In a large, grassy, golden field all scattered about with radiant, red poppies and delicate blue Columbine, stood an ancient well. It was old, far older than you, my dear reader, and grown all about with ivy and weeds. Its’ wooden roof was rotted and sunken, sun-stained and weather-worn.
What nature had not reclaimed for her own lay in bits of scattered debris about the stone base. In spite of its deterioration however, it was a lovely spot, a place where dreams began and secrets could be shared—a place over-flowing with promise.
Traipsing through the grass, a girl went her way towards the well. Though dressed plainly, she was beautiful. Her hair was a golden to outmatch the field and the flush on her cheeks outshone the poppies. Her thin, somber mouth was accustomed to silence. Her eyes, the soft blue-gray of a trilling little gnatcatcher, were wide and kind.
She reached the edge of the well. Thrusting her hand into the pocket of her pinafore, she drew out a small stone. Almost perfectly white and round, the thin moon-like pebble would have made a splendid skipping-stone. Its’ surface was worn and polished, having been rubbed and carried and caressed. The girl, prize held tightly in her palm, leaned over the stone wall to peer into the well. She had been here before, so its depth caused no thrill. The sun above the treetops illuminated some meters down, before the rest was lost in gloom.
The girl glanced around and sure of being alone, began to whisper a silent prayer half-heavenward, half directed toward the gaping mouth of the well. Her brow furrowed in concentration, her small face earnest as only a child’s can be, she poured her soul into her desire.
Then, with a last longing look at her treasured stone, she tossed it into the well.
They call me, Darkness
With a flick of her wrist, she summons her guards who approach while holding a young maiden by their arms.
“Release her,” a soft yet stern voice breaks the stillness in the oval-shaped room. The guards push the young maiden to the floor.
“Arise. Tell me your name,” the princess demands. Standing up on her feet the young maiden answers.
“Savanna, your highness,” she sarcastically bows.
The princess rises from her throne and approaches the young woman, connecting her coffee-colored eyes to youthful sky-blue’s.
She reaches out her caramel color hand and gently grips the young woman’s chin.
“What is your true name, child?” She hisses, searching the sapphire eyes in front of her.
The young woman gathers what little courage she has and replies softly.
“Darkness, my princess. They call me Darkness.”
can you see the stars where you are?
Isla Silver is playing at the bar on 2nd Street, and no one is listening.
Well, nearly no one. When David Byrne isn’t staring blankly into his glass of whiskey, he’s staring blankly at her fingers, plucking and strumming to a long-practiced rhythm. Sometimes she thinks she’s forgotten, but her fingers always remember.
The soft buzz of conversation nearly drowns out the acoustic of her guitar; while some glance over occasionally, they always return to their drink and their one-night lovers; it seems alcohol eases every pain, dims the world to a point where it’s finally bearable.
Bars are safe havens while the wars bang on the walls outside.
She strums the last chord and the buzz of the bar continues without her. She supposes it doesn’t matter. Mr Pine will pay her $50 regardless. It’s a good deal for two hours of ambience. Or less – Mr Pine’s not always around to check whether she plays for one hundred and twenty minutes straight. God knows the customers aren’t paying attention.
Isla sometimes wishes she came here to escape instead of to work. She slings her guitar off her shoulders and leaves it by the side of the small stage. It’s barely half a metre off the ground; two steps and she’s walking on concrete again. It’s solid ground, or as solid as you can get it. Sinkholes have been appearing more frequently these days. Barely anyone watches the news these days, but the tired reporter warns citizens to stay inside their homes.
If the population of the bar is any indicator, they don’t seem bothered at all.
Isla’s sitting at the bar, but she hasn’t ordered anything. She’s staring off into space like David Byrne when the bartender slides her a drink. It’s a glass of orange juice.
She looks up.
The bartender shrugs. “Flynn told me you don’t drink.”
Isla takes the glass and sips. She prefers apple juice, but the tang is welcome against her dry palate. “I don’t.” She takes another sip and swivels slightly to face the bartender. “Thank you.”
“No worries,” she says. “It’s on the house. You play good.” She screws up her face and mutters something about having “shit grammar”, and Isla notices a tattoo of a flying beetle behind her ear as the older woman turns to grab a rag. Isla fingers the black ring on her middle finger.
The bartender leaves the rag on the counter and offers Isla a hand. “Dean. Nice to meet you.”
Isla takes her hand. It’s rough on the palms, where Isla’s are soft, and soft in the fingers where Isla’s steel strings have calloused her digits night after night.
“You new?” Isla sips her orange juice.
“Relatively. Got transferred from the bar over on 5th.” Dean’s wiping a glass dry and her brow furrows. “Hired new blood and I got shunted. It’s not so bad here though.” Her eyes meet Isla’s. “You?”
“Been playing four nights a week for about six months.” Isla’s finishes her juice. “Pretty sure as soon as they find someone prettier they’ll kick me out too. Maybe then people will actually watch her play.”
Dean smiles. “It’ll be a while til that happens, then.” She puts the glass under the counter and starts wiping dry another. It’s a monotonous rhythm, punctuated only by their conversation.
Isla gets paid tonight. Eight hundred dollars a fortnight. Whenever she has free time, she’s doing finances in her head. Two hundred towards rent, two hundred for groceries, set some money aside for Maia’s birthday – it’s in three days and she still hasn’t bought anything – leave the rest to collect interest in the bank. Maybe then Mama will be able to afford college for Maia when she couldn’t do it for Isla.
“You’re a million miles away, guitar girl.” Dean grabs another glass. “The night is young, what’re you thinking about?”
Isla looks past the fluorescent lights and into the empty street. Streetlights glow a dim yellow; it’s a jaundiced ghost town and everyone is hiding.
She sighs. “Why do we say the night is young when it seems so old?”
Dean shrugs and shelves another glass. “When was the last time you saw sky? Like, honest to god, real sky? The blue of our childhoods?” She shakes her head and her beetle tattoo slips in and out of view. “Guess the night is old cos it had to grow up.”
She’s right, Isla thinks. Even at night, there isn’t a sky anymore. No endless black, no studded galaxies. The clouds have turned grey, cumulus and smog mingling indeterminably.
“Aged sooner than it should’ve,” Isla says quietly. She doesn’t say it for Dean, though she knows she can hear. We’re all weeping for a lost childhood, for the kind of idealism we grew up wanting.
Isla raises her empty glass. “To youth. The night may be old, but we are young.”
Dean raises the glass she’s cleaning. “To a blue sky.”
Empty glasses for empty hopes, but across the world, in a town far away from the abandoned cityscapes, two men toast to the future.
The days are hot but the nights are cool where they are, and they lie on a patchwork blanket poked through with as many holes as there are stars. One has hair as light as harvest maize, and the other has freckles that smatter his face and arms like dirt.
“A sinkhole opened up next to the homestead last night,” says the freckled one. His name is Ezra.
The blond one – Niall – takes another swig of his beer. “You didn’t lose Fig did you?”
“No.” Fig is the homestead’s kelpie. He’s everything to Ezra.
They don’t need to talk to know that everything is slowly falling down around them. They don’t need to talk to know that it could’ve been the homestead that sunk last night.
They lie on their backs and stare upwards.
The sky is black and it is beautiful.
The Fortune of Mrs. Fillmore
A sad song fell over the hearts of everyone in our small town the day we heard of Mrs. Fillmore’s passing. Eighty-two years old, she was, and like a grandmother to us all. She lived in the biggest house at the end of Blackberry Street for as long as anyone could remember. Mystical and majestic, it was the neighborhood’s favorite meeting place. There, she’d host wonderful Christmas galas, warm family gatherings, don’t-care-who’s birthday parties, and really fun come-on-over-just-becauses. Not to mention she always had the best selection of candy for Halloween (she gave out the most, too). In addition, she was the designated babysitter for every child who lived in Goldenbriar. No kid ever minded because she was the nicest old lady for miles, and it didn’t hurt that she baked the most scrumptious treats anyone had tasted in their lives. One summer, during an outage, everyone stopped by Mrs. Fillmore’s and forgot all about the power plight until two days after the electricity had returned.
All the folks in town were packed into the little one-room church house last Sunday morning. Not an eye was dry, and not a soul withheld their final remarks. People of all ages, sizes, races, and backgrounds shared heartwarming stories of how the silver-haired woman had helped them or changed them or took them in at one point or another. Young folk shed tears reminiscing of the fun times they’d enjoyed with her as children, and even some strangers who had only met her once or twice showed to pay their respects. This woman was a truly irreplaceable monarch in the hearts of everyone she happened upon. That night, I couldn’t go to sleep. My mother kept telling me through uncontrollable tears that everything was going to be alright. I tried to convince myself that Mrs. Fillmore was in a better place, but she herself felt like heaven to us. What did that mean for Goldenbriar now?
June Twentieth: The last day I wrote about in my journal. Everything seemed like it was going to be okay back then. The summer looked promising. My friends and I couldn’t wait for the happiest school vacay yet. Lazy days and long nights, the majority of which we knew would be spent at Mrs. Fillmore’s house. “This will be a summer we will never forget.” were the last words of my final entry. I picked myself up off the bed and closed my journal. It was clearly no longer of any use. There would be nothing more to write about now that Mrs. Fillmore was gone. Of course, I will never forget this, even though I wish I could. So much for “happiest”, but there were going to be a whole lot of lazy days of melancholy and long nights of restlessness. I was also right about spending a lot of time at Mrs. Fillmore’s house, too. Although she had passed, her only daughter, Darcy, invited us to help clean up her mother’s home. We were asked to assist her in clearing out unwanted items, packing up sentimental treasures, and preparing the house to be sold to the highest bidder. I didn’t want to go at first. My heart hurt just picturing myself walking into the room without hearing Mrs. Fillmore’s perky voice.
As I walked inside, the place didn’t feel exactly the same, but it didn’t feel too different, either. It felt like half the magic had spilled from the glass, but, somehow, three quarters were left. I couldn’t describe the feeling that came over me. I somehow felt happy and sad all at once. So many memories rushed into my brain. It seemed as if Mrs. Fillmore had only gone on vacation.
“I know that it was probably really hard for you kids to come out here and help me with this stuff today, so I thank you all immensely,” Darcy said with a deep breath...
All they found was her scarf. The article, with its stripes of joy lay quietly at the knees of a young cypress. Layered with bold sections of royal blue, kelly green, and a bright sunshine yellow, it stood out quite starkly against the muted autumn backdrop- almost as if the accessory was all that contained life, unlike the actual living things that surrounded it. The early morning fog had not yet dissipated but hung in gentle whisps above the river. After sending word, the volunteers solemnly looked on at the scene, wondering and silently doubting if she would be found alive. Yet, despite the discovery, there was a veil of serenity over this place; an energy radiated from it that begged one to stay.
Fallen from a Dream
There were flowers here. They swayed and dipped in the breeze. Dancing.
In the darkness they were brown: rusty, dirty things. They smelled nice, but fell apart when she touched them.
They melted away, and her eyes flew open.
Spinning wheel. Wheels, carriage.
The ride was bumpy and she felt choked in the high-collared dress. She couldn’t remember putting it on, didn’t recognize the gloves. She removed her hat, placing it on the seat next to her, and listened to the creaking of the carriage, the pounding of the horses, the yells from beyond the curtains.
Pulling one back, she took in her surroundings as they flew by: a water-soaked man, head hanging, a little girl being raised into the sky by her balloon, a skinny dog covering its face with its paws.
She scrunched up her eyebrows in disgust--confusion?--and leaned out to look at the young carriage driver’s back. Something struck her as familiar, but when he turned around to look at her, nothing stared back. His face was empty.
She fell out of the carriage, arms reaching out to brace her fall.
Her arms plunged into water.
The fish were murky and yellow. They had their eyes shut, like they were sleeping.
Her fingers closed around one, easy to catch. The other swam around, oblivious. She pulled out her fish, and it opened its eyes, opened its mouth, gasping. She realized she couldn’t breath, and water dripped from her mouth.
A thought tickled her mind. She’d been here before. They’d all been here before.
She turned over in her bed, restless. The sunlight slanted oddly across the room. Everything seemed… unfamiliar.
Her stomach heaved, and she dragged herself into a sitting position, then into a ball. Everything hurt: behind her eyes, her teeth, her stomach, her mind.
Stay with me.
She shook her head, because she didn’t need those words. They weren’t hers. They weren’t anyone’s.
She spasmed, holding herself together with her arms like if she let up the pressure her body would fall apart. Like her mind already had.
It was his laugh. In her dreams. Why? Who?
She scraped her hair out of her face, dragged her feet to the edge of the bed. Get up.
All she had to do was get up.
Get to the bathroom. That’s the first step.
Miraculously, she did.
No. No no no no no. She breathed heavily, tripping and holding onto the doorframe. Stop it. It had to stop. She was awake. She was alive, and she was getting a hold of her life.
She stood in the bathroom, not knowing what to do next. She didn’t think she could make it this far.
I regretted many things in my life, and this moment was toward the top.
“Hey! He turned that way!”
I didn’t mean to start my day out like this.
“Corner him! Over there!”
And I didn’t mean to start all the previous days like this either.
The guard pinned my back against the wall, holding his arm across my throat.
“You’re going to have come with me.” His breath was warm and smelled distinctly of alcohol.
“I can think of over a hundred places I would rather be than with you.” I kicked my knee hard into his gut. He stumbled a bit backward clutching his stomach. He let out a horrid moan and then before speaking, spat onto the ground.
“Ya filthy rat! I’ll kill ya!”
I threw my body into a run. The run wasn’t meant to be fast, but just fast enough to get me away and far. At the corner of the alley, another man grabbed my arm as I passed him, and slammed me face-first onto the ground. I felt his knee push into my back while he bound my wrists. It took both men to clamp down my legs and tie them. The man with the alcohol breath lowered himself so that I could see his still hideous face. He whispered a curse at me, then slapped me hard across the face.
By this time, I had worked for a hand free of the ropes behind my back. I reached a hand into my ripped pocket and took out a sharp knife that I’d stolen when the butcher wasn’t looking. Using the knife, I cut into the coarse rope that was tied around my legs. I stretched out my foot to trip a guard and rose up to hit another in the jaw. I ducked as a third man tried to grab me. Why were there so many guards in this one little town? I slid to the side, avoiding a guard who had been reaching for my head. I dropped down onto my knees to just miss a sword that had sliced the tips of my hair off. And then I raised my head to see the ogre-faced man, whose eyes were aflame with anger. His grin reflected in his polished sword right below my chin.
“I’ll kill ya.” He whispered his breath into my ear, with his grin growing ever more malevolent.
“That would seem to be his rightful punishment.” A man decorated in the same armor, but in his arms, he held a helmet different than the others by its rusted golden paint. He loomed over me, with his sense of authority strong. “Would you like me to read out each of the many crimes you’ve committed?” He patted a small leather bag that was swung over his shoulder.
I made no attempt at an answer.
“I see.” The captain of the guard lowered himself onto his knees beside me. “Although you don’t wish to admit it, you’re ashamed.” He stood back up again. “You’re ashamed of yourself.” His face was somehow familiar and yet I couldn’t seem to recall when I’d seen him before. “Your crimes were mostly petty thievery, and you’d never gotten caught.”
“I have a knack for finding things that aren’t mine.”
“You were never caught, but on several cases, you returned the items. Why is that?” And when he saw that I wasn’t going to answer he continued. “I’m going to give you a second chance. A chance that could potentially change your life forever.”
Then with a thud, he crashed the hilt of his sword down onto my head.
The early rays of a red dawn twinkled on the wet, tepid cesspools of the marsh. Heavy, gray clouds hung bleak and silent overhead. Arrows, sharp and deadly, fell like soft rain. It was the kind of morning that sent you back to bed.
The warrior fell into the mud, not the best kind of bed but one which cushioned her fall while the tall reeds provided cover from the steady stream of projectiles. The quiet burbling of the muck could scarcely cover the heavy breathing or soft clink of armor yet the arrows seemed to fall short of their mark and fell whistling like casual watchers as they hit the ground behind her. Not afraid to dirty her armor, she dug in further and stayed low.
At first glance neither the mud nor her current predicament seemed at odds with her well-worn armor and battle gear. From the breastplate to the casing around her ankles, her armor had obviously seen better days—a nick here, some dents there, a couple holes which apparently no smith had bothered to repair. The sweaty, thick tunic underneath soaked up the mud but seemed less smelly for it. Her sheepskin boots were wrapped once and then once again in outer layers of leather to hide the many holes they had accumulated running into a fight. She wore her hair cropped under a helm that had blocked one too many blows. Had she tried playing dead she had the outfit for it.
However a closer observer would note her eyes, which gave a sense of cunning and knowledge gained at great expense to the body. In the morning's glow they caught the reflection off even the smallest brown pool and shone with the light of a warrior's soul. Her skilled hands held a crossbow that unlike the armor had been kept polished and practiced, its double-edged lethalness shining in the early sun. A warrior's braid, strung with bits of flesh from the bodies of her enemies, ran down the length of her left breast and glinted red as if woven with blood. Anyone mistaking this woman for dead could quickly find themselves in the dirt instead.
Another volley struck behind her as she regained her breath and peered through the reeds. The archers stood outside the scope of her vision, standing just on the edge of the swamp and shooting further and further into its depths. The arrows would begin hitting more painful notes in a moment but until then the warrior rested and considered her options.
Option one: She could die.
She pondered this option briefly as she had covered it quite often and felt it did not need further reflection.
Option two: She could be captured.
This option had also been rejected, however hard it tried to appeal as less painful than option one.
Option three: She could hide.
A quick glance around the flat, dead landscape did not make option three seem very sound. While the reeds grew tall they would hardly mask her entire body for much longer. The arrows preceded riders who would be high enough to see down into the underbrush. The riders presented the real threat. The archers were simply their introduction.
Option four: She could run.
This option had been working so far, but was quickly losing its luster. As she checked her progress she knew she had barely outrun the horses, losing hers in the process, and eventually their animal muscles would outdo her weary ones. It would not be an option for much longer.
Breathing more softly now, she thought for as long as seemed safe. The peaceful sounds of nature were interrupted by squawking to her left as some of the marsh's inhabitants protested the morning's deadly weather. As they flew away hoofbeats drew closer from their direction. Option three looked even worse now.
As her choices narrowed the moment called for some quick, new thinking. Or to wing it.
Wing it. Option five it was then.
With a deep breath, she dove into the tall grass, seeming to swim in the muddy stems until like her limited options she quickly disappeared.
″He’s been waiting,″ A cold voice says behind me. I turn and hold my breath. ″He’s in that room-″ the man points to a large metal door that is closed, shut.
I sigh, ″Okay, thanks.″
I don’t need him near me, I don’t need him or anyone to talk to me. I just want Nick. I hold back tears as I open the large, heavy door that squeaks as it moves on its old hinges - and see him, sitting on the floor, back against a cold grey wall. He glances up, with a hollow expression and stands up when he sees me.
″Nick-″ I murmur, voice catching. This isn’t him, the Nick I know, the Nick I knew, because he doesn’t seem to be himself.
He doesn't have that glint in his eye, that wicked smile and caring gaze.
He walks up to me, and I rush to him and wrap my arms around his back. He welcomes the hug, although I can feel that he is tense, wary. I sigh when I realize he started to cry, as I can feel his body shuddering as he sobs, his head pressed into the space between my neck and left shoulder.
I take a deep breath when I think of how the tables have turned: he used to be the one comforting me, when I was broken and in pieces. Now I have to be there for him, after what the Ordering Officers did to him as a form of torture to get to me, to warn me and everyone else who is trying to fight them.
They tortured him, to torture me.
''Are you hurt?'' I murmur, pulling away from the hug. I figure that this question is dumb, after knowing they must've. But I wasn't sure on what hey did do, did they hurt him mentally? Psychologically? Or physically?
He doesn't answer but instead locks our gazes. My mouth gapes open at the once, beautiful gaze that is now hollowed out.
Just a shell of what he was.
Of who he was.
''Did they hurt you?'' he instead says.
This takes me aback. He worries about me instead of himself. He worries about others, when he should be the one worried for. I find myself breathless. Wordless.
''Heather?'' he asks, stepping forward, placing a hand on my shoulder.
I blink hard and think of an answer.
The truth would be yes: they hurt me. Firstly, by taking Nick away and harming him, but secondly, because they really did. They didn;t stop their own form of torture on me.
But I can't tell him the truth, maybe half, but not the whole thing.
I shrug, ''I was just... worried about you. Worried sick.'' I whisper, my voice sounding hoarse.
I wipe my eyes and stare at him, study him. I saw the outline of a bruise on his right cheek. I traced lightly, very lightly, my index finger along the shape of the bruise. He doesn't wince, flinch, instead he closes his eyes. He looks so peaceful, but not - at the same time.
''I'm so sorry, Nick. This is all my fault. I shouldn't have brought you guys into this.''
He raises an eyebrow. ''Guys?''
''The others, who were helping us fight the government, the Ordering Officers. The others who were helping me, with my stupid idea.''
His eyebrows raise as he remembers something. ''Are they okay? Where are they?''
He starts rushing around the room.
''I-I don't know... why?''
''They took other people with me! They did what they did to me, to them, some seemed so young...''
''Oh no...'' I murmur, realizing that no one mentioned them.
''Nick, Nick... listen to me.'' I walk up to him and hold his shoulders. ''We will find out, but I need to get you out of here first. Okay?''
He nods feebly, ''Why do you care? Heather?''
''What do you mean?''
I step back and frown. ''Nick, what?'' I can't process this question. ''Don't you know?''
He looks at me and shrugs.
''Nick...'' I start, ''Nick, did they do something to you? Do you... remember?''
He locks gazes again and shakes his head. ''I remember your name, I know that we know each other. I know I should be relieved to see you. I know what they-'' He points to the people out the door, ''did to me. But I don't understand why, I couldn't remember the 'others', I just knew they took more people when they took me. I know they harmed them as well. I can't remember what we were for each other, Heather. I can't remember us, if there was anything.''
My eyes open wide and I stare at him in disbelief. My legs started to shake and I fell to the ground as they collapsed under me. It feels as if someone shot me in the stomach. As if someone cut my chest open and tore my heart out, or tore my memories out of my brain, my feelings.
He doesn't remember us.
He knows me, that I'm okay - safe for him, but that's all.
***Small continuation of that dystopian idea I had! I wrote another piece with this idea in mind! (The other piece is: Knock on the door!)***