Waking up was instant — eyes were closed, then they were open. She blinks, looks around, and immediately sits up, hissing in pain as she unclenches her hands, dropping a small handful of old bottlecaps into her blanketed lap. “Oh,” she says to no one in particular. “I must have been sleeping. How did that happen? Silly girl.” Getting up, she carefully scoops up the bottlecaps and puts them in the pocket of the pants she’s already wearing. Walking is faintly lopsided. She glances down.
One shoe off, one shoe on.
“These aren’t the right shoes, anyway,” she murmurs, and rubs her eyes. “Where did everyone go?” For a moment, she walks in a slow, small circle, but grows frustrated when she doesn’t get anywhere. She’s focused so tightly on her steps, she doesn’t hear the door open.
“Are you coming down for breakfast, or—Christ. What did you do, wear your sneakers to bed?” an older woman sighs. “Is there mud in the sheets again?”
The girl’s head jerks up, and she looks at the palms of her hands, then the backs, then over to the woman in the doorway. “I think I’m lost. I’m stuck. I was headed there, but I’m still here,” she explains. “You understand.”
“No more of this,” the woman says, not unkindly. “Come to breakfast. You’ll stay home today.”
“Yes, home. I–”
“That’s where I was going. Oh, he’ll be so worried. So sad. His eyes, they light up. I miss him; I have to get back–” At first, she seems relieved to have a plan, but as she keeps talking, she looks alternately worried and saddened. “I have to get back to him. I know they put me to bed, and he isn’t waiting anymore, but he never– I don’t know when he…” She puts her hands into her tangled hair and utters a low sob. “It’s all gone backwards. It was supposed to be then but then it was now and he isn’t even there yet, is he? I don’t have the right shoes on,” she pleads.
“Honey,” the woman says, going to put her hands on the younger woman’s shoulders.
“NO!” the girl screams. “Don’t! I won’t be able to get back. I won’t be able to find him again.”
Flinching back, the woman sighs, and wipes tears from her own eyes tiredly. “This again,” she says resignedly. “Sweetheart, I–”
Footsteps down the hall, and a man walks in, with wire-rimmed glasses and hard grey eyes that aren’t touched by his concerned smile. “What is it? I heard shouting.”
“You don’t belong,” the girl whispers, shaking her head, her fingers to her mouth. “You never did, and that’s why it makes you so angry. And you, and you, and you and you and you,” she says, shaking her head. “Well it isn’t something I had a hand in, just all my fingers, in every pie. All of them. Just a taste. She’s laughing. She laughs at my jokes. I have to get BACK!” she shouts, and then her voice dwindles into a mournful sob. “Back home.”
“Okay okay — if there is home,” the woman murmurs, her voice so very soothing, “then where are you now, darling?”
“Stop that. You’re not helping,” the man snaps. “Don’t cater to her. Don’t play into her fantasy — you know this is all nonsense.” He walks up and reaches for the young woman, and grabs ahold of her shoulders and gives her a rough shake. “You listen to me, young lady. You’re old enough to know better. You stop this instant. Do you hear me?”
At first, she squirms, rolling her eyes and batting ineffectually, making pained mewling sounds in her throat.
“You stop this nonsense! Don’t you understand what you’re doing to this family? Don’t you see?” The shouting doesn’t seem to reach her — it is only when the back of the man’s bare hand touches her cheek in a stinging slap that anything registers. “Damnit, don’t you see?”
The girl’s head snaps down and to the side, and her eyes flinch shut as all the mewling stops. She shudders, taking a step back, and puts her hand to her cheek, panting briefly.
“Yes,” she whispers. “Oh, yes.” When she looks up, and her hair falls away from her face, she opens up her eyes and stares, through and through, far and away, her eyes shining blue-black, speckled with twilight stars, galaxies of possibility.
Her voice is full of threads of potential, of all possibility, as she whispers, “I see.”
“When one of the kids opened the closet door– I can’t remember which of them it was– they all started yammering about Narnia and the Hitchhiker’s Guide and all sorts of the things we’ve been feeding them. It couldn’t’ve been more glorious, but it certainly could’ve been less worrisome. I didn’t at all mind playing Professor Kirke for the lot of them when they came up to the work room, and I’m fairly sure I kept from visibly reacting when they asked whose shoe it was.
“Of course I lied. Of course I said Robert Smith’s, it was funny. But then a butterfly fluttered out of it when Sam put it on my desk, and I couldn’t hide my expression anymore.
“They’re in bed now, dove. And she’s home with them, and there won’t be any leaving anyone behind. We don’t do that. But I’m here. And I’m leaving the door a crack open, in case you can see your way home easier through there.
“It’s still your closet. And I’ve got your shoe.”
A little more creakily than he’d ever like to admit, the man with the scars and the salt-and-pepper hair crouched down next to the grave, setting down the one white hightop sneaker in front of the awkwardly-cut stone, then sticking a roll of candy in it.
“We’ll be here.”
I *love* you. 🙂
Your skills are awesome, Jones. I don’t know how to describe it exactly. Feels effortless, like you’re not even trying. I’m not trying to give you too big an ego so I’ll shut up. But I read every word of this, wondering what the hell was going to happen. I hardly ever ever do that.
Lewin, you always know what to say.
I won’t say this one’s effortless, but this particular character comes in fits and starts, and when she does, there’s no real stopping her. Just… got to let it out. I want to know where it’s going, just as much as you do. I’m glad you’re with me on it.
You’re going to need to tell that to my wife: that I always know what to say. She’d laugh.
Anyway, your character doesn’t feel forced at all, and I would call her intriguing. Some creepiness going on in this, just enough to create tension, but not enough to be over-the-top. It’s good balance. Or whatever they call it. Actually, I don’t have a clue what anything is really called, all I know is that I’d read more about her.