Running across silver concrete
The starry twilight is a canvas
Stealing is a hobby for the fearless
With no fixed home or career
She takes what she can before departing
Acquiring large diamonds and selling them
So she can continue traveling across the land of America
A dozen warrants are out for her arrest
In over fifteen states and counties
The police sirens are a familiar noise
As she dives out of sight from the red and blue lights
Her face is covered with a green bandana
But she gets a thrill from every chase
As she darts into another empty alleyway.
The Final Huddle (Dusty Grein)
Etta closes the front door quietly, and with a shaking hand she reaches up and gently places the security chain into its receiver. She slides it to the right, and through the small window beside the door she watches as the two who brought her home pull out of her driveway.
The young quarterback and his oh-so-pretty girlfriend.
As the two drive off in Mr. All-American's pickup, a crooked smile works its way across the old woman’s wrinkled face. Her posture changes and she stands much straighter and taller than the hunched and mild-mannered little-old-lady who had fainted at the ceremony. The twinkle in her eye is not a pleasant one.
She crosses the foyer, walking toward the cellar door, and her quiet laughter is swallowed by the yellowing walls; its sinister chill is only heard by the grandfather clock she passes on her way.
"That was easier than I had hoped." This comment is made to herself, or maybe to some other inhabitant only she can see.
She opens the door and peers down the flight of steps which descend into darkness. Pulling on the string which hangs in the landing illuminates a single bare bulb in the small cellar below; her sharp shadow follows her down the stairs.
Gone is the quaint elderly cat-lady who the world above knows as Etta--in her place is a determined middle-aged woman with a cold and calculating mind.
Twenty years she has waited, biding her time. The ancient spell had been performed and the blood sacrifice made long ago.
Ten of them had been there tonight. It wasn't yet enough, but it was a good start.
Her own short-lived time as homecoming queen, and the disastrous prom night which had devastated her life, had been a long time ago.
The class of 1980--her class; the class she vowed to exact her vengeance on--had been grown and twenty-seven of their children had been preparing to graduate the year she had come out of the coma; this had been twenty-one years ago, in the marvelous year of 1999.
She had been too weak back then to do much more than plan, but she had found a way the following year to obtain her revenge. She would punish the bloodlines of at least ten of those who had hurt her. A time-capsule would carry her hate and anger across a gulf of twenty years, and she had planned, even then, to be present when it was opened.
A pentagram is still mostly visible on the basement floor. Painted in blood, it had been fresh back then, and the ten items had been consecrated and returned to the capsule the night before it was interred for its twenty-year nap.
She had paid the price and had been promised those cursed items would be received by the proper hands; earlier tonight she had watched in silent delight as these grandchildren of her torturers selected the items, one by one.
Her prom date in the long-ago year of 1980 had been Milton Frye, and she owed him the biggest payback of all. His son Peter had gone on to be a backup tight end for the school's football team and had donated his championship jersey to the time-capsule.
That jersey was now in the hands of Milton's grandson, Thomas.
Mr. All-American himself.
The thought of him putting on the jersey brings a shiver of anticipation to the twisted woman who kneels before the faded pentagram and lights a black candle.
* * *
Thomas shifts the truck into fourth gear as he climbs the freeway on-ramp. Allison scoots over next to him and places her hand on his thigh. She starts to move it slowly toward the inside of his leg.
"Damn it, Allison! You know I can't until after the game!" He watches a small smile flicker across her perfect lips. She is teasing him on purpose. "Look, you can walk home if you can't stop." Her sly little smile turns into a pout, and she slides away from him.
"Whatever. You'll wish you'd let me keep going later."
He is about ready to end things with her. She's hot, and really popular, but she's also dumber than a box of turnips, as his Grandma would have said. A great body and perfect lips can only let a guy overlook the rest for so long.
She turns on the radio and stares out through the passenger window as she begins to sing along.
Damn! Her voice is yet another reason to end it. She may look like a million bucks, but she sounds like a cat in heat. A suffering cat being forcibly taken by a big old tom.
This thought brings a smile to his face. "Hey, Alli…"
"What." Not a question, but a whiny demand for attention. He is really beginning to wonder what he ever saw in her.
"Who sings this song?"
"Duh. Final Spasm."
"Can we keep it that way?" He tries, unsuccessfully, not to laugh.
"You’re a friggin' jerk."
He takes the exit for the west side of town, where she lives. It isn't as nice as Maple Heights, but then his parents have been here their whole lives; Alli's folks had only moved here a couple years ago.
Thomas leans his head out and looks into the side mirror. "I may be a jerk, but I look good doing it."
"Whatever." Her favorite word.
He stops at the bottom of the off-ramp and thinks about spinning his wheels onto the surface street. Luckily for him, he spots the cop coming down the road and quickly changes his mind.
Allison turns to face him. "So, are you going to feed me, or what?"
Her voice is seriously beginning to grate on his nerves even more. "Sure. You can have the best they offer at the drive-thru window." He knows she hates fast food, but he's tired and just wants to go home.
"Ugh. Just take me home!" The whine has become almost that of a spoiled kindergartner.
"Fine." He congratulates himself on making it her idea as he turns toward her neighborhood. "If that's what you really want."
He pulls up in front of her house and stops in the street with the motor running. The look on Allison's face is priceless. She finally opens the door and angrily climbs out. She spins and faces him with one hand on the door.
"I hate you, Thomas Frye! I hope you die and rot in hell!"
He just blows her a kiss. She slams the door in his face and turns around. She is crying and covers her face as she runs to her front door.
As he pulls away, Thomas reaches back and grabs the jersey from behind the seat. "Yeah maybe, sweetheart, but not today."
* * *
Thomas pulls his truck into the garage and kills the engine. He pushes the button to close the garage door and leans over, picking up the jersey from where it sits next to him. It's still a little amazing he found it.
Holding it up, he turns it around to read the back. There on the shiny blue shoulder panel, bright white letters spell out the name FRYE and below that, the number 17 - his dad's old number. His whole life he has heard stories about the only game his dad ever started in high school. Closing his eyes, he can hear his dad's voice and almost see the game unfold.
--["There I was. The regular tight end, Mort Jacobs, helped get us to the state finals, but his appendix decided to pick this final game of the year to burst. That's why I was on the field that day." Thomas can hear the crowd in the stands and smell the dirt and sweat from the players on the field.]--
Thomas knows the excitement of starting a game, but to start in the game for the state championship--that must have been amazing. He has often looked through his dad's old yearbook at the team photo. His dad, sitting in the bottom row, looked younger than Thomas looks now.
#17 Peter Frye.
--[Thomas watches through his dad’s eyes as the quarterback fades back, looking for a receiver. Oh no! The other team is blitzing! He thinks fast and fakes a move against the safety. Two steps later he is past the only guy between him and pay-dirt. He glances back to let the quarterback know he is open, and he sees him release the ball. It is going to be close. The ball is pushed ahead of his pattern, and he knows that this is it. This play makes or breaks the game.]--
Thomas can feel the adrenaline coursing through his body as he sits in the cab of the truck. He has the jersey scrunched up in his hands and his face is buried in the cloth. With each breath, he inhales more of the past, and he relives it in vivid detail.
--[The score is tied, and the clock is inside one minute. As he crosses the thirty-yard line, he puts on the last burst of speed he has left in him. Turning his head back, he spots the ball. The safety is running hard behind him, but he has at least a four-step lead. The world slows to a crawl, and he tracks the ball as it sails in a perfect spiral toward the spot where he will meet it. It never leaves his line of sight as it floats gently into his arms, and he never misses a step. He secures the ball, clutching it tighter than he has ever held a girl, and looks back up-field. There are only three lines between him and that elusive yellow mark. Mentally he counts off the yards. 15... 10... 5... and then he's there. He breaks the plane of the end zone and the world catches back up to him.]--
Sitting in the quiet garage, Thomas throws his fists into the air. His eyes are still closed, and he is still somewhere else.
--[The state championship, 2000. The Millennium game. His teammates join him in the end zone as the final buzzer sounds. They have won 20-14 and are now the new state champions. Never mind that he hasn't started a single game all year; at that moment, he is the hero. His last second catch for the win will be the highlight of his football career, his high school years and in many ways, the rest of his boring life.]--
Thomas opens his eyes, and they slowly focus on the interior of the truck. This lucky jersey made that trip into his dad's personal history, and now it belongs to him. Getting out of the truck, Thomas gently folds the dirty, torn jersey and with tender, almost reverent care he places it inside his Letterman's coat.
He had been prepared to show it to his parents when he got home, but now he isn't so sure. What if they want to keep it? It's HIS now, and they can't have it!
Thomas feels his anxiety lessen as he zips his coat, knowing the jersey is safe and secure next to his chest.
What he doesn't realize is it is now almost midnight, and his parents have gone to bed. Thomas has been home, parked in the garage, for almost two hours.
* * *
"Frye! What is your major malfunction?!"
Thomas blinks and realizes he has dropped the snap again.
Coach Riley "Bulldog" Barker lives up to his name. The angrier he gets, the more like a barking dog he sounds. "We are playing Turner High this week, and you are dropping the ball like a little girl with an ugly cat!"
Thomas, along with every other varsity player on the team, learned long ago not to try and figure out the Bulldog's similes. They rarely made any sense at all. "Sorry, Coach." Thomas puts on his most sincere face. "I'll do better."
"You better!" The coach seems to gather himself. He walks up and puts his head against the helmet Thomas wears. "Look, Frye, you are my starter; you’re my go-to guy. I'm counting on you to carry this team on to its first winning season in four years. You gotta pull it together, son."
"I will coach."
The problem is he can't seem to focus his thoughts today. All he keeps thinking about is his jersey. He hid #17 in the top of his closet, but he keeps thinking his mom found it, and took it--which is stupid; she hasn't gone into his room in years. Not since that little incident when he was fourteen, and she walked in without knocking, while he was surfing his favorite Internet sites--that's a memory Thomas doesn't care to recall. What if she decided to put away the laundry? She normally leaves it folded on the table outside the bedroom door, but what if she decided today, it was time to hang something up?
Thomas looks around and realizes everyone in the huddle is looking at him, waiting for him to call the play.
"Uh, Flying G, on 3."
"Huh? Thomas, what the hell? We haven't used that pattern since like third grade!"
Thomas steps back, and signals for a time-out.
Coach Barker is flabbergasted. "Frye! This is a practice! We don't have time-outs in practice!" The Bulldog is beginning to turn red around the collar and his voice has crept upward on the canine meter again.
In his mind's eye, Thomas sees his dad as he decides to go for a run. He starts to tie his shoe, but the lace breaks. Suddenly he recalls Thomas has a couple pairs of sneakers, and they are probably in his closet. Surely, he won't mind his old dad borrowing a pair of laces. And Hey! What is this? Why, it's his old high school jersey! Thomas watches in horror as his dad tries to put on the jersey and rips a seam out trying to pull it over his stupid fat stomach.
He begins to feel nauseous, and while he can see Bulldog is screaming something at him, he no longer even hears the coach. Instead, he turns and throws his lunch up all over his shoes.
"Oh, you gotta be kidding me!" The cords are standing out in Bulldog's neck as he turns around and throws his clipboard at the bench. "This is worse than grandma and her jellybeans!"
The team splits away from Thomas and the steaming pile of what used to be spaghetti.
"Frye! Hit the showers! Wilson! You’re in at QB, so get your hands out of your jock and put on the red shirt!"
As Thomas slowly walks toward the locker room, he doesn't notice the old lady standing in the shadows next to the small stadium's gate; neither he, nor anyone else, sees her malicious grin.
* * *
"Tommy! Dinner is ready!"
Gabrielle Frye turns from the bottom of the stairs and wipes her hands on her apron again as she makes her way toward the kitchen. Her kitchen is immaculate. She has made dinner for her husband and son, and her maid Natasha has been behind her, cleaning every surface she has touched the whole time. Gabby can see her reflection in the front of the stove as she carries the serving tray into the dining room.
Her husband Peter is seated at the table already, his Kindle is standing on its tripod to the side of his plate, and he is reading intently. "Something smells delicious, Gabs." He says this without looking away from the gadget.
Gabby smiles her indulgent smile and sets the big serving dish down on the tablecloth. She loves her family, but she loves her house even more. The table is an antique and the tablecloth itself is 1200 count linen. It is beautiful with sparkling cut crystal glassware, china plates and sterling silver flatware, polished after every use.
She sits down and daintily places her napkin on her lap. "Peter, you are going to have to talk to Tommy. He has been cooped up in his room all day. Something must have happened."
"Nonsense, Gabs, the boy is just being a teenager. He's fine."
As if on cue, the object of their discussion comes through the arched entrance from the hall. This is a very different looking Thomas from the boy she sent off to school. His eyes are bloodshot, there are lines on his forehead and his hair is a complete mess.
"Are you feeling okay Tommy?"
"I'm fine, Mother." This last word is stretched and sounds ugly coming from his mouth.
"Do you have a fever?" Gabby turns her head toward the kitchen. "Natasha, bring the thermometer from the master bathroom. I think Tommy has a fever, and I need you to find out."
"I said I'm fine!" Thomas slams his hand down on the table.
"Now Thomas, really." Peter turns his Kindle off. "Your mother is just being a mom. There's no need to get all anxious, son."
Thomas looks at his father, and the venom in his eyes is obvious to Gabby. She is almost afraid of this version of Tommy.
"Yes, Father." Thomas turns toward her. "I am very sorry Mother. I am fine. I do not need Natasha to take my temperature." His voice is now quiet, but cold.
"Well, good." As Natasha enters with the digital thermometer in hand, Gabby waves her off and she backs out of the room. "Now, Tommy dear, I hope you are hungry. I prepared your favorite." She smiles as she reaches out and lifts the lid from the serving dish. "Spaghetti!"
Thomas jumps backwards, almost toppling his chair in his haste to get away from the table. "You did this!" He screams at both his parents, who sit and stare at him dumbfounded. "You are trying to get me out of the way now, is that it?" Small flecks of spittle are flying from his mouth as he screams, and his eyes have become those of a trapped and wild animal. "Well, it's not gonna work, do you hear me? It's mine! You had your chance, and now it belongs to me! Just leave me alone!" He throws the beautiful mahogany chair at the wall and runs up the stairway, slamming his bedroom door. The click of the lock is the only sound left in the house below.
Gabby turns and stares at her husband.
"See?" Peter gives a small smile and reaches for the spaghetti. "Teenagers! There's just no living with them."
* * *
Thomas doesn't quite know what to do. He has locked the door, thrown the deadbolt and placed his chair in front of it, balanced at a forty-five-degree angle, the back firmly under the doorknob. He checks the window locks again.
They aren't getting in - I should have known it was them!
Sitting down on his bed, Thomas gently spreads the jersey out on the blanket next to him.
I knew he would be jealous! He had his day in the sun; it’s only fair that I get mine too!
He can see himself wearing #17 in the sunshine as he throws the game winning pass. He can even hear the announcer's voice.
--["Frye takes three steps back... scrambling out of the pocket to his right... and... Oh! That was close, the right tackle almost had him! Thomas arcs away to his left... Here comes a huge defender! Frye extends to his left... he spins on his left foot... He pulls back and throws a missile across his body as he goes down!" It's a 65-yard bomb, right at a pair of defenders matching his wide receiver stride for stride. Before he hits the ground, Thomas sees the ball spin its way between the opponents. It finds the only spot it fits, without being batted away.]--
He closes his eyes as the wind is knocked out of him, but from the sound of the crowd, he knows he did it! His receiver tucked it home and rolled into the end-zone headfirst.
The jersey chose ME! Not you!
He glares as he looks toward the floorboard and the people he calls parents.
I used to think you loved me! I finally see you both for who and what you really are. You probably planned this all from the day I was born. I'm not even a son to you, just a means to an end; a way for you to get the jersey back after you abandoned it to that vault. It didn't deserve that!
Thomas rips his tee shirt over his head, picks up the jersey and pulls it on. He scoots back onto his bed and reaches under the pillow.
Let's see them take it from me now!
The blade on the machete--stolen from the gardener's shed--shines bright and clean in the glow of the overhead light. The glow in his eyes, however, is a malevolent and deadly orange.
* * *
Steve Burdwell leans his forehead against the side of the ambulance and tries to breathe. He has been riding around in this meat wagon for fifteen years, and he's never faced a scene like this.
The kid in the back of the police car out front is some special kind of monster. He is just sitting out there, covered in blood and gore; handcuffed, he keeps rocking back and forth, saying what sounds like "Flying G in a tree."
The lights may be on, but Burdwell doubts there's anybody home. Anybody sane, anyway; no sane person could have done what this boy has.
The parents--what’s left of them anyway--are on the dining room table. Parts of the live-in maid are on the stove; more are in the oven.
It's hard to say exactly how long it has been since he chopped them up, but from the insects swarming the place and the dried texture of the blood spatters on every surface in sight, it has been at least a week.
Steve would have been fine cleaning the mess up. He could handle blood, vomit, piss and shit; hell, he could handle almost anything. At least he used to think so. Before he saw bites had been taken out of most of the pieces of flesh... many, many bites.
* * *
Thomas sits quietly on the bunk in the small, padded cell. His arms are tightly bound around him, the straight-jacket buttoned, snapped and tied-up tight. On his face is a slack expression, and there is no light in his eyes now. Over the straight jacket is draped an old dirty jersey. It was the only way they got him to stop screaming.
--[He smacks his helmet hard and joins his teammates as they run out onto the field. Looking up he sees the game clock stands at 1:25, his team is behind 24 - 20, and it is fourth down. Now or never time. He steps into the final huddle and joins his brothers for a heroic last-ditch attempt. They are at their own 35-yard line, and it looks hopeless.]--
"Frye! Thomas Frye!" The orderly gets no sign of recognition from Thomas. The doctors are calling it catatonia. "You better hope you never come back, you evil son-of-a-bitch. This is a death penalty state, and you got three of them to serve."
--[Thomas steps up to the line, and as the ball is snapped, he can hear the announcer's voice: "Frye takes three steps back... scrambling out of the pocket to his right... and... Oh! That was close, the right tackle almost had him!"]--
As the orderly leaves, the tray of food sits and grows cold on the floor of the padded room.
©2023 - dustygrein
Cindy of 419 West 129th Street, apartment 5A
Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Cindy. Cindy lived with her mama in a small apartment on the fifth floor of a five-floor walkup. It was clean and mostly safe, and the best her mama could do as a single, working mom. Cindy’s daddy died when Cindy was one, in some godforsaken country fighting a war no one was ever gonna win, according to Cindy’s mama. On the table next to her bed was a picture of her daddy in his uniform, holding mama’s hand in front of the church around the corner.
Cindy was a big help to her mama. She could get her own breakfast with the pink step stool she and her mama had made and painted together. She could even make her mama’s morning coffee, with a side of toast and butter. If Mama was home, she would walk her to school - but sometimes she had to be at work before Cindy woke up.
Cindy was a latch-key kid. Most of the kids at school were. She wasn’t allowed to go to anyone’s home or let anyone in when Mama wasn’t home. She would let herself in the apartment after school, lock the door, have a snack, do her homework and watch cartoons on the little tv in the living room until Mama came home. If Mama was working a late shift, she would leave something on the counter for Cindy to eat. Afterwards, Cindy would leave the tv on while she washed her face and brushed her teeth. Before she got into bed, she would kneel and say her prayers.
“God, bless Daddy in Heaven and please keep Mama safe. Amen.”
Sometimes she fell asleep immediately. Sometimes she waited until she heard her mama’s key in the door. Her mama would come into her room and kiss her on the forehead, whispering, “I will love you forever.”
“I will like you for always,” Cindy would whisper back.
“As long as I’m living…”
“Your baby I will be,” Cindy would finish, reaching up to hug her mama.
“Did you say your prayers, baby?”
“Good girl. God is always with you even when I’m not.”
“I know, Mama.”
“Sweet dreams, baby.”
One day, Cindy’s mama left for work for a pre-dawn shift. She hated to wake Cindy, but she didn’t like to leave without saying goodbye.
“There’s some chicken and biscuits on the stove, baby. I’ll see you tonight. Don’t be late for school,” her mama whispered, kissing her on the nose. “Be a good girl.”
“Okay, Mama. Have a stupendous day! I love you!” Cindy replied, rubbing her eyes.
“Stupendous? Well, that’s a mouth full.”
“I learned another one. Spectacular! Have a spectacular day, Mama!”
Her mama laughed and said, “You, too, baby,” before giving her a hug and preparing to leave.
Later, Cindy got ready and went to school. What Cindy didn’t know was that the building where her mama worked as a cleaning woman crumbled to the ground that day after an airplane crashed into it. It never crossed anyone’s mind to find out if any of the students at PS 125 would be affected by the disaster about which no one could stop talking in the faculty room. Cindy went home after school and spent the afternoon as if her world had not just crumbled with the skyline.
She didn’t worry until a full 24 hours had passed since she’d seen her mama. Despite her concern, she got herself ready and went to school.
“You’re so quiet today, Cynthia. Are you okay?”
“Yes, ma’am.” Cindy was afraid her mama would get in trouble if she said anything, so she kept her worries to herself.
“If you need to talk, don’t hesitate. Everyone’s a little shaken up after what happened yesterday.”
Cindy smiled and nodded like she understood and then bent over the book she was reading.
The next day she didn’t go to school. She sat watching the door, waiting for her mama to come home.
Two weeks passed before the school called child services regarding Cindy’s absence. Some quick research had Mrs. Myrtle Fields flying out of her office and catching two trains to 419 West 129th Street, apartment 5A.
Mr. Randolph was the super at 419 West 129th Street. He knew everyone’s business. Especially the female tenants. He knew where Mrs. Jones worked. And, more importantly, he knew when Mrs. Jones stopped coming home. Three days after the towers fell, he made a call.
“You still looking for a girl?”
“I don’t check out 10-year-old girls.”
“Yeah, I know. Just little boys. Whatever. Same price as usual.”
“Fine. You want me to bring her to you?”
“Nah, I’ll send Hazel from family services. The kid’s more likely to feel safe with her. No offense, but you don’t inspire a child’s trust, Randolph.”
Mr. Randolph used his keys to let Hazel in the apartment.
“Mama!” Cindy cried running to the door. She stopped short when she saw weasel-faced Mr. Randolph, as her mama used to call him.
“Hey, Cindy, this is Miss Hazel. She’s here to help you.”
“Where’s my mama?”
“Your mama is gone, baby girl,” said Miss Hazel.
“Mama wouldn’t leave me!”
“She sure didn’t want to, baby, but it was her time. Along with all those other poor souls in the towers, God rest their souls. She’s with God now, Cindy. I’m going to take you to a new family,” said Miss Hazel.
Cindy backed away, “My mama will be home soon. You better go. No one’s supposed to be here when she’s not home.”
“She’s not coming home, sweet thing,” she said, moving closer. “Like I said, she’s dead. But don’t worry, Miss Hazel will make it all better.” She knelt down and hugged the little girl. “I know a good family that has been wanting another little girl for a long time. I’ll take you to them. Good food, a warm bed, two sisters, a new Mama.”
“I have to wait here till Mama gets home. She won’t know where to find me if I leave.”
“Tell you what. We’ll leave a note with my phone number, just in case we’re wrong. That way, I can tell her where to find you.”
Cindy sniffled and said, “Okay.”
“Good girl. Now show me your room so we can pack some clothes to take with you.”
“Yes, baby girl?”
“You like McDonalds?”
“I don’t know.”
“Okay. We’ll pick up a hamburger on our way to your new home.”
Mr. Randolph emptied the apartment and had it ready to rent before Mrs. Fields ever heard of Cindy Jones.
Maxine Morris lived in a small single-family home with her two daughters, Val and Vicky, and sometimes her man, Kenny.
“Welcome to our home, Cindy. We’re so happy to have you with us,” said Maxine with a smile like a shark’s, Cindy’s mama would say.
“Nice to meet you, ma’am,” Cindy said, holding out her hand like her mama taught her.
“Don’t ma’am me, child,” Maxine snapped, Cindy jumped. In a softer voice, “You can call me Miss Maxine.”
“Yes, ma’a…Miss Maxine.”
“These are my daughters, Val and Vicky. They’ll show you where you can put your things.”
“You go on in Cindy,” said Miss Hazel. “You’re in good hands now.”
“You’ll tell my mama where I am if she calls you, right, Miss Hazel?”
“Of course, baby.”
Val and Vicky grabbed her bag and took her inside.
“Here’s your cut, Hazel,” Maxine said, handing her an envelope.
“Thanks, Max,” Hazel said, pulling out a cigarette.
“Here’s your cot, Cindy.”
Cindy looked at the bare mattress against the basement wall, a bald light bulb hanging from the ceiling. The floor was cement. The wall appeared wet. The air smelled of mold. It was nothing like her room at home.
“Let’s see what’s in the bag,” Vicky said.
“Oooh, look at these dresses!”
“You won’t need these.”
“You’ll have a uniform. Servants always have a uniform. You’re our new maid. You’re to do exactly what we tell you, whatever we tell you. You work for us now. Right, mother?” Vicky said, looking up to the open door.
From the top of the basement stairs, Miss Maxine said, “Yes, dear.”
“What a baby! Look at this, Vicky,” Val said, holding a well-loved teddy bear.
“Mr. Bear is mine!” Cindy said, grabbing him and holding him to her chest.
“Cindy! Come. Now. Girls, bring the dresses.”
Cindy ran up the stairs, into the kitchen. “Yes, ma’am,”--
Cindy’s head whipped around from the slap she never saw coming. She slid down the kitchen wall. “I said don’t ma’am me, girl. You will call me Miss Maxine. You better be smarter than you seem right now, or you won’t last long. You don’t want to be alone on the street, do you, Cindy?”
“I want my mama,” Cindy whispered, the tears flowing, as she held Mr. Bear to her throbbing cheek.
“No, ma’a…Miss Maxine.”
“You better get it through that little head of yours right now: I am the closest thing you have to a mama now. Your mama is dead. You’re mine now. Someone paid good money for you, and you are going to earn every bit of it. You hear me?”
“Yes, Miss Maxine.”
“Give me the stuffed animal.”
“But my mama said my daddy gave Mr. Bear to me when I was a baby.”
Cindy held out the bear with a trembling hand. Miss Maxine took it.
“Girls, come. Val, grab the newspaper off the counter. Get up, Cindy. You are about to have your first lesson.”
Miss Maxine went out the back door. In the small yard, there was an outdoor oven. She threw the bear in. She took the paper from Val and put it in the oven as well. Then, she lit a match and held it till the paper caught fire.
“Give me the dresses, Vicky.”
“Can I throw them in, Mother!”
“I don’t want you to hurt yourself, baby.”
“Okay, my darlings. But be careful. Don’t touch the fire. If you get burned, you’ll scar your beautiful skin.”
“What will I wear?” Cindy interrupted.
Miss Maxine backhanded her into the dirt. “One. Never interrupt me when I am speaking. Two. It is not your place to ask questions. You will not question me. Three. You will do what I ask without hesitation. Four. You will be silent unless spoken to. Do. You. Understand?"
“Yes, Miss Maxine,” Cindy said, trying to hold back her tears, staring into the fire.
They watched until nothing remained.
Cindy had a schedule. Every morning she made her cot with the sheets Miss Maxine gave her. She washed her face and hands and brushed her teeth in the laundry room sink and put on the gray dress and black shoes Miss Maxine insisted she wear. Every night she washed the one pair of underwear and tights she had worn that first day.
Once she was dressed, she went to the kitchen and started the coffee pot. Miss Maxine liked her coffee hot and black, like my men, she would say. Miss Maxine had taught her to make scrambled eggs and bacon so she would make eggs, bacon and toast for the girls. She could even make a passable pot of grits or oatmeal. On weekends she made pancakes or French toast.
After breakfast, she would find the girls’ books or whatever they had misplaced. Once they left for school, she would wash the dishes, sweep, mop the floors, make the beds, clean the toilet and the tub, dust, and vacuum. Miss Maxine would have her make her sandwiches for lunch or heat up a can of soup. Then she would give her a “cooking lesson.” She would tell her how to make a meal and expect her to do it without error. She “taught” her how to make fried chicken, pork chops, beef stew, barbecued ribs, biscuits, corn bread, collard greens, black eyed peas, okra, potato salad... Mistakes were not tolerated.
“We can’t eat burned meat, Cindy,” Miss Maxine growled through the cigarette in her mouth. “Come here.”
Cindy stood in front of her. Before she could react, Miss Maxine grabbed her arm and pressed the cigarette against her arm. Cindy cried out and tried to pull her arm away. Miss Maxine held tighter and screamed, “Quiet before I really give you something to cry for.”
Cindy whimpered but didn’t say a word as her flesh burned.
“Now, put those burned chops to the side. You can eat them for your dinner. You’ll have to do better.”
“Yes, Miss Maxine.”
Cindy was locked in the basement each night. Before she lay down, she always knelt beside the cot, oblivious to the cold, stone on her knees, and prayed. “God bless my mama and my daddy in Heaven. And please don’t forget me. Amen.”
And so it went, day after day, month after month, year after year. Miss Maxine only left the house for two reasons. Once a week she would do the food shopping. On those days, she would lock Cindy in the basement. Cindy always managed to grab one or two of the girls’ “misplaced” books and would read as much as she could before Miss Maxine returned. Studying was her only rebellion. Her only joy.
Miss Maxine was also a devout Christian and went to worship every Sunday. Cindy was given a pretty blue dress to wear to church where they all sat in the front row. Everyone thought Miss Maxine was a saint to take in a child orphaned by what was quickly being called, simply, 9/11.
That first Sunday, someone asked Cindy how she was liking her new school. Cindy made the mistake of replying truthfully.
“Oh, she means she didn’t go to school this week. She hasn’t been feeling well. Isn’t that right, Cindy?” This said as she pinched the fleshy, still healing part of Cindy’s arm.
Cindy knew better than to react. “Yes, Miss Maxine.”
When they got home, Miss Maxine whipped Cindy with one of Kenny’s belts. “You had better never embarrass me in front of my friends, missy. I will put you out on the street before you can blink. You hear me?” she screamed as the belt cut into Cindy’s back.
“Yes, Miss Maxine. I’m sorry Miss Maxine.”
Cindy kept her head bowed and her mouth shut every Sunday after that.
Cindy was a good girl and a quick learner. She did as she was told, didn’t talk back, and became indispensable to the family. By the time she was sixteen, she was not only a stellar housekeeper, but she was also a better cook than Miss Maxine, and, if she had gone to school, she could have aced all of Vicky and Val’s exams. But as smart as she was, it never dawned on her that Miss Maxine was just a training ground.
“Cindy, you’ll be leaving us tomorrow.”
“What? But, where? Why? I didn’t do anything wrong. Please don’t put me out on the street, Miss Maxine.”
Miss Maxine laughed a mirthless sort of laugh and said, “Be careful what you wish for.”
“Where will I go?”
“You won’t be on the street.” She paused. “You were a good one. I have to say I’m sorry to see you go. I’ll miss your collard greens.”
“Go to bed, Cindy. You’ll need your rest.”
“Yes, of course she’s still a virgin. She was ten when she came to me, and she’s only been out of the house to go to church.”
“I’ll pick her up at 9, after the girls leave for school.”
“Make sure you have my money. She’s a good one. She’ll do whatever you tell her to do.”
“She’d better.” He hung up the phone.
“Cindy, this is Marvin. He’s going to take care of you.”
“You don’t need to take anything with you. He’ll provide for you now.”
“Girl, what have I taught you?”
Cindy bowed her head. “Yes, Miss Maxine. Thank you for giving me a home these past six years. I don’t know what I would have done without you. God bless,” she turned and walked to stand beside Marvin. “I’m ready, sir.”
“Call me Marvin.”
“What will my duties be, sir?”
“I don’t feel comfortable calling you that, sir. The only men I know are at the church and Miss Maxine’s husband, Mr. Kenny.”
“Well, you make me feel old when you call me sir, so call me Marvin.”
“Yes, si…Marvin. What will my duties be? Will I be cooking and cleaning for you as I did for Miss Maxine?”
Marvin laughed loud and long.
“No. You’ll spend most of your time on your back. Or your knees. Or upside down if that’s what Mr. Viktor wants. He bought you for a small fortune. I should thank you.”
“What are you talking about?”
“He’s partial to young girls, to ensure their virginity, but ten was too young. He’s been waiting for you. Watching you.”
“I don’t understand.”
“You will. Here we are.”
Cindy looked out of the car window. They hadn’t passed a house in a while. Now they were parked in front of the biggest house she’d ever seen.
“This is your stop. Let’s go.”
“Please don’t make me…”
Marvin leaned across and opened her door. “Don’t make me tell you twice, Cindy. You’re a beautiful girl. I wouldn’t want to ruin that face.”
Cindy leapt from the car. Marvin followed from his side.
“Welcome to my home,” a man said from the porch.
Marvin took Cindy by the arm, and they walked toward the house.
To Marvin, “She is lovely, isn’t she? Take her to my suite.” To Cindy, “You can bathe and change. There is a closet of clothing from which to choose. Pick whatever you want.”
“Th-thank you?” Cindy stuttered.
“Oh, my name is Viktor. But you can call me Daddy.”
“I don’t think…”
“Don’t think,” he whispered, steel in his voice. “Do.”
Cindy had never seen such ostentatious luxury in her life. Ever. Not even on television since the last time she’d watched tv she was watching the Rugrats in her mother’s living room.
“Well, my only advice is do as you’re told, and you’ll be fine. Viktor is a teddy bear when he’s happy. He’ll cut you up and feed you to the fish if you piss him off though. Don’t piss him off.”
“Yeah, hopefully I won’t see you again.”
Cindy started to close the door.
“I’m the one he calls to feed the fish. Be good, Cindy.”
Cindy shuddered and closed the door.
The bathtub was like a small pool. There were bath salts, bubble bath foam, flowery smelling soaps, and candles. There was also a separate shower stall. Cindy stripped and took the first long, hot shower she’d taken in years. Then she filled the tub and took a bubble bath. She was still in it when the door opened, and Viktor walked in.
Half his face was covered in scars that just missed his eye and lips. The other side was
perfect and beautiful, if a man who bought people could be considered beautiful. He was quite tall, especially from the vantage point of the tub, and Cindy sank a little lower under the bubbles.
“Da..Daddy, I’m not finished yet.”
“That’s okay. I’ll watch.”
Mortified, Cindy grabbed a sponge and the soap.
“I’ll help.” Viktor took the sponge. “Stand up.” He began to bathe her. She wanted to die of embarrassment. No one had washed her since she was a little girl. No man had ever seen her naked. She wanted to stay his hand, but she couldn’t. His touch was gentle and almost reverent as he smoothed the sponge over every curve of her body.
“My turn,” he said, as he quickly removed his clothes and joined her in the tub.
“Bathe me,” he said, handing her the sponge.”
“Whe-where should I start?”
“My ugly face.”
“It’s just a scar. The other side is still quite beautiful.”
The fingers of one hand wrapped around her neck. “Never lie to me, Cindy.”
“I don’t lie, Daddy,” Cindy managed to say though her throat was being crushed.
He let go as quickly as he’d grabbed her. “Begin.”
She was a tall girl and easily reached his face and neck. His chest and back were broad, matted with soft, brown hair. She hesitated as she moved down and saw how different he was from her. She’d seen the human body in Vicky’s biology textbook. She knew how babies were made. But warm, hard flesh was not anything like drawings in a book.
She touched him and her eyes grew big along with him.
“This is your first lesson, Cindy. I’m going to teach you to please a man. Today won’t be very pleasant for you. But today is for me. You are my birthday gift to me. Kneel.”
Cindy didn’t dare show her disgust or fear. She did as she was told.
Lesson complete, he picked her up out of the water and carried her to the bedroom.
“But we’re wet,” she said.
He ignored her as he lay her on the bed and then lay on top of her. When he was finished, he checked the sheets for blood. Finding it, he said, “Happy birthday to me.”
Once he’d taken her virginity, Viktor didn’t have much use for Cindy. Even so, he kept her abed about a week. She was a quick learner and obedient. The perfect woman for his highest paying client. Everyone’s least favorite guest would be her most avid patron he was certain.
“Tomorrow, I’m having a party, Cindy. Some of my best clients will be flying in from around the world. The rest of the girls will have to entertain multiple guests, sometimes at the same time.”
Cindy, head bowed, said nothing.
“You, however,” he continued, “will only have one man to service.”
She looked up. “You, Daddy?”
“Oh, no. It’s time for you to earn your keep.”
“I can cook and clean like I did for Miss Maxine, Daddy. Please, Daddy.”
He grabbed her chin. “Cindy. You will do as you’re told. Otherwise, I have no need of you. And you know what happens to people who’ve lost their usefulness to me. Don’t you?”
He let her go. “Good. As I was saying, I will introduce you to Marcel. He’s far more beautiful than I am. You’ll like looking at him. Just do as he asks and all will be well. He never does permanent damage to my girls.” He paused. “At least, not often. And he’ll never touch your face. House rules.”
He pressed a button on the night table. Immediately there was a knock before the door opened.
“Ah, Elaine. Please take Cindy to her new room. Give her the toy room. Marcel will be hers throughout his stay with us.”
“Yes, Daddy. Thank you, Daddy.”
“Thank you for what?”
“For bringing us Cindy, of course.”
He smiled, knowing what she wanted to say was thank you for not giving me to Marcel. Again.
“My pleasure, my dear. Come to me after you deliver Cindy. It’s been a while,” he said, caressing her cheek.
Cindy was not prepared for the toy room.
“Good luck, Cindy. The bathroom is to the left. The bedroom door locks as soon as it closes and only Marcel or Daddy can let you out. There’s a fridge in the alcove stocked with snacks and beverages. Mostly fruit and raw veggies. Marcel’s a bit of a health freak. Well, just a freak really. I shouldn’t say that. Don’t tell Daddy, please. Please. Anyway, don’t fight and you’ll be fine.” Maybe. “Bye. Daddy’s waiting for me.” And she was gone.
Cindy stood in the middle of the room, turning in a slow circle, wondering what kind of games people played with the toys in this room.
Marcel arrived early the next day.
“I have a new girl for you, Marcel.”
“Well seasoned or fresh?”
“You spoil me, Viktor.”
“I aim to please.”
“Is she in my room?”
“Since yesterday. Are you hungry? Dinner is at 7 but your fridge is well stocked."
Walking towards the stairs, pulling off his tie Marcel said, "I'm ravenous. I'll see you tomorrow at breakfast."
When the door opened, Cindy was seated by the window watching birds flying to and fro amongst the trees. The gardens seemed vast and quite lovely. There were manicured flower beds and walking paths. Through the trees she could see a small lake.
Arms wrapped around her legs, she was whispering fervently, "God, please don't forget about me."
The door shut and she jumped up.
Marcel left his bag by the door and threw his jacket on the bed. Then, he walked slowly towards Cindy. She stood unmoving, eyes bowed, hands behind her back. Trembling. He stepped so close their legs touched. With one long finger he lifted her chin so that she had to look at him.
"I am Marcel, but you can call me Master. You will do what I say without question, complaint or hesitation at all times. Is that understood?"
He raised an eyebrow.
"Good girl.” Gazing at her through hooded eyes he said, “You are quite lovely. I think we will be very happy together."
As he bent to kiss Cindy, she swung her right hand from behind her back towards his neck. Marcel fell backwards, blood gurgling from his mouth, a peeling knife jutting from his neck. His jugular if her aim was true.
It is possible that she got the key from his jacket, escaped from the house, ran to the nearest town, got help, called the police, was put in witness protection for helping take down a human trafficking ring with tentacles in the social services system…and managed to live happily ever after.
I mean, this is a fairy tale…
I have long fallen in love with my cozy little cottage, sitting just right outside the skirts of a lively, bountiful forest. Softly humming a little tune, I thinly slice the freshly baked loaf of bread sitting on my kitchen counter. The toasty smell wafting in the air summons deep rumbling sounds from my empty stomach. My mouth waters as I spread a generous amount of light, velvety butter on my bread
Just as I am about to wolf down my buttered bread, I hear panicked shouts right outside my door. Slightly disappointed, I snatch a slice and rush out the door.
A young boy, anxiously crouched over the limp figure of what appears to be a young girl, is desperately crying out for help.
Upon noticing that the two children are severely malnourished, I rush forward and crouch down. I am shocked by the cuts and bruises covering their thin, tiny bodies, but I am forced to collect myself to address the most pressing matter at hand.
I look into the boy’s eyes and give him a comforting nod, “Don’t worry, I’m here to help.”
Upon hearing the word “help”, the young boy promptly faints with relief written all over his face.
What a strong, caring child.
With as much strength as I can muster, I carry each child into my humble abode. I slowly trickle some water into their mouths until both of them regain consciousness, “Shh, shh. Don’t speak, please try to stay calm and just eat.”
I use two fingers to pull off bite-sized pieces from my fluffy bread and gently stuff each piece into each of their mouths, one at a time.
“There we go, you guys are doing great!”
At last, the color has begun to flow back to their faces.
I lift the children into my bed, and I quietly tuck them in. The muffled cries of my grumbling stomach and the lonely, half-eaten loaf of bread end up forgotten as, overcome with exhaustion, I collapse onto the ground.
The body sitting and resting on my back feels as light as a corpse. I’m even more worried about the fact that Em hasn’t said a word for the past few hours, behavior that is drastically different from her usual talkative self. But her silence is understandable, considering our circumstances. Only a few days ago, we both decided to run away from our orphanage without so much as a morsel of a plan in mind.
We may be starving and looking death in the eye but I don’t regret my decision at all, and I’m certain Em feels the same. The “orphanage” was more like a match factory disguised as a home for orphans; the “caretakers” trained all of us how to handle the matches without regard for our safety at all. Em and I would’ve been able to endure it all if not for the horrendous disease that was rapidly spreading throughout the den. They called it phossy jaw. And little Mary was the very first victim. The sight of her violently shuddering on the floor with a swollen, decomposing jaw before drawing her final breath has been burned into my mind, haunting me to this very day. I refuse to let Em fall victim to the same demon. She was my ray of sunshine, my only source of comfort in that hellhole.
Despite the burning pain flaring up from my bony feet, I trudge forward one step at a time, telling myself one step forward is one step closer to freedom. When I see the distant lump sticking up from the ground gradually enlarge as I step forth, adrenaline rushes into my veins and I muster what little strength I have left to sprint towards it. My heart is thudding fast and loud as a drum, and I haven’t had enough water to sweat but I can feel the heat rising to my head.
As I near the door, I pause mid-step.
Wait a second. I don’t feel her breaths anymore.
Up until now, Em’s soft breathing had tickled my neck like a feather, and my notice of its absence sends my heart six feet under. I slowly set Em down on the ground and I check for heart beats, breathing, anything indicative of life. My heart drops even further.
No, there’s no way. We’ve already come so far. It can’t be…
I cry out in anguish and let out a guttural scream, a desperate plea for help.
As if to answer my cries, an angel descends from the heavens and gifts me the comfort of her aid, ““Don’t worry, I’m here to help.”
Please. Please save us. Please save Em.
And my world is suddenly sucked into a pitch-black darkness.
“Please, Miss Jane, let us help out around the house!,” I plead, “You already let us stay here free of charge, and you refuse to accept so much as a few words of gratitude, the least we can do is pull our own weight!”
Em eagerly nods in agreement, eyes full of energy and brimming with joy, “You’ve taken such good care of us for the past few days, and you’ve even offered us a place to stay, we are more than willing to offer our aid!”
Flustered, but evidently pleased to see the improvement in our health, Jane gives us each a light pat on the head, “Well, if you two insist.”
I grin, “You won’t be sorry, miss, I promise we’ll be useful. We’re willing to do anything if it means we can help you!”
Jane laughs, but I catch a hint of worry in her eyes, “My dear children, while I appreciate your help, you mustn't make such promises to just anybody.”
“Oh, but Miss Jane, you aren’t just anybody!”
Jane affectionately ruffles my hair with a warm, glowing smile, “That’s nice to hear, dear Ren, thank you for your kind words.”
But it’s true.. you saved our lives.
At this moment, I make a solemn vow.
To protect Jane, no matter the cost. To protect every hair on her head, from her cozy, fireplace smile to her cheery little hum.
It’s only been a year and I’m already used to living with my two little helpers, Ren and Em. They fill my little home with so much life and joy that it feels as though they have been here from the very start. I absentmindedly wrap my fingers around the wooden handle of my pitcher to fill some glasses with water, and end up pouring out some air.
I sheepishly turn my head to look around only to discover that both children have witnessed my embarrassing slip of the mind.
I sigh, “Please forget what you just saw.”
Ren and Em, visibly suppressing giggles, vigorously nod several times and burst out the door with half-eaten loaves sticking out of their mouths. I can hear their giggles pass through the door to dance in my ears like a musical tune, and I can’t help but grin.
I slide a rope through the handle of the pitcher and secure the two ends in a tight knot, then slip on the makeshift necklace.
I call out, “Ren! Em! I’m heading into the forest to refill the water, alright?”
Em rushes back in through the door to cling onto me with a hug, “Miss Jane, why don’t you let Ren and I do it? You should stay here to rest!”
I pat her on the head, “Thank you for the offer, but I can’t let you two do all of the work, can I?”
Upon seeing words of protest beginning to form in Ren's mouth, I quickly hush him, “Besides, it’s quite unhealthy to stay inside all the time. I’d like to get some fresh air every once in a while. Don’t worry, my dears, I’ll be back in no time!”
Humming, I lower the mouth of the pitcher into a gurgling stream and wait for a rush of cool water to flood in.
I notice some movement out of the corner of my eye but I choose not to pay it any heed, dismissing it as a wild creature or gust of wind.
I should gather some berries for jam…
With more water slipping out than rushing into my pitcher, I set it aside and cup my hands to drink straight from the stream.
The sensation of cool, refreshing liquid blessing my dry throat only leaves it begging for more.
A sharp pain abruptly pierces my chest and my body is thrown backwards into the rough bark of a looming tree. A concerningly dark cloud of smoke is emitting from the throbbing point of pain on my chest and my vision blurs as I start to feel a little woozy.
I shudder in response to a booming voice in my head that shakes my soul to its very core, commanding me to “SLEEEEEEEEEP.”
The light, tapping footsteps approaching the door spark excitement in my heart, and I dash over to the door to greet Miss Jane.
I creak open the door and run, barefooted, through the dirt to throw my arms around her neck, “Miss Jane, what happened? It’s pitch-black outside and we were worried sick!”
A sickeningly sweet voice trickles out of Miss Jane’s mouth, and a shiver runs down my spine, “My sweet, sweet child, there’s no need to worry about me. I assure you, I am perfectly fine. Look, I have the water right here!”
Something doesn’t feel right.
“M-Miss Jane? Are you sure you are feeling fine?”
Come on, Em, what’s wrong with you? How could you even think of doubting Miss Jane?
I shake my head at myself, but I fail to control my shaking limbs.
Miss Jane smiles and puts her hands on my shoulders, “Of course. My dear Em, why don’t you call me mother? I don’t mean to impose but I truly see you as my very own daughter.”
I freeze in shock, and a warm fuzzy feeling starts to melt away at my irrational suspicions, “Miss Jane…”
I hear a soft creak behind me and the smell of Ren’s chicken soup fills the air. Ren must’ve overheard our conversation, because he’s standing in the doorway with his jaw hanging.
My stinging cheek causes tears to uncontrollably well up in my eyes. The warm, snug feeling that had filled my heart slipped out through the fresh cracks.
I look up in disbelief with a hand on my cheek, “M-Miss Jane?”
Ren put himself between me and Miss Jane, “Miss Jane, please calm down and let us right our wrongs. What have we done to anger you?”
“Please, call me mother,” replies a sugary voice dripping out from a twitching smile.
“M-m-,” Ren starts, but is interrupted by a harsh outcry.
Miss Jane, doubling over as though she were punched in the guts, let out a soft groan, “GO AWAY! GET OUT OF MY SIGHT!”
I-I can’t control my body. It feels as though I’m a stranger in my own body… and my presence is being forced aside by another one.
This other… “being”... seems to have access to the entirety of my past memories…
The demon in me drags my feet forth while lugging along the increasingly light pitcher of water, leaving a wet trail behind.
Though I remain a spectator of my physical form, I can tell that the perpetrator is becoming increasingly comfortable in my body, a disturbing thought that further alienates me from my own flesh. I can sense the demon’s intense craving for life essence, as the energy is gradually sucked out of my soul.
And then it hits me. Oh god. The children. I have to protect the children. I have to fight for control.
I struggle and try to wrestle down the conflicting presence in my mind, and I must’ve taken it by surprise because, to my elation, I am able to take back control. My excitement and relief is unfortunately interrupted by the excruciatingly painful sensation spreading throughout my body at an alarming rate. My momentary display of weakness gave the devil a chance to snatch back control, and so I am once again a mere witness of my corpse.
I fight with all my might but can only gather enough strength to regain control for mere seconds at a time.
As my home comes into view, I am forced to make a decision.
If I use my short moments of control to explain my situation or tell the children to run away, they will only insist on staying to help me out. I refuse to put them in such a dangerous situation. I must scare them off so they will run away of their own accord.
Em, with her sweet but wary smile, cautiously approaches Jane with a steaming hot cup of honey lemon tea. The sweet and citrusy fragrant is soothing but also acidic, like the calm before a storm.
“M-mother, Ren and I made this tea just for you!,” Em accidentally trips over a crack in the floor, causing some of the hot liquid to spill over the edge of the delicate cup, into her quivering hands.
“EM! Are you alright!?,” I dash to her side and cradle her hand in mine, “Let’s run it through the cold stream.”
Jane’s head whips towards our direction, “YOU CLUMSY, FILTHY BRAT! You better stay here to clean up the mess!”
Em, slightly trembling, wobbles into my arms and starts to sob, “R-Ren… what did I do wrong?”
“Nothing, Em, you didn’t do anything wrong,” I tightly wrap my arms around her and lightly stroke her hair to calm her down.
What went wrong? We’ve already gotten this far away from the match factory. So why? Why haven’t we been freed? What more must we do to secure our freedom? Our safety?
I should’ve known it was all just a facade. The whole situation was simply too good to be true. I was a fool to think that Miss Jane would be any different from the other adults. She only wants us here to work for her.
It pains me to see the devastation and betrayal swimming in Ren and Em’s eyes, but I must force myself to harden my heart if I am to save their lives.
I am using every single drop of strength I have to keep the devil in check, but I can feel its growing thirst for the young lives that are constantly within arms’ reach. So far, the devil has resorted to countering my efforts by using honeyed words to convince the children to stay. But such trickery can only go so far. Love and trust must be earned, and once they are lost, they are not easily regained.
The thought relieves me, but it saddens me all the same. It seems I still have a long way to go before I become selfless enough to completely close off my heart. Despite knowing that everything I am doing is for the sake of the children, the selfish side of me just wants to spend what little time I have left in control of myself with them as their mother.
Though, ironically, the idea was devised by the devil to fool the children into staying, I have come to find the idea rather endearing after giving it some thought. Truly, Ren and Em are like my very own children, and I love them with all my heart.
Oh, what I would give just to hear them call me “mother” one time. Just once, for real, and to me.
Sigh…I’m getting weaker by the day. My body is increasingly slipping out of my control… I have to think of a solution before I am forced to give in to the devil…
A little voice that I have long pushed to the back of my mind called out, “Oh but there is a way to protect the children.”
I know… I know what I must do, but I can’t bring myself to do it…not yet… not while there’s still hope.
Snuggly huddled in bed with Ren, I turn to face him, “Ren, I’m scared.”
“Me too, Em, me too…,” Ren sighs, and I can hear the exhaustion in his voice, though it’s too dark for me to see his expression.
“Did something happen to Mi—I mean mother?,” I ask in a shaky voice, “She was so kind and sweet before…”
“No, Em. She was never kind or sweet. It was all an act.”
I try to hold back my tears, but I can’t hide the tremble in my voice, “D-do you really believe that?”
I can hear the regret in Ren’s voice, “Oh Em, please don’t cry, everything is going to be alright, I promise.”
His words of comfort only serve to break my fragile dam, and the falls come pouring out.
To my astonishment, rather than embrace me in an attempt to calm me down, Ren joins me, and we mourn together.
All of this started the night Jane came back from the forest with the pitcher of water…I wonder what possessed her to show her true colors. Perhaps she felt that after gaining our trust, we wouldn’t dare to leave her side no matter how poorly she treats us. She speaks sweet nothings to us and hands them out like candy, but I refuse to be fooled.
I let myself get lost in my thoughts while drowning in silent tears until I finally drift off to sleep.
My consciousness dissolves into a blinding flash of light and the silhouette of a strangely familiar figure slowly emerges from the curtain of radiance.
I see Jane comfortably seated in a soft field of grass while affectionately watching Em, who is grinning from ear to ear, jumping and twirling in circles without a care in the world. Em enthusiastically runs into her arms, and giggles in glee, “Mother, why don’t we collect some flowers to make some tea?”
Jane crouches and lightly squeezes Em’s hands, “That sounds wonderful, Em.”
A hooded figure with black feathered wings suddenly flickers into view and wraps its arms around Jane’s waist.
Jane’s eyes widen and she aggressively kicks at the mysterious abductor. The towering wings begin to flap and Em wails as she grips onto Jane’s hand so tightly that her knuckles turn bone-white. Despite her efforts, Jane’s fingers inevitably slip out of Em’s hands. As the two approach the clouds, Jane closes her eyes as though resigning to her fate.
I break out of my frozen stance and yell, “Mother, come back! You’re getting too close to the sun!”
The stygian figure shoots up with Jane in their arms, and the wings burst into flames. In the blink of an eye, the two descend in the form of ashes raining down from the sky.
I’m running out of time. I’ve been stalling for long enough.
The shimmering, teardrop stars spread across the dark veil over the once sunny skies call me forth, into the abyss.
I wrap my feeble life force around my soul to bind it to my body once more. The burning flames scorching my soul are nothing compared to the feeling of having my heart shattered into innumerable pieces.
I crack the door open as quietly as possible, but pause a half-step out the door. In spite of better judgment, I slip back into the house and step across the floor on my toes to peek into Ren and Em’s room.
They look so peaceful.
I smile melancholically as I watch the bodies slowly rise and fall with each deep breath. And then I notice their tear-stained eyes and soaking wet pillows. The sight of their sorrow tears apart my heart but it also steels my resolve.
Without further hesitation, I step out the door and fall under the mercy of the night sky. In a trance, I return to the home of the devil, heading deeper and deeper into the looming trees. My bone-deep pain continues to grow as I near the stream where I was cursed.
I step into the burning cold of the running water and I follow the direction of flow. It feels as though I am walking on a trail of sharp shards of ice, but each step lifts a ton off my shoulders and lightens the load on my shredded heart.
The devil is fiercely clawing at me from the inside, but I have never felt so at ease. I hum softly with the whooshing water and harmonious chirps that pinch the biting cold of the air and cut through the otherwise dead silence of the night.
I can tell that I’m nearing the end when I start to hear rushing water crash into the rocky earth far down below. The rumbling drums tell me the falls are waiting for my arrival, and I quicken my pace to reach them.
I sprint with the current as I am drawn in by the chasm beckoning me forth. When my feet finally reach the edge, I curl my toes and free my soul.
At last, my fallen heart has been gifted the wings to soar once more.
“I Like to Ride My Life-Cycle”
In order to feel
I must inhabit the flesh
Wonder! I wander…
Expansion, Self, Conscious Light
I ordered the Bliss
You gave me Enlightenment
Through Sorrow, instead.
Forgiveness time now
Not for Biblical reasons
Just to know peace here.
We are cosmic, yes?
We are vibrating love bites.
Aedan stood on the edge, the Valley behind him and the Mountain ahead. The sunset smoldered on the horizon in wavering streams of gold and purple, hinting at pinks and strange greens. He couldn’t remember green over the land, the carpets of bright grasses or the spiky green clinging to tall trees. His greens were insects, fish, water, and potted things. He tried to imagine it the way the older people described it. A mossy pond covering everything; the twilight stuck to the ground in prismatic variations of color. He laid this mental image over the landscape before him. In the dimming light, Aedan felt a longing for freedom that he had scarcely before allowed himself. He was going to see her, again.
“You ready, Aed?” Kirati bumped his elbow with hers. The resounding clink of their armor echoed across the expanse before them, and the shimmering vision of the never-known past vanished.
“Yes, I am ready,” Aedan answered with deeper significance than the moment needed.
They made their way from the well-worn path to the craggy, lumpy mess of a pass that wound along the side of the Mountain. Resilient moss and lichen clung and grew in the shady spots. They hiked for a few miles in silence, the three of them. Jetur, Kirati’s twin brother, led them along the ravine side, stopping now and then to pluck a mushroom or some lichen. Jetur's large frame belied his agile movement; the scowl on his implacable face revealed nothing of the kindness of which he was capable and readily gave. Kirati swung up beside her larger, quieter brother by the trunk of a long-ago petrified tree. She eyed Aedan. “Were these things really alive, Aed?”
“So it is told. The Librarians had books and books of photos, and most of them had the memories as well as the histories.”
“Did he really…you know…” Kirati interjected.
“Yes.” Aedan was not in the mood to describe what he had witnessed. It was raw.
“Are we really going to meet the Witch?” This was the most Jetur had spoken in days. Aedan could see that this was something that was going to be discussed whether he wanted it or not.
“Let’s just get to the Plateau, and I will explain everything. The Journalist and Surveyor live with her, you know," Aedan remarked flatly. The twin Climbers stared at one another, eyes as big as the dawning sun.
They finished the first leg of their hike in silence, excepting the few grunts of exertion when they climbed over the Pass.
The team finally dropped their packs on the ground. Aedan started a small fire with the lichens Jetur had collected, and Kirati stood guard while Jetur cleaned and skewered the mushrooms. He sniffed at them and smiled, “Mm-hmm.” Aedan wondered if Jetur smiled only at mealtimes. Jetur roasted the mushrooms over the fire and hummed an old tune.
Kirati’s eyes lit up when she recognized it. “Oh, that’s a classic. I love folk songs. Time, why do you punish me? Like a wave crashing into the shore, you wash away my dreams.” Aedan joined in lending harmony to the slow, melodic tune. They sang old songs together for half an hour or so, Jetur drumming a boulder with his knife. Aedan’s eyes shifted from his comrades to the core of the fire. He knew what was expected, and he dreaded it.
“Tell the tale, Aed,” Kirati said softly. “Songs sung and now comes the tale, right? It’s a part of history, now.”
“Right, history.” He sat quietly for a minute thinking of what to say. He told them the history of the Librarian’s time with the people of the Valley: his accomplishments and his demeanor. Then, he spoke of his death. “We met with the Journalist and the Surveyor just above the Pass. Henryk was tired, and the sun had peaked a few hours before…”
“Journ and Surve?? Really?” Kirati interrupted excitedly. “Who’s Henryk?”
“Yes. Journ and Surve. Henryk was the Librarian’s name, Kirati the Climber. Now, stop interrupting! His skin grew red, his face flushed. I thought it was the altitude. He was a Librarian, not a Climber after all.” The twins nodded in unison. A good story-teller knew how to win the audience’s favor with well-placed, subtle compliments. “But, it was the Sun. Too long in the heat and too old to be climbing about like a goat, his body gave way. I could see it in his eyes. He knew he would become a burden to us, especially to Vedika. His job would be forfeit, and he would use up resources. No, that was not his way. So, he leapt. He faced the Sun and leapt from the Mountain.”
Aedan stood and reached into his pack. He was done; that was as much as he planned to say about it. He wasn’t about to discuss Counsel business with them, especially when these seasoned Climbers were acting like children on a camping trip. He spun and unfurled his dome in one smooth motion. The twins looked up at him in amazement; they had never seen anyone but a fellow Climber set up the dome like that. Aedan ignored their gawking. “We’d better get some sleep. The sun is rising so don’t dally, unless of course you want your skin to burn off.”
The light was warm and delicate on her skin. She watched in amazement as her fingers glistened as if covered with chocolate diamond dust. “Vika? Oh, Vedika Jones, where are you?” sang a deep, lilting voice. “There you are, you babbling brook! Gotcha.” Thick arms lifted Vika and swung her to broad shoulders. “Let’s go see what Nama is up to, huh? Probably a bunch of nonsense, as usual,” he chuckled as he squeezed Vika’s chunky thigh, making her giggle.
Her grandmother’s voice echoed from the other side of a small, daisy-covered hill. “Today, we have another goal: to rebuild and renew our world, not to be people on the Earth but people of the Earth. We can live in the world as it is, now; we can live in a better world than we were left and leave it better than we found it.” The grisly, bearded man stroked her cheek with a rough hand and said, “up now; wake up now, Vedika.”
“Papa?” Vedika mumbled.
“No. It’s me, Vika. You have to wake up, now.”
“Aedan, what are you doing here?” She looked into his hazel eyes. The light from the fire flicked at the gold there and set them glowing like amber jewels.
“The Counsel wants to see you,” he answered. Vedika’s mouth hardened to a thin line. Of course they would send him, the bastards.
“Well, tell them to come on up.” She closed her eyes. Then, she sighed; it wasn’t his fault. None of it was his fault. “Sorry. I, uh, was dreaming about the Summit, again,” Vedika confessed.
“Do you remember it, truly?” Aedan’s voice sounded hopeful.
“Sometimes it’s hard to tell what is memory and what is history.”
“You will make a wonderful Librarian.” Aedan spoke with a confidence that Vedika did not feel.
“There is nothing to suggest I will be the new Librarian, Aed. Maybe no one will be. I certainly don’t want the job—birthright or not.” She spoke to him as if they had seen each other yesterday. In fact, it had been almost eight years.
Aedan dipped the end of his torch in the smudge pot and watched as the flame slowly sputtered like fireflies springing from the tip and hissing against the mossy ceiling. He grabbed the poker and tended the fire pit; his faded orange pack was still strapped to his back. Vedika turned over and knelt beside him, gingerly reaching around his middle to unclasp it. She slid the straps over his shoulders and twisted on the balls of her feet to place the pack on the metal shelf that ran the length and height of the eastern wall. “There. That’s better,” she sighed. She unloaded his pack, making sure to place the samples in the correct cubbies. Soil samples on the upper left for 8,000ft and descending every thousand feet. The insect specimen and small rodent droppings had their own respective shelves according to elevation as well.
“Looks like a pretty good haul,” she whispered. He had remembered everything. Ten years on the Counsel had not softened his mountaineering skills. She stood as upright as she could in the small space and turned toward her room. “I guess I’d better get ready.” Before she could take the first step, Aedan’s hand rested on the back of her thigh.
“I…I didn’t mean to…didn’t want to,” he started in a whisper.
“Don’t!” Vedika snapped in a harsher tone than she had ever heard from herself. “Sorry,” she mumbled, “but if you say it I won’t be able to think. And we have work to do. Don’t we?” She touched Aedan’s shoulder, the one still made of living tissue. It felt the same as it had when he was a frequent visitor to the Mountain.
“I…I told them his tale. I hope you don’t mind.” Aedan searched her face for approval, for reassurance that he had done right.
She smiled. “Of course. It’s tradition. It is…history.”
Aedan followed her to her quarters. He looked around the small, cozy room. A painting in a light blue frame hung from the southern wall. It was a landscape of green hillside, a small cluster of buildings, and a woman tending a small garden by a winding road. He touched his fingertips to it and caressed the thick contours of the paint. “Was this a real place, Vika?”
Vedika turned to see what he was asking about. “Oh, yes.” Her voice took on a dreamy quality of admiration. “When this was painted in 1874, it was a small village called Pontoise. Camille Pissarro was the painter’s name. It reminds me of my grandmother’s paintings. She preferred watercolors and pastels, but when she used the oils it was like a fantasy, like something you only dream about. So much…emotion.”
“It is lush but a bit sad,” Aedan muttered. “It reminds me of you.”
Vedika giggled with incredulity. “How so? Her chunky brown arms or her facelessness?”
“The woman, she is solitary; she holds the future in that little basket.” He slipped his hand around her wrist and squeezed gently. “Such a small shield protecting the world.”
The trip down to the Valley would take several nights, and she wasn’t sure how long the meetings would take or how much of the coming preparations she would have to oversee. Vedika was making last minute calculations; the samples Aedan had collected the twilight before were still in the machine. While she waited for the crystals to form, she gently sifted the soil samples and swabbed for particulates. “C’mon, microbes,” she happily muttered. She had heard her father say it so often that it had become a mantra. She wasn’t even sure what microbes were, but she knew what to look for, what numbers were good and bad. And she couldn’t help thinking about his face. The scruffy beard, his fierce eyes. He looked like a lunatic, a stranded spaceman on an alien planet from the classic Sci-Fi novels he had read to her when she was a girl. The patchwork of computer parts chirped. “Gotcha. Let’s see how we are doing, huh?”
When the twins arrived, Vedika and Aedan were introspective and quiet. Kirati and Jetur were their normal boisterous selves, checking and double checking everyone’s packs. They made one last sweep of the cave compound for supplies and food storage that hadn’t been packed. They were Climbers, after all. Being prepared was their way. And they were doubly excited by the presence of Journ and Surve, who sat discussing the ‘ifs’ and ‘wherefores’ of every little thing in hushed voices.
“I don’t like them going through my things, Aed,” Vedika whispered. She shouldered the double pack, adjusting for the bulkiness and weight. This would be her first trek to the Valley in fifteen years. Her heart jumped at the thought of addressing the Counsel and being around so many… people.
“They don’t mean to rifle; it’s just how they are. You know…you are something of a legend. You and the other two, living up here all on your own, and…” When Aedan had introduced the twins to the Journalist, the Surveyor, and Vedika, they had gone pale and sweaty with awe and excitement. Honest to goodness Mountain people were something to behold in their estimation.
“And what?” she smiled.
“Well, still doing the work. To them it seems like magic, like fantastic nonsense. How can you learn anything by looking at poop, dirt, and mucky water?” he chuckled.
“Right,” Vedika said with a hint of playful sarcasm in her voice, though she didn’t feel it.
“Midday is nigh. Let’s get some sleep and start at twilight. Gives us more time on foot between camps.”
Journ quickly made their way to the next alcove where they and Surve normally slept, and Kirati followed. Jetur and Surve were still talking, but they snuggled into a mound of blankets by the fire and quieted. “What was your name before you were Surve?” Jetur whispered conspiratorially.
“You wouldn’t believe me, Climber,” she smiled, mimicking his hushed tone.
“Sunshine,” she said, and they laughed until their sides hurt. One look from Aedan made them simmer down, though they giggled intermittently for several minutes.
“There!” Jetur’s baritone holler barely made its way to the rest of the group above the winds raging through the jagged cliff they had just navigated.
“I see it!” Aedan replied, grabbing Vedika’s arm to help her maneuver among the crags. “Let’s take it nice and easy,” he whisper-yelled in her ear. Vedika stumbled and her hands were shaking. Aedan motioned for the others to hang back.
When they reached the bottom of the cliff, she saw it: “Oh, Papa! I’ve missed you.” Though her knees burned and her back ached, she squatted next to the collection of large rocks where they had made an alter the year before.
Aedan stood behind her and rested his hands on her shoulders lightly. In one hand Vedika held Aedan’s torch. In the other, she held Aedan’s hand. “Priyatnykh snov, Papa. Vechnaya pamyat.” His bones were clean, pale, and intact. The others joined them. Jetur hummed a low tune that sounded somewhat familiar to Vedika. Kirati and Surve harmonized. The wind tugged at their voices, sending them swirling with the fireflies from the torch.
Back at their campsite, Vedika, Surve, and Journ poured over her latest test results and the conclusions her father had drawn during his meeting with the Counsel. They were in agreement; it was time.
On the sixth evening the crew from the Mountain trudged the last leg of the journey with relief and sore feet. Over the crest of a small foothill, the Valley came into view. First just the southern rim and finally, it lay out before them in gleaming splendor. It was nestled between the rolling foothills to the North and a steep cliff to the East. The crescent of earth opened onto a large pond fed by a magnificent, misty waterfall. Large boulders, rounded by ages of erosion, peeked through the gushing, foamy white at erratic intervals. This stair-step leant an ethereal look to the view from where they stood.
The twins smiled at each other as only intractable children, returning home from a grand adventure, can smile. Journ and Surve seemed unimpressed as they chattered on about ‘hows’ and ‘whiches.’ Vedika simply gasped at the beauty of it. The community lay out as it had all those years ago, but her memory of it dimmed in comparison.
The full moon broke through a low cloud bank and backlit the haze from the waterfall. There they were, like rough-cut diamonds sparkling ever so slightly—jutting from the earth and dirty—but awesome to behold. Each geodesic dome, scattered over the Valley like pretty, multi-colored mushrooms, gave off a dim, flickering light. The culmination of decades of preparation and planning, these dim lights represented the remnant of a population once soaring in the hundreds of thousands. There were hundreds of other such communities at one time, but contact had been lost as years rolled into decades and technologies failed.
With a whoop and a whistle, the twins bolted down the incline. They jumped on the path, between two winding sections, over the small rodent-proof gate, and smack-dab into a group of their youthful friends who were sitting at a communal table having a late breakfast. Vedika couldn’t help laughing at the sight of them, so free and jubilant, so happy to be home. Nearly twenty years their senior, Vedika chose the path. About half-way down, the path wound its closest to the waterfall, the source of power and life for the Valley. That was where she found an outcropping of smallish boulders and sat. She was weary, however her work had not yet truly begun.
The Valley was abuzz with excitement. Fires were lit, food prepared, and music and song echoed a sweet cacophony of perpetual enjoyment. Though Vedika tried to steer clear of the jubilance, she was cornered more than once by well-wishers, folks with burning questions, and the occasional bump of the shoulder or hard glare. Counsel Kent had offered her her father’s dome which had stood empty since his death. She invited Journ and Surve to stay with her, and they had a few days. But, they were in high demand, as well, and went to what seemed to Vedika an endless stream of parties and impromptu conferences. She was to meet with the Counsel officially this evening to discuss her findings and her position. She hadn’t seen the twins since they had arrived, and she was starting to miss their entertaining company.
“May I come in?”
“Of course. I’m just here in my father’s study, Aed.” Vedika placed her book on the side table. A warm hand covered hers. She gazed at him, his young fit shape in the firelight. “You look well rested,” she smiled.
Aedan knelt in front of her chair and took her hand in his. “As do you. Your father’s garden is lovely. Better than the communal greenhouse, in my opinion.” His amber eyes met her gray ones, and there she found a depth she hadn’t before noticed: pain, sorrow, regret and hope, desire, compassion. Like deep pools reflecting the golden warmth of sunlight. And then his lips were against hers. She returned his soft, unassuming kiss. “I’ve wanted to do that for a really long time,” Aedan smiled against her mouth.
“Aedan. Are you mad?” Vedika teased as she pulled away from him.
“No. Not anymore,” he grinned. And then his face went dark. “I was crazy before now, when I was sent to bring you or your body back to the Valley.” He pleaded with his eyes.
“It’s okay. I had guessed the parameters of your mission…” she paused, squinting her eyes up at him. “And I knew that the latter would never happen.”
“How?” he blundered.
“Because people desperate to hold onto power, even a false sense of power, employ fear and cruelty. And nothing would be crueler than to ask you to betray me, your friend, former colleague, and confidant. You, who were my father’s favorite student and the only man he would have wanted to succeed him. What can I say, my father was a Librarian. I see patterns.” She smiled at him and stroked his bewildered face.
“Then, why did you come with us? Why?”
“Because it is time to tell the truth; because I care about my people. Now, walk me through the Valley. I have a meeting to attend,” she huffed.
“People of the Valley,” Counsel Kent began, “a year ago we lost our Librarian. He was a man we had come to rely upon for information, for the truth. His daughter stands here, now, ready to take up his mantle, to be a seer, a prophet of the Earth, to show us the way forward and remind us of our past. Vedika, Librarian, please come forth.”
She stood at the podium, hands shaking. This was how the Counsel wanted it. She heard Counsel Jayne’s voice in her mind: “Tell them we can stay here, and you are the new Librarian. We don’t have much need for crazy old scientists anymore. Your father learned that lesson well enough.” But now wasn’t the time for worry; it was the time for action. It needed to be said, and she was the last of her line, the only one who could say it. She opened her father’s notebook and began.
“My father wrote down everything. I think I never saw him without a pencil in his hand or tucked behind his ear, even in his sleep. In his last days, he spoke with our Counsel about change. He quoted a man named Roy Scranton who said that ‘humans are wired to believe that tomorrow will be much like today — it is unnatural for us to think that this way of life, this present moment, this order of things is not stable and permanent. Yet the reality of global climate change is going to keep intruding on our fantasies of perpetual growth, permanent innovation and endless energy, just as the reality of mortality shocks our casual faith in permanence.’”
The Counsel grumbled amongst themselves behind her. This was not what they had expected. Vedika found Aedan’s eyes in the front of the crowd; she thought of all they had exchanged, of all he had unintentionally taught her about herself and her place in the world.
“This has been our home for over a century. This small piece of fertile land; this haven. We have done all we can: used her wisely; made her whole. Now, it is time to move on. The Plateau is ready for us. Once a wasteland of cold and sterility, she has awakened and needs our help to become the fertile place she should be. This was always the plan, our mission to heal the planet. As a world leader once said: ‘the journey is long […]. And we don't have much time left to make it. It is a journey that will require each of us to persevere […]. So let us begin. For if we are flexible and pragmatic; if we can resolve to work tirelessly in common effort, then we will achieve our common purpose: a world that is [greater] than the one we found; and a future that is worthy of our children.’”
“Go back to your Mountain, Witch!” someone yelled. More shouts arouse in agreement. The people in the crowd began shoving one another, disagreeing, and debating.
As a large, glimmering tear rolled down her nose, a speck in Vedika’s vision grew, inexplicably. It was hoary and crude; it was earth, hurtling along an arc as if she were a seat of gravity. And she fell. Her vision blurred, crimson and gray, and she saw Aedan and Jetur erupt from the crowd. Time slowed; Vedika felt her heartbeat and the desire to hold Aedan’s hand once more as a web of meaning. Sensation, thought, and feeling were linked, somehow made of as solid a matter as the cool ground against her cheek. All was black and still.
Aedan sat on the rock under his dome. In the waning light he surveyed all they had done and thought about how they’d gotten here. The last few years had been tough, full of hard work and setbacks. The first thing Vedika had asked when she’d regained consciousness was, “how many? How many will come?” By all accounts one-third was better than they had expected and certainly enough to work the Plateau. Taking down the domes amid the protests of the Counsel and those who would remain had worked his nerves. But Vedika’s calm determination and easy manner never faltered. Though the twins had decided to stay behind, they worked tirelessly collecting seeds, hauling gear, or distracting bored, tired children with their antics.
The stone that had knocked Vedika unconscious now sat on her makeshift desk. She would carry the scar on her forehead the remainder of her years, a small rose star with pink flares. The light was warm and delicate on her skin. He watched in amazement; her fingers glistening like chocolate diamond dust. “Vika? Vedika…up now; wake up, now,” he beckoned.
“Am I dreaming, again?” she murmured.
“No, Librarian. You’re not dreaming; you are home.”
--Kit Menon (2023)
She Is; She Grows; She Wounds; She Heals; She Slumps
1. She Is...
Dark warmth engulfs her
Suffrage bruises, pulls, and pains
Open, blinding bright
2. She Grows...
No one hears our bliss
Limbs hold fast the dewy dawn
Larks chirp happily
3. She Wounds...
Reaching through his heart
Plucking strings there, sound sound sound
Finish not the song
4. She Heals...
She left them behind
Inhibitions run amok
Open, wild, and free
5. She Slumps...
Teardrop falls, brown limb
Edge of orange and fire
Wails in the spotlight
Date, weight, time—here I am world
Wonder in my eyes
Creature of the wind
Conch shells and fairy tails mend
Student loan and car payment
Is this really it?
Finding peace of mind
Cultivating vibrant paths
Final curtain call
Reminisce of multitudes
Winter white goodnight
Fuck You Mark Zuckerberg
Cyber meta verse
A place not of time and space
Realm of the unknown
Blindly taken in
unknowing where we going
sucked in to control
listening to all
Processing every keyword
A virtual You
Creation by algorithm
All we have become
Ocean of wisdom churned
Cosmic secrets free.
Earth atop tusk,
Half-dark, half-light, endless fight,
Ax, bow, and plough,
drench the soil, find the way
Order from the fray.
Dusky love's hue,
Cowherd's flute in skies anew,
Peace and love to all.
Dark horse, prophetic,
Karmic click, world's end, poetic,
Another new beginning.
These haiku refer to the Dashavatara of Vishnu, the concept of which is reflective of evolution and the cycle of life in Hindu Mythology.