Take Care of Her – Chapter 8

Chapter 8

“What should we have for dinner?” Gretchen asked to the backseat.

“Pancakes,” the girl answered.

“Silly. We already had pancakes today.”

“Do you have to go to work?” the little girl asked. “My mommy always has to go to work.”

Shit. She hadn’t thought about that. What was she going to do about work?

“No,” she decided. “I don’t have to work tomorrow. We can play all day.”

And they did. All the next day. And the day after. And then for the rest of the week. No work. Lots of pancakes.

Eventually, the ladies moved on from breakfast sweets. Broccoli was less than okay, the girl had decided. There was more success with the organic cauliflower, but only because Gretchen had found frozen versions that were purple and orange. Food came pretty easily. Maybe she had the makings of a mother after all. Gretchen had never been sold on the whole thing. It was something they had talked about, her and him, in bed, late at night. That seemed like a lifetime ago. She hadn’t thought about him or those times in what seemed like ages. Her current life was better. She couldn’t believe it. The lonely was gone.

Luckily, it wasn’t time for Gretchen to figure out how to handle school yet. That was going to be a task for another day. It made her chest ache just thinking about sending the girl away for an entire day. Pushing her off to a cold cement building with teachers who would never appreciate this little girl in her green shirt? No. They would stay here at home. Settle into their life. The pair of them. Silly monkey and lazy giraffe dancing while teeth brushing. Naming their favorite city landmarks, the tower building, the funnel that glowed with the weather changes, while Gretchen combed the gnarls out of the girl’s hair. She slept beside her all night and Gretchen had no idea what that child did in her sleep. It looked like it involved having a goblin building nests for dragon eggs among the curls.

Bedtime was their only struggle. Probably what caused the knots and twists and brush-defying hair. The girl was scared. The first few nights, they slept with the overhead light blazing in the bedroom. The girl was still scared. They’d graduated to sleeping with the closet light on and the door open. She couldn’t bear to be alone. Gretchen once had a weeping sack in front of her as she sat on the toilet, when she’d gone to the bathroom in the middle of the night and the little one was devastated to find herself under the covers without her grown-up.

No. No school. She’d keep the two of them cuddles up here for as long as it took until no one was scared anymore.

Take Care of Her – Chapter 7

Chapter 7

Gretchen maneuvered her car into the tiny space. She almost got it, but swore under her breath when her back tire bounced off the curb. The little girl giggled and the bright tinkle echoed. Gretchen couldn’t help but laugh with her.

“Are we going there?” the girl asked, pointing across the street.

“Yup.”

“Are you sure? Mommy never lets us go there.”

Gretchen swallowed. “Today, we’re going.” Both of them ran from the car.

Outside the museum hung bright swatches of fabric that billowed from the roof to the sidewalk. The swaying designs looked like dancing kites. In the courtyard outside the entrance, there were dozens of holes in the ground. Scattered in between those, were flat colored lights, designed to shine up to the sky. The little girl ran to where other children were playing. They darted around the building’s pillars, playing hide and seek. She gasped when the lights flickered on and sent blues and pinks and purples onto her skin. And then she squealed. Jets of water erupted from the holes in the concrete, sending cold sprays onto her warm skin. She jumped and splashed and clapped, throwing her head back with laughter and blinking when she squirted her own eyes with water.

Gretchen looked on and smiled. She had always wanted to do that as a kid. Never had the chance. The little girl bobbed in and out of the jets, circling the other kids. She chased them, coming close but never fast enough to tag any of them.

“So you’re one of the nutty ones too?”

Gretchen turned to the question.

“I used to line the car with garbage bags for the ride home. Anymore, who cares? Gonna get wet and dirty again tomorrow anyway.” The woman was a tall pixie-cut slice of cool mom calm.

“For sure,” Gretchen said. “Which is yours?”

“Pink shirt. Rain boots. Pants only. Pajamas,” she said, ticking off and pointing to splashing kids.

“Four?” Gretchen asked in awe.

“I like sex,” the mom said. “Yours?”

Gretchen pointed to the little girl. “Green t-shirt. It’s mine.”

The mom squinted her eyes, but didn’t see a little girl in a green shirt.

“I’m Gretchen.”

“Felicity.”

“We’re across the river. South. You guys near here?”

The mom nodded. “Their dad teaches. Some romance language that doesn’t pay a lot.”

“That must be nice,” Gretchen said.

“It is,” the mom said. “Except the days when it’s not.”

In the background, another woman’s voice bellowed and the handful of kids at the perimeter of the water scattered. The only kids remaining were the pink shirt, the rain boots, pants only and the pajamas. The mom stared at Gretchen.

“I just love watching them play,” Gretchen said.

The mom ran into the water. “Let’s go, gang. Come on.”

“Aw,” Gretchen said. “Maybe we’ll see you here again sometime.”

The kids huddled together, banging off elbows and knees as the mom hovered over them, trying to keep physical contact. She practically ran them into traffic hustling them all across the street.

Gretchen watched them disappear into the crowded sidewalk. “The kids left,” she heard.

“I know,” Gretchen said. “That’s disappointing.”

“You play with me,” the girl said.

“Oh…honey…I don’t,” Gretchen started. The girl frowned. Gretchen flipped the girl’s pigtail, then took off her shoes where she stood and ran into the water jets with the little girl.

Take Care of Her – Chapter 4

Chapter 4

The bedroom floor was covered with an old blanket, mismatched shoes and an outdated video camera the size of a microwave. A frayed sweater and a dusty bouquet of silk flowers flew into the pile. Gretchen grunted. She couldn’t find it. Already on her hands and knees, she edged deeper into the closet. She winced and drew back her hand to rub her knee. Something sharp had cut into her skin. She groped blindly and grunted in frustration. Why had she kept every box from every pair of shoes she’d ever owned and then tossed them in this hole? She dragged an armful out onto the floor. Only one had a pair of shoes in them. Ugly ones. Another box had padded push-up bras and a garter belt. She shoved that one right back in the closet and far out of sight. The third box was heavy. Whatever was inside shifted when she lifted up the box. She’d found what she was looking for.

There was no system or strategy for her photographs. Years collided together—polaroids on top of glossy, drug-store developed prints. Her fingers touched faces. Her mother. Her father. Her sister. Her grey and white cat. She hadn’t wanted to do this. Rachel had suggested, and Gretchen was desperate. So far, this wasn’t helping. She turned the box upside down and the pictures cascaded onto the floor. Using her fingertips, she picked through them. Finally, she found what she was told to look for. A picture of herself. Kindergarten. First grade maybe. Outside in the sun. Gretchen was wearing a bathing suit. Her hair was mousy brown and laying on her shoulders in wet streaks. Her little belly rounded out between the nylon top and bottom. Her eyes were closed because she was smiling so wide. It was her and Gretchen didn’t know this girl.

Gretchen put the little girl on her nightstand, under her reading lamp. She was supposed to take care of this girl. That’s what Rachel said. To be the caring adult to give this baby in her bikini boundaries and respect and love. No matter what. She was lucky to brush her own teeth these days. How was she supposed to take care an inner child? She’d likely just tell the kid she was going to grow up to be a mess. Who’d never wear a bikini again.

As the grown up, she felt badly for saying that. She felt it. With all her heart. But, she didn’t want to tell the little girl that. Little one looked so happy. She didn’t want to take that away. The room went grey, then black and she closed her eyes.

147 E. 9th Street – Chapter 13

New horror fiction.

147 E. 9th Street – Chapter 13 – The End

 

Chapter 13

 

“Lynnie?” Shawn called from the doorway. The apartment was silent. “You home?”

He dropped his bag by the door and moved to the kitchen. There were cups and glasses scattered on the counter. No dishes. On top of all these, toppling into the sink, were handfuls of dishtowels and at least two bath towels. The pilling cotton looked like someone had spilled a bottle of red wine, maybe two, and tried using one after another to mop up the mess. Shawn didn’t see a wine bottle. He ran to the bathroom.

The tub was empty. The floor was bare. There was another wet, red dish towel in the bathroom sink. The faucet slowly dripped water onto it, forming a pink puddle in the folds of the fabric. Shawn ran to the bedroom.

Carolyn lay on the bed, alone. She was only wearing a t-shirt. There was blood smeared from her pubic hair to her thighs. It clotted on her skin. Her eyes were open. But she was gone. Even though he saw that, knew that in his heart, he jumped on the bed with her and tried to save her. He pumped, he breathed, he yelled to her, calling her name. But she was beyond all that.

Shawn climbed off the bed. His own shirt was now covered with patches of blood. He had to call. Someone had to take care of her. He reached in his back pocket for his phone. It wasn’t there. He touched across his chest and his pants, looking for it.

“I have to get my phone. I’ll be right back,” he said to Carolyn, who lay on the bed without breathing.

He ran out of the bedroom, past the empty bathroom and the kitchen with the towels he now knew weren’t stained with wine. He crashed to his knees by his bag he had dropped by the door, upending it. Clothes, linen sheets, bottles of massage oil and a knobbed roller flew across the room. “Where’s the god damn phone?” he yelled to the lifeless room. He spun around the room, searching, scanning. Finally, he saw Carolyn’s phone on the table. He raced to it and dialed 911. He didn’t remember much after that.

 

 

 

When he walked back in the apartment the next day, his bag and its contents laid scattered where he had left them. He dropped his keys on the floor among the chaos. He was so tired. His feet drug along the floor as he slunk to the bedroom.

The bloody sheets were still on the bed. He sat down on the edge of the bed, far away from the red stains. He pulled the phone out of his pocket. He was still carrying Carolyn’s phone. He dialed.

“Dae,” he said when she answered. “I’m all right. Just got back. No. It was the cysts like we thought. Ruptured. Bled and they lost her pressure. No. Not tonight. I can’t tonight Dae. Can’t do it. Come round tomorrow. We’ll look. Pick something. I know, love. Yeah. Ok. Bye.”

He threw the phone on the bed. He couldn’t stop looking at the blood on the ivory sheets. He grabbed anything within arm’s reach: the sheets, the comforter, the pillows, everything. Yanking them off and curling them to his chest, he squeezed them, rogue pillow cases dropping as he ran to the hamper to get them out of his sight. His eyes barely open, he slunk back to the bed and laid on the bare mattress. He curled his knees to his chest and closed his eyes.

The room was dark when he woke. The world outside the window was also dark. It wasn’t the light that woke him. He heard it again, music. Soft tune with sharp ebbs and flows. It sounded like music that might have played at a fair he remembered. One in May. It kept playing. He sat up and looked around the room. It was in the room somewhere. They didn’t have a radio. His laptop wasn’t on the desk. He still had no idea where his phone was, but if he did, that song wasn’t on it. He looked to the pile of dirty sheets in the hamper. There. He lunged at the hamper and pulled everything out, shaking and sifting their soiled life onto the floor. Then, he heard a dull, flat thud. Carolyn’s phone landed on the floor in front of him, still singing its organ-grinder ballad. He stared at it. He had lost his phone and was carrying hers. Why was her phone in the basket? Why was anyone calling her? Someone who didn’t know. He jabbed at a button to make it stop. It didn’t and instead kept playing. He stared at the screen, an image of him and Carolyn wearing plastic crowns. That’s when the music stopped and Shawn lost consciousness.

When he awoke, Pam was standing in the doorway. Shawn was lying on the bed, nestled in freshly-cleaned sheets. He started up in bed when he saw her.

“That one wasn’t bad,” she said. “You’ve had much worse.”

Shawn wasn’t afraid. He was alert and oriented enough that he knew he should be. But he wasn’t.

“Don’t worry yourself over who I am or what I’m doing,” Pam said. “She’s fine. And so is she.”

Shawn tilted his head.

“She. The baby,” Pam said.

He lilted his head again.

“They never want to listen to women. Always want to think they’re crazy. You started having fits and they didn’t think you were crazy. Just a little bug in the brain.”

“Carolyn…”

“You have to take it back for a while. The seizures. They’re start again tomorrow. But Carolyn is fine. She did what she could. Did a good job of it. She’s happy now. And the baby.”

“I want-“

“No,” Pam said. “Can’t have that. Too late now. But we’ll be seeing you again. Soon.”

Shawn looked around the room. It was clean. Clothes folded, shelves dusted, and a navy suit was laid out over a chair.

“She managed to name him after you. Lucky girl.”

He stared at the suit. He remembered her buying it, but never wearing it. He teased her about stockings. That seemed so awful now.

“Is she…” Shawn asked, but the room was bare. The woman in the room was gone. He saw Carolyn’s phone in the folds of the bed. Grabbing it, he curled his hands around it. He laid on the bed and waited for it to ring again.

As he was drifting off to sleep at dawn, it did. When he picked it up, he heard a baby cry. Then he heard nothing. The seizure took over his mind and body. There was no more baby. Only dark.

My dark novel Drowning Above Water is now available at Amazon. 

147 E. 9th Street – Chapter 12

New horror fiction.

147 E. 9th Street – Chapter 12

 

Chapter 12

 

The room was already bright when Carolyn opened her eyes. She was accustomed to waking up at dawn, when their bedroom still had slanted shadows. Shawn was always up before her. Sometimes making teas. Other days he mediated or did sun salutations quietly in the corner. On the best days, she woke to see him staring at her.

“I love you in the morning,” he had told her. So many times. “When your mind is quiet and calm and your face is naked.” He was the quiet, calm one. She was the one with the scattered thoughts. Racing. Anxious. Unsettled. Until now. She had turned peaceful. Preparing. He had become the one flustered and segmented and hurting. And he was the one who was gone. She laid in the bed alone. He had never stayed away from her without reason. Travel. Work. Visiting. But never like this. She stared at the empty side of the bed. Her heart hurt. And then the rest of her body hurt.

The pain felt like a sledgehammer to her pelvis. It folded her in half. She desperately tried to find a position that didn’t bring tears and allowed her to breathe. Her eyes were closed and she called out, “Shaw…” before she remembered he wasn’t there. She buried her head in her pillow and twisted onto her hands and knees. After a moment, the pain eased, but only by a degree. She managed to get to the edge of the bed, still aching through her ribs and stomach.

“It will get better,” she heard from the doorway. She opened her eyes, and for some reason, that made the pain worse. She closed them again. Pam stood, waiting for Carolyn’s pain to ease again. After a moment, it did.

“How did you know?” Carolyn asked.

“I just know. I’ve always known.” Pam walked toward the bedroom, carrying a huge bag over her shoulder. She talked as she worked. “I’m going to get the room ready.” She pointed to Carolyn. “You, sit. Save your energy. Going to be a long day.”

 

Carolyn leaned on her nightstand with one hand and the other sunk into the bed. Her legs were spread wide and she shifted her weight from her left foot to her right. The hand on the bed slipped and she lost her balance.

“God damn, son of a bitch,” she screamed. She didn’t fall but slumped onto the bed.

“I got you,” Pam said, gathering Carolyn around the waist and guiding her to sit on the bed.

“God damn…” Carolyn said, her breath breaking.

“Almost there,” Pam soothed. “Almost there. Let me look.” Pam reached her fingers in between Carolyn’s legs. When she drew them away, she held them up for Carolyn to see. They were covered with blood that dripped down to Pam’s knuckle. “Look, Carolyn. Keep breathing. Look at me.” Carolyn did, wincing. “Good girl. She’s coming. It’s time. I’m sorry. I wish we had a bathtub. Fucking New York. Come on. Into the bed.” Carolyn wobbled as she got from sitting and laid down in the bed.

“Why is…blood, why is there blood?” Carolyn said, her voice faint.

“Has to be born in blood,” Pam smiled. “That’s what it takes. That’s what makes it sealed.”

“Wha-“  Carolyn grimaced as her word turned into a scream against her will.

“You are a light,” Pam said. “Our light. And She will be our Beacon. The One to guide. Thank you.”

Carolyn tried to respond. There was nothing to be said. And after her next breath, there was nothing more to see. There was no more light. Only dark. And pain.

My new dark novel Drowning Above Water is available at Amazon. 

147 E. 9th Street – Chapter 11

 

New horror fiction. 147 E. 9th Street – Chapter 11

 

Chapter 11

 

Shawn let himself into the apartment and dropped his backpack at the door. Puddles of water pooled around his boots and leaked in a trail to the bottom of his bag. He didn’t bother to move it. Neither did he bother to take off his boots or sweater when he walked into the kitchen.

He stood at the refrigerator, dripping on the rug, holding the door open. It was full of glass and plastic containers, which held all manner of foods. All of them organic. Most of them green. Normally, he enjoyed having these things around. Tonight, he just wanted a paper full of greasy chips. Instead, he settled for some sort of tan grain with olive-colored specks. He ate it cold, standing, his hair dripping into his dinner. Or was it lunch? He couldn’t remember.

“Here. Let me take your coat,” Carolyn said from the doorway. He didn’t look up. He kept eating.

“I’ll get it,” he said. He took a final huge bite, a few grains slipping out of the glass tub and onto the floor. He stepped to the sink and tossed the bowl in with a clank.

“Could you…” she said.

“What?” he asked. “What can I do now?”

“Nothing,” she said. “How was work?”

“It was long. I’m going to bed.”

“Oh,” she said. “Good night.”

She walked to the sink and turned on the water, full and hot. The steam rose and she felt it, loosening the tightness in her face. The calm stopped when a pain grabbed onto her. She gasped and put her hand to her side. They were getting stronger. She’d had them before. They were sharp and quick, but they faded easily enough. She hadn’t had one for a week, then had one in each of the past three days. She braced herself against the sink with her other had and tried to breathe as deeply as she could. It was coming. Closing her eyes helped to focus her imagery, picturing her rib cage widening to allow for more air in her lungs. She opened her eyes when she heard the water shut off in the sink. She’d forgotten that she had left it on. Shawn was drying his hands on a towel. Carolyn heard him sigh.

“Leave it,” he said. “I’ll wash it tomorrow.”

“I’ll do it,” she said. “I’m fine.” She rubbed her stomach as the pain started to loosen its bite.

“I know.”

He stared at her. “I can’t do this. I can’t look at you every day like this.”

“Like what?” she asked.

“Look at you,” he said, voice raising to an echo in the small space. He gestured with his arms and when they collapsed back to his sides in defeat, water droplets flew off his coat. “You are not having a baby, Carolyn. I don’t care what you say. You’re not. So, I don’t know what this is.” He yanked his coat off, catching it at his elbow. He grunted and struggled and finally threw it to the floor. “And I don’t know what to do. You won’t go see someone and I can’t help you. Something is wrong. It’s very wrong. And I don’t know what to do.”

“You think I’m crazy,” she said.

“I think you’re sick.”

“I’m not sick, Shawn. I’m having a baby.”

“You’re not having a fucking baby!” he screamed. “You are full of cysts and tumors and maybe even cancer.  You’re going to die. And I have to watch.”

Carolyn leaned forward and picked up his wet coat. She grunted quietly as be bent down.  He grabbed the coat out of her hand and kicked it out into the hall. “Leave the fucking coat.” Carolyn stood quietly, her hand protectively folded over and under her round belly. She did look pregnant. She had gained forty pounds, at least. Maybe more. But not everywhere. Only her stomach.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

“It’s all right. You just don’t understand. She said you wouldn’t.”

“Who? Who said I wouldn’t?”

“Pam,” Carolyn said.

“And who the bleeding hell is Pam?”

“She’s my friend. She’s helping me.”

“Well, she’s right. I don’t understand. But if she’s helping you, brilliant, because help is what you need. And I can’t.” He stared at her.

“I know.”

“I have to go. I’m sorry.” He stepped toward her and kissed her. It was habit and compunction, not compassion. “I’m sorry.” He hurried out of the kitchen. He scooped his wet coat off the floor of the hallway, slammed the door, and was gone. Carolyn turned back to the sink, and starting washing the dirty bowl.

My new dark, suspense novel Drowning Above Water is available at Amazon. 

147 E. 9th Street – Chapter 10

New horror fiction.

147 E. 9th Street

Chapter 10

 

Carolyn walked to the far back of the bar. There was an empty stool with a red drink sitting in front of it. Pam sat on the next stool.

“Cranberry,” Pam said, gesturing to the drink. “It’s fine. You’re allowed to be in a bar. No smoke. Easy crowd.”

“You knew I was coming here?”

“She told me,” Pam said, downing her shot of whiskey.

“He didn’t come with me today. To the doctor. Everyone thinks I’m crazy.”

“They’ll see,” Pam said. “You can already feel her, can’t you?”

“I can,” Carolyn said. She wrapped both her hands around the cranberry juice to steady her trembling.

“It’s early. But not for you. They say four months, but I always felt mine early.” Pam downed another shot. Carolyn took a careful drink of hers.

“It’s so cold,” Carolyn said.

“The cold helps. Trust me,” Pam said. “Especially in the morning. You’re showing. It looks good.”

Carolyn smiled. “I hoped you would be here,” she said. Then she lost her smile. “What do I do? About this? I don’t know what to do.”

“You don’t have to do anything. Actually, it’s better if you just let it go.” Pam lifted another shot to her mouth, but put it back down on the bar without drinking it. “Talking about it will only upset him. He doesn’t understand. None of them do. And it’s not their fault. They don’t have the capacity for it. But he will come around.”

“What if he doesn’t?”

“Then he doesn’t. And she’ll still have you. All she needs. So just be still. Be quiet. Let it happen.”

“She’ll be all right?” Carolyn asked.

“She’ll be perfect,” Pam said. She finally took her latest shot. Carolyn took another swallow of her cranberry juice.

“This really is so good,” Carolyn said, draining the red juice. “Why is it so good?”

Pam nodded to the bartender, who set another full glass in front of Carolyn. Peering inside, Carolyn leaned down and almost touched her nose to the ice cubes floating on the surface of the drink. She inhaled. “It smells like a popsicle, on a scorching day at beach.” She drained half the glass. Her cell phone rang and she put down the drink. It wasn’t the canned carnival ring. It was her usual parred down symphony.

“Don’t worry,” Pam said. “You won’t get any more of those calls.”

Carolyn hesitated, but after a second refrain, she answered.

“Hello? Hi. I went to the bar on Fourth. I was just really hot. I did. Something red and cold. I’m not sure. Not sure. Soon. Yes. Ok. Love you too.”

“And there you go. What did I say? You’ll do just fine. No. He’ll be fine. You’ll be great.”

“Can I call you? If I get worried? About the baby? He doesn’t believe this. And I don’t have anyone to talk to.”

“I’ll be around,” Pam said. “Get him, would you,” she said, gesturing to the bartender. Carolyn leaned over to catch his eye. He walked toward her.

“What’s your-“ she asked, turning from the bartender back to Pam. The stool next to her was empty. There were three empty shot glasses on the bar. Her half-full cranberry juice was still there.

“You’re good,” the bartender said. “Tab’s paid up.” He cleared away the shot glasses and walked to the other end of the bar. Carolyn sat, staring at the red juice. She finished the rest of it in one swallow. She stood and shivered. When the chill stopped, she froze on her feet. What she felt in her stomach wasn’t goosebumps. It was movement. She put her hand on her stomach. Her fingers were shaking. She felt it again. The baby. It was her baby. And she was moving.