Friday, December 25, 2009

A Christmas Memory For Alice (Friday Fiction)

Author's Ramblings: This was a short piece entered in the FWC, about a year ago. I finally had some time to expand it and add a few short pieces as it has been bugging me for awhile. Theodore McGinty will not be making an appearance this year, but perhaps sometime in the future, he will visit this blog in the form of a new installment. He insists his story is not ready to be continued, so I have no choice but to listen to him at this point, as there are plenty of other voices within my head, clamoring for attention. Eira and DP should reappear for another installment this year and then I've some interesting things slated for the New Year, so please keep an eye out and let me know what you think. Enjoy this Christmasy adventure with Alice and I hope you have a very, merry Christmas!

I shivered in the light dusting of snow as I rang the doorbell and hugged my duffel to my chest. I hadn’t realized that Meeta’s house was this big. I hadn’t realized it was so far away from the quiet little town where our trailer home was neatly buried in snow. I also hadn’t realized it would take Dad a whole half-hour to drive me here.
He was so upset afterwards, he’d driven off when I’d turned and waved. He hadn’t even waited to see if someone would answer the door and let me in.
I tried not to let it bother me. I’d already been too much of bother for the holiday-er-Christmas season already. Gloria had insisted on all sorts of holiday traditions and things her family had always done. She didn’t care a whit about things like cookies and special ornaments. I’d fought with her, then with Dad and then finally agreed to leave it all alone, if I could spend Christmas at Meeta’s house instead.
Now I was standing outside a very big house, with very tall columns on either side of the massive front porch. I swallowed hard, working up the courage to ring the bell again. Now that I was thinking a tad clearer, it was making some sense. The house seemed more like a Ranch and the that description explained away the dozens of acres of white-speckled green grass. Neatly trimmed grass fenced in with white picket fencing, LED Christmas lights flickering on an off lazily from their perch upon the fence posts.
It was pretty.
It was definitely something I’d never seen before.
Another shiver worked up and I winced, before poking the door bell again. I could almost hear it ringing inside the house. There was very little I had left to work through my head. This Christmas was easily turning into more of a headache than the usual heartache.
My eyes burned for a moment. Standing out in the cold was getting to me. I hadn’t remembered Mom for nearly the entire hour. It was partially her fault I was standing here now. My choices had been limited, so I’d created a choice of my own.
Now I wasn’t sure that I could handle the route I’d chosen myself, for now the memories of past Christmases were chasing me…catching up when I least wanted to deal with them. Times where our family was whole, where we didn’t hate each other and where Christmas meant more than eggnog in the fridge.
Heavenly Father, please let this be a good Christmas. I begged more than prayed, because I wasn’t sure I could handle anything other than goodness at this point. If there was more snub, one more scolding, one more…something, I knew I would break.
This time, fixing myself and possibly my sanity wouldn’t work very well. My eyes watered. The wind had nothing to do with it. I was tired of everything. Tired of remembering. Tired of standing in the cold and lastly, tired of sounding like a grown-up.
My mind had already shifted to gears to be thinking of where or how I could manage if no one came ‘round to the door, when it suddenly opened and I was pulled inside.

“Alice!” Meeta crowed, rocking forward on her tip-toes. She hugged me tight then held me at arm's length, even though she was a whole head shorter than my shoulder. “Oh you're late.” She spun me around. “And I told you not to dress up-you must be freezing! You poor thing…” She was already off mumbling to herself, spinning me around again to twirl me out of the thin dress-coat.

I grabbed her arm, dizzily, allowing the coat to be whisked away. I’d hated the coat, but worn it because I knew it bugged Mom. It had been one of the very last gifts Dad had ever given me. Now, I was just the unfortunate relative he paid child-support for. A thought that brought a grimace as I tried to push it away. “Actually, Mom had to know.” I held up the duffel sheepishly. She had to make sure I wouldn’t embarrass our ridiculous excuse of a family. She doesn’t really care where I spend long as it's not with Dad and Gloria. As if Christmas with her and Pete is any different. I stifled a shudder, banishing the thoughts.

Meeta rolled her eyes. “You're fifteen. I think that means your brain’s almost grown-you know, so you can like, think for yourself?” She rolled her eyes. “I can already see where your head’s going. Quit being so gloomy! There’s soooo much stuff to do right now, I was trying to get to the door when I heard the bell ring, but everyone kept stopping me with something to do before I got there!” She heaved a sigh, a happy flush lending a healthy glow to her bronzed cheeks. “And you really did have to dress up? I wish you hadn’t…never mind, I've got spares.” She bit her lip and then caught hold of my sleeve and the duffel. “Come quick.”

She threw the jacket over my head and shoulders, linking one arm through mine and all but running down the entryway. I was smuggled down the hallway and into her room. It was larger than Dad’s trailer kitchen and living room put together. Larger than Mom’s two-story basement spare bedroom and playroom.
Tastefully decorated in muted tones, with a few splashes of color at the border around the ceiling, elegant gold swirls and scrolls were sprinkled throughout the walls. Everything matched to some degree, or at least, it felt that everything belonged where it was and exactly as it had been. I also noticed that her bedroom slippers were pink, fluffy…and loud. There were two gold bell tassels on the front.
“Wow.” I stared in wonder at her gigantic bedroom. A sight I’d never seen because I’d always turned her invitations down, never wanting to get that close to the girl who had never stopped trying to be my friend. “Um, you guys are rich.”

Meeta was already pawing through a set of pink and orange dresser drawers, happily throwing things around in a swirl of rolled up socks and filmy fabrics. Her head popped up, surprised. “We work hard. Anyone can do, wear these.” She handed over a pantsuit in burgundy and white. “Quicky.”
“Quickly.” I corrected her cute speech, but smiled as I did so. She liked her lisping way of twisting words around. Most of the time, I didn’t mind. It was always the distraction I needed. “What for?” I gingerly slipped out of my holiday dress, it was harder than I remembered it being.

“We don't dress up until the afternoon, remember?” She frowned. “Or were you not listening when I gave you a page of instructions?”
“I was listening…” I shimmied into the pants. They were a tad snug, but fairly comfortable.
“If you untie the knot, it’ll fit better.” She said, dryly.
I looked down and blushed, to see she was right. It took a moment to fiddle with that while Meeta found a hanger and threaded my pathetic Christmas dress onto the wire frame. “You don’t have to hang that up…I can fit it in my duffel.”
“And let it get wrinkles?” Meeta snorted. “Always treat your clothes like…chocolate.”
“You know, special and important, cause it makes you feel good. Like chocolate.”
“Never heard that one before.”
Her mouth quirked. “You’ll be hearing a lot of things like that here…hurry up, it doesn’t take that long to change into a pants and shirt.”
“I’m going, I’m going already.” I grumbled.
She chuckled. “Trust me, you’ll be glad you did. You might feel out of place waltzing around in that thing.” She pointed to the dress and then her face lit up the way it usually did when she was about to coerce me into some new random idea of hers. “Wait here!” She held up a hand and ducked through into another room and reappeared a moment later with a soft blue armful. “You can wear this.” She spread it carefully on the bed. “Salwaar Kameez. We're the same size or close enough, I pin my up so they don’t drag on the floor…so I’m sure this will fit you all right. Besides, it's new. You always have to wear something new for Christmas…for luck…or something like that. Feels good anyway.”

I stared at the gorgeous two-piece. “Are you sure?” There was white and gold beads and sparkles along the sleeves and bodice, then trimming on the flowy pants. I’d never seen anything that beautiful before and my brain was whirling to catch up with her intent. “Meeta, I can’t-”

“Yes, yes. Yes you can.” Meeta danced impatiently from one foot to the other and the moment I'd finished changing, she towed me out of the room. “Remember to smile, okay?”
She didn’t give me another chance to protest and when we arrived at our destination, I was again speechless to say anything at all. We rounded the corner and I was overwhelmed by the size of the cavernous kitchen. At present, it was filled to the brim with lovely women in sweat suits with their dark hair piled elaborately up on their heads and an ongoing stream of chatter in Hindi, seasoning the fragrant air.

“Mmm. That smells good.” I inched my way into the kitchen following Meeta who paused at the end of a long kitchen counter. She was right at home in all the bustle and chatter of several conversations going on at once.

She said a few words in Hindi, then gestured towards me. “This is Alice, remember?”

Heads turned in synchronization and polite smiles overtook each face. Expressions ranged from curious to puzzled and then several returned to their work, with a few nods in my direction.
“Pleasure to meet you, Alice.” The woman closest to me offered a hug, stepping back in horror almost at once. “Oh your shirt!” She stared down at her apron. “I didn't mean to get flour on you.” She reached out to and stopped when she saw her dust-covered hands. “Oh dear!” Her accent was British and entirely wrong from the lovely Indian face staring in dismay.

Meeta giggled. “Alice, this is Aunt Nazzy-I mean, Nazalia and it’s okay, I lent her my pantsuit. It’s alright if anything happens to it.”

“Nazzy.” The woman corrected. Her lips twitched. “Good. Because that was chapatti flour and I had already mixed some seasoning into it. Are you girls ready to help now?”

“Yes.” Meeta answered for us both. “Aprons first. Come on!”

I obediently followed after her, and was promptly given a neon pink and purple tie-dyed apron. “Do you guys do everything on Christmas day?” I tried to tie the strings in the back, while attempting to sort out what was going on around me. I’d never seen this much food for a Christmas gathering, even when all the in-laws and grandparents had come to Mom’s house. The busy hum in the air carried a feeling of anticipation with it. I felt a spark of happiness at the thought I would be included in this happy bustle.

“Here, I’ll get that. Your head still isn’t in here.” Meeta rapped the side of my head, spinning me around again. Her quick fingers straightened the straps, and tied the strings together. “Sort of. I mean, it's easier. Everyone comes to our house, we spend half the day cooking, and it goes SO much faster. Then we all get dressed up with jewelry and makeup and everything. Then, we’re almost ready for like, the usual stuff. Uncle Jay brings the Christmas tree and then everyone brings out the presents they’ve been hiding and…” Meeta shrugged. “Come on, or we'll miss the cake-making, it's the most fun!”
Meeta dragged me back to the front of the corner where I was almost immediately ‘adopted’ by Aunt Nazzy. She took the time to explain the importance of Indian fruitcake, and their version of a pound cake, known as sponge cake. Her infectious laugh, coupled with the unbelievable accent, made listening to her words a pure delight. Meeta dashed off, once I was safely tucked away and ran from one end of the kitchen to the other, helping everyone.
Eventually, I relaxed, watching her dash about and listening with half an ear to Aunt Nazzy’s murmurings. I learned about cake-making and a few other Indian dishes, learned how to taste from a hot spoon without burning my hands or my lips-without blowing my breath on the said utensil. I’d never known things like that quite mattered.
Aunt Nazzy laughed at the expression on my face when the first batch of cake was lined up on the counter. There were fifteen pans in all. “Bet you’ve never seen that much cake, eh, love?” She patted my shoulder, whirling back to the counter. “Hurry and finish creaming that together, we can make this batch out and move on to something else.”
And so I did.

The day blurred by and I found myself immersed in a reality almost like a dream. It was a beautiful, glorious, wonderful sort of dream. No one hated me. No one yelled at me. No one made me feel stupid, or in the way. I felt like one of them. Everyone knew how to cook or bake something special, trading words of advice as they worked, including me in everything. I received plenty of hugs, pats on the shoulder and head, along with plentiful mouthfuls of whatever dish the cook happened to be working on.
I didn’t think I’d ever be hungry again, for my stomach never had a chance to empty itself. Food was more than just means of survival over here in Meeta’s world. It was something much more special. I felt honored that she’d included me in such preparations.

When Meeta slowed enough to return to see how I was doing, she joined Aunt Nazzy and I in finishing up the second batch of sponge cake. In spite of her petite size and figure, she was a quick, strong worker. We finished drizzling food coloring over pans of sponge cake batter, stirring in the colored liquid with wooden skewers. This would make lovely swirled designs in the cake when it was finished.
A loud booming voice in the hallway made me jump and Meeta giggle. Aunt Nazzy shook her head. “And I suppose I’m going to be all alone again, aren’t I?” She laughed as she spoke and I followed her gaze to Meeta’s glowing face. I didn't think it was possible for Meeta to appear any happier, but her smile grew even wider, her eyes sparkling merrily.

“The tree's here!” She squealed, tossing the wooden skewers into the resting bowl. “Alice, come on!” She nearly tripped over the bells on her sandals and paused, impatiently to yank them off. “Alice!”

Laughter rose in the kitchen. “Off with you both!” Aunt Nazzy shooed us away with a smile, taking the wooden skewer from my reluctant hand. “Go have fun, ditta. It’s usually Meeta’s job to dress the tree. I think she’ll let you help.”

Before I knew it, I was knee-deep in tinsel and ornaments, laughing my head off alongside Meeta and another handful of teenage girl cousins with names I couldn’t pronounce, yet smiles I could understand. They were every bit as welcoming and understanding as Meeta, sharing and explain their stories and backgrounds.
It was more culture than I’d ever experienced in all of my fifteen years to now. The happy tingles of pleasantness seeped through the air and settled somewhere in my bones, a feeling I couldn’t dismiss even if I thought I might want to.
This had been the best Christmas I could remember yet. There was so much happening, yet there was so much love in the air, I couldn’t stop smiling. Christmas was so much more to them. It was family, the Christmas story itself and memories. Between them all, I learned how to wear my new outfit, what a paratha was and how to be a part of their family.

“Thanks, Mets.” I hugged her impulsively as we stared up at the huge, newly-bejeweled tree. She’d been meticulous about her ‘special’ ornaments, but Aunt Nazzy had been right. She did trust me to help her hang them. The other girls had merely trimmed with the tinsel and lights. Now our masterpiece shone brilliantly, lighting up the great room.
“For what?” She returned the hug, automatically as the other girls gathered up the wrappings, stuffing them back into their respective boxes and bags.
I half-shrugged. I didn’t need to explain, she usually knew this sort of thing. “Y'know, for inviting me…and insisting I come. I did need this.”

“Thanks for coming.” She said, simply. “Everyone's been so excited for you to be here. You wouldn’t believe all the questions they asked. They've even got you presents and stuff. Aunt Nazzy brought you something that's bigger than my box.” She grinned. “I think they’ve decided to adopt you…unofficially of course.”

“Really?” I felt tears brimming in my eyes.
“Really and truly.” She winked. “I’m glad. I told you we were soul sisters.”
“Merry Christmas.” Was the only words that left my lips.
“Merry Christmas, Alice.” She hugged me again. “A very, merry Christmas.”
I smiled through my tears. Thanks...Daddy.
© Sara Harricharan

Friday, December 18, 2009

Hunt For The Dark Phoenix (part 18)[Friday Fiction]

This week's Friday Fiction is hosted by the talented Karlene Jacobsen @ her blog, Homespun Expressions. Click here to read and share more great fiction!

Author's Ramblings: I'm in a hurry. Don't have much to ramble about, sorry. But another stirring installment of the Dark Phoenix. I will try to fix that cliffhanger thing later. LOL. Enjoy! (and a special Christmas episode will be posted next week so keep an eye out for it!

When she could breathe again, Eira found herself lifted and sat quite firmly on the river bank with two very black, and very serious eyes fixed on her. She hiccupped, the alternative to a possible sneeze. The sudden expression his face, seemed to freeze any other reactions, including the trigger response sitting at the very tip of her tongue.
“I will say this exactly once, so please, apprentice, do make sure you are listening.” One hand reached up to cup her chin. “I never want to hear you say those words again, as long as you are under my instruction, understood?”
Eira blinked. “What?” The word slipped out and she leaned back. “I just said that-”
The hand immediately covered her mouth. “I know very well what you said, I heard you the first and the last time.”
She mumbled a few things through his fingers that darkened his severe expression another dozen degrees.
“That did not sound like a yes.” The hand dropped. “Yes? No? Yes?”
“There’s nothing wrong with it!” Eira burst out. “Everyone has a-” The hand covered her mouth again. It was smooth and cool, with the exception of one particular rough square beneath his thumb. Eira blinked. Her mind was wandering again. She tried to finish the sentence, for lack of any other way to explain herself and her particular choice of words. It was more than normal…at least for her family and work.
“Everyone where?” He countered, tapping her cheek with one finger to ensure her attention was focused on him. “That may be anywhere else in this universe among a wide variety of beings…even creatures, if you wish. However, if you would recall a particular conversation, I will attempt to clarify. I do believe I have mentioned you may have to adapt to a few…quirks of my own, because of personal preference?”
She mumbled. The hand moved. “No.”
“I thought so.” The hand dropped altogether.
“That’s not fair!” Eira sputtered. “Entirely unfair! You can’t just”-
“I can’t just what? It is very fair.” The eyebrows went up. “And I am more serious in this than I care for you to know. Do not let that kind of language pass through your lips for any reason whatsoever if you wish to retain the title of apprentice.” His brow furrowed. “I don’t want to even think of where you could have picked that up.”
“Hey! Don’t knock my family! You don’t know them!”
“You picked up that…from your family?” His confusion betrayed his bewilderment, for her affirmation didn’t seem to sort anything out at all.
“We just…it doesn’t…it doesn’t really matter…besides…I mean, well, okay, it does matter. You can’t say that…stuff to Mom, or Dad will have your head, but if you’re working and people are being stupid?” Her shoulders shrugged upwards unhelpfully. “I just…I’m sorry…I didn’t think I would…offend you.”
“There is very little if anything, that could possibly offend me, apprentice.” His mouth twitched. “I merely do not appreciate the context in which some words and actions are used and I do not think it is beneficial for you to insult your own intelligence.”
“You really need to work on that.”
“That…never mind. Maybe it will be your trademark.”
“I need a trademark?”
“Not now…maybe later. You’re changing the subject.”
“I am?”
“Cute.” The eyebrows shifted, to offer his unspoken opinion. “Regardless of where you learned what and for whatever reason you have it justified, a lack of varied vocabulary leads to one saying things that should never be said. You’re smart enough when you aren’t thinking yourself in circles, why not divert a fraction of that brain power to expressing the true meaning of whatever you have experienced?”
“I got as far as smart and experience.” Eira tilted her head, letting some of the water trickle out from her hair. “Why do you always have to talk with such a jumble of words?”
“I don’t know.” He said, sarcastic. “I was told I was born that way.”
“Oh. Well, that explains it.” Eira shrugged. A shiver passed through her.
“Why did I expect you to say that?”
She offered another shrug.
“Nonverbal communication is also a block for the speaker who cannot articulate and express themselves in a sophisticated manner. Are we clear?”
He closed his eyes for a moment and then reopened them. “Short.” He accented with one hand. “The short version. Don’t ever repeat what you just said, if you wish to remain….if you want to be…my apprentice, still. Understood?”
Eira swallowed. There was a swatch of darkness behind the words as they left his mouth and traveled the short distance to her ears. A scrap of darkness she hadn’t missed. “Okay…fine. It’s fair. I should have listened…I’m listening now…no swearing…no stage talk. Got it.”
“Stage talk?”
“I…uh…couldn’t possibly explain it without…I got it, okay? Can we leave it at that?”
“If you like.”
“I like.”
“Good girl.” He threw a glance over his shoulder at the water as he climbed onto the bank beside her. It faded, returning to its original course, with only a brief hiss of steam rising from the edges as the warm water collided with its cooler counterpart. “Up.” He extended a hand, seemingly more from habit than anything else, offering a towel. “Here…you can have this one…keep it in your pack from now on.”
The towel was accepted and Eira wrapped it quickly around her shoulders. She didn’t have a chance to shiver again however, because a blanket of warmth came with the towel along with a rather surprising discovery. “Hey!”
“Hmm?” His acknowledgment was absent as he lightly toweled off his hair and shoulders.
Eira turned to stare as she realized he was already dry from head to toe. She held the towel at arms’ length to survey her outfit. “Whoa. Cool.” It took a few more minutes of careful, strategic rubbing, before the gifted towel effectively removed any trace of dampness from her clothes, along with the dirt.
The Dark Phoenix waited, politely, the last few minutes until she was finished. “Better? Shall we proceed?”
“Yeah. I mean, yes. Thanks.” Eira quickly wadded it up in a round ball, tucking it under one arm. Her earlier frustration was resurfacing and it quickly overrode the awkward feeling from their most recent conversation. “Wait a minute!”
“Don’t hmm, me!” Eira snapped, she closed the short gap between them glare down at the inquisitive eyes. For once, she would make use of her size, versus his own short frame. “Gimme back my knife!”
The eyes blinked. “I beg your pardon?”
She poked him. “Don’t give me that! You gave me this stupid-” She bit back the word on the tip of her tongue and yanked on the sheath for emphasis. “I hate these little tests that you keep flinging out all over the place like-”
“Where’s your knife?” He shifted, subtly changing in form and presence. “Eira?” His request was more of a command.
“I don’t know! You took it!”
“Why would I take your knife?” He spoke each word deliberately, slowly.
“Eira, you are not thinking rationally and I need an honest answer. This is serious. Why would you think I took your knife? Is there something to suggest it? Have you any proof?”
“I need proof?” She mentally resisted the urge to poke him once more. She had a feeling if she did, he might snap her finger off. “Since when do I-”
“Please tell me you didn’t manage to leave it in there.” One finger was pointed in the general direction of the river. “If it is, you’re going back in there to retrieve it.”
“Oh, that’s nice! Really, nice!” She snapped. “You already took the stupid knife and hid it somewhere, just so you could-”
“I didn’t touch your knife.” His gaze fastened on the sheath buckled to her waist and then at her face. “I don’t understand what the prob-”
“Ha ha. As if you didn’t know!”
“I didn’t.” His voice was surprisingly cool. “When did you notice it was missing? It couldn’t have been when you were sleeping…you had it with you when I woke you…what did you do with it?”
“I didn’t do anything with it! You took it!”
“I did not take it and I do not appreciate having to repeat myself.” He frowned. “This is what’s bothering you?” The attempt to clarify seemed to add a touch of darkness to his being. “When did you notice it was missing?”
“Right after I put this stupid-”
“I would appreciate it if you would overlook the use of stupid as a word in favor of simply getting to the point?”
“I put this on!” Eira stabbed a finger at the sheath. “And then I tried to put the knife in only to discover that it wasn’t there!”
“You didn’t realize the knife was missing until after you’d put the sheath on?” His expression was mildly puzzled. “How could you not know if it was missing before you…never mind.” His head turned to the side as he backed away a few steps “This is bad…the gap between…that’s too much time…too close.”
“What? What’s too close? What gap?”
“Shh!” His head twitched in her direction, but his thoughts were clearly speeding along elsewhere. “No…that can’t be right. Yes, it can be right, it is very wrong. This is not good. I did not want this to happen.”
“Want what to happen? Hello! You could-”
“Hush your mouth!” The request was accompanied by a quick darting, glare. “This means there will be a problem…the very one I was hoping to avoid…which means…no. I don’t want to deal with that. It isn’t the kind of thing…oh dear. There will be witnesses, which means that-”
“Hello!” Eira’s hands went to her hips. “I’m sure you’re aware that you’re ignoring me on purpose and all of that, for whatever reason I’m too dense to understand, but if you don’t mind, I would really like to know what is going on here for-”
“Eira!” He whirled on her, at last. “Not another word!” The hands came together in the usual pinch and her mount clamped shut.
One last indignant squeak emerged as Eira felt her mouth shut of its own accord. There were a few choice words she was happy did not leave her mouth, though at that point, she didn’t care whether she remained his apprentice or not. Of course, this was only conveyed through wild gestures and grunts.
The eyes registered on her with mild disapproval. “I am attempting to think logically about something at this precise moment. You are distracting me at the worst possible time. If you would learn to keep quiet when necessary, I would not be shutting your mouth, half the time!” His annoyance registered with a touch of frustration. “And now I have to start thinking all over again.” He paused. “Don’t make me freeze you on top of that either!”
Eira stared at him. It took a half second for the words to register and the emotion behind them. She was beginning to feel the last strands of her temper, and confidence crumbling away to nothingness when something flickered in the wall of greenery behind him. She squinted and watched, suddenly fascinated.
The sparkle belonged to a strange, armored creature with a pointed helmet. It was something out of a fantasy novel and for that reason, Eira was completely enthralled, as she watched the thing crawl out from behind the underbrush and sidle closer. The moment was broken, however, when the helmet fell off and a hideous face of molten rock and dark energy focused solely on her. The grimace twisted into a smirk, intended only for her eyes.
Grunts, squeaks and waving arms did little for Eira, because she was roundly ignored by the Dark Phoenix as the creature approached, a sardonic expression on the fiery face. It was almost as if it knew she could do nothing to warn him. Something about the way it was and what it meant, somewhere in the back of her mind led to hostility brewing within her. And because she’d already done it once for the morning, she dropped the towel-armful and launched herself forward.
Her aim was off and it was—as the first two times, off-kilter. She managed to drag her master a few paces to the side and halfway to the ground. However, the creature had suddenly reared up, on two powerful hind legs to throw a black barb towards them. It found its mark, between the shoulder blades of the Dark Phoenix, a wound that was only worsened by the fall.
Eira stared, horrified now, from his rapidly paling form to the blackened blade sticking out of his back. She didn’t have time to think about what to do about it, she simply had to react. Scrambling to pull herself free of the tangle of arms and legs, Eira tried to summon her powers.
They fizzled miserably.
And faded away.
She swallowed.
This was going to be bad.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Hunt For The Dark Phoenix (Part 17) [Friday Fiction ]

This week's Friday Fiction is hosted by the talented Karlene "KJ" Jacobsen herself @ her blog, Homespun Expressions. Click here to read and share more great fiction!
Author's Ramblings: Well, Christmas is almost here and I've had a few requests for another episode with Theodore McGinty. You can read last year's adventure here. As for Eira and DP, well, they've had a bit of fun with tempers flying wildly and mysterious things happening. I had quite a bit of fun with this piece. Poor Eira! Of course, plenty of dialogue. I've made it through a few finals btw, more to come next week. Thank you for understanding and excusing my unedited work. lol. Have a great weekend!

The dreams weren’t kind that night.
And neither was the ground.
Eira awoke to another splitting headache with cramps and aches in places she’d almost forgotten existed. She was awakened to the persistent tapping of something on her foot that refused to be ignored.
When her eyelids finally forced themselves open, she focused, unsteadily on tall black boots standing at her feet. It took another moment before her consciousness clicked in and Eira realized that the Dark Phoenix was studying her rather quizzically from above, and methodically nudging her foot with his own.
“Finally.” The eyebrows went up. “If you didn’t wake up now, I was going to dump something on you.”
Eira took his hand in sitting up and yawned widely. It didn’t seem as if it could be morning already. It didn’t seem as if she’d gotten any sleep at all. She was about to tell him that, when his words registered. “What?”
“Lovely.” His mouth twitched at her usual trigger response. “And good morning to you too.”
“What exactly-” Eira coughed and then grimaced. The night must have been cold for her throat was burning to a degree she couldn’t recall. “is good about it.” Another cough sputtered out.
“Sleep well?” He inquired, politely, returning to his own corner where his pack was neatly buckled and waiting.
“No. I had nightmares.”
“Good ones or bad ones?” He murmured, fiddling inside the pack and then tossing something over his shoulder. “Catch.”
She did so, more out of habit than his actual warning. The object in question turned out to be the sheath for the knife he’d previously given her. The same one he’d cut her hair with. The same one she’d seen in the nightmare last night that had replayed itself over and over again. She coughed and dropped it.
“Pick it up.” He said, cheerfully, without even bothering to turn. “Tie it to whichever side is the hand you use the least, that way the hand you use the most is the one that will draw it.” He straightened, turning, a stack of towels in hand.
Eira blinked. She looked from the miniscule pack to the nearly overflowing armful. Her head throbbed and she winced, turning away from his happy expression. “What now?”
“We can cover a lot of ground today…the air’s just right.” He tucked the towels under one arm. “Before we start though, there is one thing I need to fix.” He started towards the bushes.
“Right.” Eira watched him go and then stooped to retrieve the fallen sheath. Her fingers obeyed his words, wrapping neatly around the tunic’s belt and hanging just to her right side. It was when she reached for the knife to replace it in its rightful holder, that she froze.
It took a moment, but it wasn’t the initial thought that scared her. Rather, it was the second. Eira patted the pockets and sleeves quickly, then frantically scanned the ground where she’d spent the night. The first stirrings of panic registered as she realized there was only the impression of her body in the faint dew and nothing more to show that anyone or anything else had been there.
No footprints. She shrugged her shoulders until they touched her ears. This was going to be very, very bad. Biting her lip, she dropped to her knees, crawling to the bushes to stick her head beneath the damp leaves. There was no sight of the knife under the bushes or the low branches and her efforts were rewarded in the way of muddy hands and a dirty outfit.
Trying to remove the dirt from her hands and clothes only made a bigger mess as Eira stifled a scream of frustration, sagging back onto a sturdy tree trunk. “This isn’t funny!” She told the tree, gingerly folding her arms. She was now aware of how cold it was and how damp her clothes were in addition to the horrid mud.
A trickle of wetness splashed from the tree to her head and slipped down beneath her collar. Eira jerked away from the tree with a scowl, rolling her shoulders. It was bad enough to be wet, bad enough to be awake and even worse to remember what had made the day before such a terrible memory.
On top of a short haircut, she was now reminded of the knife and then of the too-cheerful expression of her new Master. “Tell me again.” She said, through gritted teeth. “Tell me again, why in the name of Bieria, am I doing this? Whatever possessed me to the degree that led to this!” She threw up her hands, gesturing wildly in air.
Realization dawned with another inkling of frustration as Eira stomped towards the bushes. “Of course. This is another one of those tests. I’m sick of tests. I’m sick of this. I hate you!”
The words tumbled out as she charged through the bushes and tried to stop a few seconds too late. She hadn’t been counting the steps, though even if she had, Eira hadn’t calculated for the Dark Phoenix to see her coming and gallantly step to the side.
Her arms swung wildly in the air and she pitched forward into the freezing water. The scream that could have left her lips, didn’t. Eira surfaced with a choking gasp, more furious than ever.
The Dark Phoenix however, was trying not to smile, but failing in successfully suppressing his amusement as he watched from the bank, arms crossed over his chest. “I was wondering what was taking you so long to get here, but I didn’t want to bother you.” His mouth twitched. “I also would have stopped you…but judging from the dirt on your face, I daresay a bath would be somewhat in order and a fresh change of clothes, which I may have neglected to add to your pack. I can’t remember if I ordered it for a week or a month…I don’t suppose you know?”
“What?” Eira struggled to swim to the bank, feeling her arms growing numb and heavy. She was at the point of wondering exactly how dense he was, when he stooped down to her level and touched one finger to the water.
“Logically, one usually warms the water before swimming…or drowning in it.” His eyes smiled at her, while his face smoothed over, registering with a neutral expression. “I suppose that’s as safe a thing to teach you as any, if you’re going to keep up this habit of…water sports, in the morning.”
Warmth spread through her like a thick, oozing sort of feeling. Eira stopped struggling, long enough to realize that she could feel her limbs again. Of course, by the time that registered, Eira also realized that she wasn’t quite drowning anymore. Instead, the waters had calmed and were almost buoying her up, of its own accord, refusing to let her sink lower than her elbow. “Uh-” The question didn’t quite come out yet, but Eira turned and yelped in surprise. “Hey!” The word was garbled as two hands clamped down, one on her hand and the other on her shoulder.
Eira sputtered again when she surfaced and this time was met by a smiling face. The amusement in his eyes was too much at that point, for now it was more than evident on his face as the Dark Phoenix took a step backwards, as if gauging her reaction. “What was that for?”
“Whining.” He released her. “You shouldn’t be whining this early in the morning…gives me a headache and sets your temper in the wrong mood.”
She pushed him away, tilting her head to get the water out. “My mood is just fine!”
“It could use a little more…” He shrugged. “One dunking usually cools it off though.”
It took her a split-second before she twisted and lunged at him.
He dodged to the side as he done before and she compensated a moment too late-again. When he let her surface a moment later, she jerked away, lifting her chin as he released her arms. “This is not helping!”
“On the contrary…it would seem you have…quite a bit of frustration to burn.” He didn’t laugh, though he may as well have.
Eira whirled around with energy she didn’t have and aimed for his chest, changing her movement at the last moment and kicking towards his feet. She caught him off guard, because he’d blocked her original intent, but missed her secondary target and went down. For a moment, they tussled. She managed to hold him under for a brief moment, and it fueled her frustration enough for the wrestling to continue.
It was quick and mostly painless, until she was ducked again.
“No fair!” Eira coughed, the third time, retreating further away to shake the water from her head before preparing to attack again.
“You deserved it the first time.” He snapped his fingers at the water. “The second time…you were just careless…and the third…same thing.”
“I was only trying to-”
“I know.” The water in their section rose until it was shoulder height, while the river continued to run its course. “I suppose I’ll have to teach you some sort of…weaponless defense sooner or later.” His mouth twitched. “Perhaps sooner than later. I’d rather you learned to use a blade first.” His hand extended. “Better?”
“I’ve got water in my ears, in my hair…I’ve almost drowned and I’ve been-”
“You’re having a perfectly normal morning.” He wiggled his fingers. “Come on. Try again.”
“Try what?” Eira sniffed. “I don’t wanna try anything. Besides…my throat hurts.”
“Where?” He waded closer, attention shifting.
“Here.” Eira pointed and winced. “And my head hurts too.”
Cool fingers brushed lightly on her throat, followed immediately by a light thwack to her forehead. “There. Better?” He inquired, taking a few steps backwards.
She waited a moment, before she answered, and then moaned. The ache in her throat faded along with the headache. It throbbed faintly, before ebbing away to nothing altogether. “Nooooo.”
He chuckled. “I’ll spare you then…though you were doing pretty well, unless that was just raw instinct. I take it you had brothers?”
Eira snorted. “None that realized I existed…”
“Really? Then who taught you that?”
“What?” She deadpanned.
“You actually tackled me. I wasn’t expecting it, but I should have…I just didn’t think you would actually…do that.”
“Next time, think!” Eira snapped, attempting to wring some of the water from her clothes. She stopped when she realized that mud was still decorating a significant portion of her daywear.
“I suppose next time I will.” He cleared his throat, waiting for her to look up.
“We’ll skip meditations today, as long as you do your best to focus on the lesson now.”
Her head snapped up at once. “No meditations?”
“You needn’t sound so happy about it.” He peered into the water. “We’ll work on your…water sports.”
“Very funny!”
“On the contrary…as I said earlier…it would appear you have some frustration to work off and I can’t resist the opportunity to-”
“To drown me? Dunk me? Otherwise torture me?” Eira nearly shrieked. “You’ve done all sorts of-” She broke off with another squeal and lunged forward again.
This time, he moved slower, taking care to block her blows and dodge backwards instead of immediately ending the round. “You’re losing because-”
“Because of what? My technique?”
“Your technique is fine…your spirit isn’t.” He lazily dodged another swing and circled, shifting so she was now backing towards the riverbank.
“You don’t know anything about-” Eira gasped, as he darted forward, catching her wrists and spinning her around, trapped between him and the riverbank. “Ow!”
“That.” His voice was soft in her ear. “Is not my twisting your wrists, but injured pride and misplaced anger. This is an excellent lesson you ought to learn…the sooner you learn it, the less time we spend…debating the merits of it. You should never attack in anger…at least, not with where you’re directing it. Righteous anger has its place, but being angry just because and fighting to punish, take revenge or to control another being isn’t right.”
“Says who?” Eira struggled to get loose. She was now discovering he was a lot stronger than he’d let on. “Lemme go! You’re hurting me!”
“Are you breathing?” His voice was calm. “Answer me, Eira.”
“Yeah! Duh!”
“Good. Then as far as I am concerned…you’re fine…temporary discomfort is precisely that. Temporary.” His grip relaxed. “However, it appears you do not care either way.”
“You don’t care about anything!”
“Would you care to clarify that?”
“Is something bothering you?”
“Oh, wow. You’re a genius!” She spat the words out. “How long did it take you figure that one out, huh? Wait a minute, are you even sure there’s something wrong?”
“Is there?”
“No. Of course not.”
“There is something bothering you.” He sighed. “Is it your hair?”
“What hair?”
“No breakfast?”
“I’m not hungry.”
“Liar. You haven’t eaten yet. You’re always hungry until noon.” He shifted. “Your nightmare?”
“Is that’s what’s bothering you, the nightmare?”
“From someone who thinks nightmares can be good, I completely fail to see the relation between-”
“Sometimes they can be good.”
“Nightmares are never good!”
“Says you!”
“Shut up!”
“Eira.” His voice softened. “Are you going to tell me what’s bothering you or should I just dunk you and we can start all over again!”
The answer Eira gave wasn’t the one he wanted to hear.
He dunked her.
© Sara Harricharan

Friday, December 4, 2009

Hunt For The Dark Phoenix (part 16) [Friday Fiction ]

This week's Friday Fiction is hosted by Karlene "KJ" Jacobsen, herself @ her blog : Homespun expressions. Click here to read and share more great fiction!

Author's Note: Special thanks to all of you who took the time to email me your vote for Eira's hair. I do appreciate it very much-and as you will see, the winning vote is...keep reading to find out! Have a great weekend, sorry this installment is short, but I've got finals coming up in these next two weeks, so you'll just have to hang in there until I have time to type up the action sequences coming up. Cheers!

It wasn’t that she was trying to annoy him on purpose, or so she told herself, but as Eira continued to tramp through the jungle-like trail behind him, every little twinge began to build up inside her until it rose to an unbearable point.
True to his word, they did stop soon, the moment the sky began to darken, he changed direction and found a spot eerily close to the same size and look as the clearing by the river where she’d nearly half-drowned herself.
“We are going in circles, aren’t we?”
He didn’t answer, instead, slinging his pack to the ground and walking a circular path around the perimeter to set up the energy field that protected them at night.
Eira watched him walk in a circle and then draw the energy physically from his body. It emerged dark in form, then shifted and lightened until it gave off the pale yellow glow she was accustomed to. Floating to the top, it spread over in a dome-shape, forming the traditional web.
“Have you made up your mind yet?” He asked, quiet.
Eira ignored him. “Should I just start my meditations?”
“The river is twelve paces to your right from the fork in the corner.” He pointed with one hand, throwing a tiny flicker of energy for her to see the groove in the edge on a mound of dirt. “Count carefully.”
She stared at him for a moment, then scowled upwards at the energy orb. Guessing it to be in the center of the clearing, she set her pack beside his own, and moved to stand beneath the yellow ball. She danced around a few short steps until she was certain she was close enough to be directly under it and then sat down.
It wasn’t until she’d closed her eyes and managed to count a few deep breaths that she realized she didn’t have a way to keep track of time. It took another moment to swallow that thought and the lurking touch of negativity that came with it. If he was going to talk about things she didn’t care to answer to, then she would ignore him.
A simple strategy that now seemed rather pointless. It took another careful series of deep breaths in and out before she decided to simply sit as long as she could stand, or until he interrupted her.
The time passed very slowly.
Eira wasn’t sure how long she was sitting there, but it did feel as if it amounted to much more than forty-three minutes. However, she wasn’t interrupted and she never felt him approach her. This thought was slightly unnerving to the point where she tried to focus long enough to tell whether there was anyone in the clearing, but it didn’t quite register the way she’d wanted.
She couldn’t sense anything at all.
Eventually, she began to feel sleep slowly creeping over her. She woke with a start when a hand touched her shoulder. She licked her lips as she felt him bend down to her level.
“Forty-four.” He whispered, one hand sliding under her arm and hooking beneath her shoulder, hauling her upwards to stand. “Feeling better?”
“No thanks to you.” Eira struggled to wipe the sleep from her mind. It was harder to think than when she’d first sat down. Nothing seemed to be making much sense.
He gave her a little shake. “Don’t ever do that again! What were you thinking?”
“I wasn’t.” Eira croaked, a cough came out as she tried to pull away. “What happened? What did I do this time?”
“You were putting your powers to sleep.”
“What?” That broke through her fog. “I did what?”
“You didn’t do, you were going to.” He gave her another shake, as if for good measure and then released his hold over her. “Look at me.”
“Why?” Eira scowled even as she lifted her eyes to glare defiantly back, or at least with as much attitude as she could muster, her head was beginning to hurt again and it was causing a most unpleasant set of eruptions throughout the rest of her body. The kind that usually led to more troublesome things that caused the headache to become much worse. Of course, such thinking was already giving her more pain within her head and a few pangs to her heart.
The moment their gazes connected, she felt him enter her mind. It was a swift, sharp cut that sliced directly through every wall of defense and every barrier she’d ever constructed. Like a frantic frenzy of some creature, his mind’s probe darted in and out poking in every corner, searching for something it could not find.
And then as quickly as it could enter, it withdrew.
The choked gasp that came out was almost as if he was strangling her. Eira lurched forward a half-step and froze. His hands were gentle on her shoulders, easing her to the ground. “Eira? I need you to keep talking to me…that was one of two things, reviving your powers…awakening them, rather and making sure that your self-healing wasn’t killed in the process. You’re going to feel horrible for about…” He frowned, the expression suddenly making him appear quite comical. “All of a entire minute or so.”
That, Eira discovered, was the truth. No sooner had the horrible feelings come and gone, than they disappeared. It was a nice and easy going little happy fuzzy feeling that trickled down all around her. Breathing was nice, easy and slow.
“Well?” He demanded, standing above her, waiting to see if she’d catch her bearings. “How do you feel now?”
“Fine.” Eira sat up, surprised. The headache was gone, the fog was gone, in fact, she was feeling very much alive. And awake. “What did you do?”
“Something I shouldn’t have had to done if you would have kept your head screwed on straight!”
“Excuse me, I didn’t know it was crooked!” Her temper resurfaced in record time. “The last I knew, it was sitting on top of my shoulders and just about as empty as any thing else around here!”
“That makes absolutely no sense at all.”
“Does it have to?” Eira shot back. “What are you getting so-” She stopped. “Don’t tell me, did I almost kill myself again, or something like that?”
“No, but if you do that again, I’ll finish you myself.” He snapped. “That was a stupid and idiotic thing to do.”
“What was?”
“Unsupervised meditation.”
“I didn’t realize that I needed to be supervised.”
“Did I neglect to mention it?”
“If you did or didn’t, I can’t say that I know. I wouldn’t have been paying attention! Meditation is boring. I was just trying to get rid of those stupid minutes!”
“I ought to double those yet again.” He growled. “Didn’t you feel anything wrong?”
“No.” Eira shrugged. “Should I have?”
“NO?” He repeated, a slight tremor moved over him. “You didn’t feel anything at all?”
“I didn’t know I was supposed to feel anything.”
“You should have felt something.”
“I didn’t feel anything!” Eira snapped, exasperated. “Good grief! How many times do I have to repeat myself before anything goes beyond your thi-”
“You should have been able to sense me.” His eyes closed for a moment. “I thought you’d fallen asleep. I sensed you focus, so I let you be on your own for a few minutes, when you started slipping away, I tried to wake you up, and you wouldn’t move.” The eyes opened again, this time, they were tired. “You didn’t almost kill yourself, you were quite nearly as good as dead…to this world and realm.”
“Your eloquence never ceases to amaze me.” The words were muttered, but he helped her up and immediately thwacked her forehead. “Don’t do that again. No meditations unsupervised, understood?”
“Ow.” Eira took a step backward, one hand raising upwards to poke her head. “I didn’t have a headache until you did that.”
“Liar.” He turned away, abruptly. “You don’t have any headaches at all…the healing packet inside of you…fixed it. What I don’t understand is how you didn’t realize there was something wrong…for the record, Eira, if you die in this dimension, you are dead here. I have no idea where else you’ll go or what will happen. Your energies may sustain you for some time, but what you did-whether you knew it or not, wasn’t very smart at all. Didn’t they teach you anything about your powers when you attended academy basic?”
“If they did-”
“Then you weren’t paying attention.” He finished for her with a shake of his head. “Not good at all, Eira.” He rubbed his nose for a moment and then threw up his hands. “You’re not going to be formally trainable are you?”
Eira blinked, but she couldn’t stop the word that popped out. “What?”
He muttered something she couldn’t hear and then turned around to face her again. “Hair. We’re focusing on one thing at a time and right now it is your hair. It’s late. I’m tired. You’re tired. Let’s just get this over with quickly. Are you going to cut it?”
“I can’t.” Eira winced. She didn’t want to know exactly what his expression was to that. “I just…can’t.”
“It is necessary.” He repeated the words slowly. “There is no compromise on this.”
“I know.”
“and your answer is…?”
“I can’t cut my own hair.” Eira felt the first traces of a headache coming back-for real. But it hovered in the background as she took the time to identify it. “Please…isn’t there some kind of disguise and-”
“You can grow it back once we’re past that city, once we’re clear of everything.” He tried to catch her eye. “Please understand at this point, I am not trying some cruel tactic for-”
“You don’t understand at all! It’s my hair! My HAIR!”
“And it’s…beautiful…but your life depends on this, Eira.” His voice was soothing now, coaxing as if he were talking to a young child. “You can’t keep it now…later, yes…now, no.” He drew a short knife from his waistband and offered it to her. “Here.”
Eira took a step away from it, the pressure mounting steadily. “I c-can’t.”
“That’s okay…try.” He took a step forward.
She took another step back. “I can’t try…I’ll make a mess of it…and my hair takes a long time to grow.”
He didn’t answer, but he took another step forward to keep the distance between them. “you don’t know that you aren’t capable of trying until you try.”
“That doesn’t make any sense.”
“Does it have to?” He almost smiled. “Little between us seems to make any sense at all.”
“That’s your fault.” She sniffed. “You’re always talking in riddles.”
“And you never answer in complete sentences.” He countered.
“Like what?”
“You’re dodging the subject.”
“Am not.”
“I’m not! You are always talking in riddles.”
“That’s not the subject I’m talking about.”
“Then talk about a different one.”
“I can’t.”
“Why not!”
“You can either do it yourself or I can do it for you. Pick one or the other and pick it now.” The coolness had returned to his voice. “and I do mean, right now.”
“You’d cut it for me?” Her head snapped up to look straight at him. “Would you really? Do you even know how to cut hair?”
“How about, do you really believe I have a personal hairdresser?”
“You make it sound weird.” Her gaze skittered across the simple, almost standard hairstyle. “N-no…you probably scare people away.”
“Not on purpose, but certainly not for lack of trying.” He twirled the knife. “Catch?”
“N-no!” Eira held her hands up. “Just cut it…yourself…quick.”
His eyebrows went up. “Really? Are you sure?”
“Don’t ask me. You’re the one that wants it cut.”
“For very necessary reasons.” He spun his finger. “Turn around.”
She hesitated and turned, crossing her arms, eyes squeezed tightly shut. “Just…do it quick.”
“If you wish.”
She felt him move closer and cringed as the knife sliced neatly through the messy braid of hair. She hadn’t had time to look after it today and now for sure, all the ends would be uneven and-the knife curved around her ear, jerking her to a new place of stillness.
“I’ll even it out.” He said, smoothly. His hands were experts as they wove quickly through the hair and the knife twirled easily beneath his hands. “And done.” He leaned forward and tucked the knife into her waistband. “Keep that. I want you to have a physical weapon on hand somewhere.”
Her eyes opened slowly and she was aware of him moving away and soon rummaging in his pack again. She didn’t dare look over her shoulder, for at that moment, Eira wanted to be anywhere else in the world, the universe or realm…but exactly where she was standing. Of course, wishing did precious little to improve her current situation, but eventually she worked up the nerve to reach a hand to touch the short crop of hair. The weight was missing and it felt all wrong.
Fingers tangled through the rough edges and then she released a breath she hadn’t realized she’d been thinking of.
His voice was faint, almost muffled.
Automatically, Eira turned, hands poised to receive whatever it was. She barely had time to adjust for the tiny bubble of silver. She caught it, nearly dropping the item when it was soft and warm to the touch, before straightening out to show a silvery, oval platter-like shape.
A mirror.
The reflection staring back at her was one she couldn’t quite make out as her hair seemed to be swarming around her face and cut much shorter than she could make out.
“Is it that bad?” His image appeared beside hers in the platter and the head bobbed and twisted. “It’ll look better in the morning.” The face disappeared and the platter-mirror dissolved.
Eira was left staring at her hands until she finally crumpled to the ground. It was a shock that hadn’t quite left yet as she slowly hugged herself and let the tears fall. There was more memories than anything in her hair…and he’d taken it away.
© Sara Harricharan
(copyright SH)