LJ Idol Week 31: Why I Should Win LJ Idol/Why My Opponent(s) Should Win

She pulled the plush cloak around her more snugly; her breath was hot, but the breeze was not this far up the mountain. Her hand ran along the soft fabric, black as ink, and her fingertips traced each stitch, an unspoken spell of protection, of encouragement, and of support thoughtfully placed there by her colorful friend, full of bright light and hopeful endings. When she took her first steps on this journey her friend’s insistence was her motivation, her friend’s assurances were the heavy soles on her boots.

The cloak was the protection she needed on a journey that promised to be challenging and arduous one for someone whose stories were found things, pebbles with an interesting shape or color. She’d look through the holes in them and see something she didn’t know before, about herself or someone else. The story would be scribbled on a scrap of paper, an anemic poem, a fleeting monologue, and perhaps a few sets of eyes would look at the symbols. Those eyes were in heads which nodded, “Yes, I see it, too. I’ve felt that,” or those eyes were in heads which shook slightly bewildered, “But what does it mean?”

She stretched out her legs and winced at the soreness spreading from her feet to ankles to thighs. She reached her arms high above her head and leaned slowly onto the ground, her back aching. She looked towards where she knew the moon would be if it were not new, ink black in an ink black sky. She thought about the impossible number of stars which shone in that velvet heaven and all the stories written for them.

There on the southern horizon were the fish connected by a cord, the goddess Aphrodite and her son Eros, who changed form and took refuge in a river to escape the great dragon-headed monster whose hundreds of eyes were aflame. There was the god who hid as a goat from the same monster, who could not transform fast enough as he fled into the river and so became half fish. She saw the water bearer, a kidnapped boy forced to serve the god who stole him, until one day he had enough and poured out the cup, unintentionally drowning all the earth. There was the woman, her limbs splayed out in chains, a sacrifice to appease a sea monster sent to ravage her homeland because of the bruised ego of spurned sea goddesses. She gazed at the great winged horse, born from the neck of a decapitated monster, who was once a beautiful woman, whose only crime was being violated by a god in another deity’s temple.

She gazed at the constellations and she felt the hard dirt at her back, and thought star dust to star dust. She met her own monsters on this journey, criticism, censure, diffidence. She wondered if their eyes were aflame, if they had snakes in their hair. She wondered what their teeth would feel like buried in her skin, and she wondered what her limbs would feel like if they were turned to stone.

The first steps of her journey were halting and unsure. The mountain gave her a stone, and she was asked to shape and polish it into something worthy of the mountain and its community of travelers, who took their own steps: steady or clumsy, excited or full of trepidation. She pulled up the hood of her gifted cloak, and set to work. Week after week she palmed stones of unimaginable form and weight in her hands. The travelers took all sorts of meandering paths and tunnels on the mountain.

They clasped hands briefly and once pairs of hands worked on the same stones, they offered encouraging smiles, warm hugs, sympathetic pats on the back, and mantras to combat the pesky sprites of doubt which bit like mosquitos. Her steps became more sure and enthusiastic due to the promise of another unexpected path up the mountain, another strange stone to make her own. Her appetite was sated on stories and feedback, another palmful of offerings to the mountain.

Each week a traveler would settle where they stood, their journey finished, but they remained present in order to make offerings to those of us still journeying: A juicy peach to fortify, a fire to rest by, an extra set of eyes to gaze upon a stone to validate the preciousness of our gifts. This community of settlers provided aid to help the travelers move up and up and up the steep paths of the mountain, in order for us to continue receiving stones, crafting stones, offering stones, and the myriad of stories contained therein. Then there were three.

messygorgeous took sharp stones and bled, or soft stones and shaped them with fingernails and breath. They gave tiny stones, which felt heavy as boulders. They held keenly simple stories, which left your arms tired and your heart full. She opened wounds and offered them as tribute. She laid out poignant moments while looking unblinkingly into the past, the present, the future, and all the circumstances which those are made of. We were invited in to occupy the space most precious to her.

Messygorgeous unflinchingly showed us slices of herself, her family, and her characters and all the experiences which affect them in her stones. We were welcomed to sit a while and reflect on what it is to be alive. They laid their chest bare and vulnerable, an invitation into a sphere which is personal and triumphant. Their stones are unapologetic for being exactly what they are. They fearlessly offered them back to the mountain and no matter how daunting the task, they kept walking. I am honored to have been alongside such a force of honesty.

penpusher took stones which came from the deep pit of history, ugly and misshapen, and polished them to a high sheen to reflect the larger narrative of where humans have been, where we are heading, and how we came to repeat ourselves.

Penpusher gave stones which looked as big as boulders, but we could balance and turn them in our palms. The curves distorted this or that detail, somehow showing us a truer version than any other lens or mirror could show. Their stones are funhouse mirrors, allowing us to recognize our villains, but able to laugh at the unexpected way they showed up in the stories. This is no easy feat and it takes a stiff upper lip, an unwavering gaze, and a commitment to keep walking. I am honored to have been alongside such a force of scrutiny.

My stones left a phantom weight in the dozens of pockets lining my well-worn cloak. I climbed into skins too tight and too loose. I chanted and danced and offered what I know: magic is real and it is not what it seems. My companions’ stones left a phantom heaviness in my torso, a phantom life I did not live, well-worn stones which leave me fundamentally better than before I took my first steps on the serpentine path. Yet, here we are, together, shaping magic and shaped by it, in the mundane, and extraordinary. Past and present travelers, we are the dwellers of the mountain, meritorius and magnified, tenacious and resolute.

*
**
***
****
*****
Thank you to clauderainsrm for fostering this community. Thank you to all those Idolers who welcomed me with open arms, phenomenal stories, and gracious feedback. A particular thanks to my intersection partner lilmissmagic71, who took a chance partnering with a newbie. The most sincere thank you to my dear patron, suesniffsglue, whom without I would never have known what a wonderful experience this bizarre journey could be.
***
If you liked this story and would like to read the other entries and vote go here: https://therealljidol.livejournal.com/1047373.html

The poll closes Monday, Sept 25th at 9pm EDT.

LJ Idol Week 31: Swan Song

On the seventh day after the tithing was due, Maeve awoke with a heavy weight shifting from her chest to her stomach and back again. It made her seasick. She swung her legs over the edge of the bed and firmly set her sore feet onto the solid ground of her modest home. Her hands wrung the bed sheets. She splashed the coldest water onto her face. Her eyes felt as if they were full of grit, but when Maeve met her reflection’s gaze, her eyes looked clear and grey, same as always. Her fingers efficiently twisted her blond hair into a tidy braid over her shoulder as she studied her face, which looked much the same as it had over the ten years since she made her deal with the tall amber-eyed man. Nothing in her face betrayed her age. She idly wondered if the man had changed, then her breath felt thick in her throat. She swallowed hard, one, two, three times. She clicked her nails on the porcelain counter and chewed her lip. This was the longest week of her life. She rolled her head slowly around the tightness clamping down on her neck. She shrugged her shoulders a few times to test the range of motion her protesting muscles would allow her.

Downstairs, the cat leapt gracefully from her high perch on the corner cabinet. She affectionately butted her head against Maeve’s shin as she entered the kitchen. She sank down to her knees and gave the coal black coat a few long strokes, then scratched the feline under the chin. She was thanked with half-closed eyes and a rumbling purr. The early light pouring in from the window looked the same as always for this time of year, all rose gold and inviting. She poured herself a cup of coffee and the roasted beans smelled comforting as always. She took a long swallow of the black liquid and her frame visibly sank into a relaxed sigh. Today could be a good day; she just had to focus on the performance tonight. She hadn’t danced in her hometown in a very long while; she was always in demand, so the dance company kept her very busy traveling from country to country.

Maeve let the cat outside to prowl the surrounding meadows, and the flowers looked as colorful as usual. She went to the small shelter down the hill which served as her studio. She danced here long before she ever met the amber-eyed man, before she agreed to the exchange, before the bloody ritual ensured she would have ten years of phenomenal success at a performance career which she worked tirelessly toward her whole life. A decade seemed like such a long time back then, but as she practiced, toured, and taught, the years blinked away frightfully fast. She flipped on the various lights around the room, and the beams bounced off the many mirrors lining the walls. She greeted the plants hanging in the generous windows. The studio smelled the same, the light looked the same, and the polished wood beneath her bare feet was just as smooth and grounding as all the years prior. She rehearsed. She danced and screamed and danced and cried and danced. Afterward, she lay flat on her back with her eyes half closed and breathed and breathed and breathed. The cat slipped through the small door cut into the side of the studio and padded over to Maeve’s prostrate form. She climbed onto her ribcage and settled down, tucking her paws beneath her to doze contentedly.

Maeve thought about the night the promise of the tithing was made. The streets had been empty. The breeze was scented like jasmine, it was a hot night after a particularly crushing round of auditions, which yielded no opportunity. The air hung off her exhausted body like clingy strips of soaked muslin. She felt the weight and restriction of it across her face, and all along her limbs. The trees swayed lazily. The moonlight was bright when his slight frame detached from the shadows as if he was a part of them and they were reluctant to see that piece of themselves go. Her heart raced, even as she recognized something familiar about him. His grin was intriguing. She couldn’t shake the feeling he knew a secret about her which amused him to no end. It did not embarrass her. She was immediately comfortable in his magnetizing presence. He looked at her hungrily, but she didn’t feel as if she were in danger. It felt like a game she could win. It felt like a dance she had danced before. If Maeve was good at anything, it was dance.

The evening of the seventh day since the tithing was due was like any other evening in which Maeve performed. She meditated, she received flowers and cards of admiration and encouragement, her dance company mates shouted “break a leg” as they finished up costuming, make up, and warm ups. The stage lights looked the same as they always did, kaleidoscope colors, and an inky black sea beyond the edge of the stage. She entered her domain easily and she danced. She was finally on her own soil, in front of her own people, telling a story they would understand in their ancestral bones. She pounded her heels, swung her hips, contorted her arms, her spine undulated, her legs leapt. She turned and collapsed and rose like something reborn and unstoppable. The audience gasped and sighed and cried and shouted out.

The music swelled and ended, but her body did not stop. Maeve whirled, her arms moved of their own accord. Her eyes grew wide, but her hips did not become still. Her lungs burned, but her legs carried her back and forth across the stage. She felt hot, too hot, then hotter, but her limbs kept telling a story she did not know. Still her body danced. Her toes bled, and her shoulders ached, but still, she moved. Maeve leapt again and again, even as her thighs quivered and her ankles snapped. She could hear people shouting and screaming, until the roar of her own blood in her ears drowned them out like so many twittering birds far off on the horizon. She did not remember anything about the dance; she would not know how the story ended.
***
If you liked this story and would like to read the other entries and vote go here:
https://therealljidol.livejournal.com/1045876.html

The poll will be closing Sunday, Sept 17th at 9pm EDT

LJ Idol Week 30: Impossible

The entrance was welcoming enough. There was plush seating, even if the fabric was a little worn. There were colorful carpets, and warm colors which contrasted starkly with the grey stone outside. Here, the space felt cozy, not at all intimidating like the looming walls surrounding the estate. The receptionist had a sunny disposition and a sympathetic look of concern for each visitor. Finally, it was my turn, but her brows furrowed in a grand show of perplexed concentration as she typed in my visitor request. “You’re here to see who again? Roh-sheen?” Click clack, click clack her fingers pecked at the keyboard, “How do you spell that?” The letters were worn off most of the keys.

“R-O-I-S-I-N,” I said again. “It’s Irish,” I said apologetically, though I wasn’t sure what I was sorry about. Click clack, click clack.

“How are you related to the patient?” she asked again as her eyes glazed over. Her finger stroked the roller wheel on her mouse purposefully as I answered, “I am her sister-in-law.”

“Oh! How nice of you to visit your husband’s sister! What is the brother’s name again, Owen, was it?” Click clack, click clack. “She carried me out to the meadow, once. She left me, hidden in the tall grass in hopes I’d die, but Da found me before too long. They watched her more closely after that.” Sometimes I thought about how peaceful the meadow could be.

“Yes, but it is spelled the Irish way, E-O-I-N.” My fingers tapped at my thigh, pulled at a loose thread, and I looked for anything else to do with my hands. I picked up a pen left on the counter and fiddled with the cap. I needed something to hold onto. I wished I had a hand to hold. What if this perky woman asked why I was here without any blood relatives? I couldn’t lie to those round red apple cheeks. Could she see that no one had been to visit Róisín? Were there records stating why Róisín was locked away here, and could this woman expect any visitors for someone who could commit those acts? “She attempted to drown me in the nearby stream as Ma napped inside; we all know my sister had it out for me very early on. I’m lucky Ma was always a light sleeper.” He rubbed his chest contemplatively whenever he told this story, glowering with his thin lips pulled into a sneer. Sometimes I thought about how comforting the cool water could be.

No one knew I meant to visit Róisín. I suspect Eion’s Ma knew why I asked her so many questions as I helped her ready the family home for guests before the wake. We were alone, which rarely happened. We both spoke in whispers, regardless. Her wide, darting eyes confirmed what I suspected. The great tragedies of the family had finally culminated in the strange accident that took her husband’s life. I think she was finally ready as I was to admit to the disturbing feeling which had settled under our skin over so many years. Something isn’t right. Something is astray. She did not tell any of the old stories that afternoon. “She had such an imagination! She was so jealous of her new little brother. Her disdain manifested in all sorts of stories; his eyes turned black when he looked at her, his long fingers were talons at night, he bit her when we weren’t looking…” She always said this last part with tears in her eyes, “Can you imagine a child so jealous she would bite herself to bleeding just to point a finger at her infant sibling?” I started wearing layers of clothing to hide the teeth marks in my skin, which I had no recollection of receiving.

The visiting lounge was lovely. The attendant even asked if I would like some tea, which I accepted gratefully. I needed something to do while I waited anxiously for them to escort Róisín to me, someone she may have never even heard of. I idly worried she would refuse to see me as the hot liquid soothed my icy hands. It was raining outside today, and the damp had settled into my bones. I felt soggy. I couldn’t blame the weather for all that, though. Tears rose afresh, and stung my tired eyes. I was soggy most days. I bit down on my tongue and wrestled for control of myself. I took a sip of tea. It was weak, but it was appreciated. I could not shake the image of my husband’s inky eyes, his elongated fingers, his very precise teeth. I could not un-know his cruelly aloof distaste for everyone around him, me more than anyone. “He was a colicky baby, is all. Oh, he’d howl and scream. He cut his teeth so early, and it was difficult to keep him fed. He was always ravenous, much to his sister’s disgust. She always held him in such contempt for all the care he required. My wizened little old man…”

I twisted my ill-fitting wedding ring and thought about the first night I met Eoin, his rose gold hair catching the twinkling overhead lights as he reverently played every instrument handed to him; the harp, a guitar, a flute, the hand held drum, a violin, a trumpet, the harmonica, and a cello. He mesmerized us with his enchanting skill, his eyes sparkling with delight as he looked at me with a soft smile. I never heard music so captivating. I wanted to lose myself in it always, my body swaying like a reed. His music was otherworldly, and I was too quick to leave reality behind in order to escape into it.

No one could have prepared me for how fragile she would look, Róisín, “the little rose,” as her Ma sometimes referred to her when there were no other ears but mine to hear. She reminded me more of a bird. She sat across from me, and paid no attention to her own tea. Her wrists were tiny as wing bones, her legs as dainty as a sparrow’s. The angles of her face were sharp, like a beak. The dark bruise-colored circles around her eyes made them seem too wide for her tiny face. I felt like she could see more clearly than anyone because of them. Her attention was keen, and I suspected she was less like a sparrow and more like a heron. Her prematurely grey hair was even reminiscent of the blue feathers in the muted light from a gloomy sky. I couldn’t shake the feeling she was seeing into the depths of the old tales I only started to recently imagine to be true as she looked at me steadily.

“My Da’s not for this world any longer, I presume,” Róisín said matter-of-factly, picking up her tea and gulping it down in three swallows. I blinked at her in surprise. She couldn’t have known that, her Ma was too scared to betray her son’s decree. Róisín’s mouth twisted into a rueful grimace, “Da visited three months ago, so I knew it wouldn’t be long before that Thing came for him.” She leaned forward suddenly and closed her lithe fingers around my shoulder, “It looks as though he has been coming for you for a while now, too. How much weight have you lost?”

My chest felt too tight. I felt trapped and my heart fluttered in a panic. This woman looked like she crawled from the depths of an impossible nightmare. She was impossibly mad, I must be mad, what am I doing here, what questions did I expect her to answer?!

Róisín narrowed her gaze and I felt it penetrate into me. “Shh, shh, shh,” she cooed, stroking my hair and my back. Her fingertips traced my collar bone and she wrapped her wan arms around me. She kissed the top of my head. “You’re not mad, and neither am I. You are finally seeing exactly what I always have seen, from the moment my baby brother was no longer with us, and instead, there was the Thing that took his place.” She cradled my face in her competent hands and kissed me briefly on the mouth. “You know the old stories, so you know what to do. I suspect he is too strong for drowning now, but salt and fire should be enough.”
***
If you liked this story and would like to read the other entries and vote go here:
https://therealljidol.livejournal.com/1044472.html

The poll closes Thursday, Sept 7th at 8pm EDT.

LJ Idol Week 29: Portfolio Challenge #3

Bannister Effect

The ground came up to meet my heels in a lover’s rough encouragement, propelling me along at a speed I never achieved before. I’ve been running my entire life; if the women in the songs can achieve the impossible feat of escaping an impending fate, then so could I. If a nymph can sing and dance without chastisement, then so can I; if a nymph can give her heart freely, then so can I; if a nymph can achieve radical freedom, then so can I.

I knew the day would come when my future would be sealed with hands that were not my own, with decisions I never would make for myself, by gruff men with gold coins in their eyes and pliant women with nervously wringing hands. I did not intend to endure the unendurable. I could be the women in the songs, with strong legs, expansive lungs, and industrious hearts. My desire for freedom would be met, so mote it be.

When I was just a slip of a thing and naïve, I thought I could escape across a meadow, throwing up my desperate wishes to any deity who would listen, but the men on their steeds always caught up with me. The thunderous hooves reminded me of my Keeper’s feet and I would retch on the long ride from whence I came, bound hand and foot, to my lush prison, with heavy curtained windows and enclosed courtyards.

Everyone rejoiced the day of the hand fasting, but I did not. My Keeper played his reed pipes skillfully and my companions smiled widely, wet eyed, looking at me expectantly with quivering lips. I could feel my voice being pulled from my throat and my eyes stung with the cruelty of it. I was congratulated on the match, hand after hand enthusiastically grasping mine. I did not answer, my voice was as soft and raw as a newborn rabbit, hairless and abandoned. My Keeper’s voice was not as melodious as mine; he bleated like a goat, louder and louder every day.

As time marched onward, so did I, my legs became stronger, so, I took to the mountains to reach the cold stream, where I could submerge myself to become as one with it, as stoic as the spring frost, like the nymphs. My bare feet were ripped by the unforgiving rock, and still no deity answered my desperate wish as I heard the pursuers and their howling dogs gaining on my determined trail. I remembered the dancing before my confinement, but the only music I hear now is my Keeper’s reed pipes, with my stolen voice howling, and my arms are too heavy with the grief I carry because of so many failed attempts to escape.

Before I gave up on the aid of a deity, I wished to feel my bones crack and expand into broad shoulders and swollen haunches. I pleaded for a heavy fur pelt, I begged for my teeth to grow long and sharp and I implored those indifferent forces to take my long fingers from me and give me the claws of the bear. My anger sat like a furnace in my gut, fueling my desire to rend and tear. Later, after I felt the darkest despair of aloneness, I lay prostrate for days. I entreated those same deities to allow me to waste into something weightless. I did not wish for my freedom, or my strong legs, or powerful jaws. I asked simply to be like the woman in the song who became an echo, ephemeral and unseizable.

This is when I started having the underwater dreams, then I knew what I must do to become like the nymphs in the songs. In those dreams, I do not have legs, but my thighs are still powerful, and instead of feet, a great fin fanned out below me. I moved through the water like an arrow shot through a clear sky. The ocean surrounded me in a comforting embrace and I am impossible to follow or to snare.

I stood in the gardens with my face tilted up into the sky every day afterward. I practiced stillness, which mimicked reservation. I practiced groundedness, which mimicked calm. I imagined my toes growing strong roots into the soil, deeper and deeper into the dark until they broke through to the underworld. I imagined my limbs growing up towards the sun, my skin turning into rugged bark. I sprouted thorns. My branches bloomed with enticing flowers, and I bore poisonous fruit. My Keeper began taking me with him short distances to test my stability. I was a tree. He looked forward to showing off his pet to the kingdom across the sea.

I practiced, I imagined, and I feigned complacency, until finally, the salty air from my dreams hit me full in the face one early morning after a long journey across the hard land. The sun’s rays were thin and sharp on the horizon. My Keeper dozed and his attendants swayed in their seats. It was nothing to open the door and land nimbly. I was already running.

My legs were stronger than tree trunks, my feet were more sure than roots, my lungs were dizzy with the last breaths of air I would ever need. My hair streamed behind me like a banner proclaiming my impending freedom. I was almost to the cliff’s edge by the time the travel party began to shout and exclaim. I heard their hooves, and my Keeper’s bleating voice, but it was so far behind me now. The waves of the sea drowned out all sound but the air whooshing past my ears, and my heart thumping in my temples.

I leap. I bend my torso forward, my arms above my head reaching for the crashing waves below me, my legs are straight, and my thighs are already itching into their scales. I soar from the cliff edge, across jagged rocks. The pristine blue of the sky and ocean is above and below me, offering the quiet promise of freedom.

***
So concludes my third story for the Portfolio Challenge.

Please check back after the weekend for voting information!

LJ Idol Week 29: Portfolio Challenge #1

Anxiety is a Trick of the Light

I remember our birth, but she does not. I came forth in the smothering heat, the crushing wet, and the vibrating howls. My pliant bones were her pliant bones in the hazy uncertainty of new sight, and in the cool of the deep nights. I grew strong when she felt no warmth, or when she felt the pang of hunger, or was startled by a loud sound. She expressed me in a crescendo of mewling cries, but her caretakers were always quick to soothe. My development was stunted with every caress, every hummed lullaby, and later when her concerns became more complex, they all came in to undermine me with every pat on the back, every pep talk. I persevered.

I may have been born in the dark, but I flourished in the light; each time she was unsure, I was there to confirm her uncertainty, each time she was afraid, I was there to assure her of the danger, each time she was embarrassed, I was there to point out the pattern of her shame. I kept her safe from the scalding light of being known by crafting the many masks which shielded her face, which was too delicately strange to be worn proudly. I kept her safe by keeping us in the shadow of self-doubt. There are no mistakes if you never act, there are never words to take back if they are never said, and there are no failures if you never try. My voice is her voice. I am what she sees in the reflection pool, my eyes are her eyes.

I became her keeper, and she trusted me over all else because I never left her. My hand was the only grasp she felt, my voice was the only lullaby in the dark, it was my nails in her back. I was her warning, her will-o'-the-wisp to guide her over unfamiliar terrain, her lantern in the abandoned house, her torch in the deep caves. I admit I may have gone too far when she met the woman wrapped in anointed oils, refracted light swinging across her face from a hanging crystal, her strong wrinkled hands deftly creating the talismans.

I heard the story about the lovely girl with her little doll which spoke to her through sympathetic magic. She trekked through the dense forests in search of the old wise crone, and her little doll spoke about which way to go and what to do once she was there. That is a sweet notion, but I knew what that pleasant little doll represented, the wildish voice of Intuition; she is all claws and teeth to rend and pry and pin down. She has predatory eyes to see through shields of persona, ears which keenly hear beyond the mundane human range. I would not be eaten by this beastly creature, poised and ready in the form of an old woman’s doll. My voice became softer compared to the talisman maker’s voice, her hands were more solid than my hands, and her eyes were more commanding than my eyes.

I sunk my teeth into our ribs, and I wrapped my fingers around our throat. I kicked our sternum and I threw my elbow into our gut. I reminded her of all the ways in which you can fail, or hurt, or be seen. I reminded her about all the myriad of ways in which she can die in order to be safest from all the world can serve up to pummel, punish, or poison. I reminded her about the dangers of being seen.

But, my bones are her bones, my hands are her hands, my eyes are her eyes, and my darkness is her darkness, and my lightness is her lightness. Everything feels easier at first, but the weight of the earth is much heavier than I anticipated. I did not understand the nature of this ultimate safety, and the finality it promises. My voice is my voice, and I realize too late the dire consequences of my nature.

***
So concludes my first story for the Portfolio Challenge. This piece was inspired by one of my favorite entries way back in week 7, which you can read here by the winner of LJ Idol 9: http://suesniffsglue.livejournal.com/480008.html

Please check back after the weekend for voting information!
mabgraves, mermaid

LJ Idol Week 28: Going Forward

The youngest of the Whitecoats has wet eyes the color of a wintry spring evening. She will sometimes give me small things, often her wet eyes will slide another way when I need them to, or she will let information slip just loud enough from her mouth to another Whitecoat’s ear for me to understand. Her slate grey eyes are nothing like my companion’s eyes, the color of a cool afternoon’s sky in spring, with a patch of rust, as if the sun itself tarnished. I learned about color from her, my companion; she described fruit called strawberry and she told me the irregular mark which stretches across my back reminded her of it. The sun was in her face when she said it, and the patch of rust in her eye looked like something molten, something sacred, something valuable. That was the day we first touched, my toes reaching for her through the long grasses underneath the dappled trees.

We are assigned companions, “for our comfort and enjoyment” is what the Whitecoats say, but we all know we are each other’s spies. I am the best of the spies because the Whitecoats think I am too simple to be dishonest. My wide eyes and slack mouth tell them just enough of what they want to hear, but they think I cannot read their faces. I can read many things, which is something few here can do, but my companion taught me after I told her about the strange dream I had about the symbols. She forgets some of them, but we get by. Reading is how we know the schedule of the Whitecoats, and that is how we are occasionally able to see each other in the deep night when everyone else is asleep and forgetting about the Secret of Dream. The day we first touched proceeds the night in which we first met in the empty wing where my companion tried to describe the flavor red, like the strawberries, like the mark on my back, which she slid her tongue across slowly; her fingertips held tightly onto my hip bones, as if she needed something solid and present or else she would fall backwards into a pit of memory she would never escape from again.

I am worried that is what is happening to her now. I haven’t seen her so reckless since she remembered the before the before, and wouldn’t stop talking about the dark amber light, and the rush rush, rush rush of waves, and the song. I do not think I helped her then; I was too excited to share our newest Secret of Dreaming, because she was in mine. In my dream, her thighs were dusted with iridescent scales and her legs were fused, the muscles were powerful, the air was very thick and warm. I heard the rush rush, rush rush. She nodded at me eagerly, forcing air from her damaged throat, she whispered, “Yes, yes, yes,” her eyes were shiny like glass. I decided not to encourage her too much after that episode; she is not as good at pretending as I am, her posture isn’t consistent, her breathing comes in shallow, her lips quaver. Her fingernails were crowded with the punishing symbols pressed there by Whitecoat after Whitecoat who observed her increasingly erratic physical symptoms. At night, I would slip into our private meeting place and run my hands firmly across her skin, and I would plant my lips on each vertebra of her spine and when she needed to hum the song from the before, I would listen and massage her hands or braid her hair.

The youngest Whitecoat made sure there was a pack of saline under my pillow for me to find at curfew. The last time my companion remembered too much, she would gasp for air and complain that she was drowning, the air was so thin and dry, she needed the thick salty liquid from the before the before. So tonight, I slip to our private meeting place and watch her tear into the bag of saline with her teeth, she has a hard time swallowing ever since the incident, but I see her throat working rhythmically as she steadily drains the liquid from the bag. She does not want to tell me what memories are haunting her this time, but she eyes the bag warily as she explains that she wants to tell me a story which is not true, which is called a myth, and it is meant for entertainment, but this is a different kind of entertainment in which the person listening might get scared. I am very interested and tell her I will not get afraid. She tells me about creatures that look human, but are dead, that look alive, but do not eat food, only the blood of live things, usually humans, and this creature is called a vampire. She tells me about how she heard a story of a vampire that did not want to feed from humans anymore because it cared deeply for one, so it would steal bags of blood from hospitals to bite into instead of biting into the thin skin of a human’s neck.

Her hands were clasped tightly in her lap, her knuckles were white and I could see fingertip shaped bruises along the top of her hands as she told me the myth. My mouth became dry, and I studied every quaver in her face, nervous about what strain I saw there. This story was scary, and I was afraid. If she wanted to tell me this myth because it was less scary than the true story from her memories, then I wasn’t sure how to keep her safe from this point forward, which scared me even more than the undead human shaped creature who stalked the night in search of blood from live things.
***
If you liked this story and would like to read the other entries and vote, you can go here: http://therealljidol.livejournal.com/1040869.html

Here is the link to the second topic for this week of idol. Make sure to vote for both of my stories to help me make it to the top 5: http://marlawentmad.livejournal.com/8143.html

Here are links to the entries of idol set in the same corner of my brain as this entry if your interest is piqued: http://marlawentmad.livejournal.com/1439.html
http://marlawentmad.livejournal.com/2755.html
mabgraves, mermaid

LJ Idol Week 28: Fatal Flaw

I clasp my hands tightly into my lap and focus on the blush of blood rushing to where my fingers are not pushing into the flesh. My hands are like the bunnies that were born in the yard next to mine that summer when I was nine. Except you are not supposed to remember when you were nine, because that was before you were here in the white room, with the white doors, with white corridors spreading into a flood of Whitecoats. They tell me I was born here, like everyone else, encased in the jelly in the glass cases in the blue light, but I am remembering more and more, about the before. I did not always live here with the Others; there weren’t always Whitecoats with red stitching taking you from room to room for the physical tests, or medical procedures, or tricky lessons, or bland meals, or timed showers with unscented soap.

I lived in a house once, the color of butter. I remember butter, too, even though we do not have it here. It was the color of those little flowers at the edge of the recreation yard where I meet her, the one who believes me, in the long grass underneath the dappled trees. When the sunlight is harsh, those little flowers scream with color, and it is the same color as butter, which I used to eat. The house had its own yard, and I had a family, and I remember the warm comforting scent of mother’s milk and the safety of father’s strong arms, and the love for my younger sister as I braided her hair, which was a different shade of yellow, like the strands you find under corn husks. We had a garden, so I remember fresh corn on the cob, the way it smelled so green even though it was yellow, like the butter, like the flowers, and like my sister’s hair. Except you are not supposed to remember when you had a family, because that was before you were here in the white room, with the white doors, with white corridors spreading into a flood of Whitecoats, who told you that you are an anomaly, something gone wrong in a glass case decades ago.

The kid who lived down the street came in the early morning hours and crushed the bunnies just like I am crushing my hands now. My hair is even the same color as the bunnies’ fur. I blink rapidly because I did not expect to think about the bunnies, but now I can’t stop. The small yelps from the station next to the one I am waiting in also remind me of the bunnies. I didn’t know bunnies made noises like that until the summer when I was nine and the boy down the street came and crushed them, one by one. I didn’t leave my yard. I sat on the stoop with my hands over my ears and my eyes shut tight, but it didn’t matter. I could still hear them. The girl in the station next to mine is squealing in a very high pitched way, just like those bunnies. I wonder if she is being crushed, but I suspect it is worse. I keep looking out the window.

My knuckles are white, whiter than the clouds suspended in the sky. I wonder what those clouds would taste like. Yesterday, the sky was all cotton candy pink and blue, but I do not have a sweet tooth anymore, so it just made my molars ache and I turned my eyes toward the other horizon, indigo blue and sort of grey, which made me feel safe. Color made me homesick for a place I didn’t always remember, for people I didn’t always know I knew, and hungry for things I am told I never could have ate, but the impending dark is comforting, like the soft blanket I used to cuddle up with on the oversized sofa, not harsh like the sharp white of the room, the door, the corridors, or the uniforms of the Whitecoats. Today, the clouds are as white as my knuckles, so I wonder what flavor white cotton candy would be, but I suspect it would still be too sweet for me. I roll my tongue across my teeth and even though I haven’t eaten anything today, and only drank water from the fountain, my teeth feel sticky because I’ve been thinking about cotton candy for the last hour. It is better than thinking about the bunnies.

My stomach rumbles to remind me how long it has been since I’ve been fed, but I do not think about asking for food. Starving is probably preferable to whatever is happening to the girl in the room next to mine. The Whitecoat insisted on a fast for the upcoming tests, which probably meant blood work, which normally would not make me queasy, except I can’t stop looking down at my crushed hands without the blood in my fingertips and thinking about the bunnies. The sounds the bunnies made when they were being crushed by the neighbor kid who lived down the street stopped in the station next to mine. I never saw them afterwards; I couldn’t bring myself to the memorial my younger sister organized. She described their twisted bodies; she told me about the smell of the earth she overturned and the texture of the clay she dug into for the grave she made with her own hands in order to put all the small crushed bodies together, just like they were together in life, curled upon each other in the nest, where they were safe and warm and loved before the neighborhood boy came.

I did not stand up and walk away as she described, in vivid detail, the way each of them looked, just like I did not stand up and confront the boy when he came into the yard next to mine after bragging about what he was going to do to those bunnies all week. I knew what was going to happen, I knew what was happening, but I sat on the stoop, and now, my sister is telling me about the consequences of inaction, so I sit and I do nothing to stop her from talking, just like I did nothing to stop him from crushing those bunnies, just like how I am doing nothing now for the girl in the station next to the one I am waiting in. I never saw that boy again, but no one talked about it. I did not say anything to the grown-ups, just like I did not say anything to the boy. I suspect my sister took care of him. I did not ask her, just like I did not ask about the boy later. I will not ask the Whitecoats about the girl, either.

My eyes are watering now and my hands are tingling painfully and some of my bunny brown hair escaped its braid when the Whitecoat opened the window and the wind is pulling the strands across my face. It is a kindness, I know. My outside recreation time has been revoked; the symbols pressed into my fingernails are the infractions of each of my erratic remembering and all the physical consequences it is taking on me. The Whitecoats are noticing. My hair is soft, but not as soft as a bunny’s fur and I cannot stop thinking about the bunnies so I try to take a deep breath as I look at the cotton candy clouds and I try to remember what flavor white could be. The air feels strange in my constricted throat. The way in which the Whitecoats’ hands crushed it makes swallowing and breathing different. When I was newly recovered, I used to panic when I couldn’t get a good deep breath, because the wheezing always felt like choking and I would cry, raspy breath and silent shudders. I did not see the sun for weeks.

I never made much noise, but now that I couldn’t I realized we miss what we didn’t even know we had. My sister used her voice all the time; it was rich and thick, like honey or molasses, which are other foods we do not eat here, but I ate them in the before. People paid attention when she spoke because she always said what mattered. I did not. I would often open and close my mouth wordlessly. I didn’t even make a peep when the bunnies were crushed. Not after the first, or the second, or the third, or the fourth, or the fifth…
***
If you liked this story and would like to read the other entries and vote, you can go here: http://therealljidol.livejournal.com/1040869.html

Here is the link to the second topic for this week of idol. Make sure to vote for both of my stories to help me make it to the top 5: : http://marlawentmad.livejournal.com/8355.html

Here are links to the entries of idol set in the same corner of my brain as this entry if your interest is piqued: http://marlawentmad.livejournal.com/1439.html
http://marlawentmad.livejournal.com/2755.html