Ashes

The fire burning in my chest wakes me. I’m lying on a park bench under a huge leafless tree. It’s branches spread out across the white sky like a thousand bony fingers. I’m alone, full of chaotic emotions, and confusion. Scared witless; with no memory of who I am.

I’m wearing an elaborately embroidered cream-colored dress. It’s a silky, flowing dress, with gold beads at the neck, and sleeves that reach past my wrists. For all its layers, it does little to break the icy chill of this winter air. Wrapping my arms around myself, I try to pluck my name from the muddy blackness of my mind. It’s no use. The only thing I’m sure of is that I’ve lived this day before … many, many times.

People walk past me left, and right not sparing me even the slightest of glances. Like I’m invisible … maybe I am. My eyes flicker here and there, searching for something. My mind feels foggy, I know there’s someone very important that I should remember … I just can’t.

Standing up slowly, hesitantly, I walk down the cobblestone road shivering, stumbling, my slipper catching on the length of my dress. Feeling self-conscious I try not to make eye contact with anyone.

It’s a beautiful, sad old place, this park. It looks like it has history painted in it. I absent-mindedly rub the aching place between my ribs. It stings with every breath, like a dagger twisting where my heart should be. The pain is so intense, and comes and goes unexpectedly.
After walking around aimlessly, I come upon a string of shops and a small cafe. Stealing a glance at my ghastly reflection in a window, the young girls face staring back at me is foreign. I don’t know her, though she must be me. She moves when I do. My hair is dark and dull, reaching down past my waist in long curls. My complexion’s sallow, the dark half-moon circles under my eyes are my most prominent feature. A frightening sight in my dirty dress, I must be scaring everyone. There’s a sickly green tint to my skin that can’t be healthy. A girl my age should have a blush in her cheeks, and rosy lips. Mine are pale as lead.

Pressing my finger against the cool glass, I slowly trace the outline of my face. My eyes are sorrowful, and too big. I don’t notice the rain until it transforms my horrid reflection into waving ripples.
I decide to walk in the cafe and speak to the cashier, maybe she can help me in some way. It takes every ounce of my strength to shove the door open. The cashier rushes over from behind the desk and quickly presses the door shut behind me. She’s very slender, wearing blue pants and a fluffy thing made of what seems like wool. I find her choice of clothing odd, I’m not sure why. So many things about this place confuse me. I wait for her to pull the door shut from the cold and the wind. She curses under her breath and goes right back to her post without acknowledging me.
“Excuse me? Miss? Can you help? I’m lost … I can’t remember anything,” I plead with her, but it’s no use. She’s staring at some brightly colored glossy book, and completely ignoring the drenched girl in front of her. Anger wells up inside of me, making the sharp pains in my chest throb. If she only knew who I was, she would never treat me this way. Wait, I don’t know who I am, why would she care? I’m so confused. I pound my fists on the counter trying to get her attention. The light in the room flickers, and one of the round candles on the ceiling bursts. She screams and darts outside, leaving me sodden and unaided inside the shop.

Defeated, I follow her outside. There’s no sign of the wretched cashier anywhere. I trudge along again, not sure of where I’m headed, or where I’ll end up. If I could just remember ….

My eyes rest on an old graveyard in the distance, peeking through the trees. I feel something pulling, drawing me closer. I’ve nothing else to do, so I start towards it.
Some faint memories of yesterday flood my mind, blurry around the edges. I remember waking up, and being so cold, walking around the park. I feel as if I’ve gotten farther this time, than I ever have in this nightmare I keep reliving. The closer I get to the graveyard the lighter I feel. Huge evergreen trees surround an old rickety cast iron gate, I move the overgrown leaves and rattle the lock. It finally opens and lets me in. It’s a large graveyard, the headstones are substantial, with tombs and massive stone angel statues everywhere. Some of them weeping with their hands covering their eyes, others beautiful with flowing hair and feathery wings. The grounds have been kept up, but the time, and the weather have left their mark here. I ramble around reading random names, and stopping to feel sorry for the tiny ones. It’s as if I share their loss. This forgotten place, is a lot like me. The family members
that wept and grieved for them, are now dead and buried alongside. No fresh flowers to be found.

I’m out of breath now, falling against one of the tombs, I gasp for air, clutching the fabric at my chest until my knuckles burn. Resting my head against the cold moss-covered stone, I stare at the dark clouds swirling overhead. I try to think of nothing but blackness, slowly the pain lessens. Losing track of time, I fall in and out of consciousness. I feel like I’m turning to stone, like one of the angels.

The soft singing of a lark perched overhead, startles me from my reverie. I wrench myself up from the ground, using a headstone for support, and wipe the dirt off my dress though I only succeed in smearing it. My appearance couldn’t be any worse. Oddly I wonder why, when I’ve forgotten everything else … my vanity is still intact. Rays of sunlight fight to break free from the breaking black clouds. It mixes with the moisture from the storm creating an eerie fog all around me swirling up and around my body with each step I take, it’s so thick almost tangible. I reach out to touch it, my fingers getting lost in the mist. I hear a curious noise in the distance, like the agonizing cry of a dying animal. I follow it as best I can.

There’s a boy, not much older than myself, sitting atop a large gravestone. He’s the one making those god awful noises. I’m not sure If I should go to him, or if he’ll just ignore me like everyone else. Tentatively I approach him, and lightly tap his shoulder. He jumps and turns to face me. His eyes are so familiar. I’ve seen this boy before. He looks like me. Dark hair, impossibly pale, the ashen sunken circles around his hazel eyes mirror mine exactly. His lips are the same shade of sickly green as my skin, with tiny red veins spreading out along their length.
“Tell me your name,” I whisper, my voice cracking in my dry throat.
He groans and doubles over clutching his stomach. I feel helpless … a familiar feeling.
When this passes, he points at his throat, and shakes his head back and forth … he can’t speak. After a moment, he stands, grabs my hand and leads me away. We reach a large tomb and he traces his finger along the name carved there. The tomb is large enough to hold two people. There’s an intricately carved double door in front, covered in crosses. He points to the name, then back at himself. I don’t understand what he’s trying to tell me. Maybe he has the same name as the person who is buried here. I sound out the letters one by one. “Romeo” I read. Saying that name out loud brings back a flood of a million different images to my mind. I remember now.

Grabbing my hand, in his equally chilled one, he pulls me over to the other side of the tomb. The name chiseled there is mine, I know it the instant the word spills from my lips. “Juliet,” it reads. And I know the truth ….
We are them … we are dead, and have been for quite some time. I should be frightened, but I’m not. I finally have the answers I’ve been seeking.
This boy, this is my Romeo. He’s been waiting for me here. I’ve died twice for him. I’ll accept any eternity I’m given; as long as he’s a part of it. If this is hell … I’ll gladly take it. We sit outside our burial-place on a bed of leaves, two forgotten ghosts. Until the stars start to show themselves. Holding each other, reliving our short lives in sad memories. Dying over and over again in each other’s arms.
Then I wake up … under the same tree … but this time … I remember my name.

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Imperfect

I am not meant for perfection.

I am like glass.

I can reflect beauty, or pain.

I can be broken, shattered into a million pieces.

Swept under the rug.

Or with the right hands, I can be made into stained glass.

Where all my flaws are perfect, and I don’t care who sees them.

But that’s the thing about flaws. They’re meant to be seen. And the right eyes will love them.

His World

He was the moon.

Dark, sad. Full of empty craters, and imperfections. Burning like a sun on the outside for a world he would never touch.

She was the earth.

Full of life, and chaos. Always changing yet constant. And forever out of his reach.

Theif

So much air around me, and I still can’t breathe. You’ve stolen the very breath from my lungs.

All the joy from my heart. I can’t even cry, my tears, you’ve stolen them too.

Left me nothing of myself. I’m an empty shell.

A zombie. Like you.

Never

I guess I’ll never know the real color of your eyes

Or how our hands would fit so perfectly together.

You’ll never know how soft my skin would’ve felt pressed beneath yours. Or how my hair smells in the rain.

We’ll never know how it might’ve been to fall asleep in each others arms, and wake up still there.

It’s as if “we” never were.

As if “us” never existed.

If not for this pain, I’d swear our love was just a dream, that turned to a nightmare, I can’t seem to wake from.

Then I’m grateful for the pain.

That’s how I know it was real.

That it is real.

Ruined

Embers of the once heavily populated city still burn. Billows of smoke rise in eerie clumps leaving the air thick and heavy with ash. The smell of the dead and dying permeate the air, constantly choking the living.  A girl, dressed in men’s clothing, small for her age of thirteen and a half, walks along the outside of the decomposing buildings; kicking rocks and anything else that might be in the way of her muddy boots.

She was three when the war that brought down a civilization came to a horrible end. Her memories of a life before the blackness,  are fuzzy.

She’s the only one left of her family. A survivor. It seems to come naturally to her, only Most of the time she wishes it didn’t. Sometimes she closes her eyes and longs for death. It would be easier than this, she knows, but something inside of her won’t let her quit. She fights through the constant hunger, the threat of death. She ignores the shadows that creep in hidden places. She keeps going. Searching, unsure of what she’s looking for, or why she even bothers looking.

Most of the city is in ruins. The few people who are left are either sick from the bad air, lack of clean water and food; or they’re the kind that society has never been able to eradicate. The kind that feed off death, and chaos. There is no law, no government. If you can’t fight, you’re dead. If you don’t have anything to trade, you’ll starve. The outlook for humanity from here on out is bleak….

There’s  a noise in the distance, the sound of scuffling feet and loud male voices. Hiding in an ally way she pulls a knife from her belt loop, and holds it steady against her lips, the blade fogging up with each shallow breath she takes. Crouching down on the dirty ground she waits, like a cat stalking her prey. Her heartbeat stays steady, her breathing is normal. Why should she fear death. Nothing could be worse than this life. Short at just under five feet, she’s often taken for granted. The people she’s killed are more than the number of her age, and she never spares them so much as a fleeting thought.

They’re right in front of her now. All fists and testosterone. Her muscles tense. She can make out their figures in the darkness. She counts three. All large men. And one smaller one in the middle taking the brunt of the blows, and surprisingly holding his own. He’s covered in blood and she can’t tell if it’s his, or the other guy’s.

Normally she would never interfere with anything that didn’t involve her own neck, but there’s just something about his face. He looks so young. Children are few and far between in this place, and he looks to be about sixteen. He’s getting tired, taking on two men twice his size can’t be easy. One of the bullies pulls a rusty pipe out of his coat and whacks the poor kid over the head with it, blood sprays across their dirty faces.

That does it. She springs out of the darkness, and before the men even realize the threat, they’re already dead. One with a broken neck and the other a sliced jugular. She wipes his still warm blood off her knife using the fabric at his chest. Picking his pockets she finds a pack of cigarettes and a pocket watch. She opens it, still works. That’ll make a good trade. The other guy has nothing to offer her. She leaves the pitiful thugs where they lie, and tentatively approaches the boy. He’s sprawled out on the pavement, in a puddle of dirty acid rain, tinged red. Blood gushes from a nasty gash on his forehead, keeping time with his heartbeat.

“Shit,” she curses under her breath. It’s hard enough for a girl to take care of herself, let alone someone else. Taking one last look at him, she considers picking his pockets, turns and walks away. She doesn’t get too far when she hears him groan. A low agonizing  sound that pricks at her heart and stops her in her tracks. The devil on her shoulder is telling her to finish him off. Before she can change her mind, she’s standing over him, and he’s looking up at her.

“You’re an angel. I had it under control, but thanks.” He smiles, his voice barely a whisper and his breathing ragged.  If they stay here any longer they’ll likely run into more trouble. Grabbing him by his shoulders, she drags him into the alleyway. He’s surprisingly light, must not be getting much to eat. She rummages around in her backpack and pulls out her the first aid kit she’d put together for herself. She cleans the wound and wraps a piece of cloth around it. Trying to be gentle; something she’s not very good at.

“We need to keep moving,” slinging her backpack on one shoulder she helps him to his feet. He leans on her for support, the closeness makes her flinch. He notices. They walk along the edge of the city until they come to an old broken down church. The roof is caving in on itself, but it would give them enough shelter for the night. It rarely rains, and when it does it’s nothing you can drink.

“Wait out here until I make sure it’s safe,” she doesn’t make eye contact when she speaks. Snooping around the church, she decides it has just what they need, lots of wood for a fire, and a little shelter from the dangers outside. Plenty of places to hide. And part of a beautiful stained glass window still remains. Something to look at that actually has color.

Breaking the rotting pews apart she stacks them neatly and makes a small fire. It’s getting colder by the minute, and she doesn’t want him going hypothermic on her. Pulling two blankets out of her back pack, she makes him a bed. Satisfied with it, she helps him inside.

“I’m going to hunt. You need to eat, and I’m starving. Try staying out of trouble for a few minutes, I won’t be here to save your ass.” He gives her a weak smile and closes his eyes. She’s sure he has a concussion.

“Hey! Keep your eyes open.” blinking, he nods his head in agreement.

There’s not much to hunt out there. Not much alive to hunt. Rats are plentiful, so that’s usually what’s for dinner. They’re skinny, and gamey, sorta chewy. But it’s protein. She sets a couple of traps, sits and waits. Being alone for as long as she has, it’s an odd feeling being responsible for someone else. It makes her uneasy. Her traps work every time and the hunting trip proves successful, she hauls in two large rats. She’s gotten rather good at breaking their necks without getting bitten.

Arriving back at the decrepit church, she notices that he’s nodded off. Nudging him with her boot, he still doesn’t wake up. She checks his pulse. It’s weak but steady. He looks even younger lying there. His dark hair is long, covering his eyes.

Once the rats are cleaned and skewered, she sets them on the coals to cook. snooping around the church, she finds a couple of cases of water and some more blankets. That’s lucky, she hasn’t had clean water in weeks. The rats are finished cooking, and it’s time for her to wake him up. She splashes water on his face not too much- just enough to wake him. Water isn’t something you shouldn’t waste.

His eyes pop open and he tries lifting his tired hand to wipe his face, but he can’t get it past the halfway mark, before it falls back to his chest. Turning his head to look at her, he smiles “thank you.” She’s never seen anyone smile so much. The cloth she’d wrapped around his forehead is soaked again, dripping with his blood and sweat. Ripping a piece of her own shirt, she cleans the wound again, and wraps it up with the torn cloth. He’s so pale, but she hopes the bandage will slow some of the blood loss.

After hand feeding him some pieces of rat, and water. She sits and stares at him, watching his chest rise and fall, wondering what his story is. There’s a little color starting to appear in his cheeks. She nudges him and his eyes open again.

“Hi.” He smiles, she smiles back. It feels good to smile. She may have forgotten how.

“How do you feel?”

“Like the rat we just ate,” he laughs, and the sound is music to her ears.

“You want more,” she starts to get up.

“No, no I’m good, anymore of that and I’ll be sick.”

“So tell me, what have you been eating? It’s not like there’s a variety, if you haven’t noticed.”

“Canned goods mostly, whenever I can find them.”

“Oh, that’s why you’re so skinny.” Makes more sense to her now. This conversation is hard for her, the only interaction she used to having is when she’s getting ready to kill someone, or she’s making a trade. And both of those things don’t require too much talking. They sit in silence watching the fire for hours. Sneaking glances at him from the corner of her eye. He goes in and out of consciousness. Touching his forehead, it’s so hot it feels like he’s burning to death. Part of her wants to run, to get away from this dying boy and his constant smile. But she can’t bring herself to leave. Maybe she should put him out of his misery. Shaking her head, she pushes that thought from her mind.

Trying to make him as comfortable as she can, she gets closer and washes his face and arms with cool water. He’s shivering, and starting to talk in his sleep. At first the things he’s saying aren’t making sense. Bits and pieces of past conversations. And then he starts talking about the sunrise. The way light reflects of the sea, and the salty smell of the ocean. Things she’s never seen. He talks about playing in the sand, and his mother’s blue eyes. How they matched the color of the sky. He remembers more than she does about a life before this. He has no clue he’s saying any of this, and yet she’s hanging on his every word.

His breathing is becoming harder and there’s a slight rattling in his chest. Putting a couple more broken pews on the fire, she moves him closer to it. He opens his eyes and she notices for the first time the color. Blue, just like his Mother’s she’s sure. Except his are bloodshot, and wild with pain.

He smiles at her again. She smiles back, a weak sad smile. He’s fading fast. She can feel it. Half of her is envious, the other half heartbroken. She lightly touches her palm to the side of his face, his fever is worse. Grabbing her wrists he gasps for air. It’s a sound she’s heard before. His body is shutting down.

In minutes he’s gone, a still peaceful look on his face. Tears stream down her cheeks, and a sob threatens to break free from her chest. She’s alone again.

She decides to give him a proper burial. Another first for her. After she cleans the sweat from his face, and the blood from his head, she goes through his pockets. There’s a picture, of a blue-eyed woman, and next to her a grinning dark-haired little boy, playing on a sandy beach. The picture is worn and tattered around the edges. Folding it along the crease she crosses his arms and places the picture on his heart. She’s too tired to drag him outside, and she doesn’t have a shovel anyway, so she does the only thing she can do. After breaking apart as many pews as she can, she covers him with the blanket, and then the wood. It ignites quickly. Gathering her bag and the water she takes off outside to get away from the smell of death and burning flesh. Taking one last look at the flames and the little church, she smiles. That boy wasn’t cut out for this life, he’s better off now. Wiping another tear from her eye, she realizes that his death wasn’t in vain. That maybe that’s why she’s still here, to make his last moments easier. He’d given her something in the very short time she knew him, something she’s never had before … a purpose.