Genre – open
Length – 700 words
Topic – look at the photo, look into the child’s eyes.
Deadline – Wednesday September 7th at Midnight EST. The stories post will go up Thursday morning.
Mommy is Still Sleeping
The voice was barely a whisper hanging on an unlikely breeze in a windowless space.
The flickering florescent light hummed overhead. Nina stared into the shadows that obscured the end of the long corridor. She began to walk slowly towards the void that seemed to call out to her.
Her patent leather shoes clicked against the cracked linoleum floor and the walls acted as a conduit for the ricochet of sound. Abandoned wheelchairs were scattered on both sides of her, as were empty gurneys and deflated I.V. drips.
Nina wasn’t scared. It all felt familiar.
The shadows softened as she approached an open doorway at the end of the hall. She peeked into room with caution. A woman lay limp in a hospital bed, her head tilted to one side and slightly propped up by pillows. Her arms were at her side and covered with black soars and purple strands of veins and sinew. Nina stepped closer.
“Mommy,” Nina said softly, “are you sleeping?”
With her mouth slightly agape, the woman parted her eyes slowly.
Without warning, the door slammed shut, locking Nina out into the hallway. Frantically, she began pounding on the door with both hands.
“Mommy! Mommy! Mommy open the door!”
Nina was suddenly grabbed from behind. A large hand reached around her face and covered her mouth, causing her screams to be muffled. She tried to struggle but she was pulled forcefully away from the door until it disappeared back into shadow. After that, all she could hear was his voice:
“Nina shut-up! Nina shut-up! Nina wake-up!”
Nina opened her eyes. She looked down when she felt carpet between her toes. Still out of breath from screaming, she began to choke behind the hand that still covered her mouth. Nina looked up into the scowling eyes of her brother, Adam, who towered over her.
“What the hell is wrong with you”? His whispered words were laced with contempt. “Mom just got to sleep an hour ago and you’re screaming at her door!”
Nina began to nervously shift her eyes from her brother’s glare when she felt her lips begin to tremble; she didn’t want to make it worse by crying.
“What is going on up here?”
Nina looked up from where she crouched on the floor, and saw her sister, Nadia, coming up the staircase.
“She had another fucking night terror”, Adam exclaimed.
“Adam – language; she’s nine”.
“I don’t give a shit”.
Nadia came up behind him and punched him on the shoulder. She smiled at Nina, impatiently. “Nina, go wash up and get ready for school. Your breakfast is on the counter”.
Nina silently rose from the floor and wiped the sweat from her forehead with the sleeve of her shirt. She reached the bathroom door and heard Adam laughing behind Nadia as they walked down the stairs
“I mean it; you should send her to Aunt Teri’s like the counselor said. There are five of us and she’s the only one making problems…”
Everyone had finished clearing their breakfast plates, while Nina frowned at the flakes of cereal that had turned to paste in her bowl. Aidan and Aubrey were fighting each other for the last bag of cookies. Nadia, donning a red raincoat, hurriedly loaded the dishwasher, cursing under her breath when she looked at the clock.
Through the kitchen window, Nina could see the rain spray across the windshield of the van parked out front. She could see Adam turning the ignition, and then lay on the horn with his elbows, repeatedly.
“That’s the two-minute warning, guys. Come on! I’m already late for class!” Nadia snapped.
Aidan and Aubrey ran outside. When Nadia disappeared into the other room, Nina sprinted upstairs to grab her knapsack.
When Nina returned to the front of the house, her eyes widened in panic.
The van was gone.
Nina looked back through the opened door and saw no movement at all.
It wasn’t on purpose. Adam would come back. She would wake up Mommy and he knew that. He would come back
Nina sat at the top of the stairs, with the bag in her lap, and let her head fall against the damp railing. She would just wait.
F3, Cycle 43: My Hometown
Prompt: A story involving your hometown. Make us believe we’ve been there.
Word Count Limit: 2000 words
I stood in the thick crowd of the Port Authority bus terminal, surveying the throng of people, with a guitar case strapped to my shoulder and a wilted fire and ice rose in my hand. New York City was the only place I’d ever thought of as home; yet I found myself wandering, cautiously, as an outsider, peering through the tinted doors leading to Time Square like an anxious child eying an approaching stranger. There was a vacancy in my memory that prevented the sensation of comfort to wash over me. Everything was recognizable but nothing felt familiar; nothing felt like home.
Home had become Pacific Ocean swells that cooled the mid-morning air into a fog, and warm afternoon breezes carrying the fragrance of salty sand and Redwood trees. New York City’s harsh scent rode thick and heavy on a gust of heat when people passed through the door. I was taken aback by the stifling humidity and crouched in the artificial coolness of the terminal, nervously studying the crowd, trying to fight the urge to light a cigarette.
As I waited for him to appear, I began thinking back to my last memory of seeing Jackson Philips, wading through a similarly swollen crowd and dressed in a dark blue suit with the corner of a coffin on his shoulder. I remembered the viridian flecks in his eyes as his tears met the sunlight, when he placed his brother, Daniel, into the hearse. I caught his gaze across the congregation, and watched his body tremble as he mouthed the word goodbye. I didn’t understand and I didn’t really want to.
I sat in the back of the church, the following Sunday, expecting both Daniel and Jackson to be flanked at my side while passing the brass colored hymn book , back and forth, that was littered with our drawings and notes. For the past five years we convened in the second to last pew on the right, far from our families, and kept each other awake during long sermons. That morning, for the first time, I found myself sitting alone.
When Jackson wrote to me, three days later, he disclosed he was leaving the following morning. He had found off-campus housing in Georgetown, and he wouldn’t be going to our high school graduation. Attached to the letter were the keys to his guitar room. Music was dead for him, he wrote, and so was God. He wished me good luck. He signed it “With Love”, but no signature.
The following Sunday I went to church alone and for the last time. Three months later I left for San Francisco and never heard from Jackson Philips again.
I wandered outside of the terminal to light a cigarette, still lost in thought and ducking people traffic when I heard his voice call my name. Not my real name; rather, the alter ego he created for me; the name that took me back to 16-year-old girlhood when he said it. His voice emerged louder, breaking through the ambient orchestra of Time Square, and then I caught a glimpse of his face, pale and soaring above the crowd. Jackson’s lanky body suddenly appeared, taking long strides in my direction. We embraced each other beneath the large scaffolding that sheltered us from the gray sky that began to thunder overhead. I found myself practically in a pirouette as I wrapped my arms around his shoulders, reaching him only by way of the tips of my toes. Jackson pulled back from our embrace with a smile, but when he reached for the bag on my arm, he shrank at the sight of it.
“Why’d you bring that for?” He sneered, the smile across his lips curving into a child-like pout.
I leaned in closer, letting the strap of the guitar case fall off my shoulder and into his hand. “Because it’s yours; don’t be a jerk, Jacs”.
His eyebrows furrowed. He probably hadn’t been called Jacs since he left Brooklyn. I flashed an exaggerated smile when he grabbed hold of my hand and began weaving me through the crowd. We sprinted through traffic and reached his car just as the first drops of rain hit my shoulder.
While he drove, we spoke with the strained cordiality of strangers and the rain-drenched scenery became a fitting backdrop. Jackson meandered whenever there was silence, seemingly trying to blurb the last few years into casual conversation. I felt his hesitation when he glanced at me, and the awkward dance of words made me begin to question if he was regretting the invitation back into his life after all these years of estrangement.
“Is that for me?” He said gesturing to the withered rose still in my hand.
I smiled, “You used to give these to me all the time”.
“When you were pissed”, he admitted with a laugh, “Danny told me they were your favorite.” Jackson paused. He slowed the car and looked at me. “I haven’t said his name in three years.”
Jackson accelerated through a red light causing a splash of dirt and water. I tried to mask my anxiety, gripping my knees as I watched the blur of City Hall approaching through the rain-splattered windshield. The car came to a sudden stop. Jackson sighed and dropped his hands from the steering wheel. His eyes glared intently out towards the downtown majesty of the courthouses surrounding us. The rain was coming down harder, now, creating a silver hue that reflected off the hood of the car. “It was a day just like this,” he whispered,” The storm was unreal; it was like steering through the ocean and I was driving- It happened fast. It was so fast, you know?”
I caught my breath and acknowledged his reverie, stroking the nape of his neck. I didn’t know; I wasn’t there. I often wondered if he resented me for not being there.
“I missed you.” I whispered back; it was all I could think of to say.
Jackson brought his cheek down to where my hand rested at his neck and nudged the curves of his face along my fingertips. “I missed us.”
He began driving again, slowly. My hand was now cupped over his on the steering wheel, intertwining my fingers with his.
“Let’s go somewhere”, he said. I had no idea where we were originally headed, but I nodded in agreement anyway.
Crossing the Brooklyn Bridge was like cutting through a veil shrouding all of my memories. Broken pavement turned to cobblestone as we drove along Montague Street, passing the red brick houses we coveted in our youth, around the corner from the Promenade which overlooked the Manhattan skyline. The vintage record store in Cobble Hill, the dance studio on Union Street; I smiled at the enduring landmarks of my childhood as we passed them by.
The downpour had ceased before Jackson pulled over and exited the car. All I had wanted was for the rain to stop, but the heavy blanket of musk that had permeated the air earlier, now smelled of sweet, damp marigolds potted in open windows. The leaves from the trees that bordered the streets dripped ceremoniously with dew. I followed suit as he took off his shoes and hopped over a familiar wall of granite.
Drawn in as always by his curious grin, I took his hand as he led me down a man-made path under a curve of Honey Locusts. Prospect Park’s emerald glow radiated, even in the sallow light of the ashen sky. I relished the squish of wet grass between my toes as I continued to follow him down the path, in silence, to a clearing of an empty baseball field. Jackson straddled a damp wooden bench and I sat on the ground with my back against the sky to face him.
He began to speak fearlessly. He told me he started frequenting that spot in the park the year after he returned from Georgetown. He’d bring a stereo with him and get drunk on Knob Creek whiskey, listening to old demo tapes we’d made as teenagers; scratchy recordings of belligerent guitar playing and late night conversations. He’d often find himself talking back to Daniel whenever he heard his voice.
“I come here” he mused, “and it’s like I can almost feel the presence of God again”.
“We don’t believe in God anymore, remember?” I said mockingly.
Jackson smiled and knelt in front of me. He met my eyes with the warm gaze he had greeted me with, just an hour earlier. “Shut-up and turn around”, he said with a smirk, “tell me you don’t see heaven.”
The setting sun had broken through a dune of clouds and mist. The light spiraled out in shafts of purple and gold glittering over the tower tops of buildings on the edge of the horizon. Billows of haze made step-shaped patterns all the way up through the endless spectrum of the atmosphere. He was right, I thought, as I leaned into his chest with my face pointed to the sky; there was God.
The drive to Jackson’s apartment wasn’t long, though night had completely settled in by the time we reached his front door. The trip had made me lethargic. Upon crossing the door-sill, I dropped the guitar case on the nearest chair and Jackson walked me towards his bedroom. He was going to stay up for a little while and told me I could have the bed. He kissed the tip of my nose and sternly pointed towards his room. I was too anxious for sleep to argue. With soiled feet and grass stained jeans, I threw myself into the inviting collection of sheets and blankets. I saw my tired reflection in the glass of a picture frame with Jackson and Daniel staring back at me from under the light of a table lamp. I turned off the light and crossed the familiar threshold of exhaustion to sleep, softly humming to the muffled strumming of a guitar being played in the other room.
F3, Cycle 40: A Token of my Esteem
Prompt (by Thomas Pluck): Use the photo for inspiration
Word Count Limit: 1000 words
As the uptown train pulled into the station, Trista mused over her loathing for the new subway cars. The hue of the fluorescent lighting reminded her of the tri-fold mirror in her parent’s bedroom. Trista credited that mirror for the destruction of her parents’ marriage. She’d catch her mother examining her pores, in the magnified reflection, for hours at a time. Trista would often be forced to participate, allowing her mother to pick at her face in the unflattering light. She was certain that her father grew a beard, in part, to avoid the inquisition. He threw the mirror out of a window not long before he left. When Trista fled to New York City after college, she received a handheld version of the mirror as a farewell gift: pay attention and exfoliate darling; that city is filthy, love mom.
Trista very seldom looked up from her lap during the morning ride. She mechanically reached for the headphones in her purse once she found a seat on the train. She set her mp3 player to shuffle and took out the crossword puzzle she hadn’t completed the day before. The train pulled into one station after the other, receiving and releasing noises and movements she was blissfully happy to ignore.
She became distracted by the boisterous laughter of a leggy blonde, whom she eyed in her peripheral vision, as the woman and her male companion made their way to the empty seats next to her. Trista raised the volume of her music, which had just reached the bridge of Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Boxer”, to block out their banter. The shrill blonde sat directly beside her. Trista tried to subtly inch space between them, but the woman’s bag, still on her shoulder, fell further onto the seat, creating less space every time either of them moved. She glared at the oblivious woman coldly but received no response.
The mass exodus of people at the 42nd Street stop allowed for Trista to casually cross over to the other side before the new passengers got on. As she reassessed her puzzle, she caught a glimpse of the blonde woman shifting in her seat. She raised her eyes and watched the woman abruptly pull her bag from her arm onto her lap and grow silent.
Trista curiously studied the person who had claimed her former seat; His frame was gaunt and wrapped in ashen skin, except for his face which had been exposed to too much sun, recently. His arms crossed over each other like the crook of a spider’s leg. He wore an unkempt beard and his body wilted in clothes that probably never fit him properly. The man looked to be in his late seventies and, except for the untidiness of his beard, in no way resembled her dad. Still, she couldn’t help but look for more resemblances whenever he looked away. She didn’t think much about her father, except in those moments when she thought about her mother’s idiosyncratic behavior that led to his departure when Trista was still a teenager. She hadn’t seen or heard from him since.
Trista’s thoughts began to circle the haunting narrative of her father’s disappearance. As she scanned the people in the train car, she wondered if there were any other faces she could connect to her memory. How many times could she possibly have seen her dad just casually riding the subway? How many old lovers had she not taken notice of? How many ghosts roamed the city, she thought; passing her by each day through doorways, archways and corridors as she stared down at her crossword puzzle and raised the volume on her iPod?
Her gaze fell back on the old man, now sitting cross-legged and drumming his long but pristine fingernails on his knee. He, for certain, wasn’t her father but he was possibly someone’s father, somewhere. He wore a faded shirt that read “NAVY” across his chest much like her father wore a shirt that read “ARMY”. She knew the real reason her father wore a full beard was to cover the scars on his face from an accident that he refused to speak of. The old man could have been wearing his beard to cloak wounds from his own unspoken conflicts. He was apart of someone else’s story; someone else’s ghost.
Trista was aroused from her stupor when she heard the announcement of her stop approaching. The man hadn’t looked at her once even though, she felt, he knew she was watching. The dreadful train car lights flickered as Trista exited. She took off her headphones and shoved her crossword puzzle into her purse, reminded of the still unopened mirror under her bed and her mother’s sage advice;