Outside

This is a bit of flash fiction from me. I got the idea from a prompt on a writer’s website that I can’t recall at the moment.
Anyway, let me know what you think.

It’s like a force of nature, grief. It sweeps over you like a storm, freezes you with its chill, buries you in its shifting memories and emotions, and holds you down like gravity. I can say part of me was actually a little surprised by the impact of hearing of Wayne’s death. But another part, deeper, buried beneath layers of scar tissue, wasn’t surprised at all. Not after Kelsey, anyway. Nothing surprised me after her.

The real surprise that night came as a pecking. A tap-tap-tap on my bedroom window. I ignored it at first. It was a branch against the window. The house settling. Hell, my overactive and stressed imagination. I even tried to tell myself it was Igor’s tail slapping against the leg of the bed. But I knew better on some level, especially with Igor. He’d taken up a new sleeping post by Kelsey’s crib these last few weeks.

Did I know what the tapping really was though, deep down, did I know what was already beginning to happen?

After a few minutes and several more taps, I rubbed at tired eyes and sat up. There was a silhouette showing through my bedroom window. A silhouette I knew, or I thought I knew. What I knew to be true and what I was seeing, pressed against each other in my mind.

I slid legs that didn’t want to move from the bed and tried to place my feet on the floor of my bedroom as quietly as possible although I had no idea why. The tapping came again, and a chill ran up my spine at the same time a fire lit inside me. I needed to know, I needed to see. I hurried to the window, but my hand paused on the curtain covering it.

Kelsey. If who I thought was behind this curtain, was behind this curtain, I felt certain I knew what it meant for me. But what of my daughter. I’d told Wayne I’d leave him if he hurt me and I did, but what if he’d hurt my daughter? What if he’d come back for Kelsey like he’d threatened. Last I saw him before he died, he told me if I left him he come back and take her from me.

I pulled back the curtain. His smile was bright and there were tears in his eyes.

I didn’t know how or why, and I didn’t care. Somehow he was alive. He was alive, and he’d come here to kill me and take my baby. I closed the curtain and ran to my bedside table to get the gun. Before I’d gotten to the top of the steps I heard him pounding on the door. I checked the clip and switched off the safety while descending the stairs. I wasn’t taking any chances.

I could see his shadow through the window at the side of the door. I thought of shooting through it, but there was too great a chance I’d only scare him away only to have to face him another day in another way I  was less prepared for.

He banged on the door again but said nothing. Aiming the gun at the door I reached forward and pulled back the door chain. He must have heard it because his pounding increased. I flipped the deadbolt unlocked and backed away from the door, both hands now firmly holding the gun.

The pounding stopped. Nothing happened.

I don’t know how long I stood there, but I was holding the gun so tight my forearms ached. I took a step forward, and the doorknob turned. I stopped and waited. I heard the latch slide back scraping lightly against the strike plate. My finger squeezed on the trigger, waiting.

The door creaked, sliding open an inch at a time. Slow, no force behind it. I waited. There was no one behind it. He was playing some kind of game. He was hiding and baiting me out. Sweat beaded my forehead and a line of it ran and tickled at the side of my face. I stepped forward when the door was fully open. I stayed to the far right of it. No one stood outside in that direction. I scanned the other way. Careful to keep the aim up but not so far out from by body it could be grabbed. No one in either direction.

For a moment, one ridiculous moment, I wondered if I’d somehow imagined this whole thing. Then I saw him. He was in the yard hiding behind a tree. He peeked around at me but ducked back behind it.

“Wayne,” I called out, but I had nothing else to say. Could think of no threat and didn’t want to tell him to go. If he went I couldn’t kill him.

I stepped over the threshold he’d once carried me over and aimed the gun where I’d seen his head peek out.

Wayne was always a bully. Even when we’d first began dating but back then I could excuse it. Stupid little pranks like noogies, pinches, and hair pulling. And the one I hated most. Hitting me in the pit of my knee and making me fall.

That’s how I ended up lying on the porch. My body so tense I had no ability to catch myself. But something hit me in the pit of my knee and I went straight down. Lucky the gun didn’t go off.

When I turned to look back Wayne was standing inside the doorway. His silhouette nearly covering the entire doorway. All I could see of him was the white of his smile and a strange unnatural glint in his eye. The door slammed shut without him touching it.

Wayne was dead. He was inside my house. He had my baby.

FIVE RANDOM WORDS: FLASH FICTION CHALLENGE

New Flash Fiction Challenge found here:

The Challenge?

To choose five of these ten random words and incorporate them into a single piece of flash fiction.

The words: Whalebone, Foxglove, Djinn, Orphan, Lollipop, Casket, Hermit, Hound, Acid, Topaz. I chose my five (and hinted at three more) and this is what I came up with.

The Hermit

The boy walked the trail up what the villagers called Bent Top Mountain, although it was no more a mountain than he was a man, bundled in a stolen blanket. He sucked at a stolen candy to keep his mouth moist in the dry winter air for he had no water or skin with which to carry it in. He wished he had something for his eyes. The cold dried them until they felt like stones in their sockets. But wishing would come later.

He was going to see the hermit.

He guessed that no one knew for sure why the man was a hermit as most of the villagers gave different reasons for it. One said he was horribly burned. Another that he was crazy with sickness. And, yet another said he was a murderer and hiding from justice. If someone asked the boy why he thought the man was a hermit, he would suggest that it was to keep away from villagers and their tall tales. But who was going to ask a boy?

The boy heard a noise and he stopped to listen for what it could have been. The wind died down a bit, besides he thought it may be something else. Something just as alive as the wind, but more dangerous. The wind would roar, but this was more of a growl. Looking into the trees, he only saw the wood and snow that one would expect to see on a cold winter day on a path such as this. He started forward once more.

It wasn’t long before the trees grew scarce and the path widened to reveal stony ground and rock formations all along it. Within an the hour, he reached the hermit’s cave. When he approached he heard rustling in the brush again. This time, a large hound walked out and approached him.

The beast stood almost as tall as the boy, its red eyes almost meeting his own. The boy tried to hold his fear like his breath and met the creature’s gaze. The beast moved slowly, sniffed at the boys collar through the blanket, lowered its head, did the same to his crotch, then his feet. Raising its head again to meet the boy’s eyes, it licked at his chin, then walked into the cave.

The boy stood outside for a moment before following, trying to peer into the dark depths. It revealed nothing. His arm moved beneath his cloak as he checked for the knife in his belt. Finding it, he stepped into the cave.

Darkness surrounded him deeper than night, and he put his hands out in front of him. There was no sign or sound of the hound he followed.

“Hello?” he called out.

There was light. It didn’t brighten the cave gradually as if a torch approached. It was just there. The boy was surprised that he didn’t have to guard his eyes against the sudden brightness. His eyes were already adjusted. He didn’t see the hound that had met him at the mouth of the cave, but thought he felt it watching him.

The cave was warm too. There was no sign of the cold from the outside. The boy looked down at the fire that blazed a few feet from him and removed the blanket. He sat next to the fire, placed his hands out to warm them, not knowing why. Just as his eyes had adjusted to the light, his skin was already warm as if he’d been in the cave for hours.

He didn’t call out again. The strangeness of all this seemed to have stolen his voice. Or at least his willingness to speak. He was content to wait. He figured that was the point. There was a fire with a log on each side for sitting. He was doing exactly what he thought was expected of him. He was patient.

He didn’t need to exercise this long, for soon he heard the unmistakable shuffle of someone moving toward him with a walking stick.

He saw his eyes first. They caught the light of the fire and shone in the darkness. When he emerged into full view, he was nothing like the boy expected. He wasn’t dressed in rags, but in clothes the boy did not recognize. Blue trousers of some strange material. His shirt looked to be of similar material, but less heavy with silvery buttons down the front.  The hermit was wearing a hat with very little brim. It was covered in designs of flames and a horse with wheels where the legs should be. There were words in a language the boy didn’t recognize.

“What?” the hermit said.

“Hello,” the boy said. “I’m Benjamin.”

“I don’t care. What do you want?”

“I was told you had a Djinn. That for a price, you’d allow it to be used.”

“‘Course,” the hermit said, and sat on the other log. There was a strap draped across his chest with a large bag attached to it. He opened the bag and reached inside.

The boy’s hand found the handle of his knife.

The hermit pulled a box out that was in the shape of a casket, its top encrusted with shining stones. For a casket, it was small. But for something that would hold a Djinn, it looked big.

“Three questions,” the hermit said. “You answer truthfully, you get the Djinn. You don’t …” He didn’t add more, but there was a darkness in his eyes that made the boy squeeze his blade’s handle.

The boy nodded. The hermit nodded back.

“Where’re your parents?” the hermit asked.

“Dead,” Benjamin answered, never letting his eyes waver from the hermit’s.

“Okay, orphan. How did you find me?”

“A man named Kent from Del Rey.”

The hermit smiled a mouthful of very white teeth. “And what’re you to do with the Djinn?”

It was the boy’s turn to smile. “I’m going to avenge my parents.” His eyes narrowed, he squeezed the blade handle tighter.