Lydia was on the ceiling.
Her hair looked quite pretty like this, dangling down in the same direction as her gaze, catching the cobwebs that hung from the beams. The man with the big moustache didn’t comment on it, though. If Lydia had hair like his, grey and balding and too wispy to ever go near naked flames, she wouldn’t feel qualified to comment on other people’s hair either.
Mama said he was a captain. Lydia had never met a captain before. He was really quite underwhelming actually, stood below her next to Mama, the both of them staring up at her just as she was staring down.
“Lydia Diane,” Mama spoke, voice tight in the same way her pinches were, “Come down from the ceiling and introduce yourself to Captain Bennet.”
Lydia considered the thought.
“No, thank you,” she decided, “I’m comfortable.”
Mama gave a scowl.
“You can’t possibly be comfortable, Lydia.”
But Lydia was always comfortable when she floated. It made her insides feel squishy.
“It’s quite alright, Ms. Taylor,” the captain interjected, “It’s why I’m here.”
In that embarrassed manner that Lydia never understood, Mama shuffled on her feet. She straightened her Peter Pan collar, adjusting her pearls, and arranged her face into a well-practiced smile.
“Indeed. But Lydia knows how to be polite,” Mama had always made sure she knew, “Introduce yourself to the captain now, Lydia.”
Lydia pressed her back tighter to the ceiling. A crumb of plaster fell to the ground. A crumb of Lydia’s patience fell with it.
“Hello, Mr. Captain.” She spoke. Her eyes squinted at him, at his khaki cap and wrinkled features. His shoes too, though they were rather boring. Not at all like the fuzzy pink slippers that Lydia was using far too much energy to keep from sliding off her feet. Fuzzy pink slippers were too tacky, Mama would always say. But fuzzy pink slippers were better than the baseball ones Lydia had wanted, Mama would also say. And, to Lydia, fuzzy pink slippers were better than Captain Bennet’s loafers.
“Hello, Lydia,” his voice came, a dart in her thoughts, “I can see now what your mother meant. You’re quite the gift from God.”
He was talking about the floating, Lydia was sure. People always talked about the floating. They always blamed God for it. Said his power ran through her, abundant in her blood. Lydia didn’t understand that. Mama always said that the Lord was abundant everywhere. He was in their house, in the walls and furnishings and the birds that sang in the trees outside. He was in the songs that she and Mama sang at church and in the dig of Mama’s nails when Lydia didn’t sing right. Lydia wasn’t sure her floating had anything to do with God at all.
“Mama says it’s a nuisance.”
She sounded the word out just as she remembered Mama had. The first time she’d said it, Lydia had gone to her Early-Learner’s spelling book to spell out each letter. She’d flicked through each of the alphabet pages. One Nurse, two Oranges, School, Elephant, Nurse, School. When she showed Mama, she told her quickly and curtly that she’d spelt it wrong. She hadn’t told her how to spell it right.
“Lydia,” Mama used the same sharpness that always licked Lydia’s name, “I never said that.”
Lydia matched her scowl. “You always say that.”
Lion, Yarn, Dog, Island, Apple. Mama always made sure she spelt that one right.
“Have you come to fix me, Mr. Captain?” she didn’t know how to spell captain, “I think Mama would like that.”
This time, the lion didn’t get a chance to leave Mama’s mouth.
“Oh,” amusement wasn’t the right word for the captain’s expression, but it was something close, “I would never want to fix something so extraordinary, Lydia.”
“So, you approve?” Mama said to him, “You think she’ll be helpful?”
For a moment, his eyes flicked back up to Lydia. He stared. Maybe he did find her hair pretty after all.
“More than I ever expected, Ms. Taylor,” Toad, Apple, Yarn, Lion, Orange, Rain, “How long has she had the ability?”
“Since birth,” Mama never looked happy when she said that, “Floated to the ceiling before they even had a chance to cut the cord. Pulled on me like a dog on a leash.”
As far as Lydia could tell, the mere mention of birth and cords and pulling was enough to make the captain go quite green. He looked like a toad.
“Well, like I said, it’s extraordinary,” the captain swallowed away some of the sicky hue, “I’m pleased to say I’m more than happy for our arrangement to go through, Ms. Taylor.”
Finally, he peeled his eyes from Lydia and reached into his inside pocket. Out was pulled a rectangle of paper, crisp and cream-coloured and inked with neat print.
He handed it to Mama.
Mama glanced at it and handed it back.
“This is less than we said.”
He handed it back.
“We’re planning to pay in instalments. For discretion.”
And then Mama took it.
“Now, you must come down from the ceiling, Lydia,” she said, craning her neck back up, “Captain Bennet is going to take you somewhere nice.”
“You’ll be well taken care of,” the captain nodded, “And you’ll be helping a lot of people.”
Lydia considered the thought.
“No, thank you. I’m comfortable.”
“Don’t make me get the ladder again, Lydia.” Mama gave a sigh.
“What does the paper say?”
She’d seen some of the letters. Ball, Apple, Nurse, Kite. Lydia didn’t know what that spelt.
“Grown up things, Lydia.”
Lydia wrinkled her nose. She’d never had much taste for grown up things.
“About the floating?”
“About the floating.”
Lydia always liked that she could float.
Flower, Lion, Orange, Apple, Toad.
Mama never had.
Nurse, Orange, Orange, School, Elephant, Nurse, School.
It made Lydia’s insides feel nice and squishy but Mama didn’t care and Mama had taken the paper with the writing on it. Lydia didn’t know what that meant and she didn’t know why it meant she had to leave. Mama looked uncertain about the paper, whatever it meant, contorting her face into a frown that looked different to her usual ones. It looked unsure. Lydia was on the ceiling. Captain Bennet was on the ground. Mama was on the fence. Lydia didn’t like it when mama frowned.
“Alright,” she nodded, finally letting her body drift to the floorboards, “Where are we going, Mama?”
“You, Lydia. You’re going on your own.” Mama’s frown stayed, so what was the point of Lydia even getting down?
“Oh,” she found herself chewing her lip, feet fidgeting in pink fuzz, “That’s alright, I suppose. Mr. Captain?”
A small smile. “Yes, Lydia?”
“I’ll need help carrying my suitcase. I have quite a lot of clothes.”
“You won’t be needing any clothes, Lydia,” Mama straightened her pearls, “You’ll be going as you are.”
Lydia found that rather strange. Mama never liked her to go anywhere just as she was. Mama didn’t think she was decent the way she was.
“Is it because I’m a nuisance? Is that why I’m going?”
Mama didn’t say anything.
“Come on, Lydia,” Captain Bennet’s hand rested on her shoulder, “My car is outside.”
With eyes so questioning it stung, Lydia stared up at Mama. She flung her arms around her waist.
“Goodbye, Mama,” she pressed her face into her stomach and felt her ribs poke her forehead, “I’ll see you when I get back.”
Mama didn’t say anything.
The hand on Lydia’s shoulder began to guide her from the room, and Lydia looked back at Mama for a final time.
Lydia wasn’t on the ceiling.
For once, it hadn’t gotten rid of Mama’s frown.
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This was really good, Elizabeth. My favourite of yours so far. A really sharp style - I like the title to the story a lot, and I think it's clever how you kept using the acrostic style, especially with 'bank' and 'noosens'. It's really unique. You did well building character, too! I liked the paragraph on shoes - pink slippers and baseball ones - as well as the smaller lines to get into Lydia's head. The dialogue is spot-on, too. The ending is spooky. I feel for Lydia - is she sold into testing? Have you written more on it? It reminds me of...
Thank you! I haven't written any more of it but its the sort of vibe I like – a lot of my writing is partly inspired by Stephen King so it's nice to hear you say that! (Carrie is a specific favourite of mine which was what inspired the religious aspects). And, yes, the idea was that she was sold into testing! Thanks again for the lovely comment!
Awesome work! Saying so much with so few words.👏👏
Thank you :)
I like your narrator- you do a wonderful job depicting a child's stream of thoughts. I also enjoy how you open with the difference in perspective. Also curious about the end/what happens/who the captain is! "Don't make me get the ladder, Lydia" is such an interesting way to reverse the mundane into an ominous threat. The way the little girl is so aware of her mother's emotions and wants to keep her from frowning is heartrending when taking the ending into consideration.
I read your bio and I’m currently reading through all the Stephen King books, too! I’m almost done with Skeleton Key. 😻
I really enjoyed your story! I liked that floating made her insides “squishy” and I like the way you kept using the words to spell stuff. So kid like and endearing. I felt bad for her at the end. I want to know that she goes on to have a good life, so maybe you could write a sequel? 😻
Thanks for taking the time to comment not once but twice! I always find it quite fun to try to write in a childlike way - I find young female characters especially interesting! I am tempted to turn this into a longer story as I also want to find out what happens to Lydia :) I'm on Salem's Lot at the moment so I'll definitely have to give Skeleton Key a try next!
Great story! Loved the characters! Especially the captain!
Hey, so. This is one of my favorite stories I've ever seen on this site. So flippin brilliant. Can't even begin to tell you how much I enjoyed reading this. You had me from the title, the first line was amazing, and before I knew it the story was over. And it left me wanting more. So many good writing tricks going on in this piece, it's like watching a magician at work. The acrostics, the action beats in between the character dialogue, the appropriateness of the narrative voice. Seriously. And that ending. Ugh - I wish I wrote this story. I'...
Wow! That's probably the nicest comment I've ever gotten! At this rate, you'll make me tear up with your kind words! As for your bold prediction lol, I'm not sure I'll ever be good enough to win but the fact that people enjoy it is amazing :) I wrote this after a bit of a writers block so my main goal was just to write something – the praise was a lovely surprise! Thanks again for your comment (I always love the long-as-hell ones)
A brilliant story. Great imagination and well written. I hope Lydia's happy, wherever she is!
This is wonderful work. I love how the spooky feeling and the ending contrast to Lydia's trusting and pleasant personality. I especially love the imagery of Lydia floating with the cord attached! What an awful mother though. Ugh, so sad. I really can't think of a critique, this was great.
Thank you so much for the lovely words! It really means a lot that you took the time to comment :)