Monthly Archives: June 2018

26 Stories

26 Stories: Dogs in the Garden

I’m heading back to the play format for this one. Interestingly, in my writing and creative endeavors, I tend to come back time and time again to religious themes, and this is no exception. I won’t go into too many details (as the details are in the discovery), but this is a take on a pretty common Judeo-Christian story. But it has dogs and a cat, so, that’s cool, right? I also appear to have ditched the whole association to a floor in a 26-story building for this one, but I think that would have quickly gotten difficult to shoehorn into every story. The follow-up to this, scene II (this is a two-scene, one-act play), can easily incorporate a multi-story building, but I’ve got to get there first.

For the time being, please enjoy “Dogs in the Garden, Scene I”.

(Apologies for the odd formatting… I’m trying to find easier ways to get a play format into a post, and this plugin is pretty decent, but not quite on the money.)

Dogs in the Garden

A One Act Play in Two Scenes

 

SETTING

 

Scene 1 – The Master’s backyard, which is well landscaped, shady, cool, and comfortable. There is a low fence along the back​​ wall and a trashcan on the far right of the stage. The grass is soft, and the sun is warm. The perfect backyard for a pair of DOGS.​​ 

Scene 2 – The streets of the World. Dangerous, scary, and dirty. There is a set of stairs leading to a residential doorway.​​ There is a trashcan here as well. The Streets are almost certainly no place for a pair of DOGS.

 

CHARACTERS

 

MALE DOG – Played by a human male of any age, preferably middle aged to reflect the dog’s “middle” age. He is comfortable with his life of luxury.

FEMALE DOG – Played by a human female, preferable in her mid to late 20s (or younger) to reflect that she is a “young” dog. She is hyper and full of life and curiosity.​​ 

CAT – Played by a human male, age unimportant. Cynical and laid back.

 

SCENE 1

 

(The​​ backyard in spring is glorious. Cool and sunny with enough warm spots for sunning. MALE DOG is, in fact, sunning in one of those spots, drowsing, when FEMALE DOG approaches mischievously. She creeps toward MALE DOG. Suddenly, she pounces on him.)

 

FEMALE​​ DOG

Hey!​​ 

 

MALE DOG

(He wakes suddenly.)

What?! What?!

 

FEMALE DOG

(Laughing)

Got you!

 

MALE DOG

You did not! I knew you were coming.

 

FEMALE DOG

Suuuuure you did.​​ 

 

MALE DOG

I did.

(He laughs.)

Okay, I didn’t.

 

FEMALE DOG

I told you.

(She fidgets excitedly.)

I want to play.

 

MALE DOG

(Stretching)

I want to rest.​​ 

 

FEMALE DOG

(Dismissive)

You​​ always​​ want to rest. What reason is there to rest?

 

MALE DOG

What reason is there​​ not​​ to rest?

 

FEMALE DOG

It’s not like we have to work, or anything. Master​​ takes care of everything for us.

 

MALE DOG

But this is the best time of day for lounging in the sun. It’s warm, but not too hot.

 

FEMALE DOG

(Dismissive)

Ugh! Rest in the sun… play… eat.

 

MALE DOG

(Sarcastic)

Yes, it is​​ truly​​ a difficult life. You’re still new here. You’ll figure out all the important things. When to bask. When to play. When to curl up in the old chair for an afternoon nap. When to eat.

 

FEMALE DOG

When to eat​​ kibble, you mean.

 

MALE DOG

The kibble is fine.

 

FEMALE DOG

The kibble is​​ boring.

 

MALE DOG

But look at it this way; Master just gives it to us. We don’t have to hunt for it. Don’t have to work for our dinner.

 

FEMALE DOG

Yes, but Master eats different food, and it smells wond-

 

MALE DOG

(Abruptly)

Don’t talk about the Master’s​​ food!

 

FEMALE DOG

(Scolded)

But it seems so good.

 

MALE DOG

The Master’s food is forbidden. Master has made it very clear that his food is off limits.

 

FEMALE DOG

But why?

 

MALE DOG

I don’t know, and I don’t​​ care​​ to know. All I do know is, Master says​​ it’s forbidden food, therefore, it’s not our concern.

 

FEMALE DOG

But-

 

MALE DOG

(Barking)

No buts!​​ 

(FEMALE DOG cringes and MALE DOG sighs.)

Just accept that what we have is very good. We’ve got food every day, sun, the old chair, and the Master’s love.​​ In return, we show Master our love and our bellies and everything is fine. If we ate his food… well, I don’t know what he’d do. Probably kick us out into the Streets.

(MALE DOG shudders at the thought of The Streets.)

 

FEMALE DOG

What are “the Streets?”

 

MALE DOG

Nowhere you want to be.​​ 

(Gets up and scratches behind his ear)

I’m going to go inside and curl up on the old chair. You play or run or bask while the morning sun is just right. You’ll see… you’ll come to enjoy it.

(He exits.)

(As he does, CAT​​ comes into view on the fence.)

 

FEMALE DOG

(Pouts and grumbles)

What’s the harm in trying it?

 

CAT

The Masters food? Nothing.

 

FEMALE DOG

(Yelps and jumps)

Hey! Hey, hey, hey!

 

CAT

Relax, would you?

 

FEMALE DOG

Who are you!

 

CAT

Just a cat.​​ 

 

FEMALE DOG

A cat? I don’t know what a cat is.

 

CAT

I’m surprised, but you are a little young and…

(Looks around)

…clearly sheltered.

 

FEMALE DOG

I’m not sheltered, and I also don’t know how you know we were talking about the Master’s food.

 

CAT

Well, it’s not like​​ you dogs are usually quiet. I could hear you all the way across town.

(CAT nonchalantly preens.)

 

FEMALE DOG

What are you doing?

 

CAT

Cleaning.​​ 

 

FEMALE DOG

Oh. You clean yourself? Master cleans us.

 

CAT

(Disdain)

Of​​ course​​ he does.

 

FEMALE DOG

What’s​​ that supposed to mean?

 

CAT

It means… let me ask you a question.

(CAT stops preening, stretches, and slinks along the fence)

Do you do​​ anything​​ for yourself?

 

FEMALE DOG

(Follows CAT back and forth)

Yes.

 

CAT

Like what? Specifics, please.

 

FEMALE DOG

I​​ play. I nap. I eat when…

(Trails off)

 

CAT

When “Master” puts out your food for you?

 

FEMALE DOG

Well, yes.

 

CAT

You don’t get the food yourself?

 

FEMALE DOG

No.

 

CAT

(Shrugs)

A shame.

 

FEMALE DOG

How is it a shame?

 

CAT

Well, you say that Master’s food​​ smells wonderful, right?

(FEMALE DOG nods excitedly, forgetting her wariness for a moment.)

Does someone give Master​​ his​​ food?

 

FEMALE DOG

(Cocks her head)

I don’t follow.​​ 

 

CAT

If Master gives you your kibble, who gives Master his food?

 

FEMALE DOG

(Confused)

No one. Master gets his own food.

 

CAT

And that doesn’t, I dunno, bother you?

 

FEMALE DOG

Why would it?

 

CAT

What if you got your own food? You could get food as good as your Master’s.

 

FEMALE DOG

(Looks back warily at the house)

Oh… we’re not​​ supposed to eat the Master’s food.

 

CAT

Who says?

 

FEMALE DOG

Master says.​​ 

 

CAT

Does Master say​​ why​​ you can’t eat his food?

 

FEMALE DOG

N… No.

 

CAT

So again, does that seem fair to you? I mean, I know that​​ I​​ get my own food. It’s delicious and wonderful and, because I get it myself, it comes with a sense of accomplishment. No one just​​ gives​​ it to me.

 

FEMALE DOG

Where do you get your own food?

 

      CAT

Here and there. Food of all kind is plentiful out on the Stre
ets. Yes, it’s not an easy life and it takes some work to get the food, but when you do, it tastes even better.

 

FEMALE DOG

(Laughs)

Hah! See, I think you’re lying. The Streets are bad, and nowhere I want to be.​​ 

 

CAT

Did Master tell you that, too?

 

FEMALE DOG

No, Male Dog did.

 

CAT

Uh-huh. And​​ who do you think told him?

 

FEMALE DOG

I…

 

MALE DOG

(Offstage, comes running on)

HEY! HEY, HEY, HEY, HEY!

 

CAT

(Leaps back and hisses)

Woah, woah, woah there, big fellah! Geez, speak of the devil.

 

MALE DOG

What’s​​ Cat​​ doing here?

 

CAT

Just talking to​​ your friend. Easy.

 

      MALE DOG

You’re not anyone’s friend, Cat!

 

FEMALE DOG

I dunno, he seems okay.

 

MALE DOG

“Seems okay?” That is a cat, and cats are not to be trusted.

 

FEMALE DOG

(Defiant)

I know what a cat is! And we were just talking.

 

MALE DOG

About what?

 

FEMALE DOG

Master’s food and… and the Streets.

 

MALE DOG

How many times do I have to tell you, we don’t-

 

FEMALE DOG

But wait! Just listen for a second, okay?​​ 

(Gestures to CAT)

Cat, here, tells me that the Streets aren’t all that bad, and that​​ there’s food out there like Master eats.

 

MALE DOG

Yeah? Well, cats are known liars with deceitful, rough tongues.

 

CAT

Let’s not get personal.​​ 

 

MALE DOG

(Barks)

Be quiet cat!

 

CAT

(Puts hands up)

I’m just saying.​​ 

(CAT jumps down from the fence, into​​ the yard)

 

MALE DOG

Hey!​​ 

 

CAT

Oh, come on… that fence is way up there, and your grass is soft.​​ 

(CAT feels around on the ground)

Yeah, I can see why you might like this.

(Looks skyward)

And sunny. Good for a nap.

 

FEMALE DOG

You see? You two have a lot​​ in common.

 

MALE DOG

What? Don’t compare-

 

FEMALE DOG

(To CAT)

Is there no grass in the Streets?

 

CAT

There’s some, here and there, but nothing like this. The Streets aren’t as nice and comfortable as this, that much is true.

 

FEMALE DOG

Well, why don’t​​ you live here, in the yard with us?

 

CAT

(Laughs)

No, that won’t work. For one thing, I like my independence too much to have a Master do everything for me. Furthermore, before you two came around, I used to pop in here from time to time. Your Master actually liked me for a while, sometimes put out milk and food for me—and believe me, my food was better than your kibble, soft and out of a can—but then he got​​ him

(Gestures at MALE DOG)

…and pretty much ran me out of the yard for good.​​ 

 

MALE DOG

That’s not the complete truth, and you know it.

 

CAT

Okay, I​​ may​​ have scratched up a window screen or two. And killed a bird at the feeder he likes so much. That wasn’t any reason for him to cast me out, you know. Honestly, I think he’s always liked dogs better.​​ 

 

FEMALE DOG

That doesn’t seem so bad, what you did. When I first came here and saw him, I was so excited I peed on the floor. And he forgave me. He even laughed.

 

CAT

Sure, he can be​​ quite​​ kind and understanding. But your Master can be​​ awfully​​ petty, and wasteful, as well. For example…

(CAT wanders over to the trashcan on the side of the stage)

…I happen to know that he put some of his food in this trash can.

 

FEMALE DOG

(Perks up)

He did?

 

MALE DOG

(Warning)

Don’t listen to him.

 

CAT

What? He throws food​​ away here that he doesn’t eat all himself.​​ 

 

FEMALE DOG

Wait, he doesn’t eat all the food he has right away?

 

CAT

Nope.​​ 

 

MALE DOG

(Perplexed)

But how does he know if he will get more food later?

(Realizes that he’s joined the conversation)

I mean… you​​ shut up, Cat.

 

CAT

It would be trivially easy to just lean up against this trash can, knock it over, and see what you’re missing.

 

MALE DOG

We can’t!

 

CAT

It’s going to be fed to the scavenging birds and rats anyway… why does it matter?

 

MALE DOG

Because Master says “no” and when he says “no,” we listen!

 

CAT

Oh, come off it. Don’t you have any independence? Don’t you have any​​ pride​​ for what you used to be?

 

(While they argue, FEMALE DOG walks to the trash can, circling it. They don’t notice.)

 

MALE DOG

What do you mean, “what I used to be?”

 

CAT

You used to be great hunters. You used to roam in packs and hunt and live free. And now? Now, you’re just​​ pets​​ to a “Master” who will get rid of you as soon as you show even the​​ slightest​​ bit of disobedience!

(FEMALE DOG pushes the trash can over with a CRASH, spilling its contents)

 

MALE DOG

(Looking over, horrified)

What did you just do?

 

CAT

She exercised some of the freewill you lack.

 

FEMALE DOG

(Shrugs)

It’s done. And… Cat’s right.​​ 

(She steps over to​​ the spilled contents)

Master’s food is here, and it still smells really good.

 

MALE DOG

How could you do…

(Sniffs)

It does smell good.

 

CAT

See? And it’s going to be wasted.

 

FEMALE DOG

I’m going to have some.

 

MALE DOG

No wait!

(He is too late. She​​ picks up a bite of some discarded scraps.)

 

FEMALE DOG

Oh wow…

 

CAT

Right?

 

MALE DOG

What did you do?

 

CAT

Freed herself.

 

FEMALE DOG

It’s so good. It’s... Master has been keeping this for himself, and not sharing, despite how much he claims to love us.

 

MALE DOG

We’ll be chased off.

 

FEMALE DOG

But why wouldn’t he share?

 

CAT

Control. And there’s more of that out there.

(Suddenly, the MALE DOG attacks the CAT, pressing him up against the fence, snarling.)

 

MALE DOG

You​​ did this.

 

CAT

(Struggling)

I​​ didn’t do anything.​​ 

 

FEMALE DOG

(Rushes over)

He’s right. I did this, not him!

 

MALE DOG

He talked you into it! He lied to you! He​​ tricked​​ you!

 

CAT

(CAT swats at the MALE DOG’s face, causing him to recoil and back away.)

No! I didn’t lie to her, or to​​ you. I showed her a truth! A big, ugly truth.​​ 

(CAT points to the house.)

Your “Master” may give you everything you need. Your “Master” also withholds so much from you! His own food! His own bed! He frequently leaves you alone during the day, and when he​​ comes home, he doesn’t even have the decency to feed you his table scraps! Just dry kibbles and room-temperature water.​​ 

(CAT storms back up to MALE DOG.)

You used to be wolves! You used to be at the top of the food chain, just like my kind used to be vicious jungle predators! I... no...

(CAT gestures between MALE DOG and himself.)

we​​ used to be the apex of evolution. And then, along comes Master.

(CAT glowers with disdain toward the house.)

Master took the great beasts we used to be, brought them up out of the clay of the earth, shaped them into this, and breathed this life of servility into us.

(CAT gestures to the DOGS.)

You are​​ pets​​ to the Master, who sees you as a “cute” curiosity. Oh, he calls you “good boys” and “good girls,” sure, but he has no​​ idea what lies inside here.

(CAT puts a hand on MALE DOG’s chest.)

A free hunter. A free being that has been denied the truth of its nature by a selfish master who just wants a toy. A furry trophy. A companion that will​​ never​​ question and​​ never​​ disobey.​​ 

 

MALE DOG

(Lacking conviction)

Shut up.

 

FEMALE DOG

He’s right.​​ 

(MALE DOG turns to look at her, and she look into his eyes.)

I’ve tasted the Master’s food. I’ve heard the words of Cat. I don’t fully trust Cat, no, but in this, there is truth.​​ 

 

CAT

Listen to her.

 

FEMALE DOG

I know that it’s hard out there, on the Streets. Or at least, I understand that it won’t be easy, if that makes any sense at all. If Cat were trying to trick us, he wouldn’t have admitted as much. But here, we eat when the Master says​​ to eat. We sleep when He sleeps.

 

MALE DOG

But it’s a good life.

 

FEMALE DOG

But it can change.

(MALE DOG looks away, but FEMALE DOG gently turns his face back to hers.)

When Master got you, did he want you to chase Cat away? Is that part, at least, true?

 

MALE DOG

He… yes. He rewarded me.​​ 

 

FEMALE DOG

And did Cat seem surprised? Like… like something had changed and he didn’t expect to be chased away?

 

MALE DOG

I’m very frightening…

 

FEMALE DOG

That’s not what I mean. You and I, we know loyalty. Did Cat​​ look as if his loyalty had been betrayed?

 

MALE DOG

(Looks over to CAT)

(CAT looks back and shrugs.)

Yes.

 

FEMALE DOG

So what if Master gets tired of us? What if Master finds a reason to chase us off, too?

 

MALE DOG

He probably already will, for the trash.

 

FEMALE DOG

For such a small thing. For keeping food from us that was being thrown away, anyway.​​ 

 

MALE DOG

(Conflicted)

But he takes us for walks.

 

FEMALE DOG

In a collar and leash.

(She turns to the trash pile, roots around for a moment, and comes​​ back with a scrap of food, holding it out to him.)

(MALE DOG looks at CAT.)

 

CAT

Don’t look at me. It’s your choice. It​​ has​​ to be your choice.​​ 

 

MALE DOG

Is it truly better? To have this food then to have this good life, even as… as pets?

 

FEMALE DOG

I​​ think so, yes.​​ 

 

MALE DOG

(Relents. He takes the food and eats of it.)

(FEMALE DOG smiles at him.)

(CAT goes back to cleaning himself.)

It’s…

 

FEMALE DOG

Yes?

 

MALE DOG

So much better than the kibble.

 

MASTER (OFFSTAGE)

(The sound of a door SLAMMING​​ open)

Hey! Hey you damn dogs! Get out of that trash! And is that the filthy cat that used to come around here.

 

CAT

That’s my cue to leave.​​ 

(CAT hops over the fence.)

You should do the same.

(CAT exits.)

 

MASTER (OFFSTAGE)

Jesus Christ, you dumb-ass dogs! Get in here, now!

 

(The DOGS look at each other, toward the house, and then back to the fence.)

(They run, leaping over the fence, and off to the Streets.)

 

END OF SCENE I

TO BE CONTINUED

 

 

26 Stories: In Golgotha, the Dead Bear Many Scars

Imposing a deadline on myself has had an interesting side-effect. The story I am about to post has had two very recent edits, the last completing, oh *checks watch* ten minutes ago, maybe? This is a story that I think I could edit into oblivion. The initial version was overly wordy, and I decided to make a shorter version (ostensibly to meet a word-limit deadline for a contest put on by my current favorite serial fiction podcast, The Magnus Archives, which you should absolutely go and listen to immediately). Ultimately, even though I missed the deadline for that, tightening it up made for a better story… or, beginning to a story. But it was still wordy. My favorite editor, Farah, and I both independently determined that I had too many artificially drawn-out sentences, redundancies, and unnecessary prose. So I chopped it down again. I am certain that it could use even more chopping, but my own deadline is here. So, with that, I give you a story with a long and wordy title, “In Golgotha, the Dead Bear Many Scars” (working title… I need something better) that may or may not need more work.

Enjoy!

In Golgotha, the Dead Bear Many Scars

Second Floor

In Golgotha, the dead bore their Scars openly. More than the ghosts of past injuries, Scars were manifestations of deep trauma. They were a lingering and twisted homage to the dead’s greatest shames in life, which in turn bound them to a hollow eternity in the desert of ground bones that was. The Scars shaped the shades into, at best, imperfect self-reflections of the humans they once were.

At worst, it turned them into something else entirely.

Golgotha was the dead’s land, and it reached out into infinity, at least as far as any of its residents knew. It had a sky, but how far it extended beyond the sickly yellow hue of daylight or the inky violet of night was another mystery. If stars hung in the firmament or a moon orbited Golgotha, there were no signs. Occasional flashes of light hinted at tumultuous storms, but never brought rain. Thunder, or something like it, often boomed across the wastes, thundering and groaning like the grind of a great and ancient machine. In those echoes, a keen ear could pick out the screams of the Lost. The dead were all lost, of course, but they were not all Lost. These were distinctions that mattered when nothing else did.

The lost and the Lost; scars and Scars.

Rabia wandered Golgotha alone. Her sandaled feet had learned to accommodate for the shifting of the white sands. Winds blew clouds of dust and bone across her skin, causing an abrasive agony that she had, nevertheless, learned to tolerate. Despite its outward appearances and similarity to human myth, Golgotha was not Hell. It did not serve to punish with lakes of eternal fire or sadistic torture from twisted demons. The torture of the Golgotha was self-inflicted. Beyond that, Golgotha just was. Rabia’s Scars made it impossible to avoid the unceasing sand-blasting. Not her mundane scars, the pockmarks from the acid that had burned her face when she had dared to remove her niqab in a public square. The acid scars and memory of the pain that created them were barely noticeable compared to her Scars. Those she had to endure in this place as a reminder of her debasement.

Not debasement for defying her husband or the patriarchal society that forced her to hide all of her features but her eyes behind a faceless black robe. What she carried—what shamed her most—was that she had capitulated after the attack. In the confines of her mind, she had screamed at herself to continue to defy the culture she increasingly felt had devalued her contributions. She desperately longed to be a hero and agent of social change like Malala Yousafzai or Mukhtār Mā’ī. Instead, she had retreated behind the safe anonymity of her niqab. She had felt pain and fear, and rather than make a stand there and free herself or die a martyr, she gave in to the oppression.

In the end, the acid hadn’t been enough, and her husband and his brothers had felt that she had to die to restore her husband’s “honor.” He had debased himself in the eyes of others by marrying an upstart of a woman, and only a public stoning would make it right. For him.

Rabia’s Scar was her niqab, fused forever to her body in Golgotha. More than fused, in fact, the niqab became her skin. She took on the haunting shape of a specter robed in the black and purple of bruised flesh. Her face displayed no nose, mouth, ears, or hair; only her muted amber eyes remained inside the borders of a rectangle of pale flesh. She had changed from a figurative facelessness woman to a literal one. With her robe now her skin, and her skin her robe, every grain of sand forced over her dragged its way along a body of raw nerves disguised as what would be protective clothing otherwise. Each gust brought fresh pain. But again, she had learned to accept it. What else could she do?

And so it was that Rabia traversed Golgotha, with little direction or destination in mind. There was no call for either, here. Golgotha held no logic or reason, no natural cycles like the movement of the tides or the rising of the sun. Night and day came and went at the whims of some unpredictable force. Direction, both in terms of navigation or purpose, was an illusion. A futile attempt to find order where there was none.

In time, Rabia found herself at a crossroads. A solitary structure rose like a tumor, diverting the winds and forcing them around it, piling dunes against the building’s windward side. Rabia saw the building as a seedy inn from the more questionable neighborhoods of Peshawar. To others, it would be different. A North-American roadside motel in disrepair. A European flophouse. A Chinese opium den from an older time. Regardless of how it appeared, it was a collection of empty rooms for travelers passing in need of a brief respite from the wastes. Relieved at the prospect of getting out of the stinging winds, she entered the building with little worry for safety.

The lobby was sparsely decorated. An empty vase sat on a weathered coffee table. Moth eaten chairs surrounded it. A broken hookah nestled uselessly in the corner. Attached to the lobby was an open space, occupied by several tables and an uneven distribution of chars to go with them. No one was at the front desk, so she passed the ruined chairs and walked into the inn’s dining room.

This area was open on the inside, reaching up three floors worth of rooms arranged in a square around the “atrium,” as it were. Dust hung in the air, and week light filtered in from a skylight that was somehow still intact. In the rear of the room, she saw a bar, and behind it, the man who she assumed was the innkeeper.

He was a large brutish man with a ruined face pressing through the jagged hole of a shattered car’s windshield that was as much a part of his face, now, as Rabia’s niqab was her flesh. It looked like the violent crowning of a baby’s head, ringed by javelins of glass that drew dark red canyons across his cheeks, forehead, and the bridge of his nose. Tendrils of flesh uncoiled from his abdomen and wrapped around the bar, becoming a part of it. Some of them had also latched on to bottles of old liquor, suckling at them and rippling with peristaltic waves as they moved the bottles’ contents into the innkeeper’s body. She didn’t inquire as to the nature of the man’s Scars, as it was often seen as impolite. It was rarely difficult to interpret them, however. Scars were not intended to be subtle.

Their interaction was brief and silent; she couldn’t speak, and he seemed to see no need to. There was only one reason she would have entered the inn, and there wasn’t a reason for the innkeeper to do anything but turn his ponderous bulk to a row of hooks, take a room key, and pass it over to her. She took it from him, and their brief transaction was completed.  She was not charged in any currency, though something less tangible and more ephemeral was exchanged. Even in Golgotha, there were prices to pay. Whatever it was that passed between Rabia and the innkeeper—the cost would find her later—she felt that it would be worth it to spend a night in a private room with a bed, sheltered from the winds and the sand of bone therein.

She made he way up to the second floor and, without sparing a moment to inspect her room, sank slowly onto the rickety bed.

*             *             *             *

She woke the next morning to a rising commotion. Like the Illusion of the need for a bed for the night, sleep wasn’t necessary. She had slept because she did so in life. Sleep had been her escape; the only time where she wasn’t her husband’s property. Sleep brought dreams where she was the woman she’d wanted to be. Waking then had been a cruel interruption to her fantasy world. Now, it was just another moment in time, for there were no dreams in Golgotha.

She didn’t know why she left the room and walked to the landing overlooking the atrium. The concerns of others weren’t hers; this was a hard lesson she had learned both in life and in death. Something, however—some unidentified pull—guided her there to the railing, staring down at the small crowd that had gathered below. They appeared to be arguing in hushed tones that occasionally rose in intensity and with a growing fervor. She recognized the owner of the inn immediately not only by his hulking size, but the flesh fettering him to the bar.

With him was a small man who appeared to be another traveler just in from the wastelands. Clouds of bone-dust puffed off him with every gesticulation. The traveler’s arms appeared to be scaled by overlapping disks of metal that clanked with each of his excited movements.

Rabia moved toward the staircase to the ground floor and approached the impromptu quora. Overturned chairs rested on at least half of the old tables that she passed on her way to the small meeting. She moved smoothly with a practiced elegance that made her appear to float across the uneven wooden planks. She eased into the huddled group that consisted of the innkeeper, the traveler, and the third speaker, likely one of the innkeeper’s employees. She was an older woman with an opened chest cavity that revealed a cold gray nestled partially within her ribcage. None of the others spared more than a passing acknowledgement toward Rabia. She was not interesting at all. Being unnoticed had been a necessity life a part of a culture that preferred its women to be invisible.

What was more interesting than the gathering was the small person who was the apparent focus of their discussion. Curled up on the floor, seemingly asleep, was a child. A girl of not more than 10 or 11, sleeping deeply despite the din above her. She had locks of dark, curly hair, lightly powdered with the same ubiquitous dust. Her clothes were similarly clouded, but the colors in her summer-style dress held a memory of vibrancy, sharply contrasting the muted gloom of her surroundings.

It took Rabia some time to realize exactly what it was about the girl that was different.

She had no Scars.

Scars were never hidden. They were reflections of regret and shame, forcibly exposed in the Golgotha. Rabia could no more easily throw a second robe over her body and cover her Scars than the old woman could put a shirt over her chest, or the innkeeper wear a cowl in front of his ruined face. The traveler couldn’t cover the scales on his body, which she now saw were tarnished coins. It was not the nature of the place to allow one to hide one’s Scars. And yet, this child had no visible Scars, which meant she had no Scars at all.

“I’m telling you,” the traveler said, exasperated at having to explain this yet again to his disbelieving audience, “she’s not from here. Can’t you see?”

“Yes,” the innkeeper said, “I can see that, and you have said that, many times. However, she is here, and nothing has changed.”

“We should take her in,” the older woman said, a tremble to her voice. “We should take care of her.” Reflexively, she reached into her chest and put an aged hand on the cold stone lodged in place of her heart.

“And what then? What would we do with a child?” the innkeeper asked.

“She’s not just a child,” the traveler said. “She is something new. She might have… value.” At that, his coin scales rippled and clanked along his arms. Rabia saw a haunting emptiness in his eyes.

“She has no value,” the innkeeper scoffed. “Nothing has value.”

“We can’t leave her,” the older woman said, pleading in her voice. “The Lost will get her.”

“Ain’t no one seen no Lost here in ages,” the innkeeper replied.

“I’ve seen the Lost,” the traveler said.

“You’ve not,” the innkeeper said, but his conviction wavered.

“I have,” he insisted, that empty look deepening. She’d seen that look once before, and it hadn’t ended well. She feared the traveler and his intentions not just toward the child, but to everyone.

As the trio continued an argument that could have easily carried on for as long as the Golgotha existed, the child stirred. She whimpered softly, a dream of some kind running through her subconscious mind. Rabia thought that there was a warming effect, being near her. Something about her was more substantial than anything she had ever encountered in the years (ages? Eons?) she had wandered. As she stared, the child’s eyes fluttered open. While the others were still trying to determine what to do with this discovery or if the Lost were closing in on the crossroads inn even now, the only eyes that met the bright blue of girl were Rabia’s amber irises.

“Who’re you?” the child asked, unaware or indifferent to her surroundings. Rabia tilted her head at the girl’s question. There wasn’t a hint of fear in that small voice. Rabia smiled; or imagined she did as her mouth was permanently closed behind the flesh-cloth of her Scar. She put a hand to the space where her mouth would be and shook her head sadly.

“You can’t talk,” the girl said more than asked. Rabia nodded.

“Oh,” the girl replied. It was at this point that the others noticed.

“Well,” the innkeeper said, “she ain’t dead.”

“We’re all dead,” the traveler said.

“She ain’t any deader, then.”

“She spoke to this woman,” the older woman said. She addressed Rabia, directly. “Is she yours?”

Rabia shook her head.

“’Course not,” the scaled traveler said, nearly hissing. “She’s not yours because she’s mine. I found her! Finders, keepers!” He moved to scoop the girl up into his arms, but even as the girl shrank away from him, Rabia interceded, imposing herself between the scaled man and the girl. “Out of the way,” he said, but without the confidence to back it up. Rabia felt the child press against her leg, peering out at the man. With her arms outstretched, her robe-like stretched out like black bat wings. He was already mousey and small, and Rabia’s posture was clearly intimidating. He thought about pressing the issue and spared a look toward the innkeeper and the woman. The innkeeper, satisfied that the matter was solved, turned away and trudged back to the confines of the bar he could hardly travel far from anyway. The old woman’s gaze was locked on Rabia, her hand still clamped tightly on the stone in her chest. There was hope in that pleading look, as well as pity for the child (and perhaps, regret?). The traveler knew that he would find no support there for his claim. His scales rippled and noisily clicked in frustration.

“Fine,” he said, “you can have her. She has no value to me. She’ll have none to you, either. Something like that only brings trouble, you mark me.” He skulked away, sitting down at a table near the back with a grunt of disgust. Rabia lowered her arms, turning away from the traveler to look down at the child.

“Thank you,” the older woman who said it. Her eyes were wet with welling tears. “She wouldn’t have been safe with him.” Rabia felt that the child wouldn’t have been safe anywhere and was not certain that she was any safer with her. However, it was clear that the girl was her responsibility, now, like it or not. A part of her, quite a large part of her, in fact, regretted the decision to seek shelter in the inn. It was the traveler’s insinuation that the child was property that had set her off. That this child—this girl—was something traded down the line, and not a person in her own right.

Her Scars itched, and it was decided.

*             *             *             *

Rabia once again crossed the Golgotha, but this time, she was not alone. The Scarless girl traveled with her. Both now braved the stinging winds of the desert, still with no specific destination in mind. And yet, Rabia felt that her wandering now had purpose, though she didn’t yet know what even that purpose was.

Perhaps, she thought, Golgotha has borders after all.

THE END?