Back to the Woods

When she wakes, she’s on the opposite end of the bed, and her bonnet—which she wears to protect her fragile curls from her plagued tossing and turning—rests on her pillow, where her head should lie.

But her pillow, the case, the sheets, and—when she peers over the edge of the bed—the carpet too, are not the same off-white they were when she fell asleep last night. They’re stained a greenish brown, and it doesn’t take her long to find the culprits. She pulls her knees to her chin, dragging her feet, caked in mud, across the bed and leaving a trail.

“Oh, God.” She sighs and tries to run her fingers through her hair, but they get tangled in something other than her usual curly knots.

Twigs. Short, skinny, broken-off twigs, tucked in her hair like stylish Bobbi pins. One by one, she plucks them out, careful not to tug too harshly on her curls.

One, two . . . five . . . eleven . . . fifteen . . .

The more she collects in her lap, the more she finds in her hair, along with leaves, dry, brittle, and crumbing when she tries to pick them, creating an even bigger mess.

After all these years, had she really gone back to the woods?

She turns her attention to her journal on her dresser. She must write this down. The pills don’t work, the alcohol. She’s graduated to sleepwalking.

But at least she’s stopped dreaming.

Yes, if one good thing can come from this, it’s a night without seeing his face lit up by the flames of that bond fire. The last time she trusted the trees to keep a secret.

That, she calls peace.

When she rises, she catches the first glimpse of herself in the mirror, and all the air escapes her lungs as if being squeezed in an invisible force’s fist, and breathing becomes a chore. She buckles to the floor, missing her bed completely, her knees popping underneath the sudden weight of her body. More than just her hair, her feet, her eyes like soulless dark pockets. On the front of her night shirt a stain, bright crimson, stretches from the bottoms of her breasts, across her stomach, past her navel and bleeds onto the elastic waistband of her pajama pants.

Blood. But no pain or sign of an open wound reveals to her that it is not her own.

“Oh, God. Oh, God.”

The pills, the alcohol, the dream she couldn’t stop dreaming until . . .

“I went back to the woods.”

Where his face still lives. The heat of the fire, his hot breath. Her screams stifled by his sticky, sweaty palm on her mouth . . .

With all her strength lost in her legs, she clings onto the fitted sheet and pulls herself onto the bed, flings back the covers hiding the evidence of what happened to her last night.

Evidence that could incriminate if anyone were to find her like this.

You know what they would think. You wanted it . . .

Things keep happening to her. The mud, the blood, the sleepwalking.  Things she hoped would stop with the pills, the alcohol.

The dream, his face, his weight, his naked skin . . .

The rock.

Bigger than her hand. Weighty. Cool as night. One side covered with moss painted with the same blood she wears until she rolls it over with her fingers for a closer look.

His face, his face . . .

He had no face. And she remembers. What happened. Not to her, but to him. When she went back to the woods. To end the dream, recurrent ever since the night he took her to that bond fire, led her deeper into the wilderness, away from the crowd, pinned her against the tree, pounded between her legs for her to let him in.

One stroke, wild-eyed bewilderment.

Two strokes, a gash as deep and as wide as this rock.

“It’s not moss.” Squishy, oozing between her fingers just as it oozed from the side of his head.

The pills, the alcohol.

His face . . . Gone.

She wonders now, will she sleep?

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#ThrowbackThursday Fiction: Roommate Horror Story

I fantasize about murdering my roommate every day.

When I wake up in the morning with a stuffy nose and a sore throat because she turned the thermostat down to fifty degrees in the middle of the night, I think about packing her body into one of those old chest freezers my grandparents keep in their basement. Since she apparently prefers to sleep in cold, dark places, she can pretend that it’s her own little ice coffin, and slowly perish next to ice cream, TV tray dinners, and freezer burned sausages.

When she uses my favorite pan to cook her nasty ass smothered beef cheeks and leaves the dirty pan in the sink for me to wash, I want to beat her over the head with it while it’s still hot from the stove, leaving red circular blisters all over her face.

When my sleep is rudely interrupted by her headboard ferociously slamming against my wall at three in the morning, I imagine taking a knife from the kitchen, slipping through the door she never closes, and plunging the knife through the skinny back of her boy-toy for that night and into her chest underneath.

Much to her dismay, we are not friends. I was desperate to find an apartment close to my new job, and she was desperate to find a replacement roommate before the next month’s rent, so we both turned to Craigslist for a resolution. Meeting her through Craigslist should have been my first clue that the girl was going to be a total pain in the ass. Anyone who has to resort to Craigslist for anything—a car, a job, a single white female, or in my case, an apartment—lacks a certain human quality that enables them to have normal relationships with others, myself included. Why else would I take pleasure in visualizing her infinite violent deaths? Of course, she drove me to it with all of her annoying quirks.

At first sight, Natalie seems like a nice girl. Cute, with olive skin, brown eyes, brown freckles, long light brown hair that she constantly flips and combs back with her fingers, and a tiny mouth with perfectly straight teeth—no doubt she’s had dental work done. She’s short, about five three, with a long slim waist, and she only wears sweatpants two sizes too big, and tank tops that she brings together to tie into a knot at the small of her back, showing off her curves, some midriff, and a pink thong underneath. From the outside you wouldn’t understand why I hate her so much, but outside appearances can often be deceiving.

Natalie is the type of person who intentionally does things to piss you off, testing you to see just how much of a pushover you are, then takes total advantage. She’ll pile dirty dishes in the sink and wait until you’re so fed up with the mess that you clean them yourself before she says, “Oh, I was gonna get that.” She’ll use the last roll of toilet tissue—conveniently, when you’re on your period—go to the store for some more, then hoard them in her room, saying, “If you really need some, you’d go buy it yourself.” When your boyfriend comes over for dinner and a movie, she’ll roam around the house stark naked, drawing his eyes from the movie and you to her perky tits, hard nipples, little round ass, and clean shaven cooch, and when you politely ask her to put on some damn clothes, she’ll say, “Can I not be comfortable in my own house?” and your boyfriend will say, while repositioning his pants, “Yea, babe. Let her be comfortable.”

Four months I dealt with this silently, expressing my resentment only to friends and my mom on our Sunday afternoon phone conversations. So many times I wanted to get back at her, but no matter how conniving my schemes were, I always chickened out. I’m not quite sure when my dreams of revenge—locking the screen door while she’s out on the balcony sunbathing, turning off the bathroom light while she’s in the shower, calling the next guy she brings home Dick, when his name is Jake—turned into elaborate plots of murder. I suppose the switch came the night I almost killed her.

Accidentally, of course.

I had cooked shrimp linguini alfredo for my dinner, and as soon as I turned off the oven, she came waltzing into the kitchen in a tank top and panties, singing, “Mmm, it smells so good in here! I think I’ll fix me a plate.”

Before I could even object, she was sitting at the counter with a plate overflowing with noodles. I watched her choke down my dinner without even pausing to catch her breath until suddenly, she dropped her fork and with wide eyes, demanded, “What’s in this pasta?” Before I could even answer, she was wheezing and clawing at her neck. I scurried behind her and tried to give her the Heimlich, but she swatted my hands away. She spun around in the chair, sticking out her swollen tongue and taking short, sharp gasps of breath that sounded like yelps for help. She clung to the front of my t-shirt and pointed a shaking finger towards her room.

Realizing she was having an allergic reaction to the shrimp, I took off to her room and scrambled through her purse until I found what I supposed was an EpiPen. When I returned to the kitchen, she was grappling on the floor, swinging her head back and forth, her hands clenched to her neck. I had never used an EpiPen before, only seen it done on TV, so I didn’t realize that I needed to remove it from the tube before I began stabbing her leg. She kept scratching my hand, shaking her head, and grunting at me like a gorilla. I was so confused, and her frantic wiggling terrified me more, keeping me frozen by her side squealing, “What do I do? What do I do!”

Eventually, she was able to pause her helpless thrashing and give herself the shot, seeing that I was of no help. When she was able to breathe again, she snatched herself from the floor. “God! I could’ve died!” she said before stomping off to her room and slamming the door behind her.

Could’ve is all that remains on my mind now.

Like I could’ve misplaced her EpiPen.

I could’ve cooked shellfish with my dinner tonight.

I could’ve offered it to her.


Original post published April 12, 2014.

I Know What You Did Last Halloween: Part 2

“Like, I Know What You Did Last Summer? Hmm, sounds original.” Mike crams the last Krispy Kreme donut into his mouth without offering me a single bite, but it’s probably better that I don’t start my morning with a pound of sugar on my stomach.

Especially after that email.

I need absolute clarity of mind to get through this day. And not only because of the tedious work I do as an Editorial Assistant—tracking submissions, ensuring that authors meet journal guidelines, pushing automated messages through the workflow, processing invoices, not nearly enough copyediting of manuscripts, which was what I was expecting when I initially went in for the interview, the impression I still had when I accepted the offer fourteen months ago. I should’ve quit then. After Sam, it’s a wonder I haven’t bailed before now.

I pour myself a mug of lukewarm coffee from the pot and try my best to refrain from gagging when I put it to my lips. It’s bad enough that Dana, the office assistant and someone else who apparently hates her job, still hasn’t restocked the sugar and cream in the breakroom—which were the two things that made the coffee somewhat bearable—but for God’s sake, when will we ever replace that aged coffee maker? It’s seen a better day, and I can’t afford to buy Starbucks every day just to keep my head on straight whenever I receive a cryptic message that makes my hairs stand on end.

Mike finishes his breakfast with a large, audible gulp and says, “I wouldn’t worry about it. It’s probably some internet troll too obsessed with the holiday. Can’t even come up with a better prank.”

“In any other situation, I’d agree with you, but—” I lower  my voice when our co-worker Trisha walks in. “I did do something last Halloween. We both did.”

“Can we not talk about this here?” Mike snaps under his breath.

“What are you two whispering about?” Trisha lifts the lid to the empty donut box, frowns, and immediately whips her head toward Mike.

“Early bird,” he says, smiling.

“I’m the one who bought the damn donuts,” she says, clearly unamused. She snatches the box off the counter, stomps onto the petal controlling the lid to the trash can so hard it cracks, and stuffs box inside.

I wait for her to leave, but she lingers, obviously more interested in our conversation than what to eat for breakfast. She reinserts herself into the space between me and Mike and reaches over his head for a bag of pretzels and a granola bar from the cabinet behind him, shooting me a death glare at the same time.

It’s no secret she has a thing for Mike and thinks I’m creeping in on her territory. Before me, it was Sam.

I guess she doesn’t have to worry about that competition any more. A year later, and the same flowers still enshrine Sam’s abandoned desk. Plastic—giving off the illusion of immortality. Too bad Sam wasn’t so lucky.

A part of me wonders why the company hasn’t hired a replacement yet, why, even though I push it in every afternoon at five before clocking out, her chair is still slightly pulled away from her desk every morning as if expectant of her return.

Every morning the same. This morning no different. In fact, this morning, the chair was pulled all the way out, and turned facing the aisle, as if someone had been sitting there and had briefly stepped away.

Which is why I’m currently hiding out in the breakroom with Mike, the only other person who—before the email—knows what really happened to Sam. The only other person who can assure me that it won’t be Sam who comes back to that chair.

I admit the breakroom, which is more like a breezeway that connects the office suite to the conference room next door, is the wrong place to be discussing our previous indiscretion. There’s too much foot traffic. Anyone can hear us. And since our current predicament is that someone else in fact did hear us, or saw us, or knows something about what we did, enough to send that email, I have to be careful with my words.

Everyone’s a suspect. Even—though I hate to think it—Mike.

When Trisha is gone, and I’m sure she’s out of earshot, I say, “So you didn’t get anything.”

“No.” He exhales loudly through his nostrils. “And I’m sure it’s nothing. You’re overeating to something that’s just a coincidence and nothing more.”

“Fine.” I swiftly leave before he can say anything else. Like I’m just being a woman. Curse our overeating, overemotional selves. Calm down. It’s only a coincidence, I repeat. It’s more settling on my stomach than the former, which causes the bad coffee to bubble and rise.

But I’m still not convinced, and when I return to my desk—directly across from Sam’s—I’m even less convinced. Propped on my keyboard, carefully balanced between the Q and A rows, is a handwritten note. I look to Trisha, who sits next to Sam. The chick is always scowling, but this time, it isn’t at me, because Mike, emerging from the breakroom, has the same look on his face. Four of us share one of five workstations in the suite—one that still has friendly reminders of different processes written on scattered Post-its by the fourth and only absent member of our group.

However, we all feel her presence now. Because those are Sam’s swirly squiggles on the folded sheet of copy paper in front of my computer. They form two words:

“I know.”

So much for coincidences.

Chronicles of a Single, Black Christian Female: Episode 1

Photo by @caminho_do_despertar from nappy.co

It’s probably the wrong thing to say, but I say it anyway.

“You remind me of my pastor.”

He stops, right as I’m about to reach my peak.

Definitely the wrong thing to say. Especially to a man whose face is currently buried between my thighs. Especially when I’m supposed to be at Bible study—I’ve already missed two straight weeks.

And I don’t think he’s saved. But I am. Or, at least, I’m supposed to be.

“Do you think of your pastor doing this to you?”

“No,” I say a little too quickly for it to be believable. His laugh offends me, because I know there are plenty of women in my church who do think of Pastor that way. And how could they not? He’s young, handsome— smooth skin, thick curly hair, full pink lips, eyes that haunt and the adorning long lashes to envy. If not a pastor, he’d be the kind to break hearts.

But he is a pastor. A good one. And a Christian. A good one. Or, at least, he presents himself to be. At this moment, who am I to judge?

I pull my dress up from my ankles and slip my arms through the sleeves. “I think I should go to church.” I’d be there already had I not taken this detour in response to his “Wyd” text.

“Feeling sinny?”

“No.” He disgusts me how he makes a joke of an obvious problem that I have—giving in to temptation. Maybe it’s because, in fact, I do feel a little . . . sinny.

I give him a quick kiss as I leave, which I immediately regret, not only because it gives him the impression that he can easily lure me back— perhaps after service—but also because now I’ll have the smell of my secret shame fresh on my lips, a smell that Mother Thompson—forever casting stones with her eyes on us “slippery skinny young thangs”—is sure to notice when I’m sitting on the very back pew, begging my Father in Heaven for forgiveness.

I Know What You Did Last Halloween: Part 1 (Intro)

Fall—or for those who like to be fancy, autumn—the season most people look forward to. The cool, crisp breeze in the morning, yet the sun still warms you by the afternoon. Harvest colors and flavors. Cinnamon, nutmeg, sage, pumpkin. Boots, scarfs, and sweaters. Decorations beginning to crowd the store shelves. A pleasant reminder that the holidays are right around the corner.

It’s a season everyone loves. Everyone, that is, but me.

In fact, recently, I’ve come to dread it. I see it now only as the anniversary of what happened to Sam. Something I care not to remember, but as my luck would have it—it seems—fate has other plans.

It’s too early in the morning, and still much too dark in my room for me to be scrolling through emails on my phone. But one email in particular, from an address I don’t recognize, glares at me, and it has me freaked. The longer I stare, reading it over and over again, the brighter my phone’s backlight seems to become. Even when I dial it back to its lowest setting, it still pierces my retinas with seven simple words that, although  nonsuspicious on their own, when strung together, may potentially derail this fantasy of a life I’ve spent the last year concocting for myself…

“I know what you did last Halloween.”

Butcher

The thought of it makes me laugh—

It’s really not funny. But laughing keeps me from doing something far more terrifying. So I fold my lips into an expressionless grin that’s reminiscent of a time before animated emojis—

Colon. Closed parenthesis

while he hacks away at the shoulder with a meat cleaver, and blood splatters my face.

How Are You?

“How are you?” he says. Such a generic question. One that requires only a generic answer. “Fine” would suffice. Or the wordier but no less basic, “I’m good. How are you?” with the question repeated at the end for good measure, to insinuate a conversation that is long overdue to end…

But I have so much more within me.

I’ve missed you. It’s so good to see you. I’ve forgotten how beautiful you are when you smile. When did you get back? I hate that you ever left. Skype wasn’t enough. Facebook wasn’t enough. Email, long-distance phone calls weren’t enough. I need you in my life. I want to touch you, kiss you one more time. And again for however man more times you’ll allow. How long will you be staying? Is it for good this time? Can we pick up where we left off (how about that kiss again)? Are you still single? I am. Never even thought about another man since you. You’re my lover who never was, but if you’re here to stay, maybe you can become. Will you? Tell me. Take my hand. Do that thing I’ve dreamt of for the last two years. Let’s get married.

I struggle to string together coherent sentences on my tongue, to push them from my mouth, bind on my voice, and give them a pitch that’s higher than a whisper so that he can hear and reply with words that will kill me the way I want to die.

Then I realize…

“Struggling,” I say. “I am struggling…”

Hopefully, he will ask me why.

#ThrowbackThursday Fiction: Kindling the Fire

I knew he was gone when I awoke shivering. Silly me for thinking this time would be different, that a random man I brought home from the bar would have the decency to stay at least until sunrise.

The hardwood floor feels like ice on the bottoms of my feet. I need carpets, but with what money? I’m too cheap to turn the heat on before the first deep freeze. Bedroom slippers will have to do for another month. At least the alcohol leftover in my system keeps me warm from the waist up. What need do I have for a man?

But I remember the sweet heat we made, driven by the booze that filled us to our limbs, when it was just our skin and sweat that separated us, and his tongue explored every inch of me, lapped me up like a steaming mug of cocoa.

How we made it from the bar five miles down the base of the mountain in his rattling 1992 Toyota pick-up remains a mystery to me. The air conditioning blasted our faces—he had no heat either—but it didn’t matter because we both sweated through our clothes, and I sat on his lap naked, bouncing on every pothole, every bump in the road. But it wasn’t to make the ride more titillating.

He couldn’t see.

I remember now. I was helping him drive–and teasing him at the same time. He juggled whether to put his fingers on the steering wheel or lift me up by the rear and slip them between the cracks.

But it was dark. No. Foggy. And something was falling. And the wipers did nothing but make the dirty windshield dirtier.

Damn him. I wish we crashed. It would have been better for me to die than to have him fill me up and empty me out all in one night.

I glance at the clock on my bedside table. There’s more light coming through my window than is normal for quarter to six. A thought comes that maybe it’s the headlights from his truck. He hasn’t pulled out of the driveway yet. I rush to part the curtains and give him a full view of what he’s leaving behind, what he’ll surely miss when he’s back home with whatever woman who’s got him running from me.

There’s always another woman. It’s my fate–my curse–to share, or have nothing at all. But now I long for nothing, because I’ve never felt this abandoned since the night my father left my mother and me in darkness in the middle of a blizzard to pay the electric bill and never came back.

And now my glowing backyard tells me what was falling from the sky last night.

Snow. At least an inch or more.

I shiver again, deep within myself, bones knocking. This day feels too familiar, too much like my childhood. I spot a trail of boot prints stretching from the back of the house toward the woods. His truck is still here. Damn thing must have died. Fluids frozen. He left it here. Somewhere there’s a man, half-naked, hungover, marching down the side of the road to the nearest service station, maybe looking for a hitch. With my luck, it’ll be a girl prettier and tighter than me, with less baggage.

I feel more used seeing his truck–here to remind me of every poor decision I ever made in life, drunk or sober. I’ll call a tow to have it removed, make sure he’s the one who has to pay for it.

I’m a traditionalist when it comes to communication. No cellphone. I still keep a phonebook by the landline downstairs. I jog down two flights to get the feeling and the warmth back into my thighs and my feet. But a crackling halts me at the bottom step. I’m still naked, and despite what happened the night before, I’m not willing to let another stranger in.

I notice it’s warmer down here. The chill in my joints is gone. I cover my breasts and follow the heat through the foyer, to the living room, where the fireplace I haven’t touched in years is brought to life by dancing flames.

And he is standing over it, tending it with the poker.

“You’re still here?”

He looks up, smiles at me trying without success to hide the body parts he’s seen and touched and kissed and licked all through the night. And I remember the set of footprints I saw from my bedroom window, how it lead into the forest. But then there was a second trail, afar off, coming back.

He’d gone to get firewood.

He comes over, touches my hand still covering my breasts.

You start a fire burning…” I say, but I’m short of breath. I’m shaking once again, but it’s not from the cold. I still can’t believe he came back, and for me. What did I do to deserve this? Can any of it be real?

“Come by the fire,” he says, but he draws me into him, wraps his arms around me, cups my bottom, a middle finger slipping in between the cheeks, kisses me with his open mouth. Our tongues meet in the middle, our hot breath touching our lips, and every inch of me is set ablaze.


Original post written for the #LyricalFictionFriday challenge November 3, 2017.

Sugar Free

He asked me if I could go a month without sugar.

I hadn’t considered that he wasn’t referring to the pint of ice cream I’d eaten by myself when I told him yes.

The next morning, I reached up for a kiss, and he pushed me away. “Day one,” he said.

By Day 7, I was making love to my body-sized pillow.

On Day 15, he told me prayer could help. “It’ll teach you how to survive on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

“But I thought the test was to survive without sex.”

He still questions if I’m really religious.

I made it all the way to Day 29 without touching him, though I touched myself a few times–Lord, forgive me. 

On the eve of Day 30, I parked my car in his driveway with the Bible in my lap, waited until the clock struck midnight, then knocked on his door and demanded, “Give me some sugar.”


Challenge: Monday’s One-Minute Fiction (#1MinFiction)
Objective: Think up or write a complete story in one minute or less
Prompt: sugar

Waiting for Him to Call

It’s so easy these days to creep…

Even our government does it.

Don’t think for one second that the CIA isn’t watching you with your hands in your pants through your TV. It could be a matter of national security; they must watch.

And they’re also slightly turned on by the way you feel yourself. Moan a little louder, touch a little deeper, spread your legs a little wider. Really give them a show.

Social media makes creeping even easier. Twitter? Anyone can destroy your reputation and career just by digging up old tweets from ten years ago. Purely despicable or only joking, it doesn’t matter, in this era of the easily offended, you are swiftly lynched by the PC mafia.

And there’s no place to hide on Facebook. Remember that guy you gave your number to on that dating app? He used it to look you up. They can do that, you know. If you have your number posted on Facebook. And you do. Like a dumbass. So, he found your page and clearly saw something he didn’t like. That’s why he hasn’t called. Maybe you’re not as attractive on Facebook—all those poorly lit pictures of you half drunk, highlighting all the bad angles, you were tagged in in by your friends from college, friends you barely talk to now. Or maybe he found a status update from when you were 14 years old—- though he didn’t bother to check the time stamp— (racially insensitive, bigoted, homophobic, you pick, we’ve all posted at least one) that could ruin your reputation and career, if you had one.

So you sit on your couch, with your hands in your pants (though you’re dryer than your phone at this point), Hulu and chilling by yourself because you’re too cheap to get Netflix too, wondering if it’s possible to get any lonelier than this.

Tomorrow, you will break your own record.