Operation Concrete

So, it's been a long time since I've written a short story, but I recently wrote and as it turns out, it was exactly what I needed to get me back into the swing of things for revisions to the second novel, which is coming along much quicker now than it has done in some time.

With the story, I took a piece of writing I did last year, which I’ve mentioned a couple of times on here, and turned it into a narrative about my favourite of all subjects, free will and choice. It’s quite a simple good vs evil type setup with gothic undertones in the style of something like The Turn of the Screw. What I like about the way this story evolved through the edits, is that, at least I think, it’s unclear who the evil one is, it's your choice to make really.

If you do read it, I’d love to know your thoughts and feedback in the comments section or email me at: ricgalbraith [at] gmail [dot] com

The Choice

There were forces at work that day. Mechanisms of the universe were aligning quietly causing deep vibrations that she felt in the pit of her stomach, that made her feel uneasy and out of place.

He watched her from the window breeze through the gardens of the house, that are maintained with a landscaping contractor from http://marrazzolandscaping.com/. Her effortless beauty, ethereal and majestic, amongst the others, their group, all of them, so close, so dependent on each other and so good. He’d chosen her for her individuality, he needed a catalyst, he needed his muse and she was perfect. Jet-black hair amongst a sea of blonde locks, she was naturally opposed, she stood out. She’d always had problems truly fitting in, she had to try harder than the rest, no matter how good her skills were, she always had to be that little bit stronger, that little bit better, that little bit cleaner and more serene than the others, just so they would accept her.

He continued to watch and wait for his trap to be sprung. The instrument that would bring her to him, to release her from the protective crowd, to carry her to the room that he had constructed for this one purpose, to try and make her his own and to free her.

She paused and looked up and away from her friends, curling her toes on the soft grass and staring at the window, she felt a presence. A quake released inside her that they all felt when they knew something had to be done, when someone needed their help. But this time it was different, it was stronger.

“I’m going inside,” she said quietly to the rest of them, “there’s someone in there.”

“We’ll be moving on soon, we’re almost done here,” one replied, as the others nodded.

She turned and ran shouting back at them, “don’t worry, I won’t be long.” Her thin pale thighs carrying her through a light jog, her feet hitting the cobbled stones of the path up to the giant door as she thudded gently against it and helped it open with her shoulder.

She could feel his presence, inside the grand old house, its ornaments and dust having collected for decades, cold stone wrapped around collections of antiques from an array of ages. Stepping lightly she tiptoed up the stairs, her delicate hands running along the smooth ebony banister, the rug underneath her feet course and worn.

Reaching the landing she could hear his heart beating, the powerful, deep, rhythmic pounding of his life force ringing throughout her, forcing itself upon her, shaking her bones as she peered and looked for the room.

“Here, child,” His deep voice rang through the corridors and around her head and into her ears. She saw an opening with a long shadow cast across the floor, an apparition, a dreadful appearance, a dark horrible body.

“I’m here to help you,” she said, walking into the room, “I’m going to try and make you better.”

“You’re a little confused child, you see, I am the one who is here to help you.” The deep tones of his thick and steep voice rumbled over her as his large, strong presence revealed itself in the small candle lit room.

“What are you?” Her eyes wide, looking the man up and down, dressed in a black suit, broad shoulders leading to a trunk like neck and up to a wide, strong, dark face, as if hammered out of brass.

“Well, some have called me a liberator.” He smiled, rows of polished teeth shining and reflecting around the small room, walls of books surrounding them. Her toes curled again, this time on the soft wooden floor. “Don’t worry child, you can show your emotion here, I won’t think any less of you, you can cry.”

She paused and thought, taking in the man, the thing before her. "I can't cry," she said finally, turning away and looking out the small stain glass window, lined with lead and revealing her friends playing and dancing in the gardens below as a light patch of rain began to fall over them.

“I know you can’t, this is why you’re here.” He replied, walking across the room, floorboards creaking under his weight, his heavy, growling breath falling over her from behind. The soft orange glow of the room jumped as he placed his toughened hands down over her fragile shoulders. “It’s them you see, they stop you from crying, they stop you from doing a lot of things.” He brought his mouth down to her ear and gently shifted her hair away from it. “Until now, have you ever even tried to cry?”

The hair on her neck stood as the warm air of his breath crept around her lobes and down her spine. "Well, I don't think so, especially not around them,” she tapped on the window lightly. “Why would I want to cry? Why would anyone want to cry? It doesn’t seem to be very fair that you would have to,” she stood still, waiting for his answer, trying to understand what he wanted.

"Fair!" he roared, turning her from the window and arching toward her, eyes pulsating, hands gripping tighter and tighter. "It is not fair that some should be happier than others, it is not fair that some should have it easier than others, it is not fair that you should be able to live whilst I have to merely exist.” He pulled back, raising high above her, his wide chest climbing up and down with deep breaths, her small, fragile face taut with emotion. “You are unscarred…” He paused gathering himself. “…And we must all have scars, even ones like you, and I will help that. I show you how you can acquire them, I’ll let you see that we must all weep sometime.” He brought his hand up to her face its large plate wrapping around her jaw, its fingers crawling around her cheek. “Yes, they’ve protected you, but you’ve had to capitulate as well. You’ve had to become one of them, and they have pulled a cloak over your eyes, to stop you seeing what you can truly have. This is why I brought you here, to see if you can change, to see if you have the will to change, to see if you can open yourself to something better.”

“Something better?” She was concerned, his presence, his power was unsettling her in a way she had never felt before. “What is better than what I am now? With them I am complete.” He turned her again, back to the window and brought the candle in close, it’s deep orange highlighting her reflection in the red of the glass, her white face floating there in front of her, beautiful, serene and beginning to morph.

He smiled, bringing his head down inline with hers and to her side. "You are better, and you deserve all that is available to us, you deserve more than just one side of this eternal argument, and for this you have to believe. You have to know one truth and let there be no doubt, you need to believe that you can have more. That your force, your will, your being can acquire and keep and hold." He turned her again and knelt down, their eyes aligned; he brought both of his hands around her fragile face.

“You can break away. You just have to know, you have to understand and realise that they don't matter, they don't count, they don’t have control over you. Know that when you feel hurt because of them, when you question your intentions and actions and beliefs, you need to pull away, you need to act alone, you need to help yourself.” She felt a small wave of emotion lap at her feet and she bit her lip. “You need to do things to break away from them, to become yourself, to make sure they don’t get to you. You need to ignore and block them out when they treat you badly or when they try to get you to do things you might not want or accept, when they try and force their will on you. Do this and you are going to find you can act freely from them, because you are beginning to accept yourself, you are beginning to accept responsibility.” He stood and turned away from her, a dot, a supple young body starting to melt with passion. "That's what I do," he began again moving over to a bookshelf, his steps rattling the little room. "I continually remind myself that I am the one who must bear the responsibility of my actions. This sometimes brings sadness, but also brings great joy, the likes of which you have never experienced before. There is often a struggle to do something like that though, to be able to do something like that and really believe in it and know that what it represents. You must realise that, not just sometimes, but all of the time, there is more than just them. There is more than what they want for you, there are others outside of them that have the capacity to love you.”

Her breathing sharpened as she stepped forward, toward him and asked, "do you love me?"

He smiled and turned, pulling his suit jacket tight around his canon ball like shoulders and straightening his posture. "You know," he went quiet, his voice long and baritone and smooth. "I create things that remind me, that stand out and make me remember what I truly need to, and you know what they say?"

"No?" She stood still, expectant, eager, hungry, frightened, a few feet away from him, his hulk, complete in front of her.

"They remind me that I am most important of all, and that I must be the one responsible for minding the right way.” His eyes widened, huge white orbs. “You know, the hardest step into anything is the beginning. Know that you might fail, that you might stumble or trip or fall and when you do it'll hurt. It'll hurt like nothing has ever hurt before, but you have to push back and keep on trying. It's trying which counts and the more you try the further you can get from them, and the happier you will be". He looked down and stood back, into a deep shadow cast by a tall bookshelf behind him, his appearance disappearing, leaving just the thick waves of his voice reverberating around the room.

"And…" said the shadow. "We only get one chance at this, those are the rules, so you need to embrace everything you can with all your will and being. There is a world outside of them. There is something called freedom, and it will bring you joy beyond comparison."

She gulped and panted as sensation and fear ran through her. Waiting, stood staring at the darkness there in the little room, the wind and rain now thrashing themselves against the little window, she began to forget about those outside, she hung on his every word.

"Listen closely now," he smiled. "There is capacity in yourself for tremendous good and fortitude and solidarity and all those other big things that are pushed onto you. Know these things, but also know that taking time to understand that you will be loved outside of them is most important of all. Knowing you have choice, understanding you can be free, will bring the love that you require." He came in close again as the waves of emotion and life that ran through and over her swarmed and crashed. Fingers trembling, heart pounding, eyes erupting as the moment surged. Thunder rang out around them and the room shook with electricity as the hairs on the back of her neck stood and she trembled wide eyes.

"I know there's a fire in your belly, there's a vitriol and anger that you can use, and you must use it, in any way you can to break free of them.” He grabbed her hands again. “You must know for certain when you realise that you are a sentient ball of energy vibrating in unison with the universe, that you own your being. That you have the freedom and will to cause the shifts in the universe around you, without them, without their permission, without their warrant, without their help, because anything else is just a waste...they, those who try to control you, are just a waste. You are one, and you are free."

She bolted forward and fell into his chest embracing him with a cry and began to weep as the rain and wind and light stood still, and in that moment she knew, she understood, she didn’t need them. She didn’t need their safety, she didn't need their praise or approval or endorsement any more, there was something else, there was freedom and choice. He had shown her, he had told her, he had found something in her that she never knew existed and had released it and all its energy and power. The room grew dark as they embraced the euphoria and swathe of pleasure and rapture that pounded them.

He slowly pulled away from her, placing a gigantic protective hand over her skull, and said, “today is your first day, you have choice now, but use it carefully, I will be watching.”

Richard Galbraith