Tuesday, July 3, 2012

SHORT STORY - Under the Arrow

I have a short story for y'aaawww.

It's kind of pointlessly horrible, probably because I wrote it when I was fifteen and most things I wrote back in yonder days were pointlessly horrible.  But I have nothing interesting to talk about, and need to go through Peculiar galleys again for typos (AHH. GALLEYS. *panics a little*) so it'll have to do.

Here it is - an old, un-edited short story from like... 2009, that distant year.

La Belle au Bois Dormant, Gustav Doré
Under the Arrow 

by Stefan Bachmann

The children who are going to die are presently traveling along the road between Kackadaw and Brent.

It is a good road, straight and neatly graveled, with mossy gulleys on either side for when the rains come. Trees droop over it for most of its length, making it cool and shady in the summer, bleak and deliciously frightening in the winter, quaint and picturesque all the year round, depending on one's point of view.

As for the children who are going to die, they are rather quaint and picturesque as well. They are probably the offspring of wealthy farmers, and I assume this because the two girls wear colorful shawls on their heads, embroidered all over with dainty needlework, and the two boys wear breeches of softest doeskin, and their wooden clogs are newly hewn. 

Sometimes - for the clogs are loosely fitted contraptions - one will fly off a foot mid-stride and the foot will meet with the sharp gravel. It is a very unpleasant meeting, and the boys' feet are soon unhappy.

The girls wear snug felt slippers, so they don't need to worry about such things. However, they have their own problems. They each carry a basket woven from rushes, and these baskets are somewhat too large for their comfort. They are also terribly heavy, laden with barley bread and big green bottles of peppergrass cordial. The children's parents brewed the cordial the day before. They slipped in a pinch of something extra.

The children are going to die though, so what use have cordial and barley bread?

***

The names of the girls are Strill and Tule. Those of the boys are too dull even to mention. 

Not that it matters what their names are. They are going to die.

***

The children talk as they go. Occasionally one will giggle, and the giggle will flutter up into the air and into the treetops. They speak of silly things, of how much they loathe carding wool and how happily they look forward to the haying season. The girls chatter about the frocks they will make for Yuletide, and how they will look prettier than all the other girls in their township. The boys laugh at their sisters and tell them they oughtn't look too pretty or some foreign prince will fancy them and spirit them away to his distant castle. Secretly, the girls suspect they would not mind living in a distant castle, but of course they don't let on. They sniff, and walk a little way off, and make a great show of whispering in each others ears and throwing smug glances at their brothers.

Only what good are smug looks and whispering? What good is teasing, or speaking in general? The children are going to die; words have no use.

***

After a while, the children cross a bridge that is arched and built of stone, and come out into the open, out of the confines of the trees. One of the boys spots a sign ahead. At the sight of it, the children instantly forget their weary feet and aching arms, and hurry up to it, shouting excitedly. The sign has the shape of an arrow, and on it, written in letters so gnawed-upon by rust that they are barely readable at all, is one word:

die

The arrow points down an overgrown path that has not been trodden upon for many a year. The path leads into a clump of briers and stunted trees through which the children can just glimpse the grey stone of a house, the peak of thatched roofs, a window, a chimney.

With skip and a whoop the children are away, dashing down the path, stumbling through shrubbery and greedy weeds. The boys loose their clogs almost at once, but they don't notice and barrel on into the tangle of greenery. It is beginning to puzzle them how unkempt the path is. The youngest boy shivers, even though the air is warm and buzzing with bees and crickets. He whispers something, pushes aside a knobbly branch. 

The children stop short.

For you see, the village called die is deserted. No smoke rises from the chimneys. The thatch on the roofs is turning black with mildew. The windows are dusty and full of cobwebs. No voices sound from within.

The children stand still and look at each other, a little shyly, as if they wished one them were cleverer than the rest and could tell them what to do. They have arrived in die and it is empty. They have come all this way with baskets too heavy and shoes too large, and die is simply deserted. What use is their cordial and barley bread without hands to give it to? What use are their names without a living soul to hear them? What good are whispers, and teasing, and speaking in general? What good is anything in a forsaken place like die?

So the children leave the village, abandon it to the shadows and the buzzing bees, and with spirits low, return to the arrow-shaped sign. They throw themselves onto the grass under it. The boys kick off their clogs, the girls upend the baskets, and they all eat barley bread and drink peppergrass cordial until they feel quite ill.

And then they die, the four children. Yes, they die. From that pinch of something extra, remember? Poor dears. It wasn't meant for them.

But do not act so alarmed. I told you from the start.

The End


* 


I remember submitting this to short fiction magazines (because I submitted just about everything I wrote) and one of the rejections said, "The funnest story about children dying I've ever read." 

Uhhhh. Yeah. I'm not proud.

37 comments:

  1. You're not proud? I really loved this story with all of its creepiness. Now I can't wait for Peculiar to come out.......Is it out yet? ;-)

    ReplyDelete
  2. I can only think that you must have read thousands of books, a vast array of literature, by the time you were fifteen because how did you come up with things like "peppergrass cordial"???

    A very clever story!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Gahhhhh I love your voice. *needs to re-read THE PECULIAR*

    ReplyDelete
  4. Why thank you, peoples! :)

    @MrsR: I don't think peppergrass cordial actually exists. If it does, it sounds disgusting.

    @Taryn: YOU NEED TO STEAL IT BACK.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. But it sounds like it does, that's why it's so impressive for a fifteen year old!

      Delete
  5. I think it is brilliant. Hardy-Har!! "The funnest story about children dying I've ever read." That's too good.

    ~V

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