Black Penny

Penny by Seraphic-Daydream
Penny by Seraphic-Daydream via DeviantArt.com

She swallowed hard before looking up at me through pale lashes as we sank to the floor in my room. She was swathed in a heavy blanket, and I pulled the thin sheet around myself. My room was cold, but I knew it would pass.

“Thank you, Ber.”

I followed her eyes as they moved around my walls, stopping on the poster I’d hung between the windows with all the constellations mapped on it, then on my telescope resting in it’s lower position beneath it. Some pictures I’d taken on my dad’s phone and that my stepmom had printed for me were pinned on my bulletin board above my navy blue desk, photos of the sky I was so obsessed with. And the trophies and patches I’d earned in Cub Scouts perfectly displayed on a bookshelf above my personal library of every space or magic related book I could get my hands on.

I felt my cheeks heat when she looked past me to the old, original Star Trek poster behind me, and felt grateful for the midnight shade of my skin as she dropped her focus to me.

Kiera’s watery gaze was something I’d grown used to in the few years since we met, but I hadn’t really understood the emotion held deep inside those clear blue depths. It came later, along with an undying need to protect her from them. But at 10 years old, she was simply my best friend.

She smirked lightly. “I like your room. It fits you.”

I’d seen hers a hundred times. Watched it transition from Princess pink in her to Rainbow punk to Moody darkness. It fit her, too.

The frown returned quickly, and her focus dropped to something in her hand, as she blinked at tears in her eyes.

“He did it again, huh?” I kept my voice at a whisper even though rage welled up inside my chest.

I knew what would happen if my stepmom heard her up in my room. Not that it would work, we’d been able to find each other over and over again since we were four. I wasn’t sure any amount of distance could keep us apart.

“It doesn’t matter, Ki. You don’t have to talk about it. Where do you wanna go tonight?”

Her eyes flickered up, but went back to the coin between her fingers. It looked like a penny.

“I found this yesterday. I couldn’t wait to show it to you.”

She held it out, pinched between her tiny finger and thumbnail, turning it back and forth.

“A black penny? Is it a trick coin or somethin’?”

Her eyes found mine and flashed something as her lips curled up at the corners. “Something.”

Leaning forward, she took my hand and placed it in the center of my palm. I smiled broadly. She was finally going to show me.

I’d known since the first time we’d met. Two four-year-olds with parents who couldn’t be bothered to pay attention as we sat side by side in a sandbox in Wilton Park. She’d been digging, and I’d been molding. Then, in a blink, we were on a beach by the ocean, staring at each other with wide eyes.

A pretty caramel skinned woman in a white uniform shirt found us a few hours later, our pockets full of seashells and tummies rumbling.  She bought us pretzels and flavored ice. Her car smelled like coffee and oranges, and her eyes glittered with something I’ve never seen since.

She believed us.

But then, a not so pretty woman in a dark blue pant suit came and stole us from her. And each other.

I’ve heard the story a hundred times, how we were taken and how I refused to help them find the monster. They asked a million questions. Event tried to make us believe we’d forgotten him, this terrible man who stole us out from under our parents noses. That the stress had given us a form of amnesia. No one even tried to explain the small gap of time we had traveled a huge distance.

They couldn’t even consider the truth. They wouldn’t.

My dad met my stepmom that day. And Kiera’s mom left hers. That day created a new direction for each of our families that drove us further away from each other at every turn.

The news story had been spectacular. Two years later when they reunited us and asked us questions about that day, our answers were trained and forced. But neither of us ever lied. We just stopped telling the truth.

They didn’t realize we’d seen each other every night since. That I’d hijacked her dreams or that she’d stolen me away from mine.

But that night, I’d brought her home, physically, to my room. I knew she needed to go somewhere that felt safe.

He had really hurt her.

“He’s not going to stop. And she’s not going to stop him. So tonight, I want to go somewhere else forever.”

She stared at the penny resting on my dark lined palm.

She didn’t know that I’d seen her do it before. She was practicing in hopes of using it as a weapon. Against him, I was sure.

The penny rose into the air, but when she glanced to my eyes, it fell to the hard wood floor between us.

I frowned, letting out a rough sigh. I picked it up and held it out in the palm of my hand again. “Don’t stop, Kiera.”

Her white blond brows furrowed, and her mouth pinched tightly. “You know?”

I nodded slowly. “I didn’t want you to think it ever had to be some competition. And I was afraid.”

“Of me?” Her voice was small but more fierce.

“I wish I hadn’t said that.” The air around us went electric, so I had to think fast before the headache came.

Closing my eyes, I thought of each time I’d seen her do it. I made the memories into a loop for her, but when I opened my eyes, hers had gone dark.

I pushed harder. I made her see what I saw. That I hated him too.

“I want him to get better, Ki. I don’t want you to do something you can’t take back.”

I felt her relax, but I showed her all of it. That I longed to help her find a way to be free of his sickness. That my greatest fear was that I did it to her. Put her in his path. Then somehow gave her the power to fight it.

“You did,” she said, scooting closer so that our knees touched. “You gave me the power. You lit the spark that day in the park, Ber. But it wasn’t your fault I ended up where I am.”

My mind went to find that day, two tiny kids, one as pale as the sun shining high in the sky, the other as dark as midnight in a forest. The magic was born by itself, every facet of our worlds would have kept us apart for eternity, except that we somehow ended up in that sandbox on the same perfect day at the same perfect time. And that inside me lived something bigger and brighter than life, while inside her rested the tiniest darkest molecule of the opposite.

Her memory was misty and soft, seeing us transported by feathers and breeze through the wooshing current of time and space, before being deposited in the white, silky sand on the gulf coast of Florida. My own memories were clearer and more harsh. But as our thoughts congealed together, we formed a beautiful image of what that day had truly been.

“You told the police I was your angel?”
“You are, Berhanu.”
“You said they would pay for keeping us apart.”
“They still will.”

As I opened my eyes to see her, I understood.

We sat, knee to knee, palm to palm, the penny rose before us and changed.

She tore it into tiny fragments, spreading out between us in a sheen of brilliant copper. The tiny globs of molten metal swam around each other and then around us in a sparkling figure eight. The fire in her eyes flashed again and the eight split into two circles.

My heart raced inside my chest, churning my blood throughout my prepubescent body so fast that I could feel myself growing. Hormones building upon enzymes, soaring through me and waking up every cell in their path.

Kiera was not simply governing the metal in the penny, but every substance within it’s circumferences.

My bones and muscles stacked and reordered themselves, expanding as I watched my dark skin stretch to contain the new shapes within. My stomach flipped under the biological strain on my system and I squeezed my eyes shut to stop the spinning of my vision. The only thing keeping me from crumpling under the sickness of it was the pleasure of her skin against mine where our hands met.

Eventually, I heard her sigh and felt her fingers slip between mine so she could grip my hands hard against the work of what she was creating. When I finally opened my eyes, the creature I found stole the very breath from my lungs.

Kiera was now a woman, as much as I was a man. The physics of the transformation had rendered our individual night clothes useless piles of shreds in the same figure eight pattern I had watched the penny create moments ago. Naked and staring at each other, we were truly opposites in sight as much as in power. But the beauty of her was so intense that I could not avert my eyes from her nakedness.

The copper circles shifted and shrank to create two perfect rings which cooled and fell to the floor between us. She gazed at my body while releasing my hands.

“There. Now we can go wherever we want.”

She rose up onto her knees and licked her lips. She touched her own skin and then mine. She giggled before covering her mouth to stifle the sound, but my new ears longed to hear that sound over and over, a hundred million times more.

“Now we can do whatever we want.”

My words hung, as dark and heavy as I now felt, in the dim night air between us. The depth of my voice, sounding remarkably like my dad, and the edge of the accent I inherited from him brought visions to my mind of all the far away places we could now go.

“We can change the world, Ki.”

She slipped the larger ring onto my ring finger and I did the same to hers before staring at the black veined copper band wondering what it meant, what it was.

“Tomorrow, Ber. We will change the world tomorrow.”

She rose to her feet, took my hands and urged me to follow. With a whisk of her fingers, the shreds of old clothes and blankets we had wrapped ourselves in earlier became something new and styled themselves around us each in white and black clothing that fit our new bodies perfectly.

“Tonight, I only want to feel that sand between my toes again.”

She wrapped me in a childlike embrace, pressing her cheek to my chest.

“Are you angry with me? For making you come with me?”

I felt the deep chuckle in my throat before I heard it. The sound startled me, but then I looked over into the slim mirror my stepmom had hung on the back of my door. And the thought of my parents waking up the next day without me stabbed at something deep in my gut.

But they had each other. And Kiera had only me.

“You were never angry with me for making you come with me that day to the beach.”

I felt my new arms tighten around her, that need I’d never known how to express, to protect her and keep her and hold her, it now had purpose.

It was two months before our eleventh birthdays, which we had learned were almost exactly the same, except that I was born at 11:59pm on the 31st of December and she had arrived seconds later, on the 1st of January. A moment apart, but separated by a day, a month, a year.

With less than a thought, that rift in time and space pulled us through on a cloud of feathers and breeze again to the soft white gray sand of Clearwater Beach. But we crossed more than distance. We were now physically in our twenties. We’d jumped time and space, all while barely moving. Completely relaxed. Hoping to escape without worries or fears.

But our future would embrace us, as clingy and needy as it would ever be, right from that first night.

And the lessons wouldn’t all be as magical as that night.

…to be continued?

 

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lost mother

you won’t
know the cold
until it grips you
from the inside
the freeze dried
madness of loss
here we all are
children of the
forgotten
and
remembered
but always blindsided
by mortality
if God is with us
where is his comfort?
how does his plan
for tiny babies
without mommies
make any rational
sense?
why does faith leave
in these moments
when we need it
most?
I pray, just the same
give my tears to
the wind
and beg for them to
bless the wings
of a new angel
but my heart breaks
and bleeds
for the lives she’s left
behind

can she protect them
from her new home
in God’s kingdom?

pressure

Woman reflected on water by Peter Heeling

the weight of want
closing on all sides
pinning me beneath
the very wishes
I make in the dark
drifting upon a sea of
tears spent in vain
before sleep finally silences
the ever present
cascade of demands
a beautiful life
joyful in its breadth
but burdened
by the limits of
time-space-money-love
more pressure
simple in its requirements
but complicated
in its rewards
if I fight against
it’s grip
swimming into
the dark, lonely waters
of ambition
I could drown before
reaching those golden
shores beyond
or
if I turn away
I might learn to enjoy
the strength of the
raft beneath my feet
and his embrace, the
warm comfort of life
handmade
by us

shouldn’t that
be enough

after all

float

Hot air balloon by Peter Heeling

adrift over the sea of life
aimless but consistent
in my effervescent rise
and ever present fall
the world never quite looks
as pretty up close
so I float
in the clouds where
my thoughts can’t hurt
anyone
and where the sun
works to burn
away my doubts
warming my skin and soul
so that I might
tolerate
the plummet
back
to earth

 

captive

‘Glass globe’ by Rudy van der Veen

if only
I could pick this lock
open these
glass walls
so that you might
feel smell taste hear
what has held me
inside
for so long
I know you see me
but your eyes are only
one tool
I locked myself in
so you cannot
use the rest
if you did
but you still didn’t
understand
I might as well stay
caged forever
because
my truth cannot be found in
pictures
it is beneath your fingertips
on the tip of your tongue
the sweet, fervent whisper
of my breath
what you see behind
this glass
is changed
by your own reflection
I know it
by the shine of your eyes
but I don’t know how
to free myself
I only know
that you like it
when I
smile

light of day

Sunbeams by evescesann
Sunbeams by evescesann via DeviantArt.com

little sunbeams
burning through the
steel blue veil
cast over my sky
tiny rays grow brighter
and hotter
merging into
my own sun stream
warming my skin
and my heart
let me soak you in
just a little longer
before I must step away
into the cold brick
obligations
of my day
let me heal beneath
your warmth
building my own
private
bubble
with strong hugs
and baby kisses
to shield me
and light me
throughout the
day

The Brothel

Haunted House by darkmatterzone
Haunted House by darkmatterzone via DeviantArt.com

The walls seemed to be breathing. Ugly, stained brocade peeling from the plaster shifted as the wind squealed through the broken glass of the old attic window. In the dark, he could barely see the figure. Like an absence of light in a room streaked with moonlight.

It moved toward him, somehow bending the light away. Repelling it by some unnatural means. He lifted his flashlight, but the bulb popped and hissed, leaving the space between them even darker than it had been.

“Who are you? What do you want?”

He took several gulps of stale air as the temperature dropped.

“Why are you-“

The room seemed to swallow the sound, choking off his voice until he lifted his fingers to his mouth, confirming it was still there.

The house shifted and swelled. Romeo’s brain hurt as though it were working without him. He brought his fingers to his temples, but the thing forced him to his knees.

He’d lived there as a child. The house was huge and dark, and the old musty wall tapestry had always felt alive. When he was young, however, it was the breath and laughter of all those women that brought it to life. Incense and perfume hung in clouds through every room. Its purpose had been to mask the bleachy, musky smells that would have otherwise permeated the air. But it had given birth to a sensory soaked existence, a daily lesson in manners and chivalry, the playful molding of a young boy’s identity in a place he simply didn’t belong.

Romeo had been named for his father, or so that was the story. But he never knew a father figure until Charles came to the house one evening to bleed the radiators.

There had been other men. The ladies called them suitors, but Romeo was not a dim kid. His mother’s room was directly below his, and he’d understood from a very young age that this was all business. He’d understood so well that, as Charles went from room to room, floor to floor, making repairs, Romeo was careful to follow him and watch his every move.

“How old are you, buddy?”
“Eight and a half.”
“You protectin’ these ladies?”

His chuckle bristled Romeo’s spine, drawing his face into a venomous scowl before he stepped toward the stranger, rivetting him with a stare that made his answer unnecessary.

“There ain’t no freebies here.”

Charles had lifted his hands, holding them palms out as he rocked back on his heels to rise from a low squat.

“Hey now, you’ll have no problems with me, kiddo. I’m just a handyman. I’m only here to fix the heat.”

There had been something in his tone that changed Romeo’s mind. It wasn’t instant, as he’d seen too many arrogant jokers in and out of these rooms, leaving behind bruises and twenty dollar bills that should’ve been hundreds. It was hard to believe there were any good guys out there. But what Charles taught him that night was far more important than how to repair the radiators and seal the windows with insulating tape.

It was almost 9 o’clock when he sat down at the kitchen table with him for a cup of milk and a slice of Molly’s spice cake.

“This your homework?”

With a mouthful, all Romeo could do was nod. But in the following twenty minutes, the repairman checked his work, showed him an easier way to do division, and managed to get himself an invitation to dinner the next night.

“As long as it’s ok with your momma.”

Romeo was so used to not talking to his mother, the statement surprised him. She was wiry, strung out and unfocused. She had a lot of suitors, in order to pay for the pills that kept her up and put her down, and if he had to tell the truth, he didn’t like her much.

But Molly, she had been his favorite. When he was small, he thought she must have been a fairy or at least part fairy. She moved like she was made of water or vapor, and she practically glimmered in the red robe cinched around her tiny waist with a satin bow.

When he was four, he asked if she wore it to hide her wings.

She’d giggled and scooped him into her arms, whispering in his ear.

“They are magical, my Romeo. They hide themselves.”

That night, in the kitchen with Charles, she wore a pair of black capris and a red sweater. But she still looked and moved as though she had wings.

She’d blushed and giggled, explaining that she wasn’t Romeo’s mother, but that she knew it would be fine.

The next night, she wore a crimson dress with black polka dots, and Romeo might have told her he wished he was older so he could ask her on a date.

Charles got the privilege instead.

In the year that followed, Romeo learned what it meant to be a man. He grew six inches that summer, and though he was only nine, he stood as tall as most thirteen-year-olds and was just as smart.

But Molly held him on her lap through the funeral, mopping his tears with her tissues and rubbing his back as though he were much younger than the sight of him announced.

Charles stood behind them, his hand resting on Romeo’s shoulder, letting his own tears slide down his cheeks.

Not for the corpse that was laid in a pine box in front of them, but the life of a boy who might be lost to the wind after this.

The state hadn’t wanted him to stay with Molly. Whether they could prove it or not, everyone knew what that house had been. What went on there. But Charles had a friend who knew a lawyer and scraped together enough money for a home of his own. And a ring.

They were married by a judge on a Friday, and they moved in with him on Saturday. It took months of legal battles, counseling sessions, and psychiatric evaluations, but when no one came forward to claim him, Romeo became eligible for adoption.

So, one completely anticlimactic afternoon, he became legally theirs.

But they had already been a family. Right from that first night.

The cold bit into his cheeks as his blood throbbed in his ears. He tried to look up, his lips pleading with no voice. But the roar of silence crushed him down further so that he lay crumpled, like a fetus, on the floor.

The visions spilled from his mind like water from an overflowing cup. Some incredible force surged through him, pinning him harder and tighter to the floorboards.

The oxygen in the room was depleted. The realization that he was suffocating made his mind swim with terror. But he couldn’t die. Not until he found her.

He focused on what had brought him here. The phone call from Molly, talking about the house, telling him how it was finally going to be bulldozed after seventeen years. Her voice had been so strange, so distant. Like she was in a trance.

She said she was there, giving it one last look. Trying to find the happy times where none were to be found.

But there had been. So many joyous moments were had in that place, only brought to a halt by a fire that managed to take only the life of the lost soul who caused it.

Memories of blanket forts, chess games, math quizzes, and dancing in their pajamas in the firelight scoured over him like sandpaper.

Her words had been clipped, muffled. Peppered against a static that sounded like alien breath.

And then she said the one thing he’d never, ever imagined she would say.

“Sometimes I wish I had never adopted you.”

The silence that had followed was as thick as oil. No static, no breath. But then, a scream that sent him running for the door as fast as his feet would carry him.

He realized now, it wasn’t her. And it sparked a recollection of something said with equal hatred when he was very small. A memory Molly never wanted him to have.

“I wish I had never had you.”

He had been vying for his mother’s attention as toddlers do, begging for something. What was it?

Crayons.

The word hung in the space around him, stopping time and wind and breath. He could smell the wax, feel it on his fingers. He remembered, after that day, he only ever drew Molly. That was the day he first wished he was hers.

A rage larger than the house threw him back, pinning him to the wall this time as the creaking, shrieking walls tried to expand to hold it.

It seared into him like the stings of a thousand scorpions, dumping poison into his bloodstream and making him wretch, and writhe. Hatred funneled into him from all directions before twisting, pulling back, threatening to rip him to pieces.

He clenched his fists and looked at the figure, glaring into the blackness until, finally, he could see.

The walls around them began to buckle with the building pressure, but he gazed deep into the vaccum and pushed himself free of the wall, he shouted.

“What did you do with her? Where is my momma?”

The figure before him shook with fury, black eyes burned into him, but still he moved toward it.

The thing released a feral roar causing the house to vibrate then flex inward before it drew in an airless breath and raised hands of reverse flames.

Fire without heat, blue and black tongues licked outward, stealing the light and oxygen once again. Bearing down on him, the dark mass grew and seethed. Its eyes were obsidian slivers set in flesh so black, he hadn’t been able to see the resemblance before.

He couldn’t speak to tell it. He couldn’t even cough or choke as the smoke from its flames siphoned the life from his body.

Instead, he closed his eyes. And prayed.

Not for himself, but for the life of another. Molly.

Please, let it have been fake. Please let Momma be alive. 

He was chanting the prayer in his mind, his heart beating too loudly in his ears to hear the phantom’s whispers.

He prayed she’d never been there, that this was just like the other times he was drawn to this place by some need he could never quite meet. He’d called his parents home from the gas station, hoping Charles would answer groggily and tell him Molly was asleep. But it just rang and rang, seventeen times before Romeo climbed back into his dad’s old truck.

The fact that they hadn’t answered was the reason he was there, dying, right now.

And as he prayed that this thing had only somehow impersonated his momma, he heard her voice, calling his name from downstairs.

He was sure his brain had begun to falter from lack of oxygen. But when Charles’s voice boomed from below as well, he opened his eyes.

Romeo drew up whatever strength he had left and threw himself at the monster.

It was as simple as tackling smoke. Diminished by the presence of others or by his pure will to defeat it, he found nothing but air beneath him, and as he stood, gasping and clutching his chest, he stared down at the blackness seeping into and filling the cracks of the floorboards beneath his feet.

“Romeo, sweetheart? Are you up there?”

He turned and met her on the stairs, shimmering like a fairy in the moonlight. Then he looked back at the absence of light in his old room.

As impotent as a ghost as she had been in life.

He hadn’t thought of his birth mother in many years.

And as they took the steps back down to Charles, he promised himself he wouldn’t again.

For many, many more.