Freak Shows and Firestorms

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She couldn’t remember the last time she’d seen the stars.

It must have been the first time her stepfather threw her to ground right outside the barn and pounded the innocence from her little body. She had fixed her eyes on the North Star while he clawed at her young body and ripped away the threadbare linen that was plastered against his sweat-drenched chest. His drunken smell and calloused hands had ruined the beauty of the star-soaked sky and she kept her eyes closed each time after that.

Even tonight, under the Milky Way, rage filled her heart as she plotted. She watched the red horizon crackle with a fiery blaze and knew they had to go before the dogs showed up.

If only the stock market hadn’t crashed and her daddy hadn’t died. If only her mama hadn’t married that man or been passed out when the circus came through town. Millie’s stepfather grabbed her by the hair, dragged her through the kitchen and out the door while her mama slept off the absinthe purchased with a day’s wages.

The manager licked his chops at the curves barely hidden by her best dress and knew that the novelty of one green eye and one blue would bring more sad saps to the after-midnight tent. He thrust two dollars into the stepfather’s hand and took Millie.

She spit at and slapped the men who filled the burlesque show. She didn’t dance and never smiled. It was after Millie grabbed a customer’s knife and held it to his balls that the manager banished her to clean animal pens. She slept on the ground outside the wagons and used the steady sound of the horses’ breathing to block out the noise–invasive, lecherous thoughts of the men who filled the peep-show tent.

One day, she stole away to see the gypsy who she’d seen hiding in the corners of the grounds.  Millie was drawn to her bright, blue eyes framed by the colorful scarves that hid her brilliant red hair. She felt a kindred soul in her sad spirit and wanted to know more than what the woman’s veiled thoughts revealed.

Millie sat across from her and offered the two cents she’d earned the day before. The gypsy looked at Millie’s pixie face and pushed the pennies back. Her skin prickled with goose bumps as she took Millie’s palm, “You know the hearts of men. You can hear their thoughts?” It was more a statement than a question.

The gypsy continued to move her fingers along Millie’s palm and bristled at the touch of her skin.

“Hatred ravages your body. What is wrong, little one?”

Millie snatched her hand away, looked the gypsy square in the eye and said, “Nothing! You are full of shit!”

Millie hopped up from the table and knew she needed to run. But, it was too late. Sadness and self-loathing emanated from the gypsy and traveled across the room in crimson threads to tangle with Millie’s thoughts before she had a chance to leave.  Millie stopped at the door, turned around and grabbed the gypsy’s face on either side and peered into her lightless eyes.

In that moment, Millie saw every abomination and crime that had been committed against the poor woman. Lost lover and child. The Depression and human slavery. In one vision, she saw the gypsy laying in pig slop looking up to the heavens while the circus manager defiled her over and over again.

“What’s your name?” Millie asked.

“Madame….”

“Your real name!” she spat.

“Dorothy.”

“Dorothy, pack a bag.”

Without question, the gypsy filled a satchel and grabbed Millie’s hand as if in a trance. Millie squeezed it warmly and they exited the wagon under the cover of night with one lantern between them.

Millie could hear his dirty thoughts as she sneaked around the perimeter of the manager’s living quarters. She nearly vomited in disgust at his perverted dreams and her body shook as she torched the entrance and set fire to each corner of his tent. Even if he had been able to wake from his drunken stupor, he wouldn’t be able to escape.

After they reached a safe distance, Millie grasped Dorothy’s hand and sent a message of love and kinship. They watched the blaze a moment longer, set their sites on the North Star and wordlessly planned a trip back  to visit Millie’s stepfather.

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Woo Wee! 748 words of devilish fun. Not one to write much from my dark side, it was a lesson in exploration. All of you flash fiction readers/experts feel free to fire away with suggestions and comments. I cared about these characters, but I have no idea if you did and it seems that the reader caring about the characters is the most important thing…no matter what the plot or circumstances.

For those new to Yeah Write, click on the icon to see this week’s challenge sentence and video prompt. You still have time to join!

Where have all the flowers gone?

Every year for the past twenty, Amy tilled this spot and sunk the seeds into the soil.

For those two decades, the sunflowers refused to grow and the plot remained barren and unkind. She was bitter at the poetic injustice of it all, but each year she planted and waited.

“Are you going to try it again?” he asked. Amy looked up to find David standing over her. The Sunday sun accentuated the hopeful look in his kind eyes–the look that sickened her stomach and filled her heart with disdain and guilt all at once. She was tired of his face and spent most days wishing he’d go away.

She lunged at the hard dirt with her trowel and became impatient and staccato in her response, “Yes. Why wouldn’t I?”

She knew he hurt, too. So what? She pushed him away and rejected inner pleas that begged for closeness.

Amy continued with the wretched task and sent barbs of silent resentment to the man who had done nothing wrong except love her. Loved her in spite of and because of the unthinkable loss they shared.

There was no one to blame, so Amy blamed David. Blamed him for the sun rising in the morning and resented him for giving her a baby girl who was taken away too soon. Cursed him for still loving her and hated him because the damned sunflowers wouldn’t grow.

She clawed at the dirt and at some point, David walked away. His wish that she might love him back had long been forgotten. Now he yearned for her peace and prayed that the flowers would grow and bring some semblance of joy.

They spent that summer at opposite ends of sanity. She buried herself in mindless, solitary tasks and he disappeared every morning into the corners of the property they bought together as newlyweds. Days then were spent breathless and plastered together. Days now were spent apart and nights even further.

At first, she didn’t pay any attention and welcomed the time away from his prying, loving, worried eyes. But her curiosity grew as minutes away became hours. Some days he didn’t come back until after the sun had already set.

She was intrigued. And softened.

David loved the daily escape and pretended to miss her less as each moment turned to the next. Someday, he’d let her in on his secret, but until then, he’d keep his solitary peace and delightful gift to himself.

It was midafternoon on a Monday that Amy rose from her yard work and wandered over to what was supposed to be the sunflower patch. Not even a sprig. Just a somber headstone.

“Amy!” a soft voice called. It came from the woods and she was drawn to the familiar, masculine warmth and excitement.

She walked to a clearing and entered through a narrow path that was just wide enough for one person.

“Is this where David goes?” she wondered. It was the first time in years he had spontaneously entered her thoughts.

“Come here, Amy,” the voice repeated. She followed the path until she was face to face with David.

“See what I found, my love?”

He was standing among hundreds and hundreds of 6-foot stalks of buttercream blooms.

“How? What?” She collapsed to her knees, struggling for words and clarity and moments later found herself returning David’s reach for her hand.

“Birds,” he laughed. “It must be the birds! They have been stealing your seeds and planting them here.”

Amy surveyed the huge expanse of sunflowers and melted into his eyes full of loving light and understanding. Every variety of seed she’d ever purchased was standing before her in crowning glory. Buttery petals blocking out the sun all while reaching for the rays.

Little Becka, Giganteus, Stella Gold

“It’s Joy’s sunflower patch!” Amy’s voice whispered a truce as sparkly tears clung to her lashes.

“I know, Baby. She’s been growing her own for years. Just waiting for us to find her.” And each other.

Amy felt David’s arms tighten like a protective suit of armor around her small, broken heart. She didn’t run away this time.  The smile that used to break her spirit, now renewed it. She saw Joy in his face and, for this moment, felt as close to happy as she could ever hope for.

 

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Written for the Yeah Write #170 Summer Challenge Series. In fact, if you are interested in honing your own skills, head over there now and get signed up for the whole summer. This week’s challenge focuses on conflict with the optional prompt, “Where have all the flowers gone?”

600 words: non-fiction

750 words: fiction

42 words: gargleblaster

Even though the baby names are different, this was written (accidentally) as part 2 to A Siren’s Sadness.

Happy writing, friends!! xo