This page will be dedicated to the Story A Day challenge during the month of May. Some may also make it into my Short Tuesday posts.
5/24: The Treasure
He tried to remember who had talked him into this. The shovel weighed heavy on his shoulder as he trudged through the woods. What had he gotten himself into? His life had been just fine before he had been pulled into this. Why hadn’t he believed it then?
Because he had wanted more. He hadn’t been happy with what he had. And now look what he had gotten into. A man was dead. He hadn’t killed him. He could still back out of this. they had sent him for the shovel. To bury the body. And the to dig up the treasure they thought was buried. He could go back now. Go to the police and go back to his life.
But, he didn’t. The pull of the possible treasure was too strong. He tried to concentrate on what he could do with his share of it. The possibilities raced through his head. But, kept coming back to one. To a woman. To the woman. He would finally have what he needed to give her the life she deserved.
“It’s about time,” someone said from ahead of him and the voice brought him back to the situation at hand. “What took you so long?”
“It wasn’t as easy to get to as I thought it would be.”
“Well, get digging. The others dropped the body in a ditch. We can cover it later. The treasure is more important.”
He didn’t think so. But, the last person that had argued with that man, their self-appointed leader, now lay dead. In a ditch. He didn’t want to end up with him. So, he started digging. And he continued until sweat ran down his body and his muscles trembled from the effort. He wanted to take a break, but he was prodded on.
Then, he struck something hard. And he dug around it until he revealed a rusty steel box. He dropped the shovel and lifted the box out of the ground. Once he had set it down, their leader pushed him out of the way. He just stared as the man broke the lock and opened the box. And held up a stack of money before letting it fall back in.
“Now, that I don’t need you anymore.” He said and pulled the gun out. The one that had already killed once that day.
5/23: The Locked Room
The locked door fascinated and puzzled her. It was the only door in the house she did not have access to. She had been here with her uncle for almost two weeks now and he still would not tell her what it was about this room that made him keep it locked.
Now, he had finally left her alone in the house for the first time during these weeks. And she would take advantage of that fact. She walked up to the door and tried the knob, even though she knew it would not work. She had brought a light with her this time and shined it into the lock. Then, she took a pin from her hair and stuck it into the lock. After a few minutes of moving the pin around in the lock, the door remained closed to her.
They always made this look so easy on television. She sighed, then tried again. Just one more time. This time she felt the pin hit against something. She kept at it, and felt the lock release. She stuck the pin in her pocket but kept the light on as she reached for the doorknob again. This time it turned under her hands.
She swung the door open and shined the light around the room. Her eyes widened as she took everything in. How could this be? It didn’t make any sense. Something drew her across the room and as awareness dawned, a scream was pulled from her throat.
5/22: The Wait
He tried to remember who had talked him into this. Then, he did remember. It had been her. It was always her.
He stood at the front of the room, waiting for her to appear. And he thought back to the night that had changed his future. It had been her to ask him. He was going to ask her, but she hadn’t given him a chance to get everything lined up first. He had just wanted to go and get it done. But, she had knocked that idea down. She had said they had to do it right. Where was she? He hoped she hadn’t changed her mind.
He adjusted his tie and shifted his feet. What was taking so long? He looked at the men standing beside him. None of them seemed to be affected by the time passing. he looked at the man on the other side of him. He was calm as well. Was he the only one that realized what was at stake here? How could they all be so calm?
Then, the music started. He drew in a breath, but didn’t release it. It wasn’t her that appeared though. It was her younger sister. He held onto his patience and his breath while the next two women headed down toward him. Then, the girl and boy walking arm in arm. One throwing flowers, the other carrying a pillow with two rings on it.
The music changed. And he focused his attention on that doorway again. And then she was there. Looking right at him. His eyes locked on hers and everyone else, everything else, faded away as she started her walk toward him.
5/21: The Scariest Thing
It was the scariest thing she had ever seen. This man standing in front of her. The man who had taken everything from her. Her hand itched to reach for the gun she carried. But, she could not give herself away yet.
He barely even looked at her though. Maybe this would be easier than she thought. No. She needed to wait. This wasn’t the right time. She didn’t know when would be, just that she would know it when it happened.
Hearing his voice grated on her nerves. And she moved away to where she could no longer hear it. She moved around the party as if she actually belonged there. She had never belonged among these people though. And they had never let her forget it. That might have been different if this man hadn’t done what he did. If he hadn’t killed her father and brother. If her mother hadn’t taken her own life because of it. If she hadn’t been left alone at the tender age of five.
None of that mattered, she told herself. It may have been twenty years, but it would never be too late for him to pay for it. From her position in the corner of the room, she watched him move toward the podium at the front. And as he began to speak to everyone gathered in the room, she knew now was the time.
She slipped one hand into the purse at her side as she moved closer. He was going on about all the people he had helped and what he would do if he was elected as a congressman. She wouldn’t let him climb into that position on the backs of the families he had destroyed though. She was in front of him now.
She pulled the gun from her purse and aimed it at his head. “You’re not going to ruin anyone else’s life.”
She blocked out the screams of the people around her and focused completely on him. She knew the moment understanding dawned. That’s when she pulled the trigger.
5/19: Too Late
The fire engine arrived too late. Smoke billowed up into the sky. The sounds of the sirens cut through the air. But, it was too late to do anything but save the buildings around it. I watched from the sidewalk as the flames destroyed what had once been a home. The home of someone I cared about.
I watched two firefighters enter the house. And I prayed. I prayed they wouldn’t find anyone. That no one had been home when it started. I prayed if they did find someone, it was not too late. I prayed that they would just come back out.
The first one came back out with a body draped over his shoulder, and I dropped to my knees. “No. No. No,” I cried. I recognized that body, her hair. No, it couldn’t be. I couldn’t see her moving, but I prayed again. Prayed that it wasn’t as it seemed.
And when the second firefighter came out with two small bodies, I couldn’t stop myself from running to them. But, I was held back before I could reach them. I watched as the two boys were taken to an ambulance. Those two boys that I loved so much. The two boys that should belong to me, but I could never claim as my own.
They had to be all right. And their mother. I looked over to where the first firefighter had taken her. She had to be all right. She was getting away from that monster she married. And we were going to start our life together. They had to be all right.
5/18: The Storm
No one had ever heard the wind blow like this before. The shutters on the windows rattled against the side of the house. A loose piece of siding made an eerily creak as the wind pulled at it. Then wind roared around the house, but I knew we were safe inside.
I sat back from the rest of the group. They were all huddled together. They had been like that since the storm started. Like it would protect them from the howling wind, the lashing rain. The wailing as if this would be the end of the world had gotten to me, and I had to separate from the group. And the wailing had not stopped.
I stood up and moved around to the windows, double checking they were all secure. That would help protect us more than whining about the storm. I was heading back to my spot in the corner when the lights went out. I heard someone start sobbing, heard declarations that we were all going to die, that this must be the end. And I just shook my head.
“It’s a power outage, people. It happens all the time during storms.” But, the generator should have brought it back on. When no one else made a move, I headed toward the door. “I’ll check the generator.”
I felt someone grab my arm as I passed the group. I looked down and saw the one other person who had remained calm during most of the storm. The one person who had gained my respect during this ordeal. “You can’t go out there,” she said. “It’s too dangerous.”
I shrugged off her arm and her concern. “It looks like someone has to.” I figured these people would let their own fear kill them if the power didn’t come back on soon.
I reached the door and braced myself for the onslaught when I opened it. The wind nearly knocked me back, but I pushed through it. I held onto the side of the house as I made my way to the shed in the back where the generator was housed. I saw the problem once I switched my flashlight on. Someone had left it empty of fuel. “No wonder it didn’t work,” I muttered. How could they be so irresponsible? Storms, and the resulting power outages, were common here.
I grabbed the gas can sitting nearby and filled the tank on the generator. I had just locked up the shed again and turned to start back toward the house when the wind picked up force again. It knocked me right back into the side of the shed. My head spun from where it had slammed against the building. I tried to get to my feet, but the wind pushed back against me.
And then from the darkness beyond the shed, I heard a deep growl. And I realized it was not only the storm we had to fear.
5/17: The Box
A mysterious box was sitting on the doorstep. I took a quick look at it then left it there as I made my way over to the door. I shifted the bag of groceries in my arms and pulled out my keys to unlock the door. Once inside, I took my time putting things away. Milk in the fridge. Bread in the cupboard. Apples in the basket on the counter. Then, I carefully folded the bag and set it in the closet on top of the pile of all the others just like it.
I’ve been told that I have a problem. I don’t see it that way though. It’s just that everything has a place. And I don’t like it when things aren’t in that place. And right now that box on the porch, certainly not the place for it, was starting to bother me. But, I was trying something new. Simply ignoring the little things that bothered me. It wouldn’t kill me to leave it there for five minutes.
My fingers tapped against my leg as I started water for some tea though. And I kept glancing toward the door. And the box. The tapping got faster as I watched the seconds tick by. I couldn’t take it anymore. That box should not be on the porch. I would just bring it inside. Once I knew what it was, I would know where it belonged.
I went out on the porch and bent down to read the sender’s address. And just stared in surprise. There was none. If this was something I had ordered, it would say who it was from. And I hadn’t ordered anything recently. But, who else would send me something? Well, I would just have to find out.
I picked up the box and tested the weight of it. Fairly heavy, but it was a rather small box, what the postal service would probably term a medium box. I carried it inside, and set it on the table before walking over to my desk to retrieve a pair of scissors to slice through the packing tape. Three swipes and the box flaps were free to lift open. And I just stared.
I had no idea what this contraption was. Even as the clock wired to the top started to countdown the seconds. And the beeping started to ring through my head. I refused to believe it. Who would send this to me? Then, my breathing returned, and I knew I had to get out of there. Ten seconds. Nine. Eight. I turned and started across the floor. As the beeping got more insistent, I started to run. But, I hadn’t even reached the door when the blast threw me right past the porch and into the yard.
The train was late today, and it was always early. He pulled the watch from his pocket and watched as the time ticked by. And he paced. Back and forth. He looked into the distance, in the direction the train should be coming from, looking for the tell-tale sign of smoke. For the sign his love was coming.
He had lived too many days without her. Coming out here to get a house started, get a life started on his own had seemed like a good idea. He didn’t want her sleeping on the ground while he built their house. And he knew her father would not have stood for it. But, how he had missed her. Missed her smile. Missed seeing her face everyday. Missed talking to her. Even with her father hanging just back in the shadows. But, now she was coming. The message in the reply to his telegram had just said “We’re Coming.”
Where was that train? Then, he heard that whistle. His whole body straightened, and the pacing stilled. As he saw the train appear in the distance, his heart rate quickened and sweat sprang to his hands. Why was he nervous? This was what he wanted. To marry her. To start a family with her. To spend his life with her. So why did starting that make him so nervous?
He waited until the train came to a halt then stepped forward. But, it wasn’t the woman he loved who stepped off the train first. It was her father. He knew he should be used to that stern look to the man’s face. But, every time, he had to wonder what he had done wrong. Even if there had been nothing. Then, he turned and held his arms out for the next passenger.
There she was. The face that he loved to look at. The eyes that always laughed into his. He knew every line of the body that hid under the simple traveling dress. The smile started to spread across his face then froze there. What was she carrying in her arms? He took a step forward, not even realizing he was holding his breath until he finally released it.
She looked at him and smiled. And that was all it took to wipe the nervousness away. And then her father stepped between them. “You will finally do right by her.”
He nodded. “Of course, Sir. That is what I have been trying to do. Getting our place ready so we can be married.” He looked past the man to the woman again. “Finally.”
She stepped past her father, and he saw there was a nervousness to her own smile. He wanted to reach out and hold her. Then, he saw the bundle in her arms move. “What is that?” He asked, reaching out for the blanket.
She smiled up at him, but her eyes didn’t quite meet his. Then, she pulled down a corner of the blanket, revealing a tiny head. “Our daughter.”
The shock went right through him. They had come together before he left, but that had been…Almost a year ago, he remembered. It all fit. But…”All the letters. In all the letters, you never said anything. Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I was afraid you would run.” She ducked her head at that. “And I didn’t know how to write it. I wanted to see you when I told you. Didn’t think it would be so long.”
The shock started to wear off, and he saw that this baby had his hair, and the shape of his nose. Could he deny that? He looked back up at her. “I would never run from you.”
The man laughed at a joke that only he heard. The other bar patrons glanced his way then away again. Some even shifting their stools a little farther from him. I shook my head at them as I poured another drink. It’s not like insanity was contagious, if that was even the man’s problem.
I had seen him come in every night for the last year. He ordered one whiskey and sat there with it until closing time. At last call, he would finally drink it. And every night he laughed. It was never at the same time during the evening either. But, something none of the rest of us could see or hear, or even touch struck him as funny.
For the last year, I had wanted to ask him about that. About the whiskey. About what he laughed about. But, he never spoke to anyone who approached him. And most of the time they didn’t even try. Sometimes, I didn’t even think they saw him. Until he started laughing, and they just wanted to ignore him again.
I leaned toward him now though. “Is there something else I can get you? You haven’t touched your whiskey.”
He turned his head and his gaze latched onto me, those deep blue eyes drilling into mine. I felt like I was caught in a trap and could not look away. Then, he broke contact, and I floundered for a minute before it felt like I had both feet firmly on the ground again.
“It’s not time,” he said, and looked past me.
I didn’t speak to him again. But, I watched him. And I watched as he brought the glass up, almost like in a toast, after that last call. Then, set it back down on the bar and stood up. I decided I had to find out more about this man. I mumbled an excuse to my co-worker and followed the man as he left the bar.
Outside the wind hit me with all its force, and I realized I didn’t have a jacket or anything. But, I just wrapped my arms around me and looked around for the man. I saw him disappearing around the corner of the building. I hurried after him. But, when I turned the corner, he wasn’t there. No sign of him. No sign he had been there. Just gone.
I looked around, but did not see anywhere he could be hiding. No doorway he could have ducked into. It was like the man had disappeared into thin air. I knew that was impossible though. But, I didn’t have time to look anymore. I could hear my co-worker calling for me and needed to get back to work.
“I will figure this out,” I murmured before heading back into the bar.
He tried to remember who had talked him into this. His handed were slick with sweat. He dried them on his pants and continued to watch the door. No one was home yet. From his position, he could watch that door and the direction the family would be returning from.
He had been watching this house for weeks it seemed. That had been personal. And why it had been so easy to talk him into taking this job. He knew their Friday night routine. They went out for dinner at six. And returned at nine, almost on the dot. The father would have had two drinks at dinner, so would not be drunk but have a nice buzz. The mother was almost inconsequential. She would be quiet standing behind her husband. It was the daughter that held his interest.
She was the reason the father only had two drinks. She was the one that would get on to him that he shouldn’t drink and drive. She was the only one who seemed to have any fire in this family. And he wanted her.
He saw the headlights turn down the street, and his whole body tensed. He let out the warning signal they had decided on. And when he heard the answering call, knew his “friends” were getting ready to pull out of the house. They weren’t friends, he knew that. They just talked to him when they needed a lookout.
He stepped into the driveway as the car started to make the turn from the road. He would give them a few extra minutes to make their escape. Because he knew if they went down, none of them would have a problem taking him with them.
The father stepped out of the car first. And from the belligerent look on the man’s face, he thought he may have had more than those two drinks. “Who are you? What do you want?”
“My name’s Michael. I go to school with Amanda. I want to speak with you about taking your daughter to prom, Mr. Williams.”
The man sneered back at her daughter. “At least someone wants her. Yes, get her off my hands please.”
He wanted to kill the man. For the way he treated his family, and in particular for the way he treated his daughter. But, that would ruin all of his plans. So, instead he nodded a thank you and started past the car, pausing by the back door for a moment. Amanda would not even look at him though. She just didn’t know him yet, he convinced himself. He’d show her what she was missing. Then, she’d know.
I used to idolize my dad. In my eyes, he could do no wrong. Even though he was never there. Only every other weekend and holidays. And as the time passed, it was even less than that. And for the big things, the important things, and the everyday things, I just remember him not being there. But, there was one person who was. My mom.
She never badmouthed my dad, at least not in our hearing. She never tried to make us think less of him. But, she didn’t have to. She was there. That means more than anything he ever could have done. Any place he could have taken us or gift he could have bought us. She never had to do that. That was something he has never understood. Even when I was with him, I couldn’t just be with him. We always had to be doing something. it didn’t matter if that wasn’t what I wanted. To just be.
I know it took me longer to come to the truth than it should. Being there is what matters though. And I know I was not always the easiest person to be around. I never knew the extent of that though until I had an emotional sensitive daughter of my own.
I always thought of myself as the easy one. I didn’t get into trouble, got good grades, didn’t go out with boys. Didn’t do anything I wasn’t supposed to. But, looking back, and looking at my own daughter, I see I may not have always been as easy as I thought.
I was an emotional child. There was little that probably would not set me off. I often heard the term “crybaby” when I was around. And it was true. I would cry at just about anything. And looking at my daughter is almost looking in a mirror that transports me back through time. She is so like me in so many ways, not the least of which is how sensitive she can be. The trigger can be as small as doing something in the wrong order. Such as when Cory’s grandparents got home from Florida a day earlier than planned. Or that I cut her sandwich into the wrong shape, even when it was what she had requested earlier that day.
Now, that I have experience on the other side of a sensitive child, I realize just how exhausting it can be. And I want to take this moment, this Mother’s Day, to tell my mom, I’m sorry. And thank you for always being there no matter how difficult I may have made it.
I ran. I knew he would be coming back with that knife, so I ran. I didn’t know how much time I had before he returned. I didn’t even know where he was. He could be standing right outside. Just waiting for me to make a move at an escape. But, I had to take the chance. And I knew it wasn’t just me who would pay if I failed. I looked down at the little girl at my side. I had promised her I would keep her safe from monsters. I couldn’t let her down now.
“Come on,” I told her. “We’re getting out of here.”
“What if he catches us?”
I almost told her it didn’t matter. We’d be dead either way. But, that wasn’t what she needed to hear. “He won’t. Come on.”
We started to inch up the steps, and I reached for the door over my head. I knew it would creak. It had the last time he had come down into the basement to check on us. I had also realized there was no other way out of here. So, we had to go out this door.
I breathed in the fresh air as the door opened. Then, I peeked my head over the edge of the entrance and looked around. I could not see anyone. “Come on. It’s clear. We need to run.”
I lifted her out and set her on the ground before climbing out the last few steps. “Run.” I took her hand, and praying she could keep up, ran as fast as I could.
I heard the shout behind me. I knew she would not be able to keep up with me, so I swung the little girl into my arms and kept running. I didn’t know where we were. Didn’t know the best way to run. And I knew there was no way we would escape if someone else didn’t intervene.
I could hear him gaining on us and knew our chances of getting out of this were quickly fading. I set her down and pushed her forward. “Run. Get help.”
“But, what about you?” She asked, her bottom lip trembling.
“Don’t worry. Just get out of here.”
I watched as she turned and ran, as fast as her little legs could take her. Then, I turned and faced the monster from the worst of my nightmares. I knew I would die, but maybe at least she could be saved from this horror.
5/11: The Letter
It was Sunday, and there shouldn’t have been a letter in the mailbox, but there was. I don’t even know what had me checking it. I had a routine. I checked the mail when I got the kids off the bus. They don’t have school on Sunday either. So, why was I walking down the driveway to the mailbox?
I reached in and pulled out the envelope. Not a bill. That’s good at least. We got enough bills. Didn’t need one on Sundays as well. I didn’t recognize the writing on the envelope, and there was no return address. I turned it in my hands a couple times, but still could not figure out who it could be from.
There was no postmark. So where had it come from? Obviously not through the mail. Someone must have walked by and put it in the mailbox. Must have been what the dog was going crazy about while I was busy getting the kids breakfast that morning. Of course, that dog would bark at a leaf blowing by the house, so I hadn’t put much thought into it.
I was still examining the letter when I walked into the house. The kids looked up at me as I walked by the living room with it. My oldest jumped off the couch. “What is it? Is it for me? Is it from Daddy?”
I just shook my head. It was addressed to me, but I wouldn’t know more until I opened it. I took it into the kitchen, and uninterested now, my daughter went back to watching her cartoons with her brother.
I grabbed the letter opener and slit the top of the envelope. There was just a single sheet of paper. A coldness swept over me as I looked at it. Then, a scream ripped out of my throat, and the paper drifted to the floor.
5/10: On the Run
It wasn’t her fault.
That’s what she kept telling herself even as she looked over her shoulder. No one was following her. They probably hadn’t even found him yet. But, she couldn’t help checking again. Or finding what cover she could when she heard a car approaching on the road.
It was his fault.
He was the one who had come after her. All she had wanted was to be left alone. After so long of taunting her, of leering at her when he thought no one else was watching, he had made his move. And she had been prepared for this day. Had been sleeping with a knife under her pillow.
So, when he had slithered his way onto her bed, she had warned him once. When he didn’t leave, she closed her hand over the knife and gave him one more chance. But, he laughed at her. Laughed like he didn’t think she could actually do anything to him with that knife.
But, he didn’t laugh anymore when she shoved it into his gut. She hadn’t expected the blood that sprayed out at her. She shoved him off the bed and jumped to her feet, but not before getting sick all over the bed. She needed to get away. She knew she had to get away from there before anyone found him. Would they even believe her? Everyone liked him. Would they believe he would do such a thing?
She changed her clothes and slung a bag with more over her shoulder, taking the soiled clothes with her. She was nearly a mile away from the house when she found a dumpster to toss them. She had no idea where she was now. And she didn’t care. As she put more distance between her and the man she had killed, she told herself again: It wasn’t her fault.
She had been warned, but now it was too late. Why hadn’t she listened? Why did she have to follow him? She didn’t know her way through here. She just wanted to see where he kept disappearing to all the time. Why wasn’t she allowed to satisfy her curiosity.
All the girls were warned to stay away from these woods. Only the boys were allowed to go in them, and even they were warned not to travel too deep into the trees. “Kirwin, what are you doing out here?” She rubbed the skin of her arms as a chill ran through her.
She looked behind her, but she was alone. No one would ever have to know. And she couldn’t just turn back now. So, she took a step past the first of the trees. And her pulse picked up, knowing there was certainly no turning back now. She wasn’t even sure which way to go though.
She had seen Kirwin disappear into the woods at about this point. She wasn’t even sure what had made her decide to follow him tonight. Except that he had been so secretive over the last days. She needed to know where he kept going. What he was hiding.
A blast of cold washed over her as she moved through the trees. She shivered and wrapped her arms around her body. She shouldn’t be here. She should have listened. She shouldn’t have come in here. She turned around, but the way she had come looked completely different now.
Her heart raced. How was she going to get back out of here now? Tears glistened in her eyes. How was she ever going to get home now? She just wanted to go home. She turned in a circle, but she could not the path she had followed in here. “What am I going to do?” She cried and sank to the ground. “Why did I have to follow him.”
Then, she jumped to her feet as she heard a crash behind her. She spun around and saw someone racing toward her. She recognized the shape of his body, his face, his hair. “Kirwin! Where did you go? What are you doing out here?”
He didn’t answer her questions though. Instead, he grabbed her arm and pulled her along with him. “We have to get out of here. You should have never come.”
She wanted to apologize, wanted to ask more questions, but all she could do was try to keep up with him. He didn’t slow until they had broken through the woods and were in the clear again. Then, she collapsed to the ground. After taking a few deep breaths, she looked up at him. “What is that place, Kirwin? Why did it change after I went in?”
He just shook his head at her though. “It’s a place you need to stay out of. That’s it.”
She shrunk back from the anger in his voice and just nodded. “Come on,” he said, his voice gentler now. “I’ll get you home.”
5/8: In the Moonlight
She walked in the moonlight. I saw her on top of that hill, and I could feel my pulse speed. It wasn’t the first night I had seen her walk. But, she never came during the day. So, I had stood at my bedroom window, waiting for her to show. And I watched her walk past, as if she was going to meet someone.
I had to follow her. Had to see where she was going, who she was meeting. Why she came every night. I slipped on a coat over my night clothes, but left the house without shoes. And I went to where I had last seen her from my window. But, she was gone.
I didn’t even know her name. I couldn’t call out to her. Couldn’t find out where she had gone. My heart feeling heavy with disappointment, I turned back toward the house. Then, I heard her voice. I knew it was her although I had never heard her speak before. “Over here.”
I turned and saw her step out of the stand of trees. What I had always thought of dead wood turned to beauty behind her. A bird rode on her shoulder, but with a gesture from her that I barely saw, he flew off, leaving us alone. “I have been waiting for you,” she said. “For the one who would be able to see me.”
I thought she almost floated across the ground as she moved toward me. “Who are you?”
But, she did not speak again. Instead, she ran her hands up my chest and over my shoulders. Then, she took my hand and led me back toward the trees. I could do nothing but follow. I did not even wonder at the time why I didn’t question it. Why I didn’t question her. But, I didn’t. I just followed. And that one decision, or lack of decision, changed every aspect of my life.
5/7: The Hunt
The footprints in the snow suddenly ended. I looked around me, but there was no sign of my quarry. I had followed his trail here but now there was nothing. “A wounded animal doesn’t just disappear,” I muttered.
My family needed this kill. The little ones were hungry for something more than the bread Mother had been able to afford. I had been splitting my share between them. Until Mother learned what I was doing and insisted I needed to eat as well.
I started farther into the woods, where I had seen the deer flee after being struck by my arrow. But, there were any number of little paths through the woods the animal could have taken. Then, I saw a streak of blood along on side of a tree with a feather stuck in it. I knew that feather came from an arrow I had carefully crafted myself. Another reason I had to find this animal.
I started past the tree, keeping my bow at the ready with another arrow in case I ran into the deer and needed to take it down. Or anything else. I had heard the stories about these woods. How could I not? I had lived here for all of my fifteen years. And I knew I was not the only boy the same age out here trying to provide for his family.
I heard a noise ahead of me and off to my right. I moved slowly so I did not frighten the deer away when I came upon him. But, when I came into a clearing and saw him, I realized that would not be necessary. He was already down. Still alive, but unable to get back on his feet. I raised my bow, aiming the arrow for his heart. It wasn’t just about the meat I could bring home now. I couldn’t let an animal suffer because of me.
But, I found I could not release the string between my fingers. Then, a light washed over the clearing. The light did not hurt my eyes as the sun would have. And the figure coming toward me through that light was anything but a monster. She stopped beside the wounded animal and rested her hand on his head. Then, she looked up at me, and I found myself lowering my weapon as if against my will.
“You do not need to harm this animal today, Son. Your family will be provided for. Go home now.”
Then, my arrow was out of the animal’s side and back in my hand. I must have been in shock because I did just as the woman said. Turned around and started back the way I had come. It wasn’t until I was almost home that I questioned just who she was. And why I had listened to her. Then, I worried about what I would find when I got home. They were counting on the meat I could bring home, and I had failed them.
5/6: Slamming Door
The door slammed behind him. He cringed but just kept walking. She obviously did not want him there anymore. So, he would not turn around and beg. Instead he walked to his car.
And he just sat behind the steering wheel. He had no desire to go anywhere. He wanted to be back in there with her. But, that made no sense, since she obviously did not want him anymore.
What had the fight even been about? He couldn’t remember now. He knew they’d both had a little too much to drink the night before. But, it wasn’t the first time. And they didn’t fight every time they drank. Just most of the times. He should be used to it. And she always let him back in. But, this time felt different. Very different.
She hadn’t been hungover this morning. Not like he was. No she had seemed stone cold sober when she told him she wanted him to leave. And she never wanted him to come back again.
He shook his head. He’d heard those words before. Many times before. But, there was something else in her voice this time. Something that told him she meant it this time.
He dropped his head to the steering wheel. He didn’t want to be without her. They must be meant for each other, since they could not stay apart. At least that’s what he always told himself. Even if they turned into uglier versions of themselves whenever they came together.
He shook his head and stepped back out of the car. He wasn’t going to let her use him like a yo-yo anymore. He would put a stop to that right now. He slammed the car door behind him and walked back up to the house.
5/5: House Hunting
They crinkled their noses, wondering what could make the room smell like this. “The house hasn’t been open in a while,” the realtor explained to the couple who followed him inside.
“That’s not the smell of a closed up house.”
“Thomas, maybe it’s nothing,” the woman beside him said.
But, he shook his head. “It’s definitely something. A house doesn’t smell like this if it’s nothing.”
The realtor was becoming increasingly nervous. The house had sat empty for so long and finally they’d had a pull on the line. If he didn’t reel in this couple, who knew how much longer it would just sit here. “I’m sure your wife is right, Sir. It just needs to be aired out.”
Thomas shook his head again but wandered through the entry way and into a living room. “It’s spacious,” he said, turning in a circle until he had taken it all in.
“Yes, there is lots of room in here,” the realtor assured him, perking up again. “Lots of room for those toys when that baby gets here.”
Thomas’ wife smiled and and rested her hands on her expanding belly. “Only a couple more months. We’re hoping to have a house before that.”
“Well, let’s take you through the rest of the house, so you can decide if it’s the one for you.”
They left the living room and the realtor led them toward the stairs. The woman hesitated. “I think I’ll just stay down here and wander around while you’re up there. If that’s all right.”
“Well, okay, but are you sure you don’t want to see what’s up there?”
“I trust Thomas to let me know what he thinks. If he likes it, then I’ll take a look.”
She headed off down the hallway as Thomas and the realtor started up the steps. They had just reached the second floor landing when he heard his wife scream. He turned and darted back down the stairs, following the sound of her cries. He found her in a bathroom, staring at the decomposing body laying in the bathtub. He fought back his own reaction to the sight and the smell and turned her to him. “Don’t look at it,” he told her.
The realtor came in behind them, and Thomas looked over his shoulder at the other man. “I told you it wasn’t a closed up house smell.”
The floorboard creaked. My whole body tensed, and I did not move. I did not know how long I had sat huddled here, but my body ached from the need to stretch. But, the creak of that floorboard told me I wasn’t alone yet. They hadn’t left. And they were coming to find me now.
The shirts hanging over me just brushed over my hair. And I wanted to cry at the thought he would never wear them again. He had told me to stay in bed when we woke to the sound of breaking glass. But, I just couldn’t do that, could I? I had to see what was happening. And I saw one of them pull a gun on him. Saw him go done. Saw him bleeding. And I had run back here, into our closet.
I barely buried my sob in the shirt I had gathered up from the floor. One that hadn’t stayed on its hanger the last time I’d hung up our clothes. What was I going to do? I couldn’t stay here forever. They’d find me. If they cared enough to keep looking, they’d find me. And I had no way to protect myself.
I heard another floorboard creak. This time right outside our bedroom doorway. I could feel the scream building in my throat but bit down on my cheek to stop it. I couldn’t just give away my hiding spot. I couldn’t make it that easy on them.
Then the light in the bedroom came on, nearly searing my eyes through the crack of the closet door. I saw the man’s boots first then the legs. The rest of him was blocked though. I saw him take another step into the room and knew he was looking for something. I didn’t think I made a sound, but he started right for the closet. And then called out to me. By name.
“Melissa, are you in there? It’s okay. They’re gone. You’re safe now. You can come out.”
I knew that voice. A cop. My husband’s partner. I pushed open the closet door but my legs didn’t want to move. It didn’t matter. He was coming to lift me up from the floor. “It’s okay,” he said again. “You’re safe now.”
*Note: This one is a little different. Non-fiction and personal. And it’s more a collection of memories than a true story, but I’m still counting it as today would have been my Father-in-Law’s 59th birthday.
He would have been fifty-nine today. I can still remember the first time we met. We walked into the camper and there they were. My date’s dad and stepmom. It was our first date, but from that moment I was accepted simply because I was with their son. it was like I was already a part of their family. I never knew that exactly a year later, we would have to say good-bye to him.
There’s so many stories I could tell, so many memories accumulated during that one year. There’s the night I celebrated my birthday with them. The one and only Christmas I had with him. We stayed at the house one day in April while I was home from college, since they were doing a big celebration for his great-aunt’s birthday. He came walking into the living room with a beer. And offered it to Cory, my fiancee now, even though we both knew he had planned to drink it. And he went and got another. Then, asked me if I wanted one. I had never had a beer before. It’s still not my thing, but I took it. It’s a happy memory, and one I try to hold on to, especially when the tears threaten.
Then, there’s the one memory I regret never making. That August, him and my husband’s stepmom rode the motorcycle to the family reunion. Cory suggested he take me for a ride. And I refused. I was scared. I had never been on one before and just the thought of it terrified me. So, I never did get on it. I let my fear rule over what could have been another good memory. But, I didn’t know how little time we had left with him.
Just one week after that was the last time I saw him as himself and not in the hospital bed. It was the day after my bachelorette party. And we went to dinner at their house. It wasn’t just us. Cory’s brother was there. And so were his sister, her husband, and their son. And even our dog came with us. I may not remember the conversations we had that day, but I remember the laughter. There always seemed to be laughter when we were together. And after dinner, he sat on the couch with a bag of potato chips. And fed them to my dog. Such a normal thing.
I was looking forward to him being at our wedding in just under a month. Looking forward to having a dance with him. And starting my life with his son. I wish I would have known. Wish I could have had time to make more memories. Wish he would have had time to stick around and see his grandchildren. His granddaughter who has his dimples. His grandson who carries on his name and brings so much laughter into this house again.
It was just two weeks after that dinner, and two weeks before our wedding, that we stood in the hospital, saying good-bye to him. Only it wasn’t him. It was a shell. But, it looked nothing like him. Nothing like the man I had just laughed with two weeks before. It was like he was already gone. And then he really was. There were no more memories to be made. The sickness we didn’t know he had stole him away. Leaving us clutching the memories we had made, too few to let any of them slip away.
5/2: Seeing, Not Believing
Something moved in the cupboard. I took a step back, hoping I had not seen what I had just seen. But, there it was again. I moved cans out of the way. Peas. Soup. beans. I don’t know why I took note of each item as I moved it, as if I had to mark it off a mental checklist. In the very back were the jars of mostly fruit and products I had canned myself. Applesauce. Strawberry jelly. Peaches. And finally I was to the back of the cupboard.
I just stared. There was nothing there. Well, of course there was something. The back wall of the cupboard didn’t just disappear. In fact, it was covered by dust and cobwebs as I never thought to clean back here. Except for when I was looking for something to eat and put it off for another time. Wasn’t that always the way?
But, I had seen something move. Where was it? What was it? If it was some creepy crawly thing, and I couldn’t think of what else it could be, I didn’t want it in there with my food. But, I no longer saw anything.
Then, I did. Just a thin line of light at the bottom of the cupboard. As if there was a crack there and light from the next room was coming through. But, that made no sense. There was not a room on the other side of that cupboard. And no one here, other than me, to turn a light on.
I stuck my head a little farther into the cupboard and repressed a shiver at the feel of the cobwebs in my hair. “Really need to clean this.”
And I felt something. Something that was not a cobweb. More like a breeze just brushing over my skin. And that thin line of light widened as if the back of the cupboard was opening. Which is just what it did.
I jumped back, unable to believe what I was seeing, and hit my head on the top of the cupboard. I cursed and slammed the cupboard door shut. Maybe I had already hit my head and was hallucinating. There was no world of little people living behind my cupboard wall. I went and got ice for the bump on my head and convinced myself I had not seen anything after all. And when I went to the cupboard again, nothing moved.
5/1: The Dare
I cared what she thought, so when she dared me I knew I was in trouble. “This isn’t smart,” I said, looking from her out into the darkness.
“Come on,” she said and slipped her hand into mine. “It will be fine. Fun even.”
She tugged on my hand, but I hesitated. It wouldn’t be fine. I knew that. It might be fun, but I knew it would never be fine.
“We shouldn’t do this.”
“Come on,” she said again. With a little less humor this time. And more irritation. “No one will even know we’re gone. Have some fun. You don’t always have to do the smart thing.”
But, I did. Sometimes it seemed I was the only one left who did. And someone had to.
Her hand slipped from mine and slid up my arm. “Come on. I promise you’ll have a good time.”
I knew I would go. Just as I knew everything would not be fine after tonight, I knew I couldn’t resist her. And she knew it too. She danced away from me. And I followed her. Out into the darkness. Down to the water where I knew both of our lives would be changed forever. Nothing I did would stop up. I could postpone it, but nothing would change the ways things were to be. So, I went with it. And she was right. I did have fun.