Carrieanne is a ten year-old portion of the American Pie. Her golden locks are bound as pigtails and she wears a unicorn-print dress that is reserved for days when she does not have to attend school. Walking down the sidewalk, she employs a very distinct hum.
She hums in the fashion of a jazz-musician, constantly riffing on tone and duration, turning mistakes into melodies. She everyday improvises and follows her hum wherever it decides to take her.
Today it leads her to the brambles.
The blackberry brambles swarm lonely at the end of a sprawling field that was used as a baseball diamond before the internet. Carrieanne approaches with a metal pail that sways to and fro with her walk. Her bucket-swing is a happy one because she knows that blackberries aren’t in season this time of year for most places. She thinks October berries taste the best.
A moment of idyllic sunny-day picking passes before a shadow begins moving within the brambles. The shadow is accompanied by enough shaking and cracking to obscure its direct location. A voice escapes the dense core of thorns. It buzzes audibly from more than one location. It is an old and wretched voice that nearly crumbles apart as it speaks.
“Carrieanne, why haven’t you said hello today?”
She continues picking her blackberries.
“Carrieanne, that was a question.”
She rolls her eyes and continues picking.
“I haven’t said hello because I don’t want to talk to you today.”
The shadow-mass moves closer as the voice speaks.
“I lend you my blackberries because you are still young enough to listen. If you aren’t young enough to take my words to heart then you aren’t really worth talking to. And, if that’s the case, I may as well just bite your little fingers and chew the flesh from your bones.”
Most little girls would shriek and run away at such a threat but Carrieanne doesn’t even consider that tactic. Having once jumped from the top of the jungle gym on her church playground, and earning the peer-reputation of “super tough” in the process, she doesn’t want to do anything to personally diminish that designation.
“Old Voice, why are you always trying to scare me?”
“Things are happening today.”
Carrieanne eats a berry and smiles in sloppy nirvana before responding.
“Things happen every day, Old Voice. And you always want to talk about them.”
Her focus quickly fixes on a very large and ripe blackberry that hangs from an elevated strand of brambles.
“Ooh, look at that one. It’s gotta be the best!”
The Old Voice exhales softly.
“You’re right. An absolute marvel.”
Carrieanne strains for the prize but she doesn’t have the reach. She huffs and puffs desperately before turning her face into a puppy dog. The transformation is practiced and is near-instantaneous. Despite being mysterious and dangerous, Old Voices are still very susceptible to puppy-dog faces. The brambles shake violently for a moment. The plump blackberry drops from its high perch and into Carrieanne’s bucket. She relents her puppy dog assault.
“Thanks, Old Voice.”
“You’re welcome, Carrieanne.”
Carrieanne takes a break from the berries. Old Voice doesn’t take many breaks.
p class=”normal” style=”text-indent: 45.0pt; line-height: 200%; margin: 0in 9.0pt .0001pt 9.0pt;”>“They are circling in the sky. Do you see them up there?”
“What are? Like Buzzards?”
p class=”normal” style=”text-indent: 45.0pt; line-height: 200%; margin: 0in 9.0pt .0001pt 9.0pt;”>“Like buzzards, yes. They are circling, Carrieanne. They have always been circling. Do you know what you need to do?”
Carrieanne squints at the bright sky.
“I don’t see any. Besides, don’t you gotta be dead to worry about buzzards?”
“That’s what I’m saying! You need to survive! You need to hide from the buzzards, never let them spot you!”
“There aren’t any buzzards, Old Voice. Just clouds.”
“Then you aren’t looking hard enough.”
Carrieanne’s face comes alive with excitement and she points to the sky.
The brambles shake.
“What? What do you see? Have they come?”
She hops up and down and continues.
“That cloud looks like a hippo!”
Old Voice sighs.
Carrieanne resumes the task of filling her bucket. She throws one of the first blackberries she picks to the ground and begins the shivery dance little girls perform when they are grossed out.
“Eww! Old Voice, that blackberry had a spider on it!”
“Carrieanne, please stop dancing around like an idiot.”
Carrieanne shudders and turns to the brambles.
“Don’t call me an idiot, you dirty old weed. I mean that!”
The brambles stop rustling. Icy silence follows. Carrieanne squints and tries to peer into the shadows. She’s not used to quiet thorns.
“A spider, huh?”
The raspy words startle Carrieanne. She retreats from the threshold and settles back into the conversation.
“I hate spiders. Don’t you, Old Voice?”
“You get used to them.”
Carrieanne feels bad for the Old Voice. She never thought about how many spiders it had to put up with in there.
“Even when they bite?”
“Yes. Even when they bite.”
“Share what? The blackberries?”
“There is safety beyond sustenance in here.”
“Do you really live in them?”
“Of course. That’s a silly question.”
“It’s just, they don’t look very comfortable.”
The Old Voice calculates the highest probability of getting through to her is to impersonate the authority of a parent.
“Carrrieanne, come to the brambles this instant!”
Old Voice captured the intonation of a parent, but he doesn’t bear resemblance to Carrieanne’s momma. He’s an Old Voice in the brambles, not a thirty-seven year-old divorcee.
“I’m done talking today, Old Voice. I have more than enough blackberries.”
“What do you mean? Where are you going?”
“Home of course. I’m gonna make a pie.”
Carrieanne turns and walks away from the forest of brambles.
“Don’t do this to me! Don’t you dare, you little brat!”
A horrific screeching, not heard in Gentle Valley for a very long time, rains down from the sky. Carrieanne doesn’t turn back. She pops a fat blackberry into her mouth and speaks through the juice.
p class=”normal” style=”text-indent: 45.0pt; line-height: 200%; margin: 0in 9.0pt .0001pt 9.0pt;”>“Bye, Old Voice.”
Another screech falls from on high. This one exceeds chalkboard-fingernails in the cringe hierarchy. The sound is followed by the origin. A pterodactyl swoops from the sky and dives into the brambles as a disgusting scream leaps out.
“No! They’ve come! Please, help Carrieanne!”
Carrieanne gets annoyed when Old Voice starts being dramatic like this.
“I said goodbye, Old Voice.”
Carrieanne thinks about how great her blackberry pie is going to taste. She revives her hum and walks further away as two more pterodactyls follow the first into the brambles. They tremble and shudder in brutal rhythm with the thrashing screams coming from inside.
Screams of agony.
Old screams of agony.
Sean Whiteman is a writer/filmmaker living in Portland, Oregon. His last feature CHILDHOOD MACHINE (co-directed with his brother) screened as part of the Northwest Tracking Series at the NW Film Center, his new short BRAMBLE ON will screen as part of February's 41st Portland International Film Festival and his work was featured in Matt McCormick and Chris Freeman's Boathouse Microcinema "Short Stories / Short Films" program in early 2017. Sean is currently at work on his second novel, BANSHEE SUPPLEMENTS. Learn more about him here: whitemanbrothers.com; Instagram; Facebook