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.

Advertisements

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?

A to L: Left

He loved her so much, but she was so perfect and he was terrible at everything. He knew he could barely write a word, and while he could type alright it was nothing compared to how her calligraphy scrawled across the page, how she could sketch perfect faces, how she could handle chopsticks with an amount of ease he could never even manage with a spoon. He would stay still, holding a phone or a drink or simply hidden from view as she made grand gestures, the life of the party and the focal point of the board room.

At home, she was just as lovely, chopping vegetables for Saturday lunch as he did nothing but hold the bowl, wishing he could help. After lunch they relaxed with television and he handled the remote, but when it started acting up she took control and clicked each perfect button with finesse.

They had a date at the museum to go to that night after lunch and television. After dressing he painted her nails for her, messy, all over her cuticles. She didn’t mind, and painted his, perfect, clear and smooth. He tried to fix hers a bit but they were out of time.

The left in love with the right, the wrists not having a clue, the rest of the body nothing but a vessel. Both hands run through their owner’s hair then sit folded in her lap, the left over the right, holding her tight while he can.

The woman with the loving hands met her boyfriend at the door and extended her perfect right hand for him to hold. Of course, the right…The boyfriend shook his head and spoke softly, the woman raised both hands to her tearful eyes. The boyfriend dropped to his knee and took out a small box. The two hands tried to dry her face but the tears came too quickly.

Then, to both hands’ surprise, the boyfriend took the left in his, delicately lifted the third finger, and slipped on a diamond ring.

Every person, every hand, every jewel in every crown in the museum admired him and his new diamond ring. The world changed for the left hand…he was the star of the night and the rest of the year. He got shown off to people, now.  He still couldn’t hold a spoon, but he sported such a beautiful ring. He still couldn’t use a pen, but he gleamed with importance.

Best of all, in left’s happy new life, the right hand held him more. She entangled their fingers together, she played with his ring, she squeezed him tightly. And later, when he was granted a second beautiful ring, she helped him carry a bouquet of flowers into their new, married life.

A to D: Defrost

Michelle Wu’s high heels made tracks like a baby stroller through the dusting of snow. “Can’t we just go?” she asked, her voice garbled with two shots of vodka, an old-fashioned, and three hard ciders.

Her darling, Craig Wu, led her to his car, the black frame of it shining dimly in the streetlights. The parking lot was scattered with cars being slowly swallowed by the silent snow, and his was no exception. “I have to brush off the snow,” he said. “Turn on the windshield defrost.”

He opened the door for her and helped her inside. Her heels and bare feet brought a few shoefulls of snow into the car, but a little wetness wouldn’t ruin the interior. Craig unlocked the trunk, and the dimmed lights flared through the covering of snow.

It was light snow, and fell off the windshield easily. He cleared the windows as well, and when he cleared the passenger window he saw Michelle’s face appear, a third at a time. She stuck her tongue out at him. He pressed his lips together.

God, it was cold, but it was a welcome change from the hotness of the reception. The newlyweds had candles as centerpieces and Craig swore the fire ate up the oxygen in the room. He got drunker to feel calmer. Eventually his competitive-drinker wife was dancing a touch too wildly, and being near midnight he decided it was late enough to begin leaving.

Craig threw the snowbrush in the trunk again and slid into the driver seat, banging his dress shoes together to keep at least one side of the carpeting dry. He shut the door, and noticed the silence.

“I told you to put the defrost on,” he said.

“Oh…sorry,” she said. “It’s not that frosty. We can probably just go.”

Craig started the car and cranked the defroster to the highest setting. He stared out his window, which was slowly refilling with snowflakes, at the parking lot dotted with yellow lamp light. Once he and Michelle had danced in the same reception hall, but she had been the one in the white dress. Sleeveless. Snowless. They had left that night for Jamaica.

“Remember Jamaica?” Craig whispered at the window. His breath made a puff of moisture on the glass.

Michelle began laughing. “Yeah…it was a lot of fun. You know, I love you so much. I love you as much as when we were in Jamaica. I don’t think a lot of couples can say that.”

Craig stared past the snowflakes to the stars. They looked identical. He rested his forehead against the door.

“Are you okay to drive?” Michelle asked, placing an unsteady hand on his thigh.

He met her drooping eyes. The white specks on the shoulders of her coat melded together into a flowing veil. He lifted her fingers to his lips. They were like ice.

“You’re freezing,” he said. He switched the dial from defrost to heat, and put her pinking fingers against the warming vents. “Here. We’ve defrosted enough.”

He put the car in drive.

A to C: Crown

The people changed, the land changed, the language changed—but the same golden crown ruled these hills for centuries. Vibrant as the summer sun with the power of the stars, it had perched atop hundreds of heads of hair, had spent years on a throne. The rim stretched into seven peaks, arching around seven jewels, signifying the corner of the kingdom from whence they came. The blue corner was lost in a war a hundred years after the crown was made, and now, of course, all the corners are in different countries, but the jewels stayed. People forget. Crowns do not.

The crown passed through families like a genetic disease that skipped generations but always led to death. It went best with the two hundred years of black hair and worst with the seventy some-odd years it had to clash with blondes. It carried its people through floods and droughts, through famine and feasts. One king didn’t like to wear it, and so it spent thirty years in a box. One queen found it too manly, so she added a string of crystals along the rim. Her son hated the crystals and pried them off, leaving small dents in their place. Each ruler perished, but the crown lived on.

The crown spent most of its life right-side-up and off the floor, much like the kingdom it ruled. A young prince liked to wear it upside down and call it a knight’s helmet. Leave it to that family to father a prince who would rather be a knight. The crown transferred from pillow to head for years and years, but it was once worn into battle and splashed with blood, then rinsed by the king in a river. The crown resided in the castle, the stone walls and fresh fruit, the children using it as a plaything when their parents and caretakers weren’t paying attention. No matter what the children did, it always ended in its rightful place, and the children were lectured about the importance of the crown. Nearly the same speech each time, though eventually in different languages.

The crown ruled those hills for centuries, but then the hills began resenting its rule. They rose like tidal waves, powered by rebellion, and knocked the crown to the dirt. The crown hasn’t seen the hills for ages.

The crown will spend the rest of its life in prison, here, in this glass box. It rules over the museum, the kingdom of the past. Its jewels, kept in place with glue, gleam and sing of glory. Its gold, dulled with age, yearns for its lost power. Its rim, buffed with polish, speaks of tyrants, queens, and kings, hums with history, rings with death. The crown ruled these hills for centuries, but the hills will never be ruled by a crown again.

A to B: Bagpipes

Bonnie flicked off her hair dryer, though her mess of orange hair was far from dry, and the sound of bagpipes filled the air. She furrowed her brow at her reflection, as if it could offer an answer. Bagpipes?

Whatever. This city was crazy. She plugged in her straightener, put up half her hair, and began taming the madness, one piece at a time. She worked around the lower layer, steam hissing out the sides, then let down half of what remained and began the cycle over again. All the while, the faint bagpipes puffed on, filling her dormroom a nasally dance melody. Bonnie’s arm began moving to the music, moving from root to tip every four beats.

She wished she had brought her tap shoes to college…it was October, and her dance studio back home was likely preparing for their fall competition.

She put the straightener on the carpet and opened the window—her roommate wouldn’t be back for awhile, she wouldn’t mind.

Bonnie tapped along to the beat in tapless feet, jumped, twirled, scuffed her heel on the carpeting and bounded from one end of the room to another. Her body and her sound and her spirit and her hair filled the room with orange energy. She closed her eyes and spun, leapt, landed on curved, calloused feet that hadn’t moved this way in nearly half a year.

A knock on her door. Bonnie tripped over her own ankle and caught herself on her roommate’s bed. She caught her balance and her breath and opened the door.

“Hi!” said a short, long-haired girl with a bright yellow phone in her hand. “I’m the RA from the floor below you. We’re the quiet study floor, and I came up to ask you to quiet down a bit.”

Bonnie cleared her throat, still breathing heavy and quick. “I was just straightening my hair.” She gestured to the straightener on the floor.

“Oh! You better take that off the carpet, it could catch fire. Anyway, just try to keep it down. There’s a gym in the Larson building if you need space to work out. Bye!”

Bonnie closed the door in a daze. She sat in front of her mirror, picked up the fire-hazard of a straightener and held it at her roots, open, like a pondering pair of lips. Her own lips hung open as her breath evened out.

She pinched her mouth and her straightener closed and pressed her hair straight. Sometime, somewhere, the bagpipes stopped playing.