Hello! NaNoWriMo has stopped chewing up my brain so it’s time for another short snippet of fiction. This week, I’m keeping things closer to traditional flash fiction length at 544 words. When I saw the photo, I knew I wanted to do something with it, but I had a challenge to meet and a manuscript to finish. With Brienne off to the beta readers, I could return to the photo.
The photo included the prompt of “Does someone still live here? If so, who? If not, what happened to them?” I’d planned to go in an entirely different direction, but it wanted to be this story, so here it is. If anyone else wants to play along, feel free to paste yours in the comments below, link to your own site, or on my Facebook page.
Content Warning – references/implies Sexual Assault against a minor
She’d known it was coming. The trees were full of stories for those willing to listen. The wind brought snippets of conversation to be stitched together like a handbound diary. The tale they told warned her to have a batch of cookies ready. She’d just slid them into the oven when a pair of scared brown eyes peered through the window.
“This her?” she asked. The room was empty, but she received an answer, nonetheless.
She dropped more cookies on a fresh baking sheet and considered the child tugging on the door latch. Angry, bitter, determined, and terrified. She knew because the girl’s blood stained the fingers she used to touch the window, the door, and the walls. The house had tasted it, absorbed it, and groaned its approval.
The old place hadn’t wanted someone this badly in decades. Not since she’d made her own desperate run into the wood to escape the monster her pa had married her to. This was a different wood in a different place, but the fear was the same. And the anger.
Pursing her lips, she nodded. “Very well, then. Let ’er in.”
A girl of nine or ten tumbled through the door. Without a glance at the room few outsiders lived to see, she whirled to close it behind her. She turned the lock, dragged over the heavy bar, and pressed her ear to the door. The house listened, too, and told the woman what it heard.
“He can’t come in,” she called from the kitchen. She’d pulled out the tray of cookies and slid in the next. “No one can unless I want ’em to.”
The girl spun around, eyes wide and face pale. “Why not?”
“’Cause that’s how it works here. I tell the place no, and it won’t let nuthin’ in.”
The girl inched deeper into the room. Dark bruises ringed one swollen eye. Blood trickled from her cracked lips. Her hair was pulled into two matted tails, and her clothing hung in tatters on her skinny frame. She cradled one arm and looked around the room with suspicious, ancient eyes.
“Yer daddy do that?” The woman set a plate of cookies and a glass of cold milk on the table.
“No. My daddy’s dead.” Her words held a challenge, but the house knew differently. Her grief and rage and loneliness seeped from the cuts on her bare feet into its floors until its tiles rattled their fury, and its vines drooped their sorrow. “Terry says he’s my daddy now, but my daddy never touched me like Terry does.”
“Got family?” A shake of the head. “Anyone who’ll miss you?” Another shake. “If I let you stay, that’s it. There’s no going back, unnerstand?” A nod. The woman sighed. “Fine. Eat yer cookies, kid. Terry won’t be touchin’ nobody no more.”
When the man banged on the door, the house didn’t let the child hear his screams or the crunching of bone and flesh between razor-sharp teeth. When the woman showed her all the marvels the wood had to offer, the trees dropped fresh leaves to cover the blood soaking into the foundation. It wouldn’t do to scare her away. The woman was growing old, and the house needed a tenant.