A Surprising Escape

The calloused feet came first; followed by child-bearing hips, a muffin top, an ample bosom, and a graying haircut.

“Mom??”

“Charlie??”

Neither could say who was more surprised to see the other, nor who had better reason to run away from home.

Photo by tom balabaud from Pexels

©2020 Chel Owens

In response to Deb’s 42-word story prompt, which was my pick?

It’s time to sharpen your wits, gather up your lock picking tools and put your head down for this week’s theme is …

ESCAPE.

What are you escaping from?  Where, when, how?  This is all for you to decide, the only requirement is that you fit it all in the 42 word limit.

Since the Bombs Fell: Six

Continued from One, then Twothen Threethen Fourthen Five.

Finn’s entrance into the fallout shelter was therefore not a graceful one. Their imminent pursuers, his rescuer’s voice, and her near-pushing him in order to secure the door befuddled him. Patrick was better at instant decisions; perhaps he would know what to do and wouldn’t be walking at near-gunpoint to a foreign elevator shaft.

Perhaps.

Finn stumbled again. “We ‘ave to get b’low,” his companion said. She activated the elevator, then gestured to enter once its heavy cross-doors opened. Finn nodded and went first. She followed, turning a key in the wall and pressing a red button.

They dropped to a chorus of pained and rusting gears. Patrick’d be able to fix those, Finn thought. And the entry. Thinking of his brother worried him. Even one leg down, the rash young man might go looking for Finn if he didn’t return. Muties made the surface dangerous, yes; but there were ways to get back if Finn needed. Not all the train tunnels lay in ruin nor all the rooftops proved unsound, he knew.

They stopped. The door ground open to reveal a dim and untidy living area. The layout resembled Finn’s, albeit in greater disrepair. He made a mental note to thank Mary, should he see her again, for insisting they fix up and clean their post-apocalyptic warren.

“Home sweet home,” she’d said, once things were in order. She’d smiled that charming smile of hers, the one she’d borne since Mother’d first noticed Mary wasn’t -as Father said- “Quite all there.”

After exiting the elevator, his companion sealed the door and punched at the filtration system. It whirred like a hoarse donkey, but worked. She then began extracting herself from her breathing gear. Finn shrugged and did the same with his. He felt this an odd game to play with a stranger; making himself more vulnerable, piece by piece. If she wanted to kill him, however, she could have shot him back at the hospital.

He set his breathing system on the counter. His helmet followed suit. He turned as the woman did the same, her auburn hair falling sweaty and loose. It rested in a disheveled braid and framed a pretty but scowling face.

“All right, then,” she said, setting her helmet next to his. She rested her right hand on her hip and studied him. Then her eyes widened. “Finn?”

“Aye,” Finn answered. He smiled a crooked half-grin at his former girlfriend. Of course she’d been skulking around the hospital; they’d first met there. He’d been a patient and she a surgeon. “An’ how you doin’, Livvy?”

Olivia Green could not reply. She looked at Finn again, who wished he’d shaved before surfacing. “Where …Where’s Patrick?” Olivia gasped. “Oh, no! Where’s Mary?”

Finn waved a calming hand. “They’re fine, though waitin’, I’d wager.” He smiled fully. “Would you like to go to them?”

THE END

 

©2019 Chelsea Owens

 

Since the Bombs Fell: Five

Continued from One, then Twothen Threethen Four.

Ungainly, inhuman, unsettling; the Mutants roiled into the supplies room. A piece or part or person in the mass swung into the lower shelves; unseating bandages, dust, tins, and pills. Finn counter-balanced against the blows. The measure brought to mind that series of weeks only months ago, when he, Patrick, and Mary crouched together beneath the rocking world; when they wondered if they or the Earth herself would come out of it, and what they’d all look like then.

“Ooomph!” Something hit his shoulder. In the noise and tumult, he’d forgotten the person near him. Having gotten Finn’s attention, the stranger tugged at his arm. Tugged hard. Finn couldn’t tell where his companion thought to go, but the writhing ground was no longer an option. He nodded in the wristlight and followed.

Together, they squat-walked across the shelf top. Finn wondered if their attackers could climb. He felt certain they could, given the right impetus -say, like him. That thought and their howling and scrambling drove him faster.

His companion stopped and sheathed his gun across his back. Then, to Finn’s surprise, he stood. A second later, his legs and feet kicked the air before Finn’s face. He disappeared.

A sharp jarring beneath him galvanized Finn. He, too, shuffled to where his companion had stood. Rising, he found himself halfway within a wide ductwork. Probably the heating, he thought. Sheathing his own weapon and bracing against either side of the hole he’d entered, he pulled his heavy body up and in.

A dim light shone from down the tube and off to the right. Finn deactivated his, and followed. A reverberating *clang* of metal on metal, then a *clong* of metal on cement told him their shelf had fallen. The animal sounds seemed muted or leaving, but maybe it was he who left them behind. He had no idea where he crawled or if he crawled to safety; he knew only the bobbing glow ahead, and the scrabbling form attached to it.

A few seconds of eternity passed and he crawled out of the jagged-edged remnants of ducting and onto a stone ledge. The sun wavered at the tops of the mountains in the distance. Sunset.

The stranger in the suit pulled at Finn again. One after the other, they scaled a rough climb down the hospital’s remaining back wall. Once their feet touched the ground, Finn and his guide took off running. He still followed, mostly by instinct. What Patrick might say or do worried him, though not as much as what Mutants would do should he be caught.

Passing shadow, outline, foundation, and rubble; his guide stopped at a large manhole cover set in a cement-crusted tunnel. He dug a bit in his pocket, then removed an access card and panned it against the cover. The outermost access door opened.

“In!” barked the suited figure. When Finn hesitated, it added, “Now!”

Finn complied. He still felt in shock. The voice commanding him was clearly female.

 

©2019 Chelsea Owens

 

Since the Bombs Fell: Four

Continued from One, then Twothen Three.

Step, Finn told his legs. Step againJust there. Almost there. This mantra kept his stiff-suited body moving forward, till a Mutant rolled or made a sound. At those times, he had difficulty maintaining the rhythm. He felt sweat pooling at every joint. He felt his heart pounding against his ears. He felt his finger itching to engage the Laserlock’s trigger.

Yet, he gained the supplies room door, leaping the last mound of creatures to do so. Some internal sense or paranoia warned him to hurry; warned that their movements increased with each second he passed among them. He’d be a sitting duck if that were true. “A legless duck, like Patrick,” he whispered.

But Patrick canno’ get you, should that happen, his thoughts reminded. “Damn,” he said aloud.

Finn sheathed his gun to free his hands, looking right to left to back to front as he did so. He did not, however, glance up. Activating a small glow pack on his wrist, he clumped over to the nearest shelf of medical supplies. There, he found an empty case. Near it were scattered bottles and a few ashen strips of material. More bottles and spilled white pills, like gravel, covered the next shelf. Yet another held filthy surgical masks and some sort of tubing.

He pocketed handfuls of pills and gauze, small containers of what he hoped were ointment, and a few liquid-filled bottles. Then, his view fell on a dirt-crusted tin. He wiped at the top, revealing the words, “General Suture Supplies.” Bingo.

At that moment, he thought he heard a scrabbling. Turning, he pulled out the Laserlock and panned it at the doorway. Nothing appeared out of place: the hallway still twitched with random, mutilated bodies. The wheelchair wheel still spun. The ash and late afternoon sunlight still filtered into a decimated hospital entryway and foyer.

Finn let his breath return to normal patterns. Scanning the room once more, he returned the gun to his back.

As his hands closed around the precious tin of suture materials, he heard the noise again. Spinning and backing against the shelf, he arched his whole form in order to look upwards. There, in a hunched, firing position, perched another fully-suited person.

Finn’s shock and tilted helmet made breathing difficult. He backed farther away, arms raised, till he reached the direct opposite corner from whoever this other being was. This other, armed being.

They may have stayed forever staring at one another, had not a moan sounded from the hall. The person gestured sharply with his gun toward the tin Finn sought. Needing no more encouragement, he rushed forward and grabbed it. He scrabbled with a zippered pocket on his suit front, as he heard the distinct shuffling of many bodies. Get in, he told the supplies. He shoved at them and turned to face the doorway.

Like in a nightmare, he saw the creatures’ movements increase in intent and purpose. They were waking. Stretching. Sensing. Shifting.

Finn arched up to view his companion again. The other person had activated a glow pack as well, and seemed to be waving with it. Finn watched for a precious few seconds before realizing he was meant to climb up. He turned and scaled the shelving without hesitation. No need for, Step. Step again; he sensed a rising intensity that lent his limbs a frenetic adrenaline.

Gasping, he reached the restrictive summit. He squeezed in the space between top shelf and ceiling. The other person squatted right next to him, mirrored helmet lens to mirrored helmet lens. Thus, Finn nearly knocked into his new companion when the first Mutants sprawled into the room.

 

©2019 Chelsea Owens

 

Wilhelmina Winters, One Hundred Eight

Jakob went first, allowing their father to walk with Wil. Dr. White, with a, “Please call me with any questions,” offering of business card, and final wistful look, departed. The three remaining members of the Winters family walked down the hallway in silence.

Each time a doctor or nurse and patient came hurrying past, Wil was surprised. She saw her father, heard his solid steps. She saw her brother, heard his solid steps. Yet, she also saw herself, from a panoramic view apart from feeling. How curious, that dark-haired, serious-faced girl! Her eyes saw somewhere beyond the flurry of a busy hospital while her boot-clad feet carried her on and on.

Wil thought of her mother. Although they’d seen her body and said their goodbyes, Wil realized she still expected to find her mother alive. This was the hospital they’d visited countless times; surely they were all walking to whatever room Cynthia had been checked into. Surely they would knock, enter, and find her mother and her kind, apologetic smile. Cynthia always apologized for the trouble she’d caused, as if she and they didn’t know about her incurable and fatal condition.

Jakob reached the door to the lobby. Ah, Wil’s feelings told her, We’re leaving the hospital and heading to the apartment. She’d see Cynthia there, at home. Her mother would be resting on the couch; again, with that recognizable smile.

“How was school today, Wil?” She’d say, and sit up. “Tell me all about it.”

A tear slipped down Wil’s cheek. She heard her mother laugh, cough, recover.

“Oh, Wil. Only you could have a day like that…”

The echoes of her mother’s voice and expressions lingered in Wil’s mind as she, too, exited the hallway and entered the small waiting area beyond. She saw Jakob had stopped; to her side, her father stopped as well. All stared as a woman rose from one of the pastel couches and strode toward them.

She was not someone Wil had seen before, yet her appearance seemed familiar. Long, dark, thick hair framed a pale almond shape. As she walked toward them; locks swishing, scarf waving, arms swinging with confidence; Wil noticed the woman’s blue, stormy eyes. They locked onto Wil’s and held her gaze.

“Hello, Wilhelmina.” The woman stopped before Wil, smiling a smile very different from Cynthia’s. “I’m Guinevere Greene, your mother. It’s a pleasure to finally meet you.”

 

THE END

 

Continued from One Hundred Seven.

 

©2019 Chelsea Owens

Wilhelmina Winters, One Hundred Four

Mom, Wil thought. Mom mom mom mom mom mom! The whisper of thought grew in volume within her mind till it could not stay inside. “Mom!” she burst out; just once. Jakob sunk to the floor beside her. Wil grabbed at the air, then herself. She hugged her own, small, helpless self and rocked, rocked, rocked.

A coat rustled somewhere outside the reality of Wil’s thoughts; Jakob began rubbing her back. Words eluded him and only the impulse to comfort Wil came through.

Another sound, of boots, clunked beyond Wil’s awareness. Rob sat heavily to her other side. He, too, could not speak. Not yet. He sat beside his family and before the bed on which his life’s love reclined, yet his mind roved farther than even Wil’s. If she’d been able to pull back to watch his grief-worn face, Wil would not have recognized her father.

Despite this, all three turned at a careful knock and entry. A man in white coat and white-reflecting glasses with white-serious face pushed the cloth curtain to the side. Stopped. “I’m sorry if this is a bad time,” he said, blinking white-blue eyes. He cast around for a second then sat on the floor as well. He did so nearest to Rob, setting a clinical clipboard to the side.

Three drawn faces stared at this intruder, curious; in similar stages of shock and sadness. “I’m the hospital’s grief counselor,” the man said. “Dr. White.”

Wil’s large, dark eyes watched Dr. White’s face. His expression conveyed professional concern mixed with deep understanding. She could almost hear his low voice telling other stories, other lives, other rooms with only the shell of a loved one left behind. “Where is she?” Wil asked.

The question was an odd one. Had Wil not been part of the dramatic play in progress -had, instead, been safely watching from the audience- she might have furrowed her brow in confusion. Might have remarked, “What does the girl mean, Mom?”

But her mother was no longer there. Cynthia could not answer Wil.

Dr. White folded his hands. “I don’t know what you know -” his eyes flicked to the clipboard. “-Wilhelmina.”

“Wil,” she interrupted.

A slight smile glimpsed the counselor’s lips. “Wil,” he amended. “It turns out that your mother caught an influenza at some point.” He met Wil’s gaze, kindly. “She left us some time this morning.”

Tears began streaming down Wil’s face.

“We don’t know where our loved ones go for sure,” Dr. White continued. “What I do know, Wil, is that they never leave us for good.” He touched at his heart. His own pale-blue eyes grew moist. “I said, ‘Goodbye’ to my Beatrice just last year, but have also felt her each day since.”

The four sat in a companionable silence. Wil and her family, inexplicably, felt a flutter of comfort; and knew it came from the one they loved.

 

Continued from One Hundred Three.
Keep reading to One Hundred Five.

 

©2019 Chelsea Owens

Wilhelmina Winters, One Hundred Three

Wil and Jakob entered the emergency waiting area. No moody lighting, windows, or friendly Nurse Bea awaited them. Jakob walked to the reception desk, Wil attached to his side.

“Jakob and Wil Winters, here to see -” He choked. Wil turned to him, some feeling stalking past her dark eyes.

“Winters? Winters…” The nurse read over the computer monitor before her. Bits of display reflected from her thick lenses. “Oh! That’s -” She, too, swallowed the end of her sentence. She looked up at the somber faces before her, the overhead lights dancing from her glasses. “You two go right in,” she said, her tone an attempt at gentle. “Exam Room 5.”

Jakob shifted left. As they reached the door, a somber *click* granted them entry. Past a closed Room 1, open and empty Room 2, and closed Room 3; Jakob tread in even, heavy paces. Wil stumbled along. They nearly collided with a man in a white coat exiting Room 4 -“Sorry.” “Sorry.”- before reaching Room 5.

Jakob paused; Wil realized she could hear someone talking. Not just talking -Rob, her father, seemed engaged in a heated conversation. She’d heard his voice at that volume and tone only a few times in her life. She and her brother exchanged a nonverbal agreement and both leaned toward the closed door.

“I said, ‘This is a bad time!'” After a slight pause, he tried to continue, “I know you have every right to- But that’s not- I know, but- Couldn’t you wait till next month or next week even, if you had any sort of heart…” Rob’s last words came out in a sob.

Wil’s wide eyes flicked up to Jakob’s but his were intent on the wood door before them.

“Fine,” Rob said. He sounded flat, weary. “Fine. Just fine. We’re at The County Hospital. In the emergency room.” They heard their father’s heavy boots stomping, stopping; then a *scree* of chair on polished floor.

Jakob met Wil’s eyes; he nodded to her, knocked, turned the handle, and pushed open the door. Before them hung the odious blue-and-beige curtain. Jakob held Wil. “It’s us, Dad,” he said, standing; not shifting the temporary barrier.

Another chair screech sounded, followed by solid footsteps. The curtain to their left clinked to the side to reveal a haggard, unshaven ghost of the man Wil knew as her father. She thought he looked barely alive; gasped as a thought struck her.

“Mom?”

Rob jumped at the question and blinked down at his daughter. “Wil, I need to tell you something-” he began.

Wil came to life so suddenly that neither brother nor father anticipated her actions. She pulled away from Jakob’s arm and wrenched the curtain aside. There, before her, lay her mother. No -Wil instantly felt the difference. This was not-her-mother. This beautiful, sleeping form that resembled the beautiful, sleeping Cynthia was empty. The room was empty.

Wil’s legs collapsed beneath her, and no chair nor person caught her this time.

 

Continued from One Hundred Two.
Keep reading to One Hundred Four.

 

©2019 Chelsea Owens

Wilhelmina Winters, One Hundred Two

Wil sat, silent, within the careening minivan. She felt detached, a deep well within her own body. Mrs. Crandall could have been driving under the speed limit for once and Wil would not have noticed.

Mrs. Crandall did not attempt conversation, though she did forego her usual phone-browsing and snack-eating. Some part of Wil saw her driver’s eyes flit to the rearview mirror now and then to ensure Wil still sat where she’d first settled. Some other part saw familiar landmarks flash past the moving car. They’d be to their destination soon.

They stopped at a light, screeching. Mrs. Crandall drummed at the steering wheel. With a lurch, she started again. Stop, drum, lurch. Stop, drum, sharp turn; slow, slow -Wil saw they were at the hospital. They stopped again, idling, at the curb before the Emergency Room doors.

Wil’s arms removed her seat belt. Her hands lifted and shifted her weight across the seats to the door. One hand tugged at the door handle and her body stiffened against the cold, cold air that rushed in.

“Wil,” Mrs. Crandall began. Wil turned back, her face impassive. Her wild hair blew in and around dark, hopeless eyes. “Wil, I -”

“Wil,” another voice said. Wil moved against the swirl of hair and wind to face this new voice. She saw Jakob, yet didn’t see him. What was Jakob doing here, calling her by name? He held out a hand and helped her from the minivan. Reaching forward, he closed the door.

“Let’s go, Wil,” he said. He put his arm around his stepsister and cousin. Together, they walked through the automatic doors.

If Wil had looked back, she would have seen her neighbor still idling. She would have found that unusual; might have wondered what gave their ever-racing neighbor reason to pause.

But Wil did not look back.

 

Continued from One Hundred One.
Keep reading to One Hundred Three.

 

©2019 Chelsea Owens

Wilhelmina Winters, One Hundred One

Mrs. Bird flapped up from her desk the instant Wil entered the office. “Oh, Wil!” she said, in a tone Wil had never heard from the woman before. “Oh, Wil!”

This, more than the sight of their rumpled neighbor, Mrs. Crandall, stopped Wil mid-step. Mrs. Crandall rose more slowly than Mrs. Bird, having never moved quickly for anything inedible in her life.

Both women, Wil realized, appeared concerned. No -sad. Wil sat. Fortune saw that a chair caught her, a coincidence that rarely occurred in her life. “W-what?” she croaked. “What’s wrong?”

Mrs. Bird came around the tall wall of her desk. Mrs. Crandall came around herself. The two filled the narrow office before Wil, though not in equal measure.

“Wil,” Mrs. Bird said. Wil looked up in rising panic. Not only had the stingy secretary never addressed her by her first name, Wil could not remember seeing Mrs. Bird without her desk besides the time they’d needed first aid last week. Not only had the stingy secretary never been so close, Wil could not remember Mrs. Bird’s tone and manner expressing anything besides irritation.

“Wil,” Mrs. Crandall echoed.

“We -” Mrs. Bird stopped, straightened. Wil watched her collect herself. “Mrs. Crandall just checked you out for the day.” In a brisk manner, the secretary turned to the woman beside her. Her usual disdain returned in a scowl of brow and purse of lips. Mrs. Crandall took no notice; she seemed preoccupied with the task of thinking. Mrs. Bird gave up. “She’s taking you to the hospital to see your mother.”

Wil started out of her reverie. What little color her face held left as she met the businesslike stare of the office administrator. Her mouth opened, but no words came.

The cold, blue, heavily painted eyes softened. The rest of Mrs. Bird’s face followed suit. “I’m sorry, Wil.” An arm twitched in a phantom impulse to provide comfort. “You’d -” she cleared her throat and tried again, “You’d better go.”

As neither girl nor dumpy woman moved, Mrs. Bird raised her voice. “I said, ‘You’re excused to go.'” She resisted the urge to push at them.

Mrs. Crandall shook her head somewhat. “Oh; right. Let’s go, Whale -erm, Wil.” She ambled over to the slight girl and helped Wil stand. Together, they left the office and headed down the stairs and common area to the outside door.

Mrs. Bird watched their progress out the office and school windows. After the old, idling minivan pulled away from the red-painted curb, she returned to the paperwork before her. A single, wet tear slid down a single, dry cheek and dropped to the page.

 

Continued from One Hundred.
Keep reading to One Hundred Two.

 

©2019 Chelsea Owens

Something in the Mail…

I came back from vacation to a little surprise waiting in our mailbox….

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Hmmm… Air Mail addressed to me, in a padded envelope…

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It claims to be a book! I think I know what ‘book’ this is!!!

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And I know some of those “fellow bloggers!”

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Not sure about that signature, though. Hopefully it’s legit.

Stay tuned for a book review, all ye others who are also expectantly excited. I will finish tonight.

THE KIRKWOOD SCOTT CHRONICLES: Skelly’s Square by [Black, Stephen ](Dude; you could be reading, too! Click here for the Amazon link.)