A Trip to South America

Submitted into Contest #215 in response to: Set your story in a haunted house.... view prompt

15 comments

Horror Fiction

The plane was coming back, it was definitely watching him. A small crucifix, dark against the blue sky, drawing and redrawing the same ellipse over the house. Honeypie watched it slip out of sight behind his tree. He loved his garden, and he loved his tree most of all. He loved it now for hiding the plane that was beginning to freak him out. He suspected it was trying to make him leave the garden, possibly force him to abandon his house altogether. The buzzing plane, the visitors who ignored him, the cat that he often felt staring at him from the ivy-choked flower beds. All of them were trying to get him to leave, but he never would. 

He had always wanted to own a tree, possibly more than he had wanted to own the semi-detached house attached to the garden where it grew. No, not that much. But he loved his tree a lot. He was still sure of that, if not much else. His tree with its uncountable leaves moving on the breeze, falling and returning, measuring the autumns of his home-ownership. Honeypie thought of his tree as a beautiful, infinitely complex, organic clock. People let their dogs piss on trees. Honeypie loved trees and clocks, was less keen on dogs, was, at best, ambivalent about intrusive cats and increasingly indifferent to people.

Although briefly hidden, the buzzing engines of the plane could still be heard. Honeypie’s loyal, bee-stuffed, blossoming tree buzzed back at it, in a higher key. With a dip of a wing it broke from its carousel groove and disappeared over the near horizon of the house’s tiled roof. Honeypie, relieved that it had lost interest in him, walked back up his once well-tended garden to his front door.   

Once inside Honeypie relaxed in mortgage-free peace. Home again. He clumped down the uncarpeted hallway past the foot of the bare wooden stairs. He looked up the rough, gloss flecked stairs with their pike-toothed gripper rods. He thought of how much Sugarlump would enjoy shopping for a new carpet. She liked to make things look nice, liked to have things just how she liked them. The old carpet was ruined.

If he was an astronaut in space, home would be Earth. When he had been on his honeymoon in Malta, when the name ‘Honeypie’ had had first begun to stick despite his weak protests, moon and pie both stickily sweet in the aftermath of the wedding, home had been England. When he got back to Heathrow home was at the end of the connecting flight to Newcastle. Bleary eyed in the small-hours chill of a Newcastle taxi queue, home had come ever more sharply back into focus. They rode a black cab, a last honeymoon extravagance, back to the marital semi. The driver had been instructed to stop by the blossoming tree, surreal in the sodium streetlight of early morning. The target of their homing instinct had continued to shrink until the bullseye was found in their bed. It was not possible for Honeypie and Sugarlump to be any more at home than they were in their quiet, stressless bed.   

The bare staircase amplified the chuck-tock of the wall mounted clock. The wedding present, Honeypie’s favourite, gave the air of his home its own sound and shape. Sugarlump detested the clock. She despised Honeypie’s uncle who had given it to them, hated the sound it made and had complained bitterly and regularly about its failure to ‘go’. The matter of the clock was the only time that Honeypie had ever defied his beloved Sugarlump. He loved his uncle and his gift would stay, giving the air of their home it’s reliable sound and shape. A new carpet would soften the clock’s sound back to its heart-beat thrum, cover the stairs’ pike teeth, and hide the large brown stain at their foot. Honeypie hoped Sugarlump would prioritise the purchase of a new carpet.

Honeypie had a vague anxiety that Sugarlump might try and sell the stained house. Admittedly, it would be difficult in the current circumstances. She would probably just have to hide the stain under a nice new carpet, chosen without discussion or debate, but it would still be there, like an anchor under the sea, chaining him to the house, making it his home forever. This was fine by Honeypie because he loved his house, with his tree, his clock and even his stain, which he thought looked a bit like South America.

Honeypie didn’t know how long he had spent staring at the stain. He had to admit that recently he’d completely lost track of time. The budding of his tree, the swing of his clock, both had become abstract advice that he felt unable to take. Rhythms he had lost and could not pick up again. He had only a sketchy knowledge of a sequence of events which grew muddled and unfocused the further away they became. His recent past was the plot of an unengaging story that he had only skimmed.

The sharpest recollection was the visit of Sugarlump’s mother. She had entered the house alone and looked at the stain, pale faced and serious. She had scrubbed at it with bleach, succeeding only in blurring Chile and erasing the Falkland Islands before giving up. Then she had taken the clock down from the wall and put it roughly into a cardboard box, killing its lovely sound and leaving the air shapeless. Honeypie remembered now, she had taken his clock. Was that why everything felt so strange? Was that why he had been losing track of time? He was sad that his clock had gone, but knew that this would please Sugarlump who hated the clock for reasons he could not fully recall.

Before the visit of Sugarlump’s mother there had been the masked people in the white suits. They too had been interested in the stain when it was still on the old stair carpet, measuring it and marking its few outlying islands that clung to the walls. They had ignored him completely and he had spent most of the time in the garden, strangely detached from anything that was happening, feeling that their visit was significant but not knowing why.  

The white suits had followed the black suits who had taken away the bloodless man who had lain upside down at the foot of the stairs. Honeypie had watched them lift the strange, much photographed, two-mouthed thing, dragging and heaving the uncooperative mass into a neatly zipped bag. When he had been trolleyed away the carpet was lifted and removed and followed him out of the house. Honeypie and the stain remained.

Before the strangers had begun to visit it had only been Honeypie and Sugarlump together in their house. He remembered only his devotion and Sugarlump’s beauty. Her pushing and slapping him was merely the performance of passion. He knew he provoked it by stubbornly insisting on keeping the clock, even though it had been stopping her sleeping since they got back from Malta, even though it didn’t ‘go’.   

If Honeypie climbed the stairs and looked back down them he felt the lurch of vertigo. He saw the clock installed at the bottom of the unstained, carpeted stairs. He could not hear its soft knocking over the screaming, hers then his. Then a push that sent the whole house cartwheeling around him and brought his head to the edge of the bottom stair, splitting a mouth into the back of his skull. The mouth spat his brains onto the ground. In a few ticks of the clock Honeypie’s ruined mind had imagined a black and creeping South America for the first time. He had not seen Sugarlump since. Was she in Malta? Out shopping for a new carpet?   

Honeypie moved away from the top of the stairs to find some other place to wait. He would remain in the house, walk its rooms, and wait patiently for Sugarlump to return. He felt sure she knew what had happened, that she would be able to help him clear up whatever it was that had happened between them. Whatever it was, they could move past it. Whatever she had done, he would forgive her. If she got his clock back. He would apologise for his part and reassure her that whatever she had done, he would never leave their home and that they would be together forever.

September 11, 2023 20:00

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

15 comments

16:40 Sep 27, 2023

I loved the idea that home changes based on where you are. I also loved the way he first knows his wife’s objection to the clock but later doesn’t, and that he vaguely knows that someone expects him to be gone but thinks it’s someone in the plane and doesn’t know why. Another excellent production, Chris. Sorry it took so long to get around to it.

Reply

Chris Miller
17:19 Sep 27, 2023

I had this idea of home as a cone with the point being the target, so that the area decreased the closer you got. It came out a bit more 2D but I think the idea is there. It was fun having a character be so confused that things don't need to make sense. Thanks for reading, Anne. It's flattering that anyone takes the time to read my efforts. Very much appreciated.

Reply

17:35 Sep 27, 2023

Btw, have you ever had a story not get accepted? It’s Wednesday evening and mine hasn’t been, but I can’t imagine what the criteria are if not, so just really confused

Reply

Chris Miller
17:46 Sep 27, 2023

I think I once had one not approved until the last day. I emailed them and they said it was because it didn't fit the prompt (it did) but then they reconsidered and approved it. I've had a couple take until Wednesday. Seems to be the luck of the draw. It'd be worth getting in touch with support.

Reply

18:37 Sep 27, 2023

Okay thanks! I read the rules for volunteer judge and got the impression that it had to be by Tuesday.

Reply

Chris Miller
10:23 Oct 05, 2023

My turn for a slow judge this week. My story for this week's competition has just been approved. Not much visibility before the deadline.

Reply

Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Kevin Logue
14:06 Sep 16, 2023

The rich narrative voice in this piece is stand out Chris, the plot and writing is stellar. But for me its all about Honeypie, his muddled confusion and longing is palpable. Starting off with the paranoia about the plane is a fantastic misdirection. Particularly enjoyed how you give us the reason why Sugarlump hated the clock and then as time passes he cant remember why she didn't like. Perhaps an indicator that he is slipping away from this plane? This line, although not complex, is so good man>>> Honeypie thought of his tree as a beauti...

Reply

Chris Miller
19:13 Sep 16, 2023

You are too kind, Kevin. I wanted to make his confusion, paranoia and disorientation quite a major part of it. I think they would be key to any ghost's experience. I think the concepts of memory and time would also become pretty challenging for a dead person. Once you've separated from your body you would be outside time in any physical/conventional sense, so your idea of it would start to slip pretty quickly. Maybe?!? Thanks for reading and taking the time to leave such thoughtful and encouraging comments.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Michał Przywara
20:44 Sep 13, 2023

Excellent! Killer voice here, very much gets across that feeling of detached confusion, and I love the use of the pet names. Presumably they held more significance, especially at the time of death, during a marital argument. They're tied to the emotions of the moment. It's a sad story, very much a tale of a lonely, lost soul. Great POV, very believable, and the end is uncomfortably ambiguous. Is there a sliver of hope, because he's willing to forgive? Is it miserable, because he thinks he needs to apologize? Is it insane, because he's still...

Reply

Chris Miller
21:09 Sep 13, 2023

Thank you very much for reading and taking the time to leave your reliably insightful and well considered comments, Michal. I thought there would be a good chance a ghost would be confused and a bit sketchy on what had actually happened. Ghost-logic is right, just enough internal logic to make it work (hopefully). I hoped his readiness to apologise would suggest confusion but also be a final hint at the nature of their relationship.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Mary Bendickson
16:14 Sep 12, 2023

Honey pie, won't you be my baby... Very haunting tale. So sweet but deadly.

Reply

Chris Miller
16:34 Sep 12, 2023

Thanks for reading, Mary!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
10:31 Sep 12, 2023

Nicely told tale Chris, going backwards through the events before arriving at the crucial moment was a nice touch. Poor old Honeypie. :( Thanks for sharing!

Reply

Chris Miller
10:37 Sep 12, 2023

Thank you, Derrick!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
RBE | Illustration — We made a writing app for you | 2023-02

We made a writing app for you

Yes, you! Write. Format. Export for ebook and print. 100% free, always.