Along a Silent Brook: Prologue

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Winchester, New York

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        The noon winds came sharp and cold, the sort of brisk heightened chill that was at odds with the sun's strength, and it gave me pause to grow still on the curb.  I hunched quietly in the folds of my coat, two sizes too large and bulky, too, but it was better than walking in nothing but my shirt and jeans.  The bus was late again, stuck somewhere else in the city's glaring wasteland, obscured from sight by the countless buildings stretching as needles to the sky, and I could feel my fingers numbing slowly.  Hurry, I pleaded silently; oh please hurry.  I don't want to stand here. 

        It was January and as quickly frozen as might have been expected; Christmas and New Year's had come and gone with the passage of the old year, and lagging with the worn bleary-eyed existence that stalked the holidays' end, the city was picking up its pace.  I felt like an outsider, as I always had and it seemed always would, and so contented myself with ferrying from home to the supermarket job in silence.  Too young to be anything but another random student in one of the widespread high schools and too dismal to be of any consequence, I was a faceless girl of seventeen years standing and shivering at the bus stop.  Hurry, I thought again as tears prickled my eyes.

        What would it take, the idea murmured in the back of my head, just to be noticed?  The idea was strange, but one I had often entertained, and so little effort was needed to impatiently brush it aside, returning my thoughts to the now.  I was used to being ignored and being too shy to even dare make conversation with the laughing girls standing just to my side, pulling the lapels of my coat even higher and crossing my arms stiffly over my chest.  If I could only pretend to be nonexistent, it might ease whatever social ineptness followed me.

        Glancing at the sky, bright and pure blue in contrast to the bitter wintry winds blowing mindlessly about, I felt the skitter of litter brush over my scuffed sneakers, a windblown styrofoam cup that tossed along its way.  There was a distant sound of turning gears and the thumping chug of brakes steadying the bus as it rounded a corner and popped clumsily into view, giving me reason to unfold my arms and tug my coat down straightly. 

        "Finally," I sighed in a whisper, grateful for the chance, however brief, to thaw my chilled fingers.  Hydraulic hisses accompanied the door loosening and folding open theatrically, granting solemn entrance up the trodden steps in the fluorescence of the bus, and I trooped in, fading amongst the shrieking girls amused dearly by some comment or other.  "Hello, Mister Parker," I attempted a smile, awkwardly fumbling my change into the box's slot.

        "Joanne," he nodded around the limp curve of his drooping cigarette.  "An' how have you been lately?"  He asked it in a vague tone, more as a courtesy than in any genuine interest, and I checked that my wallet made its way safely into my pocket before traipsing down the grid-marked aisle and slid into an empty seat.

        I've been fine, I lied in my head, brushing my hands up to grasp the metal rail atop the back of the seat in front of me.  My parents decided to get back together and I aced my semester exams, too!  Hell, my life's a brimming pot of beauty and joy, and all I need right now is a little bit of sunshine to make it all perfect.  Even in my mind the words were bitter, tinged with just enough unhappiness to make me squirm slightly along the sticky leather of my chosen seat and gaze out the window at the buildings as the bus sighs and begins to move.  I could tell there was a shame at my pointless complaining in my head; this was my life, and I would deal with it the best I could.

        My hands tightened around the metal, choking it as I stared, despondent, unseeing, and still cold, out the window's peering glass.  This is my life, I told myself firmly.  I am Joanne Beckett, seventeen years old, a junior in high school, and if my life isn't all peaches and sunshine, then fine.  That's how it is and I'll do what I can.

        Another weight joined mine on the seat, a thin, willowy woman with a luxuriant mane of gleaming black hair at odds with my stringy platinum blonde, and I shifted uncomfortably toward the window.  I had never been able to talk well with people I did not know and I could see in the expression on her face as she turned it to me that she was about to speak.

        "Hi," I blurted, as if to keep her from speaking.  It was inane and more than a little stupid, but it seemed that maybe if I could cut her off before she opened her mouth, she would be insulted enough to draw back.  People hate being interrupted even when they haven't begun to speak.

        Instead, she smiled.  "Hello," she spoke in an agreeable tone, one that belied her youthful appearance and sounded more like that of a grandmother's.  "I've been looking for you, Miss Beckett," she continued and the blood in my cheeks drained; how, whispered the voice in the back of my mind, did she know my name.  "And I think this belongs to you."  She grabbed one of my hands from the bar, pulling it gently down and pressing a small, rather insignificant marble that nonetheless glittered as if it were a ruby and not a cheap glass trinket.

        "What?" I asked stupidly, staring at the tiny orb in my palm.  I thought, perhaps, I could feel an odd tugging around my ears, as that of a whispering June breeze, and my edgy thoughts blending into a detached fascination.  My senses were numbing slowly, as though I were fading away, and I saw her smiling.  "What," I repeated, weakly, at a sudden loss for enough energy to make it a questioning demand.

        "It seems abrupt, doesn't it," she said gently.  "But sometimes important things happen very quickly, Miss Beckett.  Do tell Mao the Old One he's been a terrible correspondent, will you?  My deepest thanks and the best of luck."  She stood to leave, but paused, reaching out to touch one elegant fingernail in a warning gesture along my limp blonde hair, a curious frown tapping her lips.  "The best of luck, indeed," she murmured, and then she vanished from my seat, striding in sophisticated clicks to an empty one some ways back.

        A wave of nausea attacked me, cruel and powerful, and I weaved only slightly, the bus jolting over a failing speed bump.  Something odd was happening, and I bit my lip, closing my eyes in hopes of just being…

        And then, quite simply, the world stopped.

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Notes: I do know it was a bit fast and most likely not very well-written, but it's a beginning, and I wanted to get right into the thick of things.  ^^  Comments?