last edited 24 days ago
The cyclist glided silent against a sky of dying stars.
Her shadowed silhouette traced a route amidst buildings, with only the cold amber of streetlights to guide her path. Through avenues and lanes she twisted and turned, evading the gaze of cameras and watchmen, seeking refuge in the straight and narrow till the light drove her into dark alleys.
A child stood on the edge of the road, stock-still, wraith-like, waiting.
She’d stolen away from her home at twilight, taken the bicycle and fled, the clatter muffled under the cover of familial disputes rising to crescendos. Debates of no, Ethan, you’re twelve, you can’t go out on your own yet and haven’t you heard about that child who got run over yesterday and I hate you, mum, that stupid kid isn’t even my problem.
As she’d pedalled out of the driveway to take that familiar left turn, apparently someone had noticed her absence, and her father watched her depart from the window. He turned, presumably to say something to her mother, who would presumably dismiss it as some rebellious streak. She was eighteen; she’d just got her driving licence; it was bound to happen eventually; she’d always known the girl was a good-for-nothing, bound to squander her youth on these meaningless pursuits.
They wouldn’t miss her until she was gone.
Rounding the corner to a familiar building, she remembered when her school had been a haven. Back when her grades were rivalled only by her popularity, and whispers of her name were envious rather than pitying. Simpler, shallower times.
As she turned the corner, a light flickered on in the building.
She yelped and swerved left, narrowly maintaining her balance, fleeing the compound with only the occasional glance for cameras. The footsteps behind her indicated close pursuit.
The pedals made too much noise. The chain was too loud.
She was armed, and she had experience with darkness: should the assailant be caught unawares—
Not footsteps. Wingbeats.
A flock of birds— a murder of crows, she remembered vaguely from a language class forever ago— dipping and soaring before her, condensing into a single silhouette.
The same boy she’d seen earlier.
Veering left, she came to a halt at the city’s outskirts. This was where the cameras’ reach ended, she knew.
At least she’d come prepared.
She dismounted and gazed upon the lurid neon of casinos and nightclubs, whose glow masked the shadowed lanes she’d traversed earlier.
“So, what’s your endgame here?”
She whirled around, hand jumping into pocket, clutched around a knife’s handle.
“I thought better of you,” crow-boy sounded disappointed. “You really thought that would work?”
“Pure reflex,” she responded warily.
“Relax. I’m not hurting you.”
“And why should I trust you on that?”
“You know why,” he enunciated.
She hated that she did.
Firelight cast shifting shadows upon the canvas of her tent; she huddled in a darker corner.
It didn’t help.
“Funny how you cycled here,” crow-boy leaned against the tent’s entrance. “Your car’s really quiet if I remember correctly. Drive with the headlights off and they wouldn’t have seen a thing.”
“If you aren’t here to hurt me,” she started, “why come all this way?”
“Oh, I just can’t leave with lingering regrets and all that mess. Normal ghost stuff, you know the drill. For all you know I’m a hallucination you’re having; I wouldn’t put it past you. Really, I’m more curious about you than anything.”
He raised an arm, and a crow neatly pinched its talons around his wrist.
A fork in the road.
She took a sharp left, guiding her bicycle through a maze of brambles and thickets.
“I don’t know why you bother,” crow-boy sneered. “You weren’t ready for this kind of terrain.”
“I know that much,” she replied, gaze fixed on the waters unfolding before them.
“You should really turn back,” he griped.
“I… I can’t. Not anymore.”
She knelt on the water’s edge, dark waves lapping at her fingertips, eyes tracing its inscrutable depths. The bicycle leaned against a tree behind her.
It would just take a push.
“So, do you regret this?” the child whistled, walking up to take his place beside her. “After all you’ve done. Turning yourself into someone else, just to get here. Was it worth it?”
“I had no other choice,” she told herself. “I could have eaten crow, owned up to it all. Then where would I be now?”
He stepped forward, and she saw his reflection in the murky water.
The child lay in a near-foetal position, skin moonlit against ripples of dark tarmac, suffused with patches of light which could have been the amber of streetlights and could have been the ochre of blood and could have been the orange sun as it rose to greet them.
Fish, lurking beneath the surface, lunged to greet her with a sort of elegance, homing upon the vestiges of sunlight which reached them.
She blinked and they were crows, circling carrion, lighting upon the reflection’s exposed flesh. The very same birds which adorned his counterpart’s wrists and shoulders now, even as he grimaced.
“I’m so sorry,” she whispered. “I called emergency services before I ran. I did what first aid I knew to. That… if that wasn’t enough, nothing would have been.”
“They found me as fast as they could have,” he nodded. “That’s not what I’m blaming you for.”
“I didn’t want to leave. It was so… it was all so sudden. With my future on the line, I wasn’t thinking straight. I’ve only wanted to make up for it since then.”
“No, not that. Before that. How did you get into this situation?” He met her gaze. “How did an obedient model student, always home before nightfall, become the delinquent– the criminal who ran over a child at 2 a.m.?”
The dawn she’d always so hated… she glanced up, and found a sky streaked with gold.
It was oddly beautiful.
“It started with the simple things. Small things. Mistakes, lies, deception.”
“Your family would still have loved you. Your friends too.”
“If… if I convinced them otherwise, it’d be easier when they found out.”
“Convinced yourself, more like.”
“What happened that night… it was a wake-up call.”
“A call to run away from home, cut contact with everyone? All for what?”
“Reminding me that I had bigger issues at hand. To focus on fixing things like this. Things I cared about.”
“Well, you ran out of those quickly.”
She lowered her head.
“I tried to snap myself out of it. Find myself a better identity, a better community. A better set of core values to live by. I’d fix any problems that arose, myself.”
“Guess that didn’t work out, huh.”
“Every step I took sank me deeper into this mess.”
They watched in silence as the fish chased clouds no longer, abandoning reflections of firelight in search of the rising sun. At length he too stood, in a flurry of feathers and wingbeats.
“Well,” he exhaled. “What are you going to do now?”
Her gaze lingered on the water’s rippling surface for several moments longer, before she rose to take his hand.
“I’m taking you home,” she said.
Piece written for prompts
eating crow and
turning the corner, because I had a piece due for each prompt. Several misjudgements were made in its development, including but not limited to 'starting four hours before the deadline'.