You know something is very wrong when you're walking down a dimly lit street in the middle of nowhere with a rather large book wedged under your arm. You also know that this is very wrong because you completely have no idea where you are and some very odd people are sauntering around – not to mention that it's also the dead middle of winter.
This was the case for a girl stumbling down a dark street in a tiny suburban town just outside of California. Aria had just turned twelve – last week actually – and was still rather short for her age. Shoulder length brown hair cascaded down her face in waves, obscuring the all too noticeable stormy grey eyes. A gift from her mother.
A large black overcoat that fell past her knees was pulled around her frail body, but even it's bulk failed to hide the pile of books that insisted on breaking free of her grasp with every step she took. Frowning, Aria pulled the jacket tighter around herself. Wind howled through the tiny suburban street, tearing through the empty parks and whistling against the trees. The girl just deepened her frown as the wind brought unpleasant voices.
"Aria! Aria, please come back!"
No, she snarled mentally, shoving her hands into the pockets of the jacket to keep them warm. I will never go back to you.
Almost unconsciously, her mind began to wander.
A soft red glow lit up her room, throwing various patterns of light against the sky blue walls. Aria, only six years of age, sat on her small bed. Her blond streaked hair was shorter than it usually was, and her cheeks were red and rosy with youth. A short white dress stained with recent meals covered her body, but disappeared behind all the books clustered around her. In her hands rested a leather bound book with strange, golden symbols imprinted in the cover. Her fingers traced the lines as she marvelled at their complexity and originality. Slowly, she slipped of the strip of cloth that kept it closed and opened it to a random page. Aria grinned, eyes gleaming with new knowledge as her mind processed the words on the page. Her trance of happiness was shortly ruined by the sound of her mother's voice.
"Aria, child, get down here now." Her mother's voice resounded inside her head, distracting her.
"In a minute," she called out, placing the book delicately on the pile to her right. Aria grimaced – she hated leaving her books out in the open, but if she didn't-
"Aria," came the low voice of her mother, filled with uncontained hatred, "I said now."
"I said I was coming," the girl replied, leaping up from the bed and running out of her room and straight into her mother. One look at her face and the stench of alcohol told Aria that tonight wasn't going to be pleasant.
Aria's mother strode into Aria's own room without a backwards glance and groaned at what she saw. Spinning around, she glared into the grey eyes of her husband's daughter. "You wretched girl- ignoring me for some pretty little books are you?"
Aria didn't even get a chance to explain why before Kristine continued to shout at her.
"Well, I'll teach you a lesson, a lesson you will learn well if you know what's good for you." Her mother stalked across the room and snatched a book off the pile. She opened it, and began tearing pages out, a crazed glimmer in her eyes.
Please don't, Aria begged silently as her disbelieving eyes saw the pages slowly falling to the ground, please.
To that six-year-old girl, books were her whole life. They offered a sanctum away from her mother and father. The bruises across her body and ripped clothing didn't matter in a land of fantasy; it was all just a dream as she fell into a world of heroes and dragons. That being said, nothing could hurt more than those worlds being torn to pieces before her stormy eyes.
Grinning like a toddler, Kristine threw the remainder of the book on the floor where it lay crumbled like a ball of paper. Tears spiked in Aria's eyes and she knelt where the pages lay, running her hands over them. It felt as if small part of her died when each page was torn out.
Over the course of the night, her mother made her way through the majority of the books on Aria's bed before she grew bored of the activity and moved on. Her high heels made disorienting thumps against the floorboards as she made staggered towards her own bedroom, leaving the small girl curled up in the middle of her cramped room. Tears dripped down Aria's face, carving tunnels in the dirt that had gathered there over the months. Quietly, the girl rose to her feet and stumbled over to her bed, grasping the remainder of the books resting there. Ever so silently, she moved them to a corner of her room where she kept precious belongings. From all of the stories, novels, biographies and fact books she had collected, four remained. Noiselessly, the tears began to run faster. Aria closed pulled a blanket over her belongings and collapsed onto her bed where she curled up and let despair take hold of her, glassy eyes staring, unblinking, at all the shredded pages lying on her floor.
Aria wrenched her eyes open just in time to avoid a pothole in the road. Grimacing, she pulled the book under her arm closer to her body and continued along the lamp-lit street. The echoing voices on the wind soon began to fade. With every step, Aria felt her heart lifting. She was out of that hell— away from them.
Her father sat at the kitchen table, his torso sprawled across the top of it and legs splaying out in an awkward position. The stench of smoke and alcohol radiated off him in waves, clogging Aria's nostrils. At ten years of age, her blonde hair had grown darker with barely visible golden streaks on the edges. Now, as she stood petrified at the door of the living room with her arms wrapped around a rough blanket, she appeared younger. Fear made her eyes grow wide and her body want to cave in on itself. Courage made her stand strong and dare to whisper his name.
"Mark?" Aria murmured – she had given up calling him dad a long time ago, "Are you- are you okay?"
A groan was all the response she got. Unblinking, she turned away from the once bright man that had cared for her, away from the once smartest physicist in the state and turned her back on the drunken, washed out miserable-excuse-for-a-human as she made her way back to her room.
He wasn't her father as she remembered him from years go. He never was going to be again.
Kristine clearly wasn't her mother.
Which raised a strange question in the young girl's mind – who was?
Uttering a sound between a groan and a sob, Aria continued along the dark path. Now, two years later, she finally understood. On her twelfth birthday, just four days prior, she had received a dream from her true mother, explaining everything and telling her how brave and smart she was. Aria still let a smile play across her lips at the memory.
The flowing silver gown, the dark grey eyes, it was all perfect – just a dream.
"Aria, my daughter. You make me so proud when I look down at you from above and I cannot
wait to meet you."
"Really?" Aria had whispered, beaming up at the goddess.
"It won't be long, my darling…"
"Will you com—"
A gust of wind broke her train of thoughts and left her shuddering in its chilled air. Then she froze.
Chattering – like the teeth of an old man. Rattling, like dry bones hitting each other. Fear made her heart stop. She knew this sound – she had read about it so many times in the brown book she now carried under her arm.
Ever so slowly, she turned around and looked up into its eyeless skull. Looking at it just made her want to crawl into a crack in a wall and hide there until it vanished.
Standing before her was a human skeleton. It stood upright, just like it had before being stripped of flesh and organs. Its creamy white bones clashed against each other with every step it took and standing more than three metres high, it was a sight that no one wanted to witness more than once in their lifetime.
It moved forward, revealing a curved ivory blade from behind its body. It angled the blade towards her, throwing an alien glaring light into her eyes and momentarily blinding her as the creature made its first strike. Confusion and frustration at the glare in her eyes forced the girl's body into action. She leaped away from the massive skeleton, succeeding in dodging the majority of its first blow. However, it didn't miss completely.
Ice-cold and needle sharp bone bit into the thick muscle of her thigh. Her scream echoed through the dark streets.
The wanderers of the night paid no attention, but merely turned their heads. Through the red haze in her mind, Aria gave a moment of thought to why that would be so – couldn't they see that a huge walking corpse was chopping her to pieces?
Breathing heavily, she pulled away from the blade, dislodging her leg and letting a stream of blood cascade down her leg and soak into her jeans. Aria gritted her teeth, grasped her books with all of her strength, and ran. Pain spiked across her thigh, but she let words rush out of her throat to keep her mind away from the thoughts of pain. She named all the Greek gods and goddesses in alphabetic order and then named all the family relations between them. She then moved on to repeating strange, alien words in different tongues before losing concentration and resorting to a stream of swears.
Even with every step she took, the clattering of dry bones echoed in her ears as if it was haunting her every movement, making sure that she could never run away. The streetlights that vaguely illuminated the alley began to flicker as if something was cutting the power. Something dark. Aria's heartbeat began to quicken.
Her gaze began to get foggy and her actions slower. She finally came to a halt as the pain took over, forcing her to her knees. She closed her eyes as the rattling came to a stop next to her ear.
Aria had accepted death – she had accepted that this was her last resort. She had known that there would be a consequence of running away, and this was it. So, when a voice reached her ears, she assumed it was one of the gods. Annoyingly, the voice continued to shout, the sound of it echoing across her wandering mind. She opened her eyes, expecting the dark abyss to consume her. Instead, she saw a young teenage boy sprinting toward her, his hand raised and shouting incoherent words while staring at something behind her. Lights flickered on and off in the starlight night, throwing the world into shadows for moments and then springing back to life—
A great tremor shook the earth. Then, there was utter silence. Blank-eyed and expressionless, Aria looked behind here to see a gap in the ground where the skeleton had been. The world had swallowed it whole.
Panting, the boy staggered to a stop beside Aria's head and rested his hands on his knees. After a few gasps of air, he looked over at her and grinned.
"I thought ya' be 'n a little bit o' trouble." His accent was strange to Aria's accent accustomed ears and she had to strain to work out what he said. She closed her eyes, mulling over the strange words and trying to understand his accent.
"I said, do ya' need any help?" His voice came again, breaking through Aria's consciousness. She grinned and pushed herself to her knees, gasping as pain flared in her leg again.
"Ouch," he grimaced, "now that's gotta' hurt." Aria merely nodded and stood up, using the boys shoulder for support. Up close in the moonlight, she could see his darkly tanned skin and short-cropped brown hair that fell over his deep chocolate brown eyes in ringlets. A crooked toothy smile and a sharp nose rested in his angular face – too broad for someone younger than sixteen.
"Who…" Aria's voice trailed of into a croak. The boy merely smiled again.
"Me? Oh, call me Milo," he turned, pulling Aria's hand onto his shoulder and sweeping her up off her feet into his arms. Against his chest, Aria felt warm and safe – protected against the creatures lurking in the darkness.
"Don't worry, I've got you," Milo whispered and walked off into the night.
Lying in a bundle of pages next to the crack in the earth lay a book bound in an old material. It began slipping down into the crater.
When Aria next opened her stormy eyes, she was lying in a white cot covered in pristine cream sheets. It took her a moment to recall what had occurred.
Tears spiked at the corners of her eyes as the memories of her parents and pain came all rushing back.
She wondered if they worried about her and if they really cared.
She figured that they didn't. They could get over her, like another stupid little argument.
Aria rolled to the side and widened her eyes in disbelief.
Her leather bound book lay next to her, its golden symbols shining in the dimly lit room. She let the tears stream free as she ran her eyes over its every being. That book was what brought her here. That book was her last possession, last memory of everything.
It had taught her all about who she was – what she was.
A small smile split across her face.
Wherever she was, if that book was with her, everything would be just fine.
I apologize about how crappy it is, but I still cling to the hope that you'll like it.
Feel free to hit me over the head with a frying pan if you don't like the one-shot, but hell. It was kind of fun to write
Happy New Year! :D
speaking without a voice
books as kindling
street lamps which go out as you pass under them and turn back on when you walk away