She sits naked on the floor of her hospital room, knees drawn to her chin, rocking back and forth. Her hospital gown, shredded. Fingertips, red and bleeding from stuffing bits of cloth into imaginary holes in the walls.
The door to her room unlocks and opens. The doctor’s heels click across the concrete floor as she walks toward the girl. The doctor softly calls her name.
The girl looks toward a vision on the wall.
“Don’t make me do this again, momma.”
In the cellar of their farmhouse, the refrigerator laid on its back like a white and chrome coffin. The door propped open. A mouth ready to devour.
“Don’t make me put you in the box again, lassie,” her father warned.
That’s how it was for the girl after her mother drowned trying to save her.
Four years old. A daughter the father didn’t want. Intolerable competition for affection. Now, a daily reminder of his loss.
Holes bored around the refrigerator’s sides gave the girl enough air to survive hours of captivity if she lay still. Mouth pressed to a hole.
Screaming did no good. It only depleted the oxygen, so she learned to lie in silence. The heat from her body and the moisture in her breath turned the closed fridge into a sauna of darkness. Her body quivered in the wetness of her perspiration mixing with her pee, sometimes her filth.
She tried to imagine what her mother looked like. What she smelled like. Certainly not tobacco and whisky and fear like her father. She had neither memory nor a picture. Content to create her own, she imagined a woman with the smile of a Christmas card angel with skin the softness of clouds, dressed in a white gown flowing with love. Ephemeral visions wisping across the pond beyond the barn.
In the “box,” her limbs lost all feeling. Numbness whitewashed the pain. Her mind counted the passing of the minutes. One, two, three … forty-nine … seventy-eight.
Oxygen deprivation muddled her brain. She drifted through the colors in her crayon box. Red, purple, yellow, black. Passed out reciting the alphabet — C, D, P, G, X.
When her father opened the door, the musty cellar air hitting her lungs gave the feeling of a newborn taking its first breath. Each time she cried, “Why, Daddy?”
The answer cowered in her head before he spoke the horrid words, “’Cause you killed your mother.”
His answer never changed.
“Now clean yerself up,” he’d say, pushing a bucket of water and a rag across the concrete floor with his booted foot. “And the box, too, lassie. ‘Less you want to lie in your own stink the next time.”
Eyes buried deep in a face of hate glared.
The last day, reeling drunk and laughing. Her father lifted the door and sprayed her with his garden hose. She remembered him tripping on the hose. Slipping on the wet concrete. Falling backward.
His head resonated like a melon as it hit the floor.
Ten years since her mother’s death, now nearly his height. She dragged his unconscious body to the fridge, lifted him to the edge, and pushed him in. Folded his arms. Tucked his knees. Closed the door.
The latch clicked.
When her father came to, his yelling and threats, now muffled and weak, held no power. “Lie still and breathe through a hole, Daddy,” she whispered as she ripped a piece of cloth from her dress and plugged a hole.
They found her sitting naked on the cellar floor, knees drawn to her chin, rocking forward and back next to the fridge.
Eyes staring. Chanting, “Don’t make me do this again.” Her dress torn to strips, strips to pieces, pieces to threads.
That was a year ago. The doctors saw progress. Until the day her screams pierced the hush of the women’s activity room.
The day she looked at the magazine picture of the old white refrigerator with its chrome latch handle.
When her chest constricted, pulling her wrists to her shoulders.
When her hands curled downward and in.
When she went back into the refrigerator.
Jeff Switt is a retired advertising agency guy who loves writing flash fiction, some days to curb his angst, other days to fuel it. His words have been featured online at Dogzplot, Boston Literary Magazine, Shotgun Honey, 50-Word Stories, 100 Word Story, A Story In 100 Words, 101 Word Stories, Postcard Shorts, and Nailpolish Stories, as well as Every Day Fiction. His latest venture is A Story in Three Paragraphs.
He sits in the computer lab every day amid the whir and heat, and reads love letters one after another. He’s supposed to help us if we have problems, but it’s usually easier just to move to another machine. He’s oblivious when he reads.
That must be what true love is like. I admire his single-minded devotion, not to mention his rugged good looks. That combination of hard creases and vivid green eyes reminds me of the guy on the salad dressing Mom buys. I don’t really know what the other girls want, but I’m tired of boys trying to cop a feel or owning me like a dog. I want someone mature.
He folds a page into thirds and slides it into his briefcase, brings another out and unfolds it onto the desk. We know they’re love letters because Britta went to his desk once to get a pencil and sneaked a glance.
“Poetry,” she told us in her excited whisper. “What else could it be but a love letter?” What would it feel like to have a man send me poetry? I imagine the texture of an old-fashioned envelope against my fingertips, the tearing of the flap, that exquisite tingling sensation as I pull the letter out. What will it say? Did he seal it with a kiss?
The computer beeps. I look down, startled to find my elbow propped on the keyboard. A line of zzzzz fills the screen. Britta glances over. Light from a flat screen splashes her cheek.
“Why do you think he reads them here?” I ask.
She frowns. She has such pretty blue eyes. “What?”
I nod at the tutor’s desk. “The love letters. Day after day. Why does he read them here?”
Britta shrugs. “Maybe he has the hots for one of us and is working up his nerve.”
“He’s more than twice our age.” We think he’s around fifty. A flush rinses through me. What if it’s me he wants?
Britta turns back to her surfing. I should do the same. Instead, I stand and smooth my skirt. “I’m going to ask.”
The other girls give me looks: You go girl! Are you out of your mind? I feel them watching as I walk. I feel the light from the ceiling fixtures, their radiation.
The tutor looks up, eyes shining from nests of crinkled flesh.
“Yes?” he says.
“I was, I mean we were—” I turn at an angle. The other girls stare at monitors, but I see them watching from the sides of their eyes. “Why do you read those? I mean, like, every day? We know they’re love letters.”
He watches me until I feel sweat gathering along my bra. Then he nods and turns the letter to me.
There’s fennel for you, and columbines; there’s rue for you: and here’s some for me; we may call it herb of grace o’ Sundays. Oh, you must wear your rue with a difference. There’s a daisy; I would give you some violets, but they withered all when my father died.
“Shakespeare,” he says. The rumble of his voice soothes my nerves.
My eyes fix on that final line. “Did your father die? That’s awful. I’m sorry for—”
“No,” he says. I watch his mouth move and think of his lips pressed to mine, the contrast in textures. He folds the letter and places it into the briefcase.
“Are you an actor?” I say. How exciting. “Are you studying for a play?”
His head shakes slowly. “Once upon a time, perhaps. Now, I merely remind myself.”
“This.” He sweeps his arm around the room, and now his voice swells into the space between us. “Of what I allowed my life to become, the choices I made, and did not make, and never thought were choices at all.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I wouldn’t expect you to,” he says with a condescending smile. “Life stretches before you like an endless parade.” He gazes at his outstretched hand and I feel suddenly repulsed, the wrong pole of a magnet. I’m nothing to this man, an audience, a silly girl. As much as I wanted to want him before, I want to hate him now. And yet his words do have an effect, like acid smoldering deep in my brain.
I walk back to my station and sit.
“Well?” Britta says.
“It’s complicated.” I rub my palms down my thighs, feeling the firmness of my muscle, the softness of my skin. A shiver comes over me.
The tutor unfolds a letter. I watch his focus drop to the page, his head move ever so slightly with words I cannot read. On the wall behind him, a second-hand sweeps the face of an old-style clock. Until this moment I did not even know it was there.
Stephen V. Ramey’s work has appeared in a variety of places. He lives in New Castle, PA USA, where he regularly visits the odd ducks that live along the river. His collection of very short fiction, Glass Animals, is available from Pure Slush Books via Lulu.com and Amazon.
You can’t see the Bronsons’ place from the road since it’s tucked back behind the trees. But you know you’re getting close when you hear the barking. The Bronsons, they keep dogs.
It wasn’t until this past summer that I actually saw one. A white shepherd perched on the big rock that marks the bend in the road. You know the one I’m talking about, it always has flowers laid beside it.
That dog wasn’t too bad. It just sat there, and when I passed it lifted its head to follow me with its amber eyes as I took the turn.
But then I drove by again the other day after the snow fell, and that’s when I saw the black one. It came bolting out from behind the pines as I made my way up the hill. Poor thing, I thought when I saw how skinny it was. That was before it chased my car for a good half mile.
Now you know why I think someone should say something. It’s one thing to let your dogs run loose, but the roads are slick this time of year; an animal like that can cause an accident.
The problem is, I can’t seem to find anyone who’s seen the Bronsons lately. I’d go up there myself to check on them, but I can’t stop thinking about how hungry that dog looked, and the way its eyes seemed to glow when I looked back at it in my rearview mirror.
R. Y. Brockway writes short stories with the intent to entertain and thrill her readers. A lover of both the mundane and the macabre, she explores aspects of both in her writing, if not necessarily at the same time. She lives with her husband in Virginia.
David looked up to see an unusually thin, blonde woman holding the wall microphone to her mouth. She wore a starched white, half-sleeve dress shirt cruelly tucked into uncomfortable-looking blue pants. Despite the uniform, the Amtrak attendant seemed cheerful in both her face and her voice.
“We will begin boarding Acela two one five nine New York Penn Station in just a moment on track five,” she said. “Any passengers needing assistance should come see me.” She waved her hand in the air to a distinctly uninterested crowd of travelers.
David checked his watch. The train was scheduled to leave in ten minutes. For the dozenth time in the last half hour, he peeked into his laptop bag. His valuables were still inside.
The loudspeaker said something unintelligible, first in English then in Spanish, and a voice whispered in David’s ear.
“Don’t get on the train.”
David spun. Nobody stood next to him. The nearest person was a young man of about college age leaning against a support column fifteen feet away. He couldn’t have whispered; he was too far away. David turned around. A Japanese family spoke animatedly; everyone seemingly talking at once. Beyond them, the rows of seats held awaiting travelers all engrossed in magazines or cell phones.
“Don’t get on the train.”
The soft words landed in his ear with crystalline clarity. David whirled, his heart rate accelerating like a dragster. He stood alone in the corner of the room, no one close enough to whisper and be heard. Nothing had changed in the last few seconds.
A trickle of sweat tickled his underarm, bloating and running down his side as if fleeing.
David looked up and stared at the young man against the column. He had been looking down into his phone and seemed to sense David’s gaze on him. He made eye contact, nodded a generationally-appropriate version of hello, then returned his attention to the tiny screen in his hand.
Nerves, David thought. It’s just nerves. You can do this.
He walked to the very corner of the room and sat on the floor, his back pressed against the corner. The bag remained strapped over his shoulder. David slid the bag around and looked inside. All was as it should be. He hadn’t packed a suitcase; it would be unnecessary for such a short trip that was all business.
“Don’t get on the train.”
Louder. Clearer, and spoken at a conversational volume from no more than five feet away. Standing there in the corner, David was alone except for the young man with his eyes on his cell phone. The family was a bit further on, still peppering the air with staccato syllables.
David all but ran from the station.
“You’re a jerk,” Shivam said as he approached the column and Marcus leaning against it.
“Too funny,” said Alex, high-fiving Marcus.
“I would call that a successful test,” said Marcus, holding up his phone and waggling it towards his friends. ”He had no idea.”
“That guy’s going to miss his train,” said Shivam. His face clearly registered disapproval.
“He can get another one,” said Marcus.
“After that,” Alex said with a laugh, “he may never go out in public again.” He looked at his friends, engineering classmates at MIT since the first day. He lifted both hands and wiggled his fingers. “Ghoooooosts.”
“It is a hell of an app,” said Shivam. “Your application of it remains questionable.”
“Stop it,” Marcus said. “So I projected a sound cone and did it as a prank? What’s the worst that could happen?”
David closed his car door and gripped the steering wheel with such ferocity he felt his pulse hammering in his hands. His breath labored in ragged gasps. God had given him the idea; clearly God had told him otherwise in the station.
As he pulled out of the parking garage a little too quickly, his laptop bag fell off the passenger seat and harmlessly spilled its contents of undetonated explosives.
Robert J. Santa has been writing speculative fiction for thirty years. His work has appeared in numerous online and print markets, including several times here at Every Day Fiction. He lives in Rhode Island, USA, with his beautiful wife and two, equally beautiful daughters.
What is it about men and shopping? Why can they never see the thrill of visiting all the shops to see what is on offer, before finally deciding on the perfect item? I know it’s often the first one you saw, but you never know it’s perfect until you have seen all the options.
We’ve been married for nearly fifty years, and I have mostly given up on dragging Charlie shopping with me. It simply isn’t worth the effort. He usually gets bored by the third shop, and then is such a nuisance that I can’t enjoy my shopping. I even buy most of his clothes — after all these years together, I know what he likes; almost I venture to say, better than he does. He’s happy with the arrangement, as long as he doesn’t have to participate. Unfortunately, he is going to have to come shopping with me this week — he needs a new suit for the Golden Anniversary party our children are planning.
I knew what Charlie would say when I broached the subject, and the conversation went true to form.
“But, Margaret, my old suit is good enough.”
“Charlie, it’s thirty years old and completely out of style. You last wore it for our daughter’s wedding. I want you to look your best. All our friends will be there.”
“But do you really need me to go with you?”
“I want to make sure it fits properly, and I need you there to try it on.”
“You know how much I hate shopping.”
“And usually I do it all, so you can’t begrudge coming along this time.”
He should have known by now that resistance is futile, but we still had to go through our little ritual before he capitulated.
“Oh, all right then. When do we go?”
“Tomorrow morning.” I replied, relaxing now that the matter was agreed. I should have known it wouldn’t be that easy.
The following morning, I enjoyed a brief lie-in, while Charlie was up early. I came downstairs to find him happily planting bulbs. “Charlie, we agreed we’d go shopping this morning.”
“Sorry, dear, I forgot. I’m not getting any younger, you know. Anyway, I only need another hour to finish off.” Sometimes I think he simply uses his age as an excuse when he doesn’t want to remember. It’s a bit like his deafness, which I notice has become significantly worse since he retired from the bank.
I also knew he could stretch his ‘hour to finish’ to the whole day, and sent him to change. “You can finish gardening after we’ve been shopping.”
I told Charlie to park in the parking centre right in town. “Then we can start at Marks and Sparks.” I thought I heard a groan at the word start, but a quick glance at Charlie’s bland expression reassured me.
Once we were in the shop, we began looking through the rails, but nothing caught my eye. After half an hour, Charlie hopefully pulled out a totally unsuitable ensemble which he assured me would do.
“No, dear, that is dreadful. There is no way you are wearing a white jacket. You know you’d never keep it clean. There’s nothing here. Let’s go and look in Debenhams. If they don’t have anything, there’s that men’s outfitters on the corner.”
This time, I was sure I heard a groan, but Charlie had adopted his innocent expression — you know the one that says “I’m up to no good, but you can’t prove it!”
We trotted off to Debenhams, Charlie obediently following. On the way in, Charlie noticed the sign for their coffee shop. “Let’s have a cup of coffee and some cake,” he suggested.
It was an obvious ploy. “That would be lovely,” I began, and his face lit up. “We’ll have coffee when we’ve found the suit.”
“Come along, dear the suits are this way.” There was a good selection on the rails, and I took out several to inspect them more closely, while Charlie found a chair and sat staring. Then I saw it – a very smart navy suit, and in Charlie’s size. It looked perfect. And it was on sale. What could be better? They even had another in black, so I took both from the rails, and handed both to Charlie. “Go try them on, see how they fit.”
There was a gaggle of women waiting outside the changing room. I caught the eye one of the other ladies, and we chuckled together at the inability of our men to choose their own clothes. One by one, their respective ‘other halves’ came out to have their outfits inspected for fit, style and suitability.
As I have said before, I am very aware of how well Charlie and I have come to know each other. But even I was surprised when Charlie emerged from the dressing room, looking dapper in the navy suit, and to the amusement of everyone asked, “Do I like this, dear?”
Denice Penrose is a freelance writer. She has had short stories published online, and in two anthologies for sale on Amazon. She has had non-fiction articles published in Prima, Best of British, and Cilip Gazette. She wrote for Cat World for a few years.