Tuesday, May 05, 2015

The Greatest Discovery

[Told you I'd blow it. Batting fifth in the Story A Day Challenge is Seanan McGuire, who has won the John W. Campbell Award, which I haven't done, but neither have you. The prompt is "some things got left out, and a little means a lot". This is called "The Greatest Discovery", and is part of a thing I may finish at some point before I die.]

His face broke. He looked. She was in a batting stance, wearing a Little League uniform, a stranger's face but Madison's jaw, his family's defiant chin.

"Your daughter," the woman said.

All motion in the lobby stopped.

"I'm sorry," the woman said.

The words were as empty as his heart.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

SAD #3: "Center of Madness"

[Batting third in the Story A Day Challenge is a 640 Word Limit. This is "Center of Madness"]

Her phone rang. She kept changing the ring tone, and right now it was the opening bars of "The Thing That Should Not Be," fat, ominous, and low. It was a portent, a warning. She knew he would call, knew the inner workings of his brain as well as he did, and she knew just as surely that she shouldn't answer the phone. So she didn't.

He would call because he was the sort of person who couldn't leave enemies behind. He had to know that everyone liked him, that he was an okay person, that he wasn't cruel or heartless or shortsighted. It was a kind of vanity, this insistence that everyone think he is honorable. Whether he is or isn't was immaterial, it was how he appeared that was most important to him. She knew he was going to call to try and mend fences, to make sure she wasn't angry with him.

If she was perfectly honest, she was simply too tired to listen to him. He would be charming, sure- he always was. He would flood her with evasions and half truths and justifications and rationalizations, get her laughing, and then part gracefully, making sure her last image of him was a pleasant one before he faded away forever. She was too tired to engage in that combat right now.

The phone stopped, then, after a beat, the tone started again, the late Cliff Burton's bass line, subterranean, lumbering and angry, full of coiled up menace. She closed her eyes and pictured him playing it, a picture in a magazine she saw once, his hair whipping around in a maelstrom of motion, but his face, in the center, quiet and focused. She imagined the chaos going on around him at the moment that picture was taken, and the calm it must have took to keep playing in the center of madness. She wished she felt that calm, that ability to maintain control, to keep doing your job in the midst of a storm.

The phone stopped again. She knew he would call again, so she waited. She felt herself beginning to fly apart, a slow motion plane crash that she called her life, and the only way she kept from screaming was to not answer the phone, to not allow him a way back in. She had to stay together, keep herself under control, remain within herself, within the limits of good behavior and decent sense, because to lose it all would be to let him win, to let him show that he was in control. To surrender control was to surrender herself, and above all, that was one trade she was unwilling to make again.

The phone started ringing again. She thought about peeking at the face of it, seeing if he left a message, but she thought better of it, didn't dare risk it. He had said he couldn't do this anymore, and that's that: you can't, she had learned, force someone to do something they weren't prepared to do. She wasn't all that mad about the decision itself- it was his to make, and he had made it. She had pushed him until he revealed what she knew he was thinking, and that was, also, simply the way it was. It wasn't really fair to demand an answer, then be upset because it wasn't the one you wanted.

She was basically just annoyed at the universe, angry that nobody ever decided that she was worth the effort. It felt like everything else in life she loved- her favorite sports teams, her favorite musicians, her favorite actors, all of it, even her children. What distressed her most was that you give them everything: devotion, time and money and energy, and in the end, they do whatever the hell they want to, no matter what.