I had considered writing a flash fiction or short story about a girl or for a girl or inspired by a girl, thinking that she might stumble across it here, read it and be suitably impressed. I still may, but I’ve often been described as a hard-headed son of a bitch, so I decided to not do that and post a horror flash fiction instead.
A while ago, talented author Julie Hutchings (you can find her and Kristen Strassel’s blog here: Deadly Ever After, or follow Julie on Twitter at @HutchingsJulie and I strongly suggest you do both) began following me on Twitter because I will, on occasion, get roaring drunk and live-tweet episodes of Dora the Explorer. This is how she introduces me to people and – to be fair – in that narrow, desperately specific category of “comedic” writing, I’m at least Top 3. I haven’t done it in a while, but you can dig through and find some of the better tweets, I’m sure (@The_KJM).
Anyway, Julie and Kristen will occasionally ask other writers to put together a flash fiction for their blog Deadly Ever After (seriously, go check it out) to spice things up and give some exposure to some lesser-known talent. Julie reached out to me one day and asked if that’s something I would be interested in and I think I made a very ungentlemanly squeal before clearing my throat and solemnly declaring yes, in fact, I would be.
I debated about what to do and my buddy Skaz suggested horror. I balked a little bit because horror is the genre I’m least comfortable and have the least amount of experience with, but when I asked Julie what she thought, she peer pressured me into doing it. Or was just really excited and encouraging. One of those.
Either way, I present to you “In a Pinch”, as originally written and published for Julie and Kristen’s Flash Fiction Friday series:
His left hand gripped the edge of the porcelain sink, thumb tracing under the lip of the basin. His right wiped at the bathroom mirror. None of the spots disappeared. Pale pink drops of dried toothpaste that stood in stark contrast to the brown-red rust creeping along the metal frame. He should clean it soon. Would clean it soon, as soon as he got to it, another home project for the list that he never had enough time to attack.
He never had time for anything anymore, it seemed. Not even family.
His son had been asleep by the time he’d gotten home from work, worn out on chocolate milk and cartoon marathons about fantastic monsters and talking animals up to no good. After kissing him and making sure his blankets were tucked in tight around him, he had gone downstairs and paid Kimberly her hourly rate plus a few extra bucks for babysitting on such short notice.
She was a sweet thing. Eighteen, dark hair. Watching kids to help save for her upcoming freshman year of college. Filling out still, blossoming into a beautiful young woman. Maybe in a year or two, he could-
Tight. His eyes closed tight and he frowned hard enough to make the bridge of his nose throb. He never would have thought of Kim that way before Anna divorced him. She didn’t deserve to be considered like that. He made a note not to hire her again.
From the bathroom to the bedroom he went, closing both doors behind him. Tie loosened, hung from the rack he had next to the door. Dress shirt unbuttoned, tossed onto the closet floor. Slacks undone, dropped into a puddle by the nightstand. Socks…who knows where they went, thrown haphazardly as he climbed into the comfort of bed. The satin sheets were slick and cool under his skin. The matching pillowcase soothed his headache.
In moments, he was asleep.
Something pinched the back of his neck. His eyes fluttered open and he looked around blearily. He sat up, pulling the blankets around his hips, and rubbed at the base of his skull.
A sliver of light crept into his room and he realized with a start that his door was cracked open. He had closed it, hadn’t he? He had. He always did. A cursory glance around his bedroom revealed him to be alone. But then…
He swung his legs over the edge of the bed and stood. His fingers scratched at his stomach as a yawn escaped him, and then he journeyed out into the hallway.
Save for the two bulbs in the hall, the lights in the house were extinguished. No noises drifted from the darkness of the building. It seemed almost normal. Almost.
“Skyler?” he called out as he neared his son’s room. The boy’s bedroom door was closed. There were no sounds of stirring. No response to his voice. “Hey, buddy? You okay?”
His fingers touched the doorknob and a shock of cold caused him to jerk his hand back. He looked around, bemused. The rest of the house was warm, almost uncomfortably so. The thermostat was always set at a decent enough sixty degrees, but tonight it seemed closer to seventy.
He gripped the doorknob again, prepared this time for the chill. It never came. The metal in his palm felt perfectly normal. Slowly, he turned it and pushed the door in.
“Skyler?” he called again. “Are you awake?”
It took a moment for his eyes to adjust and when they did, he found they could only take in one piece at a time. The room was quiet. The twin bed in the right corner was empty, the sheets made neatly. The thin curtains on the window were only partially drawn and a pale light shone through, casting a light blue patch to glow on the floor.
A chair was in the corner opposite the bed. A chair? He had never put a chair in the room. There had been no reason to. His gut filled with lead. A slender figure sat in the seat, holding his son. A woman. She had light hair that hung down to her shoulders with no direction.
“Anna,” he whispered. “What are you doing here? It’s the middle of the night. You’re not supposed to pick Skyler up until this weekend.”
The woman didn’t respond. She sat, still, clutching the young boy to her chest.
He moved closer, concerned and more than a little angry. It was presumptuous of her to just show up in his home. It would confuse their son and it had scared the shit out of him. Five steps took him directly before her.
“Give him to me, Anna. Let me put Skyler back to bed.”
She looked up at him without a word. The noise that burst from his throat was technically a moan, but it registered at a decibel generally reserved for screams. Her face was no face at all, but a veiny, yellow slab of flesh. There was no protrusion that resembled a nose. Where her eyes and mouth should have been were instead perfectly round holes. The meat around them throbbed and oozed some thick mixture of pus and blood.
With urgency, he yanked his son from the arms of the monster. He stepped quickly back, towards the center of the room. The creature in the chair stayed seated, silent, exhibiting no signs of distress at having the child stolen from her.
He held his boy out from him, just enough to look him in the eyes and assure him they would be okay, that they were leaving, escaping the house. The eyes, sky blue, looked back and forth into his own, animated, meaty and with no sense of worry. The rest of him was made from a material not unlike the porcelain of the bathroom sink. More durable. Lacquered wood, perhaps. It hung limply in his hands.
An anguished wail ripped through the room and he tossed the thing aside. It hit the floor near the bed, the doll-creature’s neck slapping against the frame holding the mattress in place. The head fumbled away and black ichor sprayed from the throat stump over his son’s bed and and the wall behind it.
Mind scrambling, he turned away from the whirlwind of evil that had consumed his child’s room. He darted for the door and slammed face-first into the wall. Frantically, he searched for the exit, but the same wallpaper – light green with wide-eyed Japanese cartoon characters plastered on it in repeating patterns – extended unbroken all around him.
He screamed in frustration and beat at the wall, the barrier separating him from the peace he had felt only moments before. He begged for an escape.
Something pinched his neck.
With a long, desperate gasp of air, his head raised from the bed. His eyes were open so wide it almost hurt. He looked both ways, chest pounding, searching and finding nothing. The walls were clean, soft and white. The floor was the same, linoleum instead of wood. The door, closed, set at the foot of his bed. Normal. Perfectly normal.
His wrists were wet. He looked down and saw that he had rubbed them so raw against the restraints that a small amount of blood had begun to stream through. It stung, but it was not an unfamiliar occurrence.
He laid back on the sterile, rolling bed they had assigned to him and closed his eyes. His heart-beat began to even out. There would be someone to take care of him come morning.
Thank God, he thought. Just a nightmare.