#LyricalFictionFriday: Knock, Knock

There’s just something about him . . .

A woman’s decorative touch on the door tempts me to turn back, but the memories of Christmases spent alone keep me planted.

I pull the sleeves of my sweater over my fists to conceal what I hold in my hand.

I’m locked and loaded, completely focused. 

When she opens the door, I hook my finger around the trigger and fire. Point blank, dead center, right between the eyes. Her body crumples to the floor.

Now he knows how much I want this. Body still sore from the surgery— I’ve changed everything for him. My hair, the way I dress, how I speak. I’ve even killed.

As she lies dying, her eyes are still open. Sheer terror frozen in their gaze. I wonder about her last thought, before the bullet pierced her skull.

That an unsuspicious knock on the door, while gingerbread cookies bake in the oven, has snatched her life from her? Or that the face behind the wool-wrapped double-barreled pistol was her mirror image?

—Nortina


Talk about a “dangerous” woman!  😉Written for  #LyricalFictionFriday, a challenge that uses song lyrics as prompts. Today’s prompt is: I’m locked and loaded…completely focused…my mind is open…

Whodunit

She strikes the match. A spark of light ignites the end of the cigarette perched between her lips.

“I wish you wouldn’t smoke,” he says. “It’s not ladylike.”

“What do you know of being a lady?” She blows into his face, laughs when he inhales and coughs for air.

She needs something to laugh at. After the week they’ve had. Police in and out. Guests confined to their rooms. Bodies in bags wheeled through the rotating doors.

It’s the first day she doesn’t see a news van camped outside her hotel. She’ll savor this moment of peace and quiet.

“Why do you think he did it?” he asks.

She shrugs, takes another drag. “Why does any husband kill his wife?”

“But Maria, too?”

She closes her eyes. She will choose to ignore the pain in his voice at the mention of the second floor maid. Especially since she’s not supposed to know about the affair. As far as he, the authorities, the hotel guests, and the rest of the staff are concerned, Maria was strangled after she walked in on the man finishing off his wife.

And that’s how she wants to keep it.

—Nortina


 

Fright Night Fridays:  Every Friday night, dare to venture into something spooky, something paranormal, something suspenseful, something that would surely give you a fright. Are you brave enough to stick around?

#1MinFiction: Emergency Exit

I make sure she’s under the center of the bed. The room will start to smell soon, but maybe our cabin steward won’t notice when he comes to clean it.

But I gotta get lost. Hit an emergency button and head for the muster station to board the lifeboats. Women and children first, but with the right make up, one of her padded bras, and that horrible blond wig she brought, maybe I can pass.

—Nortina


Monday’s One-Minute Fiction challenges you to write a story in one minute, no more, no less, based on the prompt provided. For the next several weeks our prompts will be Alaska themed. This week’s prompt is: women and children first.

When I returned from Alaska, everyone at work asked if I was on the ship where the man killed his wife. 😱 No, thank goodness, but you knew a story was coming. 😉 This guy apparently did it because she kept laughing at him. I wonder what provoked our narrator . . .

Missing Pieces

Bernita waited a week before revealing the secret. She was surprised it lasted this long, that no one thought to search her house or wander into her garage and discover the decaying stench coming from a heavy duty trash bag next to the chest freezer…

Because she couldn’t fit him inside. Because she was no butcher, and no matter how many times you salt and pepper it, or drop a bouillon cube into the boiling pot, you can’t make human flesh taste like chicken.

Detective Maye motioned for her to take a seat across from him. She was thankful to be talking to him and not the other guy, his partner, Spence. Spence had the whole bad cop routine nailed to a science. The permanent frown on his face, how he never blinked, walked with a stomp, accusation always in his voice. He was the reason she decided to come clean.

Lori had called her hysterical, said Spence was hellbent on sending her to prison for Gordon’s disappearance, pressing her to confess. After four hours in the interrogation room he had Lori convinced that she was somehow involved because of the fight she and Gordon had the night before. It was loud. Everyone could hear, even from across the street Bernita heard it, as if they were screaming in her backyard, right under her bedroom window.

Gordon had confronted Lori about the affair. Bernita and Lori had been sloppy, both assuming that Gordon wasn’t bright enough to figure them out, or that he wouldn’t be too upset if he did. Wasn’t it every man’s sexual fantasy, anyway? To have a girlfriend with a girlfriend—to screw them both.

Then again, Gordon never thought of Bernita as a girl. Not her baggy clothes, her deep voice, her cornrow braids.

“I have some information on Gordon.”

“Something you forgot to tell us yesterday?”

She’d invited Maye and Spence over after they had finished interviewing a neighbor. She wanted to be caught. She didn’t realize how hard it would be to dismember a body, get rid of the evidence.

The head went fairly easily, and she plopped it in a greased aluminum roasting pan. But sawing through raw bone with conventional kitchen knives proved fruitless. His left leg and thigh lay on a cutting board while the police stood outside on the front porch, listening to her concoct a story about Gordon’s online poker addiction, how he was strapped for cash and had people after him. They didn’t smell the hair burning in the oven because she’d forgotten to shave Gordon’s head. They didn’t notice the blood splatters on her apron after her unsuccessful attempts to hack his leg in half at the knee.

Or maybe they did notice. Maybe they were already on to her. Maybe nosy neighbor and devout Catholic, Mrs. Munson, told them about Bernita’s early morning exits from Lori’s house minutes before Gordon was due home from his graveyard shift at work. Maybe they were able to break Lori, and to remove suspicion from herself, she told them how on the night he disappeared, Bernita burst into their house, wielding a gun, threatening to kill Gordon because Lori disserved better.

The gun wasn’t loaded, and it turned out to be much easier to kill Gordon than pulling a trigger.

Gordon was allergic to nuts. His throat closed completely in three minutes flat after she gave him fries cooked in peanut oil.

Detective Maye reached for his side. Bernita fidgeted when she saw the glint of metal handcuffs.

“Why don’t we just start with where is he?”

Bernita bit her bottom lip. The cooking part came much later, when she realized she wasn’t strong enough to lift him into her trunk and discard him in the woods miles from town. Gordon was 245 pounds alive; dead and bloated, even after the excrement was discharged from his body, he weighed twice as much. She’d pulled her hamstring dragging him down the stairs into the garage, and then left him there three days while she figured out a plan B.

“Lori had nothing to do with it. She doesn’t know.”

Maye nodded, leaned back in his seat, and crossed his leg over his knee. “Why’d you do it?”

Bernita stared at the wall, sterile white like a hospital. She wondered if there was a reason behind the interrogation room’s wall color, if it affected a suspect’s mind, made it difficult for them think or say anything but the truth.

In her red t-shirt, against the white, she imagined the room bleeding.

Nortina



It is Short Story A Day May! Today’s prompt, “The Secret,” comes from Marta Pelrine-Bacon. This story was inspired by an episode of Snapped. It has a strange ending, but oddly enough, it feels complete. But that could also be because it’s nearly midnight and I’m on the verge of sleep. By the way does one of the characters sound familiar? Yes, Detective Maye is back! He didn’t make is as a main character in my A to Z novel, Lost Boy, but you might see him in a few short stories here on the blog!

Poisoned Pete

“Satisfied?” Grandma asked when I marched back to the circle. I took my original seat next to Marcos, to which Drake objected. He stood up so quickly, he shed his age twenty years with the popping of his knees.

“Pipe down, Robin Hood,” Jerry said. He bent forward and mushed Drake in the gut with a heavy grunt. “She ain’t Maid Marian.”

Drake flopped back on the couch, kicking his legs up in the air. He tried to push himself to his feet again, but his legs slipped from under him, and the cushion absorbed his fists. He’d exerted all his energy just that quick, returning to a frail old man.

“What did Rick tell you?” Grandma asked. “Assuming that’s who you called.”

P“He told me something interesting.” I hesitated to say more. I couldn’t imagine Grandma capable of doing something so evil. Poisoning her husband? She wasn’t that kind of Grandma. No, she was the kind that never stopped talking. No matter where she was, she always found a situation that reminded her of an interesting chapter in her life, like jazz music striking memories of her first husband, Andrew, the saxophonist. What would provoke her to confess the cautionary tale of how she murdered her sixteenth husband?

“Have you ever killed anyone, Grandma?” I didn’t want to accuse her straight out, but it wasn’t too outrageous to think she might have aided a few of her husbands in their deaths. How often did twenty-six men, whose only thing in common was one woman, all die tragically after marrying said woman?

Grandma nodded slowly. “He told you about Pete, huh?”

“So it’s true?”

“You killed someone, Millie?” Tammy asked.

“Can’t say I’m not surprised,” Jerry said. “Probably more where he came from.”

Jerry’s dry joke and Grandma’s shifting eyes put a sour taste in my mouth. Uncle Richard only suspected that Grandma had poisoned Pete. He had no proof, and he surely didn’t have a reason—not one he could think of. But Grandma wasn’t an evil person. She couldn’t be. The worst she’d ever done was fall in love too many times. There had to be an explanation, but succumbing to the darkness to take a man’s life, even with a good explanation, tainted your soul.

“I was protecting your mother,” Grandma said.

“How? What did he do to her?”

“It’s not what he did, but what I was afraid he was going to do.” Grandma crossed and uncrossed her legs. She smacked her dry lips then reached for her glass of water on the table next to her. Realizing the glass was empty, she sat it in her lap between her knees. She lifted her head to the ceiling and swallowed hard. The room was so quiet we could hear her throat click. It was as if everyone the center had stopped what they were doing to listen.

“Pete and I were married a couple years,” Grandma said in a raspy voice. She cleared her throat and began again. “We had been married a couple years when I started to notice how he looked at Linda.”

“How did he look at her?” I asked.

Grandma bounced her knees up and down. She picked up the empty glass and held it in her palms, drumming the edge with her nails. “At first I thought it was the fatherly, endearing kind of look, but then . . .” She crossed and uncrossed her legs again, fidgeted in her chair, put the glass back on the table. “Linda liked to run around the house naked. It was cute when she was a baby, but she was getting older and she needed to put some clothes on. I’d yell at her ’til I was blue in the face, ‘Put some clothes on, Linda! Let’s be a lady today.’

“One day Pete decided to spank her for not doing what I said, which . . . there’s nothing wrong with that. When a child’s disobedient, you give them a spanking. Spare the rod, spoil the child. But . . . let her put some clothes on before you bend her over your knee and smack her bottom with your bare hand.”

“Oh my!” Tammy gasped, covering her mouth with both hands.

“Pedophile!” Frank snorted. It was the first time he’d spoken since Lindell.

“Later that night, I woke up freezing. He wasn’t in bed, so I went down the hall looking for him and saw him come out of Linda’s room. He said she had a bad dream, so he read her a bedtime story. But when I looked down at how his pajama bottoms were pulling at his . . . ” Grandma couldn’t bring herself to say the word, crotch, for all the implications that came with it. “How many bedtimes stories make you . . .” Again, her voice faltered.

I raised my hand. “It’s alright, Grandma. You don’t have to say anything else.”

“Linda said he didn’t touch her. They just laid in the bed together while he read her the story. But all I could think about was how they laid together. Did he spoon her? Did she feel . . .him behind her?”

“Grandma, please.” Bile rose at the back of my throat, and I couldn’t swallow it down. The rancid taste filled my mouth, and it was all I could do not to spit it out on the floor. Grandma’s fumbling with the empty glass made sense now. We all needed water to wash out the filth of Pete from our systems.

“The right thing to do was to divorce him, but all I could think about was him hurting other children. What if he married another woman with a pretty daughter like Linda? Would he do more than just read her bedtime stories? I had to stop him. I had to protect future children as well as my own.”

“So you poisoned him.” I said.

“I cooked him blueberry pancakes . . . with antifreeze.”

“Mama bear!” Thomas slapped her back.

Grandma grimaced, but tried to force a smile.

Tammy was still shaken by what Grandma had shared. “I don’t know what scares me more. That a grown man wanted to have sex with a child, or that you killed him.”

“Are you going to call the cops, Tammy?” Jerry asked flatly.

“Speaking of cops, you weren’t caught? How’d you get away with it?” I asked.

Grandma shrugged. “I got lucky. Turned out Pete had this rare kind of genetic kidney disease. So when his kidneys failed, they ruled that as the reason.”

Tammy rocked herself on her heels and stood up, sliding her chair backward. The legs scraped loudly against the tile floor.

“Tammy?” Grandma looked up, her brows furrowed in a worried stare, silently asking, “You won’t tell anyone, will you?”

Tammy glanced down at her wristwatch. “It’s after two, and I haven’t taken my nap today.” She turned and gave me a thin-lipped smile, then briskly walked on the balls of her feet past the nurses station to where the bedrooms started at the back of the community area.

“Well, she’s got dementia, so if we’re lucky, she won’t remember anything when she wakes up,” Thomas said. He kept his eyes on her until she disappeared into one of the rooms. Then he turned to Frank. “And we all know you’ve killed people, so if you say anything—”

“Bah!” Frank snapped. “She probably killed all her husbands. What do I care?”

“Good answer.” Thomas leaned across Grandma and looked at Jerry.

“I’d a killed the bastard too!” Jerry said.

Marcos had been unusually quiet, but when we all looked to him for his answer, he beamed, showing teeth and gums. “Yeeeeeaaaah!”

“I think that means ‘no,’ ” Jerry said. He flicked his wrist over at Drake. “And this one’s too busy trying to reincarnate his wife, he probably wasn’t even paying attention.”

“Oh, you stop messing with Drake. He’s my friend,” Grandma said.

“Until he tries to sleep with your granddaughter.” Jerry crossed his finger over his throat and stuck out his tongue.

“Ahhh! That’s a good one!” Thomas guffawed, slapping his knee.

Those two always knew how to turn a tense situation into a joke.

—Nortina


Maybe “Q” will get posted some time today . . . maybe it won’t. It all depends on how the cops react to the Google search I used to bring you the tale of Poisoned (Pedophile) Pete’s untimely demise . . .

Hope you’re enjoying the A to Z Challenge! 😀

New Beginnings (Buried Series conclusion)

I didn’t want to go back to his apartment. I didn’t want to go home. But it was dangerous to stay in Virginia. How soon would his ex’s body wash up on the banks of the Dan River? How soon would the local news air video feed from traffic cameras showing us dumping the suitcase over the bridge? How soon would Danville police track down his car?

He fell asleep at the wheel twice. The first time, he claimed he was only looking down at the dashboard, checking his gas levels, checking his speed, checking the time—it was almost dawn, but the sun had yet to rise. I wondered it would ever again. We belonged in the darkness, the shadows. The light of the sun would reveal the blood on our hands, permanently stained. No soap, no water would wash it away. We’d go through our daily lives carrying our shame like a scarlet letter. Anything we’d come in contact with would spread the mark—a hand shake here, a passing of papers there. It would spread like a plague until the whole of the earth was consumed. Maybe that was where original sin came from—Adam and Eve’s disobedience passed down through the generations. We were they reincarnated, repeating the cycle, bringing down the curse of death, just so he could keep the fruit of his loins. I doubted even God would save us now.

When he fell asleep the second time, his foot went heavy like lead on the gas pedal. The engine moaned as the dial on the speedometer passed ninety. I beat my fist on the steering wheel and honked the horn to jolt him back to consciousness. I wouldn’t risk a third time. As soon as we crossed back into North Carolina, we would find a cheap motel, pay cash so we couldn’t be traced.

Super 8 has a first floor room available on the back side of the motel, facing a construction lot containing a dormant tractor and mounds of clay piled ten to twenty feet high. It was the perfect place to lay low. Instead of pulling up in front of the room door, he parallel parked into three spaces in an empty corner of the parking lot on the edge of the construction zone, right next to one of the taller clay mounds. With the age of his car, passersby would think it had been parked there unnoticed for weeks, maybe months, possibly abandoned. It wouldn’t appear to belong to a guest staying at the motel—a guest police might be looking for.

The ceiling in the bathroom was peeling—crumbs of plaster swept behind the door. A faint brown ring lined the porcelain siding of both the toilet and the bathtub. There was a layer of smudge on the mirror, similar to his murky windshield, but I didn’t need to see my reflection to know I looked terrible. Deprived of sleep, the bags under my eyes weighed my face. I struggle to lift my neck. My body was heavy, as if I were sinking, drowning under the surface.

I pulled his oversized sweatpants over my hips, turned off the light, and stepped over the large stain on the carpet just outside the bathroom door—probably from a drunk hooker’s vomit, or pee. This was no hotel of luxury.  This was a place where people disappeared from the grid—the cheating husbands, the drug addicts, the “honorably” discharged civil servants, the criminal scum dodging the cops. We were the latter. If we were lucky, the place had bedbugs too. We’d need them to corroborate our story about his mattress and box spring anyway. If one of his neighbors ever asked, we could roll up our sleeves, lift our shirts, and reveal the raised red welts on our arms and backs, where the tiny critters feasted on our flesh.

I worried for Stephan, however. Already tucked into the bed closest to the closest, Stephan lay still, curled under the covers, sleeping with his thumb in his mouth. He didn’t deserve this punishment. He didn’t deserve to lose his mother; he didn’t deserve to lose his father, either. No child should have to suffer the blunt consequences of his parents’ selfish decisions.

“Why’d you kill her?” I could barely hear my own voice. He stepped out of his shoes, kicked them toward the dresser on which the TV sat. “I mean, it couldn’t have been just because she took Stephan,” I added.

“Why not?” He pulled his shirt over his head and tossed it onto armchair by the window.

“I don’t know. I guess . . . I thought there was something more.”

She’d taken their son, erased him from Stephan’s life for almost a year and a half. That was his motive. No one would’ve blamed him if he hunted her down, found her sitting alone on a park bench in a small rural town—isolated from witnesses, yards away from the children playing on the swings—and snapped her neck. But I couldn’t wrap my brain around why he killed her after she’d come back, after she’d brought their son back. Without any persuasion or prying from him, she’d picked up the phone and promised to come home. Why go through killing her after she’d already fixed her wrong? Did she threaten to take Stephan again? Or was it much for him, seeing everyday how big Stephan had gotten, knowing he would never have those memories of watching him grow? He couldn’t forgive her for taking what she could never return?

It was much easier for women to forgive a lover’s wrong than it was for men. Maybe the man I dated before him never forgave me for aborting our baby, either. Maybe he dreamed of killing me too. And just as Stephan’s mom couldn’t save herself,  my obsession with becoming a mother now wouldn’t bring back the child I’d killed. What would he do to me if he learned of my past? After tonight, I knew at least one of us was capable of murder, but would I make the mistake of provoking him to kill me? Would I stoop down to the level of his ex—of my past self—and snatch a child from a father again?

I leaned over the bed Stephan lay in and kissed behind his ear. “Sweet dreams,” I whispered. I prayed he would never have to remember this night, or anything that happened before. I turned around just as his father pulled the curtains shut, but I caught a glimpse of the pink sky in the distance, behind the mounds of clay outside the window. The sun rising would signify a clean slate for us, a new beginning—all of our guilt buried in the night, the dark depths of the river, floating downstream, hopefully to larger bodies of water and eventually feeding out into the Atlantic Ocean, past  local, state, or federal jurisdictions, past territorial waters, and out of our lives forever.

But even as he slid into bed behind me and pulled his sweatpants down to my knees, my eyes wandered to the remote control lying on the nightstand, and I couldn’t help but think about pressing that power button, changing to one of the local stations, and waiting for the top of the hour breaking news report, between the weather and traffic . . .

Grisly discovery made in suitcase washed ashore . . .

—Nortina

Catch up on previous installments:
Buried
Screaming
Motherhood
Accessory
Drive
To Live
Murderer
Body
Odor
Ringer

Buried (Buried Series)

I hadn’t thought about what we would do once we crossed the border into Virginia. Truthfully, I didn’t think we would ever reach this point—that eventually he would come to his senses, or I would. Instead, we subconsciously watched ourselves perform like actors in a suspense film, screaming for us to stop, stop and face the consequences, call the police before it was too late. But when we still stuffed the body into the suitcase, when we still put it inside the trunk of his car, when we still took her sleeping child along for the ride to unknowingly witness his own mother’s disposal, our subconscious stared on horrified, unable to tear eyes away.

The Virginia border was just under two miles ahead, and I had to think fast of what we would do next. Would we try to find a park near the highway where we could bury the suitcase, or would we just pull onto the shoulder and find a spot in the woods? Even if we did find a place to bury her, what would we use? I didn’t think to ask if he had a shovel before we left, but why would he even need one? He lived in a second floor apartment, he had no yard,  he barely left home unless he was going to work. Where else could we easily find one? Going to the store to buy a shovel this late at night would only raise suspicions—not to mention it was unlikely we would find a hardware store open 24 hours.

Why was the decision left to me? He didn’t weigh out his options with me before he moved her into his apartment. He didn’t consult me before he decided to end her life. But he pushed all the responsibilities of eradicating the problem down onto my shoulders. I couldn’t stand on my own two feet underneath the weight. Eventually my knees would buckle, and I would fall forward face first into the ground, inhaling dirt, and in the end, when he no longer required my quick mind to hide his shame, he would bury me right beside her.

As we approached the “Welcome to Virginia” sign, he turned to me. “Well?”

I shrugged. “Maybe we could hide it somewhere in the woods on the side of the road.”

“Are you shittin’ me?”

“What?”

“What happened to ‘we can’t just toss it. You’ll get caught’?” he asked in a nasal voice, mocking me.

“Better here than in the lake behind your apartment where someone’s sure to identify her!”

He shook his head and returned his attention to the road. A pair of signs notifying us of an upcoming split in the highway passed overhead. Ignoring them, he pressed his foot down on the gas pedal, and we lurched forward. He turned the volume on the stereo as high as it could go. The speaker vibrated against my leg and the windows rattled as if about to shatter.

I checked Stephan in the rearview mirror. He was still sound asleep. Was it possible that he was deaf? I couldn’t remember if I’d seen a hearing aid in his ear. Maybe he never had one. Maybe his mother kept it a secret. Jobless, she couldn’t afford doctor’s visits, had to pretend he just wasn’t listening to her—children that young had short attention spans. Or maybe she’d become so vindictive she’d allowed his father to believe Stephan didn’t like him, didn’t want to be near him, when in actuality he couldn’t understand him, couldn’t connect with his voice, match it to his first memory of his father long forgotten.

Maybe I could convince him that we should add Stephan to my insurance, schedule an appointment with an audiologist sometime next week when everything settled.

The fork in the road was slowly coming into up, and he was still driving a steady 70 miles per hour.

“Are you gonna pull over?” I asked.

“I don’t know where I’m going!” he snapped.

I read the sign above our lane. We wanted to go to Danville, but this sign was leading us down a business route. Anything “business” would take us right into the heart of town—the last place we wanted to be with a dead body in the trunk.

I pointed to the sign for 58. “Take the exit!”

He swerved at the last minute, treading across the grass, almost clipping the exit sign with his side mirror.

We merged onto a two lane highway, as empty as the last. There were no street lamps, and the trees on either side of the road created a pitch black barrier that narrowed as we drove along. I watched him drum his fingers on the dashboard and steer with the other hand, screaming along with track, “All these things I hate revolve around me  . . . Just back off before I snap!” My brain shook against my skull, and I covered my ears, expecting to feel blood ooze through my fingers from all the noise.

“Do you think you could turn it down? Please!”

“So are you gonna tell me what we’re doing?”

“I don’t know! Just keep driving!” I smacked the dial with my palm. Finally in silence, I laid my head against the window. The forest outside was peaceful, undisturbed. I wanted to disappear behind the curtain of leaves, lie amongst the shrubs, let the cool breeze sooth my exhausted mind and rock me to sleep.

“Why can’t you make a fuckin’ decision?” he groaned. “You said you would help me.”

“I didn’t tell you to kill her!” I banged my forehead against the glass. The music was gone but the headache pressed on, squeezing against my temples. I looked up and perked when I saw the yellow diamond: BRIDGE ICES BEFORE ROAD.

It wasn’t ideal, but it could work. We wouldn’t have to get our clothes dirty, or scrape our arms on branches, or leave behind our footprints in the dirt for someone broken down on the side of the road and waiting for the tow truck to get curious and follow them right to the makeshift grave. All we needed was the arm strength and the prayer than no car would pass by as we pushed the suitcase over.

The headlights illuminated the sign: DAN RIVER — JAMES LESTER TRAMEL BRIDGE.

“Stop,” I said, tapping the window. “Stop right here!”

He braked hard and jerked the steering wheel right, nearly colliding with the guardrail.

“Smoothly!” I whined.

“What the fuck are we doing?”

“We’ll throw it in the river,” I told him.

“The river?”

“Do you have a better idea?”

He sighed. “I just want this shit to be done.”

“Well let’s hurry up before a car comes.” I checked on Stephan once last time before following him to the trunk.

The smell of rotting flesh had permeated inside, and the whiff nearly knocked me out when he lifted the lid.

He covered his nose with his forearm. “You take the one with the sheets,” he said through his sleeve. He extended the handle to the larger suitcase and pulled it out. It hit the ground with a loud thud, and the wheels, unable to properly roll under the weight of her crumpled body inside, scraped against the pavement like chalk on the blacktop.

He dragged the luggage behind him, and just as he was about to heave it over, I shouted, “Wait! It might float.”

“Dammit, woman!”

“We gotta figure out how to weigh it down.” I moved the other two suitcases around and patted the inside of the trunk in the darkness, feeling for a weight, or crowbar, or maybe even the tire jack, anything that would sink the unlikely coffin down to river floor.

“Didn’t you say better here than back home?”

He was using my own words to mock me again. Before I could rebut, he pushed the suitcase over the edge and stormed toward me. I backed out into the highway, held out my arms. I was next. Without the sun, water temperatures were much cooler at night, maybe even freezing. This was how it would end for me. Death by drowning or hypothermia, whichever came first. I turned toward the eastbound lanes, anxious to see a pair of headlights, a witness. How soon would they get here before he hauled me over his shoulder, dumped me into the black abyss?

“What are you doing?” he asked.

I dropped my arms.

“Get in the damn car,” he said then snatched the second suitcase out of the trunk and tossed it into the river.

—Nortina

Next:
New Beginnings

Catch up on previous installments:
Screaming
Motherhood
Accessory
Drive
To Live
Murderer
Body
Odor
Ringer

Screaming (Buried Series)

We didn’t speak. On Highway 29 North to Danville, we were the only car for miles. He drove in the right line, repeatedly drifting toward to the guardrail until the loud vibration from the rumble strips under the tires caused him to jerk the car back onto the road.

“Are you sleepy?” I asked, but he didn’t answer, remained focused on the road—though, how he could even see the road through his foggy windshield, I wasn’t sure. He’d tried to clean it twice, but that only made it worse. The windshield wipers had smeared a cloudy layer of dirt and wiper fluid across the center just as we were approaching a curve, forcing him to suddenly hit the brakes and wait for it to clear so that he could see well enough to continue driving. Still, it was like peering through muck.

Maybe the glass was just old—aged with the car, a ’96 Camry—and he never thought to replace it. Years of sweaty palms and fingers touching the glass, of food and drinks spilled due to a careless knock of the elbow, of bird droppings in the spring, of bug guts splattered at fifty miles an hour in the summer, of dirty rain water spread from corner to corner by dull wiper blades had added up to a cataract-type vision driving down the empty highway in the middle of the night, barely able to see the road ahead or the dashed and solid lines marking the outside of the lane, even with the high beams on.

Before we  left, I had insisted on putting Stephan in his car seat. I surprised myself at how quickly I’d done it without hesitating or asking for direction, pulling tightly on the seatbelt to make sure he was secure, as if my brain had suddenly registered that I was a mother now and trickled all the necessary knowledge down to the rest of my body. When I leaned forward to kiss his forehead, I felt another force control me altogether. Stephan was now my primary concern. He’d just lost a mother, and contrary to what his father might believe, he’d lost a father in infancy. I was his only hope for a normal childhood, a normal life. All my actions that night meant nothing if I didn’t return to him doting parents who would love and care for him unceasingly, even if one of those parents was me.

I turned to check on Stephan, to make sure his car seat  hadn’t fallen forward or slid across the backseat into the door due to his father’s sporadic driving. He was sound asleep. His head bobbed only when we hit a pothole in the road— nodding “yes,” shaking “no,” answering questions in a dream, in a police station, sitting next to a man with a badge. Do you know what happened to your mother? Did your father do it?  The anxious thoughts invaded my mind suddenly, and just as quickly, I replaced them with images of Hershey’s chocolate bars and Hot Wheels Thunderbirds and projected them into his dreams. If not for the darkness, I believed I would’ve seen his lips curl into a smile. My first motherhood test passed—expelling the nightmares. Not even the thrash of heavy metal from the radio would stir him—I hoped.

I never thought of his father as someone who enjoyed rock music. I’d always assumed he listened to urban hip hop—Lupe Fiasco, or Wale—but without a word, he’d slipped Bullet for My Valentine’s The Poison into the CD player, and we continued down the highway under blood curdling screams.

“Is this really appropriate?” I asked, thinking of the dead body in his trunk, of how perfectly it matched to the lyrics— “. . .betrayed one more time . . . you’re gonna get what’s coming to you . . . now is your time to die . . . cover her face . . .” —as if it were the soundtrack to his violent break-up. I envisioned him turning the stereo in his apartment up full volume to muffle her screams as he straddled her torso and pulled the pillow over her face, driven by his hatred of her and the aggressive shredding from the speakers egging him to press harder, not to let up, until her arms stopped flailing.

“It might wake Stephan,” I added, and my voice sounded so out of place against the rock music, like a dove trying to coo over a lion’s roar. He only turned the dial down a notch, as if that would make a difference, but Stephan didn’t move, so I kept quiet the rest of the ride—cracked the window so that the inrushing air would slightly drown out the music and relieve my ringing ears—until we were fifteen minutes from the border, and he finally asked, “So what are we gonna do when we get there?”

—Nortina

Next:
Buried

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

Motherhood (Buried Series)

I twisted the knob but hesitated to open the door. His cries were strong, desperate. Not high-pitched squeals like a baby’s cry for milk or to have his diaper changed, but deep in his gut, a low, steady moan like a dying man, as if he already knew, already sensed that his mother was gone, and that sudden awareness was slowly killing him.

The front door slammed shut, startling me, and I quickly snatched my hand off the knob.

“Oh, Stephan’s crying,” he said and brushed past me into his room.

Stephan. His name was Stephan.

I lingered at the threshold, watched as he took the boy from the small Hot Wheels bed and rocked him.

He was much bigger than I had imagined; his feet dangled over his father’s crotch. I couldn’t remember if he’d ever told me the boy’s age. There were only the pictures in his phone from when he and his ex were still together and living in Philadelphia. Stephan was only five or six months old then. Old enough to sit up, utter single syllables, and possibly even stand—if he held onto someone’s leg, or a flattened cushion on the couch, or the dulled corner of an end table—but not quite able to walk. He was still too top-heavy; his body needed time to grow into his head. Time lost when his mother took him in the middle of the night and disappeared.

I wasn’t allowed to see Stephan when they moved in—the consequence of dating a man with a child and a selfish baby momma who could vanish without a trace. However, his baby pictures stayed with me. Even when I knew how fast children grew in year, I still dreamt of him as a red-faced newborn wrapped in a blue blanket, wearing a blue cap on his head, and lying on my chest. As in infant, I pictured the tiny little body that could fit snuggly in my arm—his head resting on my shoulder, his bottom in the crease of my elbow, his pudgy feet in the palm of my hand where I could curl my fingers in and tickle the bottoms of his feet until he laughed so hard, he passed gas.

Watching how he bounced Stephan up and down against his chest, I realized that round, cheery bundle of joy was what he had hoped to reunite with when he received the email from him ex promising to give his son back. He was expecting to hold his baby boy again when he left me to meet them at the Greyhound station. Instead, he found his ex standing alone, and a toddler, taller than his knees, walking without the assistance of inanimate furniture, who looked up into the eyes of his father and failed to recognize them.

“I didn’t know he was here,” I said.

“Where else would he be?” he said over his shoulder as he tucked Stephan back under the covers.

“Maybe a neighbor’s house. A friend’s.” I could’ve taken care of him, I wanted to say. It would’ve come natural to me, like sex. Even without the experience, you still knew exactly what to do once it was in your hands, right? How to position your bodies so that you were both comfortable. I could’ve kept Stephan for however long he needed. Fed him sweets and teach him songs so he’d feel comfortable with me. Tell him stories of an important trip his mother was about to embark on, so that neither of us grew suspicious of her sudden disappearance. All the while, unbeknownst to Stephan or me, his father would solicit the help of someone else, maybe a co-worker or drinking buddy, with a similar baby momma issue, who could sympathize with his actions and help him get rid of the body. And then, once all evidence of her was erased, we could get back together, I’d move in, and the three of us could be a family, pretending there was never a fourth person in the equation.

That way was less messy for me.

“I mean, what if he found her?” I asked.

“Watch him until I get back,” he said, dodging my question. He left to retrieve the box spring and drag it down to the dumpster.

Stephan’s eyes were still open, though not enough to signify that he was conscious. His heavy eyelids hinted at being on the brink of sleep, but the furrow in his brow suggested he was questioning who I was and why I stood in the doorway staring at him. Did he think he was dreaming, or had he heard what I’d said about his mother and wanted to understand. Could two-year-olds comprehend the meaning of death? Did they know it was final? That death meant someone was never coming back?

Before I could talk myself out of it, I let myself in and sat at the foot of his bed. The mattress was thin and sunk down to the floor under my weight, bringing my knees level with my chest as if I was squatting.

“Hi.” I reached out and touched his leg. He didn’t flinch or draw back,  but the room still felt cold. Maybe it was the ice blue coat of paint on the walls, or the fact that his eyes still looked open although I was sure he’d fallen asleep by then.

“I’m a friend of your—” The permanent frown on his face stopped me from saying “dad’s.” It was the same frown, I imagine, he gave his father when they met again for the first time—a look of disbelief that he or I could be anything but strangers.

“I’m a friend of your mother’s,” I said, and a sudden draft sent a surge of electricity through my body and raised all the hairs on my arms so that I searched the room expecting to find his mother’s angry ghost. Instead, his father leaned against the door, having returned from outside.

“Let’s get this over with,” he said.

“Are we taking him?”

He shook his head.

“We can’t leave him here alone. Who knows how long we’ll be gone? What if he wakes up again?” What if he woke the neighbors? What if they called the cops? What if the cops came and found Stephan home alone? No parents, no babysitter, but an ever-present stench of something recently dead that had been decomposing for days.

“We’re just dumping the suitcase.” He rolled his eyes. I could tell he was getting annoyed with me. I was being too worrisome. “You’re such a nag,” he used to joke back when our relationship was less complicated. Naggy, an unwelcomed nickname he gave me when I complained too much about his hot apartment, or the fact that he never wore more than a robe and boxers whenever I visited.

Sometimes I wondered if my constant whining was the reason he never made us official. Now that I knew his secret, held the power to send him to death row and take his son from him, again—this time permanently—did he regret inviting me back into his life? Did he regret introducing me to his mess now that I was making it too difficult to clean it up?

“We can’t just dump it anywhere,” I tried to rationalize. “Doesn’t she have family?”

“She doesn’t have anybody. Nobody knows she’s here. She said she was renting some guy’s basement before she moved down.” He shrugged his shoulders and sighed. “But she lies, so I don’t even know.”

I looked down at Stephan, still asleep or at least pretending to be. “Well, regardless, your neighbors have seen her. If we just dump the suitcase anywhere, the police will eventually find it, and if they show her picture on the news, it could lead back to you.”

“So what do you suggest?”

“We go far. Virginia, maybe. Or at least the border. That’s about an hour drive.”

“This late?” he asked.

“No traffic.”

He turned into the hallway, swinging his arms back and forth and pacing in a small circle. “Fine,” he finally said. “I’ll get the suitcase. You take him. We’ll drive my car.” I wanted to protest taking his car, but he raised his hand to silence me and left before I could say anything else.

Stephan was breathing heavy, though I feared if I lifted his chin, I’d find his eyes still partially open, staring down at me with distrust. I tucked the comforter around him like a cocoon and scooped him into my arms. It felt too natural to lay him on my chest, position his head in the crook of my neck, as if I’d done it many times before. His steady breathing paused for a moment, as if he’d noticed a change and needed investigate the new environment to be sure it was safe. Eventually, his body relaxed, and his soft snore returned. Looking at his face—his smooth skin, his rose-colored chubby cheeks, his flat nose, slightly bigger than my knuckle—I wondered if he was still young enough to forget his mother. If I stayed around long enough, held him more, kissed him the way she did, sang sweet lullabies until he fell asleep, would he start to believe that I was her, that I had always been a part of his life?

—Nortina

Next:
Screaming

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

Accessory (Buried Series)

The odor was even more intoxicating when we returned to his apartment. I wondered if it was affecting my judgment. Maybe the stench had manifested itself into a barrier that intercepted alert signals from my brain telling my legs to run. It kept my arms stiff by my side when I should’ve been snatching up the phone to dial 9-1-1 with hands not yet soiled by the dirt we would bury her body.

“How’re we doing this?” he asked as I took each suitcase out of the other and lined them up in front of the bed.

“We’re gonna pack her body up in the big one,” I said.

“Can she even fit?”

“We’ll make her fit.”

“Wouldn’t it just be easier to chop off her arms and legs?” he said, measuring the width of the suitcase with his forearms.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” I said placing my hands on my hips. “Do you have a machete packed in your trunk? Because I don’t.”

He turned his back and sighed audibly.

“It’s extremely hard to dismember a human body,” I continued. “You’re cutting through bone, and you can’t do that with a regular old kitchen knife.”

He didn’t answer, only shook his head. Maybe he was finally starting to realize how deep into the sludge we were headed. A boiling tar pit that would singe our skin and fossilize our bodies. Forever preserved like the citizens of Pompeii imprisoned in an crusted shell of molten rock because they ignored the warning signs of impending doom, failed to escape before their world came crashing down in a barrage of fire and brimstone.

“Fine,” he said scratching the back of his neck. “I wouldn’t have made it this far without you, so I’ll follow your lead.”

My stomach lurched, an unsettling reminder that I hadn’t eaten since earlier that evening, and with the devil’s hour quickly approaching, our surroundings seemed to grow darker—the lights in the hall were dim, the curtains were drawn, outside the clouds and trees blocked illumination from the moon and distant stars—setting the tone for sinister activity to take place.

How quickly had he shifted the responsibility to me, as if I was the one to smother his ex, and he only followed along, fearful that he would be next if he didn’t cooperate. My decisions were digging a deeper grave for myself, well past six feet, the shovel of my tongue knocking on the gates of Hell, and despite my fear of a face-to-face meeting with Satan, I couldn’t compel myself to stop.

“Take the shower curtain from the bathroom,” I instruct him. “We’ll line the suitcase with it. Hopefully the plastic will catch any body fluids that seep through her clothes.

He left the room, and I removed the sheets from the body, taking the corners and folding them across the bed, avoiding any areas that might have touched her, absorbed her sweat, her blood, her urine, her tears. Holding them away from me like dirty underwear, I threw them into the closest suitcase, quickly zipped it up, and wiped my hands on the front of my jeans. I would have to remember to toss them too as soon as we were done.

He returned with the shower curtain ripped from the rings and pressed it into the suitcase as if lining a foil sheet in a baking pan. Then I kicked the suitcase forward, closer to the foot of the bed.

“Just pull her feet and drag her in,” I directed.

“You won’t help me?”

“Hell no! I’m not touching her!” I declared, as if avoiding physical contact with the deceased would clear me of any wrong doing.

He smiled, which sickened me further. Did he think this was a joke? A dream we could wake up from? A movie we could turn off?

The body slid down the bed, pulling the fitted sheet off the mattress—satin clinging to her moist skin. I turned away as he pulled her closer, not wanting to see her eyes begging me why. Then came the solid thump when she fell into the suitcase. He balled the sheet and tossed it over her face, relieving me of the pull of her stare. Her neck bowed in front of the short end of the suitcase, and the crown of her head stuck out above the zipper.

“Can you like . . . push it down?” I asked, holding my hands in front of me, but instead of nudging it down, he pushed all of his weight into it as if tightly packing clothes, and I heard a crack.

“Oh my god!” I turned and squeezed me shoulders to my ears.

“She’s already dead,” he said flatly.

“Just . . . fix her legs,” I said over my shoulder.

He picked up her legs, which were hanging over the edge of the suitcase, and bent them forward, folding them like an accordion so that she lay inside the suitcase in the fetal position.

“Zip it up,” I said, and the zipper made a low, deep buzz as he pulled it around the suitcase.

I looked up at the bare mattress. From what I could see through the dim  light, it was clear, a creamy white, but I imagined a stain at it’s center in the shape of a body like the chalk outlines crime scene investigators draw around a homicide victim to mark where he was killed.

“We have to get rid of the whole bed,” I said.

“I agree. It still stinks in here,” he said. I was relieved to know that he had not gotten accustomed to the smell. Even now, it still made me dizzy.

“I could take it downstairs to the dumpster. That wouldn’t be too suspicious, right?” he asked.

I shrugged my shoulders. “We can say you had bedbugs.”

“Oh, nice.” He rolled his neck and proceeded to lift the twin-size mattress. “Not too heavy,” he said balance, it above his head.

“Just don’t drop it.” As he turned sideways to fit the mattress through the doorway, I added, “We should pack some clothes too. Make it look like we’re going on a trip and not moving something fishy out of the apartment in the middle of the night.”

“Your call,” he said and continued down the hall toward the front door.

I quickly scooted out of my jeans and put them in the suitcase with the sheets. Then taking the smallest suitcase, I went across the hall into his room, opened his drawers, and threw the first articles of clothing I could see—white t-shirts, sweatpants, plaid boxers, socks.

As I zipped the suitcase, I heard a faint whine. At first I thought it was him opening the front door, coming back for the box spring. A terrifying thought quickly ran across my mind that maybe his ex wasn’t dead. Maybe she was gasping for breath through her plastic cocoon, trying to claw her way out of the suitcase. However as I approached the sound, it came from some place past her room, closer to the front of the apartment, behind a door I’d assumed was a second bathroom, though I’d never been inside. I pressed my ear against the wood, and the sound sharpened into a cry. A baby’s cry.

His son had been here the whole time.

—Nortina

Next:
Motherhood

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