Heather Josephine Pue

untitled short story

      “Don’t you know who George’s father is?” she breathed.
      “No,” I whispered back.
      “He’s the one that found the stone.”

      It had only been a couple months since I had moved to town. I was the new girl and, in a small town, that got a lot of attention.
      I’d heard the stories. Everyone had heard the stories. But I’d never given it much thought.
      It was the kind of little town where everyone had known each other growing up, since they were babies, and their parents and grandparents had been friends before them. Nobody came and nobody left, so our arrival stirred almost as much excitement as the incident two years ago.
      “Have you met the new girl?” they’d say. It was as though I came from another planet and not another province. Their stares bored into me and I wanted nothing more than to leave this tiny, little backwards town.
      Then I met her. “Hi,” she breathed, smiling up at me. “My name’s Sandra. Let’s be friends.”
      I smiled back at her. It was the first time someone had been nice to me in this town. Always whispering around me, as though I couldn’t hear.
      “What’s your name?”
      “Emily,” I said.
      “Where are you from?”
      I told her. She gawked at me like I was a god. “Wow,” she said. “That’s so far away and such a big city. Why did you move here?”
      I could tell this was what she was looking for, the reason she was talking to me. It was the question on everyone’s lips. In a world moving forward so fast, why would anyone move to such a backwards, little town?
      “It was my parents’ idea,” I whispered. Definitely not mine.
      “What’s the city like?” she asked, failing to hide a sheepish little smile. “I’ve never been to a city. I’ve never been anywhere but here.”
      I stared at her for a moment. We lived in a world of jumbo jets and fancy cars. How was it possible she’d never been as far as the closest city, barely two hours away?
      “It’s like on TV,” I shrugged.
      “We don’t own a TV,” she explained. “I’ve never seen one in my life.”
      I hesitated, unsure how to go on. “It’s big, busy, complicated. It’s the opposite of here.”
      “Things here are complicated, too,” she responded and I wondered how that could be. In a town with two streets and little contact with the outside world, how could anything be complicated?

      We’d made friends. She was my best friend and I was hanging out with her every day. I wasn’t surprised she’d come forward to meet me once I got to know her: we were the only two our age in town. The only two girls, that is.
      I didn’t meet George right away. He was shy, sitting at the back of class, avoiding everyone’s stares. People picked on him. They ignored him and, when they spoke to him, it was with words as sharp as knives.
      I’d seen this all before, in elementary school where people were idiots. I couldn’t stand a bully.
      So I talked to him.
      “Hello,” I said, smiling at him. “What’s your name?”
      He blinked at me as though he’d seen a ghost. Was it so unusual for anyone to talk to him? Or was it because I was new?
      “George,” he said, gathering his breath. “You’re Emily, right?”
      “Yeah,” I said, grinning back. “It’s amazing how news travels in a small town.”
      He laughed, but it was a laugh laced with misery. “I want to escape this place so badly. It’s a dungeon; you’re born into it and there’s no way out. People know you; they know your parents and your grandparents. They judge you based on them, like this was the middle ages or something. I hate it so badly.” He smiled at me. “Tell me, what’s it like where you come from?”
      I smiled back. “Not like that,” I said. “Towns like this, I didn’t think they existed anymore. In the city there are thousands upon millions of people. Nobody knows you until they meet you and they judge you based on who you are, not on who your parents are. This bloody town is so backwards, like it comes out of another time.”
      He laughed at me, that gruff laugh laced with something else I couldn’t place. “But you can’t escape it.” He sighed. “There’s no way out. As far as we’re concerned here, the rest of the world doesn’t exist.”
      “It’s not that far to the city,” I said. “Only a couple hours' drive. I’ll take you some day. Perhaps after graduation we can go away to uni together and then you can move away and get a job.”
      He smiled at me, his first real smile, but then it faded, as though a hand had wiped it clean. “But things like that don’t happen,” he said. “People here don’t escape it. Nothing ever changes in this town. People are born and people die, but one generation is replaced by the next and things carry on much the same as they’ve been for centuries.”
      “Then make a change,” I suggested. "Isn’t there a quote, ‘Be the change you want to see in the world?’ There’s nothing stopping you from leaving.”
      He sighed, an exasperated sigh. “But that’s what you don’t understand,” he said. “Everything is.”

      The next day we were given a group assignment. A presentation on the outside world. Like it was some faraway distant land.
      “You wanna come by my place after class?” she asked me, not bothering to ask if we’d work together. Things like that were taken for granted in this town.
      “Sure,” I responded.
      I caught George’s glance across the room, but it didn’t hold a second. He knew that I’d go with her; he knew that he’d be left to work alone. My arrival was a change in this town, but for him, it wouldn’t change a thing.
      I sighed in frustration.
      “What’s that about?” she asked in her chirpy voice. She was so oblivious to everything.
      “Nothing,” I responded. I forced a smile on my lips and she believed it.

      “Hey George,” I called out after class.
      He turned to look at me, shock written across his face, as though he’d expected me to forget him after yesterday’s conversation.
      “Yeah?” he asked.
      “D’you wanna work with Sandra and I?” I asked.
      For a second a smile spread across his face, then it faded. “I’m not sure that’s a good idea,” he said.
      “Why not?” I asked. “D’you not want to work with me?” I felt a stab to my heart, to my pride.
      “No, of course not,” he said. “I’m just not sure that’d be a good idea.”
      I rolled my eyes. “It’s up to you, but we’re meeting at Sandra’s place at four.”
      He nodded. There was no need to explain where she lived. Everyone knew where everyone lived in this town.
      “See you then?” I asked.
      He shrugged his shoulders, an awkward motion as though the weight of the world sat upon them. “I’ll think about it.”
      “See you then,” I said, turning to run home for a quick snack before heading over to Sandra’s.

      “Hey,” Sandra said with a smile when I arrived. “How are you?”
      “Good. Is George here?” I asked, hoping he’d show up.
      “No,” she responded with a frown. “Why would he be here?” She stepped aside to let me into the house.
      “I invited him to work with us,” I said with a shrug. “He didn’t have a group.”
      She stared at me as though I were a ghost.
      “Don’t you know who he is?” she asked.
      I didn’t answer.
      “Don’t you know who George’s father is?” she breathed.
      “No,” I whispered back.
      “He’s the one that found the stone.”
      I was silent for a moment, absorbing what she’d said. George’s father was the one who found the stone. The hermit from this ghostly town who’d made the discovery of the century.
      “So?” I asked.
      She stared at me in awe. “Didn’t you hear the stories?” she said. “I thought they got news coverage everywhere.”
      “They did.” I’d read them, but hadn’t paid much attention to them at the time. It was hard to ignore what was blaring on your news, though. Ancient stone found, hieroglyphical writings, the key to an ancient culture. I remembered.
      So didn’t that make George’s father a hero, and not a martyr? Or was sharing some part of their town with the outside world a sin?
      “We don’t talk to George’s father,” she said; “we don’t talk to George.”
      “But why not?”
      She rolled her eyes, as though it was so obvious. “He’s the hermit in the woods. They live in a little shack a mile or so away. The only person he ever talks to is George.  It’s been that way since George’s mother died. He’s hiding away from the world.”
      “And that’s why you don’t talk to him?” I asked, sensing an irony in her story that she’d never understand.
      “When he found the stone, we thought things had changed. We thought he was a genius because he knew of its importance before anyone else had seen it. He left his hut, he left this town and took it to the city. We thought things had changed, that the hermit in the woods was finally stepping outside of his bubble, but he hasn’t. After his grand adventure, he returned to his cabin and no one’s seen him since.”
      “And what’s this got to do with George?” I asked.
      “It’s his father,” she said, staring at me in disbelief. “He lives with him, out in that shack in the woods. They keep away from the world. George only leaves for school and his father never leaves at all. They’ve got their own garden and his father hunts for meat. They’re pagan.”
      I laughed at her words. “But look around you,” I said. “This whole place is so backwards. Can’t you see the irony in what you just said?”
      She stared at my blankly.
      I sighed. I would never make her understand.

      George never showed up to work with us that day. He wanted to see a change, but he would never make one. He was right: in this town, nothing ever changed.

The Land Behind the Fire

James is a seventh grade boy, just like any other seventh grade boy, until he discovers a hidden land behind the fire in his new house.  But will he be able to save it?

There's a fire that's ever burning
It lies before your face
Just concentrate on the flame
And penetrate time and space

There's a mystical land of sorrow
It lies beyond that flame
Where life and time have no ending
And people live in pain

Yet there's a light of hope left for them
Little as it may seem
That someday somebody will break the spell
And let them once again be free

Do not touch that knob
Don't turn that fire off
For doing so shall make
That land forever lost