Hello all! Here is a short story by Chris Castle called "The Ravine." I give this story a Rhein Rating of 5 because it's pretty effective, however there are a couple things I'd like readers to make comments on. For one thing, can anyone tell me why the author chose to use initials for the name of one of the characters? Does that have an obvious significance that I am missing? Also, tell me how the ending is the inevitable conclusion both from a thematic and plot perspective (if it even is). Enjoy!
by Chris Castle
It started with the heat.
Emma walked out of the school house, not waiting for the blood to stop. She looked back once, through the window to the girls that had hurt her. They were smiling at her. One waved and the other two giggled. She didn’t know where she was headed, so she just kept walking. She walked and felt the drip-drip of blood from her legs, her arms, all mingling with the dust of the path. It was almost by accident she found the swamp. The ravine was beautiful, the trees and vines impossibly green. Emma was lost. She had never felt so close to being at home.
She went back there day after day. She loved the water-sounds, the air so thick and wet it was like a breath on her shoulder. Her ma didn’t miss her, school was over. Soon she could account for every shadow and vine in the ravine like other girls collected dolls. Then, after a week, came LB
Emma found LB high up in a tree. She didn’t know if LB had been spying on her or just lived up amongst the branches and leaves. Hell, Emma didn’t even know if LB was a boy or a girl; hair messy, body thin and muscled. Not that it mattered to her one way or the other.
“Hello.” LB said, falling from the trees and somehow landing feet first. LB’s eyes were blue, like nothing Emma had seen before.
“Hello.” Emma said, coughing immediately. Her sketchbook fell out of her hands and the pencil span away into the mud. She doubled up, unable to stop herself, as LB collected her things. She watched as LB looked through the sketches, stopping longer at some than at others. Finally LB handed it back to her, smiling.
“I liked the ones of the cruel girls the best. The monsters. You must hate them.” Emma looked down in shame. She nodded to her feet.
LB sat in the dirt facing the water and Emma followed. They sat next to each other in silence and Emma couldn’t imagine anything more perfect. Emma looked over and handed the sketch book back to her one and only friend.
They met every day by the ravine. Emma showed LB her fresh sketches and waited to hear what LB had to say. She drew every humiliation from memory, every torture she could remember from the last year. Sometimes she looked at the drawings and wondered how hate could make something so beautiful.
“Here,” LB said one day, slipping the small rope bracelet around Emma’s wrist. Emma looked at it and smiled, felt her cheeks turn red. Her first gift.
“Did they do all those things to you?” LB asked, looking closely at her. She blushed further but didn’t look away. There were scars above the bracelet. Some were long thin marks, others short, stubby blotches. Emma put her fingertips to the rope, enjoying the sensation. She nodded.
“You are right to hate them.” LB said quietly. Emma felt her heart roar, full for the first time. Without thinking she reached out and laid her palm to her only friend’s cheek. Then she drew forward and created her very first kiss.
The two of them moved from daytime to the night. They lay by the ravine, searching out stars, once seeing a comet shower. LB talked and Emma listened, her new night sketch pad always close by. LB told stories with movement as much as words and Emma loved to watch. She responded with kisses when words could not express how she felt. They midnight-swam, they laughed and they lay under the blanket and fought the breaking of dawn.
The blanket. Aside from LB, Emma loved the blanket with all her heart. It held LB, all the traces of the forest, the fractious pieces of the stars, their kiss. It was a shield and a cape, her perfect sketch made real.
The summer escaped from them like a sleight of hand trick. Emma almost felt cheated. Some mornings she woke and could almost feel the moments slip away from her heart. Worse, she could feel the countdown of the school year grow closer, a whispering threat growing closer in her ear. Sometime she would wake with a start, as if the summer was reaching out to her, an outstretched hand from the water, trying to be saved.
“Are you scared?” LB asked, catching her looking out to the water one night. She nodded. LB held her cheek in his palm, patted the sketchbook on her lap.
“It’s okay to be scared. It’s okay to hate and to be angry. It’s okay to…hate back.” She put her hand on top of LB’s and closed her eyes. They sat in silence. Everything was still and everything was perfect. She could have laughed, she could have cried.
School began and with it came the death of summer. On the way to her very first class, she was tripped. Her hands slapped down on the floor like blown-up paper bags popping. Some of them laughed, most stayed silent. She pulled herself up, willing herself not to cry, feeling the swell of her palms as she walked to the class door.
The girls did not pause for breath. It was as if every torture was their favourite lesson. Pranks and casual cruelty were done away with and hurting came quickly, as if they knew time was short. One humiliation rolled into the next, until Emma found it was simply a case of counting bruises and learning how to breathe through clotted blood.
It began with the heat.
Emma reached the school house only to see smoke rising from the roof. Where her desk sat, flames danced wildly to the skies. Emma was so happy she had to clamp her hand over her mouth to stop from laughing. The teacher sent them away with a ‘shoo-shoo’ and Emma walked away in a shock of bliss. She turned away from the school gate and found the other girls staring at her. They had seen her smile. She was marked. She began to walk, immediately hearing footsteps following behind her.
She walked the long path to the ravine, listening to the footsteps and not once turning around. Some rocks landed by her heels, onto her calves, drawing blood. One struck her perfectly on the spine and she clamped the same hand that had stopped laughter to stave off a scream. Finally she reached the opening of the ravine.
It seemed different now; the roots seemed thicker, the water darker. By the time she edged to the water, the girls set upon her. They lunged into her, forcing her under the water. Her arms pinned back, her eyes wide open.
The blood that ran into the water was like the summer bleeding out of her; LB’s hand on her cheek, the brightness of the stars at 4 am. As hungry nails began to dig deeper into her skin she almost smiled as her head turned light and her eyes began to close.
Almost by accident, she became aware of being out of the water. The explosions nearby made her spin round, even as she flopped onto her knees. She heard screams and saw a blur of bodies as they jerked against tree trunks, thrashed against vines. But all she could really make out were LB’s movements, simple and graceful, the most beautiful thing she could ever hope to see. And in amongst the chaos she dragged herself to the edge of the ravine and reached for the sketchbook.
They sat by the edge of the water holding hands. LB looked through the fresh sketches. The ravine was stilled, red and perfect.
“Your best yet.” LB said, standing up, then reaching down for her. “Where do you want to go now?”
“Everywhere.” She said at last. They smiled and kissed for a long time. They turned to the blanket, full of bodies now, and kicked it gently into the water. She was sad to see the blanket slip away but she couldn’t help smiling. Then they walked hand in hand away from the ravine and out onto the dirt road.