Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Clearing

I sit in the bushes on the side of the clearing, looking out into the sun-lit area and the small pond that sits there. Gentle bubbles are gurgling where the double rainbow meets the surface, and the sun shines through the droplets and illuminates the depths of the pond unlike anything I have ever seen. I can see fish swimming below, their scales sparkling as if they are made of small pieces of roughly forged metal. Slowly, I am drawn to the pool. I rise to my feet and step onto the lush green grass that separates me from mystery. I dip a hand in, and the water feels cool and soft. It sparkles in the rays of the sun, and I can see bigger things moving beneath the surface. I gasp, squinting into the crystalline water and trying to catch another glimpse of the creature below.

A small forest pond,
hiding but saving me.
Mermaids in the deep.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Home for the Holidays (Again)

     I walked home from work on a Tuesday night. The snowfall was heavy but not unbearable, and silenced the world around me, aside from the sound of my crunching footsteps. Then, out of nowhere, I was stampeded by what appeared to be a group of teenagers dressed as the Grinch! They were running high-kneed across the snow-covered street. The plow hadn't yet come. They cackled and grabbed wreaths off of doors, carrying them across the way and suspending them from tree branches. One of them even had a scruffy little dog with him, and he kept yelling "Max! Max, come here boy! Max!" Soon, they had disappeared around the corner.
     It wasn't five minutes later when I began to smell latkes. I paused and took a deep breath. There had been a town in La Paz, a stop off the coast of the Sea of Cortez in Baja California, where a jewish woman lived. She had owned her own latke stand, and she would give me one every time our ship ported there. I decided to buy one, and carried it up the stairs to my apartment. I had a magnificent tree in the corner. I got one every year, kind of trying to make up for the many years of not having a tree on board Grey's ship. He wasn't a religious man, as his lifestyle may have hinted, but even though I hadn't been raised to believe, I found it exciting to pitch a tree each year. Most of the people in Winthrop were Christian anyways, so all I had to do was copy them.
     I went back to the front hall to check my mail. Stuffed into the P.O. box was a cardboard box wrapped several times over in plastic. Yanking it out of the small space, I pulled my pocket knife from my the back pocket of my jeans. Working to open the package as I climbed up the stairs, I finally pulled out its contents. A sparkling red menorah. Quickly, I searched the package for a return address. It was written in small letters in the corner, almost unrecognizable under the dirt. My jaw dropped open. The package was from La Paz.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Dying to Attend

     On Friday morning, I sat watching the meteorologist jump all over the screen, moving her arms around and commenting on the swiftly dropping temperatures in Winthrop. I blinked the sleep out of my eyes and held a hot mug against my cheek. The coffee was too thin; I hadn't put enough grinds in the maker. Placing it on the table, I pulled a blanket around my shoulders and looked for something else on TV. Nathaniel hadn't told me any more about his memory, saying it was for the best. He didn't know details, anyway. He ducked out before the environmental seminar began, and I sat through an hour of discussion on global warming and wave patterns. The analytical side of the ocean.
      When I finally settled on some old sitcom, I heard my mail slot open and close. That's strange, I thought. I didn't get much mail. All of the bills were electronic these days. Wrapping the blanket around my waist, I shuffled to the entrance hall. A simple white envelope lay on the floor. The handwriting was long and thin, written in dark red ink.
     "Hello, Beck," it read. "We are excited you are coming to dinner with us. Hopefully, you will make it through the night. This is a black tie affair, please dress accordingly. Take care to prepare your character role as the Lawyer. Your life may depend on it."

      Later that night, I ran my hand through my hair once again. I had cleaned myself up, bought a new tux, and tried to tame the mess of curls that I had for a head. My wealth showed tonight, and I grimaced. I hated it. It wasn't real wealth, it was stolen. Inherited, yes, but stolen originally. Annie would have hated it, too. I tugged one more time on the lapels of the suit and headed to the seventh floor.
     Catching Nathaniel at the door, he seemed cool and collected. He had a tux on, also, and cleaned up well. Upon entering the warehouse, I set my worn briefcase against the wall beside the door. There was nothing in it; I had dug it up from the back of my closet earlier, and only carried it in to add to my "lawyer" persona. If there was one thing I was good at, it was theft, and tonight, I was the thief of someone's identity, and I played the part flawlessly. While mingling before the party as a good-natured, trustworthy family lawyer, I made more friends than I ever had during my entire existence at Winthrop. It was ironic, almost, but I wasn't upset. I didn't get out of the aquarium much, anyways.
     Just when things were going extraordinarily well (I was talking to a girl who had an uncanny resemblance to Annie), the lights flickered and went out. There was a scream, and when the lights came back on, one of the men from the circus had slumped over the table, his face smacked into the middle of his soup bowl. Blood spilled over onto the table cloth. Women screamed, men jumped away in fear. I looked around frantically, searching for some sign of guilt in the faces of the guests.
Another benefit of growing up with Greyson was that I can lie and detect lies like nobody else. The fear in Annie-look-alike's eyes is too real... the familiarity in the young reporter's face is not malice... and Nathaniel's eyes are filled with dread; he's had too much happen to him in the past week. But when I turn to look at the ring master, he is already staring at me. And on his face is the biggest smile I've seen in a while.

Monday, October 3, 2016

The Past and the Present

During the week following the strange encounter at the circus, I had been debating whether or not to call Nathaniel (we had exchanged phone numbers) and explain my erratic behavior behind the tent. I had probably freaked him out. I mean, running so quickly away from a little girl had to have put some strange questions in his mind. It wouldn't be out of the way to meet him at the bar for a little while. Besides, that environmental forum was today. It seemed interesting enough, and I could hang around for it after I talked to Nathaniel. I decided to call him.
"Hi, Nathaniel. It's me. Beck."
"Oh, hi Beck, what's up?"
"I wanted to talk to you about what happened at the tent the other night. Meet me at the bar in an hour?"
I was nervous on the walk to meet Nathaniel. I had never talked to anyone about my father before. It had never come up in conversation, and why would it. Such a unique topic was rarely at the forefront of anyone's mind these days. When I entered the bar from the cold outside, I spotted Nathaniel immediately, slumping in a back corner booth. It looked like he had just tried to clean himself up, but he hadn't done a good job. His eyes were bloodshot and his hair was messily combed over.
"Good lord, what happened to you?"
Nathaniel shook his head, gesturing for me to sit down.
"Don't worry about it. What did you come to tell me about?"
Nathaniel seemed easier to talk to than I had imagined. I felt some odd connection with him, like I'd known him before. As I spoke, his facial expressions and way of speaking seemed familiar, too. Almost eerily so. After giving some background, like what year I had moved to Winthrop, I let my shoulders drop.
"My father was a pirate."
"A pirate?!" Nathaniel sounded shocked.
"A pirate. His name was Greyson Wingarsheek. He was the Captain of his own crew, world famous for his cleverness. I was born on board. My mother was a captive, a princess of some island up north. Grey used to tell me it was made of ice. Anyway, so after I was born, she died, but my father claims to have loved her. So he decided to raise me as his son. All this means is that I was treated better than the crew. I grew up learning how to steal, how to kidnap, and how to trick people. My father liked to think he'd passed his 'cleverness' down to me.
A couple times when we were docked in a city called Damas, I would meet this girl. Her name was Annie, she was a friend of mine, and my father didn't know about her, but she was the one who taught me that everything my dad taught me had been wrong. Morally, at least. At first, I got mad at her about it, and cut all communication with her. But then I slowly began to realize that she was right. I decided that as soon as we hit land in a civilized town, I would tell him I was leaving him. I was about fifteen at the time, and my father and I were on a voyage to discover a new island. There had been this running myth about an island of fire and ice. We found it. That girl we saw at the circus... my father took her captive. She lived there with her brother. But now she lives at the circus thanks to my father. I remember her so clearly. Her name is Logi. Her brother is Kafaldi. And yes, they actually are magic."
Nathaniel stared at me. His head hung, eyes angled up to meet my face. He didn't seem all that surprised at my past; maybe he was too distracted by whatever had caused his disheveled look. Or maybe he thought I was full of it.
"What's wrong?" I asked.
"Shit happened today," he slurred. "I feel like I know you from somewhere, and based on that story you just told... and what happened to me today... I don't think it's a good memory."

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Firegirl and the Circus

     When the rain finally stopped, the town awoke. From my window, I watched as the street traffic slowed and the sidewalk traffic sped up. Window shopping had become popular again, and run-down street vendors attempted to sell their rubbery hot dogs to light-footed pedestrians.
     I preferred the rain, but couldn't complain about the nice weather. As my father used to tell me, "a day at sea is made better by sunny skies and still water." I hadn't thought about my father in a long time, or my childhood of ship-hopping. I turned away from the window, going into the kitchen to look for some lunch. It was Thursday, and I had closed the aquarium for the day, since outdoor activities would be in high demand this week, and besides, rumor had it there was a circus in town. I peeled open the refrigerator, its seldom-used seal sticky with youth. The racks were mostly empty aside from a paper-wrapped salmon steak and some sea salt in a ceramic dish, covered in cellophane. I sighed, glancing over at the wall where my overbearing landlady, Helen, had pasted a food pyramid.
     "You need to eat all of the food groups!" she had insisted, pointing a thin, wrinkled finger up at me from her four-foot-eleven-inch height. "Protein alone won't cut it!"
     I didn't bother telling her that I had grown up eating hardly anything but fish. An occasional dinner roll, if we were harbored for the night, or dried fruit. Now she was asking me to take regular trips to the grocery store, a place I had never been fond of. It's unnatural, a form of gluttony that only self-proclaimed "civilized people" find acceptable. Scowling, I glanced again at the picture of the food pyramid, and my shoulders dropped. I sighed, thinking aloud, "Helen, this one's for you. I'm going to buy a salad."
     On my way back from the grocery store, I carried a bag of lettuce in my right hand. I had looked around at the other salad toppings, but didn't find anything I thought I'd want. I stepped in the puddles on the way home, water logging my sneakers again.
     I turned the corner to enter the apartment building, and nearly ran into a portly man with a smiling mustache. His tall purple hat almost stretched above my eye level.
     "Tickets!" he insisted. "The circus is in town for one night only. Don't want to miss it, Grey!"
     "What did you just call me?" I asked, my heart skipping a beat at the familiar name.
     "Grey. Have you seen your eyes lately?"
     "Oh, right. My eyes." I shook my head, trying to escape the overwhelming sense of deja vu. I had not been mistaken for my father in years, not since I had left his world behind.
     The man shoved two circus tickets into my hand, despite my weak protests, and was gone before I could hand them back.
     I trudged up the stairs with a bag full of salad and two tickets to the circus.
    At six thirty, I sat at the table with the tickets in my hand. I didn't need two; I didn't have anyone I wanted to take. But I decided to at least walk by to see what it was all about. I crossed the park under the cloak of dusk, toward the spotlights of the big-top. A sign stood outside one of the smaller tents, reading "House of Mirrors" in careful, spidery lettering. No one was going in or out. I pushed open the flap of the tent, greeted immediately by thirty reflections of myself. Tall and lean, with dark skin and hair, and grey eyes.
    I heard someone laugh around the corner, and when I looked, a guy about my age was contorting his face in the mirror, amused by his reflection.
    "You gonna drink the rest of that water?" I asked, gesturing towards the bottle he was holding.
    "I was planning to." he said. "Why'd you ask?"
    "Oh, I just like water," I said. It was true.
    "Hey," the boy said suddenly, "you wanna see if those twins are actually magical? The boy and the girl?"
     "Sure," I said, leaning forward. "I'm Beckham. You are?"
     An adventure. I was most certainly up for it. We walked around the big top tent, our shoes squelching in the mud. As we rounded the back, Nathaniel noticed a young girl standing stock-still in the grass, her back faced toward us. Nathaniel cleared his throat, to bring our presence to her attention, but if she heard him she did not react. I walked in a wide circle around her, noting her ember-colored hair that was so vivid it seemed to glow. I had to suppress a gasp when I saw her face. Scarlet lines covered her cheeks, cross-crossing and swirling in extravagant patterns, metallic and dark against her deathly pale skin. Her eyes were yellow and red, almost inhumanly large and wide. Her fingertips were glowing, hot and steaming against her white nightgown. She stared straight ahead, her eyes wide and unblinking. My heart dropped in my chest. It wasn't the girl's unusual appearance that shocked me. It was the fact that I'd seen her before, on a hidden island discovered by Greyson Wingarsheek. My father.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

#1 - Apartment 304

The day started with a dream, a fluid and drifting dream of which I, the dreamer, was fully aware. It had taken about a year, but I had finally done it: the previously haunting burden of severe insomnia had been lifted, falling away to the power of lucid delusion. I took myself to the harbor every time, and once submerged I would feel the tight cap over my forehead, my eyes shielded from the murk by the rubbery rings pressed around them. I was a knife, the water forming around my body. I no longer craved breath -- it had escaped me back where the waves broke on the shore and the grass gave way to sand. Then I was part of the water, and I could see everything and feel everything moving through me, and I ebbed and flowed with the tide. I could feel the sun coming up, rising from the east, and I had a form again. My head broke the surface, and sweet, scented oxygen filled my lungs. I closed my eyes, feeling the light warmth of the sun on my face. It starkly contrasted the cool pressure of the ocean. I knew it was time to wake up.
My eyes fluttered open, and the room was dark. My sheets were dry, made up of something other than myself, likely with dry thoughts and dry preferences. I looked at the clock, with its red, glaring numbers, and it's 5:30 am. A storm had started in the night, and my body relaxed with the familiarity of water. I wanted to open the window and let the rain gush in through it. Instead, I swung my legs over to the edge of the mattress, stretching my arms above my head. My body felt too long, as usual, to be living in an apartment the size of this one. The same dark blue jeans I wore every day were draped over the back of the bathroom door. I didn't shower; I figured feeling the rain on my skin would be baptism enough. Besides, I hadn't kept soap for weeks now, not since I ran out last month. I hadn't gotten down to the grocery store.
Steel Mill Road was mostly empty at this hour, so I walked barefoot in the gutter on the side of the road to feel the pull of the runoff. A light fog hung in the air, masking the glow of the buzzing fluorescent sign on the side of the diner, a light which, under not-so-foggy circumstances, would have left pockmarks in my vision. Spots that would reappear each time I blinked, like a negative ghost.
The diner was dry, which was unfortunate but necessary for business, I guessed.  Dry buildings attracted the people who didn't need the rain, unless they had no place to go but a coffee shop on a Sunday, in which case the rain would add to coziness and aesthetic. I sat at my usual spot at the counter, my place marked by a worn vinyl stool and a sticky ring of syrup.
This kid Caleb, skinny and buck-toothed with a nice head of hair, worked the counter in the morning. We spoke sometimes, and he'd tell me about his newest hobby, which was most likely another off-brand sport or some new invention he'd come up with. I liked small talk; I felt there was some stronger meaning behind it than most people believed. You can learn a lot about a person from small talk. You can at least make reasonable inferences, and there's a lot more freedom in inference than in fact.
Caleb was in the middle of a story about his newest idea for an interactive Halloween costume when a group of three police officers came in through the door. They were young, maybe thirty-two, complaining about the newest crime.
"It's a pool of blood, Jerry," said one, a stout blonde with a scraggly beard. "No body. Just blood."
"It doesn't make sense," said the girl, a redhead with tiny eyes and a fierce temper, by the sound of it.
I tuned them out, well aware of the sound of the rain coming through the door, which was still propped open by the last officer.
Instead, I focused on the taste of the coffee: hot, flat, and bitter.  The opposite of the ocean.