“Coincidence,” they claim. They are liars.
So my feelings are irrelevant? Goodbye.
The pines were whispering to me.
“Can’t you hear them?” I asked my brother.
He stared at me. “Hear what?”
“The pine trees. The whispers all around us.” I pointed at the forest around us.
“Um…no,” he said. He stopped and frowned at me. “You’re not serious, are you?”
He wasn’t ready yet. I smiled. “Of course I’m not. I just wanted to freak you out.”
He laughed. “You know, I was afraid you were losing it there for a second.”
I’ll tell him when he’s ready. Soon he’ll have to hear it one way or another. Very soon.
“Can I take one home, Mom?”
Penny had been lost in her thoughts. Going through a divorce was draining all her energy. She had been hoping spending some time out here with her daughter would help.
“The flower,” Lily said, pointing. “It’s pretty. Can I have one?”
Penny shook her head. “No, honey. That flower belongs here. How about we plant a new one when we get home?”
Lily frowned but then nodded. “Okay. But only if Daddy helps us plant it.”
Penny sighed. “We’ll see if daddy wants to help.”
Well, at least she could enjoy the flowers.
By the fifteenth month of the drought, the lake no longer held her secrets.
There it was, the body Laura had thrown into the lake years ago—or rather, what was left of it.
It has been such a long time, but the memories came flooding back as she watched the police pull the bones from the dried-up lake.
She glanced around at the shocked townspeople’s faces. After all, this was such a quiet town. None would suspect her, though. It would take quite awhile before they even figured out whose body it was. Then, could anyone really blame her?
Some of these people hadn’t even been living here yet. The young couple standing next to her, for example. The Sweeneys had moved here just a few years ago. Hopefully they wouldn’t be scared off. This town really needed a good dentist, especially with old Dr. Riddard forgetting to use novocaine when drilling cavities lately.
Of course, back then, Dr. Riddard was a good dentist. Her mother had always raved about him. And Laura was in a marriage that had turned out to be a very bad idea. It was a fast, hot affair, but the passion she and her husband shared soon turned against them. They fought continuously, about anything and everything.
And so the day that the life insurance salesman turned up, Laura had just had another terrible fight with her husband and was in a very bad mood. And when she had called to complain about her husband to her mother, all she heard was more complaints from her mother about people ripping her off. She was starting to find her mother to be a bit paranoid.
Laura scowled as she opened the door to a middle-aged man with salt-and-pepper hair carrying a large briefcase. He smiled at her.
“What do you want?” Laura snapped.
His smile didn’t fade at all. “Hello, Mrs…?”
Laura just crossed her arms and glared at him.
The man’s smile finally faded just a bit, but he still continued. “My name is Paul Peterson, and I’m here to help you.”
Laura raised an eyebrow. “Help me?”
Now the smile left his face as he took some papers out of his briefcase. “Have you ever been concerned about what would happen to your loved ones if you died?”
“Not really, considering I already have life insurance through my employer, and it’s pretty clear that’s what you’re selling,” Laura said.
“Well, yes, you’re correct that I’m selling life insurance, but are you sure that your life insurance really covers you? You see …”
Laura ignored him and stared at the garden gnome her husband’s godawful mother had forced on her. She had always hated that thing.
The phone rang. Good timing, Laura thought. She turned back to the salesman, who was still prattling on. “I’m going to get the phone, and I’m not going to get any insurance from you.”
Laura shut the door and went to the phone. She already knew it was her mother on the line. She always called this time of day.
“Hi Mom. You called at just the right time.”
“Oh really?” her mom said.
Her doorbell rang again. This insurance salesman was really persistent, Laura thought. Maybe he had a quota he needed to meet for the day.
“Yeah, there’s this annoying insurance salesman at the door…”
Laura heard a click. “Mom…?”
She was wondering if she should head to her mom’s house to see what had happened when she heard a loud thump just outside the door. While she was worrying about her mother, she had forgotten about the salesman.
Laura opened the door and her jaw dropped.
Paul Peterson was lying there in a pool of blood, and Laura’s mother was standing over him holding the garden knome.
“What did you do?” Laura looked around. Luckily, her neighbors were all at work. Laura worked the night shift at the local hospital as a nurse, and she was the only one home this time of day.
Laura leaned down and felt for a pulse. There was none.
Her mother looked down at her and pointed at the man. “He ruined my life. I never got paid after Larry died, and we paid a lot of money for that policy.”
Laura remembered how upset her mother had been that she had never gotten the money from the life insurance policy, and she had to move out of the house she had lived in for years and was now stuck living with a friend she only sometimes got along with. Still, Laura never would have imagined her mother killing someone over it.
Laura’s heart skipped a beat as a car came down the street and pulled into her driveway. It was her husband.
“What the…?”Tom gaped first at the body, then at her mother, then at Laura.
“We had an accident,” Laura said.
“It wasn’t an accident,” her mother said. “I took that…”
“Mom, you’re not helping.”
Tom stood over the body. “Is he…?”
“Yes, he’s dead,” Laura said. “Now we need to figure what to do about it.”
Tom stared at her. “What do you mean what to do about it? We call the police.”
“We can’t call the police,” Laura said. “They’ll put Mom away.”
“She should be put away. She’s crazy.”
“I’m not crazy!”
“Yes, you are, you nutty old woman. You just killed this man.”
“He deserved it!”
“I’m pretty sure ‘he deserved it’ isn’t considered a good excuse in court.”
“Mom! Tom! This isn’t helping.” Laura was silent for a moment, trying to figure out what to do. She couldn’t let her mother be locked away for the rest of her life, however long that might be. She could only come up with one solution. “We have to throw the body in the lake.”
“Throw the body in the lake? You’re just as crazy as your mother. Why did I marry you again?”
“Because I looked hot in that red bikini?”
Tom smiled. “Yeah, you did. But I’m still not helping you throw this guy’s body in the lake.”
Laura walked over to him. “Please, Tom. I know our marriage isn’t so great anymore, but can you please do this for me? I can’t let my mom spend the last years of her life in prison. Plus, he was a horrible man who hurt innocent old ladies. Right, Mom?”
Her mother nodded fervently.
Tom sighed. “Fine. We better hurry up before the neighbors come home.”
They wrapped the body in an old tarp and put it in the trunk.
A half-hour later, Laura and Tom each took one end of the body, and they threw the body in the lake. Laura’s mother walked up behind them.
“Well, that’s done,” she said. “Who wants meat loaf?”
Twenty-six years later, Laura stood by the same lake, wondering if they would be able to use the dental records to figure out who it was. She was the only one with the secret now. Her mother had died three years after she killed the insurance agent. Laura and her husband had gotten a divorce shortly thereafter, and he had died of a heart attack a little over a year ago.
She wasn’t sure if the insurance agent really deserved it or not. Regardless, she did feel at least a little bad for him.
As it turned out, Paul Peterson didn’t have life insurance.
Note: I wrote this story several years ago. I had forgotten that I had written it until recently. I want to make sure I don’t have long gaps between writing stories again.
Someone was knocking at the door.
“Who is it?” Audrey Shepherd called. The sun was beating down on yet another scorching August day, and Audrey pulled her wavy, chestnut-colored hair into a ponytail as she walked out of her bedroom. She was getting ready for work, and her air conditioner was on the fritz again.
No one answered. She peeked out of the peephole but didn’t see anyone there. Audrey slowly opened the door and looked around. There was still no one there, but a package was sitting on the step. “What can this be?” Audrey wondered. “I didn’t order anything.”
Audrey scooped up her cat, who was trying to get out the door, as she brought the package in and set it on the table. There was no name or address on it. The cat stared at the package and looked up at Audrey, meowing. Overcome with curiosity, Audrey grabbed a pair of scissors off the desk and began cutting the tape on the plain brown box.
After she finally got through all the tape, she flipped the box open to find a beige journal with lacy pink borders. It looked quite old, but the pages inside were blank.
“Why would somebody send me a journal?” Audrey wondered.
Just then the phone rang, and the cat hopped off the table. As Audrey hung up on the telemarketer, she remembered she had to call about her air conditioner. The journal lay on the table, forgotten.
The next morning another package came. Again there was a knock on the door, and again no one was there when Audrey answered. This time the box was small and narrow. Inside was a black felt pen. “Now I have a pen to go with the journal?” Audrey thought. “Why does someone want me to write in a journal? And what do they want me to write, exactly?”
Then there was another knock on the door. This time it was the repairman, who after a couple of hours declared Audrey’s air conditioner fixed and handed her a bill that made Audrey forget all about the journal and the pen.
The next day yet another package was sitting on the step as Audrey came home from a long day at work. This was the largest package Audrey had received. Inside it was a painting. It was a beautiful meadow with a young woman who looked very much like Audrey, except that she was dressed in a beige, lacy, dress that appeared to be from the 18th or 19th century. Audrey searched for the name of an artist, but couldn’t find one.
“I wonder who would send me a painting?” Audrey thought aloud. The woman in the painting was writing in what appeared to be a journal. Audrey stared at her own journal. Suddenly a strange thought struck her. “Am I supposed to write to her by writing in the journal?” Audrey wondered. It sounded ridiculous.
She shook her head and put the journal back on the table, setting the painting against the wall. She would worry about it later. She had bills to pay right now.
That night, Audrey dreamt that she was walking in a meadow with long green grasses and hundreds of flowers in an assortment of colors. The sun was shining down on a glimmering lake, and pair of swans was swimming through the bright blue water. Audrey could hear birds chirping and a light breeze rustling through the trees. The sweet scents of flowers wafted through the air. The place had a dreamy quality, Audrey thought. It felt very peaceful.
Audrey felt a tap on her shoulder and jumped. Behind her was the woman she had seen in the painting. “Who are you?” Audrey asked.
“My name is Sandra. I love to spend time here in this meadow. Isn’t it lovely?”
“Yes, it is,” Audrey replied. “But how did you get here?”
Sandra smiled. “How did you?”
Audrey thought for a moment. “I think I’m dreaming,” she said. “Yes, this has to be a dream.”
“Well, it doesn’t have to be a dream,” Sandra said in a soft, almost hypnotic voice. “You can spend time here any time you want. All you have to do is write in the journal that you want to visit me in the meadow.”
“Did … did you send the journal?” Audrey asked. It seemed crazy that a woman in the painting could send her packages. Surely she would wake up soon.
“Well, I didn’t send it, exactly. It’s just a way for you to visit this beautiful place. Wouldn’t you like to visit again, Audrey? All you have to do is say so in the journal. Just write. ‘I want to go to the meadow.’ It’s as simple as that.”
“Really?” Audrey said, frowning. “You mean all I have to do is write in some journal and I’ll be transported here?”
“Well, it’s a rather unusual journal. I guess you could call it ‘magical,’” Sandra said with a smile.
It was a beautiful place, Audrey thought. She felt so at peace here — it felt so nice to be away from work, from the noise of the city, her busy life. She felt like she could just lay down in the grass and stay here forever.
“Well, it is nice here.” Audrey said, smiling wistfully. “Wait a second … How did you know my name?”
Audrey suddenly woke up back in her room and found herself staring at her beige walls and tan carpet. Sun was streaming through the slits in the blinds, and the cat was meowing. She could hear the train horn in the distance.
Audrey sighed. “What do you think, Ginger? You think I could suddenly be in a beautiful meadow by writing in a journal?”
Ginger meowed again. Audrey laughed. “Yeah, I know, it’s ridiculous. I guess my life must really be getting dull, huh? It’s probably just some practical joke, and my mind is making things up to make my life more exciting.”
Audrey put took some food off the counter and poured it into the cat’s dish. “I guess I better get ready for work,” she said.
After a rough day at work, Audrey came home exhausted and flopped down on the couch. She grabbed the remote and turned on the TV, flipping through the channels. She was watching a show on koalas on Animal Planet when she heard something fall on the floor.
“Ginger, what are you up to now?” Audrey shouted, sighing. Ginger came out of the kitchen, looking up and Audrey and meowing. “What did you knock down?” Audrey asked the cat, who looked at her and walked over to the couch in response. Audrey sighed and walked over to the table, where she saw the journal on the floor.
“I wonder what would really happen if I wrote in this journal?” Audrey thought. “Probably nothing.” Her curiosity finally getting the better of her, she grabbed the journal off the floor and the pen off the table and sat on the couch beside Ginger. She wrote, “I would like to visit the meadow.”
She looked around. She was still in the living room of house. “Well, just like I thought, nothing happened,” she said to Ginger, who looked up and meowed, but the cat wasn’t looking at Audrey.
Audrey followed the cat’s gaze and saw that the painting looked strange, almost as if the woman inside of it was moving. Audrey walked over to the painting and peered closely at it, still holding the journal.
Suddenly Audrey wasn’t in her living room anymore. Nor was she wearing the black skirt and beige sweater she had worn to work. She was in the old-fashioned dress she had seen in the painting, sitting in the meadow, holding the journal. She looked down at the journal and was astonished to see other writing in there besides her own:
Now that you have written in the journal, you got your wish and visited the meadow. Unfortunately, this visit is going to be longer than you thought it would be. Probably about 50 years, when another woman comes along who looks a lot like you and receives a journal, a pen and a painting. This happened to me about 50 years ago, when I received the same journal. I don’t know many of the details, only the woman before me wrote me in this journal. Apparently there was a curse hundreds of years ago, and now women are chosen to spend 50 years in this painting until the next woman comes along with the same fate. I’m sorry you now must spend all of this time in the painting, but look at this way: It is a beautiful meadow, isn’t it? And thank you, for taking me away from that painting. You’ll get away one day, too, 50 years from now.
Audrey stared at the journal, awestruck. She was going to be trapped here for 50 years? But this had to be a dream. She pinched herself. Unfortunately, it hurt. Then as she stood up and looked around, she saw something strange in the distance. It almost looked like some sort of portal. She ran over and looked out of a hole that seemed to be shrinking in size. She could see her living room, her cat, and now herself — no, Sandra, dressed as herself, sitting out on the couch beside Ginger, watching TV. “She’s taken my place?” Audrey wondered aloud.
Suddenly Audrey could feel herself moving backward until she was sitting in the same position she had found herself in earlier, with the journal on her lap. She realized then that not only was she stuck in this meadow, she was stuck sitting in this exact same position until 50 years from now, when another unfortunate woman was send the same journal, pen and painting she was.
Audrey looked at the journal hopelessly. “Well, at least it’s peaceful.”
Laura liked to think she was honest with herself; it was everyone else she lied to.
Today was one of those days where she was forced to hide what she was really feeling. On the outside, she was perfectly calm, going about her day as usual. But, on the inside, it was a different story.
It was unfortunately, a familiar sensation. Her heart would race until it would skip a beat, then begin racing again. She had pain in her chest, and she felt like she couldn’t breathe. She felt chills running through her body.
It wasn’t a heart attack, though. She knew that from the time she had visited the ER because of this. She would just have to let it pass.
“Mandy, do you think you can have the report ready by the end of the day?” John just stood there and stared at her. Sometimes it was hard to believe that nobody could notice that she was completely falling apart.
She just nodded, and John walked away. After a few more minutes, her heart rate began to slow and she could breathe again. She looked around her. It was just a usual day in the office. She often couldn’t figure out what the triggers could be for the panic attacks. They just happened.
Allison walked up to her desk. Why was nobody leaving her alone today? Laura sighed and looked up.
“Are you okay?”
Laura froze. Had somebody figured out her secret? She knew that nobody would have any sympathy for her if they found out about her anxiety, and in fact, she was worried that some would think less of her. There had been a series of layoffs the past few months, and she didn’t want her job to be the next to go.
“I’m fine. Why?” She didn’t mean for her tone to sound quite so sharp.
Allison shrugged. “You look a little pale.”
“Well, I have a bit of a headache.” Laura’s head felt perfectly fine now, but she had gotten used to making up excuses when anybody noticed there might be something off.
“That’s too bad. I hope you feel better.”
Laura tried to smile. “Thanks.”
Allison was always friendly to her, but Laura was weary of making friends with anybody from the office. Of course, even her friends didn’t know about her panic attacks. She had always been too embarrassed to talk about them.
The rest of the morning went by without incident, but as Laura was getting ready for lunch, Allison walked back up to her. “I was wondering if you might want to go to lunch.”
“Oh, I’m not sure I really feel up to it.”
Allison’s face fell, and Laura started to feel bad for turning Allison down. Laura had worked at the company for about five years, and Allison had only started a few months ago. It was a tough atmosphere to start in with all the layoffs, too, and as far as Laura could tell, she was having trouble making friends.
“Oh, no problem,” Allison said, starting to walk away.
“Wait.” Allison turned back around. “I suppose we could go to lunch.”
A smile spread across Allison’s face. Laura couldn’t believe how happy just going out to lunch with a coworker was making her.
Ten minutes later, they were sitting at the corner sandwich shop. Allison had ordered a chicken salad sandwich, and Laura was starting in on a bowl of chicken noodle soup.
They both focused on eating for a few minutes. Then, Allison abruptly got up and walked over to the bathroom. Laura thought that it was strange that Allison hadn’t said anything, but she figured she would wait until she got back from the bathroom to make sure she was okay.
After Allison had been gone for a few minutes, Laura decided to check on her to make sure she wasn’t sick. Laura walked into the bathroom.
“Allison? Are you okay?”
Allison walked out of the stall looking a bit pale. “Yeah, sorry, it was just a panic attack. I get those sometimes.”
Laura’s jaw dropped. Although she technically knew that plenty of other people got panic attacks, she had never met anyone who did, or at least who admitted they had them.
“I have panic attacks sometimes, too,” Laura said surprising herself.
Laura nodded. “I had one earlier today, in fact. I didn’t really have a headache.”
She couldn’t believe how good it felt to finally admit to somebody that she suffered panic attacks.
“Well, maybe we can help each other get through them.”
Laura smiled. She had a feeling she would be breaking her rule about not making friends with coworkers.