Power of Prayer, a short story in six chapters

Excerpt:

"Will you pray for a miracle?" 

"It's not like that, child," she smiled sadly. "Prayer isn't like that. It's not a wishing well. You don't pray for what you want, you pray for what is right. I will pray for the family you mentioned." The old woman turned to walk into the house.

"How do you know?" she asked, again too loudly. "How do you know what is right?" 

"There are two things in this world that are always right, child. Justice and mercy. When you pray for justice and mercy, you pray for what is right. Even if it doesn't seem right. Even if it seems cruel. Justice and mercy are the infallible virtues." 

A love letter to J.R.R. Tolkien (a creation fiction)

I was conceived on a dreary November day in 1931. My conception was not a planned thing, I was quite an accident; I wasn't sought after, or even necessarily wanted: I just sort of happened.  These things do happen from time to time, you know, these unplanned things, especially when someone refuses to take the necessary precautions, or perhaps doesn't know any better.
 
On this otherwise unremarkable day, the clouds glowed silvery grey and white, the color of moonlight. It was mid-afternoon, the air cold but not the biting cold of winter, just the late autumn cold which threatens of the biting cold of winter. Despite the cold and damp and grey, no rain fell. Rain would have been satisfying, a sort of justification for the gloom. But there was no justification for the gloomy weather: not a single drop of rain fell through the air to plop unceremoniously on the on limestone towers and fortifications of Oxford University. No pleasant tic-tic-tac-tac of splattering precipitation offered reprieve for one man's monotonous task. Had there been a real and proper distraction from such tedium, I may have never been.
 
My father was the one man with the inglorious task of grading examination answer books. He sat there in the cool dark, hunched over his desk, pallid and wearied by the repetitive rote answers of students too desperate to be right to allow creativity or free-thought. A rumpled pale blue jacket covered an over starched white button down shirt. His tie was loosened at the throat, top collar button undone as he sought any meager comfort he could find. Lifting bleary eyes to the tall window beside him, he looked out at the low slung sky, the white-gray Headington stone walls. His mind wandered off to a small dirt trail winding through budding green hills, around a particularly familiar curve to find a round green door set into the hill. He turned the page of the examination answer book recalling nothing of what the student had written.
 
A blank page in the answer book brought unexpected joy. In the answer book on my desk there exists a blank page. In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit. 

And there I was. Scratched out in a small, curling calligraphy on the back page of a student's examination answer book. A humble beginning, I must confess. No fits of passion and spewing forth of creative brilliance; just ten little words written in damp black ink on a tan sheet of paper. But that's all it takes in the beginning. 

The beginning, the conceiving, is always the easy part. 


"What's a Hobbit?" she stood holding me in her hand. I'd been torn out of the examinations book, folded twice and tucked into a snug jacket pocket.

The excitement of budding life had not waned. A story is, above all things, patient. To mature is not an instantaneous thing, nor a measured thing. Like any life, a story grows and stagnates and rushes forward pell-mell toward completion only to slow and stop, backtrack and start again. 

"I don't know," my father said. He wore another white button down shirt and a black tie. He looked at me in the hands of this woman, puzzled by the words or perhaps puzzled that she was the one who spoke them. 

"But Hobbits live in holes in the ground? How do you know where they live if you don't know what they are?" Her gaze poured over my skin and she flipped me over to review my back side, but found nothing there, least of all an explanation for a Hobbit. 

"It's just a thought I had while I was grading papers. That's all. Probably nothing, a story for the boys, you know." He reached for me and she handed me over without question. 

"I was going to send this to the cleaners today, so you'll need to wear another." She took the jacket and left. 

Safe in my father's hand I waited, pensive. 

"Not a dirty, nasty hole. A sandy hole, tucked in and cozy, smelling of good things to eat." 

And I grew. 


Stories don't grow like people grow. People grow day by day in a linear fashion: forward, ever forward, from beginning to end. Stories don't grow in such a way. We grow, sometimes, from the middle, or from the end. We might begin at the end, or grow from the beginning and the end, only to end the growing somewhere in the middle. 

I'd say it's hard, but I don't really know any different. I began at the beginning and ended at the end, but everything in between was a tumbled up jumble of pieces and parts. I was cobbled together on napkins and papers and in the margins. 

My father grew me by talking about me to friends, to his children, to his wife. I became words on paper and words in the air. As I grew, people who met me began to remember me. I was no longer ten words hastily jotted down on a dreary November day. Now I had form, curve, depth. My father rounded out my figure and filled in intricacies and nuance. Not a flat story, not me. 

My favorite memories are not when I was words on paper or flying through the air, but when I was drawn into pictures. My humble beginnings grew to include elves and dwarves and dragons. As my father poured more love and care into my growth, I changed into a glorious tale. As I grew from conception to maturity, my aspects also grew: hesitant characters became heroes, friendships were forged and tested. I knew I was a good story. People who only knew a few of my parts remembered me, asked after me. With pride my father shared me and I knew I would soon be ready.


I am ready. 

I have reached transcendence. I am no longer a single thing in the trembling hands of my father. I am duplicated and replicated and repeated a thousand times and ten thousand times. I am bound and stacked, pressed tightly into boxes and as the boxes open I am unleashed, free. The final step in the life of a story is the step toward humanity. From the first moment of conception I have worked steadily on toward this enviable moment where I become alive. The tides of humanity will sweep me up and engulf my entire essence, devouring all that I am, and I will remain in them forever. 

I am a story and I am a living thing.
 

Memories of my childhood home (September 2012)

It is a lonely trailer, old, worn down, unloved and unlovely. The paint is chalky brown and beige. You can run a hand across it and get a dusting of color and dirt. Most of the other trailers in the park have a skirt around the bottom to hide the cinder blocks they sit on, but not this trailer. This trailer shows its rusted legs sitting on broken cinder blocks and a pink blush of insulation where the raccoons have crawled in. It is a sad, tired trailer, baking in the summer heat.

A small wood porch sits outside the front door. The wood on the porch is weathered and untreated, a dusky dirty grey. The heat soaks into the wood so that it hurts to stand there too long in the summer. It seems it’s always summer in south Texas. A girl child steps out through the creaky front door and narrows her blue eyes against the afternoon sun. She looks like summer, with hair bleached by the sun and skin tanned to a golden brown. She smells like sunscreen and the sticky-sweet of popsicles. Her bare feet shift on the hot porch as she stands there a moment, looking across the bare yard, looking across fresh black asphalt with heat waves radiating up, looking across to another yard and another trailer.

It is a loved and lovely trailer, fresh and clean. That trailer had new siding put on in the spring; dark blue siding with white trim and white window covers. There is a skirt covering its legs and cinder blocks, keeping the raccoons out. Dark green Kentucky blue grass grows rich and soft and cool. There are flowers growing in a flower bed, pink and purple, and lattice growing ivy, lush and bright green with white flowers blooming. There’s a shade tree hanging over the porch, casting soft shadows on the dark stained wood. The girl child considers the shade and the flowers, how cool and inviting that other porch seems.

She looks down at her yard and sees dry dirt with a few daffodils struggling through the hard packed earth, a few tufts of brown grass burned up by the relentless July sun. There is a flower bed, empty except for cracked brown soil and a rusted tomato cage. It is a hot yard, and a hot porch. The girl considers the heat and steps back inside.

The inside of the trailer is an oasis of cool. Summer sunlight drifts lazily through the windows, all of its heat drowned in the air conditioning. An orange cat sits on the window sill, tail swishing slowly, eyes squinting against the light. There is a brown plaid couch, a second hand find, remarkably uncomfortable for a couch, with coarse material over hard pillows and a harder frame. A mother sits on the couch, a book propped up in one hand. She’s idly toying with a gold necklace, her fingers twining around the chain. She looks up at her summer time girl and smiles. The smile is cool and inviting. The smile says love and family and home. It is not a tired smile, nor sad, nor lonely, but bright and welcoming and lovely.

It is a sad, lonely trailer, but only on the outside.

In Transit

Lara pressed her fingertips into the knotted muscles of her neck, twisting her head in search of relief. A headache clung to the nape of her neck, shooting burning vines around the base of her skull. She was nearing 28 hours of travel and as many hours without sleep. The winter storms were unpredictable and nervous airlines grounded some flights while permitting others. In desperation she'd paid exorbitant fees to change flights, routes, even airlines, to arrive at her destination but to her own detriment. Now, instead of sitting stranded in O'Hare or Dallas, she was sitting stranded in Eagle County Regional Airport, which was possibly the smallest airport in existence. There were no cars available, not that it mattered since the roads were closed and every hotel room already booked. The restaurants were closed, the Wi-fi was down. Every human who was supposed to get on a flight to leave Eagle County had wisely stayed with their hotel, and every human - except, apparently, Lara - had already secured lodging before flying in. Here she sat in a small airport, in a small town, in the middle of the mountains. She looked again with despair at the empty Tylenol bottle peeping from the top of her black leather purse.

Lara pulled the white hat off her head, her fingertips brushing the twisting braids pinned around her head. Oh! The braids! Her hair had been wound tightly into braids her entire travel time! Correcting her posture from slouch to straight, with deft fingers she unpinned and began removing the snug plaiting. With each loosened section of hair her headache eased. Her hair fell around her narrow shoulders, kinked and waved from the long time wound up. Still chestnut locks hung past her waist, enveloping her upper body in silk. As she shuffled the last of the braid out of her hair the headache dissipated. Grateful for this small comfort, Lara put the pins and bands in a small case she'd removed from her purse.

She heard a quiet whirring of wheels on carpet and turned to see a young woman walking her way, a vibrant purple bag in tow. The young woman, dressed all in black and grey, with black hair and grey eyes, a black purse and grey carry on, locked eyes with Lara and made immediately for her. The way the woman made no hesitation about moving toward Lara seemed at once discomfiting and appealing. With no one else around and no chance of leaving until at least tomorrow, company for a while seemed acceptable no matter how awkward the first few words with a stranger could be.

"Thank God," the young woman said as she propped her bag against a chair and flopped back in the seat across from Lara. "You're the first person I've seen. I'm glad you're a girl, I was worried I'd be stuck here some asshole hitting on me, or a creeper, or a Nickelback fan. Or an ax murderer. Are you a serial killer?"

Lara shook her head, sending her kinked and waved hair into a frenzied waggle.

The young woman nodded. "Have you seen The Addams Family?"

Lara shook her head again, her small face almost obfuscated by her long mane.

"Probably for the best. Do you have any food in your bag? I'm starving and willing to trade a packet of Oreo's for absolutely anything salty."

Inspired by Ray Lamontagne's "Empty" opening line

She lifts her skirt up to her knees and walks through the garden rows with her bare feet, laughing. I follow as best I can with my halting gait and complication of Lofstrand crutches. She moves freely, unencumbered by pain and weakness: a small hop over the strawberry plants, vibrant red fruit peeking out of the lush dark green leaves contrasting exquisitely with the pale yellow skirt. She sprints up one row, grass and dew flinging behind her in burst of beautiful life, and I trundle along like a drunken bug caught in the windy wake of some passing car, caught as an archaic broken thing in the tumult of modernity. 

Paused at the top of the row, a hundred feet away, she might as well be on another world. Where she can go in a ten seconds I will eventually reach in a few minutes. Her passage is a streaking comet; mine a planet in slow and steady circumspection. We will both see the same row of strawberries. She will remember it in a brief splash of color. I will remember how the plants were lush and full, low to the cool brown dirt as they heaved leaves, fruit and flowers into a fat circle of sweet life. The beetle crossing my path and my careful placement of my crutch to avoid the glossy black back will be a part of my strawberry row memory. The way the dew beaded on the fruit and leaves and how brushing the leaves sent cascades of droplets down the thin tendrils to drip onto the moist earth. 

She moves down the rows furtively, hoping to traverse each row with her bare feet. In her haste she misses the smell of life and growing things. Ironic that those who have the health and vitality to experience all of the world rarely move slow enough to truly embrace such experiences. Slow, immersive experiences are left to those incapable of speeding through life. That's not to say that a faster pace leads to a poorer quality of life. I remember the thrill of sprinting across the fields, cut grass clinging to my bare feet and legs, morning mist wetting my hair. Laying out on bales of hay to dry in the morning sun. 

We ran together, she and I. She lay with me, drying in the sun. Every day together save one, the last day I would ever run. The car hadn't seen me because of the pre-dawn mist and I hadn't seen the car because the headlights were off. It was no ones fault and both our fault.

I couldn't run through the morning mist anymore, but that didn't stop me from walking through it and without fail, she came to me. Every morning as the sun began its slow ascent into a grey sky, she sat waiting for me, perched on the old brown fence in front of the house. I would crawl down the steps and she would hop from the fence, as if nothing had changed in our morning routine. We walked down the dirt road and into the strawberry fields, morning after morning, wet mist and dewy grass clinging to our feet. 

Benign Hallucinations

“Don’t you get lonely, having no friends? No support group?”

Her listless grey eyes flicked to the red chair beside her and the blond man who occupied it. Rocking gently from side to side, her arms crossed over her chest as one hand steadily tapped out a four-beat rhythm on her bicep, she looked away from the red chair and back, and away and back. Her life was a series of patterns only she understood. The rocking back and forth kept her soul from crying because her soul was raised on a boat; the rocking mimicked the feel of the ocean for her land-locked soul. The four-beat rhythm that her hand must, must, tap out so the satellites would think she’d succumbed to wiles of the government programming.

“No, I don’t get lonely,” she said in a soft voice, not quite a whisper.

Must not speak too loudly; it was a courtesy to those who listened in. Speak too loud and their ears might hurt. She didn’t want to give anyone a headache with too loud a voice traveling through the microphone receptors. Poor things. Locked away in a booth listening to her all day.

“Okay, Cheri. That’s all the time we have. Think about going back to a support group, Cheri. People can understand you at the support groups. They go through the same things you do every day. It might help.”

Cheri kept her arms by her side in the elevator, her hand tapping her thigh as she swayed side to side. The reflective silver doors showed her slender frame, disheveled hair and rumpled clothes. The mirror behind her showed the reflection of the reflection is a strange never ending pattern of Cheri’s. She was infinite here. Unending. A copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy-

“Of a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy…” Cheri’s voice filled the elevator.

“Shhhh, Cheri,” came the deep voice. Cheri looked up at her reflection and saw only the copy of the copy of the copy. She looked beside her, small face tipped up to the blond man beside her.

“You are only one, Cheri, not a copy. It’s a reflection, that’s all.” Cheri swayed side to side, fingers tapping.

“You don’t have a reflection,” she said, soft, quick, hesitant.

“I don’t need a reflection. I know who I am, Cheri, and when you know who you are you won’t need to see a reflection either.”

The elevator doors opened and Cheri looked up at the man holding his arm out so she could exit first. Shuffling across the pale tiles of the lobby, Cheri kept turning her face up to him. Just a quick glance as she swayed and tapped and walked. Stepping into the sunlight, Cheri breathed deeply, her fear of being hospitalized washing away in the crisp, clean air. Swaying like a flower in the breeze, Cheri closed her eyes and tipped her face to the blue sky and golden sun, smiling. She tapped softly on her thigh.

“Spring time suits you, Cheri. Spring time outdoors.”

Opening her eyes and turning to the man she smiled, earnestly and sweetly.

“I’m glad I’m not alone.”

"No, you're not alone, Cheri, but it's important that you not talk about me to anyone else. They will keep you out of the spring time sunshine, Cheri. They will put you back in the hospital. And we don't want that."

"No," Cheri said, eyes wide as she shook her head, swaying and tapping. "No, we don't want that at all. But...what about..." Distress filled her face. "They are listening! They will know!"

"No, Cheri. I've already spoken to the men who listen. They know about me, and they will keep our secret hidden from the Doctors. You are safe with me."

Cheri looked away from the man, eyes darting from face to face, suspect. "I am safe with you."

"Yes, Cheri. Safe with me."

They only come out at night

Felicia slunk quietly through the deepening shadows, feet soft, gait light. She could see the outline of the house set against the golden globe setting in the west. The air was still, silent. A good night for a hunt.

Winter had faded and spring warmed the days, calling green to the grass and buds onto the trees. Looking to her right, into the broken and brown forest, she saw her partner, Sam, skulking through the underbrush. As they neared the house Felicia dipped into the woods, sidling up to Sam as he settled in at the base of a tree.

She sat next to him, their eyes trained on the bleak house, faded paint, broken windows. Anyone could walk into that house and find naught but broken furniture, cracked floors, and a hefty dusting of dirt and decay. A hunter could hunt all day and not so much as sniff their prey. They only come out at night. Creeping, crawling, leaping out of windows on long, thin tendrils, drifting on the breeze. No breeze meant no flight. Hundreds would be on the ground.

A fine and easy feast.

The sun slipped below the horizon and the thick black of night settled over the deserted house, the dead and dying forest. Felicia and Sam stood, stealthily creeping closer to the house, remaining in the dark shadows, ears straining for the tell-tale rustle of feet from inside the house.

Minutes ticked past and Felicia and Sam sat in rapt attention, bodies tight with anticipation of the hunt.

As the stars flickered on the familiar rustle began. Like scrape of a thousand turning pages the sounds of hundreds of thousands of delicate feet on dirty surfaces rose and filled the air. Rising, rising, the sound, and with it Felicia’s pulse quickened. She crouched low and wide, bracing her feet flat on the soft forest floor. Pupils black as her fur, ears fully alert, every muscle straining. Beside her Sam braced against the forest floor, haunches instinctively flexing in rhythm, his tail flicking as his rump swished from side to side. His teeth clicked in a small chatter. Felicia extended her front claws and sank her back claws into the earth, ready for the fight.

Long-legged, fat-bodied spiders began swarming out of the doors and windows. Glossy black bodies glittered in the pale white moonlight. They ran over the rooftop, jumped out toward the trees and skittered along the dark earth. Felicia and Sam flicked eager glances to each other and noiselessly sprung into the fray of the spider horde.

As the cats descended, galloping into the advancing throng, the spiders parted ways, fleeing the oncoming death. Felicia saw a spider encumbered by a monstrous abdomen and adjusted trajectory to pursue the retreating black form. The spider’s legs churned quickly, its distended gut causing a rolling wobble. With almost no exertion, Felicia overtook the absurd spider, pressing her paw down and pinning it to the ground. Mouth wet with anticipation she bent to the spider and bit into its swollen gullet, devouring the morsel hungrily. Despite the size of her kill, Felicia intended to feast until she had forgotten the feeling of hunger or the idea of want.

Turning her golden eyes to Sam, she saw him bat a small spider to the side and pounce on a giant spider with a golden hind end, the spider about half Sam’s size.

Sam’s ferocity as a hunter was well known and Felicia felt pride as her partner demolished his chosen foe and then sat in victory beside the twitching carcass as he licked a drip of gore from his whiskers. Spiders ran around Sam and his kill, a circle of respect and fear for the victor. Felicia slammed her paw into another engorged spider that came too close and she hungrily devoured the kicking legs and fat, wet body.

Felicia ate eleven spiders of various size while Sam stayed by his giant kill, eating at leisure while Felicia took her pick of the tens of thousands of spiders who continued to pour out of the house. As the moon rose high and Sam crunched on the last leg of his fallen foe, the endless waves of spiders dwindled. Felicia walked over to Sam and licked some flecks of spider off his face. Both cats stretched their front paws out, arching their backs and shoving rumps and tails in the air. Felicia set a slow pace away from the house, her mind and body at ease after the thrill of the hunt and joy of crushing her teeth into fresh kill.

Death is not death for those who die by their own hand

Leaves rustled behind her. She pressed back against the tree, desperately wishing for camouflage or some measure of invisibility. She knew what followed her through the underbrush. Monstrous beasts guarded the prison, seven feet tall with skin black as tar, hornlike protrusions on their heads, shoulders, and elbows. A loud snorting breath sounded just behind the tree. Her time was now. Gripping the ax, she leaped, screaming, slamming the ax into the head of a horse that followed her from the prison. Her horse. The horse she had stolen, befriended, and then been captured with. The horse she was imprisoned for stealing.

The animal screamed and fell, legs thrashing. She lifted her head horror-stricken; hope for escape drained away. She saw the bull-like prison guard, muscles bulging, black lips lifted over sharp teeth in a grimace. A wicked whip in one hand and short cudgel in the other, she knew her fate was to be beaten and torn to shreds by the merciless monster.

Her death came as she wrenched the ax from the horse's gore, gripped the leather handle tight in both hands, and slammed the blade into her own skull.

All of my others are significant

He sat alone, grief and fear evidenced in his low-hung head and cowering posture. Eyes flicked around the room, wary and ready to fight or flee at the slightest provocation. Haggard, dirty, unkempt, unloved. I saw him from across the way. Like so many others, I wasn't here for someone new, I was just passing through, collecting necessities for the people who already belonged in my life; people who had won their place in my heart.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw him, tucked back in a secluded corner, confused and unable to reach out to the world. Pausing, I took him in and realized his inevitable fate. He would die alone and unloved, terrified; never knowing that this life can and should be beautiful, filled with comfort and peace, safety, the occasional indulgence.

He lifted his eyes to mine and I saw deep hurt and brutalizing sadness. We stood there, he and I, looking into each other's eyes. I, having loved and lost and hit rock bottom only to crawl my way back out; he, having never known love and knowing only the terrible truth of rock bottom.

I knew this someone needed me. I stepped through the glass door that separated him from me and heard his voice, a low menacing growl of a voice. A voice meant to intimidate. He and I were alone in the room. A room normally filled with rejects, and he was the only one left. Not even the last one picked for the team, he was unequivocally unwanted, even as a final option.

"He's on death row," a woman's voice said from behind me.

I turned and saw a short, stout woman in a forest green shirt. "Excuse me?" I asked, unfamiliar with the term.

"He's on death row. He'll be sent back for euthanization on Monday." Her face said this was a normal event in her week. I was appalled.

I turned back to the black cat in his small crate, the name "Midnight" on his name plate. Stepping next to his cage I looked him over again. Large patches of missing fur showed small round scars across his shoulders and haunches. A large swath of fur was missing completely from his side. His fur was in poor condition. He wasn't even a Goodwill cat; he was a rubbish heap cat.

"I'll take him. Bring me adoption papers. He's coming home with me."

Survival of the fittest

"What do you mean you don't know how? It's a fire for Christ' sake. Kindling and friction? Did you never see Castaway?"

I hadn't intended to yell. From the moment I'd found the three damp and exhausted people strung out on the soft white sand, I'd committed that I would lead. Leaders don't yell. Leaders show their authority through calm discipline, confidence, and an open concern for their constituents. After reviving one unconscious person and helping all three get out of the unrelenting sun, I felt I'd established myself as a cool, calm, collected human prepared to ensure we survived until we were found. That was two hours ago.

For two hours, one woman had cried. Just cried. Not saying anything, just a ceaseless, low, whimpering sob as she slouched over her crossed legs. Every minute or so a sniffle and more sobs. That alone could cause a person to walk back into the ocean in which we'd nearly drowned.

The other woman, whom I'd revived on the beach, was in poor condition and had to be dragged to the shade. Unknown wounds ailed her and she lay on her side, grimacing but blessedly silent. She would lick her dry, cracked lips as she watched the ocean water lap the long, wide beach. I understood that longing.

It was the man whom I'd just yelled at and who, for unknown reasons, had no idea how to build a fire. He was not skilled at diagnosing injuries nor at identifying toxic plants on islands in the south Pacific. He did not know his north from his south and could not swim. What kind of human goes on a long, leisurely diving trip and does not know how to swim, thus does not get off the boat too dive with us? The same kind that manages to survive a boat crash and drifts to shore on the remnants of said boat (but does not bring the boat remnants to shore, instead letting them drift away to the ocean).

I look again at the dying woman, knowing that I can do almost nothing to ease her pain or address her injuries. My eyes flick on and off the sobbing woman, repelled by her insipid defeat. The man is standing with his back to me, staring down the awesome stretch of white sand bordered by deep blue ocean and thick green tropical forest. His pants are still water logged and sag down low despite his belt. Only half of his tan shirt is tucked in, the other damply fluttering in the warm breeze. Arms cross across his chest, his posture is straight, resolute.

Standing slowly from the shaded sand, I stepped out into the sun and next to the tall, lank frame, crossing my arms and staring off into the distance in solidarity.

"I'm sorry," I said, humility tasting especially bitter given our circumstances.

"Do you know how to build a fire?" he asked, his tone rightfully acidic.

"I do."

"And identify plants in this region?"

"Yes."

"Locate safe drinking water?"

"Yes."

We stood in silence for a moment. "What do you know how to do?" I asked.

"I'm an engineer."

 

Give me the book, Mom

She stood, pensive, the sacred tome clutched to her chest. The sacredness was assumed, of course, as she’d not yet read the text, but within the book she knew there existed a world beyond her own. A world where she could, for just a few moments, live and thrive. Pulling the top of the book back from her body she scanned the cover greedily. A boy on a rock, a castle in the distance set among a lush forest and crystalline lake; vines in a border around the graphic and a brilliant purple edging around the vines. A bold script scrawled across the book, “In the Hall of the Dragon King.” The corners of the worn paperback cover were peeling and ragged, some of the pages torn. She heard a step near her and clutched the book tightly against her chest, looking up furtively and stepping behind the black plastic cylinder filled with other books. Boring books.

Inferior books.

Books that were not this book.

She looked at the text, a deep longing in her heart. This book came from the adult section, from which she had hitherto been forbidden to collect reading materials. There existed a wealth of books in the youth section, perfectly appropriate to her age, but none as captivating as this book could be. She peered around the cylinder and saw her mother walking slowly down the long, narrow row of books.

To check this book out from the library would require her mother’s permission. Her mother, who considered “No” to be a perfectly valid response to any question, often without understanding the true depth of need that often prompted a request. Her mother, who got to read all manner of books, but disallowed certain literature in the hands of her children, namely books with gratuitous sex or graphic violence.

The girl ran her fingers over the edge of the book and felt tears welling up at the thought of having her request denied and having to return the precious book to the shelf. She couldn’t simply sneak the book into the stack of books to be checked out, it was too big and bulky to hide, especially among the trifling little books from the youth section. Permission would be a necessity in this case.

With a steadying breath, she stepped around the cylinder and advanced toward her mother with silent steps.

“Mom,” she whispered, careful to respect the hallowed sanctity of the library. “Can I get this one?”

The mother looked down at her daughter and slid the book from the girl’s arms. “Where did you get this one?”

The girl pointed noncommittally in the direction of the reference desk, checkout counter, bathroom, magazine section, and actual location where the book was found.

“Is this an adult book?” asked the mother, flipping casually through the book but not truly reading; not truly understanding the enticing story held within.

“I don’t think so,” the girl lied, without remorse.

A deep sigh whispered from the mother’s lungs. “Fine.” She handed the book back to the girl and moved away.

Tears filled the girl’s eyes as she grabbed the book and clung to it. Her thoughts hearkened back to another fantasy novel which she loved dearly.Mine. My own. My preciousssssss….. she thought, running her fingers over the worn pages.

The First Time

“What day is it?”

“Pardon me?” Her drifting mind focused and she glanced up at the man beside her.

“The day? Tuesday, is it?”

“Wednesday.” She turned back to face the window, weaving slightly with the gentle rock of the train.

“Do you have the time as well?”

“Seven forty, or thereabout. I got on at seven thirty-five.” She lifted the scarlet sleeve of her coat and glanced at a silver-faced watch. “Seven forty-two, if you need precision.” She turned back to face the window. Her eyelids felt heavy and she blinked slowly, letting her eyelashes rest for a moment on her pale cheeks before opening her eyes again.

“Is it always so quiet this time of evening?” His voice was low and smooth, polished but welcoming.

“Usually, yes.” She tipped her head up to look the man’s face. A barely contained mop of dark brown hair curled across his brow and ears. Piercing green eyes gazed out of narrow, tipped eyes over pronounced cheekbones. He unapologetically drank in her soul, staring into her eyes without inhibition.

“Is this your first time?” She asked, lost in a moment now seeming intimate.

“Yes. My first time.”