31 comments

Nov 11, 2020

Drama Suspense

He’s going to kill her.


That’s my first thought as I stare at Camilla’s pale, bare shoulders. Her moon-dew skin is ruthlessly freckled by dark welts. She winces as I gingerly reach out to place my fingertips lightly upon the yellow and purple blemishes that mar her neck and upper arms.


My chest swells as I choke back a fierce rage. My mouth tightens, and I will myself not to react until I have a chance to process what I’m seeing. But my eyes don’t listen – they sob on behalf of my tongue. Thick, warm drops fall with vigor upon my cheeks.


For a moment, I glide my fingers from bruise to bruise, counting the violations as I go.


Seven…eight…nine.


 “Cammy – what happened?”


I try to catch her eye, but she won’t look at me. Instead, she’s fixed on the dancing flame of the lit candle on the coffee table.


“I like this scent, Gracie.”


The candle’s melting wax fills my small, one-bedroom apartment with comforting notes of windflower and foxglove, but it can’t fool me.


“Cam – please.”


She’s still fixed on the fire, watching as it leaps and tumbles on its wick.


“Did you know that you can put out a candle with your fingers, and it won’t burn as long as you do it quickly?” she asks.


“Cam,” I place my hand on top of hers, “did Travis hit you?”


Watching her closely, a small flare of her nostril and tiny flex of the muscle in her cheek tells me what I need to know.


“Oh God, Cam…how long has he been doing this?”


Her gaze grows glassy as crystalline beads weave their way down her face. They catch the light of the candle, shining in its glow.


“I’m calling dad,” I say, standing from the second-hand sofa. But I don’t make it far before I feel her grab my wrist. I look down to find her eyes pleading with me.


“No,” she whispers, her voice hoarse. Broken. “It was an accident. Really, he didn’t mean to. He apologized.”


“Cammy, this isn’t an accident. People don’t do this on accident. Not to people they love.”


Camilla recoils as if my words hit her harder than Travis ever had. After a moment of thick, uncomfortable silence, she stands and begins gathering her purse. She slips her dandelion-yellow sweater over her head despite the summer heat.


“You don’t understand, Gracie,” she says quietly, heading towards the door. “He’s an amazing man – smart, successful at work, everyone loves him! I’m lucky to be with him, and I love him. Besides, it was my fault anyway. I was stupid and set him off.”


Her words slide down my body leaving behind an ominous chill as I realize that she actually believes what she’s saying.


“Cam, please. Stay here tonight. We can talk about it in the--”


“I have to go, Gracie.”


“No, Cammy, wait. Stop!”


I’m helpless - powerless to stop her from walking out the door. I find myself desperate to get her to stay here, where it’s safe. Chasing her towards the front door, I stumble over the rug and follow her into the bare apartment hallway. My voice echoes down the corridor as it bounces from door to door.


“If you leave, I’m calling dad!”


She freezes from three doors down.


“Gracie,” her voice floats towards me, although she keeps her back to me. “I trust you. You can’t tell anyone – you need to leave this alone. Promise me?”


“No, Cam! I don’t promise! How can you expect me to keep a promise like that?”


She glances at me over her shoulder. Her eyes have changed. They no longer plead with me. They demand. They are scared.


“Because you’re my sister.”


She hurries to the stairs, and before I can respond she’s gone. Left alone in the empty hallway, I realize now why I hadn’t seen my sister for six months.


Stepping back inside my apartment I slam the door behind me. Anger, confusion and regret dance in harmony within my mind, waltzing together in beautiful discord. Pacing back and forth on the tacky, mauve carpet - nausea gnaws on my insides as I picture her going back home to him. Glancing at the clock beside the reading chair, I see it's past midnight. Perhaps I’ll be able to think more clearly in the morning.


“Did you know that you can put out a candle with your fingers, and it won’t burn as long as you do it quickly?”


I remember what Cam said about extinguishing the candle, and hesitantly reach for the flame, but I'm not fast enough. I feel the edge of the fire as it licks my thumb. Its cool heat causes me to pull back in fear. She said it won't burn - I don't believe her.


I whisper instead onto the candle of windflower and foxglove before retreating to the bedroom, willing the comfort of my satin sheets to slow the rhythms of the emotions still swaying and frolicking in my mind. But the moon’s glare that filters through my bedroom curtains burns into my closed eyelids and reminds me of those welts upon my sister’s skin. I toss and turn, unable to get comfortable.


“Gracie, I trusted you. You can’t tell anyone – you need to leave this alone. Promise me?”


I scowl as Cam’s voice rattles around inside my head like a pair of trick dice.


***


“Put her on the phone, Travis.”


“She’s busy, Grace. I’ll have her call you later.”


Bile rises to the back of my throat as I choke back my loathing. I struggle to censor the vitriol that drips from my words.


“She’s my little sister, Travis. Put her on the goddamn phone.”


“And she’s my fiancé, Grace. I’ll have her call you back later.”


“I haven’t seen or spoken to her for almost a month! You shouldn't be answering her cellphone anyway!” I hiss.


He laughs with condescension. “She’ll call you back.”


*Click*


Staring at the dead line in my hand in disbelief, I start to dial my dad’s number.


“You need to leave this alone. Promise me?”


I can hear Cammy’s voice once more inside my head. That same, desperate voice from the hallway in my apartment over a month ago. Ever since she had disappeared down that stairwell, her voice had taken up residency in my mind, invading my thoughts.


Staring down at the phone in my hand, I’m torn between being a sister and being a savior. I know that to be one, I have to be the other, but I can't be either without breaking my unspoken promise.


“You need to leave this alone."


Throwing my phone angrily across the room, I dash to the bathroom and take a few moments to breathe, willing the air into my lungs. I splash a few handfuls of shockingly cold water onto my face when suddenly a chorus of demented, broken laughter rings out from somewhere nearby.


Looking up into the mirror above the sink, my own face stares back, but it’s not me. It’s a Grace I don’t recognize – she’s the one laughing.


Get it together, Grace. I start counting my breathing, trying to slow my rapid heartbeat.


One…two…three…


The girl in the mirror is hysterical. I can feel her fighting me – she’s in my head. I can’t stop her laughing.


Four…five…six…


It’s getting harder and harder to control my breathing as her laughter completely takes over. My sides begin to ache and my eyes water.


Seven…eight…nine.


The girl in the mirror is right. I have no choice. She’s my sister.


"You can put out a candle with your fingers, and it won’t burn as long as you do it quickly.”


Glancing into the mirror, I let out a final, small giggle and wipe the tears away as I hear Cam’s voice once more. Heading back to the living room, I spot my keys and pick up my phone from the floor, hitting re-dial.


Two rings. Voicemail.


“I know. County Reserve – campsite 134, trailhead 13B. The waterfall. One hour or I’m calling my dad.”


I cut the line, ending my message. I know who will listen to it.


Heading out to my hatchback, I get comfortable. It’s a 40-minute drive to the reserve. Pulling out of the apartment complex, it takes only a few minutes to merge onto the highway. My mind is almost quiet now - my sister's voice has settled - it helps the drive go by quickly.


As I pull in to our family’s favorite old campsite, I reach into my glovebox and grab my peace of mind before starting down trailhead 13B. It’s a tricky one – not for the faint of heart. The first mile is deceptively easy, with a few slippery rocks and some irregular footing, but nearly a mile down the trail the unwary hiker reaches the first of many steep cliff heads. I mastered all twelve miles when I was 17, but Cammy never seemed make it past the first.


Stepping over fallen logs, I navigate the thick tree roots that swell and spread, gnarled and uneven, as they bisect the path ahead. My pulse quickens as rushing water in the distance seeps out from the trees, washing over the forest and drowning out the rustling of leaves and scrabbling of nearby animals. The afterglow of sunset paints the leaves and vines of the giant oaks, and feeds the growing shadows as the air hangs still in anticipation.


A half-mile in, I spy the waterfall ahead, several meters off the trail. Making my way there, I wipe away the delicate beads of summer sweat on my forehead and climb atop a large stone. The water's roar silences all else.


I sit, and wait.


Dusk chases away the sunset’s smolder as the sky vanishes, replaced by dark canvas. I wonder if he’s not coming.


“Promise me?”


She's back. Cam’s voice inside my head threatens my resolve, but I can hear myself start to laugh once more. I silence my sister, allowing my laughter to drown out the memory of her voice. If betrayal is the price for her safety, I will bear that cost.


“What’s so funny, Grace?"


I fall silent as Travis steps from the shadows. He wears a snarl as he advances, staring down his crooked nose at me and running a thick hand through his handsome, wavy black locks.


"Why am I here," he growls, "in the middle of the night, when I should be sleeping?"


"I think you know why we're both here, Travis."


His gray eyes narrow, and his lip curls. He lets out a patronizing laugh.


"If you have something to say to me, woman, say it. Otherwise I'm going home. Camilla misses me."


Shooting a nasty, perverted smile my way he turns and starts heading back into the shadows.


“You know, you’re a real piece of work,” I taunt, calling after him, still seated from atop the massive rock.


Travis stops and turns towards me. A demented grin begins to spread across his face.


“Does it make you feel strong when you hit her? Make you feel like a man?" I jeer.


His grin disappears. His nostrils flare and he bears his perfect white teeth like a rabid dog as he begins to circle me slowly.


“You don’t know what you’re talking about," he spits.


“Do you hit her because it arouses you?” I sneer. “You know, I saw that on TV once. The detective said the guy beat his wife because it was the only way he could get it up.”


Travis lets out an angry roar and raises his fist. He lunges.


"It won't burn as long as you do it quick."


I pull out my peace of mind and fire once, right through his chest.


Travis stumbles back a few steps, bringing his hand to his heart, confused at the sticky red paint that coats his fingers. Falling to his knees, he glares at me in shock. I bask in the glimmer of fear I see hidden beneath the dying light of bravado in his gaze.


Delicately hopping from my rocky throne, I kneel before him, eye to eye, and place a gentle hand upon his cheek.


“You can go to sleep now, Travis. Sorry for keeping you up so late.”


***


“Gracie, can we run to the store and pick up a few things?”


I glance over at Cam in her Autumn sweater dress, the off-the-shoulder, grey-knit neckline beautifully accentuates her flawless moon-dew skin.


“Sure, Cam. Let me grab my keys and we’ll go. I’ll meet you at the car.”


Camilla has been staying with me ever since Travis went missing a little over a month ago. The first week or so had been a torrent of tears, but she’s doing much better.


“Oh, Gracie don’t forget to put your candle out,” she calls as she leaves.


Glancing over at my candle of windflower and foxglove, I reach my fingers in and smile, quickly snuffing the wick between them.

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31 comments

Tom .
20:01 Nov 15, 2020

This was a tough read. It is beautifully written and has the right ending but it just left me feeling grim. Then you did that little trick with the candle at the end that made me smile. GOOD JOB

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20:42 Nov 15, 2020

Thank you Tom! I’m glad you enjoyed that little trick at the end there :)

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02:21 Nov 11, 2020

Beautiful work! I ABSOLUTELY love the story, and the detail that really caught my attention was the wonderful way the entire story was narrated in the present tense. Keep writing 💜

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03:50 Nov 11, 2020

Thank you so much!

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Chris Buono
18:24 Nov 12, 2020

That was a pretty satisfying murder to read as it advanced. I like that after it, Gracie was able to put out the candle with her fingers, a signifier that she has grown stronger after helping her sister get rid of an abusive fiancé. Loved this story.

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18:47 Nov 12, 2020

Thank you Chris! I appreciate your thoughts. I agree - I felt it was a concise way to demonstrate her growth, even if it is in a demented way.

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Shea Redmond
16:44 Nov 12, 2020

First of all, the weight of knowing this happens to women around the clock is just horrifying....and the more it's talked about the better. But I loved how you used the candle as a metaphor here, because abusers are often hot and bright like a flame and they leave damage behind if we don't "handle them with care"....but I love that you found a way to extinguish his potential to burn.

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18:46 Nov 12, 2020

Thank you Shea - it's a horrible reality. I'm glad you spotted the deeper meaning of the candle and its flame! As always, I appreciate your feedback and your time :)

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Cathryn V
04:39 Nov 12, 2020

Suspenseful! My favorite line is "“You can go to sleep now, Travis. Sorry for keeping you up so late.” I can feel her anger. Nice work. ***

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04:47 Nov 12, 2020

Thank you Cathryn! I also felt a little chill when I wrote that line. Thanks for reading! :)

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Lina Ozz
02:45 Nov 12, 2020

Ooooh I love this!! Also, damn, this line: "Her gaze grows glassy as crystalline beads weave their way down her face." I absolutely love that line. The alliteration, the visuals in instigates...all of your work is so lyrical and beautiful. Each story just gets better and better and I absolutely love it! The way you incorporate the scene with the candle in various capacities is so well done, too. Honestly didn't find any adjustments/critiques for this one. You take a complicated topic and make something dark but beautiful (and mean...

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03:35 Nov 12, 2020

As always - your commentary makes my heart full! Thank you so much. I’ve been on a “dark yarn” kick lately and this one was the cherry on the sad girl sundae. Thank you so much for reading, as always! Can’t wait to see what we both come up with next!!

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Lina Ozz
03:47 Nov 12, 2020

I feel that. My latest stories have been more dark/focused on some type of social aspect. Maybe a sign of the crazy and stressful times...and I love that–– "cherry on the sad girl sundae". Hahahaha. Made my night!!

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20:43 Nov 11, 2020

Haha! Awesome! Loved this. Absolutely loved the moment when Grace pulls out her gun and shoots Travis! I’m using a phone right now, so I’ll leave a full review when I can get back to my computer—awesome work!

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21:15 Nov 11, 2020

Thanks Leo! Looking forward to your full critique!

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14:19 Nov 13, 2020

Ok, ok, finally got the computer time to look at this! I re-read it, and realized I don't really have anything to say here. Again, awesome job on that climax! Real fist-pump moment. The only thing I could find was with this: "It’s a tricky one – not for the faint of heart. Cammy and I mastered it when we were 17." I do a bunch of hiking, so it just raised a few question for me--how is that trailhead so difficult, and why did it take two hikers so long to master it? You quote fallen logs and spreading roots, but those things aren't h...

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15:54 Nov 13, 2020

This is a great point! I know zero things about hiking. I'm an indoor cat. Let me work with that. Thanks Leo! I enjoyed this piece.

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16:08 Nov 13, 2020

Yes, hiking is my game, lol. 😉

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16:12 Nov 13, 2020

I took another crack at layering in complexity. If you have a chance to read that paragraph again (no pressure - our time is valuable), let me know if there is any other terminology/aspects that I should weave through.

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John Del rio
15:53 Nov 11, 2020

wow. so well written. so much can change over 60 days. Grace did keep her promise and not call their father. i hope that Cammie is able to move on and finds someone that is right for her. i also hope that Grace can move on and know that what she did was for the love of her sister; and that if she hadn't done it, then the one who went missing eventually would have been Cammie. i look forward to enjoying more of your work.

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17:37 Nov 11, 2020

Thank you so much John! I appreciate you reading! I agree - although Grace may have betrayed her sister's trust in terms of leaving things alone, she ultimately kept her promise of not calling her father by handling it herself, even if she did so at the sacrifice of her own mental stability. Glad you enjoyed!

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Ken Coomes
21:39 Nov 18, 2020

Aj, this is a beautifully painful piece. I love the way you weave words together to create lovely pictures. It should go without saying that I'm glad Travis got his in the end (or in the chest.) I really do look forward to reading more of your work. Two extremely minor nits to pick (or suggestions to help you improve just the tiniest bit): where you wrote "I feel the edge of the fire as it licks my thumb. Its cool heat" the phrase cool heat disrupted the flow, for me. And where you wrote "His nostrils flare and he bears his perfect white tee...

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23:44 Nov 18, 2020

You’re too kind Ken! Thank you for taking the time to read through and leave your thoughts and reaction...I’m very appreciative of the little things you captured! I’ve made adjustments on my master copy. Thanks again, Ken - you are appreciated!

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Rachel Macmorran
19:05 Nov 15, 2020

Another great one! As an older sister myself, I can only ask— what took her so long? There’s no way I would go a month without hearing from my sister knowing she was in danger. I might suggest the phone call that Travis intercepts happens the next day—because that’s about the max I would wait. Also, because I am a huge dork, I kind of want the gun to be called Piece of Mind (cause a gun is a “piece” -get it? Get it?) And one last tiny thing—I don’t like that her shoulders are “freckled” with bruises because freckles are a) small and b) cute....

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20:41 Nov 15, 2020

All excellent suggestions Rachel! You’re absolutely right - personally I think I would never be able to wait even a day, let alone three weeks, knowing my sibling could be in danger! But I did base the first half on a situation my close friend found her sister in. It took her several weeks before she snapped, because her sister was allowed to text her occasionally, and had spoken to her parents a few times. I think that’s why abusers are able to fool people for so long - they let their victims keep the minimum amount of contact to avoid real...

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Andy Pagliuca
00:13 Nov 19, 2020

Very well written. Hated your antagonist though. I get that's the point, but I hated him more then I have ever hated a villain... in my life! you made me hate and loath a imaginary person... wow so good

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00:25 Nov 19, 2020

This might be one of the greatest compliments I've received! This particular antagonist made my skin crawl - so I'm glad you experienced the same. Thank you so much, Andy, for reading and leaving your feedback- comments like yours are what keep me motivated!

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Magdalene Lam
09:35 Nov 26, 2020

So you can really put out a candle with your fingers?

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