Jen Air: Asterion – Silent Tears

Another extract from the novel I’m currently writing.  I’ve been on a roll this week.  Remember, until tuesday (May 31st), you can use the following code to get 100% off the first book, The Little Queen, from Smashwords:

ND72U

Also available in lots of other places.  It would be cool of you to rate or leave a quick review, or send me feedback.  In the meantime though, this:

By a country lane stood a house.  A cottage with overgrown and blackened walls.  With no light from within, most driving down that lane in the dead of night would not have seen it unless they knew it was there.  Tenley did – it had been the only home she’d known before the lighthouse.  She dropped from the trees behind it into the garden, where the grass had grown a bit longer without her performing her chores.  Otherwise everything seemed to be as she’d left it.

She found herself tugging on a rope tied to one of the highest branches in the tallest trees.  She’d been the one who tied it there, a few years ago, and then mother made her climb the tree again and again, and the rope, every day as the woman timed and would be furious if the previous days’ time wasn’t met.  Tenley could jump and bound up there in a few seconds now.  If only her mother could have seen it.

Through the rest of the garden, if she hadn’t been doing chores, mother would make her run around with bricks tied to her feet, carrying rocks that gradually got bigger over the years.  The last one’s she’d carried had been the biggest of all, to the corner to make the mound underneath which her mother now lay.  There were many things Tenley wanted to say, yell or scream at her, but… what was the point?  There was nothing under those stones but bones and worm eaten flesh.  Without shedding a tear, she turned away and through the back door into the kitchen.

Not much ever happened in here.  Salad and porridge most days, until Tenley was old enough to do all the cooking herself and mother did not appreciate any deviation from her planned menu.  Except, she was allowed a small cake on her birthday, and a single candle regardless of how many there should have been.  But then the whole concept of birthday cake seemed alien to her mother when Tenley had first suggested it, when she was six, only begrudgingly accepting it.  On her seventh when she was summoned, Tenley hadn’t been expecting it at all.  Although, she perhaps wasn’t as surprised as her mother had been when she received hers.

There were lots of little moments like that, when the old house suddenly seemed to get brighter.  They were few and far between – most days were nothing but chores and training.  In the hall there was a place where part of the wall had collapsed – she’d been a little responsible for that.  Beyond it was the room where her crib had once been.  Later it had been the setting for a lot of fights with sticks and chains and gloves.

Mother would knock her down, and then say “get up,” and she did only to fall again.  Each time mother would say, “get up”, and she did.  There were times when she was too exhausted, tired, beaten and just wanted to lie on the floor and dream.  Then mother would kneel and taunt her.  “You’re pathetic… weak, like your father.  Do you want to just lie there and be beaten, or are you going to stand and fight?”  And then, she got up.

As she made her way through the house now, Tenley avoided looking at the place where her mother had finally fallen for good as she turned and slowly climbed the stairs.

“Again!” She heard her mother scream between each step.  And Tenley would swing and try to knock her down, again and again, and again.  Until one-time mother deflected her blow but Tenley had anticipated that, ducking under the counter and delivering swift jabs to her belly and face.  Mother fell back, wearing a snarl as she pawed at the trickle of blood from her lips.  Even though mother had been demanding this, Tenley still feared she’d done something wrong and would be punished.  But as her mother had looked up at her, the snarl turned into a smile and she said, “good.”

Finally, Tenley arrived in her old room.  The window was broken and so gusts of wind had toppled some of the soft toys from their shelves.  She picked up an old ragdoll and looked into its eye, the other one hanging loose.  It had been alive once, in her mind.  They used to fight and play games and dance and have concerts and read from the meagre collection of books over there that had shown her how life should be but wasn’t.  She looked over at the broken window, which of course hadn’t always been.  Once, her mother had stood there looking sadly out at the world.

“You won’t understand it now,” she’d said.  “But one day you will.  You’ll have to fight.  You’ll have to be strong.  You’ll be angry and you’ll hate, but… you will survive.  And you’ll know why all this was necessary,” her mother turned to her and reached out, beckoning her to come close so she could put an arm around her.  “I’m sorry…”

Tenley watched this happening, now, then fell to her knees, her fist slowly clenching and unclenching.  “I’m strong now, mother,” she said, bleary eyed.  “Stronger than you could have ever dreamed.  B-but I… I don’t…” she didn’t know the words.  She couldn’t think of any.  She had come all this way, only to not know what to say.  So she screamed and the room shook as her hand went through the floorboards.  And for a long time she just knelt, sobbing silent tears.

She had no idea how much time passed while she was like that.  Could have been a full hour, maybe more.  She shut out most noise; the wind and animals and the odd car outside.  But then she heard the door open downstairs, and an unfamiliar voice call out into the dark, “hello?”

Tenley vanished instantly, silently observing from the shadows of which there were plenty.  It was a dirty, scruffy, raggedy old man in a worn coat full of holes over several layers of sweater and scarf.  He crept along the hall, listening for the sounds of people.  When there were none, he went into the kitchen and started going through all the cupboards, the girl continuing to watch while remaining unseen.  She didn’t kick him out right away.  There was a television and computer and other items of value in the house, but this thief seemed to only be looking for food.  He looked like he needed it.  It was only when he found a bottle instead and declared, “all right,” that she decided to intervene.

Before he could find a way to open it, a whip lashed out, coiled itself round the bottle and easily yanked it from it from his hands.  The man spun around in shock and awe, clutching his chest as he saw stood just beyond the doorway holding the whip and bottle by the neck in one hand, and a small silver crossbow trained on him in the other.

“This is my house,” she stated.  “And you were not invited.”

The man held up a palm to try and placate her.  “E-easy, kid!  I don’t mean any harm!”

“What do you want?”

“I was just looking for a place to crash.  I thought this place was abandoned.”

“You were mistaken,” Tenley said, taking a step forward.

“Yeah… I see that,” the man panted.  “Look, you just let me go, and… you won’t see me again, I promise.”

The girl tilted her head.  She could see beads of sweat on the man already, and not from the layers of clothing.  It was cold.  Listening to his heart beat she found it to be odd… irregular.  “You’re sick,” she said.

“I’m old,” he corrected.  “So you see I couldn’t hurt you even if I wanted.”

That was certainly true.  It would be true even if he was healthy, although whether he truly knew or believed that yet… Tenley supposed it didn’t matter.  She had no intention of remaining here much longer if she didn’t have to, so she pointed the bow away.  “Fine.  You can ‘crash’.  Just stay on the ground floor.  If you try to go upstairs or into the cellar, I’ll kill you.”

The man relaxed, a little, lowering himself painfully into one of the chairs around the dining table.  “Whatever you say, Xena.  I got no fight in me anyway.”  Tenley kept her eyes on him, hearing his heartbeat return to a normal rhythm and then just making sure he wouldn’t try anything.  After a moment, he started drumming his fingers on the table.  “You know, I didn’t always live like this.  I used to be in charge of an office.”

Her first impulse was to snap that she wasn’t interested in his life story, but then she realised that she was.  She had time to kill, and nothing else here but her own memories.  Listening to someone else’s tale might get her through the night, so she asked, “what happened?”

“Few things.  Made some bad calls.  Got fired.  Turned to drink.  Wife left and took everything, including the dog.  Loved that dumb dog too, but he chose to be with her.  Guess I can’t blame him though.  I was a mess.”

“Where did your wife go?”

The man shrugged.  “I don’t know.  North, somewhere, I think.  Heard she remarried, so she’s happy now I guess.  I hope she is.”

“But she left.  Why should you care if she’s happy or not?”

“I didn’t want her to go, but I made her, just because of how I was.  She tolerated me as long as she humanly could, so… I figure she deserves to be happy now.”

Tenley thought that maybe she just wasn’t old enough to really understand all that.  So she asked something else.  “Why were you fired?”

“Well… that’s a little more complicated and hard to explain.  You know, it was work stuff.  I got accused of stealing, making up numbers.  I hadn’t, but I couldn’t explain why the numbers were wrong.  So at first I thought I must have made a mistake, but it was a bad mistake so they fired me.  But then I found out I hadn’t made a mistake… a man I thought was my friend had been the one stealing, and he’d set me up.  He’d done it so well there was no way I could prove it.”

“Were you mad?”

“Furious.”

“Did you get him back?”

The man sniffed, a lopsided smile on his face as he leant on the table.  “Not really.  See, the thing about revenge – catharsis or whatever you want to call it – is that it feels really good, at first.  But that feeling fades and reality creeps back in and you realise you’re still angry.  Still hurt inside.  Nothing has been changed for the better.  So, you want that good feeling back you got to do it again, and get stuck in the same cycle again and again.  Or, you could try and do something worthwhile with your life instead.”

Oliver Harris, Dale Porter, Sam Pope… Alvin Stag.  Tenley remembered their faces more than their names.  She hadn’t cared what their names were, and had only found most of them out later.  She had only cared about what they had come here.  That was all she knew, or ever wanted to know about them.  No point learning anything more about them now anyway, so she asked the man with her, “don’t some people deserve to be punished?”

“Maybe,” the man shrugged.  “Usually people have got a reason for what they’ve done.  Sometimes they don’t, and sometimes the reasons are all messed up and make no sense.  You’ve just got to think about yourself and what kind of person you want to be.”

She knew that he’d said about revenge was true.  She remembered how tired and empty it had left her.  But she also remembered that she hadn’t tried to stop herself.  “What if it’s too late?”

The man squinted at her as she squinted at nothing in particular, or so it seemed to him.  In truth, she was seeing all those faces, all in their last moments.  “What are you, ten?” He asked.

“Eleven,” she corrected.

“Well, whatever.  It sure ain’t too late for you.  Maybe you’ve already made some mistakes.  Maybe you will again in the future.  But you’ve got plenty of time to learn to get some things right.  Now, an old fool like me on the other hand…”

Tenley’s head tilted again, looking at the man and seeing him shiver slightly.  She thought and before she turned away said, “there’s a fireplace in the front room.  Wood already inside, matches and fire starters in that drawer.  You can burn whatever else you want.  I don’t care.”

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