The clouds rolled around the sky, raining only dust. Nobody looked up anymore.
So, drunk again, thought William proudly, easing himself into his favourite chair and lighting up a cigar. You give it a few generations and nobody will be doing this anymore, too busy vaping and running, he mused. I’ve always been an upholder of tradition.
We sit on stools of balsa wood, in the kitchen. There are no windows, so we keep the door open to let the night in. Under the floorboards is the grunting and squealing of three pigs in a constant state of wretched panic, one has tumour hanging from its face. Chickens keep trying to sneak in the back door to steal the kitten’s food and clouds of termites whizz aimlessly around the room before shedding their wings in my drink and crawling away to eat the house.
A hippy and I are playing cards, gin rummy, and I am winning, again. Being a hippy he is pretending he doesn’t care that he’s losing at cards because “hey, it’s only a card game” and “all good”, but I can see a Rumplestitskin rage leaping furiously under his face. He says,
“Oh so you’ve won again have you? Well, I’ll win next time you know? I will. I always win at cards.”
I win again.
I don’t consider this any particular triumph, I sold my soul to win cards as a child, and I now consider it only right that I win. If I ever start to lose then I can rejoice at the thought that my soul maybe growing back and I have nothing to fear from death. Either way I’m happy.
But then he pulls a trick. He gets up, walks once around his stool and sits down again. He has a smug look on his tufty-bearded face, his red apple-cheeks are glowing.
“What was that?” I ask.
“Magic. You’ll see, I’ll start winning now.”
I flick the ash from my roll up, made with pipe tobacco and a toilet roll wrapper held together with spit, through the crack in the floor.
“Surely if that’s true then it’s cheating,” I say.
“Because I believe that magic can only be used for good,” he says.
“But cards is a game of skill and luck, if you use magic then that is cheating.”
I know at this point that I’m a hypocrite, but he doesn’t know that.
“Actually, it’s not magic” he backtracks “I’m just messing with your head.”
“But that’s even worse, messing with my head in order to win at cards.”
“Well, it is magic after all and now we’ll see who starts winning,” he says, his eyes a-twinkling, milk drops glistening in his tufty beard. I pick at the blisters on my hands and pretend not to care.
And then the bastard starts winning. One game after another, and it turns out I’m wrong, I do care.
“Hee hee hee,” he says gleefully with a loud fart, “you didn’t believe it, but now you see, eh?”
“But if it works, it’s only because you are foolish enough to believe it, not because it is real magic,” I say sulkily. I flick my cigarette again, half of the tobacco falls out of the paper and through the gap in the floor. There is a frenzy of squealing as the pigs beneath our feet fight to eat it.
“But you wait, soon you’ll be doing this too,” he says.
“No, I won’t,” I say.
“Yes you will, if you get that desperate.”
“What could make me so desperate?”
“If you lose the next three games.”
“And what could make me care so much about a card game that I try using a magic that I don’t believe in, in order to win?” I say, feigning loftiness.
“Hee hee, you’ll see.”
I can’t bear to look at his foolish grinning face another moment, so I wander out to the outhouse to keep my calm. The cicadas are singing up a storm, a thousand thousand stars litter the sky, and beneath them, a thousand thousand glow bugs flash on and off like a broken reflection. The outhouse hole is glistening with maggots, so I piss under the tree that is thought to be a cure for cancer. A storm is flashing over to the east, thick clouds are creeping through the mountains. Over to the west is the shadow of the forest, a lush dense twist of foliage, each tree struggling to stay upright under the weight of moss and orchids, their insides stolen by woodpeckers and ants. I walk back to the house but I’m not ready to rejoin the game, so I sit on the porch watching the moon overload on light, letting my attention drift wherever it chooses. There’s a smell in the rainforest that gets under your skin, like wood smoke; like fresh leaves and mud. One by one, each buzzing voice of discontent and paranoia drops away from my head. The clouds drift lower down the mountain, like ghosts. Lightening silently empties the sky of stars for a moment. Bats swoop, zancudos nip at my ankles. And then a loud hippy voice twangs behind me,
“I’ve always had a real mystical connection to the moon.”
I turn to see him, the tufty, fake-magic-spinning gimp, grinning up at the sky.
I fold up my serenity. Pull my cloak of bitterness and irritation around my twisted features and skulk back into the house to sweep the roaches aside and win that fucking card game.
“Oh look there! Is that a slaty egret? What a lovely bird!”
“Gerry? I don’t think we should have climbed that fence.”
“Don’t be silly I’d never have seen the slaty egret otherwise. I really didn’t expect to see one those here.”
“I think we need to climb back over the fence.”
“Not yet. Can you pass me the zoom lens?”
“I think this may be a wildlife park.”
“Hmm? If I can get the angle right, I can get a shot.”
“Gerry, we really need to run away now.”
“Stop hissing woman, you’ll scare it off.”
“They’re starting to move. Gerry? The rhinos are starting to move.”
“The what? The…oh dear.”
“Run, Gerry! Run!”
From Sunday Photo Fiction
Thanks for the prompt!
The link: Ronovan writes
The challenge: Take your favorite quote from a movie and use it as inspiration for your entry this week. If you want more direction, make it the last sentence in your piece
The movie quote: “Roads? Where we’re going we don’t need roads.” from Back to the Future
Length: 620 words
Puzzle of the Stars
I take the blame for this. When I suggested the road trip I was just trying to think of a way to break my flatmate Joe out of a bad habit. Every night he’d come home from the bank and spend the evening sitting with a puzzle book. Curled up over his Sudoku and cryptic crosswords like an old man. It didn’t seem healthy.
“We’ll drive down to Cornwall, stop off at a few pubs, camp out in fields. It will be a total change from the humdrum,” I said, pleased to see his glimmer of interest. Time to break free.
It was week of pub lunches and getting lost on winding roads before Joe began to change. By day we’d carry on as normal, bickering like a married couple. But at night, as I’d shout at him to help me with the tent, he’d ignore me and just stare up at the stars. Every night, red-faced and huffing from battling canvas I’d ask him,
“What are you looking at, you numpty?”
And without tearing his eyes from the sky, he’d whisper something obscure like,
“What does it all mean though? All those lights blinking on and off, there must be a pattern.” And then he’d carry on staring while I stomped off to find firewood.
By the eighth night I’d had enough and told him we’d be sleeping out under those stars, since he liked them so much. After we’d parked, I pulled our sleeping bags out of the car and threw them into a field. Sitting on a clump of grass, he gave me a faraway smile as a response and let his eyes drift upwards, while I climbed into my sleeping bag in what I hoped conveyed an irritated manner. I was just dozing off when he started speaking again,
“I think I’ve nearly worked it out.”
“What?” I asked, as if I didn’t want to know at all.
“The puzzle of the stars.”
“It’s not a puzzle, Joe,” I said with a sliver of patience. “They’re just stars.”
Maybe we should pick up a bumper book of crosswords from a cornershop tomorrow, he was clearly suffering from withdrawal. I should have tried to wean him off slowly. He started speaking again, his voice suddenly intense. After a week of this star-gazing wispy nighttime musing, it was a bit of a shock to hear actual inflection to his words, as if he had woken up.
“You’re wrong. It’s a puzzle. Like a treasure hunt, you just have to work out what the clues are, where they’re pointing. That’s how you find the treasure.”
“Sure thing, Joe,” I sigh, and turn over to sleep.
I don’t know how much later it was when he woke me.
“We’re going,” he said, shaking me. Too close, his eyes reflecting light, but all around us was blackness. There was a mischievous fire to his voice, like a drunken goblin on a mission.
I was still saying,
“What?” while he was jumping up and running for the car.
I was saying,
“What?” again, as he started the engine. In panic, I stumbled from my sleeping bag, staggered to the car and leaped in the passenger side as he drove away, my door not even closed. But he didn’t head down the road, instead he swerved into the field.
“I get it!” he shouted, driving alongside a line of trees and further into nowhere. Branches shrieked against the windows, leaves slapped at the windscreen.
“What are you doing?” I wailed. With a euphoric grin he said,
“Solving the puzzle.” His face pure wild innocence, free of sanity.
“You’ve left the road! We’re not on the road!” I howl.
“Roads?” he said, “Where we’re going we don’t need roads.”
It was a crisp spring day and I had forced myself, wheezing and blinking, from the dimness of the flat into the pale sunshine. I stopped in the park to sit down, I’m not sure which creaked louder, me or the bench. I eased myself back to enjoy the dappled light through the trees. A few moments later a young woman joined me. She had a complicated appearance, coloured string decorated her hair, bangles brightened her wrists and wires hung either side of her head. Metal glinted across her face, but her expression was empty. She sat back on the bench, it didn’t creak for her; and she stared vacantly at the sky. We sat side by side for six minutes before someone new entered the park, a gaunt, hunted man. He might only have been in his early twenties, but he had the desperate, wary hunch of someone much older. His face lit up eagerly when he saw the woman.
“Hey, hey!” he said “I know you, didn’t we meet clubbing last week?”
“Oh yeah, maybe,” replied the woman vaguely.
He sat down, a man so bony and skittish I doubt the bench even noticed his presence.
“So how are you doing? How’s tricks?” he asked.
“Oh you know, fine. Enjoying the sunshine.”
“Yeah, beautiful day, right?”
“Hmm,” she said, trying to end the conversation.
“So did you have a good night last night?” he asked, trying it keep it going.
“Yeah, alright, you know?”
“Yeah.” The banality of the conversation was starting to weigh heavily and I began the slow process of gathering my wits and thoughts, so that I could leave the bench. Suddenly, with his eyes flicking left to right and a twitch jumping at the corner of his mouth, he leaned over and whispered something into her ear. She sat back, shocked, and said,
“You’ve seen through time?”
“Shh, don’t shout it.”
I stopped gathering myself and pretended to be engrossed in the song of a robin. He carried on, he was attempting to whisper, but in his urgency to get the words out, he made them loud.
“I don’t know how it happened, I mean I took some acid, but not enough, you know? It definitely wasn’t that. This was something else, like somebody just stepped into my head to show me this, like I needed to see it. A portal just opened up.”
“In the room?”
“No, in my mind. I could feel it, like a door, it just opened. And I could see everything, past and future. And I understood it all, it all made sense. I can still see it now, ask me anything. I’ll tell you. I’ve seen it all.”
“Right. You know, it might have been the acid.” she said, gently. Even with my eyes on the robin, I could sense his demeanour shift, he pulled back. His eager, frantic expression changed to one of cold indifference. She didn’t get it; she wasn’t capable of understanding the enormity of his revelation. She was useless.
“Yeah.” he said.