The Arrogance Will Be Costly

old swing

 

“Is this it? Is this…all that’s left?”  Jakob asked. The villagers stood among the remnants, stricken with fear, dumbfounded.

They gathered in the center of what was left the playground. The jungle gym—once only a few crossties with heavy, knotted ropes for climbing—was mostly gone; only the support beams protruded from the grass, the edges jagged and sharp, like broken toothpicks.

“And that—what is that over there?” said Josiah, his voice trembling.

“Is that…my god, is that a shoe?” someone deeper in the crowd exclaimed.

A blonde-haired woman broke from the throng to grab the shoe. “No, no, no! Not Kamyra! Not my baby…!” she screeched, clutching the shoe to her chest.  A man tore himself from the group and went to the woman, wrapping his arms around her and stroking her hair.  For a moment, there was only the sound of the wind cutting through the trees and the wails of the woman with the shoe.

Abruptly, a question cut through her grief.  “Where’s the sandbox?” The loud whisper came from Kaitlin.  She stood with her jaw set and her shoulders square, a pillar in the midst of chaos, but the shudder in her voice reverberated throughout the crowd, and the villagers pulled closer together.  “The sandbox?” she asked again, extending her hands beseechingly.

Heads turned left and right, but no one responded.

Another villager pointed to the clearing near the tree line.  “Is that…the swing?

Jakob pulled away from the others to an object that was half-rammed into the ground.  It was the old swing.  He pulled it up with a yank.  All that was left was a bit of chain attached to the fractured wooden seat.  Teeth marks had made an ugly, ragged curve in the wood, and it was splattered with fresh blood and bits of flesh.

Kaitlin whipped around to the village elder.

“Do you see now?  Do you believe now?” she shrieked, her fear turned to fury.

The elder remained motionless, unable to move or speak.

“Perhaps you will give the offering next season, Elder?” Jakob spat, his eyes ablaze in rage.  “And maybe you will not be so wise?  So callous?” He waved the broken, bloodied swingseat wildly. “Shall we appease them, next season, Elder?” he repeated, his voice rising.  “Or will you  imagine still that they do not exist?”

The elder threw himself on the ground and at the feet of his wayward flock, he screamed for forgiveness.

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  © ELIZABETH MICHAUD JOHN

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Of Children and Other Natural Disasters

(Author’s note:  This is one of my earlier pieces.  Although it’s not dark, it is a bit tragic.  I wrote it to sound a bit like a myth, so it definitely has a different feel to it than my other stuff.  I hope you enjoy it.)

Way up in the heavens, far beyond where the eye can see, there lives an old married couple who love each other very much. Theirs is a love that began with the dawn of creation and has endured for one millennium after another.  Each is bound to the other, and each is certain that without the other, they would cease to exist.

But like any married couple that has been together a long time, sometimes they get bored.  Not with each other, mind you, but with the routine that sometimes is marriage.  One day, in the midst of this boredom, one made the comment to the other.

“There’s nothing to do,” she said to him.  “And we never have any fun.  We need something different, something exciting.”

“What would you like to do, my wife?” he said.  She was as dear to him as anything in his life, and when she was unhappy, he was unhappy.

“I don’t know,” she said sadly, and her voice weighed heavily with sadness.  It made the sky dark and gloomy and clouds gather together.  Then suddenly, she had an idea.  “I know, why don’t we have children?”  Instantly her tone brightened, and she graced the heavens with a radiant light.

He was not so sure, however.  “Why would we do that?”

“Don’t you want something to love?  Something to cherish forever and ever?”

“Isn’t that why I have you, my dearest?”  he teased.

She pouted, and crossed her arms.  “Don’t make fun.  You know what I mean!”  Now she was spoiled, petulant, and cried tears that fell to the earth as a million tiny raindrops.

He was unimpressed with her display.  “We are so old, my dear.  I don’t know if it’s a good idea.”

“What does age matter when you are the master of time itself, husband?”  Her voice boomed and for a moment, the world trembled beneath their feet.

He sighed, stroking his long, white beard.  He hated to deny her the passions of her heart, not only because he simply wanted her to be content, but also because he knew she also had a terrible temper and could unleash it at a moment’s notice.  Her fury was renowned the world over.  He decided to acquiesce.  “Alright, my dear, so be it.  We will have children, and happiness will rein our home.”

She squealed her delight, and when she kissed him, and later made love to him, it was a fiery, hot passion that was a heat wave for all the world to bear.

 ~~~~~~~~~~

          When she gave birth, it was a mystical and wondrous occasion, not only because it was a miracle—as birth often is—but also because she gave birth to triplets.  Three rambunctious children, two boys and a girl, and they were ecstatic.  Now she was Mother, he was Father, and it was a great honor for them both.  Their days were filled from morning to night, and as the years passed, boredom slipped into that other land of dreams and memories.  They developed a magical bond with their children, as parents do, and swore to keep them linked to them for an eternity.

Each child had a distinct personality.  The oldest child, a boy, liked to jump and rumble and roll, shaking and trembling while he laughed merrily.  The middle child, the other boy, liked to play in the water.  He loved to splish and splash and make waves.  He would spin and spin in the water, and when he finally came out, he would drop water everywhere.  The youngest child, their little girl, was often quiet and still.  But she loved to dance, and at a moment’s notice, she would twirl and twist as fast as possible, her arms spread wide, until the dizzying speed would tire her out and she would just collapse.  Three sweet, adorable children, and Mother and Father loved them all.

But children being what they are, the three offspring were constantly looking for ways to get into mischief, and one day, while playing in the front sky, they found a chance.

“Look, there’s an opening!  We can go down!” said the oldest boy.

“Think we’ll get caught?” asked his younger brother.

“Not if we act fast,” his older brother replied.

“Mother says we are not allowed! We have to be supersized!” the little girl cried.

“I think you mean supervised, you dummy,” the elder sibling corrected meanly.

Tears filled the little girl’s eyes.  “I’m not a dummy!  I’m telling Mommy!”

“Fine, go tell.  I’m going,” he replied.  He turned to his brother. “You coming?”

“You bet!”  Together, they dropped through the opening.

Their sister only hesitated for a moment.  “Hey, wait for me!”  And down through the hole she went as well.

But as they fell through the air, something happened.  The mystical bond which connected them to their parents and to each other broke suddenly.  Now forever disconnected, they would land on earth very far apart, and never see or talk with each other again.

Of course, once on earth, they panicked.  The oldest boy, who landed deep under the earth’s crust, began to jump and shake and tremble.  He wanted to jump his was back to his home in the sky, and although he cracked the surface, the earth’s crust held him fast.  When finally he tired himself out, he cried.  His cries were quakes and aftershocks that would be felt for miles around, signaling his anger and frustration at his failed attempt.  When he regained his strength, he vowed to try again and again. With each new attempt, mountains moved and the lands shifted, but it would be to no avail.

The younger brother, who landed in the deep waters of the ocean, spluttered and splashed about in fear until he suddenly gained momentum.  As he spun faster and faster, he made the water surge to carry him to his home above.  He felt certain he would make it.  But, overconfident and miscalculating, he hit land before he could attain a final upward thrust and instead came crashing down on the land, flooding the coast and plains with his failure.  Frustrated but determined, he headed back out to sea to try again.

The little girl, who had landed on dry land, sat still in shock and with grief.  All that she loved was lost to her forever, and she had no idea how to get back home.  Resigned to her reality, she would sit quietly for months at a time.   But then suddenly, she would rise, and in a fit of anger, she would spin and turn and twirl and twist, faster and faster, moving across the land as a winding, violent tantrum, until her energy was spent and the winds of her anger were no more.  Then she would sit again, sad and contemplative, until the next burst again would take her again.

The children’s parents, watching from up above, were devastated by what had happened.  Mother cried uncontrollably, bring torrential rains upon the land.  She begged and pleaded to those more powerful than even her to let her children come home, but her cries fell to deaf ears.  In her fury, thunder boomed and lightening cracked, but it was to no avail.  Father did his best to console her.

“I promise you that time will not stand still while our children are away from us,” he assured her. “I will see to that.”

Under his command, time marches on, stopping for no man while he waits for his children to return.  Every storm is a cry from Mother, a lament for her lost children.  And for every earthquake, hurricane, or tornado that devastates this earth, one of their children is trying to find his or her way home.

COPYRIGHT 2012 © ELIZABETH MICHAUD JOHN.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Grief of Ghosts

 “The greatest griefs are those we cause ourselves.”  Sophocles (496 B.C. – 406 B.C.)

In the quiet of the graveyard

In the quarter light of moon,

Fresh earth has yet to settle

And descend upon a tomb…

She slips the bonds of earth,

In search for one she missed,

In search for her beloved

And free herself from this abyss;

And another soul does flitter

He wanders gently by,

He’s looking for his child

To whom he’ll sing a lullaby;

And brother was a soldier,

He carries still his gun,

He’s looking for the enemy

But here he finds there’s none;

And the ghostly form of girl,

Wrists still crimson from her wounds,

Who in life did dream of death

But now the darkness will impugn;

And further in the graveyard

Under trees of pine and oak,

Other souls do gather

And wear night as their dark cloak;

They whisper to each other

And the air will catch their grief,

The living hear their cries

As moans and wails in

night’s soft breeze—

They’re looking for their loved ones

They’re looking for their lives

The ones that they believed in

And those they’ve left behind;

And in the quiet of the graveyard

In the quarter light of moon,

They sing a song of sorrow

Of lives gone much too soon.

COPYRIGHT 2012 © ELIZABETH MICHAUD JOHN.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

A LAUNCH IN MEMORIAM

Note:  I don’t really classify this story as a “true” horror because of its ending, but what happens inside the story is still, to me, very frightening.  I’m sure any parent would agree.   This is my attempt to touch on a broader range of emotion.

 

“Aw, Dad, can’t we do it just one more time?  One more launch.  Please? Please?”

Stephen looked down at his young son, marveling at this creature that was his own creation.  Tommy was a little replica of Stephen himself, with cheery brown eyes, and a big, happy grin that he shared as easily as his father shared his own.

“I don’t know, son.  Your mom and your sister are going to be wondering where we are, don’t you think?”

“Naw, she’s busy with Jessica.  They’re getting their nails done. Yuck!”  He stuck his tongue out in disgust and Stephen laughed.

“Alright,” he said to his six-year old son.  “How about a little snack first?  Some hot dogs and soda? Think your mom’d be upset?”

Tommy opened his eyes wide with excitement.  “Oh no, Daddy. She’s always saying she doesn’t want me go hungry.  That’s why she’s always saying I have to eat everything on my plate.”

Stephen chuckled.  “Yeah, you’ve got your mom’s number, alright,” he murmured, amused.  He loved his son’s simple honesty—if somewhat misconstrued and self-serving—and the innocence with which it was always expressed.  He found it completely endearing.

“Alright, kiddo, let’s go.”

They walked together, father and son, through the thick grass.  The park was full of people:  families sitting on bright colored blankets, having a picnic and sharing stories; couples and their dogs tossing a Frisbee.  Beyond the center fountain, teenagers were playing a spirited game of volleyball, a boom box blasting music providing a soundtrack for their fun.  The day was sunny and bright, the sky dotted with clouds.  A perfect day to be out with my boy, Stephen thought contentedly.

They reached the refreshment stand, where the line snaked several feet beyond the concession stand.  They took their place in line and chatted together.  Stephen listened patiently and with amusement as his son rambled excitedly.

“How high do you think we can make it go, Dad?”

“I don’t know, Tommy. What do you think?”

“I’ll bet we can make it touch the sky!”

Stephen encouraged him with a smile and an affectionate pat on the head.

Suddenly, Tommy steered the conversation from their impending activity and turned to more pressing, more immediate matters.  “I have to go to the restroom.”

“Can you hold it?”  The line was still long and moving slowly  and Stephen was loathe to leave the line now that their place was well-established.

“Nope.”  As if to prove his dire emergency, he immediately crossed his legs and began jumping up and down.

Stephen scanned the area for a restroom and discovered the sign behind the refreshment stand.  “You sure you can’t—“

“I can go all by myself, Daddy.  I’m a big boy.”

“Are you sure, son?”

“I’ve got this, Dad.”  And before Stephen could protest further, his son took off in the direction of the restroom.  Just as he was considering going after him, a customer leaving the refreshment stand laden with drinks, ketchup and mustard dressed hot dogs, and cheesy nachos crashed right into him, spilling food everywhere.

“Oh my god, excuse me!”

“No, no, it was an accident, it’s alright.”

It was well after the ensuing commotion had died down that Stephen realized that Tommy had never returned from the restroom.  He went to the restroom, where it was quiet and impossibly deserted.

“Tommy?”  he called out.  “Tommy, are you here, son?”  He waited but there was nothing, no sound, no response.  He must be outside, he thought.  He has to be outside.  He refused to panic.

But Tommy was not outside.  He was nowhere to be—

And then Stephen found him.  His back was to Stephen, but he recognized him by his striped shirt and his kinky hair and his new white sneakers.  He squatted by the fountain, bent over the side, his small hand carelessly swishing and swirling water.

A well of relief that washed over him and his chest suddenly loosened, relaxing a knot of tension that he hadn’t known was there.

He moved to his son, and as relief turned to annoyance tinged with anger, Stephen reached out, putting his hands on his shoulders, and spun him around.

“My god, Tommy, why did you leave—” he yelled, but then he suddenly stopped short.

“Hey!”  the boy in front of him shouted in surprise.

“Hey, get your hands off my son!” someone else started.  It was a woman, and she immediately went to Stephen, yanking the boy back from his grasp.  He was the same height as Tommy, but now Stephen saw that the striped shirt he wore had colors of green and white instead of white and blue, and the new sneakers he wore were not so much a shiny white but more of a silver gray.

Stephen released the boy, stunned.  “I’m sorry,” he mumbled, stumbling backward.  “I’m sorry, I’m looking for my son.  I thought he was my son.”  The words came out in a rush, and he turned away from the mother and her son before anyone could say anything else.

Fingers of fear reached for him then, trying to take him into their grasp, but still he refused to panic.  Tommy was here, in this park, at this moment, and of this, he had no doubt.

But even when police, firefighters, and volunteers got involved, there was still no sign of him. They spent hours searching for Tommy, and every possible hiding place and attraction was searched and searched again.  But he was gone, vanished, like a whisper on the wind: here one moment and gone the next.

Stephen, though shocked and horrified by the disappearance of his son, was determined to stay strong.  When he spoke with authorities, his voice never wavered, and his eyes were cold steel.  They would  find his son. Through sheer force of will he would deem it so.

But it was later into the night, when Officer Johnson came to him, that Stephen finally broke down.

“I’m sorry Mr. Wells, but so far, all we’ve found is this.”

Suddenly, it was all too much.  Taking the object into his hands, Stephen finally broke down and began to cry.

~~~~~~~~~

A year had passed since Tommy had disappeared.  There had been starts and stops, a few small leads, but all that had been produced was false hope.  Immediately after his disappearance, there had been interviews, hundreds of them:  with police and detectives, with journalists and politicians, with citizens groups and talk show hosts.  In his mind, Stephen remembered them only as one long blur, with flashes of microphones, tears, and pleas for the safe return of his son.  The ringing of phones had been constant, a harsh cacophony of sound that could have heralded good news, but only brought more angst, more misery, more disappointment.

A month after his disappearance, a shoe and a torn piece of shirt had been discovered, but there had been no prints, nothing for the police to work with.  Six months later, the interviews became less and less frequent until they eventually stopped altogether.  Little was heard from the phones that had once been ringing without cessation. The case eventually went cold and was filed away under Missing Persons. Stephen wondered vaguely if they would ever pick up his file again.

He walked slowly through the park where he had last seen his son.  In his hands, he held the object that they had first found the day he had disappeared:  his model space shuttle.  As he walked to the spot where he and Tommy would have launched their ship for the last time that day, he regarded the other park patrons.  How easy it is for them, he thought bitterly.  How blissfully ignorant they are.  He wanted to scream, to yell:  Don’t you know my son was taken?  That my son is gone? How can you not know or care?

He felt his anger rising, his grief surging, and fought to control his emotions.  He was only here for one thing, and it was not to judge or assign blame or make accusations.  He didn’t want to be angry today or succumb to bitterness or even grieve.  There would be time for that again tomorrow, or the next day, or the day after that.  But today was special.  He was here for a sole purpose and he intended to be strong.  For Tommy.

A year ago, Stephen had promised his son they could take his space shuttle up one more time before they left.  But of course, that had never happened.  That promise had never been kept.  Until now.

In the clearing where they had spent a happy afternoon before something had gone terribly, horribly wrong, Stephen set up his son’s rocket-powered shuttle.  Once everything was set, he took out the remote and stepped back.  He looked up, and noticed that the day, much as it had been a year ago, was beautiful:  the sun cast its golden light with abandon, and the sky was again a soft and lovely shade of blue. A breeze blew through the trees, whispering gently.  Stephen thought he heard someone call to him:  Daddy?

He turned quickly, looking left and right, but there was no one, nothing.  Brushing away tears, Stephen spoke quietly.  “Tommy, we’re going to take it up one last time, okay?  Just like I promised.  This is the last space shuttle launch, son.”

He pressed the button and watched his son’s rocket fly up, up, up.

And for a moment, he let his son go.

Old Tree

“Old Tree” Artwork by Sara John

Old tree

Dark tree, sinister tree

I know ‘bout you

And them secrets you like to keep

Behind leaves so green

And flowers so fresh

But that ain’t nothing but lies and falsehoods

‘Cause when the spring goes by

And that winter come

I see you for what you are

For what you done

~~~~~~~~

That’s right, Ol’ Tree

With your branches bare

With your trunk scarred

You can’t hide behind yo’ leaves

You can’t hide behind no spring renewal

‘Cause I know about you, Ol’ Tree

What you done

What you hung

From branches so strong

They held the weight of a man

An innocent man

A black man

~~~~~~~~~

Oh, yea, I remember,

Ol’ Tree

How you used to give us shade

Used to keep us from the sun

When we made love

And you pretended you was our friend,

Our tree

But you was his tree

That white man’s tree

And when that white man come

With that rope so thick

That rope so strong

You gave him a branch

You gave him an arm

And you let that white man steal a life,

Ol’ Tree

You let him take my love

Copyright 2012 © Elizabeth Michaud John.  All rights reserved.