The Cost of Choice

“Happy birthday, my sweet Angel,” her mother said smiling, handing Emily a few coins and a cup of black tea.

The summer of 1882 was the warmest season the twelve-year-old felt, yet. She sipped her tea beside her mother in the garden beside their living quarters at the Boyd’s Manchester summer home.

Emily gazed across the lawn to the patio where Dubby and his father sat, playing cards. Seeing that paternal bond wasn’t the first time the little girl thought of her own father. But she couldn’t restrain her curiosity any longer.

“Mum?”

“Yes, love?” her mother asked.

“Why didn’t daddy come to England with us?”

Avery paused mid-sip and sighed. She knew this day would come, but she wished it wouldn’t come so soon.

She glanced at the little inquirer, sitting tall in her chair with her chin tilted to the side like an inquisitive puppy.

“Sometimes, love,” Avery said slowly, choosing her words cautiously. “Mummies and daddies come from very different worlds. And sometimes those worlds don’t mesh.”

The mother recalled long days and nights, nursing Emily in the basement of the Donoghue mansion. If she even thought about taking the baby upstairs, she would risk everything. She would risk someone suspecting that the child’s distinct brown eyes mirrored those of Avery’s master.

“So you and daddy didn’t get along?” Emily asked, pulling Avery away from the memory. The question, however, yanked the mother back into another recollection.

She pondered the first time his lips ever pressed against hers so softly and so gently. She remembered the warmth between her legs and the longing to be in his skin, to feel every crevice of his thin, unyielding body wrap around her and consume her.

Colin had quietly crossed the barrier into her quarters as to not wake his mother sleeping in her bedroom on the floor above.

“No, dear,” Avery replied, snapping out of the scrumptious memory and returning to her daughter’s question. “We loved each other deeply. We loved each other very much.”

Avery took a deep breath and decided to protect her daughter from a broken promise.

The birds continued to chirp in the sunlight on that afternoon as Avery allowed her memory to drift back to those delicious nights when   he crept into her quarters and laid with her in the candlelight.

“I promise to love her,” he whispered sweetly in Avery’s ear. “I will make sure she is treated like a princess and has the life she always wanted.”

*

Emily’s birthdays seemed to be the mark of external change. On her seventeenth birthday, her mother fell ill and feverish.

She laid in bed, unable able to swallow broth or medicine. She grew thin, as if her own skin sucked into her bones. Avery felt drained from coughing up blood into her handkerchief and required Emily to take over caring for the Boyds.

“My love,” her mother whispered to her between coughs. “You are meant for greatness.”

Emily Donoghue, with long, braided brunette hair secured into a bonnet, gazed into her mother’s pale and perspired face.

“Shhh, rest now,” Emily cooed, pulling the bed covers over her mother’s shoulders. “You need to keep your strength.”

“Listen to me,” her mother argued, shaking her head. “I never told you the truth about your father.”

The mere mention of him was a shock to Emily’s bones. Her mother refused to speak more of him ever since that summer in Manchester.

“He was a good man,” Avery continued. “He wanted to take care of you. To give you a good life in Ireland.”

Her daughter’s brown eyes grew wide at the thought of living with him there. She could hardly picture the land they sailed away from when she was a wee Lass, swallowed up on that crowded, odorous vessel.

Emily recalled the salty scent of the green island that was lined with cobblestone roads and hills speckled with sheep.

She saw the dark skies they sailed beneath. The skies were even gloomier when they arrived on England’s soil.

Avery brought her back to the present, uttering softly and assuredly, “The choice is yours, Emily.”

The daughter watched as the light left her mother’s emerald eyes, and fell back into eternal stillness.

*

Emily could hardly rest peacefully that night of her mother’s burial. She couldn’t help but to feel the tugging pull of remorse for the loss of her mother and the news of her father.

She imagined that if she stayed in London, she’d die just like her mother: sick, too young, beneath a blank headstone.

Emily tried to repress the thought. When she finally stopped picturing her own death, she imagined, for the first time in her life, a future with her father. In the land she was born in.

Just the idea of sailing back on a ship away from the shackles of duty excited her.

She tossed and turned, her mind at war.

Duty, Em. Duty. You can’t just leave.

The sun peeked through her dusty window, signaling the time to rise and begin another day.

*

Emily carried on, folding sheets and preparing breakfast for Dubby. She remembered to grab his medicine this time on her way upstairs to his parlor, where he usually sits in the morning.

He lingered in the floral armchair, contemplating the reason why his third mistress left him in a fit of urgency.

Questions and concerns reeled through his mind for a moment… just a moment. Then it turned to his stomach which growled ferociously.

“Mr. Boyd?” Emily inquired from the doorway. The back of the chair faced her, but she could smell the thick scent of tobacco. “It’s time for your medication, sir.”

Dubbinger Chester Thomas Boyd III yawned loudly and dubiously, holding his long pipe before him, avoiding Emily’s calling.

“Mr. Boyd, are you in here?” called the young, fair-skinned woman dressed in her heavy, burgundy dress that she sewed together herself. She approached his side with a glass of water and the three red pills in her palm.

“Unfortunately, I am here,” replied the solemn bachelor. “I won’t be taking that with water today,” he said matter of factually. “Bring me the finest scotch we have – on the rocks.”

Dubby took a puff of his pipe, casting swirls of smoke toward the window overlooking their empty curb where his mistress had stolen their only horse and carriage.

Emily realized he was commanding her to walk three miles to the nearest liquor store.

“Scotch?” she asked. “I don’t believe we have any left in your father’s cabinet, sir.”

The young man with a curled mustache, dressed in a velvet robe, reached for his wallet inside his pocket. He elicited all of the pounds he had and handed them gingerly to her.

“Then buy me some,” he ordered in a low growl that sent shivers down her spine.

Emily bowed and took the money obediently. “Yes, sir.”

She slid the few pieces of bills inside her white apron along with the three red pills, and quietly exited the parlor, preparing for the long trek ahead.

*

Stepping onto the wet, muddy street, Emily clasped the money in her apron pocket. She wondered why she didn’t follow behind Madame Colette in an attempt to free herself from Mr. Boyd’s household.

She strolled down the dark, bustling avenue toward the Old Bell Tavern and counted the bills he had given her.

The young woman folded the bills over in her palm, weighing out the cost of whiskey in comparison to the cost of time she would be cleaning the mess he would make.

Emily considered another option.

But what about Ireland? My father?

The funds would be enough for one passenger, plus food and anything else she needed to travel and survive for one month. Emily Donoghue was ready to meet her family and cross the sea to her destiny.

She redirected her route towards the shipyard.

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Abort

I took this short story to a writer’s workshop and was amazed by the positive feedback from other authors; how this one could be a full-length novel!

However, attending this workshop has helped me to see my strength in writing flash fiction. I learned that I care more about painting a scene – a crucial moment in a person’s life – rather than painting an entire canvas of a novel, which is what I hoped I accomplished in this story.

“What’s wrong?” he asks, glancing at me, sensing my loathing from his computer chair.

I’m lying on the couch with a James Patterson novel in my hand. A full glass of red wine that he poured for me sits on the coffee table.

“Nothing, babe,” I say, keeping my eyes on my book.

He turns back to his computer. I look at him longingly, hoping he would pause his work, but Jared’s hands remain glued to the keyboard.

*

He worked graveyard the night that little red ‘plus’ sign revealed itself. I leaned on the sink and glanced up at my reflection in the bathroom mirror. I caught the horror in my hazel eyes rimmed in charcoal eyeliner. My chest rose and fell with every audible exhalation.

I can’t afford it. I can’t be a mother… I can’t….  

I vomited my breakfast and spit out every last piece of scrambled eggs.

“Oh God,” I said into the toilet. I wiped my mouth and brushed my teeth.

My thin, long fingers trembled as I grabbed the stick. I placed it inside its small cardboard box. I wrapped it inside a Walgreens plastic bag, walked outside, and tossed it into the dumpster behind our apartment. I wrapped my arms around myself and shivered in the snowy November darkness.

I stepped inside, closed the door and leaned my forehead against it in agony. The weight of this thing growing inside me dragged me down. I sat with my back against the door, hugging my knees tightly to my chest.

“I’m so sorry, little one,” I whispered. “I can’t keep you.”

The following morning, I picked up my phone and called Planned Parenthood.

*

Today is the day that I scheduled the abortion, a Friday afternoon in December.

I glance at the clock above the couch.

2:59 p.m.

One more hour.

I lay the book on the coffee table and pick up the glass of wine, chugging it before heading to the bathroom, leaving Jared at his desk. Coming into the bathroom, I catch my reflection in the mirror.

Good Lord…

My dry, wavy hair is sticking up in every direction imaginable. Red blotches are scattered across my entire face. My eyebrows are bushy and misshapen, framing my eyes that have dark shadows underneath. The lines on my forehead trace the lack of sleep.

I turn on the shower and step inside, standing underneath its warm cascade. The water trickles down my skin, warming and massaging my aching muscles. Standing still, I let the drops fall on my shoulders and back.

My eyelashes, drenched and heavy, remain open as I gaze down and caress my soft, flat belly. I circle my hands around my navel, pausing a moment to see if I can feel any stirring. Nothing. I don’t know why I think I could feel something. It’s not even a month old, yet.

I close my eyes, imagining it growing bigger and wider into the size of a watermelon. I envision my skin stretching, carrying the little person. I feel it bumping, kicking and flipping. It flips until it pops out.

I see her evolve. The cycles continues as she becomes me, I become my mother, and Jared becomes my step-father.

I had long, brunette hair and danced in little dresses that she bought from the dollar store. He came home from work with a six-pack of Coors Light and ignored our existence. He touched me when mom was down the street, selling gas and lottery tickets.

I turned seventeen and dropped out of high school. I stole cash from her wallet to buy a one-way train ticket to become someone else.

Standing underneath the water, I wrap my arms around myself.

She never even searched for me…  

*

Stepping out of the shower, I shake off the memory by drying my hair with a towel and using it to wipe off the fogged mirror. My lips are dry and purple from the wine.

Wrapping the towel around my waist, I walk into the living room to retrieve my tumbler of water sitting on his computer desk.

I try to avoid distracting him from his work as I grab the tumbler.

“You’re beautiful,” he says sweetly and surprisingly.

I pause and hold the tumbler awkwardly. These words, although he says them often, catch me off guard after imagining him one day becoming the man who ignores his daughter.

“Thank you, babe.” I take a drink, still standing beside him in my towel.

“What are you getting ready for?” he asks.

Tell him… Stop being a coward…

“Abby invited me to pizza,” I say, recognizing my own shaky voice when I try to hide something.

His fingers pause from typing.

“You know you can talk to me about anything, right?” he says, his green, almond-shaped eyes looking away from his screen and into my blank expression.

I smile and nod nervously, not realizing I’m locking my knees and my thighs are shaking.

Tell him!

“Megan, you’re turning pale.”

Suddenly, I feel nauseous. My stomach turns as the room spins. His face goes blurry.

“Come on, let’s lay you down. Wrap your arm around my shoulder. There you go,” he says, walking me over to the couch.

Jared places a throw pillow underneath my head and swings my legs on the couch. My head pounds like someone beating my temples.

“I’m sorry,” I say, my words sounding more like a croak. “I’m sorry.”

“Shh, it’s okay.”

He picks up my tumbler from the floor and fills it from the kitchen sink. Coming back to my side, he orders me to sit up and drink. I wrap my lips around the bottle and sip down the cool water. The liquid feels refreshing along my throat. Goosebumps spread across my naked arms and legs.

Jared grabs a blanket from the bedroom and throws it on top of me. He brushes a few loose strands of wet hair from my face. He places the back of his hand against my forehead. “You’re not feverish.”

I take another sip of water and look at the clock.

4:06 p.m.

I missed the appointment.

“You need to rest,” he says worriedly.

He has always taken care of me.

He’s not going to leave me. I’m not going to become my mother…

“Jared… I’m pregnant.”

The Drive

The air felt cool and crisp on her naked glowing skin as she drove along the I-5 South toward Oregon. Johnny Cash strummed his raspy melody on her ancient 1998 stereo in her blue Grand Cherokee. Her thumbs pounded along to the beat. She breathed in the rare appearance of the sun on this Sunday morning she had off of work from the restaurant. Taylor felt tempted to go off-roading, but obediently stuck to the route.

She had removed her dirty jean jacket and rolled her window down, allowing her strong biceps to tan in the warm light. Her long cascades of true brunette falling into artificial mossy green tips tickled her pale shoulders. Her hazel eyes hid behind aviator sunglasses. She glimpsed toward the towering pine trees that lined the road.

Seattle had recently been hit with a snow storm that cut off half of the power in some neighborhoods. Luckily, Tacoma hadn’t been affected; they just received slosh and less business at the restaurant.  

Taylor wasn’t ready for this trip. Unlike any other 25-year-old girl, she couldn’t wait for her Spring Break to be over. She hated leaving the restaurant behind to manage itself. But even more, she felt no remorse for the death of her stepmother.

When she found out the woman had cancer a year ago, Taylor felt only guilt for her father who would care for her and pay the medical bills. It was bad enough he practically did everything for that woman.

Taylor didn’t care to go to Roberta’s funeral, but she was making the trip for her father. She knew he was in pain, but learning of her illness reaffirmed Taylor’s decision to move up north and start a new life for herself after high school.

The cancer wasn’t caused by genetics or bad luck. It had spread from the years of drug use.

Before she showed signs of addiction, Roberta was a successful businesswoman. She owned four car dealerships, one in the state of Oregon, two in California and one in Nevada. Roberta was sweet in the early days before the marriage. Taylor had just turned ten.

A year later, Roberta and Taylor’s father were married. They were the happiest trio anyone had ever seen in Salem. They went on hiking trips together, cooked together, and sometimes even fell asleep together on the couch watching episodes of “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”

Taylor noticed that Roberta was gone on business trips more frequently. When she came home temporarily, she brought other guys over to the house. Taylor thought they were just friends, always having parties. She was thankful that her father was happy again, but Taylor didn’t understand why Roberta would have parties and not invite her.

“I love your spirit, child,” Roberta said with her perspiring glass of scotch in hand, shoving Taylor into her bedroom. “But you’re still too young for these kind of adult things.”   

In 2008, Roberta lost two of her stores to the recession. A year later, another one closed down. Her job, along with hundreds of others, dwindled. She spent less time with Taylor, and more time seeking comfort from her husband and other men.      

Taylor was reaching her senior year of high school. Her grades were above average, but she didn’t plan on going to college. She had no direction.  

Her father never mentioned her birth mother, or any other family member for that matter. If Taylor ever asked where she went or who she was, especially in Roberta’s presence, her father’s lips grew into a tight, straight line. His voice fell low and his sea green eyes became stern, sending warning shots to let it go.

No one else seemed to matter in his life during this time, except Roberta. He was focused on two primary things: doing well at his job and taking care of his wife. He knew that Taylor was a good, responsible kid and could handle herself. Although he took her out for ice cream on occasion and went to the movies with her, he spent less time bonding with her.      

Taylor compensated from the neglect in relationship with fighting. She took up boxing at a private, local gym. She had a trainer and met him three times a week. As graduation day approached and Roberta spent more time at home, Taylor took the bus to the gym every day.

She loved the independence. No one could hurt her, or push her away. And if they did, she could push them right back even harder.

On this drive down the freeway, she adored the final few hours she had on her own before meeting her father at her childhood home and reopening old wounds. Taylor cranked up a new song. Cash was getting a little too dull.

James Brown’s “This is a Man’s World” came on. She let it play, even though she didn’t know all of the words.

The song struck something deep in her chest, something burning and aching that she never felt before. It stung, and it lingered. Pain shot deep into her belly, and it crawled lower between her legs to a darker, intimate place. Tears spilled over her eyelids. Goopy mascara and eyeliner stained a perfect line down each cheek.

Man made electric light to take us out of the dark

Man made the boat for the water, like Noah made the ark

She felt his weight pinned against her. His grip on her hair, pressing her face onto the kitchen table, the other hand clutching onto her skirt.

“Relax,” Roberta’s friend moaned into her ear. Taylor wiggled and moaned as his fingers dug into her. “Stop fighting it, girl.”  

Whenever the nightmare haunted her, she would usually reach for a glass of wine from her cabinet to relax. Sometimes, she didn’t know what was a reliable source to help her decipher between dreams and reality. That was when she would turn to a punching bag or jump rope to sweat out the idea of her stepmother drugging her and allowing one of her guy friends to touch her.

When she finally beat every breath out of that imaginary woman on the punching bag, Taylor recalled that moment vividly.

The smell on Roberta’s breath was incredibly potent. Taylor’s innocent eyes glanced back and forth between the bag of needles and powdery mixtures, and her stepmother’s hungry eyes. She remembered that shove against the front door and feeling completely powerless against this woman she trusted and once admired. Taylor felt the incision of the needle in her forearm.

“Don’t worry,” Roberta growled. “This’ll only hurt for a second.”

The woman entered Taylor’s life and exited it with a suddenness that she could never explain, but just accept.  

She wiped her face with the back of her hand and shook off the memory of the drug hitting her hard, the way it made her muscles contract, her veins explode, her stomach ache. She remembered hanging her head over the toilet bowl the next morning and Roberta holding her hair out of the way.

“You poor thing,” she said. “I told you that you shouldn’t be messing with mommy’s things.”

Taylor felt a shiver down her spine and changed the song once again. Nina Simone woke her from the sickening trance.

It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me,

And I’m feelin’ good

She still wasn’t ready to face her father’s pain, but she was ready to see him without her. Without the woman who corrupted their relationship and brought a tornado of disaster into their lives.

She’s gone, Taylor told herself. She’s really gone. 

Taylor was ready to begin again now that she was older. Now that she was stronger. Now that she and her father were finally free.  

She sighed a breath of relief as she continued to drive down I-5 South and let go.

  

 

   

Stolen

Shane felt the moment in waves of slow motion, as if time itself ceased ticking. His ears were still ringing from the explosion.

He had been led down the stairs to the outside of his home where his street was lined with firetrucks, police cars and ambulances.

He looked around, frozen in his tracks. Policemen were asking him questions of names, birthdays, and other pieces of information that didn’t belong to him anymore. 

Glancing into his home, he saw the firefighters carrying his parents’ bodies on stretchers down the stairs, white blankets outlining their figures. 

She’s going to be so happy, his mother said to him yesterday when he showed her the ring for the third time.

Dad doesn’t care. He thinks we’re too young, Shane said hanging his head low.

Don’t worry about what he thinks, she said laughing. We had you when we were your age.   

Shane promised he would always take care of Jasmine.

The gold caldera diamond ring was tucked safely in the front pocket of his torn jeans. His feet moved in time with her heartbeat.

Jasmine. Please still be alive.

Shane sprinted across the yard towards her home, one block down. His black Converse sneakers pounded the jagged pavement as he moved through the obstacles of his neighbors who were crowding behind fallen trees and burning gardens.

Please be okay…

Sweat dripped from his brow as he reached the side gate of her house. The gate had been completely blown off and was barely hanging on its hinge. He stumbled over the gate and shoved over the back door of the house. Massive holes had ripped through the building. Her home had been hit harder than his.

“Jasmine!” He called for her, shoving fallen wooden beams aside. He paused a moment to listen, and steady his breath. A stirring came from the kitchen behind him.

“Jasmine? Can you hear me?”

“Shane,” she cried.

“I’m here,” he called. “I’m coming!”

He clumsily fell over a dining room chair before glancing into the wreckage of the kitchen. Shane heard more scraping and shifting noises, like fingernails scratching across a chalkboard. Finding her buried beneath a pile of steel pots, glass and debris felt like a blend of relief and agony. She was digging through the kitchen floor, trying to pull herself out. He quickly tore through the barrier.

“Are you hurt?” He asked.

“I – don’t – know,” Jasmine coughed.

Her sapphire eyes smudged with eyeliner and mascara squinted in pain. Shane gently took hold of her thin bruised arms and stole her from the heap.

“I got you,” he said, scooping her up into his arms. “Let’s get you out of here.”

“I can’t -” she winced.

“Yes, you can,” he persisted.   

“No, no,” Jasmine said shaking her head. “It’s just – my magic. Something has happened, I can feel it…it’s…. Growing…”

Jasmine clutched onto her belly as a loud cry escaped her mouth. The sharp pain pierced her internal organs, zipping through her veins. Her finger tips, numb and icy.  

“Jaz?” he frowned.

He watched as her skin turned from pale grey to a gleaming tan. The dust from the blast washed from her face, and the creases of her forehead melted away. She felt the tugging paradox of excruciating pain and warm rush of life coursing in and out of every capillary.   

“Your skin… it’s glowing,” he said.

Before he could move, screeching sirens, gunfire and screams outside the house beckoned his attention.    

“Get down! Down on the ground!” shouted Captain Tackler. “Everybody move out of the way!”

Shane frowned, hating himself for even considering stripping her of her memories. Of him. But he would keep her safe.

“I’ll find you,” he whispered. “I promise.”

He kissed her softly on the forehead, a tear falling down his face. She stared into his wet eyes knowing well what he was about to do, too paralyzed to object.  

He held her gaze as steady and strong as he could, unlocking every ounce of energy he possessed. He latched onto her recollections like a leech, draining every ounce of each scene playing out before him like a movie.

He felt her mother’s hands hold hers as they walked across the street to school. He heard her shoes slap the wet New England pavement. He breathed in her mother’s perfume and fought to hold onto it. She was resisting in silence, but he was stronger.  

The senses filled his mind. They flooded his cerebral cortex and rested there, like a stolen and engraved snapshot.    

Jasmine’s glow pulsed light a dying light bulb. Her eyelids dropped and her arms fell limp in exhaustion. Shane felt the familiar buzzing sensation and vibration of voices, emotions, and visions below the surface of his mind.    

Before he could escape, two gloved hands grasped onto his arms and secured them behind his back.

“You’re under the command of GOFA as suspect of withholding classified information,” ordered a masked Control.

“What? Take your hands off me!” he resisted. “I don’t know what you’re talking about! I’m a registered citizen! You can’t do this!” 

“Sir, which section does he belong?” asked the masked Control. “Hold still, you.”

“Get him out of here,” Tackler barked. “Put him in with the Laborers.”

Shane wiggled and thrashed trying to break free. Another Control pressed an electric taser against Shane’s ribs. He howled and shook until his knees buckled. The squad dragged him by his limbs to the van.

 

Glue

The vibrant leaves glowed as they sprinkled to the ground beneath Jasmine’s small white Velcro tennis shoes. She felt the crisp cool breeze on her cheeks as it carried the sound of children laughing and playing in the crunchy, messy piles on their first day at Houghton Academy, School for the Gifted Youth.

She was dressed in a matching white dress with a fluffy purple coat that reached below her knees. Her long, chestnut and wavy hair, framing her inquisitive sapphire eyes, fell loosely down her back.

Her mother held her hand across the street, then let go once they reached the sidewalk. Jasmine loathed the idea of meeting new people, and going to a new place.

“I don’t want to go to school!” she cried.

Her mother laughed and scooped her up in her arms.

“You’ll be alright,” she soothed. “Your teacher is really excited to meet you, and you’re going to make a lot of new friends.”

Jasmine peeked worriedly over her shoulder toward the kids lining along the wall, and felt a twinge in her belly.

“I will be back here to pick you up after school,” she said sadly, lowering her to the ground. She helped Jasmine’s arms through the straps of her backpack.

Jasmine walked away without saying a word, preoccupied with figuring out which classroom she was supposed to enter.

The morning drifted by with teachers filing students into their classrooms, and introducing them to their desks and assignments. Among the first grade Foreseers, Jasmine had already learned to write the entire alphabet and words in cursive, impressing their homeroom teacher, Mr. Zarek.

She was already way ahead of the game, and sat back in her seat and smiled at the sentences she wrote on the flimsy piece of paper in front of her. The red-headed boy next to her struggled with his cursive and kept erasing every letter.

Seated across from them, one girl with pigtails and a jean jacket and her friend with streaked black hair laughed at him. Their snickers made his pale face turn tomato red.  

“Leave him alone,” Jasmine piped angrily.

The red-headed boy’s emerald eyes peered up from his crumpled sheet of paper, too afraid to speak. The girls stared at her silently. The one with pigtails raised an eyebrow.

“Make me,” she said.  

Jasmine looked down at the table, defenseless, until she saw a bottle of glue.

Maybe I will… 

The bullies smirked as Jasmine went back to her writing, feeling untouchable. Jasmine waited a moment before she heard their screams.    

“EWWWWWW!!!!!!” cried the one with pigtails. “MR. ZZZZZZZZZ!!!!”

The red-headed boy laughed to tears as he watched them run to the sink, scrambling to wash the glue out of her hair.

Jasmine giggled quietly and sat her pencil down on the sheet of paper which read the word “Glue” in her delicate writing.   

The scene drifted further away into her subconsciousness, like a hidden secret locked tightly in a treasure chest.

Jasmine’s streaming drool down her hand and on top of the bar woke her.

“Oh, God,” Jasmine said holding onto her head, rolling it around.

Shane, sitting at the windowsill on guard with his arms crossed, glanced over at the Scribe. 

“Good morning, Princess,” he chuckled.

“Is this what a hangover feels like?” she groaned.

“Hell, no,” he said. “You only had one drink.”

She rubbed her red eyes, then pulled out her pen and sheet of paper.

A bottle of Aspirin and a glass of water manifested on the counter.

Detour

She glared at her reflection from the passenger seat window.

Long streaks of raindrops drizzled down the glass, mocking her wavy brunette hair she had tried to straighten earlier.

The taxicab driver, a loud and dark-skinned man with gray hair, swerved abruptly to the left. Maya’s temple banged against the window, causing her to release a massive “OW!”

“Sotty,” said the driver, not looking back. “Cal-ee-fornians can’t drive in zee rain!”

They zoomed passed a couple exiting the Brooklyn Bridge in a white sedan with a California license plate. The evening sky grew dark and heavy with the frigid October air.

Maya’s German Shepherd puppy, Kona, came to her throbbing head.

Crap. I forgot to tell Jackie to not give him any snacks.

She imagined the mess she would find on her return home. Maya rubbed her hand on her right temple and groaned.

All she wanted was a weekend getaway. She booked a cottage for one, non-smoking, overlooking the water in Marblehead. All Maya wanted was to be alone and breathe.

But she could only think about time; her nemesis. Time was winning. She was going to miss the train leaving in 20 minutes. The taxi came to a red light, digging any hope of making it on time into the sopping wet ground.

The air thickened around her, enclosing all worries into the only space left in her mind. She felt light-headed.

“Stop the car, please,” she shouted as the traffic light turned green.

“Wha?!” the driver shouted.

“Stop the car!” Maya repeated.

He glanced behind and furrowed his bushy eyebrows, and pulled over.

Maya pushed open the door and jumped into the pouring rain. She reached back for her umbrella.

“Just give me a minute,” she panted.

He shook his head and turned off the ignition.

Smoke rushed from her lips in the cold air. Maya slowed her breath and looked around. They had made it the edge of the city, not far from the station.

Maya counted her steps to 30 just as her therapist taught her to do when her anxiety attacks worsened. She fought to stop the twitching from her fingers reaching inside her jeans pocket for a cigarette. Despite taking weekly yoga classes, Maya’s boss noticed her anxiety increasing and gave her this weekend to relax.

Especially this weekend.

She remembered the warmth and joy she felt when her mother surprised her with Kona on her birthday. The comfort made her apartment feel partially whole again.

Maya’s black leather rain boots slapped on the ground as she landed on number 26. It took her a moment to realize that she was approaching the cemetery, the place they buried her husband.

She hadn’t felt strong enough to visit his grave since her office was reconstructed. Maya looked back at the taxi headlights beaming in the rain. She decided that a detour was what she needed.

Her movement became purposeful as she walked into the cemetery down the muddy path. In the dark, she spotted the silhouette tree in the distance that he lied beside.

She approached his headstone decorated with soaked American flags. Standing beside his grave, she couldn’t read the words, but had memorized them in her sleep:

IN LOVING MEMORY

TOM HAMILTON

BELOVED SON AND HUSBAND

JAN. 12, 1974 – SEPT. 11, 2001.

The horn honked from the taxi, signaling her. Maya couldn’t budge. Tears streamed down her cheeks. She could no longer hold the umbrella steady in her hand.

She remembered turning on the news that morning, seeing the towers go down. Maya was driving home to Boston to visit family while Tom stayed behind to work.

He was in the elevator when the planes crashed.

Maya fell to her knees in the soggy grass.

A soft hand landed on her shoulder. The cab driver shielded her from the rain with his umbrella. She forced a smiled and pushed herself up.

“Sotty,” he said. “Was he yours?”

“My husband,” she nodded.

“I am…. truly sotty.” The driver looked to the ground in sorrow.

“Thank you,” Maya said.

“Do you feel bettu now dat you have seen him?”

Her tired eyes looked back to his headstone.

“I can breathe again,” she sighed.

The Day I Went Blind

I groaned and rolled over to my left side of the bed. The warm blankets invited me to rest a little deeper, but I decided to crawl out and get ready for work.

I opened my eyes, but still could see nothing. Darkness remained. I leaned over and turned on the lamp. The heat from the light warmed my skin. I shook my head from side to side and rubbed my eyes with my knuckles. Once again, no sight. My head moved around spasmodically in panic and frustration.

I extended my arms in front of me, waving them all around to find something. Anything.

My heart pounded in my chest. Uncontrollably, my breathing shortened as I attempted to stand, stumbling over a sharp piece of wooden furniture. Pain shot through my right calve. Gooey liquid trailed down my bare, unshaven leg as I tried standing up again and grabbing the nearest wall I could find.

I followed the wall to the bathroom, limping as the blood dripped down my leg. I found the medicine cabinet and reached inside, knocking over an avalanche of toiletries. I couldn’t find eye drops. I turned on the ice cold water and splashed my face, hoping that would wake me from this nightmare. I fell to my knees, grasping my aching calve. And then I heard it… motion. Stirring. In the other room. Two sets of heavy footsteps pounded towards me, echoing down the hall.

I sat up and blurted through my sobbing, “Who’s there?”

A deep menacing voice whispered in my ear, “You bloody well know.”

Wind knocked out of me as a large boot kicked me in the rib. A loud cry escaped my lips. I huddled in the fetal position, not understanding what the hell was happening or who was attacking me. Every muscle in my body contracted, causing me to shiver.

“Don’t play dumb, Sarah.”

I shook my head, curling into a tighter ball. Sarah? He just said my twin sister’s name. They think I’m her.

“We’re going to slaughter you bit by bit!” He shouted in my face, the stench of his hot breath burning my skin.

They did this to me. They blinded me.

I felt numb and powerless, nearly naked on that cold bathroom floor. It was hopeless.

Then something miraculous happened. My tears shed were washing away the darkness. I could barely make out the white tile floor I was lying on. I forced myself to cry harder until I could see clearer.

I opened my eyes wider and saw that the attackers had vanished.

Gone.

Not even a sound of their exit. My sight was still blurry, but I could see shapes and colors.

I took a deep breath and walked out of the bathroom, cautiously looking around the apartment.

“Hello?” I called out. Silence.

In a quick decisive action, I ran to my phone and almost dialed 911 when I noticed that my leg wasn’t bleeding anymore. It was entirely healed, as if nothing happened. My side wasn’t in pain.

Then I saw my badge and uniform hanging on the closet door. I’m a police officer.

I remembered the investigation. My twin sister’s death six years ago. The reason why I became an officer. The light on my nightstand shined a spotlight on Sarah’s photograph, a picture taken of us together a year before her murder.

We never caught them. They haunt me. Taunting me.

I took a deep breath. I walked back to the bathroom to get ready for work, bringing my .22 with me into the shower.