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Breakthrough: Short Story exploring Loss, Injury & a Second Chance; A Challenge
Let Me Out!
She squinted through the shutters as her mind tried to prize them apart. From the darkness, her eyes picked out blurred images beyond, points of light in a murky fog.
No, enough; exhausted, her body sank back into the dim confines where she lay. Her head pounded, her mind reeled.
Sometimes, when her senses floated as though on cotton wool, it seemed she would break free, it seemed she still had a connection to the world. Her fingers reached out to find the life she expected to be there beyond those shutters. How could she regain that deep familiarity that lurked in the recesses of her consciousness, that reality which refused to come into focus? Each time the fetters reclaimed her efforts. Each time the pain hammered her skull.
The Pendulum Swings
Waiting for those sudden shocks of memory was unbearable. They were ready to jump into her head when she was least prepared. They shouted at her, made her mind throb, her head whirl, so that her body convulsed with fear, chilled and alone.
Then peace and healing slumber took its place. Dreams were full of smiling husband, laughing children, romps on the beach, decorating the Christmas tree, building snowmen. Their warmth cradled her, rocked her soul so that she smiled in sleep.
Nightmares came with a swing of the pendulum. The hate, the quarrels, the shouting, all came tumbling on her head. The children’s tears wrenched her heart, their eyes held fear as they watched their lives crashing around them, watched their solid foundations being sledge-hammered into jagged, harmful pieces.
The silence would cushion her once more, the healing oblivion descend and rock her, ‘Hush little baby.’ More sleep worked upon her body until something disturbed her, pulled her into fuzzy existence. Remnants of cotton wool dreams soothed but the fetters remained.
She so wanted to break through those shutters. There had to be something out there which made sense, which would give her answers to this inner darkness. Then the pendulum lurched her into another nightmare.
No! I don’t want to see this! She was watching herself storm out of the house, bang the door, fight the wind to reach the car. Her fast, loyal sports car would take her away from all this horror. It revved out of the driveway, screeched away down the lane, turned onto the highway.
That wind, how it gusted! Trees bowed, tossing away long tendrils which flounced about in the fields and swooped down to brush the roof. Windscreen wipers lurched to and fro, squeaking annoyance at the buffeting of the storm. In her fury she hit the pedal, wanting to lengthen the distance of her escape.
‘I’ll show him, I’ll go far away where he can’t find me. I’ll fetch the children from school tomorrow, take them with me. Tonight? Tonight I’ll find a shelter from the storm, sleep in the car.’ Her urgent need to hide made her yank the wheel left into an unfamiliar country lane, indistinct through concave raindrops.
Nightmare flashbacks made her try to warn that woman in the car, a silent shout reaching into the past, ‘Concentrate on the road, calm down! You can’t see the way.’
The familiar tension was building. The horror wouldn’t stop. She wanted to switch off the film, cut the light, still the sound. There was no control, no power to change things as the headlights picked out a blurred verge.
The car slid, lurched, a five-bar gate rushed towards her. Shrieking, gut-wrenching metal hammered her legs, ripped her skin, before one cracked length of timber thumped through the windscreen.
Where was She?
Each time more details presented themselves. Each time, she felt more pain. Each time, the terror added one more piece of stark reality. If it wasn’t the crash, it was arguments, hateful words, quarreling and hurling venom.
How had she reached this dark place? Her body ached. Muffled movement beyond the shutters made her tense.
Partial focus stabbed her eyes; a face? Her husband! No! He’d take the children away! He wouldn’t let her near them! Her life was over!
Her soul screamed. Her body crashed to earth. Faces confronted her. Could they hear her? She stretched out to touch.. what? Her reality? A warm hand touched hers. Her eyes searched, her head turned. Is this me? Is my body working? This time she heard her own gasp, the image before her re-focused. Excited blue eyes met hers. A small, urgent hand grabbed her fingers, “Mummy!”
There was an organised rush to her bedside, nurses arrived with instruments, gently herded visitors away, drew curtains round. Her head jerked left and right. Where had the children gone? Was that a dream too? Her breath became faster, her heartbeat pounded, the panic surged.
“Hush, hush,” the calm soothing tones interrupted her rebellion, “We’ll let them back in shortly. We need to check you over after your long sleep. How long? Just over two weeks. You had us worried, Katie!”
So much trampled around her head. The girls were here. He had brought them to see her. Her heart soared before her fears pulled it back. What can I tell them? Where will I go? Do I have a future? Is he angry with me? Will the girls hate me?
A bitter taste invaded her dry mouth, a little water was passed over her flaked lips, a cool flannel applied to her brow. Normal things, reality creeping up at last. Hope peeked up above the bedclothes. The darkness was slipping away, taking with it the fears, the helplessness, the isolation. She moved her hand to her face, felt the skin, looked at her fingers. She felt bandages, a soreness within, then held her breath as the dream was broken. Her legs, what state were they in? She dragged up courage enough to ask,
“Both are broken and you’ll need lots of physio but in time you’ll be ok.”
Relief flooded all her senses. Tears threatened to roll. Joy dared to surface.
“I’m afraid you’ve also injured your face so be prepared for what you’ll find in the mirror. It will mend.”
Oh! Did she look grotesque? Would the girls be frightened? Would that final straw make Tom go his own way? This carousel of emotions was lurching and dipping, making her soul retch.
Fear & Hope
The shutters were finally parted, thrown back, though remained a dark threat in this reclaimed reality. She understood where she was, why she was here. Worst was the memory of what had brought her here. That black cloud of past anger hung over her hope. The cold chill of lost love gripped her heart.
Terrified that her family would be gone, she gave the nod for the curtains to be drawn back. Three faces returned her gaze. Three sombre stares.
The girls burst out of their waiting restraint, rushed to her side and hugged her as firmly as they were allowed. They smiled through tears, then drew away to sit down.
Tom moved slowly to her side. “What did you think you were.......”
The question died along with its annoyed tone. He took her hand. His eyes searched her face; worry and fear were etched on his own. Her hand felt strong fingers lift it to his cheek, to his lips. His eyes closed as he frowned his pain.
Her whole life came down to this. Her life-breath was suspended as she waited, waited for the words of rebuke, the ‘sorry but I can’t take anymore’ speech. The memory of that hell hole behind the shutters was raw; the thought of returning was crushing her, for that’s what would happen if he left her.
“I’m s....,” a finger stopped her saying any more.
“You have to rest. They won’t let me stay any longer. We’ll be back tomorrow.” His smile was strained, his eyes haunted.
Would he Come Back?
She watched their backs fade into time. The medication kicked in and she slipped back into the darkness, an unfamiliar, soft darkness with images of her girls on the misty walls, a welcome lift in her blurred thoughts.
The next day, her strength began to emerge. Her vision was clear, her mind within the reality she had craved whilst in that prison. The shutters had not returned; nor had Tom with her girls.
Then visitors trickled in. Her eyes pierced the ward doors, willing her family to step through. The waiting brought a pain worse than her body doled out. Then he was there.
He had roses, red roses. Wasn’t that a good sign? She didn’t dare hope. He laid them gently in front of her, then took her hand once more, kissed her cheek and whispered,
“Don’t ever scare me like that again. Don’t ever leave me like that again. I never want us to argue like that again. We’ll talk, we’ll sort it out, we’ll find a way to start all over. When you’re better I’m taking you away; just the two of us. Now I know I can’t live without you. Now I know our love can’t be thrown away in a storm. I want you home soon.”
Shattering the Shutters
Sunshine flooded the room. All she could see was Tom and his smile, all she could feel was his warmth, his passion, his pain. Everything she had cherished had been put at risk through their selfishness, but no more.
The sombre shutters splintered into a huge sky of blue, sprinkled with red roses, with daffodils, with magnolia petals in the breeze. The trees spread out their canopies of comfort and cool refreshing shade. They caressed her cheeks and shimmered in dapples of sunlight. They stroked her face, erased the scars, reached deep down into her heart where grew the strong roots of love.
Such joy had never existed; such bursting, flowing, gushing exuberance. Two cherished girls bestowed hugs to crush her bones, hugs to mend all scars. Cheshire cat smiles were her gifts, soft touches the curled ribbons, giggles the bows on top.
She bathed in the gentle, soothing emotions while she could. How long would they last? Hard reality was creeping back to extinguish her joy. That empty, blank prison behind the shutters beckoned once more.
Sharing the Joy
No! They’d work together, help each other. It would be hard but maybe they’d get through this. She knew how much she needed the life they used to share. She no longer wanted to throw it away. “I want you home soon,” Tom’s words echoed in her thoughts.
The joy of sharing, the joy of trying, the joy of talking would take main stage. She did not want those shutters to enclose her again. Now, keeping them open for ever, she hoped, was the joy of life and love.
Copyright annart/AFC 2015
Take a good look at the first photo; do you see anything there?
I would like to challenge you to write a story or poem around that image.
It's one of those photos taken by mistake but the result spooked me a little. The rest I leave up to you.
If you should choose to take up the challenge, please leave me the title in the comments section. That way I won't miss anyone's response. Thanks.
Any others I come across will have a link listed above.
My thanks to Chris (cam8510) for advising me on this story which was written originally for a short story competition.
Responses to the Challenge: