Saturday, April 19, 2014

Q is for: The Quislings

For part 1 of this story, click here; for part 2, click here, and for part 3, click here. (I apologize for these posts being so long - I have to end at a hook.)

Q is for: The Quislings
(Serial short story, part 4)

Netta had every intention of doing what her momma said and head on over to school. Once her foot hit the middle of the street three blocks from the school, she knew she had to find Nelly. Everything was her fault, and now her mother might get in trouble with the City Council because of her.

“I’m going to find you Nelly.” She felt she was talking directly to Nelly, who was waiting for her to find her wherever she was. “I’m going to find you and make everything alright.”

By then, she was looking at the edge of the Baring Woods. Unlike earlier that day, the branches seemed to be spindly fingers reaching out to her, or maybe drawing her in. 

“Dear Jesus, don’t leave me.” Her whispered mantra for whenever she got in trouble naturally slipped from her mouth as she walked around the branches to the overgrown path. Netta passed the hole where they’d found it and went deeper into the thickening forestry. A couple of times, she was sure she’d seen Nelly’s footprints.

Down a ways, she reached a cave at the base of a hill. Vines fell loosely over its opening, except for a small gap near the center. She pushed the vines apart and walked through, calling softly, “Nelly? You in here? It’s Netta. Momma’s worried about you.” Silence. “It’s gonna get dark before long. Come on out so we can go home. You must be hungry. We can come back tomorrow if you want to.”

It got so dark a few steps inside the cave that Netta was almost too scared to go any farther. She slid her feet across the dirt floor, afraid of what they’d land in if she lifted them up to take a step.

Then she heard a scream and froze. It wasn’t Nelly. If she didn’t know any better, she’d say it was her momma. Her pounding heart wanted to jump out of her chest and beat it right out of the cave. Every nerve in her body wanted to follow behind.

With both arms reaching out, she blindly walked toward where she heard the sound. She bumped into the wall of the cave, and felt along it, going deeper in. Just around a bend, she swore she could see light, and figured the cave went through to the other side of the hill. Her feet carried her faster, no longer caring what they stepped into. The light took on a reddish-orange hue, not like the daylight outside. Without a sound, she pressed along the cave's wall, wanting to get to the source of the light without being noticed.

When she got there, she nearly called out, “Momma!” But what she saw stifled her mute. Her momma was with the council members in a lower chamber of the cave. Wavering light came from hundreds of those things Nelly found. The reddish-orange light shifting with the dark patches on them made them really look like bruised cheeks burning with heat.

Lying on the ground, with those things covering her arms and legs, was Nelly. They moved around her, like they were polishing her skin. Her momma tried to run toward Nelly, reaching to grab two hands full of those things off of her, but the council members held her back.

Her momma turned toward them and yelled, “Let me go, you traitors, you Judases! You sold our offspring for what?”

“Look around you, Peyton,” Dara Winstle said. “Can’t you see the potential? Unlimited power and wealth! And they can heal us, every illness we could ever have. They’ve promised us that. They only needed a portion of our wilderness, such a small parcel when you think of all we’re getting.”

“Plus our offspring! You sold our future offspring for power and money!”

The light from the things stopped pulsating and got brighter, until crying voices burst from them. It was a cacophony of sound so sad it invaded Netta’s heart and caused tears to fall.

After wiping them away, she saw Nelly staring straight at her. The wailing stopped, filling the chamber with total silence. Then, one at a time, the council members looked up at Netta.

~ To be continued ~

Friday, April 18, 2014

P is for: Payment Owed

For part 1 of this story, click here. For part 2, click here.

P is for: Payment Owed
(Serial short story, part 3)

Mrs. Peyton Bennet stared at Netta, fear radiating from her eyes. The Baring Woods were off limits for a reason and the kids darned well knew not to go near there. It was Netta’s idea, Peyton was sure of it.

Everyone told the city council to put barriers up. They said they wouldn’t allow it. How the city council knew that, they never said.  She’d get answers from them now if it was the very last thing she did. Peyton took Netta by the hand and marched over to the makeshift city hall.

When she arrived, she thanked God that each of the four council members were there. They sat in the “lounge area,” a corner of the one-room city hall with reading chairs under the high windows, drinking tea, most likely spiked. Peyton led Netta directly in front of the four, looked her in the eyes and said, “Tell them what you told me. Leave nothing out.” She took a step back, forcing them to give Netta their full attention.

Netta told them, leaving out only how she said she wanted to sell it to pay off the house and go to Disneyland. As Netta spoke, Peyton saw the terror bloom in each of the council member’s eyes. Once she finished, they immediately clammed up, their faces stone cold.

Peyton turned to Netta and, in a delicate but stern tone, said, “You go straight to school, Netta, and stay there until I get you.” She watched Netta as she turned away from her momma and left for school. Peyton then faced the group.

“You told us that we were safe. You said that we paid full price to be left alone and that a border was not necessary. Instead, my daughter is gone!”

“It was up to you to teach your children to not enter that area, Mrs. Bennet,” said Dara, the eldest council member. Her lips pressed into a thin line of determination though her eyes held a hint of moisture.

“She is a child. We told you over and over again that children get curious and may wander over there, maybe not even realizing it. We warned you! And now look what happened. How can I get her? What am I supposed to do?”

“In all honesty,” Marcus, the longest running council member said sympathetically, “there’s nothing you can do. She’s gone. If anything could be done to get her back, believe me, we would do –.”

Peyton cut him off, rage billowing from her voice, her index finger pointing at the group, “You guys have held back information on this, and everyone knows it. You assured us the payment we made was sufficient, more than enough. But I’m telling you now, payment is owed and it is you folks who are going to pay it unless you tell me how to get my daughter back!” Tears streamed down Peyton’s cheeks. “You said if we keep our population static, we’d be safe and even prosperous. We did that, giving up our right and ability to have more children, and supposedly avoiding a cancer-like disease from them. But now the payment owed by you is the truth, or the power of hell will come down on all of your heads.”

Quiet settled over the room, until one after the other, the four council members rose and walked to the closet door. Peyton Bennet watched in shock as they each entered the seemingly tiny closet, leaving the door opened. Peyton followed with cautious steps only a few feet behind Marcus. When she entered, the door shut behind her. Ahead of her, she heard what sounded like the mournful cries of dying souls.

~ To be continued ~

Thursday, April 17, 2014

O is for: Only God Knows

For the first part of this story, click here.

O is for Only God Knows
(Serial short story, part 2)

Netta stood still, her hands to her cheeks, her mouth held agape. She had no idea where Nelly had run off to. It wasn’t toward home or their momma’s work. 

Her mouth felt numb after she closed it. In the gait of the walking dead, Netta made her way toward home. After a while, she changed directions, deciding she’d better talk with her momma right away, although she was terrified of what she would say, not just about Nelly, but about why they weren't in school. She could blame Nelly, but her momma knew that trick. She would never believe Nelly decided to go walk in the Baring Woods unless Netta had pushed her to.

“Shoot, it's your own fault, Nelly, for stopping at that thing and for digging it up too!” Netta said, resentment scrunching up her young face. “And then you go and run off! Just how stupid you have to be to run off on your own in these parts?”

The anger left her when she remembered what she saw moving up Nelly’s arm and onto her shoulder and back, and fear crept in the cold space left in her chest. She began to pant heavily, and took a deep breath. “Poor Nelly. My poor Nelly, what happened to you?” After a moment with her head low, she answered, “Only God knows. I surely don’t.”

Her momma saw her before Netta realized she’d made it that far. She hadn’t even heard the barking and scratching of the pups at the storefront window. Before she could think of what to say, her momma came out of the store and asked, “Where’s Nelly, Netta?” Immediately after that, with a tone of chastisement, she said, “Why aren’t you in school?” When she saw the weird expression on Netta’s face, she took a slow, nervous breath and asked, “Is that where Nelly is? Is she in school?”

Davis Monroe, the youth volunteer worker, came out and asked, “Are you okay, Mrs. Bennet?”

“Everything’s fine, Davis. Go on back in. I’ll be there in a little while.”

Once Davis went back inside the store, Netta blurted out, hardly taking a breath, “Nelly’s the one who decided to get it! I told her not to touch it. I even pushed her hand away, but she ignored me. Then she dug it up and held it. She wouldn’t even let me touch it before running away. And that’s when I saw something crawling all over her arm and back. I called after her, but she kept running. Since we aren’t allowed in the Baring Woods, I knew I couldn’t follow her, so I came straight to you, Momma. I would have gone to school had Nelly listened to me and not picked up that thing!”

Netta wanted to continue on with her explanation, but her mother stooped down in front of her, held her by the shoulders, and asked, “What was it she picked up, Netta?”

“It was something beautiful, and I’m sure it’s worth a lot of money, but Nelly wouldn’t hear of selling it. I figured we could pay off the house and then go on that vacation to Disneyland. Only she got greedy and ran off.”

“What did she pick up, Netta?” She asked again, holding Netta a little tighter by the arms.

“I don’t know,” Netta said, getting more scared at the concern in her mother’s voice.

“Tell me what it looked like,” Netta’s momma asked, sounding like the detective on that old TV show. Netta wanted to say it looked like Harpo Jones’ cheek when he got beat up, but thought better of it. She considered hard, and finally said, “It was round and smooth on one side, flat on the other, and looked like fake, dark red blood, but dry… I think… and swollen. I didn’t touch it. It had dark patches on it. Nelly said it wasn’t alive because it wasn’t warm like something alive. She said it wasn’t cold either, but like butter left out. You know, not hot or cold?”

“Room temperature.” Her momma said. “What happened after that? Where did she run off to?”

Nelly remembered about room temperature from her science teacher. She wondered why she hadn’t thought about that when Nelly was describing it.

“Tell me now, Netta! What was it that Nelly had and what did it do to her?” She no longer sounded like that detective. She sounded close to manic.

“Only God knows, Momma. But one thing’s for sure, it was alive!”

~ To Be Continued ~

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