* A story inspired by this week’s Search Engine Stories prompt – the hill.
The moon had cow’s eyes. Soft and sad. Allie browsed the valley from her position on the hill. Amber lights glowed in windows. The smell of woodsmoke rose. If Allie squinted she could see the white grey furls of smoke coiling like springs in the dark sky.
In the sunlight she could stand on the hill, hold out her hands in the wind and see the bones fluttering. In the dark it was as if she had no hands at all, as if she had become shadow.
One night she had slept right there on the hill, sinking into the grass and wildflowers like an eiderdown. Nightsounds filled her head, moonbeams caressed her. She was perfectly safe.
Aidan had been angry with her in the morning. He had shouted. ‘You need help,’ he said. ‘Who sleeps on a hill at night?’ She knew he wasn’t angry out of concern for her, but out of fear of what other people would think if they saw her. Vagrant. Gypsy. Lunatic.
‘You’re just like your mother,’ he would say as the sky turned red and yellow with morning. ‘She was mad too.’
Allie’s mother hadn’t been mad – she just preferred outdoors to in; sleeping under trees, by rivers, in caves. She would have loved the hill, would have set up camp there; if she’d actually lived to see it. Allie wasn’t sure if she was as like her mother as Aidan said, but she remembered her best outside, the world spread out to the horizon from the hill.
Sometimes the birds sat with her. Watching as she did. They were her greatest companions. Allie was struck by the realisation that the creatures with the smallest hearts often had the largest souls.
When she walked in the city she saw people just like her, sleeping in doorways, in cardboard boxes, on park benches. She knew the ones not there by choice; panic flecked their eyes. The ones like her were content, tranquil with the wind on their faces.
She told Aidan about them but he scoffed. ‘They are losers,’ he said. ‘Hobos. How can you imagine you are anything like them? You have a home, a life. You have me. They have nothing.
Allie knew he was wrong. ‘They don’t have nothing, they have the sky like amethyst in their heads forever; the wind whispering like a human voice. Never-missed sunsets. Moss green nights,’ she wanted to say, but instead she retreated, running in the dusk to the only place she felt safe.
She slept, curved in the grass, feeling the world below. The gods of the night curlicued their wishes on her skin, her hair. In the morning she shone like glass. She walked back down to the house to eat, to wash. Aidan was gone.
Allie suspected he would not return. She had torn herself out of the world. She could not expect Aidan to follow.
That night Allie sat in indigo light watching a landscape of endings. Or perhaps beginnings. Starlight dripped, hexagons of silver paper falling from the sky. She heard the cry of a nightbird and the answering call of his brothers, joyful as a choir; watching as the sky unravelled in waves, serene as velvet; moving towards her.