This week there is no installment for the Adventures of Elizabeth Shelley, but rather an individual short story written over a prompt for a class. I plan to post more individual stories such as this one, along with the continued series of the Adventures of Elizabeth Shelley, which will hopefully return next week. So please enjoy a short story based on a chair seen in the middle of a cornfield.
With love and good vibes,
It comes back in vivid flashes; the smell of the corn, the crackling of leaves and kernels on the ground, the feeling of weaving through the unknown. Seventy years have passed, but it seems like no time at all to me. So many years gone, yet the cornfield welcomes me back like an old friend. We used to see fairies, there in the corn. Two little girls with the wildest imaginations, Lilly and I saw fairies and castles and princesses and elves. We never saw the monsters.
It all started when Lilly and her parents moved to town when she was four. Her father was the new preacher, big news for our tiny town, and they moved into the house next to ours. Momma made the family dress up, and we had dinner with the new neighbors in our Sunday best. Lilly and I couldn’t have looked more different that day we met: her red, curly hair loose everywhere; my blonde hair in tight, orderly braids; her simple, dirty dress; my fancy, uncomfortable one. Once dinner was over, however, the two of us were left to our own devices, and when we cautiously entered the cornfield behind our houses the first time, our differences slipped away. After that, we were inseparable.
I weave my way through the corn now, picking out memories in my mind. Over there, Lilly and I found what our six-year-old minds thought was the largest rock ever. We claimed it for our kingdom, the largest boulder in the land with mysterious, magical properties granted to anyone who touched it. Way down there, when we were eight, we tried to jump the wooden fence, and I fell face-first into the dirt. Lilly patched me up herself, right then and there. She was prepared for everything, and when we were ten, she began to carry her own little self-made emergency kit. I remember she lost that old kit when we were sixteen, and, boy, she was mad as all heck. Turns out my new boyfriend Jack had taken it to football practice with him, and I made them make up later after he won our school the big game.
I can see her, weaving through the stalks, begging me to go faster, but my old bones can’t keep up anymore. I arrive finally at where the old shack used to be. It was always the castle in our stories, a big grand thing that housed all of our dreams. It had throne rooms and towers and tenements and moats and bridges and stables and everything a proper fairytale castle should. In reality, it was an old wooden shack, coated with dirt, slanted slightly to the right.
Inside housed one room, filled with quaint wooden furniture left behind by some family years back. There was a table with two accompanying chairs in the middle and off in the right corner a small kitchen with a few cupboards and counters and a stove and a fireplace. Those chairs were where we spent most of our time; Lilly and I each claimed one as a throne. By the door was where we used to sit on our thrones and look at our kingdom, our little patchwork dresses dirty all over, our tiny hands holding tight. Then, when we were older, we would sit and talk for hours about anything and everything at the very same spot.
Once we turned sixteen, the conversations we had there grew more and more about Jack. I had the worst crush on him; he was the star of the town, captain of the football team, leader of the debate club, a member of the richest family in town. Lilly let me go on and on for hours about him, always watching intently, never tiring of listening to me speak. When Jack asked me to the homecoming dance, Lilly danced and shrieked with me, reveling in my joy almost more than I was. She, however, could have gotten any boy in school, but she acted so hopelessly oblivious of it that they were all too scared to ask her. At the school dances, she always danced alone, but in such an enthralling and free-spirited way, dress swirling, red hair swaying and bouncing, that no one ever thought she could have been unhappy.
When we were seventeen, I was still dating Jack, and everyone in town was counting on our relationship. People talked about how we were the most perfect couple in school, and before long we’d be all settled into the empty lot on Baker Street together, with a youngun’ or two on the way.
Lilly, however, was supposed to be the most promising young female student in our class, talked about by the town in a much different respect. People said she got all these wild ideas about working for a university or the government or a big science corporation, but they all assured each other that she’d come to her senses and find a nice man to settle down with eventually. Lilly only ever told me, one hot day in our castle, that she had applied for an Ivy League college, and she was waiting to hear back for acceptance, which we were convinced she would get.
I can’t stand for very long anymore, so I lower myself onto the chair, her throne, the only thing left. The flashes come back stronger, but these ones are different. I can see the shack around me once more. I gaze in where the old fireplace used to be, remembering the day everything changed, when Lilly first worked up the courage to kiss me. It was a shock of course, at first, but then it felt like there had never been anything more right in my entire life.
I watch it fold out again; a stream of memories kept hidden unleash. By the fireplace, where we shared our first kiss and many more. The countertop I spent hours perched on, staring into her eyes. The dusty floor we danced on, twirling around the shack, red and blonde hair swirling together. The expectations of our town and our parents drifted away. The secret castle of our childhood became our sanctuary in adolescence; friendship became the rawest love I have ever felt. Those months were the best of my life, when we saw a different kind of magic together, hidden in that shack.
Then, I see Jack when he came storming up the path. I was still going steady with him at the time, the pressures from our small town and the high expectations of our parents made time stay still outside of the shack. Inside our castle was when time flowed again, when I really lived, but on the outside both Lilly and I were in too deep.
And after all of these years, I still don’t know how Jack found out. I can see the door he flung off its hinges, the rage in his eyes, the disgust in his face. The lighter in his hand. The old stove up in flames. He dragged me out the door, called me unholy and stormed away. The shack was up in flames in a second. Time had stopped again, outside of the shack, forever, and I couldn’t move. I couldn’t save her. I was the only one to hear her scream.
I push myself off of the chair slowly. No one ever found out, and I would have burned with her if they did. Jack was the young, shining star of the town; if I told the truth about him, he would only have to tell the truth about me, and the town would condemn me before even looking at him. People called it a poor tragedy, a terrible accident, a horrific loss for the town. Everyone attended the ceremony, but I only remember her father, when he looked up at me with a horrible fire behind his eyes that told me he knew. But he looked away, determined to remember his daughter the way he believed her to be.
I think the town lamented even more when Jack and I broke up, as we never said a word to each other after the fire. Before she had even finished screaming, Jack had told his version of the story to the town, how there had accidentally been a fire, he only had time to save me, he was rushing to get help. As much as he hated me and despised me for what I had done and who I was, he still loved me, some part of him, and he couldn’t put that aside, even when he attacked. But Lilly deserved no such mercy in his eyes. He was challenging me, every time I looked at him afterward, begging me to say something, to let the town give me what I deserved, what he couldn’t bring himself to go through with. Jack was urging me to turn him in and consequently to dig my own grave. To go down in flames, just as Lilly had. I never gave him that satisfaction.
I place the lily ever so softly on the chair, the only thing left of her, like I do every year on this day. But today I linger a little longer, weep a little more, cherish the good memories for a little more time. Seventy years later, I lament more than usual on what we could have had. Because time kept moving for the rest of the world, today, in the year 2015, Lilly and I could have gotten married.
Finally I stand, ever so slowly, and I enter the corn once more, heading back home. I catch a glimpse of red hair here, an echoing laugh there, crumpling leaves over there. I still see Lilly, after all these years, chasing through the corn, ever laughing, never screaming.
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