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?

I Know What You Did Last Halloween: Part 2

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

Especially after that email.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Early bird,” he says, smiling.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I know.”

So much for coincidences.

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

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

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

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

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

“I know what you did last Halloween.”

Butcher

The thought of it makes me laugh—

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

Colon. Closed parenthesis

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

#LyricalFictionFriday: On the Other Side

Kyle picks up the board and splits it over his knee, but it won’t erase from their minds the message that was just spelled out.

“Do you hear that?” Lisa asks.

“Shut up!” Kyle snaps. Even he doesn’t recognize the squeal that exits from his mouth.

“There’s no point.” Ryan clears his throat. Given that it might have been his dead brother calling for help from the other side, he seems the calmest of the three of them. “The door’s already been opened.”

“I’m not staying to see what walks through.” Kyle turns to leave but stops in the foyer in front of the closet. It’s cold outside, still winter, there’s wind, freezing rain in the forecast, he would need his coat.

“What is it?” Lisa asks, trepidation in her voice.

Kyle puts his ear to the closet door.

“You hear it too.” Ryan says it more as a statement than a question.

Kyle swallows hard. He won’t confirm or deny the echo of his own breathing on the other side.

—Nortina


I had to take a brief hiatus while I got some things back in order. But I’m back, catching up on some prompts that I missed while away. Here’s my contribution to a previous Lyrical Fiction Friday prompt: I’m trying to erase you from my mind…you’re my religion and my belief…

Sam Speaks

There’s talk of tearing him down, along with all other monuments of antebellum, of Southern pride and Confederate valor.

Nine miles down the road, the General was snatched from the chapel entrance. “So students can feel safe to come worship,” the school president explained. Massacres in Charleston still fresh on everyone’s minds.

After careful consideration the board has voted. During Fall Break, while campus is void of supporters and counter-protesters who could potentially become violent, Silent Sam will become the latest casualty in the ongoing war against a revived Confederacy.

Tonight we drink to the downfall of white supremacy, to the total destruction of Neo-Nazis, to the death of the Klan.

But after everyone has returned to their dorms, I still can’t sleep.

Alcohol sloshes around in my stomach. All I’ve had to eat today was toast for breakfast. I walk down Franklin Street, barely able to step in a straight line. I turn up toward McCorkle Place and come face to face with the statue legended to only speak to virgins.

I don’t expect an answer, but I ask anyway, “Who do you point your gun to?”

A statue of a Confederate soldier nicknamed Silent Sam stands on the campus of the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, U.S. August 17, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
REUTERS | Jonathan Drake

He stares over my head, eyes set on the North, on a mission to save the Anglo-Saxon race in the South.

“We never asked to be here!” I scream, making myself dizzy, all the blood rushing to my head. I climb a step, lean forward against the concrete base, touch the bronze shoulder of the boy leaving his studies for war. It’s cold under my fingers, and maybe it’s due to the fact that I’m too drunk to focus that I feel it flinch.

“You brought us here. Why do you hate us so much?”

I try to see his face under the moonlight. Did he just wink, or was it a shifting shadow from the surrounding trees? If he wasn’t memorialized by racists for killing and terrorizing my ancestors, I would think him attractive.

But it could also be the liquor impairing my eyes.

“Is it because we’re not your slaves anymore? Because we actually want to be treated like humans?”

I hear the clinking of heels against the brick sidewalk behind me. My dorm adviser must have followed. Or maybe it’s the campus police. I touch a corner of the monument, and my fingers slide down to something wet. UNC has no place for racism, in a fresh coating of white paint. It couldn’t have been done no more than an hour ago.

I look up and notice a curl at the corner of his mouth. He would love to see me accused of the vandalism. He would love to see them shoot me.

I clinch my fist, flare my nostrils, stamp my feet like a three-year-old child. “I’m glad they’re getting rid of you! And I hope the crane drops you and slips you in two!”

I spin around, prepared to meet my fate by the bullet. But I find myself alone in the quad. A sudden breeze chills me too the bone, a mass of air behind me stills my breathing, overhead, the trees, with their leaves barely hanging on, whisper.

A large shadow stretches out before me on the sidewalk, looming like a tower.

“Will you kill me?” I ask trembling.

On a low sigh, softly exhaled past my ear, he says with the wind, “No,” then dissipates, and with him, my legs go numb, collapse under my weight in a drunken heap until dawn.

—Nortina

Monday’s One-Minute Fiction: Week of October 30

Rise and shine! Time to get out your stop watches, exercise your typing fingers, and pick your brains for some quick creativity.

Monday’s One-Minute Fiction challenges you to write a complete micro-fiction piece in, you guessed it, one minute, no more, no less, based on the prompt provided! Of course, you can come back to edit for grammar & spelling, but the story itself must be written in a minute.

Your prompt may be a photo, or a word, or a sentence—whatever inspires me, and hopefully inspires you too.

All October long, I’m giving you Halloween-themed prompts, and with the night of horror quickly approaching, I thought I’d kick things off with this “witchy” photo prompt…

Now it’s time for the rules. I don’t have many, because we all know rules are no fun, but here are the basic logistics for each challenge:

  • Write your story in one minute. (Use a stop watch to keep yourself honest. 😉 )
  • Post it to your blog and tag it #1MinFiction.
  • Link it back to this prompt post.

And that’s it! Let’s get to writing, shall we? And…

Ready . . .

Set . . .

Write!

#MicroMondays: First to Die

“Scared?”

No, but there was a criminal out there. Jocks and popular girls always die first, usually together.

“It’d be cool to go while doing it.”

Swallow your words. I hear the chainsaw.

word count: 33

—Nortina


Written for #MicroMondays, click here for challenge details, and here to read more “criminal” tales at 33 words. 

Also inspired by today’s #1MinFiction slasher prompt. What are some of your favorite slasher movies?

#1MinFiction: Precautionary Tale

I learn from the mistakes of murder victims in slasher movies.

I never baby sit the neighbors’ kids. I wouldn’t be caught dead near a campground or lake. I consume energy drinks to stay awake.

I wish I could move my washer and dryer out of the basement. The light flickers. The door slams whenever there’s a draft. The stairs creak . . .

Even when I’m not on them . . .

—Nortina


Monday’s One-Minute Fiction challenges you to write a story in one minute, no more, no less, based on the prompt provided. October will be full of terrifying Halloween-themed prompts. Today’s prompt is: slasher.

 

Monday’s One-Minute Fiction: Week of October 23

Rise and shine! Time to get out your stop watches, exercise your typing fingers, and pick your brains for creativity.

If you’re on the US east coast, it’s 9 AM, which means yet another Monday lost to eight dreadful hours spent in the office (unless you actually like your job . . . yeah, right).

I know everyone hates Mondays, but let’s start this Monday off right, with some quick thinking, some quick typing, and hopefully, lots of fun!

Monday’s One-Minute Fiction challenges you to write a complete micro-fiction piece in, you guessed it, one minute, no more, no less, based on the prompt provided! Of course, you can come back to edit for grammar & spelling, but the story itself must be written in a minute.

Your prompt may be a photo, or a word, or a sentence—whatever inspires me, and hopefully inspires you too.

All October long, I’m giving you Halloween-themed prompts! This week’s prompt is an homage to our favorite genre of Halloween horror movies…

slasher

Now it’s time for the rules. I don’t have many, because we all know rules are no fun, but here are the basic logistics for each challenge:

  • Write your story in one minute. (Use a stop watch to keep yourself honest. 😉 )
  • Post it to your blog and tag it #1MinFiction.
  • Link it back to this prompt post.

And that’s it! Let’s get to writing, shall we? And…

Ready . . .

Set . . .

Write!