In the middle
to ease the tension
I'm good at it. It's fine.
A little shop.
It's a little shop. It sits down a shadowed, winding side street and people don't really notice it when they pass. The lights are almost always off.
You enter it on the way home from work one day and as soon as you step over the threshold a feeling you can't quite describe washes over you, like walking through the door is a trap. You shake your head, almost laughing at yourself. The air is icy and stale and damp. The products are old and... indescribable: trinkets and small wooden carvings, notebooks, keys, mirrors; they would all be considered antiques anywhere else, but here they rot and they whither.
You do not notice the man at the till, if man is the right word at all. It's trying so hard to be human, it copies the gestures but they appear clunky and delayed. Eventually, when you are about to leave he speaks in a voice that isn't, see anything you like?
You turn around, jumping slightly at the noise. Unsure if he was always there or if he simply appeared from the shadows.
You shake your head, mouth dry and fear beginning to grow in your stomach. He smiles like he expected nothing else, and gestures for you to come closer. You approach, wondering why every cell in your body is screaming at you to run.
Slowly, from under the till he pulls out a doll and places it gently on the counter, how about this? The doll is perfect, small and beautiful, nothing like the other items left to decay. You swear its eyes are almost... alive.
Shadows begin, slowly, to reach out from the walls, from the corners of shelves, out from under the tables. They have thin, sharp fingers that move in jolts stopping and starting, always coming closer, closer.
You don't notice. Your eyes are still on the little doll. A small step forwards, you’re almost touching the fabric of its dress. The shopkeeper smiles his not-quite-smile and waits, patiently, for you to speak.
“I want to--” you don't know what stops you from finishing the sentence. The air is tight around your throat and the longer you stand there the more you feel like... like prey. But the doll is so beautiful, you want it. You need it. The man’s smile widens, yes?
And then you realise.
His mouth doesn't open when he speaks.
You stumble back, breath coming in sharp, painful gasps, “I’m sorry… I - I have to go”
His smile barely falters.
It's all you can do to stop yourself from running as you leave. You hear as the door swings shut behind you,
Come back soon.
"What the hell did I do?" Sal asks, the words coming out raw, an exhale of emotion.
"What did you-" Crow blinks at him, confused, "you really don't know?"
"You've been ignoring me for days," he breathes "You barely even acknowledge me when I walk into a room and I can't- I don't know what I did Crow, whatever it is I'm sorry"
"You-" his expression softens, noticing the turmoil in the other man's eyes, "I thought you were dead"
"... You thought I was dead?"
His mouth is half-open, taking a moment to process the words. He shakes his head, still confused, "I was only gone for three days."
"No warning, no explanation, not even a note to say where you were. We have enemies, Sal, the situations worse than you think"
"God I'm-" He puts a hand over his mouth, sucking in a breath, "I really didn't think"
"Yeah. You didn't."
Crow runs a hand through his hair, looking at the ceiling, clearly exasperated, "There are people here that care about you, people who worry, you can't just leave like that"
"I know - I... I won't, not again- I had a good reason, it was complicated but it's sorted now, it's all done"
There was a finality in the word "done", when he said it, the word stayed there. Crow could hear the barely restrained relief in his voice. Clearly there was something big he wasn't saying, something he had missed along the way. A thousand options clouding his mind, the anger melting into the worry it had been all along. He reaches out, placing a hand on his shoulder, "Do you want to talk about it?"
"No. Not right now. Maybe one day"
"Whenever you're ready."
My fantasy is not uncommon I suppose. A castle or a cottage deep in a forest, where I can't be found.
The weather is always right. Sometimes the heavy rumble of thunder shakes the ground, sometimes it snows and sometimes it is golden. When the thunder arrives I keep inside, hearing the howl of the wind outside, the crash of rain on the ground and, occasionally, seeing the blinding lightning strike in the distance.
It is safe there.
I am safe.
The world shifts and changes; there is no floorplan, no room that stays the same. The cast of characters changes and I continue to walk the halls or the cobbled paths. Sometimes a lake rests at the bottom of a hill, sometimes an ocean. It is always there, though, a constant through it all.
I sit in a class, a meeting, a waiting room, uncomfortable. The presence of people around me presses down and suddenly I'm not there, not really. Disassociating, travelling, running. I'm deep in the forest and the earth below me is cool and damp and present, the smell of ozone in the air and green light filtering gently through the leaves. There is a castle, a cottage, a cabin, calling me to approach- to come home.
I'm fine... Am I fine? I think I'm fine. when people ask "how are you?" I always, Always, reply "I'm fine," and I don't lie, I WOULDN'T lie. I guess I should take my word for it.
Breathe in, breathe out. It's all ok.
Look out the window and feel the cold night air on my face. It smells of rain and ice. How late is it? Even the street lights have turned off. There are silhouettes on the pavement below. Is that a person? No... No, it's not.
I have to remember to breathe.
Did I lock my front door? Yes. No? Get up. Check. The door was locked. Crawl back into bed and continue to look down at the street below. There's a touch of moonlight illuminating the road, and I can see the light on in one of the houses on the other side. I wonder what they're doing. I wonder if they're more or less fine than I am.
I shift a little and pages full of dark, spidery writing fall to the ground. I swear under my breath but I don't move to clear it- my floor is already covered in paper- a couple more pages will hardly make a difference.
I lie back and close my eyes. My bed is not comfortable and my mind spirals further and further and further and further and- was that a noise?... No.. I hope not. Maybe it was the wind.
A list of facts
1. You are in a car.
2. The car is red, but that does not matter.
3. Your friend has left to buy snacks.
4. The sky is dark and the only light comes from streetlights.
5. You are being watched.
6. The nearest shop is a 10-minute walk away, unapproachable by roads.
7. Your friend's favourite snack is popcorn, she will probably buy that.
8. You don’t like popcorn.
9. Something is walking towards your car, it is not human.
10. You can’t drive.
11. Your friend is unlikely to be back in the next 5 minutes.
12. The thing approaching you has eyes that appear milky and white under the lights.
13. Its limbs are too long.
14. You are in danger.
15. Your best chance is to run.