Short Fiction

Featured piece: Deal with a Dragon

Hayley Emmons '19

     Ba-thump

 

     Dogwood’s heartbeat pounded in his ears and his breath came in ragged pulses. He had been running for what felt like forever, and he was trying to calm his heaving breaths after ducking into a side alley. The tightness in his chest - either from exertion or his binder - was near painful, his raspy breathing becoming all he could hear in the quiet night. The cold eyes of the stars glittered uncaringly above the city and the nearest streetlight had gone out, casting the road in darkness.

 

     Fearful blue eyes glanced behind thick glasses, jumping at every movement. A rat skittered under some trash lying on the ground, tips of its matted fur glinting faintly in the dim light from the crescent moon hanging up above. A sharp clicking echoed from down the street, similar to the noise of calling a flame from a lighter, and Dogwood shrank further into the shadows. He inwardly cursed the pale silver that he had dyed his hair, knowing that it was probably painfully obvious in the dark. It was a sharp contrast from his freckled and well tanned skin, and caught almost as much light as the shine of his black-rimmed glasses.

 

     Ba-thump

 

     A sickly green glow, the same acidic color that haunted the boy’s nightmares, inched down the road. The light moved slowly and methodically, checking every alleyway and offshoot of the main street with cold precision. The sheer uncaring organization of the actions made Dogwood even more nauseous than he already was, his stomach roiling. This creature knew that it had him in its talons, and with every footstep echoing down the road, it made sure that he knew that as well.

 

     He frantically looked around the alley, cursing violently under his breath when he realized that he had shut himself into a dead end. Even as he told himself it was futile, he ripped a rotting chair leg from the garbage, a piece of expert craftsmanship that was now just another hunk of junk. Turning to face the alleyway opening with a set jaw and a clenched fist, he stumbled back in shock when he saw a glowing pair of eyes hovering in the dark.

 

     Ba-thump

 

     “It’s time to pay up, Dogwood,” the creature said. Its voice was shockingly human, something that had startled him the first time they had met. He had needed money to get out of his house - still did, actually, as supporting himself financially had turned out to be much more difficult than he had anticipated - and had heard from a semi-reliable source that this dragon was a good place to go. Stingy with its hoard and a devil if you couldn’t pay it back in time - with interest - but it never went back on a deal.

 

     Tightening his grip on the club, he looked directly at the creature and tried to keep the quaver of fear out of his voice.

     “I don’t have it, Forest.” The name seemed too benign for the dragon, but it matched the pine-green scales dotting its body and the color of the dark streaks in its brown hair. The fact that it had chosen that name seemed almost like a cruel joke, a happy alias that hid the creature’s sharp teeth and even sharper wit. You were never supposed to give your true name away though, and the more people who knew it meant the more chances a malicious fae could get ahold of it - and of your free will. Dogwood was lucky that the only people who actually used his birthname were his parents, but that didn’t mean he was in any less danger.

 

     Ba-thump

 

     “Well, Dogwood,” Forest said, resting its sharp talons on the head of its polished cane. “We can’t have that, now can we?” The way it tilted its head was almost human, but something about the fang-filled grin or the green glow in its slit-pupiled eyes was undeniably other. Everything about it was, to be honest, for although its figure was humanoid, it was impossible to mistake Forest for a person. From the leathery wings and sharp tail sprouting from the back of its immaculately tailored suit to the way it towered almost two feet above the Dogwood’s height of five foot one, everything about it was off.

 

     Jutting out his chin slightly, Dogwood tried not to let the dragon see just how terrified he was.

     “What are you going to do, then? Breaking my kneecaps won’t get you your money back,” he said, breathing a small sigh of relief through his nose when his voice didn’t break or stammer. He didn’t know much about how loan dragons worked, carelessly rushing into the situation headfirst as usual, and so wasn’t sure of what price he would have to pay.

 

     “No, but your organs would definitely be a good start. A…person as young as you must have good kidneys,” Forest said, looking him up and down, as if Dogwood was just another product to be bought and used and thrown away. He shrank back in fear, eyes widening slightly when the dragon’s grin revealed pointed teeth and a sharply forked tongue. Without thinking, he lightly touched his stomach with a shaking hand, trying to hold back the images of being sliced apart.

     “These claws have cut up many a debtor,” it continued, nonchalantly raising a hand to glint dark green in the dim light. Forest’s smile grew as it watched his shaky movements, how his grip on the chair leg was tight enough to turn his knuckles white.

 

     Ba-thump

 

     A cold touch of fear trailed down Dogwood’s spine and he shivered, almost able to feel the caress of something even sharper than a scalpel tracing along his ribs.

     “Isn’t there any other option?” He knew that he was failing at keeping the desperation out of his voice, but it was a fact that he would be impossibly screwed if he lost a kidney. He was already struggling to keep himself alive, and having an organ or two taken would practically sign his death warrant.

 

     Forest took a step closer, and Dogwood had to make a conscious effort to not back away. The dragon circled him, eyeing him critically.

     “You’re young, and you seem to be in good shape,” it hummed, coming to a stop in front of him, leaning on its cane.

     “You could come work for me until your debt is paid off. Minimum wage, of course. It’s not like I’m a monster,” it said with a crooked grin.

 

     Dogwood felt his eyebrows draw together in confusion. What would working for you entail? Why did you feel the need to walk creepily around me before saying that? What do you mean you’re not a monster? Dozens of questions pushed at his lips.

 

     “How long would it take?” He blurted out before snapping his mouth shut, making sure that he didn’t say anything stupid.

 

     “Quite a while,” Forest said. “But really, in a choice between your organs and your service, isn’t the answer obvious?” It tapped its nails on the smooth surface of the cane and Dogwood gulped almost comically, trying not to imagine how easily he could be cut into tiny pieces by those talons.

 

     My freedom, or my life? The choices swirled in his head, and for a moment it was like he could see both of his futures. If he lost a kidney or some other organ, he wouldn’t have the money for medical bills - that was part of what had gotten him stuck in this mess, after all - and the wound would probably get infected or some shit, signalling a dreary and short life.

 

     On the other hand, who knew what working for the dragon would be like. Could be anything from filing paperwork to selling the organs of other down-on-their-luck debtors, but Dogwood had no way of knowing. It won’t be over fast, he reminded himself. The loan he had taken was pretty big - he lived by the philosophy of go big or go home, and he was never going home - so it was impossible to know how long Forest would have him in its clutches. However, he would get out of the deal eventually, all debts paid off, and he would be a free man. Besides, you can’t leave Park alone.

 

     Ba-thump.

 

     “It’s not much of a choice, is it,” he said drily, before adding “boss” with a wry grin, hoping that it didn’t look too much like a grimace. Even as he hated how easily the dragon had been able to tell what he would choose, he tried to keep his tone light, acting - as he always did - as if nothing was wrong. Dogwood let the hand with the chair leg fall to his side, still keeping the makeshift club in a loose grip, knowing that he wouldn’t be using it on Forest. It was too late to put up a fight anyway, and having to work for the dragon would be preferable to having his organs removed any day of the week. Maybe you’ll actually have a stable place to live, part of his mind whispered. The other part was screaming alarm bells, yelling you’re going to go work for this person who threatened to take your kidneys and could kill you in an instant.

 

     Good job selling your freedom, he thought. Might as well have given your name to the fae for how screwed you are. Swallowing and doing his best to push his doubts away, he dropped the weapon.

     “So,” Dogwood said, shoving his hands as far as they would go in the pockets of his dark jeans. New jeans, guys’ jeans, a dumb symbol of independence, one of the first things that he’d bought when he finally had money and could actually decide what to do with his life. Looking at the dragon, holding back a curled lip of disgust when he saw how smug and self-satisfied it was, he forced out a thin breath through his nose. It looked like the time when he could choose his path was over.

 

     “What do I do now?”

Lilian

Sara Heymann '18

     She stumbled into the classroom panting, the October winds that swarmed the school almost devouring her.  Despite the slight setback, however, the clock’s hands pointed towards 7:55, leaving her exactly five minutes and six seconds to spare, like always.  The papers that she had spent twenty-two minutes stacking, labeling, and stapling this morning were now crushed under the tightened grip of her hands.

     “Morning, Lilian.  Nice weather we’re having, don’t you think?”

     “Good morning Mr. Gregg, and no, it really isn’t,” Lilian responded sharply.  She made a beeline over to the middle chair placed in the very front row of the classroom, dusting it off before taking a seat.  She straightened out her blouse that somehow managed to remain a crisp white and patted down the suede skirt that she had ironed the previous night.  Taking out a pocket sized mirror from the tote bag that she had purchased during a summer in Milan, she spent the remaining three minutes and fifty-one seconds until class started fixing her hair.  Soon after, she began sorting through her unacceptably disorganized stack of papers, attempting to flatten the folds that had been caused by her tense grip. 

 

     Class began with Mr. Gregg collecting papers and handing back tests and homework from the week before.  Lilian sat in her chair, her head tilted slightly up, legs crossed and hands folded over her lap.  Her hair and back were as straight as a pole, after all, she had dedicated exactly twelve minutes of her morning working to get her hair the perfect style.  She took out her rose gold laptop to do one of her daily gradebook checks.  The screen loaded, displaying a column of straight A’s, not one out of place.  Lilian smirked, closed her computer, placed it back into her bag, and waited to be given yet another perfect score.  Mr. Gregg walked over and set the paper on her desk with the front side facing down.  At this point, there was no use even checking if she had gotten the grade.  It was simply a given.  She took out her binder, neatly placing the paper in between the three rings.  When she went to close her binder, she noticed something was off.  She flipped back open to the front of the page and saw a huge fat B mistakenly slapped onto the cover.  

     “Uh, excuse me Mr. Gregg?  You seemed to have marked me down for a B by accident.  Should I just cross it out and change it to an A?” Lilian asked.  Everyone’s attention was diverted from their papers to her and Mr. Gregg.

     “Oh, sorry Lilian, that’s not a mistake.  You did earn a B for this test,” Mr. Gregg responded.  Lilian stared at him with a blank expression that slowly turned into a smirk, a small snicker escaping her mouth.

     “Ha. Ha. Okay you’re really funny.  No seriously though, is this some sort of prank?  You know April fool’s day was a couple months ago, right.”

     “Lilian, you know me, I don’t do pranks."

     “Wait, what?  Are you being for real?  But that makes no sense, I—”

     “Okay class, for the remaining time we have left we will watch a documentary on Shakespeare.  Feel free to take notes, and if you have any additional questions on your current grades, please see me after class,” Mr. Gregg interrupted.  Lilian sat there, unable to do anything. Her face was frozen, eyes stuck staring at the walls like a machine that had just malfunctioned.  This had never occurred in the history of her high school career, and her brain was unable to process this type of situation. She looked around to see what others had gotten on the test.  The boy that sat to the left of her received an A+. Even the dumb girl that sat to the right of her, Judy, had gotten an A.

     “Woah Lilian, you got a B?  You know what, you totally don’t have to worry about it, the test was pretty hard anyways.  It’s not like it’s the end of the world, right?” Judy said politely.

     Lilian looked at her for a couple seconds, then proceeded to stare at the wall. The clock hit 10:30 and the students packed their bags, entering the crowded halls of the school to head to their next classes. As the majority of the people emptied the classroom, Lilian approached Mr. Gregg.

     “Excuse me Mr. Gregg? About the test--”

     “Look, Lilian.  It was a simple multiple choice quiz, you either studied or you didn’t.  Just try harder next time.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go to a meeting.”

     “But Mr. Gregg!  You know me, I always get A’s!  Can’t you at least consider the possibility that this was a mistake on your part?  I mean I--”

     “Lilian, I really have to get going.  I’m sorry, but you got what you got and no one can change that, not even you.  Just think about what you did and how you can improve the next time.”

     “But I don’t need improvement, I’m the perfect student!  I have straight A’s, an impressive list of community services, a--”

     “I’m sure you do, and I’m sure you must be so proud, but like I said, I need to get going. See you in class tomorrow.”  Mr Gregg interrupted, and just like that he grabbed his belongings and hurried out the classroom.  Lilian blew out a breath of frustration and began storming out of the room, but something stopped her.  In the corner of her eye, she noticed stacks of papers on Mr. Gregg’s desk.  She peeked outside of the classroom, making sure the coast was clear, and hurried over to the desk.  There were stacks of stapled papers and folders, all labeled with class periods, assignment names, and dates.  Knowing she wouldn’t get the proper eight hours of her beauty sleep if she went home not knowing the truth about her grade, Lilian scanned the folders until finally stumbling upon a folder titled, “English Honors Reading Quiz #5 Grades.”

     Lilian exhaled a breath of relief. “Yes!  Now let’s see what the problem is here...”  As she lifted up the cover to the folder, she heard a loud bang from outside the classroom.  Lilian jumped, throwing together the assignments as fast as she could, back the way they were.  Right at that moment, the school’s janitor appeared in the doorway with a vacuum and a confused look on his face.  

     “Oh hi!  Sorry I just forgot my, uh, jacket in here from last class.”  Lilian looked around, realizing she didn’t have an actual jacket to use for her excuse.

     “Um, never mind, I must have left it in another classroom.  Wow, I’m so silly!  Sorry about that, have a good day!”  And with that Lilian ran out the classroom, trying to keep her cool but failing miserably.  She had around two minutes or so to get to class, but as she walked all she could think of was the grade that she really got.  The rest of the school day went by as slowly as it possibly could.  All Lilian wanted to do was get out of there.  Her pencil case was a mess, her backpack was disorganized, and even her outfit had somehow lost its charm.  Although this was typically unacceptable, she didn’t seem to have the energy it took to fix any of it.  She simply did not care.  The only thing that was on her mind was that letter B, haunting her wherever she went.  She couldn’t wrap her mind around what had actually happened, or more importantly, how it had happened.  It must have been a mistake.  Or was it?  She had dedicated enough time to studying as usual and the material was beyond simple.  It didn’t add up.  

     The time of the day had finally arrived where she was able to head to her last class.  As she turned one of the corners, a girl appeared out of the blue, knocking Lilian and all of her belongings over.  

     “Oh my gosh!  I am so sorry, I should have looked where I was going.  Are you okay?” the girl asked in a fearful tone.  Lilian opened her mouth, as if she were to snap back at her with some nasty remark about her intelligence; however, something had changed.  That anger and annoyance that she always felt during moments like these didn’t seem to be there anymore.  

     Gathering her belongings, Lilian stood up, patting down her skirt, and responded, “Oh, you’re good, don’t worry about it.”  The girl looked a bit confused, expecting something much worse.

     “Oh...um...thank you.  So sorry about that again,”  The girl said, and scurried off to go to her next class. 

     Lilian entered her biology class and looked at the array of seat options, five in the front row and a couple more scattered throughout the room.  She headed for the first open seat she noticed, which happened to be in the very back row, and plopped down onto the chair.  Throughout the entire class, Lilian had no urge to raise her hand.  Even when Mr. Smith, the biology teacher, shared inaccurate information, her arm remained propped on the table, her chin resting on the palm of her hand.  He would steal a look at Lilian every so often to see if she had anything to say.  She simply sat there, listening to each word everyone had to say.  

     The end of class finally arrived.  Lilian grabbed her bag, stuffing her belongings in it, and headed out with her car keys in hand.  She unlocked her car, and as she tossed her stuff in the backseat, a familiar voice called her name.  She turned around to see it was Mr. Gregg.  

     “Hi Lilian.  I’m really sorry, but that grade was a mistake.  You got an A+!”

Memories

Devyn Harmon '19

     Something about the air had always fascinated Calum.  The way in which it lived, and moved.  How birds could so effortlessly lift themselves and surrender to its every whim.  How fascinating it was, how flying was always perceived as the most free thing you could ever do.  But in reality, the air could throw you.  Drop you.  Take you so high that you couldn’t even breathe, to where it wasn’t even air anymore.

     Calum remembered when he was a boy, how he and Allie had always gone to that street stand every Saturday and seen the nice man who always managed to smile at them through his half-face mask.  Kids had always told rumours about the man with half a face.

     “I heard he went psycho in the head and peeled it off when he was shaving.”

     “I heard he got it from the guy who kidnapped his wife.  He tried to get her back, but the other guy had a knife.”

     “I actually heard he got it from his wife.  You know he staged that whole kidnapping?  She was in his basement the whole time.  Still there.  I swear I’ve heard someone screaming for help down there.”

     It was true.  His wife was never found.  She mysteriously went missing about a year and a half ago, right before Christmas.

Poor bloke.

     The man had told Allie and Calum he had lost that side of his face to a bomb during the war.  He wouldn’t have brought it up had he not caught Calum staring, trying to think of an explanation that he could manifest into his own rumour.

     “I always felt this was my good side anyways,” the man slightly chuckled.

     “Did it hurt?” Allie asked.

     “Not at first.  The body has a very strange way of ignoring pain when it cannot believe what has just happened to it.  My body refused to believe half of my face was missing until the next morning.”  Truth is, the pain had set in during the middle of the night, while he was sleeping.  He awoke screaming violently until a nurse had come to settle him.  The kids didn’t need to know that much, though.

     Calum and Allie would always ask for a free balloon, one red for Calum, one yellow for Allie.  After a few weeks, the man with half a face knew what they were coming for when he spotted them skipping down the road leading to his stand.  He started to have one red and one yellow balloon ready for them by the time they arrived.  They always greeted the man kindly, and when he asked them about their last week, they always responded by telling, telling him all kinds of stories.  They told him about school, about classes, about which kids were nerds and which kids were bullies.  And then they would thank the man, and leave to enjoy the rest of their weekend.  The man with half a face always looked forward to having Calum and Allie come by his lonely little stand.

      Allie always liked to keep her balloon until it deflated, but Calum didn’t see the point in that.  Balloons were made to fly.  There was a big field in between the free balloon stand and their neighbourhood that they would run across on their way home.  Calum always stopped in the middle, looked up at his red balloon, and released his grip on the string.  He would watch, and watch, and watch as the balloon slowly decreased in size with altitude.  The way it moved.  How it could be blown by wind above him that he couldn’t feel, being stuck to the earth.  It intrigued him.  He would make Allie sit in that grass field waiting for him until he could no longer see the sun’s reflection in the balloon’s red rubber.  When he was done, Allie would stand back up and tell him off for letting his balloon go.

     “Every time you do that, you kill a bird,” she would say.  Calum would argue about it with her.

     “If the birds have the whole sky to fly around, why would they fly into a balloon?  They’re not blind.”

     Every Saturday they would get a balloon, Calum letting his float away, Allie keeping hers. They’d have the same argument about whether or not birds were smart enough not to fly into balloons every Saturday as they walked home.

     Those were fond memories.  Allie and Calum had been inseparable since they were little kids.  They weren’t neighbours, but they lived close enough together that after school Allie could always get to Calum’s house easily if she needed a break from her home life.  Calum’s dad had set up a swing set in their backyard, so there was always something to do when Allie came by.  If she was too tired, or was “too sore to play” as she sometimes said she was, there was an infinite number of movies on a shelf in Calum’s living room that they could choose from.  When this would happen, Calum’s mother would always ask if they wanted anything for a snack.  Calum was never a huge fan of brownies, but every time his mother asked what they wanted, he always said brownies.  He knew they were Allie’s favourite, and he didn’t mind them too much.  Just how they always stuck to everything in your mouth made Calum feel like his teeth were rotting as he chewed them. Sometimes when no one was looking, we could make a little stash in a tupperware he hid under a couch cushion. At night he would sneak out of his room and pull the tupperware back out from under the cushion, and throw the brownies over the bush into the neighbour's’ yard. 

 

     Sometimes a sleeping mother who had fallen asleep watching the TV would make the task of getting the tupperware back out a bit more difficult, but he always managed to get the brownies out from under the cushion, and over the bush.  As Calum thought about it, now that he was older, he was surprised that the neighbours never came over to complain or even ask about all of these mysterious brownies appearing in their yard.  Maybe they just didn’t look out their window too often.

     It was Allie’s 16th birthday.  Calum tried to make time in the morning so he could go over and see her before school.  He even set his alarm to 6:00 instead of 6:30, but it didn’t work out.  Allie hadn’t been going to school with Calum since they were 13.  After her 13th birthday, Allie’s dad had seemed to want her around the house a lot more.  He didn’t even let her finish the rest of that school year.  

     “Home schooling,” she had told him when he came by to see why she wasn’t at school that week.  “My dad says he’s gonna homeschool me.”  Calum thought it had been strange at the time that Allie had agreed to this.  She didn’t talk about her father too much, and when she did, it was never good.  Calum knew that her dad sometimes beat her.  He had known for a few years now.  When she told him about the beatings, she had been crying, which had made Calum cry.  She made him promise not to tell anyone about it, not even his parents.  He’d always wanted to help Allie, but he’d kept his word.  Somehow it felt like if he tried to help her, he would end up losing her friendship, which was something he hoped he would have for the rest of his life.  The one thing Calum couldn’t figure out, though, was that if her dad would get so mad at her that he beat her, why would he want to homeschool her?  Why have her around the house all the time?  And with his full time job at the car wash, how could he find the time for that?  Calum was very curious about what all was going on, but he didn’t dare ask Allie about it.  He wanted all the time they spent together to be pleasant and fun.

     Calum wasn’t sure what Allie wanted for her birthday this year.  When they were kids it had been easy; Barbie dolls, princess movies, etc.  Now they were both teenagers, and figuring out what’s appropriate to get a teenage girl (who isn’t your girlfriend) for her birthday, or what she might even want, was one of the most difficult things Calum had ever found himself doing.  Last year he bought her a nice makeup set, but it felt weird for him to buy her something like that.  So this year he decided he’d just walk into the shop and see if anything came to him.

     He must have spent over 30 minutes looking through all the girls sections. Nothing really struck him as right. It would have been much easier with Allie there.

     He was about to give up hope when he saw a little party section. He noticed it because he saw a boy and his mother buying a big bunch of blue balloons. He called home to his own mother, and asked her to bake a small batch of brownies real quick.  This year he’d decided to give Allie memories.

     His eyes lit up and his lips effortlessly lifted into a toothless smile when he saw that the car was parked in the driveway as he walked down the street towards Allie’s house. He looked up at the little yellow balloon he’d bought, bouncing up and down with every step he took.  

     God, I hope she likes it, he thought, shaking his head as if he’d said it aloud.  He was pretty positive she would.  They hadn’t really talked that much about the old days. Those were really fond memories for Calum, and he’d hoped they were for Allie, too.  He walked past the car and up the 6 steps leading to the front door. One, two, three, four, five, six. Whenever he did something like climbing stairs, or tapping his fingers, he couldn’t help but count the number of steps, taps, whatever, in his head, even when he already knew how many steps there were to the door, or how many taps it would take him to get through all the fingers on his hand. Five. Duh. But it was something to occupy the mind.

     He set the box of brownies down, but kept the balloon string held tight in his right hand as he knocked on the door. He hadn’t seen Allie’s father in a few years now, but he had always been pretty nice towards him. Calum wouldn’t say her father was ever very excited to see him, nor would he invite him inside, but he was never rude. No one answered his first knock. He knocked again. Still nothing. He checked the doorknob; it was open. He opened it a crack, stuck his head in a little bit.  

     “Hello?”  No response. He wasn’t sure if it was a good idea, but he opened the door a little more, and poked his head all the way in. Calum was pleasantly surprised by the general neatness of the house. For an abusive father, he’s not a slob, he thought. Calum opened the door the rest of the way, grabbed his box of brownies, and pulled the string down so the balloon wouldn’t bump against the top of the doorframe on his way inside. He carefully closed the door.

     “Allie?”

     “Mr. Taylor?”

     He walked through the hallway towards Allie’s room. He could see the door was slightly ajar. The wooden floor creaked slightly with every step he took down the hall. He walked past the bathroom and past her father’s bedroom. Both doors were shut. He looked at the paintings they had in their hallway. Every single one of them was slightly crooked. Strange.

     He hadn’t been inside this house since Allie’s mother had left and the beatings had started. It looked quite different, and a lot smaller.

 

     “Allie? You in there?” He had reached her room. He knocked softly on the slightly-open door. He expected it to open a bit when he knocked, but it didn’t move. He pushed on it a little, and could tell that there was something blocking the door.  

     “Allie? You in there?  Everything okay?” The light was still on. He set the brownies down and started pushing the door a little more forcefully, and he could feel whatever was blocking it was starting to budge a little. He eventually opened it enough so that he could squeeze through. Once he was inside, his hand released the balloon, but it couldn’t float any higher than the ceiling.

     She was just lying there. Right on her bed. Head lain on pillow and everything. She would’ve appeared to just be sleeping if there hadn’t been that knife in her chest. Her left hand had lost its grip on the knife, but her right was still wrapped around the handle. And she was just lying there. It wasn’t like in the movies. There was no music, there was no special lighting, she was just there. On her bed. With a knife in her chest, and red stains in her sheets. He wanted to run to her, to shake her awake. His eyes started watering. He forced his legs to take a step forward. He kicked something on the floor and almost tripped over it. He looked down through water-blurred eyes.  And there he was. Her father. Just lying there too, but on the floor, his shirt stained red, and his eyes still open.  And his belt undone. Callum stumbled back, and fell into a shelf, knocking over a small hand-held mirror that crashed to the floor with him. There he sat on her grey carpeted floor with his hand on his mouth, staring at him lying on the floor in front of her door. He cried, and silently yelped, and took deep breaths until he could think clearly. Then his eyes focused on it. The unbuckled belt. It all started becoming clear to Calum. And before he could think of his next move, he was back on his feet, kicking her father’s dead body and his unbuckled belt in a fit of uncontrolled rage. Then he stopped himself, and looked back at Allie.  

     “I’m sorry,” he whispered. “Allie, I’m sorry.”

     He stared at the girl who had been his best friend forever, and cried knowing that he had no idea, and didn’t do anything. Couldn’t do anything. He hadn’t known. And then he was gone, leaving the yellow balloon with the red stained sheets and carpet with the broken mirror on it. He tripped on the box of brownies on his way out.

Death of a Deity

Hayley Emmons '19

     Sam was tired. Tired down to her bones, feeling a heavy ache that pulled her down and down and down until she felt like she couldn’t move from the shaky bar stool that she was slouched over.

     Sam didn’t know how long she had been slumped there, eyes heavy lidded as she watched the people pass and move and live and wander around her. Tucked into a shadowy corner of the place, decades could pass without her being noticed. Decades probably had passed. Time was fuzzy nowadays, just like everything else. Her thoughts, her body, the mold that she noticed growing on the ceiling above her. The establishment should probably take care of that.

     Some days were worse than others, but today Sam could feel just how old she really was. She had already been around for centuries when she had gotten kicked out of her old haunt and stumbled into the new bar, slamming a hand on the counter and slurring the unintelligible name of some drink. The alcohol came, glass after glass but slower and slower with drink, time seeming to stretch in a way that her dazed mind couldn’t pin down.

     She used to be great, that was the thing. Worshipped - sure, it wasn’t by huge amounts of people (she had nothing on those Greek and Roman bastards), but it was enough to be known and alive - and appreciated; she’d been nothing like the fuzzy creature that she was today. Belief kept someone like her alive, putting the pep in her step and the power in her voice, turning someone's wispy thought into something powerful.

 

     Something real.

 

     With each generation, though, fewer and fewer people thought to tell their kids about her until she was forgotten, left to wander from place to place, ignored and unseen by all. She could barely even remember the glory days, a time just left to the occasional happy golden memory that slipped away all too fast, never to be caught again.

     She didn’t even know her name for god’s sake. She’d picked Sam a century or so ago, a name that was perfectly average, smack dab in the middle of the gender binary and nothing noteworthy. She’d needed a name for identification, once her strength had faltered and she wasn’t able to just breeze through everything like she used to.

     Sam used to be a deity, something that made people sacrifice fruit or animals or people (she had to ask herself where that memory bubbled up from, whether it had actually happened to her or if it was just another story that she’d heard). She’d been forgotten to the years, only briefly mentioned in history books. Once, a schoolkid had written their report on her, and she’d felt more real than she had in years. It wasn’t belief, though, and that high sure left fast.

     She used to be powerful, respected, the type of god that you spoke about in hushed tones so that she wouldn't find you. Vengeful? Sure, but who wasn't back in those days. Now, though, the most she could muster up was a small swat at the occasional pestering fly. All the power in the world at her fingertips (at least, that's how she liked to remember it, casting the past in a golden light), and now she was rotting away in some bar.

     Even as she sat, wallowing in self pity, she could see herself fading. The tips of her fingers had gone translucent, pale as a ghost, able to sink through the pockmarked surface of the wooden countertop. Holding up her fingers, Sam tried focus her blurry vision, trying to make it so the three or four images of the hand made it back down to one. Or two - honestly, she would take whatever she could get.

     She knew that she wasn’t as sprightly as she used to be, even though her eyesight was failing. Sam could practically feel the blood - if it was blood, and not some imagined thing (like the rest of you, she reminded herself) - slowing down in her veins and the tendons popping out in a sick relief, her skin sagging and stretching.

     At this point, she was glad that the mirrors behind the drinks were fuzzed over with mold and mildew and spit and age, obscuring any details that her old eyes might have been able to catch. It couldn’t block out how her hair had gone nondescript gray, every bit of color leached from it into the world around her. Even as she faded, the world around her seemed to grow brighter, absorbing the energy of a finally-dying god.

     At least someone is using it, she thought, noting with a sort of cold detachment that the fade had made it to her elbows and was creeping faster and faster. She had thought that she would feel so many things at her death (she had also thought that it would happen much later, and look how well that went); she had thought she would be angry and afraid and ready to rage against the dying of the light that was a deity that people had put their hopes and dreams in and --

     All she really felt was relief. Finally, things would be over, and she wouldn’t have to be quite so pathetic, living off of low quality alcohol and book reports. Now the fade was up to her shoulders and upper thighs, erasing the sleeves of her coat and the stretch marks that came with people's differing ideas of what a god should look like.

     Without realizing it, she had sunk to the floor, a nodding head atop a torso, turning gray and disappearing around the edges. What goes last, the head or the heart? Her thoughts were growing more and more nonsensical, a type of euphoria lighting her up and making everything fuzzy. There wasn’t pain anymore (there had been at first, a dull pins-and-needles in her fingers like frostbite), and now it was just a feeling of warmth as she relaxed against the wall.

     Someone walked into the bar, drawn by the inexplicable light and life of a perishing deity. At least I’ll have finally done something useful, she thought, seeing colors starting to return around the edges of the establishment, even as she turned more and more and more gray. There were still mold and cobwebs and everything else dingying the establishment, but a life was coming back. As her hair disappeared along with her stomach, entropy encroaching from both sides, colorful coats were flung off and hung on the backs of dusty chairs.

     As the last of her faded away, the god had a sudden memory of a festival thrown in her honor. Girls’ swirling skirts, the smell of food in the air, drink making merry out of lethargy, incense burnt in her honor. As everything went blurry before her, she felt a sense of cyclical truth, the past coming back with a few small adjustments.

     Centuries ago, she would have been aghast at the thought of going out like this, a head on the floor of a dingy bar, comparing a few businessmen coming in for drinks after work to massive festivals, but now it just felt right. Things had changed, leaving her behind, and now?

 

     Now, it was time for her to leave them behind.

 

     Now, it was time for her to go.

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