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Archive for the ‘A Short Burst of Writing’ Category

20115

 

The realtor enters first, staring in fascination at the outdated furniture and décor.  The air feels heavy with dust and it tickles the back of his throat.

Awkwardly, he remembers and steps aside to let the other man in.

The buyer steps inside after the realtor and, like him, stops to take it all in.  He scans the room, absorbing the old furniture, the layer of dust covering everything like a shroud. The dust in the air is heavy and gives his throat a dry tickle that makes him want to cough.

With a distracted nod to the realtor, he steps further into the house, feeling a momentary pang of regret for not taking his shoes off. “You are supposed to take your shoes off when you enter someone’s home,” he thinks.  He looks around taking it all in.

“It’s eerie how the house feels like the family just left it moments ago, like they are about to come back at any time.  The house looks lived in, except for the thirty years of dust coating everything and the vague feeling of abandonment.”

The mostly green cover of a comic book left laying open on the floor catches his eye.  He picks up the comic book and looks at it, trying not to disturb too much of the dust clinging to it.  It’s unavoidable, his fingers rub smudges in the dust coating the old comic book.  The Thing, an orange blocky comic book creation made of stone, part monster and all hero.  On the cover, The Thing appears to be battling a many-armed green wall, the green arms surrounding him in a barrage of punching fists.  Marvel Comics, The Thing issue #21 dated March 1985.  The price on it is sixty cents.

The top front corner is curled from a boy’s rough handling.

He puts it down with a frown, wondering if it’s worth anything on the collectors’ market.  He can’t take it, though.  It belongs to the municipality, along with the property and its contents.  At least until after the auction.  He hopes the realtor didn’t notice it.

“How often do realtors scoop up gems like this without anyone ever knowing?” he wonders.

Against the wall on a stand, a tube T.V. with its faux wood exterior box, two front dials, and bent rabbit ears poking up from the top at the back, sits darkly silent, a haze of dust coating every surface.

He walks through the house, past a pair of socks discarded on the floor, and into the kitchen.

“Did you say they still lived here after the boys vanished?” he called to the realtor in the other room.

The realtor is studying the spines of books in a bookcase on one wall.  It’s made of the old particleboard that expands and crumbles when it absorbs moisture, which it inevitably does over time.  The shelves have some warping and bubbling, crumbled on some edges.

“Yes, I don’t know how long.  They lived here while the search for the boys was going, and for some time after the search was given up.”

“And the husband moved out, leaving the mother alone?”

“Yeah.”

“How long?”

“I don’t know. Months? Years? They locked the place when they took her away. Like I said, we’re the first to set foot in the house since they institutionalized her.”

He leaves the bookshelf and starts for the kitchen.

In the kitchen, the buyer walks around, taking in the two tea towels carefully hung on the oven door handle, yellowed and rotting with age.  The teakettle on the stovetop. On the countertop, a measuring cup sits next to a mixing bowl with a wooden spoon. Two bags he guesses are flour and sugar bags sit next them. The bags are faded and stained with age, the paper brittle with age, and even the larger print words hard to read.

“Looks like someone was going to make a cake.”

He turns away, circling the table, studying the place settings set with care.

An old tan rotary dial phone hangs on the wall not far from the kitchen table, where the person on the phone can sit down at the table while they talk, the coiled cord stretched from them to the phone on the wall.

The realtor walks in and looks around, his footprints in the dust coating the kitchen floor joining those following the buyer’s trail across the room.  “Weird, the table is set for four.”

“For her family.” It is said with a dull gravity that makes the realtor turn and stare at him.

He breaks the awkward moment.

“I’ll show you the bedrooms.  There’s three bedrooms, I think.”

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11985

 

The boys burst into the house, hurriedly kicking off their boots at the back door before going any further.  Everything looks exactly like it did when they went out to play.

It’s 1985 and the furniture and décor are a clash of pieces mostly from the sixties and seventies, some bought new, some second hand, and some are hand-me-downs.  Nothing has been upgraded in the past ten years, a testament of thoughtful care and financial mediocrity.  The worn couch and dented coffee table, victims of having two rambunctious growing boys in the house, are overdue to be replaced.  A comic book lays discarded on the floor, open as if it is trying to fly away, The Thing is caught forever in an epic battle against a green monster that looks like a rough tree bark wall with many arms surrounding The Thing with flailing punching fists.  The television, an ancient tube set, sits dark and quiet on its stand.  A pair of discarded boy’s socks are tossed carelessly on the floor, and the latest edition of TV Guide sits on the coffee table.

“Mom!” Jesse looks around.

The house is dead silent except for their own breathing.

“Mom?”

Kevin stands there, looking around.

The house is exactly as they left it before they went outside to play.  How long has that been?  An hour?

But not quite.

Everything seems a little muted.  Off.

And more dusty than he remembers.

Jesse runs into the kitchen.  After a pause of a few heartbeats, Kevin follows.

“Mom?” Jesse pauses just inside the doorway, looking expectantly for their mother.

The teakettle still sits on the stovetop, two tea towels hang from the oven door handle where they were hung to dry after washing dishes in the sink, and the table is set for dinner with places for four.

Flour and sugar bags sit on the countertop next to a mixing bowl with a wooden spoon and measuring cup, pulled out in preparation of baking a cake.

Their mother is not there.

They run through the house calling, “Mom! Mom! Mom!”  They end their search back in the living room, out of breath.

“She’s not here.”

“Where could she be?”

“Next door, maybe?”

“Let’s go see.”

They pull their boots back on and rush out the door into the backyard, trained not to use the front door because that would somehow make more cleaning work for their mother, and around the side of the house to the front.

They stop, staring around wide-eyed, and turn to stare at each other, their faces full of fear and confusion.

They are standing in the woods next to that old stump.

“What the hell?”

“Don’t cuss,” Jesse says automatically.  There is hell to pay if their mom ever hears them use bad language.  Hell is one of many forbidden words.

Kevin turns to him, appalled.

“Seriously?  You’re worried about me cussing? We are back in the woods! How?  This is impossible!”

He stops.

“Jesse.”

“What?” Jesse is sulking now.

“The grass.”

“What about it?”

“Wasn’t there grass in the yard?”

“Yeah, so?  There’s always been grass in the yard.”

Kevin narrows his eyes, wondering if Jesse is just being dumb or is messing with him.

“It’s early spring.  Look around.  There’s still snow everywhere.”

“Yeah, so?” Jesse isn’t getting it.

Kevin’s shoulders sag with the futility of it.  Do I even bother? He sighs.

“Jesse, do you remember what the yard looked like? Just now, when we went back to the house.”

“Yeah, your bike was laying on the grass. I almost tripped on it.”

“Where was the snow?”

They both just stare at each other.

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20115

 

The key jams in the lock, not wanting to go in.

The realtor looks at him nervously and smiles.

“It’ll go in.  The key works.”  His grimace gives face to the lie.  He isn’t so sure it will work.

He fiddles and struggles with the key for too long before the rusting lock mechanism finally unwillingly gives and allows them access.

His smile is almost sickly with relief.

He turns to the prospective buyer, hoping yet again that this is not a big waste of his time.  His commission is going to depend on how much the house actually sells for.  It’s not the usual commission deal.  He is getting more than the average commission percentage, an unusual agreement made with the municipal office that wants only to unload the property and get it off their books, doubtful anyone will bother to bid on it.

This guy is the only person who has shown an interest.  He could bid a dollar, the lowest bid allowed, and walk away with the property for nothing, less than the price of a cup of coffee.

He tries the door, hoping it opens easily.  A warped door can turn off a buyer before they see anything else.

The door sticks in the frame and, after he puts some weight into it, gives with the dull sound of two pieces of swollen wood pressed against each other giving up the fight to hold together.

They enter the house and step back thirty years in time.

 

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The Woods-3.jpg“What is that?” Jesse looks around, alarmed.

Kevin is busy inspecting the object in his hand.  It is rounded with the mud and rotting leaves stuck to it.  He can’t tell what it is.

“Probably a squirrel.”

“I don’t think so.”  Jesse can’t stop looking around.  He feels off.  Something is wrong.

“Kevin,” he hesitates.

“What?”

“It doesn’t look right.”

“What doesn’t look right?”

“Everything.  It’s… off.  The color is off.”

Kevin looks at him.  “You are a goof.”

Jesse’s wide frightened eyes make him pause.  He looks around them.  Jesse is right.  His heart beats faster and his chest feels tight.  Everything looks a little off.  The color.  The light.  But it’s more than that.  Something he doesn’t know how to describe.  It’s just … off.

Slowly, he bends down and puts the unknown object back down, wanting to free his hands.

He stands up and looks around again.

“Now he’s got my mind playing tricks,” he thinks.  There is nothing strange at all about anything.  Everything looks exactly like it should.  Exactly like before.

“It’s nothing,” Kevin says. “You really are a goof.  I don’t know what you’re talking about.  Everything’s normal to me.”

Jesse looks like he’s ready to bolt.

“Go run home scaredie-pants,” Kevin sneers.  He turns his attention back to the strange item at the base of the stump.

Jesse backs away, moving back towards their yard.

Kevin bends over and picks it up.  He stands up and looks around.  He feels off.

Jesse is moving away and Kevin doesn’t want to admit he’s afraid to be alone in the woods.  He pockets his treasure and chases after Jesse.

They reach the yard and stop.  They both look around.

It all looks a bit … odd.

The color is off just a bit.  It all feels a bit odd.  Out of sync maybe.

The house is not large, a lower middle-income home, all but the windowsills and doors was repainted last year.  The paint of the windowsills is cracking and starting to peel.  A job their father has not yet gotten to.

The lawn, mowed only three days prior, is only just starting to show the sprout of faster growing grass blades reaching over the others, although the dandelions have already popped their heads up, flashing their yellow flowers to the sky like round smiles.  A bicycle lays discarded on the lawn and a swing set stands on one side of the yard waiting to be used.

It all seems a bit dulled, muted, a bit off color.  Like a television set that someone has buggered with the color settings on.

Jesse broke first, running for the house.

He falters, not watching and almost tripping on the bike laying discarded on the grass. Recovering, he keeps going.

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The Woods 2-Thirty Years Later.jpg

Two men are standing in the backyard of a small rundown house in an older middle-class neighborhood. One, wearing a cheap suit and shoes not suited to traipsing through grass, is looking at the house with a mix of uncertainty and mild remorse.  He had hoped the house would be in better shape.  The other, in jeans, shirt, and runners, is studying the trees and bushes bordering the back property line.

“I heard a couple of boys vanished in these woods years ago.” He doesn’t turn around to look at the man in the suit, his attention fixed on the trees.

“It’s a local legend.  Brothers, Kevin and Jesse. They were playing in their yard and vanished.”  The man in the suit turns around to look at the trees too.

“This yard?  They lived in this house?”  The man in jeans looks around at the leafy jumble of trees bordering the yard and stretching out past the neighboring yards.  You can’t see through them or tell how far they go.

“Yes.  To be honest, I was going to leave that bit of background out.  It’s not exactly a selling point.”

“How does anyone know they went in the woods?”

“They found one of the boys’ shoes next to an old tree stump.”

“That’s it?”

“That’s it.  No other sign of the boys was ever found.”

“And the house?”

“Abandoned.  Left to rot.”

“The family just left it?”

“The boys’ mother went crazy, I heard.  The husband wanted to sell the house and move, get away from the memories I guess.  She refused to sell.  She kept insisting the boys were still here. From what I heard she was obsessed with keeping the house exactly the way it was the day they vanished too.”

“Crazy.”

“Yeah, crazy.”

“So, the house is selling pretty cheap.  It wasn’t looked after?”

“The husband left both her and the house.  Walked away and never looked back.  She stayed in the house for a while, until she was committed.  As far as I know, no one has set foot in the house since.  It’s going to be in pretty rough shape.”

“You make one hell of a real estate agent, you know that, right?”

“Ha-ha, yeah, I guess I do.”

“Can I take a look inside?”

“Sure, let’s go.  I have to warn you, this will be the first time anyone has set foot inside that house in thirty years.  I don’t know what we’ll find.”

The house is an average lower middle-class family home.  Smallish, but not quite as small as the low-income homes across the way.  The windows are hazy with the grime of thirty years of neglect and the paint long ago cracked and much of it worn away by the weather.  The windowsills sag with rot, half eaten by time. The shingles are cracking and peeling up and back on themselves like over-cooked sliced potatoes, browned rather than charred and entirely inedible.  The long grass of the yard had recently been clumsily hacked down, hastily driven over by a municipal riding mower, the charge tacked onto the growing bill of unpaid municipal fees owed, including property taxes and the other inevitable costs of home ownership.  It is one of the unasked for services visited on negligent homeowners.

It is these unpaid fees which are the reason the home is for sale now.  The bank had tried to foreclose on the unpaid mortgage almost thirty years ago, only to find themselves tied up in legal purgatory pitted against the municipality trying to seize the home for unpaid taxes.

Lacking much interest on both sides, the issue dragged out and dragged on, court proceedings repeatedly pushed back, and finally slipped through the cracks of forgotten paperwork.  Until, close to thirty years later, when a bored clerk cleaning out the desk of a deceased co-worker took pause to read a page of paper among the stacks being shoved into the shredding bin, and accidentally stumbled on the outstanding unfinished business of this house.

The long forgotten house by the woods.

The bank had long ago written it off, a small piece of millions in bad debts, and the municipal office was granted free title without being aware of it.

Now the house is up for auction to collect the unpaid property taxes and municipal fees owed.

With most of the records from thirty years ago gone, and no one keeping track of this forgotten property, the best anyone could piece together and confirm owed on the property is the cost of the most recent grass cuttings.  The whopping price of fifty-six dollars.  Less than the price of a song and a dance. They don’t know when the taxes stopped being paid. Any taxes owed are moot. Nearly thirty years of taxes adds up to more than the run down property is likely worth, and ownership by the owners was given up long ago.

The place is a steal.

And in this condition, its value is in the land it sits on.  Any buyer would tear the house down and rebuild.

They reach the door and the realtor fumbles with the key safe looped around the doorknob, trying to remember the combination to open it.  It’s a rectangular box-shaped device locked over the skinny part of the knob like a padlock, housing the key to the door.

Finally, he opens it and releases its treasure, a worn looking house key with the color rubbing off and marred with bits of rust in the teeth.

 

*** Watch for the full-length novel ***

 

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The Woods

This story was first published in 2009.  It has been tweeked and improved for your reading pleasure.  Watch for a longer short story version to come.  The story has just begun.  Read on…

 

The Woods – a flash fiction story by L.V. Gaudet

 

It is an ordinary forest, as far as spooky looking woods go, filled mostly with craggy twisted oak trees, their gnarled branches reaching like skeletal fingers and deeply wrinkled cracked-bark covered trunks. The trees cluster together, their branches twisted and tangled together, daring any to enter their midst.

The land here lies low and wet in the spring, leaving the stand of trees a small island of stick-like saplings and sparse tall yellow grass invaded by wild roses with their sharp thorns standing in a shallow bath of melt water throughout the springtime months.

They are far from a silent woods. A small stretch of thick growth surrounded by fields of crops interspersed with some areas abandoned to grass, weeds, and stray crop seeds. Against one side of this stretch of trees, amidst the farm fields, is also nestled a small happy community. The woods team with life, red and grey squirrels, rabbits, mice and voles, and a range of birds. With the damp ground, the woods are a haven for frogs and toads, and of course, the ever present blood-sucking mosquitoes.

It is a typical small town community lying nestled against the miniature forest. It grew from centuries old land of grasslands mixed with forests. The old forests and grasslands were slowly chopped down, turned over, and settled as the world slowly populated with mankind; the landscape of humanity changing from hunter-gatherers to farms, towns, and villages.

Eventually towns and communities grew together to become cities, family homesteads populated into small farming communities, and untouched land became rare pockets of unsullied old growth forests scattered about in tiny fragments bordering farm fields and stretches of small community homes.

Some of these tiny pockets of untouched woods still hold secrets. Some of these secrets are perhaps best left that way.

 

 

The woods sit silent and brooding, an ugly tangle of dead looking leafless skeletal branches that look like they belong in a darker and more sinister world, the world of the dead. The clouds hang heavy, dark, and grey on this day; a suffocating thick blanket hanging low in the sky to cast a pall over this small piece of the world.

The snow lies heavy and wet, crystalline flakes shrinking and melding into a dirty slush as the temperatures slowly warm. In time, the snow will vanish and be replaced once again by the murky stagnant melt waters that will take a few months to dry up.

Most of the rodents, birds, and other small woodland creatures are conspicuously absent on this day, having chosen to hunker down and wait out this gloomy day. Nevertheless, a few squirrels and birds still flit about the skeletal trees, a small rabbit nervously twitching its nose as it sits motionlessly waiting.

Two children playing in their back yard off the woods dare each other to go exploring into the spooky trees.

“I bet you can’t go to the fallen tree,” said the older and taller of the two boys.

The younger boy blanched, his stomach turning sickly, but stared stone faced at the fallen rotting tree laying nestled within the narrow strip of woods beyond their yard. You can see the tree only because there are no leaves on any of the branches.

“I am not going to let you know how scared I am,” he thinks. He can already smell the mossy rot of the long dead tree, although he has never been near enough to it to catch its odor. It smells in his vivid young imagination like death and decay and something even darker. He watches a small red squirrel flit around the trees, untouched by the dark brooding sullenness and the spooks, ghosts, and monsters his mind screams must surely lurk hidden inside these scary woods. He swallowed.

“Can too,” he said, his voice cracking with fear. “I bet you can’t go stand on that ole’ stump,” he countered.

The old stump is a rotting remnant of an even older fallen tree that has long ago vanished into the mud and scraggly growth of the woods. The stump remains, standing defiant and threatening beyond the fallen tree now laying discarded and tangled in the woods, sharp splinters and points of shattered wood sticking up as though waiting to impale any foolish boy who tries to climb it and falls. Its wood is soft and crumbly now with rot, the sharp jagged edges unlikely to be capable of impaling anything for years.

Kevin humphed at his younger brother. He is just as scared, but certainly is not going to let his little brother know that. He nervously hiked up his pants, which did not need it, and stepped forward on a mission. He marched purposely into the woods, careful to keep his back to the younger boy so he will not see the paleness of his waxy fear-filled face.

With a scuff and a shrug, Jesse reluctantly followed his older brother.

A little red squirrel scampered up to the high branches as they passed, pausing to chitter down angrily at the boys.

They reach the first point, the fallen tree Kevin had dared his younger brother to venture to. It is no victory for either boy.

On a forced march of pride, determined not to reveal his fear of some silly trees, Kevin continues on. He crawls over the fallen tree, its rotting length sagging with a soggy cracking beneath his weight. His forward march slows more the closer he comes to the wicked looking ancient broken stump.

He stops; staring at the stump like it is some otherworldly thing. He dares not touch it, yet also dares not, lest Jesse think him weak or afraid.

Unable to let his older brother face the woods alone, Jesse follows. As he draws near the old stump where his brother has stopped to stare motionlessly at it, he notices something unusual looking at the base of the stump.

“What’s that?” Jesse asked nervously.

Kevin pries his eyes from the stump to look lower.  He kneels down, reaching for what lies there.

“Don’t touch it.”

“It’s nothing.”  Kevin picks it up, turning it over in his hand.

Jesse turns at the sound of a cracking branch.

The boys are never seen again.

 

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Today is anti bullying day.

To help spread the word and in support of the movement to end bullying, I have written a short story.

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This is the story of Sarah Carpenter.

Sarah Carpenter is a teenager with a big problem.  She is being bullied.

With her low self esteem and the stress and helplessness of being a victim of bullying, Sarah has become a suicidal girl whose salvation comes through a promise not to kill herself if only she received a sign through a special gift sent to her in the waves

** All characters and events are fictional.

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Gift in the Waves

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It all changed the day I found the gift in the waves.  But that isn’t what this story is about.

This story is about how I got there.

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If you asked Sarah Carpenter why she felt so unhappy all the time she wouldn’t tell you.  Sarah didn’t know why.

You see, Sarah was depressed and depressed people don’t always know why they feel that way.

Sarah was a suicidal girl whose salvation came through a promise not to kill herself if only she received a sign through a special gift sent to her in the waves.

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That’s me, Sarah Carpenter, the most despondent teenager in town, and this is my story.

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The alarm clock buzzed and Sarah rolled over with a groan, slapping blindly at the clock until she managed to hit the snooze button.

She didn’t get the chance to snooze.

“Sarah, get up.  Let’s go,” her mother called impatiently from the doorway.

“Ugh, five more minutes,” Sarah moaned.  She felt like hell, she was so tired and she hated getting up early.

“Now Sarah!  We have to be out of here in thirty minutes,” her mother said.  Her voice was full of stress.  It always was in the mornings.

Sarah heard her mother leave the room, rushing about to toss stuff together.

Her eyes opened a crack, the glaring orange light of the clock told her it was only six-thirty.

“Stupid early dance class,” Sarah muttered, dragging herself out of bed.  “Just once I wish I could sleep late on a weekend like everyone else.”

Sarah’s life was a parade of moving about from one place to another, school, soccer, baseball, and dance.  She hated them all, but her parents apparently thought the activities would make her a better person.

By the time Sarah was dressed and racing down the stairs her mother was already in the car honking the horn at her to hurry up.

Sarah thought that was very rude.

That the neighbors might be sleeping and disturbed by the horn was just one of many things that never seemed to occur to her mother.  She was too busy rushing everywhere to stop and think about it.

Sarah settled into the car and closed her eyes for the drive, imagining that she was sleeping with the whole day to do nothing else.

The motion of the car would have been soothing if she hadn’t seen her mother’s frantic driving with her eyes open.

The car zipped through traffic, in and out of lanes as her mother jockeyed for position as if she were in a race instead of just going to ballet class. A horn honked as a driver made a rude gesture, angry at being cut off.

They were barely in the dance studio when her mother was already on her phone on a business call, completely ignoring Sarah.

She never stopped working.

Her parents were busy and successful in their careers.  Unfortunately that also meant they didn’t have a whole lot of time for Sarah or her siblings.  They made up for it by buying them a bunch of stuff all the time.

Sarah would rather have a better family.

Sarah survived her class, muddling through pliés and frappés while the teacher glared disapprovingly at her lack of effort.

The other girls huddled and giggled, giving sly looks towards her.

Sarah knew they were gossiping about her.  They always did and it was never anything nice.

After dance were soccer practice and a baseball game.

Soccer wasn’t any better.  Margaret Mansfield tripped her on purpose and half the team laughed at her.  At baseball they put her far out in the left field where she mostly just stood around waiting for the time to pass.  When it was her turn at bat, she got hit with the ball and did nothing but strike out.

When they finally got home Sarah slouched off to her bedroom and closed the door, relieved to finally be alone and away from the comments and looks from all the other kids and the endless chatter of her mother on the phone.

 Sarah was an average teenager with an average family and an average life.  Nothing eventful happened in her life and she preferred it that way.

Like any teenager, nothing ever seemed to go Sarah’s way.  Everyone in her parents circle told her she was pretty, but she didn’t agree.  If she was, she would have more friends like her sister and brother.

She had two brothers and a sister who all seemed to be better at everything than her.

Sarah didn’t really like any of her siblings either.

Her older brother Jordan, the oldest of the siblings, was the family hero.  He was the best at everything, did everything right, was handsome, and everyone was supposed to be just like him.

Her older sister Carrie was taller, prettier, and dressed right.  She was popular and the best boys in school followed her around like puppy dogs.

And then there was Sarah’s younger brother Trenton, the youngest of the bunch.  He was flat out a pest and pain in her rump.  He got anything he wanted by throwing tantrums and always got into her stuff and wrecked it.

Sarah disliked him the most.

But not as much as she hated herself.

She could hear her family off in the house doing whatever they were doing and hoped they would just leave her alone.

With a heavy sigh she grabbed her MP3, plugged the ear buds into her ears, and turned it on, music instantly crashing into her eardrums.

Sitting at her computer, Sarah clicked it on and waited for it to boot up.  She decided to check out her social networking sites first.

Within minutes Sarah wished she hadn’t.  The comments streaming through her feed were peppered with mentions of her, none of it flattering.

“Sarah U R So LAME!” Margaret messaged for everyone to see.

Sarah’s stomach suddenly hurt.  She felt like her heart was sinking right down below her achy stomach.

After that the comments just got nasty.  Before Sarah closed the site Margaret and a few other girls promised to beat Sarah up at school Monday.

“Great!” Sarah muttered.  “Another thing to look forward to.”

Margaret and her friends have been bullying Sarah all year.  They made up mean stories about her, spread hurtful rumors, and were always waiting for her to hurt or embarrass her.

Sarah had tried complaining about it.  She told her parents and they talked to Margaret’s and the other girls’ parents.  She told the teachers at school and her parents talked to the principal.

But telling only made the bullying worse.  Nothing seemed to happen to the bullies and they came after her worse every time she told, punishing her for telling.

Sarah stopped telling anyone.  It was just easier that way.

“Sarah, supper!” her brother Trenton called, opening the door and slamming it closed too hard.

She took her time going downstairs for supper.  She was hungry, but didn’t feel much like eating.

Sarah sat mutely picking at her dinner.

It was the usual dinner conversation.

Jordan and her father bragged about Jordan’s wonderful exploits.

Carrie and her mother talked about shopping and fashions and how fabulous Carrie would look in this and that.

Trenton goofed and burped and farted, interrupting everyone’s conversations with his inane laughter over how funny he was.  He managed to get his elbow in Sarah’s food and seemed to annoy nobody except Sarah.

Sarah quickly lost her appetite and sat there pretending to eat, moving the food on her plate around with her fork until enough time had lapsed that she could ask to be excused.

Nobody noticed how little she’d eaten as she skulked off with her plate to scrape it and put it to be washed.

It was Sarah’s job to clean up after supper.  She started on the task right away so she could get it done and go back to sitting in her room alone.

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Done with washing the dishes at last, Sarah went up to her room.

She froze in the doorway, staring in horror at her bed.

There, in a tattered mess of torn pages blotched with fat ugly marks from a felt marker, was her diary.

Tears welled in Sarah’s eyes and she clenched her fists at her side in fury.

“TRENTON!” she screeched.

Footsteps thudded through the house, approaching as she stepped in on wooden legs, staring at the mess.

The clasp locking the diary was snapped right off the pressed cardboard book cover.

“What happened?!  What’s all the yelling about?!” her father called as he rushed into the room.  Mother, Jordan, Carrie, and Trenton were hot on his heels.

Jordan craned to see past his father, snickering at the sight of the mangled diary.

Carrie gasped and then smothered a giggle behind her hands.

Mother gave Trenton a look.  He didn’t have the decency to look guilty.

Father glared at Sarah, angry at her outburst.

“He destroyed my diary,” Sarah cried, the tears stinging her eyes beginning to flow despite her attempts to keep them at bay.

“It’s just a book!” Father snapped.  “We’ll buy you a new one.  It wasn’t worth shrieking about!”

But it wasn’t just a book.

This was her diary, her only confidant, and where she hid all her deepest secrets.

It was more than the destruction of a part of her.

What if Trenton had read it?!

The thought horrified Sarah beyond what words can explain.

“Clean up the mess,” Mother said more gently than Father’s accusing tone.  “We’ll buy you another one.”

As if that would make it better.

“I don’t want another one!”  Sarah stamped her foot in frustration and hurt feelings.  “I want this one!”

Everyone filed out except Trenton who stayed back just long enough to wait until no one would see and he had a clear escape path.

He pulled a fistful of pages out of his pocket, making sure Sarah saw them.

“Sarah’s got a secret,” he sang mockingly.

Sarah’s eyes widened and she screeched like a wild beast, leaping after her little brother.

Trenton squealed and ran down the hallway, pounding down the stairs so fast he almost slide down them.

Sarah almost caught him twice.

She didn’t know what she would do when she did, but tearing him limb from limb felt like a pretty good idea.

Sarah stumbled on the stairs, catching herself on the railing as she fell and getting carpet burn on one knee.

She looked up to see her parents standing at the bottom of the stairs looking angry.

Trenton hid behind them looking smug.

.

Grounded!

Sarah couldn’t believe it.  Trenton was the one who wrecked her diary, stole pages from it, and teased her, causing all the trouble.  And she was the one grounded!

Sarah knew she’d be in even more trouble if they knew she was on the computer, but she was so angry that she was beyond angry.

She felt hollow and empty.  Her eyes still burned with the tears that had run out and her jaw ached.  Her whole head felt stuffed with cotton and her nose wouldn’t stop running.

Sarah was searching the internet for ways to kill herself.

It wasn’t the first time.  She thought about it every day.

“Tomorrow,” she whispered.  “Tomorrow I’ll do it and they’ll all be sorry.”

She knew she would go to Hell.  But she was going to Hell anyway.

Her parents dragged them all to church every Sunday morning.

Tomorrow morning she would be sitting awkwardly in the uncomfortable wooden pew in her Sunday best, feeling small and insignificant in the grand and gaudily decorated building, while the priest commanded them to sit, stand, sing, and chant on cue with a gesture of his hand in between lecturing them on God.

She always felt like he was telling them nobody was worthy of God or Heaven and they were all going straight to Hell unless they smartened up.

.

Sunday morning dawned and it was off to church.

Sarah followed her family sullenly, wishing she was anywhere else.

Some of the girls snickered behind their hands, giving Sarah looks that suggested she was funny in an Elephant Man kind of way.  Of course, Margaret was right in the middle of them.

Sarah sat through the endless sermon, not paying attention and turning red with embarrassment when she was caught still sitting seconds after everyone else had stood and started chanting on cue.

Her mother glared at her.  The look said how much of an embarrassment Sarah was to her family.

Sarah wished she would be absorbed into the wooden pew like the gas the old man sitting behind her kept passing.

After church Sarah had to go play a soccer game.  Her father drove her there impatiently and stood on the sidelines looking annoyed that he had to be there.

“Well, I didn’t ask to be signed up for soccer,” Sarah muttered, feeling like he was blaming her for making him waste his time there.

During the game Margaret kicked Sarah in the shin, shoving her down at the same time, and stomped on her ankle with her soccer cleat, drawing blood.

Margaret’s friends snickered at Sarah as she limped off the field.

Margaret and Sarah exchanged looks as she limped by.  Sarah’s was shell-shocked and Margaret’s was smug.

Once home after soccer, Sarah snuck out and wandered off to the nearby beach.  Her house was only a short jog from the ocean.

She wasn’t supposed to leave the house since she was grounded, but her parents were always too busy to notice.

Sarah’s feet slipped and sank as she struggled to walk along the sandy shore line. Even the sand seemed to be trying to knock her down.   Seaweed and other refuse from the ocean was pushed up and up the shore as each wave came in to give it a shove as if the sea were just too tired of it all and couldn’t put any real effort into it.

“I know how you feel,” she said to the ocean.  Sarah felt tired of it all too, like pushing that gunk up the beach was just too much effort.

She plopped down on the sand and just sat there for a while watching the waves and the seagulls.  Clouds tracked slowly across the sky, playing peek-a-boo with the sun.  The sun warmed her when it peeked out, then the breeze cooled her when the sun hid.

“If I just swim out far enough the undertow will take me so far out into the ocean that nobody will ever find me,” she told the waves.

The idea of drowning didn’t really scare Sarah.

She nodded.

“Yes, that’s what I’ll do,” she said, nodding as if the matter were decided.  “I’m going to drown myself.  Today.”

Sarah just sat there and didn’t move.

She imagined everyone’s reactions to her death.

Most of them wouldn’t care at all.

Margaret would be happy.  She’d probably brag to everyone that she did it.

Her family wouldn’t care at all.  Hell, her parents probably wouldn’t even notice she was missing.

Well, Trenton would care, she mused.  He’d be happiest of all.  He wanted her computer and MP3 really badly.  If she died, he would get to have them.

“I should take them with me,” Sarah thought.  She pictured herself struggling through the sand, awkwardly carrying the bulky computer to take them out into the ocean with her.

She almost laughed at herself just seeing how silly it would look.

Her mirth was short lived.

The sadness came over her again, filling her with emptiness.

“I’m just a hollow nobody,” she thought.

Sarah sat for a long time, not thinking or feeling much of anything, trying to not think or feel at all.

It was useless.  She felt like she was so useless, so hopeless.

“No wonder nobody likes me,” Sarah said sadly.

She felt even smaller and more insignificant against the vast sky and ocean.  She was a speck of sand on the beach and nothing more.

She felt like God was up there, his back turned to her, ignoring her.

“Even God doesn’t care,” she sighed.

.

On Monday Sarah went to school.  She slinked all the way there, watching for Margaret and her friends, desperately hoping they wouldn’t see her.

She made it to school safely and didn’t see Margaret or her friends until she was heading to her third period class.

Sarah squeezed between bodies in the crowded hall, watching and alert for the first sign of danger.

She staggered from a painful blow to her back.

At the same time a fist crashed into her from nowhere, sending her books flying out of her arms, one smacking her painfully in the nose.  Something also struck her legs, knocking her off balance.

She staggered, trying to get her footing, but couldn’t seem to control her feet.  Something blocked them.

Sarah tipped and fell to the floor with a thud and the raucous laughter of half the school.

She watched helplessly as her books were kicked around the hallway.

Sarah’s face reddened and her eyes welled with tears.  She wasn’t sure, but she thought she might have even gotten a paper-cut on one eye when her book hit her.

For the moment Sarah didn’t feel invisible.

She felt like the whole world saw her.

She wished she was invisible.

The bell rang and the hallway cleared quickly.

Sarah got up painfully, rubbing her bruised knee, and searched for her scattered books.

She couldn’t find them all.  She would be in trouble.

Sarah was late for class and tried to slip into the room unnoticed.

The teacher missed nothing.

Sarah tried to disappear into herself as her teacher scolded her in front of the whole class and threatened her with detention for being late.

Her face burned and her stomach hurt.

.

Almost the last class of the day was gym.  Sarah hated gym more than any other class.

She felt useless and humiliated by her pathetic attempts at whatever activity the teacher punished the class with that day.

And Margaret and her friends were always there too, making fun of her and everything she did.

At the end of gym class, Sarah tried to hide in the locker room as she changed back into her regular clothes.

She was awkwardly struggling with her pants when she heard them.

Margaret and her friends were somewhere in the change room, laughing.

Sarah froze, her veins turning to ice as dread washed through her.

She felt like she would throw up.

“Hurry, hurry,” she muttered to herself, rushing to get her pants on and finding it suddenly nearly impossible.

And then they were on her.

With one pant leg around her calf and her other foot trapped in the opening of the other leg, Margaret and her friends swooped down on Sarah like a pack of cackling hyenas.

They grabbed her, pushing and dragging as she fought against them, her struggles useless against their overpowering numbers.

The girls dragged Sarah and shoved her through the door into the open gym.

She fell on the floor with an ungainly plop, her legs still trapped in her pants legs.

Everyone who was leaving stopped and stared.

Sarah was horrified.  They were all staring at her in her panties!

She stared back, her mouth working but nothing coming out.

The looks she got ranged from amusement to shock to stunned expressions.

Sarah wished with everything she had that she were dead, that she just never even existed.

Her face twisted with despair and she managed to get to her feet and hobble clumsily to the change room.

Sarah pulled up her pants and hid in the furthest corner, waiting for everyone else to leave.

The embarrassment was too much.  The whole school would be talking about this for the rest of the year.

Worse, the boy she had a crush on had been there too.  The stunned look on his face was like a blow to her heart, crushing it.

She missed her last class, hiding in the gym locker room through the entire period.

Sarah looked at everything she saw, imagining all the ways she could kill herself right then and there.

She felt like she was broken.  Sorrow and despair filled her until it hurt so bad she couldn’t believe the pain didn’t kill her.

When the bell to go home rang Sarah still sat there, huddled into herself.

She was too embarrassed to leave.

She was also afraid.

Margaret and her friends were still going to beat her up today.  They’d promised.

But if she didn’t go she’d be locked into the school over night.

At last Sarah skulked out of the change room, leaving the school by a side door and not even bothering to try to get her books.

She walked stiffly home; sure that everyone on the street was staring at her.  The hot flush of embarrassment on her cheeks would not go away.

A bus came barreling up the road, driving fast, its hulking mass unstoppable.

Just as the bus was passing by Sarah leapt out in front of it.

Pain exploded through her as the front grill slammed into her, breaking all her bones.  She fell to the pavement with a wet sound and the bus wheels rolled over her even as they screeched with the stink of burning rubber as they driver braked to stop the bus.

She was dead before she hit the pavement.

The blaring horn of the bus snapped Sarah out of it and the bus swerved as it careened past her.

She looked up in mute shock.  She was standing on the edge of the road.

She had not jumped in front of the bus after all, but had wandered too close to the road while lost in her daydream about killing herself.

Sarah flushed in embarrassment at the stares from the people around her and she scurried off for home.

.

Sarah didn’t go straight home.

She would be in trouble when she got there.  The school was sure to have called about her skipping class.  She would have to explain and the thought of telling her parents what Margaret and her friends did was almost as bad as living through it again.

Sarah went instead to the beach to watch the waves.

She sat there staring at the water in its endless tired attempts to push the seaweed up the sand.

A broken little crab struggled in the sand, a victim of a hungry seagull.

Sarah felt just like that little crab.

Empty and broken and floundering in the sand.

“Why me?” she sobbed, wanting an answer she would never get.

Sarah felt more than ever like killing herself right then and there.

She picked up a broken sea shell.  The flat shell was missing the other half.  Its broken edge was jagged and sharp.

Sarah sawed at her arm, slicing through the skin and bringing up a flow of red liquid.

She sawed at the other wrist until it bled too.

She watched in fascination as the liquid dripped into the sand and was immediately soaked in.

She grew sleepy and weak until she was no more.

Sarah opened her eyes.

She had dozed off.

She looked down at her wrists.

She held the jagged broken shell in one fist.

The other arm was scratched, but not bleeding.

Sarah sobbed piteously, letting herself be carried away on a crashing wave of sorrow.

The broken little crab was gone and that made her feel more alone than ever.

Sarah looked off into the horizon where the sky vanished into the ocean.  The setting sun filled the sky with colors that reflected off the water.

“Even the sky is bleeding,” she whispered. “So why can’t I die too?”

She looked up sadly to the heavens above.

“Please God,” Sarah begged.  “Just let me kill myself.  Or do it for me so I don’t have to go to Hell.  Please just let me die.”  She sobbed harder.

As much as Sarah wanted to die, she was afraid.

She wasn’t afraid of dying.

She was afraid of going to Hell and burning and being tortured forever.

“I’m already in Hell,” she sobbed.  “Isn’t Margaret and her friends’ punishment enough?”

Sarah thought about her problem.  Then she had an idea.

“I’ll make you a deal God,” she said, feeling defiant against this omnipotent being who refused to listen or care about her problems; this creature who had banished everyone to be punished for not being good enough for him.

“If I’m not good enough for Heaven and I’m going to Hell anyway, then it doesn’t matter if I kill myself or not.  I’m going to Hell either way.”

“I’m going to kill myself unless you give me a sign – tonight.  Send me a special gift in the waves to show me that I’m good enough for you, and maybe I won’t kill myself.”

“Do you hear me?!” she yelled to the sky.  “I’m going to kill myself tonight!  I’m going to swim out until the waves take me away forever!”

Sarah put her head in her arms and sobbed like she’s never sobbed before.  She cried until the tears ran dry and she felt like she was floating on nothing but the emptiness that filled her.

She sat there for a very long time.

The sun set and the moon crept across the sky, its reflection dancing on the waves.

Sarah gave up waiting.

God wasn’t listening.  Nobody ever did.  Not her parents, not her teachers, nobody.

There would be no special gift in the waves, no sign.

Sarah got up and stood on the edge of the water, the cool waves lapping at her feet.

She braced herself for what was to come.

The water would be cold.

And then she saw it.

Something dark bobbed in the water.  It broke the moon’s reflection; otherwise Sarah never would have seen it.

She gasped and started wading towards it.

It bobbed and moved with the waves as she approached it.

“What is it?” Sarah asked the ocean.

When she got close enough Sarah reached out, gripping it in her finger tips.

It was too heavy and big.

She waded closer.

It was getting pretty deep and the waves were knocking her around, almost pulling her off her feet.

Sarah felt herself getting sucked out by the waves, dragged further away from shore.  She had to fight against the waves that didn’t want to let her go.  It was harder because she was determined to not lose whatever was floating in the water.  She almost lost the object and at one point was sure she was about to drown, that God was answering her by doing the job for her.

Suddenly Sarah didn’t want to die, not just yet.

Sarah got a better grip the object and pulled it to her, dragging it along as she struggled for shore.

She was halfway back to shore before she realized what it was.

“TRENTON!” Sarah screamed, frantically pushing harder for shore, dragging the inert form behind her.

She almost lost her footing when a bigger wave crashed into her, pulling at her, trying to suck her and her brother out into the ocean.

Sarah kept screaming.

‘HELP!  SOMEBODY HELP ME!  TRENTON!” she screamed over and over.

When she finally made shore, she dragged the lifeless body out of the water, dropping him on the sand.

Desperate and not knowing what to do, she rolled him roughly onto his side, pounding on his back like she’d seen in a movie.

Water gushed out of the boy’s open mouth.

Her mother came running down the bank of sand, screaming.

Distant shouts echoed across the beach and lights bobbed.

Hands pulled her off her brother.

Sarah fought them off, grabbing for him, trying to pound the water out and the air in.

She finally sagged weakly to the sand sobbing as she realized it was people trying to help her brother.

“He must have gone looking for you,” her mother sobbed.  “He must have ended up in the water.”

“Oh God, please don’t let him die,” Sarah wailed.  “Please, I’ll do anything.  I won’t kill myself.”

Weak coughing sounds came from the drowned boy and then his whole body convulsed with hacking coughs as his body tried to rid itself of the water he had swallowed into his stomach and lungs.

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