She rocked in her armchair, her fingers wrapped around her throbbing skull. The creaking of the old springs was only making the pain worsen–or was it? She paused, and realized that the rocking was the only thing keeping her conscious. Through the dark haze she returned to motion, and it eased the slightest bit. Enough for her to keep her sanity.
Hours later, days later, she woke on the floor in front of her chair. The clock told her that hours had passed, but the soreness in her knee told her it had to have been at least a day. She fumbled for her phone on the table nearby. Hours. Only hours. A sigh of relief escaped her lips. At least she wouldn’t have to find another job again for not showing up.
Her stomach grumbled its discontent, and she thought back to the apple she ate the day before, the last food she’d had. The corner of her mouth drifted upward, and she took a moment to appreciate the little things in life: a pain-free head and Pink Lady apples. She rubbed her knee another moment longer before rising, slowly but surely, and heading for the kitchen.
The apple bowl contained one shiny but lonely specimen, and she picked it up and took a bite, chewing thoughtfully as she rummaged through the pantry, then the fridge. Juice dripped down her chin, and she absentmindedly wiped it with the back of her hand. She paused. Something was wrong.
The silence struck her like a bolt of lightning. The silence. She checked her phone again for the time, praying that she was muddled and confused and didn’t know when it was.
She was neither muddled nor confused. He was over two hours late. She dropped the apple in the sink and rushed down the hall to check the bedroom, hoping against hope that he had somehow slipped by, not noticing her lying on the living room floor.
The bed lay empty, sheets unmussed and pillows perfectly aligned. She checked her phone again. No missed calls. No texts. Thumb shaking, she called the pizza place twice before correcting her sim enough to call him.
Straight to voicemail. She sank to the bed, mussing the sheets and misaligning the pillows. He never let his phone die. Why would it go straight to voicemail? Hope leapt in her chest. Because he was calling her, of course! She kicked herself for choosing just the wrong moment to call.
Her migraine returned like a gunshot, and she dropped her phone to the floor. Tears fell from her eyes, and she collapsed to the bed, never hearing his Berlioz ringtone as he called her back.
I don’t have to go out
I don’t know how I feel
I don’t have to go out
I’m so tired of the best thing
How interesting. Lovely poem by the suggested text on my iPhone.
Stefan plodded on, his pack weighing heavy on his back. The mornings on the trail were the worst for him; the longer he walked, the better he felt, other than sore feet. By the end of the day, he was joyful as he set up his tent and cooked his final meal of the day.
But today felt different.
A strange sound woke him early, a strange sound that had yet to repeat itself. In that place between wakefulness and sleep, Stefan was unable to identify the sound, and it gnawed at the back of his mind.
He came upon a footprint on the trail: a bare human footprint, pointing sideways, as though the owner of the foot had raced across the trail, rather than along it. Stefan stopped, and squatted to study the print.
Fresh, because the dry dust hadn’t crumbled in on itself, or been blown away. Light, because it was quite shallow in the fine dirt. And odd–were those claw marks at the tips of the toes?
Stefan stood up and tried to peer into the woods where whoever had gone. He stared, and just as he was about to give up, a sudden movement.
“Hello?” he called.
He took that fateful step off the trail. Stefan knew better, truly he did, but he told himself that he wouldn’t go far, that he wouldn’t lose sight of the trail.
In less than a minute, he broke that promise.
Something metallic glinted in a stray shaft of sunlight, and Stefan bent to investigate. It was a key, a shiny gold skeleton key. He picked it up, as unable to resist its brightness as a crow. The key was smooth and warm, almost feeling liquid in his hand.
He looked up and realized he had no idea where he was in relation to the trail, but the wonder of the golden key helped the briefest twinge of worry fade away into nothing.
He began walking in the direction he was facing, neither knowing nor caring if it was toward the trail.
Far behind him, and off to his left, his cell phone vibrated in the dirt of the trail, erasing the footprint as it danced along the ground.