Driven

Soaked through, Nat tried to pretend that the pitch black of her surroundings didn’t unnerve her as much as they did. The schoolbooks she clutched were wilted and ruined.  Where Main Street had bombarded her with headlights as blinding as the dark clouds that covered the moon and stars, the residential streets were only occasionally lit by lightning.

That’s why she didn’t see.  She couldn’t be blamed for what she couldn’t see.

The sound of splashing and frantic movement froze Natalie’s feet to the pavement, her shoes submerged in a puddle.  She was cloaked by her own dark clothes, skin, and hair.  She watched a young woman her age with a halo of blonde hair and a torn white blouse crash down under the heavy weight of a bulky figure.  Pale hands scrambled against pavement as the girl tried to raise her body.  Her attacker forced her down again.  A fierce bolt of lightning glinted against a knife, and exposed the sharp features and the matted dark hair of the man above her.

When the sky lit up again, the girl’s green eyes met Natalie’s brown in a silent demand.

Do something!’

***

            It was the squelching of Natalie’s shoes against tile that told her she kept moving.  She shielded her eyes against the bright glare of florescent lights as she made her way inside the busy police station.

Uniformed men and women moved too quickly back and forth for her to watch when all she could do was stare numbly ahead.

“Miss?”

Natalie turned to see a balding man with a badge and a scowl.

“Do you need help?” he asked in what she was sure he thought was a gentle voice.  But even while trying to be soothing, he seemed demanding.

Pushing, forcing, hurting…

Could he hurt her if the police caught then freed him?  Could they protect her if they put her into the spotlight?

“No,” she answered as she crossed her arms over her chest, trying to hide the way her sodden clothes clung to her.  “No…sorry.”

The officer’s reply was drowned out by the squelching of Natalie’s shoes and the pounding of her heart in her ears as she turned and walked away.

***

“Nat?”

Her mother’s expression was weighed with worry and dim horror.  Even though she knew Natalie had entered the living room, she could not tear her gaze away from the glow of the television.

“Come and take a look at this.  Police just found a body!  I think she went to your school!”

Natalie drowned out her mother’s voice by slamming her bedroom door.

***

            Morning announced its arrival with stabbing pain streaming through worn lace curtains.  Natalie shifted further into her pillow, but the sound of clashing dishes and her mother shouting “you’re gonna be late!” from the kitchen was enough to drag her from bed.

Her clothes clung to her sticky skin, but she had no time to change.  She groped for the closet door, pulled it open and saw green eyes surrounded by clammy white skin.

Water pooled from the figure in front of her, dripping from lank blonde hair.  The girl’s gaze was vacant and her jaw slack.

“Nat!  You’re going to be late for class!”

Her mother’s voice sent shocks of terror up Natalie’s spine.  She stared into the green eyes as she reached around the drenched girl and grabbed her coat, before closing the door on the figure.

***

            It stormed again.  Dinner guests arrived drenched, the table became crowded, and complaints of traffic drifted idly through Natalie’s consciousness.  While they passed food around, well-meaning relatives nudged her with bright smiles and asked about school and life.

Despite the activity, it was the figure outside the window that held her attention.

Moon-white skin was wrinkled on a body bloated by water.  A hand pressed against the glass.  Her eyes were cloudy and unfocussed.  Her clothes clung to her as the rain poured down.

All conversation stopped as Natalie slammed her hands against the table and stood, facing defiantly towards the window.

“What do you want from me?” Her shout was shrill against the sudden quiet.

Her mother jerked her away from the table and into the hallway.  She shook Natalie back and forth, her eyes wide and her lips thin as she demanded “what is wrong with you?”

***

Nat stifled a yawn as she watched her instructor deliver more of a tirade than a lecture.

The professor raised her marker in the air, using it to emphasize her speech.  The writing on the whiteboard was as green as shower scum.

The older woman droned one minute, then scolded the next.  She was as unpredictable as the ocean, and the waves of her temper crashed against her students.

But she had never looked so pale before.

Natalie sat forward, before her body froze in familiar horror.  Water collected and spread on her instructor’s desk where her hand rested.  It pooled around her feet.  Wetness darkened her clothes, and her hair waved around suddenly clammy skin and clouded eyes.

The transformation took less time than the booming voice to reach her as she stumbled over other students to run toward the door.

Do something!”

***

The sound of squealing tires and blaring horns came from every direction as Natalie sped her Toyota Camry heedlessly through traffic.  Her foot never touched the brakes.  She swerved repeatedly across the lanes to avoid other cars.

“What do you want, what do you want, what do you…?”

Her chant was aimed at the soaked blonde sitting in the back seat that Natalie used the rearview mirror to glare at, but the woman looked past her.

When Natalie glanced in the same direction, she finally saw him, standing at a street corner, dressed in blue jeans and a torn t-shirt.  His hair was cut shorter than she remembered, but the profile was the same.  The cold, steely look in his eyes was the same.  The hands that had ruined two lives were crammed in his pockets.

She looked into the review mirror again at white eyes that bore into hers with a demand that rang between her own ears, drowning at her own thoughts. ‘Do something…’

Natalie pressed the gas pedal to the floor.  She plowed through traffic and ignored screams and horns.  The cold eyes that kept her up at night became wide and boyish in their panic.

*************************

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Tiny Submissions are Still Submissions

I’ve entered a ten word story into Gotham Writers’ A Very Short Story Contest.

Each participant may submit a ten word story.

Consider opportunities like this between novels.  They keep your skills sharp and diverse.  Only a few words submitted to a publisher is still work submitted to a publisher.

 

Writing Prompt: Love at First Smell

TC180’s random writing prompts.

Love at first smell.

150 word max. Poems, fiction, or non-fiction.

 

If at least 10 people participate, the chosen winner gets a colorful Jpeg award image to put on their social media or blog.  It will likely be cheesy.

Leave your entry in the comments or leave a link to it.

Turning Pages

I turn to books, my closest friends, when my life is most out of my control. As a kid I read more frequently than my parents moved, which was often. Socialization of any kind is and always has been a frustrating game in which the rules always change. Even while haphazardly uprooted and transferred from place to place, my obsession with books unlocked doors and windows, opened wormholes and portals to wherever I wanted to go.

In elementary school in Phoenix Arizona, I frequently snuck away from class to walk with dinosaurs in the library. I preferred non-fiction scientific classification about pre-historic ages to any kind of fiction, much to the annoyance of classmates who I would try to connect with by rattling off facts and theories I had discovered. I was fascinated by the idea of so many creatures with an entire world of their own having existed before I was born and suddenly not existing anymore. It was my first concept of mortality and inescapable change, and I dug in books for their bones like an eager grave robber.

In fifth grade I was dropped into the kudzu-covered woods of Tuscaloosa Alabama to live in the first trailer park I had ever seen. I felt the fresh pain of transplant and felt further alienated when my consuming obsession with proper formal English clashed for the first time with twanged slang and southernisms. When I heard “I ain’t got no money, ya’ll,” or anything like it, I would lash out with a harsh and thorough correction. This habit did not endear me to my classmates. They also didn’t like my constant questioning as to why the black kids and white kids never hung out with one another.

My world spun, reeled and morphed out of my control. I needed something to cling to, something that could help take me away from my confusion and fresh anger. My fifth grade instructor Mrs. Estes came to the rescue. She began reading a book to the class, a tradition I’ve always appreciated. My favorite moments of elementary school were the reading circles, in which I enjoyed stories like James and the Giant Peach and Charlotte’s Web.

She chose The Giver, a Pulitzer Prize winner by Louis Lowery. The novel was about a society in which a council chooses and plans each person’s life for them, including their schooling, career, life partner, and children. Every individual begins taking pills to control and suppress their natural emotions when he or she reaches puberty. The Giver, the only person who has memories of true emotion and the way the world used to be, chooses Jonas, the only person of his generation to see colors, to be the next Receiver of Memories.

The class sat attentively for all of three or four chapters, one or two chapters read per day, before the fidgeting and complaining began.

“Wait, what’s going on?”

“This is complicated…”

Classmates let their attention wander. People kicked their feet under their desks, until one day Mrs. Estes called for a vote on whether or not she should continue reading the story at all. As each hand rose for the vote to discontinue the story for its complicated nature, my glare at each student intensified to a ferocity that would contribute to my complete social rejection by the entire class. My fifth grade class in Tuscaloosa Alabama decided that The Giver was too complicated to casually enjoy. Luckily, when I approached my instructor about my disappointment, she allowed me to borrow the book. I never returned it, and now I always keep at least two copies of The Giver in case I ever see Mrs. Estas again and have the opportunity to finally return her book.

In middle school I participated in the Excel-Erated Reader program. By then I had developed an obsession with fiction that exceeded my previous obsession with dinosaurs and other prehistoric-related nonfiction. I began sneaking off to the library during lunch and other odd hours again. I overtook the entire reading competition by hundreds of points by reading the Shannara series, anything by Piers Anthony, and several other fiction stories about groups of people of different races who embark on quests together to save “the realms.” I would not know to classify these stories as Lord of the Rings rip-offs until years later.

When I began home schooling, I had all my time to myself and my books. I read everything I could get my hands on in an order that only made sense to me. I read a massive text book on the history of art and a book about how baby brains develop in utero and through the first five years after birth. When I began reading nursing textbooks from the 80’s I realized I was forcing the habit instead of enjoying the pursuit of knowledge. When I realized there were only so many books I would ever get to read in my lifetime, I experienced a depressing burn-out.

In the beginning of my adulthood, I went through a fragmentation. I had wanted to be a writer since I read the first story I had ever written out loud to my third grade class and received positive feedback, but in my late teens and early twenties I became obsessed with making as much money as possible, and writing Buffy the Vampire Slayer fanfiction until 3 in the morning just wasn’t cutting it. I began to socialize more and got caught up in the inevitable drama of the pursuit of sex, career, and trying to define personal success. For some reason I decided that success and the pursuit of it meant saving what I really wanted to do – writing – for a time in which I could afford to do it. That meant, for the most part, that while scrambling and focusing on work, I mostly didn’t read. Reading meant that I would have the unstoppable urge to write. I kept away from books, pen, and paper for their time consumption.

In that span of four years I remember reading Stephen King’s Cell and a book about the A to Z of historic serial killers. I felt like I was sleeping through part of my life and part of my potential. I ignored my monstrously hungry mind in favor of blazing through paths that could have destroyed me. Those paths and their potential destructive outcome are a story for another time.

My first attempt at college got me reading again. I participated in my first English class in years, then a creative writing class. “In order to write, you must read,” teachers and textbooks urged me. I unlocked parts of myself that I had put away as if they were toys that turned out to be essential tools.

My poems came back first. They were short, bitter, disturbing, and stilted. They would drop onto notebooks between school notes, with bits of flash-fiction peppered in between.

I unpacked some of my boxes of books and rediscovered Jewel’s book of poetry, A Knight Without Armor. I discovered poetry by Dorianne Laux, who instantly became a favorite poet when she came to Georgia Perimeter College to read us some of her work. I wrote clumsily in my first attempt at English 1102 about how much the vivid imagery and life in her poems inspired me while I bought more notebooks and started writing chunks of larger stories. I even unearthed some poetry from inside that wasn’t all about dark alleyways and anger.

Unfortunately, when I fully engaged in my own writing again, my attention outside of my own art became fickle. Soon I didn’t want to write anything that wasn’t an expression of my creativity. While I missed deadline after deadline, I sent poem after poem to online publications. I failed my English 1102 class, but three months later, amid pages of polite rejections from various literary magazines in my email inbox, there was one letter from Mused: Bella Online Literary Journal informing me they had accepted my poems “Breathe” and “Control” for unpaid publication.

Two days ago I finished reading Always Looking Up by Michal J. Fox. In the book he explains that the title is partially a height joke and partially about the importance of his positive outlook while living with Parkinson’s disease. Before that I read On Writing by Stephen King, in which he describes his agonizing journey with the necessity of writing when it competes with a lifetime of poverty and working strenuous and monotonous jobs for survival. He also describes how difficult but necessary it was for him to get back to writing after his near-fatal accident.

I am 27 years old. I’m back in school and trying out English 1102 again. I have published seven poems in four different publications. After I finish this piece of writing, barring a sudden bus accident, I will finish reading the book Timeline, a science fiction novel by Michael Crichton. Michael Crichton wrote Jurassic Park, which Steven Spielberg made into a Hollywood movie in the 90’s that fueled a dinosaur obsession I had for two years of elementary school. He died in 2008. A year before his death I decided making money was more important than writing.

I like to think that I’ve woken up and returned to myself since then. I now remember each day that a reader has the unique privilege of living in a multi-verse composed of stories, and a writer has the privilege of leaving unique new worlds behind for others. I won’t forgive myself if I don’t take the chance to create at least one new world before I leave this one.

Two Snippets of My New Novella Series: the “I Darling Diaries.”

These small samples are from my new fictional diary series entitled the I Darling Diaries.  I have two of the first draft novellas completed.  The two I have ready are called “Seattle-Face Space-Case” and “Pink Palms and Train Whistles.”  I have 7-10 page samples ready to send to anyone who might be interested in publishing this series.  Inquiries for the larger samples can be sent to badevine@gmail.com.

   ***

 The tent and the night sky outside the strips of mesh spin in opposite directions.  I can see bare limbs of squat trees.  A twig snaps, as if under a step.  My breath hitches, and the shadows dim.


  “Brian…” the ground shifts like the hand of a clock beneath my back.  Another twig snaps, and a boot scuffs against rock, soft (familiar?) sound of sneaking up in the middle of the night.


  “Brian…” I reach towards the form huddled at the other side of the tent, the distance a gulf, literally a canyon that opens gaping beyond view beneath my arm.  In the deepening shadows, he who I have crossed an ocean to be with looks like a mound of moisture-rich soil.


  “Someone wants to kill me…” I whisper to the motionless mound.  “Brian!” I look back out the mesh window where the gently waving branches are skeletal claws.  “Someone wants to kill me…”

 

 ***

  I sit on a bare portion of mattress because the stained burgundy sheet is pulled off on my side.  The off-white wall and the chipped beige porcelain lamp are stained with fingers of long-dried orange juice.  Things are piled on the floor high enough to block the lower drawer of my dresser.  I have no curtains.  There’s broken glass in the master bathroom.  One of the slatted metal closet doors leans against the other, dented by a fist and stained with blood.

  “There’s nothing here, Iz.  I’m dead inside.”

  I hear a train in the distance, because I live in an apartment with thin walls.  I’ve started to hate the sound for the way it reminds me of  creaky places where cheap light fixtures swing and cast shadows on gaudy gold pillows and spots on the floor that look like stuck cockroaches but might be chewing tobacco instead.