The fabric caught on the callouses of his hand but James didn’t care, he just scrubbed harder. He wanted to look perfect, needed to look perfect; and he wouldn’t let the smell of bleach distract him. The prince was coming and James couldn’t help bouncing his feet as he stood by the sink.
When the white shirt was clean, or as clean as a farmer mid-season could make it, he pinned it to the line and rushed back inside. His wood cabin was small, but tidy, and he could offer the prince variety of cushions to sit upon. As he patted a gold and red one, a flush grew in his cheeks. He hoped they weren’t too big for his majesty.
The sun fell over the horizon, the colors of sunset shining into the cabin through the window. He was almost out of time.
James was panting by the time he made it back outside, the shirt damp as he slid it on. And then he was standing at attention by his front door, his farm on display and his house tidy. James knew there were better, more affluent subjects in the prince’s kingdom, but he chose James and who was James to question it?
The trumpets were the first thing he heard, followed by the rolling carriage wheels. The carriage was large, larger than James’ cushions, so some of the stress eased from his shoulders.
The carriage came to a stop. A man hopped from the front with another brass instrument. “Presenting!” He blew into the horn. “His royal highness.”
When the door opened, James fell to the ground. A sign of respect, to lower himself under the prince. Above he heard the sticky steps as the prince hopped down, made his way to James.
“Rise,” the prince said.
James did, grasping the princes hand to place a kiss on the slimy, suction cupped skin. “Ribbet,” James saluted.
It was windy on the other side. With each step, Val’s hair whipped around her head, lashing at her cheeks and neck.
“Just another three steps,” the voice in her head said. It was a deep voice, a male voice. The timbre was one she had heard before but could not place. “Through the mirror and you’ll be free.”
And a part of her knew it was a trap. Following a voice that had no body, one that had called to her as she sat curled in a ball by her bed, crying. Her mother had warned her not to follow the voices as she was carted off to the asylum. Yet here she was, following
And she knew she had made a mistake.
“Yes?” The man grasped at his mane of white, wispy hair. He pulled it to his eye for inspection. “What about it?”
My gaze was not the only one that moved towards him. I was the only one that stepped forward and asked the question we were all thinking. We were a lost tour group in a cave and there was a man perched behind the railing with a tall, triangular hat and billowing robes.
“Is your name Merlin?” I ask.
The man pulled a twisted pipe out of his chest pocket. “Sometimes.”
“Can you help us get out of here?”
He kicked away from the cavern and in two long paces he was leaning against the railing that kept us from the cave’s natural terrors. He leaned over so our eyes met. I wondered, briefly, if he was one of those terrors.
“How old are you?” he asked, instead of answering my question.
“What does that matter?”
“You’re tiny, are you an undeveloped human or have I been here for longer than I thought?”
“I’m not undeveloped, or whatever, I’m twelve!”
“Well, that explains it them.”
I wanted to kick him, but kicking people was not the way to get what I wanted. “We need help.”
“So you’ve said,” his eyes narrowed, he blew a tendril of smoke into the space between us. “You’re very brave for asking.”
I step back. “Why? Are you dangerous?”
“Sometimes,” he winked then put his pipe back in his pocket and pulled out a long, long, wand, far too long to fit in a pocket. “But I will help you.”
With a flick of his wand, the cave around us fell away. I flinched at the light, hand rising to my eye in instinct. When I lowered it, he was gone.
Hello lovely readers!
It starts out as a large bag of other people’s garbage, meticulously found over a week’s time. It is then sorted between plastics and other. The other he trades to Tim for chicken meat. The plastic is further sorted between color and clear for washing, but first he has to give two sacs to Nijari to access her water source.
Then, the washing begins. His soggy hands crack and bleed due to years of overuse, a cost of business that stings as he dips them once again in soap.
John’s picked at the side of his thumb where a callus ran from fingernail to palm. He had prepared for this journey, the coarse skin acted as his reminder. Yet the wooden dock still creaked as he shifted his weight from foot to foot; the ship looked smaller in person.
He had read of the journey over a cup of steaming hot water. Tea had been the cheapest option on the menu but John hated tea, so he kept the leaves on the side of the dish. The steam warmed his lips as he read the newspaper over-the-shoulder of a man who could afford three times his cup of tea.
Help Wanted – Hazardous Journey, moderate pay
Under the text was a single image of a sailboat flying over the clouds. John stared, questions falling in and out of his mind before he could even think of answers.
Was it an artistic depiction? A symbol of sort? A fiction? A truth?
He was trained a sailor but hated the sea, a travesty – but the clouds. John’s feet moved before he could stop them. The man with three plates that smelled of honeyed meats and fresh croquette turned to him mid-chew. It was only then that John realized, he had tapped on the shoulder of this other patron.
Except, John was hardly a patron and the waiter glared from the corner at his lack of sense.
It was true, he was senseless, but now he was here.
“May I have that ad,” he added, after a pause, “sir?”
The waiter started towards him and the patron chewed with slit eyes but, after a moment of consideration, he ripped the ad out of the newspaper and handed it to John.
Now he was here, on a rickety dock looking at a ship that was much too small to fly. But what did John know about flying ships?
“Help wanted!” A voice shouted from inside its confines. “All aboard that’s coming aboard.”
John clenched his palm into a fist and stepped forward.
“You saved my life!” The sheets shriek when Ana pulls at the pile to reveal the flushed face of her little sister.
“It was an accident, I assure you.” She drawls, dropping the sheet to cover the face again. “What are you even doing?”
The pile moves into a seated position, shifting until her little sister’s head emerges from its depths. “It’s fort time! We’re working on the blue prints. The engineering held strong until you switched on the ceiling fan and then it all came tumbling down. Bear lost a leg and Suzie may never recover but I’ve escaped unscratched and ready to build another day.”
“Right,” Ana says then starts pulling at one sheet then another, bunching them up into separate piles.
“What are you doing?” Her sister screams. She grabs at one sheet and then another, all slip through her tiny fingers. “You’re destroying my world! That’s the draw bridge – no, not the kitchens. You save my life only to take it all away. You monster! The horror! Not Bear’s tower, Bear needs his tower. All see, Ana the Horrific!”
Ana snorts and reaches for the sheet, beginning to fold. Her little sister stomps over until her feet hit Ana’s knees.
“We will avenge our lands, Ana the Horrific.” She bends low and tries to meet Ana’s eyes. “Of this we swear it.”
A head appears in the doorframe to their right; their mother’s smile is tired but still reaches her eyes. “Everything all right in here?”
Her little sister snarls and throws herself onto the carpet. “Ana the Horrific!”
“Yup,” Ana replies, meeting her mother’s eye as they both pointedly ignore her little sister. “Almost done with the laundry.”
Inspired by: Cracked Flash: Year 1, Week 27
It had been three weeks since their mother brought home the drum set and Linus was still not a rock star. He couldn’t believe it, after a full twenty days of practice and everything.
In the next room over, separated by an inch of plywood, Margaret had a headache. She missed silence.
“Is this life now, Momma?” The woman continued to pour cereal into two bowls, her back turned. She could not hear her daughter. Margaret noticed her mother’s neon pink earplugs and thumped her head forward, letting it hit the granite counter with a bang.
No one in the house heard her over Linus’ drum set. With her head pressed against the cool stone, she clenched her eyes closed. It was time for a plan.
Their family computer lived in the kitchen. She was not allowed to use it while eating so she scarfed down each bite of cereal, finishing her breakfast before Linus even entered the kitchen. She ignored him when he entered the room, even though he said hi and pulled one of her pigtails.
“What’s up with her?” He asked their mother. The ear-plugged woman turned on her heel and left the kitchen without a response. He had gone unheard, as well.
Margaret cherished the silence; she even tried to type softly on the keyboard to not break its precious relief. After reading one webpage, she had a plan. While Linus tapped, tapped, tapped, on the granite counter, Margaret slid from her chair and ran down the hallway to the playroom that now acted as a music studio.
In the doorway she stood face to face with the drum set, her nemesis.
Her eyes zeroed in to the corner where her teddy sat on a wooden rocking chair. The pudgy bear was about the size of the main drum and a worthy sacrifice. She snatched him up and ran behind the instrument.
For a moment a thought hung in the air. She tightened her hand around the bear and thought how easy it would be—how simple—to lift her foot and slam it into the largest drum. She would get in trouble, sure, but she would win. Their mother would not buy a second drum set and there would be no more waking up to the blaring drum beat. But then she remembered Linus, sitting on the counter tapping his beat. She tried to recall the last time she had seen her brother so dedicated to something and pictured his heart breaking at the sight of the broken instrument. She lowered her foot.
Instead, she returned to her plan. She pushed the bear into the large space behind the drum, smushing him until he fit into the round instrument. She didn’t have long. Linus ate his cereal quickly because he liked to slurp down the milk, so Margaret raced to their art supplies box.
She grabbed tape and construction paper. After writing a message on the paper she taped it to the metal rim of the drum and stepped back to admire her handy work. The paper wall kept teddy in his place and the message read loud and clear:
“Remove this teddy and your drum set will pay. Love, Margaret.”
She ran from the room and returned to the computer, fingers twirling in her hair as she tried to pretend everything was normal. Linus still sat at the counter tap, tap, tapping. She held her breath when he finally pushed away from his bowl and walked to the playroom. She heard, and promptly ignored, when he called her name.
Her breath held still until she heard the drum, no longer a bang but a soft thumping beat, hardly able to penetrate the walls. It was only then that Margaret leaned back against the desk chair and smiled. Success.
Check out more Adventures with Linus and Margaret!
He came into my life in a burst of yellow; yellow raincoat, yellow floppy hat, yellow bag on his shoulder. We caught the same train. From under brown eyelashes, I stared at his yellow form for six stops. At one point, the movement of the train car jostled us together but we both looked away – yellow.
I saw him next on a bright day; yellow sunlight on yellow hair, a yellow coat trailing as he ran for our train. I held the door open. Our eyes met, then fell, then met again; his were warm honey with flints of yellow. I moved to let him pass, brushing my shoulder against his but said nothing – yellow.
We met again on the platform, waiting for the yellow line train. My eyes were on the departures screen so I did not see the yellow man, only his yellow blur as he tripped over his feet and into my own. Suddenly, I was covered in thick, wet, yellow. Splatters of paint fell onto the platform as the yellow man moved into my line of sight, face apologetic as he lifted the now empty pain can.
“You yellowed me,” was all I could think to say.