I can hear them downstairs, but I don’t think they’ll find me.
Daddy and me played hide and seek a lot. At first he would stamp on every stair so I could hear him coming, but later on he’d sneak so, so quietly. When I found this spot and stayed hidden for ages, he was very proud. He hugged me and gave me chocolate. He said I was his good boy, his clever boy.
So when he shouted Dannyrun and hideright now I did. My nose itches but I mustn’t sneeze or give myself away. It’s dark and too small in here but it’s not time to come out, not yet.
I can hear heavy boots on the stairs. My heart beats so, so fast. Tramp, tramp, tramp. Here they come. My eyes are wet. Please go away. I breathe fast, quiet as I can. Please, please.
Yes! The footsteps are leaving but now I can hear Max barking. He doesn’t like strangers. I’ll stay hidden until they’re gone.
Aimée hung her head and sighed. Where had it all gone wrong? She’d tried to be a cosmopolitan woman, and when that didn’t work she took refuge in sex on the beach next to a blue lagoon. That was possibly unwise and in any case ultimately unfulfilling. Manhattan was hardly any better.
Damn all men, and damn one man in particular with his easy smile and warm, gentle hands. She couldn’t forget and she refused to cry.
Though a couple of painkillers helped a little, there was one more thing she could try that might cradle her broken body and ease her suffering. She raised a shaky hand.
I worked my way through each room, bagging things for the trash or for donation. Who knew how much stuff one person could accumulate? Well I did, even then. When I finally escaped that overstuffed space I could finally breathe. My own taste is pretty minimalist. No surprise there.
Now I find myself staring at shelves filled with china ornaments. I always hated those winsome shepherd girls and grinning sailor boys. Mum made me clean them weekly with a feather duster under her eagle-eyed supervision. She said they were Royal Doulton, collector’s items. A collection is pretty meaningless without the one who pulled it together, but maybe she left me something valuable after all.
I check the mark on the base of the nearest one. The words ‘Made in China’ leap out at me. Did she trick me, or did she fool herself? What was it all for?
I don’t know whether to laugh or cry as the figurine slips from my shaky hand and shatters on the floor. The rest make the most satisfying sounds when I hurl them at the wall.
I suppose you’d call me soft-hearted. I can’t bear to see any creature suffer. Though I normally keep pretty much to myself, preferring to observe from a distance, something about this one called out to me. He was wary of me at first, and cried but that was to be expected. Distress makes anyone skittish, so I held him tighter to make him feel more secure.
He looked like a Matthew, so that’s what I called him.
I had to quiet him down. It was for his own good and people were staring, judging me. The nice checkout girl understood why I had to rush through buying his things, but once I got him home he was even worse. He kicked and screamed like a wild thing. Those were the difficult days but I knew it would be worth persevering, for both of us.
I’m pleased to say he settled into his new home after a while. Now he sits where I put him and stares at the wall. I’m not sure of his actual birthday, so we’ll celebrate the anniversary of the day he came home with me.
He’s such an obedient, quiet little boy. She didn’t deserve him, but I’m going to give him everything a mother should.
I can’t believe you’d expect me to lay myself on the line for them. I am not the legend I was. I am not as strong, as fast or as foolish as I was and the world has no right to ask any more of me. For God’s sake. I gave up my one and only love, my peace of mind. I risked everything.
Yes, people chanted my name, put my picture on magazines, even made movies about me. But they didn’t want the rest of the story, did they? Didn’t want to know how my spirit was broken. Didn’t want to hear about the nightmares that haunted me day and night. I see all those faces still. They told me it was a price worth paying. Tell that to the ones I couldn’t save.
Yes, I got a medal from the president, but I was alone. I am alone.
So why should I come back now? I’ve had twenty years to figure out that people want you when they need you. And when they don’t need you any more, you’re dead to them. The fate of the planet lies in my hands, and my hands alone? Don’t be absurd. It’s never that simple.
If I take on this fight and win, what’s in it for me? I already know what the world’s gratitude consists of. And if I try and fail, what’s in it for me? I already know the bitter taste of rejection. There are many less painful ways to die.
How dare you come here to weep and beg for my help. How dare you pretend to care about anything other than yourselves. Guilt and fear is written all over you. Save us, you cry. We’re all human, all in it together. Well then.
If that’s true, let us all burn together.
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She moved in on a grey, wet October day, carrying what she’d salvaged from the ruins of her life. Her tears were long dried but her heart wept blood tears unseen as she tried to make a new home. She gave up and settled for a place to lick her wounds in private.
She started cutting back the overgrown garden on a cold, clear December day. New Year’s Eve came and went; no kisses for her.
Instead she donned gloves and hacked away at brambles and nettles. With the right protection, she faced thorns and stings without fear. The compost pile grew. Her muscles strengthened. She transformed pain into something good, something that could feed new possibilities.
And one bright April day, once-hidden daffodils greeted the sun in the spaces she created, happy that their time to bloom had come again.
The small fishing village of Kasparenya was established generations before I was born. By my time it had grown fat and sprawling, rich in thieves and merchants alike. Like my mother and her mother before her, I led a quiet life in our cave house. The townspeople extracted easy gold from the generous hillsides while mocking our unfashionably modest lifestyle.
For years I lived alone, growing food and herbs by day and feeding my brain with Great Mother’s ancient books by night. Occasionally, people passing my field would taunt me.
“Why don’t you work in the city, earn some coin? Perhaps then you could dress less like an old crone and more like a decent woman.”
I wiped my brow. Digging was hot work on a summer day. “I must tend my garden, and I do not need more coins. Enough is better than riches.”
“Whatever you say, Cassie.” Sarah turned away, but not before tapping her forehead and giggling with her friends.
They always ignored my calls to beware of greed. Old books had nothing to teach the modern world and they stood in the way of progress. Why not have more, if there was more to be had?
Kasparenya’s gilded church spire was a fitting symbol of hard work and enterprise. It showed what a man could do if he worked hard and dug deep. It showed what to aim for when more was never enough.
We should learn from history. But how to learn when history is forgotten and those who remind us are mocked as wrong-headed fools?
News of the gilded spire travelled far and brought even more people to wonder and dream of riches, then buy shovels and buckets. Meanwhile I harvested and stored enough food for a season, oiled my tools, stockpiled candles, and waited.
And one day a shiver started in my bones that grew inexorably. I rolled the stone over the cave entrance and hid.
Above, though I could not see or hear, I knew it was happening just as the visions foretold.
The endless beat of huge, leathery wings.
The stench of sulphur as the ground trembled.
A shriek that split the air when the dragon, drawn by our golden beacon, discovered its plundered hoard.
Fiery vengeance raining down from the sky.
I rocked and chanted as mother and grandmother and all the mothers before had done in their cool, dark sanctuary.
Shackle your greed and curb your desire, lest all be consumed by brimstone and fire.
There are two kinds of people in this world. Some can’t wait to play in the snow, leaving their tracks all over it, building snowmen and making snow angels. The others prefer to watch from a safe distance, rejoicing in its pristine blankness. All is potential, before you make a mark.
Once upon a time, I watched tiny flakes drift from the sky with joy, maybe while sipping a hot chocolate. Sometimes I stood at the door and tried to catch a snowflake then watched it melt on my palm. Snow covers everything, makes it clean and pure.
These days I wrap up warm against the cold and stay indoors. At the first signs of spring I’ll head north again, seeking higher elevations and staying within the snow line. I can’t be here after the thawing snow uncovers all the bodies.
I grew so tired of those comments by everyone from my mother to well meaning strangers at the supermarket, that I decided to go further. I practically lived in that tattoo shop, getting unique designs from the enigmatic artist. We’d agree on a design and he’d get to work. He never spoke, so I put on headphones and drifted away.
When it came to the last bare patch on my arm, he finally said something.
“I will do this one free. Since you are my best customer.”
“Sweet! I think I’d like—”
“No. I choose. I know what is best for you.”
I shrugged and let him decide, after all ink isn’t cheap and I had a lot of it.
He wrapped it without letting me see. “A surprise for you.”
At home I gasped when I saw it. A woman’s face, so perfect and beautiful in miniature, it was incredible. Everyone commented on it, and I didn’t mind.
Life got hard. I made a wrong turn here and there. Had to change, just to get by. One day I thought the face looked different, but it was just a trick of the light. That night I tossed and turned, a voice stuck in my head reminding me of stuff I’d done. So what, we all have to survive, right?
Gradually the face changed, until it scowled in permanent, terrifying disapproval.
I went back to Spilled Ink but it was gone. Every night the face taunted me with my sins, daring me to do better. When I didn’t listen, she woke the other tattoos up. Flowers turned decayed and nasty smelling. The tiger clawed my back and attacked my lucky rabbit, the stars burned my skin, and the skeleton rattled its bones until sleep was a distant memory. I’d had enough.
I stole enough money to visit another shop. The new artist wouldn’t shut up about the quality and artistry of my ink, especially the face that was somehow beautiful again. I had to pay double for what I wanted, but finally it was done.
I thought covering up would be the answer.
She shouted even louder from behind the crosshatched pattern that obliterated her face. “I can’t see! I can’t see!”
Now I hold a knife to my arm, crying. I want it off me.
She says I’m weak, that I’ll never do it, she’ll never let me forget I blinded her.
“Tattoos are permanent,” she reminds me.
So… how deep must I cut to be sure?
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