Roots (WIP)

Angela ran. She pumped her arms and legs until they carried her to the edge of town and beyond, through the tall grassy field and up the steep hill that shadowed the town like an imposing mountain. At the top of the hill began a forest, a deep and mysterious cluster of trees that for all she knew enveloped the whole rest of the world. No one ever went into the forest. In fact, most town’s folk made a point of avoiding it. Spirits and demons, they mumbled behind newspapers and mugs of coffee. Like her grandmother, who threatened if she should ever wander in a demon would eat her. But she should really be focusing on the task at hand.

 

Three boys chased after her, yelling familiar taunts. They chased her every day after school, and she always ran. She would try to take a different path every few days or so, just to keep things interesting for her. That day she had decided to take the sidewalk leading out of town. She didn’t bother looking over her shoulder, only focused on the swish of her pink cotton skirt and tall grass against her legs as she made her way up the hill. She wasn’t the most athletic kid in school, but she had become quite the decent long distance runner in recent times. Maybe she would try out of track next fall?

 

“Freak! Better keep running!”

 

As she neared the top of the hill and the forest she heard the boys and their voices fading into the distance. When she reached the top of the hill she skidded to a halt and looked over her shoulder. Sure enough the three boys were walking back down the hill, occasionally shoving one another in a playful manner. They were probably talking about what they were going to have for supper that night, pizza or chicken or whatever their parents made.

 

Putting her hands on her knees, Angela heaved a sigh of relief. She took off her backpack, pink and white with sparkles set into the plastic front cover. It was an image of the sky, full of stars she had never seen. Leaning against the nearest tree, she looked first at the setting sun in the west. Pretty pink and orange hues coated the sky like frosting. She looked up at the tree, thick green leaves waving down at her in the slight breeze. Everything was quiet, the sounds of her town minuscule even to an attentive ear. Truth be told, this was not her first time at the edge of the forest. Once or twice, or maybe even five times, she had found herself wandering up the grassy hill to examine the forest the town seemed to dislike so much. She had never gone past the tree line, but still found she didn’t mind the peace and quiet that came with being closer to a cluster of trees than a cluster of people, regardless of any old demon her grandmother threatened her with. Sighing, she slid down the tree trunk until her knees touched her chin and began tugging absentmindedly at her pig tails.

 

The sun continued to set, and Angela continued to stare off into the distance. She really should be on her way home, it was getting late. Her eyes squinted at the sun, almost gone now, as she folded her arms over her knees and let her cheek rest in the crook of her elbow. Her eye lids drooped down and closed. When she opened them all around her was cool darkness. Yawning, she unfolded herself from sleep and stretched until all the joints in her body felt taunt as a bow string. Sighing, she looked up at the sky and imagined the scolding she would get when she finally walked through the front door. A movement out of the corner of her eye caught her attention, a patch of black moving against the grey.

 

She looked closer, and out of the shadows emerged a tall figure shrouded in a black cloak with the head of a fox’s skull. It stretched out a hand, skeletal like it’s head but human, to pick at a few small mushrooms it found growing near the tree line. It took a few steps, occasionally stooping, picking and planting mushrooms, pushing aside grass and digging in the dirt with its thin ivory fingers. Finally, only a few feet away, it noticed Angela in her bright pink converse shoes with glow in the dark laces. Seeming to give a little start the creature froze, staring at Angela as she stared back.

 

“Hello there.” The creature said. Its jaw did not move, but she knew the voice had come from it.

 

“Hello,” Angela said. “Are you going to eat me?”

 

“Eat… you?” The creature looked taken aback. “Of course not. I am strictly vegetarian.”

 

“Oh.” Angela nodded. “What are you doing?”

 

The creature continued to stand still, except to fidget with its hands the small bag it held. “I am picking and planting mushrooms. It is the season you know, and nighttime is the best time to do this sort of thing.” The creature seemed to look her up and down. “Who are you?”

 

Excitedly, Angela jumped to her feet and skipped up to the creature. “My name is Angela; I live in that town down the hill.” Holding out her hand, she looked up into the two black pit eyes of the creature expectedly. Looking down at her, the creature obliged and took her hand in its own, giving it a good shake.

 

“My name is Wald. Spelled with a W but pronounced with a V.”

 

Angela stared up at Wald, fascinated with every river bed crevice in its skull and worn thread in its coat. “How do you talk if your jaw doesn’t move?” She asked.

 

The creature again looked taken aback. “I… do not know. I have never thought about it.”

 

“Oooooooohhhh.” Angela cooed. Her eyes shined wide in the night light. “You’re so cool. Is the rest of your body a skeleton too? Why is your head a fox but your hands human? Do you have feet?” The young girl grabbed at the creature’s cloak only to have it gently but firmly yanked away.

 

“Why are you here? At this time of night?”  Wald asked. Just then a deep rumble came from Angela’s stomach. Gasping, she slapped her hands over her abdomen and looked up at the creature, slightly embarrassed. If Wald had eyebrows, she was sure it would have risen them. Sighing, it set down its sack of mushrooms and reached into its sleeve. Pulling out another sack, it motioned for Angela to sit back down against the tree she’d fallen asleep against. Obeying, she watched with wide eyes as Wald sat down next to her and opened the sack. A small spread of bread and cheese greeted her on the grass soon after.

 

Angela looked at Wald. “I was not expecting a fox to like bread and cheese.”

 

Wald chuckled. “I am not a fox.”

 

“What are you?” Angela asked, already stuffing bits of food into her mouth.

 

“I am the forest.” Wald explained. “I am the trees and the grass, the water in the creeks and the air that ruffles the leaves.”

 

“That’s cool.” Angela said, chewing thoughtfully. “How old are you?”

 

“As old as time.” Wald said. “Yet as young as the new leaves every spring.”

 

“I’m twelve.” She offered up.

 

“Angela,” Wald said. “Why are you here? No one goes into the forest, let alone at night.”

 

“Oh,” Angela said. “Some boys chased me up here this afternoon. It’s no big deal. I’ve been up here a few times by myself just to wonder around. I’ve never been into the forest though.”

 

“No one has been into the forest in quite some time.” Wald said.

 

“Everyone’s too scared to.” Angela continued talking in-between bites. “They think the forest is haunted by a demon. I think that’s supposed to be you.”

 

“Humans are strange.” Wald said, staring down at the small quiet town at the bottom of the hill. “When did that happen?”

 

“People have always been strange. Least for as long as I’ve been alive. You probably never noticed. Do you have more cheese?” Wald reached into its sleeve again and pulled out a branch of berries.

 

“Dessert.” It said.  “Why were those boys chasing you?”

 

Angela shrugged. “I don’t know. Just different I guess. Do you have any friends?”

 

“A few.” Wald said. “Do you?”

 

“No.” Angela smiled. “I’m a freak, and no one wants to be friends with a freak.”

 

Wald thought for a moment. “Why do you come up here? To wander?”

 

Angela shrugged. “It’s quiet. Who are your friends?”

 

Wald thought for a moment. “Not so much friends… From the deers to the birds and even the ants. I am connected to everything within my presence. I am their home, and they are my reason for being. I am never alone, and neither are they.”

 

“Sounds nice,” Angela said, biting into another berry.

 

Wald looked over at her. “You say you have no friends; do you like being alone?” Angela shrugged. “Do you feel alone?” Wald pressed.

 

“Not right now.” She smiled.

 

“Before this?” Angela looked down at her sneakers and shrugged. Wald tilted his head and sighed. “Young one, place you hand on the ground.” It demonstrated, straightening its bones so it’s hand lay flat against the ground. Angela followed suit, cool blades of grass poking through the space between her fingers. Wald looked at her. “What do you feel?”

 

Angela screwed up her eyes, concentrating. “The… Earth?”

 

“Do you think you are ever truly alone?” Wald asked. “We are all connected, all living things, to one another. Even this tree you are leaning against right now, it is a part of you just as you are a part of it. All living things are bound together. We breath the same air and walk under the same sky. True, there may be moments when you are physically alone, even emotionally alone. Sitting in your room at night perhaps. But there are bats flying to and fro, roots growing deeper, and other humans down the block playing cards. Every living thing is related in some way, through the heartbeat of the very planet we all call home. You might feel you are alone, but that could not be farther from the truth.”

 

Angela started up at Wald, a bit mystified. “I guess so.” She said, and looked back down the hill at the town.

 

Wald followed her line of sight. They sat in silence, listening to the cool night air. In the distance, a cricket chirped its opinion. “Those boys who chased you up here…” Wald said. “You are connected to them as well. It is important to remember that.”

 

“Yuck,” Angela scrunched up her face.

 

“All you can do,” Wald reached out and put his arm around Angela’s shoulders. “Is treat them like the family they are. That we all are.”

 

“Like brothers…” Angela suddenly stood up. Looking back at Wald a smile spread across her lips. “Can I ask you a favor?”

 

 

The next afternoon found Angela in a similar scenario; the same three boys chased her after school through the town. Taking the same route as the day before, Angela found herself jogging up the grassy hill that led to the forest. Normally outrunning the boys wasn’t an issue, but exhaustion weighed down her legs. She arrived home late the night before and spent most of her time once there lying in bed staring at the ceiling, thinking back to the conversation she had with Wald. She heard the boys grow closer and closer, and began to panic. What would they do if they caught her?

 

She heard a grand rustling noise and felt the ground shift beneath her. She turned around just in time to see a shadowy figure rise from the tall grass between her and her pursuers. The boys stopped short, staring wide eyed up at Wald, who loomed over them. “Listen carefully little boys,” it boomed. “Whoever trespass this hill is in my domain, and I do not take kindly to those who would bring disorder. This girl tells me you bully her every day. Enough! Do not bother her again or next time you will find yourselves between my jaws.” Wald had steadily moving closer and closer to the boys and was now standing directly in front of them. Bending down to their eye level, it paused for a moment before opening its jaws for the first time, letting out such a furious roar even Angela was impressed. The boys screamed and high tailed it back down the hill, stumbling and pushing each other along the way.

 

Wald turned towards Angela. “I am still not convinced that was the right thing to do.”

 

“Aww come on,” Angela said. “You said it yourself. We’re all family; and I for one think that was a very sisterly thing to do.”

 

“Ask me to scare those boys half to death?”

 

“Yup.” Wald and Angela stood side by side, watching as the last of the boys ran into town and disappeared behind a building. “Do you think anyone will believe them?”

 

“No.” Wald said. “The belief in a forest creature is an old folk tale at best. It is true no one comes up here anymore, out of fear or disinterest, but I do not think I should worry about fire and pitch forks any time soon because of a child’s overactive imagination.”

 

“That’s good.” Angela said. Turning on her heels she started to trek the rest of the way up to the forest. “That way you can help me with my math homework.”

 

Wald looked over its shoulder, surprised. “I am? Oh dear.”

A Walk In The Park

Rebeca kicked at the grass as she sulked around the humming nature preserve. A few yards away a gaggle of adults and kids buzzed around a flower bed, lecturing and jotted down notes. It wasn’t every day her school visited the state park, once a year to be exact, and she knew it was something to be enjoyed. The day was perfect: yellow sun, blue sky, white clouds. Nature was loving life, but something within Rebeca weighed her down, nagging and tugging at her heart in an upsetting way; instead of smelling the roses and sketching what insects she spotted, she let her lips turn down at the corners and gradually distanced herself from the group.

 

She knew she wanted to be alone, and while she didn’t know why, she knew she needed isolation sooner rather than later. Disregarding the strict ‘no wondering’ rule instilled in her since she was old enough to understand words, Rebeca slipped down a nearby trail undetected. As the little field with the noise of all her classmates and all the teachers and all the park staff fell away behind her, Rebeca felt herself take a deep, relaxing breath for the first time that day. The trees formed a shady canopy above her while grasshoppers played leap frog along the path ahead of each step. She felt like a princess, her grasshopper servants clearing the way before her, announcing her entrance into court.

 

The path opened into a small clearing, the center of which was a small clear pool. On the other side of the pool sat a young boy around her age, oblivious to her arrival. Rebeca walked closer to the pool to see he was dragging a long piece of grass back and forth through the water. Crouching by the edge of the water, she picked her own piece of grass and copied his movements. The passage of time was marked every few minutes by the cooing of a robin in the nearby trees.

 

“Hey,” Rebeca, now bored, called across the water. The boy looked up. “What are you doing?”

 

“Trying to catch a fish.” The boy said matter-of-factly. “What are you doing?”

 

“Trying to catch a fish.” Rebeca said.

 

“What’s your name?”

 

“Rebeca. What’s yours?”

 

“Hasan.” He said. “Did you come here with the school?”

 

“Yeah,” she said. “Did you?”

 

“Yes. I think we’re in different classes.”

 

“That makes sense.” She said. “Are there any fish in here?”

 

“I don’t think so.” Hasan said. “Do you want to be my girlfriend?”

 

“No, I don’t really like that sort of stuff.” Rebeca responded.

 

“Oh, ok.” He said. “Do you want to be my friend?”

 

“Best friend?” She asked, perking up.

 

“Ok. Do you wanna trade lunches? My mom packed a peanut butter sandwich, but I don’t really like those.”

 

“Sure.” She replied. “Do you like Cheetos?”

 

“Aww, I love Cheetos!” Hasan jumped up and ran around the pool.

 

“We can share them.” Rebeca smiled, standing up. Hasan was already running up the path back towards the nature preserve, screaming at her to hurry up. Dropping her blade of grass, Rebeca ran after.

Subway Rumble

Stepping into the dull florescent light, they boarded the subway together—a white boy and a black woman, he coming in at a solid four foot five inches next to her elbow. Yeah, she was taller, and stronger, but what did that count against his charm and impeccable taste in ankle socks?

 

“Quinn,” she said. “Don’t forget.”

 

“I’ll remind you when we get there.” He smirked, slinging his bag over his shoulder and grabbing onto one of the center poles in the car. Checking his wrist watch he noted the clock at the station was five minutes fast. Of course. He pulled down his robin’s egg blue cardigan sleeve over skin flecked with pale freckles and glanced at the handful of other people boarding the subway, the air filling with the muted cacophony of sounds and smells of a human city busy being alive. Most were understandably average and blurry, but hold on! That young boy just now was rather cute. Quinn smoothed his carefully combed hair and sighed in contentment, as he really did love cute boys, but also in melancholy, as it was just so hard to meet them in his line of work. Private investigating did not allow you to stay in one place gathering moss. Speaking of which…

 

Jewel, all 6 foot 200 pounds of her, leaned casually against the other pole a few feet away. Dressed androgynously and dripping with chained jewelry, she examined the nubs she called nails beneath a cloud of an afro straight out a 70s Soul Train episode. Quinn loved working with her. Despite the large age gap; he having just turned 12 and she half way through 32, their personalities matched in a way. He, a collected logician. She, a thoughtful pacifist, even if others assumed otherwise upon first glance…

 

As the doors closed and the subway lurched into motion, a man brazenly pushed past Quinn, knocking his bag off his shoulder. Completely missing Quinn’s “tisk” of disapproval, the man carried on and tried his best to knock Jewel out of her slouch, but barely managed to jostle her. When he glanced over his shoulder and noticed her not noticing him, he came back around with more gusto.

 

“Hey lady!” The man shouted up at Jewel. “You bumped into me!”

 

Quinn rolled his eyes. How predictable. People, mainly men—scratch that, mainly STRAIGHT WHITE men, saw Jewel and automatically felt the need to assert some primordial sense of control over the situation. Jewel looked up from cleaning her nails. “Excuse me?”

 

“Yeah, you heard me!” The man firmly planted his feet, the movement of the subway rocking him to and fro. “You owe me an apology.”

 

“Fer what?” Jewel asked.

 

Steam puffed from the man’s nose. “For bumping into me! Ain’t you listening?”

 

“No.” Jewel said, and returned to her manicure.

 

The man stood still for a minute, his dismissal going over his head. Then he shoved Jewel squarely in the chest. Hard. Knocked momentarily off balance, she righted herself and stared down at the man annoying enough to occupy her attention.

 

“Excuse me everyone!” Quinn raised his voice, doing his best airplane pilot impersonation. “Please move to the appropriate front and back ends of the car until further notice.” On cue, Jewel shoved the man back, who in turn swung what really should be noted was a decent right hook. She ducked, and boxed the man around the ears. “Please move to the front and back of the car until further notice,” Quinn called again, quite calm. He couldn’t help but feel bad for Jewel. She really was quite a peaceful creature. She avoided drama like the plague it was; people just had a hard time seeing her that way. “Excuse me miss,” Quinn leaned down next to a crumpled-up grandmother type. “Can I offer you some assistance?”

 

“Thank you, young man.” The elder woman smiled, and let Quinn take her by the elbow to help her out of her seat. Everyone else had already moved out of the way and was spectating rather politely, a few filming the scene for upload later.

 

The fight did not take long, and Jewel placed the man’s largely limp body in a seat to be roused by a subway worker later. Quinn and Jewel got off at their stop, along with the other passengers who went about their business with the usual noisy fanfare, executing business calls and smacking bubblegum. A fight was exciting in the moment, but hardly worth dwelling on long after.

Someplace Special

Although she did not identify as a man or a woman, and was thus nonbinary, she did not mind when people addressed her as a woman. It tended to make things easier.

 

“Hey lady! Hurry up will ya’? It does not take all day to take a leak and some of us have lives we’d like to get back to!”

 

Ro stood at the front of the line at the pay-to-port. Paying to pee via public urinal had been law since she was a kid. There was no point in dwelling on the ethics of it. You simply stepped up, deposited your coins in the slot, and walked in to do your business when the door unlocked. The pay-to-port she often visited was a hot spot, being the only urinal in a ten-mile radius. That morning, the line stretched indefinitely down a long dirt pile of a hill, a steady slope elevating to one of the greatest earthly pleasures known to man. Unfortunately, euphoria was slow in coming that day.

 

“Hey!” Someone shoved her from behind. “Tell who’s ever in there to hurry up!” Ro looked over her shoulder at a woman, all short legs and furrowed eyebrows.

 

“Whoever it is, they paid just like the rest of us,” Ro said. “They can take just as much time as they need.”

 

“Says who?”

 

“Says me.” Ro said sternly. “This ain’t a speed pissin’ contest. Now shut up and wait your turn like everyone else.”

 

“But I haven’t gone since last night,” the woman complained. “You know it’s illegal to go out in the bush, and I just now found a nickel in the trash so I could afford the port!”

 

“Not my problem.” Ro said, facing forward. She felt a pull on her arm as the woman grabbed her sleeve, still feeling scrappy. “Let go.” Ro said, restrained. “I don’t like to be touched.”

 

“Oh yeah?” The woman said, defiance flashing in her eyes. “Make me.”

 

Ro promptly punched the woman square in the jaw, the line parting around her as she tumbled head over feet down the slope. Ro heard the door to the urinal unlock and open. A young girl holding a stuffed bear stepped out and smiled up at her as the door clanked shut behind her. Ro smiled back, payed her fee, and stepped inside.

Untitled

The soft click and whirling of the disk let him know it’s working. The screen flashes white then crescendos to a glaring baby blue. When did he become like this? Staring at the screen, hunched forward, hands folded in his lap. Sometimes he forgets to blink, sometimes he forgets to take the suggested breaks. Bathing in blue, he feels and thinks nothing: never aging, never growing. One day he forgets to close the curtains, and the sunshine blots out the screen. He is annoyed, and gets up to shut the curtains on the rainbow hues outside. He returns to the desk and loses himself in the ocean.  He feels nothing, and does not grow.

Knife

She sat at the piano, worn and scratched with age, playing a simple tune she’d learned many years ago. It was a busy Friday night at the bar, and she would soon return to serving beer to the many rowdy men that liked to frequent, despite its isolated location in the countryside. It was the dead of winter, and the night wind howled furiously just outside the doors, daring anyone to step outside. No one asked her to play the piano, but no one told her not to either, and as she did not have a piano of her own playing while working was the only chance she had to practice. And she did so love to play the piano. Sighing contentedly as her fingers came to a stop and the last notes of the song hung in the air, she stood from the bench, the legs scrapping quietly against the wooden floor. The bar was an old barn the owner had bought and converted several years ago; the interior was gutted, a fire pit built in one corner and a bar counter in the other. A wood floor was laid out, furniture brought in, and just like that a cedar scented, hay ladened watering hole was born. She walked to the bar, smiled at the bar tender (an older, seasoned grandpa she got along with quite well), and collected a fresh round of drinks to deliver to anyone willing and able. She knew just such a crowd: the loudest, rowdiest, most populated cluster of tables in the whole room, all centered around one man. Michelson Connor, son of the Senator and local hell raiser. Dressed in a fine button down shirt and a freshly pressed pair of pants, it was his aura that left an impression. Apathy wafted off him like cologne. Everything one could imagine a young, privileged man doing, he had done with no repercussions. If there was one regular customer that brought a bad taste to her mouth, it was him.

 

Approaching the table with the drinks, she was welcomed with open arms and cheers. The beers quickly handed out she turned to leave, not failing to notice Michelson Connor’s hand trailing after her skirts. She felt his eyes follow her, but paid little mind. Such behavior was not uncommon coming from him; he had made several suggestions and offers to her in the past, all of which she turned quite away from. She saw the bar tender beckon, and when she walked closer he motioned to the trash basin behind the counter. They traded off who took the garbage outside to the burn pile behind the bar, and tonight it was her turn. Gathering the container, she walked through a doorway and paused by the back door to slip on her heavy winter coat. Reaching into her pockets for her gloves, she felt two strong arms wrap around her waist. Jumping in surprise, she turned to see Michelson Connor looming over her. Pushing her against the wall, he leaned in close, reeking of alcohol. He barred her way as, panicked, she tried to escape around him. His hands roamed over her body as he mumbled about marriage and leaned in to kiss her. Using her full strength, she managed to shove him away only to have him grab her roughly by the wrists. Seeming entirely sober now, he demanded her hand in marriage, promising things she had never wanted or asked for but he seemed certain she desired. Breaking free once more, she gave her final refusal in the form of a slap. Grabbing the trash bag, she hurried out the back door, hoping that would be the end of it.

 

Stomping through the several inches of crunchy snow already covering the ground, her coat flapped wildly in the wind, she failed to hear the door bang open behind her. She felt the stab of the knife in her back and dropped the trash bag out of shock. The feeling of the knife pulling out of her body made her shudder, as the open wound let the cold seep in and blood pour out. She stumbled forward and fell to her knees. Looking over her shoulder she saw Michelson Connor standing over her, a bloody knife clutched in his hand. She managed a cry and put one hand forward to crawl away before he fell on her, pulling her around to face him. He stabbed her several more times until, panting, he stopped. Leaning forward, he grabbed her chin and pulled her close.

 

“You are mine to have. Forever.”

 

Her choking gasps, full of blood, were his only response. Leaving her and the knife in the snow blooming with red, Michelson Connor calmly walked back into the bar and to the bathroom to wash up. By the time he returned to his table, everyone around him was far too drunk to notice the orange tinges on his shirt peeking out from under a jacket he had taken off a hook near the back door and thrown on.

 

Despite several search efforts, her body was not found until the Spring thaw, as the fierce snow storm from the night of the murder buried her completely. All evidence melted away along with the snow, leaving only little wild flowers sprouting around her body and the knife she was murdered with in a phenomenon no one had ever seen the likes of. While it was clear she was attacked, with no evidence and no leads her body was quietly buried and the incident quickly forgotten. Shortly after Michelson Connor moved from the small country town to a much larger city up North, and was never mentioned again in the bar he loved to frequent with the pretty woman who played the piano.