Performed at Writopia Labs Teen Night at the Nuyorican Cafe, NYC. 2016
He was a young wind when he first encountered her. He had only just been born, blown down from old white mountains by the hot rolling air, whistling through the birth canal of a humid valley and flying over the rocky cliffs out to sea. The sheer force of him was a constant, pulsating life in those first instants, as it always is when a new wind is born. He was infected by the salt of the ocean, invigorated as he glided across the surface of the water, clean and untarnished except for a small white vessel.
It was a boat, the first he’d ever seen, a shining white one with two decks, and on the stern, looking out into the open water away from him, stood she. She was quite young then, and full of some unimaginable life. She too was like a young wind, wild and ethereal, with her auburn hair tossed about over her shoulders. He saw she wore a wide-brimmed red and white hat.
Something about the sight of her, the life of her, enchanted him. In a brisk moment of flight, he enveloped her in his warm arms, full of the sea-salt. And in the next instant he was gone, for winds move far faster than most boats. But he smiled, because he had taken the wide-brimmed red and white hat to remember her by.
They called her the White Fox in all the stories. They said she dressed in clean, snow-colored furs, that her neck was heavy with all the jewels and rhinestones she had stolen, and that her skin was deathly pale. The stories that had been told over the most times said that she had a tail – that her mother’s mother’s father had been a real fox from the north, and that she still bore his colors.
There were tales that said she was more animal than woman. Mothers told their naughty children sometimes that the White Fox would come and steal them away if they didn’t behave. Traveling merchants would leave small offerings of meat on the road they traveled to make sure the Fox would grant them safe passage.
These days she rarely bothered with the long and winding merchant footpaths. On the few occasions that she traveled, she preferred the thick and well-paved stone roads in the country. She preferred to have a cold drink on a hot day, or a hot drink on a cold day. She preferred to wear the string of pearls her mother gave her, sit at the end of the bar, and toss her blonde hair over her shoulder as she listened sideways to a story being told by the fire.
Dregann tapped his cold fingers back and forth on the wooden bench, his eyes fixed on the opposite side of the hall in a casual sort of way. The bench opposite from his was nearly identical – long, wooden, polished – but occupied by someone he regarded as far more beautiful. Mayth was an autumn wind, aesthetically. Her cool brown eyes drifted back and forth over her pale, faintly freckled cheeks, before finally settling down at her torn, open-toed black sandals. There were faded dark circles under her eyes – not bags, but just thin echoes of shade cast on the underside of her face. People continued to pass through the hall between the two benches, but they might as well have been made of glass, for all that Dregann saw of them. She wholly encompassed his vision.
She looked up at him, suddenly, with an expression of bemused intrigue. Her eyes met his, and for a moment he was deaf to any noise around him except the autumn breeze – as if the wind had swallowed the two of them whole. He smiled.
She smiled. For a second, she remained there, perfectly still, and then she blinked and shook her head, literally shaking the thought out of her head. She thought she had seen something faintly, when she squinted, in the corner of her eye, but she had to have been mistaken. She looked down from the empty bench across the hall and tapped her cold fingers musingly against the smooth wood of her seat.
Performed at Renee’s Soiree for Young Performers (12/23/2015) at Shelter Studios in NYC.
Brimstone, they said, would be sturdy. Brimstone, they said, would hold his fortress well and would endure the fire. Fire, they said, was what his soul craved. His soul, they told him, was what was inside. He laughed at them, because he had looked inside and seen nothing but black air.
Fire, he told them, was what he craved – by himself – and the soul was not their business. He didn’t want to argue with them – their pure, glowing faces completely featureless. He didn’t want to ruffle their feathers. He just wanted the hiss of flame and to breathe in smoke and to forget. He wanted not to think of the soul, or whatever it was that his father had torn away with his foolish, straight-fingered hand.
Fire, he thought, was beautiful. He could watch it dance for hours – effortless and powerful, weaving its tongues through the air like snakes. Spry, hot, and delicate; serpentine. He stared up at the edge from inside the brimstone fortress sometimes. He did not miss it. He hated it. Fire was better for breath and life. Up there was frigid and weak.
They told him his soul wanted peace, wanted love. He laughed at them – a hoarse, wicked, mocking laugh. He wasn’t like them, not anymore, and he didn’t want the soul – nor did he care what it wanted. He could have souls seeping out of the walls if he wanted. He could have hundreds, billions of souls. If he decided he wanted. He didn’t want.
Brimstone, they told him, had turned him how he was. Hot and wicked, they said, like fire. They told him, even if he had a hundred souls around him, none of them could be his. They said it would only taunt him. Brimstone, they said, was all he had now.
When Marjorie looked into the sky as a small child, she used to imagine that the stars she could see were little holes in the darkness, and that behind them – shining through – was the light of day. She grew up in the country with her mother, and in the country, where the sky was clear, she could see so many stars at night that she could not count them all. It seemed as though the dark night sky was almost ready to tear apart in certain places, and if she hooked her fingers in the holes and pulled quickly, she would open up the day again before its time.
That was when she lived in the country, and when she had all the jobs of fixing and closing the old gate, and keeping the chickens in during the rain, and turning out the lights on the porch before nine. That was when her mother taught her to crochet. She’d go out at night and look at the stars. That was before she had to bring her mother her medicine, and before she had to call the doctor when her mother fell. She didn’t have much time to go out at night after that.
The sky wasn’t so clear in the city where Aunt Clara lived. Years of smoke from the tall factories and smoking men with newspapers had fogged up the dark blue sky, and blotched it grey and black. Marjorie still went outside every night, though she usually stayed on Aunt Clara’s front steps – to be safe. There were much fewer holes in the city sky. It was stronger, colder, not torn as easily. When she squinted, on a night when there had been no rain, she could make out two or three, peppering the darkness – holes somebody had poked just for her, so she could look right through.
Beneath the apple orchard on Uncle Edward’s estate, June had buried every single one of her diaries starting with the year she turned sixteen, also being the year she met the young Orson Ineheart. When June went off to be married, the diaries were shut in mahogany cases and personally buried roughly five feet below the ground.
The young Orson Ineheart only ever kept two journals: one which he started the year he and June became acquainted and one which he started the year after his father passed, also being the year June was married. The first of these June made numerous attempts to acquire shortly before her marriage, through trade and barter as well as an alleged and clumsy attempt at burglary. The latter was officially never confirmed to be true, and the supposed intruder was sometimes rumored to be a friend of Orson’s playing some form of practical joke. Nevertheless, the first journal remained in Orson’s possession, locked alongside his second inside an old wooden dresser in his study (which had once been his father’s study).
It was said in the years after June’s marriage that the young Master Ineheart was a frequent visitor to Uncle Edward’s apple orchard, and that on more than one occasion he had turned up at the gate with a shovel in hand in the twilight hours of the evening. This was all just hearsay, as far as both Uncle Edward’s and Master Ineheart were concerned. Orson denied knowing of any diaries buried at that place, nor why their contents might be any interest of his.
Both of Orson’s journals disappeared in the months after he was married, and upon later occasion he denied any memory of having disposed of them.
“They must’ve gotten lost, I suppose,” he once said. “Stranger things have happened.”
Days that end in train rides leave you feeling drained. You watch the blurry outlines of Earth and Hell flicker behind dirt-stained windows, your vision bleary, and you know it isn’t the ride itself that drained you. It’s the day, and every day drains you, but these are the days you get to sit in your own filth and listen to screeching metal and feel it.
There is a man looking down at his phone across from you. He is stout and slightly bearded, with a winter cap on. His focus is disjointed, he doesn’t care a whole lot about the phone – otherwise you wouldn’t catch him just staring at the floor under it. His fingers slide around the screen, mindlessly tapping about, trying to project the image of occupation. The phone might as well not be there.
You keep re-listening to that song in your mind that you don’t want to listen to too much in case it gets old too quickly. You’re trying hard to not get it stuck in your head so you’ll keep liking it. The doors open and slide closed. The movement of the train pulls your center of gravity sideways, and you lean over slightly into the empty seat beside you. Your fingers are tired, and there is a black buzzing haze behind your eyes that can only be defined by a day that starts at Seven and hasn’t ended by One. The name of your stop is announced by a cold woman in a speaker box. She has no discernible accent but she doesn’t sound real. It sounds like she’s talking to five year olds. You stay seated until just as the doors open. You leave your seat mindlessly. You walk up a flight of stairs and don’t acknowledge the people making the journey with you.
A water bottle crumples in someone’s pocket.
You skip a couple steps on the next flight.
You walk into the night, which tastes like water, turn a corner, and stop fictionalizing reality.
It was important that they tried, and that was the only important thing. The only thing ringing through Jacob’s mind, clear as a bell, as he and both his brothers ran toward the tall black gated fence, was that they were going to try. There were whistles, shrill and angry, echoing on the grounds behind them, and he saw lights flashing in the distance.
A thick explosion of ignited gunpowder somewhere across the field cleared Jacob’s mind of any clouded thoughts and pointed him to an inevitable clarity. He was going to survive. He promised himself in that moment that he was going to survive. When his feet left the ground and his bare hands gripped tight around the slippery, cold, black bars of the fence, he had no doubt that he was going to make it, because death was not an option, because he wouldn’t be around to experience it. His feet pushed up against the thickest parts of the fence, like they had practiced, with his gripping black shoes and the clutch of his fingers keeping him suspended.
As Jacob pulled himself over the top of the fence, he heard another gunshot. Then he was on the ground on the other side, in the wet grass, and he wasn’t sure if he had been shot or simply fallen. The answer came quickly, and he scrambled back to his feet, and bolted across the remainder of the field until he had cleared the border of the forest and could no longer see the grounds. Then he fell from exhaustion and rolled into a forest ditch, and for the first time was silently and painfully aware of the rain.
He spent the night covering himself with leaves and debris, trying to blend in – in case they came looking. It wouldn’t be any use if they brought the dogs, of course. But he was too tired. He did not sleep.
At dawn he heard the signal, a low bird-call echoing through the forest. He rose from the ditch slowly and returned the sound, a whistle cupped in his hand.
Will emerged from the wood within minutes. Jacob glanced quickly in the direction of the field, where the three of them had run from, and Will shook his head quietly. Neither needed to voice the question. Will held his hand out and helped Jacob step out of the ditch. His feet were shaky under him. He looked up at his brother.
Without another word, both turned and began to walk, away from the field, through the forest and into the morning.