Still Life: Dog Days Are Over

I honestly thought I was done with this universe – and I am, now – but I found this in my journal from a few months ago, and since it explains so much and will only take a few minutes to type up, I’m publishing it.

Violet and Seth. High and lowlights.

It all passes, somehow, in a series of moments.

———–

Watching Amelia lay into another girl, too quick and too strong for the girlish giggles she manufactures in front of Rex. The other girl, light and quick on her feet, blonde and wild-eyed and nervous – but not quite quick enough.

The momentary surge of sympathy he feels – someone like him, unlucky enough to attract the wrath of those most popular, most well-liked – as Amelia’s fist catches the girl’s face, throws her off-balance. Amelia’s hissed, furious words that he can’t make out and the twisted anger on her face as she walks away, not even sparing her victim a glance.

The bystander that leaps to the unconscious girl’s aid in a flurry of bright red hair and concerned hazel eyes, bending over her, mouth moving hastily.

When the blonde finally sits up, he recognises her.

Violet, from school. What could she have done to piss Amelia off so badly? He doesn’t know her well enough to have any idea.

If he were better, if he were braver, he’d try to help them. Instead, Seth turns and walks away before they can see him, hating himself just a little more.

———–

She’s looking at him, eyes wide, in their English classroom, and he sees that both of them are considering simply asking for any other partner.

Not the lonely, taciturn girl, the chattering redhead her only friend. Not the angry, unspeaking boy in the corner, seemingly far too aware of the room around him even with his head in a book.

He meets her wary gaze in the silence and she eventually manages, “You’re Seth, right?”

He tries out a smile, small and rusty, like it’s been too long. “Yeah. That’d be me.” A shy, familiar introduction: a hint of something not-quite-English in the accent, a slight deepening of his voice with the awkward delivery, and his thoughts grind to a halt as he realises that he sounds just like his father. Not as Irish, obviously, but far too close to the voice of a dead man.

“Vi…” she begins, her voice failing her. She clears her throat and tries again. “Violet.”

Later he’ll know that that’s the moment when, in his head, she becomes Vi.

———–

She walks through the plain, inconspicuous door with a deep breath; he follows her through, and then he’s in London, but… not. This truly does seem like a parallel universe: the buildings are different in small but noticeable ways, the people have eyes in the strangest, brightest colours…

Sofia’s just smiling next to him like this is normal. Well, it is her home, he guesses.

Violet pauses in front of them, seeming to take it all in, and then turns to regard them. His heart stops in his chest, and he knows his eyes are wide.

Her irises are a bright, clear purple, the colour of lavender and most definitely not human.

“Something wrong?” she asks.

———–

Sometimes he wonders why they stay talking late into the night, trying to put the world to rights by the light of the fire; why she gravitates to him – the two of them seeming to cling to the only normal things left, each other – and listens to him trying to puzzle it out, to rearrange the pieces until they make sense. He wonders why he tries so hard to pull her out of her shell; to make her talk; to make her give him a smile.

When she offers him another, he thinks he knows.

———–

She looks at him with wild eyes, and he knows what he must look like, manacled and crouched on the floor, covered in dirt. The light from the open door hurts, and he’s glad when Sofia appears behind her and blocks some of it out.

He half-expected it to be the Queen, with more sweet words and promises of this endless darkness if he doesn’t tell her where the half-fairy – where Violet – is.

“Vi?” he croaks, and she steps forward, crouching to look him in the eye. Her hand reaches out to touch his face, tentative and shaking – then she snatches it back, seeming to realise too late what she’s done.

He tries his best to smile, and when she takes his hand and leads him into the sunlight, telling him it’ll be alright, he believes it.

———–

Her hand is warm, her fingers laced with his. They watch Mrs. Robertson walk away with their English coursework, and he doesn’t dare look at her.

“So,” he says, trying for casual, “when you talked about seeing me more… you meant as friends, right?”

Beside him, he hears her smile. “Not… necessarily.”

Still Life: Somewhere A Clock Is Ticking

The other Still Life stuff is here. A quick explanation of the background for this is in Ongoing Stories. Both of these endings are true.

The sun rises stubbornly every day, a flaming ball in the sky, and Seth watches it, sometimes, when he’s working late. It’s comforting, somehow, to know it’s still there. He pushes his glasses up over his nose, making already messy hair even worse, and sighs, rubbing the heel of his palm into his eye.

A hand touches the back of his neck, and he looks sleepily up at his wife. She smiles, dishevelled blonde hair falling over her shoulders, eyes only half-open. Her hand moves into his hair – as if it wasn’t messy enough already – as she bends down to see what he’s doing. “Still going, huh?”

He re-adjusts his glasses and nods, mouth downturned as he neatly draws a cross next to yet another question about contour lines and map scales.

“Vi,” he says, his gaze drifting out of the window to the sunrise, “look.”

She does, and exhales softly behind him, a smile on her lips. “It’s been too long.”

– or –

Parents’ evening. God. She sighs.

Violet looks around, searching for the latest teacher; there have been bland, here-for-the-salary jobsworths, glamorous, lipsticked ones younger than herself, veterans with little hair and a weary smile. This one, however: this one is apparently the best thing since sliced bread – the most supportive, the one who did the old coin-behind-the-ear trick and left her little girl reeling.

She smiles, remembering a different time but the same trick.

Another sigh finds its way from her as Jo takes her hand, tries to pull her through the crowds of parents, and she smiles apologetically at them as her daughter chirps, “Mister Ford’s here!”

She allows herself to be led to the right line of parents and squirming, chattering children, taking a seat alongside Carol, one of the mothers. Jo, meanwhile, greets a boy with some kind of weird hand movement – he apes it – and a cry of, “‘Thieu!”

Carol watches them with a bemused eye before turning to her and saying, “Mathieu. He’s Gloria’s.”

Violet nods, pretending that this explains everything. “Ah. Right.”

When she’s swapped seats a dozen times and is close to the desk of this wondrous “Mr. Ford”, she pokes her head round the queue to get a look at him, and pauses.

A grey waistcoat that’s seen better days; a tie, slightly lopsided, under a loosened top button. Slim build, maybe even lanky. Dishevelled hair, black as an inkpool, and if it were a few inches longer, just a little messier, it would be like…

He looks up from his desk, pushes a few strands of hair out of ridiculously green eyes, the hint of a shadow round his jaw.

Oh. It caught her off-guard, she realises, as she sits back. He’s using his mother’s surname.

When she eventually reaches his desk, he gestures to the chair provided and smiles at her, not a hint of surprise or flash of recognition in his eyes. Has it been that long, that he’s forgotten her? “Mrs. White.”

“Mr. Ford,” she returns, shaking his hand and sitting. After all these years, it feels too… forward, calling him Seth.

“Joanna is doing well in some respects,” he begins, frowning down at a small sheet on the table, the paper crumpling slightly under his fingers. “Her English is above average, and she’s mixing well.”

Violet looks back at Jo and this “Mathieu” as they chatter excitedly, seeing that a couple of more children have joined them; they wave their hands about, animated and excited, wide smiles upon their faces.

She’s… happy, Violet realises abruptly, like she never was at school. Settled, comfortable. Remembering her own miserable years, always shuffling from school to school, she admits that she’s taken aback.

He looks up; his hand is moving at the desk, and she realises that he’s holding something, rolling it between his fingers – a nervous habit, like he wants to palm it and make it “disappear” again, like the old days. It’s an old, dull ten-pence piece; she watches the Faerie Queen’s head, appearing and disappearing as he turns it. Why is he in this universe? Why isn’t he in the other one, the one with only humans and normality and his family, the mother whose name he has taken? Why doesn’t he recognise her?

“Her maths…” he says, and sighs, shaking his head. “It needs work. Nothing we can’t help with a few lessons. She’s bright, and she’s happy, and she has an astonishing amount of potential.” He smiles, slightly crookedly, eyes meeting hers, and for a half-second she sees a quiet, awkward-fifteen-year-old. “I think she’ll make you proud.” He looks at the empty chair beside her. “Mr. White couldn’t attend?”

“Michael’s busy,” she says. “Work and all that; you know how it is.” She wonders when her husband will be back from Dublin; she misses him, misses his company. She misses having someone to moan about the world to, and he’ll be miserable about having missed this. He’s only ever managed to come to two of these evenings, and he sat through the queues and the pointless slagging off of other parents with a smile on his face and his hand tightly wrapped round Jo’s small one, looking for all the world like a proud father out of some nauseating vitamin supplement ad. She shakes her head, a smile coming to her face as she thinks of it. That man. “He’ll be sad to have missed it.”

“Ah,” he says, nodding. “It happens to all of us.” He exhales, and continues brightly, pushing a sheet of numbers with titles like “behaviour” and “progress” on it towards her, “You have nothing to worry about. All in all, her weaknesses aren’t going to hold her back, especially not at this stage. Her behaviour isn’t perfect, but she’s never majorly disrupted a class. She’s just…” He shrugs. “Well, young.” He looks over her shoulder at Jo, then back to Violet, a smile still on his face, and says quietly, “She has your eyes.”

Those eyes that had caused her so much misery and so fascinated him, the mark that she wasn’t human – neither is Jo. Sneaky bastard. She smiles widely, returning the favour with, “I hear you can palm a coin just as well as ever.”

He smiles bashfully down at the table, then meets her eye. “It’s been a long time.”

“It has. I wondered where you’d got to.”

He waves his hand in a nonchalant gesture. “Around.”

She has a sudden brainwave, and grabs her bag, searching round in it until she finds an old receipt for a supermarket, and gestures for his pen. Looking surprised, he gives it to her, and she scribbles down her number. “A drink?” she says, passing it to him. “To reminisce about old times?”

He looks to the ceiling. “Your terrible cooking, imprisonment by a Faerie Queen, being locked in the Magi’s wardrobe…” He sighs. “Those were the days.” He gives her that old, unchanged little half-smile – crooked and inherited from his father. “You know, I’d like that. Why not?” A shrug. “I wouldn’t mind meeting this busy husband of yours, either.” Then he leans round her, raising his eyebrows. “I’m afraid there’s a queue.”

She looks over her shoulder – a few of the parents glare back at her – and stands, offering a hand. “Thank you, Mr. Ford.”

He shakes it, and gently corrects her, “Seth. It’s still Seth.”

When she drags Michael – full-fairy Michael, who’s inherited his mother’s bright orange eyes but not her wings – to the pub to meet the human she went to school with, a couple of weeks later, Seth smiles and greets her with her name.

It’s the first time she’s been called “Vi” in sixteen years.

Big status post: All quiet on the WordPress front… or, not dead. Honestly.

  • There will be more from Melinda, List and Mary – they’re just too much fun, and get too much of a good response, to stop writing – and the mystery/saga of Miss L. Barber, parts 1 and 1.5 will be continued.
  • I think I will be laying Still Life to rest, at least for now: though a labour of love, I’ve sort of lost the drive to continue it and want to make room for a slightly newer project in the works. It feels a little too young-adult-specific  to fit in with the stuff I’m currently working on. Violet, Seth and Sofia will get a proper send-off, and it will be soon.
  • Something Wicked, the story that has always been least prioritised on the list and most sporadically updated, will continue, at its own odd, slightly-too-leisurely pace. I like Arthur too much to abandon him.

I have been writing, there hasn’t been a block – it’s simply that it’s either not been good enough to post (I felt, and the WordPress is for the better stuff, not for posting word diarrhoea) or been too far ahead in a story to post without spoiling readers for good, fun future plot.

For those who are new and/or wondering what the hell I’m talking about, this page may be handy.

Still Life: Extracts from Seth’s journal: Dreams

You know the worst thing? When you become numb to amazing. When you see things that no-one, no-one, else in the same universe as you could ever believe, and you just shrug. Fairies, magic, stuff out of books…

Because that’s normal.

Hell, if I put on a red cape tomorrow and started flying round the sky, I’d probably just shrug. While flying, but it’d still just be a shrug.

(A smudge mark where the pencil has broken and a hole in the paper follow.)

I think I’m going nuts.

#

I hate the dreams. Or rather, the dream. It’s recurring. Got to write this while I still remember.

Heavy chains on my wrists, my ankles, and darkness. Darkness like you wouldn’t believe, so dark it actually has substance. Darkness, and stone.

Darkness…

Stone…

Cell. I’m definitely in a cell.

Being dragged out of the cell, set on my knees before some kind of throne. There’s a little more light, but the room’s still too dark, everything still looks grey. I realise that I can taste something coppery, rusty, and I gag slightly. I remember the times I’ve bitten my tongue. It’s blood.

A woman on the throne. Crown. Some kind of queen, then, I don’t know. Black hair so long it’s brushing the floor. She’s very beautiful, very pale, but she has these heavy black markings round her eyes. Like stars, or spikes, or something, all in what looks like black paint. I have no idea. Her eyes are inhumanly green, because I know, instinctively, that she’s not human. Maybe that explains the beauty. Knowing what I know now, she’s got to be faerie, I think.

Then she smiles, and I see her teeth. Perfect, pearly white, and sharp, all of them, sharp enough to go through skin. And in that moment, no matter how beautiful the rest of her is, she’s the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen.

I used to wake up there, but it’s been going further; now she puts a hand on my chin, makes me look at her, eye to frighteningly bright eye. Her hands are very soft, very pale, and her nails, like her teeth, are very sharp. I don’t like them near my throat at all. Her smile widens, and she says, like she says every night, “Her name. All I need is a name, and then you’ll be free.”

And I know exactly who she means.

#

Last night, I dreamed it again, the way I always seem to, and I know it’s this bloody place that’s affecting me, making it happen.

Except this time… this time, I look up of my own will, and I say, “Violet. It’s Violet.” My voice echoes in the silence, the only sound other than the occasional creak of leather where her men are standing guard, waiting to take me back to the cell.

I remember Sofia’s words, the words of the witch in our little group: “There is power in names. Old, nasty power.”

The queen in front of me laughs, tinkling like bells, sweet, and it’s the most terrifying sound I’ve ever heard.

#

I wonder, sometimes, how far the dreams will progress. And I wonder if they’re just nightmares, if I’m going crazy…

… Or if I’m seeing the future.

And it terrifies me.

Character profiles

I’ve written some reasonably detailed character bios for pretty much everyone from Past Lives, Still Life, and Something Wicked.

If you read any of the stories on this site, you may be interested – there are things such as List’s terrible singing and Seth’s card-shuffling – so take a look at the Characters page. There’s also a link at the top bar, for easy finding. Enjoy!

A month of stories: the really short stories

Past Lives

Day 11: Chariot

The car gleams in the sunlight, obviously painstakingly polished. It looks perfect in every little way, and List’s mouth waters as he fights to stop himself running a hand along the shiny surface.

Damn, she’s gorgeous.

He jumps as a hand lands on his shoulder, and looks round to see Melinda smiling wistfully, her eyes  also on the beautiful machine. “Someday,” she says, the two of them admiring it in unison. “Someday.”

Commission (Late 1945)

Mary looks up at her hopefully, and Melinda sighs, hands on hips. “A…spurned fellow?”

Mary nods, beaming at her. “It’s a case!”

Melinda senses List at her shoulder just before he mutters, “It’s money.”

Melinda almost sighs at his cynicism, but she shares it. She shakes her head. “I am…I refuse to stalk a woman for an overbearing husband, no matter how rich he is. This is not why I came here…”

Mary and List look at her curiously, as if to ask her exactly why she did, but she cuts off the question hanging in the air with, “No. No.”

Melinda’s word is final.

•••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

Still Life

Rotisserie

Round and round. Round and round and round.

Seth grimaces. “Please tell me that’s a chicken.” His eyes remain fixed on the fire, and it.

Violet shrugs, seemingly unruffled. “It’s some sort of bird.”

He wonders in the silence how she caught it, then decides he doesn’t want to know.

Round and round and round.

Family is relative,

Violet thinks, as they make steady progress through a forest that seems determined to reject their presence; thorns scratch her, innocuous-looking leaves sting her, and sweat is trickling down her face, her back.

Seth is ahead of them, scouting for trouble, looking back at them and nodding when he’s satisfied the coast is clear. He sees her worried face and gives her a silent half-smile, small but reassuring.

Sofia is close behind her, stopping occasionally to pick a herb or admire their surroundings, not seeming to care that half the plants here are poisonous, or sharp, or…

Violet should mind, really, but her friend seems so happy; Seth maybe less so, but he seems in generally good spirits, urging her on, giving her more of those steadying half-smiles.

This, she realises, as another thorn scratches her and she nearly trips over a root, is the closest she’s ever felt to being home.

For what seems like the first time in an eternity, she smiles.

Safe

Takes place after Seth has been imprisoned by the Faerie Queen for several weeks.

Violet’s babbling, desperate, lips moving but he can’t tell what she’s saying, and the light’s blinding him after so long in the dark cell, and her eyes are pleading with him, and his mind’s finally working, and he finally knows what she’s saying…

“It’s alright. It’s going to be alright.” Her hand is outstretched, waiting for his own, and God, she’s really here

He takes her hand, gripping it tightly; she smiles, small and scared but there. He stands, watching her carefully, needing to make sure she’s real, but she’s pushing him forwards, eyes wide and lavender, saying, “Go, run, run.” He nods, stumbling into the light, a hand thrown to his face to shield his eyes. He hears her whisper once more into his ear, a hand tightly gripping his, and he’s acutely aware of it, the only thing his hazy mind can focus on:

“It’s going to be alright.”