The Beginning (Fiction)

10-3 trees

Evelyn pushed herself up onto her elbows and looked from left to right. Nothing. She spotted an old wooden sign in the distance, erected in another era, no doubt. Squinting against the harsh sunlight, she dragged herself in that direction. For some reason, her legs wouldn’t move and the dead weight made progress slow. She didn’t know how long it took, but the sun had dropped to about three finger widths from the horizon by the time she approached reading distance.

Unbelievable.

Nothing.

The sign had no writing. No clues. Just two arrows pointing in opposite directions. Absolutely nothing to reveal where she’d landed after dropping through the portal. Surrounded by lush greenery, she knew she wasn’t in Phoenix anymore. In exhaustion, her arms gave out and she crumpled to the ground.

“Eve?”

She turned her head toward the nude man running toward her and then averted her gaze.

“His promise is true!”

She surveyed her own body. Her Fila T-shirt and Adidas yoga pants were gone. Absent socks and New Balance running shoes revealed her poorly-manicured toenails. Never before had she wished for a bra, but in her nakedness, she would’ve been grateful for one. “Let me guess… Adam?”

He smiled. “Of course, my love.”

She scanned the horizon. “Okay, so it’s day six. Where are the trees? Flowers? Forbidden fruit? I wonder if it really tasted that good.”

He looked confused. “Come, there’s much to see in the garden.” He extended his arm.

Evelyn hesitated before grasping his hand. His biceps flexed as he pulled her weight. She smiled- maybe kicking around the garden with him wouldn’t be so bad. Her legs were wobbly at first, but the muscles managed to hold her. She instinctively crossed her arms over her front.

He glanced at her, puzzled. “What are you doing?”

“We didn’t fall yet. Um, never mind. Let’s go chill in the garden.”

“Chill?”

“Oh. Partake in the garden’s majesty?”

Adam smiled. “I know the perfect place.” He took her hand, leading her up the slight hill.

Evelyn looked at the ground and marveled at how the clover felt spongy under her feet, like a sea of little green pillows. She’d never walked barefoot outside before, heeding warnings of the dangers of stinging ants, broken glass and “filth” littering the ground.

“What’s on your mind?”

She paused. She couldn’t possibly tell the truth; that she lived in the future and landed here quite by accident. No way could she explain that she’d gone through a portal to escape Pinky, the man who’d held her captive for two years. She shivered at the thought of Pinky. His name didn’t sound like it, but he had a reputation as the most ruthless pimp roaming the streets of Phoenix. Legend held that he’d snapped the pinky right off a rival; it dangled from a chain around his neck.

They crested the hill and she gasped. “It’s beautiful!” The sun sat on the horizon, minutes away from turning the sky over to the stars. Stars. She hadn’t seen those since childhood camping trips.

“Do you want to help name some animals?”

Evelyn smiled. “Sure.”

They bounded down the hill, bursting through the thick foliage. Momentum slowed and the tallest tree she’d ever seen stood in front of them.

“We mustn’t eat from that tree,” Adam said, pointing.

Her skin prickled. She knew the story; they’d entered the serpent’s favorite haunt, and it was only a matter of time.

“I’m going to get some huckleberries,” Adam said. “Huckleberries… isn’t that a fun word to say?”

“Almost as fun as hippopotamus.” Her gaze darted from trees to brush. “I’ll wait here.”

His footfalls disappeared. The bird song wafting through the dusk air put her at ease, so she decided to rest. She leaned against the tree and closed her eyes, oblivious to the rustling behind her until the undulating movement crossed over her legs.

Pinky!

“Do you know why you mustn’t eat from that tree?”

She knew the serpent spoke, but still, seeing it was weird. “Because you’re evil!” She wrapped both hands around the serpent and squeezed. “You ruin the world! You invade our hearts! You. Need. To. Die!” She tightened her grip with each word.

“Eve, no!” Adam sprinted toward her.

“We mustn’t kill the animals!”

Evelyn relaxed her fingers and the serpent slithered out of reach before pausing to glare at her. She knew he’d be back.

She’d be ready.

~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-

Suzanne at Apoplectic Apostrophes has a new writing challenge site, so even though I’d sworn off the distraction of writing challenges a  few months ago, I couldn’t resist joining in her inaugural challenge.  She’s always been supportive of my writing and I’m thrilled to participate in her new venture :)

The challenge: Write a piece in 750 words or less (mine is 739) and (1) reference the photo prompt published on her site, and (2) include the word “haunt” – used as a noun, not a verb.

It’s October and I’d vowed to write creepy this month. And with a prompt word like ‘haunt’ you’d, think I could do that, right?  Apparently not! I saw this challenge late last night and this is the story that wouldn’t get out of my head- a goofy, humorous, time-travel-gone-wrong story.

I’d better scare up some creepy soon, or October is going to laugh me all the way to December. Thanks for reading – oh, and if you want to join in, or check out other responses, click the badge below!

The Space Between (Fiction) – Emilio Pasquale Photo

For August, Emilio Pasquale provided the following photo that I used as inspiration for a story.  If you haven’t already, you should check out his blog - he knows how to edit photos (I, on the other hand, do not!)    The story begins after the photo…

International truck - Copy

Ramona Schmidt dragged her index finger through the inches-thick layer of snow on the truck’s hood. Like her heart, the snow had frozen, thawed, and been refrozen so many times. Like her soul, that rusty truck held enough memories to haunt several lifetimes.

“Mama, won’t you come inside?”

Ramona didn’t respond.

“She’s been standing out there for over an hour,” Paula said to her husband.

“Maybe she just needs some time.”

“She’ll freeze to death. It must be twenty degrees out there.”

“She’s wearing a coat.”

Paula scowled. “There’s no talking to her.”

Ramona frowned. Since her husband, Davy, had turned up missing sometime after the leaves colored and before the naked trees stood stark on the horizon, her daughter and son-in-law came to live with her. Whispers of dementia carried through thin walls; slow words delivered by raised voices. The way they talked about her like she wasn’t there infuriated her. She slipped a cigarette from the pack stowed in her right coat pocket. With her left hand she clicked the lighter and brought the flame to the tip of the cigarette pressed between her lips, taking in a long drag as the tobacco smoldered.

“Mama, I think you should come inside.” Paula draped an arm over her mom’s bony shoulders. She glanced at her husband- he nodded and headed toward the house.

Exhaled smoke escaped in tendrils. “I’m fine here.” Ramona fought the urge to shrug off her daughter’s condescending touch.

“The man is coming to look at the truck in about an hour.”

Ramona brushed her fingers along the exposed rust. That truck was already several years old when Davy brought it home. She’d never forget how he showed up that evening and said he wanted to take a mining job in Idaho.   She didn’t understand why he couldn’t just mine copper in Arizona.

“If you’ve changed your mind about selling it, I can let him know.”

Ramona pursed her lips. “Winds change, minds don’t.” Eyes closed, she lifted her chin. As if on cue, another gust whipped a layer of fallen snow into the air. Her wrinkled cheeks, a topographical map of her years, stung from the latest assault. Her skin had grown dry from the hours spent outdoors at the mercy of an unforgiving winter. “My heart has gone dry from years of neglect.”   She flicked her spent cigarette filter and ground it into the frozen hay with the toe of her fur-lined leather slipper.

“What?” Her daughter leaned closer. “What do you mean?”

“Thy will be done,” Ramona said with a shrug. She didn’t realize her ideas had translated to spoken words. She stayed immersed in the space between, where memories and new thoughts commingled in her brain. More and more, it became difficult to differentiate between real and manufactured history. The permeable line separating thoughts and words diminished with each passing day. She giggled. “Incontinence of the mind.”

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Rite of Passage (Fiction)

Photo by JF @ Pursuit of Happiness
Photo by JF @ Pursuit of Happiness

The two boys crouched behind overgrown shrubs.

“This is stupid,” Turner whispered to his best friend.  “I can’t feel my legs anymore.”

“If it’s so stupid, why are you here?” Seth kept his gaze on the old house.

Turner didn’t say anything.  Instead, he shifted his weight to his other knee and stifled a groan when an ankle popped.  He thought about why he was there.  Mostly, he wanted to keep Seth from trumpeting down the school hallways that he was chicken.  “Maybe we should head back home.  It’s getting late.”  He glanced up at the moon, wishing the sun hadn’t surrendered to the shadows.

Seth snorted.  “You’re still afraid of the dark!”

“Am not!”

“Just like camp last year when you couldn’t sleep without a nightlight.”

“Shut up.  I was twelve.”

“If it’s not the dark, then you must be afraid of ghosts, or vampires.  Or whatever it is.”

Turner hesitated.  “That stuff’s not for real.”  He didn’t know if he believed in the existence of spirits or vampires, but he didn’t really want to find out.  “How do you know the house is abandoned?”

“Duh.  Have you ever seen anyone around?”

“Well, no, but that doesn’t mean anything.”

“Hey, is the video going?”

Turner glanced at his phone.  “Yeah, but I don’t see why.”

Seth rolled his eyes.  “I’m telling you, something funny is going on.”  He pointed to the railing, a patchwork of peeling sea foam colored paint and rust.  “She glides down the hill toward the lake almost every night.”

“That doesn’t make sense.” Turner scrunched up his face in confusion.

“Supernatural phenomena rarely make sense.”

Turner burst into laughter.  “You’re a doof!”

“Shhhh!”  Seth frowned.  “You’ll scare her away.”

“I think she’d scare us more than–” Turner stopped talking when he felt something grip his shoulder.  He turned to Seth and saw the same wide-eyed look he imagined he wore.

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Making History (Fiction) – Emilio Pasquale Photo

The challenge:  write a story inspired by the photo below, provided by Emilio Pasquale.   If you didn’t read our first team-up, click here to read it!  And, if you haven’t checked out his photography site yet, you really should :)

An Emilio Pasquale Photo
An Emilio Pasquale Photo – click it to check out his wonderful photography site!

Marianne Sutter stoked the fire with a long broken branch she’d foraged in the woods surrounding camp.  The logs, moistened by last night’s rain, had been slow to burn, but finally rewarded her with meager warmth stifled by billowing smoke.  One of the few women in camp, she kept to herself.

“Well, well, Ms. Sutter.  How ‘about you warm yerself by my fire?”  The man gave an exaggerated wink.

“No thank you, Mr. Muehlling.” Her revulsion at his advances culminated in a deep shiver that she hoped had been concealed by her wool overcoat.

“If you change yer mind…”  He nodded toward his tent.

Marianne’s husband, Cortland, had led her to this God-forsaken land four months ago.  Enticed by adventure and gold, he moved them west.  When he first shared his plan to leave Virginia, she insisted he take her with him.  She’d thought being alone at home would be much worse than being with him on the frontier.  How wrong she was.  California turned out to be a fickle host.  Although Cortland had found a small amount of gold, months later, he succumbed to fever, leaving Marianne to fend for herself.

***

Marianne’s eyelids grew heavy as her fire dwindled to pulsing orange coals.  In the periphery, she caught sight of a movement to her left. She leaned forward and squinted, branch clenched tightly in her hands.

“Who’s there?”  She asked in a hoarse whisper so she wouldn’t disturb the panners who’d already retired for the night.  The bushes rustled and Marianne raised the stick over her head.

A young child stepped into the clearing.

She gasped and relaxed her arms.  “How old are you?”

“Six.”

“Where are your parents?”

“Dead.”

The matter-of-fact tone caught Marianne off-guard.  “What’s your name?”

“Carrie Benton.”

Marianne leaned forward so her eyes were at the girl’s level.  “Carrie, can you take me to your family?”

They walked a circuitous route in between tents before Carrie stopped and pointed.  Marianne moved forward and saw two rigid men in sleeping bags beneath a make-shift tent.

“They been sick,” Carrie said.  “Daddy and my uncle.”

A breeze slid through the campsite, flapping canvas and fanning the stench of death.  Marianne leaned against a battered supply wagon and heaved, supper barely missing her boots.  Shaky and weak, she grabbed a wool blanket.  She kneeled down and said a prayer for their souls’ safe-keeping and covered the men.

Marianne smoothed her skirts and took the girl’s hand.  “You can stay with me.”

***

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Shadows of Herself (Fiction)

07-18 Flowers

Sophie squeezed through the creaky, half-opened door of the blue line city bus.  As coins clinked into the metal fare box, her breath caught.  Perfumes, leftover pungent lunches, labor and worn leather boots (all amplified by the latest heat wave) assaulted her.  Even after two weeks of this commute, the odor still came as a shock.  Every time, it brought back memories of indecision.

“Move behind the yellow line.”  The surly driver jerked his thumb over his shoulder.

She stepped across the painted line.  Before she could find a seat or even an appropriate place to stand, the bus lurched forward.  She stumbled and her satchel slipped off her shoulder, bumping a man on the head.

“Watch it!”  He shoved the bag.

She saw him shake her shoulders and then slap her face to make her talk.  Her mother wilted like a bouquet of cut roses.  Brianne’s reaction had been swift; deadly.  Her mother hid the damaged brass lamp and dragged her second husband’s body to the basement until she could figure out what to do with him.  The smell became overpowering.

“Sorry.”  She reached for the smudged chrome bar overhead.  Steadied and easing toward the back, she scanned for an empty space in the crowd of heads.  No one made eye contact.  The blue collars gravitated to one side of the bus.   Across the aisle, the lower-level white collars kept heads bowed, tapping on digital screens.

No one ever noticed her, or suspected her past.  After her step-father’s death, a new self emerged- Julia.  Memories of past selves toppled in her mind like a bumped chain of dominoes.  Dawn… Lynette… Tracee… Anita… Gena… Rochelle.  So many fresh starts, but Bri always managed to stain them with the burden of death.

The bus heaved to a stop and more people crowded in behind her.

“May I sit here?”

The man wearing paint-splattered overalls and a ball cap stained with sweat and dirty fingerprints tilted his face to her.  “No entiendo,” he mumbled.

Sophie clenched her jaw.  It was the same every day, no matter which side of the bus she asked.  “Usted tiene dos asientos.”  She pointed to the empty seat beside him.

He exhaled a weary sigh.  Instead of sliding toward the window, he shuffled into the aisle and gestured for her to sit.

She bit back annoyance and smiled.  “Gracias.”

The man slumped beside her with a grunt.

The exchange reminded her of Mexico, which made her think of Jason and the evening he spent with Rochelle on the Ensenada beach.  He’d come too close to harming her- closer than anyone.  She blamed her vulnerability on the emotions stirred by having recently lost Nate.  She’d loved Nate, but couldn’t make him stay.  When she returned to the United States two weeks ago, Sophie emerged.  Rochelle was sacrificed to Bri as soon as Jason gasped his last breath.

Beside her, the odor of a day spent working outside emanated from the man’s clothing.  The air conditioning choked out intermittent spurts of semi-cool air, so she reached up to slide the window open.

“No.  Too hot.”  The man gestured toward the window.

Sophie dropped her hands to her lap.  “Lo siento.  No entiendo,” she muttered, turning toward the world outside.  She had about 29 minutes before she’d reach her stop.  Her seatmate’s leg relaxed and his thigh pressed against hers.  She scooted toward the window in an attempt to regain her violated personal space.

As usual, vacant thoughts gave way to remnants of past dreams; shards of glass scattered among her trail of selves.  Like a dandelion’s puffy pollen, little by little, those dreams shifted paths and floated away on passing breezes.

Nate.  Instead of them clinging to each other, they grew apart.  Instead of breakfast in bed on their honeymoon, she rode the blue line home from work.  She’d slipped from his loving embrace.  Instead of growing grey together, he grew cold beneath her hands.  He’d described their emotional separation as the result of passing time and neglect, much like the corrosion of metal in the salty mist of ocean air.

Reflecting upon the endings, beginnings and transitions, Sophie decided she wouldn’t change any of her decisions.  The person behind her let out a jarring sneeze.  She cringed when spray landed on the back of her neck.

I wish I would’ve taken Nate’s car.

Despite the vague sense she should be overcome with guilt, of all her choices, it was the only thing she regretted.

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This is my response to the Speakeasy weekly prompt, which is to write a piece in 750 words or less (mine is near the limit!) using (1) “It was the only thing she regretted.” anywhere in the piece, AND (2) making some kind of reference to the media prompt, the song Over the Valley by Pink Martini.  The challenge is open to anyone, so if you want to join in, click the badge below to check out the site!

Some of you who read Lost and Found (my Speakeasy story from last week) may notice this kind of goes with it.  It takes place after that story and clues us in a little more on her past.  At the moment, I’m not planning on developing this further, but based on past experience, my plans don’t matter too much… if a story wants to be written, it will nag me until I write :)

I’m still in the middle of computer issues, but in the interim I’ve reclaimed our old Vista computer, which had been relegated to the kids for the their computer use.  (Is that a form of child abuse?!)  Sorry, but this OS is not a shining moment for Microsoft.  I’m going to attempt a complete wipe out and reload of my regular computer… wish me luck (I’m gonna need it…)