20 Nov

A GSP release from Author of the week: Sheila Deeth.

Refracted by Sheila Deeth

Rivers are drying and crops are dying, but children run and play in the fields, and think they might even enjoy setting monsters free. Of course, the parents won’t approve, but that’s the least of their problems, come the flood.

Next time he wakes, the young man remembers running in different fields. But he still can’t catch the girl, or find how to stay in one place. Loves proves as elusive as gold at rainbow’s end, and time slips through his fingers once again.

Maybe it’s fate. Maybe fame and fortune have something in mind. Or maybe when time finally runs out someone else might help him find what he’s looking for.


     We played in the fields that day. The grass was brittle, dry as sand underfoot, but if we ran we could hide the hunger in our bellies, burying it under shouts of laughter and games. 
    Put’s granddad was still working, hammering, banging, yelling insults at everyone. His Uncle Shem was busy with the animals, and some of us kids thought we’d try to open the gate. It feels odd now. What on earth did we think we’d do? Kids with limbs like twigs and sticks versus monsters from fairy-tales? 
    I remember the dust in my nose. It smelled like food, like dinner undercooked, like coats grown stiff in winter. Not that my memories of winter were clear, since the sun had been heating up every year, and the river had turned to a trickle made mostly of dirt. Some of our houses were falling down, the mortar too dry to hold, brittle like twigs and thin like our arms, hot as a kitchen oven used too long. 
    The monsters though—the monsters in Put’s granddad’s field were just fine. Nobody knew where he’d gathered them from. We hardly recognized some, creatures from nightmares and dreams penned in amongst sheep and cows. 
    But I’m running away with myself. That’s not the right place to start. That’s not how it began. 
    We played in the fields, like I said, and we opened the gate. I remember the rope scratching my hand and the splinters of wood snatching my fingers as they slid back. I remember shrieks of laughter turning to billowing noise when the monsters gave voice. The air began to boil over the fence, dusted with sweaty clouds of earth churned by creatures. And then my foot slipped. I caught my breath, sure I was going to be trampled in the rush. My body flailed, arms and legs swinging round and down ‘til my head banged hard and my eyes saw stars. 
    That’s where I wanted to start, with starlight twinkling overhead, holes in the sky like eyes so far and wary, as if the monsters there were watching me. I’m lying in a bed that’s not mine, covered over with a quilt and a smell like grandmother’s thumbprints pressing me down. When I move I feel like I’m stuck to the straw so I try to peel myself off. I should be peeling strands from my arm and my head, but I’m too confused and end up trying to separate fingers from knees. Then I fall to the floor and notice it’s rough like wood instead of smoothly polished with trailing dust. I see stars like eyes so very far away. Did I say that before? 
    I woke, except I knew in my heart I couldn’t have been awake. The eyes in the sky; the blanket of blue printed with white—if I was in bed I had to have been inside. But a bed with a grandmother’s quilt and bits of straw, they’re all parts of my memory jumbled up. Red blood on the straw with pricks of yellow splinters scratching me; did the splinters make me bleed? 
    At some point my head stopped rocking from side to side. I realized then the ground had come unmoored. I could feel the world tipping over and back. It almost overbalanced then settled with a quivering shake like fear. I felt dizzy. I think I threw up, adding more color to pallet and quilt. I guess you didn’t really want to know that. 
    I heard voices, though the roaring in my ears made them faint. I’d hit my head so hard the bones were still screaming. 
    “Shem, get that gate closed.” 
    Perhaps I was dreaming. Perhaps we were still in the field. 
    “Shem! Now!” A woman’s voice shouted, then three younger women. How did I know there were three? It just felt like three. Do you ever wonder how some things seem so clear when others are vague? It’s the obvious that fades. I fell asleep again. 
    Put’s voice was the next to speak to me. I must have fallen out of bed and he was lifting me back. His arms felt like they’d break under my weight and my body hung loose over them like a sack of seed when the crop’s burned dry. 
    “You okay mate?” he asked. 
    I replied with a grunt. My brain couldn’t furnish the words. 
    “You know what happened?” 
    Really? I’d kind of hoped he might tell me. 
    “You know where you are?” I knew I wasn’t lying in my own bed; that was certain, for sure. 
    The world rocked round me again. The roaring grew louder. I realized now the sounds weren’t just echoes in my head. The air was filling with angry noise, shrieks and groans, screams of people, and shouts of monster-breath. Faraway crashes reminded me how the creatures had trampled me. 
    Later, Put’s mother dripped water on my head, as cool as memory. She had a damp cloth hanging from her hand. When the drips hit my nose I spluttered and shuddered awake. 
    “Lie still young man.” 
    “Why?” I asked, glad to find my mouth was finally remembering how to speak. 
    “You’ll fall over.” 
    “Over what?” 
    “Over the edge.” 
    “Over the edge of what?” 
    The roaring threatened to drown everything out so I didn’t hear her answer. 
    When Put’s mother had walked away I decided to get to my feet. I wanted to prove I knew how—prove it to her? Prove it to me?—and to prove I wouldn’t fall. I staggered while the world rolled by, a million drunkards dancing beneath the heavenly turtle’s back. Then I threw up again and slipped in my own mess. The straw round me was matted. The bed was a pallet on wooden floorboards laid out under roiling sky. So maybe I had seen stars before, but now the heavens were gray.                                                       



One Response to “Refracted…”

  1. Sheila Deeth November 21, 2013 at 8:26 am #

    I do love that cover, and I’m so glad I entered the contest!

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