“A day without sunshine is, like, you know, night.”
“A day without sunshine is, like, you know, night.”
Wil left the table after a requisite number of tuna casserole bites, hungry and self-pitying. The dark, narrow hallway seemed even more constricting; the dim bathroom bulb even dimmer; the tasteless toothpaste more tasteful for the lingering tuna remains. “Ugh!” she spat, swirled, spat again. She scowled a deeper expression at the girl in the glass, but her reflection matched and even exceeded her gloom.
A distinct *Ku-huh* *Kuh-huh* from the kitchen paused the glaring session. Wil and her shadow listened, a bridge of concern across their united brow, as Cynthia had her coughing session. “They’re happening much more,” Wil and Mirror-Wil whispered. They frowned and their deep, dark eyes spoke helplessness.
Wil exited the bathroom. Parent shadows crossed the hall on their way to the couch and sounds of scrambling soon led to the ever-present breathing machine. Wil stood, caught by fear, till her mother’s deep-throat coughs were tamed by the nebulizer’s magic.
She heard another sound: a chair scraped from the table and careless steps to the sink. Knowing that meant the immediate appearance of Jakob, she squeaked and scampered to the safety of her room and shut the door. After locking the knob, she threw herself atop the messy bed. Clothes, blankets, homework, and an open book or two caught her flying form and held her in their comforting familiarity. “There, there,” her favorite pullover soothed. “We understand,” the nearest novel assured her.
Wil hiccuped a few times but managed not to soil her bedthings with tears. She kicked a shoe free and pulled the second from a bent-leg position. Taking careful aim, tongue in teeth, eyes squinted tight; she threw the sneaker at her push-button wall switch. With a *clunk* the light went off. The shoe dropped.
Woolykind Wil, most respected member of the flying squirrel chapter of The Treetop Dwellers, sniffed and snuffled round her nest. She felt each treasured material with pride, moving things this way and that to arrange them just-so.
It had been a busy day in the forest and Wooly felt tired. She’d gathered food for her group. They’d been a tad ungrateful, to be sure, but she’d done her best. After all, flying was more her forte than food collection ever was.
Burrowing into the most comfortable heap of warm leaves, twigs, and discarded scraps around her; she sighed. Tomorrow would be better. Maybe there’d even be acorns. She fell asleep dreaming of better things.
©2019 Chelsea Owens
The cursor blinked from an empty screen, the only light in a night-draped house. Walls slept; world slept; he, for a moment, slept. She looked over at his backlit-shadowed features; they frowned.
She sighed and could not frown. Or smile. Expressions felt as elusive as the absent story arcs on her page.
I must write something, she thought.
Blink, answered the screen.
Then; through morning oatmeal mind mush, an idea came. Her fingers poised to type…
He groaned. Sat up. Named her.
She turned to his care.
The cursor sighed, yawned, and went to sleep without her.
Dedicated to Charli, for this week’s prompt at Carrot Ranch.
April 25, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes exhaustion. Who is exhausted and why? Can you make art of exhaustion? Go where the prompt leads!
Respond by April 30, 2019. Use the comment section below to share, read and be social. You may leave a link, pingback or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. Rules & Guidelines.
“To be nobody – but -yourself– in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else–means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.”
-e. e. cummings, “A Poet’s Advice to Students” in E. E. Cummings: A Miscellany (1958), edited by George James Firmage, p. 13 (Source).
*Bhrmmmm* *Bhrmmmm* buzzed the phone. Carol kept glancing at its screen to see if Miss Ziegenbusch had picked up yet.
She even knew where the woman lived, as Carol also did the job of Payroll Clerk and Human Resources Department. She did everything except attend pointless meetings, glad-hand clients, and look pretty at the front desk.
Hiring the current secretary, the woman she was now trying to reach, had not actually been Carol’s decision. Nor had retaining her.
“Hello?” said the phone. Carol’s car wobbled in its lane as she fumbled to answer.
“Hello?” –What was her name again?– “Um, Shelly?”
“It’s Cindy. Who’s this?”
“Cindy.” Right. “This is Carol Carter. Um, from work.”
…. “Oh.” …. “Uh, this isn’t the best time right now, Carol-”
For some reason, Carol felt she needed to be completely honest. “I’m being chased by something!”
She heard a gasp, then, “You are? Wait -is it that werewolf thing?”
Carol took a turn gasping. “How did you know?”
“Out of curiosity,” Cindy asked, “Has your radio also been playing songs based on what’s happening?”
Carol felt she was seeing herself from far away. Someone else was driving her car at dangerous speeds down the highway. Someone else was holding a cell phone with a grip like a vise. Someone else, surely, was doing all of these things at …she checked the clock on the dash…
At midnight. It was now Halloween.
“Carol?” Cindy’s voice called from the phone.
“I- I’m here,” Carol answered, pressing her phone closer to her ear.
Cindy sighed. “I thought so. Hey, I’m sorry for any bad feelings between us; but I really need to tell you something -something big.”
Carol wasn’t sure what Cindy could define as ‘big’ after her other revelations. “O…kay?”
“Um,” Cindy began. “You know that werewolf thing?”
As if on cue, Carol heard the tell-tale, Owooooooooo! She realized it had come through the phone, from Cindy’s end. “Cindy?!” she asked, in a panic.
“Oh shit.” Cindy said. “Um, sorry for swearing. I gotta go. …Basement…”
“Yeah…?” Her breathing was more rapid. Carol could hear a door slam and hard steps on echoing stairs.
“What was the ‘big’ thing about the werewolf?”
Cindy paused. A cupboard from her end creaked, then Carol heard the unmistakable sound of a large gun being cocked. “Carol,” Cindy said, “That werewolf is Carl C. Carter. Your husband. I gotta go.”
And Carol was left alone, with the dead sound of a disconnected phone.
Carol’s sharp, hasty turn brought her inches from a semi-truck approaching in the opposite lane. Its blaring-horn *Mruuuuuwwwmph!* trailed off behind her as she continued down the road at breakneck speed.
♪ *Oh the werewolf, oh the werewolf / Comes a-stepping along* ♪
Her eyes flitted to the radio; back to the road. Werewolf? she thought. And, How in the heck does the radio know?
♫ *…Once I saw him in the moonlight, when the bats were a flying….* ♪
She chanced another look in the rearview mirror, yet could not see anything. The road was dark and ill-populated. She’d chosen to head East, away from the storm and towards the highway. She hoped to outrun the werewolf -or whatever it was- or at least discourage its following her.
The song stopped and “Thriller” began playing. “I’ve already heard that one,” she muttered, and switched to a new station.
“We’re here with Sergeant Riding to get the latest on this breaking story…” a businesslike female voice said. Carol’s hand, which had been hovering over the controls, slowly drifted back.
“Well,” a gruff male voice began, “We can’t say for sure what’s going on. We’ve had a lot of different reports. What we can say is that everyone ought to stay inside until we have a lead on this case.”
“Sergeant,” the female voice again. “Are you saying we’re on lockdown?”
The man laughed a short, humorless snort. “Now, we’re not trying to scare anybody. It’s more the advice that, if you want to stay safe, you’ll stay inside right now. Oh, and get your pets in real quick, too.”
“We-e-e-ell, I’m sure that’s all we have time for now.” The female reporter sounded worried to Carol. “Be sure to tune in next time for -Eeeeeeeaaaahhhh!”
Carol sat in shock. She was hurtling down a city road at 50 mph, but still felt numb. Slowly, she reached up and pushed Power Off on the dead radio station. She didn’t know where to go or who to contact; it sounded like the whole world was going crazy.
Slowing enough to multi-task, she pulled her phone to within visual range.
She had never, ever in her life used her phone while driving, a minor point of contention between her and her missing husband. But she was already finding herself breaking all sorts of personal and written laws in the face of potential death and dismemberment.
Scrolling carefully down her Contacts list, she tried to think of who she could call on a night like this. Anyone she was close to would not be awake to answer, nor would believe such a ridiculous story as she would tell if he or she answered.
“Gardener, Lawrence, Schwartz, Warner… Ziegenbusch.” At literally the end of her list, she paused over the last last name. Was she really desperate enough to try her nemesis, the front desk secretary?
Taking a deep breath, she pressed her finger on the Call icon. And waited.
Continued and ended at #7.
Like any sane woman with a few self-defense classes under her belt, Carol panicked. “Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!” she screamed and flailed around helplessly. Fortunately for her, her left elbow bumped the Door Lock button mid-flail.
She heard the lock engage in the driver’s door just as the owner of the glowing eyes suddenly threw itself at her window. “Eeeeeeeeeeaaaaaahg!” she screamed again, and fell over the middle console to get away. Teeth, tongue, dark fur, manic red eyes, and long, long claws scrabbled at the window. The claws were the worst; each *Screeeee!* leaving a line behind and surely weakening the surface.
Carol looked around her small car, wishing for anything that might help her. The most lethal object she saw was a pen. She didn’t keep so much as a snow scraper handy in the front seat, believing all tools belonged in the trunk.
*Critch* went the window-glass, just as she spotted the garage door opener. A hasty getaway was her only chance, storm or no. She stretched up and pressed it, a brief relief touching her panic as the door to outside lifted.
Her attacker paused, distracted. She was surprised to notice he appeared to have remains of clothing on his …person. Carol squinted and could make out a few torn, striped strips, buttons, a cuff; maybe what once was a pair of khakis. The feral animal turned back to look at her; its brow lowered into a scowl. Carol could hear it growling as she saw its lip curl up in a malicious grin.
The creature squatted, then leapt. She heard a *thump* above her and watched its back legs and bushy tail thrashing through the driver’s side window a half-second before she realized what it was doing. “Eeek!” she squeaked out as the horrific face appeared in the passenger side, upside-down. She watched the whole of its body fall across the window, then was treated to the same desperate scrabbling on the starboard side. The attacks were more forced, more rapid this time. The car rocked on its suspensions; the glass creaked and cracked.
Before she had time to talk herself out of it, Carol slid back into the driver’s seat and started the engine. ♪ *…they don’t know -When / its coming, / oh when / but its coming* ♫… crooned the radio. She put the car into Reverse and gunned it as she never had in her entire life.
♫ *Keep the car running* ♫
The poor sedan lurched and whined, hopping down the driveway in short, lame bursts. She smelt burning. The car was old, but hadn’t shown any signs of failure recently. She looked up and saw the hairy creature rising from where it had fallen in her hasty escape. Why couldn’t she go?! And then she saw the parking brake.
Without hesitation, she released it with a *Clunk*. The car shot backwards and collided into and up the opposite curb before she eased off the accelerator. Switching to Drive, she tore away down the street. She dared not look back, even to see if the garage door was still open.
♪ *And they don’t know / When it’s coming, oh when is it coming? / Keep the car running / Keep the car running / Keep the car running* ♫
The storm was closer; lightning illuminated the houses just a block away from her street and rain and wind buffeted her battered car. Just as she thought to slow down for the approaching stop sign, she heard a long, loud, Owooooooooooo!
Her eyes found the rearview mirror against her will. A flash of lightning showed a dark shape running down the street after her; hunger glinting in its red eyes and white fangs.
Traffic laws would have to wait. Quickly checking for oncoming cars as she drove, she ignored the stop and squealed a turn out onto the main road. Her sole thought was to get as far away from the man-creature as possible. She hoped no police were out, and not because she worried for her spotless driving record.
Continued at #6.
Carol noticed nothing, the image of a few bent window blinds storing itself cozily into her subconscious as she listened to her new favorite radio station.
♫ “You hate your boss at your job…” ♪
She sang along, though she didn’t hate her boss. Her boss was her husband. They were happily married, and had been for twenty-two years this November. No kids, of course. Carl hadn’t -well, maybe it really was Carol’s fault as he had suggested.
Miss Tight Skirts was expecting, probably from some discount store clerk. That’s where she got the ugly decorations from. Ugly decorations that could move…
No. Carol pushed the thought from her mind. Ceramics didn’t move, desks didn’t move, blinds didn’t -a black sedan pulled out into her lane and she had to jerk the steering wheel sharply to avoid impact. They honked at her and sped away into the night.
Her breathing almost matched her rapid heartbeat. This was the second time in one day she’d been scared enough to worry for her health. She tried to drive straight as she slowed her panicked breaths. Now, what had she been thinking about? Things looking at her?
♪ “Well, if you hear somebody knocking on your door / If you see something crawling across the floor / Baby, it’ll be me and I’ll be looking for you” ♪
Carol hadn’t heard the song; it sounded old, but still good. Catchy. Jerry Lee Lewis, perhaps… Her mother had kept a record.
Just then, a bright pair of headlights entered the road at her left side and she swerved to avoid yet another collision. “What is with the maniacs tonight?” she wondered aloud. She glanced over to at least glare at the driver. She couldn’t see anyone, so faced forward instead. Her mind did a double-take and she looked back.
It’s probably just a really short man or his seat’s set back really far, she told herself. The night was cloudy, too. The road was dark. She was tired. The driverless car drove off.
Carol slowed and turned onto her own suburban street, noting the tacky inflatable jack o’lanterns and grim reapers and Charlie Browns on her neighbors’ lawns. She’d forgotten Halloween was coming -in just one night, she realized. She’d have to pick up some candy and watch all the children. All the sweet children she’d never had to dress for Halloween nor take trick-or-treating.
Sighing, she drove up to their house. It was dark. Carl often forgot to leave the lights on for her, but he was never to bed this early. She opened the garage door and stopped in the driveway, engine idling.
Carl’s car was not there. The garage was as empty as a tomb.
Wil’s tenacious grip on the slide bar slipped, as did her treadless boots on the platform. With all the grace of a surprised, screeching sloth, she tripped, fell, and slid the length of the metal slide. She landed quite solidly on the frosted wood chips and closed her eyes against the cold night sky. Perhaps, if she squeezed her lids tightly enough, Eric and the world would go away. A portal into another world might open beneath her, or a wizard would appear and –
From a distance, she thought she heard running feet. “God; are you okay?” Eric said from quite close, his concern a tad more evident in his tone than his amusement.
Wil cracked one eye open, then the other. He stood over her. What she could see of his features seemed to resolve into an anxious curiosity. His mouth appeared to twitch at the corners, but she couldn’t be sure in the dim lighting of the apartment complex.
That lighting was never luminous, and tended to turn off at important times. Her mother had said the owners were conserving energy; her father said they wanted to conserve money.
As if on cue, the lamp overhead blinked off. Wil, Eric, and the playground were plunged into darkness. Wil attempted an evasive rolling maneuver to rise, and succeeded in smacking her head against the bottom of the slide. The slide reverberated in the chill, empty air like a gong.
“Shit, Wil! What -” Eric began, but broke off at the sound of Wil laughing.
She laughed and laughed. Then she cried. She laughed and cried and didn’t know why. Sitting up, she stopped at the shadowy sight of Eric standing nearby. Did he need something? She attempted to stand, and made it upright with minimal wavering. Bits of dirt and pieces of wood clung to her scarf and backside; she brushed at herself accordingly.
Eric was still there when she finished, within the reach of her arm. She’d never realized how tall he was. “What do you want?” she demanded.
He stepped back. “I, er…” His face moved in the dark, seeking an answer from his feet, the playground, and the sky. Finally settling on his gloved hands, he mumbled, “Nothing, I guess.” She watched his shoulders lift as he sighed. He shuffled his feet.
“Wellllll….” Wil couldn’t think of anything to say. She didn’t even know Eric; she just rode in his car because his mom had a vehicle everyone could fit in. None of them liked Mrs. Crandall, either; but, Wil realized, that didn’t necessarily mean Eric was anything like her.
The light a few yards down the sidewalk turned on. Her eyes flicked to it, distracted, then back to Eric. She was able to make out more of Eric’s face. He was staring down at her, and he no longer looked amused. In fact, his expression reminded Wil of someone’s she’d seen recently. She felt a light, fluttering feeling somewhere near her stomach.
“Um,” Eric raised a gloved hand and coughed a bit into it. “So -are you okay, Wil?”
She couldn’t seem to pull her eyes away from his gaze. She nodded.
“Good.” He did the cough again. “Erm. Great.”
“Miiiinaaa!” came an echoing call from down the walkways. The voice sounded like her father’s, not to mention his use of her second-most detested name.
Wil blinked, the spell broken. “I need to go.”
Eric took a turn nodding. Then he smiled a small, shy, simple smile. He looked nice in a smile, even in the semi-dark. Wil smiled in return, then pivoted and ran to her father’s voice and to their building.
Her scarf fluttered behind her, waving goodbye in the night.