The Light At The End Of Your Tunnel

Torpedo tube on a submarine.
The floodgates open

Murky waters flow

In preparation 

For an invasion 

Down below

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In case you didn’t know, March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month and it’s fast approaching! Routine colonoscopies can reduce your risk of colon cancer by 70-90%. Book your loved one’s colonoscopy now! It makes a great Valentine’s Day present… After all, nothing says, “I love you,” like a good colon cleanout. 

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Impact: Chapter Two

Chicago looking down from the Sears Tower

I followed the mysterious man to an unmarked black van a block and a half away. I noticed the van had no windows in the back, the type they used for kidnapping in all of those movies. 

Another, slightly older man stood nearby, waiting expectantly. He was dressed similarly in a suit and tie and held my bag under an arm.

“I need to call the hospital.” 

Neither man acknowledged my statement.

Damn it. I reached into a pants pocket for my cell phone and started to dial, bloody hands and all. At least the blood was dried now. Maybe I could clean the phone sufficiently later with some alcohol wipes…

The first man snatched the phone out of my hands just as I was hearing the ringing on the other end. He shut it off and put it into his own pocket.

“You will not be working today, Dr. Benton.”

My heart was racing. Simply not showing up to a shift in the ER was an egregious act, not easily forgiven. In fact, it could cost me this job and many future jobs. There is nothing more pathetic than an out of work doctor, fired for not showing up to work. That one event would haunt me for the rest of my career. A good Samaritan could be forgiven for late but not for failing to show up at all.

A door opened on the van and two more suits got out. One was tall, the other short. Both had dark brown hair. Clean shaven. I caught a whiff of after shave.

“Who are you people?” I reached for my bag but the fellow holding it pulled it away. I needed that bag. Not having my work computer could also get me fired. HIPAA laws and all of that. 

“Come with us,” he responded, motioning to the van.

“Are you fucking crazy? I’m not going anywhere in an unmarked black van with a bunch of strange men even if they are dressed in suits.”

They were nice suits, though. Well made. They showed off all of those bulky arm and chest muscles…. 

I stopped and tried to clear my head. What was wrong with me? I was possibly in mortal danger and here I was lusting. 

“We can do this the easy way, where you get into the van, or we can do this the hard way, where you still end up in the van…”

“Who are you?” 

All four eyes glowered at me.

The older one spoke up first. “We could tell you but then we’d have to kill you.” There was silence as we all regarded each other. 

I looked around. Should I scream for help? The street was strangely deserted. Where were all the people? This was downtown Chicago for crying out loud. There were always people about.

Screw the computer, I decided, I was going to run.

Then they all laughed. Not a sinister laugh. No. Full on mirth-filled belly laughs. The guy with my bag slapped the taller man standing next to him on the back, smiling.

What the fuck?

———————————

Impact: Chapter One

Phlegmon

Infected tissue
Perforated viscera
Appendectomy

Medicine is rife with fabulous words, like bezoar and borborygmi, and haiku is particularly well suited to them. Phlegmon is one of my favorites…. you don’t even have to know what that word actually means to know it is something bad, right? The very sound of it gives me the willies. In case you are interested, a phlegmon is inflammation and infiltration of subcutaneous tissues due to infection. 

(Oh! And please forgive the accidental premature posting of Mediocre Medical Poetry last night!)

The Calling

Chicago skyline from Sears Tower in black and white.

She hesitated, staring at the caller ID.

There was only one person who would call her personal phone from that number, from that office, and in actuality she was not sure she wanted to speak to him. She stopped referring patients to him or anyone in his group long ago, specifically to maintain the distance they both needed.

Distance that had persisted until the apparition began to show up, unbidden and unwelcome. Haunting, attacking, cursing, taunting…. trying to drive her over the edge.

Why don’t you just jump? You worthless, crazy whore. Slut. Slut. Evil, insane, unworthy whore.

The phone rang again, vibrating in her hand.

Then again….

You don’t even know me.

She groaned, exasperated with herself because she knew she would answer. Of course she would answer.

She always answered. Curiosity was her nemesis.

“Hello?”

There was a pause. She closed her eyes, bracing herself, not sure what would come next.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I let things get out of hand.” She had not heard his voice in… she couldn’t remember when. “I wanted her to hurt you…. because….” He trailed off into his customary silence. 

He had always wielded his silence like a sword, slicing his way through her. It was one of the things about him that drove her away.

“I know,” she said finally, even though she didn’t know. She didn’t really understand anything. 

Some secrets are best left shrouded in silence.

“It won’t continue,” he said. She could hear that he meant those words.

He might have said more but she wasn’t listening. The truth was she did not need anything more. She didn’t even need the apology. All she needed was for him to be the man she thought he was so she could go on remembering him as she always had…

Flawed.

Loved. 

And very far away.

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I am going to do “Fiction Fridays” so expect to see these vignettes and short stories on Fridays in the future! I had to use this one today as I have several posts I am working on but nothing actually finished and publishable to my satisfaction. The start of the school year yesterday plus catching up at work after vacation is kicking my butt!!!

A Denouement (Part Four, The Final Chapter…. For Now)

“What do you tell people about me?” she asked. And more importantly, “Why does she have to hate me?”

Silence. As there should be.

As there must be.

We all rewrite our difficult pasts, rearranging until we find a version that allows us to live with ourselves.

Can she even trust her own memories now? She is not entirely sure.

More than twenty years of him.

She wonders if traces of her still live in his house.

The antique medical books. The leaflet from an illuminated book of prayers. The collection of poems by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. The gilt copy of Tristram and Isolde. The earring she lost that he said he would keep safe for her but never gave back. The chest of drawers he bought because he thought she would like them. 

That kitchen floor.

Is his dog still alive?

Has his long appendectomy scar healed the rest of the way? Her fingers traced that line while it was still angry and red. 

Are the dishes she cooked with, the glasses she drank from still in the cabinets there? Is the dining room table still set with the same plates, still covered with its layer of dust? She used to write messages to him in that dust. 

Is the coconut rum still in the fridge with the giant bottle of lemon juice?

Is the bed the same one she slept in? The one they made their dreams in? 

The dreams that were flushed away.

Does he ever think of her now? 

Every day she wonders, some days more than others. She wishes she could be more than just a ghost. But at the end of the day there is a child in need of a father, a father in need of a child, and she cannot write herself out of that story line.

So she lets the loneliness lift from her shoulders again, knowing that after twenty years of her there will always be some part of her with him. How he feels about those bits and pieces, what they mean for him is another story. 

His story. 

Not hers

Now, she realizes, it is no longer about trying to erase the past. She is writing the future.

What is truth and what is fiction? 

Does it matter?

Only the heart knows.

The Rewrite (Part Three)


She did not know why she had lied about it.

Perhaps because she was trapped?

The man held her down, his breath stinking of alcohol. It made her eyes burn as he panted and grunted so close to her face. She had no more fight left. So she let him do what he had to do. When he passed out she locked herself in the bathroom and cried. Her hands shook as she tried to clean his seed out of her.

Please, God.

But her mother always told her that God does not listen to harlots. A month later there was a thin blue line next to a pink one. 

What is more shameful? Carrying the child of a man you did not love or carrying a child conceived in such a way?

She lay next to him in the dim light of evening and wove her words around the lengthening shadows. She rewrote her story. She lied to the man she did love. She lied about what had happened that night.

She had too much to drink and drowned her sorrows in another. It was a bad choice, a wrong choice, but it was her choice.

The instant she said it to him, she wished she could take it back. His eyes flashed with pain that lived there from that moment on. 

She expected him to leave her.

But he did not.

She wanted him to know that she had imagined her body as a temple, a shrine to him, but it had been desecrated and defiled. The words never came. She buried them deeper.

And then she lied to herself. She lied so often that she started to believe it…

You don’t deserve happiness. You don’t deserve joy. You don’t deserve love.

Sometimes, she found, you are so far down the path of fiction it feels there is no possible way to redeem yourself. How do you find the truth again?

But in that baby’s eyes she found it.

Babies transcend all evil. They are the hope of love, our rebirth from the ashes. They have the power to save us all.

Then she knew….

With every truth there is pain, with every lie there is a price that must be paid, and by its nature death always follows after life.

The truth was she had something else to live for now.

Their Last Supper (Part One)

interior of Opera Garnier in Paris

He was so far away. She stared at him across the vast canyon of cream colored linen that stretched for miles and miles between them. It seemed to grow wider with each passing minute.

She tried to make lighthearted conversation to mask the uneasiness she felt. It did not help so she stopped pretending and grew silent, folding her hands over the matching cream colored linen napkin resting in her lap.

Nature abhors a vacuum.

He filled the quiet by recounting his day, glossing over the children who had died on the hospital service. At least it is no longer drowning season, she thought.

He had seen so much of death. As had she. They all knew each other intimately by now. It drew them together and yet kept them apart.

A ménage a trois of sorts, sans the kink.

There were wrinkles around his eyes. She wanted to reach out and smooth them away, to bring his soul back to her. His face had aged ten years in the past two. She wished she could be some comfort to him again but it had been so long since he had wanted that from her.

Not since they had lost their own child.

There was no printed menu. She tried to focus her mind on what the waiter was saying but her thoughts raced off anyway as she watched those wrinkles deepen further.

He was lonely. 

They lived their life with each other in brief snippets of time. They could count the nights they had spent together over the years on their combined hands. So few. Too few. Loneliness lived in the empty spaces and made them seem even longer. But those nights. You could fill up a lifetime with those nights.

She had something else to live for now.

He had only the hospital. Over the months and years he sensed he was losing himself to it and his urgency and pleading had intensified.

She glanced furtively around the restaurant to see if anyone recognized them but they were all engrossed in their own personal dramas.

He poured a dozen packets of sugar into his iced tea and swirled it around quickly with a table knife. His manners made her cringe. 

She loved him anyway. She had always loved him.

“I wish you wouldn’t do that,” she whispered, smiling.

He looked up at her, holding her eye in defiance as he licked the syrupy tea from his knife then signaled the waiter. Anger flashed there momentarily.

He wanted her to know that she could not control him.

She wished he understood that she didn’t want to. Not really.

The waiter was there almost instantly, waiting expectantly. 

“Could I get some more sugar?” he asked. But his tone…. it wasn’t a question. It was a command. He was used to giving orders now, and expected them to be followed.

She had known him before…. Before his confidence. Training had changed him. Death had changed him. It had changed her.

The waiter opened his mouth in surprise, seeing the pile of empty packets that littered the table cloth, but then caught himself, simply nodding instead. He swept up the bits of white paper silently, efficiently, then left.

You think he’s crazy, don’t you? Everyone does when they first meet him. Brilliant people are hard to understand.

She stared at his face again. 

They were two unbending, unrelenting forces that danced around each other, sometimes coming together for a brief moment before shooting off like the opposing ends of a magnet. Drawn together by unseen forces that both compelled and yet repelled. 

What he wanted from her was something she could not give… her only child, the only child she would ever have, sacrificed on the altar to love. 

An offering. As he had once been.

How could she explain in words that it was impossible? That what was done to him as a child was not fair and not right? 

That it should not be repeated.

He could not understand, no matter what she said, blind to his own hurt. So she stopped explaining. 

She let his anger wash over her again. 

“Coffee with dessert?” the waiter asked.

She nodded yes silently, hoping to make this last supper last as long as possible. She sat watching closely this strange man who now sat across from her as he ate, trying to memorize every detail of his features. She wished he would smile again so she could save that memory, but he did not.

They both stepped out into the cold December after sipping their French press. The cold air took her breath away for a second. He took her by the hand protectively and led her to her car, illuminated dimly by the lone streetlight on the corner a block away. 

She felt safer in the darkness than she had in the light.

“We loved each other once,” she said quietly.

“We still do, don’t we?” he responded. “I will be here when you figure things out. But don’t wait too long. I won’t be here forever.”

He leaned over and placed a chaste kiss on her forehead, lingering there. She closed her eyes, savoring the moment.

Peace would never belong to them. Not ever.

He squeezed her hand, then was gone. She watched his shadow walk away shoulders squared, head held high. He faded into the night, a gray ghost that would forever haunt her.

Remember me.

She resisted the powerful urge to run after him, instead screaming silently into herself, into the pain he left behind, the empty that would never be filled…. the empty he could not see, the empty that would bring her to her knees even years later.

It echoed there. 

Remember when.

He would find someone else. She knew this. Her presence had kept him from it for so long. He would have something more to live for soon enough. The tables would turn. She would be the lonely one. She would be the one begging and pleading to someone who would not listen.

Remembering.

Her life as her own had long ago ended. 

Bedtime

creepy black and white hotel hallway interior

The corridor stretched on and on, black and gray of various shades mingled with the shadows, creating an atmosphere that was more drab and depressing than avant garde. She was the only bit of color, save the tiny glowing red exit sign in the far distance.

There was no real exit, though. 

The sign was just for show. She had already tried. 

Several times. 

The carpet dulled the sound of her steps into soft, muffled thuds as she walked down the hallway to room #32521. 

She stopped, her hand poised to knock on the cool wood.

What if I don’t do it this time?

But she already knew the answer. 

Sirens sound, men in plastic suits appear. Nowhere to run. Pain. Then there is nothing but the blazing, searing whiteness. You cannot escape the blinding whiteness.

The door clicked unlocked, an unseen entity granting her entry. 

She stepped inside and allowed the door to close behind her. She could hear the lock sealing her inside. 

After stepping out of the high heels, she placed them in the closet of the antechamber. There was a gray gown hanging on the customary hanger inside. She unzipped her bright green dress and let it fall to the floor. She did not wear underwear. Ever. Not here. 

Not anymore.

The bathroom was to her right. A quick shower under warm water. The harsh cleanser was in a boutique bottle on the counter but the pretty packaging did nothing to hide the antiseptic odor. 

A white towel waited for her on the warmer.

Scars crisscrossed her abdomen. She had lost count of how many cuts had been made. She quickly covered them up with the gown, grateful for the steamed up mirror so she did not have to see the horror reflected back at her. 

She pushed through the plastic curtains into the bedroom. The whole room was white and very cold. There were heavy white drapes along the far wall but she knew there were no windows on the other side. 

She longed for sunlight again.

How long had it been?

Damp hair hung loose about her shoulders making the cold air seem even colder. It gave her goosebumps and her nipples grew hard beneath the thin fabric of her gown as she made her way to the bed. 

She placed the sticky pads across her chest as she had been taught, the cold gel adhesive made her shiver, involuntarily. Lying down on the metal bed, she placed the black mask over her face and breathed deeply. It smelled of stale rubber.

Another deep breath.

And another.

The light overhead grew brighter until the walls blended and ran together and there was nothing else left but that blinding, searing whiteness.

Cold metallic hands that she could not see pulled off her gown and pinned her down as she breathed even more deeply of the gaseous cocktail. The beeping of the monitor sped up, matching her panic. She did not want to be concious. The pain would happen whether she was awake or not. 

She wanted sleep, not pain.

What she really wanted was to sleep forever…