City of Ghosts

Light streamed in from the windows as morning greeted. Shelly woke up to the heavy sound of silence. Grey skies in her mind played contrast to the sky blue ceiling in the room, empty save for the bed that she laid on and a vase of withered flowers. It seemed like such a long time ago, when she had last felt alive.

She tried to wrest her voice out of her dry throat. Finding no words, her soft gasp went unheard. She moved her fingers, barely, then her big toe. When she felt confident enough, she lifted herself off a sunken, stained mattress. Her bare feet touched the cold floor that was layered with dust. What happened? And how long had she slept?

She stood unsteadily, figuring out where she was. The hospital was as quiet as the deepest ends of the ocean, and equally lonely. The air smelt bad, and stale. She peered out before she stepped into the empty corridor. Her skin was drowning in sweat. Rhythmic drumming weighed upon her head, rearranging her features into a set grimace.

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The Midnight Lullaby

Few things made Luciana happier than watching the world go by from her window. There, she could look down at the pavement and imagine her tiny feet upon gravel. She could watch the blue skies above turn dark as the hours passed.

On lucky days, she could even catch a glimpse of birds weaving through the fluff of clouds. More often, she peered into the her neighbour’s home, although her father forbade her to. Still, she kept watch on the house, claiming interest in the night sky.

No one knew much about the old woman who lived there. Stories have it that she never left her home, and had lived on the street longer than anyone else did. A young nurse came up to visit her three times a day – at eight in the morning, twelve in the noon, and seven in the evening.

In the hours between, the old woman had only the company of her grandson. The boy – no more than six – would sit in the old rattan chair next to her bed. Every night, she would sing him to sleep.

Luciana never knew the words to the lullaby. But she did always hear the faint hum of the mournful tune, consonant with the grim sorrow that she saw on the woman’s face. She could never forget it, she thought.

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The Lonely Hunter

Aina saw and felt nothing, as though she no longer existed. Then, everything came back to her at once. Her senses were overwhelmed. An acidic scent of smoke swam in the air, attacking her dry throat.

Where she laid, she tasted metal on her tongue and spat out blood. She wished she would have had a bottle of water on her right then. But rules were rules. Belongings of any kind were forbidden on a time trip. All precautions against paradoxes had to be strictly observed, Aina had been warned yet and again.

Black spots danced around her vision as she tried to figure out where she was. She blinked hard through sore eyes, and stumbled along the alley. Conscious of her nakedness, she peered from behind the wall. Surrounding screens lit the familiar city in shades of blue and green.

It took a while before she remembered what she was here for. This was the right place. Aina was right where she needed to be.

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Gone, Still

“What you want, is irrelevant,” Shiloh read her father’s lips, barely parting as he spoke. “We need a change. I need a change.”

It had been a week-long fight, one so intensely routine she wondered why he bothered to go through the motions. He knew very well how she felt about leaving her home of eighteen years. No promise of a better city, or a better life, could have changed that.

Nor could it have been true in fact. Shiloh loved this city. She turned her attention away from Dad, tightening her fist with tired frustration, which was most of how she felt these days. When she felt calm again, she looked up and caught his last words in time, “It’s final, Shy.”

Before Shiloh had a chance to have her say, her portly father had returned to wolfing down his dinner, as though she was to accept what he had decided for her. To hell with that. She never would. Anger surged within her like fire in her throat.

Why does he get to decide?, she thought. I am part of this family too, aren’t I?

She lifted her hands slightly, but decided against speaking out. She was not about to argue against her father again. Volume wasn’t her strength, not since a sudden bout of illness took her hearing two years ago.

Part of her stubborn self wanted to bring up how Mum would have understood, which honestly would have upset herself in equal measure. Instead, she swallowed her tears. She pushed her chair backwards, hard as she could, hoping it might screech like chalk against board.

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Coming Undone

Darkness stretched an unending distance ahead, bearing nothing but dread. Only because she insisted, I found every inch of courage I never knew I had, and began walking down the familiar road again. For the first time, I thought.

“No. Once again,” I heard her soft voice in my ear. “It all happened right here.”

There was no one here but us. Yet she spoke in whispers, as though someone might be listening in on our little secret. Somehow, I could feel its presence too. Afraid of what I might find if I tried, I stared at the vast space ahead instead, unblinking eyes dry as bone.

Serenity emptied my mind in the comforting silence that followed. I let out a scream, letting out the tension in my aching body. The void screamed back, enveloping me with palpable stillness. I wanted to do it again, but I remembered that I was not alone.

You will never be alone again, she reminded me.

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