Maybe a two week break did do me some good. Well, at any rate it gave me some time to think about the last flash fiction challenge over at terribleminds. For the life of me, I couldn’t think of anything for a fairy tale forest. Which is pretty funny (for those of you who have been paying attention) given my current writing trend.
Then, this week’s challenge came ’round.
This week we were told to tell a lie. Not us telling a lie, but a lie that our characters tell each other which, in turn, makes up the plot of the flash fiction. Now, maybe I’m cheating, maybe it’s the writing gods telling me something. Either way, it seems that at least some of my writing problems have been lifted thanks to this challenge. And by proxy, thanks to Chuck.
So, ladies and gentlemen; I give you miss Elizabeth Reddington from Blood on the Quarter and the horrible, horrible little secret her father has been keeping from her for a very long time.
(by the way, I blended the two challenges together. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen New Orleans during Mardi Gras season, but it’s some kind of fairy tale forest.)
The Clock Maker’s Doll.
“You’re going to be okay,” Mickey pants, trying in vain to swim them back to shore.
Lizzie barely hears him, limp in his arms. The rolling Ponchartrain should have felt cold against her skin. It doesn’t. She should have heard her heart thumping in her chest with panic. It isn’t.
“You’re going to be okay,” He says again.
The lie had been there her whole life; “You’ll be okay, Lizzie. You’re going to be all right.”
“Lizzie, you have to help me,” He gasps, sucking in salt water, his arms flailing. “Can you kick your legs?”
She does, helping him swim them back to shore. A mountain of brightly coloured people swarm around the pier, a myriad of hands pull them up and into towels. She shuts her eyes, trying to block the suffocating feeling the swarm brings about in her. A pressure builds in her head; a child of violent emotion trying to keep contained.
“You’ll be all right now,” The voices say. “Are you all right?” They ask. “What happened?” A million voices coalesce into one, repeating; “You’ll be all right. You’ll be all right.”
“Father, am I going to die?”
Thomas Reddington laughs a little. “No princess, you’ll be all right.”
She should have heard the terror lacing his words, should have seen the shake in his hands as he pushed the needle into her arm. Back in the present; She wants to cry, knows she can’t. The fairy tale forest she gazed at from the ferry’s guardrails hours before stands silent and haunted behind the plantation house; it’s garlands of twinkling lights less bright, the purple, gold, and green decorations faded and tawdry. The trees are skeletal to her eyes. Branches turned into claws reaching out for her, beckoning to her, calling her one of their own. A dead thing like them. Two arms wrap around her shoulders, startling her. She looks up, meeting a fierce green gaze.
“Are you all right?” George asks.
She wants to laugh, to scream at him to never use those words again. A grumble overhead matches her mood. People duck instinctively, arms protecting elaborate hairstyles and garish make up from the expected shower. George hunches his thin shoulders over her, waiting for her answer. She nods.
“I’m all right. Can we-”
Jacob Lautrec pushes through the thinning crowd just as rain starts to fall in heavy, fat drops. Hands that would have pulled Lizzie to the safety of the plantation house let her go, more worried about their own expensive costumes than the drenched girl in front of them. A semi-circle of left over party goers forms around the foursome. Mickey scrambles to his feet, one hand clasping the thin towel around his shoulders.
“Jacob, now’s not the time-”
“Lizzie are you all right?” Jacob demands again, ignoring Mickey.
His hands reach for her, checking her temperature as a mother would a sick child, stroking her cheek and terry clothed arms. She tries not to recoil from his touch, her mouth forming the same words she’d said to George seconds before.
“I was so scared for you my darling!”
Then why didn’t you come and save me?
Dead thing. Dead like the trees.
The rain falls harder, an accompanying wind churning the Ponchartrain into a frothing mess of white capped peaks and ink-black mud from the river bed. George moves away from Lizzie, leaving her to Jacob’s ministrations (“Come, lets get you inside.”). The semi-circle dissipates with an air of disappointment. She allows him to take George’s place at her back and lead her toward the house, keeping her steps slow so she can hear George’s conversation.
“What did you tell her?” George asks, keeping his voice low and controlled.
“Nothing,” Mickey says, wet boots making squidgy noises in the soft grass.
“If it was nothing, why was my sister in the water?!”
“She slipped on the pier.”
“You know she can’t swim! Why were you two anywhere near the pier?”
Lizzie smiles. Jacob catches the lift of her lips. “That’s better,” he says. “Now Lizzie, I have something very important to ask you. I was supposed to do it at midnight, but I can’t think of a better time than right here, right now.”
He turns to her. Lizzie’s answer is already on her tongue. His lips are moving, one hand reaching for the left breast pocket of his costume. She saw the small bulge there ages ago, had always known this night would come. She casts her eyes to the forest, trying to see the Wonderland that had so tantalised her earlier in the night.
Dead like us. The trees seem to whisper it under the rain’s music. Dead like us.
Out of her memory came a voice. An old lady’s slow, cackling, proud explanation to a worried man anxiously dancing on the tips of his toes.
“Hair of onyx and hematite. Eyes of amber. Her skin is the finest, softest vellum, the stitches so tiny it will fool even the sharpest eyes. But! She is a fragile thing. You must keep her safe.”
“She is not like the others. Her insides are very delicate, each piece made exacting. She must always be wound. She must always be safe, these are my conditions.”
She jumps, looking down at Jacob. He is on one knee, a bright diamond ring in hand, offering it to her. A blush blooms in his cheeks.
“Are you all right? You said something-”
The lie comes easily. “I’m all right,” she says. “And I accept.”
His reaction is lost to her. For the first time she hears her heart beat; the slow ticking tocking of a grandfather’s pendulum swing.
Dead like us.
A clock maker’s doll.
The smile on her lips is not for Jacob. It’s for her father’s reaction when he realises the promise he made will be broken and another heart, a living, beating thing will break.
After all, one good lie deserves another.