A Bright Sunshiny Day, Ch. 4

Later that evening, Gerard dropped her off at her home. She watched behind her as the carriage rolled away clattering over the cobbles. Once inside, she unclasped her wet bundle from her chest. Hearing the rumble of feet running upstairs, she braced herself against the expected attacks. Semi-consciously she resolved not to take off her coat. The last thing she needed was to explain the lovely green gown, for they would certainly assume it was a present. She was definitely returning it to Ms. Thomas.
“Anastasia!”
Turning, surprised by the voice coming from her stepfather’s study, she stood shocked. Jemima, her black curls draped stunningly over her shoulder, barefoot in her white nightgown, remained statue still halfway up the flight of steps.
“Yes, sir?” Anastasia quavered, looking desperately at her sister’s frozen complexion. For once, she felt like that perfect beauty sympathized with her. And as much as it caused her to fear with a woman’s premonition, it also gave her strength.
“Come here, would you?”
Each step echoed round the still room as she crossed its wood floor. She was not particularly fond of Mr. Bulfinch; perhaps it was because of her father; perhaps because he was so remote and so emotionless. As the doorway came closer she dreaded more and more crossing the threshold. She was tired, and did not want to explain herself to the distant man.
“Yes, sir?”
“Come, sit down,” he said, not even glancing up from the papers that were strewn over his desk. After waiting for what seemed ridiculously long, he finally put down the pen, sighed, folded his hands, and looked at her. “Your mother received a message that you were caught in the rain and went to Mr. Thomas’ house as it was closer. Is that true?” His cold distant eyes sat placidly in his fishlike face.
“Yes, sir.”
“Mmm.” He leaned back in his chair, causing the wood to creak under his weight. He was not an obese man, but large boned- so he said, disregarding his belly pouch. “I don’t suppose you thought of your reputation beforehand, did you?”
“My reputation? I’m sorry, sir, but I don’t see-”
“Oh, you don’t, do you?” His frame quickly snapped forward, his arms crashing on the desk, a few papers rustled in their flight before his wind. “You are a young lady, eligible for marriage now. You went into the house of the most eligible bachelor around- alone. Do you know what people will say? What will that do for my business, eh? It will lower my sales. And what will lower sales do? It will lower my income. And what will a lower income do? It will lower our standard of living, and diminish your dowry! I suppose you didn’t think of that either, did you? Well, answer me!”
“No, sir,” she gasped.
“I didn’t think so. And now people will whisper and gossip will spread that something could have happened while the two of you were alone in there. Who will want to marry you then, eh? Damaged goods, that’s what they’ll say, I can tell you. How am I supposed to marry you off then, eh? Didn’t think of that either, I suppose. Well, it’s done now, so I guess I’ll have to rearrange my retirement plans to accommodate you for the rest of my life.” Scratching his head, he bent back over his papers. “You may go.”
“Yes, sir.” Anastasia rose, hearing only the stiff shush of her borrowed gown and the hollow clack of her shoes. It seemed her heart did not beat nor her breath hiss. She could have been the only life in the house, so silent it was. Her heels clicked on every stair-step. At the top she turned almost mechanically to the right, opening the door of her shared room. Jemima lay still under the covers.
Quickly Anastasia changed, slipping into the cotton nightgown. She brushed out her brown, straight locks, absently realizing she had forgotten her hair tie in Ms. Thomas’s upstairs room. She draped the green gown over her footboard, and then shook out her still damp grey dress before spreading it out on her wooden chest.
Stealthily gliding into bed, Anastasia sighed. She knew Jemima was awake and bursting with curiosity, but if she pretended the opposite maybe her sister would too. Besides she did not want to talk about things.
Why, why? Life was so hard, and it seemed the only one interested in making it easier was Gerard Thomas. But who was he to care about her? He was fascinated by a poor girl who could not keep her opinions hidden or her emotions, for that matter. Besides she wasn’t pretty enough for someone as rich and handsome as Mr. Thomas. He was just a kind man. And he would never do anything to her. Mr. Bulfinch had jumped to ridiculous conclusions, she told herself- even though she knew they were absolutely legitimate. As a tear rolled down her cheek into the pillow, she reminded herself of what she was always reminded of: she was an ugly, stupid girl who would never be loved. And that was that.

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Sky By Storm

So until I actually finish something – which might be soon – character concepts and random scenes are most of what I’ll be putting up. 

C.Angelina

Meg raced after the retreating jeep, claws digging into the soft red stone, dodging gunfire. She could see Drey hanging out the back, shouting. Meg pinned her ears back and dug deeper into the ground. A rock column toppled to the ground mere inches from Meg’s tail. She was really starting to hate Telekinesis. With a vengeance.

The jeep bounced around a stone pillar. Meg bounded up the same pillar, leaping for the back of the jeep. The pillar shifted at the last second, Meg twisted around, barely managing to dig her claws into the spare tire on the back. Drey grabbed her paws. Meg shed close to two hundred pounds of dirt as Drey changed her from tiger to girl. She scrambled inside the jeep just as a Tyler shot clipped the back fender.

“Get this show on the road Ty. Drey, change it as soon as we get to the interstate.” Meg ducked behind the spare tire to avoid another hail of gunfire. Tyler slammed on the gas. Within moments, they were finally out of range. After that, it was only a few minutes to the interstate, where Drey morphed the jeep into a Cadillac.

Meg put her head back against the headrest. “That was way too close.”

“Slider’s getting smarter. This calls for a total makeover,” Drey said.

“Sorry morpher, but you’re not coming anywhere near me,” Tyler said.

“If you had actually been watching our backs, instead of trading insults with bendy back there, this wouldn’t be necessary speed,” Drey snapped.

“You need hair dye anyway Drey. Ty, you’re sure you took out their truck?” Meg asked.

“I’m not totally useless. Just tell me this makeover involves a new name,” Tyler said,

“I told you, either tell us your true name, or come up with something yourself.” Meg closed her eyes. Maybe they’d be able to sleep in real beds tonight, if Slider was as stuck as Tyler seemed to think.

“Ryan. Ryan’s a good name,” Tyler said.

“You really want a Drey and a Ray?” Meg asked.

“Spoilsport,” Tyler mumbled.

Meg glanced over at Drey. “Hair only. Slider will be expecting a full body change.”

“Tonight. You’re lighter than last time we did the tiger, took too much out of me,” Drey answered. Meg nodded.

Meg drifted in and out of sleep through the rest of the day.  Drey and Tyler switched off driving. It was around midnight when Drey pulled into the parking lot of a dingy motel just off the highway. Meg dragged herself out of the car.

“I’ll get the room if you guys do a sweep,” Meg said.

“Already did. The place isn’t great, but there’s no goons and real beds,” Tyler said.

“Great.” Meg stumbled inside and up to the check-in counter. Ten minutes and fifty dollars later, she collapsed on a bed, kicking off her worn sneakers. Drey disappeared into the bathroom with a bottle of hair dye she must have stopped for while Meg had been sleeping, and Tyler plopped on the couch in front of the TV.

Flight of the Valkyries started emanating from Meg’s pocket. Byte. Wonderful. Meg pulled her cell phone out and flipped it open.

“I am not moving till ten tomorrow,” she answered.

“I’ve got an escaped bender in the capitol. I need an immediate extraction,” Byte said.

Meg sat up. “Two things. What’s a bender, and why on earth did you orchestrate an escape when we aren’t supposed to be down that way for another two months?”

“A bender is what you’d call ‘exceptionally gifted.’ In between normal and the breakers. Excuse me, supers. And I didn’t have a choice about the timing; I couldn’t only keep her drugged for six weeks without damaging her brain function. Look on the bright side, she’s listed as dead.”

“Byte, you never interfere in a death.” Meg twisted a strand of hair around her finger, weighing their options.

“She deserves a chance, Ok? So, am I moving your concert date up or not?” Byte asked.

“One week. The last thing we need right now is to be caught between Slider and Facility. The usual rules apply, twenty four hours plus concert time. If we don’t find her then, she’s on her own, I don’t care how attached you are.”

“Fine. When you get to the capitol, contact Officer David. He’s like you, a sympathizer.”

“You mean normal, I get it. Warn us if Slider makes a move, kay?”

“I can’t guarantee my intel on him will be accurate.”

“Make it accurate.” Meg hung up. Wonderful. Just wonderful. She pushed herself up and went to go lean against the open bathroom door. Drey had her head over the sink and was rubbing dye into her hair.

“Bleached blond? Don’t you think that’s overdoing it a bit?” Meg asked.

“It was on sale. So what did the geek want?” Drey asked.

“You think the police force in the capitol still remembers us?”

Drey straightened up, her half-colored hair hanging over her face. “No. No way. I would rather live, thank you.”

“Byte’s already kept this girl asleep for six weeks. If we don’t do it, he’s going to get amateurs in.”

“And they’ll get caught, and tortured, and give up all our secrets. Why on earth did we decide to put ourselves on the network?” Drey bent back over the sink.

“Because it sounded like a good idea at the time. So it’s a go?”

“Not like we have a choice. Get some sleep, you’re driving first shift.”

“Fine. Don’t stay up too late.”

“Alright mother.”

“You’re lucky I don’t make you eat your salad. Good night.” Meg pushed off the wall and stumbled to the bed. Tyler was still enraptured by the TV. He said all his TV watching was to catch up on his cultural literacy, but Meg suspected that it was mostly one of the few things that catered to his short attention span.

Meg slipped under the covers. She could feel just about every spring in the bed, but it was a hell of a lot better than the back seat of the car and a ton safer than an alley. She closed her eyes.

A Brigth Sunshiny Day, Ch. 3

Needless to say that was but the first of many meetings, the first of an especially deep friendship.  Ignorant of the merciless teasing, Gerard would just walk her home after school, chatting about the weather and the news.  Then he began to try drawing her ideas out of her.  Questions of King Arthur generally elicited some impassioned response, although usually when asked she was open with her opinion.  Yet he found she generally hid her emotions from him.  Well, most of them.

One day, about a week since their first encounter, as he arrived at the school yard, he saw her hurrying down the empty lane.  Curious, hurt and worried that she had not waited as had been their custom, Gerard hastily walked after her.  “Ms. Bartle!  Please wait.”

Brushing a hand over her eyes, Anastasia stood still.  Nearing her, he noted her red-rimmed eyes and tight mouth.  “Good day, Mr. Thomas,” she said softly.

“Good day. Are you alright?”  He offered his arm.

Anastasia attempted weakly to smile reassuringly.  Already she felt more at ease noticing his gentle manner, his brotherly demeanor, and his brows furrowed with anxious concern.  “Yes,” she replied.

He stopped and looked her full in the face.  After a little while of studying her blushing complexion, he declared, “Ms. Anastasia Bartle, I don’t believe you.”  Interrupted by her nervous, tired imitation of a laugh, he continued, “Deduction number one, your eyes are red which means you were crying.  Deduction two, it has not been your custom to give such a vague answer to a question.  And three, you are too passionate a person to smile and laugh with such a lack of conviction.  Ergo, something is wrong.  Now, what is it?”

She sighed, twisting her coat buttons with her mitted hands.  “I… I’m just tired.  And I never smile.”

“I see.  Well, shall we continue?”  He offered his arm and they continued down the lane.  Gerard talked on about the novel by Sir Walter Scott he was reading, as he declared, “The man will be a famous author someday.”  He filled every space with some detail, and then cast the topic aside in favor of the importance of teatime.  Anastasia listened quietly, nodding occasionally and cursorily responding.

Suddenly she halted.  “Where are we?”

“Why I believe we forgot to turn where we should have.  Strange to make such a mistake!  Well, since we are so close, how would you like to come and have tea with me?  It is much closer, and you will greatly appreciate the library.”

“But it is late, and mother will worry,” Anastasia vainly protested.  She did not know why, but the prospect of going to his house seemed inappropriate.  What would people say?

Gerard laughed.  “There’s no need to wrinkle your brow so.  We’ll send a message to your mother with some crumpets and Devonshire cream.  What think you?”  As if on cue, a raindrop fell.  “Now we’ll never make it to Hampton Lane without a proper dousing!  Come, before it really begins to pour.”  He grasped her hand, took her books, and convinced her to run.

Gasping a timid semblance of a laugh, Anastasia allowed herself to be guided.  She had never played in the rain before, and she rather enjoyed her crazy, careless race.  Gerard was a good man to be concerned about her.  She was glad they were friends.  She was glad the rain was falling.  She was glad.

Completely wet, they arrived at a black iron scrolled gate to a mansion- not really, but it quite fit the idea for Anastasia.  The great stone façade shone clearly white between the rows of stately trees.  Each window was flanked by deep green shutters, and there were a great number of them on each of the three floors.  The chimneys spewed smoke, verifying the warming welcome of fire inside.  It was your typical English country dwelling- very lovely.

The gate swung open before her.  Gerard offered his hand, saying, “It’s no good standing out here.  Your mother will be very upset if you catch a cold.”

Anastasia blinked at him.  Why, she thought, he is like a prince.  For the first time she noticed his elegant features under his soft brown hair, his calm deportment and elegant grace, his excess of manners.  It was not simply that his clothes were fine, but his very demeanor.  Believing herself to be enchanted, she took his hand.  As they hurried up the walk, she thought of Grimm’s tales, especially the one called ‘King Thrushbeard’.  She did not really know why; ‘King Thrushbeard’ was about a princess who haughtily refused all her suitors, till her enraged father forced her to marry a beggar who actually was her suitor King Thrushbeard.  But before she dwelt to her satisfaction upon her puzzlement, they had arrived at the door.

Once inside, Anastasia gasped.  Every wall, every corner, every inch of floor was luxurious.  Pictures painted as if they were life, furniture carved as if to please kings, statues carved of purest alabaster, whole suits of armor stood stoically still flanking the entrance, intricate and lush carpets spread over the marble flooring.  Who was Gerard Thomas?

“Oh, Lord!  Mr. Thomas, I do wish you wouldn’t keep out when you know it will rain.  Just look at your suit!  And brand new it was too!  Ah, dear me!  You’ve brought company.  I did ask for a warning.  I know I’m only the housekeeper, but it is hard to handle things when nothing is sure.”

Anastasia studied the short, round woman who had bustled in fusing.  Her graying hair was tucked up neatly under her bouncing white cap; her great blue eyes were surrounded by little lines, indicative of a customary smile which only now was absent from her countenance; her small, red lips pursed tightly together, making them even tinier; her pleasantly plump cheeks were rosy with her excitement.

“Goodness!” she exclaimed, “If you both aren’t soaked through!  Mr. Thomas, what were you thinking?”  She took Anastasia’s hand.  “As cold as ice, I do declare!  Mr. Thomas, what were you thinking, letting this sweet, little birdie fall into such a state?  You poor dear!  Come, come.  We’ll soon have you dry again, I dare say.”  She hustled Anastasia through riches beyond her imagination, up a spiral staircase, into the most elegant bedroom.  “Now you just slip out of those wet clothes and I’ll find you something dry.  Ms. Thomas I’m sure left some dresses around.  Let me see.”

She opened a wardrobe and rummaged through various articles of clothing.  Every now and then the housekeeper turned and cast an experienced eye over her ‘little birdie’, with an “hmm” and a shake of her whitening curls.  At last she removed a dress of sea green, simply made and elegant.  “This ought to fit you.  I do say, you are a good deal smaller than my Ms. Thomas!  And I thought she was the smallest thing the world had ever seen!  Well, I suppose God was humbling me for knowing it all.  Come, come, dearie! Can’t have you in those things any longer!”

And so with much more idle chatter, Anastasia was undressed and redressed, her wet hair let down and softly rubbed by a towel, and led again down the fascinating staircase.  Half listening to the talk about Ms. Thomas studying abroad with the elder Mr. Thomas, Anastasia followed marveling at everything she saw: windows of colored glass, gold candelabras, tiger skins for rugs!  Who was Gerard Thomas?

At last, she was ushered into a room where two massive green leather chairs sat before a roaring fire.  Between the chairs was a table covered with a delicate lace cloth and sporting a real China tea pot and cups, the steam rising from the spout above the delicious crumpets.  Gerard had risen upon her entrance and stood smiling.  But Anastasia did not see this scene.  Instead her eyes scanned over the walls: every inch of every shelf held books and books.  If it was possible to alter the beatings of the heart into musical chords, you would have heard a symphony greater than Mozart!  Even the housekeeper was silent and smiling at her amazement.

Finally, Anastasia managed to gasp, “Oh!”  Gerard and the pleasant housekeeper laughed, causing their guest to blush confusedly. “I’m sorry. I’ve never seen so many books in one place.  I…”

Taking her hand, the kind little lady patted it and said, “Now, now dearie! Don’t look so!  It is a favorite thing of Mr. Thomas’s to find others who love his books as much as he does.  But I do say, you almost love them more than he!”  She waddled out of the room.

Gerard walked over smiling.  “Mrs. Tundlemire has been with the family since my father was a little chap.”  He offered Anastasia his arm, and led her over to the fire.  Pouring the tea, he inquired, “Do you like my library?”

“As if you needed to ask!”

He laughed again.  “Of course!  Here’s one you would enjoy.”  He removed a great brown leather volume from a shelf.  The intricate gold lettering baffled her comprehension.  “It’s a copy of Grimm’s Fairytales in the original German.”

“Ah!”  Anastasia let her fingers linger over the title.  Her thought of ‘King Thrushbeard’ resurfaced from the wave of wonder that had nearly drowned her.  “Do you know German?”

“No,” he sighed.  “My mother tried to teach me, but at the time I cared more for play than reading, especially in another language.  My sister Greta does though.  She always was the studious one.”

Handing back the book, Anastasia started to ask about Greta Thomas, when she spied the crumpets.  “Oh, mother!  Can I send a message to mother?”

Laughing, Gerard explained leaning his head back onto the leather head rest, “I already sent Dan.  But you should drink some tea and warm up.”  Taking a sip himself, he paused closely studying her as her eyes wandered over the volumes covering the walls from floor to ceiling, her loose hair slipping off her shoulder.

Should he ask her about what had happened at school?  Something had, he was certain, that would make her neglect their custom.  Perhaps he should ignore it, let her forget it.  But was neglecting the issue going to help her in the future?  Personally such a response had never benefited him.  He could almost hear his father saying, “Finish what you start.  That means painful things as well as joyful things.”  Clearing his throat, he asked, “So how was school today?”  Instantly he felt her close herself in her shell, locking him out.

“Fine.”  She stared into her porcelain cup swirling her tea.

“Anastasia,” he whispered, studying her face with its down cast eyes, “don’t keep it shut in.  Let it out, let it heal.”

Had he pushed her too far?  Perhaps she just needed someone to be kind to her and not someone to confide in.  Yet even his father who had been so strong and independent had needed to talk and tell his deepest hurts and joys.  After their mother’s death he had come to Gerard.  And Gerard himself had always needed to go to his father as the wise parent who could answer his difficulties and guide his wandering boat back to port.

“There are these girls that tease me at school.  And sometimes it’s more than I can take.  That’s all.”  The words were nearly whispered.

He waited for her to say more.  Minutes slowly dragged by, till the grandfather clock from the hall seemed unbearably loud.  The perpetual tick-tock tolled, measuring the flickering of the fire’s flame as it mesmerized Gerard’s sight.  Vaguely he knew there was more in her story, but he would not force her to tell him.

He was startled by the sudden quavering breath from the girl.  Quickly, he noted the tears which must have been trickling down her cheeks for a while.  He rose and knelt before her, taking the tea cup from her trembling hand.  “Let the tears flow.  Just cry,” he whispered.

She burst into uncontrollable sobs, her whole frame wracked by their violence.  Hiding her face in her hands, the tears slipped between her fingers.  Gerard watched, helpless as his heart broke with sympathy and compassion.  There was nothing he could do, except be there as time languished with her tears.

“I’m sorry,” she gasped finally.

“No, no!” he whispered.  “You needed to cry.  It sounds like you haven’t done that in a while.”

“Ha!” she interjected.  “I cry at least once a week.  It’s inevitable.”  Her head lolled against the chair back, exhausted.

Gerard raised his eyebrows.  “Is it that bad?”

“No, I just can’t handle it.  I’m too weak.”

As suddenly as he grasped her hands, Anastasia snapped her head up, staring straight into his blue eyes.  Over her nervously beating heart, she heard him say, “You are not weak.  How can you believe that, you with your stalwart opinions?  If there is one person who does not deserve the epithet weak it is you.  They only tease you because you make it easy.”

New tears threatening to spill out, Anastasia huskily asked, “How do I stop it?  I can’t ask them pretty please not to.  I can’t tease them back.  They’re popular and perfect.”

“No they aren’t! And besides, what does it matter?  Listen, no one else likes stories as you do.  You like great deeds because you recognize the beauty; you appreciate great tales because you understand the fleeting passage of time; you honor great heroes because you fear the lack of them.  You have a gift to see things that others forget about or deny completely.  They may torture you with their jeers, but no one can take away the insight and the depth of soul you have.  You are special, Anastasia.”

Through the swelling tears, she saw his face swim before her.  He was very kind to say such things.  But if she was strong, why did she always cry?  If she was deep, why did she always feel shallow and empty?  He was just being a gentleman.  “Thank you.”

His eyes searched her pale complexion.  He knew she did not believe a word he had said, that she was dismissing it all as kindness.  She was denying her own worth, and in a way it hurt him more to see her belittle herself.   “I meant every word in complete sincerity.”

Weakly attempting a smile, she nodded.  He wanted her to feel better, and so he had said all those things.  But it was nothing.  “Would you read the tale of King Thrushbeard?”

A Beginning in the End pt 12

Arabella                                                                              2020/1/11

The entire town is as if someone had built it there to look the way it does. It is such a strange place and the most peaceful that I’ve known since all of this began.

I am still utterly alone, perhaps the last human alive, but the loneliness hurts less in this place for some reason. Maybe it is because I feel just a bit safer here, as if for a moment I can actually breathe freely. The stench of rotting flesh is not in my lungs any longer and the moans are just echoes in my memory.

It feels almost like a dream, as if this town is outside  of time, separate from the rest of the world. It feels like a haven, a little spot where I can rest just for a moment in time. I am so tired. I just want to rest for a short while in this place.

I wish that I had someone to talk to. I am so lonely and it is almost as if I can hear voices in the air. My mind speaks to me, ringing in my ears and haunting me. Yet I don’t really mind because it means that I can finally hear myself think.

For so long the moans of the dead have beat against my ears. Now my mind is so much clearer. I can actually think again for the first time since I watched the world fall to pieces. I find my thoughts terrifying, the world dark and enormous. I don’t think I can take it anymore. I am suddenly so afraid. The world is black and completely hopeless, or so it feels to me. I stand here in this town and I can’t see anything before me. All I see is more struggle and fear in my path, darkness and despair and loneliness.

I can’t stand it. I feel like I’ve found a bubble from which I can see everything as it truly is. I can see only that which is dark and terrible before me. There is no future out there for me. If I just had a companion maybe I could take it but by myself I don’t think I can do this.

This place reminds me too much of what was back before death began to walk. I can see and hear the past inhabitants in my mind. I see children playing in yards around cozy houses, mothers inside making snacks, and feel the expectation of dad coming home soon.

Then I see them when the news comes. I see them rushing but not panicking as they stock up for a siege like no other in history. The children don’t quite know what is happening. It is only when the barricade goes up that they realize something is very wrong.

The world outside is shut out but their parents won’t tell them why. They are left in the dark to wonder. When the helicopters fly over they know that this is much bigger than their little town. When the moans and banging start they are truly frightened for the first time. They see the fear in their parents’ eyes and it terrifies them all the more. They are no longer told that monsters aren’t real but they also are not told what kind it is that lurks outside.

I find myself wondering what happened to them. they seemed so well prepared and yet the pile of ashes in the middle of the town tells me that even with all the preparation in the world something still brought them down. I shall explore some more and see if I can’t figure out what happened here.

 

Dymphna