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The Broken Wages of Memories False

by Maryam Majid


The home had withered walls with vines running over it like in the fairy tales. The walls were made of clay, and they were poor solace from the shadowy cold of the wasteland night. They let in the darkest part of the enchanted and kept the embers within burning scarlet warm. The house’s roof had tiles that fell in patterns unknown to sanity. The rain made music on them in winter and formed icicles, like hanging jewels, at their edge. Its windows were little holes in the haven, letting in light that passed through not tempered by cold glass, and storms that fell in and froze hearts alike.

In other words, it was a poor little haven. The only way a beloved home can be.

*

She was beneath a sky upon which danced fractals of rose gold. The clouds had turned beautifully, painfully bright in the early morning light – a sky that was alive with colour. Her heart was small, then. Too small to contain all that wanted to pour out of it, too small to admit all that wanted to be let in.

“Come back inside.”

Mother said the words harshly against the day that was still being born, shrouded in the darkness of yesterday’s night yet. The girl thought the sky with its brazen colours seemed so far away from where Mother’s harsh words turned to tortured fog, drowning in the wintry morning. The last of the night lining the gauntness in her face, the lines of time etched deep into her skin.

She felt she did not want to go. Here there was the promise of a distant but certain spring in the pleasant chill in her toes; here there was a circus of colour over her head; and, here, she was not exhausted or bored or scared. Here she felt alive. For inside she was trapped by the walls. Walls that did nothing to keep out the biting frost that crept into her bones and did everything to cram the mad cacophony of too many voices too close together deeper into her head. At least here the light could get in as well. But all the same Mother waited for her, so she picked up herself from the threshold, brought herself down from the faraway wonder she had marvelled at, and followed her mother back inside their dilapidated home.

But there, also, was a hearth with warm embers; brothers who grew tall on boyish stubbornness alone; laughter that echoed far and away throughout the surrounding fields of weeds and sleepily growing crops to return to their abode and liven it with the mysteries of faraway dreams carried to them on the velvet night air.

*

The girl was older in the hours that followed. She stood beside her mother, drying the plates her callused hands washed under ice cold water. The day passed that way, even though she did not have to be anchored there always. But there were ravens that lived out among the windy rain, their feathers sheened with glistening colourless droplets. The cold had no bearing over them. They flew and wandered in coal-grey skies, their ruckus echoing out over the abandoned field, like the knell of another, bleaker world.

The girl saw them through her perch from within her house. There were so many of them, a mass of feathers and talons, clawing at each other. A mass, in all, which overtook and blended in at once.

And yet there never seemed any togetherness in the many. They never seemed a flock who were with each other because it was the way of birds of a feather. They flitted about beneath the dead, twisted thing of a tree behind the old roof, like little specs of darkness on the dead garden. They stood and hopped and ruffled wings – omens of something ill to come. The unkindness separated into lone birds, and each seemed always waiting, for the aura of loneliness around them. There never seemed more than one.

It was so black at night that this tree outside her window looked like it was made of ink. It was a towering, twisted knotted thing whose branches hissed at the sky in its laughing wind. And in the winter her window fogged up with cold and the tree looked hazy – like it didn’t have boundaries anymore, or a distinct shape. It looked more than ever like ink running into everywhere around it and fading. Its leaves shook so that they looked something like quills and something like feathers.

There was fear and ice in all this madness that surrounded them.

But there were fond memories besides. They lived far and away in a time before she could remember. A time when, as her brothers joked now, Mother had been so much younger than she was now. But the woman told them of it, as she braided the hair of her youngest with loving, gentle hands into neat, winding braids of deep onyx. Making beautiful order of what normally fell into cruel tangles and twistedness.

When their father was with them, and they were less tired for more people to bear the load. When their mother’s youth had lasted for cruel, thieving widowhood not tearing through it. When the fire was larger for being longer burned. When there was the peace and ease of people who work and work hard and see their virtue rewarded. Who do not fight over who shall go to bed hungry – over who’s stomach shall be a little fuller the following sunrise, whose heart heavier.

It did not exist, that time. But it felt so real, just then, when they spent the effort to bring it alive so.

*

It was black the girl passed upon. Worse: that of dark ashes left from a blazing inferno. The aftermath of death and carnage that stole the blue and the rose and gold and red, even blood-red. And left nothing but empty souls. The empty of so much space, of gaps to fall through. It appeared like someone had taken the coals that burned pitifully to exhaustion in their tired hearth and scraped them with jagged claws across the sky. The darkness was a cage, and perhaps it was all the better to contain the tragedy. Though it surely sent storms halfway around the world more absolutely than the flaps of any butterfly’s wing.

Upon this scene visited the rages of war. Of men never satisfied, of those flailing the only way they knew how – with swords and fire. They turned rivers red with the blood they spilt. They turned them black for the way the sky cried ink upon their crimes, and streaked and smudged them in shadowy lines to the horizon for all to mourn, the way rain washes pain away for the good.

They raided her village, the place where war killed her father. That had been an easier war though: of too many mouths to feed and health slowly depleting. More tragic perhaps, far less decorated. It lived in the hearts of the family longer, but it was less cruel. Far less evil.

They came one night, to steal everything – these bandits of souls. They torched and they shattered, before anyone could stir to stop them. Eventually, they woke a great many people to their evil, for so many fewer to ever wake again in the aftermath. They found themselves in a ring of flames – breaking stone and breaking lives.

They were reckless with their conquest; they would have had more spoils if they hadn’t been so set on destruction. But it was the way, is always the way, for the hunger in their eyes and bestial sharpness of their teeth and their laughter at the terror of their victims.

Wooden swords cast singed and cracked in the blazing grass, the beloved toys of boys when still alive with splendour and the ideals of virtue. The dolls a woman had so lovingly woven for her daughter, swallowed by flames. A home of pain and sorrow that was yet held so dear for the laughter and love that a family had shared within it, less than ruins now. It had nothing left of those stories. They had flown, with the burning air, to the smoky heavens.

They took her, the girl of stardust and slight build, who wondered at the sunset and cried of her nightmares to her mother. Perhaps they did not kill her, at first – such fiends seldom do with the girls they capture. But she was dead all the same.

***

The ghost of a girl wandered in a place that crumbling time brought with it to ruin.

But where she walked memories did not die because they were not real; crumbling time did not exist to wound or heal.

Where she walked the sky was blue. Not the blue the girl of stardust and sunlight had cried and joyed under. That blue was weighted with all the grey and dark of sorrow; the striking, blinding joy of rain that tastes like sunlight; the scent of a hearth that is warm without coal. This blue was crystal clear, with no dancing clouds in queer shapes and no history and no colour. It was the blue of diamonds forced upon hands, the blue of a still, shallow ocean.

There was a stump where she walked. So singularly chopped, so suddenly sliced open, like memories cut short by time. The stump was nothing like the tree with hazy boundaries and running ink leaves, blackness and shifting weight. It was a light, oak thing. So smooth, one could have run a finger across it and come away with no hint of a splinter. No hint of pain or blood-red veins.

She sat down upon the stump and stared out at the open field of caricature-green grass. There were little blackbirds dotted over it, dozens upon dozens.

They did not have the beaks that warred like iron; the feathers of a slick void in the rain; or eyes that seemed the center of loneliness. These little birds had a pleasant song and brown stick legs with tiny beaks, feet, eyes. They separated in the field into little groups, together. The blackbirds held themselves polite and still in the stagnant light of an ever-waning day.

It had seemed too terrible when she left it… There was no strength in her to brave the terrors and magnificence of the true world. So, she held together this cursed illusion of perfect nothing together and faded and faded from the weight of the world, never fading completing.

And the ghost that was not a ghost was there forever, with her broken wages of false memories.

 

Maryam is an up and coming teen author who loves writing prose that is as purple as the lavender haze in her veins. You can find her short stories in the Blue Things Zine, the Cathartic Youth Literary Magazine, the Expressionist Literary Magazine, Teen Ink and (soon) in the Encephalon Journal. She is also a prose reader for the Expressionist Literary Magazine and would encourage everyone to submit! One day, she hopes her writing lines someone's bookshelves with comfort the way others' has for her.

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