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Flash Fiction: Unwelcome Homecoming

New flash fiction featuring a peripheral character from my recently released blog fiction, Tin Soldier. It's also linked at Three Word Wednesday which is a great place to drop in and read new writers.

~~~~~~~~~~~~
She lay in the back of the cart, shivering under a blanket even though the day wasn't cold. The rag that had shielded her eyes from the sun had slipped, but Valerie was too weak to move it back into place or to call out to the driver to fix it.

What did the man say his name was? She squinted at the cloudless sky, aware that her memory shouldn't be so faulty at twenty-three. They had said this would happen if she kept buying cheap huffers, but she hadn't cared; she needed some way of coping so she could make her money and get through to the next day, only to do it all over again.

The wagon hit a rock, throwing her hard to one side. The driver stopped the donkeys and turned around in his seat. "You okay?" He set the brake, jumped down, and arranged Valerie's wasted limbs more comfortably. "You hungry? You want some water?"

Valerie started to shake her head, then realized she was as thirsty as if she had a hangover. With an effort of will, she nodded. She closed her eyes and after a few minutes, felt the man lift her shoulders and press a glass to her lips. She tried to drink, spilling much of it down the front of her dress, but the water was cool and tasted good. He tried to make her eat a little, but although the bread was soft and the berries were sweet and juicy, the act of chewing exhausted her. She accepted another sip of water, then let the man ease her back down and cover her eyes again from the sun.

As they continued up the mountain, Valerie tried to remember who this man was and why he was being kind to her. He had been a client - she was pretty sure of that, but most men were quick to leave after she gave them what they had paid for. This one had actually taken an interest in her. She had a dim memory of telling him about her family and the crazy set of circumstances that led to her being sent to town to earn money for them any way she could.

She tried to sigh but her breath came out as a wheeze. They wouldn't be happy to see her. Why had she consented to this? Not only was she tainted in her family's eyes, but she was coming home empty-handed.

It all came back to money, of course. The rag had slipped off her eyes and she gazed at the pines and aspens. She loved this place as a girl, couldn't get enough of the wind, sun, earth, and all the living things that dwelt here. The trees, deer and birds had no need of money, so why did people? Something was corrupt in this world, and in spite of her family's hostility to the manner in which she had kept them fed, she knew the corrupt thing wasn't her.

Now she just wanted rest and healing, if that was possible. Would she get it here? She had no reason to think so, but she would die for sure if she stayed in town, where only the rich were given sympathy when they were ill. It figured that those with the most would always get the most. It wasn't fair, but what was?

She felt the wagon stop. "We're at the stone bridge you told me about," the driver said.

Valerie closed her eyes. It wouldn't be much longer now.

"You sure this is what you want?"

What was she going to do, tell him to take her back after all this? Where would she stay?

"If you're not up for it, we could camp for the night and continue in the morning."

Camping? In her condition? Had she felt any better, she would've laughed.

"I want this to work out for you," he stressed. "If they're just going to send you away--

Valerie shook her head. "Keep going," she whispered.

She settled deeper into her nest of blankets in the back of the cart, no longer caring about the rocking of the wheels over ruts and stones. She was coming home and her family would just have to deal with it.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

If you want more, Tin Soldier is free and online.

11 comments:

Alice Audrey said...

I"m not sure this is a good time for me to be reading this, though my condition is at least a little better than Valerie's.

February 24, 2011 at 10:35 AM
Old Altonian said...

A heartwrenchingly told tale of suffering and misery that is obviously part of a much larger tragedy. I must check this one out.

February 24, 2011 at 11:30 AM
Grandma's Goulash said...

Your writing held me captive. Please, I want more.

My 3WW: The Good Life

February 24, 2011 at 3:38 PM
ms pie said...

oh man, i thought for sure she was gonna jump... a fantastical storyteller indeed...

February 24, 2011 at 5:46 PM
shail said...

our words convey the situation and feelings beautifully. Sad story, but well written.

February 24, 2011 at 9:33 PM
shail said...

Your words*
sorry for the typos :)

February 24, 2011 at 9:50 PM
oldegg said...

You write so well Bunnygirl, it is always a pleasure to read your work. Checking on the previous episodes it looks as though there is a lot I have missed. Are you publishing this one too?

February 25, 2011 at 12:19 AM
jaerose said...

Wonderful story - stood alone fantastically and made me want to know more about Valerie's tale..it had a great sense of 'timelessness' as well which could have placed it in any kind of reality..Jae (ps love the bunbuns..)

February 25, 2011 at 9:29 AM
Jay Thurston said...

Bunnygirl,

This one's another piece that shows how well you can work your characters...their quirks, mindset, actions, you have a talent for seeing through their eyes and processing their thoughts.

As can be said for all your works, I enjoyed this!

Jay

February 26, 2011 at 9:26 AM
Julia Smith said...

What Ms Pie said.

February 27, 2011 at 12:54 PM
Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Man, Ann. This is dark. Wow.

March 19, 2011 at 7:14 AM