Friday, 12 July, 2024, Reg No- 06
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The Brides, The hunted

Published : Saturday, 22 June, 2024 at 12:00 AM  Count : 585

At lunchtime, away from the watchful eyes of our teachers, the girls always want to play brides. Any rag or tear in their clothing is proudly shown off, as if they were grown up already. The boys know better than to protest about the game. Smart boys keep their mouths shut and trot around, whimpering, allowing themselves to be caught quickly-but not too quickly-by clumsy Ashley or sweet Khalisa.

No boy wants to be caught by red-haired Stacey, who files her nails to perfect points and bares her teeth at the slightest provocation. A boy may not make the same mistake twice, but every day is a new day and every day might bring a new mistake. One or two of the boys are enticed anyway, elven-jawed moths bewitched by the blue flame of her cruelty. They think they can fix her, if they love her enough, worship her deeper, obey her faster.

I know the truth; theres no fixing girls like Stacey. Still, her notice is a roving spotlight-one fears to be caught, but longs to be bathed in it. I run around like the rest of the boys, the slap of my boots on the ground a testament to my place in the world. Rooted. Grounded. Buried. What I wouldn give to instead be in that tightening circle of girls, with their starving eyes and their quick hands, instead of a loose line of boys. Stacey moves rook-straight, parting the crowd, heading directly for me. I duck behind another; better him than me.

The bell rings for class, saving me. The boys who were caught are teased as sluts. The boys who weren caught are teased as prudes.

No one dares tease a girl.
At home I keep my mouth shut and my eyes aimed down at my plate.

By the time the sun sets, my father has already closed the curtains against the world. The kitchen counter spotless, the floor a mourning mirror. My mother is long asleep in her recliner, ringed by empty bottles like cross-legged children eager for a story. When she wakes, its all I could have been a bride and I gave it up for your father and if I could turn back time. She has violence in her bones, just like Stacey, and its a rare day my father doesn show signs of it. I pretend to go to bed, but I climb into the window seat instead and wait for a glimpse of the brides.
O, the brides.

In their ragged dresses they stalk the streets at night, following the sour-musk spice-flower stink of men. In their hands, they wield crescent-sharp knives, each crying for a place to sink deep and sweet. Legend says it was once the other way around, that men once roved in packs, sniffing and snarling, looking for a girl to satisfy them. I picture the mass weddings Ive seen-grooms in their fine kilts, their smart jackets, their bare knees. The blunt clubs of their faces, the weasel-twitch of their throats as they wait to be selected. Thats not the life I want; thats not a life I can bear longer than a single breath.

The wind breathes through the leaves of the low trees which line the road, wrenching my attention back. The first flicker of movement. The brides move in a loose swarm, flowing like water from pool to pool of amber streetlight. The brides are leonine, their hair blossoming bright under their lace veils. The brides are cygnine, their movements elegant and sharp, cutting through the night and leaving a trail of petals behind them. The brides are anguine, noses high in the air, following the scent of warm male bodies. Ive been watching them for two years now. Its no longer enough to see them through glass. I want to smell them, to let them pass within a shadows breath of my fingertips. At the back of the pack, a new figure, hair blazing like a comet. Stacey.

I hesitate. I move towards the door. I hesitate again. Theyve accepted one new member already, and they only take two a year. I scuttle downstairs in socked feet and out through the back door. Outside, the world is silent. No rustle of silk. Yet the air is rose-daubed, pink-petaled. They can be far. Just one look, I promise myself, tasting the sweet lie. Thats all I need. I make it as far as the road before one of them steps from the shadows. Terror thrills up my spine, prickling every hair on my scalp. More emerge, surrounding me. Their bare feet are silent on the stones. I expect them to rush me, to deluge me in a single wave, but they stop abruptly. One of them sniffs the air. Their knives hover at hip-height.
One of us? they ask, heads tilted.

My stomach clenches, bile rising in a great, yellow-hot rush. I swallow it down. To tell the truth will destroy my world. To lie would be death. In my heart of hearts, I knew coming out here would force me to choose between one life and another. Tears choke me. Yes, I admit. One of you.
Sister, they croon. Oh, sister mine.

Soft hands tear my clothing, rendering me just as ragged as they are. A lace veil is placed on my head, obscuring my vision. This is what it takes to be a woman. I must not falter. The brides will give me everything Ive ever needed and nothing Ive ever wanted. Stacey smiles at me and its no longer the vicious snap of the predator, but the shoulder-check of a packmate.
A cold handle pressed into my palm. A wide-eyed neighbor boy, presented to me on his knees, his cheeks wet and shiny. His throat, pale in the moonlight, kisses my blade.

Courtesy: Flash Fiction Online







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