Thursday, December 28, 2017

Wayfarer: A Short Story

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Peregrine could no longer ignore the gate. For years it had dogged her, in one place or another. Dark alleyways, the ends of long corridors—her own home—wherever she least expected. Once or twice the gate had materialized right in front of her and she’d tripped over herself to get away. It always vanished after a few moments, but she knew it would come back. It pursued her.
It was frustrating and humiliating, how that shabby little gate disturbed her. She’d first seen it at the age of 12 when her grandmother died. It had not seemed so frightening then, but later it had taken on a horrifying significance.
She would be doing the most ordinary things—washing dishes at the sink, having a drink with friends, walking to work—when she’d remember something. Maybe her grandmother’s words, something she’d read, or a question that niggled in the back of her mind…and then she’d see it. She’d see the gate and the path beyond it. For one wild moment, she'd panic in irrational fear, but she knew that if she walked away, the haunting image would fade and her uneasy peace return.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Crucify: A Short Story

I've seen crosses before. Watched the hot blood run down wood and tasted acid in my throat when the men cried out in pain. Those sticks and rotting bodies on the hilltops around Jerusalem are a constant reminder. A reminder of Rome and all it means to us: pain, shame, death. The cries of those criminals are the cries of every honest man cheated by tax collectors, every virgin defiled by the lust of a soldier, every child who must swear allegiance to the beasts who killed his parents.

I've seen crosses before. But never this close. I've never stared at the torn flesh, or smelled metallic blood, or seen the feeble way the crucified have of lifting up their chests for breath, only managing to tear wider holes in their wrists.

I've seen crosses before, but until today I’d never seen someone I loved hanging on one.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Girl in the Hallway

A girl was born in a hallway. She opened her eyes and saw a white expanse of stillness, and then began to grow. Years passed as learned to walk, talk, and dance. Then one day while playing she realized for the first time that she was moving.

A black speck appeared in the distance, at the furthest end of the hall. She stood up to see it clearer and put out her hands to catch it, but her hand passed right over or through it. That was her first idea of distance.

Soon the speck was quite large, and she saw it was a door, plain and wooden with a single handle on the right side. She reached out again, and this time she really could touch it. She felt the grain of the wood, looked up at the shiny hinges, and then gave a gasp. The hinges had been directly in front of her a moment ago, but now she faced the door's middle. It was moving to the left, making its way down the long wall.

A minute later the knob had slid toward her hand. The door was drawing away from her, or she was drawing away from the door. Then it was few feet away from her, and she faced the empty wall again. "Well, I can just follow it," she said. But that was the day she realized her Great Limitation. She could not walk back to the door but was forced to watch it turn into a black speck once more, and disappear at the other end of the hall.

Monday, April 17, 2017

What Makes Me Mad

Can I start this in the winter?

Can I start the story on a sad note?

Can I start it on the morning when we ran up to see the sunrise from the water tower and I realized I had lost my friend forever?

Thursday, March 23, 2017

My Abortion

I am guilty of abortion.

I've never walked into an abortion clinic. I would never consider letting a doctor take the life of my unborn child, but I am guilty of putting my own desires before God's and before another human. 

One day I fell into a pit of fear—gut-clenching panic, a debilitating numbness in my limbs, stark terror rushing through my brain. I checked and rechecked the test strip in my hands before finally assuring myself that it was all right. I wasn't pregnant.

But if I had been?

A kid would cramp my style. It would change the life I've made for myself: a comfortable, good life. I have a husband who loves me, friends, work, and social engagements, and it would all be ruined by a child.

Ruined. That's the word I've used.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Undercroft Bar, Bentonville

The entrance is subtle: a door at the foot of a stair tucked behind a brick archway. No neon lights for this place, just the word bar—written in classy black—guiding patrons who already know where they're going. I'm unsure of myself, but three men in suits walk down ahead of me, and I decide to act confident and follow them. 

My first impression is darkness, a heavy but not unpleasant darkness that makes everything seem quieter than it is. Rather than hiding something, the gloom seems keen to expose it. What little light there is brings out of the shadows a dozen glinting textures: metallic threads in the upholstery, shimmering accents on the black wallpaper, a glitter-encrusted skull on display.

Narrow spotlights accent segments of the long, low room, creating personal oases so that each table becomes an intimate sanctuary. Long wallbenches accommodate large groups of after-hours drinkers as well as couples and trios; the squat portable stools making it easy for more to join in. In the middle of the room are curious chairs with arms as high as their backs, one facing another down the line like a row of intimate cubicles. Here is another attempt at privacy: the three tall sides of each chair blocking out everything but the person sitting directly across the candlelit table. 

The bar is golden and glowing, the center of the action that manages never to overpower the darker corners. Cocktail waitresses float to and from it, friendly and faceless, serving the thirsty 5:30 crowd.

As I am notoriously indecisive even at familiar restaurants, it takes three visits from the waitress before I make up my mind. Then my drink of choice is not on tap, and I have to scramble. Thankfully, she has a recommendation on her sleeve, and I order in a breathless rush, happy to finally resolve the matter. When the pale pink confection arrives in its martini glass, I feel the halo effect of pure sophistication. The drink tastes bright and sparkly, and the fruit juices and orange liqueur play over my tongue.

I'm drinking in sounds with the liquor. Like the sharp top notes of an urban perfume, I hear the sharp sound of the exuberant bartender rattling a shaker above his head. The heart notes come with the music, warm and thrumming, easy to talk over but filling in silent gaps with ease. The background hum of conversation lays the base note, steady and comforting. 

My glass is not even half empty when I start to feel a buzz. My head fills up with sand, and my hands move with more energy as I talk. I'm a dreadful lightweight. Hopefully, my loosened tongue doesn't say anything I might later regret.

My fingers brush the tiny tabletop (which seems almost too small for the drink). It's cold to the touch, but if I stroke the cushion beside me it feels warm, like furry silk. The temperature of the room is so perfect that I don't even notice.

Time passes without a thought in this underground room. When I've paid my tab and poke my head out at the top of the stair, I'm surprised to find that it's already late evening, and the downtown is bustling with nightlife. Down below me, the congenial humming continues unbroken; it will carry on until the wee hours of Saturday morning. As for me, I've had my taste of elegant society, and it's time to get home to my dinner.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Rachel Weeping

One woman packs away the pink box half-filled with clothes and stuffed animals, gifts purchased for the daughter she named but never held.

One woman gets a phone call and falls on her knees, a knife's point cracking her breastbone to dig deep into her heart.

One elderly mother stands at the grave of her middle-aged child and wonders how.

One woman takes down four plates from the cabinet and bursts into tears.

One woman hears sirens in the middle of the night and starts to pray.

I've never given birth, but something in me trembles at the sight of a bereaved mother. I grip my empty womb and try to fathom her depths of pain, failing utterly.

Elizabeth Stone wrote, "Making the decision to have a child—it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body."