The Flash Fiction Challenge this week from the ever amazing Chuck Wendig was to create a 2000 word story using the list of items you received after sending “inventory” to the @You Are Carrying Twitter bot.
My list of items was: a nightshirt, a tail, a handful of aspirin tablets, a canvas bag, a powder horn, salivating hedge shears, and a horseshoe.
This wasn’t the story I was originally thinking when I received that jumbled mess of words, but I quite like how it turned out. Coming in at 2005 words, I give you:
The Forest Behind My House
We moved to a small town when I was twelve and while I missed my friends terribly, there was so much open space, so many places to explore, I hardly noticed their absence once we were settled in. It’s a bit clichéd, I suppose, but I didn’t see it like that when I was young and the world was still an adventure waiting to happen.
Our new house was a sprawling, ramshackle two-story – a “fixer-upper” Mother called it. The one thing that drew her in was the porch that wrapped all the way around where she sat most nights in a wicker rocking chair, mesmerized by the setting sun.
There was a barn that came with the house, but it went mostly unused except for Father’s old cars. Mother hated them, but at least they were somewhat hidden now, unlike where we used to live.
The barn became one of my favorite retreats. Climbing up wooden stairs to a hidden loft in the rafters, I would lay out the items I had stowed away in my canvas bag – mostly candy and rocks and other small treasures I found in the woods. I created stories around the items strewn haphazardly along the walls and hidden in crates – I was a soldier reloading my gun with an almost-empty powder horn, ready to take aim at my enemy; I was the caretaker of the horses who used to live in the barn, lovingly tending them and hanging their horseshoes on the wall as mementos.
Our backyard was a sprawling wood and when I wasn’t in the barn creating stories, I was lost in the forest, deep in mud, high in a tree, or lazing next to stagnant ponds. It was a magical time, one spent mostly in solitude exploring the hidden treasures and deep depths of our surroundings and my own imagination.
I barely noticed the changes in Father and how Mother was more sad than usual. Perhaps they were both missing our home in the city as much as I did when we first arrived, but we never spoke about it. With just the three of us, it was a quiet household. I never even heard them argue except one morning when I accidentally stumbled into it.
“Where were you last night?” I heard Mother ask Father. They didn’t realize I was awake and had come downstairs to scrounge some breakfast.
“I couldn’t sleep so I spent the night in the barn, working on the car.” Father sounded exhausted, his words slurring, one into the next.
“I went out to the barn around two this morning, and you weren’t there.”
Her words were met with silence and I had half a mind to go back upstairs when the kitchen door flew open and Mother ran past me and up the stairs to her room. She didn’t see me, but I thought I heard her crying.
I waited a few minutes before going into the kitchen. Father was staring down at the table, dark circles under his eyes, looking forlorn. I don’t think he even noticed I was there, but I asked anyway. “Is Mother okay?”
He didn’t move. “Daddy?”
“What?” He looked up, his normally vibrant blue eyes startled. “Did you say something, honey?”
“No, never mind. Are you okay?”
He mumbled something I couldn’t hear, slid the chair back and silently left the kitchen. I watched him leave, unsure what to do. After a few minutes, I shrugged, poured myself a bowl of cereal and sat down to eat. Soon, I was thinking about the new place I had found in the forest and anticipating my continuing adventures.
One night in late summer, I was lying awake picking at my nightshirt clinging to my sweat-soaked body and wishing there was a fan or a cool breeze coming in the window, when I heard some strange noises coming from the barn outside. I looked out the window, but the moon was hidden behind some clouds and I couldn’t make anything out. My vantage point was off, but I thought I saw a light coming from the barn.
My heart was pounding in my ears and I thought about climbing back in bed to hide under the covers, but I had an adventurous spirit and afraid or not, I wanted to know what was out there.
If anyone was awake in the house, I wasn’t fooling them trying to sneak down the stairs in my bare feet. They creaked and groaned no matter how delicately I placed my foot on the stair. I waited at the bottom expecting Mother to come running or Father to gruff out a warning, but there was no sound except the normal settling of an old house into an uneven dirt foundation.
As I made my way over to the door, I stepped on what felt like tiny pebbles strewn across the floor. They dug into the soft pads of my feet and I clapped my hands over my mouth to stifle the “Ouch!” that accidentally escaped. I bent down and found what looked like a handful of aspirin tablets that Father probably dropped on his way to bed. Promising myself I would clean it up on my way back, I brushed bits of aspirin and dust from my feet and stood up to continue outside.
It was sticky, warm and deathly quiet, the sound that brought me outside having settled into night’s oblivion. The door to the barn was partially ajar and the soft light coming from inside spilled onto the dirt. The thought of waking my parents didn’t even enter my mind until I was almost at the entrance to the barn, and even then I ignored it. I was drawn to that door and the soft light seeping through the cracks like a moth to flame and I went, gliding over the uneven dirt with barely a sound.
Standing in the doorway, I took in the sight before me, trying to understand what my eyes were seeing. I raised my hand slowly to my mouth and my eyes grew wide. I don’t know why I didn’t scream, but I didn’t make a sound other than my breath hitching in my throat as it picked up speed.
I recognized my mother’s nightgown and I ran to the crumpled mass on the floor next to the wooden ladder leading to the loft.
“Mother!” tore from my lips, an anxious terrorized plea.
I bent down and smoothed her inky, black hair from her face. Her eyes were open, glassy terror stark and naked in their emerald depths. She was trying to say something but no sound came out. She grabbed my hand and I squeezed my eyes shut, tears spilling down my cheeks. What was happening?
I knew something was wrong with her and when I opened my eyes I saw, not sure how I could have missed the gaping hole in the side of her neck, steadily oozing blood. I spread my hands over the wound trying to do something, anything. Her eyelids fluttered, hands grasping at mine.
“What do I do? Mother, please…”
She was whispering, straining to say something. I leaned down and thought I heard “…your father…” in halting, breathy sounds, gurgling out of her throat.
“Mom, I don’t understand! What’s happening?” My eyes bored into hers, pleading, begging. “Mom, please don’t leave me.” I was sobbing and my hands were still holding her throat in a helpless effort to stop the blood seeping steadily through my fingers.
Her hand clutched at my arm and once again she managed, “Jesse… Run…” The last word was a guttural sigh that spread out of her mouth as her hand fell and her eyes slipped to the side.
“MOM!” I screamed, shaking her, kissing her face, willing her to come back to her eyes.
A snarling growl snapped me out of my delirium and the hair on the back of my neck stood up. I slowly lifted my head and saw a nightmare.
Frozen in place, I stared, taking in the grotesque site of the thing blocking the doorway of the barn. Standing taller than anything I had yet to encounter, it was covered in blackish brown fur with clawed feet and hands and a ferocious muzzle that dripped blood down its front and into the dirt. Its tail was swishing back and forth raising small pillows of dust that floated around its bent legs and human-like body. Its teeth, like salivating hedge shears, snapped as if straining to get at me and tear me apart.
I watched in horror as it reached for me, not able to breathe past the scream lodged in my throat. One claw dug into my arm and the other wrapped around my throat lifting me in the air. It brought me close and I cringed as it sniffed my hair. A deep growl coming from its throat resonated through my body. I wanted to close my eyes, to put an end to the nightmare, but I was transfixed. My eyes met the beasts’ eyes and for a tiny moment I thought I recognized the blue orbs staring back at me and I blinked. When my eyes refocused, the only eyes staring at me were wolf brown, not a hint of blue anywhere.
My legs were kicking helplessly and I scratched at its fur-coated arms. I heard tiny whimpers that I realized were coming from me. I don’t know how I managed any sound because I couldn’t breathe, and my sight slowly started to cave in at the edges. I kept blinking, fighting the darkness, but it was no use. As my body sailed toward the side of the barn, I finally saw black.
I spend my days now, gallivanting in the forest behind my house, climbing trees and letting the smell of pine seep into my pores and blanket my tongue. I find overwhelming joy in the crisp air and the smell of green all around me.
Every once in a while I am snapped out of my forest forays into a stark white room, but there isn’t much to see beyond the brilliant white light and what looks to be soft, pillow-like walls broken only by jagged cuts that look strangely like claw marks.
Once, I was jerked out of my pine-needle sunbathing to the sound of voices and my skin sizzling with heat.
“She’s waking up. Someone get the doctor.” I heard rustling and the loud beeping noises that always accompanied waking up in the bright, white room. I tried to open my eyes but I couldn’t. It was like trying to pull taffy apart – I could lift them up, but they wouldn’t separate enough to open.
I heard a door open and then a soft, male voice close to my ear said, “Jesse, can you hear me?”
I saw a bright light right in front of my eyes and I tried to turn my head to get away from it. The light made the heat consuming my body even worse. I tried to bat it away with my hands but was surprised to find they were held down, strapped to the hard surface I was laying on. I jerked and struggled to get free, trying to ask for help at the same time. Why was I tied down? Didn’t they realize I was burning up? The background noises were soon accompanied by vicious snarling and growling and I wondered where the new noises were coming from. Why couldn’t they hear me?
“She’s starting to change. Get me a needle!” I heard the same male voice yell.
I continued to struggle, desperate for help as I felt tears spill down the sides of my face from eyes that still wouldn’t open. Moments later, I felt a sharp pain in my neck and cool liquid spreading through my veins.
Helpless to do anything else, I happily slipped back into my forest and the quiet solitude of the fresh air.