The desperation in Carson’s eyes gave her pause. He kept staring somewhere over her left shoulder–what was it? She looked again, squinting. Nothing. Finally, she asked outright, “What?”

“What, what?” he began, his expression changing once he realized she was looking at him. He shifted, foot to foot, looking somewhat guilty. Over what, she simply couldn’t tell.

“Stop it. You’ve been giving me orphan-eyes this whole time,” she sighed. “I just want to know what the hell you’re up to, and why you’re not bothering to whinge.” Her own expression moved to one of dawning, a slow realization that made her feel both clever, and suspicious. “You know,” she began, narrowing her eyes and leaning in to look at him, “Every other time, you give me this endless spiel of ‘No.’ You’re the reason I can’t have any fun! No, Carissa,” she said, taking on a mocking tone, “That was mother’s ring–leave it in the casket! No, Carissa, you’re not supposed to put foxglove in Auntie’s tea; it’s not nice! No, Carissa, acid in the candies for Hallow’s Eve wasn’t a clever joke. Now Lettie hasn’t got any lips, Carissa,” she said, mocking, rolling her eyes. “Well maybe if Lettie weren’t a piglet, she’d have noticed before she put the whole lot in her mouth!”

He bit his lip, looking saddened and said, “She’s our sister, Carissa.”

“That doesn’t make a whit of difference!” she said, stamping her foot. “And anyway, I laughed, and that’s the proof that it was a very clever joke!” she said. “Now come along; you’re very slow, you know.”

“I know,” he said quietly, ducking his head and hurrying after her.

When they reached the end of the passage, Carissa came to a sudden stop, and Carson–with his shoulders hunched, his head ducked–bumped into her. She dropped the light, and it rolled past her feet, right off the ledge, disappearing into the black. She squealed, indignant, and whirled around to put a finger in his face and snap, “Watch where you’re going, you ridiculous oaf! Now I’ve lost the torch — give me yours.”

“I’ll carry it, Carissa. That way your hands can be free,” he said, his tone carrying just enough groveling.

“Oh, fine,” she sighed, rolling her eyes again. “But light up the path; we’ve only got the one, and I don’t want you tripping me up.”

“Of course, Carissa,” he murmured. He carefully pointed the light toward her feet, and the two of them began to walk down the ledge, circling the pit.

Down and down and down, circles and circles. Impatient, she finally said, “How much further? You said not very far. We’ve been walking for hours!” She continued to complain, marching down the stairs, a litany of every wrong done to her by everyone else in the world.

Now and then Carson would respond with “Sorry, Carissa,” and keep walking with her.

“It’s moments like these where I wonder why I bother bringing you along,” she fussed. She kept walking, but rummaged in her bag, to take out her canteen, and drain it greedily. She badgered Carson into giving her his, which he did with reluctance. “Ugh,” she said, clearing her throat. “I’ll bet you didn’t even clean it from the last time we were out,” she muttered. “Useless.”

To that, he answered, “Only a little further, now.”

“Good,” she said. “I’m feeling dizzy, and I don’t know if this is very fun anymore.”

They walked on in silence, until Carissa stumbled, staggering against the side of the stone wall, and uttered a low, trembling moan. “Oh!” she gasped. “Oh, Carson, I’m quite dizzy. I really am very–” She tripped again, and this time, felt something wrench in her foot, pop in her ankle. She would have screamed, but instead she crumpled, and everything went dark.

* * *

When she awoke, Carissa found herself on the floor, no Carson to be seen. He had left her a canteen and a small pack of food. Her foot was propped up. “Stupid boy,” she muttered groggily. “Didn’t even wrap my ankle. Carson! Carson!” she shouted, but there was no answer.

* * *

When she began to get hungry, she opened up the small satchel of food, and realized right away he’d left her his bag. He always packed much better than she, for these trips; she wolfed down his sandwiches, and drank his tea, to the last drop. When she was finished, she continued to rummage; her tummy felt a little off, and she hoped he had a bit of bismol or something tucked away. her head ached, and her chest tightened, and her stomach felt worse, and worse. She couldn’t find a bit of medicine, but instead she found the little waxed paper bundle of sweets tucked in the bottom. “Serves him right,” she said, peeling it open and popping a handful into her mouth. They wouldn’t settle her stomach, but at least they would settle her ire. She crammed a second handful in, and let her teeth break through all the thin sugar shells at once. The syrup was lemon and honey, but the sourness of it was too much. It stung something awful, and the sharp sugar shells cut her lips. Her ankle throbbed and her head swam–her chest pounded, an enemy at the gate–and now she could taste blood on her tongue; her lips were all but on fire.

When Carson came into view, she sobbed aloud, reaching up for him, wild-eyed. He caught her wrist, and she felt relief, until all he did was pluck the ring from her finger, and let her hand drop back in her lap. She tried to speak, but remnants of candies and tongue fell onto her chest in a honey-drool of red.

“This is for Mother, and aunt Maybelline, and Lettie,” he said, sliding the topaz onto his pinkie. “And this,” he murmured, watching the light in her eyes go out, “was clever.”

He picked up the torch, and headed back up the spiral staircase, alone.

* * *

This was for a fiction challenge from Terrible Minds. Choose five words, then construct the story, 1000-word limit. This one is 1000, precisely.

About Catastrophe Jones

Wretched word-goblin with enough interests that they're not particularly awesome at any of them. Terrible self-esteem and yet prone to hilarious bouts of hubris. Full of the worst flavors of self-awareness. Owns far too many craft supplies. Will sing to you at the slightest provocation.
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0 Responses to Clever

  1. Trent Lewin says:

    Holy crap. That was searing, and ominous and had me feeling disquieted through the whole thing – right to that perfectly-fitting ending. Fantastic, Jones, and like a bit of the longer length. Great characters and build up of tension.

  2. Trent Lewin says:

    I imagine I’m going to have a hard time getting this out of my head today.

  3. Mark Gardner says:

    I liked the story. I’ve always been a fan of comeuppance.

  4. mlhe says:

    Looked up “great dialogue” in dictionary–found this story! Put your gloves on, foxes, and go for a taste! The sugar shells are worth the toll!

  5. Jen Donohue says:

    Subtle, what a great reversal!

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