Story, Fiction, Philosophy, Original Story, Society, Commentary, Christianity, Lidi

Why Do Good Things Happen?

In senior year, I was working on a teen dystopian novel called “Rubble” that included the characters discussing Biblical matters. I wish I could finish that book, but I wrote it during physics, chemistry, and biology classes, and there’s no way I could remember all the weird sciency stuff I was planning on putting in it. I do think it’s interesting how I wrote about a lockdown, and people not wanting to listen to the government to keep them safe. Hmm…Pandemic predicted? Anyway. Hope you enjoy! Comment below if you want to read more of this incomplete work.


Love

It’s easy to condemn those who are suffering, when you have no troubles.

  • (Job 12:5)

Over pecan pie and orange pekoe, Isabella and the Kearnes watched the world fall apart. News came in from Italy, Sudan, America, Canada, and Egypt about which major buildings had been bombed, which media stars and politicians had been killed, and how the people rose against their governments to get them to do more about it.

Greece was secured against the minor attack in only a few days, and when Isabella got home, her parents were sleeping on separate floors of the house. They greeted her tightly as she slipped through the door, expressing relief at her safe return. Then they retreated to their respective rooms.

“What happened?” Isabella whispered to Rhoda in the living room, leery of how empty their house suddenly felt.

“I’m not sure, really,” Rhoda replied, programming the delivery chute to bring her a cheesecake. “One minute Dad makes a comment about not having to invite the neighbours over for dinner after all, and then the next, Mom says he’s a selfish churl and he says she a priggish mule, and they screamed each other to opposite ends of the house.”

Their parents argued of course. Frequently, even. But usually it was through politely tightened lips and strained voices. Isabella was sorry she had missed the screaming match. She was beginning to wonder what honesty looked like.

She and Timothy went on like nothing was different between them, but after talking to Olivia, Isabella felt something sliding within her. The shy, hopeful words, “Why do you stay with him?” nudged at her like Platinum nudged at her hand the day she left the Kearnes’. She slapped the thought violently down, but whenever her mind wandered, it ended up right back there.

School reopened the week after, and only half of the students showed up. Isabella’s parents all but kicked her out of the house, saying she couldn’t let the “civil unrest” distract her from her studies. They still thought she was an honours student.

Timothy reached over to kiss Isabella as he hopped into her car. Olivia slowly got in back, not saying anything. She had barely glanced Isabella or Timothy’s way during the rest of Isabella’s stay at her house. Since Carmella had a job interview at one of the bakeries, she told Olivia to ride to school with Timothy and Isabella. Olivia’s classes didn’t start until the afternoon, though.

“I wonder how much homework we’ll have now,” Timothy chattered as they drove through the quiet, empty streets. “Surely they won’t have any compassion for our difficult situation. I bet five hours, each class.” Isabella smiled vaguely, nodded to show she was listening. “Whatever. I’ve got a game later, so I doubt I will get it done no matter how much it is. Championships are coming up and I can’t afford…”

Isabella tuned out of his usual spiel about sacrificing homework for the soccer team. He was so full of energy and creativity. Was there a way to put him to constructive use? All week, she had watched the empty faces of people all over the world looking at their dead family members. She had watched lost children wander around with no shoes, and people trapped for days in whatever building they happened to be in. They lived the definition of a difficult situation.

The groups at the schools and churches that were still intact were holding charity drives and fundraisers to try and alleviate the suffering of their fellow humans. Isabella had never felt the need to donate to charity, but she had gotten first-hand taste of what those other people were going through. And she had to admit there was a small part of her that wanted to do something, even if it only helped one person.

“Timothy, I’m thinking of starting a fundraiser.” She cut him off mid-sentence as he recounted the soccer team’s scoring record. For about the third time that week.

“A what? Why?”  He looked as interested as he did when prom-dress shopping.

“Why do you think? Don’t you see what’s going on? People need our help.”

Olivia came to life in the back seat. “Yea! That’s a great idea. We could have a bake sale. I’m sure Auntie would love to bake for it.”

Timothy held up his hands. “Whoa, whoa. Will you guys listen to yourselves? What do you think you are, saints or something? Do you really think a little bake sale is going to make a teaspoon of difference?”

“That’s not the point, Timothy. I just feel like I need to be doing something instead of sitting around watching people suffer. Every bit counts.” Isabella had heard the words several times during infomercials for different charity groups. She liked the thought of ten of her dollars helping a mother buy a couple cans of baby food.

Timothy laughed, though. “Do you really believe that? Think about it. People have been trying to save the world for years, doing much more than a little bit. End hunger, save the rainforest, eradicate the common cold. And you know what I see? About ten thousand more problems than when these so-called ‘world-changers’ got started. And most people don’t even know what a rainforest is. There’s no point trying to help, Isabella. The problem – the world – is just too big.”

Isabella was surprised. Though petty and cynical, his little speech held a hint of ruefulness. Even…intelligence? Maybe there was hope for him yet.

They rode in silence all the way to school. The parking lot contained only a sparse scattering of cars. For the first time, they were able to park near the entrance to the school even though they were almost late.

Timothy was aghast, of course, as he made note of certain missing cars. “What? The guys ditched and they didn’t even tell me?” Huffing, he slammed out of the car before Isabella could suggest that maybe their friends were actually tending to their families or helping their neighbours instead of worrying about soccer and homework.

Olivia said goodbye to Isabella and ignored Timothy, walking in the opposite direction. Isabella and Timothy crossed the football field to get to the science building, where they would have biology first class.

While usually the morning was so full of students it was hard to walk without stepping on anyone, today Isabella counted five people, as far as her eyes could see. The students walked woodenly, or didn’t move at all, simply stood and stared into space. And it was silent. So silent that Timothy’s whining about “those stupid skippers” seemed like it came over a megaphone.

As they climbed up the steps to the science building, Isabella noticed someone sitting against the side of the stairs, shadowed in darkness. Leaning over, Isabella could make out Cassandra Houston huddled on the gravel, hugging her backpack to her chest. She glanced up at Isabella and Timothy, then quickly back down again. “Come on, Isabella, what are you doing?” Timothy asked, tugging on one of her belt loops. Automatically, Isabella pushed down her concern and started to follow him, then stopped again. Usually, she tried to push herself aside. But Cassandra just sat there, alone.

“Go on, I’ll catch up,” Isabella insisted, instantly regretting it when he rolled his eyes and threw up his hands.

 “Why, Isabella? Why are you suddenly taking such an interest in freaks and losers?”

Isabella had had enough. “Timothy, you’re getting ridiculous. Don’t you realize that we’re at war here? Things are changing! Fine, you don’t want to have a fundraiser. Whatever. But there are things we can do right here to help! Get your head out of your backside!” She screamed at him now, feeling a little of her pent up rage whooshing out of her like air out of a blown tire.

“You get your head out of the clouds!” he shouted back. “I thought we already went over this. There’s no point in trying to help! Whether you do or don’t, it doesn’t make a difference in the long run!”

“That’s a lie!” Isabella shrieked, and heard someone running up the stairs.

“Hey, hey, what’s going on?” William appeared between them, and Isabella realized Timothy had been gripping her arm. When William pulled her away, she could see the beginnings of bruises.

“You stay out of this!” Timothy growled, moving toward William, who protectively encircled Isabella’s waist.

“Whoa, calm down, Big Tim, before you hurt somebody. What’s this all about?”

Isabella tried to resist the urge to turn into William’s shoulder and hide from Timothy, but she couldn’t keep from relaxing into him. Timothy saw, and his expression darkened. “That’s none of your business. Come on, Isabella. Let’s talk somewhere else.” Frozen, Isabella stared at the marks on her arm. Both boys noticed. “Come on, Is. You know I didn’t mean to hurt you.” But Timothy still growled, always angry when he was called out for something he did wrong.

Isabella wrapped an arm around William. “No, Timothy. You need to go calm down. You will never speak to me that way again.”

“Don’t tell me what to do,” he snapped, turning away. “You’re getting soft,” Isabella heard him mutter. For a moment she stood, feeling like a kite with its string suddenly cut.

She and William still held on to each other. Quickly, Isabella stepped away from him, avoiding looking at him. “Isabella?” he called softly as she hurried away, down the stairs to the main building of the school. She didn’t look back, and cradled her arm against her as she walked. Rounding the corner, she ran smack into Cassandra, knocking all of her books onto the sidewalk. 

Cassandra’s face went from surprised, to angry, to tired, and without a word, she bent to pick everything up.

“I’m so sorry,” Isabella muttered vainly, standing and watching. “I…” She couldn’t go on though, because all of a sudden she was crying.

Seeming to exert a great effort, Cassandra turned her head and reluctantly met Isabella’s eye. “Are you okay?” she asked warily, holding her books against her like a shield.

Even though it was totally gross, Isabella wiped her hand over her nose. “No, I – but that’s not what…I wanted to see how you were doing. I’m sorry.”

Pursing her lips, Cassandra regarded her. “Want to sit down?” she asked finally, motioning to a bench near the entrance. Isabella nodded, sniffling. Class was to start in about five minutes, but she doubted the teachers would care if the few students here actually showed up on time. It had been a rough week, after all.

Isabella sat down, and Cassandra sat as far away as possible, pushing the books under the bench. Playing with the strings on her sweater, Isabella tried to think of what to say. In her mind she had wanted to selflessly put aside her loyalty to Timothy and act like a friend to Cassandra, but doing the right thing was just awkward.

“So what’s up?” Cassandra asked.

Isabella sniffled again. “Timothy thinks I’m trying to save the world or something. Just because I want to do something nice once in a while. He thinks it’s not our responsibility.”

“It’s everyone’s responsibility to save the world,” Cassandra replied, her demeanor remaining stiff and affected. Isabella knew she deserved nothing less. In the back of her mind she had thought maybe Cassandra would feel a little bit honoured that Isabella would go through so much trouble to talk to her. With mounting embarrassment, Isabella saw how crooked of a notion this was.

“How are you holding up?” Isabella finally asked lamely. Cassandra stared straight ahead.

“It’s hard to have faith in times like these,” she replied, “but prevailing in times of trouble brings the most satisfaction.”

Since she had wanted to reach out, Isabella decided to humour the strange girl. “Is that in the Bible?”

Was that a faint smile on Cassandra’s drawn lips? “No, my brothers tell me that all the time. Mostly when they don’t want me to quit playing video games with them, since I suck so bad. How are you doing, Isabella?”

“Better now. Nothing bad actually happened to us, after all. But watching all those people on the news is really bringing me down.” She realized how this sounded, and quickly added, “I can’t imagine how scared they must be right now, for themselves and for their families.”

Cassandra nodded. Isabella’s mind ran frantic analyses of the situation, trying to decide if this was a companionable or stiff silence, whether she should let Cassandra speak next or keep talking, whether she should change the subject or continue the talk about the world’s problems.

“You’ve got that look again,” Cassandra observed, though she didn’t appear to be looking at Isabella.

“What look?”

“It’s like you’re trying to figure something out. You had that same look just before you came and talked to Kalin and me the other day.”

“Oh. Well, I’m just not ready to go in yet. I’m trying to think of what to say to you.”

“The other day in the office,” Cassandra went on, still looking at the parking lot. “You sounded like you wanted to ask something, but you kept saying random, stupid stuff instead like you were chickening out.”

Isabella shrugged.

“Well, what was it?”

“I still haven’t really figured it out. I just…you and your friends treat each other so differently than mine do. You guys always seem so – oh, I don’t know, comfortable, or something. Like you don’t need to pretend about anything. I don’t really know what question I could ask about it, but I just wanted to talk to you guys, even if only for a little bit.” Honesty? Maybe? It felt strange, but a good strange. Like tasting a delicious, foreign dessert and trying to decide whether she liked it.

Cassandra nodded. “Okay, it’s good to know you’re not really that shallow, then. I’ve been praying and praying for you, and I was pretty disappointed when I thought that you had completely turned into…one of them.”

The label was dramatic. It was the only fitting description. It was Timothy and his friends against the rest of the school, staff included. It seemed that Cassandra had no reservations about what she said, even when she talked about personal things like prayer. Isabella was instantly uncomfortable, but she decided to stick the conversation out, just to see where it would go. “Why would you pray for me? We hate each other, remember?” Isabella asked. There was a touch of bitterness in her voice that she couldn’t explain. But she couldn’t push it aside, either.

A flock of birds landed in the parking lot, joyously going through the buffet of student litter. Even though it was morning and less than half of the student body had arrived, the lot was already a landfill. “I never hated you, Isabella,” Cassandra objected. “I’m angered by you, saddened, disappointed, and disgusted sometimes. But I know you. I don’t hate you.”

Reddening, Isabella cast down her eyes. She had never thought of being disgusting. She supposed they were. Disgusting disappointments. Who else felt that way about them? About her? “Well, thanks I guess. I don’t know why you wouldn’t though. I know me, and I hate me sometimes.” The words were out before she could stop them. She cleared her throat and straightened. “So, what’s your secret? What’s all the anti-hype about your little Christian club? You seem like nothing more than a happy bunch of do-gooders to me.”

“People have been against Christians since the minute they existed. We want things that governments and rule-makers don’t want, it would mean fighting against every part of human nature. Big-wigs want quick results, and Christianity is about patiently doing the right thing even when everyone is against you. The benefits last for eternity, but they aren’t always immediate or obvious.” What a big gush of words.

“But if being a Christian is so great and makes things go so well for everyone, why don’t people just do it?”

Cassandra shrugged. “Because being a Christian is hard.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know how it is for others. But I know for me it’s a constant fight against myself. At the same time, I’m constantly trying to let go of everything and let God take over. And even though I know that it’s the best thing no matter what, there’s usually a part of me kicking and screaming to do things my way.”

“Sounds exhausting,” Isabella murmured, because she knew. She constantly pushed aside her screaming self to be part of Timothy’s group.

“It can be, at first. But God is always with you, and you just need to make the choice to acknowledge and trust Him. Imagine someone that can do absolutely anything, things that are plausible and things that you couldn’t possibly wrap your mind around. Imagine someone like that on your side, helping you deal with your raging control issues, always encouraging, always patient.” Cassandra started to sound a little less cryptic and almost reverent. “He loves you so much, no matter what, and everything He asks you to do will bring about good for yourself and others. Not like that stupid Allsaint that we’re supposed to worship.”

“Doesn’t look that way to me,” Isabella countered. “If this God person is so powerful and loving and whatever, why are innocent people being blown into the sky right now? Why can’t some parents afford to feed their kids, and why are some kids completely alone and dying without anybody knowing that they ever lived?”

A grim smile darkened Cassandra’s face. “It’s a question as old as time. ‘If God is so powerful and loving, why does He let bad things happen?’ A lot of people think that he either isn’t all that powerful, or He doesn’t actually give a crap about us.”

“Or that he obviously doesn’t exist,” Isabella added.

“That too. And when it comes to certain people, there’s little anyone can do to explain. Some people are simply too afraid to admit that the Bible is the truth. Do you want me to try and explain it to you, Isabella?”

The bell rang. “Whatever, it’s not like I’ve got anywhere to be.” She tucked her legs onto the bench and sat back. “Impress me.”

Cassandra smirked. “Okay, let’s assume for right now that the Bible is true. God is completely powerful and He loves us so, so deeply.”

“Sure thing. I’m always up for a game of pretend.”

“He’s everywhere at once, including right here where we’re sitting right now. He’s not only everywhere in space, he’s everywhere in time. He sees everything, beginning to end, right now.”

The thought made Isabella shudder a little. That would be kind of cool, and a little scary. Her entire life like a long panoramic photo, from birth to gruesome end.

“So, say there’s a war going on. People are getting blown into the sky, kids are going hungry, parents are desperate, things are grim. Schools are being locked down, people are trapped wherever they happen to be. People die doing everyday things that they never thought would be the last thing they do. Imagine there’s a bomb about to go off in the school right now. We’ll be sitting here, innocently minding our own business and having no reason to suspect that we’re not going to see our family or friends ever again.”

Nervously, Isabella shifted. She knew that it was how a lot of people died, doing ordinary things that they had been doing every day for as long as they could remember. Pouring a glass of milk. Changing the radio station. Sitting on a bench, skipping class. “Are you trying to scare me, or what?”

“That’s the idea, yes.” A smirk. “Anyway, when people die, especially doing nothing out of the ordinary, their family and friends might be really angry. And Christians are also angry and heartbroken when they lose people they know and love. But enough about humans. God knows things that we don’t. He knows it like you know you’re wearing a green sweater, like I know my favorite pencil is in the second draw of my desk at home. He knows that no one is innocent. And He knows that this life is not the only one there is. He knows that this life is so, so short compared to eternity that it’s ridiculous. So while God values every single life here on earth, and He doesn’t want anybody to die, He also knows that this isn’t it. I can tell you with absolute certainty that not one single person dies before they are ready. God not only sees everything from beginning to end, right now, he also sees the things that might have been. God sees every possible reality there is.”

Isabella felt a knot forming in her brain. “Okay, I get it, he sees all. What about it?”

“He knew from the beginning who would turn to Him and who would refuse Him. Before He laid one grain of sand on the earth He knew.”

“Then what’s the point of all this?”

“All what?”

Isabella made a vague motion with her hands, trying to encompass the universe with a gesture. “I don’t know! Living. Why just not create the people who would never choose God, and let the people who would choose him go to heaven or whatever? Why bother with this short little life that we get here on earth?”

“Well, that’s also the answer to why God let’s bad things happen. A better question would be, ‘Why does God let us have rainbows and sunshine and chocolate cheese cake when we do little more than screw Him over every day?’ Why does He let good things happen? Why doesn’t God simply do away with us?”

“Yeah. Why doesn’t he?”

“Because God’s all about choice. It’s why we’re here. It’s why life is so short. This life is simply to give us a choice. Another thing that God knows is that looking beyond yourself and putting your trust in Him when you have the option of getting immediate gratification is much more valuable than having no other options at all. For example, if you were just bored and wanted to talk to me to pass the time, I wouldn’t be as grateful than if you had to argue with your long-time boyfriend and get into a little trouble because you wanted to talk to me. It’s more meaningful if you choose someone when it means you have to give something up.”

Isabella couldn’t think of an argument. “I guess so.”

“God’s kind of the same way. He doesn’t want us to simply obey because there’s nothing else to do. He wants us to choose Him because we want Him. There would be no joy for us if following God was simply our only option. The gratification comes from knowing that we’ve overcome something. That before there was light there was darkness. That –”

“Alright, alright! I get the picture.” She waved a hand, cutting the lunatic off. “But I still don’t understand why God would bother. If he knew all the horrible things we would do to each other, how we would mess up the planet and all that, why not cut us off earlier than this? What’s He waiting for, for us to completely destroy ourselves?”

“He will let us choose until our choices bring about our end, yes. I don’t think we will be completely destroyed when Jesus comes the second time, but it will be pretty close. The world will be so horrible by then that you’d be crazy to want to live there.”

“And this is all for what? To prove a point that humans are stupid?”

Cassandra laughed. “It doesn’t take much to prove that. Just look inside the window of the school.” She laughed again. “You know, I’ve thought about the beginning of time so often. Did God talk to the angels about His plan to make humans? Did He show them a little of all the havoc we would wreak? I bet they asked Him why. They might have thought He was crazy. But of course God followed through with His plans, anyway, like He always does. He probably said, ‘Wait and see.’ They might have argued some more, but it didn’t make a shred of difference. In the end, God created the heavens and the earth.”

Everyday Christian, Featured, Lidi, The Ambassador, Unwritten Hope

Support us!

Support Us Page

At Planet Hope, we believe that everyone deserves high quality creative services, regardless of ability to pay. We are a partner that helps individuals and organizations to share what they are doing through events, images, videos, grant-writing and more. As a for-profit company, we aim to do as much good as we can in the world, so we work hard to secure funding to help keep our lights on. If you believe in our mission to provide creative and support services for all, there’s so many ways you can partner with us and help!

1. Support us online

Like, follow, and share our posts with your family and friends. Don’t forget to leave a comment, and subscribe to our blog! Please feel free to tag us on the socials if you share a project we’ve completed for you.

Right now, you can also help us gain exposure while supporting Christian Charities by commenting on one of our 80 Days posts. Planet Hope’s Around the World in 80 Days campaign helps Christian Charities to gain global exposure, as well as be eligible for CASH PRIZES! And all you have to do is like, share, and comment. Isn’t that great?

2. Let us complete a service for you

We love helping people achieve their dreams, so take a look at our list of services. Many of them can be completed for you within a week. Whether it’s for yourself or your organization, trust us to create high-quality, unique videos, images, and events that will help you share your dreams. We also appreciate it if you share our work with your circle, and tag us on all the socials! If you don’t need anything from us right now, please share the page in case someone you know could use something awesome from us!

3. Contribute to HOPE Business Program

This is like paying it forward to someone in need. This amount will be credited as a subsidy to someone on our waiting list who is having trouble affording our services right now, even with the available discounts and low prices we already offer. At Planet Hope, we aim to bring high quality, low-priced creative services to all, regardless of ability to pay. Any amount you are willing or able to contribute is greatly appreciated. Check it out! And if a contribution isn’t in the cards right now, please share it with your circle so we can gain as much exposure as possible!

4. Support our Crowdfunding

Stay tuned for our crowdfunding efforts as they become available. They come with pretty awesome rewards! Don’t forget, you can support us by sharing these campaigns to your circle if a financial contribution isn’t in the cards right now.

Here are our current crowdfunds:

  1. GoFundMe: We’ve started a GoFundMe for the HOPE Business Program to support those who need subsidy for our services. As a thank you, we will write a custom story for you!
  2. YouHelp: Help us invest in Planet Hope! As an internet-based company, we require a lot of software to help us do what we do. We also want to make sure we can retain the most efficient staff possible. All of this helps to keep our costs down.

5. Leave us a tip!

Got $0.50 or more to spare? Do you like our content and our mission? Then we would love it if you could leave us a tip! This helps us to keep costs affordable for everyone who needs our services, while helping us afford the awesome tools that allow us to make our work as high quality as possible. Any amount over $0.50 is greatly appreciated, but if it’s not in the cards right now, please share this with your circle!

You can also send an e-transfer to lisa@phce.ca and we will provide you with a receipt. Please keep in mind that while we support non-profits, we are for-profit, and not a charity!

Let’s stay in touch.

“Consequently, faith comes from hearing
the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.”
~ Romans 10:17

Fiction, History, Lidi, Original Story, romance, Story, Unwritten Hope

The Fourteen Laws of Bristershine Part 3

The Symbol of the Bright Star Shine

Bright and early came the day of my secret undercover mission. Thunder rumbled and lightning flashed, rain hammering the windows like angry villagers. I groaned, falling back against my covers.

“Miss Abigail!” Dorothy pulled my blankets off again. “The day grows old! Get your lazy behind out of bed this instant.”

“What, might I inquire, is the time this lovely morning?”

“Four thirty-two, Abigail. Be thankful I let you sleep in an extra two minutes. Now show your gratitude and help your old Dorothy with the breakfasts!”

“Actually, Dorothy, Mrs. Verlesk has given Abigail a bye today,” said Mindy bitterly. “She may go back to sleep until the Mistress tells her otherwise.

“Really?” I mumbled. “Splendid.”

Thunder cracked, scaring me so as to propel me out of bed. I landed on the floor with a thud. Everyone laughed at me.

So I ended up getting dressed anyway. Mindy didn’t give me one thing to do, so I helped Dorothy after all.

“Master Gregory is a peculiar one, don’t you think?” Dorothy kneaded the bread and I fried eggs.

“Sure. He’s not like most people of his status. He’s actually…nice. Not snobby at all.”

“I think he likes you, Abigail.”

I choked. “Dorothy, that is absurd! He is courting!”

Dorothy looked confused. “No, he isn’t, dear. I inquired. Yesterday, in fact.”

I stared at her. “He’s not courting anyone? But I’m a maid, Dorothy. He can’t like me.”

She frowned. “Dear me, child, have you not been listening to a word I’ve been saying? Master Gregory is not like them!”

“He insists that I call him Carson,” I said quietly.

Dorothy tapped my arm. “There you go, Abigail.”

“Well, so what? It can’t last for long, and anyway, I’m waiting for Paul to return.”

Dorothy smiled gently. “You just do whatever your heart tells you, Abigail, and trust that the Lord will lead you the rest of the way.”

We worked in silenced the rest of the morning, and then I was summoned by Mrs. Verlesk to the empty parlour.

“I’m about to take off, Abigail.” She put something in her purse and slung in onto her shoulder. “You know what you are to do, I trust? And if he leaves in the carriage, you must ride after him on one of the horses. Remember, Abigail, he must not know that you are tailing him. this is very, very important.” She gripped my chin in her hands, tipping my face up to hers. “He worries me, Abigail.”

For the first time, I noticed that her eyes were the exact same hazel colour as mine, with one large blue speck in the same place. She released me.

“But, Mistress, I have not been on a horse in my life!”

She turned around. “Oh, don’t be silly. I know you rode with Paul Johnson last summer, and you did quite alright, indeed.” She shot me a knowing look and then disappeared.

I sank into the cushioned chair by the fireplace. So she knew about that. I laughed. Good old Mrs. Verlesk.

“Oh, and Abigail—” the door opened again and she poked her head in. “Abigail! You are supposed to be finding my husband, not sitting around! Don’t think that this free day is actually free!” She folded her arms across her chest.

“No, of course not, Mrs. Verlesk! Right away, ma’am. Please forgive me, Mistress!” I jumped up and curtsied, holding my position until she spoke again.

“Very well, but don’t forget your purpose, Abigail. I am counting on you.” The statement was more of a threat than a reminder. “You may rise.”

My legs screamed in protest, and I almost fell.

It took no time at all to find Mr. Verlesk. He was in his study; I was just in time to see him shut the door.

I ran and got my mending basket, sitting in the spare dining hall with a full view of that door. I got through exactly one stitch before it opened again.

He walked out, saw me with my head bent over a purple dress, and didn’t say anything. I grabbed a dusting rag from under a shelf, and followed him to the door, stopping to dust random things along the way. I hid in the unused closet as he pulled on his hat and raincoat. The doorman held his umbrella for him as he stepped into the rain.

I growled under my breath. Please come back, I begged silently. I ran to the window, and watched in horror as he got into the waiting carriage.

“No!” I cried. But as the driver flicked the reins, it was evident that I was going to have to follow.

On horseback.

In the pounding rain.

I passed Lucy as I sprinted to the servant’s quarters. “Whoa, Abigail! Where’s the fire?”

“No fires in this weather, Lucy,” I called over my shoulder as I streaked by. “But I have to go!”

I yanked my jacket on and grabbed my umbrella. I had no time to lace up my boots. I would have to ride in my shoes. Gritting my teeth, I raced back out again, and didn’t stop running until I reached the stable.

“Remember me, Vesuvius?” I asked breathlessly as I opened the stall door. It was all coming back to me now, the passive instruction Paul had given me. We had been riding many times together after that first day. I put the bit in, not bothering with the saddle since we had always rode bareback. I led him to the mounting block and got on.

But I wasn’t wearing a riding skirt. My dress rode awkwardly up my thighs, exposing my legs to the horrid rain. I had no idea how to steer the beast, let alone do it with an umbrella, so I was forced to leave it behind. I could hardly see two feet in front of me.

Fretting, I picked up the reins. Paul said that squeezing with your legs was the way to go, but how hard? experimentally, I applied a little bit of pressure. Suddenly I remembered that Paul had always clicked at the horse, and that seemed to work for him.

“Come on, Vesuvius!” I clicked my tongue against my cheek. he snorted, shaking his head and spraying me with more rain. not that it made much of a difference. “I don’t have time for this!” I exclaimed. I kicked him in the side.

The next thing I knew, I was facedown in the mud.

I don’t know how long I laid there, soaking in the summer rain. I heard Vesuvius galloping away, and then it was just me and the storm.

“Abigail!” came a cry from very far away. I spit the dirt from my teeth and tried to stand, but I couldn’t feel my legs. I opened my mud caked eyes, and found I could see better, here on the ground. Mr. Verlesk’s carriage was nowhere in sight; I had failed.

Strong hands gripped me under my arms, pulling me upwards. All at once, the feeling in my legs came back—and I instantly wished it hadn’t.

“Whoa, steady there!” said my rescuer as I sagged back toward the ground. I was swept up into his arms, and his arm under my leg was like a knife-edged rock digging into my muscles.

But now I could clearly see his face. “Master Gregory?” I shouted over the storm.

“Carson!” he shouted back without his smile. Hunched over me, he walked quickly to the house.

“What happened, Abigail?” he asked when we stood in the doorway, dripping on the carpet.

I shook too hard to answer. Despite myself, I pressed my cheek against his warm shoulder. The pain in my legs travelled to my throat and threatened to explode into a scream. I wished he would put me down.

“Helen!” I heard him call.

“Oh, dear! What happened? Come, take her to her room! Agatha! Mary! Come help, there’s been an accident!”

I was laid gently on my warm feather bed, and Carson protested as he was shooed away. I was stripped of my soaked clothes, and then laid in a bath so hot it made me scream.

“There, there,” soothed Lucy, as four pairs of hands held me still. “It’s not really hot, you’re just cold as an icebox.”

“We must splint her legs!”

“Good Lord, look at how they’re flopping!”

I screamed again, in horror this time. stupidly, I continued to thrash in the water that was still not comfortable. I was shuddering violently, each convulsion stabbing straight to my legs.

“Somebody call the doctor!”

“There’s no need, Dorothy, she’ll be fine. We just need to calm her down. she’s making it worse!”

“Abigail, sweetie, you have to be still,” said Lucy frantically. Her words went through me without sticking anywhere; I continued to thrash and scream.

Suddenly, there was a sharp pain on the side of my head, and I knew no more.

I groaned, turning over in my bed. The motion brought stabbing pains to precisely every part of my body, and I sagged on the mattress.

“Abigail? Are you awake?”

I didn’t know who was talking to me, but I couldn’t answer. The only thing I could do was go back to sleep.

“Abigail, honey, wake up,” said the same soft voice.

“Why?” I mumbled. I didn’t hurt so much anymore, but sleep was still the better alternative. “Go away.”

“Someone’s here to see you, Abigail. He brought you something.”

He? I smiled, taking a wild guess at who it was. I had had the most pleasant dreams…

“Abby?”

I was mildly surprised. This wasn’t the voice of my blue-eyed prince. “Nell?” I whispered.

“Yes, it’s me. Are you okay? Mindy says she hit you really hard!”

I frowned. Why would Mindy hit me? I knew she didn’t like me, or anyone, really, but she had never so much as raised a hand to even stray dogs.

“Nell, you know why I did it,” said Mindy, and I was startled all over again. Her voice was the same one that had called me out of the darkness. “How are you feeling, Miss Charlotte?”

“Better,” I sighed, which didn’t say much. Saying to someone stranded in a canyon that they were doing well after climbing six feet was more sensible.

Fiction, History, Lidi, Original Story, romance, Story, Unwritten Hope

The Fourteen Laws of Bristershine Part 2

Here at Verlesk Manor, we all had our own secret recipe for pancakes. Every Sunday it was someone else’s turn, and the day after my double encounters with Carson, it was mine.

“Everybody, out!” ordered Nell, clapping his little hands. “Abby’s making pancakes!”

We smiled endearingly at him. he was the only one allowed to call me Abby, and he made good use of the privilege. One by one, everyone filed out, and he smiled at me before closing the door behind him. I knew he would keep even Mindy from entering, darling as he was.

I cracked two cartons of eggs into a humongous twelve-gallon mixing bowl, poured in three jars of milk. Next went in a bag and a half of flour, four cups of baking powder, and six cups of sugar. I only needed a cup of oil. I mixed everything together, which took near to twenty minutes, and took a taste. It was still a bit watery.

I reached into the jar on the counter for another scoop of flour. My cup hit something near the bottom, inhibiting me from getting out my flour until the thing was removed. i bit back a twinge of annoyance. People had to learn not to leave the measuring cups in the flour jars.

I reached down, my whole arm disappearing through the narrow mouth of the jar. My fingers closed around it.

It wasn’t a measuring cup.

In my hand was a perfectly round, red tablet with an embossment on it. I rinsed the flour off, and found that it was of a fat, winged naked child that took up most of the space. The disk itself was about five inches in diameter, and almost a centimetre thick. I stared at the object, my mind going blank. a zigzag line ran behind the child, and one end of it stuck out. It made it look like it had a tail.

What was it doing in the flour jar?

I flipped it over, cautious now. The backside was perfectly smooth. I took a knife and tapped it; it neither chipped nor scratched. Eyebrows scrunched, I studied it for a minute longer, before recalling that I was supposed to be making breakfast. Conspiratorially, I pocketed it and dumped in my extra cup of flour.

“Okay, Nell.” I opened the door to let everyone in. I caught sight of Mindy rounding a corner and disappearing. “Are you going to help me cook these things?”

My recipe made about three hundred pancakes, enough for everyone to have about twelve each. Though, nobody ever ate more than three, except Luke, who normally ate his quota. It wasn’t polite. The extras were smuggled to the homeless people who waited on Sundays outside the estate gates. I was glad that it was my turn to deliver them today.

We put the two-hundred-fifty extras in thirteen wicker baskets, and put the seventy-five that would actually be eaten on the rolling cart with the butter and syrup.

I piled the baskets onto another bigger cart that was excellent for manoeuvring on rough terrain. I stole out the front kitchen door, as breakfast was being served in the dining hall. The twenty paces to the edge of the woods flashed by in my headlong sprint to avoid being seen. Once in the cover of the trees, though, I slowed my pace and once again gazed thoughtfully at the strange ceramic disk I had found. I shuddered at the sense of doom I suddenly had. It reminded me of an epiphany of Armageddon.

I pocketed it again and pulled at the cart. A wheel of it caught a root in the otherwise smooth path. Before I could do anything, the whole thing tipped over, and the pancakes spilled all over the ground.

“No!” I cried, falling to my knees I had no time to blow off the dirt, so I just shoved them back into their baskets frantically.

Swarms of insects came out of hiding from underground. “Go away!” I cried. But it was too late. If I put more in now, that would just infect the others. I was forced to leave the rest behind.

Now I only had five and a half baskets, for a hungry crowd of normally a hundred.

Slowly, I shook my head. Good morning, Abigail.

Too soon, I found myself pushing open the secret gate that everyone knew about. Guilt gathered in all my pores, and I  prepared to face the crowds of potentially furious homeless people.

Since the Verlesk’s property extended almost to the edge of town, there were no trees beyond. Nothing but a strip of summer green grass separated the estate wall and the city of Euhalot at the foot of the hill. Lying in casual positions in the grass in their threadbare clothing were not a hundred people, but closer to a hundred-fifty. Someone gave a shout, and all at once the murmurs stilled; all eyes were turned on me.

I gulped.

As per usual, Jonathan came forward with a big smile on his face. “Abigail!” he said. “So nice of you to come today. And thank you,” he added, eying the baskets.

Jonathan’s face always caused me to cringe when I saw it, bony and gaunt as it was. the paleness of his skin lent his hands a horribly skeletal appearance, and his feet were dreadful to even catch sight of. they were always dirty, often scratched, and as bony as the rest of him. I forced a returning smile upon my face.

“Good morning, all.” I gave Jonathan a basket, and people lined up behind him to start handing them out. Before Jonathan left, I caught his arm. “Why are there so many people today?”

“Word got out about the pancakes,” he whispered.

I swallowed again. “Great. Umm, about that.”

His smile froze on his face. “Yes? What is it, Abigail.”

“Well, you see, something happened on the way here. the cart overturned, and I lost most of the pancakes, and I only have four baskets, you see, and it’s not enough, and I don’t know what to do—” I stopped, peering at his face. He was frowning now.

“Well.” He said tightly. He opened the lid of the basket to look at the dirt speckled pancakes. “I suppose we’ll just have to make do.”

I nodded guiltily, shuffling my feet on the grass. It didn’t take long to empty the baskets, and I left without another word.

“So how’d it go?”

Lily was the only one in the kitchen when I at last made it back. I could see she was mixing together ingredients for a cake, which was unusual. The Verlesk’s hated cake.

“Great,” I lied. “Did Mindy miss me?”

Lily nodded. “Yes, twice, to make the beds and help me with dishes. But it’s been taken care of.”

“Swell. What’s the cake for?”

Lily made a moue. “Luke is having company,” she confided. “Apparently this is the main course, and her poor heart will be dessert.”

“Now, Lily. You and I both know that Luke doesn’t eat hearts. He likes to leave them with his victims to cry over.”

“True. Too true.”

I licked a bit of batter off the side of the bowl, rewarding me with a frown from Lily. “So what are my tasks for today?” I asked her with an impish smile.

“You may begin by changing the linens in all the bedrooms,” Lily suggested. “There’s a fresh basket behind the door. and when you’re done that, there’s weeds that need pulling in the vegetable garden, oh, and don’t forget…”

When I passed the master bedroom with the laundry hamper on my hip, Mrs. Verlesk called out for me to come to her.

She smiled at me, and commenced staring at her hands in thought.

“Yes, Mistress?” I prompted. “Do you require assistance with something?”

She looked up at me, finally. “Well, Abigail, I… you know I’ve always trusted you most out of all my servants, right?”

I blinked. “Um…no, ma’am I didn’t.”

She smiled sadly. “Well, Abigail, I do, and I have noticed how incredibly intelligent you are.”

“You…have?”

“Yes, Abigail. And as my most trustworthy servant, I would like some counsel.”

“Concerning what, madam?”

She picked at her dress. “Abigail, I have a feeling Mr. Verlesk is not being faithful to me. and, as my most trustworthy servant, and, might I add, the most tactful, I would like you to keep an eye on him when I go out tomorrow. If you see any suspicious behaviour, make a note of it and tell me.” she nodded to herself. “Do you understand, Abigail? I must know; it has been weighing heavily on my mind for the longest time now. And…well, that’s all you need to know, I suppose. You may go, now. Oh, and since you have agreed to aid me, tomorrow you may have the entire free day to keep my husband in your sight. I will let Mindiache know as well.”

I giggled in the hallway. Mindy’s name sounded just the way it was spelled: Mindy-ache. Because she’s a butt-ache. Her parents must have hated her. I was still laughing when I pushed open the door to the fifth bedroom and walked in on Carson, stretched out on the bed, reading.

“Oh, hello, Miss Charlotte.” He wore trousers and a button-up shirt that made his eyes look like the sky. I right near dropped my hamper.

“Master Gregory!”

“Carson,” he corrected, rising from the bed. “So what brings you here, Miss Charlotte?”

I looked at the floor. “Changing the linens,” I mumbled.

He moved closer. “What was that?”

I flinched, and this time I did drop my hamper. He was standing right in front of me.

“I’m changing the bed linens,” I said. “But I will come back later for these ones.”

I bent to pick up the linens that had been spilled, at the same time that he did. Our hands brushed as they reached for the same bedspread. I pulled away, refusing to have one of those moments akin  to romance novels, where the heroine and the hero reach for the same flower/book/dangerous weapon, their eyes meet, and they fall in love. I was a sucker for that sort of thing, and the quickened pace of my heart was not a good sign.

And then, of course, there was Paul.

I glanced at Carson once, though, and found him gazing at me thoughtfully. It was all I could do not to run.

“Good day, Master Gregory.”

“Carson.”

I dipped a curtsy with the speed of light, which nearly tipped my basket again. my hand fluttered uselessly as he righted it, and then I was gone.

“Stupid, stupid, stupid,” I muttered to myself.

The rest of the day passed without incident. I did the laundry, the weeding, scrubbed pots. By suppertime, I was able to convince myself that this morning had been a terrible dream. Except for the fact that after supper, he never seemed to disappear.

“Hello, Miss Charlotte,” he said when I closed the door to the cellar on a fresh bag of potatoes.

“Master Gregory.”

“Carson,” he said charmingly.

“Fancy meeting you here,” he said in the empty dining room around ten of the clock when I came in to sweep the floor.

“Master Gregory,” I replied politely.

“Carson.”

He watched me the entire time I worked, unnerving me to no end.

“May I help you, Miss Charlotte?” he asked me when I went to the vegetable garden to get some carrots for Lily’s stew.

“That’s quite alright, thank you, Master Gregory.”

Carson. Does my name repel you, Miss Charlotte?”

I blushed. “Of course not! I quite like it, sir, it is just not the way I was trained.” I raised my chin. “But, sir, I am only sixteen. Why do you call me ‘Miss?’ when you call me Abigail, I will gladly call you Carson. If it pleases you,” I added.

But he smiled, of course. “Is that a deal, Abigail?” he whispered, rocking back on his heals.

“A deal? I suppose.”

“Abigail.”

“…”

He grinned even wider. “Abigail.” he repeated.

I gritted my teeth and took a deep breath, fighting against my years of scrupulous apprenticeship. “Carson,” I got out, making a terrible face.

He laughed softly and tipped his hat to me before walking away.

The woman he had been sitting with at the tea on Friday met him at the gate, and they strolled arm-in-arm toward the house.

I had never been more confused in my life.

My, but I must have been sulking madly, for even butt-ache Mindy asked me if I was alright. I was coming back with the carrot bucket when she passed me. the joyous cries of the late-night cricket players were almost lost on the blowing wind. She said, and I quote: “Miss Charlotte, what is the matter with you? Buck up, right now. Are you alright? Yes? Then hurry up and make some butter! And when you are done with that…”

“What? Did you say something, Master Luke?” I interrupted. I stretched up on my toes, looking over her head.

“Master Luke?” she squeaked, whirling around. “Where?”

“Nowhere,” I said quietly as I stole into the night. “Nowhere at all.”

Problem one: solved; butt-pain cured. But, what to do with Master Gregory?

And by that, of course, I meant Carson.

Fiction, History, Lidi, Original Story, romance, Story, Unwritten Hope

The Fourteen Laws of Bristershine Part 1

The Big To-do

All the china teacups were as white as pure Irish cream, the gold bands around the rims polished to a shine. They were perched on delicate white plates embossed with patterns of flowers and fruits, and guarding them on each side were silver sword-like knives. The crisp silk napkins had been folded perfectly, almost blending in with the white expanse of the snowy table cloth. Each chair had been positioned just so, with the utmost care. On the silver plate in the centre of the table rested a pound of butter that was all sharp angles. The perfume of tea roses floated in the air. It did not quite block the scent of scones Lily was baking in the kitchen. As we were not required to wear shoes in the summer when no guests were present, I let the silky grass caress my bare feet when I walked around the lawn. It was hard to think that anybody would find the table setting less than perfect. Satisfied, I spun on my heel and started toward the manner to get the hot water pots. The guests would be arriving soon.

“And where, Miss Charlotte, do you think you are going?” said a knife-on-plate voice. I stumbled to a halt, looking back. Mindy Little glared at me from behind my expertly set table, hands on her slender hips. I gulped.

“I’m just going to get the water!” I called to her, not coming any closer. I indicated the floating sundial on the sea fish pond. “Noon draws near.”

She threw up her hands. “That isn’t your job, Abigail. You were instructed to set the table. Lily will send the water with Joy!”

Mindy had dove grey eyes that could harden into steel at will, and corn silk hair that made her look angelic. But she was rarely kind to anyone, especially me, and it didn’t take much to ignite her rage. This trait left much to be desired of her since she was in charge of us all.

“Does the table not meet your expectations?” I asked.

“If I were a barbarian, why, yes it would,” she snapped. “But look at these teacups! What did you polish them with, an oil rag? And my, this table cloth appears as though you chucked it on without a care!”

She closed the distance between us to stand centimetres from my nose. We were the exact same height, and were often required to share clothes, which bated her to no end.

“Abigail,” she said slowly, as though I were daft. “This is Master and Missus Verlesk’s thirtieth anniversary tea. Everything must be perfect—”

But Mindy, for once, didn’t get to finish her tirade. Mrs. Verlesk came into view, with her bratty daughter Sasha whining at her side for one thing or another. I knew not how the girl could speak in such a manner to deaf ears, for it was perfectly obvious her mother had ceased listening the moment her daughter had opened her mouth.

“Abigail!” Mrs. Verlesk exclaimed now. “Did you set this table?”

“Yes, she did!” started Mindy accusatorially. “Isn’t it—”

“Marvellous!” Mrs. Verlesk, cut in, putting a hand to her heart. “Simply marvellous!”

Lips twitching, I stepped out from behind Mindy and curtsied as deeply as I could. Such curtsies were normally reserved for the Queen, but I tried to make a habit of living in the moment. “Thank you, Mrs. Verlesk.”

Mindy stood gaping in a dreadfully unladylike manner. She dropped like a rock when she realized Mrs. Verlesk was staring at her, awaiting an accompanying curtsy.

When the party of two went out of sight, I skipped off to get the water.

The Verlesk Manor sat on the top of a large hill, and the tea was to be held in the back garden. I happily ran up the hill, floating on Mrs. Verlesk’s praise. Ah, but what a lovely day it was. it was not too hot or cool, and the breeze was just enough to rustle the tearoses below. If I stood on the tips of my toes to see over the looming pines, I could see a bright carriage advancing from the foothills. But, being a servant, there was rarely any time to admire such things, so I pushed open the back door.

In the kitchen, the other servants had the oddest expressions on their faces. Twisted, like masks. I regarded them in a way that openly questioned their sanities before reaching for the kettle on the stove.

“We heard what happened outside,” said a small, shy voice that was on the verge of laughter. It was little Nell, who rarely ever spoke but was sweet as a thimble. “Miss Mindy looks like there’s a bee’s nest in her bonnet.”

The entire kitchen erupted with the suppressed laughter. The maids attempted to mimic Mindy’s shocked expressions, which brought on new waves of guffaws.

“Great job, Miss Charlotte,” said the chef’s assistant Jaebok, who couldn’t see the bright side of a candle. “I’m sure Ms. Mindy will be in good spirits now. Maybe I’ll be serving all your heads on a platter for the next tea.”

“No, Jaebok. It is not your head I will be requesting,” said Mindy, stepping from behind the door that we all thought was closed. She glared at me as she said this. I tensed, held in her fiery gaze like a matchstick. Everyone was frozen in various stages of what ever tasks I had interrupted. “But that is not why I have come,” she continued.

A silent groan permeated the kitchen. Mindy had her about-to-give-a-lecture voice on. I sat down on a little bench beside Nell while the water pot grew cold in my hands. This was going to be a long one.

Thanks to Mindy, Lily had to hastily re-boil the water, and though we were not late, we did miss the beginning of Mr. Verlesk’s speech. We servants were required to stay out of sight unless our presence is requested, but some of Mr. Verlesk’s speeches took hours and we were never needed then. Mrs. Verlesk encouraged us to watch from behind the garden hedge if we wanted. Poor Lily had to stay in the hot kitchen, and Mindy would never be troubled with our affairs. Nell, Jaebok, I and some other maids huddled behind the hedge, speaking to one another in hushed tones about the guests we could barely make out behind the branches.

“My, Master Luke is looking especially arrogant today,” Helen commented with a whispered laugh. “I wonder whose soul he had for breakfast this morning.”

“I reckon it was that of poor Carla,” Jane suggested, pointing out the sulking girl. “I wonder why she hangs on him so. Does she not know he will never look at her as more than his next fix?”

“I think not, but I beg of you, let us not speak of him,” said Jaebok. “Little pitchers have big ears, you know.”

Dorothy snorted. “What pitchers? These roses? My, you do fret nonsense.”

“Indeed,” said Gretchen, “but the boy does have a point. We, as the servants of this household, must watch what we say in the presence of…well, no one in particular, really.” She laughed heartily.

“Shhhh!”

We were still, eying the party on the green. Mr. Verlesk droned on, the guests merely pretending to be listening. “And now,” he was saying, “I would like to demonstrate to you our accumulated wealth by presenting to you the maids of this house!”

We leapt to our feet. “What is this?” exclaimed Lucy. “When has Master Verlesk ever requested our presence at one of his speeches?” We hiked our skirts and hustled out of the hedge.

Mindy gripped my arm. “Abigail, he doesn’t mean you. You may be a maid, but you are not on the staff. Go back behind that bush.” She shoved me.

I sat back limply in the grass, watching my friends and Mindy parade in front of the guests. My chest tightened with longing.

In the direction of the peach tree orchard, footsteps thudded on the thirsty earth, loudening at an alarming rate. With a gasp, I hurried in the other direction. I looked once over my shoulder to find a shadow drifting in the peach trees, which was a big mistake. When I turned around again, I was too late to stop myself from running smack into the tall stranger in my path.

“Master!” I exclaimed, wide eyed. “Forgive me! I was not watching where I was going—”

“Well, that’s quite alright,” he said. His soft, kind tone of voice made me look up at him in surprise. He was young, perhaps seventeen, with curling golden hair and soft blue eyes. He smiled gently at my look of shock. “It doesn’t seem to be your fault; may I ask who you are running from?”

“Um—I—I’m not sure, really. I was hiding, and someone was coming, and I didn’t want to get in trouble—” I stopped. I was speaking as though he would care. “But anyway, I really must be on my way. and again, I apologize, Mr…”

“Gregory. Carson Gregory.” He smiled again. “But you may call me Carson. I am only seventeen, in truth, and the title of ‘Mr.’ or ‘Master’ gives me the impression that I am absurdly aged.”

I nodded, curtsied, and started back toward the hedge. The mysterious figure was gone. “But wait!” said Mr. Gregory. “What is your name, maiden?”

I curtsied again. true, I was not in traditional maid’s attire, as Mrs. Verlesk insisted we be dressed as regular people. I thought about lying to him, but that had only caused problems for me in the past. “I am a maid, not a maiden, Mr. Gregory, and my name is Abigail Charlotte.”

He bowed gallantly. “It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”

The way his eyes shone when he said this, I wondered if it really was a pleasure meeting a red-headed maid’s apprentice who had almost knocked him over. Maybe it was the friendliness in his eyes or his kind manner, but I found myself asking him what he was doing out here, anyway.

“My uncle’s speeches bore me to death,” he whispered. “I had to get away, and these gardens are certainly lovely. I suppose I must be getting back soon. It sounds as though he has finished.”

To my horror, I could make out the sound of faint applause beyond the trees. “Oh, no!” Without another word, I was off again.

I grabbed a teapot off the cart and stood with the other maids, ready to offer more when the teacups ran low. My heavy breathing attracted curious looks from the servants, but no one uttered a word. I scanned the cups.

My eyes came to rest on Master Gregory, who was seated beside an attractive young woman, talking animatedly. She laughed merrily and placed her hand over his. For a moment they just stared into each others eyes, and I felt an inexplicable sense of disappointed.

“Abigail!” hissed Mindy. “I think that man over there would like some more tea.” She said this with a jovial smile, but the malice lacing her words was unmistakable.

Walking as gracefully as I could, I poured tea for many more people, who seemed to have all run out at precisely the same time. All except Master Gregory’s, at least. He and his companion hadn’t touched theirs. I kept my eyes down when I passed him.

At the head of the table, the Verlesks were engaged in conversation with Sasha and Luke, which was odd. Luke was usually flirting with some hapless girl or piteous Carla, and Sasha usually just picked sullenly at her food. Naughty maid that I was, I drifted closer on the pretence of offering more tea. I had grown accustomed to being invisible.

“Tea?” I inquired of a gentleman sitting near them, all the while listening to the conversation.

“Please, do!” Sasha was exclaiming, clapping her hands in delight.

“Yes, I agree.” Luke nodded as though in thought, but I knew he was most likely just checking to make sure his gloves were still impeccably spotless. “You and father need a break. And I hear the ocean is particularly blue this time of year.”

“We’ll take care of everything,” Sasha put in. “Or you could call Grandma to come watch us.”

“But, Luke,” protested Mrs. Verlesk. “You are barely nineteen, and Sasha’s only twelve. How can we leave you alone for a whole month?”

“Now, Wanda,” laughed Mr. Verlesk. “What do you think we hired the nannies for? The children will be fine.”

“I’ll have some tea, Abigail.” Mrs. Verlesk motioned me over absently. Disappointed, I poured tea for all four of them and left.

“I think our master and mistress are planning on leaving somewhere,” I announced in the servants quarters that night. “Somewhere near the ocean.”

“Indeed,” said Lucy in surprise. “Have you not heard? Master got offered a job near Bristershine, but Mrs. Verlesk insists that the place is a madman’s town.”

“So Master is trying to convince her to take a trip there to prove what it is really like.” Helen giggled. “But I have been there, as a nanny once. It is simply marvellous! I would like to see the look on the Mistress’s face when she sees the beauty of it.”

“So what you’re saying,” I cut in. “Is that they are most likely going to move? But what will become of us?”

There was silence. “I suppose we will be left unemployed. I don’t think they intend to keep us if they can get some new servants in Bristershine. Mrs. Verlesk likes to keep the help local,” Lily said after a pause. She shrugged, but her shoulders sagged. “Oh, well.”

“Now, Lily,” said wise old Dorothy. “You cannot be sure of that. you are a wonderful cook. They always keep the good ones.”

“No, they don’t.” Lily seemed sad. “They have moved to at least five different towns, and they only employ ‘the good ones’ in the first place, and all of you came here when I did.”

I sat on the edge of my bed, with its nice feather blankets and pillows like wheat bags of cottony snow. Before working for the Verlesks, I had worked for a kindly old lady named Bernice Featherstone. When she died, they turned up almost right away to take some of her servants, but I was the only one who did not yet have a new master. Bernice’s recommendations had attracted employers like fleas. But I had only been here for a year, and already I was going to have to leave? I had only worked for two houses so far, and they had both been extremely pleasant, but I feared I would not be so lucky next time.

Sasha stormed into the room then, startling us all. We hastily stood up and curtsied.

“Abigail! Come help me undress for the night!” she ordered, pointing a bony finger at me. I jerked imperceptibly. I followed behind her at a cautious clip.

“Has Wendy taken ill?” I asked once I had closed the door to her vast room.

“No!” she whined, the sound grating on my ears. “I don’t like Wendy anymore.”

“Oh. I see.” Sasha often decided she didn’t like people for no apparent reason. I doubted Wendy took any offence.

I loosened Sasha’s stays and took the blue ribbons out of her hair. She didn’t say a word as I slipped her lace nightgown over her head.

“Is that satisfactory?” I asked her when I was done.

She nodded. “Yes, quite. You may take an hour for yourself outdoors, Abigail. It is a splendid night to be out, don’t you think?”

I smiled at her. “Yes, Miss Sasha. Thank you.” She nodded at me with a small smile. I curtsied, and made my smooth way out of her room. When I was in the silent hall, I clicked my heels together and sprinted out the back door.

I ran to the creek, cloaked spookily in darkness. The night birds chirped happily, and the water bubbled blackly like an uncertain joke. “Good evening, pretty creek,” I said with a bow. I kicked off my shoes and dipped my feet in the cool water.  My skin prickled.

I longed to jump in waist deep, but I didn’t want to get my dress all wet and drip in the house for Helen to clean up. Along with her random inspirations of dislike, Sasha enjoyed giving out random byes. I didn’t want to stir up any petty jealousies.

Despite the garden noises, it was oddly silent here. A feeling of peace drifted down on me like a warm blanket. I breathed in the smell of soil and blossoms and herbs, and warm summer air. When the sounds of humanity were taken away, you were left with nothing but this. It was just the way I liked it.

An hour wasn’t much, but it was something. I stretched out along the bank, staring at the stars. They were hard for me to see, but I thought I could make out the Pole Star over the treetops. Bliss, is what it was.

“Hello there.”

I sat bolt upright. “Mr. Gregory?” I stammered incredulously.

“Yes, it is I.” He stepped into sight. “How do you do, Miss Charlotte?”

“Um.” I struggled to my feet. “Quite well, thank you. May I assist you with anything? I mean something?”

He shook his head. I couldn’t see his face very well. “No, I was just wandering. Are you hiding again?”

I blushed. “No, Master Carson. I was given an hour of time to myself. I came to enjoy the peace.”

“I see. So, am I disturbing your peace?”

I kicked myself mentally. “No! I mean, of course not. But may I ask you something?”

“Certainly.” He took a seat on a felled tree that served perfectly as a bench. I thought of pointing out that his suit would be soiled.

“Why did you not leave like the other guests? It is quite late to be visiting.” He was so unlike other young men he regressed me through years of training.

“Mr. Verlesk is my uncle,” he told me. “I may stay for as long as I like.”

I blushed deeper. “Yes, of course. Forgive my boldness. I must be on my way.”

“Wait, Miss Charlotte!”

I paused. “Yes, Mr. gregory?”

“Must you really be leaving? I really could use some company.”

I scrunched my eyebrows. “As you wish, Master Gregory.”

“Carson. Won’t you have a seat, Miss Charlotte? How long have you been out here, may I ask?”

I awkwardly perched on a different tree bench with his lady friend in mind, the rough bark pinching my skin with wizened claws. “Just fifteen minutes, I think.” I didn’t volunteer more information than I felt I had to. I still wasn’t sure what he wanted with me.

“I see. So how long have you been working for my uncle and aunt?”

“Almost a year. It was about this time last summer that a friend of mine showed me this place.”

“it is quite lovely.” He gazed at the water. “Have you ever been canoeing?”

I blanched. Why would I want to do that? “No, I haven’t. Have you?”

“Yes, many times. It is quite enchanting, especially in the spring. Where I come from, there are blossoms all year long on most of the trees, and the waters are always pristine and clear.”

“That sounds pleasant,” I said sceptically.

He laughed, and it ricocheted back to us from a thousand different places. “You don’t believe me. I must take you some time.”

Was he forgetting that I was a maid? “Sure?”

He laughed again, further deepening my sense of utter confusion.

“Do you hear that?” I said suddenly, standing up. “I think it is Master Luke! I’m sorry, I really must be going! Thank you for the visit!”

And I took off, in the opposite direction of the manor.

It was a while before I realized I was going the wrong way. I took a roundabout way, making sure to stay clear of the creek. I gave it such a wide berth that it took me the rest of my hour to get back.

The memory was still clear in my mind, of my first day on the job. Paul had found me after my first falling out with Mindy, crying in the broom cupboard.

“Hello, you’re the new maid, right?” he said when he saw me there.

I quickly wiped my tears. “Yes. Do forgive me. how do you do?”

He kneeled in front of me. “I’m fine, Abigail. I’m assuming you met Mindiache?”

Her name, of course, made me giggle. “No wonder she’s such a miserable—”

He held up a hand, green eyes twinkling. “Now, now, Miss Charlotte.”

I grinned. He helped me out of that broom cupboard, and as it was our break for afternoon tea, we walked arm-in-arm to the stable together, never ceasing our meaningless chitchat.

“Want to go for a little ride?” he asked me when we stood outside the stall of Mr. Verlesk’s horse Vesuvius.

“I’ve never been on a horse before,” I said nervously.

“Are you scared?”

“Yes.”

“Well, then you can ride double with me. Come on, I want to show you something. It will help you deal with Mindiache.”

So, we rode double on Vesuvius, all the way to the creek. In the day time, it was fascinating how the pollen and dandelion fluff floated on the sun rays, the creak slipping over rocks and under tree-bridges. Bright flowers grew along the banks, and ivies embraced the enormous tree trunks.

He reached into the water and pulled out a perfectly round blue and green stone. “Put this in your pocket,” he told me, “and whenever you feel like you could kill Mindy, touch it and think of this place. Pray for her soul, and I promise you will feel better.”

Just him saying those words made me suddenly and magically impervious to her vicious austerity. The stone sat in the drawer of my locked false-bottom jewellery box he had bought me.

Paul’s family moved that winter for a better-paying job down East, and I never saw him again.

I crawled into bed, and lulled myself to sleep by counting the sweet kisses Paul and I had shared during our time together, each one distinct and burned into my memory. And though the memories made me smile, I felt like a superheated flake pastry gone bad.

Fiction, Lidi, Original Story, Story, Unwritten Hope

The King


         The story was that he was a dangerous, ruthless renegade. Nobody thought he would ever come back, after “disappearing” five years ago, to take a final bow before the curtain closed on his act. He was like the midnight train that had jumped the track. He moved like a ghost, and he always had his earphones hanging down around his neck. He was a legend at Northwest Academy. Daniel the King, Renegade Quade. Everyone had different names for him. Though most had forgotten him, no one had forgotten those days on the riverbank playing Camelot. In a way Daniel was just an ordinary kid, with a strange way of making you do what he wanted. And he didn’t even know he had that power over people. He was just someone people listened to. Like Hitler. And that’s what scared the teachers. In reality, Daniel was a sweet, creative boy, and he got a kick out of the fact that everyone thought he was a hood. Especially since it proved how gullible people really are, and it made the plan so much easier.  
         The parking lot was empty except for one midnight blue model T. It was raining. The grass was dusted with silver, brightening the green of the abundant poplars. Almost everyone was standing at the floor-to-ceiling window in the cafeteria, watching him. From the Ford trunk, he took his old beat-up guitar case, slung his black bag over his shoulder. He wore jeans and a blue NWA hoodie that was pulled up to hide his dark hair. The stillness of the cafeteria allowed us to hear the steps of his boots. He walked up the steps of the North Dorm House and disappeared. 
         The clock on the far wall ticked loudly, and the monitors hadn’t noticed our preoccupation yet. 
         “Daniel William Quade,” someone breathed. “The King is back.”
         We glanced at each other, than back at the boarding house. The door never opened again. Conversation restarted in low, uncertain murmurs. What was he doing here? He was supposed to be gone without a trace, having been forgotten from our minds since we were thirteen. The only person left now at the window, I pressed my hands to the glass and peered into the rain. Room sixty-seventy-nine, seven floors up. Daniel was there, watching me. 
         I was the only one who knew why he had “disappeared,” and I knew why he was here now. With a slow, deliberate motion, he put his finger to his lips with a little smile. 
         The King was back, indeed.
         “Ali!” exclaimed Felicity Colter like she had been looking for me everywhere. “Principal Thomson requests your presence in his office at once! Make haste, if you please!” Felicity was obsessed with talking like an eighteenth century Londoner. I dumped my breakfast tray on the cafeteria conveyor belt and wandered into the hall. If Mr. Thomson said he wanted to see me in his office, he really meant that he was being held up in the hallway by some business call and I would have better luck finding him in the Garner wing. I knew him. Sometimes it felt like I was his personal servant or something. I was chagrined to see that I still had fifteen minutes before my first class. 
         When I found him, I walked alongside him. He was striding down the wing flanked by Ms. Gregson and Mr. Hart, whom Daniel and I liked to call his government officials. He was shouting at some poor unfortunate soul over his bluetooth headset. Daniel and Mr. Thomson shared the same thick dark hair and wide brown eyes, though Thomson’s were always popped out of his face in rage and Daniel tried to keep his narrowed and fierce. 
         “Will you hold on a minute?” he screamed irritably, and it was only evident that he was talking to me when he halted his furious stride and fixed his eyes on mine. 
         “Ali. I need you to run the recompense initiative by Mr. Sandlan again, he just doesn’t seem to understand. Sometimes I think that man is a just a lazy little–well, never mind.” he grimaced and pressed his finger to his ear again. “Hello! Yes, about the student files…”
         I mashed my teeth together as I walked back toward the main building. Just because I was student body president…This was just part of the plan, just part of the plan. I worried that this was working a little too well. 
         The recompense initiative. Designed to reward the good behavior of students, it centered around grades, attendance, and general behavior. Every percent and days you go to school goes into your recompense account, and interest rises or falls depending on your attitude. If you landed in the principal’s (Mr Thomson’s) office, you got recompense taken away, and you could use more to get yourself out without a record. If you got a poor score on a test you could carry over your score from an assignment to make it look better, except that one test percent was worth eight assignment percents. I created the whole thing, and now it was up to me to put it into effect. 
         I went to class early and sat reading my full collection of Sherlock Holmes. It was almost the only time I got to myself. The guy amazed me, and his science of deduction was fascinating, if not mind-boggling. The classroom soon filled up, and I knew when Daniel walked in the second silence dropped over the room like a cloud. Like in the cafeteria, it seemed like the only sound was that of his black boots. I hardly looked up from my book to catch him sauntering in, staring broodingly at a couple of people and an extra-long stare at Professor Sandlan. Inside I was dissolving with laughter. This was not the boy who was afraid of moths and thought I Am Number Four was the best thing that had happened to humanity. Just the other day he was standing in the topmost branches of the old sycamore tree trying to signal Pittacus Lore or the Mogadorians or something.  Now he kicked his boots up onto the desk in front of him, flipped back his rain soaked hood, and nodded at the teacher. Letting him know that he, the life of the crowd, had arrived, and the party could begin.

         We usually met at the river, but the weather was still giving us grief so we decided to meet in the old home ec room at lunch. He was restless, pacing back and forth. The small enclosed room enticed him to lean against the wall as if he could hold it back. He wasn’t quite Daniel Quade yet; the King had quite a grip sometimes. I announced myself by dumping my bag on the desk. 
         “Glad to have you back.”
         “Yeah, well, i didn’t think my father would manage to make such a mess of everything.” He was talking about the recompense initiative. 
         “Um, yeah. Totally. Your father did that all by himself, that’s right.” I shut my mouth. I would never need a polygraph in life. I was a terrible liar in the first place. I don’t know why I didn’t just tell Daniel the truth, that it was me who had done it, not Mr Thomson, because that would mean I had deviated from the plan. I didn’t want to face him, and I didn’t know who I would face. Daniel or the King. I didn’t want to find out. 
         “So what’s our status on Operation: Plan B?” Daniel asked, perching on the stool next to me. I flinched away, thinking that he would somehow read my mind. It wouldn’t have mattered. In short, this was not good.

2013-01-19

Fiction, Lidi, Original Story, romance, Story, Unwritten Hope

Ghost Girl Chapter 3

Homeless

Austin

Grief is a strange thing. It has many faces, many forms. Sometimes it incapacitates you, sometimes it drives you to do something more. I remember when I lost my mother to tuberculosis. In that time, my grief came in the obvious form of sadness. When I lost my sister, Launna, to alcohol addiction, I felt stifling anger at her and at the world in general. When I lost my brother Caleb to the lights and chance of Vegas, I felt betrayed. But when I lost my father to the denial of false love, I barely felt anything. It was still grief.

Yes, I know grief.

I know that there is nothing anyone on the outside world can do about it. It’s something you have to deal with yourself. But you don’t have to do it alone. I knew what it was like to lose something you truly cared about.

My empathy toward Peyton was above the comfort of acquaintance. I didn’t know her, but I knew what she was going through as we watched her house burn to the ground. It was something a kind word couldn’t fix. So I didn’t say anything.

It was mid-afternoon when the flames finally sputtered out. I looked at Peyton. She was staring straight ahead, not seeming to see anything. Her gaunt face looked sallow. Wordlessly, she stood and walked toward the ashes of her home.

She was Ghost Girl again as she glided over the soot, kicking piles of unrecognizable ash. Every so often she would kneel and pick up a piece of pottery or china or anything else that had not burned. I stayed in the same spot, watching her, wishing I could help, knowing she would talk when she was ready. If she talked. I was a stranger, after all.

Chaku was nowhere in sight. I almost wondered where he was, but I had better things to worry about and anyway, he was a big boy now.

Had anyone seen the flames or smelled the smoke? The estate was practically secluded. Had her family gotten out? I had a sick feeling that I knew the answer.

Peyton let out a long, shrill scream.

I sprang to my feet. “What’s wrong?” I shouted. She didn’t seem to hear me. She stared at a pile of dust in front of her, a look of pure, indescribable horror on her face. I raced to her side and looked. I felt bile rise in my throat. I almost gagged.

There, staring out of the ash with dead eyes was a burnt, bloody face.

Peyton screamed again. The sound was half strangled by a sob. I stared at the sightless eyes for one second more. Then I grabbed Peyton around the waist and hauled her out of there. She kicked and screamed all the way. I didn’t stop until I couldn’t smell the death and smoke any more. It was long time.

I propped Peyton against a tree. She had gone limp in my arms along the way. Her head lolled back onto the trunk. She moaned.

Poor, poor Peyton. Anorexia, falling off a cliff, watching her house burn, seeing the charred face of whom I was guessing had been a family member. The sadness and pain I felt for the stranger woman was indescribable. Given her current state of anorexia—the word made me want to spit in anger—she should have been in a state of comatose. But she was stronger than I had given her credit for.

She opened her eyes. They searched around wildly for a few minutes before finding my face. She opened her mouth to speak, but all that came out was a high-pitched keening. It broke my heart. She needed food. Or did she? Was it bad to give anorexic people food? I mean, had she gone without eating so long that eating something now would disrupt her system? I didn’t know. But I’m sure giving her water would be okay. And then I could try a little bit of food. Maybe I could even get her to a doctor. She would not die on my watch.

I knew exactly where we were. I picked Peyton up as gently as I could. Sure enough, ten minutes later, we reached Lake Comatista. I lowered her limp form into the cold water, feet first. Suddenly she jerked and screamed in surprise.

“Ach, that is COLD!” she cries. Trying to get away. I keep her in until I see her eyes lose their glazed, lost look. Then I pulled her out. She thrashed like a wet cat.

“What was that for?” she demanded, crossing her arms. I set her on her feet. She sways slightly.

“Are you okay now?” I ask, stepping back as she shakes herself off. She glares at me.

“If by sopping wet and begging for pneumonia, than yeah, I am right as rain.” sarcasm drips from her voice like the water from her nightgown. I wondered if she was always this feisty. I chose to go with yes.

I was feeling immense relief. I was actually able to laugh. “You’ll be fine. Now drink.”

“I’m not thirsty.”

“Yes you are,” I insisted. “Drink, or else.”

She raised an eyebrow. “Or else what?”

I took a suggestive step toward her. “Or else…I’ll throw you in the lake.”

She manages a small smile. The sadness has returned to her brown eyes. “On it,” she says, forcefully. I sigh.

Peyton was very thirsty. I could tell she was planning to only take a couple sips and then be difficult, but as soon as the sweet water of Lake Comatista hit her lips, she couldn’t say no. I watched her inhale the water with satisfaction.

I turned toward the middle of the lake. Right on cue, Chaku came into view. He had a huge Sturgeon by the tail. He dropped it into my hands and sat on his haunches, looking up at me expectantly. I ripped off the tail and give it to him. He trots away.

“Impressive.”

Peyton is sitting cross legged on the shore, the edge of her nightgown trailing in the water. Her lips are beginning to have a bit of colour to them. Her hair dripped down her bony back. I sighed. Supper time.

Chaku had already piled sticks and twigs on the shore. I take out my lighter and hold it there until the kindling catches. Peyton comes and stands beside me. Her shoulders sag. One look at her and I know that the effects of lake-water baths can only last so long.

I stand. “Hey.” I hold my arms out to her. She hesitates, so I close the distance between us and wrap my arms around her. Strangers or not, I could tell she was in need of comfort. Like on the estate, she leans into me.

For once I don’t mind touching her. Her bones even more prominent now then they were last night, but it doesn’t bother me so much any more. I was reminded, though, that she was quite literally starving. But I don’t want to end the moment.

“You know what the funny thing is?”

Fiction, Lidi, Original Story, Story, Unwritten Hope

L is for Loser

Alone

Staring down from the top of the cliff, the people were almost indistinguishable from the still brown water of the Shangalih. The river looked about twenty feet across from up here, normal until you realized that you couldn’t see bank-to-bank when you were on the ground. That’s how high up we were.

The height fascinated and repulsed me, making my heart beat three times faster than normal.

“If you’re going to do it, you had better do it now, Thayne,” I said, ignoring the voice that told me this was a really, really bad idea. The tiny girl shivered beside me. “Mr. Yering will be back soon.”

Thayne looked down with an expression of terror. Hanging around the tents, the rest of the class watched with rapt attention, anticipation making them edgy. Her vulnerability struck me with anger. I wanted her to jump.

“Come on, Thayne, are you afraid?” I said, stepping toward her. “You a scared little baby-boo? Not so tough as you thought you were, are you?”

She didn’t say anything, her eyes filling with tears as she stared at me. Her silence made me even angrier. Without meaning to, I gave her a shove. She stumbled, landing inches away from the edge. Everyone behind me gasped, then laughed. Thayne was seventeen, a year older than the rest of us because she had been held up a grade, but her size made her easy to push around. Or maybe it was because she was just so insignificant, always fading into the background, sitting somewhere with her nose in a book. Alone. Always alone. and she never, ever talked.

So it was a surprise, a shock even, when she started babbling to me about how it might feel to fly. I had been looking down on the river when suddenly she came up like we were friends or something and started going on. Her voice was too quiet for anyone but me to hear the words, though everyone knew she was talking. And that’s when I got my idea. “Did you hear that, everyone?” I called, spinning around so that my long brown hair drifted over my shoulder. “Thayne says she’s going to jump off!”

There was laughter. “You wish, Luna,” someone said.

“No, it’s true,” I said loudly. “Right, Thayne? She’s finally going to do something worth her…time.” I was going to say ‘miserable life’ but that seemed kind of mean. I fixed her with a stare. Mouth agape, she nodded weakly. She knew the consequences for disagreeing with me. I smiled my best smile.

“So what are you waiting for?” I said now, standing over her cowering frame. “Get up!”

Her face went blank. Wordlessly (of course) she got up, dusted herself off, and balanced with her toes hanging over the edge.

“Jump!” I said. “Jump, jump.”

“Jump! Jump! Jump!” chanted my classmates.

Something moved far off in the trees behind me, something red. I snapped my head around and there I saw her: Mysterious Molly. She wore black, a long, floating crimson scarf around her neck. She watched me with wide, almond-shaped eyes. I was surprised she had even come on this year-end camping trip, considering the fact that she never got out. Nobody liked Mysterious Molly, and nobody disliked her either. Like Thayne, she was very silent, except Thayne was pathetic and Molly was just…mysterious. When she did speak, it was only one word, and that word was always a premonition for whoever she was speaking to.

Molly didn’t say anything to me, and with her steady gaze it was like she had spoken anyway. Why. Why did I hate Thayne so much? Did I actually want her to die?

“Jump, jump, jump!”

Still locked in Molly’s gaze, I barely noticed Thayne look over her shoulder, taking everything in with clinical disinterest, her eyes dilated and glassy-looking. And suddenly, it was like I was her. I had no friends, I was all alone. Here I was about to jump off a fifty-two-foot cliff and people were actually cheering me on. I was poor, my parents had tried multiple times to disown me, nobody loved me; what was the point? And I was alone…we were both so alone.

Thayne bent her knees.

“Jump, jump…”

“WHAT IS GOING ON HERE?”

Silence.

Thayne wobbled, startled like the rest of us, and fell. Not off the cliff, but backward and right into me, both of us toppling to the ground. Disgusted, I shoved her off. Klutz.

I turned just in time to see Mysterious Molly floating across the campsite to Mr. Yering, who was standing arms crossed, eyes wide and uncertain. She snapped her fingers in his face, then pointed directly at me.

“Luna,” she breathed, her voice like death. It was like her eyes were speaking to his soul, because after a mere second, his expression hardened into one of undeniable outrage.

“Luna!” he said, like he was hypnotized and simply repeating her. I twirled my hair around my fingers, adjusting my pink top with my other hand. I wondered where Shana was. She had said she needed a makeup break and had snuck off into the woods so she wouldn’t get caught, and still hadn’t returned. She would’ve gotten Thayne to jump before the Mysterious Molly got to me and Mr. Yering, and then I wouldn’t be in this mess.

“Yeah?” I said.

He stared at me for a minute, probably thinking that he could be like Molly, but he wasn’t, and after a while he turned and started directing everyone to start breaking up camp. Breathing a sigh of relief, I turned to give Thayne one last glare before pretending to help out, but she was gone. Inexplicably panicked, I rushed to the side of the cliff and looked over. The Shangalih was still, the wind churning the water and making it swirl.

On the school bus ride back to Henderson High, I finally found Shana. Or at least her backside waving in the air as she made out with Tony Kendal, her friend with many, many benefits. Brittany and Selena Welts were trying to get my attention so they could go on with stories of their recent visit to Greece, but my supposed boyfriend Nathan was looking at me with a look that said he was jealous of Tony and Shana right now. He sat on the other side of the bus and two seats up, and kept looking back at me with a lusty and hurt expression that I had made him sit up there. I regarded him with disinterest, not really needing a smooching session right then. Later, definitely, but I had other things on my mind. Where was Thayne Atalda?

I looked, and the Mysterious Molly was still sitting right in front of Brittany and I, silently gazing out the window. Just looking at her still, speculating form sent a chill through me. I ignored it, finally mustering up the courage to lean over the seat and tap her bony shoulder.

“Where is Thayne?” I asked, barely able to speak the words.

Her long, white-blond ponytail shone darkly in the sun. The second she took before answering felt like ten. “Beaten,” she said.

All my fear and respect disintegrated. I glared at her. “Look, Molly, I know you’re supposed to be all mysterious and everything, and everything you say comes true, but I am really not in the mood for more of your one-word riddles that never—”

“Thayne is in a dark place,” Molly interrupted, looking me full in the eye. “She is trying to escape, but she won’t. Not until someone sets her free. And you are that person.”

I shook my head, trying really hard not to laugh out loud. What did she think this was, a Disney movie? “Molly, I’m not kidding. All I asked was a simple question, and apparently you missed it, so here it is again: Where is Thayne?”

Again, she just looked at me. The funny thing about Molly was, no one knew what colour her eyes were. Though she was always staring at people with that speculating gaze, you forgot the colour as soon as you saw it. and you didn’t even notice that you had forgotten until she was gone. “There are many misconceptions about me,” she went on. “They view me as they wish to perceive me, and they perceive me as they wish me to appear. But you, Luna, you see me as you don’t want to see me. You see me for who I am.” And with that, she turned away.

I shivered again, violently. Okay, that was way too much weirdness for one day. I sat back, where Brittany and selena were just talking amongst themselves, having given up on me.

“Hey, Luna!” called Leno from a seat back. “What are you doing talking to Malignant Molly?”

She turned and looked at him, not offended, just thoughtful, her colourless eyes holding him helplessly captive. Everyone made the “Ooooohh!” sound that said he had just got told, and she looked back to the window. He made a face of mock fright and laughed, but you could tell that he really was scared. I hid my smile.

“Hey, Nathan,” I said, butt-scooting until I was in his seat. “You looked like you wanted to tell me something?”

He smiled and reached for me. “Yeah. It had nothing to do with talking, though.”

By the time the bus rolled into the lot at Henderson High, I was ready to crawl back to my seat on my hands and knees just to get away from Nathan. For the first time, his soft kissing and gentle caresses didn’t make me giddy and ready for more. In fact, it was the exact and extreme opposite.

“What is wrong with you?” he asked at one point, holding me at arms length and peering at me intently.

I shook out my hair, trying to act indignant. “What’s the matter with you?” I retorted, sliding my hand up his stomach. Though the move repulsed me.

Slightly unsteady on my feet now, I inserted the keys into my silver Miata. My head pounded. Someone brushed passed me, almost knocking me into my car. Pressing a hand to my forehead, I turned, almost running into Thayne again. this time I really did fall over.

“Thayne?”I whispered, heart in my throat.

Her blue eyes were the colour of silk, but they were ringed with lines. Lines that hadn’t been there six hours ago on the cliff. She sort of smiled at me, except it wasn’t a smile, it was more like she was writing me off, and then she left.

Okay, that was way weird.

But oh, my head. I slumped into my car, slinging my camping bag onto the seat beside me. at least it was finally summer. But all I wanted to do was sleep

Fiction, Lidi, Original Story, romance, Story, Unwritten Hope

Ghost Girl Chapter 2

Despair

Peyton

 The moment I saw Austin Braucop, I knew I wanted to live.

Call it intuition or insight, but when those hands reached down and pulled me up from the jaws of death I was about to dive into, I knew that there was no way I could possibly want to die.

From his long-lashed blue eyes to his straight nose to his long, muscled body, I wanted to live. Nothing mattered any more, not Gabriel’s cold words about my weight, nor Chantelle’s cold words about my anorexia, not even my new-found obsession with death. It all just…disappeared.

Was this what it was like to be in love?

I didn’t think so. Had I not been in love with Gabriel Batoche? But that had been a different love, more of a hero-worship than anything else. I was just seeing that. And to think I had almost died for him! But was it not fitting that Austin be the one to save me?

Yes, I do think I am in love with him.

Omigosh, I’m in love with him!

But anyway, before I knew all this, I had bigger problems. Like the fact that I was hanging from a dog’s mouth over the Yukatuk canyon. I was in a state of shock. I couldn’t scream. I couldn’t even move. All I could do was stare down, down, down, down. All I could see was darkness.

And then the teeth were replaced by hands under my armpits, pulling me upward, at the same time that something on the bottom of my night gown pulled downward. Toward the darkness. I peeked, to see what was wrong. There was a humungous branch pinned through my gown. I wondered where it had come from.

“My gown! It’s stuck on a branch. Here, I’ll kick it loose.” He shouted something back at me, but I didn’t catch it over the howl of the wind. I struck my heel into the semi-loose soil. A huge hunk of rock fell away, and the tree dangled from the hem of my gown. Pulling from above surrendered a little to the pulling from below. I thought then that I was going to fall. But then, with a painful rip, the branch and boulder fell.

We went flying. I landed on a hard, heavily muscled chest. It hurt. I guess I hurt him, too, because he pushed me off quickly. I rolled to a sitting position and faced him.

He had dark brown hair and blue eyes. His lashes were longer than any I had ever seen on a boy. His face was symmetrical and sun-browned. The muscles on his arms and shoulders stood out through his jacket in a mysterious, appealing way. A very nice body, in conclusion. But it made me wonder how I must have looked to him. I felt like blushing. How could I have thought a nightgown could have erased the damage and made me beautiful? My eyes pricked.

The man rose to his feet in one graceful motion. “What were you doing?” he shouted. I peeked up at him. His face was almost contorted. I looked down instead. And that is when I saw the gown.

Where the branch had pierced it there was nothing left but strips. All the silk lacing was gone. The entire thing was covered in dirt from the rock sheet. It looked awful. But what’s more, it meant that I looked awful, too. I was just the ugly girl that I was before, and probably always would be. The pricks in my eyes morphed themselves into tears.

I realized that Austin was still waiting for me to answer his question. But when I was just gathering my wits to try and answer, he said, “I’m taking you home. Where do you live?” I couldn’t meet his eye. Wordlessly, I pointed toward the woods. “Come on, then,” he said. I looked up, then. His hand was stretched out to me. The anger left his eyes, suddenly. It wasn’t until he knelt in front of me that I remembered I was still crying.

Could I not do anything right? What he must think of me. This bony, ugly, crazy girl who played on the cliffs and didn’t answer questions and cried for no reason. What a joke. I didn’t deserve to feel something as wonderful as love for him. I really didn’t.

But Austin didn’t look disgusted. He just looked…nice. Like he actually cared that I was crying. And he was so close, so suddenly. I wondered what it would feel like to touch his smooth golden skin. “Hey, come on,” he said. “You’re safe now.”

Safe. I do believe I was safe, with him, for the moment. I took his hand and let him pull me to my feet. His hand was warm and so, so gentle. Like he was afraid of breaking me. How sweet. But he let go too soon. I sighed quietly. We started walking.

The dog, Chaku, who had kept me from falling the first time, bounced beside us with his tail between his legs. It looked funny. I felt a wordless gratitude toward the dog, and the handsome stranger who was his owner. I wanted to ask him his name, where he lived, etc, but I didn’t. I didn’t know if he would appreciate the inquiry. I couldn’t even build up the courage to say thank you.

The dog whimpered. The man turned to him. He looked exasperated. “What is wrong with you?” he asked the dog. He just lay down and rolled over. Austin stared at him and then walked away. I had to hurry a bit to keep up with him.

“What’s wrong with him?” I asked. He shrugged.

Finally, I couldn’t take it any more. The silence was just so…ominous!

“What’s your name?” I asked. He glanced at me fleetingly.

“Austin,” he said. “Austin Braucop.”

Nice name. “I am Peyton,” I told him.

He smiled at me, then. My heart flipped. “Peyton. It’s nice to meet you, Peyton.”

“It’s nice to meet you too, Austin.”

Oh, the irony.

“Where do you live?” I asked, to keep the conversation flowing. I liked the sound of his voice, and anyway, why stop when you’re ahead?

To my dismay, a cloud passed over his face. “Nowhere,” he said. He didn’t look like he wanted to talk about it, whatever it was. I let it go.

“What’s his name?” I jerked a finger toward the dog, who had recovered from his episode.

Austin smiled affectionately. “Him? That’s Chaku.” He reached over and ruffled the dog’s ears. He panted up at him. So he’s a dog lover.

“Can I pet him?”

“Sure.” He stopped walking. I knelt in front of the dog and stroked his ears. He looked at me with liquid brown eyes.

“Thank you,” I whispered. Chaku touched my cheek with his nose.

Austin interrupts the moment. “Do you smell that?”

I looked at him. His back was to me, thumbs in the pockets of his jeans. “Smell what?”

“I think it’s…smoke.”

Alarmed, I stood up and sniffed the air. Sure enough, it was tinted with the smell of burning wood. Actually, it was more laden than tinted. I wondered how I had not noticed it before.

Chaku began to bark. Austin reached out and tugged on my elbow. “Come on,” he said. There was a hint of urgency in his tone. He set off, faster than before, and I had to run to keep up. I was about to tell him to please slow down when I saw the flames. It took me a minute to register it. At first all I could see was a big, dancing ball of fire in the distance, but there it was.

Right where my house should have been.

I stood there, shocked. I couldn’t believe it. I had to be seeing things. Except that I wasn’t. The evidence was as undeniable as the home it was engulfing. I started running. My heart was in my throat. Had they all gotten out? Could the fire still be stopped? Had someone called the fire department?

I ran on toward my house, screaming. Austin caught up to me with his long legs. He shouted something at me, but I didn’t hear. I just kept running.

I had to stop, eventually. The flames got too hot for me to come any closer. My lack of food and sleep caught up to me. I sank to the ground, sobbing. I couldn’t take my eyes off of my burning home, my home where my history began. The home I had been about to leave. Stupid, stupid girl.

Austin, the kind stranger who had stolen my heart, came over to me and picked me up off the ground. He propped me against his side and put his arm around me. Grateful, I leaned against him weakly, quietly relishing his solidity. Chaku was barking and howling. I was too tired to notice.

I could only hope that my family had gotten out alive. But my house. My room. My memories. 

Gone.

Commentary, Fiction, Lidi, Original Story, Society, Story, Unwritten Hope

This is the Circle Path

…are we doomed? Is this the end?

Will we ever find peace again?

When can our time of rest begin?

The question is if, but not when

Because this is the circle path

The path that we must follow

Together follow, walk the circle

Till the infernal, bitter end

Follow until it begins again

Begins anew, and never ends…

The concept of infinity had always been the hub of both his woe and fascination. From the bar parking lot the young man gazed at the stolid universe above him, full of stars and history. A beam of light could travel for centuries and the distance it covered could seem unfathomable until the sheer enormity of the universe was factored in. Even if the numbers showed the light had traveled ten-to-the-five-hundredth light years, what was that really, compared to a distance that would never end? Seventeen-year-old Lialan Adkins felt like that beam of light, racing and getting so far and yet, in the eyes of infinity, getting nowhere far at all.

His woe was planted in the naïve but, at the time, heartfelt words: “I don’t care, alright? Forever is there for us if we want it.”

Ailla…

A lot of the people said they went to the bar to drink and forget, to drown their sorrows. Lialan went to sit and remember. To stab himself with the memories, and drown in his sorrows. In truth they were sufficiently many and monumental to devour him. His mother said that in time he would forget the pain. Factoring the enormity of his terrible sin she calculated that it would fade from his mind when he was ninety or so, but the question remained whether he could live with himself for that long. God knew he deserved to live with himself; it was the only reason he kept from slitting his own throat or even drinking the nightmare away. Inertia and his death were too welcome, and both were mockeries of what he had done.

Sometimes he had no more tears to shed from crying all day, but on this night his young but haggard face was streaked.

It had been exactly one year, but it may as well have been that day for all the good time was doing him. His visitations to the bar—the shrine to his deepest wretchedness—were hardly regular, but on nights when the torment was too much to take he often wandered here. On this night in particular he was there solely of his own design. How could he not, on this ignoble anniversary?

Ailla.

The door to the bar opened.  Admitted into the night air were wafts of choking cigarette smoke and an explosion of music, startling Lialan from his sordid midnight thoughts. People came and went regularly from the bar and he occasionally saw people he knew, but he was always concealed and left alone in his shadows just out of reach of the light. If not for their loud raucousness, he would have ignored the stumbling-drunk party of three that the bar vomited out of its doors. Three men, not much older than him. Maybe from the U. All had wavy blond hair: one a bleach blond, the other honey, and the last so dark it might have been brown. They were mangling an old blues song, yowling it into the night like cats perpetually being stepped on by careless feet. The door slowly closed behind them as they lurched across the parking lot. And through it all, that song…

This is the circle path

The path that we must follow

Follow till the bitter end…

They missed several words and sometimes whole lines, and the tune sounded like it had been shredded on a hot cheese grater; yet he did still recognise it. He felt like God was drowning him in arctic water; his breathing stopped, and he suddenly felt the profound chill of the night. Was it even chilly? He hadn’t been able to feel anything really, but had it been this cold? The song, the real version, swirled in his head like the waters of the River Styx: Are we doomed? Is this the end? Will we ever find peace again?

They reached their car, a lone red Audi parked in front of an LED streetlamp, seven spaces on either side of it. Despite himself, Lialan craned his neck, trying to see a driver through the windshield.

A bolt of lightning struck through him when he saw the flash of keys in the dark blonde’s uncoordinated hands. The bolt of lightning was called Ailla.

Before he knew what he was doing he had careened across the lot on legs stiff from hours of sitting in the October night; truly, he looked as maladroit as the drunk university kids. The one with the keys paused in his fumbling to unlock the door for a flailing air-guitar performance. It landed him on his rear end and his friends whooped with laughter. The keys skidded under the car but no one seemed to notice. They were still yodeling the song—the song—and didn’t hear Lialan’s shouts. He darted under the car and retrieved the keys, jingling them in the face of the blond who had fallen.

Hey!” Lialan shouted again, into the other’s face, and this time they all stopped and turned to him. Their eyes slipped reluctantly into focus. They were only a little less drunk as they had looked, for the most part friends hamming it up for each other. The fallen blond lurched to his feet and made an ill-aimed swipe at the keys, but Lialan snatched them out of reach.

“Hey, man. Drunk driving? Not cool.”

His friends oohed mockingly. “Whew, Nate, you’re in trouble now!” leered the light blonde.

“Shut up, Sam!” Nate tried to snap, but it came out as a slur. Sam grinned lazily, hands up in surrender. “What are you, anyway? Fuzz?” Nate asked, moving his face within inches of Lialan’s nose.

“Absolutely not. So take it from someone who knows.”

“What do you know?”

“Probably more than you think. Actually, definitely. You’re quite sauced.” Lialan peered at him closely. He could see no real malice in the green eyes, only defensiveness of a wounded ego. The third one, the one with the honey colored hair, looked like he was stoned as well as drunk. Sam, on the other and, looked like he was ready to take a swing any minute, no matter how unsteady he was on his feet. Lialan moved out of range by leaning against the driver-side door of the Audi, sticking his hands in his pockets. The fisted keys disappeared out of sight. “You, then, certainly should not be driving. None of you should, really.”

“Give me the keys.” Another swipe. Nate nearly landed bottom up on the asphalt.

“Give me two minutes. You’ll see why you should listen to me.”

For a moment, everyone was silent, glaring at him, while he composed himself. Why was he even talking to these losers? He was sure that dozens of people drove home after hours of drinking, while he watched with unseeing eyes in the shadow of the bar building. Why did he care about these particular buffoons?

Because, today was the day that unspeakable anniversary. Somehow, he had gone back in time, back to when he was Sam, and Nate, and whoever the other one was. He had come full circle, and he had the feeling that this night was full of dark magic working to make a copy of that night three-hundred-sixty-five days ago. He was certain that the scenario was going to repeat itself, and the only difference in tomorrow’s headlines would be the picture beneath them – Nate’s, and not his own.

“Young drunk driver causes fatal car crash.”

“Hey!” said Sam, his murky mind having apparently produced a thought. “You’re that guy – that Nilen Adams or whatever.”

“Adkins,” the other, unnamed kid correcting, sloppily snapping his fingers. “Lialan Adkins, you were that kid who killed his girlfriend last year. Anna something.” He scratched his head, not seeing Lialan’s face pale and his whole body begin to tremble.

“Ailla,” he whispered, but nobody heard him.

“Yeah, that’s right!” agreed Nate. He squinted his eyes at Lialan. “Actually, that was probably around this time. What are you doing here, slugger?”

What are any of us doing here? Lialan wanted to ask. But he took a breath and shrugged, forcing himself to look down before he lost his nerve. “This is the circle path, man,” he confessed. “I’m just trying to straighten you guys out before you ruin your lives.”

And somehow, he felt, somehow this might be the key to restoring his own life, if not now, on this infernal day, then perhaps by the time he was ninety.

2012-09-20