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

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.”

#1MinFiction: Vertigo

“Please, sit down.”

Another spell of vertigo sends me into a whirlwind, and the ground underneath suddenly feels 20 feet away.

I fall into the chair behind me. “I don’t want to remember.”

I still see his face, still feel his clammy hands around my throat. The darkness closes in, as when I went unconscious and woke wearing no pants.

“When will you catch him, officer?”

—Nortina


Spending time catching up on some prompts that I missed while on a brief hiatus. Here’s my contribution to a previous #1MinFiction prompt: whirlwind

With Those Bulging Eyes

It’s Throwback Thursday once again, and in the spirit of Halloween and all things fearful, I’m revisiting this terrifying poem, originally published in fēlan magazine’s fear issue in November 2015.

“With Those Bulging Eyes” is one of my favorite poems I’ve ever written, and probably the most talked about among family and friends who’ve read it, most likely due to its extremely graphic content. (My mom’s co-worker is probably still wondering what happened to that sweet little angel she once knew).

This poem—inspired by the frightful painting, Saturn Devouring His Son, by Spanish artist, Francisco Goya—tackles the uncomfortable and controversial subject of abortion, how it can affect a woman physically, emotionally, psychologically.

Read the full poem below, and if you want to know more about my inspiration behind the poem, and more about me as a writer in general, check out my artist interview on fēlan’s website here.

Friday Fictioneers: Brief Reprieve

I pretend I don’t hear gun shots afar off.

Fourth of July’s in three weeks. It’s just fireworks. Drunk frat brothers shooting off exploding rockets for practice.

But I back inside just to be safe, close the sliding glass door to the balcony and lock it.

Money and privilege doesn’t mean a thing these days. You can be a United States congressman and still be targeted. How many presidents absorbed the bullet? How many of them lived?

I’m only here for the weekend though. Be back in Chi-Town by Monday, where I recognize the gang bangers who shoot me.

word count: 100

—Nortina


PHOTO PROMPT © Dale Rogerson

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.

#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.

Phantom of the Subway

“What’s up, Doc?”

She thinks she’s so clever, smacking that gum around her tongue. If the train bounces the right way, maybe she’ll swallow it.

“I’m hunting wabbits!”

She mimics Elmer Fudd’s ear-ringing laugh, and it dances around my head inside my mask.

Shut up, shut up, shut up! This is New York. I know she’s seen stranger people on the subway — like the man lying by my feet. He looks like he hasn’t showered in weeks. He conspicuously hides a malt liquor bottle inside his faded army jacket.

“It’sss rabbit ssseassson!” she spits.

I check the running screen above the doors. Three more stops to Tremont. What are the odds she’ll get off at one of them? The train lurches forward and she slides off the edge of her seat, holding the pole in front of her to keep from falling. She’s so close to the doors; I think about kicking her off at the next stop.

“Say yer prayers, varmint!”

Maybe she should say hers. I raise my arms, grab the tips of the rabbit ears and pull the mask over my head.

She jerks back, coughs, pounding her chest. Yes, yes. She’s swallowed her gum. It sticks to her throat, preventing her from screaming at the webbed skin on one side of my face. To add fuel to the flame, I pop out my glass eye and toss it just as the doors open and she tumbles out onto the platform, my eye rolling behind her.

—Nortina


Benjamin Godard - “Catch Me If You Can”
Benjamin Godard – “Catch Me If You Can”

Written for VisDare, a weekly challenge to craft a story based on the provided photo in 150 words or less . . .

One of these days, I’m actually going to write 150 words! 😉

Drive (Buried Series)

Of course, he didn’t own a suitcase. That would’ve been too simple. He didn’t have many clothes—you tend to pack light when you drift from place to place. He’d only been in town six months when we met at the DMV—I renewing my license, he getting his CDL.

“I’d make a great truck driver,” he’d said later that afternoon over coffee. “I can’t stay put in one area for long.” He then recited the cities he’d lived before temporarily settling in Greensboro, North Carolina. Boston, Newark, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Richmond.

Repeatedly he’d expressed his desire to live in Atlanta, or further south in Florida, possibly Miami, with its white beaches and exotic women. However, he loved how quiet Greensboro was and reveled in our small town atmosphere. By then, I was already smitten, so I convinced him to give my quaint little city a year, enough time for him to fall in love with it, and subsequently, with me too.

“I don’t want to be a burden,” he said.

“It’s a little late for that,” I scoffed as I backed out of the parking space in front of his apartment.

“I mean, I don’t want you to get your hands dirty.”

“Then why even show me…her?” I couldn’t make myself say body, still in shock that I was agreeing to help him. How could I blatantly ignore another woman’s voice silenced forever? Could I be that blindly in love after only a few months?

Our first night together was in the backseat of his Toyota, under the clear, starry night sky. We’d pretended to have found the perfect spot for a date when truthfully, the blanket lining the backseat, the pillow propped against the door handle, the pile of laundry rising from underneath the driver’s seat, and the toothbrush and tube of toothpaste in the cup holder had always been there.

We’d just finished watching his favorite movie on Netflix, Doomsday. He had an unsettling obsession with graphic deaths—blood squirting from the neck of a decapitated body; a man with half his face blown off from a shotgun, blood splattering on the camera lens; cannibals surrounding a pyre, a primal chant of hunger exiting their lungs as a crane lowered their hostage into the dancing flames.

My pizza had been sitting at the back of my throat, waiting to resurface as the scenes became gorier. I squirmed in the seat, but he put his arm around me, stilled my body, kissed my neck and my collarbone and lower, unbuttoning my blouse.

“I love to give you pleasure,” he’d whispered, going further to say that he couldn’t be aroused until he knew I was, until he knew my entire body was quivering under his touch, until he knew I was gushing to have him inside of me. But I could already feel him rising during the movie, when I was still shielding my eyes behind my fingers, when I turned my head every time a sword severed a limb. Was it my moans that turned him on, or could it have been the last breaths of the dying characters on screen?

How easy it was for him to kiss me back at his apartment, to touch me, give me pleasure while his dead girlfriend decomposed in the bedroom. How easy it was for me to return his affections. Was I really any better than him?

“Are we going to the store?” he asked.

“We can’t leave a trail.”

“You sound like you’ve done this before,” he said jokingly. I was never a fan of his dry humor. It came at the most inappropriate of times. His voice often carried when he spoke distastefully of “trannies” and referred to white women as “snowbunnies” in public.

“I’ve watched enough forensic files cases on TV to know that killers are always caught when video of them buying weird items at Wal-Mart, or Home Depot comes out,” I said, keeping my eyes on the road, both hands on the wheel, making sure my tone remained stern so that he could understand the seriousness of what we were doing.

“What could be weird about buying a suitcase?” he asked.

“In the middle of the night?” I pointed to the clock on the dashboard displaying the time. 1:45 AM. “And what if they find your girlfriend’s body inside a suitcase that you recently bought. They would have the receipt, the tape. The evidence is stacking up against you already.”

“She’s not my girlfriend.”

“Fine! You’re baby mama!” I sharped right into my driveway and put the car in park.

“How would they know it’s not your suitcase then?” he asked.

“It was a gift from my parents back in college. A luggage set to go to Mexico for Spring Break with a couple of my roommates. I’ll take my nametag off it and it’ll just be a plain black suitcase. No trail.”

He nodded and moved to unbuckle his seatbelt.

“Stay here,” I said, and taking the keys from the ignition, I trotted up the steps into my house. The luggage set was in the back corner of my bedroom closet. I packed the three smaller suitcases inside the larger one, lugged it back down the steps and heaved it into the trunk.

—Nortina

Next:
Accessory

Catch up on previous installments:
To Live
Murderer
Body
Odor
Ringer

To Live (Buried Series)

I could feel him standing behind me, watching as I retched into his downstairs neighbor’s garden. As my shoulders hunched and my body shuddered, I anticipated his palm on the center of my back, between the shoulder blades, that slight nudge that would send me over. There was no reason to keep me around, spare my life. He’d shown me the devil, etched away the thin crust and revealed to me the darkness he’d kept buried inside his heart for most of our relationship, and I had rejected it.

“Will you call the police?” he asked softly, with the same voice he used to tell me he needed me, pleading, desperate. I turned around and looked into his eyes, glowing gray in the moonlight, tears shimmering as they collected around his lower eyelid. One tear dripped from the corner, began to glide down his cheek. I reached up to wipe it away, and he snatched my wrist. “Will you call the police?” he said again, more forceful this time, the bass growing in his voice. He squeezed my wrist, the tips of his fingers pressing deep into bone, drawing up blue veins, cutting off circulation, curling my hand forward, drawing me to my knees.

“We have to,” I said finally, and he tossed my wrist back into my face and spun around, scratching his head with both hands.

“Why?”

“Because there’s a dead girl in your bed!” I snapped.

He knelt in front of me, curled his hand around the back of my neck. “You still don’t get it, do you?”

I hung my head as he tickled my spine. His hand was large—his thumb running up and down my throat while the rest of his palm cupped behind my neck. Would he press forward, cut off the air to my lungs? Would he snap my neck, bend his hand as if twisting the lid off a glass soda bottle.

“We can tell them she went to bed drunk and choked on her vomit during the night,” I suggested.

“They’ll check her stomach.” He patted my shoulder as if to say, thanks for trying. I’d shown him an inclination to help. My life was saved— for now.

“Plus they’ll wonder why I took so long to call,” he added, standing and leaning against the patio door.

“How long…has it been?”

“Couple days.”

“A couple days!” I stumbled back into the railing, the metal hitting the center of my spine directly. I put both hands on the bar to brace myself and keep from flipping backward at yet another shocking bomb dropped onto my conscience. His dead ex-girlfriend in his bed. Her body festering for a couple days. What was next?

“It’s a wonder your neighbors don’t smell anything. I could smell it as soon as I got here. I thought it was an animal.”

“That’s why you have to help me!” He rushed to me, swept me into his embrace, bending my back over the banister. He kissed my shoulder and neck hurriedly, but as he moved higher he slowed, biting on my cheekbone, planting a row of kisses down to my lips.

“Stop,” I whined, but he wouldn’t let go, holding tighter, kissing harder, slipping his hands into the front my jeans. Before I knew it, we were back inside, where I again couldn’t breathe, the reek of decomposition impairing my better judgement. He laid me on the loveseat, knocking litter off the coffee table as he wrestled me out of my clothes and mounted me. It was then that I realized this was another way to live. If I couldn’t help him rid himself of his ex permanently, the least I could do was relieve the tension in his groin, make him feel he didn’t waste his time showing me his evil secret. Though lying on her back got the last one killed, if I could give him what every man expected and wanted from a woman, silently, maybe he would feel less murderous, less vengeful. Maybe his desires of being a father would awaken once again. Maybe we could forget what he’d done, start over with a clean slate, save my life and cleanse his soul.

When he finished, he sat on the arm of the couch and lit a cigarette while I slid back into my clothes. He took a long drag then turned and handed it to me. “Why not?” He shrugged. He knew I didn’t smoke, but what was the point of being righteous now, wanting to extend my life? We all died eventually. If not by the hands of someone else, someone we undoubtedly knew and loved, then by our own hands.

I held the cigarette between my index and middle fingers, inhaled the nicotine, and listened to the echo of the final nail being driven into my coffin. “Do you have a suitcase?” I asked.

—Nortina

Next
Drive

Catch up on previous installments:
Murderer
Body
Odor
Ringer

Murderer (Buried Series)

I ran for the door. The foul stench exuding from the mattress seemed to engulf me, an invisible force pushing against my body as if the walls were closing in. I held my breath, my neck throbbing as adrenaline pumped through my veins. Using my shoulder, I tried to burst through, but he extended his arms and held onto the door frame on either side of him, blocking my escape.

“You can’t leave!” he pleaded.

“You killed her!” I screamed, and again said, “You killed her! You killed her! You killed her!” It was all I could say, over and over, pounding my fists against his chest, pulling down on his neck, elbowing his side, attempting to cut him down so that I could get past, out of this room, out of this apartment, to fresher, cleaner air, untainted by death, free of the culpability of knowing that a dead woman lay underneath his bed sheets.

He suddenly wrapped his arm around me and scooped me off my feet. He cupped his hand over my mouth, my muffled screams of “You killed her!” vibrating against my teeth. He kicked the door closed behind him and carried me to the other side of the room where he slammed me against the wall, the top of the mirror on the dresser next to us bouncing on the plaster in beat with the back of my head.

“Be quiet! I have neighbors!” he whispered sharply. He pressed his forearm into my collarbone, cutting into my windpipe. Unable to speak, I lifted my chin and nodded my acquiescence. He relinquished, and I collapsed to the floor in a fit of coughs, clutching the base of my neck with both hands.

“Why…would you show…me this?” I asked, heaving for air, then choking on the sour fumes, between words.

“I thought you could help me.”

“Help you do what?” I squeaked as I lifted myself off the floor.

“You’re my girl now—”

“You make me your girlfriend so I can help you cover up a murder!”

“Keep your voice down!” He raised his arm as if to push me up against the wall again and shut me up by applying all of his weight to my throat. I ducked and circled around him, making a mad dash for the door, but he was just as quick. I’d barely cracked it when he slammed his palm onto the wood just above my head, rattling the door as he smacked it shut, sending a tremor from the door handle, through my hand, up my wrist, to my elbow and further, until my entire arm shook like Jell-O.

He sighed heavily behind my ear. “You don’t understand. You don’t have kids,” he said, and I felt as if I’d been stabbed through the back of my heart. He knew how much I wanted kids, how desperate I was to become a mother. He’d listened to my fears of an echoing clock ticking inside my womb, sat with me as I scrolled through endless pictures of my friends’ children growing before my eyes. When he’d lost his boy, he’d tried to erase him from existence. He’d tossed all of his toys into the lake, deleted pictures from his phone. Still, every Christmas, every fourth of August, memories would creep back in. He wanted to start over, recreate his first child, and I wanted to be the woman to grant him that, giving us both what we desired most.

“She took my son from me,” he said as he began to pace back and forth in front of the bed. “I don’t expect you to know how that feels, but for a year, I didn’t know where my son was at. If he was in this city, or that state. If he was alive or dead.” He stopped and looked down at his palms. “When I held him for the first time after that year—” He swallowed hard, stuck his hands underneath his armpits. “He cried his head off… Because he didn’t know who the fuck I was!” He starting pacing again, looking down at his feet. “Me. His fucking father!” He repeatedly stabbed at his chest with his index finger. “And this bitch walks around here, smiling and laughing. Moving all her shit up in my house. Acting like nothing’s changed. Like she didn’t keep my son from me for a year. Like she didn’t have another man raising my son for a year. Like she didn’t have my son calling another nigga ‘Daddy’ for a year!”

He stormed for bed, fists balled at his side, he climbed onto the mattress, drove his knee into her gut, landed one punch after the other onto her face; the covers slowly drawing back under his force, revealing pallid skin; her dead flesh absorbing the blows and cutting off the reverberating sound. When he tired of punching her, he clasped her neck, locked his arms and pushed down, strangling her corpse. “If I could bring this bitch back to life and kill her again, I would. And it wouldn’t be with no soft ass pillow this time either.” He rocked the bed as he spoke, banging the headboard against the wall. Neighbors wouldn’t call the cops; they’d knock in response, protesting the presumed rough sex.

I quickly turned away, squeezing my eyes shut. “Stop it! Please! Just stop it!” I flung the door open, sprinted down the hall to the living room, snatched the curtains hanging over the patio door, yanking the rod down with them. I slung the door down its track, stumbled outside into the cool, night air, and doubled over the balcony railing, vomiting into the flower pot one floor below.

—Nortina

Next:
To Live

Catch up on previous installments:
Body
Odor
Ringer