A symbolic short story I wrote. Just looking for some feedback.
Hank waited in the drizzling rain, carefully gripping his battered briefcase. The droplets ran down the back of his hand and gathered on his clenched knuckles. Above him the flat, gray sky released sheets of rain on the dark city. The street in front of him was deserted. No cars sped by to splash the water that puddle at the curb onto his gray slacks. He stood motionless as the rain plastered his black hair against a defined face. Droplets ran down his glasses and gathered like dew on the rims. The water would grow larger and larger, bulging downward farther and farther until gravity overpowered it and the sides came together to form a perfect droplet that exploded on contact with his coat. Splattering into a dozen smaller beads, they slid, oily, down the waterproofed fabric.
He could feel the cold metal of the chain that ran up his sleeve to the band around his waist. The dampness crept even under his jacket as water condensed on this chain. He was waiting for something on this curb; it would come for him when it was time. A dark sedan, its windows black, sped past him as he stood there. The puddle remained undisturbed and he continued to wait, oblivious to the world around him that grew darker as time passed.
Lights flickered and went out in the buildings above him; they were completely beyond his notice as his eyes stayed attached to the earth. The starburst orbs stared without seeing into the store windows on the street in front of him. A twenty-five perfect off last year’s fashion was advertised in garish pink and yellow paint, a perverted contrast to the dark building that housed it. Stained steel girders ran up the outside of the building, its windows spaced like holes in a prison block. All of the buildings looked much the same, the Spartan design dictated by the need for effective use of space and capital. Hank was much the same; he waited at this corner completely still for the thing that he knew would arrive, precisely on time. The only thing he hadn’t learned to control was his mind. It would wander and meander of its own volition, at odds with the rest of his life and that of those around him. He blamed this independence for the failures in his life. If his thoughts had been more efficient and as ordered as those around him…
Completely out of his control now, his thoughts drifted down a long forgotten path. Memories began to surface that he had not even remembered existed and perhaps wished they didn’t exist. Hank stood there in the dark world of law and felt the rain slide down his collar as his mind slipped into the past. His mind slid mercurial down the paths of memories. As he remembered more and more, drops of his past coalesced to what was rapidly becoming a tide of memories that threatened to overwhelm his already tenuous control. Each drop reverberated against his defense; he could feel the pressure building against the walls the world had constructed. A single memory came back to him, the droplet hanging in the air of his mind. He felt a certain sense of detachment as he watched it tear until the pull of gravity overwhelmed the bonds holding it. Time slowed to a trickle and finally as the drop fell, the air became thick enough to fight the force of gravity. The drop hung for an eternity and suddenly it exploded on the surface of the pond. His world shuddered, gently at first, as the initial ripples reached the edges and then violently as more and more impacted. Then, his world simply shattered.
A cold mist drifted off the emerald valley, a white fog left by the gentle thunderstorm that echoed from somewhere farther on. The sun peeked out behind a white cloud, motes dancing in and defining its rays. A branch shaken by the touch of a bird landing spilled dozens of droplets, with a diamond of light hidden in each, to the ground. The bird released a string of notes into the crisp, clean air. It hopped up the branch and cocked its head, listening for a reply. A gentle scale floated across the woods in response before the bird leapt into flight, shaking a dozen more drops to the ground.
The bird flew in front of the whitewashed wall of an ancient house sitting majestically above the valley; it commanded a view of the gently rolling earth covered by a comfortable growth. A mousey brown head poked up from one of the windows in the house. Two hands reached over the sill to pull a boy’s face into the window so it could see the bird. Fine brows peeked over the white sill, followed by two yellow orbs that glistened in the dawn light. The bird’s call sounded again and his eyes moved across the sky, following its path. The ephemeral stands of color intertwined in purples and oranges and greens across the blue sky.
A flash of silver captured the gaze of the child, and a small fluttering object focused as the colors faded into the wind. The butterfly flitted and fell randomly as the child watched. As it came closer to the window, a hand reached out to it and closed around the beating wings. They fluttered against the child’s fingers before stilling and he lowered himself from the window. Reaching towards a bag at his waist, he thrust his small hand in and released the butterfly. Turning, the boy ran from the room, dust motes dancing in the sun behind it, having already forgotten the valley.
Water soaked the young wrinkles on the feet that ran through the short-cropped grass. A gray boulder sat at the crest of a meadow where the child was headed. A man was perched on top of the boulder, his beard reaching it and blending into the rock. The child sat before the man on the rock and waited quietly for the man’s eyes to open while he gazed at the glow that surrounded him. Around the boulder, the trees rested quietly against each other, waiting for the wind. Small insects that had been silenced by the child’s passing slowly began to take up their chant again, and the child saw the flickering shades of brown through the grass. As he waited, the sun warmed the back of his neck and dried the dew from his exposed feet. A spot of blue fell between the two on the rock and settled on the small, damp toe of the child. Its wings lay flat, exposing the shimmering back. The boy’s eyes followed the slow beat of one wing stroke as it kept its balance before being still again. His hand gently lifted it into the bag before it could fly away again, and the child settled down to wait some more.
The smooth face in front of the child began to crease and fold into comfortable lines as the cloud passed across the sun. The top of the child’s head cooled in the momentary shadow before the sun lit up the rock again. As the shadow passed from his face, the old man seemed to completely alive. His eyes flared open, swallowing the child that sat before him. The deep blue was striated black and scattered with white specks ---.
“Tell me a story.” The child’s voice drifted to the old man’s ears. “Tell me a story about something wonderful.”
The old man nodded and rested his hands on his knees. The child watched a large orange butterfly settle onto the old man’s hair. The old man stared into the child as he reached forward and swept the creature into his hands. As he placed the butterfly into the bag that sat between them, the old man began.
The girl had stood alone beneath the stars and made a wish. She had stood alone and wished, and into her wish she poured all her dreams and hopes. She pinned them to the specks of light and placed her dreams in the hands of her faith. She had spoken to the empty night and it swallowed her voice, carrying her words to the ether. She had listened until the darkness no longer echoed her words and there were no other sounds around her. She had laid against the tall grass and shit her eyes, settling into the dark embrace of sleep.
The tickle of grass against her nose woke the girl as the sun was lighting the valley that lay before her. She brushed the offending stems away and pushed herself up. Stretching her arms above her head, she arched her back and shook the vestiges of sleep from her body. Looking around her, she could see all the details of the meadow that she had missed in the dark. The tall grass around her was misted in the early morning dew, white plates of Queen Anne’s lace twisted lazily against a gentle breeze. The sky above her was a perfect shade of blue, untouched by clouds. A slight chill hung in the air as she stood and turned, finding the full size of the meadow around her. As she completed her circle, the path that had taken the night before lay behind her and she started down the meadow to the opening she could see at the other end.
The trail ahead of her flattened out as it wound its way through the trees. The girl stopped walking for a moment to rest and leaned against a moss-covered tree. As she waited, a figure appeared on the path ahead of her. Her eyes darted around for somewhere that she could hide; she saw a rock off to the side of the trail that looked like it was large enough. She looked back down the trail and she hesitated. The man was close enough to have seen her now. She sighed; it would be pointless to hide now, and she would have to face him. She watched him approach with apprehension. He walked with a strong, confident stride, eating the ground as he made his way down the trail. Moments after she saw him for the first time, he was slowing in front of her. Stopping several steps away from her, he spoke first.
“Well, hello. You’re out early today. Where are you from?” Looking her over, he shifted his weight from side to side as he waited for an answer.
She hesitated, thinking, Who is this man and what is he doing out here? What should she tell him? Is he going to stop her if she tries to keep walking? All this ran through her mind as she thought about what to say. Finally, curiosity as to who he was and the hole in her stomach won out. When she looked at him again, he was waiting expectantly, and she wondered how long she had been thinking. Suddenly, the urge to talk to a real person was too overpowering and she just let go.
“HelloI’moutbecauseIsleptinthemeadowaboveusandIwastryingtogethome…” As she paused to get a breath, he held his hands up.
“Whoa, wait a minute, take a breath and slow down. I think I understood that you slept out here, what did you do that for?” His eyebrows came together in concern. “Do you need help?”
The girl watched him as she recovered and realize just how tired and sick of being alone she was. Maybe this man could actually help her. Running her hand back through her hair, she looked at him again and started more slowly so that he could understand.
“I am alright, I’m just tired and I’ve been wandering her by myself for the past few days. I’m very hungry; do you have something that I could eat? You are the first real person I’ve seen.”
He stepped forward and swung a daypack that she hadn’t seen over his shoulder, setting it on the trail between them. “You mean you’ve been wandering in these woods, alone, for however long? Where’d you come from? How’d you get out here to begin with? And here, I have some food in here that you can eat, go slowly, don’t make yourself sick. Are you sure you’re alright otherwise? Didn’t you see other people? This is a pretty popular place.”
As he reached into the pack and handed her a water bottle, she unscrewed the top and reached for the sandwich he was pulling out. She took several large pulls before setting it on her leg. They had gone from standing to sitting on the trail as he rummaged through his pack. As she unwrapped the sandwich, she spoke.
“I’ve been here for the past three days; no one else has been on the trails I found. I told you, you’re the first person I’ve talked to.”
“You mean you have been on this mountain for three days and have seen no one?”
“Yes. I have no talked to anything but the trees and the sky. Anyway, I came from up there.” She gestured up the trail to the top of the mountain. She finally got the sandwich unwrapped and bit into it.
“Well, how’d you get there? You just didn’t appear on the top of the mountain, did you?” He rocked back on his hands, leaving the pack open before him as he waited for her to finish chewing and answer him.
“Yes, I did. I told you that you were the first person I had talked to, didn’t I? Why do you think I don’t have anything with me? Would any sane person go into the woods for three days with nothing but what they were wearing?”
He watched her with raised eyebrows. “So you’re saying you just magically appeared at the top of this mountain and have been wandering around on it for three days?”
She took another drink of the water. “Exactly.”
“Okay.” He leaned forward again. “Is there anything else you would like?”
She was finishing the last of the sandwich and asked what else he had.
“Here, just take a look in here and see if you find anything that you want.” He handed her the pack. “So, what are you doing right now?”
She began shuffling through the inside of the pack, pulling out a candy bar and some nuts. “I don’t know, I think I want to find people but I guess I’m trying to get off this mountain first.”
Her hands found something at the bottom of the pack. It was hard, and felt like it was made of some kind of rocky metal. Curious, she looked down from his face into the pack, finding a small, silvery box. She tugged it from the pack while looking up at the man sitting a few feet away from her; he was gazing back down the trail the way he had come, waiting for her to finish. The box didn’t have any kind of latch on it, and she was intrigued as to why this man who was out hiking would carry something that was so gorgeous. Actually, beautiful was the best way to describe it: the silvery material caught and held the sun that was coming through the holes left by the leafy trees, and it was etched in intricate patterns that reminded her of her home. It weighed very little and she could hold it easily with one hand. She brushed her other hand across the top of the box and set it on her lap. Taking the corners of the lid in her hand, she went to open it; as she did so, she turned to the man again. He was still looking in the other direction.
“What’s this?” she asked as her hands began to lift the cover.
“Hmmmmm…? What?” He turned back to her before he saw what had on her lap. “Don’t open that!”
The lid fell onto her knees as she asked,” Why?” but he never answered her.
Before he could say anything, the wind whipped down from above them and the trees cracked and moaned in protest. The sun disappeared behind a black mass of clouds that gathered overhead. The inside of the box pulsated with a dark golden glow. Sensing that something was wrong, the girl reached the lid to close whatever it was that she had opened. Instead, her hands caught a black streamer that was flung from the box. Her fingers slid through the darkness; they were met with a bone chilling cold and the caress of a gentle breeze. Suddenly she was no longer sitting in the forest.
She could see two men discussing something as they walked. Over their heads, she saw the small black thread fall upon one and she watched their discussion become more animated. As she watched, the man’s face became darker and darker before he fell upon the other man. His hands went to the other’s throat and his thumbs pressed downward mercilessly. As the face grew spotted and purple, she shuddered and forced her eyes shut.
Still, she wasn’t in the forest. She saw a woman gaze at a case of jewelry before turning to leave the store. Another of the black threads descended around her shoulders and she turned around, the light flashing off the gold on her ears and around her neck. Looking around, she smashed her hand into the case and as the alarm sounded, fled the store with both hands sparkling. As she ran out the door, a dirty hand clothed in rags reached at her, pleading; she hugged the gold to her chest and kicked the hand away as she ran.
The girl pulled her gaze away again, fighting to close the box, but more awaited her. She saw a man in front of her walking through his garden suddenly fall to his hands and knees as bile puddled on the ground. Seconds later, she saw him sweating in a bed, his face blanched and what could only be his family gathered around his bed. Outside the window, the once beautiful flowers of his garden withered and died.
The girl was jerked back to the forest and through her dazed eyes should could see the man leaning over her, his hand on the lid of the now-closed box.
“I told you not to open it.”
Shocked, she moaned and fell backwards as the world spun. Overhead, she could see that the sky had lost its crystal blue shade and tendrils of darkness had spread above the trees. She felt the weight of the box lifted from her legs as blackness enveloped her vision.
The child leaned back on his hands. The sun was now setting behind the old man and the child reached forward to shield his eyes. It had been several moments since the old man had spoken and the child waited for him to continue. When, after several more seconds he didn’t, the child spoke.
“Is it over?” he asked.
The old man didn’t answer immediately; instead, he set his brush down and cocked his head. Reaching forward, he made several small strokes before setting the brush down for good. “That should be good, hmmm?” he asked, gesturing to his work.
The child turned and gazed over the valley at the sunset that lit up the sky behind him. He saw the sky illuminated with a deep orange glow, streaks of red and yellow were brushed in, highlighting the fiery glint the sun gaze the rippling leaves of the ridge beneath it. His smile turned to a frown as his gaze moved to the right of the picture. Rising from the right hand side of the picture, fingers of blackness were streaking the gentle brush strokes of the sky, darkening the scene.
“Old man, what are those marks there?” the child asked, pointing. The man followed his arm, his eyes growing sad as he saw where the child was pointing. The child turned back to look at him, questions on his face.
“It has been started.” His gaze was still focused where the boy had pointed. Slowly, he turned back to the boy. “That story is not yet ended, but we have no more time to tell it now, child.”
“But we do! You have finished your work; it is time to tell stories, isn’t it?”
“I’m afraid not; the story time is over. I have no more to tell.”
The child opened his mouth to respond but then snapped it shut. Over the old man’s shoulder he could see two darkly clad men approaching. They walked purposely up behind the old man and stopped as the boy watched them. As they stood there, their bodies blocked the sun and the glow that had surrounded the old man was swallowed up by their shadows. The child watched them reach down and, taking the old man by the shoulders, pulled him to his feet. As they bent over, the child could see a darkness dancing around their shoulders. The old man stood gracefully, his legs folding out underneath him and they released him as soon as he had gained his feet. The child stared as the old man gazed down at him one last time, his eyes reflecting the sky in front of him. They turned to leave and one of the men saw the bag that sat in front of the child on the rock. Stepping forward, he reached down and stuffed it inside his jacket. The child had watched all of the preceding with an empty expression on his face, but as the bag disappeared into the man’s grasp, his eyes flashed.
“NO! You can’t take that! Nooo, give it back! That’s mine, the butterflies are in there.” The child tried to reach for it before it was enveloped by the man’s jacket. “Nooo, give it to me. Please, don’t take it!” The child’s teary calls echoed into the night as they turned and walked away into the darkness. His body shook as he fell forward, crying after them. His face screwed up in pain as the tears ran down his cheeks and fell hot on the rock. The child reached the edge of the grass where the insects had all gone silent before he collapsed on his arms and lay in the growing darkness, wracked with tears. Slowly, the silent night fell on the small body and enveloped it.
Hank had woken that morning as he every morning precisely at six o’ clock and took a shower before dressing and eating his breakfast. He had been sitting at the kitchen table, watching the ever-present rain streak the windows of his apartment when the mail came, as always, at six thirty. However, the unusual came that morning: a knock with the mail. He walked to the door to answer his visitor and found a brown-suited mailman standing there, hand raised to knock again. A small brown package was under his arm.
“Yes. Is this for me?”
“Yes, I believe it is. I need you to sign here, please.” He handed Hank a clipboard that held a paper with a large X next to a line in one of the corners. Hank took the clipboard and pen the man offered him and scrawled a mark across the line. Handing it back to the man, he thanked him.
“Thank you, sir.”
Hank took the package and closed the door. Bending over, he picked up the rest of the mail from the mat and took it with him. Going back to the table, he set the package on the counter and sat back down to go through the rest of the mail and finish his now soggy breakfast. Sliding his glasses on, he shuffled through the usual bills and subscription requests while finishing his breakfast. After placing the bowl in the sink, he went into the bedroom and finished dressing. Coming back into the kitchen, he spied the package on the counter and stuffed it into his briefcase; he would look at it when he got to work. Locking the briefcase to the chain, he left his apartment to go down to the street. The rest of the world was waking up as well, and he was joined in the elevator by two darkly clad men. They rode down in silence and parted upon reaching the ground floor: Hank to the street and the others to their cars parked in the back. Hank stepped from the lobby into the rain on the sidewalk and realized he had forgotten his umbrella again. He walked down the sidewalk to the corner as the two cars roared by. He reached the corner and stopped to wait. The rain speckled his glasses and he tried to clear them off with a finger.
Clutching his briefcase, he stood and looked across the street at the dark steel that held up the buildings and the neon-painted sale sign that clashed with the darkness. He waited, still, as the rain slid across his coat. Above him a gray sky that grew no lighter with the passing of time released more rain. In front of him a car sped by, the water kicked up by its passing, falling short of his gray slacks. He watched it pass and shook his head, spraying droplets across his vision. Looking up the street the way the car had come, he saw the headlights of another approaching. Looking down at the briefcase once more, he glanced back at the headlights and waited.
Hank stepped out into the puddle of water at the curb as the car reached the other side of the intersection. He walked quickly and deliberately; his wait was over. By the time the car reached the near side of the intersection, he was in the middle of the lane. When the car reached him, he hit it between the cantaloupe-sized blazon and its left hand headlight. The impact flung him onto the hood of the car and his hand flew over his head. The weight of the briefcase carried it onto the hood above him where its concussion unlatched the locks and the lid flew open. As the briefcase opened, the little brown package tumbled into the air. It hung for a moment before falling and breaking against the pavement. As it tore open, a small black bag fell from it and lay open in the street.
The opening of the bag shook and then lay still. For a moment, nothing happened, and then a lone splash of color crept forth. As the heavy rain drops exploded around it, a golden monarch struggled into the air and slowly circled above the bag. The bag’s lips began to shake again, and a maelstrom of color spewed forth. The wings of the butterflies matched every hue imaginable and lit up the street in glowing shades of yellow and blue, green and purple, orange and silver. They swarmed across the city and beat against constantly closed windows. As they continued to pour from the bag, Hank’s body began to disappear beneath a sea of fluttering wings. When nothing human could be seen any longer, the throng rose back into the air and behind them lay a swirling ball of color. As they fluttered away, the color began to pulse and spread into tendrils. The strands of red and blue, wound together with silvers and yellows, drifted into the air.
Across the city, children running through the rain to catch the bus paused as the strange sounds of the first notes in a bird’s song reached their ears. High overhead, the heavy drops began to slow as the song was echoed across the city.