I don’t know where it came from but it was annoying, loud and croaky. I could control it at first, take a drink of water, suck on a throat lozenge, but I could feel it start to take hold in my lungs. It felt like a sea monster had a hold of my chest, it’s long, slimy tentacles wrapped around my body and slowly, slowly, squeezing the breath out of me.”
After about two days of this, my cough started to go away but I was having trouble taking a full breath and before long, I found myself panting like a dog just to try and fill my lungs and the simple act of walking across a room was too much and I had to sit down and recuperate before making another trek to the next room.”
I lost my sense of smell, taste, and I started feeling dizzy and disoriented, likely due to lack of oxygen. I had no idea what was happening to me but I’ve never experienced these types of symptoms before. I’m scared. I don’t know what sort of nasty cold this is but I feel different, I don’t feel myself. “
I know it sounds crazy, I feel crazy, but something, some darkness, is taking over my body. There are times I find myself doing something and not remembering how, or why, I’m doing it. There have been times I’ve been ACTIVELY trying to resist and yet, this darkness inside of me forces me to move my limbs and participate in simple activities against my will. My brain is screaming no, my body ignores me.”
That’s why I wanted to write this down. I don’t know where this is going, or why this is happening, but maybe someone will read this one day and learn from my experience. I know this sounds dramatic and I’ll probably laugh my fool head off when I read this back someday, but I feel like I’m dying. Not my body, my body doesn’t feel sick, but my mind, it’s slipping. I feel like I stepped off a cliff and I’m free falling, helplessly watching the world above me get smaller and smaller and there’s not a damn thing I can do about it.”
Am I dying? I don’t want to die. I want to live! I want to graduate from college, travel, fall in love, have babies – is that too much to ask? Why is this happening to me? I feel like I’m writing a suicide note and if you’re reading this, I DON’T WANT TO DIE!”
I’m tired. I don’t want to write anymore. I want to sleep and I want to wake up and feel better. But I’m scared to sleep, what if I don’t wake up? Please God, let me wake up.”
Detective Gomez lowered the note and looked at the young girl on the bed. She was small and so very thin. He guessed the girl hadn’t felt much like eating at the end and if whatever sickness she had hadn’t kill her, malnutrition would have.
“How long has she been dead, Kingsley?” Gomez said, carefully placing the note in an evidence bag.
Doctor Kingsley paused in his activities and glanced up. “I would say, judging by the rigidity, about an hour. But I can’t be sure, I need to …” he continued to rummage in his bag. “Damn it, I forgot something in my van, I’ll be right back. Don’t touch anything.”
Gomez raised a brow and watched the man shuffle out of the room.
“An hour?” he mumbled to himself as he circled the girl’s body. She was laying in the center of the bed, her legs pulled up toward her belly, her arms over her head. Her long, dark hair was splayed around her. Her face was hidden.
“What did you die from? Talk to me,” he continued to mumble while studying the girl’s clothes. And why was there dried flowers, or weeds, whatever they were, he wasn’t a horticulturist, lying next to her. Did she inhale something that killed her?
She was wearing a long-sleeved shirt, like something you would wear under a blazer, definitely something you would wear to work, and shorts. Did she get home from work and kick off her skirt or pants and change into shorts? Maybe go outside and pick the weeds?
Her skin was smooth, young, flawless. She couldn’t have been more than mid-twenties. The soles of her feet were slightly dirty as if she had indeed just come from outside.
He clasped his hands behind his back and stared at her. “Talk to me, sweetheart,” he said quietly. He knew, if he stared at her body long enough, he would begin to pick up little things, little clues, as to what happened. He knew, from experience, that dead bodies spoke, you just had to pay attention.
My lips curled into what I hoped passed for a happy, relaxed grin.
I tuned my girlfriends’ incessant chatter out as I sat and stared at the woman on the platform. The woman began to sway her hips and suggestively gyrate to the club’s bass-heavy music. She arched her back thrusting her breasts front and center immediately drawing the attention of nearly every male in the vicinity of her toxic fumes. She swung her long ebony hair over her shoulder and fixed her gaze on a good looking business man seated near the stage. She licked her lips suggestively and gave the man a lascivious wink as she slithered around a greasy pole.
I hated her on sight.
I imagined my hands around her throat, my fingers giving her a necklace of bruises, her breaths becoming short and choppy as her eyes bugged out of her head from lack of oxygen.
My lips curled into a genuine smile at the thought of squeezing every last drop of life from the bitch.
“Girl, it’s so good to finally see you smile,” my friend Chelsea chuckled while giving me a friendly nudge.
I tore my eyes from the Medusa on stage and turned back to my table of friends.
“What are you talking about, I smile all the time.”
“You don’t smile, you grimace. You haven’t been truly happy in a while.”
I sighed and lifted a shoulder into a half shrug. “What is there to be happy about? Jeremy left me.”
“Now listen here,” Nora started, her hand going up as if to shush the rest of the club so she could say her piece.
“Jeremy,” Tara placed a hand on Nora’s shoulder to quell her tirade, “is a confused piece of shit that doesn’t know his head from his ass. You don’t need that drama in your life. You’re better off without him.
I disagreed. He was the best thing that ever happened to me. “Sure, okay,” I acquiesced with a toss of my head.
“He’s doing his passive denial thing again,” Nora said with a flick of her wrist. “Listen sweetie, he may have been your first lover but he won’t be your last. You have to learn from your mistakes so that you can recognize the real deal when it slaps you in your face.”
“I loved him, Nora.”
She released a heavy sigh and placed her arm around my shoulders giving a small squeeze. “I know you did, love.” She briefly placed her soft lips to my cheek before jerking back. “Girl, did you even shave tonight?” She leaned back and rubbed a hand over her lips.
I chuckled despite my dark mood. “Of course, two hours ago. I’m telling you, I’m Sasquatch incarnate. I fucking hate facial hair!”
“You could always look into laser hair removal,” Tara mumbled behind her glass. She had lifted as if to take a drink but her eyes were focused on something across the room.
“Yeah, I could, but I hear it’s expensive,” I murmured, distracted by Tara’s suddenly pale face. I arched a brow at her to silently ask, “what is going on.” Tara quickly shook her head and took a large swallow of her drink.
Nora surreptitiously glanced over her shoulder to try and see what Tara was looking at and then just as quickly whipped it back around to face our group. “You know what, this place is a dump. Let’s go somewhere else.” She downed the rest of her drink and made to get out of the booth.
Chelsea shook her head at me as if to say, “I have no idea why these two are acting so weird” look.
But I knew. I knew without even turning around what was happening behind me. I could feel the small, but strong electric tingle worm it’s way up my spine and my groin tightened. This was always the reaction I had whenever Jeremy was close by.
“He’s here, isn’t he.”
“Yes baby, he is,” Tara said while reaching across the table to grab my hands and squeeze them.
I looked at Nora. “He’s not supposed to be here, He’s supposed to be on his way to Chicago tonight.”
She nodded. “Something must have changed.”
Nora and I stared at each other, a silent moment in time to give our brains a moment to adapt to the change in plans.
I knew Jeremy’s schedule intimately. I knew where he was at all times. I knew this because he is a creature of habit, he likes to stick to a schedule because it gives him control over his life and helps control his chaotic confusion.
His confusion being me.
I didn’t dare turn around, I knew he was there. I could sense him near. I could even pick out his throaty chuckle underneath the obnoxious music blaring from all corners of the club. What had changed? Why had he postponed his flight? He had been talking about this important meeting, ad nauseam, in Chicago for months. I knew how important it was to him, I knew how important it could have been for both of us.
A catcall from the audience caught my attention and my eyes darted to the girl on stage.
Her. His change of plans had to be because of HER. I narrowed my eyes at the harlot and ground my teeth together to prevent myself from saying anything that might incriminate me later.
“Oh shit,” Chelsea said and subconsciously slouched down in her seat. “I think he saw us.”
All three of heads turned in his direction. I looked at each of my friends’ faces and taking a breath, turned around in my seat.
Our eyes locked across the room. Jeremy was the first to look away. He turned to address one of his friends who slapped him across the back and pointed to the stage. Jeremy smiled and nudged his friend in the ribs. I released a breath not even realizing I had been holding my breath.
So that’s how he wanted to play it.
“What an asshole,” Tara hissed. “He didn’t even acknowledge you.”
I shrugged, swallowing the bitter feeling that had formed in the back of my throat. “I’m not surprised.”
“What do you mean, you’re not surprised? You guys dated for nearly three months!” Chelsea shouted to compete with the music.
“Shut up, Chelsea, you don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Chelsea started at Nora for a long moment, realization dawning as she turned to look at me. “No one knows you dated for three months”
Tara gasped. “Are you serious? How does Jeremy’s friends know he’s not gay?”
“Because he never told them,” I snapped. “He was trying to figure things out. He wanted to keep it quiet until he sorted it out in his head. No one in Jeremy’s world knew we dated.”
All eyes searched out Jeremy’s posse of friends again as they took a table near the stage. The witch performing paused a moment in her routine to blow a kiss at Jeremy. He caught the pretend kiss and placed it in his pocket. His friends whooped and hollered in appreciation.
“Gross,” I muttered.
“Oh my God,” Tara gasped again, “I’m so sorry, Kyle. We had no idea. No wonder you’ve been so tense lately.”
Jeremy’s chair was positioned so that he was facing our table. Our eyes locked again. I gave him a small salute of acknowledgment.
Jeremy got up from his chair and asked a friend of his to switch seats so his back would be to us. His friend looked toward our table as he took his seat, learned forward to say something to the rest of his table which prompted loud laughter all around.
“His friend knows,” Nora said quietly.
“Yeah, it looks like it. That’s Brian, Jeremy’s bestie. I never met him but Jeremy talked about him. They grew up together and are now working to partner on their new project.”
“I can’t believe he did that to you, Ky,” Tara said.
I sighed and ran a hand through my hair. “It is what it is. I can’t make someone love me. He has to sort it out with himself before he can give himself to someone else. I’m just not that someone else, I suppose.”
“What do you want to do?” Nora said quietly. She was studying me closely and I knew what she really wanted to ask me was, “do you still want to do this?”
I lifted my dirty martini to my lips and watched the witch on stage flirt with Jeremy. She was ignoring the businessman she had flirted with earlier and I could see the man was getting irate at her lack of attention. With a huff, the man stood up, nearly knocking his chair over in the process, threw down some bills and stomped out of the club. Jeremy’s friends noticed and started laughing again.
I gave that man the best three months of my life. I know that sounds melodramatic but it’s absolutely true. I had never felt more comfortable with someone in my life and it was the first time I felt like I could truly be myself. I had never felt more complete and secure and to have that ripped out of my hands was devastating. But I didn’t blame Jeremy, how could I? I loved him. I know how hard it is to come to terms with one’s sexuality and I couldn’t blame him for trying something new and different, it just wasn’t a good fit.
But HER. I shifted again to give my full attention to the whore on stage. She I could blame.
She didn’t come out of nowhere. She-who-shall-not-be-named dated Jeremy in college but things got rough when Jeremy met me. They eventually broke it off. But she never knew why they broke it off, only that he needed some space and to focus on his career.
The bitch didn’t know about me.
Jeremy agonized over their relationship. He felt so conflicted. He knew she was supposed to be part of his plan, according to his family’s expectations, but he just didn’t feel anything for her. She was manipulating and sometimes cruel in some of the things she text him and how she treated him. But he got used to her.
She was safe.
No one, outside of Jeremy, his close friends and me, of course, knew about the bitch’s side job. She wasn’t very bright and when Jeremy broke up with her, no longer supported her, she needed to make money to keep up appearances that she was an excellent catch so she turned to stripping to maintain her “lifestyle”. I knew Jeremy’s father would be livid with the bitch’s life choice and would pressure Jeremy to marry her to get her off the streets. The fact that Jeremy hadn’t taken that “easy” route spoke volumes.
I could see what was happening now. Jeremy’s father must have been pressuring him to get back with the bitch. He needed a wife to complete the corporate picture, to help him with his all-important career. And he caved. Jeremy was weak.
But I still loved him. I knew, in that moment, that Jeremy and I didn’t have a future together, it was never going to happen. Jeremy’s world would not permit it. But perhaps I could help him find happiness in other ways.
The bitch’s raunchy routine was over and with one last kiss and a kick of her leg, she waved and left the stage.
I shifted my gaze back to Nora. I tightened my jaw and never felt more determined than I did in that moment.
“You know what? I have an early morning tomorrow. I’m going to call it a night.”
That was the cue.
Nora stood up and smoothed her skirt. “Yeah, me too. I’m going to run to the bathroom, I’ll see you guys later.”
“I’ll go with you,” Tara said while slinging her purse over her shoulder.
“No,” Nora said. “Why don’t you and Chelsea go to the bar and pay our tab? We’re treating Jeremy tonight. Besides, he’s been drinking and I don’t want him driving. Why not just take him to my place? he can crash there. He has a key.”
Tara and Chelsea gave me pitying looks and nodded. “Of course.”
As they walked off, I turned to Nora. “If I was straight, I would marry you,”
She smiled and patted my cheek. “And I would accept.” She patted her purse. “Now go. You can’t be anywhere near here when it goes down.”
I leaned forward and gave her an affectionate kiss on the cheek. I whispered in her ear, “Please make her suffer.”
Nora winked. “Oh sugar, it will be my pleasure. I’ll meet you back at my place later and show you the video.”
You are walking home from work when something hits you from behind.
Tonya waved goodbye to her fellow co-workers and walked down the steps of the courthouse. She shifted her briefcase to her right hand and caught her purse from slipping off her shoulder at the last minute. She casually smiled at Tony, the janitor, as he made his way toward the building to begin his evening shift.
She drew in a long breathe of fresh air and slowly released it. It had been a long week but she felt like she had made a dent in her mountain of research. Her boss had an important case coming up and she wanted to make sure he had everything he needed in order to present his argument.
Transferring her briefcase into her left hand, she dipped her right hand into her front skirt pocket to make sure the keycard was still there.
She allowed herself a secret smile before tossing her long reddish, brown hair out of her eyes. The wind was brisk but smelled like honeysuckle. She loved the fresh air but her feet were beginning to hurt in her three inch heels and she wished, for the thousandth time, she would just bite the bullet and buy a car.
It was only 20 minutes to her condo, but today, it felt like she had been walking for three hours. “I should have packed my sneakers,” she mumbled absently to herself.
She listened to her heels clacking on the sidewalk and thought back to her day. She usually dressed a little more casually, slacks and flats, but Connor, her boss, was scheduled to work out of his office today and she wanted to make a good impression. There was just something about him … his dark blue eyes and dirty blonde hair were simply window dressing, she sensed there was so much more behind the curtain. He had vacationed at the beach last week and he was sporting a very attractive tan. But his appeal went much deeper than his looks, there was something dangerous about him. She was usually pretty good at reading people but she couldn’t quite put her finger on Connor.
She thought he liked her. She caught him watching her at times. And though they didn’t come right out and flirt with each other, there was an underlying current of sexual tension between them. At least, she hoped she wasn’t imaging the tension between them.
She tiptoed through a muddy patch, not wanting to dirty the heels of her shoes as she continued walking. What would it be like to date someone like Connor? she thought to herself. He was active, she knew that. He routinely went wake boarding with his buddies and his physique was evidence he liked to play sports. He was nice enough but always managed to maintain arm’s distance with women, like he was being careful how much of himself he allowed people to see.
Maybe he was gay?
She lightly shook her and chuckled at the thought. No way. She had caught him, more than once, checking out various females at work. Especially Sydney. Sydney liked to wear low cut tops and then conveniently drop things in front of men – she knew they would not be able to resist sneaking a peek at her generous boobs.
No, he wasn’t gay. Then what was it about him?
A car backfired and she jumped and immediately tensed. She stopped walking to gauge her surroundings. When she didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary, she began walking again.
Her cell buzzed in her purse but she ignored it. It was probably her mother checking up on her. She was always worried about her, she thought she took risks, lived a dangerous lifestyle.
Tonya allowed another small smile at that thought. Her life wasn’t dangerous, it was … unpredictable.
She adjusted her purse on her shoulder then transferred her briefcase to her right hand again. She was almost home. Just another five minutes.
Without meaning to, her thoughts returned to Connor. Was he seeing anyone? She had never noticed any pictures of women in his office. He was always on his cell though but she was never able to get close enough to eavesdrop on his conversations to guess who he was speaking to. How could she get …?
She was suddenly knocked forward and she tripped a few steps, a small cry of surprise leaving her lips.
“Oh wow, I’m sorry,” a male voice rumbled into her right ear. “I totally wasn’t paying attention.”
Tonya righted herself and turned to look at the man. Her eyes widened in surprise and she could feel her cheeks flaming. Connor.
“Wha … what are you doing here?” she stammered.
“I thought I would go for a quick run, burn off some energy after work,” he replied and she noticed, for the first time, he was wearing a t-shirt, running shorts and Asics sneakers. Her eyes lingered on his muscled legs before lifting to meet his face. Her cheeks burned hotter.
“Oh well, I’m sorry,” she said.
He laughed while continuing to jog in place. “Why are you sorry? I’m the one who ran into you.”
She let slip a sheepish laugh, “because I was in your way.”
“You could never be in my way, Tonya,” he said, his voice silky smooth. He jogged ahead a little, turned around to face her and continued to jog backwards. “You live around here?”
“I do,” she replied then nodded toward a brown house with tan trim. “Right over there, in fact.”
He followed her nod and turned back to smile at her. “That’s good to know,” he said. “I’ve got to run,” he winked at his little joke. “See you at the office.”
She acknowledged his joke with a bright smile. “Yeah, see you.”
He gave her a small salute, turned around and jogged away, placing his earbuds back into his ears.
She watched his butt for quite some time before snapping out of her thoughts. She again handed off her briefcase to her other hand and absently padded her skirt pocket. She would need to turn the card over this evening.
She suddenly stopped and dropped her briefcase. She stuffed her hand into her pocket and searched around.
Her expression hardened and she narrowed her eyes at Connor’s disappearing figure on the horizon.
“You son of a bitch,” she hissed.
She suddenly scooped up her briefcase, reached for her house keys and ran up her driveway.
Letting herself into her house, she sprinted up to her bedroom, quickly pulled off her office attire and put on a dark t-shirt, jogging pants and sneakers. She pulled her hair back into a sloppy ponytail. She dropped to the floor, pulled out a small, dark case and popped it open. She lifted her 9 mm Glock pistol out and screwed on the silencer. She strapped the gun around her waist, jerked her t-shirt down to hide the gun and ran downstairs. She grabbed her cell phone and hit 5 for the speed dial number.
“Go,” the low voice answered.
“The keycard has been taken, I’m going after the guy,” Tonya crisply barked out. “Locate me and send backup.” She punched the number to disconnect, slipped the phone into her pocket and sprinted out the door after Connor.
Hey, if you guys want to play along, feel free. You can grab that graphic up there and leave a link to your story in the comments below. I would love to see what you do with the prompt. I plan on doing a prompt every Friday to give me a chance to exercise my creativity.
Prompt: You are sitting on a park bench when someone shouts your name.
Cassidy looked up from her drawing pad. The wind whistled softly across her face and blew a few strands of washed out green-dyed hair into her mouth.
“Cassie! Over here!”
She absently reached up and removed the hair from her mouth. It tasted like cream cheese. Why would her hair taste like cream cheese? She shrugged, lifted some strands in front of her eyes and studied it like she had never seen her own hair before. A tuft of hair was indeed moist. She shrugged and placed the hair back into her mouth.
“Bet you can’t catch me, Cassie!”
She straightened her back, sat bolt upright on the bench and looked around. “Don’t call me that!” She yelled into the wind.
A little girl’s laughter rang out on the cool morning breeze.
“I’m right here, Cassie! Can’t you see me?”
Cassidy shoved the drawing pad under her arm and stood up. “I said, STOP. CALLING. ME. THAT!”’ she barked out. She began to walk toward the gray and white building.
“Okay fine, Cass-i-dy,” the voice rang out, drawing her name out in sarcastic syllables. “Go inside and act like a baby. I don’t want to play with you anyway.”
Cassidy’s purposeful stride toward the house faltered. Why did that voice sound so familiar? She titled her head to one side and puckered her mouth – it was her thinking pose. She thought it made her look smart. Wait. She WAS smart. The doctors said so.
“You’re too stupid to find me anyway,” the voice taunted.
Cassidy froze. A small trickle of anger began dripping into her drug-induced awareness. “I am not stupid,” she whispered, her words being whisked away by the strong, salty breeze.
‘You ARE stupid, Cassie, even mom thought so,” the voice matured. The sound triggered a deep sadness. She could also feel a long-forgotten rage tickling her nerve endings.
Cassidy spun around. Seeing nothing, she spun around again. Her eyes turned wild and she began to hyperventilate. “Laura,” she hissed, her eyes narrowing to slits as she sought out the source of the voice.
“You think you can get rid of me?”
“I DID get rid of you,” Cassidy responded. “I buried you in Old Man Winter’s woods.”
“Are you sure about that?” the voice whispered followed by a sly chuckle.
Cassidy cocked her head again and listened more closely. She thought the sound might be coming from behind the rock wall surrounding the bird bath. She cautiously stepped forward. Doubt tickled her spine and she shivered in reaction.
“This is not real,” Cassidy whimpered, her once purposeful stride now little more than a shuffle, her confidence shattering into a million ice shards.
“Of course this is real. I will never abandon you, little sister,” the voice turned hard as granite. “I exist to torment your black soul. I will never allow you forgot what you did to me.”
Tears began to roll down Cassidy’s face, though she was unaware of her wet cheeks. “You are so mean to me, Laura. Why do you hate me so much?”
“No one can love an ugly, stupid piece of shit, like you, Cassie. No one will ever love you. Mom and dad couldn’t stand to look at you, you were such an embarrassment to them. And Josh …”
Cassidy’s body turned to stone at the mention of Josh’s name. “Shut up,” she whispered, her voice raw with anguish.
“Josh only pretended to love you so he could get closer to me. If you hadn’t walked in on us, we’d be married now, with our own brats to torment…” the voice sizzled, like acid on skin.
“Shut up … shut up … SHUT UP!” Cassidy screamed. She dropped her drawing pad and began pulling her hair. Her mind cracked then splintered apart as wave after wave of memories came crashing into the black hole of her mind she had always sheltered. She dropped to the ground and began pounding her head against the concrete.
Men in white coats came running toward her.
Laura’s laughter dissipated into Cassidy’s screams.
Each man took hold of Cassidy’s arms and dragged her up. A streak of crimson stained the ground and Cassidy’s forehead had an angry red gash slashed across it. The men half carried, half dragged her back to the gray and white building. Her screams echoed back toward the courtyard.
After several long moments, a prim and proper girl stepped from behind a tree. She pulled a small spiral notepad and pencil from her pocket and gleefully checked off a name.
“That was too easy,” she mumbled to herself. “I really thought she would be harder to break.” She happily sighed and looked around the courtyard. Even though Cassidy’s dramatic exit was loud and disruptive, the other residents continued to wander aimlessly around the area, their zombie-like steps monotonous in their slowness.
The girl frowned. Every single breath from their crazy, stupid mouths annoyed and angered her.
She tapped her lips thoughtfully, her nearly black-colored eyes scanning each individual in turn.
A slow, malicious smile spread across her thin face. “Ah Eric … there you are.” She casually strolled toward her next victim.
I threw the stick and watched Daisy run after it, her tongue lolling to one side, her stubby little legs pumping unrestrained excitement.
I glanced out over the water and became momentarily mesmerized by the light flirting with the small ripples from fish nibbling algae on the surface of the lake.
And then I saw it – a yellow spot among the tall, green grass gently swaying in the sweet twilight breeze. I narrowed my eyes to try and pick out the object without having to actually move closer to it. My peripheral vision blurred as I concentrated on the object that did not belong in this secluded spot. A slow feeling of dread started in my sternum and gently crept up to give my heart a warning squeeze.
Daisy dropped the stick on my sandal and I jumped – I had momentarily forgotten all about her. I bent to pick up the stick, my eyes never leaving that spot of yellow. From my lowered vantage point, my eyes focused on something new. Was that … an arm?
I quickly stood up, my breath caught behind the sudden fear in my throat.
I gripped the stick tighter in my hand and cautiously moved toward the object in the grass.
Daisy happily skipped alongside me. Her gait faltered as we got closer, her nose lifted and she suddenly growled low in her throat.
“I know, Daisy. Chillax,” I crooned in an attempt to keep her calm and not start a barrage of barking. The less noise we made the better.
I held the stick out in front of me – I guess I thought I could use it as a weapon. Though not long or sharp, it was thick enough that it might do temporary damage to a skull, or two.
My eyes never left the object, but I was keenly aware of where I was stepping. I had enough combat experience to slip back into that persona with very little effort. I had thought I had lost my edge but moving toward the target brought back a barrage of memories and I involuntarily winced as horrific images began to flicker and flit through my consciousness. Memories I had spent countless hours in therapy trying to eradicate.
My eyes narrowed as I got closer. It was definitely a body, a woman, no, a girl. She couldn’t have been more than twenty-years old. I paused to assess my surroundings. I looked out over the lake and studied the parameter. No movement. The birds continued to sing, a raccoon edged toward the far end of the lake and carelessly swiped at the water gently lapping the shore.
A soft breeze swept over the body. I crinkled my nose. Decomp – she had probably been dead for at least 24 hours.
“Damn it.” I sighed and slowly stepped back from the body. I couldn’t afford to leave any trace of myself on the body. I reached into my pocket and pulled out my cell phone. I pressed 9-1 and then stopped.
Even if I called in anonymously, they would still track my cell phone down. I couldn’t afford to be found. Not yet anyway. Not after I had spent the last three years making sure every trace of my existence had been erased.
I studied the girl’s face and slowly put my phone back into my pocket.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered regretfully. My apology dissipated on the summer breeze.
“Mama,” I swallowed the tickle from the back of my throat and forced myself to take slow, even breaths, “I’m leaving.”
I quietly set my bags down next to the sagging front door. It was time. I wasn’t, until this very moment, sure that I had the courage to actually go through with it.
Breathe in, breathe out, I silently reminded myself. I could feel my heart slamming against my ribs and a low squeeze in my kidneys.
I suddenly had to go to the bathroom.
My mother continued to sit on the living room sofa, a cigarette dangling from one hand, her other hand buried deep into a bag of potato chips. The room was dark save for the small, lonely light above the stovetop and I immediately wished I had thought to turn it out before making my announcement; I felt exposed and raw, like a weeping wound. The light shone directly on my face; she would be able to see my hope, my deep seated need to leave the hellhole I was forced to call home.
I wished with all my heart the light would simply flicker and die in that moment, somehow that would have seemed fitting – a perfect summary of my life.
My mother snorted and roused herself from her television-induced stupor. The bluish-gray light from the box sliced across my mother’s large frame and cast ugly shadows across her hard face. She didn’t turn around to look at me, nor move from her position on the sofa, but her voice projected so clear and sharp I felt like she was standing right next to me.
“Come here, girl.”
I had expected the summons, but I jumped, nevertheless.
I shuffled my feet across the dirty, threadbare carpet, my secondhand moccasins making a soft swishing noise as I moved to stand near her, but far enough away that she couldn’t reach me if she were to reach for me. I had learned, from years of experience, to always be on my guard around my mother.
“What did you say?” she asked as I completed my journey across the room.
I knew she had heard me, she had excellent hearing. In fact, her hearing was almost canine in nature. She could hear the slightest sigh or the softest mumble the entire length of our trailer, with the doors closed and the television volume turned all the way up. In fact, her hearing was so acute, that I used to wonder if my mother didn’t somehow have super natural powers.
“I, uh,” I mumbled and I jumped once again at my mother’s sharp tone of voice.
“Speak up, girl. You know I can’t stand it when you act like a whipped dog.”
Now there was an apt description, I thought bitterly to myself.
I stood next to the ratty, stained sofa and absently stared at the reddish-brown stain that nearly covered on threadbare arm. That stain had prompted several questions and numerous jokes over the years – the stain remained a mystery.
I could feel my mother’s coal black eyes staring a hole into my face. My answering blush only teased my sense of anxiety and small beads of sweat began lining my upper lip.
“You better answer me now, girl. You’re making me miss my soaps.”
I could feel my shoulders slump and my body curl inward, my confidence began to ebb and I forced a dry, blob of nervousness back with a swallow. My counselor told me this might happen. He also told me what to do when it did.
My eyes shifted toward the TV, now boldly airing a commercial for a female hygiene product. I wanted to laugh out loud at the sheer absurdity of the situation – didn’t they know that women like my mother would never elect to spend their precious cigarette money on something as inconsequential as feminine wash?
And as if the thought provoked the smell, or maybe the smell had been there all along and I only now recognized it for what it was, I could smell my mother’s sour body. The origin of the smell originated somewhere deep beneath the dirt, sweat, beer, smoke and oily skin – it was somewhat yeasty and not altogether unpleasant.
“Damn it!” She pounded a meaty fist on top of the mysterious reddish-brown stain and I involuntarily flinched at the movement. “Are you trying to piss me off, girl?”
Girl. I straightened at the term, for that was all my mother every called me. In fact, I couldn’t remember the last time she had actually said my name.
“She will likely mock you,” my counselor’s voice rang in my ears. “Do not allow her to make you feel guilty or insecure. You deserve this. You deserve to start your own life.”
I smiled at the thought. Not because of the unkind things my mother has said over the years, but at the thought of someone having faith in me, in my future.
My mother’s brow arched at my smile. “What the hell is wrong with you, child. Are you on drugs?”
“No, that’s your thing, mother,” is what I wanted to say, but instead I simply cleared my throat and repeated my earlier words. “I’m leaving, mama.”
She stared at me for long moments. Her face was expressionless, her eyes cold and hard, her lips a thin, straight line of disapproval and then, without warning or provocation, her mouth began to tremble and a low rumbling sounded in the back of her throat.
For a split moment, I thought she was going to start choking and I quickly ran various emergency procedures through my head.
But I needn’t have worried; my mother wasn’t choking, she was laughing. The sound that squeezed past her fat lips was a cross between a squeaky wheel and a burbling brook.
“Yer what?” She repeated, gasping for air. “You ain’t goin’ nowhere. You ain’t got no friends and you certainly ain’t got no man,” she stopped abruptly and narrowed her eyes at me. “You ain’t got ya a man, do you?”
“No mama,” I said quietly and she nodded once in approval.
“I didn’t think so. Don’t you go and git yerself tangled up with no man. They ain’t nothin’ but trouble, hear me?” She lifted a pudgy arm and swiped the back of her hand across her nose, smearing a thin line of mucus across her upper lip. “They’ll screw you, take yer money and then leave ya high and dry.”
I couldn’t help but wonder which of the long line of men my mother might be referring to. None of them had been any better than abusive beggars.
“Oh come on mom, do we have to?” Dustin whined from the back seat of the car.
“Please don’t start on me, Dustin. I’m getting a headache.” Janet leaned forward to look at the overcast sky. Even though she did indeed get headaches when the weather changed, she highly suspected the real reason her head was starting to pound was because it was time to take the boys to get their haircut.
She hated taking her boys to get their haircut.
“But I just got a haircut,” Dustin lamented.
“That was nearly three months ago, right after you got out of school.”
Janet sighed and pinched her nose to try and ward off the impending pressure. “Seriously, don’t. You need a haircut, end of story.”
“But this makes like the millionth time,” her pre-teen son said while slumping down in his seat and crossing his arms in a huff.
“Right. So what’s one more?”
Dustin mumbled something incoherent – Janet felt it was wiser to ignore his disgruntled mumblings.
“Where are we going?” Her teenage son muttered in the seat next to her.
“Do I have to actually grace that with an answer?” Janet ground her teeth and made a left turn.
“I mean,” Robert said with exaggerated patience, “I thought that haircut place was the other way.” He sat up a little straighter in his seat and looked around with growing interest. “Where the hell …”
“Robert,” she warned and her son issued a long-suffering sigh. She didn’t exactly oppose cursing, God knew she had a problem with it herself, but it somehow sounded more … obscene coming from her children’s’ mouths.
“Okay, where the HECK are you taking us, mom?” Robert smirked and shot her a cheeky look.
“We’re trying a new place.” She braced for the impact.
She wasn’t disappointed.
“What?!” Robert’s deep brown eyes widened in sudden terror. Her nearly 17-year old son abhorred change of any kind. “But I was used to the other place.”
“Yeah, but they take forever and I don’t feel like waiting around twenty minutes for them to get started on you.”
“That’s only if you don’t have an appointment,” Robert smirked.
“We have had appointments every time we’ve gone there, Rob.” She shot him an impatient glance. “Look. The ladies are nice there, and they do a good job, but you have to admit, they are sloooow. I have things to do. I can’t afford to sit around all afternoon while they gab and snip. Wouldn’t you rather get back home so you can bury your nose in your new game?”
Robert shrugged and Janet savored this one small victory. There weren’t many victories nowadays; she would take what she could get.
“So, this new place …” Robert began, his eyebrows disappearing into his shaggy bangs.
“Is different,” Janet answered and shifted uncomfortably in her seat. She wasn’t exactly sure how her boys would react when they reached the new place.
“What’s it called?” Robert asked.
Janet waved a nonchalant hand and murmured her response.
“Wait, I didn’t catch that. What is it again?” Robert turned to give her his full attention and she sensed Dustin leaning forward from the back seat.
“Uh, well,” she gulped, “I think it’s called ‘Cut by Hotties.’”
Dustin burst out laughing and Robert stroked the peach fuzz on his upper lip. “I think I’ve heard of that place,” Robert said with a grin.
“Yeah well …” Janet wasn’t sure how Robert had heard about the revolutionary barber shop and she wasn’t sure she wanted to know, quite frankly, but she was ready to try anything if it meant she wouldn’t be forced to sit and watch testosterone-driven movies for two hours while the boys got worked on at the other place.
The boys had never liked getting their haircut. Even when they were little, they would bicker, cry and generally throw a fit anytime anyone showed up with a pair of scissors in their hand. And though they had mellowed over time, it still wasn’t top on their priority list. They were beyond the causing a scene stage now, but their stony silence and their heated looks nearly always made the stylists nervous causing them to either not take off enough so that Janet had to trim them up when they got home, or they would take off too much and Janet would be forced to listen to them whine and complain until it grew back to an acceptable (and unruly) length.
As a result of the haircut drama over the years, she took them to several different places, always looking for that one stylist who would cut their hair like they wanted or who wouldn’t tremble under their obstinate behavior.
So far, they had all failed to stand up to the boys’ unrealistic expectations.
She had stopped taking them to her stylist years ago simply because she got tired of having to explain her sons’ behavior every time she went in for a color and a trim. She could understand the boys’ reluctance to have anyone touch them or put their fingers in their hair, but enough was enough. Everyone had to have their haircut at some point – it was no big deal.
She pulled into the shopping center and parked the dark blue Corolla in front of the ‘Cut by Hotties’ shop.
No one moved.
The trio sat in the car, all eyes trained on the activities inside the salon. The place was crawling with pretty girls hovering over numerous men in barber chairs. Several men were sitting along the front wall in various stages of having their hair worked on. One man was in a reclined position and was eagerly exposing his neck for a shave. Another man was talking animatedly and using his hands to make his point while keeping his eyes trained on his stylist in the mirror. Yet another man, his back to his stylist was seemingly staring straight at them.
“What’s that dude staring at us for?”
Janet felt a slow flush creep up her neck and cleared her throat. “I really have no …”
She paused as something caught her attention in her peripheral. Two women, both attractive and both wearing what looked like a skimpy uniform, were ambling toward the front door of the salon. One wore comfortable flips-flops, the soles slapped softly on the warm pavement; the other woman wore three-inch backless baby blue heels and looked like she was about ready to topple over trying to walk in them.
“I, uh,” Janet began while pointing to the women. “I’m assuming he’s staring at them.”
The man in the salon wasn’t the only person staring at the women. Robert was staring so hard his glasses began to steam.
“I remember this place now,” Robert said slowly. “It’s like a place for guys to come and get their hair done and,” he jerked his head back to the salon, his eyes greedily scanning over the girls in short red skirts and tight multi-layered black and red spaghetti strapped tunics, “the stylists are supposed to be hot.”
“Yes, well.” Robert’s interest was beginning to make her feel uncomfortable. “It’s for guys and I thought, uh, you might feel more comfortable here,” she finished weakly.
“Cool, let’s go.”
Before Janet could remove her keys from the ignition, Robert and Dustin were out of the car and opening the door to the salon.
“Swell,” Janet mumbled while dropping her keys into her purse. She rolled her eyes and slowly followed her boys into the salon. She noted the “Please tip the girls” sign prominently displayed on the glass door.
Just what kind of a tip are we talking about here? Janet thought as she approached the bubbly brunette behind the counter. “Uh, hi,” she began feeling immediately intimidated by the pretty girl and self-conscious that she was the only female customer in the place. “Robert and Dustin for one o’clock.”
“Right,” the girl responded while chomping on her gum. “We’re all ready for them. Won’t you have a seat?”
Janet looked around but couldn’t see anywhere to sit down. “Where do I sit?”
“Oh,” the girl waved a manicured hand airily behind her, “Just take one of those massage chairs, if you want. They’re quite comfortable.”
Janet slowly walked back to the red leather chairs and sank down, her buttocks perched primly on the edge. She gripped her purse and stared up at the big screen TV – it was tuned to a sports’ channel.
She had never felt so exposed in all her life. Now she knew how men felt when they went into a more traditional salon.
She didn’t like the feeling.
She cleared her throat and tried to look around without actually meeting anyone’s eyes. Maybe her boys wouldn’t like this place either and they could go back to a more traditional-style salon – one that smelled like hair dye and fingernail polish remover.
Janet finally located her boys. They were side-by-side and caught up in a conversation with their stylists.
They didn’t look unhappy. In fact, they looked like they were in a trance, a silly, sappy grin plastered on both of their faces. Robert caught her eye in the mirror at his station and gave her a thumbs-up sign.
Janet carefully schooled her face into a mask of indifference, yet she doubted if anyone would have noticed the lone, frumpy woman in the red leather chair anyway. She gave Robert a little wave as she blindly dug into her bag for her cell phone. As discreetly as possible, she speed-dialed her best friend, Tonya.
“Tonya?” she began, her voice balanced somewhere between amused and worried, “you know that restaurant Hooters?” She waited until Tonya responded before continuing. “Well, we now have a Hooter’s for Hair. Guard your husband, it’s enemy territory over here.”