This piece is creepy. I submitted it to a literary magazine, but it was rejected. So, how blog readers, you get to see it for free!
The hair on my arms stands straight up. I hold my breath, afraid to move or make a sound. My heart pounds in my throat. I wonder if this is how a rabbit feels when stalked by a fox.
I hear his raspy breath, the scrape of his shoes on the wooden floor, his slight limp more pronounced when he has been drinking.
“I know you’re in there, you stupid bitch,” his voice slurs. “You can’t hide forever. I’ll find you and you’ll get what you deserve.”
“He’ll kill me this time,” I say silently to myself and look around, desperately, for a weapon. There is nothing useful in my closet hiding place. Nothing sharp. Nothing hard. Just clothes. Not even a shoe to hit him with. Or a phone to call for help.
His steps come closer, closer.
I let out my breath.
I hear the creak of the bed springs.
I breathe in, exhale and breathe in again.
I count, slowly, to 100.
I hear a snort, then a wall-rattling snore.
I let out my breath again.
I crack open the closet door and peek out at the dark bedroom. I see a man-sized lump on the bed.
I carefully unfold myself from my hiding place. My mind screams at me to run. Instead, I creep carefully around the squeaky floor board and crawl across the floor telling myself to move slowly, slowly, silently. At the bedroom door, finally, I run.
And live another day.
Zoom and Dasher have been flying all morning, delivering invitations to the Summer Solstice Celebration Fairy Ring. Zoom chirps to Dasher and then lands lightly on a branch of the apple tree in the shade. Dasher grabs a stalk of zebra grass sticking out of the pond. Both sit and rest for a minute. There are more invitations to deliver. Everyone’s invited. Even Pindi’s giants.
“I’m beat,” Pindi complains to her twin sister Mindi. “Mother has had us working all day.”
“I can’t wait for the party,” Mindi replies. “It will be so much fun dancing in the twinkling lights.”
“Girls!’ Queen Caelia cries. “I need you to carry these baskets of treats to the Japanese Lantern. Your father is already there setting up for the party.”
“That’s too much for us to carry,” Pindi says. “I’m calling Ka-a. He’ll help us.”
“Raven Feather won’t like it if I help you,” Ka-a explains to Pindi. “He is still angry that I flew you home on that rainy day. And, he’s humiliated that you and Mindi outwitted him.”
“Oh please! It won’t take more than 5 minutes and you can come to the celebration if you want to.”
Ka-a sighs and lets Pindi climb onto his back carrying the baskets of treats. Mindi climbs up behind her.
As they unload at the Japanese Lantern, Pindi spies Blade and his buddies hanging around the honey mead. “Hey lazy bones! Come here and help. You can’t just hang around and drink honey mead all day.”
“Pindi, don’t be such a pest. We’re busy,” Blade says, but he helps unload the baskets anyway. “What’s in here?” he asks as he lifts the lid of one of the baskets. “Yum, honey treats.”
Pindi bats his hand away. “Stop! That’s for the party.”
The fairies work hard all afternoon getting ready for the big celebration. As dusk approaches, Dasher and his friends fly circles over the pond gobbling up mosquitoes. They look like a rainbow of dragonflies, all with different colored wings; red, blue, glittery gray, spotted. Zoom sits in the Red Japanese Maple tree chirping at Dasher and his friends.
Guests start to arrive. Xylem arrives, her arm still in a sling from her fall. Her wings have healed, and she can fly again. The frogs hop over. Ribbet calls out to the dragonflies not to eat all the mosquitoes. “Save some for us!”
The buffet table is set, and the lights are twinkling.
“Mother, Father,” Pindi calls, “Come and say hi to my giants.”
“These are my parents,” Pindi says to her giants. “My father, King Bran, and my mother, Queen Caelia.”
The giants bow their heads to the King and Queen. “It is an honor to meet you. Thank you for allowing us to join your celebration.”
As darkness falls on the longest day of the year, the celebration is in full swing. Fairies and other magical creatures dance in a circle around the Japanese Lantern. Everyone enjoys the treats and the honey mead. Ribbet leads the frogs in a song. Zoom chirps along. The giants sit at their patio table and watch the celebration.
No one notices the crows start to gather. “Hmph,” says Raven Feather. “Let them celebrate tonight. Tomorrow we attack.
The photo on the home page is my yard and koi pond. These are my fish.
Louis is a bit myopic. His eyes look slightly out of focus. I wonder if one can fit a koi with glasses. But, he can see well enough to swim and to spot me when I walk by with food.
Louis is gold and white. He was named for Louis XIV, the Sun King. He’s the oldest fish in the pond, but he’s small. And, he’s a glutton. He’s always the first in line for food.
Shadow Fish is very handsome. He’s gray on top and bright orange on the bottom. He’s also very cautious. He swims below the other koi, watching to see what I will do. He hasn’t trusted me since I thought he had a fish disease called Ich. I caught him and put him in a bucket with fish medicine. He was not amused. And he hasn’t forgotten.
Ghost Fish is Shadow Fish’s mate. She’s light gray and has a girlish koi figure. She likes to flirt with Shadow Fish. She also likes swimming at the surface of the pond. I worry about her getting sunburned. Do fish get sunburned?
Victor-Victoria has a large red V on his/her back. We aren’t sure whether he/she is male or female. I’m going with male. He knows he’s handsome. He swims with authority.
F Minor is the biggest fish in the pond. She’s named F Minor because she has scales… and she’s a fish. Not all koi have scales. Her buddy, F Major, died last year. I hate it when koi die. We have a koi graveyard in our garden.
F Minor isn’t the first in line for food, but she eats the most. She makes me think of an old woman in an easy chair greedily gobbling chocolates.
Antonia used to be Antonio, before we figured out she is female. She’s named Antonia because she wears a black mask and when we bought her I had just seen Antonio Banderas in Zorro. Sorry Antonio. She’s the old lady in the pond and I think she’s the one who spawned last spring.
Then we have the Three Musketeers. They’re babies. We added them to the pond last summer. Tigre is orange with black stripes. Skelator is yellow with a black skeleton on his back. Horton is orange with black – Giants baseball colors. He’s named after a Tigers baseball player from the 1960s.
And finally, there’s the goldfish. Paige won him at a fair 12 years ago. She dumped him in the pond, and we didn’t see him for a year. How long to goldfish live? He’s bloated and misshapen. He swims along beside the koi but doesn’t mingle. He isn’t one of them. I root for him to keep going. I wish I remembered his name.
No way out. A terrifying thought. The stuff of nightmares.
A closed room with no windows and a locked door. Trapped.
Waking in a dark room not knowing where I am. Trapped.
Elsa woke up with a start, sweating and shivering at the same time. She tried to shake off the nightmare. At least she thought it was a nightmare. She waited for her eyes to adjust to the inky darkness and looked around. No windows. A locked door. Terror.
She wanted to succumb to that terror. To lay down in a corner and curl into a fetal position. And wait. For what? Rescue? Or death?
“What clear-minded confidence does it take to find a way out?” she thought. “I wish I knew.”
“I need to change the reality of the situation,” she thought. “This closed room is not a trap, but a problem to be solved. Clues are in the room. Or are they just in my mind? Hinges on the door can be undone. A pin found on the floor can pick a lock.”
Elsa’s brain swirled with possibilities. “Maybe the room is not a room at all. Maybe it’s a meadow surrounded by leafy trees and sunlight filtering down. Birds sing. Butterflies flit. Bees buzz. Flowers bloom. Breathe in that sweet and spicy scent. Its not a room at all.”
“Am I going crazy? Is the reality I see the truth of how things are? Or is this just how I choose to see it? Am I in a dark, locked room?”
From her fetal position in the corner, Elsa withdrew further into her mind. She skipped through the meadow and danced in the sun. The reality of the room was more than she could grasp. She was trapped.
The drone of a lawn mower on a summer morning
When I’m just beginning to wake.
The happy chirp of a hummingbird.
The meadow lark’s song.
The length of the cat stretched across the bed.
How can he be that long?
The rustle of leaves in the gentle breeze.
The spicy-sweet smell of sweet peas.
The earthy smell of newly harvested lettuce
The peppery smell of ripe tomatoes.
The citrusy smell of fresh basil.
The picnic basket is packed.
The tangy smell of the ocean.
The constant roar of the waves.
The gritty feel of sand between my toes.
The dance and call of sea gulls before they try to steal my lunch.
The woodsy smell of a newly lit grill.
The sizzling sound of meat being cooked.
The hunger pangs that come from nowhere.
I didn’t know I was hungry until I smelled the cooking meat.
The warm linty scent of clothes in the dryer.
That’s what my husband calls them.
Children who have been having fun all day.
And are done.
The small flying insect that drowned in the glass of wine
I poured in anticipation
Of sitting in the garden
And watching the sun go down.
The waves of fog spilling over the coastal hills.
The breeze cools the air.
Everybody is hungry again.
Night is falling.
The crows fly to their nests.
The stars start to twinkle.
I am happy to be home.
I don’t know why I find something romantic and charming in the image of a woman sitting in the shade of a porch shelling peas. I don’t even like peas.
It has something to do with hot days and the smell of old wood in a hot house. Comfort. Cold ice cream. A swim in a cool lake.
I never had these experiences. I don’t know why they speak to me. But every time we have a heat wave and my old house smells hot, I think about sitting on a shaded porch on a swing shelling peas.
The fan drones behind me as I sit in my office, writing. I prepped dinner, but my husband got stuck at work. Food is on hold. That’s fine with me. It is too hot for hot food. The pasta with steak and veggies will taste just fine cold. Better cold than hot today.
I harvested snow peas today, as I did yesterday and the day before. It is too hot for snow peas. The plants are suffering. I sliced them and sautéed the snow peas with mushrooms and tomatoes in olive oil and butter. They’re sitting in the skillet waiting.
The tomatoes aren’t growing as they should. I was happy when they sprouted from seeds so quickly. I babied them but I knew they wouldn’t grow until it got warm. Cold skipped to hot. It is too hot for anything to grow. The heat shuts down photosynthesis and water absorption. Plants wait for cooler temperatures. They don’t produce leaves or flowers or fruit when they are shocked with such immediate hot weather. That ‘s what I remember from by botanist days.
My mother used to cook canned peas. She said she like peas. But she boiled them to a slushy khaki mess. She can’t have really liked peas.
I couldn’t swallow those slushy things she called peas. I sat at the dinner table more than once long after everyone else left because she said I had to eat my peas. I smeared butter on saltine crackers and ate those instead. That’s my experience with peas.
Amer scratched the stubble on his chin while he looked over the rusted bedframe he found sitting by the side of the road. Always a practical man, he found a use for everything. And lord knows, everything wasn’t much these days. “Now why would someone throw away a perfectly useful bedframe?” he mumbled to himself.
He heaved the heavy metal frame into the bed of his equally rusted pickup truck. “I could cut this up and use it for scrap metal,” he thought. “Or, Adda Mae’s birthday’s coming up. First of June. She’d like a swing to put under the apple tree. He could see her gently swinging back and forth in the shade, shelling peas for supper. “That’s it, I’ll make Adda Mae a birthday present.”
Amer had a small welding business. It used to thrive, but with so many people losing their jobs, now he mostly repaired tools and farm equipment. More often than not he was paid with a bag of turnips than with cash. There wasn’t much cash around these days, but at least they’d eat.
Adda Mae had her vegetable garden and her fruit trees. They had a cow for milk, and a flock of chickens. “Yeah, they’d eat” Amer thought as he bent over his welding. He cut the frame in half and put it back together as a bench and back. Then, using left over pieces of metal, he built two side pieces to use as arms. He drilled holes in the arm frames and the bench, then threaded S hooks though the holes. He connected the S hooks with flat rods. He gave the swing a push with his foot. It swung gently back and forth. Satisfied, he closed the shed door and walked towards the house. “Needs paint again,” he thought as he climbed the wooden plank steps to the back porch and swung open the screen door.
Bob drove to the junk yard with a pickup full of scraps from building his house. His father Clarence sat beside him. It was Clarence who spotted the rusted yard swing sitting at the side of the junk yard. “Bobby, look at that swing. It has life in it yet. You should take it home and put in your yard. A new-home gift for Ruth.”
Bob smiled at the thought of Ruth’s smiling reaction to seeing a yard swing. He and Clarence unloaded his pickup and then heaved the heavy yard swing into the bed. They unloaded the swing in Bob’s work shed. Ruth never went out there. She wouldn’t see the swing until he was finished with it.
Bob scraped and sanded the rusted metal, then painted it green. He found a couple of boards and cut them into arm rests, then bolted them to the arms. He and Clarence muscled the swing onto the back patio of the house they were building. “Wait till Ruth sees this” he thought. “She’ll love it.”
Bob was tired. He had worked as a plumber for more than 40 years and his body remembered every damp basement and hot day building new homes. He sat in the yard swing and looked at the golf course, his cold beer sitting on the arm rest. New arm rests since he first refurbished it. And it was painted white now. He and Ruth were moving back to Washington where he grew up. He wanted to build a new home on the golf course. He had already joined the country club where he caddied as a boy. There was no place for the yard swing. “I wonder if one of my daughters wants it,” he mused.
“Yes! I want the swing” Kathy screamed with joy.
It is hot. Sweltering. I am sitting on the swing beneath my fig tree, the fig leaves tickling my cheek. The chickens are talking softly from the other side of the gate. Inside, the TV is on. Marc is watching the Warriors. I’m a casual sports fan at best. The intense and seemingly never-ending series of games bores and overwhelms me. Sitting outside watching the sky darken is a respite from the noise and the stifling heat inside the house.
The screen door opens and Marc walks out. He climbs the steps and joins me on the swing, now rusty again. I need to scrape and sand and paint. The wooden arm rests are long gone. I wonder if I can figure out how to make and attach new ones.
Marc and I swing gently back and forth watching the sky darken. “There! There’s Jupiter.” Marc points out the first light in the sky. Crows fly home. The sky gets darker. Night birds flit by. The chickens to go bed. We swing, enjoying the slightly cooler air, sitting on the yard swing that is older than me. I wonder which of our daughters will want the swing when we’re gone.
I woke up early this morning. The sun was just coming up, sending pearly light peeking through the shades.
It wasn’t the sun that woke me.
It was the cat.
“Feed Me! Get up lazy person! The sun is up and it’s time for breakfast.”
I opened my eyes and told the cat to talk with Marc. He’s the breakfast chef. I do dinner. Then I pulled the covers back over my head and tried to go back to sleep.
Marc was already downstairs. Breakfast was already in the cat’s dish. But the cat didn’t care. He didn’t want me to sleep when he had needs to be met. He wanted an escort to his food dish.
He has people. We don’t have a cat.
I threw off the covers and swung my legs over side of the bed, working my way towards being awake enough to stumble down the stairs to the kitchen.
“Hurry Up! I’m Hungry!”
Paws batted at my ankles.
“I’m up. I’m coming. I’ve only got 2 legs. You’ve got 4. You’re faster than me.” The cat circled my legs. “Don’t trip me.”
We paraded downstairs, the cat in the lead. “Look,” I bent over and pointed to his food, “breakfast awaits.”
“I changed my mind. I don’t want food. I want to go out.”
I opened the back door. The cat streaked out.
Crows cawed. Car doors slammed. An early morning bee buzzed by. Dew sparkled on the roses. The mist was already burning off in the morning sun. A new day. A satisfied cat – for the moment.
“Who are you? What’s your story?”
I ask Eleanor, the only ghost whose name I know.
She lives in the tower bedroom.
She’s sad. She’s waiting. She won’t tell me for whom.
I think its her beau, coming to take her away.
He never made it.
She waits, wearing her tea length lace gown.
She stands by the windows and looks out.
“Don’t tell anyone about me” she says.
“Who are you? What’s your story?”
I ask the man with the bowler hat. I don’t know his name.
He hasn’t told me.
He has a temper. He frightens me.
He was passing through town and decided to stay.
“Don’t tell anyone about me” he says.
“Who are you? What’s your story?”
I ask the frazzled woman who stays in the blue bedroom with the man with the bowler hat.
They argue. She’s never satisfied, never happy.
She’s warn down. She doesn’t like being dead.
Or having to stay forever with the bowler hat man.
Don’t tell anyone about me” she says.
Who are you? What’s your story?”
I ask the very angry man who walks up ad down the hall near the stairs.
He tells me his story. He was pushed down the stairs by an angry woman.
One of the women who worked in the house when it was a brothel.
That’s where he died.
“Don’t tell anyone about me” he says.
“Who are you? What’s your story?”
I ask the gentle old woman who stays in the north side garden.
There is peace there. Tranquility.
“That’s enough” she tells me, “peace and tranquility.”
Then…..” I’m Charlotte. May I stay in your garden?”
“As long as you want” I say. “For eternity. Nice to meet you, Charlotte. You are welcome here.”
Don’t tell anyone about us” she says.
No one will believe you.