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The Curious Experience of Isaiah Vates

           The sea and the sky are the same, the old man always said. At the time he had laughed, but looking out that morning—the cold sea-mist clinging to his naked torso—he knew the old man was right.

            The sea-mist transformed into an unbroken wall of sea-fog which possessed both sea and sky, morphing them into one. Yet, perhaps, the warm glow of the morning on the water of the sea and the water in the sky played tricks on his sleep-deprived eyes.

            He stood. The slick rock cold beneath his feet, he rolled back onto his heels and then forward onto his toes, feeling every ridge and rise. Behind him, invisible in the sea-mist, a path meandered by only ten feet away, back up a narrow trail through the underbrush. The sound of feet, but far too light, caught his ear. He whirled toward the path. Nearly losing his footing, he caught himself, stood upright, and strained to peer through the thickening sea-fog.

            A fog horn, hollow, deep, and long—like the wail of a mourning father—broke the silence between him and the path.

            “Goodbye,” He said, turning again and leaping off the cliff edge.

            In the timeless moment just before his body cracked off the rocks and sunk into the water, he heard from out of the morning fog the voice, fickle as a wisp of smoke in a rain storm, “No.”

———

            Her grandpa always enjoyed the morning. It gave him wisdom, he would say, that brief moment when the sun is just awakening, darkness begins to give way, and the voices of nature are in harmonious arrangement before the chaos of humanity is unleashed with the savage squawking of alarms and the growl of car engines.

            Despite how lightly she tread, it always sounded as though someone was raking the loose, lighter gravel over the heavier base layer. It sounded like rain in some way, but yet different in some other way. Lately, her mind had been foggier than usual.

            She stopped and looked out over the sea. The clear morning allowed the rising sun to warm the inbound waves. She saw a man’s back, hidden partially by the foliage, but she knew him to be standing at the cliff’s edge. She blinked and found herself locked in place with his blue eyes. Their cold gaze contrasted with the warm glow of the sun which framed his naked torso, glistening with water droplets. Tearing away from his gaze, she heard a ragged cry as though a mother was mourning her newborn child dead in her arms.

Looking back again, she saw him, as if through a haze of heat, leap from the cliff, the obscuring foliage gone. “No,” she cried before vaulting the railing and running toward the cliff edge.

———

           Isaiah Vates never enjoyed his Samhain morning walk. It was, however, necessary; and he would not abandon his duty. Tightening his grip on the worn, raven’s skull handle, he leaned heavily upon his bronze-capped walking stick as he limped up the gravel path into the darkness—away from the warm, glowing safety of his hut where his wife sat by the window holding a candle, awaiting his return with nervous hands and eager, tear reddened eyes.

            It would be wrong to say it was cold as Isaiah moved up the path, but it would also be wrong to say the morning was warm, yet neither was it in between; a more accurate description would be that it was in between the in between. It would also be wrong to say that the light morning fog felt clammy on his exposed hands, because it also felt warm as if it was smoke from a great fire, and yet neither.

            Isaiah set himself down in the ruins of an old house. He knew its owner—or had in what seemed a lifetime ago—he could not remember. Taking knitted gloves from his jacket’s oversized pockets, he encased his trembling hands in them. With a groan, which immediately died moments from his mouth, he stood. Leaning upon his walking stick, he used his right hand to pull the bill of his cap further down toward his round spectacles to shield against the misty sprinkle that had come when the fog had dissipated; though its disappearance, so sudden, would incline the mind to believe it was called away.

            Then he saw it happen. He saw them. He knew what they were and he started forward toward them. A young woman stood on the path gazing out across rock wet with morning dew. A young man stood on the edge of the rock, perilously perched at the cliff edge. No wind blew—and yet strong waves, tipped with green foam, crashed against the rocks. The young man turned his back to the young woman and cast himself off the cliff, but as he fell his face turned toward Isaiah, causing the old man to stumble back.

            Shaking, Isaiah Vates clung to his walking stick and pulled himself up from the ground. He should have remained down. He should have kept his eyes closed. For there at the cliff edge, looking accusatorily at him, stood the young woman with the face of his long-dead granddaughter, Maria Vates.

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A Classic Tale

He both enjoyed seeing her and did not. Elation was there, but also retraction. He could not be fully himself with her, but more himself than he was elsewhere. Indeed, he lived a divided life. At court, he needed her presence and yet dreaded it. At war, he was thankful for her absence, but he also missed her.

 

The war ended abruptly. The heroes were honored. Traitors who had once sought refuge outside their native land were returned. Their tortured bodies dangled from the gallows, being finally granted relief. In his mind, the heroes fared no better than the traitors, only their pain was of the soul and of the heart. From these they had no respite.

 

He sat at the right hand of the king that first night back. His deeds were lauded. They claimed he had slain hundreds, that he had ended the war. He knew otherwise. He knew the exact number of men whose lives he stole, whose chances at love he took from them. He had looked into their eyes as his own were tinged with the red rage of battle. He had heard their last words, words that should have been spoken while lying old in bed…at peace.

Her voice brought him back from his somber speculation. He looked up. His joy shone through his eyes, but he only partly smiled. She poured him a glass of wine, spilling a few red drops unto the table around his goblet. She apologized and moved on.

 

He stole glances at her, ignoring his king as much as he could, deflecting the admiring comments of the king’s daughters as though they were blows in a battle, rough and sharp. Her blue gown stood out from the dull browns and flickering fire reds of the feast hall. She moved gracefully, yet with a vigor. A passion for life was obvious in the slight bounce of her walk, in the dancing of her hair, and in her very eyes. He laid his hands down and made ready to stand. He was going to approach her, admit his feelings, an act that took more courage than he had ever needed in battle.

 

Greasy, gelatinous animal fat covered the hand that grabbed his and raised it high. He heard his king proclaiming his name, then something about being an ambassador. His heart stopped. Then it sank. His determination turned to dread. He tried to smile, but it lost what mock sincerity it had when she looked at him and drew his eyes to hers. He steeled himself as the king bid him stand. He let one tear unsheath itself from his eye, allowing it to flee to the dirty floor below. Flight, retreat, escape, all things he could not do.

 

The morning after the next full moon came too quickly. He had talked with her some, but he never once confessed. He learned to treasure every moment with her, every sound of her voice. When she was gone, however, his thoughts always turned to his future and her place in it. Her place being one that he dearly wanted, that is, at his side, but he knew his new career was even more dangerous than his last. His enemy would no longer be in front of him, yelling and wielding shining weapons. His enemies would now be everywhere.  Nor did he want to take her with him into a place where even he, hero of the war, would not feel secure.

 

He looked down on her from his saddle. His robes were new, different from those of the warrior. He needed to look his part, but remain himself; a task more difficult than most would expect. But then she handed him a letter. They met eyes. He smiled and placed the letter next to his heart. Then, with a reverent bow, he left her behind. He laid his hand to that letter as he rode away, swearing that with it he would remain himself and that he would return for her.

Copyright 2013 by Joshua A. Spotts

 

 

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Filed under 1000 word limit, Flash Fiction, General, Short Stories

The Red Reasoning

The Red Reasoning

By Joshua A. Spotts

You are human. You are defined by your emotions. The shadow figure whispered in Rachel’s ear.

Blink…blink…blink…Rachel fought back her tears. She stood with her back against the cold wall. Her step-father paced in front of her. Her arms drew her two little sisters close. They laid their little blonde heads against her hips.

“You are useless!” Her step-father glared holes into her soul.

The shadow figure picked at those holes. He is right, but you can show him otherwise. Let your emotions go. Let the hate give you power. Stop suppressing it, Rachel. Don’t you remember your ninth birthday?

Rachel bowed her head. She blinked faster. Her fingers tightened on her little sisters’ shoulders. She bit her lip, stopping only when she felt the taste of blood on her tongue. She whispered, “Never again.”

“What?” Her step-father stopped pacing in the middle of his tirade. He turned toward her, took two loud steps forward, and roared in her face, “You don’t talk back to me!”

Rachel shook in fear. “Yes, fa…” she couldn’t bring herself to say it.

“What’d you say?” Her step-father shook her.

One of the little girls rushed forward and kicked her father in the leg. “Don’t hurt Rachel!”

Rachel’s step-father threw his daughter, his own flesh and blood against the wall. The little girl slid to the ground, curled into a ball, and cried. She suppressed her wails to sobs, fearing that her crying would anger her father more.

Don’t let him do that, Rachel. You can stop him. The shadow figure hissed in Rachel’s ear. You know where it is. Just three steps, you can shoot him. You can end this, my child.

“I’m not your child.”

“What do you mean?” Rachel’s step-father raised his fist. After shaking it at her, he pointed to the girl on the floor. “You’re not my child? Hah! I married your mother! I feed and clothe you. You’re just as much my child as that pitiful thing is.”

“I am not yours and never will be.” Rachel said through clenched teeth.

Now! Show him your independence now!

“Go to you room! Take those whelps with you.” Rachel’s step-father gulped down a long draught of whisky from a tin flask. “Go now before I change my mind and decide to give you bruises to show off at school.” The step-father laughed, coughed, cleared his throat, and then took another drink of his whiskey.

Defy him! Do it! Free the little ones. It is the right thing to do. The shadow figure whispered. Its voice was calm. Its voice was beautiful. Its long fingers rested on Rachel’s shoulders, seeking to comfort and manipulate her. She shook it off and guided her little sisters upstairs. Before she reached the top she glared through the shadow figure at her step-father.

The pink walls were dull. The paint was chipped and peeling. The whitewashed floorboards creaked underfoot. Rachel sat in the corner. Her arms hugged her knees to her heaving chest. She watched a starving mouse gnaw at the edge of its hole.

Her eyes snapped shut as grey claws dug into the side of the mouse’s head and pulled it from its hole. The cat with fur like fire stood over its prey. The grey claws retracted and the mouse tried to scurry away. The cat leapt, biting down on the mouse’s neck. She wasn’t a patient creature and did not play with her food.

Rachel glanced at her little sisters. She sighed. They were still asleep. She had sung them a soft lullaby. But her heart had not connected with its sweet words. The shadow figure lurked in the room’s corner, watching her. It was a patient creature and always played with its food.

The shadow figure glided across the floor. It curled its long fingers around Rachel’s wrists. It glanced at the little girls and something growled within it. It put its black lips close to Rachel’s ear. It panted. Why are you burdened with these things? They are his spawn. Why do you…love…? The shadow figure choked on the last word.

Rachel sat there on her bed. She was silent. The crunch of bones cracked through the still air. The cat purred, finding joy in the death of another creature.

The whitewashed trimming, greyed and yellowed with age, around the wooden door shook as Rachel’s step-father lumbered down the hallway. A beer bottle crashed against the door and was followed by a laugh as the footsteps continued on. The shadow figure whispered, look at me, my child.

Rachel turned her tear stained face toward the shadow figure. She wiped her hands on her torn jeans. Her blue eyes looked into the shadow figure’s red ones. She shuddered as it cast images into her mind.

One was of her mother, lying dead in the street right after she had been hit by a large truck that ran a red light. Red blood framed her limp form on the black street. In another image her step-father nursed his first bottle of beer the night after the accident. He lay curled on his bed, murmuring in his sorrow. The third image was of the scene downstairs. It depicted her step-father’s rash behavior. It depicted how close Rachel had been to ending the abuse right then and there. She watched as her hands trembled. She saw from the outside how much the shadow figure affected her.  Rachel broke.

She threw herself back unto the bed, pulling her knees to her chest. She lay on her side. The sobs ripped through her, forcing small whimpers to escape from her sealed lips. Pain pushed at her ribs. She hugged herself, sat up, and rocked back and forth. Her heart pulsed faster, faster, faster, then slower, slower, slower as the shadow figure wrapped itself around her. Rachel willfully drew the shadow figure closer to her heart.

In the morning Rachel awoke with the shadow figure hovering between her and her step-father. He reached out and slapped her. “If you cry, whelp, you’ll never cry again in this house.”

The shadow figure spun around and whispered in Rachel’s ear. Stay strong, my child, bide the time. Stay here. Tolerate him. I shall deal with him in my own time.

Rachel’s little sisters stirred in the bed behind her. She stood and the shadow figure hovered between her and her step-father, her body between him and the young girls. A passion grew in her bosom. One of the little girls called out her name. A tear trickled down Rachel’s cheek, sparkling with love. The shadow figure shuddered; gaps began to appear in its mass.

Turning around, Rachel flung herself unto her little sisters. She hugged them and kissed them. Her step-father pulled her off and threw her to the floor. Rachel jumped up, turned toward her step-father, and glared through the shadow figure which began to solidify more. Yes, child. Yes, you hate him.

Rachel looked toward her little sisters, “Father.”

“What?” Rachel’s step-father turned toward her.

Time stopped. The shadow figure drew close to Rachel. It hissed. It growled. It whispered. What are you doing, my child? He is not your father.

“There is only one way to stop him.”

Yes, child, but all in time. I shall be rid of him in time. Trust me.

“Mom would want me to take care of the little ones. There is only one way for me to do that.”

Dear one, I have been here since your mother’s death. I know what is best for you. Your mother’s death was his fault. He is the cause of all your pain!

Rachel ran a hand through her bedraggled hair. “You lie. You have blinded me. Mom’s death was an accident.”

No! He caused her death!

“Mom loved me!” Rachel whispered.

Yes, the shadow figure shivered and cracks began opening in its dark essence. But he took that away from you. Indeed, my child, that part of your mother caused you more pain since her death than the joy it ever brought you in life.

“Mom loved them.” Rachel gestured to her little sisters.

Yes, yes, but see their pain at her loss!

“Mom loved Jack, my father.” Rachel bit her lip. “And Mom loved Stan, my step-father, after my father died. I also loved Stan.”

Yes, you did once. But that was long ago. Think of all he has done to you.

“Stan loved my mom and her death was hard on him.”

No, no! He caused your mother’s death! He is the cause of all your pain.

“I love my little sisters and, despite all he has done, he needs my help in this time of pain. My little sisters need me in this time.”

No, don’t say it! Think of what he has done to you! The shadow figure flickered. It hovered on the brink of banishment. Its wispy fingers clutched at Rachel’s cheeks. They did so vainly. No longer could the shadow figure touch Rachel. It roared in pain.

“I love you, dad.” Rachel spoke to her step-father. He stared at her, dumbfounded. His entire body started to shake. The shadow figure screamed as its anchor of hate was banished from Rachel by the power of love.

Rachel’s step-father knelt before her. His brows pulled together. Rachel put her arm around his neck and hugged him. Warmth surged through her body and into his. He just knelt there in shock. Rachel spoke as her two little sisters hid behind her. “Dad, I know you must be in pain. I miss her too. I want you to know that I love you and I want to help you through this pain.”

“Thank you.” Rachel’s step-father managed to mumble in between his sobs.
Copyright 2012~Joshua A. Spotts 

 

 

 

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Filed under 2000 word limit, Short Stories