Saturday, September 24, 2011
Secrets From the Creek
By Liz Hoyt Eberle
Note: This story began as a very short flash fiction about six years ago. It has been edited, submitted, re-edited, re-submitted, and worked on… A LOT. In March 2011, I pulled it out again, brushed it off, and submitted “Secrets” to West Texas Writers in Midland, Texas. In July 2011, notice came that this story won FIRST PLACE…. plus $25.00. - - I hope you enjoy reading this fictional adventure of Carol, a heroine I loved creating. J
Carol slammed her hand on the sofa arm and the unread book slid to the floor. “They will not force me to sell this cabin!” Her angry words echoed in the empty room.
She wiped away hot tears. After forty-five years, this place is part of me.
Not willing to sit and cry, Carol grabbed her jacket from the coat rack and went to the porch, letting the screen door slam behind her.
“I won’t sell…it’s shabby but I can fix it up.”
A walk down to the creek always soothed her and tonight the moon illuminated every nook and cranny around the yard; she didn’t even need her flashlight. Besides, she could walk the worn path blindfolded.
She and Joe bought the property before they married. The little cabin sat so close to the creek they could hear water rippling over the rocks from the bedroom.
Our honeymoon cottage. Carol smiled, remembering. Then Joe left for San Diego and the war in the Pacific.
Ten years later, they conceived Joe, Jr. on the creek’s sandy bank. What a surprise. Little Joey broke the “baby-less spell.” The twins were born 18 months later and Claire followed in two years.
They spent all holidays at the cabin and Carol insisted she and the kids stay for two months every summer although it meant hanging at least a million diapers on the clothesline. On weekends, Joe brought hugs and supplies from town and they hiked the trails, ate outdoors, and played in the creek.
“The sweet days,” Carol said to the trees with a sigh.
She cleared her throat. Joey was coming tomorrow. She wondered if he would ever understand why she and his father divorced.
Breathing the night air eased her tension. By the time she made the loop back to the cabin, she was sure sleep would come easily for a change.
It did. Along with the nightmare. She woke up screaming, her gown soaked in sweat. Shaking and groping for the bedside lamp, she managed to get untangled from the covers and to the bathroom before throwing up. The grip of fear subsided and she was grateful for the new shower that sprayed clean, warm water over her tired, aging body.
She made a cup of tea and settled in the rocking chair by the bed where she had rocked Claire hours on end. Joey and the twins didn’t like rocking, so this rocker belonged to her and Claire. It was old and fragile now, but the squeaks soothed her.
Sipping hot tea, Carol wondered, as she always did, why the dream came sporadically and only at the cabin; never at home. She had not ever been lost in her own woods in real life, but the terror in the dream was genuine as she ran, panted, screamed and long fingers of braches reached out to strangle her. The doctors said the horrible shrieks that still echoed in her head had not happened. She never understood how six months of life could vanish from her memory. The silence of that lost time ravaged her soul.
Tonight, the ache in her body reminded her that Joe would never again hold her after the nightmare and whisper, “It’s okay, darling, I love you. Shhhh.”
Although she missed Joe, the divorce had been final for three months and her new life was good. The boys, grown with lives of their own, were adjusting, and… well… life just changes.
Tonight she dozed, fitfully, until dawn in the rocking chair while thinking and trying to recall something, anything that could spark years of nightmares.
Always punctual, Joey arrived at ten. Carol had coffee, fruit, and muffins ready and wished her daughter-in-law had come, too.
“Hey, Mom,” Joey called from the front gate. “Come meet Mr. Sims.”
Carol peered through the window and watched Joey and the real estate agent wandering around the over-grown garden. “Damn,” she whispered.
She turned to go to the door then turned back to the window. She watched the two men as they inspected the house. With no warning, cold sweat ran down her face and she gripped the windowsill. Trembling, she smoothed down her short, white hair, pasted on a smile, and walked back to the kitchen. She had to stand on tiptoes these days to reach the top shelf but the gun was still there. The men were on the porch when Carol stepped through the door. Holding the small gun in both hands, she carefully and deliberately pointed her weapon at Mr. Sims’ heart.
The instant Carol pulled the trigger, Joey’s hand flew up and out, knocking the gun from his mother’s hands. It fired in mid-air and Carol began screaming. Sims stumbled down the steps and ran toward his car as Joey grabbed the gun and jerked the magazine out.
“Mom!” Joey gripped Carol’s shoulders. Her eyes were wild. She sobbed between screams and made unintelligible sounds as she shook her fist at the retreating salesman.
Joey managed to get Carol into the house and dialed the doctor’s number.
“Thank God you answered,” Joey shouted into the phone. “I need you at the cabin. Quick!”
Joey guided his mother to the old, worn couch and rocked her back and forth in his arms while they waited for Michael Freeman, their long time family friend and doctor. Joey knew that Doc would quickly navigate the familiar mountain road to the Mitchell cabin.
Carol's screams gradually became moans. Joey searched her face for—something, anything. His mother was, well, his mother. Tender and gentle, yet quick with firm discipline. Mom fixed everything, he thought, nuzzling her head under his chin. She made his friends laugh. She almost never cried. He always thought of her as a strong woman…except for the nightmares.
Dr. Freemen gently maneuvered Carol to the bedroom and Joey paced the floor.
Shortly, Doc came out. “I think your mom needs coffee. Has she had another nightmare?”
“I don’t know. She’s been up here a few days but she seemed fine when we talked on the phone yesterday.”
Doc took the cup from Joey. “She stopped the medications from that shrink years ago. I never did know why that fancy city doctor couldn’t help her.”
“That’s why I called you. You’ve known her longer than anybody.”
Doc patted Joey’s shoulder and gently shut the bedroom door.
Joey poured himself a cup of his mother’s coffee and continued pacing.
Hours later, the coffee pot drained, he took a thermos of water to the shade tree in the front yard, his thoughts jumbled. Joey looked at his watch again. Three o’clock. Just as he plopped on the ground, Doc Freeman walked out to the porch, his face grim.
“Joey, I think we’ve hit pay dirt. A major break-through. Call Joe.”
“But, Doc, Dad doesn’t come up here anymore. And…he’s getting married this weekend. He wants the cabin sold.”
Doc’s anger spilled out. “I don’t give a damn. You get him up here. NOW! And without that.. that.. Shirley woman!” Dr. Freeman turned on his heel and stomped into the house. “Move it!” he yelled over his shoulder, then softly closed the bedroom door to resume vigil at Carol’s bedside.
Leaning on the old front fence, Joey waited for his dad. The twins were on the way, too. Ben and Dan would drive like maniacs to the cabin. Suddenly, Joey remembered the realtor. He put his head in his hands and groaned.
“What a mess. Now we’ll get sued.”
Joey had met Jake Sims two weeks ago at a Rotary meeting over in Milltown. Jake was the speaker guest that day. An older guy but well-versed in real estate. He said he didn’t know the Mitchell place but understood the area market. He had assured Joey, “There’s gold in them hills, kid! When your old ma hears the price tag, she’ll sign.”
Joe climbed out of his car just as the twins roared up, tires squealing.
Joey shared the little he knew and said, “Guess you better go in, Dad. We’ll be at the creek if you need us.”
Joe’s head reeled with angry questions but he set his jaw and headed inside.
Doc greeted his old friend. “The missing pieces came out today. You better sit.”
As Doc talked, the late afternoon sun flickered through the lace curtains.
Joe listened without moving.
The men sat quietly, unaware dusk had fallen. Finally, Joe put his head in his hands and cried like a little boy.
“Why didn’t she tell me? I could have fixed it.”
“Hell, man, it was 1958. That stuff didn’t happen to nice housewives. Besides, it was only a few months after you buried little Claire. Carol felt, well, dirty. She believed you would despise her. Erasing the memory is how she survived all these years.”
Joe sat on the side of Carol’s—their—bed. She was as beautiful as the day they met. “I didn’t know what to do, Carol.” He took a deep breath—remembering. “That long year when Claire was sick…” his voice trailed off. He wiped his face. “I guess all those hours you spent sitting at our little girl’s grave by the creek was somehow.. well, it helped you. I just kept working. I didn’t want Claire buried up here, but you loved the creek…. I swear, Carol, I never once thought you were in danger. I’m so sorry.” Tears rolled down his cheeks.
Carol turned away, facing the window. “No. I’m sorry, Joe. I was afraid. … and ashamed. It was horrible.” She began to shake again. “I didn’t know what to do. I.. I just wiped it out. You tried to hold us together, but, I… with no memory, I….I….” Sobs shook her body. “Until I saw him today … and all it’s … ugliness just … exploded in my brain.”
Doc dialed the Sheriff’s home. “Tom, swear out an arrest warrant for Jake Sims over in Milltown.” He explained all he could then listened a minute, making faces at the phone. “Yeah, yeah, we’ve only got bits and pieces…”
He beat his hand against the wall. “Hell, I know a 30-year-old rape case won’t get to court, but we’ll make him wish for jail! Oh, and you had better keep an eye on that redheaded floozy. I think Miz Shirley’s gonna be left at the altar.”
The three brothers sat in the moonlight around their baby sister’s grave on the sandy bank of the creek and looked blankly from one to the other as Doc’s laughter rolled through the trees.
The Newsletter of West Texas Writers, Inc.
Thank you, West Texas Writers, for this honor.
(P.S. Another writer from Fredericksburg, Sally Clark, won 3rd place in this contest and neither of us knew the other had entered. )
Liz Hoyt Eberle
JULY 2011 www.westtexaswriters.org