Short Stories

For ‘The Gate Theory


Amanda J Spedding
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We make our own prisons. Liam believed that truth as much as he believed in me. Not just the me I let him see, but the me I didn’t.
I stood before the apartment door. Liam had painted it blue the day after I told him it was my favourite colour. The world was silent, like it had sucked in its breath, desperate to hear the beating of my heart.
My hand trembled; the key skittered around the lock before finding its home. Freedom was never an easy thing.
Shadows swarmed the bedsit, the only light a lonely flame flickering from a pool of wax on the nightstand.
Liam smiled from the bed. The room was still sauna-hot. He liked it that way: liked the way his skin slid against mine; liked the look, the smell and the taste born from our bodies.
“I’m back,” I said, closing the door quickly behind me. “I had to get some things.” I raised the plastic bag in proof. “Almost out,” I said, digging the candles free.
Liam’s gaze followed me as I placed them around the room. He said nothing as he waited. Always patient, he listened even when I had nothing to say.
The match flared on the second strike, the flame dancing against the shadows. From candle to candle, Liam tracked my movements. Vanilla, jasmine, sandalwood, gardenia. His favourites and mine.
Soft light licked at the bed. Liam’s dark hair was damp; the sheen on his skin making my name inked over his heart look like it was shedding tears. Kicking off my shoes, I sat beside him, the sheets still wet and sticky.
I spoke before he could; his whispers cut into me. “You shouldn’t have found the box.” I couldn’t raise my eyes to his. There’d been no accusation in his words last night, only hurt. Pity. “Why couldn’t you tell me, Gem?” he’d asked, cradling my humiliation gently in his hands.
My fingers slid across his tattoo, his skin slick and warm. All too easily I could remember the feel of him against me, inside me. Fusion, he called it, and last night I’d finally felt it. Last night I had been free, we both had. Two damaged souls perfect as one. Maybe that’s why he’d felt safe dragging my secret into the open.
My words – my actions – had left a void in their wake; a terrible silence that now demanded to be filled. Wearing shame like a cloak, I pulled one of the old tin soldiers free of the box. Candlelight danced across its ruined face, the deep slashes filled with rust. “I was protecting you.”
On the soldier’s back I pointed to where my brother had scratched his name out and scratched mine in, jagged numbers marking the date of the transaction. “Like all the others,” I told him. “Different dates, of course.”
The dying flame on the nightstand winked out, casting shadows across Liam’s face.
“Gem…” The word was whispered so softly, I wasn’t sure I’d heard it, but the anguish weighed heavy.
“Please just let me tell it.” With effort, I raised my eyes, searching for his blue ones, but the candle at his side remained dead, Liam’s face hidden. “He killed me slowly. One soldier at a time.”
The rusted laugh of the soldier seemed to leak from the shadows of the room, the same laugh that had risen from its tarnished lips last night as I’d slapped it from Liam’s hands.
My hands tightened around the metal. The perfectly symmetrical scars that marched up my arms shone silver in the weak candlelight. Liam had finally understood they weren’t the battle scars he proclaimed them to be, but the bars that kept it all locked away. He’d wrenched that cell open, spilling my secret, exposing it and me, but I still wasn’t free.
The tears I’d been holding in tumbled down my cheeks, and I heard the question before he spoke it. Truth slithered through me like the poisonous snake it was, and I gave him the answer he’d wanted last night. “I kept them because he’d just throw them away. Dirty remnants of something he swore never happened. He’d forget about them. Forget what he did to me.”
As I shifted on the bed, Liam’s fingers brushed against my knee, his touch always gentle.
“There had to be a record, Liam. How could I let him forget when I never could? Don’t you see? Don’t you see?” I searched the darkness, taking comfort in his familiar silhouette. “I didn’t want that touching you. Dirtying you as it had me.”
The shadows seemed to devour the bitter laugh that bubbled from my lips, feeding itself, growing bigger, deeper. More alive. I threw the soldier at the wall, the thud of it hard and unyielding. “You brought him into our bed!”
The words he’d whispered to me last night lurched from the darkness. “You bring him into our bed, too, Gem. He’s reaching into moments he has no right to be. Don’t you see?”
“I see now.” I took a calming breath. “But you always said I was the only one who could break those shackles. Not you, baby.” I brushed my tears away. “I’ll never hurt you again. I love you, I do.” I moved his hand to my chest. “This is your heart.”

“You can’t give me your heart because he’s holding it hostage.”
“Can you feel it? Can you? I don’t think I can anymore.”

I kissed his hand then took a candle from the coffee table and placed it on the nightstand. I wanted the light to bring life to his face but my gaze fell to the soldier Liam had used to pry open my prison. Its uniform was stained red, right arm missing, and its neck bent at an odd angle, a thatch of dark hair stuck to its face and chest.
I pinched out the flame.
I undressed and slipped into bed beside him. “Liam…” His lips were moist, his tongue sluggish. My fingers slid through his hair, getting caught in the sticky mess at the back of his head.
“I’ll get bandages tomorrow.” I pulled Liam’s arms around me and rested my head against his chest, waiting for his heart to beat again for both of us.

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THEMED FOR The Gate Theory by Kaaron Warren. Now available without DRM at all Amazon retailers.