Short Story #4: House on Rhum Street

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I thought the Man and Woman haunted the house on Rhum Street. I was very wrong.

It’s hard to remember when I first noticed them. After a time I got the sense they were always there, just fading in and out, like poor reception on my Grandpa’s radio. I must have been quite young because I didn’t know enough to be scared. I remember the telltale signs when they came near: the hairs on my neck standing, the sudden chill in the air, my thoughts getting muddled and swirled. Some of my early memories were pleasant. The Woman once hovered over me while I read Hot Dog to Benny. He was too young to understand ghosts then, probably only two, which would have made me five.

Benny and I came to live with Jesse and Bob when I was three and he was just months. I don’t have clear memories before that, just blurry images that don’t make much sense. A comb with a silver handle resting on a brown bedspread, a tall evergreen tree against a gray sky, a frilly yellow dress which I think was my favorite, and the white-hot heat of a fire, so large and close that my eyes, nose, ears, and skin were full of it, encompassed and consumed by the roaring, bitter, hungry rush of it.

The house on Rhum Street was small and sparse. Rhum street was one of several small houses that all looked mostly the same in the community. Benny and I shared a room for years, his crib near my bed. He would often wake up in the middle of the night crying, which at first scared me so much I cringed in my bed, crying silently as well. For a while Jesse or Bob would come in, pick him up and carry him in circles, murmuring quietly until he was back asleep. After a while only Bob came. Then by the time I was five, if Benny cried at all I was the one comforting him.

When I started school, which was just a squat building near the center of the community, Benny would be worn out and pale when I came home, his face a smudged mess of tired eyes and hot cheeks. Bob or Jesse, whichever one was home at the time, would tell me that he cried the entire time I was gone, and only stopped when I came home. Eventually they arranged for Benny to sit in at school with me, with a playpen set up at the edge of the room. He was fine on his own so long as he could see me.

It was around the time that Benny started attending school himself that I started to notice the Woman showing up regularly. I would be studying, or reading, or maybe practicing my macramé, and I would feel that chill, see my breath suddenly, even on a sunny warm day. Since I felt like I had basically grown up with a few short appearances a year, it didn’t alarm me as much as pique my interest. When the chill set in, and the hairs on my neck and arm stood up, I could be sure I would see her, white and wispy, translucent like smoke, drifting in the room. Her face was smooth with round cheeks and a small nose, and her long hair swirled around her like she was underwater, or in a slow-moving wind.

Soon after she started showing up on an almost weekly basis, the Man started showing up as well.. Sometimes he came with her, sometimes he showed up on his own. As with her, I wasn’t alarmed so much as curious. He was also beautiful to look at, with high cheeks and deep eyes that looked strong even though he was just smoke drifting in the air. Both of them would hover near me, look into my eyes, sometimes reaching out to me. It was clear they were focused, looking for something, searching. I came to feel sad and distant when they showed up. Along with the chill on my skin and the prickling on my hairs, my mood would dampen and deepen, even before I could see them. I came to imagine they had a tragic and romantic past, even making up stories of doomed lovers who were cursed to live as ghosts and never touch each other again.

The day I realized they would only come when Benny or I were alone marked a change in how I thought of them. Benny and I were playing King’s Corners while the Man hovered over us, watching,. Benny and I grinned and blew smoke rings at each other with our chilled breath. The next moment the chill in the air abruptly vanished, replaced with the heat of the day, the Man was instantly gone and the door burst open. Jesse stood in the doorway, looking around wild-eyed.

“What are you doing?” she demanded loudly of us.

“Cards” I replied, all wide-eyed and innocent. But Benny was never one to know anything more than what he saw in front of him, and what he saw was Jesse acting suspicious, and stranger than normal. So he of course said:

“Did you see him too?”

Jesse launched across the room at Benny, seizing him by the shoulders and staring fast into his eyes, her mouth a hard line straight across her pock-marked face, her severe hair brushing across one ear.

“Who?” She demanded. “Who did you see, Ben?”

Her sudden intensity scared Benny, and he immediately started bawling. He was seven by this point, but still prone to crying at the drop of a hat, his mouth agape, tears spilling readily down his cheeks. Jesse was never able to handle this, and his reaction made her angrier. She shook him in her hard grip and growled: “You stop that right now and answer. Who? Who Ben?”

“He didn’t see anything!” I yelled. “We were just playing cards!” I wanted her to stop, let go of Benny before her anger ran away with her, like I had heard it do when she and Bob fought late at night. She looked over at me, her rock-like stare fixing me to my seat.

“What does he mean ‘see him too’? Mary, what did he see?”

“Nothing! It’s just cards! Sometimes Benny makes things up!” I was in a panic trying to find a way to explain this away to Jesse. “He makes up pretend friends!” I paused, trying to read if she was buying it. “I… sometimes I pretend I can see them too.”

Jesse considered this, but didn’t seem to be completely satisfied. She looked from me to howling Benny, then back at me. Her face softened then, dropping the hard edges and smoothing out the severe lines. She let go of Benny, then put her arm around him in an uncharacteristically nurturing move, and murmured apologies to him for scaring him. She rocked him awkwardly until his crying calmed to sniffles.

“The Elders have told us to be looking out, kids.” Her voice was calm and soothing then, looking between us still with intensity to make sure we understood this was important. “We’ve got to let them know about anything out of the ordinary. So if you see anything, or anyone that concerns you, or seems strange, you must come talk to me.

She fixed each of us with her most focused and direct gaze, imparting the weight of the situation. “It doesn’t matter how strange or how small, if you see something you tell me about it.” After another moment she added: “do you have anything to tell me?”

Silence ruled the room as seconds stretched out. I fiddled my cards and glanced up at her hard eyes off and on. She was staring pointedly at me, and I felt like she could see my lies laid bare without me saying anything. Benny sniffled and stared straight down.

“Either of you? Anything?” After letting the question hang in the air a few more moments she added “well, if you think of anything, you tell me. I’m looking out for what’s best for the two of you. And I can do that better if you let me know anything you see or hear.”

She ruffled Benny’s head, then grabbed my face between both of her hands and looked into my eyes, softer and sweeter than I had ever known her to be. Another moment and she stood, brushed her hands on her pants and left with an awkward smile.

That night I made Benny promise that the Man and Woman would be our secret and we wouldn’t tell anyone.

From then on I become acutely aware that the ghosts would never show up unless I was alone, or only with Benny. Benny confirmed that they sometimes came to see him when he was alone, but never with anyone but me. From then on they were Our Ghosts.

A month after my twelfth birthday, I came to understand fully.

I first noticed blood in my underwear just days after my birthday, and I was so scared I washed them in the cramped bathroom before putting them in the laundry hamper. The next day there was more, and the day after again. After three days, everything seemed fine again, and I thought no more of it. But the following month it happened again, and this time I was scared enough to ask Jesse what it meant.

I wanted to ask Bob. He was kind and gentle, where Jesse was terse and authoritative. But I knew somehow that I needed to ask a woman about this.  I found her behind the house moving crates of apples that we had picked the previous week. The sweet aroma of fresh apples and the bald heat of a summer day will confuse my emotions to this day. When I timidly described what was happening and asked Jesse what it might mean, her face switched between several expressions rapidly, then she sat me down on empty apple crates.

“Tell me. Tell me everything.”

This scared me even more. I was worried I had some horrible disease and this confirmed it. I could only wonder if I would die in months or years.

“It’s… well, I wake up and, it’s bloody. Not, like, bleeding, but there’s bits of red in my underwear.” I couldn’t meet her eyes. I fiddled with the frayed hem of my blue shirt.

“Did this just start happening? Is this the first time?” Her eyes were severe and round, hard little buttons in her freckled face.

“No.” I paused, feeling more shame for hiding it before. “No. Last month it happened three times in a row. But then it just stopped.”

Jesse looked at me, her brow screwed up slightly, through worry or concern I couldn’t be sure.

“And that was the first time?”

I nodded.

“Are you sure?”

I nodded again.

Her face relaxed suddenly, and she let out a breath that seemed like she had held for years. Her shoulders dropped and her back sagged. She looked up at the oak tree we were under, through the broad leaves, perhaps searching the sky for something. I waited for her to tell me how long I had to live; both of us perched on apple crates in silence.

“Am I going to die?” my voice was a whisper, like a sheet brushing across skin.

She looked at me, shocked, then with more warmth and caring than I could remember having seen before.

“Oh, god, no honey. No.” She put her hand on my shoulder, and stroked my hair with her other. It felt unnatural and awkward, but I held still. “This is a good thing. Everything changes now. You are going to become what you were born for. You and your brother.” She stopped then. I hoped for more explanation, but she offered none.

That night I listened to Jesse and Bob talk through the thin walls. They spoke quietly, trying not to wake us, but I felt I might never sleep again. I could only hear the occasional word, but it was enough to piece together that something they had planned for a long time was now happening, and it involved the Elders. It seemed to involve the entire community. And Benny and I were at the center of it.

I lay awake that night long after Bob and Jesse had gone to sleep. I felt worried, scared of something I couldn’t name. My community, my house, suddenly felt foreign, unwelcoming and sinister.

The chill set in abruptly. The skin on my arms burst into gooseflesh, and my lungs breathed in suddenly icy air. I flicked the light above my small bed, and they were both there in front of me, white clouds in my room, faces full of concern and a new, thrilling anger.

She made urgent motions, swirling over my bed, then over Benny’s bed, then back again. The Man beckoned to the door, making it very clear: we were to get up and leave.

Benny was groggy and grumpy, but he got up and stayed quiet. We slipped out into the dark house, stepping quietly across the carpet, then slipped our shoes on and went out the sliding glass door and into the back yard. I saw their wispy forms, like solid steam, zipping through the night air with more speed and purpose than I’d ever seen before. They seemed urgent and eager, and Benny and I followed them expectantly.

What an adventure it seemed. We had never been allowed out after dark without adults. The grass was damp with dew, the sky bristling with stars, and I felt a vast freedom that I hadn’t known I was missing before. My constraints from the rules of the community, the guidance of the Elders, the pressures to fit in were suddenly gone like so much vapor. Benny and I belonged free and wild, and I knew somewhere deep inside that I had crossed some invisible line, that there was no returning to my previous life.

We made it nearly to the community gate before lights shown out, harsh as accusations, rooting us to our spot. Instantly I was transformed from a free creature to a guilty child, cowering under a stern and judging glare. To my amazement, the Man and Woman did not disappear this time. They swirled and lunged at the people holding the lights, and shouts of surprise and terror filled the air. The Woman circled back to us, urging us to run, her face a painting of fear and panic. I grabbed Benny’s hand and we ran.

We didn’t open the gate, but climbed over. My nightdress snagged on the wooden post and I heard it tear as I fell over the other side. Benny was easily up one side and down the other. We rejoined hands and ran into the night, our feet crunching on the gravel of the drive.

Behind us we heard more shouting, more screams. Lights zigzagged through the night air, splashing the wild grass by the sides of the road, the fir trees, the gravel. Suddenly powerful arms grabbed me and I screamed in shock. The arms were so strong I couldn’t breath properly and I gasped in short little gulps.

“No, girl” the deep voice sounded by my right ear, “the ceremony is in motion. Tomorrow you will fulfill your promise. And your brother will be on the path.” I didn’t recognize the voice; it wasn’t Bob, it wasn’t my Grandpa, or any of my male teachers. It could have been any one of the neighbors, I didn’t know them well.

He was hauling me back, one large arm around me, the other dragging Benny who was kicking and hitting all the way. My breath was coming back now, and I could see he wore a cloak with a full hood. I could not see his face at all in the night, which scared me even more. I clawed at his arm, my fingernails digging deep, but I might as well have scratched at a tree trunk; his thick arm didn’t budge.

The She was there, and he stopped short in his tracks. Her bright white face grew before us, angry and radiant, spreading and expanding until it filled our view. Her eyes were the size of cups, the size of plates, of tires. The blackness of her eyes sucked at my mind and I closed my eyes with a whimper. The arm around me grew slack, then we were suddenly falling. The impact of hitting the ground jolted me, but I scrambled up from under his motionless weight, and She was in front of me again, her beautiful eyes locked on mine. Where she was worry and anger before, now she seemed to be full of sadness; all sorrowful eyes and drooping mouth. She looked like the picture of regret as she raised her hands to my head, and her eyes closed slowly.

And then I saw. I saw her brushing my hair with the silver hairbrush. I saw a swing under the great fir tree under the gray sky. I saw the fire swirl around us, and She and He tied to the bed. I saw hooded figures dragging a baby boy and a tiny girl in a yellow dress out of a burning house and into a car that would take them far away.

And more than seeing, I knew. I knew that we had been stolen for a purpose, I knew I was special, and Benny was especially so. I knew the people wanted to use us, but for what I didn’t know.

I gasped and the night was silent around me. Her pure face nodded at me, and she caressed my face and Benny’s beside me. It was like being touched by a cloud; a light breath of chill on my cheek.

Then she swung her arms dramatically and wildly eager for us to run, then swirled back towards the robed figures coming through the open gate. My father was there, pulsing between figures, a vengeful mass of smoke and anger.

I grabbed Benny’s hand, and again we ran. I didn’t know where we were going, but at least I finally knew where we came from.

 


Thanks so much for reading! If you have thoughts to share, I’d love to hear ’em. Some questions I’m curious about now that you’ve finished this:

1.) Is it clear too early that the ghosts are her parents? If so, do you feel that detracts from the story, or not?
2.) Do you have any theories about what the community is all about at this stage?
3.) Do I need to describe more about the relationship that Jesse and Bob have, or would that get in the way?


story starting point:

A girl lives with a couple and is haunted by two ghosts that are actually her real parents (not verbatim, will go back and find the verbatim prompt later…)

A broken wing

Short story number three from a list of  30+ story ideas pulled from a friend’s crowd-sourced plea for quick plot summaries.  This has turned out to be a super fun exercise where I get to try out all kinds of different genre’s and writing styles.  Hopefully you have almost half as much fun reading as I had writing.


 

 

owl

 

 

“I’m not hungry.”

Anna scowled down at her plate.  Her father scowled at her.  Her mother fretted with a napkin.  There was silence for a moment.

“You need to eat, Anna.”  Her father growled, then shoveled a giant bite into his own mouth.  “And we may not get any more for a while.”

“I’m not hungry.” Anna repeated.

“You will be.”

“Then I’ll save it.  Just like last time.”

“And the time before. And the time before that.  When did my daughter become so willful and obstinate?”

Anna just glared at her plate, unwilling to look up.

“Would…” her mother started, “would you like some cake at least?”

“Dammit Jess, if she’s not hungry enough for food, she’s bloody well not having cake!” her father thumped the thick wood table with his closed fist, clattering the place settings.

Another silence followed, and Anna cautiously stole a look at her mother.  She looked chastened, eyes downcast, long black nose nearly at her chest, whiskers hanging down.  Anna hated her father then, her anger coiling around in her empty stomach, making the hunger worse, along with the delicious smells wafting up from her plate.

“May I be excused?” she whispered, absently grabbing her thin tail in her nervousness.  Glancing over at her father, she saw his large face, the dark eyes reduced to slits in frustration, the gray fur bunched up on his brow.

“Fine.  Starve if you’d like. “ he growled. “I’m signing you up for the hunting party.”

Anna barely heard the gasp from her mother as her heart sunk lower than she thought possible.  A hunter?  Killing other animals and bringing them back for food?  She could never do that.

“You’ll learn that it takes a lot of work to bring in the meals.  Especially while staying safe from those damnable Hoots.”

“Charles, she’s too young!” her mother blurted.

“Not too young to make her own decisions, as you can plainly see.” her father’s anger focused and narrowed, aimed like a beam at her mother.  “It’s time she learned all decisions have consequences, Jess.  If she’s going to refuse to take part in meals, she can damn well take part in hunting them!”

“Excuse me” Anna couldn’t bear to watch her parent’s fight.  She knew it would end with her poor, delicate mother in tears, her rotund father shouting, dominating, berating.  And Anna hated herself for being the cause of tonight’s eruption.   She quickly scooped up the contents of her plate onto a napkin and scurried out of the dining room.

“Two legs, Anna!  No daughter of mine will be a scamperer.  We walk on two legs in this house!”

Anna straightened, stiffened her back, and walked calmly into the hallway, projecting as much haughty disdain as possible through posture alone.

Once in the small, cramped hallway and out of sight of her parents, she went back to all fours, weaving quickly past the various “treasures” her father had accumulated over the years; a table with a missing leg, a rusted helmet presumably from the First Races War, a pile of polished stones that Anna still had no idea about, a large rolled scroll with weathered edges and small, worn holes.

She burst out the front door and scampered down steps towards the large tree in the side yard.  The darkening skies had sent everyone else indoors.  The fear of Hoots coming out of the night sky was ingrained, even though there hadn’t been one seen or heard of near town in years.

Which was all the more reason Anna had to keep her secret from everyone.  Including her mother.

She came to the set of rocks arranged delicately in front of the tree’s hollow and the ground.  Pushing them aside carefully, she wedged into the opening and pulled them back closed behind her.  In the darkness she slowed her breathing as she edged downward in the earth.  Silently she thanked her luck that Macey and she had discovered this small tunnel years ago.  The thought of Macey sent a twinge of sadness and regret as always.

The tight, short tunnel opened up quickly into a small earthen room.  Thick roots coiled down from above, and the space felt cramped and tight.  Thin, feeble light trickled in from behind her, and in the twilit space she could just make out the soft, bulky shape before her.  Anna laid the napkin on the earth, and sat still and quiet behind it.

The white and black-peppered mass moved, a dry rustle and whisper of smooth, strong feathers, the scrape of talons across hardened earth.  Anna sat still, thrilling as always to the power and majesty of the motions.  Into one of the trickling beams of light a single brilliant eye appeared, set above a shiny black beak; thick and formidable, it looked ready to crack stones.

“I brought you some food” Anna’s voice sounded small and inconsequential in comparison to the great owl in front of her.

The eye regarded her for a moment, searching, probing.  Quiet and stillness descended on them again.  Outside Anna could hear her mother calling for her distantly.

“You risk much, child” the deep voice filled the tiny room, even though the owl was speaking in hushed tones. “again I am in debt for your kindness.  When my wing has healed, I will repay you.”

“It’s nothing, really.  I’m not hungry anyway.”  Her stomach rumbled quietly.

“You have said this before.  Your lies are covered in kindness and selflessness.  You have taught me much about your race.”

Above, Anna heard her mother call again.

“I… have to go now.  I will come again in the morning.  What else do you need?”

“Child, I cannot ask more from you.  Go, and I pray you are not seen.  For your sake and mine.  Soon I shall fly again.”

Anna scurried from the hole, resetting the stones that hid the entrance.  She walked calmly to her house, her mind awash with visions of the Great Owl, one of the Hoots she had heard stories about growing up, flying majestically above the town.  If she allowed herself to dream unfettered, she saw herself on the Great Owl’s back, soaring over the tiny houses and trees of her people, the wind in her face, the dawn sun on her fur.

But she would never tell anyone that shameful vision.

 

 


Original story prompt:  Little Girl grows up with a secret…she has a pet owl. why is it a secret? where did she get it? is it magical? what are her stories or adventures with her owl…GO


Questions

1.)  Is opening the story without being clear that these are not people too jarring when it is revealed?

2.)  Is it clear enough what kind of animals Anna and her family are?

3.)  Is the age-old conflict between the races clear-enough, or is it confusing?

 

 

The morning walk

dogwalk

The alarm buzzed and my eyes popped open. Saturday. I should be sleeping in, but I had forgotten to disable my phone’s alarm. Fumbling for it, I silenced the buzzing in time to cling to the last threads of sleep and began to relax back into unconsciousness.

I heard loud panting, excited and quick, first at the bedroom doorway, then closer. Louder. Shelly shifted to my left and I inwardly cursed our deal a month ago that I would always take the dog out in the mornings. Sure, she got the kids ready and off to school every morning, so it was more than a fair trade, but still. She sleeps in weekends and I shuffle around half-dead in the cold, waiting for Frodo to do his thing.

Fair, but then she stayed at home while I went to the office each day, trying to sell internet contracts over the phone. Not anyone’s dream job, but I seemed to have a knack for talking people into things.

Panting directly on my arm then. Hot, quick bursts across my arm hairs. Seconds to go until drool. Refusing to open my eyes, hoping to find some way to go back to sleep, I lazily pushed Frodo’s head away. The panting stopped. I could imagine him, his big dark eyes looking at me, brows raised in question, head cocked to the side. I prayed he would hear a squirrel at the living room window and go to investigate. Just a few more minutes of warmth and comfort, please.

The panting started up again, closer to my head, heavy dog-breath wafting across my nostrils. I rolled out of reach, letting out what I thought would be a groan but instead came out as a pitiful whine. The panting stopped again, momentarily. I knew the pinched little face he was giving me, waiting to see if motion on the bed would lead to actual waking, and the much-craved walk outside.

Nothing happened. Silence, wonderful silence. If only for a few more moments.

“But dad, I really have to pee!”

The voice was plaintive, pleading, desperate. My eyes burst open and I rolled over to look around. Frodo looked at me expectantly, his brows small arches over his dark eyes, the dachshund coloring around his face making him look more pure than his mutt heritage is.

Nobody in the room but the dog. It hadn’t sounded like Ben, certainly older than his 5-year-old squeak. And Anita wouldn’t get up for hours unless forced. The joys of a tween daughter.

“Dad? We gonna go for a walk now?”

My head snapped back to Frodo. His head cocked further to the side, a punctuation of his stance. My mind scrabbled around inside my skull, checking desperately for any reference to the fact that I have a talking dog. Moments passed, the staredown between man and beast stretched out. My brain came back with the final answer: there is absolutely no record of me having a talking dog.

“Daaaaaaad…” Frodo started. At the same time I heard Shelly shifting again and raised my finger to shush him before he woke her up. Instead of the expected “shhhhhh” sound, what came out was a low whine instead. I was immediately on my feet, boggling at the noise that came from my own throat.

I stumbled out of the bedroom and into the bathroom. Behind me I heard the rustle of bedcovers, and a low moan. Frodo followed me into the bathroom and I shut the door quickly and quietly behind us. As I did, I heard Shelly through the door:

“Jimmy? Wha’s goin’ on?” her voice was slow and thick with sleep.

I intended to say “Nothing, baby. Go back to sleep, just taking Frodo out.”

What came out was very different and very surprising:

“Roop roop, Grrrrraaaar, wroof”

I clamped my hand over my mouth. Frodo looked at me, as if to say “dude, what’s wrong with you?” In actuality, he said:

“Dad? Are you angry?”

I boggled at him. Then quickly reassured him: “wrrrrrrooo…”

“Jim?” Shelly’s voice came from the bedroom, more awake now. “is everything okay?”

shit, I thought, what the hell do I do?


My first thought wasn’t “maybe I should get help” or “wow, Shelly’s gotta see this”. No, it was an instinctual reaction to hide what was horribly, horribly wrong.

I desperately gesticulated at Frodo, pointing at my mouth, then at him, then at the door. He stared with his head cocked to one side, one floppy ear slightly raised. Silently and with greater urgency I pointed with both fingers at the door, willing him to somehow see that we needed to get Shelly to go back to sleep. He needed to say something.

Just say “it’s okay, go back to sleep honey”! It’s not that hard, ya damn dog.

 

“Fetch?” his voice was high and happy, and I swear I saw a smile spread across his face.

“Jim? Who’s there with you?”

shitshitshit.

 

I heard footsteps in the hall and held my breath. Frodo circled me, hoping that would entice me to move toward the door and go for the expected morning walk.

“Jim?” she followed with a knock on the door. “Are you in there? Who are you with?

Frodo went and scratched at the door.

“Why is Frodo in there with you?”

“Dad is gonna take me for a walk!” Frodo answered.

There was a long pause. Then: “Jim, is that Benjamin in there with you? He sounds…”

“Mom! Dad’s gonna take me for a walk!” Frodo started running in circles, wagging happily.

I barked furiously at Frodo, scaring him into stopping still. A small pool of yellow formed beneath him as he cowered.

OrThe door opened, Shelly poked her head in. Her blonde hair was a rat’s nest on her head, and her eyes were still half open as she peered around.

“Jim, what…” she stopped then, seeing Frodo cowering. “Oh for heaven’s sake…”

I whined pitifully. She looked up at me, face full of questions. I could tell she was trying to see if I was making a joke somehow.

“I’m sorry.” Frodo pouted. “I’m so sorry. I’m a bad boy.”

Shelly looked from me to Frodo, then back to me, then back again. Everything was silent for a moment. I reached for her hand, and she looked up at me, apparently unsure whether to laugh, scream, or cry.

I don’t know what’s happening. I tried to say.

“Rooooooooooo” is what came out.

“Daddy won’t take me for a walk.” Frodo said.

Shelly took me by the hand, gave me the leash, and pushed us out the door. Frodo emitted a long string of “ohboy ohboy ohboy” all the way.

———————————————-

 

Original story prompt:

As my alarm went
off, my dog shoved her face into mine as she does every other morning making
noises to be let out.  As I reached for
the snooze, I clearly understood her saying “BUT DAD…I REALLY HAVE TO
PEE!”

Mirror Mirror

   Short story time!  A friend on Facebook asked for people to submit short story beginnings as inspiration, and I think this is a marvelous impetus to do some writing.  I’ll be working my way through a list that is over 30 long, trying to write something for each one.  I’ll post the story hint at the end of the story I write so you can see what I had to work with.  Comments eagerly welcomed!  

 

mirror

 

 

   Smooth as glass, I can see the plane in front of me, reflecting blue sky and clouds, a vast infinity, bright and limitless. Tentatively I reach out and my trembling fingers trace the flawless surface. It vibrates lightly at my touch, a thrilling sensation that shoots down my arm. Inspired, energized, I push against the plane and it stretches, a mirror-reflective membrane. My fingers reach and reach. Beyond the reflection I can dimly see an outline, a man, it’s arm outstretched to the plane, stretching out to me, mirroring my movements.

Morning. Light filters in through the dirty blinds. I groan and clutch at the fragments of my receding dream. No use; it is gone in a flutter. I hear the dull roar of cars outside and wish for five more minutes of sleep, and five more, and five more. I know I can’t. I have to, have to, have to go to work.

Sitting up, I put my feet on the ground and hang my head loosely, the curve of my spine an arc of exhaustion. It seems to be worse every day. I used to dread the mornings. I would lay in bed and go over the list of things I would have to deal with, turning each one over in my mind, a flawed object to be worried over. My brain and body both campaigned against facing the day. I didn’t think it could be worse. But the exhaustion settled into a new level, then lower still over time. Now I can’t even muster a list of things to dread, I just feel the weight of my body, the dullness of my mind. The energy it takes to push past the inertia of being still is monumental.

Looking out my bedroom door, the bathroom looks impossibly far. My bladder pulses and throbs, but that pain is distant compared to the concrete casing that is my waking body. The act of standing seems both impossible and pointless.

I had learned to deal with this over time. The trick was disconnecting my mind, banishing thought, standing aside from my own body and letting it carry out its physical machinations without a brain to interfere. Mechanically I notice my body rise. Detachedly I watch as my feet plod to the door, then the hallway, then the bathroom. At the sink I lean against the chipped tile of the counter and wait for the weariness to subside. It comes in cycles, pulsing dully through my body like sound waves. The toilet lid is up, and I hear the watery churn, smell the sharp sting of urine as I watch a thick yellow stream fall into the bowl.

Back at the sink, I raise my head to look into the mirror, my neck muscles creaking silently. My reflection stares back. Dark, stringy hair falls over a weathered and deeply lined forehead, and dark, deep-set eyes blink tiredly back at me. The deep scar that runs from just below my right eye down my cheek bone and nearly to my jaw is brighter than the rest of my skin, standing out like a sinewy thread. I raise one hand to absentmindedly brush a stray lock of hair back to see the scar clearer, tucking it behind my ear, and turn to head back to the bedroom.

I stop, puzzled. Something is wrong, but I don’t know what. It’s a vague sense of wrongness, unspecific and empty. Have I forgotten something? Something about work? I felt nothing but the exhaustion until now, the same I have felt every morning. This is new. Something with my hair? My hand? My eye? I ponder turning around to check it again in the mirror, but that would take energy, effort. I stand immobile for what seems like a long time, but my weary brain is unable to judge how long. Eventually I trudge back to the bedroom.

I dress slowly, grudgingly. I stop to breathe between every article. Pants, breathe. Shirt, breathe. Left sock, breathe. Right sock, breathe. I stare at my shoes, unsure if I have the energy to not only put them on, but tie them. I wish, as I do every morning, that they were just slip-on shoes. What did I see wrong in the mirror?

This distracting thought disturbs my thoughts long enough that I find I put my shoes on without noticing. Then I find myself back in front of the mirror, hands on the chipped tile counter, peering at my own darkened eyes. I look tired. No, I look exhausted. Weary. Drained. A brief memory of what I was like before flickers behind those bleak eyes. Vaguely I sense the feeling Sarah brought to me: tingling life in my veins, a million thoughts a minute in my lively mind, the breathlessness and anticipation of the next thrilling moment. The sense is gone as quickly as it came.

I see the scar, the only remnant of the knife she held in defense, white and rigid on my dark and mottled skin. I absentmindedly reach to brush the dark lock of hair back and behind my ear, and notice that in the mirror, the other hand has moved. The hair I already brushed back to behind my ear is still there, but it is opposite the scar. I frown, and stare. I lift my right hand and see the mirror’s right hand rise, the opposite side in the mirror. My thoughts jumble like a traffic jam; I can’t make sense of what I’m seeing.

Locking my apartment door behind me, I feel like I am moving in slow motion, like I’m pushing through water in the deep end of a pool. I feel this every morning now. The walk to work is twenty minutes. I used to go over a mental list of everything I needed to get done when I arrived. Now I can barely think of anything past logging into my computer.

Thoughts of Sarah flicker up again: her laugh tinkling like bells, her red dress with frilled edges dancing, like fire in the sunlight. Why am I thinking of Sarah now? Her face twisted with hatred, anger, an ugly sneer of contempt twisting her beauty into a weapon. Her admission that night, she denied nothing. Of course she wasn’t sorry. How could I blame her, I had all but driver her and Max together by ignoring her, snubbing her. My rage, blinding. Her hot anger, then cold fear. My fingers white, her throat red.

The windows on the buildings reflect the morning light; gray and cold. People pass me on fast-forward, they stream around me like I’m a log in a river. Their reflections are dark streaks flowing around me. I notice my reflection again, and it looks wrong, detached, separate. I step with my right foot and the reflection’s opposite foot moves. I raise an arm and the opposite raises along with it.

I am more awake, more alert now than in the bathroom. I know this is wrong, and I’m dimly aware that I must look crazy staring into the window of a US Bank office as the morning commute surges around me. I am transfixed though. I reach out with my hand, and the reflection reaches back toward me, the opposite hand stretching out. My finger tips brush the glass, and a thrilling shiver shoots up my arm.

 

I remember what better days felt like. I remember what I have lost. My fingers push harder on the glass, their tips turning white with the pressure. The reflection pushes as well, our fingers touching, but our arms crossing over our bodies to do so. Ever since the Sarah Incident, the weariness has plagued me. Worse every day. I feel dim, thinned out, barely here.

My fingers press harder, and I notice the glass is bending slightly, pushing inward near my finger tips. I am too exhausted to marvel at this, too tired to gasp as my fingers plunge deep into the glass, the plane swallowing my hand, then my wrist, then my forearm. The reflection grins expectantly, eagerly, hungrily. I watch passively as my arm is swallowed into the glass surface, and can feel the other side; cold and vast, a chill air that speaks of emptiness.

The reflection’s arm has pushed through at the same rate as mine, and its shoulder now pushes fully past the glass plane, and our chests scrape at each other. I should panic, I should scream, but I am too exhausted, too weary.

With one lurching, tearing push I am heaved completely through the glass, and the reflection is spat out the other side, my side. I catch my balance as the chilling emptiness engulfs me, wrapping my skin tightly, making my hair prickle, my breath hitch with the shock. I turn around to see my reflection turn toward me. I rush to the glass, but my hand meets with a solid barrier, it does not give at all. My right hand is up on the surface, and my reflection’s hand matches it. I raise my left hand, and the mirror image follows it. The reflection is restored; everything matches again. Except the smile on my reflection’s face: it looks eager and hungry, ready, ecstatic and triumphant. My own expression feels lifeless and tired.

My reflection turns and straightens his shirt and I find myself compelled to match his movement. He strides off with energy and purpose, and I am dragged along, matching each step.

Original story prompt:

The morning started
like any other, until I realized that my reflection exactly matched my motions
instead of mirroring them.