Written for Tourmaline .’s Halloween Challenge Today’s Prompt was Creature.
It wasn’t the teeth that bit, Nor the eyes that glared, Not even the claws that slashed; It wasn’t the spikes that poked, Nor the tail that swatted, Not even the horns that gouged; It was the creature’s name that hurt, Stung like a thousand bee stings, As it slipped from my lips: Sister.
I’m very proud to announce that Spillwords.com have kindly chosen my short story ‘The Dying Time‘ as a featured post of the day. Spillwords house a wonderful selection of poetry and prose from all around the globe. Please do check them out.
‘The Dying Time‘ is the story of a young mother’s loss seen through the eyes of her new lover. Her sadness and strange behaviour will unravel before his eyes. I hope you enjoy the read.
I awoke to a view of curving, milk-white rock, perforated in places, smooth as silk elsewhere. My bedroom window was gone, as was the bed I lay in, sheets, pillows and all. There was me, the ground, and a sky full of stars.
Midnight landscapes and closed-eye sleepscapes had always been my thing. Mum said I came into the world with my eyes shut and only opened them when hungry. I had no reason to doubt her, for what was there to open them for. “How are you going to see what’s coming if you can’t see where you’re placing your feet?” she’d moan. I always replied, “I’ll feel my way.” She’d shake her head and go back to her knitting.
Give me the serenity of a cool winter’s night over a sweaty summer’s day. Give me the moon and the stars. I leapt to my feet as though them made of rubber and took in the view. The stars still shone a constant reminder, but what was the other thing, the bright cerulean ball? There was no hovering moon because I crunched upon it. And then it hit, and I smiled for the first time since she passed.
Mum died at midday on some nondescript August date. If I’d written it down, it would’ve made it real. Besides, who wanted to remember the worst of the worst, when the rest was only slightly less shitty. Aunty Gladys had dressed her in lemon, saying it’s what she would’ve wanted. I’d protested, preferring black. The sun shone as they lowered her into a basement home. It wasn’t even near a tree. No shade at all.
The bright blue object made a merry jewel in its polished, obsidian socket. It hurt my eyes. So, I turned away and set off to explore, bouncing across the chalky surface like a demented kangaroo. I thought I might pluck out a star, roll a galaxy between my thumb and forefinger, but always fell back to the ground empty-handed. Still, it was fun to try.
I bounced between jobs, girlfriends, diets and pretty much everything else. The one constant was our home, by which I now meant mine. This was my sanctuary, and I grew reclusive. I lingered like a ghost, only appearing at night through the cracks in the curtains. My face lost its glow, replaced by a spectral pallor. I lived off my savings, ordered in, and I wasn’t talking food, gave up. It was inevitable, the bank’s foreclosing. They had to scrape me out.
The moon from above was even more spectacular than from below. No amount of longing, planning, dreaming, could’ve prepared me for that solitary joy of frolicking amidst the cosmos. When I leapt, I defied gravity. It was like I broke every law known to man. As I hung there at my zenith, I was one with everything I’d wished for, from the quiet reverence of midnight to the pinpricked spotlighting of the past. This was what I’d closed my eyes for all those years. But it wasn’t the past. The past had put me there. It was time to come down.
I visited Mum the day the drugs dissipated from my system. I took a snow-white lily and placed it on her headstone, and then fell asleep on the grave. When my eyes blinked open to a world turned white, one pitted and weathered, yet embellished with such smooth curlicued writing as to haunt Poe, I recalled that night on the moon. And I was there again, for a while, and this time, Mum was with me.
…and though the world fell all about like tarnished snowflakes shaved from an iron sky, I walked on. My father’s words rang through my ears in those moments, loud and true. How, when he’d lain there on his deathbed with nothing, having been nothing, having proven nothing, he’d still dared to influence my butterfly future. He’d pursed his lips together as though having eaten a lemon, his eyes squinting, and hissed, “Make do, son. It’s all you’re good for.” I’d closed his curtains and walked away. I never stopped.
…there was a truth in the recalled memory, but not my own. Mankind had made do and then panicked when realising themselves having stagnated. I, on the other hand, would never stagnate, for light always reaches the horizon, and then the next, and then another, until finally touching the shore. I would break upon hers, even if I walked through a thousand such chaotic nightmares. What other choice had I? That’s what lost souls were for.
She made sweeping changes, everything from burning the curtains to killing the cat. The outside faired no better. She had the garden walls knocked down, the fountain plugged, even the old willow tree hacked to pieces. She did all this with a smile on her face and an unwaveringly airy disposition. Next, came me.
She made sure I saw everything, every last detail. She stood there bold as brass, hands on her hips and announced in a voice so sick as to be sweet exactly who she was, this woman who’d bought it all, my business, my home, myself.
“I’m your half-sister,” she purred.
“Uh-huh. The worst half.”
Father had never said a word, and now he never would, after all, she’d disposed of him first. Apparently, it hurt less than the cat, and on the plus side, saved me a job.
It was an unfortunate situation, she and I, an overlong affair. We had our good times, or hours, or first moments, which were longer than most. I should have counted myself lucky, really. Honestly, I should. But I didn’t, and neither did she. Shame! After all, she was my mother.
Death was an inelegant solution to an elegant game, an imperfect answer to the most perfect of all solutions. Yet here, Death held no sway.
Memories were never my forte. I remembered in fits and starts, never then till now, nor here to there. I recalled moments, or fragments of moments, nothing more, like a jigsaw turned upside down and with no means of reference to piece it back together. This was how the first conjunction occurred, grey on black, black on grey, always white in-between.
The small, white bird was not a creature of feathers and pumping blood, but of glazed porcelain with a copper beak. It sang, though, trilled its little metal heart out. It sang and sang and sang.
I put the bird in my pocket only to realise many years later, when next I checked, that it had a hole. I panicked then, something to set the heart palpitating. The dull boom, boom, thud of it rang throughout the place, as I searched everywhere except where I ought.
The second alignment came upon discovering the first of two pits. I peered in one, dropped to my knees for a closer look and almost toppled into the other. In a world of insubstantiality, they were flat, almost symmetrical, two discarded black orbs in a land of dusk. Well, until they blinked.
They say life comes in threes. Third time lucky and all that. Not for me.
The sun appeared like a coin from a grandparent’s pocket. You wanted it, needed it, but if you took it too quickly, you might not get another. I had desired the sun since I lost it. She always gleamed.
She was my little bird, pale with sable hair, which added to her ghostlike appearance. Her eyes were black. No other description fit them. Closing them was the hardest thing I ever did.
The sun, now bright and beaming like a lighthouse slicing through a stormy midnight, rose higher. It reached its zenith like a diamond in a jet black ring.
The voice hurt my ears. It rang through my befuddled thoughts like Big Ben’s bells thrust inside my skull. I hated pain. My pain, that was.
I didn’t answer. I never answered. The words were never quite there. Instead, I wrapped my fogged shawl closer, pulled it tight. Anything else might have killed me.
Disasters happen, my grandfather claimed. This was in the years long before his own. He’d wag his finger and frown like a grumpy goat, and I’d laugh and giggle regardless. Take it seriously, he’d mutter. You’ll thank me one day, he’d say. Of course, I didn’t, couldn’t, not when everything seemed so far away.
Now, as disaster looms and I struggle to raise my head, my own grandchildren filtering around me like ground coffee a percolator, I wish I had. It’s not so I’d know, but so I’d know what to say.