One-Page Stories

Running

“I’m right here,” she told him, tucking him back into his new big-boy bed. “I promise, I’m not going anywhere. I’m just in my own bed, okay? Just like every other night.”

He sniffled, and pulled his stuffed bear closer to him. “Okay,” he said, unconvincingly. He had been very excited about the big-boy bed … until he realized that unfamiliar things make the night particularly dark and scary. He had come running to her room at the other end of the trailer, not once but three times.

Each time, she had slumped a little further into frustration and dejection; each time she had heard his little feet padding on the carpet and then on the kitchen linoleum, she had sighed a little deeper, and gotten up a little more reluctantly.

Someday he’ll be grown and gone, she reminded herself. And you’ll miss this.

She went back to her own bed for the fourth time, and snuggled down under the covers. Just as she was about to drift off to sleep, she heard the padding of little feet at the far end of the trailer.

“No,” she murmured, despairing that she would ever get any rest tonight. “Not again.”

The feet began running, and started thumping loudly against the floorboards – it sounded as though something were chasing the little boy. Thump-thump-thump-thump. Then, as the feet reached the kitchen, the sounds came even louder and faster – thumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthump! Across the kitchen, down the hall, into her room, running right past her and stopping abruptly at the far side of the room.

Unnerved, she sat up and fumbled for the light switch. After what seemed an interminable moment, her fingers finally found the switch and turned on the light.

The room was empty.

She cried out, and jumped out of bed. What the hell?!

She heard her son calling out for her, and she hurried down the length of the trailer to his room. He hadn’t even gotten out of bed.

“Are – are you okay, sweetie?” she asked, trying to slow her madly pounding heart. “I thought I heard you get up.”

“No,” he said, his bear clutched almost desperately to his chest. “I heard somebody running around.”

“It must have been something outside,” she suggested, trying to sound sure of herself. “Well, curl up now, and get to sleep. I love you.”

“Love you too,” he said, putting his thumb in his mouth.

She watched him for a moment, then turned and closed his door; wondering what it was she – they – had heard, she decided they were both just really tired. She made her way in the dim light back toward her room.

When she reached the hall that led to her bedroom door, the light shifted, and a shadow appeared in the doorway. It was a child, standing silhouetted by the bedroom light so that she could make out no features at all. The shape stood still for a moment, and she imagined that it watched her; then it giggled with apparent delight and spun away, running out through the wall of the trailer.

She backed away from the hall and ran as quickly as she could to her son’s room. She lay on his floor that night, with his dresser shoved up against the door. She didn’t sleep.

Not a wink.

This Just In …

After a long winter hiatus,
The Jennings returns with Part Six,
Wednesday, March 5th.

And now, for your reading pleasure, two deleted scenes from
Home Invasion, Part Two of The Doorway:

Deleted Scene One:

Nando pulled the basement door open and made his slow, careful way downstairs with an armful of tools.

“First thing I do,” he mumbled to himself. “When I get back, is put some extra lighting in this stairwell!” He also thought about widening the stairwell. “And maybe shift our bedroom closet over,” he planned aloud, finally arriving at the workbench in the center of the basement. He gratefully dumped the collection of tools on the table.

He was heartbroken to be leaving all his girls; he knew Amy could deal with everything while he was gone, but it would be a year before he could hold her and his little ones in his arms again. Thank God for web-cam, he thought.  Things would be so much harder without that!

The least he could do, he decided, was get everything as ship-shape as possible before he left, and to have a solid plan of attack for renovations when he returned. Once he had put some heart and soul into it, he reasoned, it would really feel like their house then.

He looked around the basement – it was unfinished, full of shadows and strange corners.  “I’ve got a lot of work cut out for me,” he noted ruefully. “Well, I guess that’s what we wanted.” They had searched everywhere for an older house – one with “character” – that they could settle into the way both sets of their parents had settled in together. “For the long haul,” he murmured.

He turned back to the workbench, and found it empty.

He took a step back, his eyes darting back and forth as he searched for the tools he had just set there. “Okay,” he said hesitantly. He spun in a slow circle, looking for the tools, but they were nowhere to be found.

When he had turned completely around, he found the tools back on the table.

He took another step back. “Okay,” he said again. He frowned in confusion. “Am I losin’ it?”

Behind him, he heard a little child’s giggle; he looked in time to see a small shadow dart underneath the stairs.

“Emma?” he called, taking a step forward. “Did you move Daddy’s tools?”

The shadow under the stairs giggled again, then disappeared.

Nando stared into the empty space where the shadow had been. After a moment, he climbed back upstairs to the kitchen.

It was late, he decided. He would start his project first thing in the morning.

______________________________
Deleted Scene Two:

Driving through downtown New Orleans on a Friday night was difficult at the best of times, and Vaaslo was having trouble navigating the crowded streets even with lights flashing and siren blaring. Next to him, his partner leaned out the window.

“Clear a path!” she shouted. “Or stop complaining about response time!”

After ten maddening minutes, Vaaslo was finally able to steer the patrol car into a quiet side street, where a clump of people had gathered in front of a small apartment building. As he approached, some of the people ran toward the car, waving urgently and pointing up at the building.

Vaaslo parked the car and opened the door, hearing immediately the sounds of a woman’s frantic screams, a man yelling in anger, and loud banging coming from one of the apartments. He leaped out of the car and rushed into the building, his partner following closely behind.

“Watch out, Del,” she cautioned. “This guy sounds mad as hell.”

Vaaslo knocked on the apartment door. “This is the police!” he shouted. “Open the door!”

The sounds of fighting continued; the woman began to scream without pause, her voice rising to a shrill crescendo, accompanied by breaking glass and thumping.

Vaaslo pulled his pistol from its holster. “Simmons,” he said. Wordlessly, his partner drew her weapon as well, pointing it at the door while Vaaslo raised a foot and kicked the door open.

Inside, a man lay on the floor, surrounded by glass and broken pieces of wood furniture. He had cuts that were bleeding, and an eye swollen almost shut. “Stop her!” he bellowed. He seemed to be struggling to get up. “She’s crazy!”

Simmons entered the apartment, spinning quickly to aim at anyone who might be hiding behind the door. As she did so, a woman sprang from the corner, pushing past Simmons and running full-tilt at the man on the floor. Simmons immediately lowered her pistol and grabbed the woman from behind, wrapping her free arm around the woman’s neck. “Calm down!” she ordered, pulling the woman close to her. “If you calm down, I’ll let go!”

The woman regained her composure so abruptly that Simmons was almost pulled off balance. She stood up straight, her breathing suddenly normal and her expression serene. “All right,” she said placidly, her entire demeanor a stark contrast to the chaotic scene in the apartment, where every piece of furniture had been overturned or shattered, every piece of crockery had been smashed against the wall, and spilled food covered both the man and the floor.

Simmons very slowly released her grip on the woman. “You stand over there,” she said firmly, gesturing to the corner where the woman had been. Vaaslo had by this time helped the man to his feet, and was guiding him to the other side of the living room with one large hand.

“What’s going on here?” he asked the man, who was offering no resistance and in fact seemed relieved to be standing several feet from the woman.

“She attacked me!” he yelled, pointing at her and scowling darkly. “I don’t even know how she got back here ahead of me! And suddenly she’s here, throwin’ things at me an’ punchin’ me in the face!”

Vaaslo looked over at the woman, who was probably half the man’s size; her thin arms and legs, barely covered by a tattered and mud-stained sundress, were so thin and bony that Vaaslo was unsure she could have picked up any of the things that had clearly been thrown around the room. He nodded his head toward the sofa, which lay on its front in the middle of the room.

“She threw that couch?” he asked.

“She did!” the man shouted indignantly. He pointed again. “She’s crazy! I told you, she’s crazy! She came out of nowhere and attacked me!”

“I did,” the woman said, her voice still mellow and her face collapsing now into a triumphant smile; she was clearly proud of her accomplishment. “I threw everything I could think of. I grabbed him around the throat. I hit him in the face. I punched him in the stomach.” Her smile widened. “I did all the things he does to me.”

The man started to walk toward her, but Vaaslo put his hand on the man’s chest. “Stay.” He turned back to the woman. “I understand that what you’re telling me is that he’s mistreated you, and if that’s the case, then he’s certainly not allowed to do that. But you can call the police; you don’t have to throw furniture.”

“But I did,” she explained, blinking at him as though his words made no sense to her. “It was the only way to stop him from hurting her.”

“Hurting who?” Simmons asked, her eyes quickly scanning the living room. No one else seemed to be there.

“Our daughter,” the woman answered. Her eyes filled with tears, apparently of joy, and she added warmly, “She’s everything to me. Everything.”

Vaaslo’s hand remained firmly in the center of the man’s chest. “How old is your daughter?” he asked. “Are you saying that she’s been abused as well?”

“Oh, no,” the woman said, shaking her head. Her eyes opened wide. “He never hits her or yells at her. So I let a lot of things slide.” Her brows drew together in a frown. “But she turned eight last week,” she went on. “And I heard him tell her last night that now that she was eight, he would start helping her be a ‘grown-up woman’.” Her frown deepened, and she glared hostilely at the man. “I knew what that meant. And I couldn’t let him do that to her. And I told him so.”

The man was still angry, but he had turned pale, with red splotches on his cheeks that looked like stains. “I never said anything like that!” he protested. “You always misunderstand everything, because –“ He leaned forward and continued more loudly, “You’re stupid! And crazy!”

“I didn’t misunderstand!” the woman shouted.

Vaaslo kept glancing between the woman and the man. From the expression on the man’s face, it seemed clear that the woman had not misunderstood his intentions toward their daughter; the man was angry but also shaken and confused, as though he had not only been caught at something, but by someone he no longer recognized. Vaaslo guessed that this was the first time the woman had ever said or done anything at all against him.

“Ma’am,” he said, as gently as he could. “I recognize that your motivation was to protect your daughter, but it’s against the law to attack another person.”

Simmons looked at him. “We’re not arresting her, are we?”

“We have to,” Vaaslo replied. “And we’re arresting you, too,” he said to the man, who gaped at him in outraged bewilderment.

“What’re you arresting me for?” He waved his arm in the woman’s direction. “She’s the one who made this mess!” He indicated his swollen eye. “And did this to me!”

“She’s accusing you of doing the same to her,” Vaaslo said impassively. “And of threatening to molest a child.” He looked around the room. “Is the child here?”

“Of course she’s here!” the man responded, scowling. “She did all this to me with the kid right in the next room! Aren’t you gonna do anything about that?”

“We’re already arresting her,” Simmons pointed out. She thought about what the man had said when they first entered the apartment. “You were surprised she ‘got back here’ before you did; one of you was out with the child? Where was the child when the fight started?”

The man shifted and looked away. “She was here,” he said. “In her room.” He turned back to Simmons and added defiantly, “She’s eight years old, not three years old! I only left her alone for an hour!”

“And where did you go that you couldn’t take her with you?” Simmons asked, eyeing him suspiciously.

“I don’t have to tell you that!” the man yelled. “I don’t have to tell you anything!”

Before either Vaaslo or Simmons could reply, the woman said in mild tones, “He needed to drive me out of the city and dump me in the swamp.”

Vaaslo and Simmons stared at the woman, then turned slowly to stare at the man. “Seriously?” Vaaslo said finally. “What the hell happened here?”

The woman continued speaking, as pleasantly as though she were telling a bedtime story. “He didn’t like his breakfast,” she explained. “It never seems to matter how I make it.”

“Your cooking is shit!” the man interjected.

“Be quiet!” Vaaslo barked at him.

“He started hitting me,” the woman said. She sighed. “Like always. But I didn’t care. Not today. I told him I had heard him talking to Julia – our daughter – and that I wouldn’t let him hurt her, especially not like that. He told me that I better not say anything about it, or I’d never see her again.” She had been staring into space while she spoke, but now she turned her attention to Vaaslo. “Now, that scared me,” she admitted. “That scared me quite a bit. And I knew that I had to do something about it.” She looked down at her feet. “So when he grabbed me, I grabbed the frying pan, and I hit him in the head with it.” She looked up, this time at Simmons. “I don’t usually do that kind of thing.”

Simmons blinked, not sure at first what to say. After a moment, she asked, “What happened after that?”

The woman shrugged. “He fell down. I told him I wouldn’t let him hurt Julia. He jumped up and grabbed me by the throat, and I tried to wiggle free, but he’s a lot stronger than me. And then everything went black.” She laughed suddenly. “I found myself in the swamp,” she said. “If I’d known what it was like, I would never have been so afraid of things. If I’d known what it was like, I would never have been so afraid of him.”

Vaaslo’s eyes narrowed. “What what was like?” he asked. “The swamp?”

She laughed again. “Well,” she said. “Yeah, I suppose so.”

“Sir,” Simmons said. “I’m irritated and appalled. Did you, in fact, strangle this woman and then take her out to the swamp and leave her there?”

“No!” the man shouted. “I never did anything to her!”

“He thought I was dead,” the woman pointed out.

“I never did anything!” he reiterated fiercely.

Vaaslo held up his hand. “Whoa, whoa!” he said. “Where’s the little girl?”

Simmons walked from the living room into the hallway. “Julia?” she called. “It’s the police; we’re here to help you. Can you come out?”

Vaaslo backed the man against the living room wall. “She says you left her for dead in the swamp,” he said. “You’re saying that’s not true?”

“It’s not true!” the man averred. “She went out on her own this morning. I had no idea where she went.”

Vaaslo tilted his head to the side. “Then why be surprised that she made it back here before you did?” he asked. “If you didn’t know where she went, how could you know when she was supposed to be back?”

The man looked vaguely alarmed. “I don’t have to talk to you,” he said. He nodded his head toward the woman. “She’s the crazy one. I never hurt her, and I would never hurt Julia.”

Simmons reappeared, holding the hand of a little girl with wide, serious eyes.

“Julia!” the woman cried, kneeling down instantly and throwing her arms around the girl. “Are you okay?”

“I’m okay, Mommy,” the little girl said. She leaned back and peered suspiciously at her mother. “Are you okay, Mommy?”

The woman nodded. “I’m gonna be fine forever, sweetie,” she said brightly. “As long as you are.” She gestured to Simmons and Vaaslo. “The police will help you find a safe place to live, okay, sweetheart?” She hugged the little girl again. “And don’t ever forget two things, okay? Never forget that you don’t have to let anybody – ever – hurt you even for a minute. Okay?”

“Okay, Mommy,” the little girl responded, her face buried in her mother’s long hair. She was clutching the woman as though she might never see her again.

“And never forget how much I love you, sweetheart!” the woman continued. “I will love you every single second of your life, and then forever and ever and ever. Okay?”

The little girl started crying. “I won’t forget, Mommy!” she said, tears falling down her cheeks onto her mother’s shoulder. “I promise!”

Vaaslo and Simmons exchanged glances. “Ma’am,” Simmons said. “All three of you will have to come with us to the precinct, okay? We’ll sort everything out there.”

The woman looked up, her arms still around her daughter. “I’m afraid I can’t go,” she said simply, with another shrug of her thin shoulders. She stood then, cupping her daughter’s face lovingly in her hands and planting a kiss on the end of the little girl’s nose. “I love you, baby girl!”

“I love you too, Mommy!” Julia said, her little face completely forlorn.

Backing away, the woman put the open door between her and Julia. When she was sure she was hidden from the little girl’s view, she turned to Simmons. “I’m still in the swamp,” she said, and disappeared.

Simmons staggered back. “What the hell!”

The man began shaking his head back and forth, back and forth. “No, no, no, no!” he shouted. “No! No!” His shout turned into a terrified moaning wail.

For a long moment, Vaaslo gazed, unmoving, at the place where the woman had been. Then he turned abruptly and grabbed the man at the shoulders. “Come on, pal,” he said brusquely, guiding the man toward the door. “Simmons, make sure Julia has her doll or whatnot, and then meet us downstairs.”

“Okay,” Simmons said hesitantly. “Vaaslo,” she added, her brow furrowed. “Did you see that? Did that really just happen?”

“It did,” Vaaslo answered. He escorted the man out of the apartment. “I’ll be down in the car.”

Julia looked up at Simmons. “Mommy’s gone,” she said sadly. “She can’t come back.”

Simmons crouched down. “I’m sorry, sweetie,” she said gently. “I’m sure if she could, she would.”

Julia nodded. “I know,” she said. “I don’t have to live with Daddy anymore, do I?”

“Not if we can help it, cherie,” Simmons said. She took Julia’s hand again and walked back to the little girl’s bedroom to get her things. She kept looking over her shoulder, expecting to see the woman again, but the apartment was empty and silent.

____________________________________________

Simmons sat quietly at her desk, staring unseeing at her computer screen. “I can’t get my head around it,” she said. “It’s impossible.”

“Apparently not,” Vaaslo said, shutting his computer down and putting his jacket on. “Her body was found in the swamp, exactly where the guy said he left her.” He chuckled. “I’m surprised he gave it up so quickly; he must have hoped she was somehow still alive, even if she did vanish into thin air.” His smile faded. “I was kind of hoping that myself,” he said. “But Julia’s aunt is coming tomorrow to get her. It sounds like that part at least is going to work out.”

Simmons blinked up at him. “How are you okay with this?” she asked. “How are you not freaking out right now?”

Vaaslo pulled his sunglasses out of his pocket and put them on. “Strange things happen,” he said. “All that matters is that Julia’s okay now.” He turned and headed for the door. “You should talk to the captain,” he told her over his shoulder. “He’s got some really strange stories to tell.” With that, he walked through the door, leaving Simmons to her thoughts.