Thursday, July 13, 2017

Short Story "There Is No Exit"

Hello and welcome back to my blog. I put the short story challenge on the back burner for a little bit to work on other things, but I have missed it terribly. 

I'm back this week to contribute my story for the Flash Fiction Challenge over at Chuck Wendig's Terrible Minds Blog

This week's challenge was from a dream he had where one phrase kept appearing: There is no exit. 

He writes:
I thought it would make a very good flash fiction challenge.
So, incorporate that phrase —
“There is no exit”
— into the story. Either as a title, a line of dialogue, a theme, whatever.
Go forth and tell the story.
Length: ~1000 words

Here is this week's short story. It is actually a little bit of a back story for another project I'm working on and this prompt helped me to work it out. I came in at 995 words. Helpful comments are appreciated, I'm still learning. Thank you. 

“There Is No Exit”

By Michelle Baillargeon

            Aggie sat at the kitchen table and sipped her glass of diet cola while keeping one eye on the clock. Her heart was beating a little faster than normal, but it was not from the caffeine. He’s going to be here any minute, but I think I’m ready this time.


Even though she’d already done it half a dozen times, she checked to make sure her cell phone was within arms-reach. She made another silent wish (how many was that now?) that Rider had been able to be here with her. But, since her friend, a traveling nurse, was several states away at the moment, it was fruitless. They had talked about what to do today over the phone, but it would have been more reassuring to have him here with her. While she waited, she reviewed their plan.

The sound of a thud traveled to her from the hallway, mentally she placed it at the bottom of the stairs. She nodded her head yes absentmindedly and waited. Small hairs on the back of her neck prickled, but she didn’t move from her chair. So far, it was the same as before, he’d be in the kitchen soon enough.

She heard a man’s voice, speaking low at first. Just one word, repeated. The man’s voice, filled with shock and disbelief, wafted in to the kitchen softly. “Freddie?”  

The voice then grew louder and angry, the disbelief gone, “Freddie!”

Aggie flinched in spite of herself. She attempted to calm her nerves by taking a deep breath, as quickly as she could, and then blew it out. She reminded herself she had a plan this time, that he couldn’t really hurt her; but her nerves were still a mess.

Aggie could hear shuffling sounds in between the angry shouts, the shuffling told her he’d been getting up from his fall down the stairs and was assessing himself. In no time at all, the shuffling noises changed to footsteps: heavy, running footsteps. They were headed her way.

            Her pulse quickened and fear tried to push its way through, but she held her ground. This was her house now, and he had to go. Courage, girl, you know what to do.  

            “Fred…!” The shouting man appeared in the doorway of the kitchen and came to an abrupt stop at seeing Aggie. He was out of breath, his clothes disheveled, an ugly depression in his right temple was gushing blood; it streamed down the side of his face and over a banged up eye.

            “Where the hell is Freddie and who the hell are you?”

            Aggie put her hands up in front of her in a “stop” motion. “My name is Aggie, this is my house now. Freddie has been gone for a long time.”
            He shook his head back and forth, not believing any of it. Fueled by his anger and the fall down the stairs, he approached the table and shook a clenched fist at Aggie “This is my house and I want you out!”

            Aggie tried to appear calm, she looked him in the eyes as she spoke, “Sir, I understand your confusion, give me a moment to explain.”

            He banged a bruised fist on the table, leaving a small, bloody smudge on her table cloth. “Get out of my house!” he shouted in her direction. Aggie followed his hand as it hit the table and winced. His pinky finger was bent at an unnatural angle. She hadn’t noticed that before.

She shook it off and tried to get back on plan. Breathe, Aggie, Breathe, you can do it. She kept one hand raised in front of her, gesturing “one moment” at him. It was clear he didn’t want to be calmed down, but he did pause.  

“Sir, Freddie has been gone for an awfully long time. Actually, so have you.” The man cocked his head to the right, she had his attention for the moment. More blood dripped from the depression on his head and pooled on the table cloth. Aggie’s stomach flipped at the close-up view of his open wound. She looked away (get back on track, girl!) and reached for her cell phone, “can I show you something that might help you?”

Not waiting for a response, she unlocked her cell phone and queued up video she’d been saving. She turned the screen to face him and hit play. As he watched the video, she spoke as soothingly as she could manage. “I’ve been here for six months, and once a month, you show up. Every visit is the same: you fall down the stairs, pick yourself up, and run into the kitchen looking for Freddie. You shout at me to leave your house, bang my table a few times, and then you – well – you disappear until the next time.”

He looked up at Aggie once the video stopped playing, confusion staring back at her from his one good eye. She pressed play again. The video showed a duplicate of this morning’s events. “I took this video of you on your last visit. You have to understand that there’s nothing here for you anymore. Freddie is no longer here, she’s been gone for a long time. You passed away many years ago. The fall cracked your skull and you didn’t make it. I’m so sorry.”

The man reached up with his broken hand and gingerly touched his temple as Aggie continued. “There is no relief for you if you stay here, no exit. This will go on and on, repeating every month. Wouldn’t you like to rest?”

He looked at Aggie, taking it all in; fist unclenched and shoulders sagging against the weight of understanding. She played the video again and he watched it play through completely once more. When it finished he stood back from the table, upright and sure of himself, and nodded to Aggie.

“I would,” he said.

Aggie watched as the man disappeared before her.


Thursday, March 30, 2017

Lilacs in the Fall - Short Story

Short story time again. I have missed the short story adventure I've been on for a few weeks and desperately wanted to keep up with my challenge. 

This week's story prompt from Chuck Wendig over at his blog asked us to: 

"Write a story of going against authority. That can mean whatever it means — but I want it to be a story with attitude, with a take-no-shit, have-no-fucks style. Whatever genre, whatever theme you want.
Get rude.
Be profane.
Middle fingers up.
Chaos and rebellion and whatever else you care to muster."

You can check it out here: Terrible Minds

Well, if you know me, then you know that I'm a big marshmallow. I struggle with conflict and chaos, rebellion. I try to avoid those things in my life and so it's not something that comes easy to me to write about (which is probably exactly why I should try to write about it, I know). 

So this week, I thought about it long and hard and decided my story of rebellion, giving-no-fucks, etc. would come in the form of me writing this story below - which has absolutely nothing to do with the prompt (middle finger up) - but everything to do with me wanting to submit something and not miss another week. 

I hope you enjoy it. 

Lilacs in the Fall
by Michelle Baillargeon

There is a widespread misconception that “there is no such thing as ghosts.” 

There are millions of people around the globe who are one hundred percent certain there is a God, an invisible, all seeing, all powerful being, who listens to their prayers and sometimes performs miracles. This is an entity they cannot see or touch or prove exists, yet they believe in it completely, whole-heartedly. I’m one of them.

This belief provides comfort, direction, questions (and sometimes answers), and hope, among other many other things. It’s an intensely private and individual experience for everyone, as it should be. I happen to believe there’s something bigger out there, something purposeful. For me, it doesn’t make sense if we're all  the result of a terrible explosion millions and millions of years ago or a random experiment of a not-so-long-lost race of aliens. 

But I’m not here to delve into that subject any further; there are certainly much more qualified people for that. I bring it up merely as a vehicle of comparison of “true believers” versus those people (I used to be one of ‘em) who are equally sure that just because you can't see them or touch them, that ghosts don't exist; I’m here to tell you that they do. We’ll leave Nessie, Bigfoot and Aliens for another day.

 My name is Joseph McIntyre, my friends call me Red. I’ve lived a long enough to have married my high school sweetheart (Mary, the love of my life) and raise two sons. They're working on families of their own now. I retired three years ago and just as we were settling into our new life together, I lost Mary. It was an accident, sudden and unexpected (as is its nature), and it happened at church of all places. 

Mary and I spent almost 46 years wonderful years together. They say hindsight is 20/20; but I must have rose colored glasses on. I don’t remember any arguments or disagreements (though we probably had a few, what married couple doesn’t?), just years of love and laughter. And ease. The kind that come from being with someone so long that you know their thoughts and their habits, their touch, the sound of their footsteps in the dark. I reach for her still, I look for her over my morning coffee, I listen for her voice. She’s only there in my memories. Or at least I thought so.  

I still go to church on Sundays, even though that’s where it happened. Some might have a tendency to keep their distance, or even blame God; but I go because it makes me feel closer to Mary. Closer even than I feel to her at home, full of her photos and furniture and unpacked clothes. 

I’ve recently started to go to church on Friday evenings, also. I always sit in “our” spot (fifth bench back on the right) and I try to get there early so that no one else can take that spot. The renovations are seamless. Good as new. No one could ever tell that a woman was crushed on that very spot beneath the church’s bell. 

It had come loose due to an unfortunate combination of aging wood and termites. No one else was hurt, we’d lingered after the service: Mary deep in meditation on our bench, me returning from the restroom. I guess I should take comfort in the swiftness of it all, but I can still see it happening in my mind - a film loop in slow motion - she never even looked up. Time is relative - fast and slow all at once, depending on your perspective. 

Well, I sit on our bench, longing for Mary’s hand in mine once more. She had a habit of putting hers in mine during the service and squeezing it if she was  particularly moved. I ignore the stray glances of pity from the congregation by closing my eyes, hoping it looks like I’m meditating on the service. That way, I am mostly able to remember Mary as she was and not how she left. 

Last Friday, as I sat with my eyes closed, tuning out the service and focusing on Mary’s memory, I swear I smelled lilacs. Lilacs were her favorite flower and there are several bushes in our gardens at home. But, it’s Fall and they’re not in bloom. Real or not, I breathed it in deeply, wanting to enhance my memories. It lingered, off and on, for most of the service. My heart was full as I left the church, and I’m sure it showed on my face. I told the Preacher it was his best service yet. White lies in church… probably not the best idea, but he doesn’t have to know I didn’t hear a word. 

Sunday meant another chance to go to church, my heart leapt with anticipation. Would the lilac scent return? Yes, I found out - and more. Much more. 

I arrived early, as I always do these days, eager to get to our seat. I nodded to the Preacher who was greeting people as they entered. I attempted to pass him on my way in, a quick nod Hello and I’d be on my way to Memory Lane. Being early, though, meant he had time to talk between parishioners. It seems he wanted to check on me. 

“Red, so good to see you again,” he reached out his hand to me. 

“Thank you, Father, good to see you, also.” I shook his hand quickly and let it go, trying to move past him. 

“I’ve been meaning to stop by and see how you’ve been holding up,” he looked at me quizzically, “I see that you’re coming twice a week now.”

I met his glance, nodding my head and trying to reassure him as best as I could. I managed to mumble a few words of appreciation while trying to extract myself from the conversations as gently as possible. 

I entered the church and headed to our spot, my heart sank. Someone was in Mary’s spot! I paused, unsure what to do. My stomach turned upside down and I could feel tears beginning to form. This had never happened before. Should I sit one row back? Should I sit next to them? 

I glanced around to see if anyone noticed my quandary. After a moment I glanced back at the bench, our bench thinking I could ask them to move. Surely, they would understand, who could refuse a grieving widower?  

I kept my head down as I made my way towards them, silently practicing my request, looking up only as I approached this interloper. I closed my eyes and opened them again to be sure. The interloper smiled at me and held out her hand. I looked around to see if anyone else saw what I saw. No one seemed to notice or care. I smiled back and took her hand as I sat down, taking a deep breath in - Lilacs!

I hope you enjoyed it. Thank you for taking the time to stop by.