Among the things we lost that night photoLast month I entered NYC Midnight’s Micro-Fiction Contest and yesterday night I found out that my piece, “Among the Things We Lost That Night” placed 2nd(!), which means I continue to round 2.

The genre I received was “thriller” and I had to incorporate “a home renovation” and the word “cover”, into my one-hundred word piece. The first thing that came to mind was a tornado and the juxtaposition between the stubborn mindset of trying to make things work (or trying to repair something broken) when it’s inevitably going to be destroyed, which is what the father in this story is doing. In the midst of it, the mother and her son finds him dead in the wreckage of the family home.

So, without further elaboration, I give you “Among the Things We Lost That Night”:

Among the Things We Lost that Night

After Momma plucked me from the dinner table and took off for the cellar, she paused to shout up at Daddy. “Les! Get down from there—tornado warnin’! Take cover!”

“Ain’t nothin’ gonna come of it! Gotta get these shingles on!”

From the concrete cellar, I swear I heard the thump of the nail gun, wind, Daddy’s cursing. When it was safe to come up, I pointed to a mess of scattered boards. “Momma! Daddy lost a boot!”

In all my nine years, I ain’t never heard Momma’s wails—louder than the tornado sirens. That night, our lives collapsed.

 

 

nature canopy

“Ashes, ashes! Ashes, ashes! Ashes!”

Little Serenity’s shrill voice carried, with ease, through the living room and into the narrow kitchen of the two bedroom home. Ed rubbed his wrinkled forehead and added more vodka to the mug of orange juice that sat alongside piles of neglected plates and glasses that lined the countertop.

“We all fall down!”

Ed guzzled the alcohol-infused mixture until it was empty.

Serenity entered the kitchen, arms spread wide. “No, all of us fall. I’m the queen. I command you!” She turned her large light blue eyes to Ed. “Daddy, you too. Fall down!”

“No, no. Not today,” he managed.

Serenity’s foot was this narrow, tiny thing but that day it could’ve been the foot of a velociraptor as she slammed it against the white tile floor. “Fall down!” 

Ed’s nose flared. “I’ve had about enough of you, girl.” He pointed to the fragile screen door that separated the kitchen from the neglected back yard. “Out with ya.”

Her arms folded across her stomach in a pout. “Fine. Stupid Daddy.” The words faded as she exited. “Stupid Daddy. Stupid, stupid, stupid.”

When Ed’s eyes caught sight of a fresh presentation of chocolate chip size deposits trailed across the floor, he grumbled. “Damn things, back again.” A saucer fell and broke as he reached past a pile of plates to grab the box of rat poison. He shook it just to make sure there’d be enough to kill the sickening invaders.

***

Serenity hopped around the yard and eventually settled at her mother’s garden. Flowers blooming in spring, well, they’re a sign of new life, Serenity’s mom had told her daughter the prior year while rubbing her growing belly.

Like your baby? Serenity had asked.

Our baby. 

But the small girl in her jean overalls and fairy princess shirt had never thought of the intruder as someone to be included. Worse yet, as her mom’s belly got bigger, she could no longer play games. Fall down, Serenity had demanded.

I just can’t, baby. 

Soon after that afternoon the young girl’s mom had fallen down, along with her unborn baby brother who her parents were going to name George. Serenity’s mother and George had both fallen down, for good.

Serenity skipped around the square flower box. “Water them, care for them, show them a lot of love, and in early spring they’ll grow with help from sun from above.” Her thin lips curled into a smile as she continued her song. “Sing to them, talk to them, they’re safely in their beds. Then, silently, quietly, rip off their little heads.” Her fingers ripped off the white bloom of a daisy, and a familiar buzz fulfilled her stomach.

The sun that escaped the barrier of trees and branches that lined an old path through the forest caught the girl’s attention. She dropped the dying flower and used her ripped up Sketcher to kick it into the dirt. “Time to go see Maria. She’ll play with me.”

The bumps along the unsure path reminded Serenity of the weary sidewalk outside of her aunt Gerry’s home. Serenity never knew why her mom had decided to send her away, but she was awful glad her dad picked her up just days before her mom fell for the final time.

As she continued through the opening, the trees thickened and imprisoned the sun. Serenity appreciated the darkness as much as she appreciated seeing the mix of purple and black that circled Justine Harrelson’s left eye. The stupid little thing had approached Serenity on the playground, flipping her shiny blonde hair, displaying her marshmallow white teeth, like a hungry lion, a stupid little hungry lion. Weirdo. The girl let out this merciless laugh before continuing. I heard your mom died. Your mom is dead. Your mom is dea–”

Justine didn’t have a chance to do much more after that but scream. Students from all corners of the playground ran toward the chilling cries for help just to witness Serenity’s little hand come up with a fist full of hair before charging back down to the girl’s face. The next time, her hand came up covered in blood. She’d managed to do a number on Justine before a teacher arrived to stop the scene.

Remembering that darkness excited Serenity in a way she’d only known one other time. She took careful steps along the surrounded path until she came upon warm lights that glowed and outlined a mobile home. Serenity grinned and approached the front door.

“Hold on, hold on.” Maria peered out the door. “Oh, it’s you.”

Serenity took note of the rollers.

She motioned for the little girl to come on inside. “I’m not busy, just settin’ my hair.”

Serenity crinkled her nose and ran her fingers through her own short, black hair. “Sitting on it?”

“I put it up in these rollers, here. It stays rolled up for a week. I got it off one of those mailing catalogues. Don’t know if you all see the mail truck comin’ out here.”

Serenity shook her head and took a seat on the couch and swatted away a line of cigarette smoke.

“What are you up to today?” Maria shuffled into the kitchen area and stirred a deep pot before covering it. “I’m making up some stew, here. When I finish, you can take some back for you and your pa. How’s that?”

“Thanks.” Serenity took in a nose-ful of meat and spices she hadn’t noticed when she’d first arrived. “I want to play ashes, ashes, let’s fall down.” Her little eyes flickered and lit brighter than the flame on Maria’s lighter as the woman flicked the spark wheel to light another cigarette.

“Can’t today, button.” She gestured to her head. “Gotta keep these suckers still.”

Serenity huffed. Her face reddened and burned and the fire seared her stomach all the way to the bottoms of her feet. The girl balled her hands into threatening fists as she tried to put out the flames.

“Tell you what. Why don’t you go out and look for frogs in my yard. I seen lots of those things out lately.”

***

Ed poured more orange juice in the navy mug and filled it the rest of the way with vodka. The powder trail of poison blurred and danced when he studied it. “Dumb little shits,” he grumbled. “That oughta do it.”

It had done it for Laurel and his unborn son. Done it to the point the cops had hauled his ass down to the station until he proved he hadn’t been home the night his wife had poisoned herself. When the dumb fucks released him, they’d said, Darn lucky the little girl didn’t eat them cookies.

Ed had agreed at the time. At least he had his little girl, the porcelain, innocent face with wide almond eyes. He was damn fucking lucky. After a few weeks, he noticed how loud she was. She never shut the hell up, ever. Talk, talk, talk, talk, sing, sing, sing. She was Laurel’s job.

He took another sip; he could’ve put her in that dress. That one dress, the navy one with bright yellow sunflowers and those dirty white saddle shoes. He could’ve polished them up real nice. Paired them with white frill socks from the dime store and a big poof of a hair bow. He could’ve appreciated the little girl, then. Her still, slim body resting, motionless in a shiny, wooden box, her doll-like hands sleeping against her chest. He could’ve cried, kissed her forehead, and said a prayer before sending her to a silent sleep.

The bottle of vodka was empty. Ed reached for the Jim Beam.

***

A sharp cry caught Serenity’s attention. She walked toward the noise and saw a fragile creature. “Hey there,” she cooed at the baby sparrow. “I guess you lost your mommy.”

She reached for the bird and cupped her hands to cradle it. It sat still, beak opening ever so often to elicit another squeak. She studied its wide, black eyes. A few feathers had started to grow. The thing’s desperate screech irritated Serenity when she tugged at one of the attached feathers. She pressed the top and bottom of its infantile beak together and noticed how its eyes widened with fear. Her stomach twisted and tumbled, so familiar. The thrilling satisfaction nearly doused the fire.

“Here you go.” She sat the little creature on a bed of grass and grabbed a nearby rock. “We all fall down.” Her hum was peaceful as she tossed the stone and watched it crush the infant’s fragile skull.

“Serenity?”

She hadn’t noticed Maria open the trailer door.

“Over here.” Serenity stood and moved away from the dead bird.

“Soup’s ready. Bring the bowl back.”

“I’ll return it full of cookies just like me and my momma used to make.”

Maria extended the plastic tub to Serenity, purplish-red painted lips stretched into a smile. “I’d like that very much.”

***

Ed had enjoyed Maria’s soup. It’d been a long time since a woman cooked him a meal. A long time, indeed. And then, to follow it up, Serenity had left him with a plate of cookies before rinsing the tub and returning to their neighbor with a few cookies inside.

Maybe she was doing better than he thought. His hand shook as he reached for the bottle of Wild Turkey and took a drink. “Time to bait those fuckers again,” he mumbled and grabbed the box of rat poison from the table. He shook the container. Had he used that much a couple days ago? Maybe. Hell, he couldn’t remember. Ed bit into a still-warm cookie.

***

Serenity skipped up the uneven path. Even the trees that lined the walkway seemed lighter that day. She sang her favorite song, the one her mom had taught her. This is our song. It will always be our game. Nothing will ever come between us. But something did.

Liar, Serenity thought. “We all fall down. We all fall down. We all fall down. All fall down.”

***

I don’t know how he did it, but that sick bastard did it. 

That’s what Sherriff McAllister had said when police had finally arrived on scene and found Ed’s body surrounded in an eruption of fluids that ranged from frothy vile around his mouth to moist stools near his waist and feet.

Thank God that little girl didn’t eat any. See if the neighbor lady heard or saw anything. 

Maria was nowhere to be found.

Her property sat in silent isolation for days until buzzards started to circle the roof of her trailer. Their never ending honks caught McAllister’s attention. Hours later, they hauled Maria’s body from the residence.

Mc Allister glanced at the sun that danced through the forests’ branches. He thought of the innocent tears that had plagued little Serenity’s face. She is the sunshine in all of this, he’d said. That trash of a father she had. It’s a wonder the little girl is as stable as she is.

***

The years weren’t kind to Serenity. The trail of death that seemed to stalk her reminded her of the dark, uneven path of her old home. As soon as she reached adulthood, she moved back to that home. She needed familiarity.

And it was while she was clipping a rosebush that a head of light blond hair appeared at the end of that old path. “What you doing?”

Serenity took in the little boy’s cheeks that had not yet shed their baby fat. He was in red shorts and a blue and white stripe top. A strand of hair fell down his forehead and his lips exposed his white teeth when he gave her a chubby smile. She motioned for him to come over and spent the morning explaining all of her flowers to the boy.

“Go home. I go home,” he finally said.

“Did you just move in?”

“Me, sissy, Momma, and Dada. Just move up there.” His chunky finger pointed at the trail.

“That’s so wonderful.” That feeling surfaced in Serenity’s stomach. It tossed and tumbled through her body with freedom. “Run along home, now. Tell your mommy to have coffee ready. I’ll stop by with sugar cookies.” Serenity’s excited grin made the boy chuckle. “You like sugar cookies?”

He nodded his head.

“Okay, run on home. I’ll be over soon. I promise.”

Serenity’s eyes followed the boy as he toddled up the path and disappeared in the clutches of its darkness. Her grin spread wider across her face, she sang, “We all fall down.”

 

**A Huge Shout Out to Writers Unite for sharing “We All Fall Down” in their writing group! If you haven’t checked them out on Facebook or at their website, please do so by clicking the link!!

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“The leaves are all brown.” And no, I didn’t go off the deep-end–I didn’t misquote The Mamas & The Papas lyrics– I’m not that kinda girl…don’t you all know that by now? SMDH.

“What are you doing, then?”

I’m quoting little Megan in Matthew Brockmeyer’s debut novel “Kind Nepenthe” that takes place in Humboldt County, California–more specifically, in the dead center of marijuana country…oh, now I have your attention. Great!

Throughout his work, Brockmeyer leaves no stone unturned–metaphorically, that is, and this begins with the title itself and its tragic-beautiful tie-in to the novel. Allow me to save you a bit o’ Googling. Nepenthe is a mythical drug believed to erase sorrow and suffering.

You’re welcome, by the way.

From the first page, I couldn’t help but feel an unsettling presence that seemed to float along with me through the piece–one of the many aspects that made putting “Kind Nepenthe” down, next to impossible–that’s right, not even a tub of gas station nachos was enough to lure me away from the deep-rooted–no pun intended–okay, bad joke– evil that was about to take place, and no amount of therapy sessions would’ve ever prepared me for the ending. How did it end? Here’s the obligatory “Buy” link.

Muwhahaha…

We meet Rebecca–a dreadlock sporting, vegan hippie type who, tired of society, wishes to raise her daughter, Megan, in a quiet setting where they can live off the land. Speaking of land? Matthew Brockmeyer has an impressive knowledge of horticulture so I had to ask him if his repertoire came from research or experience.

“Well, my wife is an herbalist and I am a permaculture designer. We live on a small farm/homestead. So, most of this knowledge did come first hand. I love the use of nature in literature, both as world building and as metaphor. In particular, John Steinbeck and Cormac McCarthy both use it to great effect. You can convey so much with descriptions of the natural world, from majestic and awe inspiring beauty, to a forlorn sense of dread and creepiness.”

Squeaky grocery cart wheels aside–okay, only McCarthy fans will get it…hmm–the “Creep” factor is ever-present. There’s this whole Stephen King vibe in the ‘recovering’ addict, Diesel who is struggling to rekindle a relationship with his son DJ in anticipation of becoming a grandfather–all the feels, right? Maybe. If what you’re feeling is an eerie vigilance. So much so, that if Cormac McCarthy and Stephen King had a love child, it might be “Kind Nepenthe”, and Thomas Hardy just may have Saturday visitation.

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“Diesel had pictured the boy’s face as the metal tore into it, crushing his head into a pulp of blood and bone in the gravel.” (Kind Nepenthe)

 

Everybody is watching for something– Calendula, Rebecca’s ‘hippie’ boyfriend, is watching the grow room, Rebecca’s watching for Coyote, the owner of the land, to return and pay them, and Diesel is watching his son DJ follow in his footsteps of drug addiction and domestic violence.

All the while… who is watching Megan?

The land?

Yikes… and double-yikes, because I’m saying…it’s the same land where Spider, the ghostly solitaire-playing creeper, buried dead bodies.

Back to the solitaire…I put the question to Brockmeyer–Would he play solitaire with a ghost? He wittingly points out the flaw in my question–smartass…yeesh.

Even so, here’s what he had to say:
“Well, it’s a one-person game, hence the name. That’s the thing about ghosts, their utter aloneness, separate from everything yet stuck there just the same. Would I play cards with a ghost? Sure. I’ll play cards with anyone or anything, I suppose. As long as they’re buying the drinks.”

Despite the sarcasm of the above answer, I still enjoyed “Kind Nepenthe”–for anyone who hasn’t already drawn that conclusion. What made the book real to me was the characters: the dichotomy of hippie culture meets that of gun-toting-good-‘ol-boy, makes for the perfect storm once the two enemies meet–literally a storm.

Who doesn’t know the lady who lives in a trailer, watches home shopping channels, and buys trinkets such as Christmas ornaments? The absent father struggling to clean up and reconnect with his son? The mother who wants to make a better life for her child?

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“This (“Kind Nepenthe”) was a long time coming. I had the idea of a horror story set in a back-hills marijuana grow for some time before I ever commenced to putting it down in writing. Southern Humboldt County, California, where I live, is world famous for its cannabis cultivation. Being a horror freak it occurred to me long ago that I need to write a horror story about the crazy clash of cultures here between rednecks and hippies. It took about a year to write the rough draft, and then another year to rewrite it. There were significant changes in the rewrite, whole sections edited out and new ones written in. Then I spent several months editing it down from 76,000 words to 70,000 in order to quicken the pace, make it meaner and leaner. I’m terrified of boring the reader.” –Matthew Brockmeyer

 

When we sew evil into physical nature, we can’t help but reap that same darkness, and this is the perfect juxtaposition to the human element–when we’re ensnared by our own dreams, when they turn dark, and hold us captive, do we reap a bleak future?

Perhaps we do, and in that, we find that maybe it’s not the dead we should fear. Maybe we should be more afraid and aware of the rapid transition of our best intentions into malice and how that translates into our future.

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“Even when he wasn’t in the grown room it permeated is consciousness, filling his brain, controlling his thoughts. Staring down into the open top loader, thumbing his wart, his left eye twitching, he grinned an idiot’s grin and giggle quietly as he wondered: Who serves who? Do I control the grow room, or does the grow room control me?” (“Kind Nepenthe”)

 

Until next time, my friends. Thanks for reading, and if you’re still awake, feel free to leave comments.