Toad

**It’s been a long time since I’ve produced a work of fiction here. As many good writers understand, life can get in the way.  So without further adieu, here is a  rough short story that experiments with voice. I hope you enjoy.**
My momma always said toads was a bad omen. Said, if late at night you happen upon one, you was to give it a wide berth lest you fall in its evil spell. I used to sit n’ day dream bout these toads of evil hoppin’ around searchin’ fer souls to take.

There was a toad that year Charlie died. Lookin’ back I can remember it clear as day but no one thought about it then, I guess. Shock maybe, or just a’feared that mentioning it aloud would bring the bad luck on them too.

I remember Rosy Haze sayin’ outside the funeral that the toad musta’ got ’em and swiftly bein’ hushed by her gramma. Rosy was a bit touched by God anyway, momma always said.

Yep, I remember it clear as day now. Hot summers day it was, not the kinda day you’d expect to see a toad that’s fer sure n I guess that’s what makes the tellin of this story so odd – kinda odd that puts prickles under yer skin.

We was playin round the side a the house when we heared this odd chirpin. Didn’t think nothin of it, cause birds was chirpin n singing all mornin anyways. We just kept playin in the dirt, crawlin round with our dinky cars n waiting on traffic jams caused by the odd ant crossin’ our made up streets. I was just thinkin’ on goin’ to ask momma for some lemonade cause we was shore thirsty playin in that hot sun when daddy come bustin out on the porch, screen door a’slammin behind him,

“What in tarnations all that racket?” He screamed at us. We jus shrugged our shoulders, “You kids ain’t messin’ with some animal out here is ya?”

And he come marchin’ over lookin down at us all ornery like a bear that’s been waked up too early. “We ain’t got nuthin daddy.” I spoke up fer us.

The sound was comin from the other side of the house. We followed daddy even though it was hot n the grass was dry n prickly under our bare feet.

And there it was. A big ol’ toad just lyin there in the sun makin the strangest sqwakin noise. Can’t recall as I’d ever heard a toad make noise before, heck can’t recall ever hearin’ one since come to think of it. You know I had goose bumps crawlin up my neck seein that thing lyin there in the middle of our scorched lawn sqwackin’ like…like…well heck, like nothin I’d ever heared afore. Or since.

Never saw daddy turn no shade a white like he did that day too. It was only brief but I saw it. Like his very ghostly soul came out n showed itself. He backed up a couple steps and I heared him say the lords name under his breath.

It was just a toad. But then, I was little n didn’t know much about the workings of the world then. Momma always said to give em a wide bearth. Maybe why daddy covered his ears n went back to the porch.

Bein’ kids we was curious. We ran behind daddy to the porch hollerin “Why he screamin like that daddy?”, “Is it got the rabies?” My little brother shouted.

Daddy stopped n just looked at us. There was fear in his eyes but he grabbed an ol milk crate n he said, “Look, it don’t mean nuthin’ and ya’ll gotta grow up some day believin’ right, so I wantcha to go over there n use this here crate n take it away? Understand? Can’t have yer momma screamin’ if she find out, y’know how she is bout them toads.” And he made a whirlin’ motion near his head.

I knew. But I also saw that daddy looked scared. Maybe cause I heared he done ol’ Mr Jones wrong in a poker game Saturday last, n’ maybe, just maybe mommas toad stories was under his skin too.

I didn’t know no difference. I wasn’t gonna fear no toad thats fer sure.

So off we went, doin as we was told. I’d never heard such a high pitched chirpin comin from no toad before but here it was, middle a’ our summer scorched lawn, openin its mouth and chirpin’ loud.

Lookin back, coulda been maybe caught out in the noon day sun was doin it to him. Lookin back, maybe that toad was just callin fer help in the only way it could.

I held the crate while my little brother, Charlie, tried to coax him in with a stick we’d found near the oak tree.

You know, that toad reared up at Charlie and chirped real loud? No one would ever believe the tellin’ but to this day, I swear it did.

The screen door on the front porch banged then. Momma comin our to see what all the fuss was. When she saw the big toad n heard the otherworldly noise it was makin she near dropped right there. “You kids leave that alone! What am I always tellin ya!? Dear Lord!! Get away from it! It ain’t right!”

Here we, bein kids n all, not knowin’ bout the truth of curses n such, we’re shoutin’ back, “It’s okay momma! He’s just hurt in’ We’s gonna help him back home.” “Yeah, he caint hurt us none if we help ‘im momma” that last part was Charlie.

Momma turned to the house then and we heared the screen door screechin as she yelled inside, “Charles Sr!! Charles Sr, look what them kids is messin with! Oh dear lord, protect my babies! Charles Sr. You get out here this instant!”

Charlie n me, we coaxed that ol’ toad in our milk crate n we carried it off toward the pond. Well, I was 9 and a girl, n’ Charlie was 5, so we wasn’t quite sure about toads but I knew bullfrogs was in the pond, never occurred to neither of us that toads was different. So off we went, n we spilled that ol’ toad there on the waters edge. Big as my head that one was. Heavy. Never seen one as big in all my years since.

Our good deed done we ran home to listen to momma n daddy fightin over that toad long until daddy passed out from drink.

Momma made us say triple prayers that night and held us in bed with her n her bible fer the next week. I guess until she felt the curse was lifted.

Week after that, Charlie caught a fish down to the pond n’ so proud of himself, it was a good sized catfish fer such a little guy, he held that fish high and took off runnin towards home to show momma. I sat laughin watchin him go. Neither of us heard the car speedin down the roadway. Charlie musta flew 20 feet in the air.

Can still hear momma screamin. I couldn’t move. Couldn’t breathe. Just sat there, frozen, as people rushed around hollerin.

And dammit, if that toad weren’t sittin there watchin me!!

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9 Days

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I sit staring out into the yard. I’m waiting. Waiting for something to happen. It’s a thing that will never happen again. A puzzle piece slips from between my fingers snapping me back to the room. I realize I’ve been listening. Listening for his key in the door.

I think, “You have 9 days to come home before the year ends, no questions asked, no hard feelings.Just please, come home.” 9 days and I will love you harder this time, I will hold you here with me forever. When it comes time to leave, we’ll go together, hand in hand, the same way we walked through life. You won’t be alone. At the end? You won’t be alone again.

My ears wade through the silence, evaluating it. My mind is mapping the room, searching. My heart is thudding with an insatiable expectation that has been there for 356 days. 356 days of missing sounds, missing disruptions in air currents, missing the detection of a presence that has been there for 20 years.

Fact: You’re missing. You cannot be returned. The dead do not return.

Facts are quickly discredited in favor of hope. Hopeless hoping. Hoping against all that is known of this universe. Hope for things that cannot be. Hope for the sound of your key in the front door. Hope for your form moving through the fog in the distance. Hope for the sound of your voice calling, “Hey, I’m home.”

Would you be sorry? If you walked through that door again, would you be sorry for doing what you did? Would you apologize for this unimaginable pain in my heart? Would you apologize for tearing a wound through my very soul?

I bleed. Every day. No one sees. No one can. But I feel it.

It pours from me. Leaks from my eyes. Sprays, invisible, like a fierce geyser from my mouth. It rises from the very pit of my being and it pours in a painful soul crushing surge outward, spilling into my reality. Disrupting my balance. Threatening my sanity.

I hold onto hope. It is a vain endeavor and still my mind grasps it like a life preserver. It lives in the back of my brain, a constant companion denying fact, shielding me in a protective layer of ignorance. Denial. A fear of feeling the full impact of truth.

My ears pierce through the thickness of the surrounding silence.  They lock onto the handle at the front door. My mind measures the distance. My heart leaps in anticipation. The silence wins out. Again. There will be no key. No return. No warmth. No joy.

And time keeps ticking ever downward. For hope, it is running out. 9 days. There are 9 days before reality crashes into my existence. Again. Like a knife, slicing me from chin to abdomen, splaying all my reality over the ground for all to see. Silence.

You have 9 days to tell me it was all a mistake. You have 9 days to stop this play. I was never a willing actor in this theater.

You have 9 days to come home to me. No questions. All forgiven. Alter this reality.

9 days before silence and shadow become my constant and only companions.

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The Fight.

I have fallen into a pit. It is deep and dark save for one tiny spot of light in the middle of the floor. My entire being is pain. My soul screams. I crawl with extreme difficulty toward that light. I want to give up. I want to stop. I make it to the spot and I look up at the faces staring down at me. Worse yet, I look up and there is no one there. I do not know who to ask for help. I do not know if they can help me at all. I do not even know what kind of help I need. The pain overwhelms me. I scream. I cry. I try to lift my head. It is pure weight; as though the entire universe now rests on my shoulders. I cannot do it. I cannot continue in this pain. I want to reach out toward the light but my arms are so heavy; leaden at my sides. I cry out. There are no words. Incoherent sounds. Garbled by pain. My mind is telling me to give up. Let go. I see the fear in the few faces staring at me. I am causing them pain. I cannot protect them. I am making them feel helpless. They do not know how to help me. Just stop. I hear my own voice in my mind. Just Stop. Don’t fight. You’re tired. Rest. Let go. I do not want to let go. I just want someone to help me to rest. I want the weight gone from this being. Who can take away this weight? Who can give me that rest? Where do I turn? The pain shoots through me. Like a bayonet, it slices me inside. I feel I am hemorrhaging and I cannot stop the blood. I do not know how to make it stop. There is no one who knows how to help. A single bandage isn’t enough. A single bandage only gets you so far. They wear away and fall off. They get torn in battle. I am in a battle. I have been in this battle for a very long time. There is no break. My enemy takes no breaks. It is relentless. Jab after Jab. Volley after volley. On my knees I fight. On my belly, I fight. With my head held down into the mud, still I fight. I fight because there is no other option. There is no break. This is a word foreign to this battle. My soul continues to scream. Pain pours from me like sweat. I weakly reach out for help but there is no one. Silence. Give up. A whisper from my own mind. A betrayal of my own person. Let go. They are better off without you. The battle can end. You can have peace. A delicious promise. A dark temptation. I gaze into the silence of the abyss. It is cool. It is weightless. It is dark and silent. I could float there. There is no more battle there. I could breathe again and never have to fill these lungs. No one need help me there. I am not helpless there. Don’t leave. We need you. I turn away, back toward the battle. Through the mist and mud there are shadows. I am not alone. Hundreds. Thousands like me. Crying. Crawling. Screaming. Some on their feet. Some on their knees. Still others no longer move. They reach out toward me. You are one of us. We need you. Don’t let go. Of us. I wish for the abyss in this realm. I want to bring it over and give it to every battle worn warrior that crawls along beside me. I want it here. I put my head down. I steel my arms. I draw in a breath. Another. I push off. It is worth the fight. I can have that peace here. I know I can. We can all have that same peace here. You have to fight for it. We are the chosen. I bless the fallen all around me. They will not have perished in vain. I push off again. I climb.  Alone.  It is a long journey. It is my pit to climb from.  It is so very deep.  The spirits of the fallen push me forward. I consume their strength. The war wages on. I have been chosen. To stay the battle.  I have been chosen.  To fight.

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