i was a monster, this year he teaches me
how to sing with my eyes closed, to hold and
to give, and how to live on even with broken pieces
he shows me shattered things, like
holy windows, dying trees, scattered sea shells
and he plants flowers softly on my skin
this was a golden sun after layers of winter
it was orange leaves after searing heat
trying to describe warm colors for the first time
he tastes like cider and maple
on the trees i can't understand how i fit so easily
into his heart when the earth is turning
burning embers it is the end of an era, the
wake of something new out of the dead. my heart is an october,
a dead thing turned alive in a grotesque and
beautiful way. he speaks my
name like a vow
under the full moon, and buries
our hands against the bodies of crushed leaves.
the poetry we make is messy and voiced
like a shaking hand, but we both know that in
the sudden streams of scattered words we
are letting go, like leaf from limb, making a place
for something new, our bare arms
outstretched. something about the way his hands
branch out, reach for
me like empty trees to the sky begging for
life again. i knew that if we didn't last, like
many beautiful autumn things, the slowburn
way we died out would be all the more
The way you love hurts-
Deeper than any scar
I've ever healed from,
Sharper than any
knife pulled from my back.
I love you with my all,
with my heart and soul,
I have never loved anyone less,
or anyone more.
The perfect catalyst for aching;
That is why this terrifies me-
I lost so much of myself finding you,
Started from scratch, pulled a new me
From all the old pieces leftover;
I would lose it all again to keep you.
All of myself,
I've given all of myself to you.
Now I am simply begging you
to be gentle,
Hold me like I mean more than I do.
The way you love hurts-
It's more than I've felt in a long time.
I have been feeling broken lately.
Like a glass version of myself
was shattered on the floor
and clumsily pieced back together again.
But the thing about trying to fix broken things
is that it isn't truly the same after that.
There are chips, scrapes, and empty spaces.
And as much as I want to see myself as a whole,
all I see are the fractures.
I want to feel complete again,
but each time I begin to fill myself,
it slips so easily through the cracks.
and no matter how hard I try to fix it
all I do is make it worse.
I hope to one day to see the beauty
in my imperfections.
Take the broken fragments of myself
and position the shards together
with gold to fill the in-between.
So I can once again feel unbroken.
shamefully lays there under the covers
at 1:00 in the afternoon on a saturday
after a night out at the bar that was probably not worth the money
the headache is cured by oxycodone, unnecessarily
lunch is secured and the tv is turned on
showing something to stare at mindlessly
nothing gets done today
nothing made better
that's okay for today
tomorrow'll be better
could there be anything left to get out of this?
when blindness follows so closely behind pain,
it gets difficult to get a grasp on what it all really
means. and then it all gets covered up.
like a new coat of paint.
to be freshly wounded again,
oh what a wish.
boundless attention and compassion
to the ripped-open and bloody
bodies that have not yet scarred over.
at the time they were still disoriented and covered.
poor victims of life. loved out of pity.
oh to be freshly wounded again,
to be thrown in the constant rush of change
the remarkable impossibility of it all
and the fact that it was undeniable,
oh so precious and new.
a new dense pall covers the moment now
and it does not move, it is heavy and presents itself as
permanent. it has evolved from grief and become a
gray acceptance that only slightly changes the look of things.
almost like nothing really happened in the first place.
how slowly will this change, and what will it become?
strangers still familiar, lined up to greet
the grieving faces with warmth and an
already fading understanding
who were quickly repelled by the pain with disgust and impatience
when they saw how long it takes to heal.
not their fault though,
their own fears were personified in the faces of the broken
and empathy, as it often does, became resentment,
they turned away to hide because they know
they will become what they are seeing
so they found ways to distance from the truth
just as the broken eventually did
when they realized that just like after an explosion,
the dust eventually settles
and everything goes on again
pretty much the same as before.
now several broken people wander shell-shocked
in the constant discovery that everything is permanent after it happens
and they have all in their own way, changed to fit the forced perspective,
both bonded through the unexpected and twisted
into selfishness and longing for some kind of feeling.
the dullness is throbbing and sucking the life out of everything
oh God, to be freshly wounded again,
to have something new to feel at all would be an incredible gift.