Grace

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Grace clutches a ragged teddy bear to her chest. It reminds her of her parents. The memories are bittersweet.

She gazes up, squints when her eyes reach the bright lines of yellow light that penetrate the wooden slats a hundred feet above. She blinks away tears.

She sidles to the right, her long dress brushing the dirt beneath her legs, and she feels the tug of iron chains binding her to the stone wall. She expects it, though it continues to fill her with despair. She returns to her previous position and the chains slacken. She closes her eyes and dozes.

She never meant them harm. She came after her parents died and left her orphaned in the woods outside their village. They took her in, fed her, clothed her. They took her to church. Taught her to pray. Then they discovered she was different.

They called her a demon. Spat on her. Beat her. Dug a prison beneath the earth, clapped her in chains and left her there to rot.

For the first few days she’d cried out in disbelief. Trembling and wailing, she begged them between racking sobs to take her back. She promised to be good, but nobody listened. She was an uncomfortable truth that was better off buried and forgotten.

She heard their whispers, knew they expected her to die. Yet years passed without food or water and she survived. They said it was unnatural, that she was the spawn of Satan. Every now and then, one of them would gaze down through the wooden slats, peer into her tear-streaked eyes and look away.

A generation passed. The children grew up and ventured out in search of a better life, and one by one the remaining inhabitants grew old and died. The last of them to peer down into her prison had white wispy hair and a thin grey beard. He cocked his head at her, hesitated, moved closer as if wondering what to do. Then he gritted his teeth, clutched his chest, closed his eyes and collapsed.

The first years of her life had been filled with love and light. She’d danced beneath the trees, sustained by the sun, the wind, the earth and the sky, a child of wild nature-born magic. But bound beneath the earth in isolation, her good nature soured. Her heart grew hard, and spite consumed her until her only wish was to set the world on fire, to look on with delight as the skin of those who imprisoned her crackled, blistered and popped.

She knows that one day she’ll be free. Perhaps her chains will rust through completely and she’ll dig herself out. Or perhaps someone will wander by unknowing and rescue her. It’s only a matter of time.

Grace dons a wicked smile.

The villagers could have bred a saint. Instead, they bred a monster.

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The Tunnel

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There is a tunnel buried beneath the layers of the world, outside time, outside creation. It is dank and musty, pregnant with rot and decay. The walls are smeared with the stale blood of creatures extinct billions of years before the Big Bang.

It is a prison, erected to contain a race of pestilence and destruction that had once spanned the breadth of creation. They spread like cancer, defiling everything in their path with a cosmological blight that nearly brought all of reality to its knees. Entire universes fell in the attempt to take them down, and only when the Immortals came were they finally forced to yield.

If death could have stopped them, the Immortals never would have built it. But they would only have assumed another form, and their evil would have continued to dominate. The only way to protect the cosmos was to quarantine them: to lock them away forever in a tomb of stone, fortified with wards and seals to prevent their escape. The Immortals gave their very life essence to strengthen and uphold it, to keep the walls solid and substantial against their feral, outraged cries.

But now the place lies in ruins, corrupted and forgotten—those who built it having moved on. When the prisoners were abandoned, they wondered if their captors even remembered they were there.

The seals weaken with the passing of the ages. In some places, they are stretched so thin that the prisoners can once more sense the outside. They scratch at the walls with insubstantial claws, and the structure gives, ever so slightly, in tiny, imperceptible increments.

Time has made them hungry. The Immortals thought starvation would break them, make them weak and vulnerable. But it only strengthened their resolve to ravage the cosmos once more.

Now they sense a breach, a rip in the fabric of their prison, and they rush at it with teeth bared, picking and tearing, prying and pulling. They work with grim anticipation.

They know the walls are about to come down.

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#OneLineStories

 

I’ve started a new series on Twitter under the hashtag #OneLineStories. The idea is to capture the essence of (or at least hint at) a complete story in a single tweet. How am I doing? Tweet me back, or reply in the comments below!

You can read my “One Line” stories by clicking here.

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The Puddle

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I remember standing on the playground at school after a storm, my hands numb from the cold, my nostrils filled with the scent of wet earth and asphalt. I peered down at the blacktop, made slick and shiny by the rain, and I scurried to where the water had pooled into a large sprawling puddle. I stared, transfixed by that shallow body that seemed so deep, and my breath caught. Was that just a reflection I could see, or was it, perhaps, some exceedingly rare glimpse of another world?

I felt that all I had to do was jump, and I would find myself falling, tumbling, down and down into endless blue. Or perhaps floating, flying, borne by great billowing clouds and fearsome bellowing winds, up into that vast ocean of upside down sky. Holding my breath, I took a leap of faith and jumped. But beneath my feet to break my fall were the shoes of an upside down boy.

He looked just like me. I gazed down, sad, and he gazed back up with the same doleful expression.

I stepped back, and the boy beneath my feet did the same. I waited, hoping he would go away. But when I slowly craned my neck forward to make sure my path was clear, I saw the boy had returned. I took a deep breath. If only I could slip past him. If only I could trick him into moving away. I cast another furtive glance over the edge of the puddle, but the boy was still there.

I made as if to draw away, then suddenly whirled and lunged into the air with eyes closed. I felt the rush of frigid morning wind as it whooshed and whipped over my arms and shoulders. I was certain I’d outsmarted him.

The puddle shattered as my feet struck the water, and a magnificent spray of shimmering liquid glass rained down around me. For a fraction of a second, I was certain my body would clear that thin barrier between the worlds, tumbling and falling into infinity. But when my descent was stopped short, I opened my eyes. I looked down, and there was the boy, gazing up at me. His face was set in a solemn expression. There would be no freedom that day.

I stood and stared at the boy who had denied me access to his endless world of blue. Only after the bell rang and a teacher took me by the shoulder did I go, and as I proceeded toward the dim and dreary classroom where I would be locked away for the remainder of the day, I glanced back at the puddle, that gateway into another world. The boy was gone, but it was too late.

A captive sun pushed through charcoal clouds, and throughout the day, while I sat at a desk with my head bent low in my hands, it drank up all the water. That temporary portal into another existence receded, falling into itself until at last there was hardly more than a drop. All the while, I imagined the mist that would have risen up around it, the soul of a dying world.

After school, I stood over where the puddle had once been. I mourned the loss of a world. I mourned the loss of freedom.

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