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A Short Story

This is a writer’s blog and I have been sharing tips and thoughts about writing as well as occasional stabs at poetry and my weekly offering of Five Sentence Fiction. Today I would like to share a longer bit of fiction—6,260 words, about a 20-minute read—that I hope you will like.  This is one of the short stories that I plan on eventually packaging together into a collection. I include it here in its entirety and would greatly appreciate feedback on it including tips from any grammarians who want to tell me where to put my commas or point out that I have used the word “loose” instead of “lose.”

Without further ado, here is what I’ve been writing lately. I hope you enjoy it.

Four Told

sleeping girl
—1—

Jamie Peterson was never much of a dreamer.  She had always blithely slept the nights away unencumbered by rambling, twisting, nocturnal narratives.  It was something that she bragged about to her friends. She referred to her restful, drama-free nights as “black dreams.”  No long lost relatives, no fantasy landscapes, no monsters of the underworld.  Just uninterrupted rich, deep, velvety, black sleep.  Until now.

Six months ago she had her first dream.  It was something new and exciting. A vivid and colorful vision, compliments of her subconscious, had been delivered in hyper-sharp focus and in a highly saturated pallet of hues, shades and tints. All of her senses were thoroughly gratified. She could even feel, smell and taste things.

She woke up with a clear sense of having had a dream but by breakfast the details were fuzzy and as she sat down at her desk in her third period class she couldn’t recall more than a few vague snippets. It was an innocuous dream that had something to do with McGregor’s Old Fashioned Grocery over near Mickey D’s.  Her mom had sent her to pick up some crème fraîche, whatever that was, and she had bumped her cart into someone else’s.  She also had a sense of riding in a car listening to unfamiliar music.

Four days later on that following Saturday her mother said, “Sweetheart?  I need a favor.” Jamie rolled her eyes and sighed in a proper teenage response ready to protest until she heard the rest of the request. “Would you mind picking up some crème fraîche for me?”  That’s pretty freaky, she thought.

“What the hell is crème fraîche?”

“Fancy sour cream, but the recipe specifically calls for crème fraîche.  You’ll have to go to McGregor’s, though.  The CVF doesn’t carry it.” Whoa, double freaky, she thought, crème fraîche and McGregor’s, just like in my dream. Jamie was intrigued and nervous at the same time, like driving past an accident hoping to see some blood while not really wanting to.

She pulled the keys to the Camry off the rack by the garage door.  She liked having an excuse to drive.  She had only had her full license for two months. “You need anything besides the Fresh Cream?”

“Crème fraîche, not fresh cream.”

“Whatever. Anything else?”

“Wine,” her mother said, “but you’re too young to buy that.”

“Fine.” She stepped out the door.

—2—

In the McGregor’s parking lot she turned the ignition off but before she was able to reach for the door handle, a string of images from her dream flashed across her mind’s eye in jerky, quick-cut music video style.  A small bird flying out from behind the McGregor’s sign. Her black shoes narrowly avoiding a glob of gum on the wheelchair depression at the curb.  A shopping cart slowly rolling backwards out of the cart corral.  She gave her head a clearing shake and stepped from the car.

As she approached the automatic doors, a bird flew into a small recess above the McGregor’s sign and disappear down behind it.  In her dream the bird was perched on the edge of the sign and had flown out over her.  Close but not exactly right.  Jamie looked down just in time to avoid stepping in some gum.  That was all just a little too close for comfort.  She ran into the store without looking towards the cart corral. She didn’t want to chance it. Her heart was already racing and if she saw a cart roll backwards she thought her chest might explode. This was like some Twilight Zone episode.  She had never seen the show but her parents had told her about it.  She knew the theme music. Do-do-do-do, do-do-do-do

She had to ask where to find crème fraîche and checked out using one of the self serve aisles where you scan your own groceries.  She hadn’t used a shopping cart and therefore hadn’t bumped one into anyone else’s.  She had to settle down.  There is no way she could dream the future.  This was all just coincidence.  She had probably seen birds fly in out from behind that sign dozens of times.  And the gum? Well, little kids are always dropping gum. How many children are dragged by their mothers into this grocery store every day?

“Here’s your crème fraîche.” Jamie slid it on to the counter.

“Thanks sweetie.”  Her mother’s back was to her but when she turned towards her daughter, a frown creased her forehead. “You okay?  You look pale.”

“Naw, I’m fine. Guess I need some more outside time.”

—3—

She didn’t think about it again until three days later her mom said, “Sweetheart?  I need a favor. Would you mind picking up some crème fraîche for me?”  Hair stood out on the back of her neck.

“What, more?  I just got you some this weekend.”

“What are you talking about,” her mother asked.

“Yeah. You said you needed it special for some recipe.  You told me it’s like fancy sour cream.”

“No I didn’t.  Are you okay?”

“Mom, look.  There’s a tub of it in the fridge.”  Jamie yanked the stainless steel door open to prove her point.  She moved the milk and the orange juice cartons around and ducked down to search the lower shelves.  She was sure it was there but she couldn’t find it. “Well, you must have used it all up.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.  I’m telling you we don’t have any crème fraîche. You’ll have to go to McGregor’s, though.  The CVF doesn’t carry it.”

“Whatever.”  Jamie tried to feign teenage indifference but inside she was a roiling mess of anxiety.  Her heart was hammering in her ears as she grabbed the keys to the Camry off the rack and drove to McGregor’s.  Again, the scratchy flickering roll of images flashed by as reminders of what the future held once she stepped from the car.  She crossed the parking lot determined to alter what she knew was expected of her.

“Look out,” said a woman with a toddler in arms who pointed to the ground as she passed.  Jamie was compelled to look down and out of instinct avoided the wad of gum on the verge of the depression for wheelchairs.  At the same time a bright twittering sound drew her eyes up to a small brown bird perched on the edge of the McGregor’s sign.  Before she could look away the wren took flight out over her head. Oh my God it’s happening, she thought.

Everything went slow-motion.  Her head swiveled to the right and she watched a red handled cart wheel backwards in a slight arc.  She distinctly heard the wheels bumping across the concrete and the metallic, jangling rattle of the cart. The voices of the people around her were reduced to a dull, garbled thrum.  She caught the cart and steered it towards the door.  She was powerless to do anything else.  Fate. Predestination.  Whatever you want to call it, was in control.

She blinked and everything snapped back into real time and she made her way to the aisle where the yogurt and sour cream were displayed in an open refrigerated case.  She didn’t need to ask where the crème fraîche was, she had been there just three days ago.  Jamie made it to the checkout line and out of the store without colliding into any other carts.

At home, Jamie slid it on to the counter. “Here’s your crème fraîche.”

“Thanks sweetie.”  Her mother’s back was to her but when she turned towards her daughter, a frown creased her forehead. “You okay?  You look pale.”

“Naw, I’m fine.” Jamie knew the script and said, “Guess I need some more outside time.”

—4—

Every time she passed through the kitchen, Jamie’s heart rate increased a little.  On Thursday her mother said, “Sweetheart?  I need a favor. Would you mind picking up some crème fraîche for me?”  She had been expecting the question ever since her last trip to McGregor’s Grocery.  Somehow she knew that she was going to have to keep playing this out until the dream had been properly fulfilled.

“Sure.  McGregor’s or the CVF,” she asked despite knowing the answer.

“You’ll have to go to McGregor’s.  The CVF doesn’t carry it.”

“Whatever.” She grabbed the keys to the Camry off the rack and drove to the store.  She decided that she wouldn’t fight it.  If fate, or whatever was pulling the strings, wanted her to see this through, she was now eager to get it over with.

Jamie avoided the gum and watched the small wren fly away from the sign. The cart rolled towards her and she grabbed it and wheeled it in through the sliding doors.  The teenager maneuvered her cart to the refrigerated section and picked up the tub of crème fraîche, tossing it in the toddler seat.  She felt a little silly using a cart to pick up one small item but if that is what the gods wanted her to do, she was going to do it. Someone accidentally knocked several boxes of cereal off a shelf and she turned startled by sound. Unguided, her cart bumped against something.  When she looked back around she saw it was a free-standing, wire bin filled with colorful, plastic, inflated balls in the center of the aisle, not another cart.  Damn it, she thought, so close. I’ll have to go through this again.

5—

Jamie didn’t have to wait long. The next afternoon while her mother was in the kitchen, she walked in and asked, “New recipe?  Need anything from the store?”

“Yes, actually.  I was just going to ask you to do me a favor. Would you mind picking up some crème fraîche for me?”

“Sure.”

“You’ll have to go to—”

“McGregor’s.  Yeah I know. CVF doesn’t carry it.”

“How’d you know that?”

Jamie shrugged. “Don’t know. Dreamt it. Whatever.”

At the parking lot she turned off the car and sat there for a minute to gather herself.  No images flashed, instead spoken phrases welled up inside her head this time.  She heard, “…harmed in the making…” and something that sounded like “…fancy and confusin’.”

She knew the drill. Gum. Bird. Cart. Crème fraîche.  She took a different aisle to the checkout lines and was looking at a rack of magazines when she bumped another cart.  Finally, she thought, I can get through this. “Sorry. Sorry ’bout that.” The other cart was being pushed by Nathan Hargrove.  He had on a Stone Ridge Rams T-shirt.

“That’s okay.  No animals were harmed in the making of this film.”

“What did you say,” she asked a little startled.  There it was, one of those phantom phrases. She should be used to this.  She’d literally seen it all before.

“Nothing, never mind.  Aren’t you Jamie…” He drew out her first name.

“Peterson. Yeah. And you’re Nathan Hargrove.” She tucked a stray strand of hair behind her ear and pulled down on the bottom of her shirt.  “We’re both in Mr. Hogan’s psych class. Sixth period.”

“Right.” He cocked his finger like a pistol and winked at her. “Sixth period psych.” Nathan blushed as he bobbed his head a few times. “You’re friends with Tracy Diamond and—what’s her name—Ronnie Bartlett?”  Jamie nodded her head in response and waited to see how this was all going to play out.  Finally Nathan said, “Cool,” just to have something to fill the conversational space. Shoppers were giving the two of them looks as they squeezed their carts past the chatting teens parked in the narrow aisle. After another awkward pause he said, “So hey, wanna hang out tomorrow or are you doing something else Friday?” He blushed again.

Jamie shrugged. “I guess that would be okay. Sure.  I’ll have to check with my parents, though.” This time it was Jamie’s turn to blush. “Is it okay if Tracy comes too?”

“Oh yeah.  That’s like totally cool.” The tone of his voice was upbeat but his face fell just the slightest amount.

—6—

“Mom! Nathan’s here.  We’re heading out.”

“Who?”

“Nathan.  Hargrove. The grocery store?”

“Oh that’s right. Have fun,” her mother called.

“Don’t be too late,” her father added. Jamie looked at Tracy and gave her eyes a perfected teenage roll.

“I won’t. Bye!”

The two girls piled into the waiting Audi. Jamie took the front seat and Tracy climbed in the back.  “You know Tracy, right?” Jamie asked making a stab at introductions.

“Yeah. Hey.” He waved at her via the rear view mirror. “Nathan Hargrove. Either of you mind if I smoke?” Both shook their heads. Many of their friends had taken up the dirty habit and while it wasn’t something that either girl was interested in, they tolerated it.

His iPod was on shuffle playing through the car stereo.  It was a wide assortment of genres. She hadn’t heard most of the music before. Suddenly the specter of her dream lifted it’s slightly creepy head and peered from under the dashboard at her for just a moment—riding in a car listening to unfamiliar music. Hip-hop, jazz, indie, blues, and even a familiar classic rock track from either the ’80s or ’90s tumbled out of the speakers.

“I like your taste in music. Haven’t heard much of it before, though. Who’s this?”  It was a blues rocker by a female vocalist. The song’s refrain filled the car.

I’m gonna go find a body double

Like those that belonged to Saddam Hussein.

I’d like to have me a body double

So I can sneak out and go raise some real Caine…

Nathan turned the volume down a click so they could talk. The glowing orange tip of his cigarette bobbed in the fading light as he spoke, “That’s Gail Yancy and the Contusions.” A chill slid down Jamie’s spine.  One of the phrases that had been banging around in her head yesterday wasn’t fancy and confusin’ it was Gail Yancy and the Contusions.

“Yeah, I like this.” Jamie smiled. She liked it a lot.  She had completed her dream.  “Is it all right if I turn it back up?”  Nathan nodded as they continued on to The Stiff Upper Lip, the local coffee joint on the corner of Benjamin Street and Ridgeline Drive. On the way wisps of Gail Yancy’s music mingled with cigarette smoke, and both trailed from the half open car windows.

—7—

Jamie’s nights went back to black.  Weeks passed without the hint of a dream. She had begun to think that was the end of it, that the first dream had been a one off, an aberration. That was fine with her.  It had been an interesting experience but she was glad to be done with it. She was wrong. Six weeks later she had another.

After the first dream she had unearthed an old composition book that had been largely untouched and ripped out the first seven used pages.  The rest of the marbled black and white covered notebook was blank.  She kept it next to her bed where she could record her dreams and track how closely the following days matched up.

Her second dream was another tame one.  She had startled awake at three in the morning.  She clicked on her bedside lamp and gathered up the notebook and pencil and began to write. Nathan was in this one too. He had become a good friend since she had first “bumped” into him. He was joking with her as they walked down the crowded hallways of Stone Ridge High.  The two of them peeled off like blood cells funneling from a main artery to a smaller vein and entered Room 236.  Mr. Hogan stood at the front of the classroom with arms crossed.  The retractable movie screen was pulled down over the white board.

“Uh oh, you were right,” Nathan had whispered in her dream. “Pop quiz.”  Once the class was settled and the bell rang, Mr. Hogan confirmed what Nathan had suspected. He lifted the screen to reveal a few handwritten questions.

“Four questions.  You’ll either ace it, flunk it, or get a C.  If you did the assigned readings, you shouldn’t have a problem.  You have ten minutes starting…now.”

Jamie tried to get down as many details of the dream before it evaporated.  She recorded what was said, what people were wearing, and even what the test questions were. She awoke from the dream before they got to grading the test in class, so she didn’t know if she got an A, C, or F. She read over her record of the dream when she was done and was satisfied with doing a decent job of capturing it. She turned her light off and went back to sleep, a deep, black slumber.

—8—

It was four days until the details began to emerge.  Jamie had told Nathan to make sure he read what was assigned because she thought old man Hogan was going to spring a pop quiz on them.  At lunch she saw that Nathan was wearing a shirt that read “667” in large numbers and underneath was printed “Evil And Then Some.” She couldn’t remember if that was the right shirt. If not she hoped that wasn’t enough to trigger a rerun. She had decided that the more she avoided any deviations the more likely she was to get through it the first time around.  Otherwise the future was going to keep making her relive it until she got it right.

Nathan joined up with her in the hallway right on cue and joked lightly with her.  They squeezed through the crowd and into Mr. Hogan’s classroom where he stood in front of the hidden test questions with crossed arms.

“Uh oh, you were right. Pop quiz,” Nathan said. Jamie had to fight the urge to mouth the words along with him.  They took their seats and Mr. Hogan gave his little pass-fail spiel and gave them ten minutes to answer the four questions.

Jamie had read the readings and studied for the four questions that she dreamed were on the test.  She had it done and turned over in less than 2 minutes.  She surveyed the room and watched the rest of the class struggle.  Carter Fortnam was repeatedly combing at his hair with the fingers of his left hand while tapping the end of his pen on his teeth.  Julie Crier was twirling and chewing on long gathered strands of blond hair.  Nobody seemed to be writing anything.  They were all just staring at the questions on the white board.  Mr. Hogan let them go an extra two minutes before he finally said, “Time.”

The class groaned collectively and put their pens down.  He announced that they would self grade the tests in class.  “Miss Peterson, you finished rather quickly, would you like to give us all the answers?”  Jamie could feel the blood rise in her face and she turned her paper over and read off her four answers.  “Excellent, Miss Peterson.  What a pleasant surprise. Give yourself an A.  Was there any one else who had all four answers?’ Two others raised their hands.  “How many had three correct answers?”  About ten other kids put up a hand. “Put a C on your paper. The rest of you need to mark down an F.  Please make sure your name is on your quiz and pass them forward.”

After class Nathan fought through the crowded halls to catch up with Jamie and gently grabbed her arm as he came up beside her. “How’d you score an A? Even Scott Garner got an F.  Man, was he pissed.”

Jamie shrugged. “Studied.”

“Oh give me a break.  Who gave you the answers?”

Jamie stopped in the middle of the hall way and almost caused a pile up.  “I didn’t cheat.”

“Sorry.” The word came out in two syllables with heavy emphasis on the second: sor-REE. “Chill out Miss ‘I got an A.’”

“Shut up.  Anyway, I didn’t cheat, I swear.” She hesitated and then asked, “Did you drive today?” Nathan nodded.  “Give me a ride home and I’ll tell how I knew what to study for.”

Nathan smiled and went, “Ah-ha!”

“I didn’t cheat!”

—9—

“So you dreamed the answers?”

“Not the answers, the questions.  The dream I had was about the pop-quiz and it came true.  I wrote it all down four days ago and today it all went just like my dream.”

“So did you dream that I was gonna fail?”

“I did try to warn you.  Did you study like I told you to? And no, I didn’t find out about any grades. I woke up just as Hogan told us time was up. This isn’t the first time a dream’s come true.  That’s why I knew to write it down.”

“What do mean this wasn’t the first time?” Nathan asked. Jamie quickly told him about the crème fraîche incident and that their meeting in McGregor’s was hinted at in a dream.

“I don’t think I can change the future,” she explained. “Somehow it keeps replaying until I get it right.”

“What? So you’re like something out of a Stephen King novel now?” Nathan looked at her slack jawed.

“Kinda freaky, huh?” The car swung into Jamie’s driveway. “Your mouth is open.”

“Man, that is freaky.  Dream about something useful next time, like winning the lottery, would ya?”

“I wish.  And don’t tell anyone about this. I see anything about it on Facebook, and you’re a deadman, Hargrove.” She leveled a steely stare at him to make sure he got the message. “Thanks for the ride,” she said before closing the car door.

Inside she vaulted the stairs to her bedroom and pulled out her dream journal. She wanted to reread the notes on her dream to see if they fully matched up with reality or if she was going to have to replay the day again.  Crap.  Nathan was supposed to be wearing a maroon A&F shirt, and it was David Grayson who should have been raking his fingers through his hair, not Carter Fortnam.  That was probably enough to prompt a rerun.

—10—

Three days later the whole scenario reset and played out again. This time Nathan had on the proper A&F shirt and Carter Fortnam didn’t get a chance to perform his understudy role, David Grayson did his own bidding. Jamie whipped through the 4 questions and even though the rest of the day was outside of the scope of her dream it all seemed to follow the familiar script. She was called on again to share her answers, Nathan caught her in the hallway and accused her of cheating which she again vehemently denied.  She asked for a ride home and had to repeat the explanation of how her dreams were projecting the future and threatened him with his life if he leaked word of her newfound ability to anyone.

A week passed without a revisit to any of the events in the “pop-quiz” dream.  There was no reset or replay. Jamie was sure that her second dream had been sufficiently fulfilled. The week stretched into a month without any new dreams or Stephen King-esque incidents.  It felt as if her life had returned to normal but the tiniest crumb of doubt had burrowed deep inside, making its presence known like a raspberry seed stuck between two teeth.

Forty-two days after satisfying her last dream she had her third one.

“Jamie, wake up.  You’re late.” Her mother was shaking her gently truncating a dream in progress. “You forgot to set to your alarm.”  Jamie grunted in reply and swung her feet over the bed.  She also had to write her dream down.  She was trying to cement the events in her mind but her mother kept yammering on. “Come on, sweetheart.  You need to get moving, you’re already running behind.”

“Mom.  I’m getting ready. Jeez.”

“Out of bed,” she called back to her daughter while descending the stairs. “Let’s get going.”

“Mom.” Jamie drew the word out into a two syllable whine and then muttered under her breath, “Give it a rest.”  She scooped up her dream journal and pencil and carried them into the bathroom to record as much as she could remember.  This one was less innocuous. It was down right unpleasant in fact.  In this current dream she had been retching into the porcelain basin of the upstairs toilet when her mother shook her awake. She didn’t have time to write a full narrative so she jotted down the main bullet points:

  • Traded salami sand. for Tracy’s Tuna sand.
  • Cold pizza snack after school
  • Not hungry at dinner
  • Mom says: “You don’t look good”
  • Smell of dinner makes me sick
  • Puke in downstairs bathrm.
  • Mom puts me to bed with crackers and ginger ale
  • A night of puke and the squirts

“Jamie! Are you getting ready?”

“Yes, Mom.”  She put the book away, began her morning grooming routine and finally tumbled down to the kitchen for a quick breakfast.

—11—

“Nathan!”  Jamie motioned urgently to him across the parking lot, and he came trotting over to her.  “I had another dream.”

“Was it a sex dream, and was I in it?”

“No, asshole.” Jamie punched him on the shoulder. “It was about Tracy trading me her tunafish sandwich and giving me food poisoning. If it comes true, I’ll be puking my guts out in four days. At least that’s been the usual incubation period for one of my dreams.”

“That’ll suck. Well, then don’t trade sandwiches with Tracy.”

“Duh. Don’t you think that I all ready thought of that? I can’t change events, the future just keeps replaying until everything goes according to my dream.”

“So, if you dream it you have to live it even if it’s something, like, really bad?” Jamie answered Nathan’s question with a slow, sobering nod.  She had never really thought about it before. When the dreams were such mundane scenarios as a trip to the grocery store or a pop-quiz in psych class it was an exciting novelty, but this was a little darker and she wasn’t looking forward to a night or two of dry heaves and diarrhea. It might be bearable if you didn’t know it was going to happen.

“At least you’ll get out of Granger’s class,” Nathan ventured. “Missing her class is almost worth food poisoning.”

“Great, I’ll share Tracy’s sandwich with you and you can also experience the joys of blowing chunks just so you can miss a day of Calc.”

“Oh darn,” Nathan said and gave his fingers an exaggerated snap. “I think I have B-Lunch that day. You’ll have to pick someone else to share your little botulism sandwich with.”

Jamie was right on the money.  Four days later Tracy slipped in next to her during lunch. She had on a teal and purple striped jersey top which was no surprise to Jamie who bemoaned the choice of the salami and American cheese sandwich in her lunch.

“That’s better than what Dad packed in my lunch,” Tracy said as she held up her sandwich. “I hate tuna.  Wanna trade?”

Jamie knew there was no avoiding it. She took a gulp and said, “Sure,” as she slid her salami sandwich over and took the tainted one from Tracy’s hand and unwrapped it.  Jamie gave it an exploratory sniff but it’s impossible to judge if tuna salad has gone bad based on smell.  She did note, however, that the mayonnaise had begun to turn translucent.  Jamie closed her eyes, swallowed with resignation and took a big bite.  The sandwich tasted fine although Tracy’s dad didn’t make them quite like Jamie’s mom did, with minced gherkins and a splash of pickle juice from the jar. Maybe she would escape being poisoned for a few more days but the future would eventually reset forcing a rerun.  She’d just as soon get it over with.  The last four days of anticipation had been hell.

After school, Jamie pawed through the fridge and pulled out a slice of pizza.  She thought about zapping it for 30 seconds in the microwave but had developed a taste for cold pizza and ate it straight out of the plastic wrap.  It wasn’t until closer to dinner that her stomach began its first rumblings of rebellion.

Later in the evening she had become extremely thirsty.  When she walked into the kitchen for a glass of water, her mother turned and offered her a quick smile but quickly did a double take. “Sweetheart, are you all right?  You don’t look good at all.” Her mother was standing at the stove where she was whisking up a tomato-based sauce with plenty of garlic which would be served over pasta.  She planned to whisk in some goat cheese at the end to make it creamy.

The smell of food caused a lurch in Jamie’s stomach and she gave a quick preliminary gag before racing for the powder room with a hand over her mouth.  Everything she had eaten during the day came roaring up her throat in a violent burning eruption that hit the toilet bowl in a big splatter. Her stomach muscles clenched a few more times purging any remaining contents. When she was sure she was finished she wiped her chin with a tissue, mopped the beige chunks and spots from the rim and flushed the whole nasty mess down.

As she stood shakily, her mouth flooded with hot saliva and she knelt back down in anticipation of another round of retching. She was not disappointed. Yellow bile splashed forth.  She repeated the chin wiping and stepped from the bath room.

“Come on missy,” her mother said waiting outside the door, “let’s get you in bed.”  She put a hand to her daughter’s forehead. “Good Lord, you’re burning up.”

“I think it was something I ate.” Jamie allowed her mother to guide her towards the stairs and get her tucked in. Ten minutes later her mother was back with a tray of Saltines and a glass of ginger ale poured over crushed ice. The ginger ale tasted good going down and helped to wash the acidic taste from her mouth.  Five minutes later it was not tasting as good on its way back up. She was not going to keep much down any time soon.

The night was a swirling haze of uneasy sleep and endless trips to the bathroom where she was gushing from both ends.  At one point while sitting on the toilet, she had to lean over and use the tub to catch what little was still bubbling up her abused throat. As morning dawned the purging had subsided but she was still running a fever and alternatively suffering chills and sweats.  Nathan had been right about missing Calc but Jamie would much rather endure Ms. Granger than go through this. She wouldn’t wish it on anyone, except maybe Tracy whose sandwich had brought her to this lowly state.

—12—

Jamie survived the episode of food poisoning but she was not anxious to ever repeat that kind of experience.  Just as before life returned to normal and the dreams stopped as quickly as they started. Nearly three months passed without even the slightest squeak of foreshadowing. She hoped that the phenomenon had moved on to someone else. Her main defense was to not think of it at all using an “out of sight, out of mind” approach.  She felt if she didn’t entertain the devil he would soon tire of her.

The dream experience had brought about at least on good thing: Nathan. The two of them had officially become a couple and were spending much time together. He had called to see if she wanted to go to the Foster the People concert over in Pittsburgh on Friday.  He had turned her on to lots of music that she hadn’t been aware existed and Foster the People had been one of the bands that she had latched onto through his introduction.  She excitedly accepted.

Nathan pulled up in his father’s black pickup. “Sorry. Mom’s using the Audi.  Book Club or something.” Jamie didn’t care and climbed in the cab.  The truck was still a sweet ride.  Nathan’s dad took good care of it.  It was clean and polished on the outside and freshly vacuumed on the inside. Foster the People issued from the speakers as soon as he turned the ignition.

Jamie rode in comfortable silence as her boyfriend navigated the roads to Stage AE in Pittsburgh.  They both made occasional comments but Nathan was focused on getting to the venue. The tickets were General Admission and he wanted to get there early enough to score some decent seats.  He made one wrong turn which took them only a couple minutes out of their way and was pleased to see that the parking lot was largely empty.

They were close enough to the front of the line to capture two seats close to the stage.  Nathan was on his feet most of the concert and Jamie was buoyed by his excitement pushing her respect for the band to a new level. The two of them bounced and danced in place pumping fists and whistling their approval.  Nathan had the habit of shouting “Ho-oooh” after nearly every song.  Jamie found it annoying at first but by the end of the evening she was doing it too. The couple would give off their synchronized yell and then collapse against each other in laughter.  The concert was one of the best she had ever been to and her relationship with Nathan was really starting to gel.

After the concert they drove to a small diner that he had heard about but never been to.  They sat on red naugahyde and chrome swivel stools at the counter, shared a slice of Key Lime pie and had a cup of coffee each. Neither wanted the evening to end but Nathan promised to have Jamie home by midnight and they finally went laughing out into the parking lot and climbed into his father’s truck.

The traffic on Interstate 79 North from Pittsburgh towards Stone Ridge was light and they made good time.  He took Mercury Avenue which turned into North Main Street taking the route through town.  It was only 11:35 as he approached the center of town. He was hitting all the green lights.  They might have enough time to park the truck in front of Jamie’s house and partake in a little coed wrestling before she had to be inside. Nathan laid a hand on Jamie’s thigh and flashed her a smile but she responded with a scream and braced her hands on the dashboard.

Nathan whipped his head back around in time to see the taupe sedan shoot a red light directly into their path. He jammed both feet down on the break pedal with all his might, but there was only a couple of feet between the two vehicles.  Both he and Jamie whiplashed forward with momentum as the squealing tires tried to grab the pavement.  The seat belts did their job bitting severely into their chests.  Air bags exploded all around them keeping their faces from being mashed into hamburger on the steering wheel and dashboard.  The instant cushion helped to minimize the damage but the impact was still hard.

Jamie felt her nose break against the air bag as the unyielding seat belt drove all the air out of her body and broke some ribs.  Jagged pieces tore at flesh and their heads flailed around like bobble-head dolls in the hands of a toddler. Tiny pellets of shattered auto glass pelted them and suddenly the world tilted.   A flash of sparks like something from a welder’s torch lit the inside of the cab as the truck slid on its side down the asphalt, the metal structure complaining in an unearthly banshee wail that seemed to go on for ever.

Suddenly everything was quiet.  There was the characteristic ticking that an engine makes as it cools.  Somewhere something was dripping and it wasn’t clear if it was fluids from the truck or blood from the passengers. Neither were aware of how long they had laid in the wreckage before sirens could be heard in the distance.  The tumbled landscape went in and out of focus and at one point Jamie heard a man say, “There’s two over here!” but the voice was blurry and distant sounding. Lights strobed red and blue around them.

“Nathan,” she called out, “Nathan are you okay?”  She didn’t get an answer. “Nathan,” she tried again.  She opened her eyes long enough to see a man’s head poke into view.  She could tell he was an EMT even though his face was silhouetted against the flashing lights.

“Jamie. It’s all right, sweetheart,” he said. How did the medic know her name and why was he calling her sweetheart?  “Jamie,” he said again but the voice was all wrong.  She opened her eyes to her mother who was sitting on her bed next to her.  “It’s okay love.  You were just having a bad dream.”

“Noooooooo,” Jamie screamed

“Sweetheart, sweetheart.  Everything’s fine.  You’re okay.  It was just a dream.”

“Everything’s not okay, Mom.  That’s the problem, it was just a dream.”

*   *   *   *   *

photo:thinkstock.com
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17 comments on “A Short Story

  1. That was pretty freaky. Who would want to see that to the end? Gave me chills.

    I was thinking Groundhog Day at the beginning, but maybe the movie Butterfly Effect would be more accurate. Nice job on this.

  2. Your writing style is totally engaging and the attention to detail makes it come alive.

    • Victoria. That is really good to hear. I can generally expect a thumbs up from friends and family but it is hard to know how many grains of salt to take with those compliments. It is very encouraging to hear that from someone who is not related to me! : D

  3. “On the way wisps of Gail Yancy’s music mingled with cigarette smoke, and both trailed from the half open car windows.”

    My favorite line.
    Really fine story Andy. though the detail of regurgitation roiled my stomach. You just keep getting better and better.

    • Thank you sir. Coming from someone who I know is not prone to sugar coating criticism, I am greatly encouraged.

      • Than you won’t be offended when I add a comma to this first sentence. After the first reading I pictured a Ken doll.

        “No, asshole.” Jamie punched him on the shoulder. “It was about Tracy trading me her tunafish sandwich and giving me food poisoning. If it comes true, I’ll be puking my guts out in four days. At least that’s been the usual incubation period for one of my dreams.”

  4. Of course I meant…”Then you won’t be offended”. It’d be easier if we could edit replies,especially after criticizing your mistakes. You were a true gentleman not to jump all over that.

  5. Very nice!!

    I have to admit that I was half expecting the twist at the end when I started, then thought maybe I judged too quickly about 2/3rd way through but then at the end – there it was! 😀

    And excellent story and I really do enjoy your descriptive style, it reads well and adds a certain subtle humour at times where a dryer description would normally be given by most, just because. Kudos. Bits like ” The two of them peeled off like blood cells funneling from a main artery to a smaller vein and entered Room 236.” are an example of language and expression that stands out and makes an impression on the reader.

    If you’d be inclined (since you asked) I’d be happy to copy the text to a doc file and send you some notes on the story – not just editorial/grammatical corrections. Let me know, though any changes/notes are few and far between in this highly entertaining and well-handled story.

    (Though I’m dead sure no one was expecting the gory details of her illness! :D)
    Cheers!

    • Spider– I would gladly take any feedback and grammatical corrections. That would be a huge help. Thanks for being such a staunch supporter!

      • Happy to help! Oh and just let me know if you prefer I upload and send post a link here or email you the corrected/proofed version once I finish with it.
        And as is my way, I was reading your comment and you last line triggered a train of thought that led me to this, yeah, this is what my brain does: 😀 (I love “tweaking” these things!)

        This story shall the good man teach his son;
        And true inspiration shall ne’er go by,
        From this day to the ending of the world,
        But we in it shall be remember’d;
        We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
        For he to-day that inscribes his ink with me
        Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
        This day shall gentle his condition:
        And gentlemen in England now a-bed
        Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
        And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
        That wrote with us upon Inspiration Monday.

  6. Thoroughly enjoyed reading this; your writing style is fluid and enjoyable. I cannot help but wonder how she is going to keep the devastation at bay. Ahhhh, the beauty of a great short story; the unanswered questions that churn for a while after reading it.

    Glad to have discovered you via “Five Sentence Fiction.”

    • Britton– Thank you for the encouragement. One tries to distance themselves from their own work and look at it with a critical eye to get a sense of whether it is good or bad. I always hope it is well received. But to get this kind of feed back from others is helpful. Thanks again.

  7. You are a great story-teller! The ending was just perfect. Though my eye was looking for grammatical mistakes, none were found. Thanks for the good read.

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