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Srebrna, Skald Arkadii (and thoughts on writing)

Archive for July 2017

Splinters 27: Little town

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They finally managed to get Roland to give them the address – or rather the directions – to Regina’s house.

From his disjointed story, they worked out the situation – adoptive mother, his long-kept longing for a father who apparently disappeared in the woods, his attempts at finding the place where he used to live. All very familiar, well-known from the stories of other children in the group home.

As Elena spoke to Roland, wiping his wet hair and tucking the blanket around him, Emma slowly drove forward, looking carefully for any sign of civilisation. When they suddenly came upon a sign saying “Welcome to Storybrooke” she was not even that surprised.

That magic thing about pushing them in the right direction was starting to be annoying.

The town was slightly anticlimactic. Just a standard somewhere-in-USA town – reasonably sized streets, unexceptional shops, some bigger buildings, a clock tower, a crossroads, a phone booth… very generic, very normal.

Even at the rather late hour they could see people walking, some cars on the streets, some shop windows illuminated. Smell of fried onions wafted in through the partially open window on Emma’s side.

Emma sent a grateful thought to whoever may be listening for this being a XX century town, probably well-equipped with all modern facilities, like running water. She really hated field solutions to hygiene problems.

“Here we are” Emma parked the car in front of a huge stone mansion. “Come on, girls. Let’s hand Roland back to his… Well. To Regina. Preferably before they start a kid hunt in the forest in darkness.”

Elena managed to scoop slightly damp kid out of the backseat, where he tried to resist, for just a moment. Still, he seemed more resigned to his fate and to protest mostly for the sake of appearances.

Elsa pressed the buzzer button and they waited in the slight drizzle.

“Who is…!?” tall, handsome brunette woman opened the door abruptly, her voice dying as she took in the whole group. “ROLAND!”

“Um. Afternoon” Elsa smiled her best lawyer-y smile. “It seems we found something of yours.”

“WHAT? Where… How… Why do you have Roland?”

The boy curled up in Elena’s arms even more tightly.

“Regina?” a male voice asked from inside the house.

“Graham! Yes, there are some women who have Roland…” she trailed off. “Who are you?” her gaze focused on Elena, who was still holding the small boy.

Tall, curly-haired man with a wide smile strode into the hall behind her. His uniform and badge were rather obvious hints towards his role in the town.

“Ah, sheriff!” Elena’s smile brightened. “Hello. Sorry, yes, we found Roland. In the woods, something like two miles outside the town.”

Regina gasped and reached for the boy.

“Let me” the sheriff offered and picked him from Elena’s arms. “Regina, I’ll take care of the lad, you please talk to the ladies. I wonder how he managed to get so far… Come on, little guy, you gave us all a fright.”

The brunette’s eyes tracked him until he apparently reached the stairs, his steps echoing in the hallway.


Henry stood on the steps behind them, holding something up.

“Roland left his hat and his bag in the car” he explained, pushing between his aunts. “Hello. I’m Henry Swan. I think these are Roland’s?”

Regina took the offered objects almost automatically, looking at Henry in astonishment.

“Thank you, Henry Swan. And…” she raised her eyes at the grownups on her doorstep. “I’m so sorry. Didn’t introduce myself. Regina Mills. Would you all please come in? I have just made tea, maybe you’d like some?”

They sat on the grand leather-covered sofa, all three in their casual travelling attire, Emma holding sleepy Henry in her lap, opposite of Regina, who even at her own home was dressed rather smartly.

Their host was arranging the tea set on the tray in front of her, and glancing at them from time to time. Finally she poured and handed them their cups.

“So… You just arrived in the area? I’ve never seen you around here. And it is a rather small town, so I know everyone. Probably.”

“Yes” Emma lifted Henry to a more comfortable position against her shoulder. “We were driving through the forest when Elena spotted Roland between the bushes. Considering the fact that we didn’t see any lights or homesteads around, we decided it would be best to take him with us and hand him to the authorities, if we couldn’t find his family.”

Regina nodded slowly.

“Thank you” her gaze stopped on Henry’s slumbering form. “Roland is… Is a bit troubled. His family does not… Well.”

“I understand he thinks his father lives in the woods” Elena smiled, leaning forward. “I’d assume this is some trauma from before adoption. He seems very determined.”

“Actually, we have no idea what happened to his family” Regina sighed. “He was found wandering the woods one day by a teacher from local primary school. She brought him to the sheriff and we tried to identify whose he might be. We assumed he just got lost, but from what he said, we worked out…”

She stuttered a bit and Elena smiled compassionately.

“He said something about smoke” she provided. “I’m guessing some kind of forest fire? Maybe he was hiking with his family and they set their campfire up without securing it properly?”

Regina nodded, then shook her head.

“We didn’t have a forest fire anywhere near where he was found. I’m afraid he must have been walking for miles before he was found, and so we have no hope of ever identifying where he came from. We sent his description to social services in the nearest city, but all they could give us was the offer of one of their social workers picking him up” she hugged herself unconsciously. “I couldn’t… just give him to be lost in the system. At least if we kept him here, we had a chance of controlling what happened to him, and in case his parents were ever found, to check what was it that had happened. If we sent him to the main offices, he would have become just one more number on a long list… And they’d probably hand him over back to whoever was irresponsible enough to have lost him.”

Elsa leaned towards their host and patted her hand.

“You did well” she said gently. “He’s better off with you, whatever he thinks, than in a group home.”

Regina blinked.

“We were in the system” Elsa weaved towards the other two. “Unadoptable, as triplets. It’s way better for him to stay with you. He seems like a very delicate boy, he wouldn’t have done well in an average group home. And some of the foster families are proper nightmares.”

Regina’s trembling half-smile surprised all of them.

“Thank you” she finally uttered. “I’m… I was never sure I did the right thing, I know nothing about raising children. But it seemed safer, and with me being the mayor of the town, I could move the papers to declare myself the foster family for Roland. I really hope someday his father is found, but it’s been already a year…” she bit her lip.

Elsa’s smile faltered as she watched Regina carefully and she touched Emma’s hand, tapping her watch.

“Alright, we’ll let you get back to him, then” Emma smiled over Henry’s head. “We should be getting on our way. Is there a hotel somewhere in town? I don’t want to even try to drive anymore and Henry deserves a proper bed for the night.”

Regina rose with them, and walked them to the door.

“If you turn to the left on the next lights, three houses down is the B&B. Granny should still be up so you have a chance for a room if you hurry.”

They walked down the paved path silently, Emma holding Henry’s prone form and the other two thinking very intently.

As they opened the car door, Elsa finally inhaled deeply.

“I never actually believed August was right.”

“You saw it?”

“Yep. A scar on her lip. Just like he said.”

Elena helped buckle Henry in.

“Let’s get some sleep and start this early tomorrow. We have to call August in the morning, to tell him we’re here.”

Written by Srebrna

2017/07/23 at 23:08

Posted in Splinters

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Splinters 26: Almost there

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Second day of the journey was, to say the least, unexciting. They were cruising to and fro on the same 50 miles – plus side roads, which almost never led to anything specific – and were growing really, really bored. And angry.

Elena finally pulled out her crocheting and the small stash of colourful squares of cotton was slowly growing in her yarn bag.

“Seriously, you have to do it right now?” Emma rolled her eyes, as her sister bit off another end of thread.

“I want to stab something. It’s either this, or I start biting the upholstery. This whole thing is driving me crazy, so I need something to do. I feel largely useless, as we just drive up and down this road. Also, my fingers tingle and I have to either hook some more squares or start testing my magic. Which one do you prefer?” she made a short nod towards mostly oblivious Henry.

Emma sighed. “OK, but after the next stop, you’re driving.”

The thick book in Emma’s handbag turned out to be not actually a programming textbook. Actually, it was something completely different.

“Mitnick’s book? Why would you read this? I thought you weren’t so much into the hacking stuff?”

Emma shrugged.

“It’s more psychology than technology, at least as far as I got in it. And it’s fascinating to see how his brain works.”

“Geez. I though you were so proper and responsible…”

“Come on. It’s not like I’ll start hacking stuff just because I read this book. I’d probably have to be a much better programmer to make use of actual technology… And much more of a people person to be able to use this psychology stuff effectively.”

Elsa was singing. First, it was just a hum, then some whistling – the Queen of the Night aria seemed particularly annoying in a small space of the car, in Elena’s opinion.

Then she switched to a Disney medley, which made Henry laugh like a loon at all the faces she pulled, including the haughty Ursula and wide-eyed innocence of Snow White.

Emma was trying to focus on the road – quite empty, but still it was not a task that one could ignore – and losing badly, listening to Elsa making all the needed voices in “Gaston” and then “Something There”.

“We need to stop and eat” Emma growled. “I know it’s too early for lunch, but we were up at half past six, so it’s kind of time for it.”

Also, we’ll start killing each other if we are stuck in the car one more hour. It never seemed that annoying in the flat. Maybe the car just has bad acoustics…

Very soon, Henry’s cheeks were painted with tomato sauce and he had a slice of sausage clinging to the front of his t-shirt. The grownups were in slightly better condition, with Emma’s blouse being lightly seasoned with a spatter of mayo and Elsa managing to spill half a glass of water down her trousers.

Elena carefully cut up and ate her piece of pizza, managing to stay moderately clean and dry, so, in what Emma later deemed a rather obvious outcome, a faucet in the toilet broke off and sprayed her with icy water from head to toe.

“I think someone is telling us to move” Elena said, dripping angrily. “And I will find her and kick her so hard she’ll be sticking her tampons into her ears.”

“Why would someone stick a tampon in their ear?” Henry’s bright voice asked from just behind her. “And what’s a tampon?”

At seven, Elsa sat down on the grass by the road and refused to move. Even despite all the evil looks Emma could throw her way.

“My legs have gone numb, my backside is sore and I have to sit for a moment on something that doesn’t have an engine, OK? Also, I need air. Air, not air conditioning.”

Emma finally shrugged and undid Henry’s seatbelt snaps and handed him out of the car.

“Just don’t go farther than where Elsa’s sitting. And don’t touch any animals that you find. And if…”

He went running before she finished the sentence.

Elena was stretching on her yoga mat on the grass.

“We do need our blood circulation, Emma. We can’t just drive around all day and then fall on a bed, we need to walk and move our legs.”

“Yeah, I know. I just… I can’t sit still. It’s here, somewhere. I know it. At least, the computer simulation says it’s here, so we don’t have much choice.”

“What if we apply different conditions? Smaller radius around known cities, this kind of thing?”

“August said twenty miles.”

“He said that was what the magicians he found told him. Maybe they meant twenty kilometres? Or some other miles?”

“Don’t start. If we don’t find the place here, there is another spot, north of here, which was also a probability. It’s way smaller and in the middle of open land, so… I just hoped it will be the forest. But I can’t start doubt the accuracy of what August told us, because once I do, then maybe it’s not twenty, maybe it’s ten. Or not in Maine at all. Or maybe not in the US. I have to keep believing what he said is correct and work from there. Otherwise I’ll simply go crazy from having too many options. This whole thing is getting on my nerves a bit, and having too many options makes me even more nervous.”

She breathed deeply and leaned on the car.

“The problem is, if we find it, we find it, but if we don’t find it, we can’t be sure it’s not there. It may still be there and we’d have just missed it. I feel like we just need one more drive, and just maybe one more, and…”

Elsa chucked her sandal at Elena.

“Stop messing with her head. She has the Great Destiny to fulfil and you’re trying to make her doubt we’re even driving in the right direction. We need to focus.”

“I’m just getting so bored by this” Elena mock-whined. “I mean, driving the same stretch of the road whole day and looking at the bushes? I’m starting to recognise some of them. I could probably name them by now. The Bush That Henry Peed Under, and The Bush We Stopped By To Eat The Sandwiches and The Bush-”


Emma’s head jerked up, looking for her son, who was standing straight, pointing towards the sky.

“MOM! Look at that huge black cloud! What is it?!”

“Crap” Elsa jumped up and started collecting her things, running over to Elena to grab her sandal.

“Henry, get back to the car, now!” Emma picked him up one-handed and pushed into the seat. “It’s a storm. A big, nasty, ugly storm. We have to get under a roof, now.”

Elena was already sitting in the backseat and she helped to strap Henry in as soon as she closed the doors. Emma ran around the car to the driver’s seat and got caught by the first drops of heavy rain.

“Ssssh… sugar” Elsa said with feeling, looking at the suddenly-wet road in front of them and the quickly darkening forest around them.

Emma started the car and slowly headed back towards the motel they used the night before. With Henry pressed into the window, watching the light-and-sound spectacle outside with fascination, Elsa mumbling curses about something-or-other missing in her handbag and Elena sitting awkwardly with her yoga mat pressing into the side of her head, she hoped they’d make it to the motel before all places were taken and they’d have choice of driving another ten miles and sleeping sitting up.

“Stop the car!”

Emma pushed the brake pedal so hard she was almost standing on it.

“What the hell?” she managed to utter before Elena darted out of the car and into the undergrowth. She only had time to thank her good reflexes, assuming her sister got a sudden bout of motion sickness when Elena was back, holding a small child in her arms.

“I saw him between the bushes” Elena’s voice was a bit breathy. “There is nobody here but him, we haven’t seen a sign of a human being for the last twenty minutes, and there is noone in like ten miles from here, except for us.”

“What do you mean?” Emma squinted at Elena’s red face.

“I…” she stuttered. “I feel it. There is nobody here. I tried, you know, fetching something that looks like a human, and the only ones I felt were you. And him” she hesitated. “And now my head hurts. I think I might have overdone this magic thing.”

Elsa blinked a few times, looking at a tiny, dark-haired boy in Elena’s arms.

“What is your name, dear?” she asked kindly.

The kid looked at her with teary eyes.

“Roland” he finally whispered, his lower lip trembling.

“Alright, Roland. Is there someone, some grown-up, with you, in the forest?”

Elena’s gentle question seemed to send the boy into full-blown sobbing.

“Did you get lost? Did you run from someone?”

He kept shaking his head, making his soggy hat fall off.

“M’dad” he finally uttered. “M’dad is in the fores’. I was lookin’ for’im.”

Elena breathed slowly and shook her head slightly at her sisters.

“Roland, can you look at me, please?” she raised his head slightly to face her. “Did you go into the forest with your dad, or did you go looking for him?”

He blinked.

“I goed there ‘lone” he sniffed. “Regina says m’dad is not in the fores’ but I know he is.”

“And who is Regina?”

“She says she’s like me mum. Only I know me mum was someone else. And she died.”

Elsa’s eyebrows reached her hairline.

“Well, Roland, can you tell us where you live? We should probably take you there and you should get changed out of these wet clothes.”

His head drooped a bit and he leaned away from Elena.

“OK” Emma finally started the car again and turned heating a bit up. “We’ll drive to the next town and we’ll see if anyone can help us find his parents or whoever is responsible for him. The sooner the better, unless we want someone to think we’ve kidnapped him.”

Written by Srebrna

2017/07/14 at 23:07

Posted in Splinters

Tagged with

Splinters 25: Life is a highway

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The main luggage had been packed and repacked, removing unnecessary garments and appliances, adding a few survival items and replacing chosen gear with smaller, more compact versions.

They emptied the apartment of all personal items and left information with the building manager that they would be coming back in four months. They signed an agreement for the apartment to be leased for a short term to someone else, with the proviso that that person would clear the place in sixteen weeks.

Emma’s aim was to be done with the whole curse-breaking before it interfered with Henry’s schooling, or to know in a definite way that they were unable to deal with the problem and to remove themselves from the area. There weren’t that many other options.

Even the curse-breaking thing seemed more like a wish than a plan.

“Everyone is leaving. All the parents are taking their kids out for early vacation” the building manager said, filing the documents. “Some are coming back in fall, but I’ve heard rumours that there are a lot of families just moving out, not planning to return. My granddaughter is in seventh grade and her class lost five kids this last month. Their younger siblings got sick and parents just packed up the whole house and moved – anywhere, but outside Boston. It’s as if this part of town became toxic to the small ones”

“Well, that’s why we’re taking Henry away for the summer” Elsa smiled and signed another page of the contract. “He got rather ill during that heatwave and doctor suggested he needs a change of climate.”

“But you’ll be coming back?”

She shrugged.

“It depends on Henry. And what kind of a place we manage to find out there.”

“So you don’t know where you’re going?”

Elena handed him her part of the papers.

“In general, we know. A friend suggested a tiny town where his father lives – it’s supposedly in the middle of nowhere, so we can hope it’s more likely to be a clean area.”

The managed nodded.

“We’re sending the grandkids away next week. Big, small – they will all go to my sister’s place, in the country. Parents are signing them out of the school early, even the ones with poorer grades. My daughter will be taking the van and driving the whole bunch there next weekend. I think it’s better to be healthy than to have best grades. They can always study with their aunt, but they won’t get any better from staying here.”

“Absolutely” Emma smiled at him tiredly. “That’s what we decided for Henry. He’s not going to school anyway, so what difference does it make?”

The car was packed so high, Elena heartily blessed the proximity alarm they had installed on the back bumper. Otherwise she had no idea how she would have managed to get out of their tight parking space – she couldn’t see anything through the back of the car.

There were all the planned bags and boxes in the trunk and on the seats, plus some definitely unplanned items. Henry somehow managed to smuggle his soccer ball into the car, which they only found two hours after leaving Boston. Emma crammed two more programming textbooks into her “hand luggage” and was holding them uncomfortably in front of her, trying to behave as if they weren’t poking her in the stomach. Elsa was sitting in the back with Henry, so Elena couldn’t really see what was going on there, but she was quite sure there was some contraband stashed in her backpack, too.

That was because her own bag, placed between Elsa and Henry, had a few silicon moulds discreetly stuffed into internal pockets.

They stopped in front of a motorway diner for a technical break and Henry’s second breakfast. He chewed his apple and looked around.

“Where are we going? Tammy and Tessa said their parents were taking them somewhere to the seaside to get better. Are we going to the seaside, too?”

Emma sat next to him on a bench.

“We are actually going to… There is a little town, far away from everything, that we want to find. August told us there is a chance our family might live there, you see. So we kind of used the fact that the doctor told us to get you out of the city and we’re going for a longer trip. We need to find it, because apparently someone forgot to put it on any map, so it may be a bit of driving… There may be some forest and there may be seaside, we’re not sure yet.”

“Ah” he sat in silence for a moment, working on the apple. “What’s the name of that town?”

“August says it’s called Storybrooke.”

“Sounds funny.”

“We’ll have to find a place for the night. We’ve driven that stretch of the road like five times today already and I’m feeling like someone is making fun of me. Henry is asleep and it’s not healthy for him to sleep sitting up for too long” Emma gripped the steering wheel more tightly.

Elsa tapped her phone a few times and looked around.

“The road on the navigation looks a bit different, but I think we should be about a mile from a motel I see marked here. We could spend the night, eat hot breakfast and continue tomorrow. And the kid needs to sleep on something flat, definitely. Or his spine will grow all crooked.”

Emma rolled her eyes and sped up a bit, looking for a sign to the motel.

Beds were. There was not much more that could have been said about them, but they were. Emma transferred sleeping Henry from the car to the room – luckily, on ground floor – and stripped his clothes off as much as she had to, before rolling him under a blanket. She tucked his travelling teddy bear into the crook of his arm and added another blanket on top, just in case there was a draft.

Elsa lugged her and Emma’s backpacks into the room and looked around.

“Cosy. I hope there are no bugs.”

“That would be a bit more than cosy” Elena commented, hauling her own bag and Henry’s. “Nah, looks tolerably clean. Emma, you go take a shower and we’ll get something to eat ready. You’ll need to be up first anyway – Henry’s been asleep for more than three hours, so I’m betting he’ll be up with the sunrise, and he will start asking questions the moment he opens his eyes.”

They managed to put together a decent imitation of a dinner, including some hot tea thanks to the electric kettle and some ice tea thanks to the trunk fridge, so finally, an hour or so after booking in, they were stretched on their beds and staring idly at the ceiling.

“I’m not sure what to do tomorrow” Emma sighed finally. “We go to the same piece of the road and what, try believing in fairies, very strongly? Or maybe we should clap?”

“We go there and we drive slowly, looking for clues” Elena yawned. “Maybe there is some mark where the normal world ends and the magical one starts. I’m wondering how it’s done. Is it a wormhole that goes through the whole city, so we drive in at one end and pop out on the other side? Or is it somehow shielded and we actually drive straight through the town, not seeing it? Can we run over someone? Have an accident with an unseen car?”

Elsa groaned.

“Now I’ll be thinking about imaginary dogs dying under our wheels all the time I’m driving. Thanks, Lena. That’s helpful.”

“Hey, I’m just thinking aloud.”

“It sounds more like notthinking. Really, we don’t need any additional stress now. We need to find a town that doesn’t exist on a map, in an area that looks like no town had ever been there, without a guide or any real knowledge or even without being reasonably sure it is there. Are you sure it is here? I’m not, not really. So please, let’s not add more levels of discomfort to the whole thing, because it won’t make the whole thing any quicker.”

There was a short, uncomfortable silence.

“Eh. Sorry.”

“Yeah. Me too.”

Emma snored.

Written by Srebrna

2017/07/08 at 23:04

Posted in Splinters