This story is by Yoana and was part of our 2022 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“Shit,” she sighed as the tears dropped like fresh rain on the pages of the book she was editing for the third time. Her phone buzzed loudly, but she couldn’t find it fast enough beneath the plethora of loose, printed pages. “Shit,” she repeated, seeing the number of the missed call—her mother…again. She breathed in deeply, her lungs strangling her.
She put the phone down and sat at the desk again, cradling her head, her sobs echoing off the claustrophobic walls of the studio. A cold wind blew through the one open window—fall. When she was younger, it was her favorite time of year; jumping into raked leaves seeped into her memories, as her mother laughed and jumped in with her. Her memories were hazy and cracked; her mother eyeless and ghostlike.
As an adult, her ability to understand the world had greyed her outlook on life. It was funny, she thought, how children were used to the rosy color, and their idealism always seeped through their words and actions; that rose changed to dull blue quickly and efficiently when she realized how alone she was in that expensive space, unable to get anything right, her creativity seeping through a crack.
She shook some of the papers where her tears had stained, and they remained there as a reminder. She closed her eyes, grabbed her pen, and poised it over the paper, her mind blank. She raised an eyebrow as she felt a weight on her hand gripping the red pen, as if someone or something were pressing down. She winced and drew a deep breath as the cramps began in her wrist, crawling towards her fingers, the pain strangling her like sentient vines. A shiver washed down her spine, and the room began to get icy. Her brain screamed at her to get up, but she was frozen to the chair, the presence around her pushing down on her shoulders.
Her pen fell from her hand and cluttered to the floor, rolling nonchalantly under the desk. The lamp by her bed, smashed, drowned her in darkness.
Her raggedy breath broke through the quiet. Her core was able to raise her up from her chair, and she pushed it back, her limbs folding under her. She struggled backwards, almost falling over the useless furniture littered around. The darkness allowed her some solace, an unusual calm washing over her. At least, she didn’t have to see the unfinished book she had been working on diligently, giving her voices within a break from the monotonous negativity.
She froze, her whole body locking up, as the scratching at the door grew louder and more urgent. She peered over at the door, her eyes adjusting. It was motionless, until the quaking almost ripped it from its hinges. The shaking threw her into a spiral as the scratching occurring at the same time did not quiet. It suddenly stopped, but the goosebumps on her arms didn’t. She slowly looked down, watching as the shadowy figure reached through the gap, a rotting, skeletal hand, the beautiful ring her mother adored even through her death still hanging on.
She clutched at her head as the pain broke through, forcing shut her eyes. She repeated “no, no” as the slimy figured continued making its way through the gap. Rotten corpse smell assaulted her nose as she felt the figure right next to her, whispering condemnations.
“No,” she whispered. “No.”
She opened her eyes as the stench escaped from her nose. The room was rosy and bright; the lamp, she noted, had reassembled itself on the end table. Her throbbing headache continued, and as she stumbled towards her bathroom to get an aspirin, she saw the letter with the big, red “REJECTION” written in front. She pinched at the corner and brought it up to her full vision. Her eyes scanned the envelope, stopping at the corner, where the stamp would normally be. In its place, the picture of her mother from the coroner’s, her body rigid and her eyes staring unblinking to the ceiling, her skin ashy and blue from strangulation. The scratch marks on her neck reminded her of her hesitation, of her helplessness.
Her phone buzzed again, and she looked over at it, the screen announcing her mother was calling again. She picked it up and stared as the phone continued to buzz incessantly, desperately. She slid the answer button to the right and placed it to her ear, her hand quaking.
“He—“ she swallowed. “He—llo?”
A scratching, deep guttural voice answered the other end, though she couldn’t understand what was being said.
“I—“ she began.
“Mom…” she sobbed. “Mom…I’m…mom, please.” The last world came out as a squeak, like when she was a little girl begging her mom for ice-cream. Her lips trembled as her hand holding the phone did, though it was stuck against her ear as if with glue as the voice on the other end reminded her of all things she did wrong.
She heard the chanting of voices around her, chorusing her own inner thoughts, her own inner condemnation. The call dropped, but she didn’t notice. She continued holding the phone to her ear, the tears plopping like fat raindrops against the floor, splashing and getting her shins wet.
The hands grasped at her body tightly, sticking her to the floor, her arms extended over her head, her legs open, the scent of blood in the air. She cried as she realized there were other people in there with her, though they appeared to be further away. One of them seemed familiar, and she glued her eyes to him. He was ignoring her, of course, but when he did glance at her, blame was in his eyes, as the doctor mentioned that the baby was still-born.
He walked up to her in the hospital room later, unable to look her straight in the eye, leaving his wedding ring on the table next to her. “It’s your fault.”
She closed her eyes again and shivered as her crying racked her body, but when she opened them again, she was back in her room, alone, without other people. Alone, as she always was.
Her phone rang again. This time, it was another phone number, from the publishing company.
“Ana?” The voice on the other end asked.
“Yes,” she said, wiping away her tears. “This is she.”
“Hi Ana,” there was a hesitation as the person tried to find the right words. “Ana, unfortunately we won’t be able to move forward with your book.”
A pregnant pause, a glance at the work gone to waste at the desk.
“Yes, thank you,” was all she could say. She slumped down on her mattress, putting her phone next to her.
When the police had come into her home to investigate the big bang the neighbors reported, what they found was a soulless stare at the wall, the gun loosely held in the hand, and the envelope with the big red “REJECTION” written in the front, the stamp in the corner.