My Take on H

H is for Happiness
Word count: 871

 

His wife was acting squirrely. Anna was normally a very serious woman, practically no sense of humor at all and that suited Abraham Hesse just fine. He was a scientist, she was a scientist, there wasn’t much room for silliness in their professions, nor in their home. Thankfully, they’d had two kids, Peter and Olive, who were just as serious as they were.

He’d first noticed the change in his wife on Tuesday. She’d been in the kitchen, on her phone, giggling. Anna was not a giggler, it didn’t need to be said. He’d asked her what was so funny but she’d flipped her phone over and said something about adding to the grocery list.

It was true that Anna kept a running list on her phone so he’d dismissed it at once. Perhaps he’d only misheard her. Perhaps she’d been clearing her throat.

However, before dinner on the same night, he was sure he heard her humming. Anna was not a hummer, that went without saying. That was, in fact, ridiculous. When he got closer to her, the sound stopped and she turned to him questioningly. Her face was unlined, he was startled to see how much younger she looked. He quickly left the room without saying anything.

On Wednesday morning, Anna got up much earlier than the rest of them, and when he blearily turned off his alarm he swore he could hear her singing in the shower. Anna was not a singer. In fact she was very close to tone deaf and rarely even listened to the radio. When he approached their shared bathroom door, the singing stopped, and the space seemed filled only with the rush of water. Could he have imagined it? A slip of a dream still in his mind when he awoke?

Maybe.

The following day he caught Peter, Olive, and their mother huddled together in the kitchen. As soon as he entered the room they sprang apart, each going their separate way. He stood for a moment, annoyed, then left by the front door without a word. Perhaps they’d only been planning something– a school project maybe. A coincidence that they had scattered like rats with a secret, nothing more.

On Saturday his serious faced son Peter (so much like his own, that face) had a soccer game. Abraham attended as usual sitting in the stands with the other parents–keeping himself purposely separate. He hated small talk. After awhile he grew puzzled, then concerned. The boy looked like stranger– a smile ready on his face, his gaze easy and relaxed. He was enjoying himself on the field. It was Peter out there, but it wasn’t Peter.

At home his daughter Olive stared at him blankly when he greeted her and he had to admit that she probably hadn’t heard him. There were earbuds in her ears and he realized with horror, she was actually dancing away from him, down the hall and to her bedroom, the door of which she closed with a thump.

Had his whole house gone mad? It was too much. He could tolerate a little eccentricity from his wife but to have it affect his children? Never. Their futures were at stake.

Dancing, music, jokes, humming, singing. He had to put an end to it all. Right now.

He called a family meeting. They met in the living room. He in the chair, his son across the marble coffee table, his wife and daughter closest to him on the sofa. Despite the stern look on his face and the tension in his shoulders, they all had the audacity to be smiling at him. Unsettled, he realized his wife and daughter were even holding hands.

“What is wrong with all of you?”

His wife glanced at her children. They all nodded and then turned back to Abraham.

“I said, what the devil is wrong with all of you?”

Their eyes got bigger, bolder; their smiles faded, slipped away. The skin of their faces rippled, just slightly.

Abraham shrank back, afraid.

The skin on their arms rippled, tiny rivers bucked and entwined just under the surface. Abraham’s breath came faster and faster.

“Dear god,” he said, although he had never uttered the words before. He swallowed hard. “I’ll think of something. I’ll fix this. I know I can.” His voice was barely a whisper, his body didn’t move out of the chair. He was riveted in place by the sight of his family, and their condition.

“There’s nothing to fix, Abraham,” his wife said.

His son reached for his hand, but Abraham sat back out of reach. He was studying a problem that he meant to solve. His concentration was total.

“How can I kill it,” Abraham whispered. “Maybe I can cut it out?”

His wife laughed, sweet and bell-like, like nothing he’d ever heard before. “Abraham, you can’t kill happiness. No matter its form.”

She moved closer to him, leaning over and gently kissing the center of his forehead. The touch was light but he was instantly contaminated; he could feel it spread across his forehead, down his cheeks to his smile muscles, settling there.

Idiotically, he began to smile.smiling man

Doesn’t It Just Figure

A Dab Will Do You
Word count: 521

 

Last night–rough. Tom tried to roll over but found that he couldn’t move at all. What a bender. He really needed to stop going out with the Davis Brothers, Thorne and Jack. He couldn’t possibly out drink those two. The headache, oh man.

Jack had yelled,  “If you found the fountain of youth, would you drink?” and Tom’d lifted his drink and said something about wasn’t that what they were doing? And then laughed, so much laughter. A little hard on the ears if he was honest. A little overdone.

What had Thorne said? Drinking it was like drinking off the devil’s tongue. He’d said, only a sip will do you, but had Tom listened? Did he ever?24825_zoom1

He was paying for it now. He couldn’t even turn his head, couldn’t open his eyes.

He could hear though, the sounds of voices. A lot of them, but subdued. Maybe he was on the floor of the bar. He didn’t remember making it home last night. Maybe the TV was on.

What had possessed him to drink so much? Oh, that’s right. Jack’s wife left him, that ballbuster. Tom’d felt a kinship to him having been tossed by the wayside himself. Together they’d toasted their new lives, their freedom. Jack’s wife had wanted a taste of the good life without him. Hook up with whoever, that Brent guy probably, they all knew that. She’d wanted to taste the wine, sit in the Queen’s spot. Well now she had it, didn’t she?  Along with a misogynistic playboy with a penchant for battery in a trailer with no AC in the middle of July. It was almost funny, if you had that kind of sense of humor.

“I’m so sorry, Jack.” Tom could swear he heard Bella. “It was just a stupid accident.”

You don’t leave somebody on accident, Bella. If only Tom could move his face, he’d be sneering. Stupid woman.

“It’s my fault, Bella.” He heard Jack say and Tom wanted to shout–never admit it man! Don’t let her back in! “I brought the drink.” He could hear Jack’s tears, the man was bawling like a lost three year old.

Tom was confused. Bella hadn’t left him over booze. That was more Tom’s wife’s problem.

What the hell was going on?

He was feeling nauseated now. If he didn’t get it under control he would be revisiting the Bombay duck he’d eaten. Don’t swallow, that was the trick. Tom found he couldn’t swallow anyway. His mouth was too dry.

More voices. He was really tripping. He could hear his mother murmuring, was that his sister? What was going on here?

“I’d like to say something.” Who was that? It was so familiar. “All of us who knew Tom knew he was capable of anything–he had so much potential. He just had demons to fight. Unfortunately, I was one of them.”

Was that Marissa? Anger bubbled in his stomach. Who let that wench in? The woman who, at the divorce hearing, swore to never look him in the face again unless he was– dead?

Oh no.

 

Skeleton in the Breeze

A Ray Bradbury inspired story:
Word count: 451

 

Tom discovered it first thing in the morning on the way to his mailbox.skeleton

It swung in the crisp fall breeze, covered in vapory thin clothes, bones rattling against each other, a macabre wind chime prominently displayed from the old tree. Tom’s cat hissed at it, skittering away from it into the bushes leading out to the old field.

The skeleton swung, unperturbed.

Tom stood silently watching it swing and twist. Occasionally, a lone leaf would fall off a branch above it and scrape across the old bones.

His wife joined him. “My God, Tom. Will you look at that?”

“I am looking,” he muttered, running one hand through his white hair.

“Do you suppose it’s some kinda joke? Bored teenagers, or something?”

He shrugged his shoulders, continuing to stare until his wife sighed, rubbing at an arthritic knee, and headed back towards the house. “Just get it outta here, will you?” she said.

Tom fetched the ladder but when he set it up he found himself unmotivated, stuck halfway up. Why did it even need to come down? He liked it, though he couldn’t say why. Its clothes were faded red, sleeves torn and pants ripped but it felt more alive to him than he, himself did. It didn’t hurt like he did, wasn’t bent and crooked, achy.

Its teeth rattled at him, seeming to talk, or maybe just chomp in his direction. He leaned closer to it and saw that there were wispy bits of white hair attached to its scalp, not unlike his own.

He climbed back down, leaving the ladder and the skeleton to the morning sun.

Into the night the skeleton danced among the bare branches of the tree. Frayed clothes knitted together, twisted muscles stretched across its bones.  Blood dripped from fingertips that covered slowly with skin. Eyes bulged, then covered with eyelids, teeth hid behind lips, wispy hair thickened and coarsened, turned dark.

The sun crested the old field and filled the little farmhouse with light, shining on Tom’s side of the bed, which was empty. Tom’s wife rolled over grasping the blanket to her chest, slumbering.

The cat stood in her place in the yard, swishing her tail back and forth, watching the slow and ponderous figure making its way through the field beyond the leaf littered yard. Watching its shoulders roll and the clothes on its back flutter and whip, the red plaid flannel shining in the early morning sunlight. Soon the figure walked more steadily, then confidently, striding. Youthful hands swept once through dark hair before settling over his heart. As light painted the meadow a golden hue he broke into a run, an old man turned young, and disappeared from view.Belle-In-The-Sun-Part-2.1

My Take on F

Flashbang
Word Count: 267side_jpg

The moon hung high in the sky, yellow, bloated, expectant. Every man in the group was aware of it, but none more so than Alex. His eyes slid toward the orb, then back down to the grass. Then back up again.

Bad luck follows the moon. An odd superstition for a swat team member, maybe, but he knew some of the other men were also on edge, could see it in their lined faces, their furtive glances into the shadows.

All around Alex the slight shufflings of movement sounded, of boots on hard packed earth, of weapons held at check.

In front of them, the small yellow two story house sat in darkness. Trees hovered around the roof occasionally making scratching noises and some kind of bug trilled shrilly in the bushes.

Sweat dripped off Alex’s brow.

Inside a drug dealer slept. Mark Belltrollis, aka Bellman, aka Belltolls, a midlevel worthless punk who was hardly worth the week of preparation Alex’s team had put into his capture. Hardly worth all of the anxiety coursing through his brain, and his nerves, and his muscles tonight.

The soft whisper of an ear radio signalled that the other team was ready.

Two of Alex’s colleagues stepped forward with a door ram, then slammed it against the door, bursting the wood, and each man rushed inside.

Alex was third in line and the first up the stairs. He cleared the landing, stepped aside as Rourke slid beside him, tossing the cannister into the room. A pause, then the flash bang went off, and the shrieks began.

 

My Take on E

E is for Exercise
Word count: 1940

 

Sherrie just needed 125 more steps to make her hourly goal. If she used the bathroom on the third floor instead of the second where she was now, she could make her step-count goal and add another flight of stairs to her daily total. fitbit-force

Yes, that’s what she’d do.

She glanced at the clock on her monitor. Six minutes until the hour. Plenty of time. She grabbed her purse, slung it over her shoulder and weaved her way through a labyrinth of cubicles. She could follow outside the outer edge and add to her step total but it might take too long–it was too close to the top of the hour. She’d take the long way back to her desk instead, add more steps on the other side of the hour.

Best to loop around to Janice’s group–she didn’t know a soul over there. No one would try to stop her to chat. She rotated her arm lighting the display on her Fitbit–four minutes left to the hour.

There was the door to the stairs. She slipped through, taking the stairs two at a time then knocking the door open on the third floor, and heading directly to the bathrooms near the west elevators.

Almost there. She checked her watch one more time. One minute to spare.

She’d forgotten her phone at her desk but surely she’d reached her hourly goal–maybe even doubled it. She settled down onto the toilet seat with a sigh of contentment.public-toilet

The bathroom was empty, silent except for the heat rushing through the vents over her head. Silent except for the shuffling of her feet, then the twang of the toilet paper unrolling into her hand.

Shattering the silence–a loud hollow bang, then a scream. She froze in her spot. Another scream, blood curdling this time, then cut off.

Sherrie felt all the blood in her limbs rush to her torso, leaving her ice cold.

What was going on out there?

She could hear voices, getting louder, along with thundering steps. Someone was coming closer, and fast.

Another bang, a thud, then murmured voices.

Fear so sharp it tasted like acid rushed through her. She trembled, her eyes watering. Should she get off the toilet? Try to hide? What if the toilet flushed? What if they heard and came into the room? What if they came in the room anyways and she was sitting here like an idiot on the toilet?

Further away she heard another scream, someone was crying. The footsteps outside of the bathroom faded away heading toward the noise.

It was now or never. She stood up, begging the toilet not to flush–it flushed anyways. The one in the stall next to her did as well. She held her breath, expecting the worst, listening.

No one entered the bathroom.

She pulled her purse off the coat hook, slipped it onto one shoulder and pushed the stall door open. It creaked hollowly.

Her rapid-fire breathing was the only sound in the room. Out of habit she glanced at her Fitbit–noting the time. Six minutes after the hour.

Could she get to the stairs unseen? Escape that way? She edged out of the room, looking around. The hallway was empty.

How many–who?– were there? Where were they now? She shuddered, slipped out of her shoe accidentally. Fought fiercely to put it back on, scraping the back of her heel, listening all the while.

She was almost there. This side of the building was deathly quiet. No voices, no cries, there was barely a hum of computers.

She crossed the hall to the stairwell door, slammed through it, suddenly unable to contain her energy anymore. Her feet stomped down the stairs, one slick hand on the rail. Exhilaration shot through her veins– she’d made it, she was safe just a few more steps–.stairwell

She rounded a corner stopping suddenly in front of a bearded man with a gun who looked, if anything, more startled than she was.

“Oh god,” she said the air whooshing out of her, terror freezing her in mid-motion.

“Stay where you are,” he said, but she wasn’t moving, couldn’t move, could barely breath.

“I’ll shoot you where you stand.”

She nodded mutely unsure what to do now. He looked like he didn’t know either. He looked scared. And despite his beard, very young.

So he wasn’t one of the shooters then. A lookout, maybe? She cursed her luck.

He looked nervously at the door, then back at her. “What floor are you supposed to be on?” he said.

“Two,” she whispered, then unsure he had heard her, she cleared her throat and pointed at the door.

He looked even more unsure. “Okay, you aren’t one of those floor three bitches. That’s good.” He let out a breath of air, leaned against the wall, arms crossed on his chest, the gun dangling. “What department are you in?”

“Sales. Sales support,” she said and her face burned with embarrassment. Was she really having a conversation with a– well, what was he? Some kind of domestic terrorist?

Yes, he was. He and whoever he was with. But why?

She found herself babbling. “Mitchell’s group. You know Mitchell? Tall, curly hair, kinda pudgy? Nice enough guy.” The terrorist shook his head at her and she said, “You work here?”

He narrowed his eyes at her. Why had she asked that? It was the wrong thing to say. What would he do now?

He shrugged his shoulders, maybe figuring it didn’t matter at this point. “Yeah, I used to be up on three. I remember you, now. I saw you around sometimes. You used to use the bathroom on our floor–” a light dawned on his face. “That’s what you’re doing, wasn’t it? Just now.”

She nodded, and then realized she was sweating. Profusely, in fact. She lifted one arm and released a pungent fear sweat smell. Red bloomed up her cheeks and she shifted around in her shirt to allow the air to dry her out. Sweat dripped from her hairline. Self consciously she swiped at it with her sleeve. She needed to get ahold of herself.

She took a deep breath, letting it out slow, slower, trying to steady her fiercely beating heart. After a moment it cooperated, slowing to a more steady beat.

There. That was nominally better. She looked closer at the youngman. Did she recognize him? Maybe, maybe not.

His face. Oh no. He wasn’t wearing a mask or doing anything to protect his identity. Her heart sped up again. Did that mean he was planning to kill her?

“What– what do you want?” she whispered.

“To shake things up.” He shrugged his shoulders again. “Say, why do you always use the bathroom on the third floor?”

She squeezed her eyes shut, feeling briefly dizzy, and suddenly very tired. She raised one arm to hold the rail, then her knees gave out and she sat on the stairs with a solid thunk.

“You all right?” he asked and he looked so genuinely concerned she almost laughed. Then she did, because the whole thing was so ridiculous. Why did she use the bathroom on the third floor?

It was so stupid, she grinned expectantly, earning her a grin from him as well. She raised her arm indicating the Fitbit.

“Hey, isn’t that one of the exercise things?”

She nodded, still giggling.

“How does it work?”

“I have no idea,” she said, and now her voice was strong. “I just wear the fucking thing everyday and it counts my steps. Yay me, I get 10,000 steps today.” Slowly, her giggles subsided to silence.

His face looked thoughtful. “Can I see it?” he asked.

“Why?”

“I’ve never seen one up close.” He pointed at it with his gun and at first she tensed, but then she realized that he wasn’t threatening her. He’d forgotten it was in his hand.

“Come on, let me see it?”

She shook her head, unsure why she was being so stubborn.

“There’s nothing to see. Just a black band. It’s basically a watch.” She showed him the display and the clock flashed briefly– 3:48.

How about that? she thought. Just passing the time with a terrorist discussing her exercise routine.

“How much’d that set you back?”

“I got it free through my job.”

“But it’s expensive, right? A couple hundred?”

“I guess so.”

“Man, I’d like one of those.”

She nodded absently, suddenly tired. Sad.

He gave her a sly look. “Give me yours.”

“What?”

“I said, give me yours.”

He definitely remembered the gun now. He waved it at her. “Now,” he said.

“No.” It was out of her mouth before she’d even realized it. Too late to take it back now.

“I said–”

“I heard you.” She stared him down. “This one’s calibrated for me. Get your own.”

He was so taken aback he stepped away from her and leaned against the wall. “Fine,” he muttered under his breath.

The door banged open beside him and three other young men crowded the landing.

“Jesus, Jonathan. Where’s your mask?” one of them said.

Jonathan shrugged, reached into his back pocket and pulled out a ski mask that matched his friends’. “I didn’t need it,” he said. “No cameras in here.”

“What the hell?” The same guy pointed to Sherrie, noting her for the first time. “What about her?”

“No, she’s cool. She’s from two.”

Sherrie’s heart raced to the top of her throat strangling her voice. Her knees knocked. Her purse fell off her shoulder, landing on the concrete with a thud.

“We gotta go,” the first guy said. His shoes slapped down the stair next to Sherrie. She leaned away from him pressing as far into the wall as she could. The others followed him including the young man she’d been conversing with for the last half hour. She watched him guiltily slide the mask on over his head, his eyes cutting over to her, then slip past her.

One of the others stopped on the next landing. “What about the chick?” he said.

Sherrie heard the leader say something under his breath, then he stomped back over to her.

“Yeah, sorry,” he said and before Sherrie could cry out ‘no’, his gun swept up and he pulled the trigger in her face.

She heard a click, her limbs turning to liquid, her mouth opening to scream mutely.

“Dammit,” he said, “Give me your piece.”

Jonathan handed his gun up and the leader raised it and shot Sherrie in the chest. She watched him hand the gun back to Jonathon then say “Let’s get out of here.” He turned on his heel, pushing past Jonathan, and raced to the final landing, disappearing around the corner.

Sherrie was lost in pain, buried in it. Her breathing sounded like a hiccuping machine to her ears and she knew she was probably going into shock. She hoped that would make the pain go away.

Jonathan was still standing in front of her. His lips were trembling uncontrollably. He leaned down, being careful to not look her in the eye, instead he looked at her shoulder, her arm, her forehead, but not her chest where blood welled across the silky fabric looking like a macabre tie dye flower.

His eyes were sad, his vision blurry, and his hands shook gently as he grabbed her Fitbit and yanked it off of her wrist.

He slid it onto his own wrist, snapping it in place, sighing resignedly, then stood up and followed his friends down the stairwell and into the bright sunlit parking lot.

Always Vet Your Babysitter

Babysitter
Word Count: 1402vp-vintage-victorian-porch-restoration

 

“Did you call the sitter?” She was dashing from the bed to grab her shawl, to the mirror to pick up her earrings. Her heels clacked rapidly across the hardwood floors.

A smile crossed his face. “Of course I called the sitter. You know I did.”

“No, I mean, what time are they gonna be here?”

He watched his wife putting an earring in, dropping it, then putting it in again and sliding the clasp onto the back. She took a look in the mirror, pursed her lips and then said, “We’re going to be late.”

“We have plenty of time. Besides Will and Bennie don’t expect us there til later.” He stepped up to her and rubbed her shoulders. “Relax. It’s going to be fine.”

She was worried about the award. He could see it all over her face. It wasn’t even her award–it was Bennie’s but there was no telling her that so he just smiled at her reflection in the mirror, and stepped away.

“I’ll go check the kids,” he said.

Standing at the doorway to their room he found them playing quietly.

Sue looked up at him. “Dad?”

“Mom and I are leaving soon, okay?” She barely nodded returning instead to her game. He wandered back out into the hall and heard the doorbell ring.

“Get it?” His wife called to him.

“On my way–”

A small wrinkled old woman stood at the door. She wore a gray flowered dress and a bland expression.

“Are you the sitter? Mrs. Crandall?”

She nodded slowly.

“Come in please. I’ll introduce you to the kids.” He moved to the bottom of the stairs. “Kids! Come meet Mrs. Crandall.”

Turning away from the children thundering down the stairs he was surprised to see that the woman’s face was staring straight ahead almost as if someone had hit the pause button on her features. She didn’t turn her head until the children were right in front of her and even then her expression remained the same. Only her chin moved–up. She was shorter than his ten year old daughter.

He began to get a bad feeling in the pit of his stomach.

“Sue and Marty, this is Mrs. Crandall.”

Instead of responding, the little girl wrinkled up her nose and that’s when Martin smelled it as well– a fetid smell like an old basement. He gave a warning look to Sue then turned back to the old woman.

“Say hello, children.” He prompted them.

“Hello.” They averted their eyes. Martin made a quick decision to ignore it, given the unusual circumstances. He dismissed the children with a wave of one hand, and they bounded back up the stairs. Martin turned back to the old woman.

“I would like the children in bed by 9pm. They can tend to their own bedtime routine. We’ll return sometime around 1am. Please feel free to eat whatever you find in the fridge. The children have eaten already. They may ask for a snack but I’ve already told them no for the evening.” He looked around the living room. “Make yourself at home.”

He was halfway back to the bedroom before he realized that the old woman hadn’t said anything at all only shuffled over to the sofa and sat down facing the TV.

His brow furrowed in annoyance. Next time he wouldn’t use the same babysitting service. Better yet, he’d call the neighbor girl down the street.

After planting kisses on the top of their children’s heads and giving stern but distracted admonitions to be good, his wife and he swept out the door, turning the lock in the knob on the way out.

 

The old woman didn’t turn on the light, that was what Sue noticed first. She had crept down the stairs for the express purpose of spying on the old woman but she had almost passed her before she saw her sitting in the dark.

The TV was on mute and the light from the pictures flashed across the old woman’s eyes. She was staring blankly and for just a brief moment Sue worried that the old woman had died right there on the furniture with her eyes wide open.

Sue recoiled, a squeak escaping her throat.

The old woman’s face turned slowly toward her, unblinking.

Unable to help it, she whispered to the old woman. “Are you okay?”

The old woman nodded, then turned slowly back around.

Sue took a deep breath, then escaped to the kitchen. She took the back way through the old Victorian to return upstairs.

Back in their bedroom, Sue whispered to her brother, “She’s creepy.”

“She smells.” Marty wrinkled his nose.

“Like death. Probably,” she amended. Other than a squirrel that had been run over and decayed in the street in front of her house, she’d never had occasion to smell death. She’d never been to a funeral. But the old lady smelled like the squirrel.

“And she’s sitting on our sofa.” Marty made a barfing noise to show his displeasure and Sue nodded in agreement.

“We’ll just stay up here, okay? Leave her down there.”

At 8:55 Sue went to the stairs and called down. “We’re going to bed now.” She waited for a moment but there was only silence. She turned to her brother who shrugged from the bedroom doorway.

“She won’t come up here,” Sue said, as if trying to convince herself.

“She’d never make it up the stairs,” Marty said and Sue felt better. He was right. The old lady could barely make it to the sofa. She wasn’t going anywhere. She grinned at her brother.

They were safe.

 

The old woman could hear the susurration of their breaths so she knew when they were truly asleep, lost in dreams. The little boy had drifted off first, then the little girl. The old woman sat still on the sofa only the rise and fall of her chest showing life. The clock in the hall pealed eleven times, then was silent.

Her old bones cracked and her breath wheezed as she stood slowly to her feet. Outside a dog barked frantically. She turned her head, and the barking stopped with a yelp. The silence that followed was deeper somehow, sinister. The wind pressed against the windows, leaves scraped across the sidewalk like knives across bones. A chill filled the room.

The air around the woman wavered, and her face faded to darkness. Insubstantial.

She became it, and its true face was not of an old woman. In fact, it was not human at all. It was older than humanity.

Shadows moved across its skin, the fabric of its clothing shifting and moving and twisting. It crouched, groaned softly, and shifted becoming something else entirely. Long bony fingers pulled at its sleeves and its clothes fell to the floor. Freed from its shell it moved its limbs in a jerking motion. Its stomach growled loudly reminding it that it hadn’t eaten in months.

On nimble toes it crept towards the stairs.

 

The children lay across from one another, each in their own bed, sleeping soundly. Between the beds, the thing stood weaving and rocking, silent. Tendrils of darkness rose off of its skin and flowed over their faces, into their nostrils, seeping into their pores. The girl stirred once, then settled without a sound. The boy did not move at all.

The thing fed of their youth, drinking their memories in like sweet water. It fed until their skins dried up, their eyes like wrinkly walnuts in small black sockets. It fed until their blankets hung on the bony protrusions of their shoulder bones, their knee caps. Then it left them in their beds and crept silently to the window. The thing wasn’t sated, its belly still ached but it could wait for another night, another family to fill its belly. Its long long fingers grasped the window sill, opening it with a scrape of wood on wood. It climbed upon the sill and stretched for the tree branches just beyond the window until it heard the key in the lock downstairs. It ticked its head, the click and drag of metal sounding through the house and followed by the swift movement of air currents that billowed the curtains in the bedroom.14590441_10155450312327846_4314034457231274112_n

“Mrs. Crandall?” It heard.

Bouncing lightly on the balls of its feet it climbed back into room.

My Take on D

Dreamsmeteor

Word Count: 1141

 

 

 

 

 

WHAT WOULD HAPPEN IF YOU WERE SUDDENLY INCAPABLE OF REALIZING THAT A DREAM WAS ONLY A DREAM?

 

The boy’s mother walked by the door, peeked in for just a moment. The boy’s brow was slightly sweaty and the blankets were pulled up to his chin. He twitched rapidly and she wondered what vexed him so.

 

The boy’s name was Lucas. He was sixteen and he was dreaming about his girlfriend Laurie DePaul. At first the dream had started out well, he and Laurie were knotted together in his backseat and she was breathing heavy against his neck and it was even better than when it had happened for real last weekend. Her fingertips touching and tasting him, her skin hot and sweaty under his own. But then, in that funny way that dreams had, Laurie had drifted away floating right through the car door and he had watched her, frowning, annoyed at her selfishness, and already feeling frustrated, down there. Getting angry, he’d followed her, drifting himself, rapidly catching up to her only to find her entwined with Joseph, his best friend since forever. She’d looked up at him smiling so beautifully and–

 

Outside in the dawn’s first light, a meteor landed just inside the city limits of Galveston. Not a soul saw it burn through the sky, but all felt its impact. Every person across the city frowned, feeling–no knowing that something was off, something was altered.

Lucas frowned as well, coming full awake and reached for his phone, texting, fingers flying, then hitting send and imagined how crushing the news would be to that cheating lying whore when she read the text.

 

Laurie was dreaming too. She’d been soaring above the rooftop of her house, looking down at her dad’s brand new roof. Feeling exultant and free and full of life. Somewhere in the sky a beep sounded and the sky shrunk and she was filled with confusion and fell out of the sky. She opened her eyes and rolled across the pillowy expanse of her bed and flipped off her alarm. She was frowning, but not from her alarm. It was only reminding her that it was time for school. Unease filled her.  

Her phone chirped and she picked it up and tapped the text that had come in from her boyfriend Lucas.

She barely read it, her eyes skipping across the words, reading maybe one in three:

Can’t’ believe …trust … done … screw …

She yawned instead, the phone dropping out of her fingers and landing on her nightstand. Her uneasiness slipped away, forgotten.

She couldn’t concentrate on a text, not now. She needed to be outside. She quickly got dressed and headed out to the backyard.

 

Lucas sat at the breakfast table, fuming. His mother scraped eggs out of a pan and onto his plate and wondered what was wrong with him now. Being the mother of a teenage boy could be a real trial sometimes. Last night he’d slammed the bedroom door after she’d told him to take out the trash. Was he still mad about that? She set the pan back on the stove and turned to the sink with a sigh.

Her son sat eating silently, keeping his reasons and his eyes to himself.

At least he wasn’t glued to his phone. A mother had to take her victories somewhere.

 

Laurie propped the ladder against the house. It had been easy–it was already out of the garage and laying below the den windows. Laurie carefully shambled up the ladder, then stood unsteadily on the roof. She heard the back door open behind her, and an exclamation of surprise. She didn’t look down though. She had further up to go. She stood on the addition; she needed to be on the second story roof. The slope was steep but if she was careful and went up it on a diagonal, yes, she might just be able to reach the top.

Down below her, standing on the deck, her mother was calling her. “Just wait for Dad! Whatever it is, he can get it! He’ll be home after lunch. Laurie! Can you hear me, Laurie?”

Laurie could, but only barely. Her mind was fixed on the top peak and she was already starting to feel the excitement that she remembered from her dream.  A light wind lifted her hair and made her blouse billow around her. She should have worn a tank top or a tshirt, what would people think if she flashed them accidentally? Lucas would like it, but–something about Lucas slipped into and out of her mind. Nevermind, she couldn’t remember. It didn’t really matter, did it?

No, nothing did.

 

Lucas decided that nothing would do but to confront her in person. She wasn’t returning his text and that wasn’t a surprise, was it? Nope. Not when she’d been shacked up with Joseph Wenzel all night. She was probably sleeping in this morning, exhausted from all her slut gymnastics. But he knew where she was now, and he wasted no time getting here.

He heard the screaming as soon as he opened his car door in the driveway of the DePaul house. Not the words, he couldn’t make out the words but he could tell that the screamer was terrified. He ran to the backyard and stared wide-eyed as Laurie, his Laurie, stood at the peak of her roof, beaming, arms out, the air blowing through her hair, and her eyes closed.

She looked so pretty. Kind of like that chick in the Titanic movie.

“Laurie!”

She opened her eyes, turned to him with joy evident in her face and yelled, “Watch this, Lucas!”

And jumped.

 

Unaware of how crazy her family’s life was about to get, back home Lucas’s mom rubbed at her eyes. She hadn’t slept well last night. Or the night before. She’d been plagued by migraines, and slept fitfully with nightmares sprinkled into her dreams. She looked ten years older, felt twenty. She popped open a pill bottle slipping the pill into her mouth and chasing it with water. Maybe this pressure building behind her eyes would dissipate and leave her in peace. She had the day off, at least that was something. She laid back her head, then slid to one side and tucked her legs up onto the couch.

Perhaps all she really needed was a nap.

 

Laurie’s face was broken, like a china doll. Shattered under bloody and bruised skin. Lucas stood over her, gaping. The screaming was crescendoing around him, an assault to his ears.

He threw his arms up in the air. How was he supposed talk to her now?

He turned on his heel and left the back yard and its cacophonous screams behind.

It was time to find Joseph now.

 

Lily of the Valley


lily-of-the-valley

 

Lily of the Valley
Word Count: 804

She’d started walking every morning. Waving to this or that neighbor idly, not with any energy. She wore her sadness on her face and no one stopped to chat.

Most turned away, afraid to see.

Her name was Lily which was fitting. Lily of the valley her father would whisper when she sat on his knee. He meant love but his words brought death, a suggestion that the universe could not ignore.

A classmate she’d been close to, a mentor who’d seen her through tough times. Both of her parents. This or that pet, all fell before the unyielding hand of fate. Death followed her doggedly.

Not often. Not every year. The universe had its own timing; it didn’t confer with her. There was no discernable pattern, nothing anyone else could detect about these losses that troubled her life.

Only she could feel it, sense its impending tragedy. It pressed on her, increasing in intensity the closer the time came to the loss.

That morning during her walk there was no pressure. Death had come and gone and was a distant memory weeks in the past. It left her feeling empty.

The world knew they were missing: her four children. Missy, Lena, Jacob, Dixon.

Only Lily knew the truth. The universe had taken them. Its twisty fingers had wound around hers and darkened her heart–just for a moment, just long enough to steal her love away from her and right now each body slumbered in the woods, one boy and one girl in each grave.

Her house was empty. The silence shouted at her, cried out its accusations and as soon as she awoke each day she filled her coffee mug and she walked. Up and down the streets and all through the neighborhood. The labyrinth of the McMansions similar to the labyrinth in her mind. Sometimes her thoughts backed her into a corner but more often than not her mind was a long blank passageway.

She had no friends, not one soul who cared for her. Her days were empty of conversation. There was no one to see her close her eyes at night or watch them open in the morning. Or care whether they never opened again.

The neighborhood knew her as That Poor Unlucky Woman. They couldn’t truly know how unlucky because they only knew the end of her story.  They knew that soon after her last child’s birth her husband Gerald had left her alone to raise all four of his children. Left her and never came back. Tut, tut, such a shame. She’d let slip that he’d returned to his Louisiana roots, chasing real estate dreams. (It was a lie that mocked the truth.) Or perhaps not.

Her neighbors whispered: Now his children were all missing and That Poor Unlucky Woman walked their valley. See her through the window? Poor dear.

She had enough to live on in their account. In two more years she could file for abandonment and then the insurance would kick in.

She gave that very little thought.

wyalusing_indoor_camp_groupToday her path took her to the woods. Branches scraped at her arms. She lost her balance on uneven ground, stumbling against the bleach white trunk of a birch tree. Steadily she plodded along, undeterred. Leaves and twigs snapped underfoot, unnoticed. At an unmarked spot she stopped.

She filled the silence with her voice, soft and sweet. She told Lena she had found her spelling test under the couch that morning, congratulated her on getting a B. She told Missy how much her laughter was missed. She sang Jacob his favorite song and assured Dixon his toys were right where they belonged; she wouldn’t throw them away.

She swore to them that none of this was their fault, her innocents.

She moved away slowly, sidling over to a new spot nearby. The dirt was sunken here, diminished. This spot was years older than the others.

She stood in silence for a moment.

“I don’t miss you anymore,” she said. “I know you are with our children, and that gives me peace and saddens me both. At least they were greeted by your open arms.” Tears flowed down her face, and she sank to her knees. “Thank you, my love, for being the first sacrifice.”

She sat back in the leaves and shivered a little from the loss. She took a deep breath and then whispered so softly only his soul could hear, “I’m isolated now. Alone. I interact with no one. When the time comes, and let it be soon! only I will fall for I am the only one left that I care about.” She sighed deeply. “The universe must choose me, make me the final sacrifice.”

She closed her eyes. “Then, we shall all be together.”

My Take on C

C is for Chocolate
Word Count: 841

 

Whispers on the playground. Too loud to ignore.playground

~Did you hear about that new chocolate?

~I think Justin’s Dad makes it.

~It’s really popular in Europe.

By the end of the week the conversation had changed just a bit, with everyone except Nick claiming to have tasted the chocolate.

~Sam gave me some yesterday.

~Travis shared with Mike and John.

~Rebecca had two!

Nick tried not to listen. He closed his ears, turned his head, whistled under his breath but in class, in the hallways, at recess, it followed him.  Chocolate, chocolate, chocolate. And in the strange inimitable way of all obsessions, the more he tried not to think of chocolate, the more he wanted some. The more he could taste it, the slight snap as it broke between his teeth, the velvety feel of it on his tongue.

And everyone knew it.

He caught little glances here and there. Smirks out of the corner of his eye. Each and every one of his eleven-year-old classmates seemed intent on making him feel like the last kid picked for the team, except this was chocolate, sweet delectable chocolate and he was the last one to get it. He might, their glances suggested, never get any at all. Ever.

At home that weekend, his mother assured him– there was no special chocolate. The very idea was silly–didn’t he know that? Here, take this Hershey square and be done with it.

But Nick didn’t want a Hershey square. He wanted the special chocolate. The new chocolate.

By Monday at recess, the details had changed slightly. Now the chocolate came in a mug and that was the very finest way to have it, everyone said so.paper-cup-with-handle-hx0803

They asked him, their eyes big, you’ve had it, haven’t you, Nick? And then they smiled gently at him because they knew he had not.

Nick could only purse his lips and walk away and curse his luck.

Without friends, without allies, how was he to get ahold of the chocolate? It was impossible.

 

The solution presented itself on Thursday. The sun was bright, the clouds fat and cheery. By then everyone had had the chocolate, it was all they talked about, each claiming to have had it two, three, four times, even though Nick never saw them eat it. He wasn’t quick enough it seemed, never saw the evidence of it, no wrappers or empty mugs of chocolate in the trash.

Jeremiah, a boy Nick’s eyes followed day in and day out, claimed to have had it for breakfast all week, stating sadly to three other students (although not Nick, not exactly) –too bad it smelled so horrible. It was the chocolate’s only failing– a great stench to turn your stomach. But so good, so good.

Jeremiah had brought some to school to have during recess. Maybe he’d share it with someone he said, and Nick’s heart beat faster and faster. Someone special.

On that fateful Thursday the day was pregnant with expectation, heavy with it, straining with it. Nick’s hands tingled and he couldn’t concentrate couldn’t even hardly hear what the teacher said to him before recess.  He’d just nodded then followed the rest of the kids outside. Wandered over to the wall to watch the others from a safe distance, a ball from the ball bag tucked under one arm in case someone wanted to play with him.

When Jeremiah approached him, Nick was so surprised he dropped the ball and watched it numbly as it rolled away. Others gathered near creating a semicircle around him.

Jeremiah held a mug in one hand, one with a paper handle that must have come from the teacher’s lounge, that den of magic. Nick quivered, too nervous to hear what Jeremiah was saying to him but his intention was obvious. Jeremiah was offering Nick the mug of chocolate.

“Remember it smells awful but it tastes…heavenly,” he said.

“Heavenly,” others said and Nick heard that clearly and couldn’t stop smiling.

He looked in the mug and its contents were brown just as he expected and liquidy which was a surprise. He sloshed it around slightly and he could smell it. It did smell awful, terrible, horrible.

“It’s better to drink it fast,” Jeremiah said. “To get past the smell.” Then he nodded his approval and Nick looked around at all the bright smiling faces–all of them happy for him.  Happy that it was his turn to have chocolate and he lifted the mug and put it to his lips and opened his mouth and the liquid splashed across his teeth and over his tongue and down his gullet and before he knew it tears were in his eyes and vomit was in his throat and out of his mouth and he was crying, hysterically weeping and was immediately surrounded by the sweet tinkling sounds of laughter, pure light hearted giggles and he shut his eyes vowing never to open them again.

Never ever, not for the rest of his life.

 

All Children Except One Grow Up

This story came from a prompt given during my writing club. We had to use the first line from a famous novel. I chose Peter Pan, of course.

All Children Except One Grow Upunhappy_child2

Word count: 360

All children, except one, grow up.

Mags skated around her driveway. Her skates chaffed her ankles but she barely noticed. Her face was fierce; cheeks red, hair covered in sweat, her eyes narrowed and intense.

Inside of her house her parents raged. She could hear them, everyone could hear them. Occasionally another child on her block would stop, or at least pause across from her on the sidewalk listening only long enough to know that they wouldn’t stick around for more. No one ever hung around. It made Mags very lonely.

Her skates rode roughly over the pavement. The vibration gave her calves a pleasant almost numb feeling. Hot air rose around her. Like hell, Mags thought. That’s what Mom would say, sitting with her friends in the backyard under the shade trees. Then Mag’s father would roll his eyes and wink at her.

She, ten years old, was at the beginning of her life, but it was changing. She could feel the changes, sometimes. She could see them too which is why she abhorred mirrors, pretended they weren’t there, went selectively blind at certain times of the day. Like when she brushed her teeth.

They were shouting again. Mags closed her eyes. “You never loved me!” She could hear her mother shout, but she knew it wasn’t love her mother sought, not really. That wasn’t what was missing.

It was the elimination of the other stuff, the stuff Mag’s mother called stress. Things like paying bills, buying groceries, turning off the lights. Well, that was her father’s big thing–’turn off the lights, Mags’ he always said but she preferred the darkness anyway. It was her mother that wanted the light. It was her mother who sat up at night and turned on all the lights and left them until dawn, while she slept in the chair in the living room.

Those stressors, they all had one source: adulthood.

Mags knew that the root of all grown up problems stemmed from being a grown up.

The solution was easy; never grow up.

That’s what Mags planned to do.