Drama Sad Suspense

Beyond the window, a blur of drifting pink cherry blossoms obscures the afternoon sun. Its radiance backlights Cordelia, who kindly takes my hand, while my son, David, is to my right.

“Mom?” David’s tone is filled with worry.

I cringe, gulping down my words.

The guilt of my lifelong deception weighs on me.

An electrocardiogram issues constant, rhythmic pulses.

Cordelia leans in and whispers, “Go on.”

I resist, shaking my head; the cannula tugs at my nostrils.

Cordelia smiles. “We went everywhere together.” She wears a knee-length, floral dress — fabric rationed during the war — with soft, looping blond curls and twisty black ribbons. She caresses my cheek. “We were friends, once. You used to tell me everything. I’m here now. Go on, tell me.”

“You went away,” I swallow, “after the camping trip.”

David asks, concerned. “Who’s she talking to?”

“Eleanor?” A doctor parts my eyelid to flick a penlight back and forth across my pupil. 

Bursts of light and shadow race by, rays peeking through the dense, reaching trees of an ancient forest that borders the roadside. Cordelia and I giggle in the backseat of my father’s 1939 Grand Chevrolet. She tries to tickle me and I wriggle and bump into Danielle, my older sister. Danielle angrily pushes me back. “Would you please stop it?”

“Why?” I lick my lips and tremble, my heart held fast in death’s grip. “Why did you leave?”

Cordelia bends to kiss my knuckle.

“Mom?” David says. “I’m right here.”

We arrive at the campground nestled in the forest near Mt. St. Helens, resting on the shores of Spirit Lake. The summer wind carries the scent of wild roses and evergreen, and my father — his face obscured by his Fedora — crouches to strike the tent stake with a mallet as Danielle fetches firewood. Nearby, I chase after Cordelia. I envy her. She wears the same outfit with white tights and cute Mary Janes, but all my father dressed me in were ragged denim overalls. It was all he ever gave me after Mother died.

David rests his hand on mine. “Mom? I don’t understand?”

Click-click. A pen writes against a clipboard. “She’s delirious, Mr. Evans. You can’t trust anything she says.”

Danielle unfurls a chequered tablecloth to cover the picnic table and unloads the car of groceries while Father gathers his fishing gear. He gestures at me. “Watch after Eleanor, Danny. I’ll be back before sunset.”

“Alright, Dad. I’ll get the rest put together.”

Father waves at us as he leaves camp.

“I think,” David pauses, then reconsiders. “I don’t know. It seems like she’s trying to say something.”

Night comes, and I’ve never seen so many stars. Danielle tells me that’s because I’d never been so far from home. There’s less ambient light, she said, before having to explain the word ‘ambient’ to me. Father sprinkles kerosene over the firewood and says to me, holding me back, “Not too close.” His hatchet and flint produce a spark, and the fire roars to life.

My body jerks under the bedsheets.

David. “Mom?”

Cordelia steps forward and narrows her eyes. “I remember, but isn’t there something you need to tell me?”

Stubborn, I shake my head no.

Cordelia gently touches my shoulder. “You can say it to me. You can tell me anything.”

Danielle and I are roasting marshmallows. Mine catches flame, and its molten surface becomes blackened char.

“Not so close,” Danielle advises, showing me. “Keep it up higher than the fire.”

Across from us, my father chuckles before pulling from his bottle of bourbon. “I like the taste myself.”

Danielle rolls her eyes. “You would, Dad.”

Father raises his own skewer to blow out the flames. “The heat caramelizes the sugar. It’s crispy! You’re just like your mom, Danny. Live a little! Everythin’ gotta be nice and tidy, clean to a fault, but it’s the dirt and grime that makes life worth livin’.”

Danielle titters and side-eyes my Father. “She didn’t like burnt marshmallows either, did she?”

Father draws a tendril of oozing white with his teeth. 

Beside me, her arms wrapped around her knees, Cordelia urges me in the firelight. “Go on.”

I arch my back.

The pain rakes at my chest.

My heart flutters.

“He mustn’t know.”

“Know what, mom?”

“I’m not him,” Cordelia reminds. “You can tell me.”

Later, I wake, Danielle is gone, and I am alone in my tent. Cordelia reads a book in the dark and — noticing I’m awake — closes the cover to look up at me.

Outside, I hear the rock and sway of the car’s suspension.

“Go on.”

“I can’t.” I hide, bringing the sleeping bag over my head.

Cordelia patiently waits for me in the dark. “You must.”

“It’s too painful! He shouldn’t know, not now, not after all this time!”

“Oh my God,” David breathes. “Is there anything we can do?”

“Mr. Evans—”

“He’s not mine,” I confess, hiding my face from Cordelia in my bag. “David’s not mine, but Danielle told him no, I swear, I heard her tell him no.”

I hear Danielle’s muffled voice from the car, and I gasp a dry, raspy breath.

David shakes me. “Who’s Danielle? Mom, I don’t understand. What are you saying? Mom?”

A memory floods my dying mind. I am at home in my father’s bedroom nearly a year later. The smell of copper meets the back of my throat. I enter to see Danielle’s vacant stare, her face tilted back toward the ceiling, and then her bloodied, crying baby, cradled in my arms.

“Mr. Evans,” the doctor sighs, repeating himself. “I’m sorry, but this is to be expected at this stage.”


The EKG sounds an alarm.

The pain intensifies.

My chest seizes.

I lose my breath.

David jolts to his feet. “Mom!”

“You asked why I left.” Cordelia lowers her gaze, turns from my bedside, and fades from existence. “That’s why.”

And as darkness encroaches, the last I ever see – the last I ever am and will ever be – is the swirl of pink blossoms carried far away on the wind.

March 04, 2024 19:39

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Martin Ross
20:23 Apr 03, 2024

Brilliant and harrowing — all the more so for the rhapsodic imagery — and the deathbed revelation of something so shattering really grabbed my gut. You have such a mastery of tone, and I’m happy to see you back!


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Kerriann Murray
22:13 Mar 13, 2024

Wow! This was intense. I love how you used the character's medical state to bring us back-and-forth from memories/hallucinations to the present moment. Glad I got to read your stuff!


Russell Mickler
13:31 Mar 16, 2024

Thank you, Kerriann :) R


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Russell Mickler
05:12 Mar 07, 2024

The landing page for this story can be found on my website: https://www.black-anvil-books.com/whispering-secrets-to-the-wind R


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Alexis Araneta
13:04 Mar 05, 2024

Oh my, Russell ! Another brilliant one. Such impeccable use of imagery. What a creative way to illustrate a person's last thoughts. Great job !


Russell Mickler
15:50 Mar 05, 2024

Hi Stella! Thank you - my first beta reader was like, "Mickler: what in the *!@@#^^&# are you doing?!" as there were seven or so characters, I kept moving back and forth in time, and I was talking too much about clothes. hehe I'm glad with the way it turned out after subsequent drafts. Thanks again for reading and commenting, Stella :) R


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Mary Bendickson
05:10 Mar 05, 2024

Yes. Secrets...


Russell Mickler
15:48 Mar 05, 2024

Hehe - thank you for reading, Mary :) R


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