My Short Stories
As soon as my foot hit the warm sand, memories of the summers spent at the lighthouse flooded me. The voice of my sister echoed in my head, her bright laughter, her excitement whenever she spotted a starfish or found a crab bigger than mine, and her screech each time she skidded down a slimy rock.
In the distance, tiny lights flickered from the row of small beach houses. The clink of plates carried across the breeze and I envisioned families sitting down for dinner after a long day in the sun, much like we had all those years ago.
The scent of seaweed and damp sand played in my nostrils as I grazed my hand across the old piece of driftwood that had been there for as long as I could remember. Its once rough bark had smoothed out over time, whispering against my skin like the finest silk.
“You jump, Ari.” Elizabeth’s small, forever seven-year-old voice echoed in my ears. I turned my head from side to side. Fruitless—I knew I wouldn’t find her. That piece of driftwood had seemed so big when we were children. Our five year age gap never bothered me, and I played with her as happily as I would teens my own age. I used to climb to the top and pull Elizabeth up, not letting go of her hand until she’d steadied herself. I wrung my hands together. If only I’d held on a little longer, she would still be here.
The sweep of light from the lantern room at the top of the lighthouse illuminated parts of the beach. Without hesitation, I placed one foot in front of the other. The glow called to me, pulling me forward.
The sand soon became damp beneath my toes, small pools of cold water rushing up, trying to suck me in. My feet slapped against the coarse grit, every now and then a shell nicked into my skin. The warm flashes of pain didn’t deter me from my journey. The closer I got to the shoreline, the more determined I became.
The surf rushed up to greet me, and as soon as the freezing saltwater grazed my ankles, panic gripped my chest. I sucked in a harsh breath and held it, willing my heart to slow it’s furious rhythm. Elizabeth’s screams rang in my ears. I thrust my hand out in futility. Elizabeth wouldn’t be there to latch on. Still, the ghost of her small hand found mine and I curled my fingers into a fist.
“I won’t let go, Elizabeth. I swear. Give me another chance and I won’t let go.” My voice rasped and faltered, interrupted by sobs. Her wide brown eyes flashed in front of me, the terror I felt reflected in them.
A wave rolled toward me, crashing around my ankles, snapping me back to the present.
“I’m so sorry, Elizabeth. I’m sorry I couldn’t hold on. I tried, I really tried.” Though I spoke the words aloud, they carried into nothingness. Just like Elizabeth.
I stomped my foot into the sea, an attempt to hurt it like it’d hurt my sister. Like it still hurts me every day. The ebb and flow continued, ignorant of my effort to punish it. Sinking to my knees, my soaked dress billowed around me. I tipped my head to the heavens and a scream tore from my throat. Despair washed around me, stronger than the wicked ocean. If only I had just held on.
The sharp taste of salt played on my tongue, not caused by the lapping foam, but from the defiant tears rippling down my cheeks. Hanging my head, one drop spilled into the ocean. A piece of me forever mingling with the memory of my sister.
As the night wore on, the lights around me flickered and died as the residents of the beach houses sought slumber. Only the glow of the old lighthouse illuminated the beach, but the darkness will always remain.
The chatter of my teeth and the rolling waves were the only sound to invade the night air. I crossed my arms across my chest, my hands seeking a warmer pocket. My skin bared the same warmth as ice and my body trembled.
For what seemed an eternity I sat with the memory of my sister—the closest I could ever be to her. The anger crashing to get out simmered to hopelessness as I gazed out into the black rolling void.
Slow footsteps pattering against the sand approached me.
A short gasp lodged in my throat as warm arms wrapped around me, lifting me from the icy shallows. Though time had brought a deep baritone to his voice, the softness with which Noah held me remained the same.
Tucking my head to his chest and resting his chin on my scalp, Noah ran his hands up and down my biceps. “What are you doing out here?”
I nuzzled my nose into his neck, grateful for the heat seeping into my skin.
“Ari, you’re freezing.” Latching on to my wrist, he tore up the beach, pulling me behind him.
As soon as he opened the front door to his tiny beach cabin, heat rolled over me, caressing the cold away. He deposited me in front of the dancing hearth. Flames licked up, weaving in and out of each other, extending to me as if offering me their friendly balminess. I took a step back, unwilling to allow their comfort.
Noah stepped in front of me, a white t-shirt bundled in his hands. “Here, put this on.” He extended the fabric to me, but I made no move to take it.
Pushing my chin up with his finger, he studied my face. My gaze stayed fixed just to the left of him. I didn’t deserve his kindness, didn’t deserve his empathy.
With a sigh, Noah hung the t-shirt over the arm of the muted pink velvet chair next to us. Crouching down, he spun me around then lifted my saturated dress over my head. Dry cotton brushed against me as he pulled the t-shirt over my face. It billowed around my waist, dropping just above my knee. His hands slipped beneath the material and he unclasped my bra, guiding it down my arms while still keeping me covered. With a gentle touch, he fed my arms through the sleeves.
“Ari. Talk to me.”
His kindness, though undeserving, and the smooth and familiar tone of his voice elicited a response from me. Finally meeting his eyes, I drew in a quick breath. The last time I’d seen Noah Thomas, he’d been a gangly fifteen-year-old peppered with angry spots. Smooth tanned skin stretched over his cheekbones. His aquiline nose led to full, pink lips. Tiny muscles rippled in his jaw as he rested his hands on my shoulders. Dark brown eyes stared into mine, worry swirling within their depths.
My lips twitched and I exhaled. “I had to come back for her.”
Shallow lines crinkled on Noah’s forehead. “Baby, it wasn’t your fault. It was a freak storm and the wave took her too quickly. There was nothing anyone could’ve done.”
My jaw trembled and I sniffled.
Noah cupped my hands in his face. “Don’t tell me you’ve been blaming yourself these past ten years?”
I responded with silence.
“Oh, God. You have.”
Noah’s arms enveloped me, pulling me to his solid chest. I breathed in his masculine scent and my body softened, allowing him to comfort me.
Noah’s lips moved against my head as he whispered words of comfort. “You have to let this go now, baby.”
Though his words brought no end to my pain, for the first time in ten years, I finally felt solace.
The clinical lights overhead cast a fluorescent hue over everything they touched, the beams reaching out and causing multiple shadows where only one should exist. I breathed in the bubblegum scent of industrial cleaner, pleasant to most, but to me it brought connotations of desperation and, in the end, death.
Humans robed in blue or white shuffled past, deep in thought, sometimes with a stethoscope lying around their neck or a pen hanging from their breast pocket. My long black hair danced in the wake of their movements.
Dr. Johnson sat at the desk, his head in his hand, the bridge of his nose white under the pressure of his pinch. Waves of sadness and helplessness rippled around him. A human angel, of that I had no doubt. Each death hit him with the force of an emotion usually reserved for kin.
The sharp screech of rubber soles hitting linoleum burst through the clinical hum as another nurse entered the pediatric intensive care unit. Nurse Tom Elson stopped at the desk occupied by Dr. Johnson. “Has Tiana made any improvement?” His smooth baritone swirled like velvet through my ears, a stark contrast to the high-pitched punch of the machinery.
Dr. Johnson dropped his hand from his face, his blond hair wisping across his forehead as he shook his head. “We’ve tried everything, Tom. Her internal injuries are just too much for her little body to cope with and her brain is no longer responsive.”
Tom hung his head, his intake of breath stuttering as he took in the gravity of Tiana’s situation. “Have you told her parents yet?”
Standing up, Dr. Johnson flipped through a brown folder. “They’re waiting in the case conference room. First time they’ve stepped away from her bed since she was admitted.”
My footsteps made no sound as I passed them by. Tiana lay on the cusp of death, her parents about to be presented with the most horrifying choice; allow her to lay in a motionless state for the rest of her life or switch off the machinery feeding air to her tiny lungs.
Not on my watch.
My feathers ruffled as I stepped through the automatic door leading to Tiana’s room. My wings had once been white, emitting an ethereal glow. With each bad choice I made, the white had faded, replaced by a dull gray. Soon they would blacken and I’d be forced to wander the earth for eternity. An easy choice, considering the difference I could make.
Tiana lay like a creature of the most heavenly origin, her brown skin already taking on the pallid gray of looming death. Bright hair ties shaped like candy bunched her black hair into neat pigtails. I smoothed my hand over the crisp white sheets. Her tiny body took up not even half of the bed. The rippling light around her dimmed with each passing minute.
I took one quick glance around the room, focusing on the door to make sure no one approached. With a trembling hand, I reached out, and using only my index finger, I touched her cheek. The medical apparatus around her disappeared. Her eyelids fluttered, then opened. Two swirling pools of chocolate stared up at me. Her small nose scrunched as a smile stretched to her eyes, causing a bright twinkle.
“Are you my angel?” Tiana’s small voice asked.
My heart swelled at the melodious breeze of her words as they danced in the air. “Yes, sweetie.”
It would do her no good to tell the truth. Children were virtuous creatures and giving her the reality behind the offer about to breeze from my lips would result in a choice no child should make.
The pillow rustled as Tiana tipped her head. “Are you here to take me away ‘cause I don’ts wanna leave my mama and papa yet. That would make them very sad and I don’ts wanna make them sad.”
I trailed my finger down the silken softness of her cheek. “Wouldn’t it make you sad, too, little light?”
“O’course, buts I more worried ‘bout them.” Her dry, flaking lips pulled into a grin. “Buts you’ll take care o’ them, right?”
My heart stuttered.
This is why I do this.
“Tiana, I’m here to take care of you. Are you ready?”
Tiana studied me for a moment, her eyebrows bowing to touch the top of her button nose. “Watcha gonna do?”
Bending down so our noses touched, I moved my head from side to side. A light rumble worked its way from her chest, then out of her mouth in a musical fit of giggles.
Without waiting for my answer, Tiana closed her eyes and said, “I’m ready.”
Standing upright, I clasped her petite hands in mine. A bolt of power surged from my chest, travelling down the length of my arms and out of the tips of my fingers. My skin tingled as it left my body and entered Tiana’s, spreading out like a silver network of veins beneath her skin. As it waved out, her heart stumbled and her skin flourished, her cheeks glowed a subtle red. The machine to the left of her bed shrieked setting off an alert to the staff to hurry.
Letting her go, I stepped back as the medical apparatus reappeared and Tiana fell silent.
As I turned to walk away, the door swished open, Dr Johnson and Nurse Elson rushing to Tiana’s bedside. Stepping out into the corridor, the agonizing sobs of Tiana’s parents greeted me. I brushed my fingers against their clasped hands; a whisper that they were not alone.
As I approached the exit, a familiar throb began between my shoulder blades, spreading out to touch the edge of my wings.
I tipped my head to the side when Dr. Johnson’s voice swept toward me as he spoke to Tiana’s parents. “I don’t quite know how to put this, but the machines recorded a surge of activity in Tiana’s brain, then her vitals improved to an almost normal level.”
The doors swung shut behind me, blocking out any further conversation. I smiled through the pain gripping my wings as gray morphed to black. As I exited the hospital, thunder boomed in a show of disapproval. Shrugging my shoulders, I spread my little black wings and lifted from the ground.
The stupid word ran through my head again, playing over and over. I flicked my gaze to the window, tipping my head to the side as I observed my outer sanctum. Yellow petals danced in the breeze, waving to the stray dandelion heads as they floated by. The glare of the bright sun bounced off the lush grass; still healthy despite the sweltering heat. Several gardening tools lay dotted across the trail of stones leading to the forest that hugged the edge of my backyard. The branches from the huge pines shuddered.
Rising up from my chair, I slipped out the side door to answer the forest’s beckon, my brown hair swaying around my hips.
My bare feet padded over warm soil as I brushed past the row of perennials. The scent of pine, earth and lavender played a delicate tune in my nostrils. When I reached the end of my yard, I flipped the catch on the rusting Iron Gate. From the moment I stepped into the forest, a blanket of serenity shrouded me. Lost. Like hell. Still, the psychologist’s words played again through my mind.
“Evelyn, I believe it is now fully apparent that you have become disconnected from humanity. You continuously refuse to see the good in people, disillusioned by your broken heart.”
Pff, yeah right. My heart had long healed, bringing with it an iron cast shield. Yet every time I retreated to the shelter of the forest, another small chink appeared in my armor. With slow assured steps, I travelled the path now worn from my bare feet beating into it. My white sundress kissed across my knees as my heart pulled me toward my destination.
“Evelyn.” The psychologist’s words reared their head in my mind again. “You have cut yourself off from any form of human contact, content to wallow in the misery that, quite frankly, you are bringing upon yourself.”
My skin prickled with irritation. My ex-husband had forced the solitude upon me, taking custody of our friends as if they were our children. Have at it. Not one had believed me when I told them the truth; he had been the serial cheat in our relationship, not me. I had passed the sorrow stage of losing those friends within days of our separation. Friendships’ I had thought were forged with infallible strength, cracked, then shattered under the weight of truth. With a blessed clarity, I pulled away from those people.
The bubbling of the small stream pulled me back to the present. Taking a deep breath of the summer air, I allowed the wash of earth, wood, and pine to cleanse its way through my system. Closing my eyes, I pulled my bottom lip between my teeth. The corners of my mouth tugged, insisting on breaking out into a smile. I tipped my head back, savoring the tranquility of nature. Nature couldn’t hurt me – it wouldn’t. We were one. We were the same. Just leave us be. We could look after ourselves without interference.
Padding forward, I made my way to the gentle river. Water skirted the small rocks jutting up from the riverbed, barely breaking the surface. Kneeling down, I rested on my side and settled into the soft moss underneath. I pushed my hand into the water, savoring the cool swirl around my fingers. Cicada’s sung songs of love, calling to the other half of their souls. Birds chirped a melodious tune from the green canopy overhead. Branches reached out, extending to the touch of their neighbors. I lifted my head in the direction of a rustling across the stream. Two squirrels pattered through fern, dancing to the tune of an emotion as old as time itself. Emotion. The stupid psychologist’s words sliced into my peaceful resolve.
“You show little to no emotion, Evelyn. Your ability to trust has dipped so low that if you continue on this path, you will inevitably end up alone.”
You are never alone. The trees whispered words of comfort and belonging, draping me in their protective caress. I stretched out my toes, waiting for the signal to move. On cue, the strike of metal against wood permeated the air, sending my heart into a wild flutter. Scraping my tanned legs across the soft earth, I rose from my resting place. The breeze pushed against the small of my back, urging me forward. Sinking my foot into the river, I sighed as the water rolled across my ankles. I waded through the crystal clear liquid until my toes touched against the soft moss on the other side.
The breeze eased me forward again, ushering me toward the sound. With each step, it grew louder, until only a small gathering of tall fern blocked me from the heavenly being on the other side. As I moved to part the fronds, the wind rustled them and they brushed the back of my hands. I widened the curtain, exposing the view I’d been searching for.
On the other side of the treeline, long arms glistened as they lifted and fell with each strike of the axe. His muscles strained with each movement, biceps bunching then releasing against the crack of wood.
Tossing the axe to the floor, he swiped his hand across his forehead. His short, tousled black hair shone in the sunlight. A bead of sweat trickled from his temple, over the high curve of his cheekbone and past his broad nose before settling at the edge of his strong, square jaw.
Dipping his head, he blew out a breath before bending down to reclaim his axe. As he curled back up, the smooth curve of his abs rippled. A sheen of moisture covered his body, clinging to his tanned skin. Unable to help myself, my gaze travelled to his well-defined pectorals as they rose with each breath he took. I licked my lips, but my tongue left only the faintest trail as my mouth dried from watching the beautiful creature before me.
The breeze that had so faithfully guided me to him turned into a single gust, flattening the wall between me and him. He glanced up and his deep blue eyes found mine. His lips curled up, accentuating long dimples in his cheeks. My heart stuttered, then raced as he took a step toward me.
“For as long as you continue to hide from others, Evelyn, you will be unable to find the happiness I know you crave.”
Right, Mr Psychologist. You’re right.
The breeze nudged me again and I succumbed to it, stepping out into the unknown.