Picking Up The Pieces

“Welcome to Rowan Grove!” I called out from my chair at the front of Showhome House, as Mayor Shine calls it.

The travellers stared at me, an older man, probably as old as Mayor Shine, born before the poklips, then a woman, ’bout my age, and a kid maybe nine or ten. Pretty ordinary except for three things. Their cart, packed tight with stuff all proper wrapped, had almost no wear on the handle so no-one’s been pushing that much, I could feel star stones about them, and one of them was magic.

Enough stones, enough magic, to make me stand up.

That’s why Mayor Shine has me do welcomes. I can feel that stuff.

“Come from far off?” I said, to put ’em easy, because Mayor Shine always wants star stones, and anyone that does magic. It was probably the kid. Couldn’t be the older man, ‘cause no-one born before the poklips does magic. They’re all about lectronics and computas.

“Pretty far,” the woman said.

“Passing on, or looking to stay?”

“We are not sure about that,” the older man said. “The road sign says Rowan Grove. Looks like this place is about twenty years old, right?”

“Modern zeckitiv residents,” I told him, which is what Mayor Shine always says. “Done just afore the poklips.”

“Right.” The old guy sniffed. “Crappy modern development, but probably got good insulation.”

The welcome was going all wrong. I say passing on, or looking to stay, and they’re supposed to choose. Staying is fine. Not the older guy, of course, but the woman and kid, and the star stones that had to be in the cart somewhere. Or passing on is good. Bobby and Tig would find them down on the main road and take the stones. Maybe the woman, if Mayor Shine says so.

“So, passing on, or looking to stay?”

“Not sure,” the older guy decided. “What do you think, Ethan? Is this a good place?”

The kid looked round, at me, and then at the older guy. “Bad place, Gramps.”

So the kid was the magic one.

“Passing on, then,” I said.

“That depends on whether you’re going to try to steal my stones as we leave.” The oldster took a broken star stone from his pocket. “This area used to be a good place to live, but now the community is in pieces and everyone wants to steal these.”

I stared the way you’re not supposed to. It caught me, even split, with the glinty black core showing, sucking me in like the poklips all over. Not that I remember it. I wasn’t born yet, but Mayor Shine talks about it. Magic and star stones and sucking folks in.

“You want to steal it, don’t you?”

I did, I really did, but it’s Bobby and Tig that takes stones off people. Maybe I’ll learn one day, but I seen what happens. Stones bite. They got no teeth, but they bite deep. I seen a man bleed ’til he died, trying to steal a star stone.

“Ain’t nobody stealing,” I said, because that’s what I always say. “You can pass on by with no trouble.”

And maybe he could, because he was weird. Old people can’t hold star stones. Not even broken ones. You have to be born in magic, not born before the poklips. But this oldster held a stone…

“If there’s no stealing here, then maybe we could stay… what do you think, Ethan?”

The kid shook his head and shuffled closer to the woman.

“Passing on, then,” the oldster said. “Unless you have good wells here.”

“Three good wells.” I’m not supposed to say that, but the broken glinting star stone had me. “And good gutters and water filters and…” I wanted that stone. Wanted, wanted, wanted. “And seven farms out that way and…”

“Who is in charge here?” the guy asked,

“Mayor Shine…”

“Ah. Of course. You fetch him for me, then.”

The star stone sucked at me more, caught my eyes, made my knees go soft like the day Mayor Shine said that Maisie who does the milking was going to be mine. I gave the signal and little Eric, who’s only seven, dropped out his tree and ran to fetch Mayor Shine.

I waited, lost, watching the star stone.

I heard Mayor Shine huffing and grumbling, until he came round the side of Showhome House and…

“Hello Harvey,” the older traveller said.

“Colin.” Mayor Shine stopped at my side, as stiff and angry as the day Lizzy the cook shouted she wouldn’t be his no more.

“Mayor now, is it?” The oldster held out his broken star stone so it pulled at me harder, deep and sharp like the caning Mayor Shine gave me for stealing apples when I was a kid.

“No place here for you, Colin,” Mayor Shine growled. “Keep your stone and go.”

“But you want this…”

The oldster reached out and that broken star stone floated towards us, drifting like a bumble-bee until it reached Mayor Shine. Floating in front of his nose. So close I could reach up and take it if I wanted. Just reach up.

The star stone was hot, and sharp, and tingled all the way to my shoulder. It pulled my fingers tight around it, tight and tighter, too, too tight, like they were going to break, and my wrist twisted, arm twisted, bones twisted. I shut my eyes and clenched my teeth. There was nothing but hurt that spread across my chest, down my other arm. Something hot and soft filled my free hand. So hot. So burning. Pulling my fingers in tight like the star stone. I had to squeeze and squeeze and squeeze until water ran and killed the fire.

“Keep the stone,” the oldster said.

I opened my eyes. Mayor Shine lay dead, his throat all ragged and torn, and my hands… one all bloody, and the other, broken and twisted, fingers gnarly and grown together. The broken stone was in there. I could feel it. Warm and wriggling, and mine now.

The oldster took another star stone from his pocket, but I didn’t want that one. I had mine. In my fist, wrapped up so tight that no-one could ever steal it.

“My name is Colin,” the oldster said. “And this place is mine, now. If you think this is a good place, Ethan.”

The kid smiled at me.

“Good place now, Gramps.”

# # #

This was written in response to the #BlogBattle prompt of Fragment.

Image from Pixabay.

8 thoughts on “Picking Up The Pieces”

  1. Life is like a box of chocolates … or is that star stones? The narrator has a very distinctive voice that does a good job of pulling the reader in. On the one hand you’re inclined to like the guy, yet on the other you can’t deny the influence corruption has had on him. I also like the ‘unanswered question’ about what exactly caused the apocalypse and where those star stones came from that seem to lie at its heart. This may be a creepier read, but it is in an enjoyable sort of way!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I must admit I like writing ambiguous characters, and first person narratives are particularly useful for that.

      The “hero” of my urban fantasies is essentially a self-confessed low-life, and neither main character in my space opera is exactly saint-like – various reviewers have commented on liking the guy, an unapologetic thief, but no-one (other than my partner:) ) has anything good to say about the girl who is a seriously spoilt rich-bitch.

      Maybe I’ll write nice character one day, but don’t hold your breath.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh my god, this was amazing! I loved it unreservedly. So much world-building — it felt like a mix between King’s Dark Tower and The Stand. From the post-world vernacular — poklips — to the hints at what’s gone on, it was all brilliant. This needs to be its own book series, I would read the ever-loving s*** out of it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It will have to go on the growing list of shorts that ought to be a whole book:).
      As for world-building… I really, really didn’t think I did very much. It takes someone else reading to highlight that:).

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s on the list. The only trouble is the size of the list.
        I just took a look at my ideas folder – 540 files, although one of those is the directory called “Older ideas” with 290 items…
        (OK, many of them are junk and going nowhere, but there just don’t seem to be enough hours in my day.)

        On the other hand, I don’t take things in order from the list…

        Liked by 1 person

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