May 28, 2015

Another continuation of the pieces from the past few days. If you missed it, yesterday’s portion is located here:

https://litforlunch.wordpress.com/2015/05/27/may-27-2015/

I’ve already made sure that my front door is locked, but my hand hesitates as I close my bedroom door. Shaking my head at my own foolishness, I go ahead and lock it. I’m sure the flimsy lock on my bedroom door won’t stop anybody – hell, I could probably pick it, given a hairpin and a few minutes, but it makes me feel a little better as I tuck myself under the covers and try to fall asleep, assisted, more than a little bit, by those friendly blue pills.

******

There’s a certain feeling that you get, even in the middle of a fever dream, when your mother sits down on the bed beside you. Her hands might not actually reduce your fever or relieve your cough, but there’s still a comfort that comes when she lays cool fingers against your forehead.

I feel my forehead burning up in my dream, but there’s still a relief. I don’t see her face but I feel her, a slight weight pressing the mattress down beside me, fingers stroking my hair away from my heated face, tucking it gently behind my ear.

Until I open my eyes and realize that it isn’t a dream.

The weight depressing the bed beside me isn’t my mother and the hand isn’t stroking hair away from my face.

That hand is planted solidly across my mouth, although I’m so terrified, I couldn’t scream if I wanted to.

The features on the black figure’s face are indistinguishable in the darkness of my bedroom, but even seated, it towers over me.

“Did calling the police make you feel better?”

I can’t see the face, but I can hear the smile in his voice.

The voice is pitched slightly above a whisper, gravelly and androgynous… Not that it matters if it’s a man or a woman. Either could kill me with equal ease in this prone position.

Gender equality becomes less of my concern as the person reaches their other hand towards my throat. This is when my lungs seem to activate of their own accord – out of self-preservation, I suppose – I started kicking and squealing with all my might, shoving as hard as I can. I’d bite the hand covering my mouth if I could.

But none of it does any good. The figure simply leans back, pressing me to the bed with his body weight, hand pressing against my nose and mouth until I start grow lightheaded from lack of air.

With almost casual ease, he reaches a hand toward my neck and I feel a sharp, digging pull and a painful, pinching snap as the clasp of my necklace breaks.

The pressure on my nose and mouth hasn’t eased and the world is growing dim around the edges. In the near-darkness, I see the sparkle of my odd little charm dangling against the black palm of a glove. And then the darkness curls in around me.

My brain gasps for air and I can’t see anything at all, falling into a space far blacker than the night around me.

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May 27, 2015

Continued from yesterday. For those who wish to see the first part, it is located here:

https://litforlunch.wordpress.com/2015/05/26/may-26-2015/

Suddenly, I can’t breathe.

And it isn’t because of my cold.

I fumble a bit, pulling my cell phone out of my pocket. My hands are shaking but I manage to dial 9-1-1.

“911. What is the nature of your emergency?”

“My – my house is being broken into.”

“Ma’am, are you currently in the residence?”

“No – I’m standing outside.”

“Do not enter the residence, Ma’am. Remain in a safe place. We’re dispatching a vehicle to your location.”

*****

I pace outside the lobby of my apartment building. Whoever it is… there’s no way they’d go out through the lobby, right? No way someone would just go waltzing out of my building carrying my stuff, right?

It only takes the cops a few minutes to get there and I’m grateful.

Apparently, two cops are the standard for a run-of-the-mill home invasion.

Hey, I should at least be grateful that they came in a car and I didn’t get stuck with the pony patrol, right?

The older one looks to be somewhere north of forty. It’s hard to tell just how far and he’s intimidating enough that I don’t want to ask. Tall, with dark hair over heavyset brows, just starting to go gray. The younger one is about my age…. When did I get old enough that there are cops my age?

I digress.

His hair is a bit longer, sandy-blonde, with a paler complexion than his partner. They look so completely different from each other; I would never have put them together as anything. If it weren’t for the serious looks on their faces, I could almost pretend that they were neighbors, stuck together at some uncomfortable potluck and forced to make conversation.

I fill them in on what happened – walk, shadow, you know the drill – on our ride up to the fifth floor. I wonder, to myself, lest the police think I’m a psycho, if the robber took the elevator or the stairs. If he took the stairs, I suppose he must be one fit burglar – probably one who does a lot of cardio. But then, I figure, there probably aren’t a lot of fat burglars, are there?

I wipe my sweaty palms across my sweatpants, hoping to calm my nerves.

Someone’s been in my apartment.

Someone might still be in there.

We walk down the hallway and I point out my door. The door, I notice, hasn’t been broken into. It’s not hanging slack, like a broken limb. Like the doors always are on CSI. The door is still closed.

That makes sense, I guess.

Why announce “I’M ROBBING THE PLACE!!” with a broken down door if you don’t have to?

The older officer motions for me to stay back, while the younger one quietly tries the door.

And… it’s locked.

Why would it be locked?

What the hell kind of burglar locks the door after himself?

I see the two officers exchange glances as the younger one motions for me to unlock the door.

As quietly and efficiently as I can, I unlock it and push it open.

They rush in, moving through the door quickly, and more quietly than I would’ve thought, given that my entryway has a wooden floor.

I wait, holding my breath, outside my own door, as the officers move from room to room, I imagine, with guns at the ready. I hear nothing.

Finally, I let my breath out in one big whoosh, as the older officer sticks his head out of my front door and gives me the nod.

I walk back into my own living room just in time to see the younger guy holster his gun.

“The premises are secured,” the older officer tells me. “There’s no one in your home.”

“They really did a number on this place, huh?” the younger guy says, eyes roaming around the room.

This is the part where I blush bright red. My hand goes automatically to my neck, fingers turning the charm of my necklace round and round, in a tacit admission of shame. It’s what I do when I’m nervous or uncomfortable…. Somehow the edges of that charm against my skin bring me comfort.

“Actually… This is what it normally looks like,” I admit.

He’s looking around – at all of the fast food containers strewn across the couch, the Kleenex polka-dotting the carpet, the clothes and books tossed casually over furniture and stacked on tables.

“This is what it normally looks like?” he asks.

“Well, not normally, you know, but I’ve been sick and I haven’t had a chance to clean and…”

Why am I justifying my housekeeping habits to a pair of cops?

Oh, yeah… because I called them and told them my house had been broken into.

Because it has been…. Hasn’t it?

That shadow is just as clear in my mind’s eye as it was the moment I saw it. I swear I saw it…. But that doesn’t take the skeptical looks off of the cops’ faces.

Maybe, they suggest, using the reasonable tone one might use with a toddler trying to take a ride in the dishwasher, there was no break-in at all?

Maybe, they say, it was a little too much cold medicine? An over-active imagination?

Is anything missing?

No, I have to admit. I don’t see anything missing.

And given the fact that the door was locked, the way I left it, that nothing is rearranged and nothing is missing and there’s no sign of forced entry…. That maybe there was no break-in to begin with.

I should just admit it… There’s nothing in my house to steal. Nothing worth any money, anyway – unless someone’s super-desperate to get their hands on an old tv and a beat-up microwave. There’s no reason someone would break into my apartment in particular. I’m sure my neighbors have much nicer stuff, come to think of it.

I’m forced to give an ingratiating smile as I thank the officers. I offer them water or tea, along with half a pack of slightly stale cookies. They politely decline.

I know they’re laughing to each other about it as they leave the building. I suppose I should be grateful that they’re not mad at me for wasting their time or charging me for a false 9-1-1 call or something.

But here’s the thing: I know what I saw.

I know it wasn’t the effect of too much fresh air after being cooped up for so long. Or too much cold medicine. Or an overactive imagination.

I know someone was in my apartment. I don’t know why. I don’t know how they got in or what they wanted, but I know someone was here. I can see it clearly – that shadow crossing the lit window, stopping almost as if to look back at me, almost as if it knew I was watching and there was nothing I could do about it.

But there’s no way I can prove it. And there’s no one to prove it to, in any case… no one who would listen.

So I do my best to convince myself that I imagined it. I brew myself a strong cup of tea and take a shower before bed.

Toweling off my hair, I look in the mirror. I focus on my own eyes, deep brown with a few flecks of amber.

Are my eyes playing tricks on me? Did I imagine it? I don’t know.

I only look at my eyes for a few moments before a stray bit of sparkle draws my gaze downward. My necklace glimmers silver under the garish fluorescent bathroom lights.

It’s an odd little thing, but I find it comforting. I frequently find myself absentmindedly touching it, turning the charm around between my fingertips.

It’s an odd non-shape, really. Just some strange combination of metal and glass that someone thought was pretty at some point and strung on a chain. Maybe some sort of industrial byproduct? Some cogs someone fused together? I don’t know.

I say someone must’ve thought it was pretty because hardly anyone does. No one ever compliments me on it. As a matter of fact, I didn’t even pay for it – whoever made it didn’t think highly enough of it to charge for it.

I got it in Israel last summer. I was buying a bunch of necklaces from a street vendor in Jerusalem – a handful of Stars of David and Hands of Miriam, mostly as souvenirs for my family and friends. I remember the moment, which is strange, since most of my trip is a blur – the man looked at me.

He really looked at me.

Mostly people, you’ll find, look at you but they really don’t see you. The cashier at the Starbucks looks at you, but only to give you change for your five. Your boss looks at you, but only to ensure that you understand what he’s saying. No one ever just looks at you and sees you for who you are in that moment. This guy did. He looked at me. And I watched as he reached under the counter and pulled out a little metal-and-glass charm on a little silver chain and gently tossed it into the bag with the rest of the necklaces.

“Free gift,” he said. “For you. I think you like.”

He didn’t speak a lot of English and I wasn’t about to refuse. I didn’t actually look at the necklace until later that day.

The chain turned out to be too short, so I’ve put the charm on a chain I already owned, but outside from that small change, I’ve worn it every day since then.

I like to think it brings me luck.

I very much doubt it will protect me from a home invasion, but I’m glad I have it anyway.

I bundle up in my pajamas and pop some Nyquil… I know I won’t get any sleep otherwise. I’ll be coughing all night, rolling over every ten minutes to destroy another tissue, not to mention worrying about strange men breaking into my apartment …. So the Nyquil seems like pretty solid choice. I gulp them down with what’s left of my tea.

I’ve already made sure that my front door is locked, but my hand hesitates as I close my bedroom door. Shaking my head at my own foolishness, I go ahead and lock it. I’m sure the flimsy lock on my bedroom door won’t stop anybody – hell, I could probably pick it, given a hairpin and a few minutes, but it makes me feel a little better as I tuck myself under the covers and try to fall asleep, assisted, more than a little bit, by those friendly blue pills.

Image Courtesy of:

http://www.morguefile.com/

May 26, 2015

Sorry for the long break, guys… This isn’t from a prompt. Just because, I guess:

“Aaachoo.”

It’s a big one. The sneeze is strong enough to knock my head forward, so strong that I can practically feel my teeth rattling in my skull. The tissue isn’t quite strong enough to absorb the impact – I wipe blobs of snot off the wall by the couch.

I have had enough of this cold. Enough of the sneezing and the coughing and achiness. Enough of the various colors of mucus that seem to have taken up residence in my body.

“I don’t feel that bad.”

Maybe saying it out loud will make it true?

Not quite, since those words are followed by a hacking cough.

I gaze longingly out the window. The night is relatively warm – almost sixty. And the breeze blowing through the trees makes it look almost tropical.

I’ve been holed up in my apartment for two days now, chugging gallons of tea and soup. I’ve been popping Dayquil like M & Ms and I still don’t feel better.

My nose is sore, my eyes are bleary and I’m sick of being sick.

Maybe one little walk wouldn’t hurt?

I pull on a pair of sweatpants and my favorite hoody, packing the pockets with Kleenex and chap stick, before I venture out into the outside world. Or at least the outside world that comprises the little lake outside of my house.

My headphones are in, and somehow the music on my cell phone manages to penetrate the stuffiness in my ears…. And it’s nice. It’s nice to stretch my legs, for the first time in two days, to breathe a little fresh air – well, as much breathing as I can manage, anyhow.

The lake is peaceful and quiet. I’m the only one walking, which is preferable, really. I don’t need to get anyone else sick, do I?

Around the lake once. Twice. The third time, I gaze up at my apartment from the opposite side of the lake. I left the lights on and I’m glad I did.

There’s always something comforting, when you’re out walking at night, about looking in windows. You can see into people’s lives – warm living rooms, with comfortable couches and families sprawled out on them, watching TV or eating dinner. There’s nothing like that warm, golden light coming out of a home.

I think I’ll cry when those cold, blue energy efficient bulbs replace the old yellow ones – it’ll never be the same. But looking up into your own living room is somehow special – there’s something particularly comforting in knowing that golden glow is your own – your comfy sofa you’ll be coming home to, with a cup of tea waiting.

Of course, there’s no cup of tea waiting for me – there’s a pile of dishes and laundry waiting, but the glowing light doesn’t know that.

So I take a few moments to catch my breath and to look up at my apartment which, from a distance, looks cozy and warm, instead of messy. And it manages to look cozy and warm…. Until a shadow crosses in front of my living room window. A man-shaped shadow.

The dark blot moves across the golden glow purposefully, swiftly. This is someone on a mission. This is someone with a purpose.

This is someone in my home.

Suddenly, I can’t breathe.

And it isn’t because of my cold.

To be continued….

Image courtesy of:

http://www.morguefile.com/

May 15, 2015

Sorry that it’s been so long… I’ve been working on something more long-form in my free time. I apologize for my absence. Anyway, here it goes again (it’s entirely possible I have dogs on the brain..):

“Ok, Nacho… Go fetch!”

She threw the stick as far as she could, which was not so very far, after all. She wouldn’t be entering the Olympics for javelin throwing any time soon, but at least the throw was strong enough to send the stick sailing over the hill and out of sight.

Wriggling her toes in the cool grass, she looked up at the sky. The sun would set soon. They ought to leave before that happened. She wasn’t sure what time it was, or how long she’d been flinging that stick over the hill…. Certainly longer than she should’ve. But even repetitive tasks go quickly when you’ve got enthusiasm for them. And Nacho had enough enthusiasm for the both of them.

She smiled as the little brown-and-white terrier came racing back over the hill, stick firmly clamped between his jaws. Taking it from him, she turned it end-over-end in her hands. They should leave… probably. A not-so-subtle growl alerted her to the fact that someone else certainly did not want to leave.

A few more throws couldn’t hurt, right?

She hurled it again and watched the furry white body racing against the darker grass and away from her.

Some things were certain, she thought, glancing up at the sky again. The sun would always set in the west. It would always rise in the east. Water would always be wet. Nacho would always come back to her, with or without his stick.

Why couldn’t humans be as reliable?

Sometimes, in a cynical mood, the thought came to her that no one would ever love her as much as her dog. At times like this, it seemed true, as she watched the little dog zoom down the hill and back to her.

“Good boy,” she knelt down, tugging the stick out of his jaws and stopping to scratch behind his ears in that way that he liked. “You’re such a good boy…. If only you could fetch me a boyfriend.”

The dog’s ears perked up, probably because he’d heard the word ‘fetch.’

She gave him a mock-stern look.

“Enjoy this,” she said. “It’s the last time.”

Sigh. As if dogs understood English. This one didn’t, judging by the jolly wag of his tail.

She threw the stick again and watched the little white dog sprint up the hill.

He was taking longer this time…. Had she thrown the stick farther? Maybe she should go get him…. But no… here he came, racing back down the hill …. with something clamped in his jaws.

From a distance, it looked nothing like a stick. Up close, it was abundantly clear that the thing was not a stick. It was, in fact, a sneaker, laces untied and dangling like little white flags as the dog raced towards her.

Was it somebody’s sneaker?

Had her dog just swiped somebody’s shoe?

It looked like it. It was a fairly nice sneaker, at least as far as sneakers go. It did not look as though this grim, sad world had beaten it into submission yet, which, really, is the best that can be said of any sneaker.

Should she go over the hill and find the owner of said shoe?

She looked at the sneaker and then back at Nacho. The return of the sneaker, if it did in fact belong to someone, could wait a few more minutes, she decided. In reality, she just wanted to see what her little dog would bring back next.

She picked up another stick and flung it as hard as she could. Nacho took off.

Again, he took longer than he had before. She knew she wasn’t that good of a stick-thrower.

Another non-stick.

This time, she had the good sense to identify the shoe from a distance.

Heh. At least now she had a pair. Maybe she should take Nacho shopping. She’s heard of a five-finger discount before…. Maybe a two-paw discount was just as good.

Now she knew she should cross over the hill and find whatever barefoot person had just had their shoes stolen by her entrepreneurial dog… but she couldn’t resist throwing the stick one more time, just to see what she’d find.

Maybe the dog could provide her with a whole new wardrobe… It would certainly be an economical way to shop.

This time the small white blur came racing over the hill with something entirely different. Neither fish nor fowl, as they say. Or in this case, neither stick nor shoe nor cute jean jacket that she’d been admiring in a store window the other day.

It was big and square and flapping between his teeth…. It was a book. She could see the pages of the paperback flopping as he ran.

He came right to her, tail wagging as he presented his treasure. She had just taken the slightly slimy paperback in hand, wiping it off as best she could with a corner of her t-shirt, when a shout drew her attention back to the hill.

“Get back here, you little runt!”

“He’s not a – oh.”

There was a guy charging down the hill at her. Presumably, he was the original owner of her new shoes, judging by his barefoot state and the annoyed look on his face.

Aside from the barefoot-hobo thing he had going on and the pissed-off look, she had to admit that he was pretty cute. Slightly shaggy dark hair flopped into his eyes, the color of which was difficult to determine at this distance. She glanced down at the slightly-chewed-on book.

Huh. Tender is the Night.

She looked at the guy charging down the hill towards her, at the book in her hand and at the little dog whose tail was beating happily against her leg. Trying her hardest not to smile, she scooped him up and scratched him behind the ears the way he liked. She took a second to press her cheek against his furry little body.

“Good boy,” she whispered.

Writing Prompt:

500-1000 words * original female character * the last time

Writing Prompt Courtesy of:

http://panthermoon.com/generators/generator2.php

Image courtesy of:

http://www.morguefile.com/

May 5, 2015

Should I have known that day?

Probably.

I should have known well before that day.

I should have known when my father’s new bride wanted nothing to do with us. When she shooed us away from her on the wedding day. We had only wanted to congratulate our new stepmother, to greet her and let her know she was welcome.

She did not want our grubby hands all over her beautiful white wedding dress, she said. We believed her. We stayed away.

I should have known when we were barred from the dining room at dinnertime. Because she wanted to have “one meal in peace with her husband” without “those noisy brats.” When we found ourselves picking at leftover scraps in the kitchen, split between the twelve of us, I should have known.

I should have known when my brothers disappeared without a trace. When mournful silence filled the halls of the palace and I found myself alone.

When she offered to help me with my bath, I should have said no.

I stood before the looking glass that evening, my eyes on her reflection as she stood behind me, unwinding the braids of my long, dark hair and slowly, carefully brushing it out.

I could see it then; the malice in her expression. The desire to destroy whatever perceived obstacle stood in her way. That was all I was to her. No longer merely a child. Now an obstacle.

Should I have known, reader? That she hated me? That she sought to destroy me?

I did know, reader. I knew.

Then, you ask, why did I do nothing? Why did I let her draw that poisoned bath, filled with frogs and snakes and filth? Why did I let her?

Because, reader, sometimes the desire to be loved is greater than reason. Because when you’ve never had a mother, you have hope for the only surrogate you’ve ever known.

When father married her, I had hope. That she could love me. Or that she could come to love me, over time. When you’re young, hope comes easily. And disappointment comes hard.

That night, I still had hope. I thought that maybe, just once, I could look into the mirror – could look at her reflection and see something there – affection or kindness, perhaps. Anything other than the cold calculating hatred I saw.

I knew, reader. For all I didn’t want to know.

Sometimes hope is stronger than knowledge.

And sometimes hatred is stronger than hope.

For those of you unfamiliar with this particular fairy tale, you can find the rest of it here:

http://hca.gilead.org.il/wild_swa.html

Here’s the wikipedia article, if you just want the overview:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wild_Swans

Writing Prompt:

(write for) 20 minutes * original female character * glass

Writing Prompt Courtesy of:

http://panthermoon.com/generators/generator3.php