Evening

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The light is fading as I enter my apartment.  I sling my backpack off my shoulder as I kick the door shut behind me.  Glowing yellow eyes appear in the dim room as Pounce trots over, her sleek black fur blending with the dark.

I fumble for matches on my counter as she rubs against my legs, purring.  Pretty soon her purring will change to demands for food, but first she must establish how glad she is that I’m home.  I strike a match, and Pounce starts changing her tune while I light the first candle.

“Patience is a virtue.” I mutter to her as I go on to light another.

I don’t think my cat cares so much for virtue.

She weaves in and out of my legs, practically begging for me to step on her as I light up the apartment with candles.  Of course, if I did ever step on her she would become the most insulted cat that ever lived, which is saying a lot when it comes to cats.

I push open the curtains, revealing the windows behind them half-covered in vines.  It should be a full moon tonight.

Returning to the kitchen, I set down the matches and pull out my can opener.  Pounce sits silently now, her tail flicking back and forth as she watches intently.  The cranking sound of the opener fills the room, settling me into this late evening.

I miss the noise of people living around me.

The closest thing I have to neighbors is a colony of bees that took over room 3.  They like to keep to themselves, and I don’t try to convince them otherwise.  I dump the can into Pounce’s food bowl, wrinkling my nose at what she sees as a delicacy.  She starts gulping it down in a very unladylike manner and I return to the kitchen to get my own food.

The cranking of a can opener starts again.

I glance over at my backpack as I work, slouched on the floor where I dropped it.  I’ll go through it tomorrow, when the sun is up and I don’t have to worry about wasting candlelight.  Grabbing a spoon, I plunge it into the can and walk into the living room.  There’s a radio on the coffee table, and I try the dials to see if it will pick up anything tonight.

There’s still at least two stations that have something playing, which tells me there’s someone else still out there, playing music for a scattered and lonely civilization.

One is a classical station, the other plays rather dated pop music.  Sometimes they say things in between songs, but I can never really understand them among all the static.  Still, it’s nice to hear another voice.

The classical station is the one I can find this evening, fading in and out of the ever-present static.

“Trees are growing like crazy.” I tell Pounce. “I found some walnuts on the ground.  You’ll hate them, but that just means all the more for me.”

I look out the window, between the reaching vines.  They’ve nearly covered the window now.  Beyond them is just green leaves and brown wood and the darkening shadows.

This used to be a city.

Pounce has finished her meal and she leaps onto my lap, sniffing at mine.  Moonlight starts to filter through the branches and leaves and vines, adding a soft blue light to my candlelight room.  I scratch Pounce’s head in between bites, listening to her rumbling purr mixed with faint violins and static.

I can feel it settle into my bones.

Tonight will be a good night.

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Lighthouse

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I hold up the skirt of my gown in one hand so I don’t trip on the staircase, the lantern in my other hand swaying with each step.  The sun is reaching for the sea, longing for its cold embrace as night draws nearer.

The wind is picking up.  Clouds are building, promising an impressive sunset and a terrible storm.  I will stay up tonight, I can never sleep during weather like this.

My memories hold the ghosts of ships resting at the bottom of the sea.

It doesn’t matter how often I walk these stairs, I’m always out of breath by the time I reach the lantern room.  Below, the waves are crashing harder and harder against the rocks, and if I listen to them long enough they tell me about the souls lost beneath them.

And I’m always listening.

I know some of the lost souls by name now, I know what their last thoughts were, I know the panic they felt.  The waves tell me all that they know, which is usually too much.  It is not in their nature to hold back.

Carefully, I pull the candle out of my lantern and use its flame to light the thick wick of the large oil lamp.  The lenses around me amplify the light, and I find myself squinting as I check the oil level.  Tonight will not be the night my light goes out.

I walk back to the staircase, but I don’t go down.  There is a cable-knit sweater I keep on the end of the railing, and I pull it over my head, mussing up my braided hair.  I don’t care, the wind will do the same.

I step out onto the gallery quickly, shutting the door behind me and checking to make sure I haven’t blown out my light.  The wind is strong up here, and it tries to carry me away.  It is too confident in itself to realize it would drop me.

The dark clouds are on fire as the sun sinks.  I hear thunder in the distance.  It is summertime, but the air does not listen to seasons and it is cold tonight.  My nose and cheeks are red and my hair is flying into my eyes but I scan the horizon, praying for the ships that will have to weather tonight.

Tonight, my beacon of light screams danger.  Tonight, the waves may tell me new names.  Tonight, I will wait up in case of a wreck.  In case there are survivors.  In case I could help.

I go back inside, picking up my lantern.  The stairs groan and settle as I start my way down.  I think I shall set a kettle to boil for tea.  Perhaps bake some scones.  Anything to occupy my hands and pass the time.

I have a long night ahead of me.

 

If You Dare

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I entered the caverns to find her.  They say she’s lived there for decades, deep in the bowels of the earth, with eyes that could pierce souls and ears that could hear unspoken things.  One of the last of the living sages.

Whenever I asked about her, people would stop and shiver, their eyes darting around as if she might find out their darkest secrets.  They told me stories in hushed tones, warning me of how a child of a friend of a friend once went down there to find her and never returned.  They would warn me not to let my curiosity lure me to her.

They fear her.

Everyone has secrets, and the thought of someone finding out such things just by looking at them was enough to keep them far away from the cavern’s entrance.

The sounds of daytime faded behind me as I stepped deeper into the dark.  It didn’t take long for my ears to only hear the drip, drip, drip, of water hitting stone and the thump, thump, thump of my own heartbeat.  I walked slowly, trying to get my eyes to adjust, but the light of the entrance had disappeared at the first bend of the path.

Some told me there was no sage, only endless tunnels to get lost in.  It was easy to believe them once I was shuffling blindly through the dark.  It was easy to believe anything at that point.

Then the glowworms started shining.

If I stayed quiet, and did not touch, they continued shining, leading me deeper with their soft blue lights.  I started walking to the rhythm of the dripping water so as to not disturb them.  They were the stars of the underworld.

Down I journeyed into the earth.  The ceiling rose, walls widened, and in time I found myself walking through open spaces paved with smooth rock, littered with stalagmites and stalactites, puddles and drop-offs.  A mist started appearing above me, like the barest hint of clouds, and something inside me told me you’re closer, closer, close.

They all warned me.  Every one that I spoke to, they all said the same things.  She sees, she hears, she knows.  Finding her costs your secrets.  Finding her costs your sanity.

They did not know I was going insane anyway.

They did not know I could never find someone to listen to my secrets.  They did not know how no one saw, no one listened, no one knew.  I could not find a way to tell them.

I was going insane, after all.

The stories could not scare me.  They only made me want to look more.  I wanted it so bad I finally entered the tunnels to look.

Now I’m standing inside a cavern lit by millions of blue glowworms, listening to dripping water echo into the darkest corners, and I’m finally breathing again.  I will find her, I am so close.

Just once, I want to be understood.

Locked

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The door in the back of the storage room is locked.  It has been that way since the day I bought this place, before I swept out the dust and cobwebs and stocked the shelves with bright colors.

I haven’t found a key that fits the lock, and all my attempts to pick it have failed.  Even the ring of ancient keys that came with the store can’t unlock the door. In fact, the ring of keys don’t match any of the locks in here. 

The morning is still yawning, sending pale yellow beams to peek through my windows.  I’m standing behind my counter, moving the bolts of silk that line the wall. It only takes a few bolts being used to send the shelves into chaos, so I’m often standing here, reorganizing the shelves.

The rest of the store is filled with my work.  Beautiful silk on the framework of bamboo, cherry, maple, and birch.  Handpainted, embroidered, or trimmed with lace. I made every single fan on display, and I’ve been selling them for a long time.

It’s been years since I was handed a ring of ancient keys that didn’t fit any locks and dragged my first box of fans behind the dusty counter.  I’ve given up trying to open the locked door inside the storage room, but it never leaves my curiosity. It leaks out of my mind sometimes in black painted locks and keys embroidered in golds and silvers.

People ask me where I get my inspiration.  I laugh and tell them this place, this place, it haunts my work.  I don’t tell them how it grabbed my heart the day I first saw it, I don’t tell them how it creaks and whispers in words I can almost understand.

I don’t tell them I come here in my dreams, and only then has the door in the back unlocked for me.

Beautiful, impossible things come out from behind that door.  Oranges that taste better than candy, fairies with toadstool umbrellas, trees from forests too old for this world, kittens with wings and birds with antlers and golden doves with silver lined wings.

They fill my dreams and echo in my mind, and I catch glimpses of them between the bolts of silk and in the lining of my fans.  I’ve given up trying to unlock the door, I have, I tell it to myself every morning. I’ve given up, it doesn’t want to be unlocked. 

But someday, perhaps, the store will know me, the lock will trust me, and maybe, just maybe, I’ll try the door and it won’t be locked.  This place, this place, this place . . .

It haunts me. 

Violinist

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He plays music in the streets on a violin made of white birch wood.  Children are always gathering around him, dancing to his music.  He stops and plays for them, for as long as they want.  I usually see him at evening time and dusk, or in the pale hours of dawn.  I think he loves the hours when time is not so busy and minds are not so set.

I can’t sleep tonight.

Life has built up, and the chaos is becoming too much.  I don’t want to face tomorrow, and sleeping will only bring it to me faster.  I slip out the front door and into the moonlit streets.  The city is washed in silvers and blues, cool and sleepy, waiting for the impossible to happen.

There’s something about how one thinks, once the sun goes down.  It makes you believe things, do things, say things you wouldn’t have before.  I wonder if perhaps I didn’t stop walking, I could go on and on until I wander into a different life.  I could walk farther than the deadlines and expectations.

I could run away, and never look back.

Faint music floats by me on a phantom wind.  It’s soft and longing, and for a moment I almost believe it is the echo of my own yearning.  I almost believe the music is coming from me.

Night has that sort of effect on the mind.

The sweetly haunting music pulls me, and I turn from my path to the edge of the city.  My slippered feet are silent on the cobblestone streets, and the music is telling me that I’m floating.  I haven’t felt so light in a long, long time.

I find him on second street, playing his white violin that gleams almost silver in the moonlight.  He is walking slowly, like someone with all the time in the world.  I am not the only one drawn to his music, and I pause just short of joining the handful of night wanderers.

There’s a girl, holding a younger boy’s hand, both of them wearing tattered clothes a size too small.  Behind them is an old man, bearing a lost look in his tired grey eyes.  At his side walks a teenage boy, with bruises on his knuckles and sadness on his shoulders.  To his right is a woman with a smock buttoned over her nightgown and paint staining her fingers.

The music turns into something welcoming and warm as the violinist turns to look straight at me.  The stars are in his gaze.  He smiles and I suddenly have the courage to join the others around him.  His pale bow glides long over the strings, and we all follow as he starts walking again.

I offer my arm to the old man, and he leans on me with the weight of forgotten years.  A small hand slips into mine, and I find the girl and boy at my side.  She looks up at me, clinging to my hand with all the strength of a frail, tattered heart.

The music wraps around us, morphing into something full of happy memories as we approach a home with its lights still on, casting a yellow light over the shoulders of a young man standing in the open doorway.  His face, full of worry, melts into relief at the sight of us, and we all stop in the yellow light.

The violinist turns to the old man, his music swaying back and forth with the sounds of home.  The old man’s eyes clear for a moment, and he pats my hand before releasing my arm.  He walks forward, and the man in the doorway comes out to meet him.  Together they walk inside, the young man turning his head to offer a nod of thanks before closing the door behind them.

The violinist nods back, his music gathering us up again as he leads us on.

The moon is high overhead when we stop at another house.  Window boxes hold sleeping flowers, their closed buds the colors of paint flakes.  The violinist looks over at the woman with stained hands and frustration in her steps.  She is looking at her window boxes with a wistful sort of gaze, as if she wants to paint the night sky on them.  Fantastical, playful notes fill the air, and her footsteps shed their weariness as she walks inside.

We go on, and the music becomes aching and sad.  I am tearing up, though the music is not mine.  I look over to the boy with shaking hands and red-rimmed eyes, and I feel the music open up like the arms of a loved one.  The boy takes one unsteady breath, and tears start streaming down his face.  It’s a release, steady and long, and it lasts until he is at the entrance to his apartment.  He pauses with his hand on the door, and the music turns soft and gentle.  His shoulders lift just a bit, and he offers us the slightest smile before he goes inside.

It is just me and the two children with tattered hearts.  We turn onto my street, and the violinist starts playing a new tune.

My mind is clear, my thoughts finally sorting themselves into places I can find them again in the morning.  Stopping before my front step, the music nudges me to go inside, but I can’t.  Not yet.

There is still a small hand holding mine, and I don’t really want to let it go.

Desperately, I look to the violinist.  The girl slips her hand out of mine, and she walks over to him, catching hold of the hem of his coat.  He nods to me reassuringly, his music telling me it’ll be alright.  The little boy looks up at the violin, his eyes wide as the moon, and the violinist looks down at them with a soft smile.  He will look after them.

The music is pressing sleep on me now, and my eyelids are heavy.  It chases me even after I am inside, filling me with dreams and courage.  Tomorrow is coming, and I will rise to face it.

My head sinks into my pillow as the music fades into the night.

Night and Clovers

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The glen is full of clovers and bees.  Little flowers spread over the ground in a carpet of white-on-green speckles.  The morning dew coats everything and the air is sweet and crisp and bright.  The sun is a warm touch on my skin, I think it cradles us as it shines.

Our homes are made of stone and covered in moss, with colored glass in our windows and sweet clover hugging our walls.  Vines trail up and down the sides, lazy and confused.

In the daylight, my home is full of life.

At night, the glen changes to something else entirely.  Cold stone is lit by the flickering orange glow of our fires, voices fade into whispers, and the air fills with the scent of smoldering clovers.  The night is vicious and dark.

We are people of the day, and we let the night be.

Even I let it be.  Even after I held its hand.  I belong in the warmth of the sun.

Around my neck hangs a clear glass pendant, immortalizing my first four leaf clover.  Everyone gets their first one set in glass, and with it comes something special.  My mother’s came with the blessing of sharp wit, my fathers came with a knack for finding lost things.  My best friend’s came with an impeccable sense of balance.

Mine came with a bridge to the night.  The night and I are not friends, but now there is understanding between us, and my nightmares have stopped.

My brother found his clover today.

When a child finds their clover, it is a celebration.  Today, however, instead of the laughter and shouting, there’s a stillness sweeping over the glen.  They are all staring, and no one is staring more than my brother.  The world at that moment feels strangely off-kilter, and because of this I stand close beside him.

His clover has five leaves.

There’s no knowing what the clover brings him until it is set in glass.  I am unsettled as I take his hand and lead him to the glazier, but then he looks up at me and the wide-eyed surprise is giving way to excitement.  I smile at him and watch as he hands over his clover to be set.  We wait together, and I’m not letting him see my nerves.  I don’t want him to be afraid, he’s dreamed of this moment his whole young life.

The pendent comes out, finished, five leaves spread perfectly in clear glass.

My brother picks out a leather string to hold it and hangs it around his neck.  I’m watching carefully, waiting for him to find out what it brings.  He’s looking down at it, and for a moment he goes entirely still.

A soft breeze whispers past my ear, and I smell a hint of smoke.  I try not to hold my breath.  I’m not sure I’ve ever seen my brother so still and quiet, as he stands there with his fingers lightly touching the glass.

When he looks up his eyes are black as the night, with a warm glow flickering inside.  His voice is soft and distant as he speaks.

“This one carries a curse.”

His hand drops to his side, and just like that, he walks out.  My heart is beating triple-time, filling my head with noise as I follow after my brother.  I wait for him to tell me more, but slowly I realize what he said is all I get.

The bees stay away from him.  The other children follow suit.  I can’t blame them, he isn’t the boy he used to be.  Clover wilts in his shadow.  Somehow, I know where my nightmares went.

It’s weeks later, and I walk outside in the dead of night.  Not far, I’m still inside the warm glow of our family fire.  My brother is there and we sit with our backs against the cold stones, staring into the flames, and I offer him my hand.

His fingers are frost, but mine are brown from the summer sun, and they hold enough heat to share.

“There are no shadows here.”  He says.

He means “Not nearly as much as a forest can hold.”

I nod and whisper, “The oak by our creek holds a few.”

I mean “You don’t have to go.”

His fingers tighten around mine, and for a moment, there’s something of my little brother there.  The one who drags me early out of bed to make the first footprints in the morning dew.  The one who talks my ear off about something he’s made up on the spot.  The one who raises an eyebrow when he tries something new.

“I do not belong here.  Not anymore.” He says.

He means “The sun is killing me, the way night used to torture you.”

I sigh and nod again. “I know.”

I mean “You should find yourself a place you love.”

I love the warm summer breeze and carpets of green, I love the speckles of white flowers and the taste of honey, I love the light of a cloudless day and the glint of color in the windows.  I turn my head to catch the flicker of fire in his eyes.  He’s almost curled against my side.

I have grown to love the warm glow of flames in pools of black.  I have grown to love the cool surface of stone beneath my hot fingers.

“I’ve never been to a place darker than here.” He says.

And he means “I’m scared of being alone.”

I touch my pendent.  I was so little when I’d found the clover inside. “The dark is not so bad once you’re acquainted.”

And I mean “You would not have to be alone.”

The fire pops, sending sparks into the sky.  We don’t speak again, but when the flames have died and the embers are buried in their bed of ashes, I sneak into my room and grab a few of my things.

My book of pressed flowers, my dresses in various shades of yellow, and my glass figurines.

My brother grabs nothing, he waits for me outside.  When I reappear, his lips almost smile, and we fade into the night.

Far away, there is a place deep in an old, old forest where strange things dwell.  The canopy of leaves overhead glows with the light that fails to pierce through, throwing the ground below into a green-tinted world.  Mushrooms and ferns fight for the forest floor.  A stream runs through the trees and disappears into a cave’s mouth, winding its way through the maze inside.

Parents warn their children to stay away from places like this. “That’s where other things live, and they’re best left alone.”

I don’t blame them, this forest is a nesting place for the night, and I used to let the night be.  Even after holding its hand.

My brother still doesn’t tell me about his curse, but sometimes he disappears for a couple days.  Sometimes there is panic in his eyes and he asks me to tell him about before he found his clover.  Sometimes, he is quiet and empty, and I’m not sure if there’s any of my brother inside.

But most of the time, he is beside me, learning and growing like any boy should.  He loves this place.  I haven’t told him yet, but I think he already knows.  It’s growing on me as well.  It speaks a language I have only started to learn, but I am falling for its deep, inky tones.

I used to let the night be.

Now I speak to my brother in ways only night would understand.


Boiling Over

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As I stirred the boiling water, I started to think perhaps I’d made too much pasta.

Groaning, I put the strainer into the sink.  It would be fine, I would just have to store the leftovers in the fringe, next to the containers of soup and pancakes and rice.

At least I never made too little.

The fear was always there, biting at the back of my thoughts.  It wasn’t like my fear of hights, or my fear of crowded spaces.  It wasn’t something big that would make me run away screaming.

It was little.

And quiet.

And always there.

Is it enough? It whispered, so quiet I wouldn’t notice I was listening until it was too late. Are you sure you won’t want more? Can you really call that clean? Is that really all you need?

I would find myself double, triple-checking instructions.  Knotting my threads just a few more times.  Explaining things a little further.  Packing extra clothes, and maybe an extra notebook.  Or two.  Watching reactions, memorizing everyone’s likes and dislikes.

Just to be safe.  Just to be sure.

It pulled me down until one day I lay motionless on the living room floor, captive to the patient whispers.  My eyes stared unfocused into the blank white ceiling as the whispers grew louder.  As they stopped asking questions.

You will never be enough.

I’d known it all along.  I couldn’t fight it anymore.  Just the thought of sitting up made me want to cry with exhaustion.

You will let everyone down.

I couldn’t be everywhere.  I couldn’t always know what was needed, or what I’m supposed to do, or how to do it.  No one does.

No one does.

No one does.

My chest rose as I breathed in.

I don’t have to be everything.  I don’t have to be there for every fall, every thought, every need.  Making sure everything’s under control was never my job.

Air rushed through my lips as I breathed out.

Today, I ate leftovers from the fridge.  Like wind at the end of a storm, I am learning to settle.  I’m telling myself to have patience.  I’m fighting the impulse of fear.

Right now, that fight looks more like a small child with a flyswatter, facing a swarm of wasps.  But someday, someday . . .

I’m coming with a flamethrower.