I have to admit to you, dear reader, before I continue, that the process of this blog posting is making me feel physically ill. I am about to introduce you to one of my favorite characters. Please be kind to her… and if you like her story, chime in and leave a comment. I will continue to post follow-ups. Also, I am experimenting with a different format. I hope it isn’t too confusing. This is just the first half of a scene/chapter. It is around 500 words. (I had a change of heart, most of the chapter is here now…) I will post more next week, if there is enough interest.
Comments are always welcome and appreciated.
Etta has been around for about 2 years now, the story has been around much longer. In fact, I am not entirely sure how long. Etta began as a muse to help me tell the story – originally just a short story. But, as I wrote, other characters joined in… and the story tried to become a book.
I attempted to reduce it back to a short story (there just isn’t enough ‘meat’ for a book). The characters aren’t happy about it and they have fought me every time I try to write. Therefore, I have used graduate school as an excuse not to give them any attention, until now. God help me. It’s going to be a long weekend.
SHIMMER by T. Riggs (Copyright 2016)
The light spun around Etta. A living thing. Flits of color here, a flash of dark and light there. It pooled in places and eddied, stretching out into scenes playing soundlessly. Faces, talking, laughing. A man threw his arms up as if to catch something overhead. Then the image cascaded, a cataract of light and shadow, pooled and stretched into a baby crawling, reaching up with one hand and smiling. Stretching and morphing again, it scattered, stars to constellations to galaxies of images gathered until the room was flooded with them and the dark room was aglow with light. The dream always ended that way…
Monday morning was always the day that Etta felt especially out-of-sorts.
Ready for school, she grabbed her back-pack, turned the lock on the handle, shut the door and stepped down the tiered concrete stoop and onto the path that led to the sidewalk. She watched the neat lines in the concrete pass beneath her pink and white low-top sneakers.
The school bus stop was at the end of the street, at the corner of the main road. It was early morning and the usual people were out, the joggers on their morning runs, and retirees taking their dogs out for the morning stroll.
A thin, middle-aged woman wearing a dark brown coat walked briskly towards her. Etta glanced up briefly. The woman’s faux-fur laced hood hid most of her face. She was being led along by a small, mottled brown and white, Pekinese mixed dog, a pink-ribbon pony tail bouncing atop its small head.
Etta barely noticed that the woman disappeared and then reappeared as they passed one another. People did that once in a while. One second, they were walking or standing, or even talking to Etta and then they weren’t. No sound, nothing, they just winked out of existence. A few milliseconds, sometimes longer, they reappeared a few feet away or half-way through a sentence that suddenly made no sense to her.
Etta knew she that was different. She was well aware of her oddness by the age of four. She had a vivid memory of staring into the dressing mirror attached to the back of her bedroom door. The stranger in the mirror stared back. If she moved, the reflection moved. If she leaned close and pressed her nose to the glass, making silly faces, the girl in the mirror mimicked her.
Who is that? Etta wondered. That’s not me. It can’t be. She looks nothing like me. Four-year old Etta pulled at her ears. The girl in the mirror did too. She turned her back to the mirror and spun around quickly, trying to catch a mistake, a hesitation. Anything.
The bus screeched to a halt just as Etta arrived at the corner. She stepped up onto the steps and gripped the cool slippery handle. As she pulled herself up into the bus, the scent of perfume and cologne mixed with hairspray and the occasional whiff of cigarette smoke hit her with their usual clamor.
Etta glanced up and around the bus. It was empty. Except for the bus driver, no one was there. She watched his gloved hand grip the door release expectantly and pull it closed behind her. He nodded his pale, balding head in her direction and made an almost imperceptible ‘morning’ that resembled more of a grunt than a word. She gripped the shoulder straps of her backpack and turned to walk down the aisle, hesitating in hopes that something would happen. She hated mornings like this.
With a sudden burst of movement, a thin, gangly looking boy with short, dirty-blonde hair and zit-marked face stood up from the back seat. He flung his arm forward, releasing a crumpled piece of paper. His aim was somewhere to her left, four seats ahead of her.
In a rush of sound and light, the smells had a source. The returned paper wad bounced against the window by the boy’s head. He laughed and slumped back down into the seat. Etta let out a quiet sigh of relief.
Etta pushed in next to an 8th grader on the next bench and cast the girl a scathing glance when she tried to block her attempt with a ragged blue and black canvas book bag. Etta shoved the bag against the girl and sat down. Thankfully, the girl disappeared for a whole six seconds before reappearing with her head leaning against the glass of the bus window. Etta watched her. The girl stared forlornly out at the oncoming traffic, tapping the glass with a tentative fingertip to some inane, unrecognizable rhythm. Her sparkly purple fingernail sent little subtle shards of light dancing across the glass.
The mirror game. That was what Etta called it. She would catch her reflection, every morning, in the bedroom mirror. With a smile and laugh and twirl, 3 times, 2 times, Etta tried to trick the girl in the mirror. Sometimes… Sometimes, she thought she caught a pause or hesitation, but could never be sure. Until the day… she must have been five or six… she turned once, and stopped, facing the glass. The girl in the mirror paused mid-second-spin and turned to face her, questioning, a hint of confusion in her eyes. A single breath later and Etta was staring at her identical reflection. She screamed and ran from the room.
The halls of the high school echoed with intermittent sounds. Etta kept close to the wall to avoid bumping into anyone. She made it to her first class and slid into her assigned seat, placed her backpack onto the back of the chair and drew out her folder and book. A pencil dropped to the floor. She turned and saw MaryBeth Mills sneering at her. She was surrounded by her entourage of other ‘Mary’s; Mary, MaryAnne and Mara. With an eye roll, MaryBeth picked up the pencil and went back to talking, but kept glancing back at Etta. Even as she turned to face the front, Etta could still feel her spiteful gaze.
Another day in paradise. Etta resisted the urge to shake her head, knowing it would draw attention, and busied herself with reorganizing her literature folder. One more year.
Ms. Julian sauntered in as the bell rang. Her long skirt swishing as she walked. She fit the usual mold of ‘artistic type’ that was common in a small town. She had moved to Marzton from some off-the-wall town in California that no one ever seemed to remember right. She was one of the few people in town that Etta could tolerate. She hardly ever disappeared. And when she did, she was rarely gone for long. Etta looked forward to her class on Monday. It always reset her barometer for normal.
“Hello my children.” She smiled and laid her handmade, patchwork, satchel on the floor beside her desk. “I hope your weekend was productive.”
Etta listened and watched the wooshing and swooshing of skirt and sound that followed Ms. Julian. She had an almost hypnotic pattern to her phasing in and out. Words flowed like waves washing up softly onto beach sand. Etta smiled and settled into her chair, letting the lull of the ebb and flow of the sound of Ms. Julian’s voice wash around her as she began to discuss yet another favorite author. This time it was Hawthorne, again, but it was something about a devil and a bonfire… Etta listened. Almost falling asleep to the soft rhythm of her waxing and waning speech. She pulled out the textbook to stay awake.