Anna Peefer–a short story

This story has been in my “drafts” for over two years now. I’ve not got the energy to edit it over, but I’ll publish it here.

 

Anna Peefer went to Funland Extremepark every Saturday in June and July. She brought her nieces twice, but the other weeks she went alone, riding the nine roller coasters two or three times each and nothing else. She never got sick, or sick of riding. She’d buy a bag of kettle corn worth its weight in gold, munching on and off all day. She often jumped half the line, when attendants searched around for a single rider. No one at the park knew who she was. It was amazing. She was free.

Anna Peefer always went with her wild curls tied back as well as she could. She liked her hair in box braids but on the roller coasters they thrashed about and she was afraid of them getting caught in something, so in the summer she kept her hair loose and frizzy, tied back and out of her face. She liked to see the sky take up her whole vision as the cart tilted backward, all the blood rushing to the back of her head, her heels sliding against the metallic floors, her fingers tighter on the shoulder restraints than the restraints themselves were on her.

Then a swishing in her stomach, and the trees and Ferris wheel would come into view, bit by bit. Anna Peefer, on top of the world.

And then the fall.

She screamed at each fall, louder than is ever necessary, stretching her voice past its limits. She kept her eyes open, her hands tight, her feet clamped around her purse and the bag of popcorn, both threatening to fall out. After the fall, after the g-forces at the bottom of the dip make her feel heavy with relief and she took the first inhale in about ten seconds, the car erupting with laughs and quick shouts, giggling girls and boys pretending to almost fall out of the cart.

Anna Peefer’s mind, at this point in the ride, was already on which coaster she’ll get in line for next. After the big drop, the rest of the coaster was never really worth it.

The thrill of the climb, the fear of the fall. This is why her favorite coaster, the park’s most famous, was the Pink Panther. 150 feet tall and bubblegum pink, the coaster was a torturously slow climb, a steep drop, and a small loop around the area to slow down momentum. She waited in line, munching the popcorn, and was set for the second-next coaster (she was terrific at cart-math by now) when she almost bailed the ride completely.

The attendees at Funland Extremepark have a simple yellow polo as a uniform, meant to be worn with blue jeans and peppered throughout with pins, stickers, and Sharpie drawings to add character. The attendee checking everyone’s shoulder restraints had an elaborate Crusade Warrior design ironed on across his back, and there, right by Markallia Erqus and her warfairy was Anna Peefer’s signature.

She couldn’t for the life of her remember signing a bright yellow Funland Extremepark shirt—she signed about a thousand every convention she went to—but regardless of how little she remembered the shirt, the guy wearing it would remember her.

She fiddled with the twist tie on her popcorn. She’d been in line for quite awhile, and this was her favorite coaster. He probably wouldn’t make a scene. Besides, she thought, the wind making her loose hair tickle her back, he probably won’t recognize me. She couldn’t believe this had happened. She practically knew all of the attendants by sight, and now the first new employee all summer is a fan of Crusade Wars.

She got in the coaster about five minutes later. The guy checked each restraint, down the line. He seemed to falter on Anna Peefer’s, but she didn’t dare look up at him until the cart was beginning to move.

When she met his eye, his furrowed brow shot upward, disappearing behind his bangs. He grabbed a coworker by the elbow and whispered in his ear, making subdued hand motions down at his side, trying to keep from making a fuss. The coworker began scanning the coaster. Anna Peefer stared at the back of the seat in front of her.

“The game designer,” one of them whispered loud enough, and Anna Peefer closed her eyes.

“Please keep your hands and arms inside the vehicle at all times,” said the girl at the podium. She was also watching the two attendants.

Please, Anna Peefer thought as loudly as she could, glancing at the slits of sky through the ceiling boards. Don’t let the girl know Crusader Wars. Don’t let her be a gamer. Let her think the attendants are crazy. Please don’t let her say—”

“Enjoy the ride,” the podium girl said into the microphone. “And may heaven’s light illuminate your way.”

Anna Peefer snapped her eyes shut again. People in line were laughing, clearly getting the reference. Someone mispronounced her name as Anna Pfeiffer. The cart lurched.

“You can’t go here anymore,” said a tinny voice Anna Peefer thought she left at the entrance gate. She kept her eyes tight shut. “It’s too much, it’s too much. This stupid game follows you everywhere.”

The roller coaster lurched, and the warfairy, six inches tall with the wings of a dragonfly sprouting from her back, dove into the ponytail gathered at the nape of Anna Peefer’s neck. She dug her tiny claws into Anna Peefer’s skin.

“We gotta get off, the restraints are too tight,” the warfairy whined.

Anna Peefer cracked her knuckles one at a time. The coaster ticked its way up the first incline. The fairy screamed all the way up, her feet latched around Anna Peefer’s throat and holding tight. At the top of the peak, the fairy’s grip loosened, and Anna was free to scream. Anna screamed alone, everyone else holding their breath for the fall. She screamed so loud, and so high, for so long it hurt her. She could feel the rawness in her throat as the coaster sped down the hill. She sucked in the cold, biting air, riding the rest of the track in silence.

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Blue carpet: Short Fic Friday

Mary Ann was a mother of her own now, and liked to lay her baby on the floor in the living room. She’d lay beside him on her stomach and press her face into the dusty blue carpet. She’d listen to her son wriggle, kick, and coo, his saliva-covered fists shoved between his gums.

And Mary Ann? Mary Ann would let the rough carpet become a gentle waterfall that she would part with her nose. She’d fall through the blue darkness, dark blueness, and land in a bikini in a cool jungle tide pool, her hair held back with flowers. People would be dancing in the water, dressed all in red and laughing. Fruit trees shade the sun.

She would be welcomed with open arms, her crying son eons away. And yes, her son would be crying now. And yes, she would have to leave soon.

The only blue in her house was the carpet and all the baby boy clothes. She wanted more blue, blue curtains along the windows and shower, blue dishes, blue walls. Blue could be so expensive, nowadays.

Belie: Short Fic Friday

The bells are shining, round and bubble-shaped. The bells are huge, they hurt my head. The tower is tall, we walk right underneath. The aisle is…

My dress is white, my dad is shaking, my shoes hurt my feet but they look so nice. My flowers are wrong. I wanted lilies. Lilies mean death, apparently. Inappropriate for a wedding. I beg to differ.

I’ve always liked lilies.

My shoes still hurt. The bridesmaids float like angels. Their dresses are blue, with pink sashes. My husband, no, my fiance stands like a statue. The grotesque crucifix hangs on the wall behind him. So graphic. The nails.

The priest. I wanted an old one, he’s so young. The people line up. The little girl, with the flowers. The boy, with the rings. What’s his name? Who knows.

My dad’s still shaking. Maybe now crying. I want to smile. I don’t feel a thing.

He says, “let’s go.”

We take a step, and the aisle falls in steps like an opening handheld fan and it’s a staircase,  covered in red. My dress is long, we fall. We float, like angels, downward. We float in time to the music. I hear a string quartet, I hear a beehive. I hear the bells, ringing ominous and dark. Lilies mean death, do the bells they ring at funerals? Are there special wedding bells, did I miss them?

The aisle is so long. Fiance waiting, sweating. The flowers are wrong.

My father says, “don’t worry, I’ll stop this aisle from being stairs.”

People stare.

 

I blink. My reflection blinks, too. What a pretty mirror, such a nice frame. I suppose the hotel could afford it.

“Well,” I tell myself, returning to my makeup. “No matter what happens, at least it won’t be that.”

I paint my cheeks, my eyes. I’m in sweatpants, my dress hanging in the closet. I’d kicked my fiance out. How soon is “before the wedding?” How long were we supposed to spend apart?

Of course it was a dream. Can you dream while awake? Daydream, I guess. I was young, then. I pull my skin back at the temples. What kind of person gets married for the first time at 50, anyhow? I sigh, drop my blush brush to rest on the vanity tabletop.

Big wedding. Had to have a big wedding. Couldn’t have lilies. Headache.

Bells? Out the window, bells? Morning mass.

I raise the brush to my cheek again. Well, here we go.

Heart of Steel: Short Fic Friday

John slammed the door to his car, sucked in all the air his lungs could hold, and let out a loud, violent cough. Sweet, sweet relief. He could breathe, the tickle in his throat that he had been fighting all night was finally clear.

“Hello,” he said to himself, his voice markedly softer than his hacking. Yes, his voice was back to normal. It sounded less sexy unclouded by phlegm. She probably didn’t notice, either way.

“Hi.”

John jumped, whipped his head to the right. Shit. There she was, just outside his passenger door. He thought she had gotten in her own car already. Did she hear that terrible cough? She was just as beautiful as her picture on the site, just like the rest.

“Sorry,” he said, mind racing, neck sweating. “I didn’t see you. I…sorry. I’m just…” She stared politely, letting him finish. “Nervous. I’m not good at this.”

“No worries. Mind if I join you? We still have some time.”

John unlocked the door. She slid in, her perfect body sinking into the black leather. John wrapped his fingers around the wheel. He couldn’t bear to look at her.

“Did you enjoy tonight?”

She was looking right at him. Her eyes glowed synthetic white light. She sat so straight.

“Yes. I’m sorry. I don’t know why I can’t…I don’t know how to do this.”

“Let’s just drive, and talk. No big deal.”

He pulled out of the parking garage. He felt his sickness welling in his throat again. Just another thing to worry about on such a strange date. He would drive until she was satiated, delete her number, delete his profile from the site. His fault for trying something new, he supposed. No, Walt’s fault for telling him it was normal. He and Ronnie had never been normal.

Well. The night was pretty. There weren’t many cars, and certainly not many with people inside of them. John loved driving around all the autocars. They were so slow and even that he could weave between them like a stitching needle.

Her metallic skin reflected the brake lights and seemed striped with red, white, yellow. She was twiddling her thumbs in her lap. He wondered if she, too, had anxiety. He wished she would slouch a little.

“What are you thinking?” He asked her. What a strange question. He could remember asking Ronnie if she could think, at all. Walt had nearly thrown him out of the house.

“I like your suit,” she said. “I like how it fits you.”

“I like your dress,” he replied, and it was true. The rich red looked lovely in the restaurant, and in the dark night it was dulled to a mahogany and complemented her silver skin and rope-like brown hair. He wanted to ask what made her have preferences, if they were programmed into her. He wondered if she knew. He wondered if she’d lie about it. He wondered if it mattered…of course it mattered.

The music was low, pulsing. She tapped the toe of a high heel to the beat.

“Did you want to go anywhere?”

“No,” she said, leaning her head back against the seat. “I just love to drive with humans. It’s quite a lot of fun. And, I like spending time with you. I know you’re nervous. And I know you probably miss her…”

John stared straight ahead. The red and white city lights swam in his vision, formed a young Lisa’s dying face. Younger, her wedding veil, her mother, his mother, the vomit, the blood, their daughter, all dying.

Then this thing. The Replacement, sipping a drink one part vodka three parts Ecofuel. The way she tried to move like a woman. The way they all did, how they almost got it. The way they wore vintage dresses because no one bothered designing new ones. The way they now seemed so short and skinny and pretty after years without the flesh and blood equivalent. How to talk to a shell of something that no longer exists? How to talk to a replication? How to talk to a made-to-order immortal?

How to touch one? How to love one?

“I just want you to know that I get it,” she said. “I might not feel it as intensely, but I understand. And…I’m here for you.”

John nodded. “Thank you…I have to think. Perhaps it’s still too early for me.”

She nodded too. He didn’t turn the car around yet, though. Still thinking. If he dropped her off back at the restaurant, she would be gone until he called again. For now, she was here. It had been so long since he’d been alone in a car with a woman, and though it was awkward he had to admit it was nice. She was unsettlingly pretty. He wished she was plumper, or had asymmetrical breasts or a strange birthmark, or short eyelashes or limp hair.

He was driving over the bridge now, and the water shone below like a rippling mirror. He wanted uncertainty nearly as much as he wanted to kiss her. He wanted her to short circuit all her programming, especially the programming telling her not to mind that she’s programmed. He knew that despite her silver color she was warm, soft, fleshy, with a working womb that he was being told left and right to utilize. He didn’t want a baby. He didn’t want a sure thing. He half wanted her to reject him.

She placed two nimble fingers on the radio and turned it two notches.

“Do you mind?” she asked. “I hate this song.”

He shook his head. “Me too.”

The song changed twice, and she let it rest.

“Mm,” she said, stretching her arms and closing her eyes. She sang along, softly, a bit off tune. John sped up, cut off another autocar. Maybe, he mused, he’d keep driving through the night. What was the use in turning around, anyhow?

Cough: Short Fic Friday

She wouldn’t cough. How bad could it be?

She began a deep breath, but it hitched in her throat so she let it out softly. A curling cloud shot out from between her teeth. Floating, suddenly, her neck was heavy but her head was light. In water, warm water, rippling around her outline. The moon was dim, easy to look at. The night was velvet.

She could sense life humming inside of her. She could feel the give and flexibility of her skin. Her eyes were dense marbles; she could feel them moving as she searched the sky. She couldn’t move, or she would sink.

Her friends were saying things, but she didn’t want to hear them. It was peaceful. She wanted to be alone.

Grass, now, she was on a field. It made her bum cold, wet, but it felt nice. It felt like biting into an apple, except all over her skin. She stretched out her legs. It reminded her of delving her hand into a barrel of dried beans at the supermarket. The grass tickled. It was so much sensation she had to slow down or risk getting dizzy.

She ran. She ran, and her lungs kept up with her. She could breathe so easily. Her knees didn’t crack or ache. The wind whistled in her ears. She felt so free, within her own body.

She woke up. A dream, of course a dream. Back, aching. Arms, weak. Bed, lights, too bright to look at. Trapped. She wanted freedom. She got oatmeal, instead. Water. Three more weeks, then freedom again. Maybe more than before.

The Artist and the Understudy: Short Fic Friday

The table was splotched with eye shadow and cracked cakes of blush, used q-tips and dashes of glitter. From the speaker rang out the yeasty bellow of Amir Kalali, tangling with the high soprano of his leading lady. She was the understudy, her voice icy and crackling.

Her voice stopped with a smacking sound effect and a yelp, and suddenly said understudy appeared in the makeup room and leapt into one of the chairs. She locked eyes with the makeup artist, who was re-curling the hair of a wig and mouthing the resentful words Kalali was singing. The artist pulled the iron out of the wig and blinked his black-lined eyes. Ah, her skin was such a different shade.

“You have quite some time,” the artist told the understudy, nonetheless collecting his brushes and filling a tin the size of a Petri dish with warm sink water.

The understudy fumbled with a wrinkle in her tights, then scratched her back. “I just wanted to be sure to get it done.” Her spoken voice had a taste of Western Europe to it, a hint that disappeared when she sang. The artist approached her; he was dressed in shining black, she in an ill-fitting gown of glittering pink, the contrast making the beige walls surrounding them seem even dimmer.

The table was scattered with different shades of tan and brown, but none of them seemed to match the understudy’s olive tones. He held tube after compact after glass jar to the understudy’s chin as her knee bounced under the table. Her petite, shining shoe creaked with the movement.

Finally he decided on a color and swirled a brush, skimming off the excess against the lip of the vial. He began reaching for her right eye.

“Oh, right,” the understudy said, holding up a gloved hand. Her hair, curled and shiny as plastic, swung to drape over her shoulder. For the first time the artist looked in her eyes. “He swung twice for some reason tonight. I know it was only supposed to be one, but it was two. And I fell on the second one.”

“He hit you twice?” The artist repeated, vaguely aware of how troubling their conversation would sound to a passer-by. “That’s weird…Kalali doesn’t like to improvise much. During a song, too?”

The understudy shrugged, shook her head. Her leg paused for just a moment. “Maybe me being there threw him off. But he hit me once in the eye, like normal, then again in the chin.”

The artist brought the back end of his brush to his lips. “What, did they play the sound effect twice too?” He paused, lowered an open palm. “Whatever. Two hits, no problem. Good thing you came early.”

The artist painted two bruises on the understudy’s face, a light one on her brow, purple and brown, and a much larger one on her chin to show the one that sent the character to the ground. It was harder to paint the bruise at such an angle—the artist had drawn the eyebrow bruise every night for weeks—but it did look rather good by the end. It was a masterpiece of pain, an afterimage of abuse. Purple, yellow, brown, red, green, white, black, blue. He etched an enlarged vein into her cheek, he contoured her chin to appear swollen on one side.

As with the normal lead, he eased off the fake eyelash where the first punch hit and then, after a little consideration, redid her lipstick to make it seem faded on one end. She looked terrible, a woman trying to cover her pain and ask for help all at once.

“You look beat up,” the artist said, smiling. “And that’s a compliment.”

The understudy glanced in the mirror, giggled, twisted side to side in her squeaking shoes. “Amazing, thank you so much.”

“Sure. Knock ‘em dead.”

The artist went back to fooling with the wig. He had another few songs before end of show, but he had to stick around in case of emergency.

The final number wrapped up, and the bows began. The artist began packing up his things, washing skin tones out of his brushes.

Someone burst in the door. Who on Earth…all the actors are onstage! The artist whirled around to catch the gleaming glasses of the director. Her hair was up, for once, in an elaborated braided bun but across her shoulders was the same green shawl as she normally wore during rehearsals.

“I got to admit,” she said, her face firm and impossible to read. “I was worried at first. Pretty mad. But I really like what you did with the bruises tonight.”

The artist reached behind him to turn off the sink. “Oh. Thank you. I just did it because he hit her twice so…”

“What?”

“Continuity,” the artist finished.

“Kalali?”

“Yes, the understudy—”

“Well, that’s what’s brilliant about it,” the director said, and the artist held his tongue. “What’s brilliant about you. He didn’t hit her twice, and you made it clear—subtle, but clear—that he hit her again offstage. At home. Again. It’s brilliant, it’s subtle, I want it every night, from now on, you hear me?”

The artist scratched behind his ear with the end of his brush. “Uh. Okay.”

She snapped and pointed at him as she slipped out the door. “I love it. Keep up the good work. You should have told me that idea earlier.”

The artist cleaned his space quickly, shoving half-cleaned brushes into their places and pulling on his jacket as he left. He had to catch the understudy before she disappeared.

He caught her as she headed to the costume area, her face still covered in his masterful bruises.

“Hey,” the artist called to her, still unsure as to how he felt. “Kalali only hit you once.”

The understudy smiled. She was in her street clothes now, an oversized sweatshirt and jeans paired poorly with an overly-made up face and perfect hair.

“No one ever hits you once,” she said, and left the artist struggling for words in her wake.

Makeup: Short Fic Friday

Shane glared at his mirror, his shoulder blades pinching together, his hands gripping the rim of the sink. His eyes darted from his forehead creases to the zit on his chin to his appearing crows feet to the zit on his chin to his graying temples to the zit on his chin.

“Pick one!” he shouted at himself. His cat yowled from his bedroom at the sudden noise. Shane sighed and rested his head in the crux of his elbow. Now? It had to be now?

“It’s ‘cause you’re stressed,” he whispered and splashed water on his face. He ran his finger over the bump. It’s pretty deep in there. It wouldn’t be one he could pinch and have it disappear. No. This one was a fighter.

Marzia’s drawers in the bathroom they once shared were all but empty. A hair scrunchie, an old disposable razor. No tweezers, no zit cream, no makeup!

“I could run to CVS. No, I wouldn’t know what to get. The colors all look wrong.” He dried his face on the bottom of his shirt and left the bathroom. Maybe it only seemed big since he was staring at it.

The house was so empty, so big. His feet were so quiet on the carpet that he hadn’t vacuumed in months. The cat needed feeding, so he fed her. He would need to get more cat food soon. He fought tooth and nail for that money-sucker.

Shane paused outside the bathroom door, bouncing on his toes, then leapt in, as if he could scare the zit off his face. Nope, still there, and even bigger and redder than he thought it was.

“Okay, dammit,” Shane said. He checked his phone. One hour. Only one hour? He needed to fix this. It was so easy when Marzia was here. He would always use her concealer—they had the same skin tone. Meetings, holidays, regular Tuesdays. Since she’d left, though…

The cat yowled, there was a big clatter. Shane set his bepimpled jaw. That damn cat.

He caught his own eye in the mirror. Yes, perfect.

Not twenty minutes later and he was at Marzia’s door, cat carrier under one arm. He rang the bell, then knocked directly after.

Marzia opened the door, all six feet and three inches of her. He used to like her supermodel height, her lanky limbs that moved awkwardly like cheap animation. Now she just felt intimidating. Shane held the cat out to her.

“Please,” Shane said. “I need a favor.”

It took a little convincing, but soon he was in Marzia’s new bathroom, slathering his chin in concealer. It made him a new man. He rubbed it until it was unnoticeable.

He popped out of the bathroom. Marzia was stroking the cat on her bed.

“Thank you h…” He caught the  “honey” before it escaped his lips.

“Is it for a date?”

Shane didn’t answer quickly. Marzia nodded.

“A man, then? I presume, considering….” She sighed. “Unless you lied about that just to…well.”

Shane looked down to the carpet. Freshly vacuumed. “Yes…a man. I wouldn’t have lied about that, Marzia.”

“And this is what…you want, to make you happy?”

“Yes.” Yes, for the thousandth time, yes.

“Well, okay then. It’s what you have to do, then, okay. Okay.”

The cat leapt off the bed and stalked out of the room. They were alone.

“I don’t know what to say that we haven’t already.”

Marzia’s shoulders lifted once with a silent laugh. “Me either. Me either.” She gave him the once-over. “You look good…I hope it goes well. And thanks for the cat.”

“Thanks for the makeup.”