Sunday, October 13, 2013

A Short Story For You...

This is a short story I wrote over the weekend.  It was based on a prompt for a twelve hour challenge.  Enjoy...

Roses Are Red
a short story

The thorns of the roses snagged at my sleeves as I pruned, biting the soft skin beneath.  I hacked at the stems, cutting just enough for a bouquet before the chill of an early winter could steal their beauty.  Mother always loved roses.  Perhaps she would brighten at the bouquet, smile even.  That was something none of us had seen in a very long time.  Scraped and satisfied, I took up the basket of roses and set off back down the path home.  The sun had just dipped below the tree line, causing purple shadows to elongate as though they were reaching out to me.  I had lingered longer than I thought at the meadow; darkness was setting in.  And with darkness, came the Abysmal.  I only hoped the gate would still be open when I returned.

The village loomed up ahead, the orange glow of the watch tower like a beacon against the foreboding twilight.  My pace had quickened to a run, the basket bouncing against my heavy cloak.  I felt the steady beating of my heart hasten.  I had never been on the path at such a late hour and the trees, their branches bare from the greedy wind, seemed to be clutching at whatever was within their reach.  As I pulled the cloak tighter over my chest, a single red rose slid out of the basket and fell to the ground in the middle of the path.  I stopped to pick it up but then thought better of it and continued.  The hour was already much too late.

I had just arrived at the steps and sighed in relief at the open gate when the Commander appeared around the fence post and raised his arm to signal the guards.  I heard the creaking of the gate as it swung inward and my heart leapt up into my mouth. 

“No!” I gasped and took the steps two at a time until I reached the top.

The guards wrapped the chain around the posts and swung the lock in place.  Its resounding clank echoed in my ears. 

“Wait!  Please, let me in,” I cried.  I dropped the basket to the ground, sending roses scattering over the dais.

“My apologies, miss.  The gate does not open until sunrise.  Even for pretty girls like you,” the 
 Commander jeered through the heavy iron bars.  Around him, the guards looked right past me to the meadow beyond in anticipation. 

I pulled hard on the bars, but they did not budge.  I searched the faces on the other side, desperate for a familiar one that would listen.  There were none.

“Please,” I begged, “send for my mother.  She will vouch for me.”

“Your mother has not left the house in years, child.  You are damned now, just as your brother was.”

I couldn’t help the anger that rose in my throat, boiling on my tongue.  “Curse you!” I yelled, and spat at his face.

He laughed as he wiped his cheek, then turned and disappeared into the tower.  The wind had risen to a sharp gust and on it were carried the sounds of night, fast approaching.  A howl pierced the silence and I spun around to peer into the growing darkness. 

My fear was playing tricks on me, bending trees to look like figures and molding shadows into shapes.  I took a deep breath and let it out through my nose.  I am not afraid, I thought.  They will not come this close to the gate.  The snap of a twig in the distance pulled me out of my imposed bravery.  On the path, near the edge of the meadow, was a deer.  It stood stock still, its ears perked up to the unsettling quiet.

I glanced behind me, wondering if any of the guards had noticed the animal, but no one remained.  They had all gone back to their posts.  I pulled my hood up over my head and descended the steps, anxious to get a closer look at the deer.  It was still as a painting in the middle of the swaying trees and I could not help my own reverence toward it.  As I took to the path again, I noticed heavy wet flakes falling around me.  They were luminescent, catching the last of daylight’s luster.  The whole scene felt like a dream and I was sleepwalking through it.

As I neared the deer, I slowed, taking deliberate steps.  The snow was sticking in the grass on either side of the path and I saw the red rose I had dropped earlier.  I don’t know why, but I felt compelled to pick it up.  It looked so lonesome underneath the thin layer of snow.  Surely it would like to be with the others, safely tucked inside the bouquet I had planned.  No one wants to be left out in the cold.  I bent to pick it up and the deer bolted out of its trance.  Its head snapped toward me and I saw, for the first time, its eyes were sallow and crusted with disease.  It looked straight at me in a glazed sort of terror and then leapt into the grass and darted out of sight.  Before it disappeared, the stark reddish tinge of blood was visible on its side, dripping onto the white snow below as it ran.  A chill slid through the wool of my cloak and onto my skin, raising hairs and leaving goose bumps in its wake. 

I heard the horn blow long and loud, a call to arms, and froze in place.  The thorns on the stem of the rose dug into my fist as it closed tighter, but I felt no pain; only numbness.  There was a sickening crunch that sounded very much like crushing bones and then I saw it.

A boy, younger than I, materialized out of the shadow and limped onto the path, dragging one foot that seemed to be bent sideways through the snow.  He stopped where the deer had stood and lifted his head, cocking it to one side.  I recognized the shock of coppery hair, though it was dingy and clumped on his head.  Even in the darkness, his freckles scrunched together as he appeared to sniff the air.  Something about his eyes, glowing yellow in the dim light, seemed wrong and I was suddenly aware of the blood trickling down my fist and onto the snowy ground.

“Thomas?” I whispered, backing away.  My head began to shake in disbelief.

The boy grunted, wiped the smear of blood from his chin, and lurched toward me.  I felt his hands on my arms as he tackled me to the ground, his sharp nails digging into my skin through the cloak.  He smelled of rancid meat and I felt the sudden urge to retch.  The pain in my shoulder was sharp and sudden as his razor-like teeth dug into it, tearing the flesh away, but dulled as the blackness crept around the edges of my vision.  The last thing I saw before the shadows swallowed me was the rose, its red shade deepened by the spatters of my own blood.

I also wrote a poem based on the same prompt:

 A Rose For Winter

I let it fall;
it slipped from cold fingers
and lingered, emboldened
on the snow.

A frozen memory
of stolen glances, coveted
chances; its crimson heat
as bittersweet as ice.

I must leave
it behind, for someone else
to find; for its warmth has
died upon my lips.

Look away
from nameless petals;
shameless revelries
will freeze in time.

It’s richness won’t
appeal to you; colorblind eyes
will hide behind thorns,
forlorn as the wintry twilight.