Wednesday, March 6, 2019

White Rabbit - March

During 2019, as a kind of literary experiment, I plan to publish a new piece of flash fiction during the first week of every month. These pieces are called The White Rabbit Stories. 

Here's March's White Rabbit Story:





HOWL



The dog was howling again. It had been howling like this all week; each night, always at the same time, a similar high-pitched keening sound.
            Daryl checked his watch: just after midnight. It never varied. The howling always began at the same time and went on until exactly 1AM, like clockwork. Like a machine.
            He wriggled out of his thin sleeping bag and walked slowly to the window, being careful not to step on any sharp debris or broken glass.
            A few nights ago, he’d nailed an old piece of tarpaulin across the shattered window pane to serve as a curtain. He reached out and moved it aside, looked out into the empty, lamp-lit street below. Nothing stirred down there; there was not even a breeze to shift the littler gathered in the gutters.
            The moon was a thin pallid thing stuck onto a sky without stars. The buildings surrounding the one where he slept where all empty, abandoned. Some of them had boarded doors and windows. Yet more of them had been partially demolished – broken stubs of stone walls stuck up out of the foundations like shattered teeth.
            The dog continued the howl.
            Daryl slipped on the boots he’d salvaged from a skip three days ago. He grabbed his old, torn jacket and left the room, moving down the scorch-marked stairwell that still held the ghost-aroma of an old fire. Out, out into the darkness.
            There was no real purpose to what he was doing, other than the vague notion that if the dog was in pain, he might be able to help it. Life on the streets was lonely; perhaps a companion would make things more bearable.
            He followed the keening sound, tracing a route through dirty, nameless backstreets behind empty tenement buildings. The howling drew closer; he was nearing its source.
            Ducking along a narrow gap between a row of derelict shops and a decades-empty warehouse, he came upon a hidden alleyway.
            Litter was piled against the walls. The ground looked damp, glistening as if it had rained here - but Daryl knew it hadn’t rained in weeks.
            The sound drew him to a pile of rags in a shallow doorway.
            “Hey, boy,” he said. “It’s okay. I won’t hurt you.”
            Reaching out, he grasped the edge of a filthy blanket and pulled it aside.
            There was a woman under the rags. She was thin and pale, with long limbs and a short body. She might have been naked, but the rags provided her a modicum of modesty. Her head was bald, and her eyes were so dark they looked completely black. She had no eyebrows. Her nose was tiny, barely comprising much more than a raised strip of flesh around two holes in the centre of her face.
            Her mouth was open wide, and she was still howling, but the sound seemed to be moving farther away, along the length of the alley and away from him.
            Rather than fear or even confusion, Daryl felt sympathy, compassion. He knelt before the woman and opened his arms, a simple gesture to show her that he meant no harm.
            She had not blinked since he’d arrived. It was an odd thing to notice, but he had noticed it anyway, perhaps because it was so unusual.
            She stopped howling and licked her lips. Her tongue, as it darted between her thin lips, was short and narrow.
            “Are you hurt?”
            She smiled. Her mouth contained no teeth, only bare gums. These were as pale as her skin, and translucent.
            Daryl did not move as she leaned towards him, embracing him. He lay down beside her, shifting the rags so that he could maximise the contact between them. Her hands were cold. Her breath was warm. She did not smell of anything: an absence of odour. There was something primordial and comforting about her presence, as if she were the origin of whatever he was, the true source to which he must finally return.
            As she pressed those thin, cold lips against his cheek, Daryl heard the howling once again, but this time it was far away, nothing but a distant lament. A long, sad song to accompany him as he eased down into her darkness.

                                                                                                                             © Gary McMahon 2019

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