Elliott Bell

writer, poet, artist, expat

Falling into Darkness

Falling Stone waited, his pale skin glinting in the moonlight, seated on the front step of the woodshed where he lived. The small glow of a moonstone bobbed gently, downhill from him but coming closer, the greenish-blue light increasing it brightness as it neared. Finally, they were there. A lanky, dark-skinned man in narrow legged trousers and a stylish close-fit tunic approached with Falling Stone’s father just behind.

The two men didn’t say anything as they crossed the clearing at the top of the hill up to where Falling Stone sat, fear and fury fighting within to guide him. He had known it was coming but he still – he couldn’t let them – not again –

“Son.”

This one word paralyzed him. Son. Not just his name, not – ‘you’, not ‘boy’ (the worst of all).  Son. As if he were as treasured as his brother, an equal to the strong and healthy and normal Solid Grasp. Falling Stone stared at him, pleading with every fiber of his being – Please, Father, don’t do this. But all he said was,

“Father.”

Ranna, ignoring them, strolled into the shed and began setting up his equipment, taking several items out of the satchel he’d brought with him. A pair of scissors, an empty jar, a dozen empty vials and – Falling Stone, compelled inside by his fathers expression, eyed them with dread – a needle and syringe, a tourniquet. Ranna, apparently content with his setup, gave a satisfied sigh and said cheerfully, “Well. Shall we begin? Did you save your nails this time?”

Falling Stone nodded, and pulled out the jar Ranna had given him years ago, filled with his nail trimmings. The sight of it disgusted him, and filled him with shame. Saving his nail trimmings a whole year long, a constant reminder of his annual night of pain – and shame. No one else in the village met in the night to sell off their body. No one else even could, because no one else was… a creature, like him. Every time he cut his nails this year was like picking at a wound, but he did it. The year previous Ranna left, one jar short of his usual. And his father was not pleased. Falling Stone didn’t leave his shed for nearly a week after that, and the twinge of fear at the inevitable pain went through him now, even as he obediently handed over the jar. Ranna took it casually, before picking up the silver shears.

Looking at his father, Ranna asked, “Only three inches? You are sure?”

Solid Stone nodded, saying, “No more.”

Ranna directed Falling Stone, who complied while Ranna snipped away the bottom inches of his long, pure white locks. He supposed he ought to be grateful that his father was stingy with his hair, as long hair was a sign of pride and masculinity in the village. Anything more than a trim, and there might be stares – though Falling Stone didn’t care. How could he have any pride in his appearance? They stared regardless. His father was the one who cared – if asked, Falling Stone would’ve rather be shaved bald, and skip what he knew was coming. But his father didn’t ask him. Falling Stone knew he would be ignored if he said anything – or worse. Falling Stone sat stiffly while Ranna trimmed and swept the hairs into the larger jar, carefully picking up a few strays from the back of his linen tunic and adding them to the pile.

Finally, an eternity slipped by in a heartbeat, and Ranna directed Falling Stone to sit on the wide wooden bench that served as his bed, leaning against the wall of the shed.

His stomach felt tight. His hands clenched, as he watched Ranna put the jar back into his case, and rinse his hands off with some water from a waterskin.

Everything seemed to move in slow motion as Falling Stone stared, fixated on the glint of the needle, it’s silvery glint tinted blue-green in the light of the moonstone. A wave of nausea hit him and he felt his mind shutting down, like the lights of the village going out one by one until only one feeble light was left, his vision going black around the edges. He leaned his head back against the wooden slats and shivered, though he could feel the sweat on his forehead. He struggled to stay conscious, and opened his eyes.

Ranna was standing above him, watching him with his head cocked, a bemused expression on his face. He could feel the gaze of his father, gauging his son’s frailty, judging him. Weak.

“Come now, it’s not that bad.”

Falling Stone didn’t reply. He didn’t think he could speak. He felt as if the air itself had weigh, and the infinite pressure of it was pressing down upon his finite body. He could hardly think. All he could do was sit and stare as Ranna took his arm and washed it off, casually taking the needle and syringe and – the darkness creeped beyond the periphery of Falling Stone’s vision, and his head thumped back on the wall, as the last light in the village winked out.

When he came to, his eyelids lifting like weights, his head heavy, Ranna was packing a small tray full of red vials. Falling Stone’s head swum. So much red. His eyes wandered, and stopped on the towering figure of his father, who was watching him, expressionless. Ranna was speaking, but Falling Stone just stared at his father, who seemed the true embodiment of stone. They stepped outside the shed, neither saying a word of farewell. Why would they? You don’t say goodbye the fox when you take his pelt, or bid the sheep good day after it’s shearing. Falling Stone felt.. drained. It was the only word that made any sense. He turned the word over in his mind, drained… yes, thats fitting…drained.

Ranna, skin so dark even with the added moonlight, was a shadow in front of the door. They shook hands. The light shone on his father, whose face turned to…something. Falling Stone’s heavy mind couldn’t identify. Was it… Hunger? Relief? Ranna was reaching into his now packed bag… The darkness creeped in again, and Falling Stone didn’t struggle against it this time. He let himself fall in the darkness, where he was not so heavy, there was no pain, no light… no anything… just darkness.

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Princess Ernestine

Princess Ernestine was not a real princess. She often thought about that fact, backstage in the green room before a show, or giving an interview with an obsequious reporter. A real Princess did not have to work three shows on weekends and seven per work week. A real Princess did not dance until her feet were sore and red and sometimes bled, nor be given a stern lecture for reading too long in the garden, when she could have been rehearsing. But Princess Ernestine was possibly the most convincing not-real Princess you’d ever heard of – in public, her tiny frame was surrounded by bodyguards, fending off her oft-over-enthusiastic adoring public. She had staff who managed what she wore, and ate. Only thirteen years old and already a stage sensation, she knew – as the adults often reminded her – how very lucky she was to be so talented, to be so famous so young.

Lately, before a show, Ernestine would make a very princess-like demand – to be left alone in her tower to meditate. Her tower, of course, was a small yet decadent room full of her clothes and makeup, a stool and a vanity, and a single door between her and the chaos of backstage, her name painted in cheap gold paint on it. But it was a tower enough. In actuality, Ernestine wasn’t even sure what meditation was. But it sounded very grown-up, the adults seemed charmed by it, and she liked that she could be alone for a little bit.

Tonight, as Ernestine sat alone in her room, she went over to her trunk and rummaged around. From the bottom, she took out a small wood case, where a porcelain music box sat protected with cotton fluff wool scraps. Her father had given her the music box as a ninth birthday present, just four years ago but to a thirteen year old, it was like another life. It might as well be, as far as her father was from her now. She ran her fingers along the delicate porcelain lid, gently wound the key at the back, and opened it. Within, a pale pink background faded behind a gorgeous, fragile figurine of a ballerina, en pointe and perfect. The tune that poured forth reminded Ernestine of the sound of the rain on the roof when she was younger, the way it smelled when her bedroom window was opened after the rain, fresh and pure. She began to hum and on a whim, mimicked to posture of the ballerina, en pointe – perfect, perfect as a princess. The music box played and song seemed to grow sorrowful, and Ernestine felt tears running down her face. Just like the ballerina in its box, when the music played, she danced. She danced and danced, a slave to the music as surely as if she were shackled to it. And like the Ballerina, the Princess was nothing more than a beautiful thing to dance, and then be shut away in the dark until the music played again.

Her toes aching, she collapsed, the music box tinkling as it slipped from her hand and hit the ground with a loud crack. Off-key, the music played on as she sobbed over the shattered pieces of the broken ballerina.

Missing Mishka

My darling little kitty-cat,

I know I said, “Stop doing that!

Don’t scratch the rug, or sit up there,

You mustn’t gnaw, or shred, or tear.”

But now that I am far away

Without you to gently scold,

I find I’m longing for the day

Where I’ve my naughty cat to hold.

Junebug

Winter’s passed and gone are all

The muffled dreary days.

Spring’s arrived as the sky cries

‘Twixt bursts of sunny rays.

And though April’s moving I can’t wait,

For May to slip past soon.

I lie in wait for my Summer dream

To curl up in the warmth of June.

To Do List

What To Do?

I’ve not a clue.

I’m going through

This list that grows,

Each item making weight,

And waits, and wriggles past,

And I scramble to unlock gates

And shoo them through just as fast

As I can think of them, the never ending

Never stopping, growing tasks, that follow

Until I’m so behind and under them the force

Of their insistent cries drowns out all other noise

‘Til in a fury I grab my sword, and scream over them!

I grab one nearest and cut it down to non-existence

And I banish each to the void of finished tasks

As they run and shriek and flee and plead

I am a callous terror of burning need

To finish this terrible, rotten list

Of things that must be done,

Done one by one by one,

‘Til my To Do grows

To less than none

And I wonder

What to do?

I’ve not a clue…

Fibs

Today I told a lovely fib,
As I cracked my white-lie smile
Inside I cracked another rib
As payment for my guile.

I gave no sign
Of my deceit designed,
Save a swallowed sigh –
The price of lies.

Dreamer

I wish
I wish
Were there ever two words
As hopeless as this?

I wish
I wish
Were there ever two words
As hopeful as this?

Leaning In

A breath, a touch, a sidelong glance
After each I had a chance,
Say stop, slow down, let’s hold back,
But with the years of love I lack,
I can’t, I couldn’t, I never will
Resist your warmth while holding still.
Instead I’ll lean into your heat
I seek to glow beneath these sheets,
My head resting above your heart,
And attempt again to restart.

Kite


Wind snaps my strings and off I go!

Pulled by gusts above, below –
To be a kite is a fine, fun thing,
But also rather frightening,
As all that ties me to the ground
Is a lonely string by which I’m bound.
You stroll up to it so casually
I flinch awaiting casualty,
No longer able to tell apart
Fear from hope inside my heart.

Laternlight

I didn’t know it was dark in here
‘Til you came in with light.
I thought that I could see just fine
With my gloom-adjusted sight.

But ever since you wandered in
Lantern in hand aglow,
I see the filth I’ve been living in
When before I did not know.

I hang my head, overwhelmed
By the mess I have to clean.
Wishing it were dark again,
It shames me to be seen.

You stand tall above me
Pristine lantern swaying
I fear this dank, dark dirt of mine
Will stain you just by staying.