Okay, so it’s a bit long for flash — call it sudden fiction :-)
But I woke up with an idea to re-tell a classic Halloween story, and this is how it came out. Hope you enjoy!
“This is what you wanted to show me?”
They were standing on the edge of a gorge — one of thousands of secret little gorges sawed into the forested hillsides of Central New York’s Appalachian plateau.
He hadn’t said a word since they got there but she guessed the reason he’d brought her.
And so she set aside, again, her heaviness of heart, and looked again where he was looking.
On either side the impossibly steep banks. The thick trunks and mazey boughs of the hemlocks and beech trees, outcroppings of rock half-buried in layers of amber forest litter and draped with clumps of limp green polypody ferns. And framed by all the rest: a little creek — a tiny creek, barely a foot or two across. It would have been nothing at all, the little creek — except that just below where they stood its water sluiced out in a frothing arc from a ledge of dark gray shale bedrock, falling down a good 30 feet to a darker pool below . . .
A pristine secret little waterfall.
That’s why he’d brought her here.
“Does it have a name?” she asked.
“Not that I know of.”
“Do you want to hike down?” She tried to sound sincere. But she felt his eyes, now, on her face. Checking to see if she was humoring him or if she really wanted to hike down those steep banks to the water below.
This wasn’t her place. The walk in had been a long one, over soft, uneven, damp ground — she didn’t like it, didn’t like brushing accidentally into spider webs, didn’t like the peculiar rustling quiet of the forest, didn’t like how disorienting it all was, that she had no idea where she was, no idea how to get back. Not like in the city, where she always knew.
She was hugging herself, she’d pulled her hands into the arms of her sweatshirt.
“You’re cold,” he said.
She nodded. And then she felt his eyes brush over her neck.
He shifted his eyes quickly back to the waterfall. “Let’s get you back to the car.”
On the way home she fiddled with the air vents so they would blow their warm air over her.
“Did you like it?” he said.
“It was very pretty.” She turned on the radio, found a pop tune she liked, sang along with it.
But he asked again later, in the apartment.
You ask too many questions, she thought, and her heart twinged again, but aloud she repeated her same answer. “It was pretty. Very pretty.”
“Do you mean that, or are you just–”
“I mean it. I see why, uh–” She realized that she was pulling at the drawstrings of her sweatshirt hood, cowling the fabric around her neck. Hiding it. “It’s very you, if you know what I mean.”
They were sitting across from each other at the scratched up dinette that had come with the apartment, eating Chinese takeout, and their eyes met. “No, what do you mean?” he said.
“It’s very . . . peaceful. You — that’s very important to you.”
He stood up and came around the table and she stood up — defensively, although the defensiveness was too subtle for him to notice it. He pulled her to himself. “The truth?” he said before he put his mouth on hers. “You are what is important to me.”
But she knew it wasn’t the truth. Not the entire truth.
He took her to the bedroom.
Undressed, there was nothing to hide it, and later she felt him looking at it again.
She shut her eyes.
“When did you have it–”
“No,” she said. “I told you — no.”
He’d always backed off before.
“Turn off the light, please?”
But the bedroom faced the street, and there was a streetlight just outside the window and when she opened her eyes again he was looking at her still.
He’d always backed off before.
Now he reached out his hand. Like he was going to touch it.
“No,” she said, pushing his hand away.
“It’s very well done,” he said. He spoke in low tones to make it sound casual but instead it just made his voice quaver. “Whoever did it was very good.”
She didn’t answer.
“I could get one, too. A matching one.”
“It’s not a collar, is it?”
She sat up. “Stop it.”
“You have to stop asking about it. If this is going to work — you need to stop asking about it. You need to put it out of your mind.”
He turned the light back on and she yanked the blankets over herself, but although she jerked the covers up again — jerked hard — they were tucked in too tightly at the foot of the bed. She couldn’t cover her neck.
“You’re so hot,” he said. “I’ve never seen anyone so beautiful–” But he was looking at the tattoo.
“This isn’t going to work,” she whispered.
“Yes, it is.”
“Look, I know you have a past.” His voice quavered again. “I get that. But if you’d just tell me — tell me –”
He reached out toward her neck again.
She flinched away from him and leaped out of their bed.
“Just tell me!”
He was shouting. He’d never shouted at her, but now he was shouting.
She began picking up her clothes from the floor.
And then he was suddenly out of the bed too, trying to snatch her jeans from her hands.
She’d kept it under control. Until then, she’d kept it under control — but she couldn’t any more, not any more.
She began to scream.
“Stop it!” She screamed. “You–you’re a good man, Jason! A good man! But you want peace! And you will never have it with me — do you understand? Never!”
“But — I love you!”
“NO!” The scream pitched higher, now, becoming a shriek. “I told you! I told you not to ask! I told you’d be sorry! But you couldn’t leave it alone! You couldn’t leave it alone!”
He’d never seen her like this — he’d never seen anyone like this — he stepped back, staring, it was her but not her, that perfect body, that long graceful neck slashed across with that pitch black ribbon of pitch black ink — and above it the face that had once been so beautiful.
Now the twisted face of a madwoman.
She ran down the stairs, ran into the street, and by the time he stopped shaking enough to follow her it was too late.
She was gone.
She hadn’t worn her shoes, she was barefoot, at night in the city, by herself, by herself on the streets in October.
The same way he’d found her.
He never saw her again.