Errid Farland

 
Errid Farland lives in Southern California and writes at a cluttered table where a candle burns to create an aura of serenity.  Sometimes she accidentally catches things on fire which turns the aura into angry yellows and reds and sort of wrecks the whole serenity thing.  Her stories have appeared in Barrelhouse, Thieves Jargon, Word Riot, storySouth, Pindledyboz, GUD, and other places.  She owns www.ShowMeYourLits.com, a website which sponsors a weekly flash contest.
 
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The Actress (August 20, 2009. Issue 8.)

Make-believe is creepy.  I’ve always thought that, even before. 

We left out on the railroad tracks that afternoon.  She packed up a suitcase, put on a long skirt and a top, put a dress on me and said, “Come on.  Let’s go.” 

I said, “Where we going?”

She said, “Hush.”

I asked her why she put on a hot dress, and she said wearing big clothes takes up less room in the suitcase, and I said what did she need big clothes for it being summer and so hot?  She said, “Delia, we ain’t coming back.”  Just like that.

I’d been walking along the rails, practicing my balance, and doing my ballerina stretches, and my hair was in my face and told her I wished I’d put ribbons in my hair before we left, but when she said we weren’t coming back, well, I just stopped all that and stood still.

It was coming a cloud toward the west, and lighting flew in sheets up ahead, and sweat beaded down her face.  She looked back; not at what she was leaving, but for a train.

“I want to stay,” I told her, but I knew I couldn’t.

She said, “Hush.”

Outside the silos in Henderson, we squatted in some bushes.  She said if I needed to pee I ought to go ahead and do it while we were in the bushes. 

It wasn’t till we got on the train that I started crying.  She said I’d gotten my dress dirty, and I said I couldn’t get up there in the car without getting it dirty, and she said she shouldn’t have put me in white. 

I went to sleep and don’t know how long it was before she woke me up and told me hurry get down.  It was dark then.  Heat lightning burnt off on to the north, and I asked where we were and she said, “Shhhhh.”

She liked to pretend, make up stories, and play act, so I guess it was natural that she’d find a theater all closed to sneak into for the night.  We were in a town, and the sign said Playtime Theater.  It was dark, the only light coming from a streetlamp through high dirty windows that were covered in black curtains, but open a crack at the bottom—just enough so you could see all the dust we’d stirred up.  I coughed, and she looked around and said, “Wait.  Hush.” 

I listened hard and heard scurries of rats or mice or something and then a shush of something, you know how there’s a shush sometimes when it’s so quiet you can hear when fabric rustles?  It was like that, like fabric rustling, only quieter and different.  A shush.

I said, “Did you hear that?”  My heart was beating fast and I was scared.

She said, “Shhh.  Be quiet.”

I crouched low and listened, and then I didn’t hear anything but the mice, and she eased up on the listening, and then she said, “It’s just us.”  Then she got up on the stage, up in the dark, and I sat on one of the filthy fold down chairs.  She practiced bowing and curtsying, and said, “Thank you,” in a voice just like someone trying to be humble who’s not.  Then she extended her arm, as if to throw attention to some make-believe, but lesser, someone beside and behind her, and that’s when I saw him come out.  She didn’t see because she was busy with her pretend and he was behind her and it was dark.

He had on red and white shiny striped pants that were grimy.  From the waist up, he wore a gigantic plastic carton of French fries.  The carton had a face carved into it, and fries jutted out the top.  It was a creepy, open mouthed smile, with creepy giant eyes, one more open than the other.  I couldn’t see any arms, and I wanted to yell for her to watch out, but before I did, he reached arms right out of the open mouthed smile, and pushed her down onto the floor and said, “Bravo.  Encore.”

She started to scream, but he put his hand over her mouth and said, “Shhhh.  Just relax.”

He laid on top of her, and started rubbing on her, and then he reached down and opened his pants, and then he seemed to all of a sudden remember me.  He turned that hideous maw toward me and said, “Turn around.”

I did.

I didn’t know why she didn’t scream.  Later I knew it was a knife on her throat, but then I didn’t know. 

I heard him say, “I want the best performance of your life.”

I turned enough to see him on top of her and distracted, so, as quiet as I could, I crept down the side aisle, back to the window where we’d gotten in. 

He yelled at me, “Don’t you run.  Don’t you dare run, or your mama’s going to get cut.”

I ran. 

She got cut.  Bad.  When they found her, her throat was cut open and she was cut all down there, on her thighs and that whole part, and blood was everywhere and she was dead and he was gone. 

When I got back home, I never told about that part of him telling me not to run.  I never told anybody, not a soul. 

Sometimes I play make-believe.  I go out to the railroad track, and I say, “No!  We’re staying.”  Sometimes I stomp my foot. 

Sometimes I put out a chair in the backyard, and I sit in it and I say, “Don’t worry.  I won’t run no matter what.”  I hold onto it so hard my knuckles turn white.

Sometimes, on a hot humid night, when lightning prickles my arm hairs and neck hairs, but never strikes, I say, “It’s not a fit night to be out.  Let’s just go in.”  I pretend take her by the hand, and like she was the little girl and I was the mother, she follows me in.  I get in bed, and she kisses me goodnight, and I tell her, “You’ll get a standing ovation for sure, just you watch and see.”