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Sad Suspense Contemporary

I stand before the charred ruins, taking in their crumbling blackness with wide, wondering eyes. This is where it all began. This is how I got my heart.

I’ve been told not to enter this house; it’s still dangerous. Four people died within these walls, but I have to see it. I have to know.

Even if I can never bask in its warmth, I have to at least see the remnants of this place that has haunted my dreams. I need to know if it’s real.

The remains of the front door were removed after the fire, and the hallway beyond is a dark, regretful echo of the stories my heart told me while I slept. In my dreams, the hardwood floor was a shiny, smooth brown, alive with the patter of tiny feet running to greet me.

Even now, as I listen with my mind, the echoes of loud, joyful voices bounce among the scorched walls with happy screams of “Mom!” I wrap my arms around myself, trying to capture the warmth of small, excited hands, and my heart beats slower, held down by sadness.

I can almost feel those little arms, squeezing as if they could push their love straight into my soul if they pressed hard enough. And I know I’ll never feel them again.

My heart twists, then plunges into the dark depths of my gut. The pain will only get stronger the deeper I go in.

But this house already lives in my mind. Its echoes have made their home in my chest, and I have to reconcile with them. To see them, hear them, touch them. Perhaps, if I can just make them real, I’ll find a way to make peace with them.

The kitchen is next, its crumbled wood cupboards yawning to the right like black, jagged teeth. I step carefully – the basement’s ceiling starts somewhere around here, and I don’t want to fall through the weakened floor – and run my fingertips across the one surviving countertop, ignoring the soot that clings to my skin like a memory that doesn’t want to be forgotten.

The smell of eggs pervades the air: the savory flow of runny yokes, the tang of salt, and the smooth richness of melted cheese. Two of the children liked them fried, crispy on the bottom and creamy on top. The third one wouldn’t eat his eggs unless they were scrambled with cheese.

I close my eyes, floating free in the warm, clear waters of memories I never made. My lips tingle with the kiss of a man I’ve never met, and my new heart beats like a drum at a parade, whispering a song of familiar love.

Strong, soft hands surround my waist in a circle of safety and warmth, and mischief sparkles in my mind as the children groan. I throw them a grin, a roguish wink, then kiss him even harder, popping my foot like a movie princess for good measure.

Then my eyes open, the memory fades, and I’m alone in the kitchen’s corpse, staring at a blackened stove that will never feed a hungry child again.

My eyes sweep the cupboards, knowing without learning where all the dishes were stored. Bowls go here, the cutlery goes there. I have to put the cups away myself, because the kids are still too short to reach that one high shelf.

The boys will never grow tall enough now.

Tears scorch my eyes like the fire that destroyed the house, and I wrench myself away, stumbling back across the hall and into the living room. For a moment, I forget of the danger of the burnt floor.

Then I see the hole where the couch fell through, and jolt to a halt.

This was my husband’s- her husband’s place. She was a hiker. He was a gamer. The kids spent hours on his lap, racing cars and ATVs through cities, wilds and mystical lands, oblivious to the fact that their controllers weren’t plugged in.

A beam of sunlight hangs in the air between me and the chasm, dust motes dancing in the golden haze like the fairies the children said they were. I peer through it, willing my gaze to break through the light and the dark of the hole beyond it.

Try as I might, I can’t see the basement clearly, but my heart shows me what my eyes cannot. Smooth, bare concrete walls, like blank slates waiting to be filled with promises that can never be kept. A whiteboard and erasable markers here, an air hockey table there, a mini theater in the corner over there – they had so many plans for that empty hole.

Colors, lights, and the clatter of fun, now hushed forever beneath the ashes’ silky silence.

There is nothing for me there, and nothing but regrets for my new heart. No point in going down. So instead, I go up.

I climb the stairs like a thief in the night, edging furtively along the wall, as if I were scaling a tiny ledge in an ancient, haunted temple. The nearest room yawns behind me, its blackened entry carving a hole in the wall I hide against, and I force myself to turn around and face its memories.

My eyes fall on the bed, and my heart rips itself in half.

This is where the children came from. A place of ecstasy, of hearts and bodies twining together, wrapped in each other and the bliss of their closeness and love. I can feel my heart racing, electricity arcing through my body, and the whisper of joyous, desperate breath flickers through the silence.

I step forward, my hand trembling as I reach for the bed, and its ruined blanket leaves its memories on my fingers as I touch it and jolt back. It feels nothing like it used to, and somehow its charred brittleness makes the tragedy all too real.

It’s gone. It’s all gone, ruined, twisted beyond repair. They’re gone. I’ll never see or feel them again. Never hug or kiss them, never smell the children’s silky hair as they tuck their heads against my chest, never breathe out all my stress as I melt into the safety of my husband’s arms.

I stumble backwards from the room, and look around desperately, searching for some shred of softness and light to cling to. My eyes find the second bedroom across the hall, and the third one at the end. And it brings me to my knees.

This is where they died.

I can see the father’s shadow, collapsing as he tried to save his sons. He was already sick before the fire, and the smoke must have felt so terrible as it mixed with the fluid in his lungs. And yet, he still gave everything his weakened body had to save them.

In the end, it wasn’t enough. Those beautiful little boys are gone, their loud, joyful voices forever silenced, and their shining eyes lying closed beneath the earth.

But the girl…

My eyes travel slowly, almost reverently, to the room at the end of the hall. Where the daughter, probably dreaming of being a superhero, was wrested from those dreams by her mother’s hands, forcing her to her hands and knees as they both searched for air that wasn’t thick with smoke.

I watch, as if through the mother’s eyes, as they crawl through that hell, ablaze with burning light yet dark with clouds of choking death.

I hear a crack like the sky splitting apart, and feel the rush of panic as the upper corner of my eye sees a ceiling beam plunge toward my daughter’s head.

In the present, I am frozen. In my memories, I lunge.

My body forms a tunnel above my child, hands and legs splayed around her as the flaming debris strikes my head. Her eyes are huge as they look up at me, and while the world fades in my blurring vision, my limbs stay strong, keeping the weight of the collapsed ceiling from trapping her in the flames.

“Get out of here!” the person in my memories cries. “Go down the stairs and out the door. Hurry! GO!”

Her eyes fill with tears, but she obeys. Determined and fast, as she’s always been. I watch her crawl to the edge of the stairs, then slide down on her stomach. The door clacks open in her hands, and it’s the most beautiful sound I’ve ever heard.

“You saved her,” I whisper, placing my hand above the mother’s heart, now beating softly in my chest. “I’m sorry you couldn’t save the others. But you saved your daughter, and your heart saved me. Thank you.”

The silence around me gives no answer, but I like to think the fallen mother heard me. Perhaps, by enduring these memories together, by having someone see her world and mourn it with her, she has found some measure of peace.

Maybe it’s silly, but it makes me feel better.

My pocket suddenly sings, sending a startled jolt through my body. My heart races as if trying to escape, but I whisper calming reassurance as I reach for my phone.

I recognize the number, and my heart shifts pace. No longer running away from something, but yearning to run toward. “Hello,” I greet the caller, “this is Danielle.”

“Danielle.” The aged voice seems to roll my name around on her tongue, as if its taste and shape hold enormous weight in an already burdened soul. “I got your message. You said… you’re the one who got my daughter’s heart?”

“That’s right,” I tell her gently, my eyes welling as the sound of her grief mingles with the echoes of my own relief when I learned I would finally get a transplant. “I… I know this is a very difficult time, and I don’t want to intrude, but… I keep having memories of Jodi’s children. And of you. It’s like…”

My voice breaks. “It’s almost like a part of her mind is living in me. I remember you, and I miss you and Anya so much. I just… I was hoping I could see you again.”

The other end of the line is silent, save for strained, shaking breath. I know that awful rhythm too well: the sound of someone who wants to speak, but doesn’t trust her tightening throat not to strangle the words.

I know how much it hurts to grieve, so I wait. Gently, patiently, like I’d have wanted people to do for my mother if I was the one who’d died.

And then, at last: “All right. I don’t know if I’m ready, but…” Her voice crumbles into an agonized croak. “I want so badly to see my Jodi again. Even if it’s just a bit of her. And my granddaughter misses her so much. To have someone to share those memories with would mean the world to Anya.”

A smile breaks across my face, mingling with tears like sunlit rain. “I’d be happy to,” I tell her, my own voice cracking slightly. “If there’s anything I can do for your family, you only have to ask. Your daughter saved my life, and I want to help.”

“Thank you.” There’s a muted sniff, then she manages, “Are you free today? I was just starting to make dinner. Would you like to join us?”

“That would be great. Do you want me to bring anything?”

“No, no, I’m the host – I’ll entertain. Besides, it’s a chance to take care of my daughter one more time. I’ll let Anya know. Five o’clock?”

“I’ll be there. Thanks.”

“You’re welcome. And, Danielle… thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” The tears are flowing now, and I do not try to stop them. “I’ll see you later.”

“See you soon.”

The call ends with a soft beep, and I press my hand gently over my new heart. “All right, Jodi,” I whisper as I reverently slip out of her house. “Let’s go see our family.”

July 19, 2021 05:26

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3 comments

Melody Frost
00:58 Jul 28, 2021

WOW! Amazing work. I really loved this story.

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22:33 Jul 28, 2021

Thank you so much! I appreciate you taking the time to comment.

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Melody Frost
00:21 Jul 29, 2021

Your welcome. Looking forward to your stories in the future.

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