Authors: Avery Stark
‘Broken to Pieces’
Copyright © 2013 by Avery Stark
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, write to the publisher, addressed "Attention: Permissions Coordinator," at either address below.
Avery Stark Romance
P.O. Box 1107
Guasti, CA 91743
My greatest muse.
Over the endless swath of suburbs extending out from Los Angeles, the sun had baked the tangled maze of pavement below. Even though it was barely day break, the air was thick and dry and made every gulp of air feel like swallowing fire.
Emily leaned back in a creaking chair situated near the corner of her apartment's tiny patio and watched as her neighbors hurried off to the last classes of the year. Hanging from her finger, a clear-blue water bottle glistened. The tiny drops of condensation rolled down the sides and pattered rhythmically onto the peeling floor below.
The steady hum of the waking world was lost on the young brunette. Instead she looked out at the beams of light breaking through the countless palm trees and let her mind wander back to her home.
When she closed her eyes and allowed the first rays of the sun to wash over her olive skin, she could see the Colonial-style home in vivid detail. At that time of year, the vast, rolling fields of wild grass and flowers would dance gently under the burgeoning summer skies. Their smooth movements were always delicate and entrancing.
Cutting through the middle of the spectacle, a narrow dirt road wound its way up a small hill and emptied out onto a clearing that allowed the visitors to park. The "Chickweed Inn" as it was called doubled as Emily's childhood home since birth. It was a reasonably popular bed and breakfast situated at the very foot of the legendary Appalachian mountain range in Central Virginia. Her parents started the business when she was only five, though the home and much of the land surrounding it was intricately tied to the Harper name and had been for many, many years. Even at the tender age of nineteen, she had already explored the world by was of some basic interactions with the constant stream of visitors.
She had met men, women and children from all ends of the Earth.
One of her earliest memories was an old Indian man who walked with a limp. He only stayed a few nights, but his mesmerizing stories somehow managed to stick with her through the years. There was one in particular that deeply affected the way that she looked at the world: the story of a beast named Rakshasa.
If she pinched her eyes shut hard enough, she could still see him on her porch with his cane nestled between his legs. The bumps and knots in the unfinished wood reminded Emily of his tired joints. They had become swollen and tight over the years from an unfortunate case of arthritis that, if treated, might not have left him withering away at the ripe old age of only sixty-two.
The man, Anish, looked much older than his years. Traveling through with his extended family, who rented the whole Inn for a long weekend, the cheerful grandfather's dark skin was weathered and scarred from years of manual labor. His equally dark eyes were sunk in behind the puffy, sagging skin above them. This was only magnified by the thick spectacles that he kept perched on the end of his nose.
It was a June Tuesday that he and a very young Emily rested on the stairs after having finished eating early. Anish was busy picking at his upper teeth with one pinky while Emily was perched on the wooden railing just above him. Her skinny, bruised legs dangled over the edge right behind his head.
Though she was only nine, her inquisitive nature knew no bounds.
"Do you miss India?"
The old man mulled over the question. When he did respond, he spoke slowly, lest his words become tangled up in his heavy accent.
"Sure. That is my home, you know."
"Is it like America?"
"No, child. They are actually quite different."
"Is it better?"
He paused and rubbed his chin, "Different does not mean that one has to be better than the other. They both have their own beauty."
Emily looked down to the wild grass growing below. The heavy rains of spring had left the plant standing so high that it's tallest arms brushed up against the girl's bare feet.
"Were you afraid to come here? I mean," she picked at the paint next to her, "I would be scared if someone told me that I had to move to India."
"That is a wise question for a child. Do you mind if I tell you a story that my father told me and his father told to him?"
Emily's green eyes lit up and she inched closer to him.
"I don't mind at all, sir."
"Good. Now you must first understand that my family has lived in India for hundreds of years. Our blood is tied to the land."
Emily didn't exactly know what he meant by that but thought that it sounded beautiful anyway.
"Our stories," he continued, "are passed down with great care so that they are not muddied with half-truths and elaborate additions."
He nodded and continued, "A distant ancestor of mine named Satish was a good, hard-working man. Every memory of his life somehow involved the plow and the fertile dirt that it so often cut through. And though he lived a simple, virtuous life, he and his people lived with a constant fear of a beast called the Rakshasa."
"What's a Raksassa?"
"A Rakshasa," he explained, "is an evil spirit that takes the form of a half-man, half-tiger. The old stories say that they were the spirits of those murdered by the tigers of the Earthly realm who were seeking out to avenge their suffering. It was also said that any man who lived an evil life and asked for forgiveness only when on his death bed could suffer the same fate."
"So it's pretend, then?"
Anish smirked and rubbed the silver stubble all over his chin. It made a soft scratching sound against the calloused tips of his fingers.
"No. There are many things in this world that are real because enough people believe in them."
"Yes. In a way."
"So what happened?"
The old man took a deep breath and exhaled slowly through his front teeth, making a tiny hissing sound.
"Well, when word started to go around that the beast was had killed a man nearby, Satish decided that he was not going to let any of his twelve children, or his wives for the matter, fall prey to the creature's endless appetite. But, perhaps more than that, the simple farmer was tired of living in fear.
For two nights, he waited under a low brush on the very edge of the village with only a small dagger that hung from around his neck. By the end of the second night, he started to wonder if maybe all of the legends were just that: stories.
That was when the creature stomped through the grasses behind him, inching closer and closer to the town. Satish watched the thing from a distance. Its human stature was very different from the animal features that it possessed. The thing's teeth were long and dripped with saliva that made them sparkle in the pale light of the moon, which was almost blocked completely by its massive stature.
The Rakshasa, it turned out, had no interest in the village. Instead it moved on, cutting through the brush with a silent precision that was frightening on its own."
"Where was it going?"
"There is no way to know for sure. Sometimes it is impossible for man to understand the reasons of the divine."
Emily inched toward the edge of her seat. Her heart was racing in her small chest and the nails on both hands dug into the wooden railing to keep her from falling off.
"What happened next?"
"My ancestor stalked the beast for three days and nights without food, water or shelter. It wasn't until the thing stopped in a small village outside of Vidisha that he finally got his chance to end the killing for good.
"He followed the monster's growling and snarling; followed the wet smacks that his lips made from its hungry anticipation until it stopped in a shallow ditch. The thing, it turned out, had set its sights on a little girl of only three.
"Satish knew that waiting any longer would cost the child her life, so he swallowed the fear and jumped with both arms open wide. He landed on the Rakshasa's back and the beast cried out with an evil scream, alerting the villagers to their presence. Women and children began to scream as they fled into their shanty homes. The men, though brave in their own right, formed a line some distance away as a last defense for their humble town and watched with their eyes and jaws open wide.
"During all of this, Satish and the creature wrestled each other to the ground in a tangle of hair, blood and screams. He drove his small dagger into the beast's thick skin over and over but it did nothing to slow the thing's murderous rampage.
"My relative, though he was supremely brave, did not stand a chance. He was quickly executed by a long, razor-sharp claw to the neck."
"That's terrible," Emily gasped.
"Yes," he continued, "but as the evil creature feasted greedily on his victim's body, he choked on one of the man's ribs and died right there, sparing the area's residents from the terror that they were gripped in."
She didn't really know how she was supposed to feel.
"So what does that have to do with being afraid of new things?"
Anish finally turned around and sat on the opposite side of the step so that he and Emily faced each other. His progress from Point A to Point B made her think of a content little turtle on his way to nibble some lettuce.
"The point, sweet child, is that, as long as you stand tall and do not bend in the face of adversity, your efforts will likely end up making the world a better place. There is nothing wrong with being afraid," he pointed an arthritic index finger at her, "but you cannot let it stop you from persevering. Do you understand?"
"Yes," she answered only half-way truthfully.
The meaning of the legend, though it was hard for such a young child to relate to adult emotions and trials, spoke to her in a way that she didn't completely understand. Over time, however, the fable's meaning blossomed deep inside of Emily. She held it close to her heart and, in turn, it ended up saving her life.
Emily sighed and licked her lips.
From somewhere in the house, a young woman's perky voice called out, "Hey Em?"
"Out here," she responded without opening her eyes.
A young, blonde knockout leaned through the doorway, letting her golden locks fall into her face.
"What are you doing?"
Emily threw her arms to the side like she was opening up for the biggest hug ever.
The other girl laughed and replied, "I can see that. Are you already done packing?"
Emily took a swig of her icy water while her friend looked over to the room behind her.
She just smirked.
"I'll be done soon. I'm just soaking up the last of this amazing California sun."
The other girl stepped out onto the patio and leaned against the wall.
"What, they don't have the sun in Virginia?"
Though her lids were closed, Emily managed a hearty eye-roll anyway. After that she finally opened them and turned to face her friend.
"It's not the same."
The blonde's voice trailed off and they both sat there quietly for a full few minutes before she spoke up again.
"Do you have any plans for the summer?
"Not really," Emily said as she smoothed her thin tank-top down over her stomach. "There's usually a lot of work to do when I'm home. You know, with all of the guests and everything."
"What are they like, anyway?"
Emily's friend nodded.
"I don't know." She rubbed her hand over her warm chest. "It can get interesting sometimes."
Technically that wasn't a lie. She just didn't have the time to explain how all how the guests' stories and experiences had become a defining force in her own.
She looked over to her roommate and continued, "This is one hell of a morning for our last day here, isn't it?"
The girl squinted and looked out over the hazy vista.
"Well that's easy to say," Emily quipped. "You got to grow up out here!"
"I don't know. There were plenty of times that Virginia would have been like an oasis to us."
Emily thought briefly about the seemingly endless summers that she spent deep in the heart of the state's untouched wilderness; about the careless days when the biggest concern was whether or not there was any ice cream left. By the time that she went away to college in California, Emily felt like the trees, too, were a part of her; like their mesmerizing sway was just one brush stroke in the unfinished portrait of her life.