The Hatch

The hatch door creaks as I push it open. A cloud of green dust flows into my once sterile bunker. I frantically begin swatting my clothes to get the soot off me, in case it has any remnants of radiation. It’s unnerving being outside for the first time in a year.

As the dust settles lying before me is a jungle of gargantuan trees. The trunks are as wide as a house and as tall as the Chrysler building. From the sounds of the bombs exploding while we were in the bunker I expected absolute decimation. Not a lush forest.

I hear the pangs of my daughter’s feet climbing up the metal stairs of the hatch.

“Daddy! It is safe?” She asks excitedly. Before I can even answer, or stop her, she runs into the open air and spreads out her arms like a small bird. She lifts her face to the sun and closes her eyes, soaking it in. It relieves me to see that the year in confinement didn’t break her spirit.

“Easy now Lis,” I tell her. She lowers her arms and stares up at the trees.

“Dad…where did these trees come from?” She asks in amazement.

“Your guess is as good as mine, honey,” I say as I walk out and stand beside her. “Wait here.” The nearest tree is only ten feet from Lis and me. I approach the base and look up into its canopy of branches. It would take thousands of years for trees to grow this large. How did a forest of them show up in a year’s time?

“Dale!” My wife, Lily, calls from the top of the stairs. “Dale! The radio’s working!” Grabbing Lis by the hand we hurry back down into the bunker. We haven’t heard anything in over seven months. We thought we were alone.

“…plant life seems to have been affected by unbelievable spurts of growth. We have heard across the waves that there are now trees in North America estimating over 2,500 feet. There are forests of grass in Europe well over 100 feet…” The man on the radio crackles through the speakers.

“Well, that explains a lot!” Lis says smartly. I give her a warm smile and tousle her hair with my fingers.

“It explains the constant noise up above us,” says Lily. “I’m amazed the roots didn’t break their way into the bunker!”

“…No word yet on how animal life has been affected by the radiation. Please stay within the safety of your bunkers until further notice…” The man continues. He’s interrupted by a loud clang from the top of the bunker stairs followed by a deep growl.

We forgot to close the hatch door.

90 Years and an Ice Cream

May 1919

“You’ll never find it, Hattie,” Dot teases me as I crawl deeper into the abandoned badger den.

“You always say that, and I always find it,” I stretch my fingertips out into the darkness, awaiting the cool touch of the tin, but there’s nothing. Ugh.

“Why must I always be ready for an adventure with you?” I huff, wiping dirt off my face as I surface from the earthy tunnel.

“If you can’t find my tin in the fields of Sisters, Oregon,” Dot sighs, “how can you expect to find anything in the thick forests of the Amazon or the icy caves of the Arctic?” I roll my eyes but, Dot always plans the best surprises.

“Did you hear that?” Dot asks.

“Hear what?” Normally I would ignore my sister’s flare for the dramatic but the look on her face stops me. “Dot?”

“Run Hattie!” before I can think Dot has her hand in a vice grip around my wrist and we’re tearing through the woods. I can hear something chasing us. Something big. And fast.

May 2009

“Thank you for coming Mr. Holmes,” Hattie Harker motions towards her sitting room. “Please, have a seat.”

I step into the sitting room, and I couldn’t feel more out of place in my bright orange construction vest and clunky brown boots. The old Victorian house looks like it’s been trapped in time.

“Gorgeous house. How long have you lived here Mrs. Harker?” I ask.

“I’ve lived here my whole life. I was born in this house May 21, 1909.”

“May 21, 1909?” I balk.

“That’s right, Mr. Holmes,” she says warmly, as if reading my mind. “I turned 100 last week.” She smiles but there’s a sadness to her eyes that catches me off guard.

“I won’t beat around the bush, Mr. Holmes. I would very much like to see the box that you’ve found,” Hattie holds out her hands expectantly.

“Yeah. Uh, here you go,” I hold out the dim silver tin and place it into her tiny aged hands.

“Oh my,” Hattie whispers as she opens the tin. “Oh, Dottie.” Hattie pulls out the piece of paper, her hands shaking.

“My sister, Dot,” Hattie begins, her voice tight, “she prepared a scavenger hunt for my tenth birthday. She—she died while we were out looking for the first tin. I’ve searched high and low. Where exactly did you find it?”

“It was buried next to the blackberry hedge in Harker Field,” I tell her. I feel heavy and uncomfortable. Dot Harker’s death is town folklore. Everyone has their idea of what happened, but no one really knows, all these years later.

“She saved me,” Hattie’s voice cracks. “Daddy came across us in the woods, but he was in another place, in his mind. He did that a lot when he came back from the Great War…” Hattie’s voice fades as she shuts the tin.

“Thank you, Mr. Holmes, for calling me. Ninety years is a long time.”

“If you don’t mind me asking, what is in the tin?”

“Well according to the clues, I’d say I’m due to meet Dot at the Corner Fountain for a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Do you like ice cream, Mr. Holmes?”

“I’m always ready for an adventure.”

Who Knows Best

“Hello?” the sound of my own voice sends chills down my spine. The dimly lit corner is still and quiet. When will I ever learn? Dad would kill me if he knew how far I parked my car from the party. I always brush him off, but time and time again my anxiety is through the roof as I walk through the darkness, alone, to my car.

The damp October air clings to my neck and seeps through my clothes. You always feel the slightest bit moist on the coast, like you’ve stood fully dressed too close to a shower. I hate it.

I pick up speed, not the easiest thing to do in gaudy heels, and grab my keys out of my jacket pocket. To click or not to click? If I hit the unlock button now it gives any potential psychos out there watching me time to get into the car before I do. If I wait too long they could sneak up behind me while I’m fiddling with the door. Ugh. I swear, from now on, I’m going to listen to my dad and park closer to the house.

My car is across the street just past the street light. Thirty feet and I’ll be safely inside. Thank God. I’ve always hated this part of town. Most of it is dark and abandoned. It’s the perfect place for an underage party, or to be murdered. When you’re seventeen you don’t really consider the latter until you’re walking through the east side alone at three in the morning.

Click. Click. Click.

I freeze. I’m standing in the middle of the glowing light, exposed. I can’t see beyond its rim, but anyone in the darkness can sure as hell see me.

“Who’s there,” I hiss just above a whisper. I can’t get myself to speak any louder. I’ll freak myself out even more.

Click. Click. Click.

The sound is close. Right behind me. I curl my fingers around my sharpest key and blitz towards my car. I hit the unlock button, but my car does nothing. No lights, no sound. What the hell? I yank furiously at the handle.

Click. Click. Click.

“Come on!” I cry. Wait. I don’t have tinted windows.

This isn’t my car.

I start pressing the unlock button like a mad woman. How could I have forgotten where I parked it? I hit the security button. Thank God! Just ahead of me my car alarm blares, sending bright red light into the darkness. I run towards my car as fast as my heeled feet can carry me. I’m inches away from the door when I feel an icy cold hand clamp down on the back of my neck.

“No!” I scream as I whirl around, sharp key at the ready.

“I hope you’ve learned your lesson, Sarah,” a man’s voice whispers. Relief and rage boil through my chest as I lower the key.

“I’ve never been so sure of anything in my life,” I pant. “Sorry, dad.”

 

Hop to It

“It’ll only take a second,” Mr. Anderson assures me, but I know it’s a lie. I can smell the alcohol on his breath from his daily bowl of spiked Fruit Loops. How is he still teaching?

“I’m telling you, I can’t do it. It’s wrong,” I insist. He smirks and continues shoveling large spoonfuls of cereal into his mouth.

“If you want the grade, Miss Roberts, you will do it. Weren’t you just telling Miss Maloney you’d kill to pass this class?” he smiles weakly then shrugs his shoulders and walks back into “the liquor store” as the students call it. It’s just a shabby closet, but every time Mr. Anderson goes in, he comes back out with a full bowl of cereal reeking of vodka.

“Alright class follow me,” Mr. Anderson calls, his hands gripping his fresh bowl.

I clench by teeth and grab a bucket off one of the tables. The muggy air smacks me in the face as I step out the back door and begin trudging up Pioneer Hill. I can see the indentation near the top. The ribbets and croaks grow louder as I get closer, making my stomach writhe. I finally get to the top of the hill and join my classmates in a circle around the little pond. The water is overflowing with frogs and toads of every shape and size. An eerie hush falls across the pond, like they know what’s about to happen.

“Okay class, as I said earlier,” Mr. Anderson begins, swaying a little on the uneven ground, “Grab a frog, or toad if you so desire, put ’em in your bucket and bring ’em back down to the classroom. The stabbers are in a jar on the counter. One thrust through the back of the head ought to do it.” We all stand in silence. What happened to being given dead, frozen frogs like in middle school? Catching and killing frogs on school property has to be breaking some kind of law, right? A moral or ethical law at least! Also, could they really not think of a better name than stabbers?

“Mr. Anderson,” Jess Maloney raises her hand from across the tiny pond, which more like an enormous muddy puddle, really. “Is this, like, allowed? What if we refuse?”

“It’s your midterm, Miss Maloney. What would happen if you refused a midterm in your other classes?” Mr. Anderson replies simply. My heart drops. A failed midterm? I can’t even consider a failed midterm. This is the first time I’ve had an “A” in any science class, let alone an AP class.  My parents would kill me.

“If there aren’t any other questions, hop to it!” Mr. Anderson laughs at his pun. I clench my teeth even hard. It makes me sick. I stare down at the muddy pool of amphibians, completely ignorant of the genocide that awaits them. I squat next to the water and scoop my bucket in. Amazingly I catch a frog, and stifle a sob. The frog frantically tries to climb up the sides of the bucket but keeps falling onto its back. I shudder. There’s no way I’ll be able to go through with this.

I saunter back down Pioneer Hill and into the classroom. Victor Simms wasted no time putting his stabber to use. Thankfully he must have done it right, the poor frog is motionless, spread out across the tray. Hannah Rink’s frog doesn’t look as lucky. It flops awkwardly around the try, as if half of its body no longer works. The stabber flailing around out the back of its neck. I stare in horror for half a second and then rush across the room to my table.

My hands are slick with sweat and the frog has given up trying to climb up the bucket. It is now sitting perfectly still, like I do when I’m afraid. I sit back down in my chair and pull the tray over in front of me. It’s covered with a paper towel and four small pins to hold the frog down when it’s time to dissect. Hannah Rink is crying now, begging Mr. Anderson to put her poor frog out of its misery.  I am absolutely going to throw up.

“I’m sorry buddy,” I whisper to the frog as I stare down into the bucket. I take a deep breath and scoop the frog into my hand.

First Kiss

Writing prompt provided by Prose !

After twenty-seven hours of doing all my body physically could to bring you into the world, you were placed in my hands and my whole world changed. I stared at your tiny little face. You looked just like your dad. I couldn’t believe how tiny your fingers were, nor how tightly they gripped my pinky. Your eyes were wide open, and you were taking in my face with a focus and stillness I’ve never known.

I was in awe of you. I couldn’t believe you were finally here. I stroked your smooth plump cheeks and rubbed my thumb across your fingers. I was so scared of dropping you, and immediately overcome by the fear of something happening to you.

The nurse came in and scooped you up to make sure you were doing alright. I remember watching her from across the room, my belly sore and aching. I was exhausted beyond belief but my mind was alert and aware of every movement and sound you were making. She brought you back to me and placed you gently in my arms. Within a couple seconds you fell asleep and I sat and stared at you. Marveled at you. I swooped my head down and kissed your chubby little cheek. You smelled warm and sweet, your skin as soft as a peach. The almost ten months of waiting for you was over.

I’ll never forget it for as long as I live. My first baby. Our first kiss.

Lady Silence

Sometimes she’s welcome, a warm and cozy space.

Sometimes she’s terror, a question I can’t face.

More times than not, I wish that she’d appear.

She can show up unexpected, a mother’s greatest fear.

Some call her Golden, the perfect thing to say.

Some call her Deafening, words would be okay.

My dear friend, Lady Silence, is tricky. Sometimes hollow.

You’ll love her or you’ll hate her, a complex friend to follow.