Eight Hundred (Inspired by real events)

Submitted into Contest #78 in response to: Start your story with one character trying to convince another to take up their favorite hobby.... view prompt

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Fiction Coming of Age Drama

Eight hundred milligrams, the doctor said. Two white discs stare up at me on the counter, small beside the glass of water. Stupid little things. I look away. 

On the window sill above the sink is a row of jagged chess pieces, carved from dead trees. Mostly uneven pawns of all shades, but at the end is a neatly sculpted queen. 

“Have you tried carving yet?”

It was August when I met her. I went for a walk, because the house was too small a place for all my emotions. She stood just outside that creepy old house on Nullen street, hands in her pockets, staring at the sky. She was a small person, made smaller by the oversized sweater from the eighties. Her hair was lilac, and tied up into two buns. Her bangs hung low over her eyes. 

She caught me staring. “Hello!”

I flinched, and raised a tentative hand. “Hello.”

She nodded her head to the side, beckoning me. Already, this seemed suspicious, and I might have avoided her, as I was taught to avoid all strangers, but then again, what could a skinny girl do to me?

When I was close enough for normal conversation, she put her arm around my shoulder and pointed to the forest behind the house. 

“See that forest?” she said.

“Yeah.”

“Have you ever explored it?”

“No. This isn’t my property.”

“Well lucky for you, I live here.”

I snorted, and glanced at the old house before us. It barely passed as a dwelling, with the sinking foundation, and peeling paint. I’d never seen anyone leave or enter that place. But she seemed dead serious.

“You want me to explore the woods with you?” I asked.

“What a great idea!” she exclaimed, “Let’s do it. What’s your name, by the way?”

“Leo.”

“I’m Piper. C’mon, what are we waiting for?”

Had I not been a lonely kid in middle school, I might have said no, and walked away. If this wasn’t a trap, what was? But until that point, I had nothing to look forward to, nothing to hope for. The whole point of going on a walk was to find a reason to go on. I would take anything God gave me at that point. So I followed her into the woods.

For now, I seal the medication in a plastic bag and shove it in my jacket pocket, along with my pocket knife. I’ll decide later. For now, I need to get to work. 

When I step outside, the air is cool, and pale. Wind prickles the trees from their sleep and rouses birds into chirping. It’ll be a good day, I remind myself. Even if my hands freeze to the handles of my bike, I’ll still get paid. 

“Leo!” she said, waving a hand. She wore another ugly sweater. “I think I saw a rabbit in the woods yesterday! Want to come look for it with me?”

I looked at her. “Are we going to eat it?”

She laughed. “Don’t be silly. We’re going to adopt it!”

What a stupid idea. You can’t catch a wild rabbit without a gun. I shrugged. 

“Sure, okay.”

And we returned to the woods. 

Maybe it was the woods, maybe it was her. Something in those meetings seemed to lift the burdens from my mind, and make me feel like the kid I was. Like I might actually feel happy again.

“There! There she is!” Piper whispered.

“How do you know it’s a she?”

A wicked grin- one of her two front teeth was slightly overlapping the other- “Only a female could be that clever. See how she’s using her brown fur to blend in with the shadows?”

“Yeah,” I said, “But if she’s so clever, how are we going to catch her?”

She paused for a moment. “That’s a good question. Do you have any ideas?”

Me? This wasn’t my idea. Why did I have to do all the mental work?

“Do you have any food on you?” I asked.

She dug into the recesses of her pocket and retrieved what looked like a waffle. I wrinkled my nose. “That’s disgusting.”

“I suppose you’re more of a pancake person. I can respect that.”

“No that’s not- whatever, just toss her a piece.”

Piper giggled, and ripped off a corner of the waffle. “Here Shelby-Shelby-” she cooed, “C’mere-”

“Shelby?” I scoffed. 

“What, don’t you like that name?”

“I guess, it’s just-”

“Oh, right. Both parents should have a say in the name, right?” she threw the piece out into the ferns, a couple feet to the left of the rabbit. It leapt backward, nose twitching. 

“How about… Samwise?” I offered. “Like from Lord of the Rings?”

“That’s a boy’s name.”

“So?”

She threw another piece of the waffle. To my surprise, the bunny actually hopped forward to inspect the offerings. 

“Merry.” I said, deciding not to mention the fact that Merry was a male character from the same trilogy. Piper pursed her lips thoughtfully. 

“I still like Shelby. But if you feel strongly about Merry, I’m willing to compromise.”

Merry leaned down and sniffed the first crumb cast to her. Do bunnies even eat waffles? I wondered, but didn’t have to wonder for long, because a moment later, Merry was nibbling, and licking the crumbs from her chin. 

“Did you see that, Leo?” Piper squealed, “It’s working!”

She continued tossing crumbs to Merry, and while the creature accepted the reachable ones with gratitude, she refused to move much closer. At last, Piper ran out of bait, and rested her hands on her hips.

“Well,” she said, “I guess it’s for the best. This is her home, after all. She could never be happy in our world.”

“Especially not in your ghetto house.” the words spilled out faster than I could stop them. “I- I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean-”

But Piper burst into laughter. I didn’t expect her laugh to sound that way. It was loud, and boisterous, punctuated with snorts. Did all girls laugh like that, secretly? She must have deeply trusted me to reveal her true laugh so soon. 

My fingers are stiff, but can bend just enough to pull the breaks on my bike before I run right into the post office. I lock it onto the rack and jog inside.

“A good day to deliver, ain’t it?” Heber calls as soon as I walk in. He’s been saying that every morning so far. 

“Depends,” I say, slapping my bag on the counter. “What do you have for me today?”

Heber bends deep below his desk and hauls up a colossal stack of envelopes. He raises his eyebrows and looks at me over the rim of his glasses. 

“This is all around that Nullen area, by the woods. Think you can handle that?”

“Of course.” I shovel the papers into my bag. “I’ve lived here my whole life, Heber, give me a little credit.”

But he’s not worried about me knowing the area. I know it all too well.

Can I borrow your pocket knife?”

“Sure, why?”

My knife sat in an inside pocket of my jacket, so no one could see the outline. I had never taken it out in front of her before. Somehow her request didn’t occur to me as odd at the time. 

“I want to make you something.”

When I handed her the knife, she took it by the deep blue handle and began chipping away at a chunk of wood she’d been inspecting. I watched, confused and fascinated, as she shredded the rough layer of bark. Then, with precise, but swift movements, rounded out the sharp edges and corners until it was smooth, and the surfaces were flat. She bit her tongue and leaned farther over, her hair cascading. I’m not sure how long I sat there as she whittled, but it couldn’t have been long enough to make a masterpiece.

At last, she sat up, tossing the hair from her face, and handed me both the knife and wood piece. Only, it wasn’t just a chunk of wood anymore. It was a bunny.

“A token of our friendship,” she said. “I could teach you to carve, if you want. I bet you’d be good.” I placed both items in my pocket and flushed.

“Um. Thank you.” I managed. I wasn’t nervous; if anything, this girl seemed strangely familiar to me. But it was that familiarity that made me pause. Did I know her before now?

I bike past the house on my route. I don’t look at it. I can’t. I can’t even face the woods behind it, full of ferns and pines, and secrets. It’s too familiar. Maybe I can go back, and request a different route. Heber would understand.

Deep breaths. 

Eight seconds in, eight seconds out.

I stop the bike on the side of the road and take a drink from the water bottle in my jacket pocket. It’s been a year. I can do this.

I keep pedaling. 

“It’s so cold out.”

Before I stopped to consider it, my jacket was already off my shoulders and wrapped around hers. She smiled, and pulled the collar tight. 

“Looks like I owe you another carving.”

I sighed, and shook my head. “You know I love the animals you make, but you don’t have to pay me back every time I’m a decent human being.”

“Nonsense!” she laughed, and poked me on the nose. “You’re always so kind to everyone, and if they won’t recognize it, then I’ll have to!”

I chuckled for a moment before we lapsed into silence. Then a thought came to me. How did she know I was so kind to everyone? When we hung out, it was just us. We’d never met the other’s friends or family.

The route is almost complete. Just a couple more houses, and I can go home, start on the dishes, and…

The woods.

The woods? I glanced to the East, where I first met Piper. Why do I want to go to the woods all of the sudden? I shudder. Why would I want to return?

The pills sit heavy in my pocket. Eight hundred milligrams. And then what? What would happen to her?

“Have you tried carving something yet?”

“No. I don’t think they’ll be as good as yours.”

“Not until you sharpen that knife! I’ve been wearing it out, haven’t I?” She laughed, and I saw that overlapping tooth again, “Where do you put all those trinkets I give you, anyway? They must be flooding your room.”

I didn’t respond. It didn’t matter how many trinkets she made me. As soon as I brought them home, they disappeared. And Piper wasn’t wearing out my knife. It was as sharp as the day I got it.

“Maybe I ought to come to you house and help you organize. Does you mom make good waffles?”

“Piper, I’m not sure about that…”

“Oh-” she snorted- “I suppose she’s more of a pancake person too, is she?”

“No, it’s not that. I’m not sure you should meet my family.”

“Why not? Are you embarrassed?”

“What? No, of course not-”

She stopped walking. “Then why?”

I looked at her. Her eyes were black almonds behind her bangs.

“Fine.” I said, and turned around. “Let’s go there now.”

“Mom, I’m home!” I waited for Piper to pass over the threshold before shutting the door. 

“Hi Mom!” Piper shouted, and kicked her shoes off. 

“Coming!” Mom hurries down the stairs and gives me a hug. “How was your walk?”

“Hel-”

“Good,” I cut Piper off, “Could I have a waffle?”

“Oh, sure, the recipe is in the pantry-” she stepped back and tightened her ponytail. “I would make them, honey, but I’m a bit busy with bills at the moment. If you need any help though, just holler and I’ll see what I can do.”

“Thanks Mom.”

“Of course! I’ll be back down in a bit!” she turned and headed back upstairs. 

When I turned around, Piper’s head was tilted to the side, and her brow furrowed. 

“C’mon,” I whispered, “I can’t make these waffles by myself.”

Piper was many things, but help in the kitchen was not one of them. All she managed to do was confuse the baking powder with baking soda, and splatter batter all over the counter. When we finally decided that her presence did more harm than good, I put my mom’s ABBA disc in the CD player and she danced like an idiot in the kitchen while we waited for the waffle iron to beep. She had a terrible singing voice, so I sang with her, to make it less awkward. 

“Leo, what are you doing, dance with me!”

I laughed, “You have no clue what you’re doing!”

“Who cares?”

What was I supposed to do? Dancing Queen was blasting in the kitchen, and my best friend wanted to dance. So I rounded the counter and took her hand in mine. 

I guess you could call it dancing. There was no pattern, or consistency, but it was fun, and somewhat went with the beat. I twirled her around, and we laughed when she perpetually stepped on my toes. She loved to spin. At last, she got so dizzy, that I had to catch her, and her head fell onto my chest. Her face was pink from the exertion, and her lilac hair a mess. I held her close and couldn't stop smiling. She was so warm, and small. It was like holding a bunny. She smelled like dusty old books, and pine trees. My insides filled with a sprawling heat and happiness I hadn’t felt in a long time. I wanted to hold her forever. 

I don’t know why, but my bike leads me to the woods. I park the bike just outside the line of trees, and let my feet lead me the rest of the way. 

The pines that once loomed over me like towers and giants now seem shorter, and less mysterious. I kept walking. 

It only took a few minutes to get there. The woods cleared into a small area of moss and roots. Already, my stomach squirms with the memory.

Piper slowed to a jog and leaned against a tree in the clearing. 

“Piper-” I panted- “Please just listen. I wasn’t trying to ignore you.”

“Then what was that?” she demanded. “You didn’t acknowledge me at all. It was like I was invisible!”

“Because you are!”

“What?” her voice cracked.

“Piper, how many waffles did you eat that day?”

“What are you talking about-”

“How many?”

She shrugged hopelessly. “I don’t know- like- six. So what, you can always make more!”

“That’s not the point!” I stepped closer, and grabbed her shoulders. “Piper, listen, we made about twelve of them, right? I had one, and you had six. There should have been four left.”

She jerked away. “Five, you moron! Do the math.”

“Five, whatever!” I shouted, “Point is, when you left, there were eleven. Eleven, Piper.”

She glared at the ground, still panting from the run. Emotions passed through her eyes so fast, I didn’t have time to register all of them. 

“Piper-” I softened my tone, and gently took her hand. “You’re a great friend. But -”

She looked up, and held my gaze. She knew. 

Tears began spilling down her cheeks, and I asked myself again, how could she seem so real? Each hair, eyelash, freckle, and tear were as detailed as anything I’d ever seen. The weight of her hand in mine felt so real. Her voice carried like any other. And yet-

She pulled her hand back. “Fine.” she spat. “I won’t embarrass you anymore.” 

“Piper-” 

But she was already running again. Deep, deep into the woods- our woods. I ran after her as fast as I could, but she was nowhere to be found. She was gone.

And still she haunts my dreams; her lilac hair, and crooked teeth. The scent of dusty books, and trees, that snorting laugh. I pull the pills out of my pocket and stare at them. Eight hundred milligrams. Two pills. One swig of water. And she’d be gone. Gone. My hands shook as I pried open the plastic bag, and poured the pills into my palm. The wind tossed the branches high above, and sent a shiver through me. 

“I guess it’s for the best. This is her home, after all. She could never be happy in our world.”

“Goodbye, Piper.” I said, and dropped the tablets in my mouth.

January 29, 2021 05:23

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