Friday, March 28, 2014
Today is the day that I might die. I never thought I‘d hope for my own death, but if it will save countless others, then it must be so.
“Alina?” my mother calls from her bed. Her voice chokes on the end of my name, and she falls into one of her coughing fits that have been growing steadily worse and more frequent.
I fasten the last button on my jacket and quickly pull on my warmest pair of boots.
“Alina… please… come in…. here,” Mother manages to wheeze out between her gagging coughs.
I run into her bedroom, breathless by the time I reach her side. I fear that every time she has one of these fits that it may be her last. She is so small under the covers that I can barely make out her tiny frame. Before she got sick, she was a strong, muscled warrior of a woman, but now the outlines of her bones peek through her crepe-thin skin.
I pick up the tin cup of water from the table beside the bed and pull the covers away from her face. I try not to cringe at the deep purple circles that run around her eyes. Mother looks up at me with a smile, despite that fact she knows she’s dying.
“Where are you going, baby?” she asks. She reaches up to run her fingers through my hair, and I feel a twinge of guilt. She doesn’t know what I’m about to do, nor will I tell her.
“I’m just going to see Ethan off. He’s in the Fight today.”
Her eyes immediately snap to attention. “That’s today? It can’t be time for that already…”
Her voice trails off, and the sparkle disappears from her eyes. I know I’ve lost her for now. Her lucidity never lasts very long these days. It’s why I have to win the fight. I need her to have the money pay for her treatments so she can finish her research and figure out how to stop this monstrosity forever. My life will cost nothing. Hers will cost everything.
I squeeze her hand and lean down to kiss her on the cheek. Despite being sick, she still smells like lavender. I don’t want to leave her, but I have to. I can’t be late today. Plus, I still have to go tell Ethan goodbye.
As I pick up my gloves and slide my cold-numbed hands into them, someone taps lightly on the front door. I already know it’s Ethan by rhythm of it—only he knocks that way. I swing the door open with a smile, glad to see him—even if it may be the last time. But my smile instantly falls when I see the look on his face.
I wasn’t going to tell him either.
“Alina. You cannot do this to your mother,” he pleads, barging through the front door and slamming it behind him.
We’ve already had this conversation, and he knows it’s the only way I will ever be able to get enough money for my mother’s medicine. I just never told him that I was serious about going through with it. Someone from the council must have called him. They don’t like it when women participate, even though it’s not illegal.
“I’m not doing this to her, I’m doing this for her,” I say. “You know good and well she’s the only one smart enough to figure out how to save everyone and stop this mess.”
His face crumples, and for a split second, my decision to Fight wavers. I don’t like it when he looks at me like that. It makes my blood go cold. I don’t blame him for being upset with me, but it’s my decision and mine only. I’ll sign my life over to the Council with a fingerprint of my own blood, and I will be sealed to them until I’m no longer breathing. Hopefully, anyway.
Because in the Fight, the only way to win is to die.
Ethan steps forward and circles my waist with his hands.
“Please,” he says, even though his mouth doesn’t open. He doesn’t need to speak right now. I know those eyes of his better than my own, and that is exactly why I refuse to look into them right now. I can’t let him influence my decision.
A piece of hair falls in front of my eyes and he lets go of my back to tuck it behind my ear. His fingers linger at the base of my chin, and his lips are so close to my own that I can feel the electricity of his skin burning in the air between us. I finally lift my eyes to his and it is the biggest mistake I ever could have made.
Ethan pushes me against the wall and cups my face in his hands. He kisses me gently, like I am the only thing in the world that matters. He sucks my bottom lip into his mouth and I have to gasp for air, but it doesn’t do me any good. Not even oxygen will help me breathe properly at this point.
"Ethan," I murmur against his mouth. His lips leave mine and travel to my cheek, down my chin, onto my neck. Soft, little kisses that barely feel like kisses at all.
"Ethan, stop it," I say again.
His body stiffens and he immediately pulls away. There are only about two inches of space between us, but it feels like miles. Everything has changed. He knows he can’t save me from this anymore than I can save my mother without medicine.
“I have to do this. You know I do,” I whisper.
He swallows hard and takes another step away from me. I hear the faintest whisper of a “goodbye,” as he steps out of the door and closes it behind him.
Panic wells in me as the realization of what I’m about to do seeps into my soul, and I know that I can’t let it end like this. I can’t let him leave like that. I yank my front door open, my mouth open with his name on my lips, ready to yell for him to come back. But a piece of paper crumpled on the top porch step catches my eye.
I lean over and grab it, carefully unwadding it as I stand back up. It’s a picture. A picture of a house scrawled out with a purple crayon. A picture that I have seen a million times before, hanging on the corner of the refrigerator. It’s a picture that I drew when I was five years old. But there’s now a bloody thumbprint on the bottom left corner.
I drop the paper and sprint down the steps and into the yard. By the time I reach the town square, I lineup has already begun. I spot his brown, curly head at the front of the line, thumb poised and ready to bleed on the scroll of Fighter’s names.
“Ethan!” I shout. “No! Please!”
This was supposed to be me. I was supposed to be the one to save her. This isn’t okay. I try to push my way through the thick crowd, but there is no way I’ll make it to the front to stop him in time. He raises his head just in time to look at me as he presses his bloodied thumb onto the long scroll.
He nods. Shrugs. Mouths, “I love you.” Then steps into the arena.
And the Fight begins.
Story By: Stefanie
Photo By: Graur Codrin
Friday, March 21, 2014
It should be easy.
All I have to do is stand at the corner of Park and Hill streets at precisely 3:13pm. Count to fifteen and then take two steps sideways to my left and stick my foot out just a little too far. Then she will come and…everything will be okay again.
I go over the directions once more even though there aren’t many and even though I’ve already memorized them. They’re written on the back of a flowery card with the words “Thanks so much for volunteering for our annual bake sale. Best Wishes, Mirriam” scrawled on the inside along with the five letters that still make my heart squeeze and my mouth go dry. Linda. My mother’s name. I stare at it, unable to look away, unable to turn over the card and get to the directions so I can reassure myself one more time that I have the next hour plotted out right. If I succeed seeing those letters won’t bother me anymore.
“Where you going?” Lissie asks from her spot on the carpet where she is sprawled out with her paper and colors making careful drawings of our house and everyone who lives in it. Three. There are three stick figures now where there were once four. I want to crumple up the crude sketches and throw them into the fireplace. But it’s too hot for a fire and I’d only set Lissie off—make her howl.
“For a walk,” I say and smile because soon her drawings will go back to normal. I’m gonna make sure.
I leave before she can beg me to go too. The woods are quiet this time of day, waiting I think for me to plunge into them and towards the spot. I found it just three weeks ago. Not on purpose. I was trying to get out of the house and away from Lissie and Dad and the empty chair at the kitchen table that mom used to fill. I never much liked the woods, but on that day I was desperate to keep from howling myself and so I ran into them without hesitating.
I found the old shed about the time I was starting to get afraid that I was lost. It was right leaning—dangerously close to toppling over and half the roof was missing. Moss covered what was left. Even before I opened its rotted out door I could feel something…different about it. Not wrong, just special. The door opened smoothly, quietly like it was well oiled and used often. I peered inside. Huddled in the corner was a woman so large that she looked stuffed into the space. She was wearing an over-sized t shirt with a sexily posed Tinkerbell across the front and a pair of hiking boots. Her shorts were pulled tight across her thighs, the flesh so rippled with cellulite that I could feel myself staring even though I didn’t want to.
“Figured you might show up today,” she said, her mouth turning up into a grin that lacked teeth and turned her ancient in an instant. “Been waiting for you.”
I took a step back, sure that she was about to frisk me for spare change or food or something, but she just sat back…on a stool maybe? I couldn’t make it out under her considerable bulk but it had to be there or otherwise she was floating off the floor somehow.
“You get one chance to get it right you know. One. So listen good, boy. I can send you back to save her. For one hour you can try, but then it’s over and whatever happens is for good.”
I didn’t believe her. How could I? She was going on and on about how I could stop my mom from dying. How I just needed to get her out of the way of the car and everything would change. The shed could get me back. All I had to do was go and listen to her instructions.
She showed me first. Took my hand and pulled me into the dark corner opposite her where the shadows were thick. A minute later we were standing on the low hill of the cemetery where we buried my mother, watching the men cover her coffin up with dirt. I could hear the thud of every shovelful of dirt. I could smell the sickening scent of all those flowers lined up by her stone. Her name was crisp and shiny black in the sunlight. Linda Marie Thompkins, beloved wife and mother. My head was reeling. I felt like somehow the world had been picked up and shaken like a snow globe, time scattering around like snowflakes, falling in random patterns. I swayed a little on my feet. I couldn’t help it.
“Whatever time/memory you’re thinking about when you step “through” that’s where you end up,” she said, her plump hand wrapping around mine, too soft to be comforting, too tight around mine for me to pull away.
By the time we were back in the shed I believed and what’s more, I began to prepare.
I open the door to the shed, expecting her to be there like before, but it’s empty instead. For a moment I am not sure what to do, but then I start staring at the corner of the room and I can’t help myself, I’m walking into it, thinking hard about my mother and that corner and the truck. I wasn’t there, but I saw the phone footage from one of the witnesses, posted on Youtube hours afterwards, surreal and horrible and viewed more times than I can stomach to count. It isn’t hard to conjure the memory. I haven’t been able to escape it for months.
In an instant it is afternoon and the sun is bright and hot and baking the sidewalk so that the heat rises off of it in waves. People jostle around me, eager to get past. I shake my head and try to clear the dizzy sick that envelopes me. I turn and there she is. Hair swept up in a haphazard bun, her purse swinging low across her side as she walks purposely towards the intersection. Mom. I want to call out to her, to rush at her, snatch her up and hold her close until I hear the truck rumble pass, but I don’t. The woman was very clear. I couldn’t talk to her, I could only waylay her a little. I turn so that she can’t see me, so that I am facing the intersection too. I glance at my watch. 3:13. I begin to count. One, two, three….
When I get to fifteen I take my two steps and I feel her foot catch on my heel, hear her take in a gulp of air as she loses her balance and begins to fall. My heart practically flies out of my chest, I am soaring, I am light as air. She will be there when I get back. Lissie’s drawings will be complete. Everything will be better. Right.
As I turn, prepare to leave my mom sprawled on the sidewalk so she never knows that I was here, I catch the eye of a little boy. He’s staring up at me, his eyes wide, his mouth open slightly in a smile because he must’ve seen my mom fall and thought it looked funny. In his hand is a piece of paper, a drawing very much like Lissie’s. He lets it go without thinking and it flies out into the intersection and a moment later so does he, arm outstretched to catch it. There is a squeal of tires and then the bark of rubber on blacktop and then the sickening sound of screaming.
The drawing blows back out of the street as the boy disappears under the truck. I watch it flutter down towards the sidewalk because I can’t look out into the street, can’t see what just happened, what I just caused to happen. The paper slides to a stop, resting face up on my sneakers, so that all I can see is the house and four stick figures crayoned across it.
Story by: Amy Christine Parker
Image courtesy of Graur Codrin/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Graur Codrin/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Friday, March 14, 2014
No Place Like Home
He arrived first. Weeks later she joined him. When there wasn’t anything else to do, which was often, they sat on the floor and drew. They surmised they were in each others’ age range and that they had both been taken. No words were shared among them, not even their names. They were taken upstairs once a day for schooling and a meal and sun. Once upstairs they saw how much color they were losing, how their skin began to blanch. Their squinted at each other barely getting used to the sunlight from the windows. As soon as their eyesight adjusted to the white paper, the yellow piercing through beige shades, the tattered but muted tones of the rug they were rushed back downstairs where they’d settle back into the gray.
The woman lead them to their room, or as she liked to insist along with them calling her “Angie” that they consider this place “home.” “Home” was a dank basement that was often cool, sometimes freezing, rarely warm. It was dark and it was moist. The dampness in the air settled on their skin as soon as they returned from "school."
After a couple weeks the girl thoroughly searched their surroundings. She found rope but no chains. She surveyed the toilet behind a folded wall and the sink with the faucet that dripped leaving a rusted stain around the drain. She found clothes that were definitely not in fashion now and smelled as stale as the basement.
The only window downstairs was painted shut with glass covered in so much soot it hid the outside world. It was small enough for their heads to fit through but nothing else. Though this didn’t stop her from trying by punching at it with no luck. When the two were next brought upstairs for studies they stood in the kitchen bathed in sunlight. Once the woman locked the basement door behind them the girl screamed her head off. The girl dodged hands attempting to catch her. She ran around the space as though on fire. The girl made it past the living room to the front door when she found what the boy had the first and last time he attempted the same thing. The locks needed keys from within. Still screaming, her cries ringing throughout the house tingling the boy’s inner ear it was so loud, she sped past the woman who hunched herself down attempting to soothe, shush, and capture the girl.
The boy waited in the kitchen, and he came soon enough. The man emerged in the doorway to the kitchen as the girl, quick like a monkey, had jumped the cabinets and was on the kitchen countertops trying to get through a window. The boy hadn’t thought of that. The girl was almost successful, almost, a window pane shattered from the kick of her sneakers and the force of her will but she was scooped up easy as ice cream. Her limbs fought, wouldn’t remain still. She kicked and flailed all over the place as the man took her upstairs where her screams were replaced with a different type. It was no longer a sound craving attention, this cry was in deep fear and understanding of what was to come. The boy was shooed downstairs by the woman, who insisted everything was going to be okay. They were the same words she said to them every day.
Later, maybe hours, maybe just long minutes, the girl returned, still putting up a fight. The man stumbled down the stairs, her body thrust over his shoulder, her screams muffled with a sock. As soon as he touched ground he thrust her onto the cot beside the boy. She lifted herself up ready to shriek again but the man made a motion for his pants pocket. Even with the one soft bulb the boy saw the cord eeking it's way out of his pocket. One peek at the girl's arms he saw her long sleeves revealed hints of lacerations. The girl sat back, but there was rebellion in her eyes. The man trudged up the stairs and sealed them into their new world.
They weren’t allowed upstairs for a while after that. Food was brought down, left on the second step, and the door immediately shut leaving them back to their solitude. Drawing became routine. The girl sometimes scratched at her arms. She hid her legs by folding them under herself. He didn’t ask how she felt, he knew the sting of the cord. He wasn’t looking to feel that again.
As they sat on the floor scratching on paper was the only sound. Their fingertips were colored from the wax of the crayons and their hands dotted with the shavings they wiped away. When the girl spoke he had to look up to consider if he’d actually heard something. Her mouth was slightly ajar. Her eyes narrowed like she’d been waiting on his answer for too long.
“What are you drawing?” she asked. He dared a peek at her picture first, it was erratic scribbles but a rainbow of them that came together like a puzzle. He looked at his. His hands framed each side of the image, one he hadn’t even realized he’d been creating in the first place. A house with a chimney, a sun peering over the place like a guardian. To one side of the house were two people, a man and a woman and in the middle of them was a tiny figure that could only be a child, their child, specifically. It was a place he was starting to forget, yet hints of it still pervaded in his memory. The car he was shuttled into to go to and from real school, not a woman making things up while they remained shackled to the table listening but not listening. Before answering he wrote the word under it then held the paper up to the girl.
She mouthed the four letter word and nodded before tearing up her illustration and starting again. “Let me show you my home too,” she said as she reached for a new sheet of paper.
Story by: Jenn Baker
Image courtesy of Graur Codrin/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Graur Codrin/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Friday, March 7, 2014
Thursday, March 6, 2014
First things first...
Happy almost spring everybody! Hope the days are getting warmer, sunnier, and the snow has melted, if you got snow. Us northeasters got a lot of it.
Here's our March photo and here's hoping it provides some cool stories or inspiration for whatever medium you choose. This image is courtesy of graur codrin from Freedigitalphotos.net.
It's been exciting and busy times for the ladies of Fiction Femme Fatale. With good news all around.
If you didn’t already know Amy and Krystalyn both have new, bright & shiny (and fabulous) books coming out later this year!
Last August Amy’s debut YA contemporary thriller GATED published with Random House Books for Young Readers. And just a few weeks ago Amy publicized the paperback cover for it along with the cover for the sequel, ASTRAY where Lyla’s intense story of being raised in a cult continues. This is a thriller you don’t want to miss as Lyla tries to navigate two worlds and finds herself a stranger in both.
In preparation for ASTRAY’s release on August 26th Amy is going on tour with authors Jessica Khoury, Christina Farley, Jessica Brody, and Anna Banks. You can see a teaser trailer here on YouTube. Amy will also continue to do regular video blogs over at YA Rebels on Tuesdays.
You can already preorder copies of ASTRAY on Amazon.com or make sure to request that your local, indie booksellers have it when it comes out.
Krystalyn debuted two YA fantasy novels last year. LEGASEA with Curiosity Quills and SPIRIT WORLD (both are available on Amazon). Her new book is a middle grade fantasy adventure, and frankly the main character is adorable as well as spirited. TRACY TAM: SANTA COMMAND will release with Month9Books in October. We can’t wait to share the cover with you once it’s officially official.
TRACY TAM follows Tracy as she seeks to dispel the myth of Santa in order to win a contest and help her sick cousin. But when she follows Old St. Nick's elves she realizes he may not be a myth after all.
We’re also happy to congratulate Jennifer on being one of the winners of the 2013 SCBWI On-the-Verge Emerging Voices Award for her speculative YA manuscript, THE FACILITY! SCBWI’s executive director Lin Oliver stated, “We were very impressed with The Facility and believe that [it will be] a valuable contribution to children’s literature.” The Emerging Voices Award seeks to foster the emergence of diverse voices in children’s books. As a winner of this award Jennifer will get an all-expense paid trip to attend this summer’s SCBWI conference in L.A. Jennifer was recently featured on the SCBWI blog in an interview with Lee Wind.
We’d also love to hear news from fellow writers as well. Sharing means caring after all. :-)
Monday, March 3, 2014
The phone in the park in the winter in the dark in that part of winter-spring when snow falls on all the blooming things, and there’s hope in the air, but the ice still shivers there.
The door half-ajar, or maybe not even that far, because we’re snuggled up inside, even though we don’t need to hide.
The words sound good, and look pretty in blue ink, on college-rule paper. In reality, the phone booth across the street is empty. Whoever was making out there last, steamed up the windows and now it’s all frosted over, the park is deserted, and I want to throw rocks and break apart the glass on that cheery red phone booth all fake and friendly looking.
This is a set, we’re all just actors, none of it is real.
Smash, smash, we’re all just breaking glass, into the blue crackled shards upon the grass.
The bus is late, as usual, not that I care. I’ve got my notebook, my pen, my words, the stories in my head. In my head, Olivia will break his heart, and Tony will return to me.
Return. That means he was with me once. In my head, at least. This isn’t where the story was going, not where I wanted to take it at all. In my story there was no Olivia. But now, she’s worked her way into my brain, her curly blond hair and her color-coordinated outfits and fingernails. I’ve tried taking her out into the wilderness, where she should end up as the first casualty of the elements. But instead, it’s Tony who keeps falling off a cliff or getting crushed by a storm-toppled tree.
Sure, I save his life, and Olivia is less than useless. But still, she’s there. Still, clean and perky and fashionable. Even in my story, she can’t manage to have a hair out of place.
I hear something, or sense something, that makes me look up from my unsatisfactory words, and there they are, heading towards me, Olivia in her tall black boots, and her red wool coat, and Tony, in his leather jacket and sneakers. With a big bouquet of roses, red like Olivia’s coat. They’ve got their arms and eyes locked on each other, and I’ve got a lump in my throat that’s bigger than Olivia’s Prada bag.
I run across the street without thinking, wanting to avoid them. Him. I duck into the phone booth and crouch down, still clutching my pen and notebook.
Brakes and tires squeal and smoke. “Olivia!” a voice shouts. Engines hum, doors slam. “Oh, my God, is she . . . “
“Don’t touch her,” a voice commands.
“I’m a doctor,” a woman replies.
Tony is crying. “Lanie! Lanie! It’s going to be okay, I love you Lanie.”
There I go again. I don’t want to get hit by a car to win him. I want Olivia to be the one sprawled on the imaginary pavement. My stories always seem to turn in other directions, despite my efforts.
Just like my life. Three years of friendship and subtle flirting haven’t made a difference. Despite my efforts, Tony and Olivia are together, and I’m hiding in a phone booth because I can’t bear to face them. I’m sure they’ve seen me dodge in here, which is embarrassing. I need to go back out there, pretend I was just making a call.
I stand up, press my hand on the steamed-up glass and look out through the cleared outline of my palm.
Across the street, a ghostly outline of a handprint appears in the frosted window of the phone booth.
Across the street, Tony and Olivia sit on the bench at the bus stop. He stares into space. She holds his hand. He stands and places the flowers on the ground in front of the glass enclosure, right next to the street.
I shouldn’t listen in.
“If you can hear me, Lanie, I’m sorry.”
“It wasn’t your fault, Tony. Nobody knew how bad off she was. She kept it all inside. You tried. . . .”
I hate the way these stories keep going. I rip the pages out of my notebook.
Ragged scraps of torn paper flutter from her hands. They fall to the ground like snow, and melt and disappear.
Story by: Maria Mainero (Hi, I’m Maria. I’ve believed in fiction too long to stop now. If you believe too, then come join me in a cup of tea. http://nevermindwastingtime.
blogspot.com/ or twitter @MariaAnnaWitt)
Photo by: wintersixfour