The Gold Vine–a short story

Hello! PLEASE ENJOY MY ABOMINATION. Thank you, and good night. *bows*

Okay, I guess this requires a bit more introduction than that. Jem created a flash fiction prompt linkup a couple of months ago, and I finally got in on the fun and wrote something for it. So please enjoy…whatever this story is.

I came up with something involving fairies, much talk of murder, and small children, as you do. Please enjoy (or don’t enjoy. It’s your business, after all, and no one else’s).

(Does anyone else ever get the urge to apologize for everything they write? I don’t know why, it’s not like a bad story is a crime against humanity. Usually, anyway.)

The little girl with the long red hair crept away from her birthday party. It was not really her party. Her mother had invited lots of children, a few she knew and many she didn’t. The party was too loud. Mary had almost cried at the noise when one of the girls popped a balloon, but she didn’t, because her mother would have called her whiny. Why were little kids so loud? Did she scream like that when she played?

Mary slumped to the ground underneath a tree. She could still see her house from where she sat on the hill, a tiny blue dollhouse of a thing. The hill smelled of grass and fresh rain.

The forest was directly behind her, dark and tangled. Ellie, one of the girls at the party, had tried to scare her with some story about her brother finding a monster in the woods. Mary sniffed. How stupid. She was careful not to look behind her, though, just in case. It wouldn’t make any difference if she saw the monster coming or not, but it felt better not to look.

A monster’s not what I need to worry about, Mary thought. The only thing I should be worried about is what Mother will say when she finds out I’ve run off from my own—from my own party— She should not have had to run off from her own party. She should have enjoyed herself. It should have been a day when her parents paid attention to her, not one where they invited a bunch of kids over and left her to do her own thing with people she didn’t know and was apparently supposed to like. Her eyes watered and she began to cry in earnest.

She sat like that for what felt like ten minutes. Her breaths came in gasps by the end of it, and her face was warm and sticky. Nothing made sense. She couldn’t untangle one feeling from another. The ground blurred as her eyes watered again.

“Crying doesn’t seem to do anything,” a lilting voice said from above her. “Except make your face blotchy. Why do you cry? It seems…” The voice paused. “Counter-intuitive.”

Mary jumped to her feet, her hands balled into fists. “I heard that,” she snapped. She didn’t know who this person was. How dare he come and interrupt her crying session? Couldn’t she even cry in peace on her birthday? And it was rude to call someone blotchy.

“You were supposed to!” His laughter sounded like the wind rustling the trees. She whirled to see a boy sitting on a tree branch, one knee pulled up to his chin. It looked like a precarious position, but he seemed comfortable. He had brown, curly hair that came down to his shoulders, and he wore a red tunic, a gold torc, and several bracelets. She almost thought he was a girl at first.

She couldn’t tell how old he was. Either a tall boy, or a short man. She blinked, puzzled. “You look like a Lord of the Rings character,” she said blankly. “Why are you dressed weird?”

“No one but my mother is allowed to comment on my fashion choices,” he answered smugly, crossing his arms. “And my mother’s dead. So why are you crying?”

Mary pursed her lips together, looking down. She thought about it for a few minutes, but wasn’t able to piece the answer apart. “I guess I don’t know why,” she answered. “I’m sorry your mother’s dead.”

He leaned his head back toward the sky, as if he were contemplating a great philosophical question. “So you do something that gets your face blotchy for no reason,” he said. He didn’t sound critical, but that didn’t stop her from glaring. “Fascinating. And you don’t need to be sorry about my mother. You didn’t kill her.”

The wind blew through her long hair. What an eejit, Mary decided. She crossed her arms. “I guess one could say crying makes me feel better,” she said stiffly.

He flashed a smile, showing sharp teeth. The smile sent shivers down Mary’s back. She couldn’t say why.

He was going to kill her. It felt like he was going to kill her. But that was stupid. How often did one stumble on murderers? So she ignored her prickling spine.

“So, perhaps a better response to distress than murder,” he replied, making her jump. “But maybe not as efficient.” His eyes were always laughing. “I should inform my brothers. They are always trying to kill things, but perhaps they should try crying instead.” He nearly fell out of the tree cackling. “I cannot imagine my brothers crying,” he explained in response to her raised eyebrow. That had not been what she wanted to ask.

“I’m sorry you have brothers who…try to kill everyone all the time?” she said slowly. She should be running away by now. She never ran away until it was too late.

He paused, looking genuinely puzzled. Why was he confused by her? He was the confusing one. “You didn’t cause them to kill anyone, either,” he pointed out. “Why do you keep apologizing for things you didn’t do?”

“Well…because—” It was her turn to flounder. “Sometimes people just say ‘sorry’ because they’re sorry for what you’re going through,” she explained.

“No one has ever said they felt sorry for me before,” he said, and she opened her mouth to tell him she was sorry again before she realized he said it with a bit of a sneer and an upward toss of the head.

“Well, there’s no need to sound so proud of that,” she retorted. “That just means you don’t have any friends.” He stared at her, his eyes round, and she almost wondered if she had gone too far. He tilted his head back and laughed so loudly he scared a nearby bird into flying away. She guessed she hadn’t gone too far, then.

“What about you? Do you have any friends?” The question felt so…impertinent. Her mother had used that word before.

She thought for a second. “I guess not,” she said, nudging a pinecone out of the way with her foot. “I used to have a friend, but she moved to Dublin. And she promised to write, and she didn’t. I haven’t seen her in months.” A bad idea came into her head. “Could we be friends?” she asked, gesturing first to him and then to her. She was pretty sure he was either a murderer or a monster.

“Well,” he yawned, stretching his long arms behind him. “Climb up here and we’ll see.” He raised his eyebrows at her in a challenge.

It was a stupid decision, something a character in a bad horror movie might decide to do. She grabbed one of the tree branches, the bark rough in her hand. “Only if you answer my questions,” she said, because she liked being in danger. It was exciting.

“Have I not been doing that already?” he asked, so she began to climb.

The wet bark slid and scraped against her hands, and the tree shed bark and leaves all over her dress. She grit her teeth and kept climbing. “Why did your brothers try to kill someone?”

“Oh,” he said, sliding onto a branch above him as easily as a cat. “Sometimes they kill for love, sometimes for honor, many times for nothing but a scrap of power. Now a question for you. What brought you to grief?”

“Stop climbing!” she snapped, but she laughed, too. It felt like a game. She was much clumsier than him, wriggling onto branches, sometimes slipping and catching herself in the nick of time. “I was upset because my parents never listen to me. And because the party was…” She bit her lip, unsure how to explain it. “Too much,” she decided. “Have you ever killed anyone?” She asked the question in nothing but curiosity.

“Not yet,” he said, sounding a bit bored. “A seer told me that I would kill my mother’s murderer, though. So now my sister Aoife keeps trying to kill me.” She gave him a puzzled look. “She murdered our mother,” he explained. “I don’t even want to kill her. I wish Aoife would stop and listen for five seconds.”

Mary didn’t exactly know what to say to that. She looked down as she found her footing. She had not meant to climb so high. The ground looked very far below. She felt a bit sick to her stomach, so she looked back up.

“So,” she said, her words coming in a bit of a rush, “my friend Ellie said her brother found a monster in the woods.” She stared up at him. He was just out of reach. She might be able to reach him if he bent down.

“Yes?” he asked, watching her. He tilted his head, reminding her strikingly of a cat.

“Are you a monster?” She was not careful as she stepped. She slipped on the branch. She reached out and grabbed nothing.

She screamed as he reached down and gripped her hand. Thorny vines grew between them, stretching over his arm and hers. Gold dust hung from the leaves. She winced at the thorns, but though they pricked her skin until she bled, it did not hurt. They stared at each other, their faces equally serious. “I think you know the answer to that,” he said. “Friends?”

She grabbed the monster’s arm with her other hand. The vines grew over that one, too. “Friends,” she said on mad impulse.

She did not go back home that evening.

Feel free to give me constructive criticism! I want to know what you think.

Also, I swear ‘he flashed a smile, revealing sharp teeth’ has to be one of my most overused sentences ever, but oh well.

(And! Needless to say! If you ever get a feeling that a person is going to harm you, please do not follow the bad examples of my characters. Always prioritize your safety first. 😉)