Wednesday, March 15, 2017
Short Story: Lonely Spirit (Flash Fiction)
*Author's Note: I wrote this spooky short story in response to Chuck Wendig's most recent Flash Fiction Challenge - Create Your Own Monster. I had fun trying to invent a monster, but I had even more fun watching my son edit this piece for me. He's got some serious skill! His ability to point out where the story was saying more than necessary and where there was not enough honestly surprised me. Also, I wonder if he tells all the other authors that their stories are cheesy? tee hee!
I hope you enjoy Lonely Spirit. Be sure to check out some of the other invented monsters in the comment section over on Chuck's blog and maybe even write one of your own! Hugs! ~Tsara
“What’s that man, mommy?”
She sits at the edge of the woods, her bum soaked from the damp ground. Over and over she hears his tiny tinny voice: “What’s that man, mommy?”
Her arms float up involuntarily, reaching for her son, desperately willing him to appear and join his sweet sweet voice which she replays in her heart, trying to believe that if she never lets it go he’ll come back. That man will give him back.
But she doesn’t know which one in this forest of possibilities is him.
“What’s that man, mommy?” Dylan asks, eyes looking curiously out the front picture window of their home, toward the forest.
“What man?” Ramona questions, looking up from the nature magazine she’s been flipping through, comparing last year’s winning photos to her own recent submission.
Both of her boys have vivid imaginations. Particularly Dylan. At four years old he seems capable of building worlds with his imagination that Ramona herself would love to photograph.
But he’s never imagined seeing a man out the window before. Ramona feels the hairs on her neck stand up – existing perhaps only for moments of mommy fear – and her heart beats quickly. “Where?” she asks Dylan while walking toward the window carrying a confidence constructed out of pretend.
“Like a tree. In the woods. Oh, it’s the tree-man!” Dylan exclaims, suddenly uninterested in the window and finished with the topic.
Ramona purposely breathes a sigh of relief meant to tell her not to be afraid. Obviously, a tree looks to her big-haired boy like a man and he let his mind bring it to life.
But Ramona still feels a fringe of fear and walks the perimeter of her small house, looking carefully out every window into the woods that surround them. Living in nature is delightful (not to mention convenient) for a nature photographer and single mom of two wildly wonderful boys. Hidden out here, away from most of the dangers of man, was not only affordable but also a purposeful choice. Allowing her sons to explore freely was one of the most important things to her as a mom. But she hadn’t fooled herself into believing that no dangerous people would ever find them out here. Or that nature herself was without danger.
“You know what kiddo? We should get your brother to join us and check out the tree you’re talking about.”
Ramona’s suggestion is more for a change of mood than an interest in the tree, but Dylan is thrilled to introduce her to the tree. “Darrin!” he hollers, “Let’s show mommy the man!”
As Dylan runs toward the bedroom that he shares with his brother Ramona feels the fear stir again. Darrin saw a man, too? Why hadn’t she followed up on those self-defense classes last year? Refusing to own any real weapons rarely felt like the wrong decision, but this evening felt differently.
Darrin came out of his room with an almost guilty expression. “You know about the man?” asked her ten year old almost shyly.
Ramona’s mouth went immediately dry. “Get your hair out of your eyes,” she croaked instinctively. These words were uttered out of habit and yet she also felt an almost frightful need to see his eyes. “What are you talking about?”
Picking Dylan up she moved toward Darrin and glanced out the uncovered windows as she did. Damn that brilliant idea to shun blinds or curtains or anything else that blocked nature from their view. When she had made that point to her boys she’d felt clever. Rather than complain about being broke, she’d turned it into a statement. It was beginning to feel like a dangerous statement.
“Not a man, a tree,” Darrin explained. “But, like a tree-man, sort of. It’s hard to explain. He’s just lonely. He just wants people to talk to.”
Ramona stared at Darrin feeling overwhelmed with gratitude. It was a game! Oh, thank God!
“Oh, a tree-man? That makes sense. I’ve always known trees had spirits and personalities. But how can he be lonely? Look at that forest!”
Dylan giggled and wriggled out of Ramona’s arms, then ran to the front door. “Come on,” he called. “See tree-man!”
“Don’t…” Darrin whispered. “Wait for me.”
Ramona shook her head in appreciation, still willing the heebee-jeebees to settle down and stop prickling her skin. “Darrin, go out with your brother. I’ll be right there. The sun’s going down and I think I can get some gorgeously lit pictures of your tree-man.”
Darrin didn’t need to be asked, though, and had already donned his old sneakers. Letting his hair fall back over his eyes he followed the excited energy of his little brother carrying a nervous energy of his own. As she watched her oldest son close the door behind him Ramona felt his unusual nervousness fill the room. Had the two of them turned this game into something scary?
Or, and it surprised Ramona to hear herself wonder this, maybe the nervousness had nothing to do with this “tree-man” and everything to do with what Darrin had been up to before they’d called to him. She hadn’t ever caught her ten-year-old chatting inappropriately online or anything of that sort. But there was a first time for everything. She’d always felt pretty safe in that regard because he didn’t really have a lot of outside influences. But, of course, he had some.
Ramona grabbed the camera from her bedroom and then decided to take a quick peek in the boy's room before meeting them outside. Not snoop exactly, just peek.
The beds weren’t made, that was certainly not unusual. Heck, Ramona didn’t ever make her own bed and would have been far more uncomfortable if the beds were made. A video game was paused on the small television screen, the image of a black werewolf stood almost still, bouncing slightly and looking around; menacing without movement. Maybe this rented game was what had caused the nervousness.
On the floor, Ramona recognized some pictures she’d seen Darrin drawing the other day, but now they had more meaning.
They were drawings of a tree-man. He was truly frightening, not a Mother Nature spirit type like what she imagined when walking in the woods surrounding the house. This was menacing. Mean.
And he looked lonely.
Ramona felt the fear well up again. Was this something for a child psychiatrist? No. She didn’t believe that. But she was feeling a strange fear of the picture that she couldn’t explain even to herself.
Leaving the drawings where they lay she headed quickly for the door.
“Boys,” she called out, heading in the direction of the fire pit. Even without a fire burning she knew that’s where they would be.
Indeed, that’s where they had been spending most of their evenings these past few weeks. Why was she just now realizing this? The fire pit, right near the edge of the woods, right out the window where Dylan had asked about the man.
They stood there now, looking out into the woods, surrounded by a light breeze, the sound of crickets, and the smell of old campfire.
“He’s mad at me,” Darrin explained as Ramona got closer.
The sun was receding to the left of them, tinting the sky a light pink that rarely failed to move them into a thoughtful quiet. But tonight it colored Ramona’s mood, mocking her with a feeling of weakness. Suddenly she felt alone out here in the woods, only her to protect them.
“Why would he be mad, honey?” Ramona asked, bringing the camera to her eye so she could look into the woods with an ability to focus.
Darrin was digging his sneakered toe into the grass at his feet, an entirely uncommon habit for him.
Dylan had picked up a stick and was using it as a sword, fighting the mosquitos and smiling winningly at his victories.
“I was supposed to bring Dylan yesterday, but I changed my mind.” Darrin looked up from his feet and into the woods. Ramona could feel her son’s fear now, but there was nothing she could see in the woods. Sure, lots of trees and weeds. But no men.
“Where’s that man now, Darrin?” Dylan asked absentmindedly. “He’s lonely, remember? He needs my imagination and my stories.”
Ramona began to see this for what it was. A child’s game, enhanced by scary rented video games. Time to put on her big girl pants and stop it before it grew into something permanently damaging. As children’s games sometimes do.
“Okay, boys, cute game. But now we’re going inside to watch a family movie. How ‘bout a Pirate Movie?”
“Ya!” Dylan poked Darrin with his stick and laughed.
Darrin shrugged, trying to feign indifference, but he was already headed toward the house stealing furtive fearful glances into the dark woods.
“And first thing tomorrow I’m returning that rented game, buddy.”
“No!” Darrin whined, suddenly unconcerned with the forest and purely worried about the game. “I haven’t beaten the game yet! One more day, please!”
Ramona didn’t feel like arguing so she said nothing. Instead, she scooped Dylan’s snuggly four-year-old body into her arms and said, “Anyway, I don’t want to share your imagination and stories with the tree-man. I want them all for me!” She then kissed and kissed his soft, soft cheeks.
Darrin stood quietly at the window, watching his mom call out silently to the trees. He wanted to hold her and tell her he was sorry. He wanted her to hold him and tell him it was okay.
But he wasn’t all the way sorry. The tree-man had been lonely. And for a while, it was enough that the boys would sit and talk with him while he stayed hidden in the shadows. But Dylan’s stories had captivated and obsessed the tree-man, making him bigger. He started to frighten Darrin with questions and requests. Could he keep Dylan? He didn’t need mom or Darrin, but he needed Dylan with his unlimited imagination and energy. He became dangerous and threatening but promised to disappear if he could have Dylan. Only Dylan.
He wasn’t all the way sorry because he knew that he had helped the tree-man and saved himself and his mom. And anyway, Dylan liked the tree-man.
He wasn’t all the way sorry, but he was all the way sad. And he knew it wasn’t going to be okay.
He closed his eyes and whispered with his mom, “What’s that man, mommy? What’s that man?”