Second Person

This is kind of a continuation of Set Up, but it doesn’t have to be. Let’s do this again: find something about this one you don’t like and tell me in the comments. Come on! It’s fun!

* * * * *

You’re at that Chinese food place again–the one with the streamers on the ceiling fans and the battery-operated candles trying to illuminate Buddha in the sunlit front window. You’ve paid the skinny Korean boy at the cash register and you’ve just sat down with your Moo Goo Gai Pan when you notice them. They’re eating in an innocent, almost weary silence. A break from their daily routine. A reprieve. You know it too well.

You consider switching to the chair across from you but decide against it. You don’t want your back to them. You slide your baseball cap around so the brim is in the front and tug it low on your forehead. You turn your spoon upside down on the table so you can see their movement in the reflection if they get up. Then you bow over your plate and eat. You don’t want to finish before them. You want to chew each individual piece of rice so you can remain a fixture blending into the restaurant and not the person they’ve been looking for for seven years. If you still recognize them after that long, they’ll still recognize you.

Two of them finish, take turns using the restroom, and leave. You hear their car start up and speed away. One remains at the table, engrossed in his phone. You like these odds better. You’ve been back in the city for two years, and he’s the first person you’ll have to confront. Not bad, you think.

He pockets his phone and looks at you. You turn your baseball cap backward again. You’re no coward. In here, or out there? you think at him. You don’t know he’s only there to stall you.

You don’t know it’s the second person, the one coming down the street toward that Chinese food place right now, who should really worry you.

Set Up

I waited for you. I watched that army green door on the back of 511 North 19th Street as the Earth turned and the shadows grew and the night slid over the city. You said you’d look different, but none of those people who came out of that door could have been you. There are some things you can’t change.

When the sweaty hand clamped over my mouth, I thought it was you, playing a joke on me. I had been careful. They couldn’t have found me. But this duct tape is not a joke. Neither is the man with the sledgehammer, coming back after his dinner for the information a bloody nose and a broken elbow could not extract. Now that they have me, they won’t need you. You’re probably across the border now. I hope you are.

Because you’ll never guess what I’m about to tell them.

An Odd Thing to Steal

Inspiration Monday XXX – I planned to make this hotter in the spirit of the Roman numeral, but I ran out of time.

* * * * *

When I return to camp, there is a bare patch of ground in place of my bed. A bed is an odd thing to steal. It must have been moved for a reason.

My other belongings appear to be untouched. I drop my baskets to the ground and sit to remove my wet sandals. Leaning back on my elbows, I stretch my legs long, and look directly into the gaze of Singing Sun’s brother. Although he’s always smirking, tonight’s smirk crosses the distance between us and lands on me. I should have known he was a practical joker. If my bed has one speck of dirt on it, I’m going to make him scrub it ten times in the river tomorrow and then make him watch it dry while his chores go undone.

He rises from his spot, and I look away. Wind touches leaves high in the trees. I roll each vertebra against the ground, one by one, until the back of my head settles against earth still warm from the day. Footsteps close in. He appears above me.

He looks at my baskets. “Fever Berries? And what’s in the other one?”

“Empty,” I say to the trees. “I’m saving it for the testicles of the man who stole my bed.”

His knees hit the ground between my legs and I sit up in reflex. Not even a breeze could pass between his lips and mine. So much for playing aloof.

“Could you remove them in the morning?” he asks. “I might need them tonight.”

“I pity the poor girl.”

“Self-pity?” He clicks his tongue. “Not the best trait.”

“Neither is thievery. Where is it?”

He looks up. I follow his gaze. At once, I notice a swaying hunk of tan, dangling from a high branch. Had I noticed it before, I could have shot it down with a dart and avoided all this nonsense.

He sits back on his heels and smiles. Our civilization is struggling, the world is ending, and he’s playing games.

I pull my legs away from him and cross them under me. “Start climbing. You have two minutes.”

He doesn’t move. I imagine those thick arms and legs moving up that tree, him returning to me panting, sweating, and full of victory. The same way he’d look if…

“You have no bed. You share my bed. That is the plan.”

“Whose plan?”

He jabs his thumb into his chest. “My plan.”

My blood flushes, feverish and electrical, like I’ve polished off my whole basket of berries. It seems I wouldn’t mind being pressed against that chest myself. I push up and walk on my knees toward him. Here’s where I should slap his smug face. I kiss him hard. He’s a solid pillar – unsurprised, unflinching, and completely unguarded. Yet he barely responds.

He waits for me to pull away, then he says, “I only said I’d share my bed. Do you want to alter my plan?”

“Yes.” I stand. “Let’s move your bed far from camp. After all this, I’m going to make you perform.”

He catches me by the leg, takes a quick look around for spectators, then runs his tongue up the inside of my thigh before he stands next to me. “Yes, ma’am.”

The One Thing You Should Never Forget

Inspiration Monday XXIII

And here’s an exercise for all of you. As much as I love praise (bring it on! just kidding. okay maybe not), give me some criticism on this one. What do you hate? Come on. It will be fun. :D

* * * * *

I watch the raindrop crawl down his forehead, roll around his eyebrow and down the side of his nose. He exhales hard, then looks past my shoulder. She is standing there. That woman.

“What do you want me to do?” he asks.

“Kill her.”

“You know I can’t do that.”

How can he continue being the good one? After all she’s done to him. To us.

He leans toward me and looks into my eyes. “She’s my flesh and blood. In this world, after all we’ve lost, it’s the one thing you should never forget.”

It would be wrong of me to tell him, to load that weight on him, when he carries around so much already. I can’t tell him. “She killed your flesh and blood.” I cover my mouth with both hands. This sleep deprivation has stolen my restraint. This violence around us has silenced my good judgment. The rain penetrates the defenses of my suit, sliding down my back like tiny icy fingers.

He pulls his gun. It hovers in the air next to my ear, gleaming silver on black, aimed behind me. Everything about him stills, except for the rain running clean tracks through the dirt on his face.

She laughs, a sound that morphs the icy fingers on my back into razor blades. “Jason, I-”

His empty hand covers my ear as he fires.

You’re Still Here?

Inspiration Monday XXII

* * * * *

Uneven footsteps click against concrete and echo in my ears still hot and fuzzy from the loud music. There’s not a soul around. Oh yeah, there’s a girl on my arm. She’s hanging on, heavy like a bowling ball in my hand dragging me to the ground. I straighten to take my arm back. Jeez. That was my head. I look behind us. Did we run into that pole? I laugh and rub my temple. That’s going to hurt tomorrow.

Eureka it’s the car. Abrupt red in a maze of gray. All these levels look the same. They do it on purpose just to mess us up when all we want to do is go home. It’s so far away. We’ll never make it.

Two beeps greet us. I open her door, drop her into the seat. Her hair sprays across the head rest. Why did I pick the blonde? The brunette was cuter. I grab the door handle. Wait, that’s not right. I put her leg inside. Slam the door. Oh, seat belt. Open the door, wrestle her seat belt over her and click it. She tries to kiss me but misses, hits my ear instead. My feet drag through mud to my door. But there’s no mud here.

I push the ignition. What’s that sound? I squint at the blinking words in the dash. “Check tire pressure,” I say, but my lips won’t move. She giggles in her sleep.

My forehead hits the steering wheel, and I force myself back outside. Four flat tires shit this is the boss’s car. Shit shit shit. Two hundred fifty fucking thousand dollar supercar and some jerk has to flatten the tires because I have one and he doesn’t. Drive on the rims. Wouldn’t be the first time. I already owe him four tires why not throw in some rims.

It takes a year to get back in the car. I hit the button again. No engine. Again. Nothing. Something blinks at me, but it’s a cartoon. A picture of a foot. How am I supposed to know what that means?

A crash on the roof wakes me. I wipe the drool off my chin. Black wings span the hood. Red eyes stare. And fangs? I get out.

He leaps off the car. A demon of some sort. “You’re still here?” he asks.

“Can’t get the car started.”

He looks at his nails. Not nails. Talons. “Did you push in the clutch?”

Oh. Guess not. But he’s the asshole. I’m not stupid. I shove him. He hisses and spins, slicing my shirt in four places.

“What do you want?” I yell.

“I need a soul. You, or her. Your choice.”

I want to go home. And I would kill for some fish tacos. “That’s easy. Her.”

He grabs my throat. “Wrong answer.”

He’s almost dragged me to the elevator when the car’s other door opens. “You’re leaving? You pig!” Suddenly she’s wide awake. “I can’t drive in these shoes!”

The demon gives me a knowing look. “Okay. I’ll take her.”

Rearrange Me ‘Til I’m Sane

Inspiration Monday XX. One more X, and I would have had to have added much more detail. :O

“would have had to have”? Jeez. Is there a better way to say that? It’s painful.

* * * * *

The shade of night offers no relief from the heat. I swelter against him, boil in his arms, melt into the bed of dusty earth and dead grass. Any more of this, and he’ll have to reform my body in the morning. Rearrange me ’til I’m sane.

His mouth is dry and so is mine. We’ve sweated all our moisture out. We both know there’s no water for miles, but in this moment, we could both dehydrate and die and it would all be worth it. Our bodies would return to the earth together, fertilizing the soil, this union creating life in a different way.

He pushes up on straight, stiff arms to look at me. His chest heaves. The air floods between us, pushing him an ocean away from me. A vibration tickles the back of my head, and I turn my ear to the ground. It’s just a hint. It could be anything. He puts his ear against the ground beside me. His eyes are mirrors of mine. The vibration builds into something we both recognize and we sit up simultaneously. Orange twinkles through the forest toward us.

He takes my hand and we run. We’re too dehydrated. We’re too far from water. Sound laps at the backs of my legs, stealing my death in bliss and handing out a death in fear.

“No!” I stop so abruptly I fall to my knees. He stops a few yards ahead and turns. I sit back on my heels. “No.”

He puts his hands on his knees, bows his head. Breathes. When he looks up, all I see is a wicked smile. “We face it,” he says.

“Yes.”

“No one’s ever faced it.”

I stand. “We face it.”

He comes to my side. We watch it coming toward us. Our breath slows. Our hearts calm. And we welcome our death in freedom.

I’m The Only One Who Can’t

For this week’s Inspiration Monday, I’ve continued the story from last week. They each stand alone, but if you want the whole story, read last week’s “I Dreamed This” first.

* * * * *

This new room is all wrong. I want to go back home. Your pupils are still dilated, your eyes are still bloodshot. The glare of these lights make it so obvious. Don’t you know what will happen as soon as they put it all together?

My awareness is a shadow on the ceiling, anchored by the body in the bed. Witnessing everything, participating in nothing. Unable to be with you, yet unable to leave. You’re looking into eyes that aren’t attached to me anymore. You’re holding the hand I can no longer feel. I see your lips move, I hear your words, but my response steams the glass in front of my face and bounces around inside this prison.

This dream of ours stinks of reality. We did this together, but I know you will take the blame. And I’m the only one who can’t tell you I’ve forgiven you.

I Dreamed This

I missed a week of Inspiration Monday, but I’m back.

I’ve been busy writing draft one of my third book, which is actually the prequel in the series. I’m about one hundred pages in. My manuscripts usually end up being 500-600, but I have a lot of ground to cover in this prequel and I’m starting to wonder if it’s going to turn into two novels. Or three. I’m also procrastinating working on the synopsis for book one so I can start querying. It’s written, but needs major tweaking.

So here’s my attempt at this week’s Inspiration Monday.

* * * * *

I dreamed this. Wind so violent, tearing at my hair, my clothes. The ground rumbles underfoot, and the city falls before my eyes. The dust becomes a new entity, rising up, higher than the top of the once highest building, yet suddenly the wind cuts off and I’m shielded inside a clean, soundless space, like an insect caught in an upside down glass.

You dreamed this, from the other side. Your distance flavored your terror with helplessness. You didn’t know I was inside that glass.

And when I woke up, you were there, but I was not. I was still inside that glass, watching you try to wake me.

Outstretched Fingers

Inspiration Monday XVI

* * * * *

The warrior shoots another glance at me. This time, he doesn’t look away. If his aim with a weapon is as pointed, as determined, he will return undefeated. This ceremony is his, but as the night slips along, with each glance, he seems to make it more about me.

His skin is the darkest of my generation, several shades darker than babies born this season. Our sun dissolves into the indigo sky more each day. Sky of periwinkle when I was a child. Now indigo, soon to black. What color will our babies’ skin be when our sun has abandoned us? Will we lighten into nothingness?

He coasts through the crowd without breaking our gaze. He stops in front of me. The celebration around us muffles, like a giant has clamped a shell over the two of us.

He touches my shoulder. “Ing-nikg-ah.” His name, a name my tongue could never pronounce.

I touch his shoulder. “Shee-ylan-bsh.” My name, as foreign to his tongue as his name is to mine. Sounds only heard among women. Unknown to men as his language is unknown to me.

Bodies silhouetted against flame dance in his dark eyes. His skin shows through the symbol of protection carved into the fuzz on his cheeks, the hair on his newly shaved head. The symbol inked on his arms and down his back hours ago. Inked on my belly the day I became a woman.

He trails his fingers across my collarbone, then along my shoulders as he walks around me. His touch on my skin is hotter than the embers from the fire, tracing an invisible rope. A snare. He wants me on his last night here.

When he returns to his position facing me, he lowers his hand. He smiles. He waits. I wish I could say his name, vocalize a response his ears would understand. The only language between man and woman is that of the body.

My outstretched fingers give him my answer.

Mindstorm

Inspiration Monday XV!

* * * * *

“There’s an obstruction in the main exhaust!” Cyd’s voice echoed down the chamber to her, reminding her of the empty expanse on either side of her.

She checked the clips on her harness for the fiftieth time. The lack of gravity was now her friend. If the engine suddenly powered back on, it would be her worst enemy. Without the harness, she’d be sucked straight out of the ship. In pieces. The grates were designed to keep metal and rock out. To a soft human body, they were vacuum-powered meat grinders. She’d seen it happen.

“I can see it, but I can’t reach it. Send Banj up.”

“He’s not with me.” She switched on her radio. “Banj, do you copy?”

Fingers clutched her arm. She unholstered her weapon and spun. Her helmet light illuminated Banj’s face, and she kicked him backwards with both feet. “Nice one, kid. Sometimes I forget I gotta keep an eye on you.”

Banj’s helmet light flicked on. “Easy prey, sweetheart.” He’d just had his thirteenth birthday. Now he thought he was a man, thought he could get away with calling her sweetheart. Even though he’d been calling her that since he was nine.

“Climb up with me.” Banj tossed his line up a few sections. His light got smaller and smaller.

She slid the cover over the control panel. Nothing she could do here would fix an obstruction. It was all up to Banj. Pretty soon he’d be too big for this job, and they’d have to find another kid.

She followed Banj’s light up the chamber. Cyd hooked her line to the wall next to his and Banj’s, then helped Banj into the exhaust opening. When Banj was out of reach, Cyd caught her eye. She knew what he was thinking. This is no job for a kid. She was thinking the same thing. Especially after what happened to Banj’s predecessor.

Shock waves rippled down the chamber as Banj worked the obstruction free. The air shuddered with each strike, releasing pressure that would kill them all if the engine powered on. Mindstorm creaked and groaned around her. She looked at Cyd. The ship should be silent. All systems should be down.

Cyd went for his radio, and she scrambled up her line to Banj.