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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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.

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.

#ThrowbackThursday Fiction: To Rewind Time

I remember that he’s married now, so I ask about his wife.

“Pregnant,” he says.

I wait for details, but he only adds, “Very pregnant.”

Out of decency, I think to congratulate him, recite some drivel about how happy I am for him, how I wish him nothing but the best—all lies.

“How’ve you been?” he asks. Such a generic question, but there’s a hint of genuine concern in his voice, as if he’s picked up on my misery. I make no effort to hide it, and he had always been empathetic toward my feelings, even when he was the cause of my grief.

I look up into his eyes, and their weariness makes me feel safe. Reason would convince me that his visible tiredness is because of a demanding wife who, big with child, has driven him to take extra shifts—ringing up chips and smokes for night owls and runaways like me would be less strenuous than whatever hormonal crisis is unfolding at home—but I hold on to hope that seeing me again for the first time in five years has brought him to hate his own life, as I do mine.

“I’m being stalked by my boyfriend,” I tell him.

He laughs at what he thinks is an obvious joke, and a customer I don’t hear approach from behind taps my shoulder. His touch sends a surge down my arm as if I’ve just been electrocuted, and I feel I could literally jumped out of my own skin. I drop my bag of nabs along with the liter bottle of water onto the floor and curse under my breath for allowing myself to get distracted.

“Excuse me, ma’am, I didn’t mean to scare you,” he says. He bends down to help me, but I shoo him away and quickly gather my things—I’ve stayed too long. What good will it do me to explain to an ex—one who’s happily married—that I’ve continued making bad choices, even after he was out of my life? I’d only be giving Craig more time to find me and force me back into his bed. I’ve wasted enough time; I must leave.

But I make the mistake of turning back before I exit the door, and he stares at me as he takes cash from the other customer.

I am still frozen by the door when the man brushes past, giving me a faint smile as he exists, and we are again left alone in this silent gas station convenience store save for the hum of the coolers on the back wall to remind us that we are still being watched.

“Why don’t you call the police?” he asks.

I’ve tried. Even as they promote campaigns to end domestic violence, to look for the signs, to pay closer attention to the most subtle ones, they don’t believe me. The absence of physical scars doesn’t help, and the fact that they know Craig further discredits my case.

“He is the police,” I say.

“Damn.” He drums his fingertips against the counter. I notice the nails are clipped too close to his skin, and I wonder if he still makes a habit of chewing them. He turns his head toward the short-circuit television, which displays the security camera footage in the store, and I step back, just out of shot, as another customer walks in, drawing the air conditioning outside with a draft. The bell above the door jingles, and I glance down at the time on my wrist watch. Fifteen minutes and counting.

“Hey.” He comes from behind the counter, and in two strides he is inches from me. I can feel his warm, steady breath blow just above my forehead. I forget how tall he is. He towers over me. I remember how he frightened me at times, even more when we argued. Now his eyes show a fierce anger, the deep amber in his irises pops out as in those of a predator, and all I want to do is fall into his arms like a damsel.

“I get off at eleven. Will you wait?” he asks.

I know I shouldn’t, and it’s selfish of me to keep him from his growing family, to worry him with my own feeble problems, especially when I’ve done this to myself. My eyes roll closed, and I imagine how different my life would be if five years ago I had only said those four simple words he was desperate to hear come back to him as he cradled the velvet ring box behind his back.

Original posted on May 31, 2017.

#AtoZChallenge A Drabble for a Tag: Conclusion – X, Y, and Z

X Marks the Spot

Mel

“I think, therefore I am.” Five little words to explain human existence. It’s become my mantra as I meander down the empty road.

I am still flesh, blood, bone; still mind coherent; still…human.

Carol didn’t give me a chance to explain. But she still. I saw a man in the car with her before it sped off, which can only mean Mr. one-night-stand with the Victorian era house is real.

See, I remember. Humanity still exists in me.

When I get there, I’m not alone. Others like me—humans still—surround the house, all interested in the treasure hidden inside.


YOLO

They’re chained to the wall—mere inches from each other—Grace and the woman I thought I saw him murder…

Except, they’re different. Pallid, rotten skin. Moaning incoherently…

“I thought I could use Grace to save the ones that don’t turn back in the day…” he says.

Is that what Mel has become? I wonder.

He points to the woman. “What you saw me stab her with was a serum.”

At the restaurant, she was beautiful—flushed cheeks, hair the color of sand, deep brown eyes—I was envious of her. “So it works!”

He shakes his head. “Only temporarily.”


Zombie Apocalypse

Mel for only half a day? Can our friendship withstand it?

No time to wonder. There’s a clawing and ripping at wood. The drain of color in his face and eyes tells me what we both fear, and when the basement door is ripped open and flung to the bottom of the staircase, he slams the door to our tiny room and locks it.

But are we really safe? Confined in this tight space with two hungry zombies while an army beats tirelessly on the other side.

Hours from morning, and even then, only two of them will become human…

—Nortina


The A to Z Challenge is over, and today is actually reflection day, but I still have to finish my 26 drabbles (100-word stories) using some of my favorite unused or underused tags.

Today’s conclusion was brought to you by the tags, “X marks the spot,” “Yolo,” and the tag that inspired the whole story, “zombie apocalypse.”

I hope you enjoyed! I left the ending open ended intentionally. Do they survive? do they day? Interpret it how you will.

#AtoZChallenge A Drabble for a Tag: Werewolf

“I was a doctor before Grace,” he says.

Grace, who is real. An elderly woman who came to his office on day with a dire problem.

“I thought it was an advanced form of dementia. Then she invited me down here—” We stand in front of the obscure door at the back of the basement, where he finally acknowledges the knocking that has haunted me since I was last here.

“I watched her transform.”

“Into what?”

“They’re like werewolves,” he says, “except instead of a full moon, it’s every night. And they’re still—”

“Human?”

He nods. “At least, a version…”

—Nortina


The A to Z Challenge is back, and this year, I’m giving you 26 drabbles (100-word stories) using some of my favorite unused or underused tags.

OK, so I fell behind, but I won’t leave you hanging! Thursday’s tag was “werewolf.”

Stay tuned for the conclusion, “X,” “Y, and “Z” tomorrow!

#AtoZChallenge A Drabble for a Tag: Vulture

Mel

The high doesn’t last.

Yes, in that way it is like sex. The pleasure shoots you to the moon—until you orgasm, come crashing down, back to earth, where you roll over and realize the man lying in your bed is a rotting corpse.

A zombie.

Or vulture, as they prefer. It sounds less “Night of the Living Dead,” less “Give me your brains.” Although, we still want brain…

After he’s had his fill, he leaves with half my spleen and small intestines dangling from his mouth.

All I can think about is what to eat next…

or who…

“Carol.”

—Nortina


The A to Z Challenge is back, and this year, I’m giving you 26 drabbles (100-word stories) using some of my favorite unused or underused tags.

Today’s tag was “vulture.”

Stay tuned for “W” tomorrow!