Project 52: Toppling Atlas

1 short story a week. 52 weeks a year.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Week Fifty Eight: April 11th - April 17th

"And a Brief Scent of Roses"

     On a window ledge sits a pot full of flowers, long since having wilted from lack of water. Despite their withering attempts to do so, they do nothing to change the sterile smelling air of the hospital room. Gloria Mayweather sits in her bed, propped up with two pillows, and joins them in staring out of the window. The flowers came from a son, who is much too busy with work to come and see her every day. Years of being a mother have taught her to bare the brunt of disappointment, and just hope that he is happy with what he’s doing. Dearest Gloria, how strong your heart must be.
     This night, as with every other for the past month, goes by without event. The nurses call for a “lights-out” around 8:00pm, and after a few minutes, she props herself back up to watch the cars drive by from her hospital window. When she finally finds sleep, it rushes towards her fitfully, full of dreary dreams about all of the regrets in life she has ignored up until now. A stack of papers on a wooden clipboard reading “cancer” at the end of her bed falls to the floor as she thrashes herself awake. Her husband wandering around a long stretch of hallway, asking where she went, and why he feels so tired fade away as she blinks her eyes back to the hospital room.
     Mr. Mayweather was a wealthy man, from a strong family lineage of engineers. He was also known as a very generous philanthropist, and was well liked by all that he met. He would be taken only two years prior to this story; heart attack they suspect. Although Gloria knew that death would come at anytime in their age, she had trouble ignoring the pain of not being able to say goodbye. The thought seeped into the cracks of her dreams, and haunted her every night until she finally just wished death would come to her. Gloria Maribel Mayweather knew the adage for wishing, but didn’t much care to be careful.
     Several days passed, and while staring out the window, she was surprised one afternoon as cold fingers set themselves onto her shoulder. “How did a nurse get in here,” she wondered to herself, having heard no footsteps to alert her. She turned around, preparing to dismiss the nurse, when her eyes fell on the most gorgeous man she had ever seen. “Robert… I… I can’t believe it, how are you here?” she asks the nurse looming over her. With a roguish grin and a hand dragging through his hair, the man – almost a boy in fact – clears his throat and says “I think you have the wrong person. My name is Brian, and I’m your new nurse,” He tells her.
     Holding a hand up to her blushing face, she tries to break her eyes away from his, and mumbles an apology. “I’m sorry child; it’s just that you look just like my late husband.” Throwing on a charming smile, the man sets down a glass of water next to her pills, and says “I’m sure he was a great man, perhaps at another time we could talk about it,” he says, as he turns to walk out of the room. Silence hangs suspended in the air above her, being pushed away by the heavy beating of her heart.
     For several weeks these friendly interactions would continue, and soon began to boarder onto flirting. “What am I doing!” she asks herself. “He’s young enough to be my grandson, I have to just stop being nice to him is all. He’s not being intentionally flirty, he is just a kind boy, trying to make an old lady happy.” Finally resolving herself to speak her mind on the subject to the boy, she started to become irritated when every footstep announced a different nurse. Six nurses would present themselves in the weeks that followed, but none of them would be Brian. Where had the boy gone to? Finally asking one of the new nurses about it, only got a peculiar look as she answered “there is no nurse named Brian on staff, are you feeling alright dear?” Confused, and moreso angry, it wouldn’t be until the next night that she would see him again.
     Light’s-out had been called, and for several minutes Gloria had been watching her cars outside the window, when a knock came at the door. Brian walked in without making a noise, and sat at the foot of her bed, watching with her for a time. Together, they sat there in silence, watching the speeding lights fly past each other without ever looking back. The solitude is broken as she turns and says “why is it you come here and talk to me so often? What is it about this worn-down old woman that you so desperately seek friendship with?” “I know you don’t work here, I already asked, so what is it you want from me?” she says. Brian throws on a fake smile, and replies in a calm voice “I may not be registered, but I assure you I do a lot of work around here.”
     Turning his smile to the window, he notices the flowers in the vase, and comments “pretty flowers”. “What are you going on about? They are dying old roses, nothing more than ugly reminders of their past beauty” Gloria responds. Plucking a rose from the vase, he holds it in his hand and starts to speak to nobody in particular. “To me, a rose is only perfect when it has finally shown its age, and to that effect, its true colors. It has been beautiful its whole life, but it’s not until it shuts in on itself that we can see how gorgeous it has turned out to really be. The way it finally shows its flaws, the way it finally drops its guard. That is how you are Gloria, you are still as beautiful as the day you first met your husband on that dock in northern Michigan,” the nurse says to her.
     Holding up her arm to rest it on his shoulder, she tells him “I appreciate your kind words, but I am no longer than eighteen year old girl playing coy on a dock in the Michigan summer, I am old and-” she stops talking as she sits and starts to shake. Something terrifying dawns on her. “I never told you where I first met Robert, nor were you alive to see me back then. How… how do you know these things?” she asked him. “Because it was the last thing he told me before I took him” Brian said solemnly; black eyes reflecting the dancing white lights of the cars on the highway.
     Gloria felt as if she should be screaming for help, for fear of her life, but somehow she couldn’t. The only thing that mattered to her was what Brian had just said about her late husband. “He… he said those things about me before dying?” she asked. “Yes” he replied, a sad smile showing itself on his face. Shaking softly, she turns her heard towards him, and whispers “then are you here to kill me as well?” “Yes” he replied, that sad smile losing what little warmth it had, “but I’m not here to necessarily kill you. It’s just that it’s your time, that’s all”.

“Wh-who are you?”
 “I refer to myself as Absolution, but many call me Death.”
“Was all of this just so that you could take my life?”
“Did you do all of this so that I could pass in peace?”
“Thank you. I assume yours is a thankless job, but for what it’s worth, thank you.”
 “You’d be surprised. But all the same, you’re welcome.”

     “I’m ready” she says as she closes her eyes. She hears his fading words in the form of “it’s already over” as she falls into a deep sleep. Her body felt warm as she drifted off from consciousness. A smile bloomed on her face – completely genuine – anxiously awaiting to see her husband. A chiming melody softly reached her ears, the scratch of a record player barely letting itself be known over the music. Letting loose her final breath, she thought to herself “I’m close darling”, and with that she let go.

Also, there is one last thing I forgot to mention; she smelled a brief scent of roses.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Week Fifty Seven: March 4th - April 10th

I personally believe this story to be my best, both in writing, and story. Because of this, I have edited the shit out of it, and hopefully is shows :]

Tales Told by Lost Shadows

     Our tale starts off on a green stretch of softly rolling hills, running in every direction as far as the eye can see. The wind - delicate today – picks up blades of grass the length of a hand, and gently sets them back in place. Gracefully, it dances on deaft toes in many different directions, forming patterns of intertwining shapes pressed into the blankets of grass. The designs serpentine together as they run across the field, until being momentarily divided by a little girl standing in the middle of this never ending expanse.
     The girl – a child in fact – appears to be only six or seven. She wears a long sleeved blue jacket, with a brown skirt; a typical school uniform, in an untypical setting. Walking through the grassy field, she looks over her shoulder irritably, and begins to glare. “Go away,” she whispers, as she starts to trudge ahead. She stomps her feet as she walks, eyes looking straight ahead. “Go away,” she says again, this time a little louder than before. Straining her eyes to look behind, the glare darkens as she bares her teeth. Kicking off her shoes, she begins to quickly run through the grass, eyes closed and chest pounding with the effort. Thinking she has outran it, she slowly turns her head, only to see that no ground has been gained.
     The anger in her eyes flares for only a brief second before shock takes over as she plummets to the ground.  Turning around, nothing can be seen in the field except for her shadow, dancing on the waving grass. In desperation, she starts to hammer her tiny fists into the ground where the shadow is, and starts screaming “Go away! Go away!” Aggressive shouts quickly melt into weeping pleas, as she tries to crawl away, crying out “Please... please just go away. Please leave me alone”.
     The dancing shadow just stares as the little girl grips tufts of grass with her hands, and sobs into the dirt. Unaware, she continues to cry as the shadow starts to stretch out and break away from her. Tiny hands split from the shadow's side; their fingers trying to lace themselves with hers, but coming up short. The sound of a hammer striking an anvil starts to loudly echo inside her head, knocking her onto her back, kicking and screaming for it to stop. Only a few moments pass before she faints, lying there in that field with the wind – delicate today- as it picks up strands of her hair, and gently sets them back in place.

     For those of you unaware, the human spirit is a fragile house of cards, made up of astronomical coincidences; each part playing its own respective role. Removing even the smallest, most insignificant piece will change it. It’s as if completing a puzzle, and then removing a small piece from the middle. Perhaps nobody on the outside will notice, and perhaps it will look fine, but the puzzle is still incomplete. That missing piece will make others close to it loose, and soon, they too will be gone. It’s only a matter of time before it all crumbles, and the puzzle is nothing more than a pile of broken pieces. When Amissa removed her shadow, she in turn removed a small part of herself. She now roamed the countryside, searching for something she was never quite sure of; walking ahead, growing increasingly weary with life. 

     Her shadow was cursed to live life as a shadow of a shadow; close enough to see, but too far to reach out and feel. He knew if he could say just one word to her, they would be together again, but she would never look back. One foot in front of the other, she stared straight ahead and never saw him. For years, she walked from town to town, always searching for that forgotten something, long since forgetting why she was even looking in the first place. Her shadow had given up trying to reach her, and instead finally came to terms with the reality that he would never have her back. After all this time, even he couldn't walk without his head down, staring at his feet and marching in line – nothing else mattered anymore. 
     Our tale concludes three months later, on Amissa's 21st birthday, in the field where she first lost her shadow. Much like her own state of mind, the sky above was heavy and gray. The wind was electric today, changing directions in the blink of an eye. The rain fell in heavy sheets. Eyes on the ground, the shadow starts to speak to itself for the first time in over a year. “That's right,” he says with a small laugh, barely recognizable as such. "Today is Amissa's birthday isn't it. Happy birthday dear,” he spoke softly. He somehow found the courage to lift his frail neck, and tried to yet again reach her. To be honest, the shadow didn't really expect to catch her anymore. He had long since given up such ridiculous hope. This was just merely a routine that kept him going. The drumming of rain and crashing of waves is broken by a dry scream, as the shadow runs ahead like he never had before.

     “It's my 18th birthday today,” Amissa said to herself sadly. “13 years of searching for nothing, when is it time to rest?” “I'm so tired,” she whimpers to herself. “I'm so damn tired.” As with every day since that time in the field she had long since forgotten, she walked forward, staring at the ground in front of her. All other noise is drowned out by the sound of waves furiously crashing against the side of the cliff, but she doesn’t hear them. It's been a long time since she's really listened to anything. Closing her eyes, she continues to walk forward until she feels the ground disappear from beneath her, and she plummets from the cliff into the ocean. If you don't look up every now and then, you’re always bound to fall. She never opened her mouth, because death was not something to fear anymore, yet something surprising happened. She could have sworn she heard a familiar voice scream, but it wasn't hers.
     Her arms are suddenly lifted up, as a black figure wraps his own around her waist. “Absum, you're back,” Amissa sleepily says. “I am, my love, I am,” the shadow responds. Wrapped in his arms, she places her chin on his chest, and peers into his dark face and starts to softly weep. “I'm tired Absum, I'm so very tired,” she manages to get out. Turning her head sideways, he presses her cheek against his heart, and begins to drag his fingers through her hair. “Shh, we can go to sleep now my love,” he whispers into her ear. Through a yawn, she manages to say “I've missed you so,” before falling asleep. Like a long lost friend, Absum's smile appeared on his face for a moment, as tears streamed from his cheek and onto her sleeping face. He held her close, and shut his eyes, and for a brief second, felt as if flying before slipping off to sleep as well.
     Smiles plastered to their faces, and their minds soundly asleep, they never felt the rocks at the bottom as they crashed upon them. Death came instantly, and although quick, in it, held more meaning than a lifetime of searching. If you ever feel that you are wasting your entire life searching for something you can't explain, just look over your shoulder my friend. Chances are it's the only place you haven't yet looked.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Week Fifty Six: March 28th - April 3rd

I decided these next two weeks, that I would go back and edit some of my short stories. The brightest on in my mind that deserved this was "The Watcher of Achillbeg". It is one of my favorite stories, but I really didn't give it the detail it needed. I didn't reference heavily enough that it was a lighthouse, that the masses that anger him were waves, and that his friends, including the one he killed were all ships. I hope this edit clears that up a bit.

The Watcher of Achillbeg

     If I could unclench these brick teeth of mine, I would tell you a tale of despair my friend. However, I remain frozen, so you will need to have quite an imagination, or an abundance of hallucinogenics to fully lament over the context of the conversation we will have. I've come to terms with how I will remain for the rest of my existence, but perhaps you will agree that this settling is easily as despairing, if not more so than the reason why I pass this on to you.

     To start things off, let me tell you how I was came to be. I had such promise when I was growing up. I was raised on a cliff on the southern end of an island overlooking the sea in south Ireland, and as such, I was never taught what ugly was. I knew that pain existed, but personally had never seen it. This was how my childhood went, if you could ever consider me a child I suppose. Everyone grows up sooner or later, and I was no exception. The only different between us, I hope, is that the road I took to get there was covered in cold mud, and constantly beaten down by heavy rain.

I was so naive back then. When I was young, I thought I had all the friends in the world; the humans inside of me, my friends out at sea, and the quiet masses that splashed against my cliff. However, looking back on it all now, I realize the masses at the base of my cliff, the ones that refused to talk to me, are the only ones that I didn’t lose. Perhaps this is evidence that the universe or whatever you believe in has a sense of humor. Tumbling through existential crises is a young man’s game though, so let us continue with the story.

     It sounds like a good life, doesn't it? Keep on listening my friend, keep on listening. Assigning "good” or “evil" to objects isn't a game I care to play in, nor is this an easy feat; if I had to choose a single inanimate object to deem evil, time itself would be my candidate. Watching the people who maintained me grow old and weak, and slowly pass away was like feeling my heart die over and over again. Even with the walls I've built up over the years, I still can feel sadness seep through the cracks of my mortar every now and then. If you were to ask me how many years I’ve felt this way, I fear I may break down when answering that I’ve lost count.

     When you finally understand that those responsible for this joy you experience will fade away, but that you won't, you begin to feel hurt. When you finally realize that there will never be an exception to this rule, and that all you can do is sit back and watch, you begin to feel something else entirely different. You can no longer hurt because you start to lose that ability to feel in the first place. Only dim reminders are left behind, that tense up for a few moments, before swirling back into your subconscious.

     I had decided after some time, that perhaps I could change my focus from those that maintained me, and could instead befriend those that were involved in my work. I gave warning to those that traveled near me at night, of how treacherous my cliff could be; my terrible, wonderful little cliff. I would wave to them, and to my delight, they would wave back. I had made friends, friends that seemed to appreciate me. Does this sound like a happy ending? Keep on reading my friend. Please keep reading.

     With my focus on the sea, I finally had time to observe the masses that fell against my cliff daily. They would rise up in large numbers, and run towards me, but would only stay for a second before crashing, and dicing down into the water. Why did these faceless tufts of ocean hate me so? Could they not see when I waved to them that the cliff could hurt them? Looking back, If not for my wooden friends that rode on top of the masses every now and then, I fear I may have gone crazy. I told myself that if they wanted to ignore me, and keep on hurting themselves, that I wouldn’t care, and that I had my friends to think of.

     This confidence boost worked the same way it did with humans, which if you don't know by now, it is an unfortunate lie. After awhile, my wandering mind realized that my "friends" had never actually came near to see me. The seed of doubt had found its way into my bricks, and was starting to grow. Why wouldn't my own friends come see me? I became frustrated, and for days I would obsess over finding the answer. My answer finally came to me when I decided to take matters into my own hands. For that, you could metaphorically say that they are now covered with blood. Keep on reading my friend, the end isn't too far off.

     There was a terrible storm one night. The masses were bubbling up near my feet, and jumping to spit on me. I couldn't have possibly been blamed for becoming frustrated, could I? I was close to losing my composure, and retaliating, when I saw a dim light on the horizon. Here it stood, a friend of mine, waving at me, and waiting for one in return. Perhaps it was the crowd’s blatant disrespect that pushed me, or perhaps it was my own curiosity. Either way, I didn't wave back this time. I watched as my friend came nearer to me; his wave blinking out as patches of rough rain shrouded him. I watched anxiously as he got close, but still I didn't wave back. I just sat back and watched; everything grew tense. He was only moments from reaching me when I waved back, but it was just too late. My friend crashed into the cliff side; pieces of his body washed up to lay at my feet. This was the night that I killed one of my only friends.

     I could never be close to my friends, but they were as sure as dead if I ever gave up waving to them. You humans are good at adapting to anything unpleasant, but I would like to say that I have perfected it. Even up until today I have continued to wave on my friends, as well as the years. I've come to terms with my existence, and tonight I will finally be allowed some rest. They are tearing me down, and replacing me with somebody else. Some other poor sap that will have to carry this world on his shoulders even after they break. Some other poor sap that will eventually pass his torch on to an even poorer sap.

     I've said my piece my friend. I do hope you are a human; otherwise this message will never truly be given the emotion it deserves. The lord knows I cannot give it anymore myself. I've had my heart stopped a million times, I have been spit at since I was born, and I have even killed those close to me that would have had a chance otherwise. Is it sad that I find solace in finally being able to lay down and just cease to exist? Perhaps my friend, but then again, I have lived a long, sad life, no? What a more fitting way to end. Take care of those dear to you my friend, it's only a matter of time before you yourself will have to lay down, and I can only hope you get to do so with more dignity, and with less regrets than I did. Good bye.