This story is by Mercy Jackson and was part of our 2018 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
A sliver of moon gazed from a starless winter sky, hemorrhaging light through a frosted pane. Inside, a dark room, stilled, as though holding its breath. Waiting.
A small bed; a dent in soft pillows; spaces, never to be filled again; a pink-ribbon bookmarker peeked out of a “Tale of a Fourth Grade Nothing”; a mason jar with broken crayons; ; unopened toys.
The cold blue steel of a shotgun.
Sienna Brook paced. She halted. Pressed her back against the wall, while eyeliner bled coal black tears down her cheeks.
The room seemed to shrink until it settled around her shoulders, coffin tight. Outside the wind slipped off the roof and tumbled. A hinge creaked. A thud in the darkness.
He stalked into the room, past her, back rounded, shoulders hunched reeking of sour sweat threaded with shit, and blood that burned her nostrils. Her hands trembled. A vein throbbed in her temple. Her heart, now, a terrified creature, fought to break free. She planted her feet, racked the shotgun.
And leveled it at her husband’s head.
Forty eight hours ago..
Sienna was at the end of a sixteen hour shift, sweaty, tired and sat rubbing her feet in the locker room. She rolled her neck, heard tendons crack, and then changed out of her nurse’s uniform. She attempted three calls. No response. She took the drive up the Westside Highway racing toward the moon as if she meant to fly over it. Its beams rippled across the surface of the Hudson River. Sienna found a park close to the Brownstone. Got out of her car. The cold wind whistled, huddling her in her coat, the frosted skin of the earth crinkled underfoot.
The hinge on the front door squeaked into the silence.
She flicked the switch. Light flooded the room, spilling over the peach colored walls. The only furniture visible was an espresso leather couch and a round ornate wood table.
A small cry. A deep breath. Then, fear rushed in along with the air. Her husband, Luke, was sprawled on the table. Pills haloed his hand. A half bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue on its side.
“Luke!” Sienna ran over, pulled him upright, put two fingers on his carotid. A pulse. Barely. She picked up the phone and stopped.
Her thoughts wouldn’t thaw, wouldn’t flow from the bitter truth that froze her mind. This is what he wanted. Four times in as many months.
She thought it over and over while standing over his still body, and placed the cell phone back in her pocketbook. Sienna caught a glimpse of her face in the mirror, knowing this choice would haunt her forever and walked away, closed the door and got down on her knees. After her daughter Violet’s death she had forsaken religion. What kind of omnipotent god would allow an eight year old to be ran over by her own father? But she prayed anyway. Somewhere in her grief she fell asleep in a fetal curl on top of the covers.
Dawn broke brilliant. Sienna sat up squinting into sunlight that seeped through the blinds. She swung her legs over the edge of the bed , felt the warmth of the carpeted floor beneath her bare feet , moved to the door, turned the knob and stepped into the room.
Her breath caught in her throat. The couch was empty.
Her gaze bounced. Left. Right. Down the hallway. She heard water running and went up the stairs, opened the door and there he was, in the shower fully clothed, staring into the distance.
“Luke?” No response.
“Are you alright?” His head swiveled toward her.
“Sienna, what happened to me?” The color of his eyes seemed…off.
Just a trick of the light. “Luke, Honey, what do you remember from last night?”
His face twisted. “Last night? I don’t remember. Why can’t I remember?”
“You drank the Johnnie Walker,” She tried to smile and failed.
“Did I?” His voice sounded… deeper.
“Come on,” she reached in grasping the knob, turned off the water. Her mind, now, pregnant with questions. He stumbled into her.
“Your skin is freezing!” Sienna led him to the bedroom. “Take off those wet clothes.”
How could I have left him?. I’ve been a good wife… a good mother… I…
“Sienna?” I feel… strange.” She stepped closer. His back, buttocks and legs were peppered with bruises. She had seen it before.
“Luke, how do you feel?” She guided him to the bed. He sat down, hard. She grabbed a thermometer , inserted it in his mouth, and put her fingers on his wrist.
My hands are too cold. A beep, she pulled it out. Seventy degrees. That’s impossible. It’s wrong.
He laid back and closed his eyes. She sat, stroking his hair and then noticed his chest didn’t rise or fall. “Luke!” His eyes flew open.
“Nothing, nothing, sorry I…” He fixed her with an unreadable look and shut his eyes, and then lay still. She kept watch over him for the entire day checking his vitals until she came to the conclusion that the impossible had been made real. Sienna had thought he couldn’t change any further .
She was wrong.
24 hours ago…
She rose and called out sick, wrestling with the idea that this whole enterprise was her fault. Someone. Something, heard her prayer and she was being punished for not saving him. Sienna thought that by allowing death to claim him she was giving Luke what he wanted.
To be free.
But Death threw him back more broken than before. She didn’t dare go to the hospital. They would treat him as a freak. She owed him more than that. So she steeled herself for whatever would come…
The sun set and darkness ruled once again. He sat in the kitchen holding a picture of Violet. Sienna had no appetite and sat across from him. He stared. She stood, went into the bathroom, and grabbed a towel to muffle her sobs.
She came out. Stopped. Her hand rose to her mouth, fingers flowering open. He was crouched at the refrigerator eating a raw bloody steak, pieces dripping down the front of his bare chest. She walked into the bedroom, mind torn open oozing insane thoughts. What the fuck am I supposed to do now?
She sat, staring at the bedroom door, thinking she never would sleep again.
And drifted off anyway.
A noise jolted her awake.
She looked at the clock. 3:00 am. Just a short time ago she would have ascribed her worry to some dread in a dream, turned over, and gone back to sleep.
A creak. She whirled.
Luke. Standing. Fully dressed. His voice, guttural. “I’ve been thinking.”
“About what you said. About Violet’s death not being my fault.”
“You’re right. It was yours.”
“You should’ve been watching her. And she wouldn’t have been behind my car.”
Her voice shook. “It was an accident, Luke. An accident.”
His pale face creased. Sienna searched his eyes and all she found was more darkness, a terrifying discovery. He turned. The front door opened and slammed shut.
She ran to the window , half expecting to see his face pushed up against the glass. Where did he go? The driveway, empty. Apparently, even though his life had expired his driver license was still valid. A lunatic moment, hysterical laughter bubbled up pushing her to the knife edge of sanity.
He spun. She hit the switch. Incandescent light flooded the room.
“You’ve been waiting for me?”
“Luke where have you been? What have you done?”
He grinned as if he held a dirty secret.
“Luke, get out … get out now!”
He took a step forward.
She screamed, “Stop! I don’t know what you’ve become, but you’re not my Luke anymore. Don’t make me kill you.”
“Tell me, Sienna, how do you kill something already dead.
“I don’t know, but at this range… I’ll take your head clean the fuck off.”
He stood, statue still.
“Now go, and don’t ever come back or I swear…”
He sprang toward her.
The shotgun boomed. He erupted. Cloth and skin and blood spilling out where his chest used to be. The force lifted him off his feet, into the window and through the glass. His coat fluttered like a shroud as he fell. Crystals of snow blasted through the broken window settling on her lashes with a frigid touch, but she couldn’t feel any colder inside. Ears ringing, she slid down the wall gripping the weapon in both hands, got up and staggered to the window. Below the ground, was a mosaic of frost, glass and lunar silver.
And nothing else.
Luke had vanished. The hatred on his face bound them as surely as the love they once shared.
He would be back and she would be waiting…