Christina

https://www.deviantart.com/art/the-box-326060573

1.

On a morning in January that was cold enough to hurt your lungs with each breath, I left my mother’s house and planned to never return. Despite the fact the I was only fifteen, I managed to cut her out of my life like a surgeon removing a cancerous growth.

As I sat in the judge’s chambers six months later and watched him sign my freedom onto a seemingly ordinary piece of paper, I was surprised. It had been a little too easy.

Unless you took into account the medical records and hundreds of abuses missing from them.

All she had done was glare at me that day. She hated me, which used to terrify me. But that day, I was glad of it. No one could mistake that rage, and no way would a judge let her argue her way back into my world.

The lawyer watched my mother leave, then stood and wrapped me in a hug that forced the judge’s gaze away.

“I don’t know how you brought yourself up out of that, child.”

Her voice was damp and heavy with emotion, which is what had drawn me to her in the beginning of it all. An advocate for women and children, I’d seen her speak at a school assembly when I was 11. And that day, Nancy lit a spark inside me. Every trip to the emergency room and night without dinner just fanned that flame.

I knew I would eventually be rid of that life. And this angel would be my salvation.

She pulled back but laid her palm against my cheek. “Now, are you sure you’re all set, baby? You don’t need any help with the apartment or getting to school and work?”

I smiled at her. If she knew how many times I’d wished she was my mother, she would’ve probably invited me right into her home, forcing her five boys share two rooms instead of three and telling her husband to get ready for a daughter.

But the goal had always been emancipation. Independence. Freedom. So I closed that book before it was opened.

I shook my head, pulling myself away and picking up the paper the judge had just stamped and signed.

“I’ve been doing it for months now, Nancy. I’ve got this, I promise.” I couldn’t help the teenage petulance in my voice, but it was gone before the promise, and so was the pity behind her eyes.

“Ok then. You’ll come have lunch with us again next Sunday, won’t you?”

I didn’t.

We lost track of each other as the years folded over me, giving me a diploma, a different name, a bachelors degree, an amazing job in informational engineering that let me work from home and maintain a safe, steady new life.

It had made me sad, but she was part of the old life. A life I had to leave behind.

2.

Her name flashed across my phone screen one Monday afternoon as I was prepping a code report for a client. It took me almost two minutes to stop shaking.

I hadn’t looked over my shoulder in years, but the association Nancy held within the cold, damp basement of my memory dragged everything right back up those steps.

CALL ME, TONIGHT, JENNA. I’VE GOT SOME NEWS.

I didn’t want any news but knowing there was news twisted in my stomach until I thought I was going to be sick.

I’d chosen to be Jenna Jacobs. I thought it was fun, the perfect, anonymous name for a freshman at the University of Illinois. I hadn’t really thought about how it would work for the rest of my life. But, just like your given name, you don’t think about it. It is simply an extension of you.

But imagining what news Nancy might have to share, I felt my given name burrowing up through my skin. Like something alive that had simply been sleeping for the past 13 years.

I could hear her growling it as she trailed the buckle of my dead father’s belt against the tiled floor. I could taste the blood where I would bite my tongue to keep from screaming. If I shouted or moaned from the pain, it was like pouring lighter fluid on dying embers. I could feel the change when the rage would break open and she would throw down the belt to beat with her fists. I could smell the sickness that would ooze from her when her body could not handle the adrenaline any longer.

Or maybe, that was my own.

Brian found me when he came home at 5:15. I’d cleaned up, but blacked out in the shower. The memories hadn’t come up in a long time, not like that. But the fear creasing his beautiful face helped me put them back away.

“I’m not her.”

He wrapped me in my pink terry cloth robe, a laundry accident when I was 16 that had become the only possession I could never let go of. And it was just the thing I needed. The perfect symbol of how far I had come.

“No, you’re you, Jenna. But who are we talking about here?”

I explained what had happened after I received the text. He knew more than anyone about my past, but no one would ever know just how much the woman who gave me life had also taken from me.

He pulled me into his lap as he sat on the commode, his lips pressed to my forehead and his arms offering me a kind of safety I didn’t allow myself to imagine was even possible for a very long time.

“I could call her, Jenna. You don’t have to talk to her.”

But I did. Or my old name was just going to creep out and swallow me up all over again.

He cooked macaroni with hot dogs while I stared at the screen in my hands. I loved him for knowing, without even asking, just what I needed in every moment. And after he served me a golden heap of comfort and sat next to me with a bowl of his own, I used it as fuel. Every bite and smile and touch making me a little bit stronger.

Until I dialed.

3.

She was dead.

Maybe some part of me knew, but I think I’d always expected her to haunt me. I’d imagined it so many times as a girl that I’d actually prayed she would live forever.

She didn’t.

Nancy sounded exactly the same. Her voice had lowered a tiny bit and she didn’t hover within the niceties as long as I’d expected. She just sighed and said it.

“She’s gone, now, Jenna.”

I didn’t feel anything except the odd awareness of her using my new name. I had her on speakerphone and stared at Brian as she repeated herself.

“She’s dead, your… mother. She died last week in hospice and the police contacted me because… Oh, child. She left you that God forsaken house.”

I laughed, and the sound startled all of us. But I couldn’t stop. I giggled again, a feeling I couldn’t describe with a poets tongue bubbled up from within me. “You’re joking.”

I shook my head trying to free myself of the hysteria, but it ballooned and my laughs turned into sobs and back into laughs. Brian tried to shush me, stroking my hair and eventually pulling me into his arms. His murmurs in my ear settled my voice, but not my heart.

Was it celebrating? I thought it might be leaping out of my chest. But at the same time, my throat was closing and my eyes were leaking.

My mother who never loved me was gone.

And now, she never could.

Nancy had given Brian the details. Who to call and what to do next. I could handle the sale completely from here without ever having to step foot in that house again. There was no funeral to arrange, no family or friends to contact. That had all already happened. And the judge only opened my records to my lawyer, so no one from Evanston would ever know.

But the house was worth a decent amount of money.

A lot more if it was empty.

I took the phone from him and listened as Nancy sighed again. “Baby, I would handle it all for you, you know I would. But I’ve got grandbabies now. I’m retired and I just don’t think I-”

“No, Nancy. I would never ask that of you. I just-” my voice left. My head throbbed with the weight of the day.

“You think on it, darlin’. Darnell could help you if you decide to clean it out. He runs a moving company, so he knows a couple auction houses. We could just have them come in and take it all.”

Brian’s arms came around me from behind, holding me together when I felt like I might literally fall apart. I didn’t answer for long enough that he took the phone from my fingers and ended the conversation for the night.

I heard her tell him to give me a squeeze from her, and watched him lay the phone on the island in front of me.

“There’s something there, isn’t there?” His voice was soft, full of longing to erase this for me. To solve it.

I turned to look up at him. My arms were too heavy to lift, but I wanted so desperately to be normal. For him.

Sane.

But as I nodded, she leaked out again.

And as much as I didn’t want to set foot on that house ever again, Christina wanted to go home.

4.

Brian brushed my forehead against his lips, his fingers wrapping sweetly around the back of my neck as he held me tightly to his chest.

“You don’t need to go in. Just tell me what it is that you want out of there.”

If I’d only known.

But I pulled my hands up between us, slipping my fingertips into the curly bristles of his beard and looking up to meet his misty gaze. I shook my head.

“I have to do this. I have to put it away for good.”

He didn’t know what I meant, he couldn’t have because I didn’t. Not really.

But the house seemed to know.

It wasn’t the place I’d left. She had changed almost everything and it was something of a relief. Until I saw the first photo. And, then, all of them.

School pictures, candid shots of us on Dad’s boat, sweet poses of him twirling me or tossing me into the air, angelic smiles and tiny, toddler kisses on his cheeks.

Every single one with a thick black mark over my eyes.

I don’t remember him like I should. I’m not even sure what happened, but I know he died.

And that she hated me the very next day.

I touched each photo and felt the anger build. Brian’s, not mine. But when he pulled one off the wall, I grabbed it from him before he could smash it.

“Don’t look at what she’s done. That’s not why we are here.” I hung it back on its nail and ran my finger over the glass, pointing to my father’s gorgeous smile. “Don’t you see it?”

Brian’s fury crumpled into confusion.

“No, Jenna. All I see is cruelty and devastation.”

I walked through the hatred and felt it fall away like cobwebs. I touched another photo of him and her, no daughters eyes to blacken. Just his broad, brilliant confidence, and my mother’s sweet, doting grin as she stared up at him.

He’d been fiddling with the boiler in the basement that day. The cold bit into my fingers and toes the night before. I remember how proud he’d been to have fixed it.

But he kept going back down there.

I turned to Brian and he raised his brows at my expression.

“The basement.”

5.

It was covered with a tarp. She’d written on it, “Do not touch! Never open!” And as we unwound the plastic cloth from around it, Brian thought out loud that perhaps we should heed the warning.

But she wouldn’t have let me walk away.

The box was far too old. Like it had been there for centuries. It was a wooden crate, nailed shut and left to disintegrate, but somehow remaining, year after year.

My father had obsessed over this. It was what had killed him, I was sure.

It was warm to the touch, and got hot when I laid both hands on it. It was magnetic and electric, and I sat down, pulling it into my lap.

“Jenna, I don’t think you should open-”

But it opened.

And he was gone.

6.

She stood in front of me. A six year old with patents that loved each other and her. A child with a beautiful bright future, unmarked by the scars of death and abuse.

I saw what she could’ve been, should’ve been. I saw her grow into a stunning woman. The picture of feminine wealth. She was so beautiful, and I saw her celebrate and explore her beauty. I watched her become a lover then a mother. I saw her learning from her mother’s lessons, and it became too difficult to watch.

It could drive someone crazy. It probably had.

She made me watch, made me see wicked things and wonderful things. Some where so exciting I almost lost myself to them. The pleasure was sickening, and amazing, and excruciating, and delicious.

But it wasn’t mine.

I pushed the box away, and stood up fast as I stared at it.

It was still closed. “Didn’t I open it?”

Brian moved toward it, but I stopped him, putting my foot on top of it.

She appeared again.

“Don’t you want to know? There’s so much more. You could’ve been so much more!”

I shook my head. Slowly at first, then with something akin to confidence.

“No, Christina. You could’ve been so much more.”

I stepped back and took Brian’s hand.

“I’m exactly who I should be.”

7.

There was a long wait before the auction. I went back a few weeks later to destroy the crate, but it wouldn’t break or burn. I couldn’t bury it or sink it.

I couldn’t let anyone else touch it, I was sure it would turn them as it did my parents.

I don’t know what my mother saw that made her hate me so much. I’m not sure I want to. But I know I don’t want another soul crushed by it’s prophacy.

So I moved it. I had to.

And there’s only one other person in the world who knows where it is.

Fortunately, she’s trapped under my skin.

And inside that awfully wonderful little box.

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The Last Bite

Snow White by AniMal-e
Snow White by AniMal-e via DeviantArt.com

There are moments in life when your children stop being tiny extensions of you. They come in minutes at first. Then days. Weeks. Months.

Molly refused to let me hold her after her second birthday. Balling her little fists and bellowing in defiance, her hot, sour breath blasting me in the face whenever I attempted to pick her up.

“I do it. No grab me.”

Her independence was a double edge sword, driving her to develop maturity beyond her years. It made caring for her simple, but I longed for her affection. My best friend’s daughter would splay her fingers across her mommy’s cheeks and whisper. It made my heart ache.

I soaked up cuddles brought on by fevers and earaches, cherished moments instead of anxious interruptions. I may have wished for nightmares, relishing in her need for me during the lonely hours of the night after her father left us.

By the time she became a freshman in high school, however, our lives ran in parallel. I had swallowed the bitter pill of resentment because it was candy coated in the freedom to go out on weeknights or spend long weekends in the mountains without worrying. I trusted her in a way most parents wouldn’t.

She crawled into my bed that night, waking me from a sound sleep, my mind couldn’t process the adrenaline that pulsed through my system.

She smelled of leaves and the clean, electric scent of rain. Her skin was wet but warm where I lifted the backs of my fingers to feel her forehead. Instead of brushing me away, she buried her face in my chest.

“What’s wrong, Mol?”

A broken, breathy sob shook her whole body as she crumpled handfuls of my nightshirt and pulled herself further into me like she might hide beneath my flesh.

“Molly, you’re scaring me. What happened?”

I reached over the sliver of bed she occupied to click on my side lamp. She shrank further into the bedding and her sobs grew harder and faster.

As my eyes adjusted, I tried to push her back so I could see her face. She clung and fought, but the livid purple color of her cheekbone gave fury to my need to see.

“What the- Molly, look at me. Now.”

She turned into the pillow releasing a hiccuping groan but exhaled in surrender, turning red-rimmed, storm gray eyes toward me.

The left side of her face was one giant, swollen, mottled bruise. Her lip and brow were split and clotted. Clumps of mud matted her hair.

“How bad is it, mom?”

She choked on the words, a breathy whisper working against the parched rasp of her normal voice. She peered up at me, trembling, and I met her gaze with an instinct I’d thought disappeared long ago.

“Just bruises and cuts,” I lifted my fingertips to run over her damaged skin. “But no broken bones, I think. We’ll see the doctor tomorrow to be sure.”

I kept my voice steady and soft, despite the rage that boiled inside my veins.

“What happened, baby? Who did this?”

Fear flashed in her watery eyes before she buried herself in my breast again. I pushed down every urge in my being, knowing the best thing I could do was stay with her. But the need to say something was strong.

“You cannot let him get away with it.”

She sobbed for a long time, clinging like I was a life preserver. In the muted light, I stared at the picture on my night table behind her. A preschooler swinging her feet on either side of a massive branch, up high in a big old tree in front of an orchard we’ve visited a dozen times.

Molly was holding a huge red apple, the size of a man’s fist, three perfect, round bites already missing from its flesh.

She climbed that tree by herself at four and a half years old, ate that entire apple, plus half of another she picked for me, and wouldn’t even let me help her down.

When I looked back down at my little girl, now a brazen, vicious teenager, she stared back at me with wide eyes, blood in her teeth.

I pried her hands loose from their grip on my shirt and examined them. Three nails broken past the quick, knuckles cracked and bloodied, her right index finger broken.

She swallowed, gazing at the backs of her hands as she flexed her fingers.

“He didn’t get away with it.”

The Brothel

Haunted House by darkmatterzone
Haunted House by darkmatterzone via DeviantArt.com

The walls seemed to be breathing. Ugly, stained brocade peeling from the plaster shifted as the wind squealed through the broken glass of the old attic window. In the dark, he could barely see the figure. Like an absence of light in a room streaked with moonlight.

It moved toward him, somehow bending the light away. Repelling it by some unnatural means. He lifted his flashlight, but the bulb popped and hissed, leaving the space between them even darker than it had been.

“Who are you? What do you want?”

He took several gulps of stale air as the temperature dropped.

“Why are you-“

The room seemed to swallow the sound, choking off his voice until he lifted his fingers to his mouth, confirming it was still there.

The house shifted and swelled. Romeo’s brain hurt as though it were working without him. He brought his fingers to his temples, but the thing forced him to his knees.

He’d lived there as a child. The house was huge and dark, and the old musty wall tapestry had always felt alive. When he was young, however, it was the breath and laughter of all those women that brought it to life. Incense and perfume hung in clouds through every room. Its purpose had been to mask the bleachy, musky smells that would have otherwise permeated the air. But it had given birth to a sensory soaked existence, a daily lesson in manners and chivalry, the playful molding of a young boy’s identity in a place he simply didn’t belong.

Romeo had been named for his father, or so that was the story. But he never knew a father figure until Charles came to the house one evening to bleed the radiators.

There had been other men. The ladies called them suitors, but Romeo was not a dim kid. His mother’s room was directly below his, and he’d understood from a very young age that this was all business. He’d understood so well that, as Charles went from room to room, floor to floor, making repairs, Romeo was careful to follow him and watch his every move.

“How old are you, buddy?”
“Eight and a half.”
“You protectin’ these ladies?”

His chuckle bristled Romeo’s spine, drawing his face into a venomous scowl before he stepped toward the stranger, rivetting him with a stare that made his answer unnecessary.

“There ain’t no freebies here.”

Charles had lifted his hands, holding them palms out as he rocked back on his heels to rise from a low squat.

“Hey now, you’ll have no problems with me, kiddo. I’m just a handyman. I’m only here to fix the heat.”

There had been something in his tone that changed Romeo’s mind. It wasn’t instant, as he’d seen too many arrogant jokers in and out of these rooms, leaving behind bruises and twenty dollar bills that should’ve been hundreds. It was hard to believe there were any good guys out there. But what Charles taught him that night was far more important than how to repair the radiators and seal the windows with insulating tape.

It was almost 9 o’clock when he sat down at the kitchen table with him for a cup of milk and a slice of Molly’s spice cake.

“This your homework?”

With a mouthful, all Romeo could do was nod. But in the following twenty minutes, the repairman checked his work, showed him an easier way to do division, and managed to get himself an invitation to dinner the next night.

“As long as it’s ok with your momma.”

Romeo was so used to not talking to his mother, the statement surprised him. She was wiry, strung out and unfocused. She had a lot of suitors, in order to pay for the pills that kept her up and put her down, and if he had to tell the truth, he didn’t like her much.

But Molly, she had been his favorite. When he was small, he thought she must have been a fairy or at least part fairy. She moved like she was made of water or vapor, and she practically glimmered in the red robe cinched around her tiny waist with a satin bow.

When he was four, he asked if she wore it to hide her wings.

She’d giggled and scooped him into her arms, whispering in his ear.

“They are magical, my Romeo. They hide themselves.”

That night, in the kitchen with Charles, she wore a pair of black capris and a red sweater. But she still looked and moved as though she had wings.

She’d blushed and giggled, explaining that she wasn’t Romeo’s mother, but that she knew it would be fine.

The next night, she wore a crimson dress with black polka dots, and Romeo might have told her he wished he was older so he could ask her on a date.

Charles got the privilege instead.

In the year that followed, Romeo learned what it meant to be a man. He grew six inches that summer, and though he was only nine, he stood as tall as most thirteen-year-olds and was just as smart.

But Molly held him on her lap through the funeral, mopping his tears with her tissues and rubbing his back as though he were much younger than the sight of him announced.

Charles stood behind them, his hand resting on Romeo’s shoulder, letting his own tears slide down his cheeks.

Not for the corpse that was laid in a pine box in front of them, but the life of a boy who might be lost to the wind after this.

The state hadn’t wanted him to stay with Molly. Whether they could prove it or not, everyone knew what that house had been. What went on there. But Charles had a friend who knew a lawyer and scraped together enough money for a home of his own. And a ring.

They were married by a judge on a Friday, and they moved in with him on Saturday. It took months of legal battles, counseling sessions, and psychiatric evaluations, but when no one came forward to claim him, Romeo became eligible for adoption.

So, one completely anticlimactic afternoon, he became legally theirs.

But they had already been a family. Right from that first night.

The cold bit into his cheeks as his blood throbbed in his ears. He tried to look up, his lips pleading with no voice. But the roar of silence crushed him down further so that he lay crumpled, like a fetus, on the floor.

The visions spilled from his mind like water from an overflowing cup. Some incredible force surged through him, pinning him harder and tighter to the floorboards.

The oxygen in the room was depleted. The realization that he was suffocating made his mind swim with terror. But he couldn’t die. Not until he found her.

He focused on what had brought him here. The phone call from Molly, talking about the house, telling him how it was finally going to be bulldozed after seventeen years. Her voice had been so strange, so distant. Like she was in a trance.

She said she was there, giving it one last look. Trying to find the happy times where none were to be found.

But there had been. So many joyous moments were had in that place, only brought to a halt by a fire that managed to take only the life of the lost soul who caused it.

Memories of blanket forts, chess games, math quizzes, and dancing in their pajamas in the firelight scoured over him like sandpaper.

Her words had been clipped, muffled. Peppered against a static that sounded like alien breath.

And then she said the one thing he’d never, ever imagined she would say.

“Sometimes I wish I had never adopted you.”

The silence that had followed was as thick as oil. No static, no breath. But then, a scream that sent him running for the door as fast as his feet would carry him.

He realized now, it wasn’t her. And it sparked a recollection of something said with equal hatred when he was very small. A memory Molly never wanted him to have.

“I wish I had never had you.”

He had been vying for his mother’s attention as toddlers do, begging for something. What was it?

Crayons.

The word hung in the space around him, stopping time and wind and breath. He could smell the wax, feel it on his fingers. He remembered, after that day, he only ever drew Molly. That was the day he first wished he was hers.

A rage larger than the house threw him back, pinning him to the wall this time as the creaking, shrieking walls tried to expand to hold it.

It seared into him like the stings of a thousand scorpions, dumping poison into his bloodstream and making him wretch, and writhe. Hatred funneled into him from all directions before twisting, pulling back, threatening to rip him to pieces.

He clenched his fists and looked at the figure, glaring into the blackness until, finally, he could see.

The walls around them began to buckle with the building pressure, but he gazed deep into the vaccum and pushed himself free of the wall, he shouted.

“What did you do with her? Where is my momma?”

The figure before him shook with fury, black eyes burned into him, but still he moved toward it.

The thing released a feral roar causing the house to vibrate then flex inward before it drew in an airless breath and raised hands of reverse flames.

Fire without heat, blue and black tongues licked outward, stealing the light and oxygen once again. Bearing down on him, the dark mass grew and seethed. Its eyes were obsidian slivers set in flesh so black, he hadn’t been able to see the resemblance before.

He couldn’t speak to tell it. He couldn’t even cough or choke as the smoke from its flames siphoned the life from his body.

Instead, he closed his eyes. And prayed.

Not for himself, but for the life of another. Molly.

Please, let it have been fake. Please let Momma be alive. 

He was chanting the prayer in his mind, his heart beating too loudly in his ears to hear the phantom’s whispers.

He prayed she’d never been there, that this was just like the other times he was drawn to this place by some need he could never quite meet. He’d called his parents home from the gas station, hoping Charles would answer groggily and tell him Molly was asleep. But it just rang and rang, seventeen times before Romeo climbed back into his dad’s old truck.

The fact that they hadn’t answered was the reason he was there, dying, right now.

And as he prayed that this thing had only somehow impersonated his momma, he heard her voice, calling his name from downstairs.

He was sure his brain had begun to falter from lack of oxygen. But when Charles’s voice boomed from below as well, he opened his eyes.

Romeo drew up whatever strength he had left and threw himself at the monster.

It was as simple as tackling smoke. Diminished by the presence of others or by his pure will to defeat it, he found nothing but air beneath him, and as he stood, gasping and clutching his chest, he stared down at the blackness seeping into and filling the cracks of the floorboards beneath his feet.

“Romeo, sweetheart? Are you up there?”

He turned and met her on the stairs, shimmering like a fairy in the moonlight. Then he looked back at the absence of light in his old room.

As impotent as a ghost as she had been in life.

He hadn’t thought of his birth mother in many years.

And as they took the steps back down to Charles, he promised himself he wouldn’t again.

For many, many more.

 

 

 

Highway (A Drabble)

Snow Storm Traffic 2
Snow Storm Traffic 2 by SeeThruMineEyes via DeviantArt.com

The SUV clung to the concrete divider with one rear wheel while the other hung in mid-air. Front tires deflated, doors cut away, glass shattered, airbags spent and shifting ghostly in the icy wind.

Her car-seat laid on the frosted pavement of the shoulder. The straps cut and the headrest stained.

Frozen blood.

She never even saw it coming as she sang along to a KidzBop song and her tiny fingers twisted the little ribbon which tied her mittens to her coat.

It was such a happy song.

I guess death doesn’t listen to the radio.

Beneath

ramada
The Ramada Plaza Hotel of north Columbus, closed in 2015

I’d heard the rumors. Some of the guys on the force think it’s funny to try to scare the female officers. But, I would say, after seventeen years of experience, women police are far more difficult to rattle than male.

We probably have more fears than our male counterparts, but we simply cannot show them.

Dan was trying to bait me, no doubt. Our afternoon assignment was to clear out the squatters in the abandoned Ramada Plaza hotel. The property owners had security, but once a month, they’d ask for a sweep. And we drew the short straw that day.

“Patterson, code 4.”

The hotel was supposed to be on a low-use power setting, operating hallway lights, exit signs and the fire system 24/7. But even this seemed to be faulty, as I exited the 2nd floor and jogged down the steps in the dark, my feet spotlighted by my Maglite.

“Please answer me.”

My ears rang with the bang of the door behind me as I exited the stairwell and jogged over the matted, thick carpet between peeling wallpaper and doors marked with large, gold plated numbers in the one hundreds. My whispered pleas where only met by the squelching of the carpet beneath my shoes.

“Officer Patterson, please respond.”

The crackle from the two way echoed through the first floor hallway. No power on this floor either. I stopped and started to close my eyes. But the silence around me begged for my full attention.

He’d said we should stick together, but I wanted to get in and out and had felt the vile, moldy stench infecting my uniform before we were even inside. No one in their right mind would sleep here, breathing normally was impossible.

I thought we’d be out in fifteen, so I’d decided to split up.

But as I had kicked around crack pipes and used condoms in my twentieth empty room, there was a laugh through the two way, a gasp and a sigh. Then, complete silence.

Half an hour later, I wished I’d listened to his sorry, lazy ass.

“Dan, please. If this is a prank, it’s over. I’m calling for back up.”

I stood at the front of the damp, putrid lobby, praying for his laugh to bark through the speaker at my shoulder.

But the only sound I heard was my own breath. And the pop of electricity as the lobby, too, went black.

Reeling into the daylight felt like being born. The front door swung open so easily, I half expected to find Dan standing by the cruiser, eating one of those God awful protein bars his vegan wife makes for him.

But the car was empty.

I fought back tears as I sat in the drivers seat. Pressing insubstantial buttons on the laptop screen, stomach acid rising in my throat and my skin itching with some combination of the late summer heat and the layer of mold spores that must be invading every pore. I could not give myself the opportunity to second guess. It had been nearly an hour.

“Better not be fucking with me.”

I cleared my throat and took a deep breath, closing my eyes to the setting sun glaring across the windshield.

“Tango Echo, officer needs assistance at 4900 Sinclair.”

I waited, an odd light grabbing my attention from behind the glass inside. Green and hollow, like a hot air balloon, but as it grows brighter, I’m fascinated by it. I stand and move toward the door, the dispatcher’s voice chirping over the call, asking me to repeat. The sun seems to be setting too fast.

Stopped, halfway to the door, I felt the ground beneath my feet shudder. The vibration was electric in it’s intensity, invading my skin, penetrating my tissues right through to my veins and nerves.

My vision swam, the light changed, became all I could see.

It is twenty three steps to the door.

I know this because I fought my own feet for 22 of them.

I heard the sirens blaring up the highway that zoomed across the back of the hotel. My puppeteer maneuvered my body as though I truly was held up by strings. I couldn’t stop staring at the light. I wanted to be in it. Under it.

I needed to.

When I found him, in the center of the basement, the light pouring from his pores, I understood why.

But by then, it was too late.

 

 

 

Vows

image

The sky rumbles. Villainous chuckles of fate superceding dreams, as I waited, willing the sky to cooperate but grateful for the taught canvas above my head.

The tent had meant borrowing against my 401k, but I’d been unable, or more unwilling to deny her the dream her first husband and lack of parents had refused her. A wedding, after all, is the most important day in a woman’s life.

One of them, I hoped.

It was an impressive sight. Forty feet wide and twice as long. Stillwater was the tent style. Or manufacture. I hadn’t been privy to all the details, only the rental invoice. I remember my stomach lurching when the pretty, strawberry blond printed our final order in the glamorous two story rental showroom after an hour of picking our tent, lighting package, table shapes and sizes, chairs and dishes and fabrics and colors. My head was still swimming, seven months later.

But rain did mean the garden ceremony would be moved into the house.

Thunder might mean we shouldn’t be under the massive tent as well. The installers had provided some warnings.

I ignored the memory prickling in the back of my mind.

Nothing would stop this day.

My phone buzzed, and as I fished it from the inside pocket of my tux, a second message was coming through.

I have handled the disjointed frustration of my mother who had wanted a doctor, but had raised an accountant. I’d dealt with the sadness of my college sweetheart when I’d said I didn’t want to marry her. I’d even muscled through the violent hatred of my first fiance when I realized she was never going to be mother material.

But Jenna’s disappointment was something I knew would crush me.

Please save the peonies
We could line the hearth, couldn’t we?

My smile made my eyes close. I loved this women with a fury that caused a simple text about flowers to give me a hard on.

The flowers had been the only thing she could pay for, and she’d made every penny count. I didn’t get the fuss, but the way her face had lit up when we walked into that florist made understanding a frivolous thing.

It took the wedding planner all of twenty seconds to come up with a plan for them, and as she took them from my sweaty hands, I glanced around for what catastrophe I might stave of next.

If only.

It’s truly amazing how dark the world can become with heavy cloud cover. A summer storm is not an odd thing in July. And even as the wind picked up, I refused to worry.

Jenna was the most beautiful bride I’d ever been privy to see. Even as she bent over my punctured chest, rain smudged and tear stained, the shimmery white fabric of her dress wicking blood from the wound like tissue paper absorbing watercolors. She was exquisite.

I stood and watched her, rain pelting in from the side of the splintered tent.

I didn’t feel the lightening strike. I didn’t hear the snap of the pole at my back. I didn’t understand what had made my knees buckle as I turned around and watched myself fall.

I just kept practicing those vows we’d written.

Nothing would stop this day.

Fourteen Years – a drabble, 100 words

Bloody Knife by WhiteEyedFrog
Bloody Knife by WhiteEyedFrog via DeviantArt

It took more force than I’d expected. The blade was sharp, but even with my full strength behind it, I barely got four inches in.

That was enough. As he fought against it, it sliced deeper, and vibrated with each sinewy centimeter. He scratched and clawed at my arms, my neck, but I clung to the wooden handle, slick with the warm, wet life oozing out of him.

The air was thick and acrid, so I held my breath.

There was very little life left within me anyway.

I had died a little every day for the last fourteen years.