The day had been short, lit by a mocking sunlight that refused to admit Christmas cheer into its long black shadows. People now churn through the streets of the City, pushing home, diving here and there from the crowd to chance a last-minute bit of gift shopping. The dark evening barely intrudes in the continuous stream of headlights, streetlights and the bobbing rectangles of phone screens, frantically being consulted for opening times, stock levels, last trains.
Everything is broken. I don’t even know how we got here. Last I knew, we were zipping together down the dirty-yellow plastic flume at the local leisure centre. Now we’re here, adrift in clear shallow water at the foot of a cloud-smocked peak in god knows what part of South America.
I’m not complaining, per se. I am wondering how we return. Did we move through time or space? Have I forgotten our journey here, or did we never make one? After the leisure centre, my mind is a blur, a scramble. A mundane last memory, but one that melds perfectly with our situation. Did we tumble from the slide into this dream?
Another day I might remember. Give me another day here, and I might forget more. I sweep my arms above my head, sending swirls of ripples across the lake. They fan out and, from high on the mountain, perhaps someone can see an angel in the water.
“Mate,” he said, not looking at me. “Mate, come on. It’s just up here. In this pond.” Pond, I thought. Maybe that’s a local name because it looks like a lake to me. But then again, I’m no fisherman. If I was, I probably wouldn’t be here. I’d be somewhere safe, a long way away.
The lights burn holes in your eyes if you stay out too long in front of the curtain. They say you can tell the long-time performers by the glimmer of darkness nestled in their gaze; the spots have punched their lights out. It’s not a sad place to be, not when you’re up there. The wash lights warm your skin and melt the greasepaint into your mouth. The performance becomes you, if you want. There is no mask but your face, a painting with those terrible black holes in the centre.
As manager, it doesn’t touch him. He closes his eyes and feels the performance thunder through the boards. The crowd roars, heckles, squeals with delight. It kicks up dust and sunlight as the day starts to vanish and the evening shows begin, the crowd changing timbre as the dark closes around them. The edgy, half-contained violence of a mob is always part of the spirit at the Fair and it gets harder to push back into the bottle as the drink flows.
Everyone knows not to mess with the manager, though. He sits at the front, just outside the idiot stare of the lights, and listens. The sway of the throng creates the breeze that plucks restlessly at his flat-combed hair, he tastes it like a snake. His face is unreadable, but after all these years he is tired and he is sad. He has seen and felt too much. He opens his eyes and stares at the light.
Takes a lot to get me to notice things. I’m hoovering the rug one morning and it didn’t even occur to me that there was no table on it. What had happened to the coffee table? Then I started thinking maybe we’d never had a coffee table but no, there were the dents in the pile although they were fading and filled with dust.
Gravity is such a weak force. Anyone could defy it with the least effort, pulling bodies free with every step. Yes, we sent rockets pummelling out of the atmosphere on columns of concentrated fire, but a child could break the bond with a leap. It’s the smallest thing, and it took almost nothing for it to fail.
So early in the morning it was still night, out in the deep grass where the deer have held court since the days of the Tudors. The mist dragged across the world, milky white cataracts. What we were doing was wrong, but there was no option.
What, this came out as poetry? Clearly some sort of mistake.
More quickfic. This is a very silly prompt.
There were no fires that year. It was hot, sure, but something in the city conspired to keep the combustion only in the heads of the citizens. Minds burned up and burned out; it was a season of high fever and hi jinx. People danced on the telegraph poles, ran into traffic just to play chicken with motor cars, jumped from windows.
They weren’t trying to kill themselves. They weren’t depressed, they were full of life. Window jumpers would stand on the ledge and call down to the street. Ahoy! After a few incidents, the crowd knew the routine. SUMMON THE FIRE BRIGADE! the cry would go up, carried lustily along the street to the nearest hook-and-ladder station, and the firemen – no women then – would arrive tout suite and unpack the trampoline.
It was lucky there were no fires, we all felt blessed. The window jumpers gave the fire brigade something to do, when they weren’t rescuing cats from trees. The cats could climb down on their own but everyone agreed that the spectacle was the thing and the cats didn’t seem to mind.
It was a hot summer, and we were all touched by madness in the sunshine. Our minds boiled until the steam bloomed from our ears and the flames glowed in our eyeballs. We bounced when we jumped, and we climbed where we didn’t need to climb. When autumn came we lit the bonfires and the smoke of a real fire finally cleared our heads.