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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Fiction For Neglected Blogfans

Desire
By M.K. Brick

She thought about the poem he'd read aloud and said, "I think the world will end in ice. Hell is a cold, frozen place heated by small fireplaces and wet wood." She blew on the pathetic pile of kindling in front of her.

"I don't believe in Hell. Not really. I mean, eternal suffering for one act, or even one lifetime's worth, of bad behavior? It seems a little..." Joey bent down to tie his muddy shoelace and tipped over onto the dusty floor in front of the fireplace. He managed to struggle into an upright position and rose undamaged except for a dark smudge of ash between his eyes.

She rocked back on her heels, threw up her hands and kicked at a blackened piece of newsprint- all that was left of the once nascent fire.

"You do this. I'll see if I can find something to eat."

"Okay. No problem. No meat though. Remember last time?" 

It was beyond unlikely that she'd forget. She shuddered and crawled under the loose plywood that was meant to secure the door from intruders.

Their city had been vibrant and beautiful once. A happy place, for the most part. At least their part of the city. The part they knew about. The good part. Now, of course, no part was better than any other. The few remaining humans...

A lie.

She survived by lying to herself. And to others. At this point the lies were so thick on the ground that they looked like pavement. In the evening she would step out on them and walk her way through the night. During the day though, eyes shut, hidden in their hovel, she couldn't avoid the truth. She hadn't slept for more than an hour at a time in months. This was pretty much the worst part.

Another lie.

It was all pretty much the worst part. 

She looked twice, then three times before she moved to cross the road. She stopped and looked again. One could never be too careful. Not that it made a difference.

The street reflected light like a river. For a moment she was overwhelmed with the idea that it was a glossy river in the woods. She wanted to believe that all she had to do to reach home was to cross this one little river. She wanted it to be a real home though, not the house where their stepmother probably still bitched her way through life. Not even the idea of home their father was driving them toward when he decided that this world wasn't worth the effort. 

An upside down convenience store taunted her from the ersatz river. Nine months ago she and her brother could have walked into the store, the real one, and bought anything in it. Almost anything. Anything they wanted anyway. 

Not trusting that the traffic would leave her alone, she ran across the road. Once she reached the other side she checked to see if she was still in one piece. The only thing she could take for granted was that she couldn’t take anything else for granted.

Truth.

She stuck her hands in her pockets and slouched past the store. She considered whistling but decided against it. Nothing was more suspicious than a whistling teenager. She thought she’d heard that somewhere and decided to believe it; she didn’t have a lot of wiggle room in the chance department. A few people strolled past. Gangbangers with their pants all down, a man with a dog…

Nobody walked past. Nobody walked these streets anymore, not past midnight anyway. Nobody but her. And sometimes her brother. Nobody that counted anyway.

A nobody that counted bumped her arm. She pushed back. She didn’t mean to, but her first instinct was always fight and seriously, the sidewalk was huge and, except for the space she occupied, empty. What the fuck? She regretted falling prey to instinct, but it was too late.

The nobody stopped walking and looked, she assumed, right at her. She slid into the most submissive pose she could muster and watched her shoes; dirty old Keds that were more hole than shoe. She pushed her big toe against the thin side canvas and watched the material pucker and strain as she waited for the nobody to make his move. She had been around enough to hope that if he was going to hurt her he would have done so by now.

“Mary?”

“Nope.”

Another lie.

                                             -----%-----

He blew on the little fire until it started to flicker. He gently added more, then bigger, pieces of wood. Mary was too impatient. She always had been. If she would just relax a little... He sighed. Relaxing was not Mary’s thing.

 When the fire was going well enough to burn without his help he stood and began to hop up and down. Exercise tended to warm him faster when Mary wasn’t there to tell him that his jumping around gave her a headache.

Fire. It was heat. Light. All things good. He agreed with his sister about Hell though he’d rather eat meat from the dumpster behind the convenience store than tell her that. Arguing was the only normal thing they had left and he wasn’t about to give it up.

He looked around and thought, as he often did, that the house must have been something to see back in the day. Its past was the only thing it had going for it now. The place was in such awful shape when they first got there that even the animals found better places to stay.

As soon as his fingers tingled with warmth he stopped jumping and started to clean the one room they had salvaged from the ruined house.

Mary was nuts about keeping their space tidy. He complained but really, considering everything else, it wasn’t as bad as it should have been. They scavenged furniture, curtains, even a picture or two. It wasn’t great but it was kind of a home.

He was always amazed at what people threw away. He remembered some of the stuff he used to have and wondered what happened to it all. He was willing to bet that it was under almost a year’s worth of junk at the county landfill.

                                            -----%-----
       
“Are you sure you’re not Mary?”

“Yep.” This nobody was denser, more persistent, than most.

“You look a little like the picture though.”

“Sorry about that. Look, I have to buy milk for my mom. She gets all upset if I’m gone too long. Great talking to ya.” 

The nobody looked at her for what felt like an hour then finally stepped aside. His long coat brushed her leg as it swung past. On her way at last, she stepped forward like the normal teenager she pretended to be.

“There’s a new soup kitchen at the First Church down on the corner. They don’t ask questions,” he said to her back. She stopped, considered her next move and spun around to face him.
         
“I’ll tell my mom you said so. Maybe now she’ll buy me some new clothes.” That seemed to satisfy the nobody. He shook his head and shuffled on down the sidewalk.

She wanted to run home to make sure that Joey was hidden, safe, but she had a job to do.

                      -----%-----

“Mary I had that dream again.” Joey traced patterns with his fork through the baked bean slime- all that was left of his supper. She emptied the rest of the pot of beans onto his plate and put her elbows on the table- a habit her stepmother despised so much that it was a part of who she had become.

“Look kiddo, I found him and I don’t dream about it. Just let it go.”

“I can’t. It was so…”

“At least he didn’t take us out with him. He could have.”

“Are you sure he didn’t?”

No, she wasn’t sure, but she tucked that truth away with the others- behind the lies that helped her get though each day.

“Don’t be an idiot.”

Light forced its way around the edges of the covered windows. They let the fire die and curled into the coffin shaped sleeping bags their father had bought for them before their last road trip.

“Mary?”

“What, bud?”

“I miss ice cream.”

“I know.”

They fell into their usual sleeptime silence. Joey thought about the past. And Mary? She decided that, after months of struggling just to survive, they were ready for the future. This shadow fearful life was over; their new lives waited somewhere in the blinding sunlight on the other side of the morning. All she had to do was get them there.