~~~**~ My 500th post on this blog! ~**~~~
“This week’s challenge is simple in description, but perhaps complex in execution.” So said Chuck Wendig as he unveiled this week’s challenge. We have to write a 1000 word story in 10 chapters. “Maintain brevity but increase scope”. Yes, ok, Chuck. Bemused, I stole an idea from an old story, Johnson and Alice, discovered an opening line when I was driving along, and wrote the rest the same evening.
Lois stretches out
Lois stretched experimentally.
She’d rested in the shade of saguaro to consider why she felt wobbly. It had been a traumatic week, but escaping from the tribe was surely the right decision. Nothing was unusual about the freight car; she’d slept well.
The Painted Desert in the morning light had attracted her so much she’d walked off into it. The train had moved now, so she either had to wait for another or keep walking.
That was it, she thought. She’d walked off into it. She’d neither climbed nor jumped from the freight car. She’d walked. Her legs had just stretched out and found the ground.
The derelict gas station and well-lit diner were welcome sights. She thought of hitching herself onto a stool, changed her mind and slid into a bench seat instead. She studied the menu.
“Two eggs over easy,” she said to the waitress, ignoring her stained uniform.
“OK, how about muffins?”
“What have you got, then,” Lois said, abandoning the menu.
“Coffee. Biscuits in ten minutes,” the waitress added as an afterthought.
Lois sipped her coffee, watching through the hatchway as the cook simultaneously mixed, beat, cut and set the biscuits in the oven, thanks to his extra arms.
Three flyers drew up at once, disgorging leather clad men and three scantily clad girls. Chains dangled from their waists and shoulders. They swaggered into the diner.
“What’ll it be?”
“What’ll it be?” echoed the ringleader, turning to his mates and wiggling his hips. It was a pale imitation of the waitress. “Nine beers and two colas. What’s Sammy’s effing bird having?”
The waitress served them calmly; they lounged around disturbing the peace. They coaxed an old jukebox into life. It only had three songs, but they were good ones.
Lois realised this was her best chance. She flowed into the rear flyer and arranged herself under the seat.
The warehouse was in a ruined city. Lois didn’t recognise the skyline, but she recognised a bad tribe. She stretched up the metal girder and moulded herself to the beam to watch unobserved.
The girls were slaves. Twelve men, three flyers and maybe thirty girls, most penned at one end. Lois toyed with the idea of letting them all out at night, but there was no night – just atrocities from dusk to dawn.
Once all were asleep, she left – undoing the main pin from the chain holding the girls before she squeezed through the barred window.
Lois extracted two bottles of juice from the cool cabinet and manipulated them through the narrow opening in the window. She was starting to gain some facility with her new powers. Getting around town was simple when you did it by rooftop. No need to fear heights when all you had to do was stretch down to the ground, or across a gap to the next block.
The fruit juice was like nectar.
“Got any for me?”
She turned, startled by the voice coming from her feet. Two eyes peered out from the shadow under some barrels.
“I can stretch too,” he added.
Lois and Pete strode off the boxcar as it entered Old Orleans. The streets smelled of decay; roofs had shattered slates and rotten beams.
“This was a great city once,” said Pete. “My hometown.”
“I’ve never been here.”
“You’ve not missed anything.”
They stopped at a square. People loitered in the centre, and Lois’s mouth watered at delicious smells.
“Here’s my ma’s place.”
They extended down to the back door and looked inside. A huge woman stood at a stove, stirring an oversized cooking pot. She glanced at them, and threw her arms wide.
“Peter!” she said, enveloping him.
“There’s no place for folks like you,” she said, watching them finish a third bowl of gumbo. “Not here, at any rate.”
“We know, Ma,” Pete said, wiping the crust round his bowl. “You okay, though?”
“I do okay. Folks are scared, though.”
“Anyone different. Any stranger.”
“I’m not a stranger.”
“You’re different, though, son. You mind yourself, now, okay?”
“Where’r’you heading, anyways?”
“East. I heard there’s a place we can go.”
“I hope so, son, I hope so.”
Lois shivered and pulled the blanket closer around them. There’d been nothing to eat for three days, now, and she didn’t like the forest, or the rocks. It was up in these mountains, somewhere. That’s what the rumours said. Pete had heard them, she hadn’t. She wondered whether he was right.
A snuffling noise to their right. An animal. It gained form as her eyes widened to allow what little light there was to enter them. A bear.
She shook Pete awake.
From their perch in the treetop they could see ridge upon ridge of mist covered trees. Funny how each ridge had its own mist, Lois thought. It was beautiful, in its own way.
“Why do you think that patch there is mist-free,” she asked after a while.
“I suppose there’s something stopping the mist forming,” Pete replied.
“What would do that?”
“A lake? A building?”
They looked at each other, and set off, stretching from tree to tree, just in case it was the building of Pete’s dream.
Pete knocked on the door. Lois found an old-fashioned button marked “Press”. A bell tinkled in some far-off corridor.
“Welcome to Bluestone Manor,” said the man seated behind the desk in the wood-panelled room. “Not many people find us. You must have exceptional talent.”
“We don’t fit in the world anymore,” said Pete.
“None of us fit elsewhere, but we all fit here. I will not ask you what you can do. You will show me soon enough. You are safe here. Sally will show you to your quarters.”
They followed Sally down a long corridor and through a heavy door at the end.
Why did the clang of the door as it closed behind them sound like a death knell?
(c) J M Pett 2014