The first of the #wwb challenges (post-nanowrimo) was to write a short story containing the words watermelon, griffin/gryphon and embolism. Several excellent inventive stories were posted, ranging from CKL's superb pastiche of the 'Twas the Night before Christmas' - "Father Christmas Ninja Warrior" to Ella's intriguing corporate/Christmas cautionary tale to TheSkoot's energetic assassin story. There is a beautiful post-apocalyptic look at the evolution of the rite of Christmas from (I'm not sure whom) and a equally enchanting whimsical fantasy from Maria. All good stuff. And, as ever, I am thoroughly awed by the creativity of my fellow wwb'ers.
Below is my effort, changed slightly from the version submitted (ie edited).
She stared up at the ceiling.
“You have no choice.”
She said nothing. She ached. She hurt. She burned.
“You have no choice.”
“I can’t.” It should have been a scream. It should have been rage and hate and fear. It was a whisper.
“You have no choice.” Each word was deliberate, heavy with emphasis.
She felt the tears then, when she thought she had no more. She sobbed, silently, once, and said nothing.
She felt his hand then on her shoulder. There was no comfort in it, nothing recognisable other than the weight. It lifted then, and she knew he was gone.
“I can’t.” She said once more. And then again, to the pain.
She stood on a mountain top. Clouds surrounded it, a sea of white and grey. The air was crisp, cold, the breeze occasionally biting in its temperamental, mercurial way.
The gryphon sat next to her, it’s feather ruffling in the wind. It yawned silently, its tongue bright red against the blue sky. She slid her hand into its feathers, feeling its heat. It yawned again.
“Shall we?” she asked, smiling to herself despite the flaring pain within her.
It stood then, shaking itself as it did so. The gryphon stretched its wings, the expanse of them casting a shadow over her. She looked up at the wing above her, captivated as always by the shimmer and sheen of the feathers. She reached up, sliding her fingers amongst them, feeling the savage heat of the beast. It rose to its feet at her touch, turning its head so that its golden eyes regarded hers.
The gryphon shook its head and stretched slightly, causing her to step back, to lose contact with it, before it stalked forward to crouch at the cliff edge. It stood there, poised, wings half-spread, flexing slightly with the breeze.
“Go.” She said under her breath, and with that it was gone, arcing slowly into the sky, wings beating strongly.
She walked up to the edge, eyes shaded to watch the gryphon as it disappeared into the sky.
Time, she thought, and stepped off the edge.
The houses surrounded her, stretching out along the road as far as she could see. They were uniform in their decay, brooding in the darkness of dusk, windows broken, doors absent or hanging loosely. It was cold, a breeze gusting along the street. Detritus, dry and brittle, flitted around her, skittering along in counterpoint to the otherwise eery silence. She shivered, the cold biting at her. She looked up the street, then in the other direction. Seeing no difference in either, she chose a direction and walked.
She wasn’t alone.
“Thank you,” he said, the unexpected sincerity of his voice catching her unawares. Her eyes blurred then.
“Why me?” she asked, after a short while.
“Because you are perfect. Because, amidst all the hundreds of thousands of people who lie dying at this moment, you are the only one. And because you have no choice.”
They walked long, and she began to count the passage of those silent empty doorways.
“Make it quick,” she said, “an embolism, a heart attack, anything. Just make it quick.”
“An embolism isn’t quick.” He answered.
“Whatever. Just make it quick.”
“It will be.”
They carried on walking, and in that silence she counted thirty-four doorways on the right.
“What is this place?”
With that he was gone, and she laughed, surprised at the bitterness that came out with it. She laughed again, and thought she knew the answer.
“Fuck you,” she said, forty-seven doors later.
It got darker and colder as she pressed on, the houses in a greater disrepair than ever. The gusting wind dropped but the cold remained and she walked even faster, hands tucked into her jean pockets. The walk became a blur, her head down, the passing of a single elongated moment marked only by the passing of doors and her thoughts.
She looked up.
She was at the end of the street. There was a house there; bright, cheery, in good repair. It was, she realised, her house. From when she was fifteen, sixteen years old.
She walked up to the door, the familiar feel of paving stones beneath her feet. From somewhere came the scent of apple blossom, her memory tracking it back to the small tree in the corner of the garden that always flowered but never fruited.
She stood in front of the door, breathing deeply, a strange sense of deja vu filling her with homesickness and tears. She opened the door and stepped through.
Everything was as it was, as it had been. The hallway was its usual mess, littered with shoes and coats. She listened hearing nothing, not her brothers, not her father or mother, nothing. And yet she felt drawn onwards. She walked down the hall, opening the door to the kitchen, blinking at the sunlight that streamed through. The kitchen was its usual self, the smell of biscuits filling the air. Beyond she could see her mother, standing in front of her easel, as she always seemed to be. She swallowed then, her throat dry, and stepped through.
“Hello mum,” she said. She looked at the canvas on the easel and at the object being painted.
“Hello dearie,” her mother turned towards her, her smile so familiar, tired but warm.
She turned back to the easel.
“You know how I hate these things. I can never get them right. Horrid things.”
“It’s good to see you, mum.” She said.
Her mother turned back to her, smiling.
“It has been a while, hasn’t it? You don’t look so well. Come, sit down with me.”
They sat on the small wooden bench.
“I’m not. I’m not well at all.”
Her mother’s smile was sad and knowing.
“I know, honey, I know.”
They sat in silence for a while, simply looking at each other.
“I have been asked to do something. Something terrible. Something final. And if I do it, the pain goes away. Everything goes away.”
“And are you going to do it?”
“It will make the pain go away.”
Her mother nodded, once and touched her on the hand.
“Is it worth it?”
She stared at her mother.
“I don’t know.”
She stepped through the doorway into a desert. She walked through vats sand dunes, the heat beating down at her. She waded through swamps, thick with mire and mud, sucking and dragging her down. She climbed and scrambled through fields of rock and blasted stone, the shattered remnants of unknown world, bones crumbling at her touch. She walked and marched and strove, and with each step she felt the pain recede a little.
Far above her, beyond the limits of her thoughts and awareness, she knew a gryphon soared.
She walked on.
She found herself in a forest, the trees towering silently around her. The light broke through the canopy in broken shafts, dappling the forest floor in muted colours. It was silent and still.
The pain was quiet, inconsequential here, and she knew she was close to her goal. She walked on, following instinct, passing between the giant trees with almost reverential awe.
She was there. She stood, looking down at her goal, staring at it. She felt herself crying. She gazed at it, and wept, and knew the answer to her mother’s question.
She stood on the edge of the mountaintop, the wind cold and bitter, the sky no longer blue but filled with hues of grey and black. The gryphon was there, and it was a sickly thing. Its ribs showed through its skin, its eyes were fevered, its feather pale and threadbare. It shivered with the wind and pranced away at her approach.
She grasped it, and eased herself onto its back. It skittered a bit, danced with broken grace, and then settled.
“It is time.” She whispered to it, and with that they were in the air. They climbed, the wind cold and biting, the beat of the gryphon’s wings unsure and uneven. The wind tugged at them, threw itself against them in gusts and bursts and the gryphon began to falter. She held it tight then, and whispered to it, whispered, everything, her dreams, hopes, fears. She whispered the tale of the journey, she whispered what she had found, and what she needed to do. As she did so the gryphon steadied, and continued to climb and she held on as they plunged into the clouds and mist.
She opened her eyes, staring up at the ceiling of the ward. The pain washed through her, biting deeply into her with renewed ferocity. Her eyes pricked with tears and she gasped a little then. She bit her lip, determination and anger and sadness her armour.
She took a deep breath. There was always a choice. Always.
“No.” She said, to him, and to the pain.