Short Story Sunday #2

February 23, 2013 at 9:11 pm | Posted in Finding your voice, Foster Care, Invisible, Short Stories, Suicide, Sunday, Teen, Writing, Reading, YA, Young Adult | Leave a comment

Short Story Sunday

THE LION WITHIN

by Abby Goldsmith

Cherise planned to become a ghost. She was halfway there already, unseen and unheard, just another kid in overcrowded Hollander Home. After she dumped her duffel bag in the attic bedroom they’d assigned her to, she grabbed a pair of scissors from the bathroom drawer, sought solitude, and found it on the back porch.

She sat on a rotting bench and angled the open scissors against her wrist. Rain whispered in the darkness. It sounded alien to her. In her mother’s trailer, rain would have pattered on the tin roof.

Blood welled in the cut. Cherise pressed the blade deeper, sawing quickly to stay ahead of the pain. She almost didn’t hear the porch door creak open.

Then she registered the sound for what it was. Furious at her own stupidity, she hid the scissors in her lap and tried to hide her blood‑slicked wrist. She’d never lived in foster care before. For all she knew, this house had hidden surveillance cameras. She wished she’d checked.

A little boy maneuvered his child‑sized wheelchair onto the porch with difficulty. He appeared to be alone. The door fell shut behind him, followed by the creaking screen door.

“Hi,” he said. “I’m your suicide watch.”

Someone had mentioned a child genius living in this house. Judging by the arrogant way he spoke, Cherise guessed this was him.

She stood. No one would bother her in the woods. By the time this kid alerted the household and they found her, she’d be dead.

“Everyone says you’re mute,” the boy said. “But you’re just afraid to talk. Afraid of what you’ll say.”

Cherise walked down the porch steps and into the rainy night.

“If you start speaking,” the boy said, “you’re afraid you’ll scream.”

No one had articulated her problem quite so accurately. Cherise wondered, just briefly, if he was genuinely sympathetic. That seemed impossible. Kids were never nice. Kids in foster care had a lot of problems. This handicapped genius kid probably meant to reel her in so he could slap her with a harsh joke. He was toying with the new girl.

“I’m not toying with you.” He spoke as if he could hear her thoughts. “I just want a little talk before you’re gone. I’m Thomas Hill.” He flipped open a small notebook on his lap, tore out a sheet, and began to fold it. “The resident genius, as you’ve guessed. You’re less blind than most people. There’s nothing wrong with you at all, other than your speech phobia, which is no big deal. You’d be surprised at how many seemingly ordinary people suffer from phobias and deeply buried psychoses. A good ninety‑five percent of the population. And you have far better reasons for yours than most people do.”

Walk away, Cherise urged herself. Her wrist throbbed sharply. She needed to finish the job before she lost her nerve.

Curiosity held her in place. Could Thomas Hill really hear her thoughts, or was he just prescient?

“Your mother punished you every time you spoke.” Thomas fluffed the paper, sculpting it. “For most of your life, you couldn’t speak without suffering for it. That’s why your throat closes up when you try to talk these days.”

Cherise had never considered her muteness in this light. She felt the pain of thirst and hunger, smelled the dirty gag in her mouth, heard flies buzzing around the trailer. Glitzy, the baby, her sister, had died crying.

It’s true, she realized. Ma Chavez hated complaints. The comprehension made her gasp, and tears came to her eyes, riding a wave of hate. She made me mute (and pathetic). She killed my baby sister. Her mother’s parole would come in ten years, way too soon. I hate her, hate her, hate her. I’ll kill her. Cherise clenched her bloody wrist. The pain of torn flesh was nothing compared to the agony inside her. If she’d seen her mother’s face at that moment, she would have ripped it to shreds.

“You’ve earned your anger,” Thomas said. “It’s not your fault. It doesn’t mean you’re crazy. It means you’re right.” He studied Cherise with the unabashed interest of a child, but his eyes, a vibrant purple color, didn’t match the rest of him. His eyes looked much older.

“You associate speaking with pain,” he said. “It’s so ingrained, even knowing the cause won’t help you much yet. But time will. You won’t be mute forever.”

Heart thudding, Cherise opened her mouth, wanting to ask how he knew these things. Her throat thickened with terror. Words stuck there, aching. Thomas was wrong. She would never speak.

“We’re having a conversation right now,” Thomas said.

The last of her uncertainty vanished when she met his gaze. He saw her. Not the mute girl, not a victim of abuse and neglect, not a tragic news story, but her. Cherise Chavez. It made no difference if he was psychic or just guessing; he saw the truth.

Crickets chirped blithely on, unaware of the miracle taking place. Cherise walked back onto the porch.  Do you hear my thoughts? She directed that thought at Thomas. It felt strangely natural to speak this way.

“Yes.” He answered exactly as if she’d spoken out loud. “I’m a mind reader.”

Rainwater dripped down her hair, mingling with her blood‑soaked sleeve. Now she had another question. Why would a mind reader take notice of Cherise Chavez? She was doomed.

She supposed Thomas must be an altruist. With his ability, he probably rescued suicidal losers all the time. He would fail this time. Cherise knew she wasn’t worth his effort. She was defective, broken, incapable of having a bright future.

“You’re wrong about yourself.” Thomas faced her with a pained expression. “I don’t waste my time saving people. There are way too many problems in this world, and time is precious to me. But you’re worth my effort; you and what you survived.” He looked haunted. “Cherise, I know what your mother did to you. It’s usually easy for me to see the reasons behind what people do, but some people have a darkness that I can’t fathom. Some memories are bad enough to make me vomit. Or weep.” He made the latter sound worse. “Your mother’s behavior went beyond anything I can understand. And yet you still see beauty in this world. That makes you amazingly resilient. I’ve never met anybody like you.”

Cherise had never been so complimented in her life. “Why?” she began to say, and heard her own voice. It quavered like an old lady’s, yet she felt no fear of speaking in front of Thomas. None at all. There was no danger that he would misunderstand. He’d know what she meant, whether or not she messed up the words.

Why are you trying to help me? She finished in her mind.

“We’re both lonely,” Thomas said. “There’s no point treading around that issue.” He faced her squarely. “Let’s get something straight, Cherise. I’m not trying to buy a friendship. You’re the first person I’ve approached like this, and I’m only doing it because I want your mind nearby. But if you disagree, I’ll understand. If you decide you’re better off alone, I’ll stop bothering you. I promise. I’m not acting as an altruistic savior or anything like that. This is my own self interest. I absorb things from people. Memories take me minutes or weeks, depending on the person’s age and how much I want to absorb from them. Talents and inner strengths take longer. For those, I need to live with the person for at least a few months. You have phenomenal inner strength and other rare qualities. I’d rather not see your mind go to waste.”

Cherise had the impression that he was sincere. He meant every word. His honesty made her smile a little. The expression felt brittle and unfamiliar.

He indicated her bloody wrist. “I picked up your intent, so I packed a bandage. I can wrap up your wound. No one else would have to know. I’d check it periodically to make sure it doesn’t get infected.”

The more she studied Thomas, the more she realized how ancient he looked. His eyes belonged to someone who had lived hundreds of lifetimes.

“You see me,” Thomas said quietly. “Your perception is a little like mind reading. You understand everyone, but no one understands you.”

He handed her the folded paper, transformed into a perfect origami lion. “For you. Squeeze his mane ‑ here and here ‑ and he’ll roar.”

Cherise tried it. The lion roared silently, soaking up spots of her blood. She wondered what Thomas wanted with her.

“There’s a lion inside you,” Thomas told her. “Your words have potential to change history. When you rip your mother’s grip off your throat, everyone will listen.”

<><><>

Abby Goldsmith

Abby Goldsmith is an animator by day, and a novelist by night. Her animation credits include Nickelodeon and Disney games for the Wii, Nintendo DS, and other platforms.  Her short stories and articles have appeared in Escape Pod, Fantasy Magazine, and other online venues. She’s currently seeking a literary agent or publisher for her epic science fiction series of books.

Connect with Abby:

www.abbygoldsmith.com/
www.twitter.com/abbyland

www.facebook.com/TheTorth

www.art.abbygoldsmith.com/
www.abbybabble.blogspot.com/

Abby’s story “The Lion Within” appears in Suddenly Lost In Words, Volume 2 available at Amazon US or Amazon UK

www.suddenlylostinwords.com

HAVE A GREAT SUNDAY!

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Short Story Sunday #1

February 16, 2013 at 9:19 pm | Posted in Kindle, Love lost, New Jersey, New York City, Reading, Romance, Short Stories, Sunday, Teen, The Big Apple, Writing, Reading, YA, Young Adult | Leave a comment

Short Story Sunday

This is the first in a series of short stories on a Sunday. What better way to spend a snippet of your Sunday, because really that’s all a short story takes . . . a snippet of your time. So, without further ado, and in keeping with the love theme of this past week, here is

LET’S PRETEND IT NEVER HAPPENED, IF ONLY FOR THE NIGHT

by Connor Thomas Cleary

I packed a toothbrush and a change of underclothes. Not sure I’ll need them, hope I will. New Jersey Transit hauls me toward the city, toward that big, loud, riot of a city. She’s the only reason I ever go there. The conductor hands me a yellow paper roundtrip with a few hanging chads. I stash it in my wallet behind a Metro Card with a logo worn away by the credit card sheath. Even though she broke up with me months ago, that face keeps fading.

The view from my window is beautiful in spite of the iron sky. Autumn blooms between the stations, surprisingly radiant in the muted light. Soon, I know, these washes of warm color will give way to the cold palette of a city pressing ever outward like greedy fog. I try to hold on to this warmth, to bring these colors with me. I shove a handful of Sugar Maple Red in my pocket, hide some Birch Yellow under my hat, and poke some Oak Orange into my sock.

Mid‑town bound, I’m going to see a show. She’s going to be great.

I told her to break a leg—how strange.

The Big Apple. Teeming, wormed with subways.

My train rumbles to a stop in the bowels of Penn Station. I step into a river of bodies. We flow upstairs. Popcorn and perfume. Fast food and stale air. I lower my head and charge for the A‑C‑E. I go with the flow. I weave. I press forward, desperate to escape this buzzing, subterranean hive.

My guts writhe. Anxiety saturates my nerves and I want to tear my skin off. There is too much. Energy, jostling, noise, pressure. Everything. The collected weight of the city presses down on me, compacting me into a tiny, shuddering caricature of myself. I don’t show it. Out of my way, city dwellers, I’ve got places to be.

The subway car is packed to the elbows. No one sees anyone. I never got the hang of avoiding eye contact. Too curious, I guess. So many people, so many stories; where are you all going? Backed into a corner near the doors, I try to remember to breathe.

You all look miserable. Stop it.

Up and out into the canyon streets, I try not to gawk like a tourist, but I gawk like a tourist. I imagine the slow ascent of the skyline over the centuries. It makes me feel small.

The streets and sidewalks are stampedes, stopping at red lights to gather strength like a dammed river. The clamor gets under my skin, it sneaks in when I breathe. Makes me feel neurotic. Closing my eyes and planting my feet, I imagine it breaking around me. I am the steadfast rock, affixed to the streambed. Thicker skin, that’s all I need.

People walk too slow.

The show is starting soon, can’t wait to see her. She’ll be in character when I do, but still. I choose a seat at random, wrestle my luggage between my legs, and pretend to peruse the playbill even after I’m done reading all the bios I care to. I know almost everyone in the show, so I eavesdrop the audience for comments about them.

She’s in the New York City Musical Theatre Festival this year. It’s kind of a big deal.

Over the years we spent together I, somewhat reluctantly, developed a sincere appreciation for musical theatre. Never thought I’d say that. Still wouldn’t call myself a fan, but I’ve learned to respect it.

The show erupts onto the stage. It’s all camp and bombast shot through with wildly impressive tap. The songs are catchy. I know I’ll be humming them to myself for days. Happens every time. And I know, no matter how much I fight it, the emotional climax will get me just a little misty.

The show is great. Best performance I’ve seen yet.

Afterward, she finds me on the outskirts of the sidewalk crowd. We hug for a very long moment. She whispers, “I miss you,” into my chest and the crowd disappears.

But then it’s back, and it’s time for pleasantries. I give brief, pat‑on‑the‑back hugs to other cast members and offer polite but sincere compliments. Good job. You were great. The show was great. Congratulations.

It’s good to see them, if a little awkward. It’s been a while.

She needs to be here. I know that. Most of her friends have already moved here, and her theatre group is starting to make a name for itself. Besides, she loves it. I wish I could too.

After milling about for a while, I’m invited to dinner and drinks with her and three other cast members. As we walk, we exchange secret smiles like new lovers. Each glance and grin erupts like butterfly sparks inside me.

On the subway with four theatre girls after a show, I don’t bother trying to keep up with the conversation. They chirp at each other like excitable birds, I have no idea what they’re talking about half the time. They’re still bubbling with adrenaline. I amuse myself by making up stories about the other passengers, or tracing specular highlights down silver rails, or pretending to read the back‑lit ads. I do anything to hide my discomfort. It makes her feel bad. Guilty, maybe? We wind our way toward a restaurant one of the girls knows. Live music tonight.

She takes my hand, tells me about city life and its many wonders. “It’s just so alive, isn’t it amazing?” Actually, it unnerves me. A group of men across the street shout and jeer and explode with laughter. She giggles. “Oh, New York.”

For her, I’ll try to enjoy it.

We move closer as glasses of wine and beer disappear. We touch each others’ legs and rub our hands together beneath the tablecloth. I try to keep up with the conversation, but the band is there to fall back on when the girls inevitably lose me again.

We’re the last to leave, we all lost track of time.

It’s too late to catch a train back to Jersey.

We say goodbye to her friends at the subway. They’re going uptown, and we’re going down. Then I’m alone with her. I fall into those blue eyes. We give in. We kiss. We grab handfuls of hair and grope at each others’ backs.

I’ve missed you so much.

Maybe we could be together again if I could just learn to love this place the way she does. Maybe I wouldn’t have let her get away so easily. But some part of me doesn’t want to be comfortable here, it goes against my nature. I like being on the ground, seeing stars at night, the taste of clean air, the susurrus of leaves. Nothing about this life appeals to me.

I try. I really try, but something won’t let me love it. It disturbs the otherwise calm waters of my being. Her soft, small hand is my anchor, she leads me to her apartment. We barely make it to the bed.

In the morning light, we embrace and say goodbye. I pull my bearded cheek across the silk of hers, and stop. Just shy of a kiss.

Everything aches as I lose her again.

<><><>

Connor Thomas Cleary

Connor Thomas Cleary wrote a story about a town terrorized by dragons when he was nine. His writing has matured a bit since then and he now works as a professional writer, designer, and nerd journalist. He runs his own blog, The Blue Key, and his own business, Four Stair Multimedia and Design. His work has appeared in the Boxfire Press “Heroics Anthology,” on Feathertale.com, and Nerve.com.

 www.connorthomascleary.com

www.twitter.com/The_Blue_Key

www.facebook.com/ConnorThomasCleary

Connor’s story appears in Suddenly Lost In Words, Volume 1 now at SMASHWORDS,  AMAZON  US  & AMAZON  UK

www.suddenlylostinwords.com

ENJOY THE REST OF YOUR SUNDAY!!

For Valentine’s Day; a love story from Poland

February 13, 2013 at 1:51 pm | Posted in inspiration, Kindle, Romance, Short Stories, Teen, Writing, Reading, YA, Young Adult | 2 Comments

Blue Blonde Sea

By Kai Raine

A Story from Poland

In the years that followed, whenever anyone asked him about his first love, he would say, “It was the sea.” He never said anymore, and on one occasion when a particularly shrewd friend asked whether it was a girl like the sea, he simply smiled and took a sip of his drink. His statement was nearly always met by laughter, and sometimes disgruntlement, but eventually his answer was invariably accepted and the conversation moved on.

Miah met her the summer he turned twelve, on the beach near his stepmother’s parents’ house on the outskirts of Cape Town. She looked to be maybe eighteen or so, and her hair was exactly the same color as the sun‑kissed sea; her eyes were bluer than the water that washed onto the shore.

“What are you doing here?” he asked, because he had never seen anyone here at 5 o’clock in the morning before.

“I could ask you the same question,” said the girl.

“My grandparents’ house is down the road that way,” he said.

She raised her eyebrows. “And they let you walk around on your own?”

“Well,” he said, biting his lip, abruptly reminded that in fact he was only allowed these early morning walks because no one knew he took them.

She laughed out loud, her voice deep and carrying a hoarse, breathy overtone. Miah thought that laugh sounded like the waves themselves.

“You should go home,” she said. “It’s not safe to walk around on your own where no one’s around.”

“You are, too,” Miah pointed out.

“I’m an adult,” she said pointedly.

“I’m not a child,” said Miah, rather more forcefully than he had intended. “I can handle myself!”

She smiled wryly. “You certainly talk like a child.”

“What about you, then?” Miah retorted. “You think it’s safer for you than me, just because you’re a bit older? You’re a girl. Girls get raped and murdered in this country all the time!”

Miah wished he could take it back the moment he said it. The sun that had shown from the girl’s eyes set in an instant; now her face was tight and drawn, like he remembered his mother’s being just before the divorce.

“Yes,” said the girl, looking back out at the sea. “We do, don’t we?”

Miah wished and wished she would forget his words, or at least take them lightly. He cursed himself silently and dug for some form of apology—but what kind of apology would make her smile again? When Miah had apologized to his mother after his father had won custody, his mother’s tight, drawn expression had cracked and withered with unshed tears. He didn’t want to see that happen to this girl ‑ he wanted her to smile.

“I think your hair’s beautiful,” said Miah, feeling his face heat up at the adjective that he had never used aloud before outside of English class. “It’s the color of the sea on a sunny day.”

“Do you think so?” asked the girl. A smile spread across her face—and a tear rolled down her cheek. Miah froze and wondered what he ought to do. “I’m happy to hear that. It was exactly what I . . .what I . . .” Her voice was growing weaker, her shoulders trembling. Her lips were quivering in the smile.

All of a sudden Miah knew that expression, because he was positive that it had been his own when his mother lost the custody battle.

“It’s okay to cry,” said Miah. He reached out to pat her on the arm, and she jerked away. He quickly pulled his hand back and squatted in the sand near her. “I promise I won’t tell anyone. I promise I won’t look at you while you’re crying, either. But you should cry. It ‑ well, I think it helps.”

Miah turned his eyes to the ocean and watched the waves. Next to him, he heard her footsteps in the sand and the rustle of her clothing as she sat. True to his word, he kept his eyes on the water and did not look. He heard one sniffle, then another. Then the sniffles began tying together into uneven, heavy breathing that then dissolved into low, moaning sobs.

As he listened to her cry harder and more earnestly than he ever had, he found himself recalling that moment from two months ago more vividly than he would have liked. He remembered being so certain that he would get to stay with Mom—wanting to stay with her—only to learn that Dad had been awarded full custody for some reason that no one wanted to explain. He had some idea from small pieces of overheard conversations and his own growing understanding that most mothers didn’t have needles hidden in their underwear drawers. He said as much to Dad once, when a request to go see his mother had been met with a cold order to, “Stay out of what you don’t understand.” Dad seemed to think that if he understood that much, he should know that it was “for the best” that Miah not see Mom for “a little while.”

It had been three months, and he hadn’t so much as had a phone conversation with her. Instead, he was calling Michelle “Mom” and her parents “Grandma” and “Grandpa,” smiling as if this were only natural. Dad was on bad terms with his parents, and Mom’s parents had died before Miah was born, so he’d never had grandparents before. He supposed he ought to be grateful.

He wasn’t.

But now, listening to the sobs of the girl like the sea, he felt the past three months come crashing down over him. The wave came over him slowly, the memories coming, coming, coming ‑ and then they burst, flooding him with all the things he had felt, known he shouldn’t have and shoved away.

Tears began rolling down his cheeks, and he couldn’t stop them. He didn’t want to stop them anymore. He let himself go: let his eyes begin to stream followed by his nose; let the pain out of the locked cavity in his chest, emerging through his throat in chokes, coughs and sobs. The cries of the girl only drove him further over the edge, and together they engaged in a duet for their own ears alone.

He didn’t know how long it had been before they calmed down. A few attempts to stop had been thwarted by shared glances or a stray sniffle; the emotion they saw or heard in each other seemed their own, reflected through a living mirror, and the reminder would set both of them off crying again with renewed vigor. But eventually they calmed ‑ whether because they had run out of tears or energy, Miah didn’t know. For a time they sat in silence, and Miah contemplated the slap of the waves against the sand.

“I should go,” said Miah at last. “My‑ the people I’m staying with will wake up.”

He looked sideways at the girl and their eyes locked. Her eyes were red, her hair mussed and her cheeks stained, but the smile that was spreading across her face was vibrant.

“I should too,” she said. “But you look like you’ve been sobbing your eyes out.”

Miah furrowed his brows at her. “So do you.”

“I have a solution for that,” she said even as she scrambled to her feet. With a shriek like a child’s, she ran into the waves and threw herself at the water. She didn’t go very deep, but when she looked up and grinned at him, he thought that she looked even more like the sea now than when he had first seen her.

Miah laughed and kicked off his shoes. With a shriek to match the girl’s, he ran into the water after her. They rolled in the waves, splashed each other and laughed. Mere minutes later, they walked back out of the water, soaked and smiling.

“Thank you,” said the girl. “But you really should be more careful from now on.”

“I will,” said Miah. He didn’t think about how much Dad would worry if he learned about these morning walks—he would save the guilt for later. “You be careful, too.”

“I will,” said the girl, and waved at him with a wide smile as she headed back along the beach. She was still barefooted, and Miah looked around for her shoes, but didn’t see any. He watched her go until she disappeared around a corner of the coast; then he put his shoes back on and returned to Michelle’s parents’ home. He thought of the girl’s bare feet, and figured that if she lived nearby, he would be sure to see her again before they left.

He never saw her again.

Once they were back home in Boston, he went to the sea from time to time and imagined that if he waited by the water, he would see her again. He imagined that she was a mermaid, or the sea incarnate. He found himself scanning for blue, blond‑streaked hair on beaches for years afterwards. He held the memory close to his heart, a precious secret that he never voiced.

But whenever anyone asked about his first love, he would indulge himself with a moment to revel in that memory with the admission, “It was the sea.”

♥ ♥ ♥

Kai Raine

Author Kai Raine is a graduate student of biology with a fondness for music, books, animals and science. Kai was born near Boston and has spent one birthday in Cape Town climbing Table Mountain and falling in love with the city.

Blue Blonde Sea is one of eight short stories in Suddenly Lost In Words, Volume 2.

Because we ♥ you, Volume 2 is FREE all day February 14 . . .

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