Then She’ll be Back

After my mom died, l quickly learned everyone grieves differently. There are those like Grandma Gene, who busy themselves, afraid to stop moving for even a moment for fear that their emotions may catch up and tackle them to the floor. She basically took over planning the funeral, brought over the most disgusting casseroles every day that neither me nor my dad ate. I dug a hole in the backyard and dumped the contents into it each day, so we wouldn’t hurt her feelings.

There are those who feel their emotions are like a blanket to wrap themselves in and dissolve into a puddle on the floor in anguished cries, outbursts of anger, and even laughter. This was like my mom’s sister, Aunt Tracey. On the day of the funeral, she would find me every hour, burst into dramatic tears, and drape herself over my shoulders while I awkwardly patted her shoulder. At sixteen, I didn’t feel qualified to offer counselling sessions.

Some box up, sell, and give away everything that even remotely reminds them of their loved one while others insist that everything remain as a shrine to the deceased and act like their loved one had only gone out for a moment and is expected back at any time.

This last type was my father or so I thought. Two years after she died, everything still looked exactly how my mom had left things. She had gone out for groceries and never came back home. We buried her the following week. After the funeral Grandma Betty, (my Mom’s mom) had come over to help pack up her clothes.

“Don’t touch those!” Dad shouted as he grabbed the box from Grandma Betty’s hands. Startled, she started fluttering her hands in front of her, stuttering incomplete sentences, and batting her eyelashes like a surprised frog.

“You are not to touch anything. These were Denise’s. Leave them be.” He grabbed an armload of empty, deflated boxes that slide sideways out of his grasp. He crashed through the doorway dropping one of them in his anger. He stumbled over it and left it crushed on the floor before crashing down the hallway.

“Alright, dear, I say we call it a day,” she said to me, blinking away the tears that had filled her eyes.

After she left, she refused to come to the house anymore. Instead, she invited me over to dinner once a week insisting that a growing boy needed a good home-cooked meal. Thankfully, her food was eons better than Grandma Gene and I happily accepted.

But like I said, it’s been two years and my mom’s clothes are still hanging on her side of the closet. Her make-up bag is still sitting on the bathroom counter. I used to sneak into the bag when dad was asleep and practice.

Today, I had finally had enough. It was time to accept that mom was gone. I picked up boxes from the grocery store and snuck into the house. As per usual, Dad didn’t even look away from the TV.

I had filled two boxes when my dad came up the stairs. “What are you doing?” he glared at me.

“It’s time.” I said. “We need to move on.”

He tried to grab the box I was working on, but pulled I it back ripping it from his fingers. “This is ridiculous. She’s gone. This isn’t healthy.”

Rather than get angry, he gave a great sigh and sat down on the edge of the bed “You don’t understand. Leave it. She’s coming back.”

“What?” I asked, staring at him incredulously. “No she’s not. She’s dead.” Harsh, but the truth. Things were worse than I thought.

“You don’t understand,” he said again. “We faked her death so she could get away. But, the danger will be gone soon, and then she’ll be back.”

A Dangerous Gift

“Well this is new,” Charlie said, more to herself than anyone else.

All around her everyone had slowed to an almost near stop. A balding man to her left had raised his fork to eat a bite of salad, but now his hand hovered in midair, slowly inching towards his mouth which hung wide open in anticipation.

A couple of tables over a woman with short, puffy hair and angular cheekbones had been talking animatedly with her hands. Now, her face slowly morphed from one exaggerated expression to another.

In front of her, her boyfriend Sam stared at the ground as though he had dropped something and appeared to be sliding off his chair. It was difficult to tell what he was doing when his movement was so slow.

No one, not even Sam, knew what was happening. She hadn’t told him about her gift. To everyone else, they were still moving at regular speed.

This only happened when she was in danger. The new part was just how slow everything had become. Not to mention, usually when this happened she was in a situation that made being in danger rather obvious. Right now, however, she was eating lunch with Sam on a restaurant patio.

Her eyes moved rapidly around her as she took in her surrounding. She’d been eating waffles and he’d just finished a BLT. Was it poisoned? Above them birds hovered in the air, barely moving. Strangers stopped mid-stride as they walked by the nearby stores. Each moving no more than a few inches in the last 30 seconds.

She rose from her chair and stepped out of the patio to get a better look. She was used to people trying to kill her, but no one had been successful so far because they simply couldn’t get a jump on her, not with her gift. But what if that’s what was happening now?

Worried that she might be putting Sam in danger, she grabbed a pen and paper from her purse, scrawled a quick note, and raced through the parking lot to make her escape. Whatever danger she was in, hopefully it followed her.

To her horror, as she ran towards the street and away from Sam, everything around her began to speed up again. She whirled around and started going back to the table. The closer she got, the more everything slowed again.

What was her body sensing was dangerous? Adrenaline raced through her. Her eyes rapidly shifted around the area. A couple sat on bench sipping coffees while a young girl danced in front of them, her long skirt swirled out around her as she stood in a frozen spin. Two older men argued in front of a shop door, their arms spread wide and faces glaring. Multiple tableaux spread out before her, none any more dangerous than the previous one.

A man knelt by an empty table, a ring in hand and a surprised expression on his face. Wait, that was her man. Why was he on one knee? He was purposing? To no one? Of course, it was to her, but in her haste, she had left and now he was staring at an empty chair wondering how she had disappeared right before his eyes.

But she couldn’t get engaged. Not in her line of work. She was always in danger. She couldn’t do that to him. But at the same time, how could she not. But what if he found out?

Now understanding what her brain had perceived the danger was, she slide back into her chair wishing there was an actual crisis happening. Those, she was a master at defeating.

As his face registered that she was back in front of him she saw the look of surprise slowly shift to confusion.

Then suddenly she knew what she wanted to do. Just like that everything snapped back and began moving at a regular speed.

“-arry me,”he finished saying. He blinked at her a few times obviously curious if she was actually there or if she might disappear again.

She smiled. “Yes,” she said.

The Void

Bernice had just made the gravest mistake of her life and at age 83, that was saying something.

“Donald?” she whispered, nervously picking a toothpick up off the recliner her husband had just been sitting in. She glanced around the den, looking for him. It was a simple room with not many places to hide. There were two faded, brown recliners, one was his, the other hers. They sat side by side against the wall and faced the flat screen TV on the other side.

She had known her aim was off the last few years, but she had never made a mistake like this before. Bernice had the uncanny ability to make things disappear.

When she was a child she learned she could make small things disappear like Brussel spouts, cod liver oil, or the spiders her younger brother Frankie used to hide in her bed.

Then, when she grew older, married Donald, and had kids, making poop and puke instantly disappear had been an amazing gift. Stains could be instantly removed from clothes or furniture, dirt and grime would vanish without scrubbing, and, on one occasion when her daughter Tori tried sneaking out of the house, she had made the gas in the car disappear leaving her stranded in the driveway.

“Donnie? Are you there?” She swiped her hand over the recliner hoping that maybe he was just invisible as opposed to gone completely, but her hand easily moved through the air.

Over the years, she had tried to keep her talent under the radar, but she had always wondered whether Donald might suspect something. On many occasions she had used her gift to win an argument. Like today for example. She had asked him numerous times throughout their marriage to please stop picking at his teeth in the living room. After all, what were bathrooms for if not to hide the disgusting things we all must to from our family. And picking at your teeth, in Bernice’s humble opinion, was definitely something that belonged in the bathroom. So when he pulled one of his dreaded toothpicks out she’d simply had enough and meant to make the stupid thing disappear. She assumed he would just think he’d fumbled and dropped it. No big deal.

But it was a big deal! She’d missed her target and now the toothpick was still here, but Donald was gone!

She sat back down in her recliner in an attempt to think. She had never made anything reappear. It had all been a one-way street. She squeezed her eyes shut and attempted to reverse the process, but nothing happened.

Suddenly, the sound of an accordion began to play in the distance growing louder and louder by the second followed by the sound of rushing wind. Then, immediate silence.

Standing in front of her was the man from her dreams. He had visited once when she was five years old. She thought he was just a figment of her childhood imagination that her memory refused to forget, but here he was again, no older than before. In fact, he seemed much younger. She remembered him being this ancient old man in a bright red suit. But here he was, just a kid, barely fifty years old if he was day.

“Bernice, what was the one rule I have you?”

She stared sheepishly at the carpet. Oh right. The rule. “It was an accident,” she said.

“What was the rule?” he said again.

She pursed her lips causing even more wrinkles to appear in the ripples of her face. She gave a deep sigh, “Do not send humans to the void.”

“What was that?” He asked, exaggeratedly cupping his hand behind his ear.

She glared at him. “Do not send humans to the void.”

“That’s right. No humans, but look what I have.” There was another rush of wind and soon Donald was hanging precariously in the air, feet dangling helplessly below him.

“Set me down,” Donald said, looking quite put out. He often got angry when he was scared. It was rare that he was ever actually angry.

“Do you mind explaining to me how this man ended up in my void?” he ask, his voice far too dramatic.

Bernice did not have much patience for over-dramatics and felt her temper rising. “It was an accident. I was aiming for the toothpick.”

“Do you know this man?” Donald asked, suddenly focusing on her from his place by the ceiling.

“An accident?” The man asked leaning in closer to her. He narrowed his eyes as he looked her up and down. “You’ve gotten old.”

“I beg your pardon,” she said, huffily.

“You’re license is hereby revoked.”

“Wh-what?” she spluttered.

The sound of an accordion playing rang through the room mixed with rushing wind again and then he was gone. Donald slowly descended from the air until he was once again sitting in his recliner.

He looked over at Bernice. “I don’t suppose there’s anything you’d like to share with me?”

She looked around the room careful not to meet his eyes. “Umm, no, not particularly.”

“Ah, I see.” He shifted his position a bit so that he could dig into his pocket and pulled out a harmonica. “You’ll never believe what I came across while I was, er, wherever I was.” He blew a loud note into the instrument.

“Oh?” she said, inquiringly, cringing at the sound.

He began to play “Oh My Darling,” on his harmonica. It was the only song he knew and the reason she had made it disappear in the first place. She listened to 3 renditions before she broke and tried to make it disappear. It didn’t work. Apparently, she really had lost her license to make things disappear.

Finally he stopped playing. He gave her a sidelong look. “I also found my chess set.” His eyes twinkled.

She opened her eyes innocently. “Oh?” she said again.

“It would appear someone wanted that gone as well.”

“How odd,” she said, smoothing her afghan down over her legs.

“You always were a sore loser.”

She wrinkled her nose, but gave no reply as he began playing his harmonica again. This would not do at all.

* * *

The following story was written based on a prompt I found on the Instagram page: writing.prompts.re 

“You were born with the ability to make things disappear. As you grew older, you were able to make even larger objects vanish. Today, while watching Netflix, there’s a knock on your door. An angry old man in an orange suit stands at your doorstep and asks you to please stop throwing things into his void.”

A few details were changed along the way as the story started to take shape.

Broken Routine

Hannah steps outside at 7:03 am just like she does every morning. She loves routine. There is a comfort for her in knowing what her day is going to look like. It is a warm blanket of safety whereas surprises are like cold buckets of water dumped on her head. She was the type of person who enjoyed watching a movie or reading a book the second time around better than the first because she knew exactly what was going to happen and could therefore just settle in and enjoy the story.

As she walks, the sun is just peaking up over the horizon chasing away the night. Only a few short weeks ago, her walks were warm and the sunny, but winter was now well on the way. She quickly locks the front door and pulled on her gloves.

As she walks, she sees a bus pass by with an advertisement for a new caramel latte at Stella’s Coffee. Every time she sees it she thinks she should try it out. It’s only an extra 3 minute walk so she could easily go there instead of her usual bakery. But then, what if it’s terrible? At some places, the whipped cream is so fake it tastes almost plasticy. Or it might be too sweet. No, she liked her routine. If it’s not broken, why fix it?

As she gets close to the entrance, she can smell fresh bread baking, the aroma wafting out into the street. The electronic bell dings as she steps through the door.

“’Morning Hannah,” Becky, the cashier, mumbles as she gives a giant yawn. She is already reaching into the showcase with a pair of tongs. “The usual?” she asks pinching a raspberry white chocolate scone.

“Yes please.” Hannah grabs her credit card from her purse.

Becky begins foaming milk for her vanilla latte.

“Actually, hang on,” Hannah says, staring up at the menu. “Maybe I’ll try something new.”

Becky stops foaming the milk and stares at her with her hands still elevated holding the coffee cup. She takes an exaggerated sigh as she waits for Hannah’s new order.

Hannah scans over the menu a few times, but there isn’t anything resembling the caramel latte she had seen on the bus. That one had chunks of something sweet on the whipped cream. She didn’t see that type of thing here. Better not risk it.

“Um, no actually, I’ll stick with the vanilla latte.”

She pretends not to notice Becky’s exaggerated eyeroll. When the coffee is ready, Becky slides the coffee to her, sloshing the contents over the rim.

“Er, thanks.” Hannah quickly mops the spill with some napkins, grabs her scone and coffee, and heads towards the cramped seating area.,

There are 3 metal tables squashed into a tiny area, one by the window, while the other two are on the other side by the wall. Every morning she sits at the table by the window. But this morning, there is someone already there. She hesitates for a moment in indecision. The man at her table sits sipping his coffee while reading the newspaper which is spread out over the small, round table and drapes over the sides.

She usually watches the people walking along the sidewalk and her table has the best view. She finally sits down at the table in the corner glaring at the man. He’s not even looking out the window. Why sit in a window seat and not look out the window?

She picks at her scone as she slowly eats, bored by her lack of view. It tastes like sawdust and sticks to the roof of her mouth. Did it always taste like this and she hadn’t noticed because she was distracted, or were her taste buds off because her routine had been thrown out of whack?

The rest of her day passes in a blur and before she knows it she’s walking back home. As she gets closer, she notices a column of smoke rising into the sky. Soon the air starts to smell burnt. As she turns onto her street she realizes that not only is the fire coming from her neighbourhood, it’s in her street. And then she sees it.

Smoke is curling out the windows, billowing into the sky. Firefights are scattered about, working equipment so they can start fighting the fire. She stands on the sidewalk in horror as her safety net slowly turns to ash. Where was she supposed to go now? She felt naked and exposed and desperately homesick.

* * *

The next morning she steps out of her hotel room. Her boss had given her the day off to deal with the effects of her house burning down. But she woke up at the same time she did every morning and so she figured she may as well try to stick to her routine as much as possible. She needs to buy new clothes, but the stores don’t open yet so she plans to stop by her bakery. As she walks out of the parking lot, a giant poster in the coffee shop across the street catches her eye. Advertised is the caramel latter. She hesitates for just a a moment before crossing.

“Good morning,” the cashier greets her with a smile as she steps inside. “What can I get for you today?”

Time Stunted

Allen sat alone at his table in the overcrowded restaurant which had massively grown in popularity over the last year. He had a view of the host podium from where he sat and there were people still waiting from when he first came in over 45 minutes ago.

Around him, cutlery clanged against dishes and the banal chatter surrounding him had slowly grown louder over the last half hour. He glanced at the clock on his phone and braced himself for the crash.

3 – 2 – 1 Dishes slide off the tray of one of the waitresses and clattered and crashed to the ground. Conversations stopped as the entire restaurant turned around to see what had happened. A couple of other waitresses scurried to her aid and it was swept up immediately as the conversations around him started up again and the volume rose to its earlier crescendo.

10 minutes to go.

“Is there anything else I can bring you sir?” the waiter asked, as he set his surf and turf on the table. Allen had ordered the most extravagant item on the menu since he knew he wouldn’t need to pay. Not here. Not today.

Truth be told, he’d grown to hate this restaurant, but he’d learned awhile ago that being here helped with the transition. So now, every year at the exact same time, he reserved this booth. But that didn’t mean the food wasn’t delicious.

5 minutes to go.

He was so close. If only he had just a few more weeks, he was sure they would be able to solve the problem he’d been working on for the last 26 years or 1 year, depending on how you looked at it.

1 minute left

The music got louder. Then a few seconds later so did the voices around him. People began shouting to be heard above the pounding base. He quickly finished his last couple of bites, set his knife and fork on his plate, and wiped his mouth with a napkin. As the din around him started to fade, he closed his eyes to hold off the vertigo.

The voices around him started to blend together as they faded into the distance, growing softer and quieter until everything went silent. Then everything came rushing back with a pop and he was back, but now it was  year earlier and the restaurant was nearly empty.

This is where he’d been sitting when the effects of his botched experiment took their tole 26 years ago. It didn’t mater where he was on September 27; he would blink and be transported back to this location at exactly 7:03 pm.

He’d tried everything to get away. One year, he’d even flown halfway across the world, but same as always, when the year reset, he found himself right back here.

The waitress came by with a glass of water. “I’ll be back to take your order in just a few minutes.” she said, smiling, but she gave him a odd look as she walked away.

He grabbed the glass of water and drank it down. He’d learned about 10 years ago that if he simply came back here just  before the transition happened it was far less disorienting. And at his age, that was a priority.

Yes, his age was becoming more and more of a factor. Although the rest of the world was repeating the same year, year after year, he was cursed to not only be aware of what was happening, he didn’t reset. In the last 26 years, he had aged about 26 years. That had been a pleasent discovery around year 9. It was still embarrassing how long it took him to figure that out. It was becoming increasingly problematic with friends, family, and co-workers.

“What can I get for you today,” the waitress asked, walking up with her notepad and pencil.

Feeling quite full from the lobster he’d just finished next year, he grabbed his coat and slide out of the booth.

“Actually, I just changed my mind. I’m not that hungry after all.”

The Day the Light Returned: Part 2 of 2

Gail looked around, but no one seemed to have noticed anything was wrong. She looked over at his empty chair and realized then that he was gone.

Slowly, she rose from her table. “Leaving already?” Richard asked, as her chair slide back as she stood up.

“I’m not really that hungry today.” She picked up her plate and walked towards the compost bins. As she scraped the leftovers into the bin, she heard Owen’s voice whisper behind her: “There is a man outside standing at the end of the road. Whatever you do, do not let him know you can see. Leave now, and I’ll meet you at your house.” She whirled around to ask him one of the thousands of questions that raced through her mind, but he moved quickly and was already back at the table with Richard and Janet.

She licked her lips nervously, but was careful to take the same number of steps to the door, running her fingertips softly along the wall as she went. At the door, although her sight was back completely, she took hold of the rope as she always did and crept slowly back to her house.

Spray painted on the road were the same words as in the dinning room. Every garage door she passed bore the same message. She could feel drops of sweat forming on her forehead as her shoulders tingled with fear. She tried her best not to look around. Then she saw him. A man dressed in a suit stood at the end of the road, beyond the borders of her community watching her. She tried her best to keep her face blank and her eyes unfocused.

She could feel sweat gathering in the middle of her back running down her spin. She forced her feet to shuffle towards him. Breathe in, breathe out. One step in front of the other.

Her hand began to burn from holding the rope too tightly as it ran through her hand. Finally, she turned down her driveway. Just as she reached her front door, Owen seemed to materialize out of n where and was by her side.

“Do you mind if I come in for a cup of coffee?” he asked, a littler louder than usual.

“Sure,” she said, her voice shaking slightly. They stepped inside and Owen closed the door behind them. He looked directly into her eyes as he pulled her away from the front window.

“You can see!” she whispered.

“Yes, and I wasn’t the first to get my sight back, nor will you be the last.” He peered around the wall to sneak a peak through the front window.

“Who was that man?” Gail whispered.

“As far as I can tell, he’s part of the new government. If he learns you can see, you will be removed.”

“Removed?” she whispered. “To where?”

“To their facility,” he whispered. “You won’t come back. I’ve seen it before. Larsons, Tony, Linda.” He paused. “My father.”

She put her hand on his shoulder. “I’m so sorry,” she said, her mind reeling. So they hadn’t just disappeared. After a few moments she asked, “Are there others in the colony who can see?”

He shook his head. “They always catch on. People see the signs and trust them. So naturally when they see someone else who can see, they immediately go to them for answers. Then, they’re gone. You were the first person I was able to catch before they noticed. It helped that you were inside, sitting right at my table when your sight came back. But there are others in other colonies.”

“Who was that man? If it’s just him, maybe we could fight him.”

But Owen was already shaking his head. “There are others all around.”

“Who are they,” she asked, nibbling nervously at her nail.

He shrugged. “No one knows for sure, but most think they were the ones who caused The Great Blinding. Whatever they used to create it, it seems to be wearing off in some people.” He shrugged his shoulders. “Or they’re bringing people’s sight on purpose.”

“So what do we do?” she asked.

“Don’t worry,” he gave her a rueful smile. “I have a plan. You’re going to run away.”

“What?” she stared at him incredulous. “Are you crazy? And what about you?”

“I need to stay here in case anyone else get their sight back,”

“Where will I go?” she asked, her voice choking as she spoke.

“I told you, I have a plan.”

Hours later she was threading her way through the woods desperately hoping she was reading Owen’s map correctly. For the second time in her life, she felt the safety of her world crumbling around her. But she survived that last time. She would survive this too.

The Day the Light Returned – Part 1 of 2

“You lost your sight – along with everyone else on earth – in the great blinding. Two years later, without warning, your sight returns. As you look around, you realize that every available wall, floor and surface has been painted with the same message – don’t tell them you can see.”

The following story I wrote from the above writing prompt I came across on the Instagram account @writing.prompt.s

After the Great Blinding, everything had essentially gone dark for the last 2 years. Humanity adapted quickly amid the chaos of those first few months. No could see and panic reigned, but soon ingenuity breed from absolute desperation.

Although civilization seemed to have fallen, at least where Gail lived. all was not lost. Order was beginning to return. Her colony had just over 30 people. They had gardens, water systems, and community. And they were not alone. There were other colonies to trade with and learn from.

On the day when everything changed again, Gail left her home to work in the gardens. She kept a careful hand on the rope guiding her down the street she’d lived on since she married over 40 years ago.

Their original group formed from her surrounding neighbours, but slowly over time, many had disappeared or died and newcomers have come and taken their place. It was the random disappearances that struck fear into the hearts of each colonist. There was never any explanation. To make things worse, it was difficult to send out search parties. They had dogs. They blew airhorns, whistles, but still, once someone was disappeared for more than a day, they never came back. They didn’t risk going after the lost. Not anymore.

The rope she followed now was thin with a tight braid. This one would take her to the gardens. It was her job, along with 3 others, to maintain the network of yards they used for planting.

She spent the day weeding. A rather slow process without her sight. She ran her fingers over the leaves identifying them by touch. She also monitored the health of each plant as she moved along, checking for pests, decay, and disease. She was so engrossed in her work that she gave a startled gasp when the dinner bell rang out. As she walked to the dinning house, she began to feel the beginning of a headache creep across her skull.

They’d converted the main floor of one of the larger houses on their street and brought in a mix of tables and chairs onto the main floor. She sat at her usual table with Owen, Richard, and Janet. Owen had been friends with her son back when they’d been in high school. Since the light was lost, they had both lost their families and he had become a second son to her. Richard and Janet had only recently joined them a few months ago.

“You’re awfully quiet today,” Owen remarked beside her. “Are you okay?”

She rubbed her temples. “I just have a bit of a headache actually.” She lapsed back into silence, but within a few moments, a searing pain cut through her skull. She held her head in her hands hunched over her lap.

“Are you okay,” Owen whispered beside her, putting a hand on her shoulder.

“My head,” she moaned. Then the light came back. It took her a few moments for her eyes to adjust. When they did, she saw scrawled on every wall the words: Don’t tell them you can see. Then, the pain was instantly gone.