Short Stories and Poems

A collection of my short stories and poems from various genres C: Enjoy! And thank you for reading x

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3. Alibi

Each muscle aches as the bitter cold wraps around her frail figure. She tries to shuffle further under the archway as the drizzling rain dampens her only pair of clothing. The bricks grate against the thin material of her shirt, threating to cut through if pushed on any harder.

The sun had left her behind yet another day, leaving only the outline of trees around the edge of the park. A dark, taunting tangle of limbs. Matted hair tickles her legs as she rests her head upon tucked up knees. Night eighteen of being alone. This has to be the end of the road for Natalie. There is nowhere to go and nothing to prove of her innocence. There is no one to trust anymore. The question is, was there ever?

An exasperated scream leaves her lips and echoes into the night as she slams her fists against the bricks of the path repeatedly. There is a whimper of pain as she holds them to her chest. Pain is the only real thing left. It's physical. Uncomplicated. Honest.

"Excuse me?"

Natalie's eyes fly open and land on a stranger coming closer. She tries to cower away, the edge of the brick arch soon mocking that there is nowhere to retreat. An elder woman's hand reaches out and rests on her forearm, barely touching the skin.

"No!" Natalie says, wreathing from their cool fingers.

The imagined scenarios that have been on repeat since what happened have become a reality. After lasting eighteen nights, they have found her. Which is longer than originally thought after they abandoned her. Being truly alone in the world is the best way to bring out a person's inner strength.

He's probably sitting by the edge of a mansion's pool, soaking up the sunlight halfway across the globe. Happy with himself as he lives the luxurious life free from constant fear as Natalie spends every second she has left in angst and agony. A family was meant to mean more than this.

"Easy now," says the woman, taking a step back. "We're not going to hurt you." The outline of her hand merges with a broader figure; a man's.

"Do you need a ride home, sweetheart?" says the woman, a sense of age laced in her voice.

Natalie shakes her head violently, tucking herself up further as she sees the image of her parents welcoming her with the police.

"Okay, that's fine," the woman says. As she looks down at Natalie in sorrow, she can see the outline of what could be mistaken as a skeleton. "What about something to eat then?"

Natalie lifts her head slightly to look up at the silhouette. Her stomach growls almost painfully at the thought of eating something; anything. Instead, she shakes her head once again and tucks it back into her knees. There is no more room left in her to trust them. To trust anyone.

"You look like you haven't eaten a proper meal in a long time, dear. Are you sure you don't want something?"

"I'm sure," she whispers into her legs.

If only Natalie could see how gentle the strangers were, how comforting their silver hair and wrinkled features are.

"We can't leave you here like this," says the woman's husband, taking a step closer and leaning down in front of her, keeping at least a meter between them.

"Why?" Natalie asks, peering up at them.

"Because you need a warm meal in your belly and a comfortable bed to sleep in," he says with a smile. "Even if it's just for the night and we can sort something out tomorrow."

"We want to make sure you're okay," says the woman, the full moon giving her eyes a florescent glint.

"Why were you out here?" asks Natalie, her paranoia kicking in.

"My wife and I were walking back from dinner. The park was the perfect way to go, even if it's quite dark. And then we heard a scream."

Is that the truth? Are they actually genuinely concerned? Even if they are, all Natalie can think is how not being caught by now has been pure luck. That getting this far across the state still isn't enough. Don't get caught; that's the main rule of survival.

Blood is supposed to mean more than this. First, it blames her for the crime she hadn't committed. Then her parents don't want to hear the pleas to believe her. Within a blink of an unforgiving eye, she was cast out to be forever alone and in alarm. At least they gave her a head start before calling the police.

Now Natalie has become a gazelle by the watering hole. There is a lion behind her and a crocodile in front. Either way, the beautiful creature is going to be consumed by the predator species. After spending so long running, she decided to rest. Now she's going to pay for it in a way he should have been all along.

"Who are you then?" Natalie asks.

The woman gives Natalie a smile that doesn't quite reach her eyes. Natalie isn't the only one who knows what pain feels like. "Just a couple of old-timers trying to help."

Natalie stays quiet as her eyes flick between the two.

"Do you want something to eat?" she asks her again.

Feeling compelled to, Natalie finally nods and accepts the offer. She doesn't really know why, but by this point, there is nothing left to lose in her eyes.

The husband stands and reaches a hand out to Natalie. Reluctantly, she grasps it and allows him to pull her up, regretting it as pain shooting through her hands.

As the three walk towards the couple's car, silence surrounds the park apart from the tapping of the woman's heels against the path. Natalie looks down at her own, bare feet as she keeps three steps behind them if in need of a quick escape. The car they stop in front of is small and grey. In what little light left, Natalie can see the shine of the exterior against her rugged appearance in the reflection of the window.

Hollow eyes and a sunken, grimy face stare back. She gently clutches a portion of tangled hair with a damaged hand and tries to remember how soft it used to feel. How beautiful her complexion once was. And how regretful she is for not being grateful for everything she had as a child; a bed, four walls...warmth. Her shoulders shake painfully as the rain picks up paints her bare skin in what is as cold as ice.

"Here," the wife says, draping a coat over her shoulders.

In instinct, Natalie recoils from her touch. Then she relaxes as the temperature changes and soothes her aching muscles. She closes her eyes and takes a deep breath, unable to recall the last time something so warm was against her skin.

"Thank you," she whispers, tugging the coat tighter around her body.

The woman opens the door, morphing Natalie's face further than it already has. She gestures inside the car with a smile. Natalie looks in to find the husband sitting in the driver's seat, posture relaxed and open. This is either the best or the worst decision she could possibly make in this situation. With a deep breath, she gets in, allowing the elder woman to close the door.

For what the car's clock said was only three minutes, felt like three hours. The house they pulled up in front of represents something like a little cottage. There are flowerpots filled with colour lining the bottom of windowsills. Garden beds that could be a painter's pallet are neatly placed on either side of the wooden door. Never in Natalie's life has she seen a home so beautiful. It seems unlikely that a couple with such a home would be expertly trained to hunt down runaways.

The couple step through the door, followed by Natalie after hesitance. They're welcomed with the calming scent of vanilla. Natalie feels instantly safer to be surrounded by walls. This is the first home she has stepped foot in since her parents pushed her away.

"You could have a shower if you like," the wife insists, motioning to the right side of the house.

When she looks to the husband, he nods. "It's okay, you're safe here."

"O-okay," she mumbles. "Thank you."

"It's the least we can do for you," he says. "I'll go get your room ready." Then he disappears deep into the house.

"Oh, how rude of us. I'm Isabelle Darrion," says the woman, gesturing to herself. "And that was my husband, Henry."

"I'm Natalie."

"It's lovely to meet you, Natalie," Isabelle says and extends her hand.

She reaches her hand out but it never meets Isabelle's as she gasps.

"Your hands. What on earth happened?"

Natalie looks down at them, turning them over and observing the damage, surprising herself to feel regretful. "Sorry," she mumbles and holds them close to her chest again.

"Hold on one second," Isabelle says and hurries off down the hall.

Natalie is left standing there, alarm bells going off in her head as a picture of the woman charging back in here with a gun flashes through her mind. The bells are diffused as Isabelle returns with only a pair of clothes and a first aid kit placed on top.

"Come with me," she says.

With caution, she follows her as she leads them into a dining room. Pulling out a chair from underneath a large, wooden table, she motions for Natalie to sit. She does so, on the edge, legs shaking.

"These were our daughter's," she says as she places the clothes on the table, her hand lingering on the top. Her smile seems to want to look genuinely okay with that, but her eyes tell otherwise. "You're welcome to wear them if you like."

"Thank you. I appreciate it," she says softly.

Isabelle smiles at her and then begins to rummage through the first-aid kit. Natalie doesn't ask what happened to her daughter, feeling the tension of the subject. Instead, she just sits in silence as the kind woman cleans her wounds with an antiseptic that stings the cuts, even though the shower will just wash it away. It's the thought that counts. It has to be the first kind thought anyone has done for her since what happened.

Sitting on the floor of the shower, Natalie allows the warm spray of water wash over everything she has experienced in the past month. The image of her brother taking the police officer's life. The way he shoved the gun into her hands and fled without looking back at his little sister. How he hid with the bag full of money as he watched her be dragged away, kicking and screaming out for him. That he never searched for her when she broke free and ran home, only to be kicked out from there too.

When she looks into the steamed mirror, the person staring back is still not her. Whoever is staring back is starved and afraid. Not even her usual crystal blue eyes have a glint to them anymore. All her strength has been torn away, piece by piece.

Feeling uncomfortable as she wears their daughter's clothes, Natalie walks into the dining room, led there by the smell of cooking. Her stomach growls again in anticipation. The fabric against her skin is warm and soft, like a cat smooching her leg.

"There you are," Isabelle says and steps away from the stove to pull out the same chair from under the table as before.

She sits down across the table from Henry, who is reading a newspaper. The rustling sound it makes as he places it down reminds her of how she would scavenge for paper in the bins. It was the best fire starter she could find. He greets her and pushes over a tall glass of water. Natalie takes the frosted glass in her hands and gulps down the cool liquid, barely taking a breath. Small traces of blood are left behind on the glass. All the simple things in life that are taken advantage of become the most precious when deprived.

Isabelle pulls out a chair from beside Natalie and sits down, facing her with a seemingly genuine smile that wrinkles the skin around her eyes. Natalie watches her closely, the spark of fear rearing its head again. Then Isabelle takes her hands in her own and begins to clean them again. Carefully, she wraps them both in bandages, still allowing movement in her hands.

Natalie thanks her for what seems the hundredth time, but she doesn't seem to mind. In a way, it comforts her to be needed in such a motherly way again. To feel like the hole created by loss was temporarily filled.

When a big bowl of steaming meat and vegetables in a brew is sat on her placemat, she could have cried. Her mouth instantly waters and she looks up at Isabelle as if she's an angel watching over her shoulder. For the first time in a long time, there is an actual meal in front of her. Each bite was as special and savoury as the next. Each one brought more peace to Natalie and took away the hunger and emptiness that has been swallowing her whole.

After helping Isabelle and Henry clean up, to the best of her ability, they both look at her after whispering to one another from across the room.

"Henry and I have something to tell you," says Isabelle, holding onto her husband's hand tightly.

"What is it?"

"We want you to know you're welcome to stay for as long as you like."

"As in the night?" she asks hesitantly.

"As in as many nights as you like," Henry says, his smile growing wider and eyes beginning to tear as he grips onto his wife's hand tighter.

Natalie has become speechless. Her fears are shifting, morphing into a new form. The fear that this is all a dream. That soon she will wake up and be underneath the arch of the park. Or worse; in a cell where she doesn't belong.

"I think I'd like that," Natalie finally says, finding herself beginning to choke up. The couple come over to her and wrap her up in their arms, tears slipping from the corner of their eyes as they find comfort together. Each are pieces of a different puzzle that has been burnt and cut up; but together they form a new one. A stronger one. If she dares to dream, they could even help her prove her innocence. The true culprit could finally be punished and the officer's family could know the truth. She could trust again.

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