Sunday, October 20, 2013

Short Story Sunday: The Reaping

I am hereby implementing "Short Story Sunday."  I did another twelve hour challenge today, and the result is a spooky short story and nostalgic poem.  Enjoy the read...

The Reaping

The bitter cold of a looming winter bit at his cheeks and froze the snot that dripped from his nose.  He wiped it with his sleeve again and swayed on the swing, his feet making circles in the leaves beneath him.  Though it was dark, the moon lit the fiery trees aglow.  They looked like torches lining the path that stretched around the lake.  He had no memory of walking the three miles from his house to this spot, barefoot and completely underdressed for the crisp autumn night.  But there he was, swinging from the tallest maple, same as the last six nights.  

A girl appeared through the torch lit trees.  Her pigtails bounced as she skipped along the path toward him and as she neared, her patent leather shoes caught the moonlight and threw it back into his eyes.  He dug his toes into the ground and stopped swaying.  A chill crawled up his back and made him shiver, whether from the ghostly girl or the breeze, he couldn’t be sure.

The girl stopped in front of him, a coy smile playing on her pink lips.  She eyed the swing with a mixture of admiration and unease.

“Would you like to swing?” he asked as he rose from the hard wooden seat.  She would, he knew.  It was the same every night.

The girl nodded and waited for him to clear the way.  When he did, she rushed forward and immediately began pumping her little legs, rising higher and higher into the night.  Her white dress fluttered in the breeze behind her, like a pair of ethereal wings.

“Tonight’s the last night, isn’t it?” he asked.


“Can I at least see the sunrise?”

“If that is your desire,” she replied as she sailed through the air. 

He looked out over the lake, where the sun would rise just a few hours from now, and shivered again.  The water was a dark mirror bearing the moon’s reflection.  He imagined the shimmering sun dancing on the surface and wished he had not taken all the sunrises of his life for granted.  An expiration date made it all so much more precious, and he wished he could go back and savor each one he had slept through or ignored in the mundane motions.  The collar of his pajamas felt as though it was contracting, stifling what little life he had left, and he pulled it away from his neck with a numb finger.

“Isn’t there some other way?  Some kind of mistake or something?” he asked, still staring over the glassy lake.

She waited until she reached the highest point of the swinging arc and then leapt from the seat into the air.  Her body soared, a white blur against the darkness.  She stretched her arms out in front of her and closed her eyes in sheer joy.  But then she began to descend, her eyes still closed to the world.  He opened his mouth to cry out to her, fearful she was about to hit the ground on her stomach, but just as she should have made contact, her form disappeared completely.

“This is the way, Bill.  You were warned of your last week in this life.  You had seven days to prepare for your departure.  There are no mistakes in death.”

She was beside him, looking out to the moon’s twin on the lake.  He could feel the nearness of her like a black hole next to him, sucking the life from everything she was close to.  His breaths were shallow, as if she was reaching in and stealing the air from his lungs.

“I know, I just… it’s a lot to take in.”

She reached out a hand and he noticed the gleam of glass in the soft moonlight.  He took the bottle and unscrewed the top.  Jameson.  How did she know? he thought.  She smiled her coy smile and returned to the swing.  The whiskey burned its way down his throat.  But it was a welcome burn. 

“Will it be painful?” he asked in between swigs.

“For you, yes.  Your artery will clot off, your heart tissue will die and your lungs will fill with stagnant fluid.  The pain will be intense, but short-lived.  Your heart will stop beating and your brain cells will die in six minutes.”


“Why does everyone always call me that?” she asked, shaking her head.  She was pumping her legs again, rising close to the lowest branches of the tree.

“What if I’m not alone? I’ll ask someone to stay with me.”

She looked down into her lap, frowning as though she were concentrating hard on something.  “You won’t reach the hospital in time.  An accident will happen twelve minutes before on the highway, blocking traffic.  There is no scenario we have not prepared for.  Make no mistake, Bill.  Tomorrow is the end.”

“But there are so many things I never got to do.  So many places I never got to see.  And my family…”

“Your family disowned you a long time ago.  Don’t pretend to mourn them.  And the choices you made were your own; you have only yourself to blame.”

‘You made your choices.’  The exact words his wife had said on her way out the door three years ago.  Ex-wife, now.  But he wasn’t blaming anyone.  He was lamenting a life that didn’t feel lived.  He drained the bottle and threw it into the lake.  It cracked the serene surface of the water, rippling across the image of the white orb.

“Would you like to go home now?” she asked as she came to a stop on the swing.

“No.  I’d like to watch the sunrise.  From here.  You can go if you’d like.”

“You know I can’t.”

He took a deep breath in, letting the cold air rip through him, and let it out in a sigh.  She was beside him again, drawing from the short supply of life he had left.  He turned and looked at her, really looked at her, for the first time.  She was silver in the moonlight and everything about her was sweet and lovely.  Everything except her eyeless sockets that seemed as bottomless and horrible as black pits on her adorable face.  She smiled up at him, an idea lighting her porcelain face.

“Would you like to swing?” she asked.

“Yes, I think I would.”

Autumn Nostalgia

I walked along
the maples, set ablaze,
trampling the fallen flames

and stopped at one;
a swing that hung
barren in the breeze.

The image
of a child, inverted-
feet clambering for Heaven-

flourished, like a ghost.
The memory played
its haunting game

deep within
my mind’s eye;
more truth than illusion.

I began again
among the seasonal

the girl swung on, emblazoned.