Tag Archives: Short Story

The Priceless Cabin Beyond The Water (part 2)

The provost marshal on duty checked the two women out of the Registration building and opened the private entrance. Despite the warning bell getting louder now they were outside, Alessia smiled when she saw Mas waiting. His yellow Lightmans cloak was blackened on one sleeve.

“Set yourself on fire?” He patted the smudge.

“Put one out.” He gave a warm smile for Bailey but Alessia had to take a moment to gather herself. The bells had only started a few minutes before she left. The damage to his sleeve was from something that hadn’t reached the main authorities. Mas caught her staring and shook his head almost imperceptibly over Baileys head. He kept up light amusing conversation for the girl as he and Alessia escorted her home. Bailey lived on the outskirts of town and it was almost dark by the time they watched her enter her home. Even in the twilight Alessia could see plumes of smoke dissipating.

The bell finally stopped. It didn’t relieve her because she knew it would ring again tomorrow or even tonight. It was the fifteenth bell this week and they were becoming more frequent. Mas held out his hand to steady her on a loose rock but didn’t let go once she took it. Alessia squeezed so hard she was convinced it must hurt. He made no comment.

As they reached her house she heard raised voices inside. She stopped at the gate and took a moment to look at the sky.

“I’ll say goodnight here,” Mas murmured. Giving him a tired smile she leant into him, his arms wrapping around her. Glass shattered inside. She turned her face into his chest and sighed. Mas rubbed her shoulder.

“I’ll see you in the morning,” she said. He opened his mouth to speak but a shout from inside drew her attention. Letting go she walked to the door. Just before she opened it she watched Mas walk to the end of her street. At the corner he stopped, turning to make sure she had gone in. She still remembered the way her face had heated when she noticed he did that. Now, as well as making sure she went in, he blew her a kiss. She waved and entered the house just as another door in the house slammed. Her Father was at the table holding himself up.

“Is he still here?” she asked. Her Father jumped at her voice and spun away but it was too late to hide the wetness on his face. Moving to him she held his arms to steady him. His bowed spine meant he was now shorter than her. His hand covered hers and tried to push her away.

“You haven’t forgotten what today is?” he asked.

“No, Father.”

“I don’t understand why it must be dragged out so. The boat arrives the same time every day. Why could I not have gone-”

“It’s for your own safety, Father. Once it’s past curfew…” she guided him to a chair by the fire. She heard a sniffle and pushed a handkerchief into his clenched fist.

“I know my darling.” He sighed. “It’s just so hard on you and Isaac.”

“No, Father. It’s not hard on me.” She made him a cup of tea and tried not to linger while she made it. “I can’t speak for Isaac. But don’t travel beyond the water thinking I struggled with it.” She sat at his feet with her own tea as he blew on his. After a moment, she put a hand on his knee.

“Tell me a story of Mother.” With a weak smile, and a sigh, he did. She leant her head on him and listened to his voice.

A soft knock on the door eventually interrupted them. The Lightmen she let in were wearing dark cloaks over their ochre ceremonial robes. She helped get her Father ready for the cold as their lead man ran through the order of events. They asked him some questions to make sure he understood as Alessia checked the house for Isaac. When she returned alone her Father nodded.

Past curfew they had to walk in silence so they attracted less attention. Alessia saw lit candles in darkened windows of some of the houses, the only well wishes that could be made. Her Fathers hand clutched her arm. His grip was weak, his pace slow but steady. She covered his hand with her own and felt the slight tremble of thin muscle under his papery skin. She caught him looking at her from under his hood and tried to give him a reassuring smile. The closer they got to the dock the stronger the smell of smoke. They heard voices and one of their escort motioned them to wait. He went ahead to investigate. She looked around. All the houses were dark here. One had thick black smoke marks rising from empty doors and windows.

Soon they were moving onto the shore and the docks came into view. A line of Lightmen guarded it, their robes bleached white by the moon. The gentle lapping of the water was matched by the sound of wood bumping against wood. The boat was moored. Her Father stumbled on the uneven ground. She went to catch him but one of their Lightmen held him up. The sleeve of his ceremonial robe peeked out from his cloak and she saw a familiar smoke mark on it.

“Mas?”

“You didn’t think I’d miss your Fathers departure.”

She tried to smile but her face was so cold it barely moved so squeezed his arm too. Mas took her Fathers weight allowing her to hold his hand. The sound of a wave rushing towards them had her looking over the water. A warning cry came from a Lightman as she realised it was the sound of people running down the beach. The line of Lightmen raised their arms, bows in hand and pointed over her head. She and Mas dragged her Father forward as he cried out in alarm. She stumbled on the sand and pitched towards the line. Hands grabbed her and forced her the rest of the way. Behind the line, she turned to see a crowd closing on the dock, some carrying torches.

“Alessia!” she recognized her Fathers voice and moved. She felt slow and useless, like running through water. Mas was heading onto the pier but her Fathers hand was outstretched towards her. She reached for him. His grip was so tight it was like he was a younger man again. She soothed him and whispered in his ear, reminding him of the cabin and that she would meet him there one day. With Mas helping to carry him, they headed along the pier.

She could hear orders being shouted, the thrum of bow strings releasing. Another Lightman ahead of them held the boat steady and they helped her Father in. Alessia lay herself down on the pier so she could keep hold of his hands. The warning bell rang out drowning out everything else. Her Father looked up at her, not out to the water as she would have expected. His face looked ghostly in the moonlight.

“What if your brother is right?” he cried.

“He’s not,” she replied and gripped his hand harder. His was just as strong. She felt his fear through their hands and knew it was up to her to let go. She clambered forward with her elbows so her Father could hear over the noise.

“Do you remember when Isaac was little? He asked you to write us a letter telling us what the cabin is like when you get there?” He nodded. “You will need both hands to write.” His smile quivered but he nodded again. They let go at the same time and she was sure he mouthed that he loved her. She watched until he turned to look into the fog.

The same moment the sounds on the beach broke through to her. Yelling had turned to screaming and acrid smoke smothered her. Mas dragged her up. The pier was on fire, their exit blocked. The other choice was deep black water. Mas took her hand and with a nod from her they jumped.

Her skin stung everywhere the water touched and her lungs felt like they were burning. For a moment, she thought she was on fire anyway. The current was strong and dragged her. Terrified she would be carried away from shore she thrashed. It took her a few moments to realise it was Mas pulling her through the water. He was heading further out and away from the riot. She needed air and tried to swim to the surface. He pulled her down again but she yanked her hand out of his and broke free. She could see muted light and headed for it. Her face broke the surface and she gasped in air. Water landed in her open mouth and she choked. She tried to cough it out but couldn’t find the surface again. Her sight was blurring and she knew it was tears as well. Kicking hard she breached the surface and swiped at her face. She was out of the water and sucked carefully through her lips but this time it was only air. Hands grabbed her from behind. She shrieked and beat her fists against her attacker. Her hands became tangled in clothing and they wrapped their arms around her. Their heads pressed together as she struggled Alessia finally heard Mas’ voice.

“It’s me! It’s me.” It was his cloak she was battling with. Balling her hands around what material she could find she pulled him closer. He pulled her back until she was lying on his chest, her face uplifted to the sky. It was easier to breath without the water crushing her chest. There was a flickering light. Turning to look she could see the entire dock was on fire. She knew Mas was watching too. She could see people running away and black clad bodies lying on the gold sand.

“Do you think the current will take us to the cabin?” she asked,

“It’s not that strong,” Mas answered and began to swim them to the shore.

 

 

Alessia dried her hair in front of the fire as Mas made tea. She had given him some of her Fathers clothes to change into and she couldn’t watch him like she usually did. Isaac was still not home. Despite being out of the water for a while her hands were still cold. She held them closer to the fire. She was startled when Mas covered her hands with his own and drew them back.

“You’ll get chilblains.”

“I know,” she sighed and took a cup from him. He settled on the floor next to her and took the blanket she offered. “I just can’t get warm.” Putting his cup down, Mas put her free hand between his and rubbed gently. There were occasional shouts in the distance. She tensed at every one. A board creaked outside and her head went up, looking at the front door expectantly. When it didn’t open, she turned back to the fire.

“I’m sure Isaac is safe.” Mas leaned loser with a smile of encouragement. She didn’t look up. “He’s a smart boy.” Alessia drew her hand back and wrapped the blanket closer.

“He’s not a boy. And he is smart. Which is why I’m so worried.”

“It’s a fad. Many of the youngest ones go through it.”

“In Botown’s history there has never been so much violence. And it’s not like there are missing records. I know. I checked. There’s no cover up, no conspiracy…” She sighed and slumped over. “I just wanted my Father safe.” Mas placed an arm round her shoulders and pulled her closer. She turned her face into his chest and let herself breath him in. The clothes smelled of her Father and of Mas. She had never felt so comforted.

A creak of a board and a stern knock had the pair of them leaping away from each other. When Mas opened the door for her several Lightmen were outside. They were carrying a stretcher, a cloak covering the head and shoulders. As a Lightman read her the charges against Isaac, and the punishment they had meted out, she stepped closer to the body. Her Fathers ring was on his finger. She removed it and looked at the blood speckled hand. The Lightman finished. In the silence the stretcher bearers swayed from foot to foot. Pale grey light was moving across them as dawn broke.

“Are there any charges being brought against myself? As his sister?”

“No, milady. It was clear that you were not mixed up with him and his…cohorts.”

“Then you can take him away and bury him with the other criminals.”

“Alessia-” Mas stepped forward and reached for her. She moved away from his outstretched hand and went inside. She returned with his still damp cloak and uniform, handing it over without meeting his gaze.

“I want all of you gone before my neighbour’s wake. I have no family now.” With that she turned and closed the door.

 

 

Picture used under Creative Commons Licence from Pixabay.com.

https://pixabay.com/en/inferno-bonfire-burn-flames-light-423408/

 

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Door Ways

brown-20831_1280Every time Dee heard the kitchen door crack against its frame she looked up expectantly. It was loose in it’s frame,  the draft pulling it back and forth. It was years since a Door had appeared to her but this morning….she shook her head. She must have dreamt about it and the leftover tension was wearing. Turning back to the fruit on her board she continued chopping. Laughter from the play area  across the road came through the open window. It sounded like her girl. A glance instead showed her Cosima was sitting on a swing leaning forward, watching the other children with a furrowed brow. She had been quiet all morning and repeated attempts to engage her had led to an abrupt announcement that she was going out to play. Dee had been so surprised she let her go with no more questions. Now she was finding reasons to stand at the kitchen window and watch. Looking down at all of the fruit and vegetables she had now chopped up Dee put the knife down. Cosima was probably just reacting to her. She’d been jumpy all day. Despite knowing it wasn’t going to happen she still had this…she could only describe it as somewhere between an itch and a headache. Every time she had touched a door handle today she had held her breath. Looking at the kitchen door a final time she turned back to the chopping board. She would make a fruit salad for dessert. That would use up all this fruit.

The chicken she put in an oven dish with the vegetables looked as pale as the chicken Cosimas father, Dorian, had been served in hospital. It was like it had been boiled. It fell apart easily enough but smelled like plastic. He had joked that he didn’t have a sense of taste anymore so what did it matter. She had laughed for his sake. Cosima had slept silently on her lap, the beeping machines lulling Dee to sleep as well. She had dreamed that Dorian had forgiven her. When she had asked what for he had shown her the first wedding ring she had ever worn. With the feeling of falling she had woken to find he had passed in his sleep. Instead of just grieving she had felt angry. She had no reason to feel guilty or be forgiven but on the day he was buried and Cosima had gripped her hand painfully she thought maybe there was.

Feeling tears coming she clamped her eyes shut until it passed. The counsellor had told her to think of happier times, good memories. The problem was all the good memories led to the final thought that he was dead. That didn’t bring her any comfort. Instead she had begun to think about life before him. When the Doors had appeared to her.

Her friends had been so jealous. But they couldn’t pass through. Adults couldn’t either. She remembered being so scared. There were stories of some never returning, being eaten by monsters or kidnapped by mercenaries on the other side. But her mother had dismissed those stories. Why would people make up such fibs, she would ask. And who exactly is bringing the stories back if they never return? With a Traveller’s survival pack her parents had purchased off the internet she had ventured alone through her first Door. Like many other people who went through the Doors, she didn’t tell much of what happened to her parents. It starts to fade for some after a while, especially the ones who went when very young. Too many memories for the brain to handle, doctors thought. And as you grow up again they get replaced with memories from your Stationary life.

There was a support group but Dee had stopped going. They spent so much time trying to keep hold of the memories. She hadn’t wanted to forget, precisely, but she didn’t fear it. Some memories she would be happy to  live without, just dumb luck which ones stayed.

She thought of the house she and Marl had lived in. She had chosen the wallpaper for the front room. And Marl had painted a mural on one wall. It had reminded her of the field near her parents house, when summer turned to autumn. The humidity changing to crisp decay and cool breezes. That had been the only time she had felt homesick. Marl had held her then, warm and safe. They continued to travel together, always returning to their house. Doors had stopped appearing. They got married.  She knew then why people made up awful stories about children who never returned. It hurt those left behind to think their children didn’t want to come back.

That was the real reason she couldn’t go to the support group anymore. Those Traveller’s had searched for a way home. Trying every door in every building in the hope one led back, sometimes years of searching. Dee had been happy in both worlds but deep inside her she had made the decision to stay. Marl had been her reason. He touched her as if she was actually alive. True she was only a child with her parents and first love is powerful, but the life they had built still felt like it was more real than the dream she had returned to.  She still wasn’t sure why. So while the others tried to remember their time away, feeling guilty for spending most of it trying to return, Dee felt guilty for wishing to stay and hoped to forget.

The front door slamming shut made her jump.

“Cosima?” she called.

“I’m going to the garden, Mum!” The back door slammed.

She thought of other children, her and Marl’s, slamming doors and running around the house. Marl would yell at them because he was more worried about the floor getting dirty than she was. It annoyed him when she laughed at their unruliness. But it reminded her of him when they first met. She had never told him but, after making the decision to remain, every door she opened she hesitated before going through. Even when Doors stopped, as she must have grown too old for it, still she would pause. That last day was sunny and hot. Her hair was wet and water droplets ran down the back of her shirt, Marl was yelling at the kids as they ran through the house still revved up from swimming outside. She was laughing, turning to look at him as she walked into the bedroom. The air felt cold and dry. Marls face changed. She looked around to find herself in her parents kitchen and realised she was back to the same height as when she left.  Looking up through the Doorway as Marl realised what was happening she reached her hand for him but the Door slammed closed.

Her mother heard her scream and found her crying on the floor. Her parents mistook her distress for some horrific event on the other side. They took her to the hospital to make sure she wasn’t injured. For years she saw psychologists and eventually ended up in group support. To her parents it had been merely days. It never occurred that the horror was seeing them.

Stationary life continued. Education, work, marriage and a child. Sickness and grief. This time she had something other than memories to live with. She heard the back door open.

“Mum?”

“In the kitchen.”

“Mum!”

A thrill of panic went through her. Clutching the knife she dashed into the hallway, Cosima stood at the other end and in between them were several Doorways that had not been there before. Dee held her hand up indicating for her daughter to wait. Trying hard not to let her hand tremble she opened the first Door. A damp heat rolled out and a cacophony of tropical birdsong. Eyeing her little girl who seemed on the verge of tears she shook her head. Closing the first Door, she continued down the hall, dripping knife in hand. A gust of frigid wind and the blast of salt water from the second had Dee slamming the Door before it was fully open. The third and last was nearest to Cosima.

“Third time lucky,” she reassured her. Cosima tried and failed to smile. Taking a deep breath Dee turned the handle. A warm golden glow emanated from it. Peeking inside Dee saw a study and heard the murmur of voices. As she opened the Door wider Cosima came closer, holding onto her mother’s leg like she had when she was younger. They waited. The voices stopped. Two men stepped into view. One was elderly with snowy, clean cut hair and a sprightly gait. The other was middle aged but slim. The twin looks of shock upon their faces were nothing she was sure to the look on hers.

“Ma?” the younger man said. Dee kept looking at the older man. Marls eyes were still that amazing pale blue but they had the same regret she saw in the mirror each day.

“Is that…you?” Looking at her eldest son she smiled.

“Yes, my darling. I’m so sorry I’ve been away for so long.”

“We’re…the same age?”

“I know.” She looked at Marl again. “This is Cosima. She’s my daughter.” He nodded in understanding and she wished she could explain further. His hand twitched and she saw a different wedding ring on his hand. She hiccoughed as laughter bubbled out along with her tears. Dee cleared her throat and knelt down to Cosima.

“This is Marl and his son. They are very, very special friends of mine. They’ll help you.”

“Ok.”

“And I want you to know something very important. They’ll remind you if you forget.” She looked at them and the men nodded. “If you need to stay, that’s alright, my darling. You be happy. Just be careful and always look before you step through. You understand?” Cosima nodded. Dee pulled her in and gave her a hard hug as she looked up at her other family. In that exchange of glances she realised how different their lives could have been. With a kiss to Cosima’s temple she smiled brightly at her daughter and let her step through. She watched as her children held hands. Cosima waved goodbye, a genuine smile creeping onto her face. Then she and Marl were left. He put his hand out but it was held back as if a pane of glass separated them. She placed her palm to his and imagined his warmth. He cried too. A creaking broke the silence and the Door began to close on her. Reluctantly she stepped away. She held his gaze as long as possible. Then the Door was gone.

Her ears rang in the silence. Then the sound of children playing filtered through the window. She looked down at the knife in her hand.

 

 

This story was part of the Pick Three Sentences challenge set by Chuck Wendig over at his blog terribleminds.com. Last week everyone had to write one sentence. This week we had to pick three that suggested a story to us. I chose the following:

1) He touched her as if she was actually alive. By Jezebel.

2) In that exchange of glances she realised how different their lives could have been. By Ita.

3) Closing the first door, she continued down the hall, dripping knife in hand. By Ila Turner.

The picture is used under Creative Commons, taken from pixabay.com

And I hope you enjoy the story.

The End of the Party

The call flashes on the screen, the sound covered by people yelling over loud music. The room is pressed with excited sweaty bodies dancing and laughing, table hopping to talk to everyone. Awards litter the centre pieces or are held aloft. Passed around supportive friends and colleagues. Someone yells a greeting as you step out into the bright hallway. The closed door muffles the noise enough to answer. But your ears are still ringing and you ask them to repeat themselves. A stranger tells you a story. They give you some contact details before signing off. Nobody stops you as you find your purse. A clap on the shoulder and you turn. You force a tight smile onto your face. In the lift the mirrored walls make you look pale.

Your bag is packed and a taxi called. You changed and scrubbed off your make-up, brushed out the elaborate hairstyle and tied it up. The letter you’ve written for your boss is sealed in an envelope. You leave it at the desk on your way out to be delivered later. You see two friends but hold back the impulse to call out when they don’t notice you.

It’s busy for such an early morning flight. An attendant had to walk you onto the plane and guide you to your seat. They try to be thoughtful and attentive but there are other passengers making demands. A message is waiting when you turn on your phone. There’s no need to hurry now so instead you ask the taxi to take you home. As you go inside and turn on a light in the empty house you breath in deeply. It’s familiar and comforting. You know it will never smell like this again.

Featured image from pixabay.com and used under creative Commons.

Hero

The sudden draft blew her hair into her face, the displaced air announcing Ali’s arrival. As hands slipped around her waist Steph smiled.
“To what do I owe the pleasure?” Lips brushed against her neck.
“Can’t I just come to enjoy some time with you?” That was met with a chuckle.
“You were due to be at the HQ all day and possibly into the evening so I repeat my question.” Turning in Ali’s arms Steph placed a kiss on soft lips before Ali sighed.
“I just needed to get out of there for a little while. I went home first but you weren’t there.” Steph frowned at the surprise she heard in Ali’s voice.
“It’s on the family planner. I have a shift all day.” Ali nodded but then gave a little shrug.
“It’s just…what with…”
“The end of the world as we know it?” Steph supplied. Her raised eyebrow was met with Ali giving her the puppy dog eyes that had ensnared her in the first place.
“Babe,” she sighed in frustration. “It’s not the first time something like this has happened.” Ali stepped back and leaned on the racking across from Steph.
“This time it’s different.”
“Yes, you were very emphatic about that last night when you were disobeying orders and telling me everything. I remember. I was there.” Steph pointed at her own face. “I have the bags under my eyes to prove it.” She turned and picked up the scanner she had been using and consulted her stock list again. She heard the growl of frustration Ali made but refused to turn back around.
“And what was it that drove me to spill my guts?”
“Yes, Ali. Your mentor lied to you.”
“So how can I trust him now?” Slamming down her work Steph spun on her heel.
“Maybe because he’s never let you down. Even when you told me what he did you managed to make it sound like he did you a favour. Because of what he did you couldn’t do something stupid that could have gotten you killed. So I’m really sorry if I’m not actually feeling betrayed by a man I’ve only known existed for nineteen hours!”
“You’re supposed to be on my side,” Ali said through gritted teeth.
“He kept you alive. How can I not be happy about that?”
“Steph!” Came a shout from somewhere else in the racks. Ali was gone, another draft the only evidence of movement. Stephs manager came around the corner a moment later. Steph had already picked up her scanner and list,
“What do you think you’re doing?” Steph just looked at her in confusion.
“What?”
“You’re fully aware that there are no phones allowed during work hours. They are to be kept in a locker.”
“I wasn’t on the phone. It is in my locker.”
“I could hear you yelling,” her manager said with a look of smug satisfaction on her face that scrunched her features.
“Ah, I was going over lines for a reading my partner and I are taking part in next week. I must have got carried away.” Steph pulled a face of contrition. “I didn’t realise how loud I was being, sorry.” Her manager wasn’t convinced and after turning her pockets out and being marched back to her locker to prove that her phone was in fact in her locker she was finally allowed back to work with a warning to keep her line running to an inside voice only.
As Steph got back to her task she felt another draft.
“I could make her disappear for you.” Steph rolled her eyes to herself but didn’t turn to face Ali.
“Better the devil you know,” was her reply. “Now can I please get back to my job? You’ve almost gotten me in trouble once today. I’d just like to get on with it.” When Steph got no reply she looked over her shoulder to check if Ali was even there. Ali was leaning against the racks again looking at the floor. When Ali finally looked up Steph put her hand out but Ali had moved just out of reach, sighing before speaking again.
“I’m sorry for that. I guess…I just don’t get why you put up with this shitty job when you know what’s going on out there? When you could be at home with your daughter. Spending time with her.”
“Or you?” Ali looked up at Steph but didn’t deny her accusation. Putting her work things down Steph took a tentative step toward Ali.
“This job puts food on my table. A roof over mine and my daughters heads and allows me the time to study so I can get a vastly better paid shitty job. And I can’t afford to lose it.” Ali started to speak but Steph held her hand up. “I know something big is happening. But you’ve also told me that you could do something about it. And more importantly that you have done so several times before. My real life hero.” She smiled and saw Ali’s face begin to brighten. “So I came to work because I know that you’re going to make sure that it’s still here for me tomorrow. And the next day.” Steph ran her hands up onto strong shoulders and around Ali’s neck. “So I don’t need to go be with my daughter. You’re going to make sure nothing happens.” Ali just stared at her. Steph waited as the puppy dog eyes looked for any sign that she was lying. Seemingly finding none Ali let out a huge breath.
“You’re putting a hell of a lot of trust in me.”
“I know,” Steph replied with a grin on her face. Ali enveloped her in a hug and kissed her.
“Dinner at mine tomorrow night?” Steph asked.
“Love to. I’ll text you to let you know I got back safely.”
“You better.” With another rush of displaced air Ali was gone.

 

Featured image from pixabay,com and used under Creative Commons