Category Archives: Short Stories

No App for That, Part 3

“Okay. I’m sure they’ve just moved. Or closed down. Let’s go look at the directory.” She grabbed my wrist and hurried me down the corridor.
“But Mom – you heard what the lady said.”
“She may be new and just not know. Or she may not care.”
We stopped in front of the “You Are Here” directory and map. Mom read the name of every business in the mall. Three times. I didn’t bother. I knew there would be no listing for Allbrands Refurbished Phones.
“I put the paperwork in the glovebox,” she said. “It’s still in the car. That’s bound to have a phone number on it.”
She marched us out to the parking lot and hunted furiously through the glovebox and under the seats. “It has to be here somewhere,” she muttered.
But it wasn’t. Even under the blaring sun, her face was pale and her eyes were wide.
“Alright. I have and idea. You said the problems started when you got the phone. Let’s just try an experiment. Get in the car.”
Mom’s fingers drummed on the steering wheel as she drove. I didn’t like to see her so upset, but at least she seemed to believe me now.
She pulled into the parking lot of a large city park between the mall and our house. It was 98° and not a breath of air. The park was abandoned. Mom took a plastic grocery bag that had some trash in it from the floor of the front seat and got out of the car. I followed her to the farthest possible trash can, where she emptied the bag.
“Turn off your phone and give it to me.”
When I handed it over, she wrapped it up in the plastic bag, then looked around the park. “Tip the trash barrel, but not all the way over.”
The barrel smelled like mildew, vomit and dog poop, and I had to stand there holding the disgusting thing while she used a stick to dig a little hole underneath. Sweat was running down into my bra and I thought I was going to hurl from the stench of the trash can.
“There,” she said as she snuggled my plastic-wrapped phone into the dirt. “You can put the trash barrel back, now.”
As much as I had wanted my mTalk, I was glad for it to be gone. After we got home, I ate a bowl of cereal and went upstairs to chill in my room. The next thing I knew, Mom was shaking my shoulder. I looked at the clock. It was three hours later.
“Stacy’s on the phone for you.”
Groggy and disoriented, I sat on the edge of the bed, trying to get my bearings. “Tell her I’ll call her back. Please.” I was too embarrassed to talk to her after the Driver’s Ed incident.
I had just over an hour before I had to be at work, so I splashed some water on my face, brushed my teeth and went downstairs. Mom had her headset on and was typing at the computer. Must be trying to work from home.
“Baby, would you mind getting the mail? I just saw the truck go by and I’m sure hoping there’s a check from your father in there.”
I got myself a cola and went out to the mailbox. There was a lot of stuff jammed in there. Something clattered to the pavement at my feet. I looked down.
It was my phone.
I screamed. Mom came running out of the house, cable dangling from the end of her headset.
“Lauren?!”
I was shaking too hard to talk. I just pointed to the phone on the ground. My mother’s face went white. She picked it up and slammed it to the concrete, over and over until the casing broke open. Then she stomped its electronic guts into the road and kicked the parts into the storm drain.
She put her arm around my shoulder and guided me towards the house. She took the pile of mail from me and I flopped onto the couch.
“Let’s see that thing try to come back now,” Mom said. “Are you feeling up to going to work this afternoon? If so, you’d better eat something, baby.”
I looked at the clock. Work seemed like a great place to be. Nothing weird ever happened there. Everything was completely, boringly, normal.
I went into the kitchen and fixed myself a cheese sandwich. I couldn’t manage more than three bites of it, but I did finish my cola.
Mom dropped me off at the store and Inez, the manager, gave me a ride home after closing. The whole phone episode was starting to feel like a bad dream.
Mom was sitting at the kitchen table, paying bills when I came in. “How are you feeling, Lauren? Work okay?”
“Fine, Mom. I’m just really tired. Night.”
“Goodnight, baby. Love you.”
I was in the middle of brushing my teeth when the knocking started. It was downstairs, at the front door. It was loud, but slow and steady, like a metronome. Knock…knock…knock…
I froze. People knocking on your door after ten at night can’t be good. I could hear my mom ask, “Who’s there,” and a voice asked to be let in. I slipped my robe on over my nightshirt and walked quietly to the top of the stairs.
I recognized the voice of the person at the door. Stacy? What was she doing here this late? I came halfway down the stairs. Then I stopped. There was a guy with her, the zombie Jeff I thought I’d run over during driver’s ed. Something was way beyond wrong.
“Stace?” I called to her. My breath switched from normal to shallow and I gripped the railing to keep my balance.
“Lau-ren.” She sung my name, like she was calling a dog.
I looked at my mother. She stood completely still, staring into Jeff’s all-black eyes. “Mom? Mom!”
She didn’t move.
“She can’t hear you, Lau-ren,” Stacy sang. “Not since she let us in.”
Stacy started towards the stairs. I started backing up.
Then she smiled. It was the most horrifying smile ever. It was almost as if someone standing behind her pulled her lips up and back to show her teeth. But worse, much worse, was what happened to her eyes. As I watched, they went from normal to completely black. No iris. No white. Only black.
I turned and bolted towards my room. Stacy appeared at the top of the stairs, blocking my way. Her back was to me.
“Lau-ren,” she sang. Slowly, her head swiveled around a complete 180° and she was looking at me from where the back of her head should have been. She giggled, then her face got fierce “Run!” she snarled.
She didn’t have to tell me twice. I took a shortcut by vaulting over the railing where the stairs made a right angle turn. Not only did I bang my head on the edge of the stairs going down, but I didn’t quite stick the landing and I heard something crunch in my ankle. I would feel it later, when the adrenalin rush faded.
I sprinted the five steps to the antique china hutch that stood under the staircase. Stacy met me there.
A gurgling, giggling sound seemed to be coming from her, but her mouth was closed. “Lau-ren. Time’s up.”
“Why, Stacy? Why?” I had to keep her talking for just a minute while I eased open the drawer behind me.
“Why not?” The freaky giggling got louder.
“But you were my friend.” I found what I was looking for and curled my fingers around the handle.
Stacy cocked her head at an unnatural angle. “Yes. I still am.” The horrible grin again. “Don’t fight me and I promise it won’t hurt. Not much, anyway.”
As she lunged towards me, I whipped the silver-plated cake server in front of me and held on to it with both hands. I scrunched my eyes closed as tightly as I could. I wasn’t sure it would work and I didn’t want to see what happened either way.
I felt a bump and heard screaming, snarling and bellowing, as much inside my head as in my ears. It was a tsunami of sound and I wondered if I would drown in it. I thought my head would implode. Then silence. I let go of the cake server, but found my hands were empty. Taking a deep breath, I opened my eyes.
Stacy and zombie Jeff were gone. Mom was lying on the floor, her left arm bent between her elbow and wrist. I crawled over to her. She was still breathing. I managed to drag myself over to the phone and called 911 before I passed out.
I gradually became aware of voices. My mom’s and my dad’s. I opened my eyes. Mom was sitting in a chair near the end of my bed, her arm in a cast and a sling. Dad was next to me. I was in a hospital room.
“Hey, Sunshine!” Dad, said, squeezing my hand.
There was no sign of Twila. Things were looking up. “What happened?” I asked, trying to shake the cobwebs off.
You broke your ankle and had a nasty blow to your head, baby. They wanted to keep you overnight for observation,” Mom said.
I don’t know if Mom remembered what happened. But I did. Every awful moment.
“Somebody broke into the house. Home invasion robbery. Odd thing was, the only thing they took was a silver-plated cake server,” Dad said, shaking his head. “Drugged out wackos.”
The door squeaked open and a nurse came in with a vase full of red and orange poppies. She set it on the counter by the sink. “What nice friends you have!” she said as she smiled and handed me the card.
Can’t wait to see you again. Get well soon! Love, Stacy

The Bridge Club

 Ellen kissed her husband on the cheek. “Bye, Mark. See you later.”
 “Have fun at your bridge club.” He didn’t look up from his football game on the TV, didn’t hear her sigh as she walked away from him.
 A black-framed picture of a small blond boy hung by the back door. On her way out, she kissed the tips of her fingers and pressed them against the photo. It had been a year and a half since four-year old Daniel had died.
 She turned the radio up loud after she started the engine. She needed that wall of noise to distract her from her own thoughts. It was still a few hours from twilight and the heat from the relentless sun shimmered on the pavement in black pools that disappeared as she moved closer to them. A lot like Mark, since The Party.
 Three cars were already parked on the packed-down dirt near the bridge abutment. Kane was at the bridge railing, securing the rigging. Alma and Rodrigo sat on the hood of their car, talking aimlessly with Herky and Chuck. None of them, this new circle of friends, knew about The Party last spring. Ellen liked it that way. She didn’t have to be pricked by the guilt in their eyes when they talked to her. Guilt because her other friends, her old friends, had all been lounging in the pool, chatting away about guacamole sauce and vacations and nothing. Not one of them noticed the little boy slip under the water. It was her fault. She was his mother. She should have been watching. She told herself that she didn’t blame her friends, didn’t hate them. But if that was true, why did she avoid them now? Elyse called her at least once a week, but Ellen always let the calls go to voice mail, never returning them.
 Ellen parked her beige family sedan next to Kane’s flashy red convertible. She had met him six months ago, at this same bridge. It was coming up on the one year anniversary of Daniel’s funeral. She had been standing on the pedestrian path, staring at the thrashing water, thinking of jumping.
 “I’m gonna jump,” he had said, appearing out of thin air behind her.
 “What?”
 “I said I’m gonna to jump. Wanna have a go?” He had an accent that she thought might have been Australian. Even after six months, she hadn’t bothered asking.
 Ellen had stared at him blankly. He smiled at her and fastened a thick rubber cord around one of the bridge supports.  He put on fingerless gloves and slipped into a harness. Kane had slopped a quick kiss on her mouth before he hurled himself off the bridge. The dark cord snaked out behind him, whipping through the chilly January air. He bounced up and down a few times before he dangled at the end of the cord like a black and red spider, just above the water.
 Then he started to climb back up the cord. It stretched and quivered as he inch-wormed his way back to the bridge. Grunting and sweating, he heaved himself over the railing. Ellen glimpsed the outlines of hard muscles as his flannel shirt stuck to the sweat on his back and sides.
 “Ready for a go?” he’d asked, as if he were asking her to dance.
 Ellen shrugged.  “I’m no good at climbing rope.”
 “S’all right. I’ll haul you up. I usually just drop into the water, but I don’t have my wetsuit today.”
 “Yeah, okay. Why not?” It might be a good preview for plunging off the bridge with no cord attached.
 “I’m Kane, by the way,” he had told her.
 “I’m…El-Elyse.” She had given him a friend’s name. The friend who threw The Party.
Ellen hadn’t been to this bridge since the time she met Kane. She remembered that very first jump. She’d stood on the lip of the bridge, toes curling inside her shoes. Adrenalin had made her innards squirm and her hands tremble. Kane had said something to her, but she didn’t listen. She pulled in a deep breath of snow-fresh air and spread her arms. Closing her eyes, she let herself fall.
Her stomach lurched up into her throat. Rushing air pressed hard against her diaphragm and she couldn’t breathe. Her eyelids snapped open and she saw the frothing river rushing toward her. The rocks got bigger. She clenched her eyelids together, certain she would slam into the dark water. A tug at her waist pulled her back up for a few seconds, then she fell again. After a few bounces, she hung above the water. Even in the cold, she could smell the pungent mud on the river bank and the water and the stones. Her heart had throbbed against her ribs and her skin tingled.
Now, the only time she could feel anything was when she was hurtling toward the earth. That’s why she had joined the Bridge Club, why she was here now.
Ellen sat in her car, putting on lip balm and watching Kane. He was just finishing up. His bare back was to her, fresh sweat glistening on ripped muscles. He was easy to look at, easy to sleep with. She hadn’t intended to. He tried hard to please her, but she was beyond his reach. Sometimes, she let him believe that she wasn’t. She had gotten good at faking almost everything in the past eighteen months.
 She opened the car door. The sticky smell of too much honeysuckle drifted up from the river bank, where a large vine of it had overpowered a rusty barbed wire fence. Shaking her head, Ellen locked her purse in the trunk and went to meet the rest of the Bridge Club. They met every Wednesday evening at 6:00 to bungee jump off of one of the many local bridges. Her husband thought she was playing cards. If the weather was bad, she usually went to Kane’s apartment.
“Hey, Elyse!” Alma called to her.
That name again. The once-upon-a-time-friend from a different life. “Hey. What’s Kane got for us tonight?” Ellen asked.
“Like you don’t know.”
Their affair was not exactly a secret. Ellen didn’t care what the others thought, not as long as she got to jump. They didn’t know anything about her. If they didn’t like her, screw ‘em.
“Got a new rig,” Kane said, coming down from the bridge. He tickled Ellen’s back. “Ankle harness.”
“Are you thinking head dips?” Herky asked.
“Seems too rocky here. Maybe Tanner Road Bridge would be better for that,” Rodrigo said, putting his arm around Alma.
“Nah,” Kane said. “Not going more’n a few inches in. Water’s maybe ten foot deep just under the bridge.”
“I’ll do it,” Ellen said. She didn’t care about their bickering. She just wanted to fly.
She followed Kane to the top of the bridge. He wrapped a towel around each of her calves, then strapped on the ankle harness. He told her things about jumping in an ankle harness, but she didn’t pay attention this time, either. A chilly puff of air tugged at her clothes and sent a shiver up her spine. It was just wrong in the summer heat. She was sure she heard a sound, the voice of a faraway child, carried on the breeze. “Mom! Mommy.”
She was finally starting to lose it. No one else seemed to hear it, so she pretended it was nothing. Even so, it flapped like a tattered grey moth inside her mind.
Kane helped Ellen to the edge of the bridge. She was desperate to go, to get that sound out of her head. As soon as she was clipped in, she dove, feet pushing hard off the concrete. The swirling water seemed to make a pattern. As she got closer, she could see a figure. Closer still, she could see Daniel. He was under the water, reaching both arms up to her. “I’m coming, baby!” she shouted, knowing it wasn’t, it couldn’t be him. Even so, she stretched out her arms to scoop him up out of the water, the way she should have done before.
She didn’t feel the rigging give way as her weight hit the end of the cord. She didn’t feel her neck break or her spine shatter as she hit the rocks. All she could feel was her little boy, back in her arms.
“I love you, Mommy,” he told her.
“I love you, too, baby.”
“It’s time to go.”
“Yes.” She didn’t even glance over her shoulder as Daniel led her into the blinding white light.