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?

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: 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…

#ThrowbackThursday Fiction: Harvest Wedding

Happy Throwback Thursday! This story, originally published October 8, 2014, started as journal assignment for a fiction writing course in college. The prompt was, “When I first heard the song . . . ”

At the time, the song I constantly had on repeat was Trey Songz’s “Almost Lose It,” which is about a wedding. Unfortunately, this wedding turned horribly sour. If you ever read or seen the Spanish play, Bodas de sangre, you can guess what happens. Actually, the original title for this story, when I turned it in for class, was “Blood Wedding.”


Harvest Wedding

Saturday afternoon in mid October. The leaves were just beginning to change colors. Beautiful reds, and oranges. With the right wind, they would break from their branches and swirl through the air until they found the right beautiful woman’s head to adorn. I was that woman, and I was walking down the aisle at Mt. Zion AME, about to start a new life with the man of my dreams, Prince Rossario. He truely was a prince; dressed in a crisp, black tux with the burgandy of his vest peeking above his jacket. Our colors were orange and Merlot red, the same as the fall leaves. The perfect harvest wedding.

As I stepped closer to my future husband, I saw the tears in his eyes sparkle. There was a gravitational pull in his gaze and I let it take over my muscular functions and pull me closer to him. I was gliding, not walking, down the aisle.

Everything was as it should be until someone came bursting through the doors behind me. Instantly, everything and everyone froze. Even the wedding song had abruptly stopped with a scratch just as it was reaching its climax. Prince’s glowing face immediately darkened into a look of dread and fear as his eyes grew wide, tore away from mine and moved past me to the dark figure standing behind me. A loud gasp came from the throat of the best man, Johnny, as he turned a disbelieving look in Prince’s direction; his bottom lip quivering.

My heart stopped and my tears that were tears of joy only seconds prior, quickly turned cold and anxious as they sliced a path down my cheeks. I slowly turned around to face the creature that had deliberately stolen the attention of every one of my guests in that sanctuary. To my astonishment, I came to face Constance Applewood, an old friend—really acquaintance—from college who had dated Prince before I came into the picture. She obviously wasn’t invited. I made sure of that. What bride wants her fiancé’s ex-girlfriend at her wedding, slouching in the front row, patiently waiting for her moment to object to the marriage and invoke chaos throughout the church as she pounces on the innocent woman in white, clawing her nails into her flesh, not quite sure if she wants to kill her rival or just scare her away, but indisputably willing to do anything to get her man back?

Prince thought I was being overly dramatic to think that Constance would go through such lengths. He assured me that his and Constance’s relationship wasn’t even a relationship; just two good friends who spent a lot of time together and occasionally had sex once or twice or three times; a faux-relationship that ended once he met me. Of course I had to remind him that less than a week after we started dating, I found “HOMEWRECKER” keyed into the side of my black Toyota Camry.

Seeing Constance stand before me confirmed that I was right not to invite her. Unfortunately, the absence of an invitation didn’t stop her from crashing my wedding. It wasn’t her presence that had shocked me and everyone else in the sanctuary. What inflicted horror into the eyes of the guests, myself, and the wedding party was a wedding dress identical to mine. From the rhinestones that trimmed the bodice to the ruffles of the gown to the design of the lace on the veil to the length of the train behind her, it was all the exact duplicate of mine. The only difference, an unmistakably huge difference, was that here dress was black. Even the bouquet she held in her hands was composed of drooping, brown flowers and weeds. The tears pouring from her eyes caused the murky mascara to run dark veins down her face. She began to shake as her screeching voice wailed, “This wedding is over!” She dropped her bouquet to reveal the shimmering, sharpened blade of a butcher knife.

“Oh, God!” someone screamed from the crown, and suddenly, chaos erupted throughout the church. Everyone swarmed toward the exit doors, unsure of the terror to follow but certain that they weren’t staying behind to find out. Guests were bouncing off of one another, trying to elbow their way through to freedom. Babies could be heard squealing in the background as they were being torn from their mothers’ arms in the midst of the mayhem. Young children were being trampled under the combination of high heels and penny loafers. In the center of all the running, tripping, falling, jumping, flailing of arms, tossing of clutch purses, scratching of pew legs across the floor, tumbling and crashing of flower vases, the epicenter of all the screams and shrieks stood Constance. Her obscure eyes pierced into my soul and it was as if she were pointing the knife right at my heart. It was reminiscent of the cheesy dramatics of a C rated action film, except there were no cameras rolling and no director to scream “CUT!” so that my stunt double could take my place. Oh, how I wished it were that way.

When the pandemonium finally subsided and all that was left in the church were those still frozen at the altar, and Constance and myself—more like yin and yang—standing in the middle aisle, silence engulfed the church once again. The tension in that sanctuary was so thick it could be cut with a knife. Unfortunately, tension was not Constance’s intended target. I dropped my bouquet and ran to the altar to stand next to my groom.

Prince wrapped me in his arms and spoke up to the menacing woman in black. “Constance, have you lost your–”

“Shut up!” she interrupted him. “You don’t get to speak.” She took a few steps closer and everyone scattered to opposite corners of the church. Johnny inched to the door behind Constance, hoping to escape unnoticed. Three of my bridesmaids created a barricade of pews in the far left corner. My parents and future in-laws hugged each other while trembling underneath the organ. Prince and I crouched behind the podium with the reverend. It wasn’t the best place to hide because no sooner than peeking over the edges of the podium did I find Constance hovering over us with the blinding blade in her hand.

Prince held up his hands in surrender. “Constance,” he started. “I get it. You’re upset.”

“I’m upset?” she blurted, in shock of Prince’s little words to her.

Reverend Jacobs stood up and approached Constance. “Sweetheart, give me the knife. We can resolve this in a peaceful manner.”

“Stay back!” she demanded, pointing the knife to his chest. She turned to Prince. “What does she have that I don’t, huh? Is, is her hair prettier than mine? Is she skinnier than me? Does, does she please you better in the bedroom?”

I wanted to correct her by saying that I was a virgin, but images of her carving me with the knife reminded me of the importance of silence.

“What is it?” she continued.

“Constance.”

“What is it!”

“I love her!”

I melted when he spoke those words. I wanted to jump into his arms, kiss him passionately, and profess how much I loved him too. Constance could not succeed in breaking us up or this wedding. I was confident of that. Her behavior, no matter how irrational, would not force him to change his feelings for me. He knew the day he met me—Super Bowl party at Johnny’s house. I was wearing a Richard Sherman jersey and held a hot wing in one hand and an open Bud Light Platinum in the other. He walked right into me and promised me that I would be disappointed and that Peyton Manning would expose Sherman for the mediocre cornerback that he was. By halftime, he was begging me for my number.

“But you don’t love me.” Constance’s voice had softened. She begin to lower the knife.

“Constance, we were never that serious. You gotta know that. When I started dating Alicia, you told me you were fine with it.” Prince held out his hand for the knife. I rose to my feet as gracefully as I could without stepping on my train and inadvertently stumbling into the butcher knife that separated me and Constance. I stood behind Prince, wrapped my arms around his waist and looked at Constance over his shoulder.

“I didn’t think you were gonna marry her!” she said. “I thought . . . I thought . . .” She turned her back to us. “I guess it doesn’t matter now,” she whispered, shrugging her shoulders.

Prince started toward her, but I pulled him back, squeezing his torso with the little strength I had. He turned to the reverend, who stepped to Constance and touched her shoulder. “Sister,” he began.

Constance didn’t turn around. She raised the knife above her head, and before the reverend could snatch it away from her, plunged it into her chest, right into her broken heart. I screamed. My parents and in-laws hidden underneath the organ screamed. My bridesmaids behind the barricade of pews screamed. Johnny has already exited the sanctuary.

Constance’s body collapsed to the floor. The reverend dropped to his knees. His hands hovered over the end of the knife in her chest, debating if pulling it out would help save her life, or just accelerate her inevitable death. He bowed his head to pray, his hands still hovering over the knife.

Prince broke free of my grasp and ran to the opposite side of Constance. He cupped the back of her head in his palm and repeatedly slapped her check, screaming, “Why? Why would you do this?” When he looked up at me, I could see the tears in his eyes. They didn’t sparkle. They didn’t tug at my heart, draw me to want to be closer to him and his bleeding ex-girlfriend. I backed away, let the weight of my wedding gown press me down to the floor. I heaved loud sobs, and when I saw the first teardrop land on my left hand, void of a wedding band, I knew we had missed our harvest.

—Nortina

Adopted

He glanced back again, surely more times than was necessary. They had lost his trail and were no longer following him, at least he prayed they weren’t.

Anita said they were being tracked, and it was becoming glaringly obvious why.

When he walked through the front door, the first thing he spotted was it lying on her chest, nibbling at her breast, sucking the milk that was never meant for it.

He could only refer to it as it. Humanizing it would create an attachment, and he needed a clear and focused mind if they were ever going to escape for a third time.

He tossed Anita the dufflebag by the door, prepacked with the essentials—three pairs of clean underwear, jeans, a t-shirt, tennis shoes, a grand in cash, hair dye, colored contacts, prosthetic teeth to create new identities again (he knew a guy in Juno who made fake IDs; they’d visit him first), a bag of mixed nuts and chopped fruit for sustenance, bottles for the baby (they couldn’t risk stopping to breast feed while on the run).

“Sirens are close,” he said. “We gotta split.”

“Just a minute. He hasn’t eaten all day.”

Dammit, woman, he wanted to scream. The baby wasn’t even theirs. And could he even call it a baby? It looked nearly three, but apparently its mother never weened it, and so Anita cradled him against her raw nipples, pressed its head down to latch on, as if it were an infant, an infant like the one they lost at the hospital when her body ejected him from her womb five months too soon.

His son.

Not this source of all their troubles, lying there, drinking the drugs still circulating in her system that killed his precious baby boy. That grew into an even bigger burden the closer the police came to finding them.

He peeked out the window. Flashing blue lights reflected on the apartment building across the street. If they climbed down the fire escape, they might still make it, but Anita would have to leave the boy.

He sighed and folded on the floor. It was pointless. From the day she scooped it up from the playground sandbox, Anita would never let it leave her side.

—Nortina


Written for Monday’s Muse Writing Prompt, hosted by Candice Coates over at I came for the soup… The objective is to create a story in 20 minutes using the above line in bold and the picture provided.

Visitor in the Rose Garden

I hate being left home alone. Especially at night. I see things at night. Things I can’t easily explain away. It’s best just to go to bed early, right after dinner, when Aaron leaves for his shift at the hospital. Even though sleeping on a full stomach is never recommended. Indigestion, weight gain, not to mention the phantasmal dreams. But at least they’re just dreams; I can wake up from dreams.

A man in my rose bushes—now, that’s very real.

I dial Aaron’s cell and it goes straight to voicemail. He’s either in surgery, or he’s just ignoring my calls. I think he’s picked up more night shifts on purpose. He wants to get as far away from me as possible; he thinks I’m bat shit crazy. With him working at night, and my mundane 9 to 5, we only have two hours in the day when our schedules overlap, and still it is too much for him. But I wouldn’t be like this if he’d only show some concern for why I don’t feel safe, spend the night with me like any husband would, lie with me at least until I fall asleep. That’s not asking for too much, is it?

The man never moves, only stands there and watches me wander about the house from window to window. I’ve tried to convince myself that it’s something less terrifying, like a light post or a tree. Trees tend to take a different form when the sun goes down. But there are no trees in our backyard. No street lights either. Because we live way out in the sticks, a forty-five minute drive outside Savannah. The only sign of civilization for miles is a single-story Baptist church with chipped paint, cracked siding, and a parking lot riddled with potholes. It’s congregation can’t be more than three members, including the pastor, because that’s all the cars I see parked around its doors when I drive by on my way into town.

We don’t go to that church. We don’t go to any church. I haven’t been inside a sanctuary since my daddy died when I was sixteen, and I was so anxious to get out of that hot, stuffy box of a church, with no air conditioning, packed with a bunch of self-righteous parishioners who babbled on and on about how holy and godly a man Daddy was when he drank too much, cursed like a sailor, and the only gift he ever left me was a trail of cigarette burns down the back of my thighs.

But now I feel the urge to get on my knees and pray for protection. Even though the figure still hasn’t moved, and when I look too hard, sometimes I can’t even tell if its human. But there’s a mass of darkness between my bushes, darker than the blackness of night, which even out here isn’t all that black because we still have the moon and the stars to lighten even the darkest hour. Sometimes, especially when the moon is full and the sky is cloudless, it’s almost as if the night has passed hours early and dawn is just beginning to break over the horizon.

That’s how I know something is there, something that’s not there during the day when I’m out in the yard, circling in the spaces between the bushes, bumping into nothing solid blocking my path, and pruning the branches, making sure to avoid the thorns, cutting off a few of the fuller roses that have bloomed beautifully under the sun, unfurling their petals to expose their most delicate inner regions. Those I take inside and put in a vase of water, their sweet scent filling the room, and even though they last only a day, maybe two, I pretend Aaron has given them to me, out of the love he bears in his heart for me.

It stands three feet above my tallest rose bush, making it at least seven feet in height. Sometimes I can distinguish a head from shoulders, and when it’s windy, long locks of hair. I used to hold onto the hope that it is Aaron, sneaking home just to check on me. The lost romantic in me loved that. The idea that he would risk a patient’s life just to make sure his lonely wife was taken care of, that nothing was amiss at the house.

I’ve given up hope on that now. If he does leave the hospital early, it’s to see another woman. A woman who is less worrisome, more tolerable to make love too. I even know her name: Stella. He doesn’t bother to delete the emails from our shared account. They come right to my phone too. Her pleas to have her pipes cleaned again, long overdue. The adrenaline rush she got when they did it in the patient record room, bodies pressed up against dusty file folders. Pictures of her positioned on her bed in risqué poses wearing nothing but a sheer lace-trimmed negligee.

I wish this thing would come in and kill me already. It would be a relief to Aaron. One less problem to deal with in his busy, busy day. How did we come to this; when I would be seeking death to unburden his shoulders? Was there a moment in our relationship when everything just changed? Divorcees always say that it is, that you may not have noticed when it happened, but in hindsight, you always knew it was there. But I can think of nothing—a word, a gesture, a forgotten birthday or anniversary—that would’ve caused me to lose my husband’s love.

I open the back door, and I half see it turn its head; probably shocked that I’ve finally come outside to greet it, or maybe it’s just my eyes adjusting to the night causing my vision to jump. Before my trepid heart can change my mind, or before it disappears, I dash toward the figure in a full on sprint, unsure of what to expect—if I’ll be overcome with fear or gladness to have arms wrap around me, lift me up into the air in a warm embrace. But anything is better than spending another night alone in my cold bed, the white noise of an empty house seeping in to haunt my dreams.

—Nortina


Alright guys, what do you think of Fright Night FridaysEvery Friday night, I’ll try to post something spooky, something paranormal, something suspenseful, something that would surely give you a fright. Are you brave enough to stick around?

Finish It! #23: Wet Dreams

She could hear them from far. Him of whom she thought would be her future husband and her. Her best friend. How could she! How could they. Slowly she approached the bedroom door, unsure if she wanted to open it and see what seemed so obvious. If she would walk out now she could pretend. Pretend it was just a dream. Pretend it was just her imagination. Go back to normal. But if she opened this door now and saw what she was expecting to see, there would be no return . . .

The door swung open. Jake was standing right in front of her. His sharp angular jaw was still smooth from the last time she’d caressed him save for a few short hairs he might have missed while shaving. She lowered her gaze to the hypnotizing, curly tufts of hair on his hardened bare chest, and further down to the tight sweatpants he wore without boxers. The noticeable bulge confirmed what she had suspected.

“What the hell are you doing here?”

“Babe, who is it?” a voice called from within the bedroom.

“Where is she? Where is that home wrecking whore!” She tried to push by him, but he grabbed her by the shoulders and threw her back into the wall.

Lauren poked her head into the into the hallway, and satin robe slipping down her arm as she held it closed around her chest, barely covering her flat stomach. “Serena? Holy hell! How’d she get out?”

“Call Dr. Canning!” Jake said. He pinned her to the wall with his body. He was still hard. Even while fighting her. Her body relaxed. Instead of kicking, she wrapped her legs around his waist, held him tightly against her, evened her heartbeat with his.

Lauren cupped her hand over the receiver. “Hello, yes? Dr. Canning? . . .  She’s at our house again . . . What do you mean did we change the locks? Beef up your fucking security!”

Serena used her big toe to lower Jakes pants. He let her go to pull them back up, and she dropped to her knees in front of him, yanking his pants down to his ankles, circling her tongue around his inner thigh, slurping at his scrotum.

“She’s crazy! She’s fucking crazy! I haven’t seen her since freshman year in college, and I come home one day, and she’s riding my husband like a fucking bull, while he’s asleep!”

Yes, Jake was a narcoleptic, Serena though has she moved her head back and forth, along the length of him, that’s what made pleasing him so easy. She could sneak in while he was asleep on the couch, hands in pants, the highlights on SportsCenter blaring at him from the television. She was already wet for him, she only needed to rub his crotch. Penises responded to the slightest stimulus. Just a dribble of spit, and it would flick up, erect, ready to enter her. She preferred him asleep. He was a better lover. He didn’t fight her, only filled her with his circumference, releasing his sins into her. As she continued her succulent assault, she felt his body slacken, grow heavy. She smiled. He was falling asleep.

He collapsed on top of her, hanging over her head like a damp towel on a rack. She took a breath for a moment to lay him on his back, licking his unconscious pre-excitement from around her lips. She was about to remove her scrubs when she felt the cool plastic of a cellphone case strike her across the forehead.

“You think I’m just gonna stand here and watch you rape my husband?”

“He isn’t yours. He never was.” His erect penis was beckoning her. It quivered under the draft from the vent above them.

Serena lowered herself on top of him, straddling his lap, but Lauren snatched her up by the ponytail, slung her across the hall into the end table, knocking over a vase.

“You stay away from him, you sick bitch!” She blocked Serena from her advances, hovering over him like a protective mother. Behind her, Jake was beginning to come to, his penis falling limp. “The cops and doctors are already on their way. I hope they drug you up so bad, you don’t even remember your name.”

Fully awake, Jake scrambled to his feet, pulling his sweatpants over his waist, and tying the string so tight it dug into his skin.

“I’m not going back there.” Serena backed away towards the staircase, and her heel slipped on the fallen vase behind her, sending her tumbling head first down to the bottom floor.

“You think she’s dead,” Jake asked peering over the railing at the motionless, contorted body below.

“God, I hope so,” Lauren said.

—Nortina


Written in response to the prompt for Finish! #23.