Wednesday, March 18, 2015

An Eye for an Eye

“Hey, mister. Does that plant eat people?”

The man's face went from puzzled to smiling as he turned and saw the girl standing just inside the greenhouse door.

“You part of the school tour?” the man asked.

“No, I'm by myself.” She crossed her arms. “Well, is it?”

The man straightened and said, “What a silly question. There are no man-eating plants.” He smiled, wiped a soiled handkerchief across his brow and put the hankie in the pocket of his bib overalls. He didn't wear a shirt.

“Too bad.” The girl's eyes stayed on the man. He remained still, as if planted in potting soil, unable to move.

The man looked the girl up and down. She couldn't be more than nine or ten. Her pink dress had a dark red circular stain on the front that could be blood. Dark, unwashed hair hung limp on her shoulders. Her purple eyes made him nervous. When she stepped forward, he backed away.

“Now stay back missy. There are sharp tools and prickly plants in here. I wouldn't want you to trip and get hurt.”

“Oh, you can't hurt me. Not again.” She continued forward—slowly. He looked to see how close he was to the back door.

“What the hell is going on?” The man picked up a clawed tool, just in case. “Who are you?”

“I'm not surprised you don't remember me. You were drunk, or high on drugs, or both when we last met.” She cocked her head to one side. “You didn't have a beard then.” She rolled her head to the other side. “You look younger without it, even with the grey.” Her focus returned to the accident. “It was three weeks ago, a rainy, July evening. You were driving when you shouldn't have been, and you swerved into our lane and killed my dad and me. Remember yet?”

“You're mistaken,” he said, his voice soft and unsteady.

“No. You did it.”

The man wanted to run away, but couldn't move. Something held him in place.

“My mom still cries every night. I don't like seeing her sad. She tells everyone she's fine, but she isn't.”

“But. . .you're dead. You said so.” The man's hands shook, bile crept into his throat.

“Yeah, so you can't kill me again. But I can make your life miserable—and that's what I plan to do. Make it as miserable as my mom's is.” Her expression was anything but childlike. “Or worse.”

The man pushed the door open, ran out, slammed the door shut, and propped a shovel against it. He looked inside. The girl was gone. Still, he heard her say, “That won't help you.”

Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Intruder

His cigar smelled like a decayed riverbank. A contradiction to the aromas surrounding the ethereal lake, its water reflecting the flora lining the shore. This was my safe place, the place where I could avoid his fists. But not today. He stood, faced me, coughed. An alarm told me to run. Instead, I waited. Hopeful.

Prompt words: riverbank, decay, cigar, ethereal, alarm

Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Stranger

First published at Perpetual Motion Magazine Publishing.

“I can't go to sleep,” Jonathan said, laying on the doctor's couch. He counted on his fingers to keep his mind active. “I'll certainly die if I do.” He pointed at the man sitting in the chair without looking at him. “You told me so.”

“That wasn't me,” said Dr. England. “That was the man who kidnapped you.”

This man didn't have a beard, Jonathan thought. And his hair wasn't grey, and he didn't yell all the time, and he wore a suit and tie. Still, it was him. Jonathan curled up on the sofa, his knees to his chest, his back to the man.

“I don't believe you.” Jonathan twisted his neck until the man appeared in his peripheral. “You lied to me before.”

“Tell me what happened, Jonathan.”

“I did already.”

“Tell me again.”

Neither spoke for a few seconds. Jonathan rolled onto his back, still clasping his knees, and stared at the ceiling. He rocked from side to side.

“I was on my way home from the soccer game. Mom was at work, so I had to walk. I turned the corner and you grabbed me and pulled me into the bushes. A cloth covered my mouth. I smelled something funny and fell asleep. I woke in a cabin chained to the wall.”

Dr. England wrote in his pad, his legs crossed, and finally said, “Then what?”

“You were there. Why do you keep asking?”

“My memory isn't as good as yours.”

Jonathan frowned. Maybe if he told the story one more time the man would let him go home.

“You told me we were going to play hide and seek. I said I was fourteen and too old to play.” Jonathan hugged his knees tighter. “You told me we were going to play the adult version. That's when you said I'd die if I fell asleep before the game started.”

“How long did he wait to start the game?”

“I don't remember. Three days?”

“What happened than?”

“You entered the cabin, put a big knife on the table, and tossed me a key. I ignored it. Stared at your eyes. I could tell you'd been drinking.”

“How?”

“It was how mom and dad looked when they came home from a party. Not that they ever tried to hurt me.” Jonathan glared at the man. “Not like you did.”

Jonathan wondered where his dad was and if he'd ever come back.

“Then what happened.”

“You told me to free myself, take the knife and run into the woods. You said you'd count to twenty and then come after me. I didn't move—until I heard you start counting.”

“Did you take the knife?”

“Not at first. Then I saw you pick up the shotgun and rack a shell into the chamber.”

Jonathan paused.

“Go on,” Dr. England said, his pen suspended in the air.

“This is stupid. You know what happened. Unless you're a moron. Are you a moron? You sure act like it sometimes.”

“No, I'm not a moron, Jonathan. Go on.”

Jonathan straightened his legs and continued.

“I ran as fast as I could, given it was dark and there wasn't a path. I went until I couldn't see the cabin and turned at a right angle, ran some more and turned again. I planned to circle back so I could follow the road out.”

“That was smart, Jonathan.”

“Until I tripped over a log and sprained my ankle.” Sweat beaded on Jonathan's forehead. “I crawled behind a tree and concentrated on slowing my breathing. Figured you'd find me if I didn't. That's when I heard you calling me. I inched into a recess in the tree and waited. I couldn't outrun you, even if you had been drinking. A twig snapped nearby. I clutched the knife and waited. When you stepped in front of me, I stabbed your leg. You grabbed the wound, and I stabbed you in the side. You fell to the ground, and I stabbed you in the back—over and over and over—until you stopped moving.”

Jonathan's breathing was rapid. He began counting on his fingers again.

“What did you do then?”

“I waited until dawn and made my way to a road where an old man gave me a ride in his pickup truck.”

“What about the man chasing you?”

“He was dead. I told the old man what had happened. Why I had blood on my clothes. He told the police.”

“You're sure he was dead.”

“Positive,” Jonathan said with venom in his eyes.

“Then how can I be him?”

“I haven't figured that out yet.”

“Have you slept since you've been home?”

“No.”

“Don't you want to?”

“No. You'll kill me.”

Sunday, February 22, 2015

A Pact Between Lovers

A naked blob of mayonnaise, shaped like a ghost, rested in the corner of her lip. So did the leftover tension from their afternoon argument. The more they talked the more strained the words became, like water struggling to pass through a clogged pipe. He would apologize. It was his turn. That was the agreement.

Prompt words: ghost, mayonnaise, afternoon, naked, pipe

Sunday, February 1, 2015

He Didn't Know What Else He Could Do

Chocolate milk dribbled onto Dwayne's t-shirt as the subway rocked around the bend.  He wasn't vain enough to care. He had other things on his mind, like the cancer, and his lack of health insurance. He stood, brandished the toy gun on purpose, hoped some zealot with a concealed weapon longed to save the world.

Prompt words: milk, t-shirt, subway, purpose, vain