Down The Road (Fiction)

This story is prompted by the photo below, offered by Emilio Pasquale.  Click his name to check out his photography blog (you won’t be disappointed!)

This photo belongs to Emilio Pasquale
This is NOT my photo!  It belongs to Emilio Pasquale

The asphalt seams thumped a steady rhythm as she sped through the dust coagulating in the late-afternoon desert air.  Both hands gripped the steering wheel as if it was the only tether saving her from being swallowed by blackness. Part of her feared it might be too late; that the darkness which began as a pin-point deep in her soul had already bloomed into an inky pool that engulfed her heart and slithered through her veins.

Anna Morris hadn’t always been that way. She could remember a righteous childhood where God had smiled upon her. Growing up, she went to church with her parents every Sunday and sometimes Wednesday, clothed in frilly dresses, white ankle socks with ruffles, and patent leather Mary Janes. During middle school and high school, she focused on the likes of Newton, Pascal and Aristotle, rather than the boys in class who managed to distract her friends with their unpolished charms. It was her senior year in high school when the light shifted and shadows crept into her world.

To round out the credentials on her college application, Anna began volunteering at a care home. The first resident she visited was Mabel Pyerstrom. The fragile woman must’ve been no taller than five feet, and weighed about ninety pounds, judging by the small hump tucked under the crisp white linens. Anna could remember the conversation like it happened yesterday, not twenty years ago. Her voice laced with apprehension, she had introduced herself as “Anna.”

“Come, sit by me,” Mabel said, her trembled words both fragile and demanding.

Anna obeyed. Her gaze rested upon the woman’s bony hand, its pale, papery skin marred by sunspots and a road-map of bulging blue veins.

“Age takes prisoners.”

“Excuse me?”

The woman smiled, stacking wrinkles around her cloudy eyes. “We squander our youth, take our blessings for granted and then…” She worked a phlegmy cough that seemed to rattle all the way down to the bottom of her lungs. “And then, it leaves you a wrinkled shell until it finally lets you go.” The skin puckered around her lips as she spoke.

Anna cringed. She didn’t know what to say; she couldn’t argue against the cruelty of time. “W-would you like me to read to you?” She pulled Wizard of Oz from her tote bag.

Mabel turned toward her voice. “Ah, been a long time. Lost my sight some twenty years ago.”

“I’m sorry. It must be awful to live in darkness.”

“I said nothing of darkness. Just see different things, that’s all.”

Anna felt her cheeks flush. Thankful the woman couldn’t see, she ventured, “I-I don’t know what you mean.”

Mabel laughed. The rasp morphed into another cough.

A shudder ran through Anna’s body, ending at her curled toes. For a moment she wondered if the volunteer hours were worth it. Surely her grades alone could carry her into college. She contemplated leaving but stayed seated next to Mabel’s bed while the commingled odors of meatloaf, soiled linens, bleach and age taunted her gag reflex.

Mabel tapped the bed with her fingers. “Can you just hold my hand?”

Anna hesitated before closing the book and slipping it back into her bag. She reached for Mabel’s hand and gasped when the ice-cold skin pressed against her own sweaty palm. The woman clenched with surprising strength. As Anna’s gaze studied the contrast of Mabel’s pale wrinkles against her own tanned, smooth skin, she felt a sense of unease creep over her. Anna tried to pull away.

“I see death.”

“Huh?”

“Death roams these halls. Watching. Waiting. I can feel it. See it.”

“Okay.” Anna didn’t know what to say.

Mabel cleared her throat and continued in a gravelly voice, “I asked to go. After ninety-four years I’m ready. You know what the bastard said?”

Anna flinched, caught off-guard by the curse and angry tone. “Um, no.”

“Said I needed help over the bridge.”

“What does that mean?”

“A second chance. Said left was wrong. Lucifer left. Right was right… light.”

Anna feared the woman had lost her mind. She opened her mouth to call for a nurse, but words lodged in the back of her throat as if she’d swallowed an apple whole.

Mabel tugged Anna’s hand until her body leaned over the bed, face inches away. The old woman reached her left hand up and ran her fingertips along Anna’s cheek, and then trailed along her jawline. “You’re an angel sent to guide us right in death,   Anna Mary Claire Morris.”

Anna gasped and jerked back, knocking over the chair. She’d only given her first name. Again, she couldn’t break the woman’s hold.

“We’ve been waiting for you, Anna.”

We? Panic raged inside her.

The old woman’s breath grew shallower and her chest stilled.

Anna waved her free hand over Mabel’s nose and mouth to check for even the faintest wisp of warm air.

A nurse rushed through the door, glancing at the overturned chair. “What happened?”

“I-I don’t know. She was talking and then she wasn’t” Anna attempted to pry her hand free. “She won’t let go.”

The nurse checked Mabel’s pulse and noted the time of death on her chart. She peered over her glasses. “Are you okay?”

Anna pressed her left palm into her forehead. A blinding light seared through her brain. “Owwwwww!” She moaned as sharp pain started at her forehead and radiated to the back of her neck. It felt like waves of brain freezes timed seconds apart. A minute later, the misery halted, Mabel’s grip released, and Anna fell backwards, stumbling on the overturned chair.

That was the first time it happened.

A semi passed on the left, a whoosh of air rocking the car. Anna jolted into a present resembling the interstate she traveled: not an attraction of its own, rather a means to a final destination. Exhausted after reliving the experience with Mabel, she wondered how accurate the account. Memories were shifty like that. Similar to the greasy mirage shimmering on sunbaked blacktop before disappearing upon approach, memories tended to change shape over time.

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

Again, thanks to Emilio for suggesting the challenge to write a story based on one of his photos, and for offering the photo to post with the story!

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55 thoughts on “Down The Road (Fiction)

  1. nrhatch June 11, 2014 / 7:05 AM

    Absolutely gorgeous imagery, Janna.

    * she focused on the likes of Newton, Pascal and Aristotle, rather than the boys in class who managed to distract her friends with their unpolished charms.

    * her trembled words both fragile and demanding.

    * commingled odors of meatloaf, soiled linens, bleach and age taunted her gag reflex.

    * Similar to the greasy mirage shimmering on sunbaked blacktop before disappearing upon approach, memories tended to change shape over time.

    Fantastic write!

    • jannatwrites June 12, 2014 / 12:19 AM

      I’m glad you enjoyed the story, Nancy! I appreciate you noting parts that stood out for you. This is the one I posted about last week- I went with posting the first part of the longer story 🙂

  2. Emilio Pasquale June 11, 2014 / 8:58 AM

    Wow! Just wow! I love it, using the photo as a starting point rather than staying in the car the whole time. Like what I’ve read before of yours, this seems very real!

    What first attracted me to this idea was your writing.I love your story and wish I could read more. Find out about Anna. You’ve grabbed me from your first paragraph! What a treat!

    • jannatwrites June 12, 2014 / 12:24 AM

      I’m glad you liked the story, Emilio – I’d hoped to write something to do the photo justice. I like to hear this felt real – that’s always a goal and sometimes it works out better than others 🙂

  3. Debbie June 11, 2014 / 10:58 AM

    Brilliant piece of writing, Janna! Your word pictures are so vivid, and I was right there in the scene you painted. Those characters breathed LIFE for me! Well done. And might I add my amazement that you got all that from one photo?!

    • jannatwrites June 12, 2014 / 12:30 AM

      Your comment has left me beaming, Debbie 🙂 I was drawn to this story (this is the one I wrote about last week in my over-thinking post) and I’m glad to find I wasn’t deluded in my attachment to it. Now, if I could just find time to finish it out, haha! It’s funny, but when I started the story, the first paragraph came out right away and I had an idea of where it was going. But then, as I wrote, it kept expanding and changing into more. It’s fun when that happens.

  4. Widdershins June 11, 2014 / 1:20 PM

    Bravo. Another story where I want, ‘the continuing adventures of …’

    • jannatwrites June 12, 2014 / 12:32 AM

      I’m glad you enjoyed the story, Widdershins! I’m hoping I can steal some time this weekend to finish the ending to this story (so then I can read it 85 times and tear it up from the top down 🙂 )

  5. Eric Alagan June 11, 2014 / 6:44 PM

    What a riveting story, Janna – and so well told too. I love the dialogue such as:

    “I said nothing of darkness. Just see different things, that’s all.”

    “Death roams these halls. Watching. Waiting. I can feel it. See it.”

    Added to the tension and kept me totally invested.

    Good read,
    Eric

    • jannatwrites June 12, 2014 / 12:36 AM

      I’m happy to hear you found it interesting, Eric. I really got into this story as I wrote it. I’m anxious to write the ending (it’s in my head right now and I have no idea how long it can stay there!)

  6. sueslaght June 11, 2014 / 10:34 PM

    I came her via Emilio’s suggestion and was not disappointed. Brilliant, gripping story.

    • jannatwrites June 12, 2014 / 12:39 AM

      I’m so glad you stopped by to read it and enjoyed the story, Sue! It was a fun challenge to do 🙂

  7. Dilip June 11, 2014 / 11:31 PM

    A gripping story beautifully narrated. And of course the photography is brilliant! Thanks and regards 🙂

    • jannatwrites June 12, 2014 / 12:40 AM

      Thanks for reading, Dilip! I sure wish I could claim the photography, but alas, it was taken by Emilio 🙂

  8. knotrune June 12, 2014 / 2:27 AM

    Wow – I’m glad to see this is just the first part with more to come 🙂 I wanted to keep reading and then it just ended suddenly, hope the next instalment is soon! Your writing gets better and better.

    • jannatwrites June 12, 2014 / 8:57 AM

      Thanks for the encouragement, Knotrune! You would’ve really not been happy if I included the next paragraph because it would’ve left you with more questions 🙂 I appreciate you taking time to read it!

  9. Debbie Smyth June 12, 2014 / 5:07 AM

    Brilliant! I can see how Emilio’s photo would inspire but that is a truly marvellous story.

    • jannatwrites June 12, 2014 / 8:58 AM

      Thanks so much for reading, Debbie! Emilio’s photo did make it easy 🙂

  10. joannesisco June 12, 2014 / 5:29 AM

    I too came here following Emilio’s fabulous picture. What I discovered was a story that left my heart in my throat. You captured me completely at ‘age takes no prisoners’. What a gripping story. It leaves me begging for more!

    • jannatwrites June 12, 2014 / 8:59 AM

      Your comment made me soar, Joanne – I love it when someone reads a story and really ‘feels’ it! Thanks so much for reading and for sharing your generous comment 🙂

    • jannatwrites June 12, 2014 / 9:01 AM

      I’m glad it held your interest, Lynne! Thanks so much for stopping by to read it 🙂

  11. Imelda June 12, 2014 / 8:22 AM

    Oh wow! That was beautiful. All your hard work editing and re-editing this piece paid off. I hope that this piece is just the beginning of a longish story.

    Before I forget, the photo is also exquisitely good. 🙂

    • jannatwrites June 12, 2014 / 9:03 AM

      I do have more to the story, Imelda. I’m not sure if I’ll post it all here, or if I’ll try to submit the story somewhere. When it’s done I’ll have a better idea of what to do with it, I think 🙂 Thanks so much for reading, and I have to agree – his photo is awesome. (If you haven’t looked at his blog, I recommend you do – his photography is stunning. I really am honored he offered the photo for this!)

  12. mbarkersimpson June 12, 2014 / 10:08 AM

    I love it when a story takes an unexpected turn, like you described in some of your comments. Sometimes the best ones guide us where they want to go. I imagine you had a lot of fun with it, and it’s not over yet! I thoroughly enjoyed the imagery of this piece; your descriptions are well executed as always and the characters danced in my head. I got tingles down my spine when I pictured the old woman! I’m really looking forward to reading the final installment. It’s a great story, to match a breathtaking image.

    • jannatwrites June 13, 2014 / 9:54 PM

      I’m so glad you liked this story, Melissa. I did have fun writing this (and am still working on the story… it’s up to 3,800 words now.) Emilio did choose a fabulous picture for me to draw inspiration from 🙂 I appreciate you reading and sharing your reaction.

  13. prior June 12, 2014 / 2:15 PM

    nice story to go with Emilio’s photo – you are a great writer – 🙂

    • jannatwrites June 13, 2014 / 9:55 PM

      I appreciate you stopping by to read it, Prior 🙂

  14. Tessa June 12, 2014 / 3:30 PM

    Very eerie and vivid, eerie like the picture. Great job, Hooked me in.

    • jannatwrites June 13, 2014 / 9:55 PM

      Thanks, Tessa… I’m glad it held your interest!

  15. diannegray June 12, 2014 / 9:12 PM

    This is wonderful Janna and another that I wish was longer! Keep up the great work 😀

    • jannatwrites June 13, 2014 / 9:59 PM

      Thanks, Dianne! I’m still working on the full story 🙂

  16. Kathy Combs (@Kathy29156) June 12, 2014 / 9:21 PM

    Holy crap Janna, that really freaked me out just reading it!! If I was Anna, that old lady would have scare the living bejesus out of me. Seriously, you are one amazing writer. That was eerie, vivid, and well REAL!! Brilliant job. Every time I read one of your stories I think it is the best yet, and then I read another…like this one!! WOW.

    • jannatwrites June 13, 2014 / 10:03 PM

      Your comment made me smile, Kathy. Seriously, a HUGE smile 😛

      You’d REALLY be freaked out if I’d have continued the story here! Thanks so much for your support, encouragement, and wonderfully kind comment. Of course, I’d like to think my writing gets better!

    • jannatwrites June 13, 2014 / 10:10 PM

      Thanks, Stephen – I appreciate you stopping by to read it!

  17. Björn Rudberg (brudberg) June 13, 2014 / 2:09 PM

    Your writing is stunning.. I enjoyed every bit of the tale.. and I can easily see this develop into a much longer story.. what horrors can’t be taken from a place like that…

    • jannatwrites June 13, 2014 / 10:15 PM

      Thanks, Bjorn! This is part of a longer story that I’m still working on. I’m so glad it held your interest!

  18. M_Elizabeth June 14, 2014 / 5:04 AM

    Janna, write a book. Please! This was fantastic.

    • jannatwrites June 14, 2014 / 8:48 PM

      Oh wow, thanks, M! I am working on it (slowly, though). Everyone will definitely know when I finish!

  19. RAM June 14, 2014 / 4:25 PM

    Very nice. Glad I stopped by…

    • jannatwrites June 14, 2014 / 8:50 PM

      I’m glad you stopped by, too, RAM! Thanks for taking time to read this story (it’s on the long end of what I post here.)

  20. Sarah Ann June 18, 2014 / 5:12 AM

    Deliciously creepy. I especially loved the descriptions of taunting the gag reflex and swallowing an apple whole – they are so vivd and easy to imagine. Can’t wait to read more about Anna and what’s going on with her.

    • jannatwrites June 18, 2014 / 10:08 AM

      Thanks so much for reading, Sarah Ann! I’m still working on the story… almost up to 5,000 words now. Only this part is polished though, so not even close to ready for anyone to see it 🙂

  21. rcprice June 19, 2014 / 9:59 AM

    Wow again. The description of Mabel was superb. I got a little jealous 🙂 But it’s a good jealous. This makes me work a little harder.

    • jannatwrites June 19, 2014 / 3:13 PM

      Your comment made me smile, RC. If I didn’t have the voice inside telling me I needed to get better, I’d get a big head reading comments like that 🙂 I appreciate you taking time to read – it was longer than what I normally post…

  22. thepaperbutterfly June 23, 2014 / 2:17 PM

    This was the piece that made me follow you! I’m a sucker for poetic prose :$ I’d have to say my favorite part was the opening paragraph because I love landscape descriptions. And they way you described the darkness as an insidious force taking over was awesome. In the next paragraph you talk about God, so there’s this interplay between light and darkness. Which makes me wonder if she is a servant of God or the Devil. It seems implied that she is a messenger of God, but the darkness inside of her makes me question that. There are lots of unanswered questions after reading this, but that’s part of what makes it so great. I want to read more 😄

    • jannatwrites June 23, 2014 / 2:56 PM

      It’s funny that you mention the first paragraph. The owner of the photograph viewed the story before I posted it and thought one of the sentences might’ve been a little overwritten. Well, I looked at it, but was ultimately too tied to the descriptions to change it 🙂

      Your insight made me shout, “yes!” – you’re the first to comment on that layer. As the story continues, there is something that makes her question which side she serves, as well as questions of her sanity. I’m almost done writing it and I’m considering submitting the completed story as a Kindle single (I’ve been too lazy to pursue publishing avenues because that’s not fun – writing is… but I would like to have something to show my husband I’m not just playing around on the computer all the time, haha!)

      My writing style varies greatly, depending on my mood, but here’s another fairly recent prose-y poetry piece that you might like:
      https://jannatwrites.wordpress.com/2014/04/14/metaphorical-winter-speakeasy-157/ (Of course, don’t feel obligated to read it!)

      Thanks so much for taking the time to read and to compose such a thoughtful comment. I find your words so encouraging, Paperbutterfly!

      • thepaperbutterfly June 23, 2014 / 4:04 PM

        Well there is a fine line between poetic and purple prose. The true definition of purple prose is overly ornate prose that draws attention to itself. But it’s almost always used in a negative context. Some critics have labeled some works of Cormac McCarthy as purple prose. I mean he does have over the top descriptions, mostly of landscapes, but I never feel like it’s too much. I read one of his long poetic passages to my mom, and she asked, “Why doesn’t he just say that the sun was rising?” My mom completely missed the point 😄 Contrast that with fanfiction where I see lots of purple prose and it’s very obvious. To me purple prose is awkward poetic prose, at least that is how I see it, and I think that’s how most people interpret it. I don’t feel like your beginning paragraph was too much, but for someone that might not like poetic prose, it might be. That’s nothing against you, some people just aren’t fans of poetic prose.

        I love the interplay between light and dark, good and evil. My favorite villains and heroes are muddled shades of grey. I think it makes for much more interesting and three dimensional characters. Looking forward to buying this on Kindle 🙂

        • jannatwrites June 24, 2014 / 9:04 AM

          Thanks for your comments and support, Paperbutterfly! You are right – there is a fine line. I’m more drawn to action than prose, so it does raise some concern in myself when I come up with some flowery descriptions. I usually snap out of it and someone dies, though 🙂

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