Inheritance

“Emil was a wonderful husband and father,” Fiona says between sobs. She gazes out into the audience of seven mourners, one of them her son, Ryan.

And Rachel.

She opens the tissue in her hands, remembering she’d scribbled her eulogy notes on it in pencil, having waited to the last minute to think of something to say about her dearly departed, cheating, soon-to-be ex-husband.

Maybe it was good the divorce wasn’t finalized before he croaked.

After the funeral, she feels a cold hand on her shoulder.

“We both loved him,” Rachel says.

“Nice try. But you’re not getting a dime.”

© Nortina Simmons

Death in Death Valley

I’m not imagining the man in black. He’s wearing a long coat and wide brim hat, entirely too hot for a walk in Death Valley.

When Brian tells me there’s nothing there, at risk of looking crazy, I approach the man that only I can see. His face is hidden in shadow.

He tells me his name is Death.

“Will you kill me, Mr. Death?”

He shakes his head. “I only deliver souls.”

“Then who?” But before he can answer, I feel Brians fingers around my neck.

The man lifts his hat, and I see the face of my dad.

© Nortina Simmons

The undertaker

It was too soon after my husband’s death to be kissing another man, especially not in the bathroom of the funeral home where his wake was being held.

When we briefly broke for air, he asked, “Are you a loud lover or a quiet one?”

It took me a few seconds to recognize what he was asking.

“We can’t,” I pleaded.

“It’s fine. I locked the door.”

“My husband—”

“Resting in peace.” He would know. He embalmed him.

He kissed me again, and my legs jiggled like Jell-O.

His pants dropped to his ankles, and I dropped to my knees.

© Nortina Simmons

The drive home

Driving through the downpour, I think about the last night I saw my husband alive.

We’d just had a fight, and I had finally accepted that he will never want children.

“I need some air,” he said.

“If you leave, don’t even think about coming back!”

He ignored my threat and slammed the door behind him as a crack of thunder pierced the silence that remained.

Hours later, the police came knocking. His car was caught in the storm.

He was gone.

Inside me the little one turns and flips.

“Easy does it.” I pat my stomach. “We’re almost home.”

© Nortina Simmons

Lost in the Twilight Zone Marathon | Ep 5 | Fever Dream

I go to bed with a splitting headache, a cold sweat, and what feels like ten-pound weights on my chest, and in my dream is existential dread.

I see him through the darkness in the corner of my bedroom by the closed door—his silhouette much darker than everything around him.

I close my eyes and pray to heaven above for forgiveness.

“Please, God. Don’t let him take me.”

When I take a peek with one eye open, the shadow grows bigger as he draws nearer. I can’t determine whether it’s the fear or fever that escalate my shivers. I hide underneath the covers, my whispering frantic as I repeat again and again my prayer.

“Please, God. Don’t let him take me.”

“Please, God. Don’t let him take me.”

“Please, God. Don’t let him take me!”

A light tug on the sheets, and they slowly glide down. The blackness overwhelms me. Eyes open or closed makes no difference. This is what it’s like, I imagine, when you’ve reached the end and you realize you’ve had one stumble too many, that God has run out of second chances to gift you and has finally turned His back. And it’s not the fires of Hell that burn you, but the darkness. The unquenchable, unrelenting darkness. The never seeing the light of day. An ever-presence that looms over you, hovers, and seeks to swallow you whole.

But then a cool compress touches my forehead, and the soft hum of a melody I faintly know the words to float above my head, and I drift off to sleep.

***

When I open my eyes again, I see the sun, and my fever is broken, and I can smell for the first time in a month.

I go outside and fill my lungs with the fresh morning air. I relish in the coolness of the breeze, sweet relief. In the wind, in the ruffle of the leaves, I hear that tune again. From my peripheral vision, I see the familiar figure, darting between the trees, and I follow him, toward the lake that touches the backyards of each house on the cul-de-sac. He stops beneath the old willow tree at the edge of the water, and I pause just a few feet away.

“I’ve been waiting for you, love,” he says. He turns and outstretches his hand. “Come.”

“Where?”

“Does it matter?”

I gaze back to my home, a silent prison for the last three weeks. “I thought I was dying. I was all alone.”

“No, you weren’t.” He takes a step back, partially disappearing between the weeping leaves of the willow. “Do you trust me?”

He curls his fingers underneath mine, beckoning, and as he hums, I let him lead me deeper, behind the veil, until we both disappear.


This hour’s episode of the Twilight Zone blogging marathon is inspired by the sweet and haunting song of “Come Wonder with Me” as well as the encounter with Death in “Nothing in the Dark.”

And for a longer version with the humming…

U is for Under Pressure

Originally published April 24, 2015 for the A to Z Challenge.

The two detectives left Jessica alone to get Bruce’s statement. Still shivering from the chilly air in the room, she tucked her arms inside her shirt and crossed her legs underneath her in the chair. She tried to focus her mind only on warming herself up. She rocked back and forth. She rubbed her arms and legs. She pulled her shirt down over her knees. Anything to keep from thinking of Whitmore’s lifeless body lying on her floor, blood spurting from his head onto her carpet, seeping into the split wood at the center of her front door.

She had believed that his talk of suicide had only been an idol threat.

Cheat on me, and I’ll go back to that dark place with Layla. Refuse to love me, and I’ll go back to that dark place with Layla. Leave me, and I’ll go back to that dark place with Layla.

No one who thought death could be achieved by taking a few sleeping pills with vodka was truly ready to die. They hadn’t fully committed themselves to the task. They would rather leave the world peacefully, sleeping, not to violently testify to the world, This is what you’ve driven me to!

But had Jessica driven him to his demise? Could simply not loving him back be the key to his self-inflicted mutilation, or had Whitmore uncovered that Jessica was no different from the last woman who had broken his heart?

Just like Layla . . .

Was it possible that he had known about Bruce? That he had never left the premises after she’d kicked him out of her apartment? Instead, he lurked in the shadows of the parking lot. Watched as Bruce wiped away her tears, took her by the hand and led her down the stairs, opened the passenger side door for her and ducked her into his car. He followed them to the restaurant. Observed as they danced, kissed, and groped each other until the lust had grown so great, they rushed back to her apartment to consummate it. What pushed Whitmore over the edge? When Jessica had straddled Bruce’s lap in the driver’s seat, or did he reach his breaking point when Jessica wrapped her legs around Bruce’s waist and they fell into her apartment? Did he wait outside the door to confront them? Could he hear her loud, desperate moans through the walls?

The door to the interrogation room suddenly swung open, and Dan poked his head inside. “Miss, you’re free to go.”

Jessica uncurled her body from within her t-shirt and slid her feet into her flip-flops on the floor. She hesitantly walked by him, afraid that he might see the guilt on her face.

“I’m, er, sorry for your loss,” he said as he closed the door behind her.

Jessica nodded.

Bruce had been waiting by the door, leaning against the wall. “Hey,” he said. He touched her arm, behind her elbow. “Let me take you home.”

Jessica nodded again. She had lost her ability to speak.

—Nortina

S is for Suicide

Originally published April 22, 2015 for the A to Z Challenge

“Do you have any idea why your boyfriend would want to kill himself?”

It was the third time the detective had asked her that question and Jessica still didn’t hear him. They sat at the cold metal table at the center of the gray interrogation room. A second detective stood by the one-way window.

Jessica wrapped her arms around herself. When she had finally gotten over the shock of seeing Whitmore dead on her floor, a bullet hole in his head, she’d only had enough time to put on a pair of shorts and a tank top before emergency personnel arrived. The police tried to interview her at the scene, but she was too distracted by the men snapping photos and taking samples. Then Bruce behaved so inappropriately. He kept touching her shoulder, squeezing it, telling her everything was going to be OK. Every time he opened his mouth, a film of mucus crept up her throat, tickled the back of her tongue. Stop it! She wanted to shout. Stop acting like the concerned boyfriend. He’s dead. We did this! You. Me.

Jessica wasn’t wearing panties. She didn’t have on a bra. The draft in the room caused her skin to prickle up into goose bumps. Her nipples hardened underneath her shirt, and she felt as if they were pointing out toward the two officers like daggers. I’m not attracted to you, she tried to explain away. I wasn’t fucking when it happened. I didn’t kill him.

She wished they would quit stalling and arrest her for murder. She knew they suspected foul play the second they stepped over Whitmore’s body. She could see it playing out in their scheming minds. She was having a steamy affair with Bruce. Whitmore caught wind of it. She couldn’t keep it a secret any longer; they had to get rid of him. She was the brain, Bruce the brawn. He pulled the trigger. They staged his suicide. Then she assumed the role of the grieving girlfriend.

“Ms. Ryan.” The first detective snapped his finger in front of her face.

“She may still be in shock, Dan. That was a pretty horrific scene,” the detective by the window said.

The good cop, bad cop routine. She was under arrest.

“I’m sorry. Could you repeat the question?”

Dan sighed, shaking his blond hair over his eyes. “Why would Whitmore kill himself? Did he suffer from mental illness?”

Jessica put her fist to her mouth and coughed, but the cough was weak, originating from the front of her mouth instead of deep in her chest. Her tongue convulsed at the back of her throat, and she lightly coughed again, sounding like a child trying to fake sick to get out of going to school. Her lips curled into a smile, and to conceal the imminent laugh, she attempted a truly fake cough, and laughed instead at how pathetic she sounded. Both detectives stared at her quizzically.

“Is something funny?” Dan asked.

“No, no. It’s just—” She crossed her legs, wiped the corners of her lips as if her laugh were crumbs leftover from a dinner long forgotten. “I thought he would kill me,” she finally said.

“Has he ever threatened you?”

“No . . . It was Roger Peacock.”

“The guy in Houston?” the officer by the window asked.

Jessica shook her head. The more she spoke, the more ridiculous she sounded—the more suspicious. “I don’t know why I thought he would kill me. He’s always threatened suicide, though subtly. He would say things like if I ever left him, he would go back to that dark place he was in after his last girlfriend.”

“Layla?” Dan interrupted.

Jessica blinked.

“His final text to you said, ‘Just like Layla.’ I’m assuming Layla is the last girlfriend.”

Jessica nodded. “He admitted that he tried to kill himself then. But it didn’t work. I guess, I just assumed that if he ever had his heart broken again, he would give up hurting himself and hurt the woman who hurt him. He’s never said that to me directly, though.”

“Why do you think you hurt him?” Dan asked.

“I didn’t love him the way he wanted me to.”

“Meaning you cheated,” the man by the window said.

“Excuse me?”

“The man you were with. I assume you two are involved.” He approached the table, pressed his palms down on the metal. He peered down at Jessica over the rim of his glasses.

“I . . . we . . .” She shivered underneath her thin clothing. She could feel her pointy, perky breasts trying to pierce through the cotton fabric of her t-shirt. She wanted to cover herself, but she feared any further gestures to hide her suspicious mannerisms would make her look guiltier.

“Look,” Dan said, “we’re not gonna judge you for what you might have been doing with the radio DJ.”

“I thought his name sounded familiar! My brother-in-law listens to him all the time. Saved his marriage.”

“Jake,” Dan snapped. Jessica could only assume that he was the older and more experienced of the two. He turned back to Jessica. “I don’t care if you were screwing him, sucking him, or watching a movie. All I care about is the dead man on your doorstep and how he got there.”

“We just want to get to the bottom of this. That’s all,” Jake said, recovering the serious tone in his voice.

“The bottom line is he killed himself, and he did it in front of my door to make me suffer for it.” Jessica shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t blame him.”

—Nortina

R is for Ring

Originally published April 21, 2015 for the A to Z Challenge.

“What was that?” Bruce swatted at his ear.

“What was what?” Jessica pressed her lips against his forehead, shingling his brown hair with her fingers.

“I don’t know. It sounded like a fly, or something.”

“Am I making you nervous?” Jessica kissed him on the lips. Then down to his chin. Then underneath his chin, and lower on his neck, near his throat.

“Not at all.” He reclined onto the pillows propped up on the headboard as Jessica moved further down. She kissed his collarbone, then his bare chest. She traced her tongue around the sharpened outlines of his abs. His abdomen convulsed as he chuckled under her light touch. She migrated down to his navel, biting the skin on the outer edges. When she reached the thin trail of pubic hair just below his navel, he suddenly shot up.

“There it is again. That buzzing.”

Jessica searched the bedroom, and her eyes immediately fell on her phone lying on the edge of her nightstand. Bruce picked up the vibrating phone and looked at the picture displayed on the screen. “Is this him?”

Jessica nodded.

“He looks kind of weird. I mean, he has his hands in his pockets. He’s leaning to the left but his head is cocked to the right. He’s smiling, but it’s like he’s trying to show all of his teeth at the same time. Almost like he’s sneering at you.” Bruce leaned his head to the right and bared his teeth to demonstrate.

Jessica snatched the phone from him. “You look like a washed-up rapper.” She tossed it across the floor, and it landed where the door was cracked open.

Jessica climbed onto Bruce’s lap and wrapped her arms around his neck. “I don’t want to think about him. He’s history.” She sighed loudly, her breath ruffling through his hair. “You have experience with stealing girlfriends.” She arched her back. “Steal me.”

Bruce quickly flipped her over and positioned himself on top. “Alright,” he whispered. He sucked on her neck, and she wrapped her legs around his waist as he thrust his hips into her.

Jessica felt as if she would melt, her body like jelly underneath her skin. Two years of built up resentment, dissatisfaction, force appeasement to a tormented love gushed from her pores and onto the sheets in an ocean of sweat. Bruce kissed the tops of her breasts, and she remembered what she had always desired in a relationship. Someone to kiss her, comfort her when she was down, whether that was by lending a shoulder for her to cry on, or through unbridled sex. He intertwined his fingers with hers and pressed her hands on either side of her into the mattress, and she remembered she just wanted to be with someone who made her feel comfortable being herself, whether that meant watching her favorite black and white Alfred Hitchcock movies with her, going bowling just to order the chili cheese fries from the concession stand and using the bumpers to cheat, or dancing under arches of water shot from rusted fountains in the city park with giggling, half-naked two-year olds. He pressed deeper into her, quicker in pace, and she remembered how much she loved to fight. Why have sex in the morning when they could wrestle? Pin each other to the ground; winner got to take a shower first, loser cooked breakfast.

She never had any of that with Whitmore. Whitmore had a plan. He had seen too many movies, read too many blogs. He believed relationships were all about romance, love, working toward marriage. He never allowed them to grow into friends before he began planning a wedding and a family. He’d convinced her that pursuing a friendship wasted time. No one could wait that long. He was so eager to settle down, he never learned her middle name, or her favorite type of food, or what she enjoyed doing in her free time. He missed getting to know her.

She dug her nails into Bruce’s back and released a buoyant moan. She didn’t know what the future held for them, but she wanted him to help her rediscover her passion, the fire that burned within her whenever she became involved with a man who asked for nothing but her company.

Suddenly, there was a loud, piercing bang. It echoed off the walls, rang in Jessica’s ears, ricochet within her skull. Bruce pulled out of her and sprang from the bed so fast he nearly hurt her.

“That sounded like a gun shot. It sounded like it came from your living room?”

“No one else is here. My door makes a lot of noise. I would’ve heard if someone was inside.” Feeling vulnerable, Jessica crossed her arms over her exposed breasts, placing a hand on the opposite shoulder.

“Maybe it was outside your door?” Bruce said.

“There’ve been some break-ins. It could be my neighbor.”

“Stay here. I’ll check it out.”

“Be careful.”

Bruce stepped into his jeans and walked around the corner. Jessica scooted to the edge of the bed, wrapping the bed sheets around her shoulders. She heard Bruce open the door. She heard a heavy thump. Then she heard him gasp. Seconds later, he was standing in the doorway, his lips pressed together. He refused to make eye contact with her.

“You need to call the police.” His voice was short and weighted.

“Why? What is it? What happened?”

“Just—” He bent over and picked up her phone from the floor. “Call the police.”

Jessica was about to dial 9-1-1 when she saw a series of incoming texts from Whitmore.

I need to see you. Are you home?

I’m in the parking lot.

Why won’t you answer the phone?

I want to make us work. What do I have to do to make us work?

I want to marry you Jessica Ryan. That’s what I came to ask you.

So this is it? You’re done with me?

I don’t understand what I could’ve done.

Goodbye, Jessica. It’s obvious you don’t love me as much as I love you.

Just like Layla . . .

 Jessica slowly looked up at Bruce. “What did you see?”

“You shouldn’t go up there.”

Jessica dropped her phone and pushed past Bruce. She sprinted to the living room, and as if she had collided with an invisible brick wall that had suddenly risen from her floorboards, she collapsed to her knees. In front of her, face down, half his body inside across the threshold, lay Whitmore, blood spilling from his right temple. There was a smear of red on the front of her door, midway and on down to the bottom, from where his head hit and slid down as his body fell underneath him. Poking out from underneath his chest was the gun he used to end his life.

Jessica wanted to cry. She wanted to scream, but she couldn’t find her voice, and she realized that all fluids related to Whitmore, tears included, had been purged from her body while she had sex with Bruce. The only word she could muster out of her mouth was, “Oh.”

Behind her, Bruce spoke into the phone. “Yes, I need an ambulance. A man is dead.”

—Nortina

P is for Peacock

Originally published April 18, 2017 for the A to Z Challenge, this cynical scene won’t appear in the novella, but it raises an interesting question…

Jessica stuffed her phone in the locker so that it wouldn’t distract her. She hoped that someone stretching her legs in front of the lockers would hear it rattling against the metal door and take it. That would be the excuse she would give Whitmore for not returning his calls. I wasn’t ignoring you. My phone was stolen.

Jessica increased the resistance and incline on the elliptical and pushed harder. She wiped the sweat from her forehead and breathed through her mouth. She wouldn’t think about Whitmore for the next hour. She propelled her arms and legs back and forth. Closing her eyes, she pretended shed wasn’t confined to a small space under the thick, heavy air of a gym crowed with sweating bodies but outside in an open field, running through the light breeze, the ripe smell of freshly cut grass lifting her off her feet.

When she opened her eyes, reality struck her in the face, and her legs buckled underneath her. She looked at her statistics on the machine. “Eight miles an hour at level 15 resistance? I won’t be able to walk tomorrow.” She wiped down the handlebars with the moist towel. Out of habit she looked up at the TV above her. She hated that every one of the forty or more television sets hanging from the ceiling throughout the gym was on a news station—CNN, FOX News, MSNBC. Anyone exercising in an attempt to relieve stress would quickly regain it by looking up, and reading the closed captions—local middle school teacher arrested on twelve counts of indecent liberties with a minor; police officer fatally shoots unarmed black man in a routine traffic stop; protestors stage a “die-in” at Madison Square Garden; motorcyclist killed in wreck during rush hour on 1-40; Roger Peacock dead.

Jessica froze in front of the television set broadcasting the CNN report. For the last three days the entire city of Houston had been on a manhunt for Peacock after he walked onto the UH campus and shot five women in the head, execution style, all apparently his ex-girlfriends. All this time, he was crumpled in a corner of his apartment’s basement laundry room with half his face blown off after turning the gun on himself that same day.

Jessica hiked the steps of the stair climber. She was never a fan of this machine. The steps were too steep and she often tripped if they were moving too fast. She didn’t care today. She wanted to trip. She want to fall hard on her face, break her nose on the edge of the steps. Anything to get her mind off of what she’d just read, and how familiar it sounded to her current predicament.

Roger Peacock was another one of Bruce’s bitter friendzoned characters. However, after years of rejection from women who this self-proclaimed good guy believed wouldn’t find anyone better than him, he finally snapped and slaughtered them all. It was as if dating him meant life or death. He held their futures in his hands. He was their god. Do not deny me, or face punishment: Death.

What frightened her most about Roger Peacock was how much he reminded her of Whitmore. That self-entitlement they both contained within their hearts. They believed themselves to be good, respectable men and assumed women would throw themselves at their feet, willingly open their legs to them, devote their every being to them, and when those women didn’t, they couldn’t comprehend why not.

It ate at Peacock, tormented him, a molesting parasite, chipping at his brain, until he finally concluded that women dumb enough to refuse a “good man” deserved to die.

But did Whitmore believe Jessica deserved to die too?

—Nortina

#FridayFictioneers: Pondering

We’ve stayed too long. Cut off from all exits but my bedroom window, we sit on a corner of my bed, watching the vines pour in and swallow my dresser whole.

There’s no escaping now. Even if we tried to climb out, a loose, sinewy tendril would wrap around our ankles, drag us under.

“Reminds me of that movie,” Caroline says, “where the plants turn on people.”

“Never heard of it.”

“Mark Walhberg’s in it.” She picks at her fingernails with a serrated knife gone dull against the siphoning vine. “Apparently, they release a toxin that makes people kill themselves.”

word count: 100

—Nortina


© Sarah Potter

Friday Fictioneers challenges you to write a story in 100 words or less using the provided photo prompt as inspiration. Click the froggy icon to read other stories and add your own.