Short Fiction: Migration

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When we arrived in the new place we didn’t know what to expect. The livestock was plentiful, and well-trained with arms and legs that worked machines and eyes that surveyed watchfully, the housing thick and occupied, the air barely breathable due to the closest factory spewing black into the midnight air. As if pollution could be hidden away, tucked into the late hour like a beddy-by-child.

It grew on us like moss. First, my neighbor to the left went under; finding a job at the local post office. Then my neighbor to the right, who I’d always thought would be my friend even after the transition, found a job at the local deli. I never felt so out of place.

Before our travels, I never thought I’d miss home so much. The dirt floors, caked red and hot in the day time, cool sands with unbearably freezing winds at night. I thought once I lay upon this downy thick, I would know what true comfort felt like. The way the inhabitant before me must have crawled beneath sheets warmed by the all-day sun. How they must have sat at the table to gobble their meals, crunching on chicken legs, and sipping the sweet cool liquid of yellow lemonade. How they walked these same halls as temporary tenants in my new home. But I felt no kindred spirit to them.

I wonder, thinking myself a neighbor soon to go under, if anyone was intrigued by me. By what I do and why I’d been allowed the biggest house on the block. I could stand here, where I am now, at the front of my window, in this temperature-controlled dwelling, and I can see theirs. The vast differences- oh, how the previous tenants showed their wealth – and the way I could see out to them but, having stood outside my own doors at night, they couldn’t see in. No matter how many lights were on.

Here I stood in my surveoyrism, and yet, I thought of their opinions. I could laugh at the number of times, before we came here, I thought of other’s opinions of me. In this new place, with it’s attention to status and hierarchy, I could only assume the bigger the dwelling the more important the character.

I’d always been good with things back home. My hands tinkering while my brains solved issues of another. I wasn’t the only one. Far from it. It wasn’t until we were prepped to move to this new place that my Highers realized I had an affinity for the unknown.

Day to day I would sit in my square, at the desk that rearranged itself to my liking at the beginning of the night, and I would fiddle with the new toys. My favorite, having been given to me by a Higher with a brow so thin and arched it blended with the hairline to low on the forehead, sat on a pedestal right inside the front door.

Looking now, where it was luminescent beneath the spotlight, I felt a sense of apprehension. These lights, in this new place, showed too much. Or maybe the ones back home showed not enough. You see particles floating in the air, slowly – as if gravity does not belong to them. I wonder where they come from. The factory just on the outskirts? I shine it daily, swiping at the air to remove the debris, but it does nothing to fix the main issue. The atmosphere is bad. No wonder everything dies here.

“Are you going to stand there all day?” I turn to see my replica coming down the stairs, floating on limber legs.

“I have the mind to do so,” I reply and turn away from him, and my prize, and look out on my neighbors again. There are a few lights on, scattered like stars in the darkness. I want to focus, to see if I can peer into their windows and into their lives. Maybe they are doing the same thing as me: adjusting.

“I thought you had more things to discover, do you not?” my replica asks. I turn to look at him again. He sees my prize, which he knows he can not touch, and mimes the action of its use. One hand up, thumb out, long finger pumping back and forth as if to jerk a trigger. I want to frown, we do not like violence, but it is indeed what the prize does. I do not fault him his curiosity.

“I do, I must go to the market today. They are struggling to keep up with production. Something must be done,” I said firmly. When we are not productive, we are not useful. Then we will die. “I will go down and see what I can do.”

“Do they think you a celebrity?” my replica asked, having moved over to join me at the window. Two lights blink and then die, another family gone to sleep.

“They do not know me at all, little one. They only know their lives will ease. As is the way,” I say.

“So, they have no idea that you’re the reason? That doesn’t seem right! Why can’t we tell them? Maybe they…”

“As is the way,” I interrupt.

“But they wouldn’t look at us with those eyes,” he pouted.

“What eyes?” I ask.

“The ones that shift with my gaze. They see us but do not see us. They ask about this,” he throws up his four arms, simultaneously motioning to the corners of the room, and it’s lavish gold trimming.

“As is the way,” I shake my head at him but push back my shoulders. I turn back to the window, dismissing him of his questions and his frustration. He should excuse the misgivings the previous tenants left for us. It was not we who built this home and it’s difference to those aside it. We could only take what was here and provided us. As is the way.

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Good Readdance,
Jade

CNF: Blanket

*optional content warning at bottom of page*

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When everyone was running about the house to get ready for the movie, we lay on the couch under the thickest blanket in the house. It spanned from end to end and could curl up and over the back of the couch. Behind me, my adoptive sister lay on her side with one arm tucked under her, invisible to the world. 

The other lay along her side, the hand resting lightly on my hip. She was nearly skin and bones, despite her age and the amount she ate. I was too, but at only nine or ten my chest had just started to bud and I hadn’t any curves yet. We fit there, sinking into the cushions with just our heads above the water. 

Lying on my right side, I squeezed my eyes closed and my mouth, too. She curled against me, her legs touching the back of my legs, her long skeletal hands pushing at the soft band of my pajama pants. She went down, further into those places, and parted my vulva with uninvited fingers. I wanted to speak but there it was. The hairless skin was dry and when she found the spot she wanted, she pushed against it with the edge of a pen. Capped, with a small spongy bulge for a finger grip, it scrapped against one side then the other.

I whimpered, it hurt worse than the last time. She seemed to be in a rush. 

I had known what she wanted, as soon as she crooked her finger at me in the hall. When I followed with slow long steps, she had pulled me beneath the covers. She had already covered herself but I drug on, my eyes down to the floor. I knew at any moment others would return. Can she get what she wants in this short a time? I opened my eyes, felt them water, and closed them again. She grunted, made one of those happy sounds mom says not to make when you’re at the dinner table.


***


I can hear them coming, feet booming against the stairs like thunder, ready to play the newest Blockbuster on VHS. Mom is yelling from the other room – I’m sure telling everyone to slow down. I see my brother come to the door of the family room, pausing on the lip before stepping down onto the carpet. He’s looking at me, I know he is, and I open my eyes to catch him. Our gazes meet and before he can speak she opens her mouth.

“When are we going to put the movie in?” she asks as she pushes the pen in and out. He sucks his teeth and rolls his eyes. That’s what he’s into now. Attitude.

I want to whip the covers back and show him where she’s putting her hands but I know he doesn’t like me. He hits me, putting his fists on my face, on my back, sometimes smacking on my thighs as I run up the stairs. It’s funny to him but I don’t like it. I don’t think brothers should hit their sisters. Boys shouldn’t hit girls, anyway.

“I’m the only one that can hit you. That can hurt you,” I remember him saying. It wasn’t true. They hurt me at the last place, she hurts me now, they’ll hurt me in the future and I know, I just know he won’t stop them. 

Another foster girl comes to the door, a bag of extra-buttered popcorn hanging from one hand. She has a gaggle of napkins clutched in her other and she glances at us quickly before popping into the room like a cheerleader. The pen goes in and out but slows a bit. Her other hand touches me at the top of my folds. I flinch as she pinches there.

“Are y’all ready to watch the movie?” I hear my adoptive mother ask. She’s yelling from the kitchen, as she always does, and everyone but me calls back.

She’s scrambling to remove the pen, using two fingers to pull, pull, pull, and it’s deeper than I thought. It comes out with a scrapping and my thighs tense in the effort to not cry out.

“Hey, get up off that couch! You’re taking up all the space,” mom says and I look up at her. I want to speak. Tell her. She says I can tell her anything but she lies. When I tell her she tells others. When she tells others they tell me. They sing it to me with laughter in their voice. I don’t much like to tell her things.

She’s fast enough to pull her hands out of my bottoms and slides up the back of the couch like a snake. Her arms release me and I float down to the floor. Everyone laughs as I take my tumble and I feel that tickling at the back of my eyes that you get when the tears come. I push up on my forearms and watch the other fosters come to settle in the room, taking up residence on the opposite couch, the chairs round the back, and the space before the small tv.

Mom stands just beside the doorway with this look on her face that tells me she knows something I don’t know. I avert my eyes and climb to my feet. I’m hurting, down there, and I have to keep my knees wide when I walk. When I pass her she puts a hand on my arm but says no words. I look up at her and first see the breasts against her chiffon shirt. Then the folds of her neck and the small curve of her chin. I don’t meet her eyes but I focus on the small uptilt of her nose.

She releases me and I turn toward the living room. It’s muscle memory, the walk to my bedroom. I’m tired. I want it to stop. I wince with each wooden step I take and once I’m safe in my room I go pee. I feel the muscles moving down there and I lean forward on the toilet. Something sharp stabs me and I whimper and lean further.

Reaching down with tentative hands, I touch, and feel, and move my fingers around, and there it is. Something sharp is lodged in there, it scrapes against the pad of my fingertip and I push another finger in to grab. And I’m grabbing and I’m crying. I can’t hold my breath and hold the tears at the same time. Finally, it’s there, between my fingers and I pull. It scrapes as it slides out and a small sound pushes between my teeth.

It’s the cap from the pen. She’d pushed in the wrong side. I clutch it between my slick fingers and stand, forgetting to wipe. I pull up the soft bottoms and the band snaps around my tiny waist. 


***

I’m running. I hit the stairs quickly and have to catch the railing to keep from tumbling down. I’m through the living room and the floor bows slightly beneath my feet. Expensive figurines clink in the small china cabinet – stereo duo. I know I shouldn’t run in there but my feet move anyway. When I’m at the family room door I can see it’s dark, aside from the glow of the TV. They’ve turned out the lights. They’ve moved along as if I didn’t matter. I’m standing on the edge of the step-down, my toes wavering in the air.

They can see me, I’m sure of it. 

The light from the kitchen just down the hall always illuminates this room when you’re on the other side, but no one looks in my direction. My mouth opens and I gap like a fish. I look at all their faces as they speak, getting their words out before two hours of silence begins. I can see her sitting there, her knees pulled up tight to her chest, like a child.

The cushions are depressed but empty next to her – where I’m supposed to be. The blanket is on the floor, discarded like forgotten trash and no one moves to pick it up. They just ignore it, chattering on about things more important.

I want to clear my throat and interrupt them. I need to, I feel it with every fiber of my being. I want to scream at them to shut up and let me speak. Then I stop. I take in a shaky breath and take a step back, out of the glow of the light. I could scream all I want, yell all I want. I could tell mom everything I want. But I know she’d never be willing to quiet. I know she will never truly listen.

*mentions child abuse – molestation*

5 Books NOT to Read During a Pandemic

5 Books NOT to Read During a Pandemic

Mid-June, I pulled myself out of the stupor I’d fallen into due to Covid and our cross country trip. I started going for daily walks, I reintroduced myself to my apartment away after 6 weeks away, I started reading again. Not that I hadn’t been reading before, but I started to truly enjoy it again. Not just listening to the words or flipping pages mindlessly.

One of the first things I did to take back control was find books about wide-spread diseases, pandemics, the removal of humans (mass exodus or disappearance), etc. It, of course, didn’t start that way. At first, I wanted to read The Stand by Stephen King. 

I had already borrowed it from the library several times before but the behemoth scared me. I had read large books before but I had just spent the last few months unable to turn a page without this underlying sense of fear and frustration. It seemed insurmountable.

So, I bought it.

I became addicted quite quickly, flipping through the pages until one night passed by at the speed of light and my eyes burned from staying open so long. From there it spawned and I began looking for other things with the same subject.

Among others, I found these 5 books. You might see reviews for these separately but it was important for me to put them on an awesome list. The title of this post is misleading, I want you to read these books. I want you to read them today!      

The Stand by Stephen King

This is the way the world ends: with a nanosecond of computer error in a Defense Department laboratory and a million casual contacts that form the links in a chain letter of death. And here is the bleak new world of the day after: a world stripped of its institutions and emptied of 99 percent of its people. A world in which a handful of panicky survivors choose sides — or are chosen.

In the first pages of this book, you see just how quickly the spread of a disease can happen. Heck, it might even frustrate you when you see the resemblance between the book and some goings-on at your local grocery store.

Link to Book

Pandemic Robin Cook

When an unidentified, seemingly healthy young woman collapses suddenly on the New York City subway and dies upon reaching the hospital, her case is an eerie reminder for veteran medical examiner Jack Stapleton of the 1918 flu pandemic. Fearful of a repeat on the one hundredth anniversary of the nightmarish contagion, Jack autopsies the woman within hours of her demise and discovers some striking anomalies: first, that she has had a heart transplant, and second, that, against all odds, her DNA matches that of the transplanted heart.

The crazy thing about this book is that I had no idea this book was a part of a series until I looked it up to write this. I randomly picked it up as a ‘related to’ book of The Stand. There’s a TV show coming out soon!

Link to Book

Phantoms by Dean Koontz

They found the town silent, apparently abandoned. Then they found the first body, strangely swollen and still warm. One hundred fifty were dead, 350 missing. But the terror had only begun in the tiny mountain town of Snowfield, California.

At first they thought it was the work of a maniac. Or terrorists. Or toxic contamination. Or a bizarre new disease.

I had actually read part of this book before but I think I was distracted by another book. Either way, when I picked it up again I was reminded how much of a suspense GENIUS Dean Koontz is. This book has a movie adaption.

Link to Book

The Strain by Guillermo Del Toro

So begins a battle of mammoth proportions as the vampiric virus that has infected New York begins to spill out into the streets. Eph, who is joined by Setrakian and a motley crew of fighters, must now find a way to stop the contagion and save his city—a city that includes his wife and son—before it is too late.

An epic battle for survival begins between man and vampire in The Strain.

This was book was a different look at Vampires (or vampiric virus) than I’m used to dealing with. I’m used to romance, and heat, and vampires being good – or marginally so. This book is evil vampires, ancient vampires, and a weird inner alien-looking, sucking thing that flies out of the throat vampires. This one also has a tv show adaption. I began watching it and I really liked it, surprisingly.

Link to Book

Wanderers by Chuck Wendig

Shana wakes up one morning to discover her little sister in the grip of a strange malady. She appears to be sleepwalking. She cannot talk and cannot be woken up. And she is heading with inexorable determination to a destination that only she knows. But Shana and her sister are not alone. Soon they are joined by a flock of sleepwalkers from across America, on the same mysterious journey. And like Shana, there are other “shepherds” who follow the flock to protect their friends and family on the long dark road ahead.

For as the sleepwalking phenomenon awakens terror and violence in America, the real danger may not be the epidemic but the fear of it.

This one was absolutely phenomenal! I read it in one sitting because it was that fantastic. It is also a behemoth but totally worth it. This book is also getting an adaption. Isn’t that crazy? All of these were fantastic in their own way and now we’ll get to see them on the screen. 

Link to Book

If you have any other pandemic, disease, or exodus novels that you really love and would like to suggest, please do so! If you are interested in another round of these, I’ll share other books like this that I’ve read in the last year.


Good Readdance,
Jade

Book Reviews: The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley

During the languid days of the Christmas break, a group of thirtysomething friends from Oxford meet to welcome in the New Year together, a tradition they began as students ten years ago. For this vacation, they’ve chosen an idyllic and isolated estate in the Scottish Highlands—the perfect place to get away and unwind by themselves.

They arrive on December 30th, just before a historic blizzard seals the lodge off from the outside world.

Two days later, on New Year’s Day, one of them is dead.

This book had an interesting cast of characters, an idyllic setting amongst woods and snow, and a slow pace. I appreciated the slow pace as it gave me a chance to get to know each character, and play whodunnit. I’ve always been a fan of Clue type books and movies, especially ones like The Hunting Party, that go back and forth in time.

There were a few twists in the novel that felt predictable if you paid attention, but it was still worth it. Seeing how it all turned out at the end definitely made this one a good Weekend Read. 

One thing that I disliked about the book was that it has this slow build and just when it starts to pick up it’s over. That may be my fault though. When you listen to an audiobook, your phone is most likely turned off.

You can’t see that you are nearing the end. You think it’s going to keep going and you’re invested and possibly on the edge of your seat and then you hear the words “Epilogue”. I even paused in the car just so I could listen because things were ramping up and then I was shocked to discover the end wasn’t as impactful as I expected.  

That being said, one of the great things about listening to audiobooks is that you can truly hear the difference between characters. Their mannerisms, the pauses between words, the terror in their voices. That’s why I love listening to books with a large cast. Being a writer myself, I know how important it is to make each voice stand out and give them depth. 

Lucy Foley paid careful attention to this in The Hunting Party and it translates well. It also doesn’t hurt that the accents were so cool. And you know how Americans love accents!

One of my favorite characters is Miranda. Her arc is amazing because she knows she’s terrible. She knows she’s a shitty friend. She even feels guilty about it sometimes. Rarely, but it’s there. Does this stop her or make her change her ways? No. We all know a person like Miranda. Maybe it’s a friend you love to hate. Maybe it’s a sibling you wish would be nicer. Heck, maybe it’s you. You might see some of yourself in Miranda, so watch out!

I also love the setting in this book. And the way characters said “loch”. This ‘snowed-in’ novel is perfect for this quarantine time. Being in isolation, not able to leave, not able to touch anyone, even being upset at an unexpected guest couple. It’s perfect for the winter weather as well.

Link to Book

If you have any suggestions, don’t forget to leave me a comment or send a message to me on social media.

Good Readdance,
Jade