Hello! The next short story, a Sci-Fi titled Them, will be starting up next Friday. As there's no story part this week, it seemed like a good idea to me that I do a Self Care Check-in (both as a reminder for me and for you that we need to take care of ourselves).
This check-in is important because May was a rough month for me. Between sick kids, my husband working nights, extra appointments and chores, and a body that hates me, I've been surviving through more pain pills than I like to take... with the yucky discovery that Naproxen and I are not compatible (as in it doesn't touch the pain and comes with an added bonus of depression). So much for that as a helpful new prescription.
Now think of one thing that makes you smile. It can be anything as long as the smile is real. Open your hands palm up if you're able to, take one breath as deep as you can, unclench your jaw and allow your shoulders to relax. Now give yourself a compliment. Hope you have a great weekend!
Today wraps up the short story Life after Death, which means the next one (a fun little Sci-Fi titled Them), will be starting on June 7. Life after Death wrapping up today also means that the free downloads are available over on my Short Stories page! :)
Then I can start thinking about the next project! Why should a yard ever be finished, right? Right! Lol
Writing hasn't been in my regular activities for all of May, however my imaginary friends have started getting restless about being ignored so that must mean real life is slowing down enough for me to start thinking about stories again. Which is awesome! I miss the worlds in my head when I can't visit them as often as I want. And one day all the rest of you will be able to visit them, too :)
Hope you have a great weekend!
8. Living Afterlife
“What?” Liam rolled up to an elbow, the startled question bursting out louder than he’d intended it to be.
“I live alone and I booked this week away from work to have some time off. I don’t have plans with anyone for the whole week. Even if I do decide to go back, I’m still dying. Nobody will even think to check up on me until I don’t come in to work on Monday.”
“I’m sure we can figure out a way to alert a neighbor if you do decide to go back,” he stated. “There’s also the option of staying here?” he asked, reaching over to play with her hair. She smiled at him and then shook her head to the negative.
“I can’t do what you do. We’ve talked about this, Liam, for me it’s either go back or take a nap. Staying here, I’d either care too much or not enough and both of those won’t help anyone else.”
“But both of the other options you think you have feel like losing you,” he said quietly.
She stroked his cheek with the backs of her fingers. He caught her hand and flipped it over to press a kiss into her palm. She pushed with her feet, shoving herself along the catwalk until the top of her head bumped into the elbow he was leaning on.
“Everybody dies at some point,” she told him. He chuckled at the long-standing joke between them, gathering her closer as she wiggled around to lie beside him. “How much longer do you think we could stay?”
“How long do you want to?”
Lifetimes spun out between them as they held their place in the grey. Sometimes as lovers, sometimes as friends, and always staying in place in the catwalk so that seconds, minutes and hours couldn’t catch up to the living they were doing outside of standard time, surprisingly uninterrupted by any more visitors. They grew old together, unchanged, trying to figure out any way that they could bring what they were in the grey back into their lives. And trying to figure out how to stop Matilde from dying if she did find her door and then decided to go back.
After a long pause within the pause they’d created, she yawned, and the realization that their time was up added weight to the silence they’d just been resting comfortably in. They dressed reluctantly, the long ago discarded clothing strange and binding, and chose to walk barefoot in the direction that felt forward, carrying their shoes.
Matilde’s bedroom door appeared only one turning away; boding either her death or a particularly bad day with one of her exes just after her mother had died. Liam held her hand and they walked through together. There was no yelling or fighting. Matilde was in the middle of the floor where she’d fallen after passing out. Her body had already vomited out the contents of her stomach, the half-dissolved and accidental overdose of pills clear to see.
“You fell on a rug,” Liam noted, a hopeful smile spreading over his face.
“So?” Matilde looked up at him, unsure what he was thinking.
“Can you open your pill bottle and the balcony door?” he asked.
“I…” she stepped closer to herself and her voice trailed off. Liam wrapped her in a hug to pull her out of the gravity her body was exerting on her. “I can, yes,” she confirmed.
Working fast, she opened the balcony door first and then came back to open the pill bottle second. Liam got a hold of the rug and pulled so that she was half-way outside and her hand dangled out between the railing spindles. The edge of the catwalk aligned perfectly with the drop down to the street.
“You said your downstairs neighbor is a nosy widow, right?”
“Okay. I’ll hang off the catwalk and drop the open bottle onto her balcony. She’ll hear it, and look up to see your hand. She’ll call an ambulance for you.”
Liam kissed Matilde and took the pills out of her hand. He stepped over her body quickly and climbed over the railing. Matilde didn’t say anything. He looked back and saw her already reaching toward herself, the call of being alive drowning out everything else. He dropped down and grabbed the edge of the catwalk, tossing the pills as soon as he was certain that the bottle would hit the downstairs balcony.
The clatter of the plastic bottle on tile was accompanied by the scattering of pills and an angry voice yelling to know who was outside as the building evaporated. Liam looked up through the catwalk and saw Matilde’s shoes sitting neatly right beside his.
They’d saved her. They had to have saved her. But how to know?
Technology and information proved that every visitor he’d met came from the same time as him. They were from all over the world, but not all over in time. He’d realized long ago that each visitor was dying in the same moment he was; they all only came here at different intervals.
He climbed up and sat alone, laughing and crying at the same time, holding onto her shoes. When he looked, the same car door as every time before was hanging open a few steps away; waiting for him. He held onto one of Matilde’s shoes and slid through the car and into the street behind the woman who was filming him as he died. One of the emergency responders was openly swearing at Liam for not reacting to their attempts so far.
“Come on kid,” the medic begged. “You’re not old enough to just give up like this.”
“You’re right,” Liam agreed from beside him. The responder’s head spun to look at the empty spot that Liam was filling. “In case I don’t get the chance later, thank you for not giving up on me.”
The emergency responder paled four skin tones, but Liam didn’t see it because he was already immersed in the worst pain he’d ever experienced. He didn’t hear the responders determinedly and quietly cheering him – and each other – as they finally got the results they’d been fighting for these past two minutes: an independent pulse. They got Liam onto the stretcher and into the back of the ambulance, nobody noticing until he was stripped for surgery that he was clutching a woman’s shoe in one hand.
In the grey, Anson happened to be looking down and watched as the distant catwalk below hers glimmered, taking the round catches with it as it sparkled out of existence. She didn’t know what had happened down there, but her catwalk seemed okay, and the one way above with the triangle catches and straight catwalk was still there when she looked up. Both had been there the whole time she’d been on hers. She sighed and shook her head, relieved that she was still here and her catwalk didn’t appear to be fading away from under her. It was silly to think that anything in the grey would stay; this place was all about changes. She took a few steps and what was becoming the familiar shunk of the grey being turned off sounded. She started counting, trying to keep her numbers even to see if this time the black would last as long as the other two times she’d counted, but then there was a growl and she got distracted by wondering what kind of passer-through she’d be helping this time around.
We survived! I hope the past few weeks were enough of a whirlwind that our house can now settle into some fair weather. What happened? We did that 3-day garage sale and then my better half went back to work, but had a staggered start due to training, testing and orientation during the week of prep for the garage sale (it's normal work stuff for what he does, but it messes with the kid schedules having him in and out at irregular times). He went on nights once he did start fully... the day after the garage sale ended and on the same day both kids had dental surgery. They didn't have anything major, but bad teeth run in the family so they both needed a bunch of small cavity work done and both chose to each have one appointment under anesthetic rather than many appointments while awake.
My oldest recovered per the text book predictions, but my littlest did not. She'd picked up something from school which hadn't been in her system long enough to cause symptoms, but it was really happy to jump into the intubation scrapes in her throat and flare up horribly in only 24 hours. (As a note, the breathing tubes scrape everyone; she was just unlucky enough to have what turned out to be a virus poised to take advantage of the quick blood-stream access.)
So fast-forward over the hospital visit and missed school to one sick kid just starting to feel better, one kid who was sore for a couple of days but now feeling fine, and then it was dance recital time. We had rehearsal the afternoon and evening (yup, my oldest and I were there for five hours) of the same day the littlest and I spent the morning in the hospital getting testing for why she had open sores in her throat. Then we had the recital on the weekend. Plus other regular life appointments and school stuff.
Needless to say, I'm so happy my sister was able to come up for the recital weekend to help out and visit! And my mom-in-law broke out the hero cape and boots required for multiple grandma-rescues (for my girls, and then for my four-footed fur-nephews who are only a few months old and had cranky tummies).
This week things have settled down a bit (yes, I'm knocking on wood for good luck as I say that), and I was able to clean up the house. Weird how no elves popped in to magic away the day-to-day tidying for me lol. The cleaning was easier with a lot of the clutter sold off in the garage sale, so I've got lofty hopes of actually being able to get back to work on Tuesday and do some writing. In a mostly clean house. With mostly healthy kids. I might even see my hubby for more than a half hour due to the long weekend!
If you also have three days off, please keep yourself safe and as happy as you can. Hope you have a good weekend!
7. Living on Pause
“Well, that was humiliating,” she finally said after tucking the used tissue into the opposite pocket that she’d gotten it out of as clean. Liam tucked one hand into her hair and cradled the back of her head into his palm.
“You’re allowed to have emotions, Matilde. The bad ones are just as valid as the good ones,” he said quietly. She twisted her head to look at him, but kept her ear pressed into his palm. Clouded confusion filled her eyes and her brows pinched together slightly.
“Why do you put yourself through this?”
“All of… this,” she gestured widely at the full expanse of the grey. “The messes that people make and the terrible things they do to themselves and each other. Why do that to yourself on endless repeat?”
“Because it feels important to me,” he answered honestly. “This is something important and good in the big ways that I never felt about anything while I was alive.”
She watched him for a moment, her eyes still confused. Suddenly she tipped toward him and kissed him. Her lips were soft and the pressure they presented was questioning, so he answered with returning the kiss and then breaking it off as she started to lean closer.
“I shouldn’t have done that,” she reprimanded herself, taking his lack of action as a sign of rejection.
“I’m not complaining about it,” he said. “But you’re not really in a great emotional state, and I’m not a rubber stamp of approval that you’re okay. Especially when I honestly think that you’re not.”
“So I’m too screwed up to screw. Cool. Thanks.” She shoved away from him and positioned her legs so that she could stand up without using her hands.
“You’d prefer pity sex?” he asked.
The flatness of the question startled her into falling back onto her ass from the half standing position she’d been in. She squared off to yell at him purely out of wounded pride while she was still fighting to stop using her hands to catch herself because they kept dropping through the nothing of the catwalk. Liam arrested her struggles by wrapping one arm around her back, holding her up as if he’d just dipped her while they’d been dancing.
“You’ve said you don’t like me, and you’ve shown you don’t trust me,” he said, interrupting anything she might’ve tried to say. “You’ve just had a full blown meltdown and you feel vulnerable and embarrassed and so far out of control that you’re terrified you’ll never get back to your own normal. I can tell you’ve used this recovery route before, so it’s an easy confession that I have too. We both know the sex doesn’t help. It’s just a temporary control that’ll make you feel cheap after. You’re already valid, Matilde. I don’t have to screw you to prove it.”
She opened her mouth a couple of times to attempt a reply, but both times nothing came out and she simply closed her mouth without saying anything. Instead she slapped him, rolled out of his arms, and started crying again. After a few moments alone, she leaned into the hug he offered and cried on his shoulder one more time.
Matilde told him about her chain of exes once the tears stopped. How things had spiraled for her since her mom had passed away and the way that work and finances just kept piling up to the negative until she’d started needing sleeping pills and anti-anxiety medication just to get through the week. Mixing up her prescriptions and overdosing by accident was what had brought her into the grey. He recounted his own incident with the truck while he’d been skipping classes, and then about his failed attempts at relationships. They commiserated over the strains of university when all the years of school were stacking up under mounds of loans and debts that the offered wages in the job market just didn’t meet at the point of a livable situation. Her happy childhood was a stark contrast to his broken one, but they were both able to laugh at the good stories they each had. Somewhere along the flow of the conversation, they ended up lying down together and staring up at the grey overhead as if there were stars in it. Matilde marveled at Liam’s ability to interact with the catwalk and structures, and he made her giggle by dropping a coin to the catwalk above where her palm was sunken below the surface of it.
“How long do you think we’ve been lying here?” she asked, the back of her head resting on his stomach so that she didn’t have to hold it up.
“Anywhere from an hour to a lifetime,” Liam shrugged. “Time isn’t linear here.”
“I’m just trying to figure out how it’s possible that I’m not aching after lying on something as hard as concrete for this long.”
Liam laughed at her comment. “This isn’t your physical body, remember?”
“Ouch,” she said after pinching herself. “Feels real, though, doesn’t it?”
“It’s still real. It’s just not physically happening,” he explained. She sighed and shook her head and then rolled over to rest on her elbows and look at his face.
“You see something up there, don’t you?”
“There’s another catwalk,” he answered, his eyes tracing the thin line until he saw the wavering dot that meant his companion was on the move. “It’s almost too far away to see, but it’s there.”
“Does it look the same at this one?”
“It’s transparent like this one, because I can see the visitors up there through it, but that one seems to have rounded corners for the catwalk and square catches. This one has squared corners and round catches. There’s someone else like me up there, too. Sometimes we can wave to each other.”
“Are there more catwalks?” she asked, twisting to be able to squint up and try to see what he was looking at.
“I figure there must be. I haven’t seen any others yet, though.”
“Huh.” She squinted up for a long time, then shook her head and looked back at Liam. “I don’t see anything.”
“You also can’t touch the catwalk with bare skin or you fall through,” he reminded her.
“That’s true,” she agreed, shrugging.
She kissed him again, shifting close, her inner dialogue running negative the moment he broke off the kiss and she scoffed angrily at herself. “I told you: you’re already valid. You don’t have to prove it. Besides,” he stole a kiss as he copped a feel, the teenager-level obviousness making her giggle hard enough to break the kiss. “I’ll stick around until you start to feel better if you just want to stay here. We don’t have to look for your door unless you decide you want to.”
“I’d like that,” she said.
“I have lots of hugs if you want them?” he offered. She laughed and then snuggled against his chest.
They talked about everything and anything they knew about until all those words were exhausted, and then they theorized about whatever came to mind at the time. Along the way, Liam noticed that he was starting to sound like some of his counselors and then Matilde was crying again because she was having either another meltdown or maybe a breakthrough. She threw away her jacket at some point, just to watch it fall until the fluttering dusted away. Lifetimes spun away into the grey and after a long and comfortable silence, she put her hand down on her lap as she thought of something else to talk about and realized she was leaning weight on her other hand on the catwalk.
“I can see it!” she exclaimed. Liam laughed at her, the sound familiar from the life they’d had together while lounging in this one spot.
“I was wondering when you’d notice,” he chided. He laced his fingers into hers and pulled her down for a kiss. She broke the kiss and smiled at him, then scooted away and – biting her bottom lip out of anticipated excitement – lay down and rolled onto her back. She whooped out a laugh that her head and bare arms stayed comfortably resting on the surface, and then sighed contentedly at the perfectly peaceful way her mind felt here in the grey.
“I’m going to die if I find my door and go back,” she said.
Short post because sick kiddo. As in "we spent Wednesday morning in emergency and we're waiting for test results" sick kiddo. We should hear something today, and are just hoping for this to be run-of-the-mill strep throat (or something else that simple to treat). The angry throat really hurts when the sick one is only four years old, though.
Hope you have a great weekend!
6. Deconstructing Composure
He spoke soft nonsense as he gently lowered the puppy to herself, chuckling as all four of her small legs pinioned and her body wiggled in his hands. He leaned over and kissed the middle of her back.
“You be a good wee pup for your mum, now,” he advised her quietly. The bitch had stopped whining while he was talking, and she barked excitedly as Liam touched the puppy in his arms to the one on the pathway to transfer the happy wiggles into the still body. The bitch bowled him over in her enthusiasm and the scene evaporated with the feel of her whiskers tickling at his throat as she inhaled what felt like all of the air around him and the puppy. He was still laughing when the catwalk returned clearly in his view.
He looked up at the woman he was with, smiling at her to share the moment. She was still crying, but seeing that she was watched meant she now tried to hide it. She swiped at her cheeks hard and turned away.
“How can you be okay with those guys doing that?” she demanded, not turning back.
“I’m not,” Liam admitted. “But I can’t interact fully on that side of reality.”
She turned and stared at him, the accusations piling up on her face.
“Over there, we’re ghosts. We can move a few things, maybe say something that animals or sensitive people will notice, but we can’t bust into the scene as if we were there. Trust me, I’ve tried.”
He sighed and stood up. There had been so many times he’d tried to intervene in big ways, to alter a course… and failed. Most people who came into the grey were young, like him, and they weren’t in the best circumstances when they were dying. There was a lot of violence behind the doors and some horrible tragedies. The saying that nobody ever knows what’s going on inside someone else’s life just by looking at the person was never more accurate than in the grey. So now he did the small things he could – like leaving the door open in the grey so that the bitch wasn’t locked in anymore under the bridge – and he kept doing futile, big attempts when he couldn’t just stand there and watch.
“You could’ve tried to –”
“The bitch was behind us,” he interrupted before she could get really mad. “I usually can’t interfere with people, that’s not how this works.”
“The only thing behind us under the bridge was the door and the wall,” she accused, crossing her arms in front of her.
“You’re right. That’s why I left our door open.”
She opened her mouth to drop another accusation and then realization crashed across her features that their entrance into the puppy’s life-or-death moment had been what released the bitch to chase off the men. “Oh,” she said, looking away from him. Liam smiled at her.
“You’re not used to being out of control of anything, are you?” he asked. She laughed without any humor and blinked back a few more tears, a reply proving the opposite was true. “So you’re just fed up with everything being out of control?”
“Just, stop.” She held up one hand in a traffic-cop motion. “I do not need to be analyzed right now.”
“Then what do you need?”
“I need…” she started angrily and then stopped. “I need you to shut up,” she finished the statement coldly, the anger on her face erased from her voice as she re-crossed her arms.
Liam nodded silently and offered her a hand. She stared at it like he was holding out a venomous snake and then stepped around his hand to pick up the strip of his jacket that she’d been holding before. He set off in the same direction that they’d been going for getting the puppy home. There weren’t any doors yet, and he didn’t know when they’d see the first one for the woman, so he just kept walking in silence as she trailed along behind.
“I thought you said that visitors went through their own worst days and their death day,” she accused after a long while of just walking. “But the puppy only had one day.”
“For a lot of visitors, their worst days are their death days,” Liam replied simply.
“How many days for you?” she challenged.
“So I guess your death must be going pretty easily if you’ve had a worse day than that.”
Liam considered his physical form’s current situation of choking on bodily fluids, lying in a gutter after being hit by a jacked up pick-up truck, surrounded by a staring crowd of gawkers who were recording the happenings for whatever online media they were planning to post it to.
“I don’t think I’d say it was going easy,” he replied, remembering the efforts the emergency responders were putting into keeping him alive.
“Oh,” she said. She was quiet for a few most steps. “So if you had two days, then –”
Liam interrupted her with a chuckle. “Sorry,” he grinned over his shoulder at her and caught her glaring at the back of his head. “You’re just asking a lot of questions to the same person that you recently told to shut up.”
She flushed with anger and then blushed. “I don’t enjoy being around you, you know. I’m stuck with you at the moment.”
“I’d already used my exceptional powers of deduction and figured that part out,” he chided.
“You’re an asshole!” she yelled at him, flinging the strip of jacket and stomping to a stop in the middle of the catwalk.
The tears she’d been successfully controlling while they’d been walking spilled out and her temper snapped as the first drop crested her cheekbone. She yelled at him for not intervening enough with the men killing the puppies, and then at him about everything he’d admitted to not knowing about being in the grey or what came after. Then she branched off into things that he didn’t know what she was talking about but apparently had been sore spots for a really long time which culminated into an accusation that he was a really bad guardian angel because of how messed up her life had gotten so what was the point of helping her now when all of it was too late…?
He’d had a lot of these kinds of meltdowns when he’d been a teen. Something would happen to push everything up and it would all spin out onto whoever was standing there at the time. His brain’s defense was to create a disassociation disorder that had plagued him into his twenties. Then he’d been hit by a truck and taken on the open job position as an afterlife guardian here in the grey because a little girl who was only ten and a half needed an adult to help her and he was the only one around.
Somewhere toward the end of the rant he learned this woman’s name was Matilde because she started referring to herself in the third person; she was yelling at herself with some pretty heavy accusations about her self-perceived low intelligence and lack of social awareness or graces. It all ended with a scream born of rage and fear and then she collapsed to sitting in the middle of the catwalk, sobbing uncontrollably. Liam approached her slowly and knelt beside her. She turned from him, either to crawl away or just to hide her face, and her hand promptly dropped through the catwalk as her sleeve shoved up her arm. She cried harder after working herself up to sitting by using her elbows, then turned toward him and crashed into his chest. He wrapped her up tightly in his arms and rocked as she cried, holding her for the length of time needed for her tears to slow down.
She squeezed him tightly for a moment – or maybe it was for half a lifetime – and then pushed back so that she was sitting up on her own. She scrubbed at her face with her sleeves, then dug through the pockets in her jacket, visibly relieved when her fingers found a tissue she could use for blowing her nose. The pace of her fidgeting fingers increased at the same rate as the blush brightened on her face. She scoffed at some internal deprecation and then stared up at the grey nothing overhead as if there was supposed to be some kind of answer there for her to read.
And we have one of those big banquet coffee urns - the good ones that perk the coffee and keep it hot for a few hours before the 'old coffee' flavor starts - so this garage sale will have hot coffee. I can get through almost anything with good food and hot coffee. Hope you have a great weekend!
5. Opening Doors
“You can opt out any time and just lie down for a nap,” Liam informed her.
“And then?” she pressed, wanting to know more.
“I don’t know. I haven’t opted out.”
“How do you know all of this?” She glared at him, squinting suspiciously.
“I’ve been here a long time. Ouch!” The puppy growly-barked when he pulled his fingers back after a particularly hard chomp, her wobbly legs scrambling to propel her after his hand in spite of her body being completely high-centered on his forearm. He chuckled and booped her nose with his thumb before relenting to letting her gnaw on whatever bits of his hand she got her mouth around. “I got here, I guess, forever ago. There was a little kid here at the same time, and my worst day and return to realty came up before hers. I couldn’t just leave her here alone, she was scared and…” he smiled at the memory of Kaylynd. “I bypassed being either dead alive by stepping over myself and got her back to herself so she could stay living.”
“You want a hero cookie or something?”
“Not at all. Turns out I like helping, so I stick around here and help.”
“And the ones who don’t want your help?” She crossed her arms and smiled coldly, placing herself in the category she’d just mentioned.
“Most visitors who come here know if they want to be dead or not. The ones who don’t are usually relieved by having company as they figure it out.”
“I like it here.”
“How nice for you.”
“If you want to come with me, you can hold onto one of the strips of what used to be my jacket,” he looked down as he spoke, popping one hip so she saw the loose ends hanging from around his waist. “I can tell by the way you’re looking around that you can’t see structures here, which is normal for most people and the way I was when I first got here, so hanging on is the easiest way for you to not fall off of anything. If you’re set on dying, then lie down and get comfortable and take a nap. But please be quick about deciding because I do want to get this wee girl back to herself before she falls asleep by accident. Animals usually only know if they’re ready to die once they see themselves dying.”
She stayed standing there, arms crossed, not moving except for how her eyes looked around. He smiled supportively when her glance landed back on him. There were a few people who hadn’t known what to do with the help he offered even though they’d accepted it, and some animals that had only slunk along after him because their trust was too broken, so Liam already knew it wasn’t his place to make any decisions for her. The decisions she needed to make weren’t his to even offer suggestions for.
She sighed, her shoulders sagging as she reached for one of the strips hanging down from his jacket, her fingers moving tentatively and her expression clearly showing that she didn’t want to.
“This isn’t a forever decision. You can make a new choice whenever you want to,” he assured her quietly.
“Can we just go?”
Liam nodded and started walking back toward the stairs. In all the catches, the stairs ran parallel to the walls for their short spans, but were only attached to the catwalk and the catch floors. He’d probably walked past the stairs in his own catch at least ten times.
“There’s a railing here on this side,” he told her, pointing with his elbow. “But it ends at the top of the stairs and there aren’t any on the catwalk. Try and stay within arm’s reach of me or else you can fall.”
“Fall into what?”
“I don’t know,” he admitted as he picked the right direction for where the puppy needed to go. He glanced up once they were in the middle of the catwalk but didn’t see his companion. When he looked in the direction he was walking, a door had appeared a few turnings away.
“You claimed to have been here for a really long time and you don’t know?”
“The visitor before you… he fell. He was the first one I’d seen that happen to. He just… kept falling and then he stopped being there. His door for his death stayed, though,” Liam tried to explain.
“Doors are how we go in and out of our moments. Do you recognize that one?” he asked. She looked around his shoulder and then stepped solidly behind him again so she was almost walking in his footsteps.
“No,” she replied.
“It must be for the pupper, then,” he smiled down and scratched at the puppy’s neck, rousing her from half-dozing so that she would keep playing for the few moments it would take to get to what had to be her door. The door looked like it was steel, and it had once been painted if the flaking, rust-streaked white was any clue, but it had been years since any maintenance had been done on it.
“Is that safe to touch?” the woman asked. Liam chuckled.
“We’re already mostly dead,” he answered, smiling over his shoulder at her as he opened the door and then stepped through.
On this side of the door, it was either very late at night or really early in the morning. Somewhere nearby but behind them, what sounded like a medium or large dog was furiously barking and slamming and scratching against something metal. Closer, under some kind of inner-city river’s bridge or overpass that the door was built into, two men around Liam’s age were drunkenly playing catch with the puppy that Liam was holding. Scattered around them were three other puppies from the same litter, but the others were already dead.
There was a loud clattering and then the scratching and slamming stopped. The man holding the puppy tossed her into the river shallows and the two of them ran screaming as the bitch charged into the area. She was a mutt, and definitely a stray, but she was big and she was mad. Maybe heartbroken was a better word, Liam corrected his thinking as she stopped and sniffed at the dead puppies. The whine that emitted from her as she checked over her lost litter made the little pup in Liam’s arm whimper in reply. The bitch spun around, ears cocked in Liam’s direction, eyes desperately searching for the invisible place where the sound had originated.
Liam glanced at the river and saw the puppy still floating nearby, hung up on some garbage. As always, the catwalk followed a direct route toward the body. The bitch whined again and the puppy in Liam’s arms answered, making the worried mom step forward tentatively and sniff the air hopefully. Liam started walking toward the river, his progress stopping when his jacket wasn’t moving. He’d expected the woman to be worried about not being able to see the catwalk through this reality because of how closely she’d been following him, but she was instead frozenly staring at the bitch and had tears coursing down her cheeks.
“We have to get to the puppy out in the river,” he told her.
The bitch immediately growled at the sound of his voice, but started whining again quickly when the puppy’s whimpering continued. The woman startled into looking at him, then stared around as if she was going to have a complete breakdown right here under the bridge. When Liam took another step, pulling her along due to the white-knuckled grip on the jacket strip in her hand, she stumbled forward after him. The bitch’s attention followed the sound of her puppy keenly, both ears pressed up in spite of the damage to her face from breaking out of wherever she’d been trapped.
They didn’t have to step far into the water before the bitch saw the fourth puppy and splashed out to rescue her. Liam waited until both mum and pup were back on dry land and then knelt beside the puppy. The bitch, smelling hard at her baby, growled harder when her muzzle passed close to Liam’s knee. The hackles of her short hair stood up in a spiky ridge down her spine as she snarled impressively, her whining turning confused as his smell mingled with the puppy’s.
A weekly blog updating on Saturdays with quick personal blurbs about me, as in what's going on during my life as an Author and mom, and that doles out my short stories and novellas in bite-sized parts for everyone to read for free!