Lauren Wellbank

experiences may vary

Category: Short Stories

Carry On – Friday, a short story

This is part of the short story Carry On that is being posted a chapter at a time, Monday October 3rd through Friday October 7th.  This is the fifth and final chapter, titled Friday.

You can view the previous chapters here (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday), or by clicking on the chapter titles in the tool bar to the right.     


The smell hit him before he opened his eyes.  The pain in his stomach had completely taken over any rational thought.  In the early morning hours the sound of flapping wings and claws on the steel of the car pulled him out of his dreams.

Or he thought they had.  When he looked out the window, there was no sign of the nightmare birds.  I’m going insane, a small voice inside his head repeated, I’m losing my mind.

Click click click.

With shaking hands he pulled the picture of Lisa off the night stand and looked at it.  Memorizing the color of her hair (blonde), the shape of her face (a perfect oval), and the small scar under her eye from an accident when she was a child.  He wanted to remember every detail in case he never saw the picture again.  When he was through he stood up and made the final walk out to the kitchen.  The sun seemed brighter than it had all week.  The cool mornings having finally given way to some of the summer heat and humidity.  The smell was stronger now.  Joe looked over at the kitchen table on his way to the door.

Sunday night’s dinner sat there, still untouched.  It was the last meal that he had even attempted to eat.  He had pushed it to the middle of the table when he realized he wouldn’t be able to finish eating it.  There it sat all week, rotting.  Somehow he hadn’t noticed it since then, but he noticed it now.  It buzzed with flies.  Turning away from it he continued to the door.  Both the smell and the sound of flapping wings were stronger now.  At least he thought they were, Joe found he could no longer his thoughts.

Click click click.  Taking a deep breath he opened the door and walked into the blinding light of the morning.

There was only one vulture, and maybe there had only been one all along.  It sat on the trunk of the car watching Joe’s slow progress across the yard and to the drive way.  Once he arrived the bird squatted down a bit and hissed, spreading his expansive wings wide.  Joe did not shrink back this time, or hesitate, instead he came closer yet until the bird relented.  Here, the smell was at its strongest.

Pulling his cell phone from his pocket, Joe punched the three numbers and waited for someone to pick up.

“Hello, this is 911, what is your emergency?”  For a split second he considered hanging up, that he was making a mistake.  The birds had been an apparition, they weren’t real.  None of this was.  Everything was fine.  He would live a long and happy life, even if he lived the rest of it alone.  Nothing bad was going to happen now.  All of the bad had happened in the past.

Instead he cleared his throat and gave the dispatcher his information.  Without ending the call he dropped the phone on the ground.  It took him a moment to get his hands to work, but he was finally able to put the key into the lock of the trunk.  The familiar sound of the rustling of feathers sounded from overhead and Joe looked up at the birds, all lined up in the tree above the house, waiting, watching.

With a weary certainty he opened the trunk.  He had gotten used to the smell, after all he had been smelling it all week.  However, upon opening the trunk it hit him again like it was the first time.  Fat black flies flew out in spurts.  Inside, the shape was almost unrecognizable.  Blonde hair was matted to a misshapen head.  Hair that Joe knew, after all, he would know his Lisa anywhere.

In the distance the sirens sounded.  The police would be here for him soon but he couldn’t look away from her.  He had to remember every detail.

The sirens came closer yet.

He hadn’t meant for this to happen.  He had only wanted to talk to her, to tell her not to leave, that he loved her.  She didn’t understand, she wouldn’t listen to what he was saying.  It wasn’t the first time they had fought and she had walked out.  But it was the first time that he believed she wouldn’t come back, that it was truly over.  It couldn’t be over, he loved her.  He loved her so much.  So he tried to make her stay.  He did everything he could but in the end she only stopped when she fell.  When she tried to get back up he pushed her down again, and again, and again.  Finally, she did stay.  Now she could never leave.

The lights were just barely visible through the trees as the police came down the street.  Even then, with the sirens at their loudest as the police pulled into the driveway, Joe was able to hear the sound of the birds.  He looked up and watched as they flew away.  Hundreds of them, they cast a shadow over the yard as they rose into the air.

Joe raised his hands above his head as the officers instructed.  They approached him cautiously, looking from him, to the trunk, to the sky where his eyes were still fixated.  He made no attempt to respond to their inquiries and did not resist when they locked the handcuffs on his wrist.  His eyes never left the empty sky.

The arresting officer later noted that the suspect had only made a single sound, and it was as he was placed into the back of the squad car.  From deep in Joe’s throat had come a clicking sound.

Click click click.

The End.

Carry On – Thursday, a short story

This is part of the short story Carry On that is being posted a chapter at a time, Monday October 3rd through Friday October 7th.  This is the fourth chapter, titled Thursday.

You can view the previous chapters here (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday), or by clicking on the chapter titles in the tool bar to the right.     


The first thought he had upon waking was that something was amiss.  Everything was just as he left it, but at the same time, nothing looked as it should.  Although early morning, the light was all wrong.  The sun was too low, too close, too bright.  It was as if it sat directly outside his window, shining just for him.  It hurt his eyes and beat directly into his head.  It acted as a spot light and directed his attention to the worst of the pain.  His throat still throbbed dully, but it felt more like a tether that held together the two real pains, his head and stomach.

Click click click.

Pressing the palms of his hands into his eyes, he rolled into a fetal position.  This was it, he thought, something was seriously wrong with him.  Between throbs of hot pressure Joe wept.  He begged and pleaded for death, for the birds to finally take him.

The birds roared from outside his window.  Dozens of them flapping their large wings just out of sight, causing the curtains to stir.  Causing the air to smell like the rotting flesh that stuck to their talons.  He imagined it, bits of scavenged flesh, stuck on their feathers and claws.  Rising heat was the only warning Joe had before he leaned over and let bile spew from his mouth.  Sweet relief hit him immediately and the burning seemed to recede momentarily to some searing pinpoint within him.

Click click click, came again from outside.  Without cleaning up his mess he rolled back to the other side of the bed and pulled the covers up around him.  There he remained, unmoving and unseeing, as the day went on.

Time passed by and still he laid in that bed, the covers pulled up to his ears, trying to drown out the birds.  The birds that had come for him. The birds that only he could hear. 

The end of chapter four.

Click here to read the final chapter, Friday.

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Carry On – Wednesday, a short story

This is part of the short story Carry On that is being posted a chapter at a time, Monday October 3rd through Friday October 7th.  This is the first chapter, titled Monday.

You can view the previous chapters here (Monday, Tuesday), or by clicking on the chapter titles in the tool bar to the right.     


There were four birds sitting on the car when Joe looked out the window that morning.  He had skipped his coffee and went straight to the sink to push back the curtain.  They looked at him, as though they had been there all morning, just waiting for the curtain to move.  He walked outside and waved his arms wildly at the car, trying to quietly chase the birds away.  One took off immediately, two more fled when Joe was only a few feet away, but one remained, unfazed.  It spread its massive wings as they both stood, stock still, neither willing to make the first move.  Finally, with a hiss, the bird caved in and launched itself unceremoniously into the sky.  Joe’s eyes followed it for a moment before his entire body went ridged.  His mind went blissfully blank as his body stiffened, shook, and then collapsed.

Not much time had passed, the sun was still low in the sky and the air held onto the early morning chill.  At first Joe thought he was still in bed and had dreamt the whole weird scene with the birds.  Maybe it had all been a dream and he would find himself snuggled up with Lisa, both of them wishing for just a few more hours in bed together.

When he turned his head to look at the clock on his nightstand (next to Lisa’s picture), the pain brought him back to reality.  He was still in his front yard, shielded from the street by a row of arborvitaes and trees that he had never known the name of.  The front yard was mostly secluded.  He could have laid there for days and no one would have noticed.  Slowly he sat up and felt around his head.  His fingers came away clean.  Once he was satisfied that he wasn’t badly injured, and wouldn’t fall back down, he rose up and headed back inside the house.

His vision warped in and out on him but he made it back to the bedroom without further incident.  From the safety of his bed he used his cell phone to call the office and let them know that he was coming down with something and wouldn’t make it in today.  Squeezing his eyes closed he tried to make his head stop swimming.  The pain in his throat had also returned but it was nothing compared to the burning in his stomach.  Rolling onto his side he laid in his bed staring at the photo of Lisa.  Outside there was a click click click but he ignored it.  He watched her until his eyes gave out and eventually closed.

Once he was asleep the dreams came.  At first they were pleasant.  They were of the two of them when they first started dating.  The memories that they consisted of were not real, the events had not actually taken place.  They had never stayed in a cabin on a lake, yet that’s where the dreams took him.  The two of them sitting on a dock at sunset, watching as deer came out from the woods and down to the water to take a drink.  Lisa’s head on Joe’s shoulder, the two of them sitting n happy silence.  The birds were flying overhead and into the distance.  Their silhouettes against the sun, casting shadows over the water, gentle chirping fading with the light.

In his room, Joe tossed and turned.  No chirping had followed through his dreams, but there were birds here as well.  Through the window came the soft flapping of wings on the wind and the occasional scraping as the birds touched down outside the house.  Click click click.  Their numbers grew as Joe slumbered on.  He and Lisa, together once more, in his dreams.

The end of chapter three.

Click here to read chapter four, Thursday.

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Carry On – Tuesday, a short story

This is part of the short story Carry On that is being posted a chapter at a time, Monday October 3rd through Friday October 7th.  This is the second chapter, titled Tuesday.

You can view the previous chapters here, or by clicking on the chapter titles in the tool bar to the right.     


It was another cool morning and Joe was having a hard time getting out of bed.  The windows had been left open again last night and a chill had settled in the house.  He laid in bed with the blankets pulled up around his shoulders, glad that he had yet to swap out his winter flannel sheets for the lighter cotton ones. To add to his troubles, had woken up with a sore throat as well.   He took a moment to consider calling out of work, he could blow a personal day and just lay in bed for the rest of the day.  Thinking better of it, he kicked off the covers and got up to start his day.

All the bones in his back cracked as he stretched out the kinks from the night before, the crack crack crack the only noise inside the small bedroom.  His eyes flitted over to the nightstand where a framed photo sat next to a glass of water.  Reaching out he took the water without giving the frame more than a passing glance.  There was no need to look too closely at the picture, he had every detail memorized.  The long honey colored hair that hung just past Lisa’s shoulders.  The small scar on her right cheek.  The large happy smile.  Putting the water back on the night stand he cleared his throat.  It took a moment or two before he was able to push the painful memories out of his head.  The thoughts had nearly paralyzed him.  The longing and sadness warming his chest and creating a hot lump that he could not swallow down.  But it passed, he had gotten better at swallowing his feelings down.  The sadness, the anger, the shame.

Joe found himself once again lost in thought at the kitchen table when the sound came.  Click click click through the kitchen window.  He was tempted to stay where he was and not look upon that ugly visage again, but curiosity won out.  As Joe rose he swayed slightly, his vision clouding for a moment.  “Woah.” He whispered as he steadied himself on the back of the chair.  The sore throat from earlier this morning had abated but with the darkening vision the pain came back.  He cleared his throat and moved to sit back down when the click click click came again.  Click click click.

Walking to the window, Joe pulled back the curtain.  The bird from yesterday was back, but he was not alone.  There were now two of the large carrion birds sitting on the roof of his car.  Both of them had turned towards the movement when he pushed back the curtain.  Their beaks seemed larger than they should be as they glared at him.  Joe cleared his throat once more, maybe a little louder than he normally would have, hoping to startle them away.  Instead they looked back at him with mild interest.  The darkness threatened to cloud his vision again as he stood there.  Joe hung his head as he gripped the sides of the sink and closed his eyes, willing the darkness away.  After a moment his vision cleared and he looked out the window, the birds both gone now, as if they had never been there in the first place.  Filling a glass with water he took a few deep gulps and looked warily at his car.  When he was sure that neither the birds, nor the darkness, were going to return he put the glass in the sink and left for work.

The driveway sat empty until dark.  Joe pulled in and turned off the engine, sitting quietly in the dark for a moment before making a move to go into the house.  He was still shaken up from what had just happened in the parking lot at work.

He had felt poorly all day.  The dizziness coming and going.  After considering leaving early to go home and rest, he decided to stick it out.  When the day had finally come to an end and he was able to walk out that door he was relieved.  But that relief was short lived, because as he walked through the semi-dark parking lot to get to his car he discovered that he was not alone.  Something moved quickly near his car.

A moment later his eyes had fully adjusted to the gloom and he saw what had caused the movement.  A vulture had been sitting in the shadow of his tire.  The vulture, having seen Joe, crouched down and spread its wings wide and shifted its weight from side to side, click click click.  Joe stopped in his tracks.  He and the bird remained motionless, their eyes locked together.  A hiss came from the bird, low and angry.  A warning to Joe, “Don’t come closer” it said.  Or, Joe thought, maybe it was saying, “Come on in.  It’s cool in here.  It’s cool and dark.”  An invitation.

Stomping his foot and breaking eye contact he waved the bird away and hissed back, “Get lost.”  The bird held his ground for one more moment before pushing off and taking flight.  The sound of the large wings flapping through the otherwise quiet night made Joe shudder.

Soon, they said.

Each flap issuing the warning, or maybe the reassurance, soon.  Soon.

Now Joe sat in his driveway, trying to shake the fear he felt in opening the door to get into his house.  He was beginning to feel poorly again, and although the night air was cool, his skin felt flushed.  In the end, the desire to get in and lay down outweighed his fears.  He pushed himself out the car and into the house.  Once inside the house the fear abated and he almost felt silly.  Maybe it wasn’t a vulture in the parking lot.  It was dark and he hadn’t been feeling well.  Hadn’t been feeling well for a few days now, actually.  Maybe I am coming down with something, he thought as he walked through the house turning on a light in each and every room.

Joe pulled the covers up to his neck as he got into bed later that night, shivering slightly at the cold air coming through the window.  He was suddenly exhausted and desperate for sleep.  His eyes fluttered twice before he closed them for good.  Just before his conscious thoughts slipped away for the evening, he registered two things.  The first was that the pain in his throat had spread down, sending an unfamiliar burning towards his stomach.  The second was that in the distance, he heard the flutter of wings and a soft click click click.

The end of chapter two.

Click here to read chapter three, Wednesday.

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Carry On – Monday, a short story

This is part of the short story Carry On that is being posted a chapter at a time, Monday October 3rd through Friday October 7th.   This is the first chapter, titled Monday.


Joe was sitting at the kitchen table when he first heard the noise.  It was so quiet that at first he didn’t even notice.  He had been sitting still, lost in thought.  His hand wrapped around his cooling cup of coffee.  It was early summer and most mornings were still cold enough to need a jacket.  Although the night had been chilly, he had left the windows open throughout the house.  The noise was now coming through one of those open windows.  A steady click click click came softly through the kitchen window.  Joe rose and walked to the sink and pushed the curtains aside.  Outside it was early morning and the sun was shining through the trees.  A slight glare was reflecting off of his car.  Shielding his eyes, he tried to locate the source of the noise.  It didn’t take too long.  Perched on the roof of his car sat a very large bird.  No, Joe thought, not just a bird, a vulture. 

As if naming it had called his attention, the vulture looked towards the window where Joe stood.  It shifted its weight and stepped side to side, issuing another click click click.  An involuntary shudder went through Joe as he watched.  The vulture sat as tall as a medium sized dog.  Its wings were pulled up around its neck. A neck which held up a hideous red face that was looking in Joe’s direction.  A darkness seemed to seep towards the car.  Shade fell over the house and over the vulture.  Spreading his wings wide, the bird flapped twice and then took off into the air, not bothering to cast another look back in Joe’s direction.

Joe’s hand was still holding back the curtain as he watched the massive bird fly up into the sky.  The darkness had receded and the sun was shining back down as if it had never left at all.  The bird continued to rise up until he was out of sight.  Joe only gave the bird one more thought as he let the curtain fall back into place and dumped his half full coffee mug into the sink.  That can’t be a good sign.

Turning back to the recently vacated table he tried to remember what he had been doing before he’d noticed the clicking.  A dull headache bloomed slowly behind his eyes.  Rubbing his temples, he looked around again.  He’d been getting ready to leave for work and thought of something he had to do but he had forgotten it just as quickly.  Lisa always said that he was good for that, losing his train of thought.  Sometimes she would tell him that his thought train had crashed.

It had definitely come off the tracks this morning.

The end of chapter one.

Click here to read chapter two, Tuesday.

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The Lighted Tunnel – a short story

For the first time since I had built it, I found myself outside relaxing on my new deck.  It had taken two months of weekends and late nights after work to get it built, and I was finally about to get a chance to enjoy it.  I was only about ten minutes into full on relaxation, head back, feet up, when I noticed something on the wood towards the edge of the deck.  With an exasperated, and maybe a little melodramatic, sigh I threw my legs back down off the ottoman and got up to investigate.  The closer I got the clearer it became that it wasn’t an object sitting on the wood like I had originally assumed, but what appeared to be a hole in the actual timber.  “Damn.”  I whispered.

Getting down on my hands and knees, I leaned over the gouge that was ruining the beauty of my lounge space.  Suddenly, from the dark below I saw something move.  I leaned in closer and saw the briefest flash of light.  My interest piqued and my frustration almost forgotten, I leaned even closer so that my eye was almost up against the opening.  “What the…” I did not get to finish my thought as there was another flash of light.  I began gently picking at the sides of the hole.  My desire to see more of what was going on under the deck momentarily outweighing reason.  The hole appeared mildly rotted around the edges and came apart easily as I touched it.

Without warning the light came back and shone brightly into my face.  I fell backwards, startled.  Spots clouded my vision from where the too bright light had seared my eyes.  Slowly I pushed up from my elbows to a sitting position.  Light had begun to glow up through all the slats in the deck’s boards now.  Reality came back to me at once.  This was weird.  The time for curiosity had turned into the time for fear.  The glowing light had intensified as it came from the ground.  At first it was just warm, but it had become hot, and then scorching as it lit up my bare feet and short clad legs.  Screaming in pain I fell down, my whole body now feeling like it was burning up.  Then blessedly, there was nothing.  The light was gone.  The burning was gone.

Time had passed.  It was no longer a beautiful fall day, but now a chilly winter night.  The sky felt low and menacingly dark.  My eyes darted around the porch and out into what I could see of the yard.  All the grass was dead and the trees had completely lost their leaves.  It looked as if months had passed in those few moments of pain and blindness.  Rising, I cautiously looked back to the hole.  It was now dark below.  I looked around the yard again.  It was actually dark above too.  The sky was void of stars and even the streetlights remained unlit.  For the first time I turned to look at my house.  From the end of the deck, in the darkness, the place didn’t just seem empty, it seemed abandoned.  Shakily, I walked towards my rear door, but stopped just short of it.

There was another gouge in the deck.  For a moment I just stared, afraid that the painful light was going to return and blind me once more.  My breath was caught in my throat as I waited for something to happen.  When the light didn’t shine after a minute or two I took another step forward.  I walked cautiously around the new hole, looking into it the entire time, afraid to look away.  The light still didn’t come, so I continued to the door.  My hand was only on the knob long enough to feel the cool copper register on my burnt skin before I heard the noise.  It interrupted the all too still night air.  Looking around, I tried to locate the direction from which it came.  As the noise grew I realized that it had actually been there all along, just at a much lower volume.

My heart began to race.  Fear once again lifting the fog that was settled over my brain.  This was not right.  Nothing was right.  The porch began to vibrate.  It was slight at first but then it picked up.  I was reminded of that summer during my childhood when I would walk the train tracks alone behind our trailer park.  It felt like a train was coming.  I was still facing the door when the light returned.  I practically fell into the house trying to save myself from being burned alive.  The light was now pouring into the house through the windows.  It filled up the entire room like a liquid would.  Just as the noise reached its crescendo the frame of the house began to shake.  Pictures fell off the walls and furniture vibrated across the floor.  I lay there with my hands covering my head, trying to protect my face from the shattering glass.   The house and I cried out as one, and then, there was silence.

Tentatively I uncovered my face.  When nothing terrifying happened, I sat up.  Everything was in shambles.  My kitchen table was overturned, the couch was on the other side of the room, and the walls were barren save for a few nails that once held photos.  Shaking the glass shards off my shoulders and out of my hair, careful not to cut myself, I walked back to the door.  Everything was quiet, even the dull rumble was silenced.  My ears were still ringing from the noise of it all and I looked backed out of what was once a window, onto the deck, and into the yard.

It was no longer a cold winter’s night, it now appeared to be a dreary spring morning.  It was raining and chilly.  The wind blew the smell of fresh flowers into my now dilapidated home.  Out on the deck I saw that there were now even more holes, and to my horror, they were bigger.  I opened the door and stepped gingerly onto the porch, mindful of the glass in my socks.  I stepped further out, still ready to run back in at the first sign of the light.   I took a deep breath and took another step outside.  The rain blew into my face with every strong gust of wind.  It felt good on my seared flesh.

With great trepidation I made my way over to the first hole.  I looked into it with squinted eyes.  Afraid that the light might come back, hungry for more skin, more destruction, more time.  Whatever the light was coming for, whatever it was that the light was eating, I just wanted it to stop.  I just wanted back to my warm fall day, lounging peacefully with my feet up on the ottoman.  Back to the reality I had known only minutes before (or had it been days… or months).  Gradually, a new sound began to rise from below.

I turned to run too late.  Instead of getting away from the hole I fell into it.  I hit the ground with a thud, jolted all the way down to my bones with the impact.  I laid there for a second in the complete darkness, utterly still.  I couldn’t move at first.  Either fear or pain was keeping me incapacitated.  I didn’t care, I no longer wanted to move.

I don’t know how long I laid there on the cold ground with my eyes squeezed shut, wishing myself back into reality.  Wishing myself anywhere but here.  Before long there came another noise.  Not a rumbling, but a moaning.  It took me a moment to realize that it was a person and, to my complete astonishment, that it wasn’t me.

“Hello?”  I croaked.  “Hello, is someone down here with me?”  I waited for a reply but none came.  “Hello?”  Pause.  “Is anyone down here?”  I sounded so pathetic that I couldn’t call out again.  It hurt my pride just to hear myself sound that way; the pain, the fear, the confusion.  From further away I heard the moaning again.  I stood up carefully but my head began to spin anyway.  I took a tentative step forward, then two, and pretty soon I was slowly walking towards the new location of the noise.  It took about a dozen steps before I heard the noise again.  It was much closer this time.  Close enough that I felt more comfortable with a whisper, “Hello?”  Nothing, “Hello?”  I strained my ears as much as I could and I held my breath, waiting.

There was a rustling, almost like fabric on fabric, then there was a click and a blinding light.  I cried out automatically, flashbacks of the other light immediately coming to mind.  A moment passed and I was still cowered, covering my face, and groaning.  The light was still shining but it was a different kind of light.  This light was shaky, and it wasn’t burning my skin.  Removing my hands from my face I looked directly into it.  I felt anger for the first time in, well, I didn’t know how long it had been since I’d fallen through the deck.  It had only felt like a few moments but I could tell even in the dark that my nails were longer.  My once clean shaven face no longer felt hairless.

The light ahead actually appeared to be from a flashlight that someone was holding.  I cleared my throat and with more strength than I thought I still had I spoke hello again.

“What?”  A young man answered.  “What are you on about?”  The man’s voice sounded so young that I should actually have been thinking of him as a boy.  He had the light in one hand and the other hand was poised impatiently on his hip.  ImpatientHimWith me?

“What is going on here?”  I demanded.  He took a step back, dropped his hand from his hip, and made a disgusted noise.  Then he turned on his feet and took off, the light bobbing away with him as he ran.  I tried to run after him but I was already so weak and disoriented that I quickly lost sight of him.  “Where are you going?”  I cried out “Come back here! Please don’t go!”  But the light slowly faded completely from view.  I sat back down and put my head in my hands and sobbed openly.

More time passed.  Eventually I got back up and began walking.  Everything was silent.  Not even the sound of my footsteps was audible.  I walked with my head down and my shoulders slumped in the dark.  I cried softly off and on until I didn’t have any more tears left inside me.  Who knew how long had gone by since that warm fall day.  My once tightly shorn hair was now down to my shoulders and my nails were long and claw like.  I stumbled through the dark, my clothes still surprisingly intact, but socks threadbare across the bottom.

More time passed.  I slept.  I dreamt.  I opened my eyes and it took a moment for my pupils to dilate.  At first I thought I had been dreaming again.  I looked around, this time my eyes fully adjusted thanks to a bit of murky light.  Finally I was able to see the walls of the place that I was in.  It appeared that I was in a tunnel.  People were walking on either side of me.  “Oh my God.” I breathed, “Oh my God.” There were hundreds upon hundreds of people with me in the tunnel.  They were all walking straight ahead just as I had been.  I spun around looking for help.  “Hey?”  I said urgently, “Hey!”  The man next to me continued to walk with his head down, looking at his feet.  Reaching out I gave him a bit of a shove to roust him from his daze.  He grunted and looked up at me.  His long overgrown hair flapped up and caught the woman next to him in the face.  She was staring at me as well.

I looked around and now everyone was looking directly at me.  Every face in the crowd had turned towards mine in the few moments since I had called out.  Together we all slowed and eventually came to a stop.  I took a deep breath and once again tried to engage someone, anyone, in conversation.  They all continued to look blankly at me.  Then all together they closed their eyes.  I stood there, anxiously awaiting whatever was going to come next when they all spoke in union.

Be quiet.  Can you tell we’re thinking?”  I jumped at the sound of thousands of voices speaking at once.  They all slightly twitched with me.  I look a step back and so did everyone else.  I turned my head to look behind me and once more they moved in unison.  I took a few steps backwards and was mirrored yet again.  The back of my neck tightened with the wrongness of it all.  Trying to run away, I tripped, and the horde crashed down on top of me.  Drowning in the sea of people I screamed.  My only answer was the scream of the thousands of people that surrounded me.  With every attempt to push people off of me they pushed me down further, “Help me!”  I gasped with my last breath.

“Honey, you’re going to burn.”  I felt someone’s hands on my shoulder.  I sat up with a scream caught in my throat.  My heart was racing so fast that my hands were shaking.  “Baby, are you okay?”  My wife was looking down at me, silhouetted by the high fall sun.  Throwing my hand up to shade my eyes I nodded, and tried to catch my breath.

“Bad dream.”  I managed.  She nodded knowingly and smiled down at me.

“You’ve been out here a little while and you’re not wearing sun screen.  I don’t want you to burn.”  She looked around the deck then back down at me and smiled warmly.  “I’m running out to the store.  I’ll be back in a little bit.  I just wanted to let you know.”  She leaned down and gave me a kiss and then walked back into the house.  I could hear her pick her keys up off the kitchen table as she did so.  A few minutes later I heard the front door open and close and then in another few moments, the car started.

My heart rate was finally beginning to slow and I leaned head back.  This time I didn’t close my eyes.  The dream was still too fresh in my mind and I was too afraid to fall back asleep and end up in the dark again.  I looked around, taking in the beauty of the day with new more appreciative eyes, and signed deeply full of relief.  It was just a dream.

I was about to get up when I noticed something.  There was an object over on the far side of the porch.  Slowly I swung my feet off of the ottoman and walked towards it.  The closer I got the clearer it became that it wasn’t an object at all but a hole in the wood of the deck.  Somewhere, from down below, came a rumble…

The Boy and the Tree – a short story

A long time ago there was a tall, strong tree.  It stood separate from all the other trees alone in the clearing.  One day a little boy came into the clearing.  His cheeks were rosy from the wind and his chestnut hair was disheveled.  There was a bit of a golden fall leaf crushed in his hair.  He looked around the clearing and his almond colored eyes fell onto the big oak.  Staring at it for a moment, a calm came over his angst ridden young face.  Taking a deep breath, he walked toward the tree.  Once he was directly in the shade from its leaves, he looked up the massive trunk, and all the way to the tips of the branches.  His strong jaw agape.  Stepping back he took another deep breath, and then began pummeling the trunk with his small fists.  He screamed at the tree and kicked it as hard as he could.  Little flecks of spit flew out of his open mouth and onto the tree’s rough bark.  He said horrible things to the tree.  He called it childish names and told the tree that it was stupid.  He punched it until the bark was red with blood and his hands were raw.

After a while the boy grew tired and he slumped down the trunk of the tree to rest at the base.  The grass felt cool on his hot back as he stared through the tree’s leaves and into the clear sky.  A breeze was picking up and his chest seemed to rise and fall in tune with the swaying foliage.  Time passed slowly as he laid there and it was nearing twilight when he finally sat up.  Rising slowly, his slight frame cracking from the lack of movement, he looked up at the tree once more.  He took a deep breath, turned, and walked about out of the clearing the same way he came.  Leaving nothing behind to reveal his visit except the crimson tinted oak.

A few weeks went by.  It rained, it got cooler, and night came on earlier.  Fall had officially arrived.  The boy returned, consumed by anger.  He attacked the tree in the same fit of blind rage.  Screaming.  Spitting the words out like some vile taste in his mouth.  Using his fists to pound the hate from his young body and into the tree.  He left in the same manner as before, with no telltale signs of the anger he had shown towards the tree left in his face.  About a week went by before he came back, his hand now wrapped up in white bandages.  Attacking the tree in what had become his customary manner.  Screaming, crying, and telling the tree how much he hated it.  White bits of bandage remained behind on the bark as he walked out of the clearing, tinted in places by the red of his blood.

Not even a full week passed before he was back.  His hands wrapped in new gauze and one encased in a clean cast.  This time he walked into the clearing with a baseball bat at his side.  The bat swung at the tree with a new passion.  First, he was only swinging with his good hand.  Then getting caught up in the rage, he swung with both.  Bits and pieces of bark flew from the tree as if he had gone at it with a chain saw.  The bat cracked and he gave up on it and began flailing with his feet.  Kicking so hard that he was driving bits of bark into his already scuffed sneakers.  Dusk approached just as he let out a final shriek and sent the bat soaring into the forest.  It flew through the air and smacked into another tree, knocking loose the few remaining leaves.

The boy was away for a while, almost a month.  The first snow had fallen, and the forest was empty for all the animals were sleeping until spring, when the boy finally returned.  His cast was gone and his hand was unwrapped.  There were pink scars still visible, but nothing that wouldn’t heal completely with time.  He walked into the clearing, bundled in a brown drab winter coat, thread barren across the shoulders.  Walking up to the tree he commenced what had become the ritual.  He beat his hands bloody and screamed his throat raw at least once a week all that winter.

Spring had begun in the forest.  Everywhere was alive with color.  The leaves were returning and the ground had thawed making room for the fresh sprouts to grow.  The boy returned often, but less than he had in the winter.  He came and went, never leaving more than his bloody handprints on the forest walls.  Spring ended, summer began, and it continued.  Summer ended, fall began, and it continued.  The boy grew, and it continued.  Years went by, seasons changed.  He came more, he came less, but he always came.

The tree had always been there, standing tall.  Through the years, the leaves began to fall sooner, and return later.  They seemed to come back a little less shiny.  Spots and streaks began to show in them.  The deep green became tarnished by maroons and reds.  The bark never quite grew back either, leaving the trunk permanently exposed to the seasons.  First the grass was just trampled around the oak, but in later years it ceased to grow back all together, leaving only an earthen carpet for the boy to lie upon.

The boy showed his wear too.  The sores that never healed on his hands, the clothes that were chronically grass stained, and the soles of his shoes that were splintered with wood.  Although he always left the tree with a look of serenity, he always arrived with a look of absolute pain.  His eyes always showing everything he couldn’t say, even to the tree.  This continued for fifteen years.  In the rain, in the snow, during the day, during the night.  He’d even come on those cold winter nights that the stars don’t even like to come out on for fear of the wind’s sharp bite.

More years went by and the tree seemed to get worse.  The leaves that were once merely tarnished by shades of red now seemed infected by them.  The boy, now a man, had exposed the tree to several harsh winter freezes by both the barren ground and the balding bark.  Each year fewer and fewer leaves came back until none came back at all.  The grass had long since died all around the lone tree.  The long growing branches that once reached for the sky became brittle and broke in strong gusts of wind.  Not even bugs would infest the roots of the decaying tree.  It was as though it was being eaten by something far worse.  When the wind would blow on especially silent nights, a howl would come from the tree.  The man who once broke his hand on the tree now broke the tree with his hand.

One chilly fall day the man headed through the woods and into the clearing.  His almond colored eyes searching for the big oak.  Only, the massive oak was now on its side, the roots partially sticking into the air like some gaping mouth with crooked teeth.  Tears streamed down his wind burned cheeks as he stumbled over to the tree and began crying in earnest. Not the tears that he usually fertilized the tree with, but tears of remorse.  Collapsing to his knees, and then falling backwards, he laid on the barren ground looking up and into the fall sky.  He let out a cry so grievous that the birds flying above scattered.  There he remained well into the night.  The magnitude of his loss had not even begun to fully take shape as the wind picked up and howled around the dead tree.  The howl sounded like the tree’s own cries of remorse.  The man rose and left the clearing, never looking back at the shell of the oak.

The hate that had almost consumed him had poured out, much like the blood of his hands, onto the tree.  The blood seeped into the tree and the same hate that had almost consumed him had consumed the only thing that had been able to save him.

A long time ago there was a tall strong tree.  It stood separate from all the other trees, alone in the clearing.  One day a little boy came into the clearing.

Road Trip – a short story

The tires made thumping sounds as they rode over the reflectors on the street.  The noise was constant and soothing.  I sat up from my slumped position in the back seat and stretched out my neck. It was dark out and I had no idea how long I had been sleeping.  Mommy and daddy were awake and watching the road in the front seat.  I flushed with embarrassment at the thought of them as mommy and daddy.  I am not a baby.  I’m not even a kid, really.  I’m almost a teenager and they are just mom and dad now.  Mom and dad.  Mom and dad.

As usual neither of them were speaking.  The car was thick with silence.  The radio wasn’t even on (they could never agree on what to listen to, so they usually drove in silence).  From the new vantage point of sitting up I was able to look out the window into the other lanes next to me as we drove through the night in the oppressive silence.  I probably could have put on my head phones and played my own music off of my cell phone (which was not loud, tuneless, or garbage, thank you very much) without attracting much attention, but it hardly seemed worth the effort of getting sucked into a forced conversation about whatever topic my mom latched onto tonight.  Moss was what we talked about on the drive out.  Moss.

While hosting this internal monologue I noticed the car in the lane next to ours was driving the same exact speed.  It only struck me as noticeable because my daddy (dad, dad, dad!) always said that the left lane was for being an asshole and the right lane was for people that actually had sense.  Rubbing the sleepers out of my eyes and letting out a long, but ever so soundless, yawn I took in everything around me.  We were probably still an hour from home.  We had spent most of the day and some of the night at my aunt’s house dealing with all of her drama.  What drama we were there dealing with, well, nobody would tell me.  My dad always said that his sister just needed the right combination of love and whiskey.  My mom said that she just needed the right woman and she wouldn’t need the love or the whiskey.  I happen to know that my aunt has a very good friend name Susan that is a woman and she is very smart and right most of the time.  However, I do not know her preferences on whiskey.  Since my mom and dad usually only say these things after a few glasses of wine and when they forget that I’m still within ear shot, I’m assuming that mean something else that they think I’m too young for.

There were only two people in that car next to us.  A boy driving and a girl in the passenger seat.  They mirrored our car in that they weren’t talking either, just like my parents.  The girl looked out the window at my dad, probably thinking the same thing about us.  I gave another flush of embarrassment at the thought that she was thinking we thought they were assholes, and that we were all high and mighty thinking that we had so much sense.  Her eyes made their way to the back seat where she noticed me.  She was pretty, far prettier than I was and almost as pretty as my mom, just a lot younger.

There was a moment where I could see a sadness flicker across her face, and then everything brightened and she smiled at me.  Suddenly, she was sticking her tongue out.  I giggled, then I looked cautiously at the front seat to see if my parents had noticed.  I didn’t want them to look back and yell at me for associating with strangers.  Again.  You have one conversation with an old man in the mall food court and suddenly you have no idea what it’s like out in the world.  Seriously, it was like they couldn’t accept the fact that I was almost a teenager.

It was safe, they were both still very absorbed in the road.  Both sitting ramrod straight in their seats, looking out toward where the headlights pointed.  Daring to look back at her I almost laughed out loud. Now she was making fish lips at me.  I giggled again, but softly this time, and she continued to make faces at me.  We went on this way for a little while.

Without warning she turned around to look at the boy.  He was saying something to her, something angry.  I strained my eyes to see what it was but she had moved her head in front of his.  I knew from TV that boys could be awfully pissy.  Which was a word that they could say on TV but that I couldn’t say, which was stupid. 

Their car began to speed up.  She turned to look back at our car but now her face was sad for a moment and then it was far enough ahead that I was having trouble catching her expression in the dark.  As they began to accelerate further she put her hand on the window.  Dew formed all around the outline of it.  I could just make out that she was sticking her tongue out as they pulled away from us for good.

“Always got somewhere to be right now.”  The silence in the car was broken by my father’s soft voice.  “Assholes.”

Quickly, I faced forward again and slouched back down, pretending to still be asleep.  I was thinking that she probably didn’t have to go anywhere, she probably just wanted to stay and make faces at me.  Her boyfriend was probably just being pissy with her.  From under my partially veiled eyelids I could see the tail end of their car.  It was blue, or maybe black, and I could see the headlights sinking into the hill.   She was gone and I was alone again.

I must have fallen back asleep because we were stopped and the last thing I remembered we were moving right along.  I sat up as we slowly began to move.  My neck was stiff again and it was hard to look out the window.

There was an accident.  We were stuck in a stop and go pattern because the police officers were still walking around putting flares out.  Actually it was more like a stop and slow pattern.  Which is something my mom said quietly to my dad, but I didn’t catch his response.  The only interesting things they ever had to say were said very loud and clear.  Since neither one of them had bothered to look into the back seat at me, I assume they thought I was still asleep anyway.

Pressing my face up against the window, I got a better look at the accident.  There was only one car.  From the looks of it, it had gone off the road and hit one of the trees in median of the interstate.  The police had blocked off the left (asshole) lane with flares and were working on getting everyone merged into the right (sense) lane.  One was even standing out in our car’s lane a few feet ahead of the accident.  He looked into the back seat and directly at me.  Smiling he waved a bright orange flare at me in a tantalizing fashion.  He was waving it away from the accident, and it almost distracted me enough to look away from the wreck.  That orange flare had a very convincing argument, but I was drawn to the mangled car.  Another police officer stood close to it.  I pulled my legs under myself to boost up high enough to see what he was standing over.  Just as I got up high enough to see what it was he placed a sheet down.

There was already a sheet down on the hood of the car.  A large lump under it.   I couldn’t make too much more out because it was further from the flashing lights of the cars and more hidden in the darkness of the trees.  The closer sheet was over the passenger side.  It was almost twenty feet away but I could still make out some of the details.

While I could see so many things, I couldn’t really see them.  My brain was working extra hard, like my legs when I would run through the waves at the beach in the summer.

We were stopped again.  The orange flared police officer had walked all the way in front of us.  There was something in the road that he was slowly approaching.  I didn’t give him, or the object of his attention, too much more thought because there was something else.  Something that my brain was still trying to wade through under the passenger’s sheet.

Mommy and daddy had finally begun speaking in those perfectly clear voices from the front seat, but I continued to focus on the girl and the sheet.  The girl and the sheet.  Now I noticed that her door wasn’t just open, it was gone.  The wind had picked up and the sheet was rippling over her.  We started to move again.  The police officer with the flare was now carrying a blue car door.  The glass was all busted out of it and pieces glittered on the asphalt.

Slowly we started to move past the blue car and I had turn around to be able to see it.  “You aren’t angry at her anymore.”  I whispered, my breath fogging up the window.  “She’s not making faces and you’re not angry at her anymore.”  I stared out the rear window until I could no longer see the blue and red flashing lights.  Until the orange glow of the flares had settled into the road like the sun setting down on the ocean.

My heart had been racing but it was slowly returning to normal.  Turning around I settled back into my seat and looked out onto the road ahead of us again.  The yellow stripes seemed to be getting sucked under our car as we drove.  Watching them, mesmerized, my eyelids once more became veiled.  Trying to ignore that deafening sound of silence, I let only the rumbling of the road in.  Closing my eyes, I just listened to the sound the tires made as they rode over the reflectors on the street.  The noise was constant and soothing.

No School – a short story

Walking slowly, as if she was dreaming, Shelly moved towards the door at the back of the trailer.  In fact, this had to be a dream.  What she had just seen, she thought, well there was simply no way that this was real life.  There was another flapping sound.  The door leading to the room at the end of the small building was closed, but moments ago she saw it hanging open slightly.  She had been sitting on the couch in the living room when a movement from the corner of her vision caught her attention.  What she thought she was seeing was insane, but none the less, a small creature scurried along the floor.  It had been standing just in front of the door in the process of creeping into the living room when she originally saw it.  It let out a quiet gasp, then dashed back into the bedroom.  It was furry, like a long haired cat, but shaped more like a raccoon.  He (she had begun to think of it as male at once) could have been either of those animals, except for the color, which was a vibrant green.  The creature had softly closed the door and was now barricaded in her bedroom.

The wing sound fluttered again.  Slowly, while thinking maybe this really was a dream, she rose from the couch and started towards the door.  For the first time today she wished that she wasn’t home alone.  Her mother was at work.  She was home from school because they had the day off.  Her plan for the day had been a TV marathon, and then once it was a bit later, she planned to meet up with her friend Mackenzie. Mac lived a few streets over with her mother and her younger sister Brianna.  They were going to get together at the playground in the back of the trailer park after lunch.  Probably sneaking a cigarette or two from their mom’s and talking about boys.  Now all of that was pushed far out of her mind as she heard the soft flapping of wings again.  Her hand reached out towards the door knob.  She waited for the briefest of moments before turning it.

Being fifteen she was in that perfect place of being young enough to have no sense of self-preservation and old enough to know that there was probably a rational explanation for what was going on.  The door opened into the room and the day light brightened the dark hallway.  It took a moment for her eyes to adjust from the sot light of the TV in the darkened living room to the bright light coming in from the two large windows.  Unlike how she left the room this morning, the curtains were pulled all the way open.  Bright daylight flooded the room.  The fluttering sound came again and now it was easy to see where it had come from.  The creature that had closed the doors now hovered up at mid window level.  The windows had been cranked open and the screen was out.  Shelly tried to focus on the animal as it vibrated slowly in the light.  It made soft chirping noses.  There was no fear when she looked at him, just awe.  He was small, cute, and fantastic looking.  Shelly desperately wanted to pet him, but had a feeling that it would be rude.  The chirping became more urgent and his paw was now pointing towards the window, gesturing wildly at what was beyond.  Just then Mrs. Norris, the old lady from the trailer next door, walked into view.  She was looking at something Shelly couldn’t see.  Trying to get a better look, she walked closer to the window.  Mrs. Norris must have seen the movement because her eyes came down from the school and she locked eyes with Shelly.

“Close the windows, you fool girl” She hissed “Lock up.  Don’t let it in.”  And then, much more urgently and with a shudder, “Run!!”  Shelly stayed rooted there long enough to see Mrs. Norris start to lamely back pedal as a shadow fell over her.  Something was coming close and the shadow was getting larger.  Shelly didn’t wait to see what it was.  The critter she had begun to think of as Rocky disappeared through the open window with one last pleading (at least that’s what she thought) shriek cast back at her, and then flew towards Mrs. Norris’s house.  Shelly took two steps backwards before she fell over a pair of discarded shoes on floor.  The window was completely out of her field of vision when Mrs. Norris began to scream.  By the time her screams turned into a wet gurgle Shelly had passed through the door way and was frantically crawling back across the living room   The trailer was, from end to end, seventy feet.  Shelly’s bedroom on one side, her mother’s on the other.  Right before her mother’s door was the front door.  Shelly crawled as quickly as she could towards it.  She didn’t even dare stand once she reached it, she just crouched down on her haunches as she reached up to turn the knob.  Tumbling outside, the noise of Mrs. Norris’s untimely demise was much louder.  There was a brief moment where Shelly thought, that sounds like she is being eaten, before it was replaced when her new mantra of “You fool girl” and that last breathy, “run”.  So run she did.  Down the short walk way, to the end of the drive way, and onto the street.  Only slowing down once to pick a direction.  She chose the left because she could see a school bus coming down the street.  Never minding that there was a large shadow looming over head.  Never minding that the strange chirping she had only heard once before (in her bedroom) was suddenly ringing in her ears.  Never minding that there was no school today…

The bus pulled up alongside her and then slowed to a stop.  She had also come to a stop, hands on knees, trying to catch her breath.  The doors opened and out glided Mackenzie.  She was ethereal in a white formal gown.  Everything slowed down and then stopped as Mac came nearer.  The day seemed to darken all around her as she spoke.

“Join us.”  She cooed.  “It’s time.  He’s waiting”.  She embraced Shelly, her skin ice cold.  Out of all of the events that had taken place over the past five minutes, the feel of Mac’s ice cold skin woke something inside of her.  Sharpened her senses.  Reminded her that something wild was happening and that normal was something that only existed in the past.

“Mac, I love you, but please let me go.”  Mac abated giving her a wide, stretched too wide smile.

“Join us now, while you can.  If you wait, he will take you.”  With one more flash of her teeth Mac turned and got back on the bus.  Shelly saw other faces that she recognized on that bus (but oddly absent was Brianna).  They all smiled at her through the windows.  Each of them wearing that same face stretching grin, each of them visibly in white.  From behind the trailer, Mrs. Norris’s screams had long since stopped.  A new noise was now rising that set Shelly’s teeth on edge.  A flapping, so much louder than before.  The leaves on a nearby tree began to move in time with it.  Shelly turned, and ran once more.

Ahead, the exit of the trailer park became visible.  The only sound that she could hear anymore was the pumping of her own blood in her ears.  Her throat burned with exertion.  Once she made it clear of the trailer park she would be safe.  She was close enough that she dared to slow down, just to catch her breath once again.  Finally, the sound of her struggling heart quieted.  Just a moment, she thought.  Trying to muster enough saliva to cool her burning throat, she rested.  There was a moment of blessed silence, long enough for her head to clear, then the flapping replaced the pounding of her heart.  Everything went cold in an instant and then there was a sensation of fire burning deep within her.  Her throat was still too dry from running to produce a scream. Soundlessly her mouth stood open as she rose into the sky.

The sign for the trailer park was becoming smaller and smaller below her.  Fire burned deeply within her, so hot that she thought that she would go insane if it lasted much longer.  Before it burned her thoughts out completely, she once more heard the chirping from her bedroom.  Rocky was at her side for a moment. Then her mind went blank, as she received blessed relief from the flames within.  From below, the sign for the trailer park began to grow.

Douchebag Impala – a short story

The morning was bitter cold.  Lucy could still see her breath as she exhaled even inside her car with the heat on.  Her toes felt like they were fused together inside her shoes.  She pressed her foot down on the gas lightly, feeling like she was putting a cement block on the accelerator.  This morning had rapidly gotten away from her.  One thing after another had come up.  It was the perfect storm of just enough small things going awry to mess up the entire day.  Although she had only left the house five minutes late she was betting she would end up getting to work a good fifteen minutes past when she was due to clock in.  That was just the way the day was going.

As if on cue, traffic slowed down again.  Break lights flashed on the car ahead of her and she also began to decelerate.  Terrific.  Behind her, a loud engine roared.  It was loud and coming up much faster than it should have been.  She watched in her rear view mirror as a black shape grew larger and larger.  Her eyes grew as did the size of the head lights behind her.  It did not seem like he would slow down in time, but with the screeching of tires, he did.

For the next few minutes that she waiting in standstill traffic the Impala idled loudly behind her.  It was an old Impala.  Full of rust spots with mismatched doors.  It was black, but that flat black that may actually just be a coat of primer.  Breaking into the quiet of the morning was the sound of a honking horn.  The Impala’s horn.  The car in front of her had inched forward and in the moment that she spent awash in relief that she wasn’t rear ended, she had not.  Keep your hair on grandpa, she thought.

Traffic finally began to move.  Lucy followed with the flow and in a few more minutes was turning onto another street.  Once again traffic in front of her slowed to a crawl.  A school bus up ahead appeared to be the culprit.  It was coming to a stop at an apartment complex in the oncoming lane.  She considered speeding up and trying to beat the wait but thought better of it and once more applied those cold feet to the break.  The Impala impatiently roared back up behind her.  When she looked into the rear view mirror this time she felt as though the driver was sitting in the back seat of her car.  His entire face was in full view and she could read his lips well enough to know what he was saying about her in his car.

“Well, right back atcha, buddy.”  Lucy was midway to leaning forward to change the radio station.  Hoping that finding just the right song on the radio could turn this entire morning around.  Instead, as if he heard her, the man behind her laid on the horn again.  This time he shook his fist and then gestured wildly at the bus.  Her lip reading skills had either improved or he was making an effort to make sure that she could understand what he was saying, go you dumb bitch.

Feeling her blood pressure rise, Lucy considered getting out of the car.  Just putting it in park and calmly getting out, going to the window of his shitty old beater, using her flashlight to crack the window, and then just beating him senseless with it.  But calmly.  She could just give him one good smack- again, the horn interrupted her thoughts.  This time she physically jumped.  He pointed at the school bus.  The arm with the stop sign on it was beginning to close.  She had to get off this road, get away from this guy before she really did snap and get out of the car.  The rational part of her brain knew that she wouldn’t, that she couldn’t, but that other part of her brain.  The irrational part was picturing throwing her car into reverse and backing into him over and over and over again.

All the children were loaded onto the bus and it had pulled away from the apartment.  Lucy pulled forward and decided to take a detour to work.  For her own sanity’s sake.  She was already expecting to be late.  A few more minutes wouldn’t make a difference either way.  A couple of turns later and Lucy had a red pickup truck cruising happily (and silently) behind her.  Mere moments more, and she was alone as she threaded through a small residential section.  Lucy came to another stop sign.  For a moment the sun shone over the tops of the houses in the distance.  It came through the bare branches of trees and directly into her car.  Finally, she felt some warmth.  Reaching forward and turning down the heat she could see below the sun glare.

The road in front of her was littered with bodies.  Road kill, to be specific.  As Lucy paused at the intersection she saw them all.  Littered may have been a bit dramatic.  However the sudden sight of all of the possums, squirrels, and the like, was bracing.

“What in the world?” Lucy whispered, as she looked down the street.  There were no other cars.  She could see straight down the three mile stretch to the next intersection.  Cars drove by but none turned in.  Looking from left to right, Lucy scanned for signs that something was amiss.  Nothing moved, a sign in itself.  The street was lined with houses, but no one exited.  There was no movement behind the windows either.  Her first thought was terrorists, naturally.  It was early morning in small town USA, on a quiet residential street.  The perfect place for ISIS to strike fear into the hearts of America.  After the panic washed over her and abated, the next most reasonable idea popped into her mind.  This was obviously the work of some animal serial killer.  So she, at least, was safe from any malfeasance.  She relaxed her grip on the steering wheel.

Whatever was going on, she wasn’t ready to drive down the street yet.  Maybe some assholes had gone drag racing during a mid-road small animal kegger.  Maybe someone threw poisoned meat out to lower the rodent population (although she was unsure if squirrels were meat eaters.  Those cute little bastards struck her more as vegetarians).  Or a gas leak.  A gas leak was possible too.  All of these thoughts took place in the span of sixty seconds.  Nobody had turned onto the stretch of street ahead since she stopped.  Stranger still, no one had exited their houses since she had stopped.  It was still early but most people were probably already on their way to work by now (as she was, albeit late).  All those school kids had probably been off loaded from their buses by the time Lucy pulled up to that stop sign.  She mused over this for another ten seconds.  Quietly, behind her a black Impala pulled up.

Movement ahead of her caught her eye.  A plucky little (vegetarian?) squirrel scampered from the side yard of one of the houses.  Seeing fresh life brought Lucy back to reality.  She was running late for work.  There was probably some sort of ratio of dead animals to square mile on roads like this.  Maybe it only seemed like a lot today because she was the only car on the road.  And her day had gotten off to a bracing start.  Correction, had been the only car on the road.  There was movement again, this time she noticed it behind her.  The Impala inched forward so that she could clearly see the driver in her rear view mirror.

Easing up on the break, about to move forward, Lucy once again looked to the squirrel.  He scampered, his tail swished, his whiskers shivered (she imagined this last bit, he was too far away for her to see his actual whiskers).  Raised up on his hind legs he sniffed the air near the street.  Then, with more dignity than she would have thought a squirrel could possess, he pirouetted and collapsed.  It happened in slow motion.  Her brain first registering surprise, and then acceptance.  Surprise at witnessing his shuffling off this mortal coil.  Acceptance, because after all, squirrels are naturally graceful.  They can run along a power line faster than a Cirque Du Soleil performer meandering on a tightrope.  Reapplying pressure to the break, Lucy considered something, an errant thought.  It was interrupted by the honk of a horn.  The douchebag Impala, revving its engine, idling closer yet.  Lucy shook her head to clear it up, to right the ship of her thoughts, but again a honk over turned it.

“God dammit!” The body of the squirrel was in front of her, the honking Impala behind.  This time he really laid on the horn.  Giving a voice to his impatience.  Letting out a huff of air, blowing away whatever thought she had been on the cusp of forming, Lucy took her foot off the break.  Inching forward slightly, she made a tight U-Turn.  Doing her best, she avoided going within a car’s length of the first animal corpse, a raccoon.  She also avoided making eye contact with the driver of the Impala.  The carnage on the street must not have registered to him.  He tore away from the stop sign before Lucy had completely cleared the intersection.  Curiosity raged within her and she glanced up in her rearview mirror in time to watch the black car’s pace slow to a crawl, swerve, and then stop as it came to rest against a curb.  The now familiar sound of the horn bleated once more into the empty street, and this time did not stop.

A few turns later and she was no longer alone.

“Miss,” a man in a blue Gas and Power uniform said as he motioned for her to roll down her window, “you need to clear out of here.  There’s been some kind of gas leak and we have evacuated this whole section.”  Lucy smiled, nodded as if in confirmation, and rolled her window back up.  She was back on her regular route to work.  The sun was shining, the chill had abated, and maybe her day was finally turning around.

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