The Iron Writer Challenge #188
2017 Spring Equinox Challenge #9
500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements
‘And the people bowed and prayed, to the neon god they made.’
The setting is you are at a last place where you were hurt, for the first time since you were hurt.
A homeless child
“You need to come now.” His voice cracks. It never cracks.
“Am I coming to say goodbye?” I already know the answer.
“I think you might be.” He starts to sob. He never cries.
The first time he had said that, it hadn’t been true. The second time, the same words, had been pure gospel. The too few months that existed between those two held a nightmare of heartache and wretched waiting. Of doctor’s visits and house calls. Of hospice and homecomings. More ups than down than a rollercoaster, with one final inevitable drop. Cancer starts with silence, and so too must it end.
Standing underneath the halo of a streetlamp I take in the stark difference between the rolling green hills before me and the tattered rundown buildings behind me. I am not lost on the irony that the dead live in a better place than the living here. Once again I wished I had gathered enough money to have her buried in that place up north. I should have sold my car. Something. At least then it had been running.
I steel myself against the cold and damp, pulling up my collar as I step across the broken cobblestone street into the Pastures of Eternal Paradise. My memory flows back to the last time I was here. We buried her that day. We buried a piece of me with her. The walk to her stone is short, as her eternal resting place is nearer to the road than I like. The grass is unblemished. Coming back here hurts just as much as that day, maybe more. At least then I was not alone. Tonight, my only friend is the darkness. My only solace is the silence.
Up on the nearby hill the church sits in all it grandeur. Marvelous in its splendor, the bright neon blue glow of their cross blinking as a beacon for the lost. The way the gravestones rest on the hill, makes me feel like I stand among hundreds of bowed bodies, praying to the glowing cross. Standing while they kneel, I am reminded of how much of an outsider I am. An only child to an only parent, we had been a team. Us against the world. Only, the world had defeated one of us. Perhaps both of us. Cancer kills more than its host.
I kneel down to place the flowers that I brought, already wilting. Money is sparse and these were on sale. She won’t care. She never liked me wasting money on flowers anyways. Thrifty my mother had been. We existed on less than I manage now, and she had at least kept a roof over our head. I will never live up to her standard. I am not sure I want to try.
They say that home is where the heart is. What if your heart is buried in the fragile dirt, six lonely feet down?
Is the graveyard to be my home then? Or am I truly homeless?
The Sound of Silence
She took a deep breath and walked into the bar, refusing to glance at the side table at the end, the one in the corner that was so private, where people could talk. Their space.
It was empty. He was undoubtedly out, perhaps with another person. Probably. It was none of her business, was it? Of course not.
It was like riding a bicycle. You just get back on again. And that was why she was here, waiting for the bartender to finish whatever he was doing so she could order a drink she didn’t really want.
She pulled out her cell phone, so it didn’t look like she had nothing to do and no one to talk to, and flipped through CNN.com. Homeless children. A bomb in a slum. Refugees. War. She clicked it off, picked up the menu and flipped through the plethora of food choices. And desert choices. And beverages. She’d steeled herself for this for days. Here it was. Just do it.
Some guy with a guitar in the other corner was playing that old song. What were the words? She hummed along to the second stanza, “And the people bowed and prayed, to the neon god they made.”
She idly swiped through the phone one last time, until the bartender came over. She smiled and ordered white wine. Chablis, then settled in her seat, crossed her legs, and flicked the stiletto heel. Once she’d have pulled out a cigarette, but she’d quit and couldn’t smoke in the bar anyway.
She kept reminding herself that she was an adult, a lady, and this all-consuming rage was beneath her. She was an educated, cultured person in control of her emotions. Fury did not belong. Let the vindictive spirit pass. Let the urge to ruin him forever slide off. The slime ball.
Two guys walked past her. She evaluated both and dismissed them, then flicked a strand of hair back. Twelve years in a relationship. She felt a wave of panic.
Instead of drinking her wine as a beautiful mystery woman, she gulped it and signaled for another. Men. They drive you crazy and take over your heart and mind and then they tell you they never meant it to happen.
She lifted her chin. You just have to keep getting out there, be available. You never know. Look at her cousin. She nodded to thank the bartender and this time really did sip the drink. She steeled her soul and studied the shimmer on the glass. He never was coming back, was he?
Another Victim of the Street
I knew I shouldn’t have come back here, but now my body is no longer under my control. It feels as if my feet are being pulled down the road by the devil himself, each step echoing against the crumbling buildings that surround me on either side. Even in the dim glow of the shattered street lamps, I can see long shreds of peeled paint and chipped bricks falling away into the darkness, threatening to pull the whole block into oblivion. Good. If I ever see this slum again, it will be too soon.
My fingers trace a path along the metal fence, one that they had travelled hundreds of times before. Finally, my feet fall still, and I am allowed to take a look around me, not that I want to. From the second the burnt stench of ash hit my nose, my heart had begged me to flee, yet some part of me asks to stay. It is time, that tiny part of me whispers softly, to face it once and for all.
Tears run down my face as I wrap my hands around the metal fence, surveying the charred skeleton of a house that lays just beyond. I can almost still feel the heat of the blaze, hear the screams. My hands clench around the cold metal, but can only feel the chill against my fingertips. Not only had the fire stolen my family from me, but it had also cruelly taken the feeling in my palms, scorched away like the rest of my life.
A sob escapes me, and I fall to my knees on the ashy pavement. Everything and everyone I loved now lay in the ashes that tickle my nose as I gasp for breath. I am alone.
Lights flicker farther down the street, melding from one color to another in an almost alien way. I wipe my eyes, getting to my feet. It seems to be coming from an open garage door a few houses down. Desperate to wipe the blaze from my mind, I go investigate.
Inside I find a drug induced wonderland illuminated by a criss cross of battered neon lights. And the people bowed and prayed, to the neon god they made, or at least their slumped bodies looked that way. I weave my way through comatose bodies, some with needles still in hand. Something moves, a child. I crouch as I near her, so that my eyes are level with hers.
“Hey, it’s going to be ok. Let’s get you out of here.” I offer a hand, but she doesn’t move, regarding me with scared eyes.
“Are you hungry?” I try again, but to no avail. “Are these people your family?” She shakes her head.
“Do you have family?” Again she shakes her head. I sigh, looking down at the ground.
When I look back up at her, she has pulled the blanket from her face. “I’m hungry.” Her voice is barely louder than a whisper.
I reach for her hand again, and this time she takes it. I’m not letting this street ruin another life.
The unyielding, deafening, sounds of silence that slumber in this once sacred space hold no visible hint of the debauchery, hedonism and chaos that had thrived in defiance within her walls.
He had but only thought of this place for the last twenty years. Now, finally returning, Malcolm stands alone within this once teaming skeleton, long since abandoned and left to decay among the surrounding slums.
Turning slowly, he absorbs as much as he can while reflecting on his surroundings, searching for remnants of himself, certain that they must be imprinted upon her walls. Even now, as in his memory, as in her prime, she’s a seductive siren. He had always loved this floor, without the roof they had rhythmically writhed, exposed, as the sun, and sometimes the rain, beat down on them in tandem with the hypnotic beat.
Still she has managed to stand, a silent witness to the mischief and mayhem that were the psychedelic tapestry of a misguided youth. It was here upon her floor that Love had flowed, without boundaries, uninhibited, often induced; this place had encouraged mass elation and ecstasy.
This is where his heart had been broken for the first and last time. He has returned to face this place, to face her, to face himself. Closing his eyes, Malcolm succumbs, allowing the unedited memory to envelop him; reality unfolds around him, dissipating with each deep, slowed, deafening breath; venturing back to when he was an enslaved, entranced, water drinking wraith, ululating in time to the emanating energy and cacophony of sweat, bodies, smoke, alcohol and altered minds.
Their generation was one which had undertaken the meaning of life though ironic antonymy, Malcolm had been one of its most fervent followers, forcing music into submission and invoking unity through the sharing of consecrated chemical experience. But not even the most fervent follower was prepared for the realities of that day.
It had been a scorching summer, the blazing sunlight bore down upon the pulsating party, primed to create nostalgia. They prepared for the festivities with the ritualistic meticulousness which accompanied the style of the scene. Top to toe perfection, a mass of stories to be told, and all in attendance, players there to play.
The day had been full of promise, the people had bowed and prayed to the neon god they had made, as torrents of enchantment emanated from the speakers and connected directly with their souls. But betrayal was brewing in the air, a love too long harboured, and a friend named traitor forever after, were about to destroy the sanctity of this spiritual home. It had hurt. Fort twenty years, through the tears and pain a promise was made and kept with the words, Never Again.
He has never returned to this place until today, a child without a home, having never faced his circumstance or actions, dead inside, never allowing himself joy, happiness, love. A single moment, a lifetime of pain, a symphony of monotony. With his eyes closed, locked in memory, his hand fastened tightly around the handle of the gun, Malcolm says “I love you and I want closure…”
“I can’t believe I am back here again.”
“Is this where it happened?” the journalist asked as he scribbled something down in his notebook.
“Yes… it is,” he replied with a sigh.
“Tell me about it.”
“Look at this place. I can’t believe how much it changed. This place used to be a slum. I-I-It was the heart of the ghetto. Now it is luxury apartments. Unbelievable.”
“How old were you when it happened?” the journalist asked, getting somewhat impatient.
“Look at these people around here. All dressed in suits and nice clothes. People like this used to get mugged and robbed here and now they own it,” he responded, interrupting the journalist.
“Is this the first time you been here since it happened?”
“Yes. It will be the last too.”
“Tell me about it, Jim. What exactly happened that caused you so much hurt?” the journalist pleaded. “This is an important story for your memoir.”
Jim looked at the building and remembered the hurt. He vividly remembered the night his father came home drunk and when his mother got mad, they fought. His father beat his mother like she was a bad habit. This wasn’t the first time either. Finally she had had enough. She pulled a large knife from a drawer and began stabbing him furiously. The floor where he lay was covered in blood. Her face and hands were covered in the crimson liquid as well.
“I ran from the apartment and banged on my neighbor’s door. When she saw me crying and pointing at my apartment, she walked to it and was horrified when she saw my mother still stabbing the dead body. She ran back to the apartment and called the police. They came and took her away. I guess she went to some hospital because she had lost her mind.”
“Jim, that’s awful. I am so sorry.”
“I still can’t listen to the song the “Sound of Silence” by Simon and Garfunkel. It was on the radio when my neighbor answered her door. I remember staring at her radio when the line ‘The people bowed and prayed, to the neon god they made’ and wished there was a god to come and help me.”
“That is when you became homeless?”
“Yes, sir. The police tried to take me but I ran from them and hid for several days. I was twelve years old and was homeless for the first and last time in my life.”
“You eventually were found, right?”
“Yeah, the police found me sleeping behind some garbage cans one night. They brought me to child services and was soon put in a foster home. I prospered there and went to school and then college, determined to make a better life for myself. I did. I became a famous author and now here we are.”
“This is going to be quite a memoir. You will have to tell me about your life in foster care too.”
“I will but that’s another chapter for another day. I am whipped right now.”
“After reliving that part of your childhood, I completely understand. We will pick this up tomorrow, my friend.”
Wonderful Day in the Neighborhood
Los Angeles, CA – November, 2061
A line of tarp and plywood huts lined the concrete river bank next to a set of rusted train tracks.
I run messages for a living. Not the best job for a thirteen-year-old, but it keeps a roof over my head. Not that the orphanage has much of a roof. There is one major downside of the job though. I’m usually getting shot at.
A boy climbed down from the second story of a caved in building on the other side of the tracks. He crept towards the hovels and a few small animals scattered.
This was home for a while, but I haven’t been here since my parents and I were caught in the soldier’s crossfire. My parents didn’t make it. Damn war.
The boy walked into the hut and sat down amongst the rubble. He glanced around the small room.
I’m surprised it’s still standing. There was a lot of explosions. Wait, is that my music player? These are easy to come by, but it’s hard to get one with music on it. Mine had all the best songs. I wonder…
“And the people bowed and prayed, to the neon god they made!” came a voice from the device.
“What was that?” said a voice outside.
Son of a-
“It came from over there!”
Multiple sets of heavy boot steps drew close to the shelter. The boy bolted through a small hole in the back, but was grabbed by his shirt and pulled up.
“I’ve got him. Looks like a runner!” yelled the man who had grabbed him. The guy was wearing a bulky vest and carrying a rifle in his other hand.
Great. Alliance troops.
Another soldier came around from the front of the shack.
“Well look at this. So what kinda message you carrying?”
A message for Nun’ya. Nun’ya Business.
The boy kicked the shack, which fell over in a cloud of dust. Then he pulled a knife out of his belt and buried it in the soldier’s arm. He was promptly dropped as the soldier howled. Without hesitation, the boy sprinted across the train tracks and into the building.
He turned a corner inside and ran down the hall. Hearing the other soldier closing in behind him, he jumped, put one foot on the wall, and bounced off the wall towards a hole in the ceiling. He grabbed onto the ledge and pulled himself up in one fluid motion. He continued running and heard several bursts from the floor below, followed by holes exploding in the floor around him.
They always resort to bullets. Can’t ever have an honest race with these guys.
The boy sprinted to the end of the hall and dived through the broken window into the next building over. He then proceeded to the top of the building and made his way over several rooftops before he stopped, ducked down, and looked back. He saw the soldier exit the first building and go back to help the one with the knife in his arm. Shortly, a medical vehicle picked them up.
Yeah, get out of my neighborhood.