31 Things In 31 Days: Day Eight

I hadn’t seen anybody in weeks.

That wasn’t entirely true. I saw Manny every day, if you call peering out the window at the fallen husk that had been his body “seeing.” He’d gotten tired of waiting, tired of wanting something to change, and he’d grabbed a shovel and crossed the lawn to the lichen-covered wooden fence, using the tool like an unwieldy axe to slice and chop and scrape at the lichen, trying to clear an area around the gate to get out. He wasn’t careful enough, I know that much. I couldn’t see what got him – maybe his hand slipped to far down the shovel, or maybe a bit flew into the air and he inhaled it. But I did see him stumble away from the fence, twisting as he fell.

The lichen was already starting to creep across his skin before he hit the ground, and I still haven’t decided if it was blessed or horrific that he never even screamed; he just squirmed and went still, while skin and hair disappeared beneath an uneven layer of mottling green. It crept out onto the grass as well, but once it hit the edge of the cement walk that rings the house, it halted.

Every day I check, and the lichen hasn’t moved from his body; it looks lower to the ground than it was. I’m not sure if its eating him, or if he’s decomposing. That was still unclear even after everything went into lockdown and quarantine, before all the television signals cut out.

Yesterday, though, I saw the bird.

I’ve never been very good with birds. It’s small, and brown, with a black head. I know enough to know things that it’s not – not an eagle, not a cardinal, not an owl, not a blue jay. Wrong size, wrong color. It’s a sparrow, maybe, or a chickadee. One of those small, forgettable birds that’s always there and you never really notice. I noticed it this time, because it was sitting on the fence. It was perched on some of the bare wood, where Many had scraped a swath of lichen off the top, and it was pecking blithely away at the layer of green as if it were made of a smear of worms or something. I watched it, waiting to see the stuff spread across it, waiting for a tiny lump of green to tumble off the fence.

It didn’t. The bird perched and pecked, nibbling bit by bit until the bare spot was all the way across the top of the board, instead of just a small section. Then its small head turned toward the house, and I could have sworn it was looking right at me. But birds can’t see through glass, right? They always flew into the windows when we had the feeders too close to the house, that’s why I’d moved them out under the apple tree last summer. I haven’t been out to fill the feeders since Manny left.

It looked like it was looking at me, though, and then launched itself, disappearing somewhere down the block.

This morning it came back, and it wasn’t alone. There was a second, and a third, and they’ve all been perching on the bare spots of the fence, nibbling and pecking at the lichen, clearing it bit by bit.

Another one just landed next to Manny. That’s why I’m writing this down instead of watching this. I don’t want to see what’s under the lichen there. But I can hear the flutter of wings outside the window, and I hope the birds get to the gate latch soon. I want to see if the whole world is green. If it’s not… I’m going to buy a lot of birdseed some day.

~~~~~

This was written as part of the 31 Things In 31 Days project, being run on the page of the same name on Google+. For more information or to participate, go there.

Day Eight Prompt:

 

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31 Things In 31 Days: Day Seven

“…so what it really comes down to is not what religious-based system of morals you claim to adhere you, what your parents taught you to do, how well you please your boss, which charities you support, or stopping at that No Turn On Red when there’s someone on the sidewalk. True quality of life comes down to your answer of one simple question: How do you live your life when nobody’s watching?”

There was a long moment of silence, and then the room erupted into applause around me, to which the speaker smiled and nodded her head, then stepped aside form the podium to bow. After a moment, I joined in, but distractedly, mulling over the final punch of the presentation. How do you live your life when nobody’s watching?

That question bothered me, largely because I really hadn’t a good answer for it, and I couldn’t bring myself to make much more than the weakest effort at friendly smalltalk as I circulated through the crowd. There were a few folks I knew there, and I was acutely aware of a growing sensation of being on display as we made our old familiar greetings, chitchatting about the conference and the hotel and work and the hundred sundry things that give us common connection with our peers. It was hard to concentrate, with that question reverberating, forcing me to notice all the things I did because they were watching me – smiling just so, making this joke, adjusting my tie.

I excused myself and drove home, scowling at the dark streets, unable to not notice now how the passage of other cars forced me to alter my own driving; a blinker here, a careful slowing there. Even getting home was little relief, because I know how Mr. Watson liked to keep an eye on the folks down our little dead end road. I’d noticed once, when some of his mail had been mixed into mine and I’d brought it back to him, that he had a chair and a table with pens, notebooks, and binoculars, sitting under the curtained front window of his cape at the end of the cul de sac. Probably he could see nearly everybody’s comings and goings from there, kept note of it all. That was unnerving even before the presenter’s question got under my skin. How do you live your life when nobody’s watching?

Now my scalp practically prickled with the sensation of being watched as I hoisted my luggage from the trunk and rolled it behind me to the front door. The sensation did not go away as I let myself in and closed the door behind me, and I felt awkward walking down the hall to the bedroom. Each step felt strange and new, the step of my shoulders wrong, and the center of my back itched between the shoulder blades, even though I knew there was no angle that would let Mr. Watson see into my bedroom window from the front of his living room.

I walked around and pulled all the shades before opening my luggage and unpacking, a place for everything and everything in its place. Each movement felt stilted, like a performance, making me scowl at my own awkwardness.

Dinner was reheated leftovers, and as the microwave whirred I hunted up a roll of duct tape to tack down the edges of all the curtains, bending and stretching and with every motion feeling that unnerving sensation of being watched.

I ran out of tape before I could get the kitchen shades, so I shut the door and went to eat on the couch, frowning at the silent TV sitting opposite me, the unpowered screen cast grayish by the light slanting from the one lamp in the corner. Bite by bite I ate the warmed up chicken parm, and each piece felt heavy and too large in my mouth. My jaw felt badly hinged.

The fork rattled on the plate and the pasta slurmed in its sauce when I slammed it down on the table, and went to kneel in front of my armchair. She was silent and wide-eyed there, still rumpled from her trip in my suitcase, hands still tied to her thighs, ankles tied to the chair; it looked like perhaps it was wrenching her knees a little, with the pencil skirt allowing no give. It hadn’t let her curtsey on the stage, either. The cloth napkin still filled her mouth, and mostly muffled the cries as my knife dug between her eyelids, one and the other, gouging those bright eyes right out in a runnel of blood and grayish translucent jelly.

She struggled in the chair, screaming against the cloth in her mouth and lurching from one side to the other, while I returned to the couch and pulled my plate of chicken pram back into my lap. The knife hovered over it for a moment, smeared with the eye-stuff.

How do you live your life when nobody’s watching?

I cut off another chunk of chicken and swirled it in the pasta, scooping up some of the noodles. It was delicious, and I was finally able to let my mind wander as I chewed.

~~~~~

This was written as part of the 31 Things In 31 Days project, being run on the page of the same name on Google+. For more information or to participate, go there.

Day Six Prompt:

How do you live your life when nobody’s watching?

 

31 Things In 31 Days: Day Six

The gathering below started small, at first – just one or two of the tiny fae, not bigger than a blueberry any one of them. Then more came flitterfloating in from all directions, in pairs and bunches, and every last one of them a tiny glowing golden glow. I could hear the murmur of them, as much as one ever hears them – more that their worries and concerns trickled through the air to slip under the skin. Worry. Fear. Even anger, which is fairly rare from the lightfairies.

As good as their name, they lit this small section of deep and inaccessible woods as though it were not the dark of night, and what few curious lightningbugs came darting in were quickly shooed off like cats from a kitchen when a roast is cooling. Then the outcry began.

How many of their number had been lost?!

How long was this to go on?!

Why were there no protections to keep them safe in the pursuance of their duties?!

The outcry was raised and echoed on all sides, not only by the soundless shared voice they projected unto one another, but by the very movement of the lot of them. Where, as they gathered, they had floated largely upon a shared plane with some of them lifting from time to time to drive above the lot and settle down back in, now their concentrated, commingled, and heightened agitation swept through them like a wave, literally rising and crashing back down amongst the tree trunks. It prickled beneath my flesh, and I raised from my haunches.

I could not blame them, as I genteely freed my claws and unfurled my wings. None of the others seem to like it when I ate them, either.

~~~~~

This was written as part of the 31 Things In 31 Days project, being run on the page of the same name on Google+. For more information or to participate, go there.

Day Six Prompt:

 

31 Things In 31 Days: Day Five

It was the end of the world, they said.

It was the obliteration of life as we know it, they said.

It was inescapable, they said.

It was beautiful. It happened at night, where I was, the chunk of spacebody from some far distant system that had come trucking across the empty bits between stars and planets and comets and rock belts, cruising overhead not nearly as quickly as I expected because for all they said such doom and gloom I had expected it to zip across the sky in a thin white streak like shooting stars which aren’t really stars, they’re bits of rock or dust or martian shit on fire on the doorstep of our sky – but it wasn’t like that at all, brightening the one side of the horizon like the sun coming up except the sun doesn’t come up in the north by northwest, and the sun isn’t irregularly shaped, and doesn’t arc across the bowl of the sky above us like a thick and heavy flag being swung by a revolutionary, like a jet plane just big enough to watch trucking along but high enough to not hear its engines until it was well ahead of the sound, and there was only a little bit of sound to this, a hesitant hiss that I could have sworn crackled but maybe that was just because it looked like fire trailing yellow and red and orange against the stark dark blue, and it disappeared mostly behind some old broken walls that had gotten given up on as Never Getting Fixed long before the land was mine to bother taking care of, orange and blue just like my nephew was trying to show me was everywhere on posters and DVD covers and such, and since this had never happened before and was never going to happen again I stopped and watched it all the way across the sky, and when there was nothing but its feathery, burning tail left streaking past the stars, I hoisted my wheelbarrow to follow the old back road back up to the barn.

It was radioactive, they said, and we’d all be sterile, and in a hundred years nothing would be left born, and we’d all die out even before then maybe from starving. Maybe that was so, but the calf in my barrow was alive.

I don’t understand why they called it Phoenix.

~~~~~

This was written as part of the 31 Things In 31 Days project, being run on the page of the same name on Google+. For more information or to participate, go there.

Day Five Prompt:

31 Things In 31 Days: Day Four

“You don’t have to do this,” The words sounded hollow and ridiculous as soon as they left my mouth. They were false, and I knew it, and she knew it.

“I don’t want to do this,” she responded, and maybe it was just because her voice was so quiet that she sounded a little hoarse. Or maybe she was being just as honest as I wasn’t. Maybe that was why she was the one who was going to get out of this.

“We could just both stay,” I pleaded once more, one hand trying to lift, but still held firmly down by the vines she’d uprooted, tying me down at the base of the tilted-over tree with its roots flailing and exposed to the air like an upended turtle’s thick legs. The top of the tree actually brushed against the high, dark-leaved hedge.

“I can’t stay,” she said, and her voice cracked. She actually looked down, and my heart crumpled a little for her, watching the deep breath inflate her chest and lift her shoulders, and then slowly subside again. “I can’t stay, and I haven’t got enough for us both.”

I knew the knife; I’d seen it on the belt of the fae creature that had kept us both for so long. How she got her hands upon it I shall never know, but had I any doubt as to her determination even with all that regret, it was gone when I saw the intricately etched blade winking in the blue light of today’s sun. A thousand tortures unimaginably worse than what already we had suffered awaited her now if she went back – both of us, because I’d been gone long enough now that surely I’d be declared an accomplice, no matter what.

My blood ran cold; if she left me here, I’d be punished for her escape, regardless of the fact that I’d clearly been struck and bound, made to stay.

“But you can help us both get away,” I whispered, and lifted my chin from my chest to leave my throat bare. Wordlessly she set the point of the knife against the thick vein on one side, and in spite of being prepared for it the small jab made me hiss, my head jerking back. The spill of wet down the front of my shoulder and chest was immediate, and she hurriedly put a bowl underneath, murmuring words I did not know as used the knife to stir my blood into the herbs waiting there. with great care she painted the red mixture onto her eyelids, above and below, and then in a thick stripe between them across her nose, and from the sides away back across her temples. By the time she was done, I was growing dizzy, but I kept my eyes upon her, watching the mixture dry.

The air grew thick and prickly with the invisible gathering of power, and I could feel bits of it flitting past me to paste itself to her face, to her eyes. I surely wasn’t the only one who could feel it. I hoped the drying would go fast.

She watched me as well, occasionally testing the darkening stripe with her fingertips until it was dry, and then looked up past me, up the length of the tree at the hedge. A happy sob came from her lips, and I twisted weakly to see what it was. I saw only the top of the tree, nestling against the hedge.

“What is it?”

“The way home,” she whispered, voice thick, and I relaxed between the roots again, looking at her.

Distantly, there was the sound of a horn, and she went pale beneath her strange paint, though not as pale as I, tied down to be left for those who would come.

“Please,” I begged, and lifted my chin, pleadingly. A tear slid out of the corner of her eye, and though she glanced past me again at the top of the tree, she stayed her clear desire to flee, just long enough to cut me free of the world before our captors finished tracking us down.

~~~~~

This was written as part of the 31 Things In 31 Days project, being run on the page of the same name on Google+. For more information or to participate, go there.

Day Four prompt is courtesy of Eric Albee on Flickr, distributed under an Attributions-only Creative Commons license. http://www.flickr.com/photos/ericalbee/6632588919/:

 

31 Things In 31 Days: Day Three

“THE END IS NIGH!”

Sandwichboard Guy had been warning about the end times for as long as I’ve lived in my sixth-floor walkup, and he was pretty much a fixture of the day. He wore the boards every day, walking up and down the block – and they were covered with hand-scrawled notes, heavily sharpies warnings, intricate drawings and things that looked like they might have been writing if it weren’t for the fact that instead of letters they looked like stars and moons and snowflakes and sunbursts.

Sometimes I gave him a sandwich; he was pretty scrawny. Sometimes he thanked me, but usually he just nodded and kept on his decrees of impending doom, secreting the food away somewhere under the sandwich board. It was dark under there. I was okay with not seeing too much of him.

This was more extreme than his usual clamor, though; for one, he was yelling. He’d often proclaim, lift his voice for a couple people to hear, but this was a raw, desperate scream.

For another thing, it was three-sixteen in the morning. I was out on a late night laundromat run since insomnia had hit, but I was pretty certain that he wasn’t usually out this late. Or this early.

For a third, he was staring straight at me across the totally deserted intersection. I couldn’t recall him ever actually looking anyone in the eye before. His eyes were wide, and wicked blue.

“THE END IS NIGH!” he screamed again, and his hands were at his shoulders, scrabbling and picking at whatever it was that was keeping the sandwich boards attached together across his shoulders. Buckled straps, maybe? Pieces of rope, braided shoelaces? I’d never really noticed, and from here I couldn’t see. What I could still see was his eyes. They weren’t looking at me any more, but I could still see them because they were glowing.

No shit, seriously – his eyes were glowing, that eerie blue spreading out in a weird widening ray from them, as if he were wearing LED flashlights in the front of the head. And from underneath the sandwich boards, somewhere just south of his midsection, there was a reddish glow – I didn’t want to think about where that was coming from, let alone why it wasn’t actually covered up out in public.

“THE END-” his head snapped up, Sandwichboard Guy’s glowing eyes shining straight across the intersection at me, and suddenly it went intensely, painfully bright, widening in all directions from in like a glowing disc of blue, above a glowing pair of red wedges coming out either side of the boards right around his hips. It filled the intersection, and I couldn’t see.

Just as quick, it was gone, and so was Sandwichboard Guy. His boards clattered to the sidewalk, muffled by the pile of his clothing.

I didn’t go over to check them out. The end wasn’t nigh for me, except the end of the fluff cycle on my laundry.

~~~~~

This was written as part of the 31 Things In 31 Days project, being run on the page of the same name on Google+. For more information or to participate, go there.

Day Three prompt:

 

31 Things In 31 Days: Day Two

Pets aren’t family members.

Snooky is a dog. Snooky is my pet. Snooky wasn’t there when I was learning to walk, or ride my bike. Snooky didn’t teach me how to read, or sneak me a half cup of spiked eggnog behind the couch when my mom wasn’t looking. Snooky wasn’t even born until I was well beyond puberty.

But Snooky also doesn’t give a shit about money, or houses, or suntans, or whether or not we remembered to bring home 1% milk instead of 2% milk from the store because the 2% tastes cheesy.

Snooky wasn’t there when I was in the hospital.

Snooky didn’t show up till after. When I was finally discharged, and my mother and my sister fought about who had to drive me home while I sat there in the wheelchair, one fingernail digging dirt that wasn’t really there out from under another fingernail, contemplating pretending I was in a drug-sleep again so that maybe they’d stop pretending they thought I couldn’t hear them and we could just get out of there because dammit the fluorescent lights hurt my eyes. When my mother had hugged me and wished me a safe trip home (because she’d used the ultimate maternal argument-bomb of “I gave BIRTH to you both…”) and hurried out the rotating glass doors, leaving my sister to nearly dump me out of my chair before she figured out how to kick free the brake and push me out to the car. When she got me back to my apartment and stood there on the sidewalk staring at the half-flight of stairs down to my basement apartment and muttered something about how I should get the super to put in a ramp or something, and fell on her ass under the chair in the process of wrestling me down them and don’t think for a moment I didn’t hear her cursing as she stomped back up, then down again to dump my purse in my lap, leaving me to fumble out my keys and lurch through the doorway myself.

When something else lurched, in the darkness, scraping against the cheap linoleum floors. Snooky showed up then, bolting in through the open door out of nowhere, barking and snarling and snapping. I was muzzy and muddled, trying to get my chair turned around, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t enough light coming in the open doorway to let me see the body that fell to the floor, one tendon shredded off the back of the ankle. I would have been able to see if it was bleeding, but it wasn’t. It reached out, exhaling, and grabbed the edge of the doorway to pull itself forward and out onto the cement landing, leaving nothing in its wake but a weird slaughterhouse stench and Snooky, little white ball of dirty barking fluff, barking like she thought she was an Irish Wolfhound protecting her ancient home. Damn little thing got her paw up on the door, her weight enough to push it closed but slowly, as I watched the figure roll on its side, remnant of a face leering.

The door clicked gently shut. A moment later there was the sound of footsteps, followed by a thud, and screaming. My sister, I knew that scream. It usually sounded angrier.

I waited until Snooky stopped growling at the door before rolling close enough to try to open it; it was nearly night, but I could see my luggage. Duffle bag, really. I could see the dark pool that looked like it had waterfalled down the steps. I saw Snooky, darting out to sink her teeth into the bag and dragging it, ruffing muffledly through the fabric, into the apartment.

Snooky’s always here, now. Growls at the door sometimes, or leaps into my lap when we hear steps and screams. Sometimes I open the window, and Snooky darts out, coming back with a bagged loaf of bread that hasn’t yet gone over thanks to preservatives, or a can with a missing label. One day Snooky spent the whole time dragging back scrap wood, and then a packet of nails that must have come from one of the buildings that had been starting to get renovated before I went in the hospital.

We keep to ourselves, Snooky and me.

~~~~~

This was written as part of the 31 Things In 31 Days project, being run on the page of the same name on Google+. For more information or to participate, go there.

Day Two’s prompt: