Once again for this week’s Flash Fiction Challenge we’re doing the Random Title thing. Chuck loves it – don’t even get him started! I rolled a 4 and a 16, which gives me the title “Night Crusade”. I have no idea where this came from or how it got to where it did, and I’m not sure it’s actually finished yet – but I think I like it.
As always, comments and constructive criticisms are appreciated.
The words never came during the day. She had tried, tried until she was depressed and drinking, tried until she had turned to threatening and pleading with God, tried until she found herself staring for hours at the rack of knives in the kitchen. But the words never came during the day.
Then the sun would go down. The planet rotated, the primary star passed across the distant, flat horizon. The sky would turn orange, pink, velvet, and grey. There would be whispers in the wind as it passed over the chimney, murmurings in the rumbling of traffic on the far off highway.
She had first heard them as a child, unaware that others didn’t share the experience. They spoke to her gently, calming her when she was angry, gently urging her on when she was tired. They were as much a part of her world as the sun, sky, and stars.
At night, lying in her bed, she would babble random conversations only she heard, sometimes echoing the words softly, sometimes singing them and mixing them with other words she had learned.
It was only when she got into school that she came to be aware the other children heard only noise where she heard a choir. In second grade, at her first sleepover party, while trading secrets, she asked her best friend if her words were the same as the ones she heard. The sudden laughing and teasing from all of the other girls hurt her and made her cry, but the words soothed her and told her it would be all right.
But she never told anyone else about the words.
As she grew, the words grew with her. She often wondered if the words had been more simple when she was younger or if she was just able to recognize more of them as she grew older and her vocabulary grew.
As a teenager, her curiosity piqued, she had spent long summer evenings lying out in the yard, listening, trying to find sentences or structure. She never heard an actual message, but in her heart she knew what the words were telling her.
She tried for a month to stay awake until dawn, just to see if the words faded away as the sun rose the same way they became audible as it set. She was never able to succeed, the words becoming hypnotizing and soothing, lulling her to sleep despite her determination. She learned the words weren’t angry with her for the effort, but she also knew they had things they did not want her to know, at least not yet.
Her reputation as a fey spirit, amplified by her dreamy, far off stare and her habit of occasionally whispering random words to herself, guaranteed her banishment from any of the popular cliques in high school. She did well in her studies and where others might have been upset by being shunned as much as she was, she seemed oblivious.
Being an attractive young woman, albeit one living outside of the mainstream, there came the day she was invited to a party by one of the popular boys. Curious and naïve, unaware that she was the losing prize in a cruel wager, she accepted, only to find for the first time that the words had become harsh and ominous. Without understanding why, she asked him to take her home, then demanded it when he refused and the words became shrill and dangerous. Only when she was safely at home in her yard did the words become reassuring and calm, drowning out the catcalls and insults of the boy and his friends as they drove away.
So it was that she made her way through high school and college, gradually learning to hide the nature of here unique universe, compartmentalizing her existence into a public world of the day and her private plane of existence at night.
When the young astronomy student first met her she had been studying for a psychology final in a university coffee house. She had greeted him with her usual polite but distant demeanor, as if she were viewing his existence in another dimension on the far side of a fracture in reality.
He was intrigued with her, not as a conquest or prey, but as an individual and a mystery. He recognized her fragile, skittish nature and made it his business to slowly make her acquaintance, becoming a part of the background of her world. Only when it had already happened did she realize they had become friends.
She had started meeting him for coffee or lunch between classes, gradually learning about each other and discussing their shared interests. They both were fascinated with the stars. While he would talk in details for hours about their structures, the mysteries they held, and the mysteries of the night he so dearly loved, she spoke only in generalities and emotions.
He became involved in an extended research project that kept him away for days and weeks at a time, spending his nights atop some high mountain or another, babysitting monstrous observatories as they stared at the sky. She would often chat with him online until very late, he sharing everything and she sharing nothing.
She was pleasantly surprised to see that the words did not react badly to her time with him on these occasions. She could interact with him from a distance, both in space and in intimacy, while her universe remained stable.
It was only when he returned and asked her to join him on “a real date” that the words became displeased with her again. Unlike the incident in high school, the words were not trying to warn her. She did not feel any danger in his company, but she ended the evening quite early nonetheless.
The next time it was the same, and the next. Each time she would talk to him at length the next day to reassure him that she enjoyed being with him and was looking forward to another chance to go out. But she could not tell him about the words, and she could not shut them out.
One evening, confused and desperate, she had started writing down the words as she heard them. Random, meaningless, sometimes bizarre words. Then, after an hour or so, the words faded and were silent. For the first time she could remember, her dark hours were mute.
The next night she again waited for darkness, and again she calmly scribbled down her private message from the cosmos. Again, as the later hours arrived, their message delivered, the words fell silent.
Emboldened by this new find, she found for the first time in her life she wanted something beyond her private existence, her special senses. She wanted companionship, a normal life. She wanted love.
Believing that she could quiet the voices sooner, she became desperate to hear them during the day. Perhaps if she could train herself to listen harder, to be more aware, somehow she could transcribe their message during the day and give her the freedom she craved for the entire night.
But the words never came during the day.
She drank, she pleaded, and she threatened. But she was theirs and they were hers.
She gave herself back to the night, to the loneliness, to the isolation that was both a barrier to the world she wanted and a door into a world that no one else could enter. She would sometimes think of what might have been and wonder.
But the words never came during the day.