I promise I am working on and will finish Scaring girls pt. 2. But for now, here’s pt. 1 of another short story I’ve been working on.
Snow fell and covered the tops of the street lamps, dusting all of the gothic architecture with a layer of glimmering white. Curling black and purple porches stood silent, shadows of darkened homes graying under the night sky. A sigh escaped chapped, cracking lips. The breath escaped and lingered in the cold air.
Tugging his cloak tighter around his waist, he lifted his arms so that his sleeves covered his hands. A trembling sneeze shook his head before he looked straight up into the glint of the moon.
He scuffled through town, a gaping hole in his boot turning his foot numb. His thoughts kept jumping to the ever present ice in his cheeks. Ice that swelled his face and colored it a blotchy red. The house was not much farther-only a block. Only a few more minutes of this blighting anguish, only a few more minutes of ice in his socks.
He had no hat to preserve the heat of his neck or his ears, so he breathed out in great gusts. He hoped that somehow the warm air could create a bubble around him.
Finally he spotted the little rowhouse, beyond the great stone fountain, on the edge of the village square. Each drag of his feet brought him closer and closer to collapsing.
Eventually he stood in front of the splintered door. He grabbed the curling brass knocker and rapped it with the strength he had left. For a moment he stood there with the wind spinning around his head. His lips had disappeared and he bit his tongue from the aggressive chattering of his jaw. The blood tasted like iron in his teeth.
His head began to bob and fall on his neck when the door ripped open. He was met with two blinking eyes tucked behind large glasses. A little girl stood in the doorframe with awe. As he parted his lips to speak, he fell forward and passed out. The little girl caught him and cried out.
He awoke on a patchwork couch wrapped in heavy quilts. As his eyelids lifted slowly, a crackling fire stung his eyes. He winced, shifting under the blankets. He blinked a few times to adjust his vision. Above the fireplace was an ornate mantel that served as a bookshelf. Everywhere he looked, he saw the tearing covers of well-read books. The coffee table in front of him held the fattest, widest book he had ever seen. Behind it sat a very strange face. It was the doorframe girl. She was the smallest person he had ever seen. She wasn’t looking at him, but down at the monster book. She wore a baby blue sweater underneath baggy overalls. Huge, glinting gold eyeglasses covered her eyes and tilted down on her nose as she read. Her hair was a golden tawny, curling in fluffy layers. She looked like a baby owl.
He watched her read, firelight swimming and casting an orangey glow across her face. She turned the pages so carefully, leaning over the edge of the table as if to get closer to the story. Suddenly they met eyes. She let out a gasp, and then stared to her left.
“Father! He’s awake!”
The man he had originally been searching for walked into the room. He had the look of a scholar but the air of an eccentric inventor. He seemed old, but his movements were bouncing and youthful. He kneeled down in front of the fire.
“It’s Claus, isn’t it? You’re Edwin’s boy aren’t you?”
He nodded. The owlish girl watched him carefully, hands resting on her book.
“What are you doing out here? You live in the village in the palace walls.”
“Not anymore,” Claus murmured. “My father was fired.”
“Fired? For what reason? Isn’t he the most talented sculptor in this kingdom?”
Claus only shrugged.
“Where is your family?”
Claus stared at the ceiling. “I don’t know. I don’t-” He winced, his hand coming to the source of the throbbing. He couldn’t remember much except that his father had disappeared, and his mother had ordered him to get out and go somewhere safe.
He was startled to pull his hand from his cheek to find a coating of brownish red blood. The little girl threw a tissue at him. He dabbed it off his cheek with trembling hands.
“You must have some sense to come here. Your father was once one of my closest friends. My name is Mr. Tell wood,” the man said. Claus nodded. “I know. He told me it would be safe.”
“So he instructed you to come here if something happened, I’m assuming. How long ago was this?”
Claus’s eyes wandered the room aimlessly as he tried to remember. How long had it been? Years? Eons?
“Maybe a week? He told me, if we get separated I must go to this address. And then my mother told me to leave and go wherever he told me to go.”
He shivered and curled up underneath the blankets, trying to trap more heat around him. The man let out a short breath. “Well Claus, you look like you’ve been through a lot. We can talk about it more later, you need to eat.” He nodded at the little girl.
“Rebecca? Could you fetch some tea and bread from the kitchen?”
She nodded and shyly scampered away. She came back with a plate of bread and a little pad of butter. She broke the loaf and then spread the butter before she gave it to him. She never made eye contact. She just went back to the kitchen to get him the tea.
He ripped the bread with his teeth and gulped it down ravenously. The fattiness of the butter calmed him down and settled his bones. He whittled away at it with his teeth as the numb sensation began to leave. He could feel where he bit his tongue so hard that it bled. The jagged crust of the bread scraped against the sore parts of his mouth causing him to slow down.
Rebecca came back and held the teacup out innocently. He put his plate on the coffee table and took it from her. His fingers brushed her pinky and she shrank away, causing a bit of the tea to spill out onto the rug.
“Sorry,” they both said at once.
“Careful hun,” the man said as she ran to hide behind him. Claus sighed. His head was starting to feel heavy again. His eyes started to drop.
Rebecca caught his teacup when his hands fell limp. He felt his covers tighten around him and heard a voice whisper “Let him rest,” before he drifted off.
He woke up to sunlight and the smell of overly peppered scrambled eggs. He got up from the couch and looked around the room. The giant book was gone. In its place was a plate of scrambled eggs and toast. He looked to the left where the living room extended and tapered into the kitchen. He wasn’t really sure what to do, so he just stood there. He craned his neck to search for his father’s friend and Rebecca. After a few minutes of contemplation, he walked through the hall and entered the kitchen.
Rebecca sat drawing at the table. A middle aged woman chopped and washed vegetables on the counter. Rebecca saw him but didn’t say anything. She placed her hand in front of her paper.
“Uh-” he started.
The woman looked up, placed her knife to the side. “Good morning. Did you sleep well?”
“I made some breakfast for you, did you see it? Why don’t you sit at the table to eat?”
He brought the plate from the other room and set it across from the doodling girl. He sat down slowly, trying not to startle her. She took a ink tipped pen and carefully outlined parts of her drawing. He brought his fork to his lips and ate his eggs.
Rebecca’s mother singsonged in the kitchen. humming a deep melody. It was a sweet image. It would have been sweeter to him if he was sitting at home in his own kitchen. Or if he had been playing with the prince, or someone he actually knew and loved. These people were kind but he did not know them and they did not know him.
Rebecca finished with the ink, but she did not move her hand. As he finished his last forkful of egg, she raised her eyes to meet his. Her eyes were the least shy part of her. They were greenish brown, flecked with gold. Her large eyeglasses hid them, but even so they were present and mesmerizing. He felt his breaths grow shallow. She tilted her head to the side and stared at him for the first time. Her curls dropped, her bangs shifting to the side. Finally she spoke. “You have thick eyebrows,” she said. “Like black caterpillars.” And then she went back to her work.
He was not expecting this at all. She said it so matter of fact.
“Well, you have thin eyebrows! They’re pretty much invisible!”
Her mother laughed. Rebecca stuck her nose up at him. “That makes me more beautiful.”
“What!” He sputtered.
She seemed satisfied with this response as she stopped looking at him and ripped out the finished page of her sketchbook. She moved on to the next one, picking up a pencil that had been sharpened almost all the way down to the nub. He watched her, as her hand had strayed a bit from blocking him. He was trying to think of something to say that would penetrate the awkward silence.
“You know, my dad’s an artist,” he finally settled on.
“I know,” she said. She didn’t look up.
“He illustrates children’s books. And other stuff.”
“That’s how our dads know each other.”
“He told me.”
She wasn’t being very nice or friendly, but then again he was kind of interrupting her creative process. He kept his mouth shut for a while and surveyed the kitchen. The mother was smirking to herself as she watched their interactions. She wore a apron embroidered with sunflowers and had a golden leaf hanging around her neck. She had this homey air to her, much like the rest of the kitchen. Colorful bowls sat in the dishrack. He recognized one that was lined with gold dragonflies. He noticed a few pieces that stood in the cabinets and on counters. He had watched his father sculpt many of them. It seemed strange that his father was so close with this family that he was just meeting, under unfortunate circumstances.
Rebecca drew her hands away from her drawing and made a gesture for him to look and see. He was about to compliment her when he realized what it was. It was a boy with extremely large eyebrows. She giggled at his speechless reaction. He was secretly pleased she had been studying his face, eyebrows or not. He pretended to be much more annoyed than he actually was. Her mother saw it and scolded her.
“Be nice. He’s been through a lot.”
“I am nice.”
“Is she?” Her mother looked at him.
He glanced at the innocent girl. “Yes.”
Her mother returned to scrubbing the dishes.
Eventually Rebecca excused herself from the table and skipped off to the living room. Claus didn’t follow her, but decided to when her mother suggested they go play.
When he entered the room, he saw she had already set up her own little universe. She had pulled a giant dollhouse out from the closet and pushed it onto the carpet in front of the fireplace. Dolls, little animals, little dresses and stockings overflowed from a painted chest. Rebecca knelt down next to it and began placing the dolls in separate rooms and making sure the curtains were on straight. Claus didn’t really want to play with dolls, so he just stood there and watched from the distance. She set out this whole world and plunged into this dramatic plotline with secret twins and magical husbands. It was the most fascinating thing he had ever experienced. He dared not move or make a sound to pull her from her world. At one point two of the fairy dolls got into a fight over who was going to get the last piece of pumpkin pie. He found himself holding back giggles as the two dolls rolled around on the floor and wrestled with caveman-esque sound effects.
While they were clobbering each other, he made the mistake of sneezing. She looked behind her at the source of sound but did not appear upset. Instead, she patted the space next to her on the carpet. He realized what she wanted and slowly kneeled down in front of the house. She shoved a blue stuffed plush toy in his hand. It looked like some kind of forest sprite with button eyes and spindly limbs.
“You can be Billy,” She said.
“He’s a street hobo. He always bothers the rich ladies as they pass by.”
She pointed to a little trashcan she had set outside the house. He placed the doll there as she prepped him on the personalities of all the characters. She held up a ragdoll with yarn for hair.
“This is Eva. She’s the queen of the sky, but this is her human form. She’s nice to hobos. Coraline is not so nice to hobos. She kicks over their trashcans and spits in their faces.”
“Yes but Eva curses her because of her meanness, and then she makes Billy the king of the sky.”
Rebecca acted out the scene she had just described, pushing Billy into Claus’s fingers. He played along with her awkwardly, making her doll yell and jump back when Coraline kicked him. Rebecca made Eva sweep down and scoop Billy up, placing him on the roof of the house.
“You can rule from there,” Rebecca said.
“How do I do that?”
“Whenever one of the people does something bad, you throw this at them.”
She dug around in the chest and pulled out a little tree.
“To crush them. Or at least slow them down.”
He took it from her and watched her launch into a complicated argument between two of the smaller dolls. When she said something especially mean, she looked at him.
“Oh. Do you want me to-”
She took his hand and made him throw it.
“You’re messing up the flow,” she said.
He felt his cheeks turn pink. It was not from her blunt words, but from her careful hand that guided his and tried to make him understand her game.
“Sorry. I don’t play with dolls.”
“Do you think that makes you tough or something?”
He shook his head. “I’m just not used to it.”
“What do you do then?”
What did he do? Sometimes his father would let him decorate his scrap vases and pottery projects. He’d use the same paint to experiment painting fake tattoos all over his body, and then of course his mother would screech at him to go wash up.
“I paint on stuff. Sometimes on people.”
Her ears perked up at this. She dropped her dolls and sat up excitedly.
“Like tattoos? Could you give me one?”
“You want me to paint on you?”
She nodded. He shrugged. “I mean, I guess I could-”
“Could you draw tree branches? Or vines?”
She stood up. “We’ll do it in the kitchen. That’s where my paints are.”
They went into the kitchen where she scattered an assortment of paintbrushes out on the table. She found a jar of ruddy brown paint. Sitting down, she rolled up her sleeve and extended a twiggy arm.
“Paint me tree branches. Please,” She said.
He took a tiny tipped paint brush and swirled it in the rich, earthy pigment. He took her arm gingerly, and began the veiny strokes. She twitched a little. “It tickles.”
Slowly the intricate sections of tree emerged, and she began to look like a little forest fairy.
She held out her arm and admired his work.
“Do my face now?”
He flushed. “You want me to paint your face?”
She nodded. “Do you know how?”
He scratched his neck. “It depends what you want.”
Her eyes lit up. “Oh! Can you make me a fairy queen?”
He blinked at her. “How do I do that?”
She dug more paints out from a box on the counter. Lavenders, peaches, baby pinks and ivy greens. “You can do flowers right? Cover me in magical flowers.” She was practically glowing with excitement. She was infinitely different from the night he woke up on her couch.
“Can you do that? Please Claus?”
He looked at her and found he couldn’t say no. “Of course.”
She removed her glasses and pulled her curls to the side. She closed her eyes. “Okay, I’m ready. Make me beautiful.”
Shakily, he held her face and speckled it with faded pink blobs of petal and spiraling green stems. Holding her face was like holding a cloud or a rainbow. Impossible, yet softer and more enchanting than anything he could ever imagine. He stood back to admire his human canvas. She truly appeared to be a part of the woodland.
“It’s done,” he said, setting his brush on the table. She bolted up and ran to stare at herself in the hallway mirror. He heard a soft gasp of delight. She came back into the kitchen grinning.
“You’re a much better painter than me,” she said.
“I don’t know about that-”
“Probably because your dad can teach you. My dad can only write and my mom can only sew.”
“I’m sure they do more than that.”
Rebecca smiled again, and then much to his dismay, ran up and hugged him around the waist.
At that moment, the door swung open and two snow covered figures stumbled into the room.