Rest Stop

Harper stalked away from the gas station leaving the others to fill the tanks. She just need a moment of calm quiet away from Josh and Erin’s constant nagging. It was obvious they didn’t want her along, and only took her because Aunt Bea insisted. Sometimes she hated that the old woman meddled so much on her behalf, it just made everyone else not want her around. She took the faded red ball cap off her head and let her hair down to feel the warm summer breeze blow through it as she crossed the empty highway. When she reached the median she sat down, placed her pistol beside her, and ran her hand along the carpet of fresh wild flowers. She reached into her bag and retrieved a  sandwich.  Peanut butter, again. She was so tired of peanut butter. She took a bite and chewed it thoughtfully as sat among the flowers, enjoying the cleanness of their scent carried with it.

The air at home was full of the choking smoke of the foundry and the fuel exhaust of the generators. Out here the sky was clear and blue, for once she didn’t feel like she was constantly suppressing a cough.The world out here seemed so beautiful and vibrant. So much more colorful and alive than behind the built up wall of grey cinder blocks and rusted iron scrap that she lived behind. Out here the only thing blocking her view of the world was the tall green of the trees.

There, at the tree line on the other side of the highway,  a deer stood staring at her. It was an enormous buck, antlers crowning it majestically. Sitting on its back was a woman, elegant and tall. She wore a sheer gown, its color just a slight shade away from the sky’s hue. Her legs both draped over the beasts right side as they casually approached Harper.

When she was small she had been raised on all the old fairy tales and as she got older she came to grips with the difference between make believe, and the ugliness and boredom of the real world. Then it all changed, everything. Oberon and his people had returned, and the new reality of things took hold day by day as she grew up in the hot noise and dust of The Circle. Now here was one of them. Beautiful and perfect, and in the flesh. This is as close as she had ever been to one, before this there had only been brief glimpses of them from the top of the wall. It was singing.

The woman sang as she approached. A faint, soft song in a voice that seemed to be part of the wind, and harmonized with the bees as they buzzed among the flowers around where Harper sat. Those beautiful sweet flowers, that used to droop and turn grey here on this strip of lawn as cars belched their filth into the world as they sped their owners up and down the flat dark roadway. Harper felt her hand brush against the pistol beside her. Ugly thing, she thought as she pushed it away, cold and ugly metal thing. Just more crude death that we carry with us, more ways to destroy. More ways to be ugly. Not like them. They are life. They are beauty. They brought back the flowers, and the birds. They didn’t just return to the world, they returned with the world.

The woman rode closer, still singing. Harper could hear it so clearly now, that beautiful song in an unknown language. She heard herself singing along, as if she had known the song all her life. The woman in blue held out her hand invitingly. Harper stood and took the offered hand, and looked up into the enchanting face, its eyes staring at her with pity and forgiveness. Harper could still hear that song of love and sweetness, even though the woman’s lips were not moving. Those pale and pink smiling lips. The other hand came into view holding a long knife. Harper was still singing along with the woman’s thoughts. She tilted her head up waiting for the cool blade against the flesh, waiting for a final and warming stroke of the razor sharpness across her throat.

Then the song ended.

It ended in a sharp crack, like thunder and a fast whisper, like silk. The beautiful whiteness of the woman’s face became marred with a streak of red velvet leaking from her temple. The clean air now smelled of burnt flesh from where the iron slug had pierced it. First the knife fell, and then the woman slid sideways off her mount. The beast shook its head and then bolted back towards the woods as another shot rang out.

Erin came running up, panting, smoke still curling from the barrel of the hunting rifle. She caught her breath for a moment.

“Fuckin’ elves!” She spat, “Be more careful and don’t wander off next time damn it. Bea ‘d have my ass if I let anything happen to you. C’mon now, Josh’s loaded up all the gas we can carry, let’s head back home.

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