Legal Theft Flash Fiction: Coming Home (1090 words)

They tore the bridge down in the middle of the night. Swung their sledgehammers and broke the guardian statues from the stone rails. Faces shattered, heads taken off shoulders, torsos sheared off legs, legs and bases distorted to shards. Then they gathered the rubble, packed it into battered, old carts, and set them into the river upstream. The water crashed the carts through the pillars. The bridge crashed down. Waves and broken stone.

A mile away, the docks burned. Waves and damp, choking charcoal. The walkways fell apart, the pillars stayed, tops like dark, broken teeth. The little boats in their moorings caught fire, broke, sank or drifted free, terrible lanterns reflecting off the canvas of the great ships deeper in the bay. Men and women dragged buckets of water up from the night tide, smothered what they could. The fire didn’t spread, so much as hop from one pier to another, and little shadows scuttled from each new spark.

The southern tangle of the palace burned the same night, and dusted half the city in white ash.

Another fire in the agora blackened the aged paving stones.

Someone released all the horses from the millhouses. Maybe to save them from the fires, and maybe just to see them trample what was left. Some other dozen broke every window on Ailyard Street, and Broadbent Street, and Pharren Road. They tore the doors off their frames and rooted through everything inside. They threw what they didn’t want onto the floors of the shops, onto the sidewalks, and into the narrow roads. They took what looked good to them, and dropped a few things on the way. They cracked tables and shelves, beams and walls in their hurry. Escaping through the alleys, they kicked over the refuse barrels. The wind pulled at what it pleased, and scattered the mess wide.

Elodie crept home under her father’s cloak, arm wrapped around his knee. She picked her feet up high to get through the trash, and tried to rub the sting out of her eyes. They waved to no one, said hello to no one, stopped in shadows. She knew they were breathing too heavy to win at hide and seek, but her father was trying hard.

They moved slow, and they moved quick, and snuck to their back door through yards he had always told her stay out of. Her father knocked at the door, sharp and quiet.

No one answered.

Carefully, Elodie pulled his cloak aside, tucked it under her chin. She peeked at the windows. Low light flickered through them. Dia must have lit the fireplace, but not the lamps. There was a candle upstairs in Ky’s room.

Elodie’s father knocked again, just as quietly.

After another minute of silence, he hit the wood with an open hand and Elodie jumped. He swore, a string of words she had never heard from him before, and they bit and snapped on his tongue.

“It’s Haled,” he said, his own name something sharp between his teeth. “Dremnit, let me in.”

A rustle. Short footsteps, out of time, and too quiet. And then the door eased open.

Elodie looked up at Dia through the narrow gap. Her father’s cloak was still balled in her fist beneath her chin, and she only felt the warmth from inside on her cheeks. Dia’s eyes skated from Elodie up to Haled, and she pulled the door all the way open. Haled scooped Elodie into his arms and stepped inside in the same motion. Dia snapped the door shut again. All in a breath.

And they exhaled.

The wide room was gentled with shadows while the fire crackled, gentled and hidden. Dia’s man was in the big chair, leaned all the way back, eyes down. Aubin had pulled the pillows off the couch, and sat between them on the floor. He played with King’s long ears, while King rested his head on Aubin’s knee and blinked slowly. Ghys had both feet tucked close to her on the couch behind him, and her arm around Mari. Tight.

Dia’s man looked up. Aubin nodded at Haled, and his eyes looked a little too wide. No one said a word.

Elodie leaned her head into her father’s shoulder. She was a little too big for it, and she had to twist to fit herself close to him. “Where’s Momma?” she whispered.

He shifted to hold her a little closer, and brushed a hand over her hair. She turned her face farther into his shoulder.

Ky should have been there, too. She was always downstairs when anyone was in the house, smiling, talking, dragging them all into the same room and happier for the crowd. Now, Elodie heard her upstairs while everyone else sat close together. It was more wrong than the smell of ash on her father’s cloak. She wished Ky would come down, and spark a laugh, like she always did.

“Is everyone all right?” Elodie’s father asked the room. His voice stayed low, eased into the taut silence, so as not to break it.

No one said anything, and Elodie peeked out, caught a few of them nodding. Then her father crossed the room and sat, and held her, and said nothing more.

She fell asleep in the long quiet. Fell asleep, lulled by her father’s steady breath, and the heat of the fire on her back, and the strange weight of the room. She didn’t wake until she heard her mother’s voice, felt her lean against the arm of the chair in a suddenly empty room. Wrong, too. But perhaps she was still dreaming.

“It must be true,” her mother was whispering. The fire was dead, and the room was all cool, grey shadow now. “No one would dare otherwise.”

Elodie blinked at her. Her mother’s blonde hair was coming loose from its braid. Her jacket hung open and her shirt was dirty. “What’s true?” Elodie whispered.

Her mother hesitated, mouth open to answer, or to ask Elodie’s father for the answer, or to breathe.

“Where were you?” Elodie asked her.

“I was helping some people home,” her mother told her. “They were scared, and they needed someone.”

“What’s happened?” Elodie asked.

Her mother looked at her father again. Her father put his hand on Elodie’s hair and held her close.

“The Clan Lady died,” Elodie’s mother said, careful, as if she were stepping on glass and it was hurting her as she put one word after another, put weight down. “Somewhere on the ocean. She’s not coming home.”

My friends are thieves! They stole a line from this piece to write stories of their own. Take a peek over here, and see what happened when they tore other bridges down.

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