Piper

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One Page Stories – Third Web

A Bigger Window

Tanya had been in the strange, grey world for what seemed like days. She had no way to track time – the pool of light in the center of total blackness never changed – but her bladder and stomach told her it had been at least three days.

At first she had felt … awkward … peeing on the floor, but finally she accepted that she had no choice. The grey featureless floor didn’t seem to mind particularly, and it wasn’t like anyone could see her. There was no one here. She knew because she kept shouting for them – for anyone – and was greeted by the same dead silence that had followed her since she had arrived here.

She remembered better now; she had heard something in the trunk of her car, and had pulled over to see what it was. But when she opened the trunk, something had grabbed her and dragged her inside – dragged her down through the suddenly bottomless trunk and into a pitch-dark void. Somewhere during this abrupt and airless journey, she had passed out … only to wake up in this empty twilight world.

She had walked and walked for hours; she had called out until she was hoarse. She had found the one little window, hovering in the center of the air like an optical illusion, but the girl on the other side was too scared to help her – if the girl could even hear her. She had realized after the girl ran away that the “window” was a mirror, the passenger mirror of a car parked on a quiet street. It was only a few inches across, so Tanya would never have been able to fit through it, but when she saw the girl she had hoped that at least someone would know she was stuck here.

But the girl was terrified at the talking image in the mirror, and didn’t wait to listen or lend aid. She ran quickly away from the parked car, leaving Tanya alone. Tanya had spent a long time crying about this, and staring out the little window at the night sky; it was hours before she could summon the courage to leave the little window behind, but it was too small to crawl through anyway, and anyone walking by would be as frightened as the girl had been.

What would they do anyway? If she walked by a car, and the passenger mirror started talking to her, she would scream and run away; she certainly wouldn’t know how to get that mirror-person out.

She walked and walked some more, her stomach growling. She needed food, but more particularly water, but even more particularly she needed to find a way out. If one mirror was a window into this weird place, then another might be – one that was big enough for her to climb through. She walked, and walked, and walked.

Nothing showed up.

She sat for a while and cried, struggling with everything in her not to panic. It was getting harder not to panic. But if she freaked out, or started running, she would need water sooner. Finally she stood again and went on, hoping that she was going in a straight line. It was impossible to tell in here.

She decided that she couldn’t go any further, and that she would need to lie down on the cold floor and sleep, but just as she thought this, she saw something glinting in the distance. It wasn’t much, and it didn’t immediately repeat itself, but she knew she had seen it – a gleam of reflected light.

She sprinted toward it, and was rewarded by another floating window. This one was much bigger than the first – it was big enough, she thought, for her to fit through. “Thank God!” she said, panting heavily. She could get out of here. She didn’t even care what was waiting on the other side of the floating window, as long as it wasn’t this place. She had always found so much wrong with the world … but now all she wanted was to be back in it, enjoying every single thing about it.

She stood directly under the window, looking up through it at a bright light fixture hanging from a white ceiling. White, she thought, surprised how delightful the colour white had become after being surrounded by so much grey. She could see children on the other side too – a boy and a girl, who were playing with toys she couldn’t see.

“Tom,” the girl said plaintively. “I don’t think we should have taken it out without asking Mom.”

“I just wanted to look,” the boy said. “We’re not hurting it. Besides, I wanted to see what it would do.”

“It doesn’t do anything!” the girl protested. “It’s been sitting here for half an hour!” She folded her arms across her chest. “I want to go play video games!”

“Help!” Tanya shouted, waving her arms over her head. She stretched up as high as she could, but her fingers were several inches from the window. “Help me!”

Tom’s head spun around to look at her – he had heard her! “Help!” she shouted again, waving with bigger gestures. “Help! I’m down here!”

The girl had heard her too. She and Tom stared wide-eyed down at Tanya, and then the girl gave a blood-curdling scream. Tom didn’t scream, but his face had turned completely pale, and he grabbed frantically for the little girl’s hand. “Come on!” he shouted, and pulled the little girl away from the window.

“No!” Tanya shrieked in despair. The panic she had been trying so hard to quell rushed over her now in waves. “Come back! Come back!” She yelled until her voice was hoarse; she yelled until her energy drained, and she sank down to her knees underneath the window. “Why?” she asked. “Why is this happening to me?” She looked up at the window, at the white ceiling on the other side of it, and at the light fixture that shed yellow light onto her face. “Please come back,” she whispered.

This time, she vowed, she would not move from this spot. She would stay right here until someone came to help her, or until she figured out a way to help herself. She wouldn’t get up, or go anywhere, or even go to sleep.

She would wait forever if she had to.

One Page Story – Second Web

Hide and Seek

I walked back and forth from the tree to the road; I had done this at least a thousand times, it seemed.

Still, no one was anywhere in sight.

I couldn’t just walk down the road. I had no idea where I was, really, and the light was always so dim. And what about my spot under the tree? I couldn’t just give it up, just to go find people who may not be able to help me anyway. No, I would have to wait here, and content myself with walking back and forth to the road.

Did no one ever drive on this road? I sighed, and trudged back to the tree. I hadn’t seen more than five cars in all the time I had been waiting. And of course, no one in any of those cars saw me, no matter how much I waved my arms and shouted. One person – a little girl – had looked like maybe she saw me, but the car still drove by without even pausing.

Maybe they were just afraid of hitchhikers, I thought. I certainly would be; you never know what kind of crazy people are out there waiting for you to let your guard down. But still, it was frustrating, and I wondered if anyone would ever stop to help me.

Eventually, I would have to leave the sheltered spot under the tree and walk down the road, one way or the other. I wasn’t looking forward to that. It seemed much safer under the tree.

I walked back to the road and looked in both directions as I had been doing forever and ever … and this time, I saw something. Not a car, but a group of kids on bikes, laughing and calling out to each other as they pedaled down the road toward me.

I was absolutely overjoyed, and began jumping up and down in jubilation. “Hello!” I yelled, my arms waving frantically over my head. “Help!” I walked a little way toward them. “Hello!”

At least some of the kids seemed to see me, even though they were still pretty far away. They turned to one another and said things I couldn’t make out, and slowed down their bikes as though they would actually stop. Thank heavens, I thought. Finally.

I walked back to the safe spot under the tree, and waited gleefully for the kids to get there. I was pretty confident they could help me – kids are safe to talk to, for the most part, and they aren’t as scared as grownups.

The kids left the road and biked across the hundred yards of grass and brambles toward the tree – toward my tree, where my safe spot was. I could tell now that the kid in front, a friendly-looking boy about eleven years old, was the one who had seen me, and who could see me now as I stood waiting under the tree.

“Hello!” I called again, waving and smiling. “I’m so glad you’re here!”

“What are you talking about, Jimmy?” one of the other kids said. “I don’t see anything!”

“I saw her!” the friendly-looking boy said. “She went under this tree!” He got off his bike and walked closer to the tree, stopping about three feet from me. “She came in here,” he called over his shoulder. He looked at the ground where I stood, and I knew in that moment that all the walking back and forth had not been in vain. He could see me! He could really, really see me.

The other boys had also gotten off their bikes, and were cautiously approaching the tree. “What is that, Jimmy?” one of them asked, bending down under the sloping branches. “It looks like sticks.”

“It’s not sticks,” Jimmy said, shaking his head slowly. He leaned down and touched the ground with one tentative finger, and then jerked it back. His face was pale, and his eyes were big as saucers. “It’s bones.”

“What kind of bones?” another kid asked. He brushed past Jimmy and surveyed the ground where I was standing. His eyes widened too, and he looked pretty frightened. “Is – is that a head?”

Jimmy was looking back and forth over the overgrown ground. “It must be the lady I saw,” he said, more to himself than to the other kids, and I was so happy that I would have hugged him if I could have. He spun around and picked up his bike. “We have to get back to town!” he said urgently. “We have to get the cops!”

The other kids stared a moment longer at my safe spot under the tree; then they too returned to their bikes and hurried back to the road, following Jimmy back to town.

I was so relieved that someone had finally seen me that I couldn’t even be angry anymore about what had happened. I could barely remember it anyway, it had been so long. But I had been clutching a handful of the bad man’s hair for the whole time I had been walking back and forth to the road. Maybe it would be enough for them to find the bad man. I guessed I didn’t need to worry about that now, now that someone finally knew where I was.

I waited a little longer in my safe spot under the tree; I waited until the police cars came down the road and stopped in front of me. It was about that time that the dimness of the day got brighter, until the sun was almost blinding, and I knew that it would be safe to leave the tree.

For the last time, I walked up to the road. I looked back one last time, at the clump of police gathered around the tree. “Thank you,” I whispered. “and thank you, Jimmy.” I turned then and stepped onto the road, and kept walking into the bright sunshine.

The Thing I Like About …

Annabelle: the doll never does anything.

Annabelle is a large doll with glass eyes and a painted face … and a spirit that possesses her. People who own the doll report significant paranormal disturbances and a sensation of an evil presence. A psychic tells one of the owners that the spirit is a girl whose parents have died, and that the girl loves Annabelle and wants to stay with her.

Perhaps this “girl” is the evil presence, or perhaps there is an additional entity that brings something darker to the party. Maybe the whole thing is just in the overactive imaginations of the people who became spooked by Annabelle’s staring glass eyes. Maybe the current owner – a young mother who’s experienced a recent trauma – is just overwhelmed by hormones and emotions and memories; maybe she’s just concocting the whole thing in her head.

But the audience soon sees that something supernatural really is going on. Things around Annabelle are altered in strange and unpleasant ways, and the atmosphere is decidedly threatening. And the camera lets us know the source of this unpleasantness: the increasingly creepy face of the doll, whose eyes we assume will blink at any moment, whose head we assume will turn back and forth of its own accord, whose little doll feet will no doubt be heard scampering all over the hard-wood floors. But … we watch Annabelle for the whole length of the movie, and our tension builds, and we get more and more creeped out by the staring and the waiting and the unknown that we expect …

… and Annabelle never moves. She never blinks. She never turns or twists or walks or talks or anything. The only times she moves, she’s being held and moved by others. The supernatural things going on very quickly reveal themselves to be about whatever spirit has attached itself to the doll; rather than some kind of physical possession that allows Annabelle to be alive or animated, the possession is emotional, bringing the spirits into the house with the doll like a bad smell that won’t go away.

So why, even at the end of the film, are we still looking at her porcelain face and waiting – with our hands cupped over our eyes – for her to move? Even after we’ve identified the danger and dealt with it, why are we still waiting to see something in that doll?

Because we want to.

Not because it’s a horror movie, and we as an audience expect creepy things to happen, but because even in our actual lives, we think about the things that frighten or spook or disturb us … and we wait for it to happen. We almost want it to happen, just to resolve the growing tension of waiting for it to happen. We almost want it to happen.

We watch horror movies so that all these things that we fear can happen in a controlled environment – because somehow they need to happen, but we don’t really want them to. We just want a release from that tension, from the daily fear of everything that could go wrong. And we put all our eggs into one basket – the doll Annabelle – because that way, we’ve isolated the object of our fears into one convenient package, and if we can “stop” Annabelle, then we can “stop” all our fears in one fell swoop. We can imagine that all the fears in our hearts actually reside in this doll, and once it’s “dealt with” then our fears will go away … one Annabelle at a time.

But in truth, Annabelle is only a doll, even within the story. In truth, the evil presence attached to the doll is something separate and amorphous and enormous, connected to horrors the heroine couldn’t even really contemplate. In truth, no matter what dangers we face, it isn’t the doll that’s the problem. It’s the way we sit there, with our hands cupped over our eyes, building up our store of tension and dread, illogically wishing for the things we fear to “just happen already.” It’s the way that we put our fears into the things around us, and wait for them to live up to our expectations.

In truth, we bring the fears, and Annabelle just sits and stares at us, until the very, very end.

A Tiny Little Story About A Very Long Night

My oldest aunt, Collette, was born in 1929.

Times were different then – no antibiotics, few vaccines, and a lack of the kind of medical possibilities we take for granted (and sue doctors about) today.  There weren’t telephones the way we have them today, and the doctor for my grandmother’s rural community was some distance away – accessible, but not right next door.  And when my aunt took sick with fever, all the doctor could do was advise to keep her as hydrated and as cool as possible.

Collette was only a few months old, still sleeping in a bassinette that had slender legs and tiny wheels.  The doctor had explained that either the fever would break in the night, or it would not break, and Collette would be dead – or worse. My grandmother laid her in her bassinette and sat beside it, watching as Collette’s breathing slightly, ever so slightly, rocked the bassinette.

My grandmother sat beside the bassinette all night, watching it rock, rock, rock with the baby’s breathing.  She kept her as cool as possible.  She never took her eyes off the bassinette,  never stopped staring at the rocking, even as it got slower, and slower, and slower.

“It got so slow,” she told me, “that sometimes I wasn’t sure I was seeing it move at all.  But it never stopped.”

And when the sky got lighter, and the sun was just about to come up, the rocking got a little faster.  It got a little stronger. And when the sunlight came in the window next to the bassinette, my aunt started crying.

“It was the most wonderful sound in the world,” my grandma said.

Now that I’m a mother, I think about my grandma, sitting there knowing that her baby will die, and that the only thing she can do about it is to hope that she won’t.  I think about all the things we worry about and complain about and become indignant about in today’s world, and I feel this overwhelming urge to yell to the masses, “Get over yourselves!”

And to everyone who thinks a baby’s crying is an annoyance … I say it’s the most wonderful sound in the world.