Haze

How could he have missed her, when her skin was luminescent, as though she were shining from the inside out? He knew, in actuality, it was a mutation caused by his grandmother’s excessive use of hairspray, his mother’s generation’s prioritization of convenience over climate. Still, his heart fluttered.

She had dark violet eyes, a shade his mother claimed people used to purchase plastic-silicone cups they put directly on their eyes to obtain. He had never understood the appeal of this optical vanity until he got close enough to see into her eyes for the few seconds before she maced him. It was the right move; the ever present fog comprised of pollution had further empowered and encouraged rapists, and glowing in the dark made her more noticeable prey.

He told his mother about her when he got home, though as usual, his mother didn’t really listen. His eyes may have been the ones stinging from capsaicin and not having been the unknown girl’s love at first sight, but his mother’s eyes were the ones overflowing as she wailed once more about how she was such an awful person to have brought him into this world that was so dark and bereft of something called Oxycontin, about how she had trusted the politicians who lied regarding the veracity of global warming when she should have listened to the hippies. And wasn’t it so ironic, now everyone lived like hippies because the water was the wrong temperature and too polluted for bathing, and the supply of dry shampoo had run out when he was only 2. Or maybe it wasn’t ironic because her understanding of that word came from a song from the ’90s, which she had later heard used the term incorrectly.

Eventually, his mother tired herself out. Her lids closed, and she drooped onto the tabletop, and he went to bed, because it was dark and no one else in his home was awake, and there really wasn’t anything to do.

He couldn’t sleep. Violet eyes, fringed with long lashes, stared into his own every time his lids closed. He should probably have been tired, but was oddly energized, as though he had come across some contraband Twinkies, and had sugar and preservatives coursing through his veins. Finally, after hours of pretending he would be able to get some rest, he went outside for a walk.

And saw her again.

He was wading round the corner of a crumbling brick building, amidst the foot of water that was now a permanent fixture of a decaying former downtown, when he was forced to halt his next step mid-air to avoid running into her. He saw her right hand begin to move in front of her, and cried out: “PLEASEDON’TMACEMEAGAINIWONTHURTYOUIPROMISEINFACTIWOULDLIKETODOTHEOPPOSITEOFHURTYOUBECAUSEYOUINTRIGUEMEBUTPLEASEPLEASEDONTSPRAYMEAGAINBECAUSETHENYOUWILLHURTMEANDDOESNTTHATMAKEYOUAHYPOCRITEANDOHMYGLOBALWARMINGNOWIMBABBLINGLIKEMYMOTHER. SORRYBOUTTHAT.”

Her hand halted. She looked at him, eyes narrowed, and then burst out into laughter. “You’re serious, aren’t you?”

He ran his hand through his greasy hair. “Um… yes?”

“Well, it’s a good thing you said something, since I’m carrying a stun gun and not mace.”

He was relieved at having not been attacked again, and curious as to how she had obtained a stun gun, given that they were illegal. Mostly, though, alarmed: “Yes, good I said something. I don’t like being electrocuted.”

She shook her head at him, lips pursed in derision. “You can’t play cool now. You just admitted to the ultimate girly insecurity: fear of turning into your mother.”

He opened his mouth, sure there was an objection to this, and them closed his mouth, having been unable to find it.

“It’s okay. I don’t particularly want you to turn into your mother, either.” She winked, revealing sparkly lids, before pushing past him. He turned to watch her walk away, only to see her look over her shoulder, and prompt him to follow her.

“Where are we going?” he asked, walking quickly so that he was at her side.

She shrugged. “I dunno. To find something to steal.”

“… steal?” He was a well-behaved boy, having heard numerous horror stories about what happened if people were caught stealing. It involved cruel and unusual punishment, occasionally culminating in death.

“Do you have something to live for?” she asked him, flashing teeth in a reckless smile. Her words were flippant, and he could not tell whether or not she was serious.

They arrived at a large group of brick buildings, whose front glass doorways were dark with dirt and dust, whose parking lots were spotted with vehicles that rose out of the constant smog, which they avoided out of decency, since the owners were likely living out of them. They tip-toed through the mist, moving without sound over the concrete, before she picked up a heavy green pole still occasionally used to contain the remnants of an illicit cigarette, and broke open one of the large glass windows.

Dust kicked up in small tufts with each step across the small black and white tiles lining the floor right before the window as they weaved between tables. Shortly, they came to an opening in the waist-high wall, and stepped onto dark green, low-pile carpet. Large wooden shelves loomed, filled with paper. She walked to the nearest shelf, running her fingers along the items it contained. “What is this place?” he asked.

“It’s a bookstore,” she responded. She removed a slim volume from a shelf, the front of which showed sad, feminine eyes morphing into a night sky atop a glimmering city. “This one is one of my favorites,” she said.

“You can read?” he asked. He had heard of it from his mother, although it was a concept he had never understood. What was the point in straining your eyes to view small symbols denoting meaning in a world where no one could see anything clearly, given the constant fog comprised of pollution? Yet here, she of the violet eyes held the item so close – maybe there was something to the act he was missing. He stared more closely at the front of her book, seeing white and orange symbols that were obviously supposed to mean something — yet, after staring for a few more seconds, he was completely oblivious to what that meaning was, and agreed with his original assessment of this “reading.”

She, meanwhile, ignored him, seeking out a brighter area, and finally settling in an area of the floor where a small shaft of sunlight shown through the window, lay on her stomach, and began slowly flipping through the pages.

He walked around a bit, finally finding a book filled with pictures, which he took near her and began reviewing. Some of the pictures were very beautiful or interesting, and he found himself getting lost, to the point where he looked up, and realized she was no longer beside him. Tucking up the book he had been looking at under his arm, and feeling a thrill that it was his now that he had decided to claim it, he began searching for her.

He found her, sitting on the dead, formerly grass, slope behind the building, knees up, arms crossed atop them. He sat beside her.

After a few seconds of silence, she sighed heavily, her mouth opening wide like a Greek tragic mask. “Do we have something to live for?”

“I don’t understand what you mean,” he admitted.

She gestured around herself. “Look at this world. Our parents fucked it up. There’s nothing to see, not much to do, and when you find shit to do anyway, such as ‘stealing’ from defunct stores that couldn’t take money if you offered it to them, you’re tortured. What kind of life is that?”

“…our life?” I ventured. “I mean, we’ve never known any different.”

“No, but we’ve heard the stories. Of how it used to be. Our parents lived in a world of light. Now we know nothing but haze and darkness. Violence and isolation.”

“I don’t feel isolated right now,” I said, looking over at her.

She dropped her chin onto her arms. “For now. But this feeling, like the one we just felt, won’t last.”

He thought for awhile. She made a kind of sense, yet he knew, in his heart, that she was not entirely correct. After awhile, he said: “Our life is… not great. But I’ve spent enough time listening to my mother – because when you’re around her, all you do is listen, there’s no point in talking – “

Tiny smile.

” – And I don’t think that they had it better. Should they have taken better care of the earth? Yes. Was it selfish of them to have us, knowing that the world would be nearly unlivable in the very near future? Maybe. But we are here, and we can still find some enjoyment in our lives. Even without dry shampoo.”

She looked over at him. “Dry what?”

“I don’t know. It’s something my mother talks about. A lot.”

She laughed. “You’re a weird guy. Or at least, have a very weird mother.”

“Agreed. Pretty sure I have to give mom all the credit, though.” After a pause, he said: “I’m Jeffrey, by the way.”

She looked over. “Nice to meet you, Jeffrey.” After a pause: “Amy.”

They sat behind the store awhile, making small talk that dipped its’ toes into large talk, and increasing their amiable feelings for each other until the initial liking of each others’ company began turning into something more.

Written in response to M’s June Writing Prompts

H&G: The Witch Needs to Update

“Look,” Geoffrey said, pointing towards a copse of trees about 600 meters away. The green of their leaves shone brighter in the sun that shone, seeming to single out these trees amongst the cool shade of the woods surrounding them.

“No, Geoffrey,” Hannah protested, stamping her right foot, her hands curled in fists at her sides. “You will not drop trou and piss in the woods. I will not have it.”

“Aren’t I supposed to be the bossy one? I’m the boy, and I’m older.”

But it had always been this way. It was difficult to resist someone who was so opinionated and certain when you were an aimless waffler.

Speaking of waffles…

“What is that delicious smell?” Hannah asked, her nostrils widening as she breathed deep.

“What do you care? You don’t eat – anything, really, as far as I can tell.”

Hannah shrugged. “True. But baked goods means that there is probably someone nearby. Perhaps in a lovely little cottage.”

“Lovely little cottage? Have you been watching those Jane Austen movies again or something? We live in the 21st century, not the 19th. Also, have you seen those hairstyles? You could never pull that off.”

“No one could. That’s why they wore bonnets. Or hats? I don’t know – something that covered their head.”

“That’s about the level of eloquence I expect from you.”

“I would kick you, but it might cause you to piss yourself.”

“Thank god for Oprah; I might not be alive anymore if you weren’t a germophobe.”

“…Hello children.” The voice broke through their fighting, despite having a fragile, bitter quality that should have been easy to ignore. Its’ owner looked equally frail, and was waving a hand with gnarled, knobby fingers at them, smiling at them with a mouth filled with crooked, yellow teeth.

“Hello,” Geoffrey said politely.

“You must be tired, if you have walked all the way out here to my cottage. Please help yourself to my house.” The gnarled fingers skimmed along the windowledge, and the siblings realized it was gingerbread. The entire house, in fact, was gingerbread, decorated with thick white icing, windows spun from sugar.

“Please. Eat,” The elderly woman prompted again, but both of them declined.

“That’s sweet, but I’m on a diet,” Hannah said.

“Diabetic,” Geoffrey said ruefully, shrugging his shoulders.

“Although, if you don’t mind, we would love to use your bathroom,” Hannah continued. She had begun feeling the pressure from her own bladder for the last few minutes, and was relieved to think that she would not have to walk all the way back to the car without relief.

“Bathroom? How would I get plumbing to work in a dessert house?” The witch replied, furrowing her brow in disbelief.

“I don’t know. How do you prevent the bugs and birds from eating it?” Hannah retorted, her bladder pressing ever more urgently.

“I don’t. It’s just fresh baked. Look, here they come now.” A line of ants was creeping up towards the windowpane from which the witch had greeted them.

“Well, what are we supposed to do?” Hannah asked, certain the woman was holding out on them. “Our car has got to be at least 2 miles away!”

The elderly woman shrugged. “Use the trees like everyone else?”

As the two hangry females had been arguing, Geoffrey had crept behind a nearby tree and done just that. Hannah refused.

So it was that two hours later, two lost little children came upon a restroom in the woods. They ran inside, only to find themselves caught in a trap once they had relieved themselves. And Hannah and Geoffrey came upon their car, having been lost only once, which was a full four miles from their encounter. Hannah would discover she had a urinary tract infection the next day, and Geoffrey would secretly revel in the fact that he had not solely been her lemming, and he did not.

Writing Prompt: The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

The lights were, by turns, beautiful, dazzling, sophisticated, funny, overdone, underdone, twinkling, moving, immutable. Distracting even if a person was not consumed with a rabid holiday fervor, although in his experience, most people were infected with good feelings in spite of the fiscal woes associated with the end of the year. This festive virus ensured that the addition of a few tiny bulbs of luminescence made the host entirely unaware of his or her surroundings.

This young woman, for example, with her silky brown hair trailing down her back in waves and her soft cashmere travel wrap, would not ordinarily let a hitherto unknown man stand a mere foot or two away from her for longer than a minute, two at most, unless that man was exceptionally handsome. Yet he, who fell short of even being average-looking, had been hovering near her for a quarter of an hour, and had not received so much as a cursory glance. The scent of Chanel No. 5 wafted through the crisp night air, and breath escaped her mouth in a white fog that merged with his own exhalations.

He could be the love of her life, right here, within touching distance. She could look over, and their eyes could lock, for a minute. And then he, smitten by her beautiful brown orbs, would lose track of where he was and trip over the rubber-tipped toe of her Sorel snowboots. She would giggle, and say something slightly snarky and comforting while flashing a white, orthodontia-enhanced smile. He would respond with some witty repartee, and convince her to get a coffee with him. She would nurse something sickeningly sweet and holiday inspired, like a gingerbread latte. They would talk in the dim lighting of the coffee shop until it closed, and then he would walk her home. A kiss would be shared under the gently falling snow, the first of many more.

He could be a rapist, stalking his prey right here, within touching distance. She could look away for a few seconds, only to feel his hand clamp over her mouth and nose, holding a white rag damp with chloroform. He could drag her limp, heavy body behind the clump of large evergreen trees just a few feet away. She would awaken, hours later, as her consciousness slowly, painfully broke through the heavy, drug-induced haze. She would endure hours waiting in the hospital to be examined, shivering in a green smock that exposed her back and the bruises on her sancrum, where she would learn that in addition to being defiled, she had permanently lost feeling in three of her toes due to frostbite. Then, she would be hoisted onto the police for questioning, where she would be implicitly told, over a cup of gritty dark coffee, that she had been asking for it, wearing such a formfitting snow coat.

He could be her long-lost brother, the black sheep who left the family over a decade ago in pursuit of money and fame in Los Angeles. She could look over, and their eyes could lock, for a minute. They would simultaneously recognize their mother’s eye shape, and know that this was their former playmate, sparring partner, and confidante. She would envelop him in a tight hug, and they would head to a bar. Over cheap, sour beer, he would explain how he was disillusioned, and had only realized after heading out there that he did not have the looks, talent, or contacts to act, nor did he have the money, power, or contacts to produce, and had wasted the past eleven years washing dishes. How he had been completely alone when his cat Mr. Egghead passed away, and had decided it was time to come back home, where he could live with mom and dad and figure things out.

He could be anyone, anything, and she – distracted by the lights – would not look over, would not see him. It was too early for the drunks to come stumbling home from the bar, Taco Bell bags clutched tightly in their fingers and off-key carols escaping their lips. Too late for the frazzled shoppers, who had already driven home, made numerous arm-laden trips into their houses with the as-yet unwrapped presents, and now drank their eggnog and hot chocolate before the fireplace. It felt as though they were alone in the world, and anything was possible.

Christmas truly was the most wonderful time of the year.

She was still focused on the lights when the pain bloomed in her lower intestines. The knife slid easily in and out of her person, and he was walking away, each step crackling with the salt on the soles of his boots, as her blood began to pour onto the clean white snow.

December Writing Prompt #13 from M’s blog Putting My Feet in the Dirt