Writing Prompt: “Why do you fear the stars?”
Sarah hurried along the wasteland, broken and crumbling buildings surrounding her as the sky above shone millions of bright, shining stars.
She found shelter under a short stone ledge, sitting, leaning against the cold rock, and looking out at the vast sky filled of stars.
A young girl approached her, her burnett hair in two un-semetrical buns on the sides of her head. She worn a black sweater and brown boots with jeans, sitting next to Sarah and looking up at her with light blue cat-eyes.
Sarah looked down at her and smiled, placing a hand on the girls head, causing her to hiss and Sarah to laugh, "Cat-like as ever, Katt."
Katt giggled, "Of course."
Sarah smiled and slid down, laying on the dirt with her head against the stone still, looking at the still darkening sky.
The younger and shorter girl looked at the older, asking in a somewhat curious tone, "Sarah, why do you fear the stars?"
She looked at Katt before returning her gaze back up, "There are millions of stars in the sky.. the vast, endless, dark ocean filled of shimmering fish..." She reached a hand out, almost as if longing to reach for something.
"Seems like I've found something you're actually afraid of," Katt joked, making Sarah push her onto the ground.
"I ain't scared of anything, and you know it," her regular chilling voice coming back. "It's just that, thinking about that much unknown that could one day collide with our regular world is an unnerving thought. I don't like thinking of the sky as being superior to me."
She wore a smile like an armed missile. Full of mischief and adventure. A fire danced aglow behind her eyes. If you got too close, you might burn, for that smile was her weapon.
There was something about her that kept you coming for more. She radiated off something that made me wanting more - the danger kept me coming back. She was something of lost words and joyous laughter. Something that made everyone around her smile.
People would sneer at her wherever she went. They would point, they would whisper, they would judge. But that never stopped her. She would dance right up to them and look them dead in the eyes. Using that smile, she would ask: May I have this dance? They always took the bait, she was too enticing, no one could ever say no to her. And it’s not like they wanted to.
She was different from other girls. She didn’t need a knight in shining armor, for she was her own knight. She didn’t need a boy to tell her she was beautiful, for she knew she was beautiful. She was too loud, too bold, too adventurous for any boy to tame. And eventually they said she was too different, but she didn’t care that she was different, she just wanted to be herself. For her different made her beautiful.
I don't answer
doors or phones
I don't even peek from curtain cracks
I'll read a note or listen to a message
there is no one
I want or need
intruding in my life
″He’s been waiting,″ A cold voice says behind me. I turn and hold my breath. ″He’s in that room-″ the man points to a large metal door that is closed, shut.
I sigh, ″Okay, thanks.″
I don’t need him near me, I don’t need him or anyone to talk to me. I just want Nick. I hold back tears as I open the large, heavy door that squeaks as it moves on its old hinges - and see him, sitting on the floor, back against a cold grey wall. He glances up, with a hollow expression and stands up when he sees me.
″Nick-″ I murmur, voice catching. This isn’t him, the Nick I know, the Nick I knew, because he doesn’t seem to be himself.
He doesn't have that glint in his eye, that wicked smile and caring gaze.
He walks up to me, and I rush to him and wrap my arms around his back. He welcomes the hug, although I can feel that he is tense, wary. I sigh when I realize he started to cry, as I can feel his body shuddering as he sobs, his head pressed into the space between my neck and left shoulder.
I take a deep breath when I think of how the tables have turned: he used to be the one comforting me, when I was broken and in pieces. Now I have to be there for him, after what the Ordering Officers did to him as a form of torture to get to me, to warn me and everyone else who is trying to fight them.
They tortured him, to torture me.
''Are you hurt?'' I murmur, pulling away from the hug. I figure that this question is dumb, after knowing they must've. But I wasn't sure on what hey did do, did they hurt him mentally? Psychologically? Or physically?
He doesn't answer but instead locks our gazes. My mouth gapes open at the once, beautiful gaze that is now hollowed out.
Just a shell of what he was.
Of who he was.
''Did they hurt you?'' he instead says.
This takes me aback. He worries about me instead of himself. He worries about others, when he should be the one worried for. I find myself breathless. Wordless.
''Heather?'' he asks, stepping forward, placing a hand on my shoulder.
I blink hard and think of an answer.
The truth would be yes: they hurt me. Firstly, by taking Nick away and harming him, but secondly, because they really did. They didn;t stop their own form of torture on me.
But I can't tell him the truth, maybe half, but not the whole thing.
I shrug, ''I was just... worried about you. Worried sick.'' I whisper, my voice sounding hoarse.
I wipe my eyes and stare at him, study him. I saw the outline of a bruise on his right cheek. I traced lightly, very lightly, my index finger along the shape of the bruise. He doesn't wince, flinch, instead he closes his eyes. He looks so peaceful, but not - at the same time.
''I'm so sorry, Nick. This is all my fault. I shouldn't have brought you guys into this.''
He raises an eyebrow. ''Guys?''
''The others, who were helping us fight the government, the Ordering Officers. The others who were helping me, with my stupid idea.''
His eyebrows raise as he remembers something. ''Are they okay? Where are they?''
He starts rushing around the room.
''I-I don't know... why?''
''They took other people with me! They did what they did to me, to them, some seemed so young...''
''Oh no...'' I murmur, realizing that no one mentioned them.
''Nick, Nick... listen to me.'' I walk up to him and hold his shoulders. ''We will find out, but I need to get you out of here first. Okay?''
He nods feebly, ''Why do you care? Heather?''
''What do you mean?''
I step back and frown. ''Nick, what?'' I can't process this question. ''Don't you know?''
He looks at me and shrugs.
''Nick...'' I start, ''Nick, did they do something to you? Do you... remember?''
He locks gazes again and shakes his head. ''I remember your name, I know that we know each other. I know I should be relieved to see you. I know what they-'' He points to the people out the door, ''did to me. But I don't understand why, I couldn't remember the 'others', I just knew they took more people when they took me. I know they harmed them as well. I can't remember what we were for each other, Heather. I can't remember us, if there was anything.''
My eyes open wide and I stare at him in disbelief. My legs started to shake and I fell to the ground as they collapsed under me. It feels as if someone shot me in the stomach. As if someone cut my chest open and tore my heart out, or tore my memories out of my brain, my feelings.
He doesn't remember us.
He knows me, that I'm okay - safe for him, but that's all.
***Small continuation of that dystopian idea I had! I wrote another piece with this idea in mind! (The other piece is: Knock on the door!)***
you are enough.
you are talented.
you are cute.
you are incredible
you are you.
and it’s so hard to believe
for so many months,
over a year
i couldn’t walk
and i couldn’t breathe
every time he
offers a smile
or shows me the stars
because he knows
how to love me
he knows how to care
and it proves
over and over
that you were never real.
and you never
knew me at all
if i look away
he jumps for my gaze
and when my heart
he wraps it up
and keeps it safe
but he clouds them
and we wash
your pain, your name
i don’t have to
try so hard
to fit this perfect image,
to be what he wants
because i already am
and now i have to learn.
it was never about
there was no
whatever i worked for,
was only figmented
by my own sense of hope
but everything you gave me
was so fake
it was never even there.
do you know
how the sunshine
can be such a lie?
how it promises warmth,
it’s so much
because it always runs away
and only when it’s colder,
when the loneliness arrives,
does the moon swoop in
to show the truth
and save me.
you had your hold
abused your power
destroyed a pretty soul
left her wandering
maybe you won
i was so trapped,
that i couldn’t
now it’s so funny
that i thought you could
because i didn’t really know
what that word meant
until i saw blue again,
felt a new embrace
and everything was
so desperately clear
that you would never change
and i had to run away
they all have new meanings to me now
a short time ago
and i can surely
that i am alive
because you were right,
like the devil,
you’re a demon.
and you killed me
so many times.
A foot in the door......
Another day in the life that can only be that of Julian Race!
I’m sure that at least some, if not most of you will have been in a similar situation before in one way or another and I also assume there are some of you out there who will have a sympathetic ear or two for the situation I found myself in recently. Let me explain….
I recall it was a Friday night and I’d popped off to bed with my steaming mug of Cow & Gate at the usual time of 7.30pm. I placed the mug on the bedside table and turned to retrieve my pyjamas from my trusty trouser press. Laugh if you must, but I do like to keep a sharp crease in my pyjama bottoms because if, in an unfortunate situation one has to evacuate ones premises in the middle of the night, you do not want the neighbours seeing you standing in the middle of the street sporting scruffy, creased sleeping attire whilst the reason for the evacuation is being attended to by the relevant emergency service. For reasons unknown to me, the trouser press had a particularly strong grip on my night wear, and try as I might, I could not free the pyjamas from their mighty jaws. After grappling with the machine for several minutes and trying out several wrestling moves which I had picked up from watching repeats of Saturday afternoon wrestling on the television, I noticed from the corner of my eye that my neighbour was peering over the fence directly into my bedroom window. I gave her a cheery wave during which I realised I was undressed. She actually waved back as the step ladders she was standing on slowly slid to the left and out of sight. I saw her prized blue Ceanothus Concha shudder above the fence indicating it had repaid her nurturing by cushioning her fall. I gave the trouser press one last “Boston Crab” and a Forearm Smash before accepting the fact that my pyjamas were well and truly trapped! Having no other option, I ended up having to sleep as nature intended but only after having left a well-intentioned note pinned on the outside of my bedroom door warning any member of the said emergency services that may in the course of their duty, wish to enter my room, should it be necessary, of my state of undress.
Having slept soundly, I awoke early on Saturday morning at around 08.15am and turned to see that my wife was still in a state of slumber, mouth wide open and that tell tale line of dribble running from the corner of her lips. As I regard myself as a “new man”, I resisted the temptation of nudging her with my elbow, unintentionally of course. I decided to pop downstairs to make my wife and myself a well-earned cup of tea. As I passed, I tried unsuccessfully to unclamp the trouser press to retrieve my pyjamas, so was forced to go downstairs minus any clothing.
Fortunately, our kitchen window is not overlooked by the neighbours so was perfectly safe from any prying eyes, apart that is from any potential burglars that may possibly be in my garden and in the process of robbing my shed of any potentially worthwhile objects. I popped the kettle on and surveyed the garden, I was in luck, no burglars at least I could mow the lawn later if the weather buck’s up! I put the tea bags in to the cups and when the kettle had boiled, poured in the boiling water, mindful that any splashes could prove embarrassing to explain at the A+E department of the local hospital. I tried desperately to erase the vision of that old seaside postcard of the matron saying to the newly appointed nurse “I said prick his boil nurse” and reached for the milk. As I did, I heard the doorbell ring. I looked at the cups, at myself and then at the front door. The bell rang again. I called up to my wife but there was no answer. I put down the cups and grabbed a “large” tea towel to wrap around myself to avoid exposing any parts of the skin and cause any embarrassment. As we have an integral garage, I nipped into the garage and shouted to whoever it was on the other side of the door that I was on the way. I unlocked the metal door and opened it just wide enough for me to hide behind it without exposing myself to the visitor. Yes, I called. I then felt a thump at the bottom of the door and saw a shoe wedging the door open and preventing its closure. I noticed from the shoes design that it was 80% more likely to be a man on the other side of the door which, given the circumstance was better for me than say a court shoe or stiletto. Yes, I called again, and a boyish voice replied, “Double Glazing”, can we have a chat about your windows? Now, being a totally open sort of chap who does not have any deep-seated views and has always been open to others interests, his question was not one that disturbed or agitated me, it was just rather inconvenient. I’m not sure it is convenient for both of us at this particular time I said looking down at my imposition. It’ll only take half an hour or so replied the visitor; his shoe still firmly wedged in the door. He called out to some of his colleagues who were I assume at my neighbours houses who, it seemed had either spotted them approaching or were still fast asleep. I made a mental note to bring this up at the next neighbourhood watch meeting as clearly these visitors had slid through the net and the usual 3 rings on the telephone line had not occurred! I heard a lady’s voice reply to the salesman’s call and I heard footsteps coming my way. I insisted that I did not think this was a suitable time and pushed on the door in an effort to save my dignity. The door just flexed against the persons hefty shoe. Can I give you a leaflet instead called the owner of the shoe, and one appeared through the gap in the door?
Well, I don’t know if you can recall that Saturday 27th April 2019 was a particularly windy day and storm Hannah as it was named had touched down during the night with 82mph winds recorded somewhere in Wales. I was mindful of the possibility of flying sheep but clearly this was not a concern for the salesman. As I took one hand off the door to retrieve the leaflet whilst the other was firmly gripping the tea towel shut, Worditch, which is where I live, must have beaten the 82mph recorded wind speed in Wales as a gust of wind caught the garage door and blew it wide open causing me to be thrust backwards by the sheer wind force. The tea towel I had used to protect my modesty resembled a flag flapping in the wind behind me, whipping me sharply on occasions which I had to ignore whilst also avoiding any facial expression indicating the pain I felt during this crucial time. My initial deduction was correct as it indeed turned out to be a man at the door and for a split second, I was grateful. I had visions of myself in front of the beak pleading my case. “Well m’lud, I can explain everything, you see it all started with a trouser press….” Reality hit home and I noticed the man who was once the other side of my garage door well and truly on my side of the door. He was staring down at my nakedness, I don’t know if it was in admiration or pity as it was a particularly cold and biting wind. Nonchalantly, I said, well, you may as well come in then but strangely enough he declined the offer. He fumbled in his bag, eyes affixed on my now naked groin and passed me a leaflet which in all honesty would be placed into the recycling bin later that day and after he had disappeared.
No one else appeared at the door and I heard footsteps hurrying away from the house. Without looking, I closed the door firmly and replaced the two sliding bolts firmly into their clasps. I folded the tea towel back into it’s crisp creases and placed it back on to the kitchen work surface beside the kettle, added milk to the already prepared tea and ventured back to bed.
Now I have to offer a couple of pieces of advice to readers who may in the future find themselves in a similar position and recall my dealings with the situation:
1: This is a particularly risky way of getting a Double-Glazing Salesman’s foot out of your door!
2: Always ensure your trouser press is fully serviced regularly by a competent professional!
Suffice to say, to date, there have not been any repeat visits or requests for further discussion regarding the quality and or replacement of my double-glazing units. In addition, praise has been overwhelming at the bi monthly neighbourhood watch meeting as the early warning system adopted by the committee has been somewhat redundant of late and visitor numbers, especially by the double-glazing fraternity had reduced considerably!
©Julian Race 09/07/2020
Best In Show
It was the musical humming at first that Katie could discern through the darkness. She cuddled closer to her Aunt’s arm and squeezed her teddy bear tight. Katie wasn’t afraid of the dark. The sad purring voice hidden by the shroud of darkness had a disturbing hint to it—a beautiful disaster type of song.
A siren’s song, like that of the stories her mother read her nightly. One that pulls you in steal your soul from an adventurous dreamscape.
The black curtain lifted, and Katie blinked from the flood of light from the sudden center stage. It reflected off a single golden cage as it lowered from the ceiling. She was creating majestic rainbows of pearly rays cast on the silent audience. The cage swung, teetering on the edge of crashing the stunning woman cramped on the inside to the ground. Yet, she continued the harmonious humming as if undisturbed by the dangerous sway.
The circus tent was in awe as the coop lowered further to the dirt floor beneath. Sad, heartbroken notes shattered the deathly silence of the crowd and drew an eerie tone over the dazzling gold cage.
Katie sat in the front row. Her brown eyes grew large as she examined the long train of tail feathers that hung from the woman’s costume, out of the cage like a waterfall of color emerging from an impossible corpse. The skin-toned bodysuit covered the woman from neck to toe. On her head was a peacock bonnet adorned with feathers of heart blood red, fresh bruise purple, and deep vein blue.
“Auntie,” Katie got a shiver of fear from the black kohl painted around the woman’s eyes. The lashes so long they kissed the pink dusting on the woman’s cheeks.
“Shhhh,” Aunt Jocelyn corrected the girl gently and stuffed another handful of buttery popcorn into her mouth.
Katie needed her Aunt to understand, “It’s a woman,” she exclaimed and motioned to the center, causing her over hugged beige teddy Bear over the divider. Katie cried out as her bear landed fearfully, alone and out of reach on the dirt floor. Her wailing drowned out Aunt Jocelyn’s hushes, and it drowned out the humming that had demanded attention from the audience. It even drowned out the bright lights as Katie’s eyes slammed solidly shut. It wasn’t until a hand touched her shoulder that she sniffled, wiped her nose, and opened her eyes. Her vision blurred before focusing on the same astounding brown eyes of her own.
Without little Katie realizing, the woman had emerged from her cage, plucked the bear from his loneliness on the floor, and produced herself a breath length away from Katie.
The Teddy Bear was smudged from his dirt landing but safe, and Katie smiled, retrieving her friend the bear and hugged him tight as the woman spun back to the center. She was cascading a delightful show of colorful feathers and scents of jasmine incense over the girl and her Aunt.
“Thank you,” Katie muttered, snuggling further into her teddy bear. She was no longer interested in the show from her near loss of her teddy bear friend. Losing him forever would have been devastating.
The trapeze artist returned to her routine. She was humming to herself to drown out the stares of the hundreds of people in the stands. Penelope didn’t care what tune came from her painted lips, and although the ringmaster had complained about this nervous act and how it distracted the sullen beauty of her act, she continued.
Penelope grasped the cold bar and swung herself up. She was swinging gracefully in the air, from perfectly placed bars to silk ropes to steel hoops. The act made her look as if she genuinely flew like a bird through the stuffy tent air.
A smooth peach cap blended the black of her hair into the rest of her body, but it was so tight it made her temples scream in pain. It might well as have been glued to her scalp since it left dark bruises once removed. Calluses on her palms tore and left bloodstains on the bars that she would have to scrub off after the show. Her production team dreamed up her costume. A caged caterpillar froze in a golden cocoon of a cage wanting to burst free to become an exotic butterfly flying about the center stage with elegance.
The trapeze act down, she climbed back into her cage. She was moving purposely slow to make it appear a part of the show and pushing the heavyweight of her tail feathers out the back of the cage.
Penelope looked down through the cage bars as it rose out of sight. She could still see the little girl who transfixed on the giraffes and elephants marching in for the next circus act. Her Aunt’s arm wrapped around her lovingly.
Although the girl’s eyes had been the same color, Penelope’s didn’t shine with innocence any longer as hers did. The sparkle died when she’d moved out of the foster home. Turning nineteen was a blessing for most, only a curse for Penelope. Nineteen meant there was no longer a safety net.
Several stories above ground now, the steel cable stopped her ascent and began to move her horizontally along the tarped ceiling. Grateful for the lack of wind on the west coast, Penelope held onto the cage bars and prayed it traveled to the grassy exterior safely.
She trusted the golden cage, not the cables it traveled on. Like the love of her birth mother, it could prove to break under its inconvenience.
Penelope could still picture the social worker’s freckled face when she would return from another failed foster family. The social worker would joke that her freckles were kisses from sandman’s sleepy dusting.
Yet, when Penelope developed body covering freckles from puberty, doctors called them skin melanomas. Not kisses.
Scalpels removed them quickly, but potential fosters feared her scars. Penelope could cover the jagged marks with makeup, but no number of cosmetics concealed the pain of her memories.
Medical bills prevented full adoption. Foster parents wouldn’t take Penelope for longer than a one-month prescription fill. The nurses at the oncology department became family more than she had ever known.
Penelope wiped the tears and thoughts away as the cage creaked along the sky-high roof-track. She reluctantly swallowed the glycerin smeared on her teeth (to force a sparkling smile to sparkle) as it had begun to thin and make her gag. Any sound now would be disastrous for the show, which would bring the end to her measly low funds. Ashamed, she hung her head and allowed it to drip from her lips.
Penelope’s muscles burned from exhaustion and the cramped space inside the cage. The cage halted suddenly, before exiting the tent and she watched from above the crowd. She felt forgotten in the dark. Muffled voices grew excited as the elephants marched in a circle, as they had trained. And as Penelope was instructed, she sat silent.
Lions followed the wild beat out of them, meowing gently as kittens. Petrified of the ringmaster like Penelope felt petrified of the ringmaster.
The metal cable jerked to a new start, cloud-high. Penelope exhaled and leaned her head against the cold bars. It creaked as it moved along the track, the white light of the exit grew closer. The picture of the little girl’s face stayed in her mind. What was it that made her so drawn to the girl? The Teddy Bear. Penelope never had anything that was loved to near death and still survived. No possession that had ever been hers long enough.
She strained her eyes to see the little girl with her Aunt. Penelope never had one of those either. She didn’t know the love of a family member that would love unconditionally. Love towards was always given depending on a government-issued cheque. And when those didn’t cover medical bills, back to the group home she went.
The cage finally jerked out of the pop-up circus tent and swung dangerously over the five-story naked drop to the gravel parking lot. Her request for safety nets answered with an offer to dock it from her minimal pay.
The closest to a family she had known was from a reluctant piece of information. And that’s at best calling it news. As promised, her social worker, Kathryn, had divulged her birth mother’s mental status. That was the most she would agree to, and it gave Penelope no solace.
It was followed by, “now let it go. Don’t bother looking for your mother. She can’t help you.”
There was no blame, just pain.
Decrepit group homes, reluctant foster parents, cold hospitals, and full shelters put Penelope to beach sleeping as a way of life. When the weather faired for the warm sands, otherwise, she slept folded behind a garbage dumpster.
The traveling circus was a blessing to her.
The cage suddenly dropped several feet at once, causing Penelope to bite her tongue and cry out in agony. Lurching and swaying treacherously, Penelope pinched her eyes closed tight. Her only thought was a hope it wouldn’t hurt when she fell, nothing could cut as much anyway. Could it? Then the cage resumed its descent smoothly to the grassy field beyond the parking lot.
Penelope put her palm upward to stop her head from hitting the top when the golden cage bumped down. Late evening dew settled. The air carried a coolness, not unlike her foster families. Performer’s trailers staggered to prevent unwanted socialization. Just as her upbringing was staggered to avoid unwanted questions, here, she was the star of the show, the blossomed butterfly. In life, Penelope was the forgotten child, the fallen woman.
No one would come to assist Penelope with the heavy, spray-painted steel cage as she dragged it through the dark sheet of night.
Out of breath, when she arrived home (decrypted trailer home), she silently cried when she saw the door handle broken again. Penelope couldn’t afford to fix it, not when a gentle breeze could break the whole of the trailer. The door squealed open, and Penelope stepped into the darkness. Her only friend. Black spaces. She hated this part when there were lights on.
The tail feathers and wings removed at the door.
Penelope peeled the cap off her head and dropped it into a wicker basket. The hair that she still had grown in small, misshapen patches and ached at the roots from the lack of oxygen under the cap. She peeled a cloth off the pile that she left ready dampened and began wiping the makeup off her body.
It was itchy and claustrophobic under the layers of skin-toned concealer. Penelope hated applying the makeup but despised removing it more. Where they had surgically removed, the larger melanomas had never appropriately healed—subpar medical treatments from government payments. Ridges and welts were left, for the show, they looked faked and suitable for the costume. In the dark of her trailer, they were sorry reminders of her miserable medical life and emotional pain.
Mirrors covered with old newspapers prevented Penelope from having to watch the horror show of her pearly milk skin turn to her patchy grey flesh. Near black settled between her fingers and toes, but on the nooks of her elbows and knees was a gnarly festered green. The ashy tone faded darker to a shadow of a soul around her heart.
The charred bits that were left behind after no one wanted to adopt her due to medical bills. The murky pieces stitched together by being a permanent ward. Sparkles and eyeshadow couldn’t hide her anguish.
In a tattered, unloved body, Penelope would trade all the beauty of makeup to have an aunt hold her hand, kiss her cheek.
Penelope cut the bodysuit off, glancing begrudgingly at the box full of fresh ones ready for every day to come. It was too painful to take them off. Better to cut it away.
I was clawing to breathe, but I stopped trying.
Millennial’s Love Song
We don’t wanna leave
No, we just wanna be right now,*
we are here, trying to find out
why and how to survive
and where to connect to the internet
we just want to live here
in what is middle America
surrounded by farms and cities
the famished, the diregarded
and those that are not fortunate enough
to understand our politics
taking selfies in the rearview
it’s all we have to show you
it’s important to post on the internet
what we can’t see in the mirror
the dark art of seduction
you could say this
is our chance to get famous
this is the moment for
brazenly taking what’s ours
rubbing the light out of our eyes
we just want to live here
in what is middle America
where the millennials come to seek revenge
where the yellow brick road ends
we are right here
we are right now
we are the chosen ones
*Taken from the song Burn, by Ellie Goulding