I apologize for not updating this blog recently. I have been spending a lot of time on editing Compendium and writing Ocularum, as well as my usual work and some unfortunate medical mishaps. Below is a short story that I cal “The Trip.” It was written during my MFA residency in Wroxton. The assignment was to re-tell a fairytale. I decided to do a twist on the story the “Robber Bridegroom.” I hope you enjoy it!
“Come see me,” you said. “It’s not a long distance, and it’s been ages since I’ve seen you.” My toe traced a shape on the wood floor, a slash across the grain, as I pondered your proposition.
“Oh yeah?” I asked. I tried not to let my voice quaver. The vibrations might be sent through the phone and directly into your heart. I didn’t want to hurt you, but I didn’t want to see you either.
But there was no way to avoid it. Perhaps you sensed my hesitation, or perhaps Dad lingered in the doorway, just out of my sight. Either way, he handed me a ticket very next morning. I didn’t say anything and resigned myself to the trip with a staggering, tilting sense of vertigo.
Dad tried to reason with me as we drove to the station, but I had nothing to say. “It’s just nerves,” he told me. “You’ll see.”
But it wasn’t. I could sense it from the first time I heard your smooth voice, slick as oil, rolling through my head. Yours is a voice that convinces, cajoles, traps and entrances. It sent the nibbles of gaping fish up my spine.
I tried so hard all those months not to be alone with you, not to let you be alone with me. The outings with friends, the dinners with parents, the concerts, the lectures, the theater shows, all an elaborate dance, a contrivance to avoid the inevitable.
It was a relief when you moved away. I thought I could be free of you then. After all, my job keeps me here and yours there. “This long distance thing will never work,” I tried to say that time. But you would have none of it, and neither would Dad.
And so here I was, on the train, my hands twitching and the words of the book I clenched undulating. You inched closer with every passed field of wheat, and my heart tried to crawl from my chest and retrace the movement of the train back to the safety of my small apartment in the city.
I should get off at the next stop, I told myself. Just disappear. But I didn’t. I stayed, the train rattled, the trees thickened from plains to forest, and you inched closer.
A reprieve. An old woman met me at the station instead of you. “Ah, dearie,” she said. “He’s been held up, don’t you know? But I was about, so here I am to meet you at the station.”
I smiled a tight smile at the kindly face with the clear eyes, blue pools set into a craggy mountain range, and hefted my bag onto my shoulder. “Thank you ma’am.”
We proceeded along the forest road, her car slow and meandering. She chatted at me about this and that, and I nodded and smiled and replied, though I couldn’t know what either of us said.
“Oh, he is so looking forward to seeing you,” her kindly voice said as we pulled up to the imposing cabin etched into the thick trees. “He goes on and on.” She smiled and patted my arm, signaling for me to get out.
I knocked on the carved door, too ornate for a cabin. There was no answer. Surveying my surroundings, I saw no lit windows, no signs of life, just the swaying of the wind through the trees. I can still leave. You will never know I was here. But there was no service, and I was stranded among your trees.
I grasped the knob of the door. It turned under my numb fingers, and I moved inside your home. I walked through the rooms, running my fingers across your possessions. Your lovely leather chairs, your spotless oak tables, your brilliant tapestries that damped the echo of my footsteps in your cabin, and it all painted your picture in a lush harmony of textures.
I admired your stainless steel kitchen, grey and bold and cold and warm. My fingers, still trembling, lighted across your counter and your stove and your knives, pausing.
“Darling?” your silky voice called from the other room.
My fingers tightened, my breath quickened. You were here. I wanted to run, to hide in the crevices created by the expanse of your cabin.
“Yes,” I said, my voice raspy. “I’m in the kitchen.”
I sucked in my breath, waiting. You swept in, your movements firm and graceful. Like a dance, cradling took me into your arms, cradling my body against yours.
“Oh, I missed you so,” you said to me and brushed my cheek with the back of your hand. You kissed me tenderly then, and we melted together briefly.
“I missed you terribly,” I said, my voice low and soft. I pulled back from your embrace, tears filling my eyes. Yours clouded, overcome with confusion. “I really did, my love,” I said. I caressed your cheek in a mirror of your movements, and then I slashed your throat with the knife taken from your beautiful kitchen.
Photograph: Wroxton College outside of Banbury, UK. Taken in January, 2015.