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short stories

Late Night Strolls

It was far too late in the evening for someone to be busking, yet here she was, with an instrument so old the strains looked ready to crumble and a voice so defiantly strong that it immediately grabbed his attention. He smiled to himself as he approached her, her pleasant melody drifting through the air to mingle with the usual ruckus of the streets. Even when the hour drew close tot ten, he could hear dogs barking and neighbors screaming obscenities at their children. When he passed the battered guitar case–which only held on ten, two ones, and a few pennies–he dropped in a nickel. The amount was so pathetically small that the woman stopped for a moment and scoffed. “That’s all you have, pal?” she challenged. There wasn’t any greed in her words, just a bitter resentment. One look at the designer coat he wore and the expensive watch on his left wrist told her that he could burn twenties for fun and still walk away without a dent in his checking. Her bitterness grew when the man ignored her and began to stroll away. Just before the nightly shadows enveloped his form, he stopped and turned his head.

“Be careful, young woman. Here there be monsters,” he warned. Before he could take another step into the darkness and let the shadows swallow him whole, she plucked a chord from her guitar that commanded him to stop.

“Here there be monsters, this man would say. Yet, this is a man who hasn’t worked a day. Who schemed and connived with a heart filled with greed. Taking and taking without thought to plead. Here there be monsters, yet he ignores the greater fear. Abandon all hope, ye who enter here,” she sang, the simple couplets vicious and icy. She never lost her technique as she sang, and the wicked beauty of the simple verse intrigued him. His laughter bounced against the walls and ran shivers up her spine. When he finished, he spun around and took a step forward, away from the darkness.

“I applaud your improvisational verse, and your use of Dante’s famous quote,” he complimented.

“Do I ring true?” she asked, her fingers absentmindedly stroking the strings. The notes were sad, lingering faintly in the air before dying quickly. She leaned against the post of the lamplight and stared at the man, eyes filled with skepticism and stone. He bowed his head, simultaneously ashamed and irate.

“While there are some like me, who long to be free, of the chains we made to bind. There are some of us here, who have little fear, of what we leave behind. My bank is large and my wealth obscene, and with money I light my fires, but at the end of the day, I get little say, in the destruction of my ire’s,” he replied. The woman slowly nodded, then looked down at her guitar. Silence hung thick with the stench of wet trash and cigarette smoke.

“Any requests, white collar?” she asked. A small, cold smile crossed the man’s lips.

“Hallelujah,” he answered, the word bitter in his mouth. Without another word, the woman gently played the intro on her instrument, allowing her voice to join in a moment later. The man closed his eyes and leaned against the brick wall of a business office, enraptured by the music and its creator. He felt goosebumps prickle against his skin as she allowed her voice to effortlessly climb, reaching passionate octaves and swells that made his heart rate increase. It had been so long since he’d heard such music, such emotion. When she finished, he noticed several people were peeking out from cheap blinds with wide, wondering eyes. She sat motionless, her hands still poised for the last chord and tears gently trickling down filthy cheeks. His footsteps echoed across the empty street as he walked towards her and dropped a crisp fifty into her guitar case.

“Hallelujah,” he whispered, the word soft and reverent. She continued to cry, even as the man walked away and the raucous noise of the street ensued as if the meeting between the starving musician and lonely businessman never took place.

***

I wrote this as an entry for a small gathering of writers, all challenged to write about the same theme: Isolation and Protection. This short story demonstrates Isolation more clearly, for I feel that the guitarist is much more fulfilled in her life than the businessman is in his. I hope I do the description of nocturnal streets justice.

Categories
short stories

Imaginary Friendship

When you came home, I once again felt whole. Some people might say it’s selfish of me to want to keep you here, stuck in the middle of last week’s laundry and yesterday’s pizza, but your presence is what keeps me alive. Unlike the usual sigh of relief you give after being forced to interact with the public, there’s a small, triumphant smile on your face. “I made the appointment,” you say. I grin.

“What’s wonderful! I’m very proud of you,” I answer. You smile and hug me tightly when I approach. “We’re one step to getting better.” The words are soft against your ear, and I can feel your smile widen against my neck. When we pull away, you immediately set down your keys and flop onto the couch. Although there’s victory behind your actions today, I know they’ve still drained you.

“When’s the appointment?” I ask.

“Tomorrow at noon. I wanted to get it scheduled before I lost my nerve,” you admit. I chuckle and sit next to you. We spend the rest of the night watching movies and scrounging through the fridge’s meager inventory for something new to eat.

The next morning, I help motivate you out of bed and into the shower. Although the mornings are always the hardest for us, lately, they’ve become easier. You come out smelling clean for the first time in a week with a glimmer in your eyes I missed. “How do I look?” you asked. My grin stretches from ear to ear.

“Perfect. Eat something before you go,” I encourage. You snatch one of the granola bars strewn about the kitchen counter before picking up your keys and grabbing the door handle. “Have fun!”

I can still hear your laughter as you closed the door. That door only opened once more.

When you come back, you are quiet. There is a look of determination etched into your features, and I can feel that something changed over that simple conversation. Without a word, you hang your keys up and begin to scoop piles of trash into garbage bags. “How’d it go?” I ask tentatively. You ignore me and continue your mad cleaning spree.

Hours pass, all silent except for the crinkle of plastic bags and the spritz of cleaning spray bottles. Once you finish restoring the apartment to its original shine, something I haven’t witnessed in years, you sit down. Anxious, I sit next to you. Silence hangs thick in the air, nearly suffocating me, until you ask softly, “when did I first meet you?” Inappropriate laughter bubbles up, too loud and too brash for the quiet seriousness the room adopts.

“Don’t you remember, we were uh… I was…” the words die on my throat before they even fully form. We both remember how we met; I showed up literally out of nowhere on one of the worst days of your life. The timing was so perfect, that we both suspected from the very beginning that it wasn’t coincidental. Years later, we both figured it out. The realization never seemed as sad as it does now. You stand up, and in a moment of panic, I reach for your hand. My fingers slip right through and a hollowness fills me.

“Please, don’t go,” I whisper. You just stare at me, as if this is the first time you realize I’m not real. I can feel the world fade around the edges like a forgotten memory as you continue to stare. Finally, when my vision is almost black, you kneel by my side.

“I’m getting better. Don’t you want that?” you ask. Tears muddy the rest of my vision, but I think I see you cry as well.

“I don’t want you to go,” I sob, trying to grab onto anything. “Please—” Before I can finish the sentence, my entire world goes dark. No more sound permeates my ears, and I wonder if this is the end. Even though I can’t see, I know I’m still crying. I hope wherever you are, you truly are better. I hope that I never have to see you again, even if it kills me to admit it. And I hope, out of everything I dare to want, that no one ever feels the need to call out for someone like me ever again.

***

Another prompt, another piece. This was good practice for me writing in present-tense, and I believe it helped convey the emotion of the story more. Although it isn’t much of a twist, I do hope that it surprised some readers.

Categories
short stories

Silence

There wasn’t much I minded about the dark because it pairs well with the silence. However, it was when the lights came on that I began to feel… uncomfortable. Something clashes, something scratches at the edge of my mind and I can’t quite describe it, as if the thing itself wasn’t entirely real. I tried to explain this in a joking manner over a few glasses of wine with friends, but they didn’t understand. Some accused me of being crazy, or just plain irate. However, I know I’m right.

I wasn’t always irritated by the mixture of light and silence. When I was seven, I reveled in being in quiet rooms, perhaps because they reminded me a lot of hospitals. As a child looking through a picture book and never stepping foot in the real thing, I let my imagination run wild. It wasn’t until I was forced to sit in a small waiting room, night after night, that I truly began to loathe bright lights mixed with hollow quiet. Living alone made it worse until I stopped turning on lights. For some reason, the daylight isn’t concerning, perhaps because I know other people walkabout during the day. At night, however, I learn to navigate my way through touch, because I refuse to flip the switch that might bring clarity but also an aspect of fear.

One night, the kitchen light was on. I hadn’t turned it on because I never turn the lights on. My electric bill declined every month, and it helped me pay for other things such as groceries and a nice pair of earbuds that blasts a playlist eighteen hours long on days that I really struggle with the silence. I listened to that entire playlist for a week straight once. However, I didn’t have my headphones now, and I desperately wished I’d taken them from the drawer in my nightstand. The second wish I had was for the pistol hidden in the drawer below. As I stepped into the kitchen, I heard no noise; just that damn silence. There were no burglars, no thieves, no unexpected friends. That scared me a lot more because then I asked myself if I had turned on the light without noticing. After a few minutes of debating why the light was on, I began to hear something, something other than my frantically beating heart. A whisper, so quiet the words were indecipherable yet growing in volume. It seemed to head straight towards me, but the source was unclear. All I knew was that it came from the darkness, a darkness I had sat in for hours of sleep and contemplation and enjoyment. When the whispers almost turned into screams, the words still indecipherable, I grabbed the nearest knife and pointed it towards the darkness. My eyes squeezed shut, and the sound of the whispers almost rivaled the sound of my pounding head.

Just as quickly as they began, the whispers vanished. Tentatively, I opened my eyes and kept a white-knuckled grip on the steak knife. When I was sure that the whispers were gone, and my heart rate became normal, I slowly turned on the living room light. Nothing. I ran from the study to the guest room to the bathroom, flipping on as many lights as possible. If my electricity bill would skyrocket, I didn’t care. I never wanted to hear that whisper again.

I spent the night with wide eyes and the bright lights. Around midnight, I turned on all the lamps as well. At two in the morning, I made sure even the little glowing figurines I receive from my grandmother every year were flashing. Two hours later, the sun began its glacial ascent across the horizon. A sigh of relief escaped my lips, and I began to turn off the little statues and lamps. For now, I kept the main lights on. There wasn’t any way I was going to take that chance.

It wasn’t until high noon that I finally turned off my main lights. The windows were open and allowed the sunlight to pour through, piercing even the darkest corners. My eyes felt like sand and my head was full of cotton as I shuffled through my home, waiting in an uncertain limbo. Sleep evaded me; the room was too bright. However, I would rather stay away than allow the darkness to come back.

The quiet prevailed.

When the sun touched the horizon, I flicked the main light switches back on. Before the sun completely disappeared, I turned on the lamps and the small figurines once more, just in case. A ringing began in my ears and a headache began minutes later. I grabbed some water from the kitchen yet didn’t stand on the linoleum for more than a minute. Events from the night before were still too fresh in my mind. Once the pink and orange hues of sunset melted into the blues and blacks of the night, I sat on the couch and waited with wide, bleary eyes.

By midnight, I was exhausted. My hands shook so terribly I set my cup of water down, emptied hours before. I began to doze off periodically, always jarred awake by my fear of the darkness. The ringing in my ears overpowered every other sound until I clapped my hands on either side of my head in a desperate attempt to stop it. How many hours had I been awake? Thirty? Forty? Fifty? Basic math evaded me, and my ears continued to ring. This was ridiculous. What would truly happen to me if I slept? It was stress, I thought. Stress from work, from past memories, from everything that brought about my hallucination last night. Yes! That’s all it was. Merely a figment of my imagination. Despite my reasoning, I couldn’t bring myself to stand up from the couch. When I tried to lay on my side, I immediately jolted up once more. Fear spiked through my veins, and the adrenaline from pure exhaustion and paranoia caused my tremors to worsen. A whine escaped me, matching the pitch of the ringing. Would I continue to stay awake until I saw the darkness again? Or would I die from sleep deprivation first?

The room went black.

I took my hands off my ears and stood up, trying to figure out where my invisible enemy was. The ringing in my ears ceased as soon as the lights turned off, even the battery-powered figurines flickering only to die seconds later. A feeling of dread settled low in my stomach as the hairs on the back of my neck stood erect. Slowly, I began to walk towards the garage, hoping it was nothing more than a power outage. Although the power lines in my neighborhood were underground, seismic tremors still caused the occasional damage. Before I could fully turn, the light in the kitchen flickered on. Another wave of adrenaline shot through me, just as potent as the first. My tremors became so violent that I fell on my way to the kitchen, knees hitting the carpet with a bruising impact. Using my hands, I crawled towards the cool linoleum and rested my cheek against the floor once I was bathed in light. Everything echoed in the silence, including my heartbeat and breath.

I heard it.

The unintelligible whispers were back, originating from the same darkness I sat in moments before. As they drew nearer, I desperately tried to stand, only to collapse back onto my knees. My hands went to the side of my head as the voices began to scream, and I finally understood what they said.

Silence.

And moments later, it was silence that remained.

***

I am not one to write horror stories, but I recently read one that piqued my interest enough to get some inspiration from its tale. If you haven’t read House Taken Over by Julio Cortázar, I highly recommend it. The difference between the character portrayed in this short story and the characters of House Taken Over is this character experiences bouts of paranoia and fear brought on by sleep deprivation. Moral of the story: remember which lights you keep on.

Categories
short stories

Never Fall in Love

“You will be my last love.” I glanced over and laughed at the ridiculous statement. We’d been dating for little under three months, and I certainly think it was too early to declare any sort of eternal connection. “You mistake me. You will be my last love, even after we terminate.” Part of me is flattered by your words, yet another becomes concerned. What do you plan to do if I am your last love? If I am the last person who you kiss and hold and cherish? Where will your heart go while the rest of us have ours broken and mended and soaring? However, when I rest a hand on your shoulder, I see no pain in your eyes. You seem almost… content, as if this is an epiphany you’ve denied yourself for so long that you almost forgot it existed.

“What happens when your heart finds another, even if your head keeps the vow?” I ask. You throw your head back and laugh, but there is something bittersweet about the sound.

“It shan’t. I’ll lock myself in a cave or rewind my memories. Perhaps I’ll make myself so ugly that no one else could love me. Whatever I do, I will not have my heart broken again,” you explain. I glance at your scars. No, you are not beautiful in the traditional sense. I see no defined cheekbones, bright eyes, or shiny hair. However, I do see your intricate tattoos and your cropped hair, and I see the smiles that stretch from ear to ear and your strong hands. Although I may not see physical beauty, I see internal.

“Making yourself ugly won’t do anything,” I contradict.

“You mistake me again. Ugliness is found on both the inside and the outside,” you respond, and bitterness continues to lace your words. I chuckle, and it’s your turn to glance gaze incredulously at me.

“You can’t make yourself ugly, no more than the sun can stop shining or the birds stop singing. Beauty and ugliness, from within, are inherit. Even if we become hard or selfish or cruel, we still hold our nature in our hearts,” I comment. You stare at me, and then a small smile tugs at the corner of your lips.

“And that’s why you will be my last love,” you say, and the words seem even sadder than before.

I can’t remember what happened to you. One year later, we broke up because I moved to the U.K while you stayed in the States. Years passed and seasons changed as the people did. Some I spent alone, others with lovers and friends and family. Work kept me busy, but travel allowed me to meet people from everywhere. There were days where I saw movies that made me think of you and rainy nights where I could hear your voice. However, you were only a chapter in the story of my life, and I have many others.

I traveled back to the States for a road-trip one year. When I passed through Georgia, I thought I saw you sitting on a bench. In New York, I thought I saw you standing on the corner. In Washington D.C., you sat near the monument and stared into the water. It wasn’t until I made my way to Portland, Oregon that I truly saw you.

Blue

10/17/1962-12/4/2000

That seemed too damn young to me.

***

Consider my two weeks of absence a hiatus of sorts. I apologize for no notice, but my outside duties took up more of my time and resources than normal. I am very tentative about this story, because its plot isn’t definitive and it exists as little more than a word splurge. I will disclose that this story was based off a very real conversation, and one that I don’t think I’ll forget until my brain rots. Do tell me what you think.

Categories
short stories

Opal Eyes

“You may not know me, but I know you. I know your smiles, your laughter, your tears, your anguish. I know every strand of hair that falls across your beautiful face, and I am jealous of every coat that’s ever kept you warm and every glove that’s touched your hand. I spend my mornings waking to the ghost of your voice from my dreams, and my nights recalling. My life is spent in your hands, and all I ask is that you do with me what you truly wish,” I whispered. The ripest tomatoes couldn’t rival the shade of red my face took upon my confession. You looked down from your throne and smiled, and it made my heart soar through my ignominious confession. A smile, just for me and me alone. When you slowly stood and approached, however, I shrunk back. I couldn’t fool myself, not truly. There wasn’t a creature on this world who tolerated goblins, and a goblin I was. Hesitantly, as my last peace offer, I held out the flower I picked from the gardener’s land. If he caught me with it, he would thrash me later. How loud I would scream all depended on if I could escape to a memory of true bliss or a memory of deepest sorrow. Your laugh surprised me, and I gasped when you plucked the marigold from my fingers. We were a wonderful contrast, you and I, with hands of finery and splendor and the softest skin brushing against knots and wrinkles and dried mud from the lake. It was your laugh that almost undid me, and a sob escaped my throat when you pressed the petals to your lips.

“Ah, my little love, how can you possibly lay such a precious life down at my feet, as if it is a gift to be discarded upon whim?” you asked, and a few tears trickled down my cheeks. They were lost in the folds and gnarls of my skin, yet your hand dispelled the few left. I held my breath as you cupped my face in your palms, the intoxicating scent of the marigold wafting around us. When your lips touched my forehead, I crumpled. You helped me up when I tried to grovel at your feet and wouldn’t hear a word of my apologies or sincerest thanks. As you bent over to look me in the eye, I felt the smile I kept buried beneath my heart’s surface for the first time in years. There was no one else in the kingdom with eyes like yours, white as opals and shining just as brilliantly. “Although I may never see your face, or your smile, or your laughter, I know them just as well as I do my own. I know every joke you tell, every song you’ve sung, every jest you’ve made in good fun. I know every time you’ve cried, every shout of rage, and every time you wished out loud you were something else, and I wouldn’t change any of it for the world.”

It was my first real hug. You embraced me tightly, kneeling before as if I were the ruler of our lands. I felt the marigold petals crushed against my neck, yet I didn’t care that they fell to the marble floors. I hugged you back just as fiercely, with tears spilling down my cheeks for a different reason than ever before. “I truly wish for you, and your companionship. That’s all I’ve ever wished for,” you whispered, and more tears dripped onto the floors. Our laughter echoed throughout the grand halls, like a new melody never before sung yet immediately treasured.

A monarch, a partner, a lover, and a friend. These nine words engraved into your tombstone do you no justice. As I sit near my pond, where I spent years sneering at my reflection and woefully scaring anyone who came near, I now guard your final resting place. Unfortunately, humans last much longer than goblins. However, I feel my time is near. Your body is gone, but I think you stayed with me in spirit. After all, how can one remember so much about their soulmate after they’ve already passed if they aren’t there? How can I still recall your laughter and your opal eyes? The sun begins to set overhead, casting her pink glow against the marigolds that bloom every summer around your grave. I pluck one and twirl its stem in my fingers, then rest against the grass near where your head should be. “You now know me, and I knew you. We spent years and years treasuring and nurturing and laughing and dancing. I am no longer jealous of your gloves because you held my hands as often as I wished, yet I still wish that I could’ve held them one last time. It is no matter, anyway. Soon enough, we’ll be together once more. Soon enough, my love.” The marigolds dropped from my fingers.

***

Ha! I did it! Take that, Father Time! I have an update, and a short story at that. Please enjoy this perfectly sad and fantastical tale about a goblin and their love. The best part about writing in the forbidden you-and-I perspective is the freedom of character. This is a product of maddeningly rattling of ideas towards the wee hours of the night, and I hope that whoever reads this enjoys its elaboration.

Categories
short stories

Candle

I was handmade. I was dipped and shaped and formed through my earliest memories, then tested and scented and packaged. I sat on display with my brothers and sisters until a woman bought me, who wore the drabbest of clothing and sadness in her eyes.

She kept me on her desk, in a brass holder so my wax wouldn’t drip. The scratch of matches always excited me, for a second later, my flame illuminated her humble abode. Masks and miniatures lined her walls, from automatons to music boxes to little bits of broken glass bottles that shimmer in the light. Every night, when the sun had long retired and the moonlight was too weak, she ignited my spark and worked on her latest project. Sometimes she sang when she worked, in a tune always slightly off-key yet lovely all the same. The wind sang with her when she worked, yet always stole my flame from my wick as well.

I don’t remember when she started crying. It felt like months had passed since she bought me, and more of my siblings were strewn about the worn wooden surface. We all stood in mismatched holders, some made of ceramic and others of tin. Our voices were hushed as she entered, and the silence that followed almost suffocated our flames. Tears were dripping down her face, tears that splashed onto the wayward papers and extinguished some of my family’s flames. She sniffed and wiped her cheek with the back of her hand and set to work on a small piece featuring two masquerade dancers. Her hands shook as she molded their forms from lifeless clay, so she worked until the sun began to bid good morning to us. A few of my siblings had sacrificed themselves for her arduous and toiling night, and we all paid our quiet respects to their lost flames.

My wax was halfway gone when she came into the room crying again. More masks and more statues lined her walls, and her work had turned out even more heartbreakingly beautiful than ever before. Strange people wandered through this room in search of the perfect object, occasionally, and she always provided them with exactly what they needed. Now, as she painted the masquerade dancers with a clear coat of polish, tears threatened to dilute the shiny paint. Her hands trembled again, and more of my siblings slipped quietly off in the night, only ever offering a slight hiss and thin trail of smoke as they ascended.

I was the only candle left when she stopped making the masks and the miniatures. Grief spells grew more frequent, and more and more tears stained her wood. If I could trace their path, it would tell the story of our past few months together. Her art didn’t disappear from the shelves, but people stopped coming into the room. At times, when it seemed that I couldn’t fight off the darkness, she would begin to talk to her statues. Always light chatter, a soft murmur in the ever-present silence. Perhaps that’s what gave me the strength to continue my vigil, even as the melted bodies of my family lay around me, hugging the holders in a last plea for life. Tears continued to stain the masks and the miniatures.

My time was soon. I could feel my wick shortening with each passing day, as she used me for longer and longer periods of time. Statues began to collect dust on the shelves, even as she made an effort to keep them alive with conversation. What turned from idle chatter was now a diverse web of a family, from the laughing cousins to the solemn uncles and aunts. She spoke of her day, asked of theirs, made jokes, bantered, yet never laughed. And her smile always made my flame wane. As the last of my wax melted, spilling onto the holder and tarnishing the polished brass, she laid her head down with me. Brown curls obscured her face, but even as we drew our last breaths together, I knew she was still crying. With the last of my strength, I allowed my flame to burn brighter than ever before. Light just barely touched the edges of the room, but in one corner, I found a wooden cradle painted the way all the miniatures were. A fine coat of dust desecrated its simple beauty, and inside of the cradle, there was a single pair of baby shoes and a bib, both never worn. With a quiet hiss, my flame extinguished. She never woke up.

***

I started with a beginning line, then progressed from there when I wrote this short story. A bit of my inspiration pulled from Ernest Hemingway’s extremely brief tale “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” While I have very little experience in tragedy, it made it easier to write this piece from the candle’s rather apathetic perspective. However, despite the candle’s apathy, it is my hope as the writer that reader can feel empathy towards the poor woman in this story.

Categories
short stories

Hollow Boy and Fire Girl

I waited for you. Hour after hour, day after day. We spent more time together than this. Usually. Finally, I heard a knock on my door. Relief, then trepidation. Tentatively, I turned the brass knob and opened it. Relief again. “Hello,” you said. The door flung open. A tight hug. A joke. A smile. Shutting the door behind me, we walked from the porch and the street and the civilization towards the ocean.

She calmed me. Her waves, her color, her tides. You sat on the sand, as gray as the sky yet still as tragically beautiful as ever. With a hand clenching the earth below you, and teeth barred into a smile, you said, “life’s a little too gray for me today”. I laughed.

That was my first mistake.

We returned and watched the sunset through my dirty kitchen windows. You said goodbye. I smiled and waved until the door closed. After a few minutes of starting at the spot where you used to stand, I went to bed. Said my goodnight to the moon and her stars. Buried my head in dreams and today’s memories. Your words were left on my nightstand. Alone. Forgotten.

The sun rose. A new day. I grabbed for the phone, dialed your number by heart. It rang. One. Twice. Three times. Your voice clicked, but it was nothing more than a recording. I frowned but carried on.

That was my second mistake.

The day came, the day went. Business kept me from calling, as more and more responsibilities dropped onto my heavy shoulders. No worries. I burned through them all, for I was a fire girl. You were my hollow boy. We were an unlikely pair. Sometimes my flames charred your flesh. Sometimes you extinguished my blaze. Most days, we found a balance. A thin wire we walked on precariously, together.

Another night passed, and this time my dreams were tinged with your grimace and the smell of the salty ocean brine. When I awoke, there were no new messages. Concern gnawed at my edges, distorting my disposition. I called you. No answer. Again. No answer. Again. Again. Again. Finally, in a final act of desperation, your mother. She hadn’t heard from you either. With dread looming over my head and licking at my flames, I took a day off and walked to your home.

It was a little dinky suburb, just like mine. Same paint, same cookie-cutter format. I jumped up the steps, two by two. Knocked twice. Waited for five minutes. No answer. Finally, I sunk down onto your welcome mat – the bristles tickled my legs – and I waited.

Hours passed.

Days.

A week.

A month.

I went out, every morning, and waited for you. Some days, I slept on the old wood made of fireflies and questions and music. Others, I glanced at your home before traveling to work. Every day, I called you. One. Two. Occasionally eight times. Once, two days ago, twenty times. The same voicemail, every time. “Hello. I’m not home right now. Leave a message.” Eventually, I stopped calling and just waited. It’s okay. Despite my fire, I was patient. There wasn’t anyone else I’d rather wait for.

That was my third, and final, mistake.

Finally, someone came. Relief, then trepidation. I looked up. Disappointment. Two men, two blue uniforms, two badges. “Ma’am? Do you know this residence?” one asked. Slowly, shaking, I stood. The dread that sat in my stomach for the last thirty-three days still ate at my mind. My flames burned blue, simmering instead of their usual passionate red. Blue as the police uniform.

“What happened?” I asked, and one gave me a gaze full of unwanted pity. I didn’t need comfort, or reassurance. I just wanted to know what happened. Where were you? It had been too long. Were you hurt? Vacationing in a far-off land? Taken? Pulling a joke? Despite your hollow inside, you still loved humor. And the sea. Almost as much as me.

“I’m sorry,” one of the officers said. His mouth continued to move, but I didn’t hear him. I couldn’t. My knees buckled and I collapsed onto the welcome mat, one that you would never wipe your feet against again. The two officers stood over me, two giants. Two reapers, with only useless words and condolences.

Your funeral was small. Me, your parents, your little brother. Everyone else wanted nothing to do with it. They said they found the gun in a different place. Of course you couldn’t do it here, I thought. Not with all the memories. Not with me around. I thought of the last time I saw you, on the beach, one hand clenching the sand while your face contorted into a smile unnaturally. “Life’s a little too gray today.” My first indication, and with every second I felt your death haunt me. The body in the casket wasn’t yours. It was a husked out shell, a hollow boy more hollow than you. You still whispered those words in my ear, over and over, until I wanted to scream.

I waited at your porch again. Lied against the welcome mat. The bristles no longer hurt because there was nothing to feel. Once my cheek pressed against the worn wooden door, I cried. Cried for your absence. For my absence. For your family. Most of all, I cried because your heart was broken and you never told me. Now, you would never tell me anything again. A small verse came from my lips, words I must’ve muttered before or scratched into my journal or the neighbor’s tree.

“You are my hollow boy

And I am your fire girl

Together, we’re broken

Inside a tiny fragile world.”

The words repeated over and over, raking its claws in my heart and picking up every buried emotion with it. You are my hollow boy and I am your fire girl together we’re broken inside a tiny fragile world. You are my hollow boy and I am your fire girl together we’re broken inside a tiny fragile world. Hollow boy fire girl broken fragile world. Boy girl broken world. Boy girl broken world.

My fire roared for the first time in months. It destroyed everything around it. Devoured your home. Our home. Our memories. Our lifetime. Charred the welcome mat. Blackened the wooden door. Melted the brass doorknob. Finally, it burnt out. And so did I.

“You were my hollow boy

And I was your fire girl

Life was a little too gray today

So we both left this world.”

***

This is the tragic story of two friends who couldn’t live without the other, a realization made only after the death of one. I’ve never experienced such loss, but it’s always been a great fear of mine that someone I loved should decide that their life wasn’t worth living. I hoped to capture this fear, and its reality, in the most artistic way possible while still writing a short story. For anyone who may relate to this story, whether they’ve been the fire girl or survived being the hollow boy, you have my condolences.

Categories
short stories

The Guitarist

The night was young and whispered as the moon illuminated the grey streets of Florence, Italy. Dogs howled and screams echoed against the dirty brick buildings, yet they were as familiar as birdsongs in the forests. Garbage crashed against the moist pavement, its trash soaking in with the rest of the liquid trickling through cracks. Even as misery seeped deep into the bones of the city, even as despondent inhabitants wondered what kept them going for the next day, a single sound cut through the darkness like a knife. Strings of a well-worn guitar caressed like a lover and played like a lament. Notes plucked out from its steel and fell through the air like raindrops. Soon, the clouds overhead joined in with the music, creating its onomatopoeia of precipitation, percussion for the sweet strings. As the music swam through the air and echoed as a beacon of hope, it intrigued one particular habitant of Florence. Agatha rose from her fitful attempt at slumber and shuffled outside in her bathrobe. She had never liked guitar players, especially ones on the street who played their music late at night. It was almost second nature for her to scowl at such things, yet her scowl turned to anger. A lean man in shabby clothing became drenched in the rain, slicking back his raven curls and thumping against his old guitar. When he looked up at her, she saw eyes older than her own and a smile that radiated respect and pleasure of life. “Good evening, bella. Do you have a request?” he asked. Bristling at the endearment, the word brought her back to when Agatha was not a crone, but a beautiful young woman. Her husband used to call her by that name until he found a lover to call it by. Now, the words cut deep into Agatha and hardened her already prickly edge.

“Yes. Get out, beggar. You’re interrupting my sleep and I don’t want to listen to your caterwauling guitar all night,” she snapped, her voice rough as sandpaper. Instead of protesting, as guitar players usually did, the man’s grin widened. He stood up slowly, graceful as a dancer, and picked his guitar up tenderly by its neck. At his full height, he stood well over Agatha’s stout form.

“Of course, bella. I’m sorry I interrupted your evening. Have a good night,” he said, bowing so low his head grazed his knees. When he straightened again, Agatha felt a pang of guilt as he strode down the street, barefoot with his guitar slung around his back and sopping wet. However, he disappeared into the night before she could call out to him. As she walked back up her steps and hardened her heart once more, she stopped for a moment. Her brain racked through her memories to find what song the man had been playing until she recognized the tune. Tears spilled down her cheeks; tears that hadn’t been shed for almost thirty years. It was the first song she ever slow danced to with her husband, and its sweet melody brought up the scent of her husband’s cologne and the warmth of his hands and smile. She sprinted out of the hall, the worn boards of the hallway screaming in protest as she threw open the door and ran to the center of the street. Rain fell in buckets, yet all Agatha saw were the cloud’s tears. There was no sign of the guitarist, and all that remained was the faint echo of a heartbroken string.

***

This is an excerpt of a novel I started yet never finished. While the entire tale focuses on the mysterious guitarist, this particular part is written in Agatha’s perspective, third-person limited. A lot of books today tell stories of the young and beautiful, people we look up to yet still have so much to learn. There is something special about tales of the old, the imperfect, and those who stumble and fall through life. It brings out a different level of humanity in stories. However, stories about youth should never be easily dismissed. They may have much to learn about what their future holds, but no one, newborn or ancient, knows exactly what lies ahead.