She sat in the window of the café, reading and writing as she had nearly every day for the last 20 years.
“Good morning, Mrs. Marshall. Regular?”
“Yes, my dear. And maybe a cherry pastry. I’m feeling a little sweet today.”
“Oh, you’re always that, Mrs. Marshall.”
“Must be all that sugar I put in my tea,” she laughed. They always had the same joke.
When he returned with her tea and pastry, she said, “Today’s my birthday.”
“Really? Happy Birthday! So, if you don’t mind my asking, how old?”
“90? I thought maybe 75.”
“That old? I’m losing my touch,” she responded with a smile.
“Never that. You look great. My grandma doesn’t look nearly so great and she is 75.”
“Well, thank you, young man, and I promise not to tell your grandmother,” she winked.
He laughed as he walked away, but felt sorry for the old lady, alone on her birthday as she was every other day of the year. He’d never seen her with anyone in all the time he’d worked there. But she always seemed so cheerful. He turned to watch her from the counter. She had fallen asleep. He laughed. Just like his grandma. He went back to work.
After an hour, he went over to check if she needed anything and noticed that she hadn’t touched anything. His heart stopped. He touched her hand. Cold.
“Ricky! Call 911! We have a problem here!” he yelled across the quiet café.
Before and After
Before I was a girl. Freedom poured from my innocent spirit. Nothing held me down. The love and happiness I had were profound. I was a child. Through and through. In all the ways a child should be. The sky was blue, the grass was green. I smiled just because i felt like it.
Those places in between that lead me to where I am now, unchangeable and unstoppable things took place. Things that at first took my innocence away, and crushed it into ash. Into filth, and dirt that buried me alive. Things that moved me a thousand miles away from the girl I was, into someone who sold her soul to escape her spirit. Things that shaped me and sculpted me into a minuscule existence compared to what once was. There were things that left me scarred, and things that drove me to scar myself. There were things that made me blind, and things I chased to keep me blinded. Misery and emotional destruction became who I was. And I remained there, in that dark hole of my life for longer then I could’ve survived unscathed by the pain.
I lost so much after allowing myself to part ways with my truth. With my reality and the forces of fucked up nature that reckoned with my being. I could’ve died, because I almost gave up on living. I could’ve died, because I’d betrayed my own survival in so many ways. But something gave, and the dark world around me finally faltered. I’m not sure how or why but suddenly I started fighting for myself. For my family. For my future. And in that difference came a light, and a life that was worth more than I could lose. Some sort of fight raged on within me and it saved me. It saved my spirit. It saved my soul. From my only self and all that damage I had done.
The night consumes me like the winter’s snow.
Do you hear the animals prowling in the night, does this bring fear to your empty bones or do you seek the end with joy?
The glass is cold, it sticks to my fingers, a threat that it might chill me right to the core, the night expands even if my eyes don’t see it, the feeling of it comes simply from somewhere inside of me. It’s like familiar static. The snow as thick as a woolen curtain, a wall protecting me from the world... or keeping me away from it, a hunter slowly eating its prey. A small cabin build of four walls and wooden boards. Old, falling apart boards, that keep me on lockdown. What are you running away from, child? The question rings loudly behind my ears, deep in my head. It’s the only other voice that I hear here beyond my own. But then again, I never heard it before, too aware of all the soft sounds that seem like a scream right now. What abomination would my voice be in this hushed prison? When every sound is a dangerous animal, a tiny glass beast.
Fingers tap on the window, it rings like an avalanche, it makes me shiver, there is nothing here but me. Just these wooden boards, it looks like decay. A bed with no sheets, a chair, a crooked table, the snow outside. Who are you? The snowflakes fall, as if birds humming, as is if whisperings of a child, a moment in between. My name is just an untouchable blur. 25 to the left, 36 to the right, now turn around 3 times. I don’t know who I am, no memory of who I was. Nothing to remember, nothing to bleed. Why am I here? I grab my arms and hold on tightly, taking comfort from a blaze that wasn’t made to stand such a cold alone.
Flesh neeďs to keep warm, a prime need for a fire. No chance, child. It’s just you, winter and the rotten wood. A sudden need to destroy everything spreads like flames through my veins, to put this place to the ground, piece by piece, fills me up, destroy it all, mayhem colors your soul. Oh, Grace, you’ve always been a drama queen, you never learn. My body flinches from the nagging voice. Does that taste like a memory, does it feel real enough? I cling to it like my last razor but it slips as if it was never there. The doors won’t open, they’re jammed tight, lost years and the winter chill made them that way... or someone else did.
Wind blows through the cracks and my body shrinks. Feet hit the floor to keep the blood flowing, at least I still had shoes on, good boots for the death games with a strange world. Play with numbers distracted yourself. Brown boots, dirty pair of jeans and blouse meant for running. Zipper scratches my throat, so cold, wind sticks to my bones. How did I get here? My mind is empty, just low murmurs in a crowded space, a low buzzing of days I didn’t recognize.
Just a whisper, yesterday’s hope. But I grab onto it. Who is Liam? What does that name really mean to me?
My shoulders sag, nothing, it means nothing.
Picture by Laura Makabresku
A Light in the Darkness
Dusk had fallen, and Laurene was finally able to shed her deep cloak and peel off her gloves. She could feel the intense burning pain along her right cheek and forearm, where her alabaster skin had been exposed for just a moment too long to the harsh sunlight of the spring afternoon. The trees here weren’t as thick as the black canopy of the ShadowWood, and rays of sunlight pierced the foliage like little streams of fire. She was running low on the clay cream she needed to protect her face, and had been forced to wear the gloves and hood all day; better the blisters from stiff leather than from the acid-like sunshine on her bare skin.
Serynah had looked so happy, standing in the sunshine and the breeze, that Laurene hadn’t had the heart to say anything about the small burns she had gotten today. The worst part of it was she herself loved the daytime—the vivid colors and fresh clean scents that rode the warm breezes. Sometimes she thought the price of her family’s magecraft inheritance was too high.
The four young women made camp in the deepening twilight, and after building a small fire for the party, Laurene sat down on a mossy log. Next to her, perched on a rock with her legs dangling just above the dirt, Serynah sat with her butterfly harp in her hands, and she began to play.
The music started softly, and Serynah added her sweet voice at just above a whisper. Slowly the volume of both harp and girl rose, and somehow she was able to blend the sounds of the instrument with her singing, weaving the two of them into a rich and vibrant tapestry of music.
Feather approached from where she had tethered their horses, and the short artist was actually quiet for once. Her normally sarcastic grin had been replaced by a smile of pure joy, and it made her plain face into something that was almost pretty.
The other girl, seated across the fire, still intrigued Laurene the most. As a Beacon-in-Training, Kahlessa should have been her mortal enemy. They were opposites in almost every way.
Kahlessa had ebony skin, stood almost three rods tall, and—as the future voice of a Goddess—was the embodiment of the Sisterhood of Light. Laurene, with her flaming red hair and pale skin, would have stood out next to her, even without the swirling tattoo covering the entire left side of her face. As a magewitch, she was usually shunned, and often feared, by those in the Sisterhood.
Somehow despite this, she and Kahlessa had become friends. In fact, that friendship was the only reason Laurene had decided to join this quest. Serynah was here with Laurene, but that was to be expected; the two had sworn a life-oath, vowing to stand together forever. Their union had even been blessed by the Goddess Freylonda, through the tall dark-skinned girl who now sat listening to the music floating on the evening air.
Still playing, Serynah leaned over, and quietly said “Show them, please?”
I hope you are right about this. Laurene pulled back her sleeves, wincing a little at Serynah’s expression when she uncovered the angry red welt that was just starting to fade. The younger girl played on though, and nodded; her excitement at the coming show apparently outweighed her desire to scold her partner.
The redheaded magewitch gathered and focused her thoughts, bit her lip drawing a small drop of blood, and uttered a single word under her breath. Using this combination of Will, Blood, and Word, she forged the spell she had been working on. It was mostly a gift for Serynah, and wasn’t much good as a weapon, but she needed to judge the other two girls’ reactions.
Without warning, her right hand burst forth in bright light, almost painful to look at. Swirls of prismatic light spun into small orbits around her hand as she lifted it high into the air, the firelight paling in comparison.
Then, in time to the music, small bits of dust and dirt gathered into spheres, and begin to swing around her hand—a miniature star with planets spinning as they circled.
The night grew darker around them, and stars came to life in Laurene’s hair and somehow deep within the tattoos that covered most of her face. She needn’t have worried about Feather and Kahlessa. They both sat, their expressions of rapt wonder and awe warming Laurene’s heart, and she knew Serynah had chosen correctly—their small band would be alright, even if Jazzlynn and Micah never returned from investigating the temple ruins.
© 2019 - Dusty Grein
“Honey, I’m not going to let any man put his hands on me,” the first woman declared.
“I don’t know why a woman won’t just leave a man like that,” the second woman said.
“I guess some women like getting hit upside their head,” the first woman said, shaking her head from side to side.
The second woman agreed. “Evidently, they do,” she said, nodding her head up and down.
A third woman sat in silence, listening to the other two women. She declined to join the conversation because she knew the other two could not comprehend what it was like to be a victim of domestic violence because they had never experienced it. They would only understand when they were faced with an unrelenting force of evil that was determined to make their lives a living hell, and determined to not let them get away. She knew first-hand that it is never as easy as just leaving.
Your eyes open slowly.
You come to your senses- cozily blanketed in a soft brown quilt adorned with fancily stitched yellow patterns. Sitting up on the firm mattress, you stretch a little and look around with a yawn. You are all alone in a small room. Brown wooden walls with golden trim are decorated by large neatly hung paintings of natural landscapes in elaborate frames. A lit fireplace made of black stone straight ahead, a wide beige book shelf to your right, a small gray table, and a blue area rug right by the rustic silver framed bed on which you are seated. Natural sunlight pours in from three glass windows in the ceiling. Recognizing absolutely nothing around, you wipe your eyes, trying to remember why you are here-- and where exactly here is.
You search your brain harder and harder, but can’t seem to remember a thing. You can’t even remember who you are. Looking at your hands, your breathing increases. You rise to your feet in confusion and begin to explore the room more deeply. There is a tall golden oval mirror standing beside the bookshelf. Slowly walking over to it, a familiar figure comes into view. Your own self. The only person you seem to have even the slightest memory of. You search your own eyes, thinking--
Who am I?
What happened to me?
When did this happen?
Where am I?
Why can’t I remember anything?
How did I get here?
Suddenly, you hear a thump sound behind you. Turning abruptly, your eyes meet the empty bed. Nothing new in sight. An even stronger feeling of fear falls over you. Are you really alone? “Hello?” you call with a weak voice, as if you haven’t spoken for years, “Is anyone there?” Receiving no response, your breathing intensifies at an alarming rate. You look around the room again, searching for a place someone could possibly hide. In doing so, you notice that there aren’t any windows or doors along the walls. Are you trapped? The panic sets in. With a deep breath, you lunge for the poker by the fireplace. Shakily clutching it as a safeguard, you inch towards the bed, and prod the quilt onto the floor, revealing a small golden pocket watch. Staring at it, you don’t know why, but something about it puts you in a trance. It’s smooth elegant beauty, sophisticated design, and antique nature can’t seem to shake your gaze. You uncontrollably grasp the trinket. Its weight in your hand is somehow calming. After a moment, you shove the watch into your pocket, snapping out of the spell.
You must escape.
He was a big man. Very big. He’d just set the empty shot glass down on the bar when the bottle struck him from behind, breaking into a million pieces atop his head. He started to go down, but caught himself with his forearms on the bartop. Only a big man could have done so, only a strong man. He blinked several times to clear his head of both the stars and the shock. Wet ran down his back. He had no idea if the wet was whiskey or blood.
The room was silent. Even the juke box had ceased its prattle. Not a breath stirred the smoke filled air. Whomever had swung the bottle was behind him yet, awaiting a response. ”First things first,“ he thought to himself. He caught the bartender’s eye and gestured toward the empty shot glass. The frightened woman filled the glass with Johnny Walker’s. When he went to reach for it he saw three glasses lying there. He chose the middle one and lifted it to eye level so that he could examine its amber glow in the dim light. “When I set this glass down, I’m going to kill you.” His voice was calm, matter of fact.
There was no answer, the only sound behind him came from the shuffling of chairs as bystanders backed away from the trouble that was coming.
He threw his whiskey back and set the glass on the bar with a bang. The liquor coursed down his throat and sat hot on his stomach, fueling his anger like the ethanol that it was. Curious, he turned to see who it was that he was about to kill. His surprise upon doing so was such that he might as well have been hit by another bottle.
It was her.
She stared at her as she walked away, possibly from everything that she had ever known. She would miss her indefinitely and she could feel the heaviness already pressing down on her heart, her lungs, her soul.
Touch and Go
His footsteps echoed down the long title corridor.
I looked at the body, surrounded by blood and tins. Still breathing shallow breaths.
My legs flexed, longing to chase him. But the girl was still alive. She needed help.
I took out my phone and dialed.
"He's done it again! You need to get here now!"
I touched the girl's face, pale and clammy. This would be touch and go.
I picked up my bag and walked away.
It was perfect once
“It was perfect once, you know?” She spoke as tears softly trickled down her face, quickly forming into free flowing streams. Memories, she called them. Tears filled with memories that she so often forgot.
He nodded in agreement. It was perfect, and if he had any control, it still would be. “But time is cruel, and everything turns to ash.”
Grace shot her eyes up to his face as he uttered those words. They were dark and full of loathing, but she couldn’t tell what he blamed, or who.
“Please tell me what to do,” she was gasping for air now. The pain came in waves from her chest to her arms, and she couldn’t release it. No matter how hard she hugged them to her body, the pain did not stop. Despair rolled over her until every inch was wrought with it. “How do I fix this?” Grace pleaded with him. Her eyes a watery mess searching his solid stoic grey ones. How was he able to turn it off so easily?
“You can’t… we can’t. This is… I have to go.” His words left his mouth in a jumbled mess like riddles. Short, meaningless riddles that yielded no answers and probably never would.
Grace continued to sob in her loneliness as he moved swiftly to the door, escaping any emotions that she was currently incapable of shielding him from. He couldn’t deal, and in his inability to do so, he left her.
The man that she loved, the man that she knew as well as herself, left her alone to weep in her sorrow because he couldn’t provide answers. He could not help her, and he refused to process that over time she would never remember that he even existed at all.
And for this she couldn’t blame him for leaving her. None of it would matter when she eventually lost her memories and all that she was. She would never know who she loved, if she loved, or if she was betrayed.