My last assignment for my university course was a short story consisting of up to 2,000 words. I struggled for ideas for a while and came up with many that I could have done but then became unsure of how to develop it past 500 words or how to keep it beneath the word limit. I had a tough time but in the end, I did what I do best – which is to just write and see what comes out on the other side. I had several ideas in my head – stars exploding, a reverse Beauty and the Beast, and in the end I think all of them in a way sort of mashed together to create my final copy.
This is my latest short story, titled: Home.
“Look, Papa, look at the sky.” Harriet said as she raced up the hill and pointed to the sky with excitement. Behind her, her father, old and slow, limped. Above, the sky was just beginning to turn to twilight and small, glittering balls of light began to dot the darkening sky. “It’s Orion. Do you see it? Do you see it?” The small girl was jumping up and down with excitement while her chin was tipped back to peer at the large expanse of sky with wonder.
Harriet’s father finally caught up and she glanced up at him, eager to lap up any praise. He reached down and placed a hand on her shoulder. “Yep. There’s the belt right there.” He traced the line of Orion’s Belt from where he stood on the ground. “And his sword.”
She twirled around in a circle with her arms spread out to mimic a bird’s, the skirt of her dress billowed out around her to act as a parachute and keep her on the ground. If she could make a single wish, and if her wish on the first star she saw that night came true, she would wish very hard to be able to fly, just so she could maybe be able to touch the stars with her small, bare hands. “I wish Orion could be my hero” She told her father and giggled as she fell against him and he was encouraged to hold her up. “And not a hero for those Pleiades who continuously run away from him.”
“That’s because he’s not a hero, Harriet. They fear him.”
“But what if he has just been misunderstood for years? What if his story has just been slowly changed and he has ended up as a bad person? What if he is actually good?”
Her father laughed at her silliness. “I suppose it’s possible, Harriet. You can believe anything you want to. You could also believe that you don’t need a hero. Not a brave girl like you, huh?”
The brave girl looked up at her father and grinned. “Am I as brave as a lion?”
“As brave as a warrior?”
Harriet’s grin widened. They stood together in silence for a while, the father’s arms wrapped around his only daughter’s waist. “Okay.” Is all she said after a while, then took her own weight back and skipped down the hill and into the warmth of the house. The light which flooded from the doorway engulfed her whole. Her father stood back and watched her go silently.
A year later, Harriet’s father died in his sleep. It was unknown what caused his death but one night, his heart just stopped. Harriet went to her father’s funeral and every person which also went, walked past her and squeezed her shoulder with sympathy. After the funeral, she ran home and up the hill, and sat beneath the stars to cry and cry. The sky was a black sea of nothingness and she sat beneath that sea until the sun broke the darkness and the stars were forced to retreat back to their trenches.
By the time the sun was half way risen, Harriet was ready to return back to the house and slip beneath the warm covers of her bed. But she couldn’t. In the driveway, an unrecognisable car was parked, and by the front door, stood a woman with a severe haircut.
“Hello.” The woman said and shaped her red painted lips into a stiff smile. “Harriet, is it?” The woman extended a hand.
Harriet shrunk away from the woman’s touch. The woman was scary. “Who are you?”
The woman didn’t answer straight away. “I am very sorry for your loss. It must be very hard for you.”
“Yes,” Harriet’s voice wavered with the attempt to hold back tearful sobs. “I miss my father very much.”
“I’m sure you do.” The woman stared at the young girl for a moment, lips pursed as her eyes roamed hungrily over her. Harriet was still dressed in her funeral dress, and her hair, which had been braided back by her aunt, was still neat. “But now you have to come along with me. Go pack your things and I’ll meet you back here shortly.”
Young Harriet raced through the door and gathered her teddy bear, her favourite party dress, and her ribbons; her shoes, her tooth brush, and last but not least, her father’s watch. She almost did everything that she was told to do. Normally Harriet was a very good girl, but today she couldn’t be. She didn’t want to be taken away from the beloved home she had grown up in, where all the memories of her father hung like a ghost trapped within the walls.
“Harriet, dear?” She heard the woman’s voice from the front of the house. “Just about ready?”
“Just about.” She lied and instead of heading towards the front door like she was supposed to do, she sprinted for the back window, suitcase in hand, and hefted herself out, falling awkwardly to the ground outside.
“Harriet?” The woman asked again but this time received no reply. This made the woman very suspicious. From outside the house, Harriet heard the front door squeal on its hinges as it was pushed open further and the heavy fall of the woman’s high heel shoes as she wandered into the house. “Harriet, where are you? Now is really not the time for a game of hide and seek. We really must be going. There are things to do, people to see, you know?” Her footsteps continued further into the house. Then they froze. The woman swore and the girl was forced to cover her ears. Her father always told her to never listen to grown-ups when they cursed. He said it would make her ears bleed.
Harriet ran. In her hand, the suitcase was heavy, full to the brim with her most precious valuables, and as she ran, it lumped on loudly after her. Moments later, Harriet heard a scuffle behind her and then the woman was chasing her, screaming for her to stop, and still cursing. When Harriet glanced back over her shoulder, she instantly regretted it and wished upon the first and brightest star she would see that night that she hadn’t. The woman’s face was contorted into something which belonged on a wild tigress that was chasing after her next meal. Her hair which was curly, red and short was flying in all directions and her eyes which were narrowed in on Harriet were as sharp as a hawk’s.
Harriet began to cry. She cried for her father and questioned why he had left her alone to defend for herself, she cried for herself and how she was about to be taken away from the only place she knew to call home, and she cried for the woman who seemed to think her entire life depended on her catching poor and innocent children and taking them to live somewhere else. Her tears were streaming down her face and while she ran, her chest not only heaved from the strained exhaustion one feels when they are running, but her chest also heaved with great big sobs.
Harriet ran and ran and ran until her legs began to ache from exhaustion. When she thought she had run far enough, she dropped down on top of her suitcase and buried her face in her hands. When she glanced around herself, she could no longer see a scary woman chasing after her… She also could not see the house.
This was all a dream… wasn’t it? Just a horribly bad dream, a nightmare… Daddy always told her to pinch herself if she was having a bad dream. He had always said that was the way to wake one’s self. So that was what Harriet did and with a small yelp of pain, she squeezed her eyes shut and pinched herself. Then she counted to three and hoped that when she opened her eyes once more, she would be back in her house, curled up in front of a raging fire while her father read her favourite storybook to her.
But that was not the case for Harriet when she opened her eyes and took in her surroundings. Harriet discovered things were much worse than before. Now the woman was back and staring at her with an angry and hungry expression. The tigress was in an easy position, watching her prey with eyes that practically screamed her hunger. She was ready to pounce, ready to take her food down, and ready to rip the heart out.
As the woman lunged, Harriet screamed and threw her arms up over her head. For a while, Harriet put up a fight—she kicked her legs around and tossed her arms and her head. The woman clutched the girl’s forearm and held on until the struggle began to ease.
After running for such an extended period of time, Harriet was very tired. After just moments of fighting, Harriet gave in, too tired to fight anymore. The woman pulled the girl to her feet, reached down and collected Harriet’s suitcase and started back towards the house and the car.
Without Harriet and her father in the house, it looked rather old and lonely. As Harriet wandered back to her old home, she couldn’t help but notice all of the old signs of wear which affected the house’s beauty. But then she thought the signs of wear made the house look like home to her, because it showed her the amount of love which had been felt inside those orange coated walls. This made Harriet very happy, but also sad at the same time, knowing that she could no longer contribute to that love or the memories.
Harriet followed the woman to her car and sat in the backseat quietly, while the woman occupied the driver’s seat and cranked up the radio until Girls Just Wanna Have Fun by Cyndi Lauper was blasting through the speakers. With the old radio playing in the background, they drove for what felt like hours to little Harriet, stopping only once for petrol.
The house they pulled into was nothing like Harriet’s old home. The plain, old, red bricks lacked personality and love. Looking at the house, Harriet suddenly didn’t want to get out of the car. She would have much preferred to remain in the safety of the seatbelt. But she had no choice. The woman came around to her side and opened the door, waiting for Harriet to step out with her suitcase in hand.
Silently, they walked up to the front door, the woman knocked on the hard wood, and they waited for somebody to answer. A man came to the door and instantly his eyes were on little Harriet.
“Do we have ourselves another one?” The man said.
“Yes,” said the woman and propelled the girl inside. Harriet was marched past the man and through the house. They entered a room with beige lounge chairs and a group of children sat playing on the carpet. There were about ten of them and as soon as they saw Harriet arrive, they all swarmed around her like she was the honey to their bees.
“Do you have a daddy?” A little boy, who was about her age asked after he had tugged on her sleeve.
“Neither do I. What about a mummy?” Harriet shook her head and the little boy nodded in understanding. “Neither do I. Neither do any of us. That’s why we’re here, you see? But that’s okay. We don’t need a mummy or a daddy when we have each other. You’ll see. We’ll become great friends in no time.”
Over the time that Harriet spent in her new home, several of her friends, including the little boy who had first talked to her, disappeared to places she did not know and never returned. When she asked the woman and the man where they had gone, they told her they had found a new mummy and daddy and soon she would too.
One day when Harriet was reading a book with another orphan, a couple came knocking on the door and asked if they could take a child home. The couple’s eyes scanned the many children who sat before a roaring fire, playing with model trains and paints. Their eyes landed on a small girl who sat in the corner with a worn book in her hands. They began whispering to each other, both of them nodding in agreement.
The couple wandered over to the woman who had brought Harriet to this house and after a small conversation, the woman beckoned Harriet over to them. Harriet placed the book down on the ground and walked up to the strangers. They smiled at her.