As always, we begin with a repeat of the picture:
First up we have a flash story by Jamie DeBree. It’s been sitting in my inbox for weeks now because I refused to read it before I finished my own. Trust me, it was well worth the wait.
by Jamie DeBree
The rope felt rough and splintery in my tight grip as I stood at the edge of the rickety wooden bridge. It was one of those defining moments in life - the ones where you know that once you make the decision to move, you can never go back. Nothing will ever be the same.
I could still see them in the mist, but barely. If I ran, I might be able to catch up. Or I might fall through one of the rotted out boards and find out just exactly how deep this cursed ravine really was. Probably right before I died.
"Go big or go home," I muttered, taking one last look at my rickety fate. Took a deep breath, and then ran, a kind of zig-zag-jog as I tried to keep my feet on the outer edges of the bridge, where it was still mostly supported by those old, fraying vines. My hands slid across the vibrating ropes, collecting splinters and I used the pain to fuel my sprint. My pulse was pounding in my ears, adrenaline pulling me forward even when chips and chunks of wood fell out from under my feet.
The fog engulfed me and I could no longer see my prey, but still I ran, knowing I couldn't give up, couldn't let them win.
Darkness materialized beside me, like he'd been there all along. He grimaced, knowing I had to stop Light from leaving, though I'd embraced Darkness not so long ago. Our exclusive dalliance had been just that, but it was over. I couldn't commit to just one of them, as he wished me to do.
My second target shined through the mist, and I pushed harder, running faster, knowing the Light couldn't hurt me like it could Darkness. I had to catch him. Had to keep him from leaving us.
Darkness fell behind as I continued on, the burning in my lungs not so bad anymore. The shine grew brighter, and hurt my eyes as the mist began to fall away.
"Stop, please!" I called to Light. "You can't go! We need you!" I couldn't see him, but I felt his warmth. Knew he could hear me where he was.
"You freed Darkness from his dungeon," he said, his voice smooth and calm. "We each need our own space - you know that. If he's allowed to run free, I must leave. 'Tis the way of all things."
I nodded. "I know. And I'm sorry. I never should have opened that lock. But I did, and now I need your help. Please don't leave me."
Light hesitated. "You'll get rid of the Darkness?"
I thought about that for a long moment. "No," I replied. "I don't think you can exist without each other, and I can't go on without you both. But I will put him back in his place, and make sure he stays there, with your help."
The mist seemed to flicker, and then slowly dissipated. The bridge swayed slightly, the ropes rasping my palms yet again as Light's figure finally appeared, his brilliance toned down so I could see his visage. I looked back, and Darkness was there too, waiting.
My heartbeat slowed, my tension drained, and I took a long breath into my lungs. Everything would be okay now.
Until Darkness enticed me to let him out again.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Next I received this story by C.L. Hannah. One of the things I love about these prompt stories is that we work from the same picture but come up with totally different stories. I hope these ladies take up the challenge for October as well.
by C. L. Hannah
Misty air dances over my face as I sit on a tree stump. Above, mosquitoes buzz around my head like angry bees yet the birds are mysteriously silent. My stomach growls; I haven’t eaten since before the funeral yesterday.
Pushing to my feet, I wipe the dampness from my pants and think about all the empty platitudes that were pressed on me as people made their ways out of the church. She’s in a better place. There’s a reason for everything. You can still have another child. I know how you feel. And of course the easily said, be strong.
They have no idea, I think, rolling my eyes. No understanding of the gut wrenching pain that entered my soul the moment my darling daughter left me. No understanding of how difficult it is to just get out of bed in the mornings nor how draining it is just remembering how to breathe.
No. No one understands. Shifting my weight from foot to foot, I wonder if I’ll ever be whole again. Will I ever stop hurting?
The drone of a distant plane momentarily distracts me and I look heavenward, searching for the offender that dares to interrupt my mourning.
The plane is probably off to some sunny location with a cabin full of happy, excited people, I think, grinding my teeth. I bet if they knew what I do, they’d not have chosen to be on that plane but rather to be at home with their loved ones safely tucked behind locked doors.
Lowering my eyes, I stare across the bridge and wonder for the millionth time, why? Why did this happen? Why did Sydney insist on showing me her dance moves here?
This is all my fault. I’m the adult. I should have known better. But Sydney’s smile melted my reluctance and I wanted her to be happy, so I just stood there and watched as she danced her way off the side of the bridge, to her death in the gorge below.
Sitting back down on the stump, I dig my heels into the damp ground making a hole. I wonder if I can make a big enough one so I can crawl into it and die.
“Don’t think like that Momma.”
Snapping my head up, I search for the source of the words. “Who’s there?”
“It’s me Momma. Don’t you recognize your own daughter?”
“You can’t be.” My heart races as my eyes flick through the shifting, fog shadows. “My Sydney died two weeks ago.”
“No I didn’t Momma. I just changed forms, that’s all. Come. Come to me and you’ll see.”
Squinting into the fog I think I see something take shape about half way across the bridge. Could it be? Is it true?
Jumping to my feet I rush toward the bridge then pause. Am I losing it? This can’t be happening and yet, I heard her, so it must be.
Taking a deep breath, I start across the bridge. The fog gets thicker the further out I go, until I can barely make out the wooden slats beneath my feet.
“Where are you?”
“You’re almost to me Momma. Keep coming, you’re almost here.”
I feel like I’m pushing through a door with my next step. The fog is now so thick that even the bugs have been silenced.
“Almost Momma. Almost.”
Taking another step I reach out my hand and hold onto the railing for support.
“That’s it Momma, now turn and look at the beautiful scenery below.”
Turning as directed, I feel my foot start to slip, but the scenery below, suddenly clear of fog, catches my attention. It’s not until my foot is dangling in mid air that I realize the voice isn’t my daughter’s but an evil imitation of it. I try to pull my foot back but as I do the other one slips and I find myself hanging off the side of the bridge. Only my grip on the railing stands between me and death.
“What are you waiting for Momma?” the evil imitation voice, sing songs. “Don’t you want to see me?”
“You are not my daughter,” I say, struggling to hold onto the railing. “You’re nothing. My daughter is dead. Gone.”
“Yes she is.” The imitation voice, now a loud hiss, agrees. “But you keep blaming yourself so I thought I’d help you out and have you join her. All you need to do is let go. Free yourself Momma. Let go and join your daughter.”
I think about the suggestion for a nano second before it hits me that if I do let go then I’ll never see another sunrise or sunset. I’ll never again hear birds singing or coyotes calling and I’ll never have the chance of being a Momma again.
“No!” I struggle to pull myself back onto the bridge. “This is not how it ends.” Pulling up with my arms, I wiggle my hips back onto the bridge and shimmy backwards until I’m safely in the middle. “This however, ends here, now. I miss my angel with my whole heart but it is not time for me to join her.”
Standing, I run off the bridge and slide through the fallen leaves to my car. Turning the ignition on, I slam the car into reverse and look in the rear view mirror. Sitting there, where her car seat used to be, is Sydney. She’s smiling.
“I told the devil you wouldn’t fall for it Momma. I told him that you’re stronger then he thinks and that you have more to live for then he can imagine. I’m proud of you Momma.”
My tears distort Sydney’s appearance but I know in my heart that it’s truly her this time.
“I love you so much baby girl. I’m so sorry I didn’t reach you in time.”
“You weren’t supposed to reach me Momma. It was my time to go to heaven. Please don’t be sad. There is still so much for you to do here. We will be together one day but until that day arrives, live Momma, live. You have so many opportunities coming your way, don’t miss them because you’re sad. I’m still part of you, not like before but still, part of you. I promise.”
“Thank you baby girl. I’ll make you proud of me. I promise.”
Closing my eyes, I take a deep breath and feel the pain that has held me hostage for the past two weeks suddenly shatter. A lightness seeps into my chest and I feel warm. Looking at my own image in the mirror, I wipe the dampness from my cheeks and smile. I’m going to be OK.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Don’t forget to check back next Friday for October’s picture prompt. Who knows, maybe you’ll be inspired as well. And the Friday after that I’ll be posting my own story - I hope it’ll be worth the wait.