BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

JANE0904

Up in the Wraiths
Monday, October 31, 2011

One of my occasional forays into Young!Mal territory - a Hallowe'en inspired story. No significant OCs so everyone can read and enjoy.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1776    RATING: 10    SERIES: FIREFLY

Mal stood on the ledge, high above the plains of Shadow, and watched birds wheeling below him on the thermals created by the Wraith Mountains. Towards the horizon he thought for a moment he could see the smoke rising from his home, but he knew that was highly unlikely, not at this distance.

Still, his mother always did say his reach exceeded his sight, like when he spent long evenings in the field behind the house, staring up at the stars. His Ma would join him, smiling as she accused him of trying to see to the edge of the ‘verse, but sometimes he saw sadness in her eyes, and he knew she was thinking about the future.

“Don’t worry, Ma,” he assured her the last time. “Not plannin’ on going anywhere.”

“You’re fifteen, Malcolm. You don’t know what’s gonna happen, no more’n I do. And there are things ...”

He took her hand, feeling the calluses on her palm, her fingers, testimony to the hard work she put in to making the ranch run, keeping the men employed, the cattle in the right place at the right time, and grinned, all his youth in his blue eyes. “Can’t get rid of me that easy.”

“Mal ...”

She’d be baking, right now, he knew. Kneading the bread, leaving it to rise, then sliding it into the oven ... and filling the house with the smell that made his mouth water. He smiled, half of him wishing he were at home right now.

Still, the rest of him was glad the school was closed for a week, ostensibly to allow the kids to help with the last of the harvest, but in reality most of the corn had been gathered in, and while there were still apples to be picked and potatoes dug, virtually all the children were taking advantage of the last good days before the winter closed in.

Ms Gingrich, the teacher, had been telling them about the seasons, how this part of Shadow had been settled because it had the same yearly cycle as the northern hemisphere of Earth-that-was. “Christmas in the winter, Easter in spring, and All Hallow’s Eve at the autumn change ... it’s why settlers came here. Maybe their parents and their parents’ parents didn’t remember it, ‘cept as stories, but it seemed to be important.”

Maddy, fluffing her hair a little and glancing at Mal, had spoken up at that point. “It’s like the folks down on the southern continent.” She shook her head. “Christmas when it’s hot ... it ain’t natural.”

Mal had avoided her eyes, but Lyle had nudged him in the ribs with his elbow, hard enough to make him grunt.

His Ma had taken some persuading, but finally had relented. “You know you’ll miss the Hallowe’en celebration. The bonfire and the dancing. And maybe you’re old enough to have a small glass or two. Just for the night.”

He’d teetered at that, but firmed his resolve. “It ain't like it’s gonna be the last one. And I just ...” He looked down at his boots. “I just need to get away for a day or two.”

She was understanding, more than was comfortable. “Maddy making a nuisance of herself again?” she asked shrewdly.

“A little.” He squirmed under her gaze. He might be fifteen, going on sixteen, but knowing that his mother even thought about things like ... that ... well, it was enough to put a blaze in his cheeks.

“And you’re afraid she’s going to make your life a misery during the party?”

“Sort of.”

Alice Reynolds smiled, just a little. “Go on. You go up to the Wraiths with your pals. Only be sure to be back in time for the start of school again. And pack some warm underwear – you never know when you’re going to need it.”

“Ma ...”

So here he was, standing on a cliff edge, looking out over the planet that had given him birth, and revelling in the breeze that butted at him.

Something called on the air, a bird maybe, high and wild, infinitely sad, and he looked up, trying to see it. There was nothing, only clouds, the wind making shapes out of them, sculpting and refining over and over. Here there was a face, all nose and chin, there a fish, and over there ...

“You gonna jump?”

He glanced over his shoulder. Dugan, still with puppy fat around his waist, was watching him from a safe distance. “Nope.”

“Only if you are, can I have your capture?”

Mal chuckled. “If’n I do, it’s yours.”

“Oh, good.” Dugan scratched his belly. “How come you’re standing there like that, then?”

“Just thinkin’.”

“You do that a lot.”

“Maybe I do.”

“Thinkin’ what?”

“About life. You. Me. Lyle.”

“Maddy?”

“Not if I can help it.”

Dugan grinned, then it faltered a little. “Look, if you’re gonna be thinking, can you do it a bit further away from the edge?”

“I told you, I’m not planning on seeing if I can fly.”

“No, but ...”

Mal suppressed a smile. He knew his friend was afraid of heights ... well, depths, really, and what they could do to a man – or a boy – who was a trifle unwary. He took a step away, then another, seeing the relief in Dugan’s face. “Where’s Lyle?”

“Back at the camp. He’s pissed ‘cause you told him to cook tonight.”

“It’s his turn.”

“Yeah, but that don’t mean it’s actually gonna be edible.”

“He’ll be eating it too.”

“Not sure that’s gonna change his ... What’s that?” A noise somewhere in the trees behind him had his head snapping up so fast Mal thought he was going to get whiplash.

“What?”

“I thought I ... something in the bushes.”

“Probably a wild animal.”

“You say that like it’s a good thing.” Dugan was staring into the undergrowth. “Anyway, it might not be. It might be a ... a ghost.”

Mal didn’t quite sigh. “The Wraiths ain’t haunted.”

It was all Lyle’s fault. The night before he had instigated a game after supper, where they each tried to outdo each other with scary stories. Mal was considered the outright winner, but Lyle came a close second, leaving Dugan sweating slightly as they went to bed.

“Then why’re they called that? There’re stories, about people seeing things, hearin’ things that can’t be explained. And those ... those groans last night ...” Dugan shuddered.

“Ms Gingrich says that’s just underground gas venting.” Mal paused. “Mind, could have been Lyle.”

Dugan was surprised into laughter. “Got that right. And you don’t even have to share a tent with him.”

“Yeah, well, if you’d remembered to pick up your pack you wouldn’t have to be sharing it with his noxious odours either.”

“Hey, not my fault!” Dugan protested. “You and Lyle were early, and you were pushing me, and –”

“And your Ma insisted on kissing you goodbye.”

Dugan went pink. “Mal,” he whined.

Mal felt a surge of compassion. “Hey, I’m not gonna tell anyone.”

“Yeah, but Lyle will.”

“That’s true.” Mal thought for a moment. “Unless we’ve got something to hold over him.”

“Like what?”

“Something embarrassing.”

“Have to be bad for Lyle to be embarrassed.”

“Maybe ...” An idea occurred to him. “Maybe we could frighten him. Make him squeal like a girl.”

Dugan hitched his thumbs into his pants pockets. “How?”

“Let me think on it. I conjure I can come up with something.”

“Like leaping out at him wearing leaves and twigs, howlin’ like banshees?”

Mal was quietly impressed, but determined not to show it. “That’s ... an option.”

“He’d be pissin’ his pants.”

“Whole lot worse’n being kissed by his Ma.”

Dugan rubbed his hands together in anticipation. “Want me to go see what I can find?”

“Good idea.”

“Maybe we can use some of the creek mud,” Dugan went on, immersed in the idea now. “You know, paint our faces.”

“Could.”

Dugan grinned, a faint evil glow in his eyes. “Can’t wait to be getting my own back.” He span on his heel and hurried away, back into the trees, totally forgetting his fears that there might be something undead in them.

Mal couldn’t help the low bubble of laughter. Dugan and Lyle might be his oldest and best friends, but sometimes they bit and scratched at each other like a case of chicken pox, their own worst enemies.

He turned back to the view, looking up once more into the clouds. The patterns had changed, and now there seemed to be a ship riding high, ephemeral and shifting, but a ship nevertheless. He wasn’t sure what she was, but with the stubby extenders and bulbous rear he thought she might be a Firefly.

As he watched it seemed to speed across the sky, and the breeze brought him voices, barely on the edge of hearing, fragments that made no sense, even if they had been real, yet he strained to hear them.

“... she was a gift ...”

“... wobbly headed doll caper ...”

“... angels ...”

“... two by two ...”

“... hold him over a volcano ...”

“... leaf on the wind, watch how I ...”

“... he ain’t coming ...”

The last, a woman’s voice, all dark and raw emotion, caught at him, and such an intense feeling of sadness overwhelmed him that he gasped, and clutched at his chest.

The bird called again, and he had to blink hard, telling himself that it was all stories, that the wind in the trees and through the rocks sounded like people, and if he put words to the whispers then that was his imagination, not some spectre judging him.

“Mal?” It was Dugan again, this time concerned, and his honest to God voice put the rest to flight, silencing them as effectively as stopping his ears with wax. “You okay?”

“Yeah.” He took a deep breath. “Yeah, I’m fine.”

“Only you look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

“No. No ghosts.” The ache in his chest was diminishing rapidly, and as he turned to look at his friend Mal found a smile from somewhere. “They don’t exist, remember?”

“Yeah.” Dugan didn’t look convinced, but held out his arms, filled with a wild collection of leaves, twigs and vines. There even looked to be some bark and ...

“That sheep’s wool?”

Dugan wrinkled his nose. “I think it’s goat. Least from the smell.” The evil grin was back. “I thought maybe we could burn it, give Lyle a taste of his own medicine.”

The voices had faded, and Mal could tell himself it had been nothing, just a boy on the verge of manhood letting his hormones overcome his senses. “It’ll stink,” he pointed out.

“No worse than Lyle.”

“Duggie, you’re bad.” His smile widened, his natural optimism reasserting itself. “And I hope Lyle’s got a change of pants with him.” He put his arm around his friend’s shoulders. “Come on,” he said, plans already laying themselves out for him. “Let’s go scare the gos se out of him.”

They walked away from the ledge, from the view and the voices, the clouds scudding across the sky like ships leaving atmo, two pals with their entire lives ahead of them, ready and willing to play a trick on the third.

COMMENTS

Monday, October 31, 2011 6:16 AM

BLUEHANDEDMENACE


This is so, so good.

I love your ability to set a scene, I really feel like Im on that mountainside with Mal.

Your dialogue choices for Mal's moment peering thru the Ether were amazing, just inspired, the emotional run from wobbly headed doll caper to the heavy punctuation at the end....I got chills it was so good.

Happy All Hallows indeed, started with a good story.

Monday, October 31, 2011 6:54 AM

BYTEMITE


Very cool and eerie. :)

If I could make a suggestion for the next holiday, perhaps we could revisit the whole "delicious pie" thing for Thanksgiving?

Monday, October 31, 2011 2:17 PM

EBFIDDLER


Excellent. Loved how you painted the picture of the scene. Young Mal in character. And what a good selection of quotes.

Monday, October 31, 2011 2:58 PM

AMDOBELL


Oooh, interesting having young Mal picking up wisps from the future. No wonder he understands River more than he lets on. Loved this, very shiny! Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Monday, October 31, 2011 9:22 PM

BRUCEPLUTO


Mal at 15. Although he loved his home planet Shadow, even then I think he knew destined for the stars.

I really liked this Jane.

BPZ

Tuesday, November 1, 2011 4:04 PM

KATESFRIEND


This was perfect. Past of earth that was, present as a boy of 15, and future as we know it. Wonderful.


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