Saturday, October 24, 2020

The Red Ribbon

 

In honor of spooky season, my favorite time of year here is a piece of flash fiction I wrote a few years back. Enjoy. 

Red Ribbon (C) 2015

Glenna Maynard



"Mona, Josh is waiting for you in the driveway, honked his horn over five minutes ago. You better hurry or you are going to be late," my mom calls from the bottom of the stairs.

"I'm coming." Sheesh, it's the last day of school, what are they going to do, hold my diploma. Very doubtful. Applying my banana flavored lip-gloss, I take one last look in the mirror, grab my purse, and dash down the stairs.

My mom stops me in my mad rush for the backdoor. "Hold on now, I need to snap a picture." My mother is very anal about capturing all of life's moments for her scrapbook.

She snaps her picture just as I hop into the passenger seat of Josh’s convertible Mustang. My boyfriend is the most popular guy at school. Captain of the wrestling team and the cutest. Everyone wants to date him, but he’s mine.

“Took you long enough.” He grins before leaning over to kiss my cheek.

“Oh whatever. You’d wait forever for me.” I smirk.

“Maybe.” He cranks up the stereo and takes off.

Josh revs his engine when we pull up next to Libby’s Camaro, a graduation present, at the stop light.

“Hey, hot rod, wanna race?” Libby winks at Josh.

“Baby, you can’t handle the ‘Stang,” he shouts loudly over the purr of his engine.

“Old Man Miller’s farm road,” Rhonda pipes in from the backseat of Libby’s car.

“You’re on.” Josh agrees peeling out, heading for the road that all kids drag race on.

Libby follows closely on his bumper. My stomach goes all queasy. I grip the handle of my door with a sweaty palm. A penitent sensation swims in my gut, but I remain quiet.

The road is really a narrow dirt path with a wicked curve right before the abandoned farmhouse.

Josh and Libby lineup revving their engines shooting each other ‘it’s so on’ expressions.

Casey climbs out standing between the front ends of both cars. “On three.” She pulls a red ribbon out of her dark hair and drops her arms on three.

Both cars pull forward strong, side by side when suddenly Libby loses control whipping left and into the tail end of the Mustang. Josh grips the wheel with all he has. His white-knuckle hold keeping us straight.

I look over my shoulder searching for the Camaro, only to see Casey’s red ribbon twisting in the wind. Libby and Rhonda are nowhere to be seen. Josh stops the car, and I fling the door open, rushing to the edge of the road where I spot the Camaro down the hill and on it’s top.

Josh runs over the embankment to help them only to return as quickly as he went. “We need to get out of here.” He tugs on my arm. Casey is already in the backseat of his car. “They didn’t make it. You know we will catch the blame for this!” He screams in my face, ushering me into the passenger seat.

Tears burn in the creases of my eyes. “We have to tell someone. What if they’re still alive?”

“No one could survive that. No one.” He climbs into the driver’s side and turns the car around at the end of the road where the old house stands.

When I glance at the second story of the rundown home something moves in one of the windows. “Did you see that?”

“What?” Casey questions.

“There’s someone in there. What if they saw us?”

“No one’s lived here for years. The place is condemned. The floors are rotting.”

“I’m telling you I know what I saw.”

“You’re paranoid.”

“Maybe we should check it out,” Casey, suggests.

“I’m not going I there. We need to get to school before we’re any later than we already are.”

“Casey...,”I hiss.

“He’s got a point and besides that place gives me the creeps. I heard it’s haunted. My sister said the old man who built the house butchered his whole family in 1925 and everyone who has lived there since has died in a freak accident.”

“We’re really not going to go for help?”

“I’m not letting this screw-up my future. You can’t tell anyone that we were here. I need you both to agree.”

“I agree,” Casey gives in immediately.

“I can’t believe you two.”

Brows furrowed, Josh leans over, getting in my face. “You tell anyone, and you’ll regret it.”

“You’re threatening me?”

“Just a warning.”

The three of us go to our classes pretending everything is fine. That nothing happened but all I can think about is that red ribbon twisting in the wind like the metal of what’s left of Libby’s car.

There were only some scratches on the Mustang. None of it made sense. As hard as the other car hit us, you’d think there would be more damning evidence other than some paint, but Josh has already painted over it. Not that anyone would say anything if they noticed with his father being the Fire Chief.

**

I can’t eat. I can’t sleep. They found the car three days after the accident. When the police questioned me, I wanted to tell them what happened, but I made a promise to Casey and Josh to keep my mouth shut. We have a pact. Together we stand. Divided we fall. It’s the motto my friends and I founded our friendship on. It’s how we survived. Now there is only Casey and me. Josh broke up with me after graduation. After the funerals of my friends. Saying he needed to focus on his wrestling scholarship.

We all went our separate ways at the end of summer only there’s this sensation that someone is always watching me I can’t shake. Only when I look around no one is there. No one at all. Then there’s the nightmare that taunts me.

Every night since the accident, I wake up screaming, haunted by their disfigured faces. Josh’s dad said the wildlife had started to eat their remains. I shudder at the thought.

Its been months and now that I’m home for my fall break the dreams have gotten worse. Scarier. Each one more vivid than the last.

“Are you good to watch your brother?”

I blink, shaking away the gruesome thoughts that plague me. “Yeah sure. “

“Great. I’ll be back in a few hours.”

“Take your time.”

“Rowen, I’m leaving now.”

My younger brother comes thumping down the stairs and into the living room to tell our mother bye.

Mom gives me a wave and scurries out the back door.

“What have you been up to twirp?” I hold out my bag of caramel popcorn to share as he plops down next to me on the couch.

“I saw something today.”

“What, you’re reflection in the mirror?” I tease, roughing up his hair.

His voice drops down to a whisper. “No. There was this man walking by the cornfield.”

“What was he doing?” The cornfields separate us from the back side of Old Man Miller’s place. “No one lives there.”

“The butcher does.” He pulls his inhaler from his pocket and takes a breath as he shakes it.

“The butcher?” I pique my brow and turn down the volume on my movie.

“He wears a sack over his face, and he has stitches for eyes. He carries an axe.”

I sigh. “What’d Mom tell you, no more scary stories. You'll be up all night.”

“It's not a story. There are people in the woods, and they wear white masks. I saw them standing outside my window!” He cries and takes another breath before using his inhaler.

“That's enough, Rowen,” I snap. He is all the time making up these stories.

“You read too many comics.”

“I’m not the only one who saw him.”

“Whatever.” I grab the remote and go turn the volume up.

Creak. The screen door rattles against the house and he nearly jumps out of his skin.

I get up and latch it shut with Rowen following close behind me. Mom must have forgotten to close the door back when she left or something. “Go take your shower. And no more of those comic books.” He thunders up the stairs, and I lean over the kitchen sink. Suddenly, a chill washes over me, and I get a feeling like someone walked over my grave. I glance out the window, seeing a shadow by the back porch.

I blink my eyes but nothing’s there. Its only my eyes playing tricks on me. Probably a tree or something.

The pipes groan up above from Rowen turning the water on. The Butcher. Where does he come up with this stuff? I shake my head and get a glass of water. The pole light by the garage flickers. Ugh. I take a drink and go back to the living room to finish my movie. I’m being silly. All of Rowen’s talk and my thoughts drifting to my dreams has me on edge. Flopping onto the couch I attempt to get comfortable.

Creak. Slam. The screen door hits the side of the house. My stomach drops and a knot forms in the back of my throat. I know I latched it. “Rowen?” I call but remember he’s in the shower.

The light in the kitchen goes out. Chills fan up and down my arms. “Who’s there? Rowen, if this is your idea of some sort of prank it’s not funny.” The pipes groan once more from upstairs. I get up off the couch, keeping my eyes on the entryway to the kitchen. The noise of a drawer opening and closing in the kitchen sounds.

“Rowen. You’re not funny, mister.”

“What do you mean?” I yelp when my brother appears at the foot of the stairs.

“Your prank. Ha. Ha. Real funny.”

“I took a shower. What are you talking about?”

“You. Banging the screen door. Turning out the lights in the kitchen.”

“It wasn’t me.”

“Yeah right.”

Bam. The screen door slams again, and Rowen runs to me. “What’s happening, Mona?”

The light flicks back on and Mom enters the living room. I release a whoosh of air. “I’ve told you guys about locking the doors when I’m not here. I forgot my wallet.” She rolls her eyes, and I shove Rowen away from me. Mom grabs her wallet from the table by the front door. “I mean it. Lock that door.”

“I will.” I follow her back through the kitchen and to the door. I make sure it’s latched. The wind probably blew it open or something last time. I just need sleep.

My brother must have gone up to his room. I finish turning everything off downstairs and head up to get ready for bed. Once I’ve changed and brushed my teeth I go to my bedroom. The window is open. The wind howls and thunder booms in the distance. Relief washes over me. That’s all it was. Bad weather and my brother’s overactive imagination playing on my emotions. I close my window and lock it with perfect timing. The heavens open and rain pelts down. I’ve always loved a good storm. Snuggling into the covers it doesn’t take long for sleep to claim me.

My thoughts drift to a blank space but the comfortable void of bliss is soon interrupted with my nightmare that plays on an endless loop. The accident. Disfigured faces. An evil laugh cackling in my ear. A sweeping sensation of a boney finger brushing along the curve of my cheek.

I bolt upright in the bed. I blink a few times and glance around my room. The rain has stopped. Crickets chirp outside my open window. I slide a hand though my hair wondering how the window got open again and that’s when I feel it. There’s something tied to my hair. I tug but whatever it is won’t come out. Exiting my bed, I go to the dresser and peer into the mirror once I’ve flicked my lamp on. I swallow hard. Tied to my hair is a single red silk ribbon. A shiver crawls up my spine and slinks back down to my toes.

I tug but no matter what it won’t budge

I run to the bathroom and grab a pair of scissors to cut it out. My hair falls into the basin of sink as I snip and snip, but the ribbon remains. Bile burns in the back of my throat. Dropping to my knees I dry heave going as far as sticking my finger in the back of my throat and that’s when I touch it. More red silk ribbon. I gag and grab it. Pulling the material as I gasp for air. The ribbon coils around my arm, wrapping around my body like I’m a Christmas present. Tighter and tighter until I can no longer breathe.

Everything goes black. My body floats up and away as though I’m light as a feather. And then a weight presses on my chest and I’m free falling. Flailing my arms, I reach out but there’s nothing but cool air.

I gasp as air springs back into my lungs. Popping my eyes open I sit up in a pool of sweat. I wipe the drool from my cheek. I look around my bedroom as the sun shines bright.

It was all a dream.

“Mona. You’re going to be late,” I hear my mother call.

It’s the last day of school. What are they going to do hold my diploma? I rush to get ready and dash down the stairs.

"There you are. Josh has been honking for five minutes." her hand moves to my head. "Since when do you wear a ribbon in your hair?" She smiles at me, tucking a strand of hair behind my ear.

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