Burned (Fiction)

scroll down to the inspiration notes for a link to the photo that REALLY inspired this story :)
scroll down to the inspiration notes for a link to the photo that REALLY inspired this story :)

I leaned on the rickety horse fence an’ stared at the only standing wall of my home. My gaze settled on the sheer fabric flappin’ in the wind. Mama helped me sew them curtains when I got married an’ moved here with Roy fourteen years ago.

“I been sayin’ that one of these gosh darn days you’d burn the place down. Well, ya’ finally gone and done it,” Gertie said with arms folded across her ample chest. Her already thin lips pressed into an even thinner line.

I knowed Gertie ever since we was knee high to a grasshopper.  She meant well, but bein’ two years older, she tried to be the boss of me. She shoulda asked Roy- I don’t need nobody to be my boss.

“So what was it this time?” Gertie asked. “Lamp tipped over? Quilt caught fire after burnin’ loose thread? Log rolled outta the fireplace and caught yer rug on fire?”

Me an’ fire went back a long way. I useta steal papa’s flint and would spark grass after school. No amounta Gertie’s scolding could make me stop. Like men at a saloon on Saturday night, my relationship with fire tended to get outta hand an’ somethin’ always got burned. “No. Not any those things,” I mumbled.

“You gonna make me pull it outta ya? What happened?”

“Stove burnt up.”

She furrowed her brow. “Stove burnt up? How in the-” She paused and took a deep breath. “Even fer you, that’s a stretch. How in tarnation could ya’ burn up somethin’ that’s supposed to hold fire?”

“My potholder caught fire gettin’ biscuits.”

“And Roy couldn’t snuff it out?” Gertie threw me a skeptical look.

I focused on the billowing white cloth, rather than Gertie’s scrutiny. “It burnt too fast. No way he coulda stopped it.” On account of I’d already knocked him upside the head with my cast iron skillet an’ threw lard on the flames. I didn’t say that part, though.

“How come you got out an’ he didn’t”

I sighed. “I dunno”. I din’t wanna say no more, but my tongue kept goin’. “Maybe ‘cause I wasn’t hung over after boozin’ all night and rompin’ with Angie Flowers.”

Gertie gasped. “Roy wouldn’t do that. Mighta been a dim-witted fool, but no man could be that daft.”

“Ernie was.”

Gertie’s eyes narrowed. “I oughta slap yer smart mouth!”

“Just statin’ fact. Yer husband was a daft fool, indeed.” I nudged her elbow. “Why else would Ernie dally with her an’ leave you waitin’ alone?”

Gertie let out a sigh and a wistful smile played on her lips. “S’pose so. Prob’ly got what he deserved with that plow, ya’ know.”

I smiled. ‘S’pose he did.” I’d never tell it wasn’t no accident.

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Inspiration:  The photo at the beginning of this story wasn’t actually what inspired this story - this one was.  Writing a story for Emilio’s photo was kind of a side challenge, and I’m all for anything that distracts me from what I should be working on.  Squirrel!!

Seriously, though, this was a nice break from some other projects, but it’s back to work now.  Oh- if you are feeling the stress of the holidays, I’m going to share the secret to surviving in my next post.  I discovered this “secret” last Christmas from an elderly woman who lives in town.  I hope you’ll stop by and check it out :)

In Hiding (Micro-Fiction)

11-19 Pipe

Shielding her eyes from the mid-day sun, Geri stumbled from the opening of the shallow cave that had been her shelter. Her muscles twitched after huddling in the small space for so long.

Her head swirled as if she’d been blindfolded and spun in circles. A relieved sigh escaped when she spotted the water pipeline in the distance. Before time ran out, they’d agreed to meet there.

Geri slumped against a support pole, borrowing a sliver of shade. Growing sleepy under the warming rays, silence augmented her isolation.

Maybe she won?

Hide-and-seek (or winning) never felt so lonely.

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

I decided to go ‘short’ for a couple reasons (1) to give your eyes a break (most of my fiction ends up being around 1,000 words) and (2) to practice writing short again.  I’m hoping to come up with an entry for a micro-fiction contest but it’s been months since I’ve attempted to write a story in 100 words or less.  This one came in at 98 words.

There really wasn’t any inspiration for this, other than this photo I had on hand, taken earlier this year during a hike on the Mogollon Rim (Arizona.)  I’d hoped the story would have an end-of-the-world feel at the beginning, the twist being the revelation that it was a game of hide-and-seek.

Whether it worked or not, I don’t know – you tell me!  (Really, I would love the feedback :) )

Have a great Thursday!

Wishes (Short Fiction)

10-31 necklace

“Can you tell me again why I’m here?” I searched the eyes of the white-bearded man perched next to me on the rotted log.

He sighed. “Child, I tell ya ev’ry day. Perhaps it’s me fate… I’ll tell ya again.” He shifted his weight and winced, rubbing his lower back. “Thirteen years plus thirteen days ago, I found ya sittin’ on this here log.

“How did I get here?”

“Gittin’ to it.”

He expelled a series of phlegmy coughs that made my insides shiver.

“You leant on this log. So I ask ya, ‘girlie, what’s yer name?’ Ya said nothing. Then, I seen the amulet around yer neck.” He lifted a polished arrowhead dangling from a leather cord. “It’s just like mine, ‘cept yers has ribbon, too.”

I felt for my necklace and rubbed the arrowhead between my thumb and index finger.

“I knew then, ya seen Nukpana.” He cleared his throat. “Fer centuries, she’s granted wishes, an cast spells. Yer grateful at first… til misery sets in.”

I furrowed my brow. “How did she find us?”

“We invite her. All it takes is tears an repeatin’ our heart’s desire three times.” He frowned. “Cain’t resist the evil lure of makin’ pain go away.”

“What was my wish?”

He stared at me for several seconds before turning his attention toward his hands. He rubbed his finger over his ridged thumbnail. “Ya wanted to forget.”

“Forget what?”

He shrugged. “Don’t know. Only one person knew; an’ she asked to forget.”

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Quick Fix (Fiction)

One sentence summary:  Lilah Baker consents to a new sleep therapy for rapid weight loss, but experiences terrifying consequences she didn’t anticipate.

Cemetery

I ducked between two above-ground tombs, pressing my back against the cool stone. My heart pounded against the bones in my chest and my ribs began to ache. I had been to Lafayette Cemetery before, but only during daylight. The moon (full, of course) gave life to shadows that didn’t exist under the sun’s watch. My gasping breaths caught when I heard crunching gravel nearby. I knew the faceless figure would find me soon. Pumped full of adrenaline and sheer terror, I bolted for the nearest sidewalk path and ran. I saw the wrought iron archway of the cemetery entrance and made a sharp right to head toward it. I felt the first glimmer of hope that I’d escape. Then, I tripped on a buckled concrete seam and landed on my left knee. The figure grabbed my uninjured leg. I tried to kick free and slide away, but the grip only tightened. My foe’s other hand raised a machete over its cloaked head. My eyes focused on the moonlight glinting off the silver blade. I drew my arms over my face so I wouldn’t see it coming. I prayed the end would be swift.

I sat up, battling terror that threatened to suffocate me. I toppled off the edge of my bed, landing on the carpet with thud. Confused, I raised myself onto my elbows and scanned my bedroom. It felt so real. Ever since I did the deep sleep weight loss program with Dr. Sutton, I had terrifying dreams every night. I untangled my leg from the sheet and pulled myself up. As soon as I put weight on my left leg, pain radiated from my knee. I brushed my fingers over the area and felt a warm, sticky smear. I flipped on the bedroom light and saw the crimson stain on my fingertips. I slid my thumb over the not-yet-coagulated blood on my hand. How?

***        ***        ***

Four weeks ago, I sat in Dr. Sutton’s waiting room, flipping through last season’s Good Housekeeping magazine. After hearing the radio ad about a new weight loss treatment guaranteed to shed ten pounds a week, I scheduled my appointment. I needed quick results. My ex-fiancé was getting married on October 31, and there was no other way I could lose thirty pounds in time. I still loved him, and I knew if he saw me looking better than I did when we were engaged, he’d change his mind.

“Lilah Baker?” A nurse called from the door leading to the exam rooms.

I tossed the magazine on the square table. It landed on top of a sloppy mess of outdated reading material. “Right here.”

I followed her to the second door on the right and obeyed when she gestured me to enter. This didn’t look like any exam room I’d ever seen. Instead of a vinyl upholstered table covered with a long sheet of white paper, a long, clear tube-like encasing sat kitty-corner dividing the room in half.

“That’s the imaging machine,” the nurse said, as if sensing my question. “Here. Undress and put this on. Dr. Sutton will be in soon.”

I took the lime green garment, which resembled a wet suit, and was a bit surprised by its weight. Expecting paper, or even a flimsy cloth robe, I pinched the fabric between my thumb and forefinger, intrigued by the squishy gel feeling.

I felt self-conscious in the tight suit.  The gel fabric left an unattractive bulge where it ended mid-thigh. I challenged myself to keep my shoulders from slumping and my spine straight as I waited in the only normal chair in the room.

A short, balding man entered after two quick knocks on the door. He wrinkled his nose to nudge his wire-rimmed glasses into place. “Good afternoon, I’m Dr. Sutton.”

“Lilah Baker.” I said, shaking his hand.

He sat on the padded stool. “Says here you want to lose thirty pounds.” He gave me a once-over, eyes lingering on my midsection.

I folded my arms across my chest. “Yes.”

“We guarantee ten pounds per week, but some have had more dramatic loss. Imaging will help us determine your body type and cellular composition. Can you commit to three weeks in-patient?”

“Well, uh… I didn’t realize I wouldn’t be at home, but I do have some vacation saved.”

“We keep our patients in incubating rooms, each climate-controlled for optimum sleep. Once the desired weight is reached, patients wake naturally.”

“So, it’s kind of like hibernation?”

Dr. Sutton shrugged. “That’s an oversimplification, but you can think of it that way. Let’s do your scan.”

I climbed into the tube and he latched the lid over me. I don’t know what I expected, but I can say it wasn’t the icy water that filled the tube. He instructed me to be still, which I had no problem doing because any movement would’ve meant I’d lose the air pocket situated over my face. Several minutes later, the water drained and warm air pumped into the tube. When he opened the lid after a few minutes, my skin had completely dried.

“You’re on target for twelve pounds a week,” he announced after analyzing a chart displayed on his computer.

“And I lose the weight just by sleeping?”

“There are other physiological processes involved, but that’s essentially correct.” He handed me packet several pages thick. “This consent form provides everything you should know, including possible risks and complications, and what to expect post-sleep. I suggest you read through it and, if you’re still interested, sign the last page. Then, a nurse will schedule your entry.”

I flipped through the pages- five full ones with small print- and signed the line on the last page. “Oh. I almost forgot- do you want the background packet now, too?”

“Cindy will take that up front.”

I passed him the signed consent.

Dr. Sutton smiled and shook my hand. “Welcome to the new you.”

***        ***        ***

I sat at my kitchen table with a mug of hot chocolate. The adrenaline subsided, leaving a balmy sheen of perspiration on my skin. The muddled feeling in my brain didn’t go away. I’d felt out of sorts since I returned home five days ago.   As promised, I reached my goal weight of 130 pounds, and lost an additional pound since “re-acclimating to my normal environment,” as Dr. Sutton called it.

An intense urge to sleep came over me, followed by the sensation of bugs wriggling beneath my skin. I filled my mug with water and left it in the sink to clean later. I rubbed water over my bare arms, but the crawling sensation continued.

I grew curious if these were normal side effects of the induced sleep, so I searched the stack of mail on the counter to find my copy of the consent form. Through blurred vision, I found the envelope with the logo from Sutton Sleep Therapy in the upper left corner. I flattened the tri-folded papers, but couldn’t focus on the words.

A feeling of terror rose inside me. I couldn’t figure out the trigger, but I instinctively grabbed a butcher knife and sprinted through my house, checking every window and door lock. I peeked under beds, inside closets and behind doors. Satisfied no intruder had crept in, I collapsed on the couch, breathing heavy and muscles tensed.

I looked at the papers still clenched in my left hand and began to read.

You may experience vivid dreams. Some participants have reported episodes of fear, which have occurred during waking hours and REM sleep. Short term memory loss, though rare, has also been reported.

I remembered the background packet. I had revealed my worst fears, situations that induce anxiety, in addition to my entire medical history. Just then, it occurred to me that every nightmare I had since returning home involved my responses to those questions. Dr. Sutton used that information to get maximum results!

That wasn’t the worst of it. By page four, I understood the true horror of my situation.

You will have a computer chip implanted on your right amygdala which will allow us to stimulate physical activity and maintain weight loss. This will also provide us with the ability to track your individual progress. Signing of this release waives all rights to data compiled and grants permission to Sutton Sleep Center to use your name and details of your results in future marketing materials.

I touched the tiny lump on the side of my head. I couldn’t feel the incision, which had probably healed during my weeks of sleep.

Tampering with the implant will result in immediate removal from the program, rapid weight gain, and possible death.

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Inspiration: For those who read my stories and wonder, “what were you thinking?” this part is for you! The story came to me late at night while getting ready for bed. I thought I should probably try to go to bed earlier since it might help me lose a few extra pounds. Then I imagined how much weight could be lost if we were put into a coma-like sleep. That’s when the skeptic in me surfaced and went down the path of what could go wrong with that quick fix.

Starting with a dream seemed a bit cliche, but in the end, I stuck with that because it set up her bizarre predicament and, I hope, kept you interested enough to read about what led up to it.  I don’t consider myself a science fiction writer, but this one has a sci-fi feel to me.  Chips implanted in the brain?  Scary!

Yep, my mind is a twisted place, but I think this story fit in with my goal of writing ‘creepy’ in October. What do you think? :)

Unknown Fears (Fiction)

10-9 Grass

Stacy brushed her hand over her bare calf to swat away whatever tickled her skin. They swished through knee-high grasses encroaching on the skinny dirt trail leading to the “perfect camping spot.” Those were her boyfriend’s words- not hers.

At that moment, Kenny turned and smiled. “Keeping up okay?”

She glared, even though he couldn’t get the full effect through her dark sunglasses. “Are we almost there?”

“Another half mile, I think.” He turned and continued on the path.

Stacy shifted the pack and winced when she moved the strap that had been digging into her hip for the last two hours. Her friends thought she was nuts for agreeing to go on this trip, but she had a feeling he planned to propose. After dating for three years, she didn’t want to miss it. Still, she couldn’t figure out what gave him the impression she would enjoy this.

Nearly an hour later they stopped and peered down an embankment.

“I’ll help you down,” he said, offering his left hand.

She shook her head. “It’s too steep. Can’t we just set up the tent here?”

“On the trail?” He laughed. “You can do this.”

“I don’t think my shoes are grippy en-“

He tugged her down the slope before she could finish her protest.

A few feet from flat ground, she lost her footing. Kenny’s body broke her fall. “Sorry,” she muttered before rolling to the side. The momentum flipped her onto her back.

He gasped a few breaths. “There. We made it.” He pointed to the left, toward a thicket of scrub oak trees. “We can camp there.”

Stacy felt like a turtle overturned on its shell since her abdominal muscles couldn’t right her while strapped to a thirty-pound pack. Grateful, she accepted his extended hand and ignored the barely-stifled snicker.

After they pitched the tent, he cooked pork and beans over a campfire. As he cleaned the dishes, she paused to listen to the creek. She watched the water rush over rocks, creating mini whitecaps. She had to admit; it was pretty here. She turned toward a scraping noise behind her and saw Kenny hoisting their packs into a tree with a rope he’d thrown over a sturdy branch. “What are you doing?”

He paused. “Stowing our packs.”

“Why not put them in the tent?”

“Bears.” He grunted as he threw his weight into a pull.

“Bears?” Panic edged into her voice.

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