This week has been a scramble and I admit, I’m not entirely prepared to blog. Things with the family have just been so busy. My dog needed surgery (which in Seattle is unaffordable so I had to go down to Oregon) and before that it was camping.
Not only have I not thought through an adequate blog entry… I haven’t been writing. So… I thought I’d post the little bit of writing I have done. A short horror story I call- Laura’s Smile
The worst nights plunged me into the dream, always the same dream. Picturesque but somewhere under the layers I always knew, right from the start, that it was a nightmare. I step out the patio door onto the worn wood deck and drop my backpack at my feet. Heavy with books, it clunked down and at the sound they both looked up at me.
Laura had a plum tree in her parent’s backyard and the summer had been a hot one. The limbs still sagged from the weight of forgotten fruit. She sat in its shade, only her painted toes sticking out into the early September sun. Her blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail fell in an untidy mess down her back. She wore his sweatshirt despite the heat, but I hardly noticed because her smile outshone it all. An expression of pure joy that eclipsed the sun and inside I screamed at myself to look away. She lifted a hand and waved at me, motioning me over.
My eyes fastened on her smile, on the slight gap between her teeth, the crinkles at the corners of her eyes.
Next to her, he was a shadow, unimportant to the dream though at the time he’d seemed all important to me. This boy who sat beside my Laura, held her hand, gave her his sweatshirt.
I smiled back at her as my heart splintered into pieces. That happiness scalded me and internally I writhed under the weight of her joy.
A scream ripped me from the familiar dream. On the bunk above me my cellmate grumbled and turned over. The bed creaked blending in a cacophony with my erratic heart. Her smile followed me from the dream, painting itself on the night. A smile she gave to me.
I kicked free of my blanket and rolled off the bed turning to the wall where her face stared back at me. Most of the face was vague, forgotten with time but the smile was perfect, joyful and it accused me. Underneath the image were my words: Live for Laura. I fell on my knees and pressed my hands together in the only sort of prayer I knew.
I couldn’t undo that night. I’d come to terms with that. I’d come to terms with my actions and the iron finality of them. I had to own them and no action I took could ever undo what I took from her. Fifteen and with a single hour I’d defined my life, killed my future and hers. But I was still here and as I gasped sucking air into my lungs, I repeated my familiar mantra to myself.
Earning back her smile was impossible and I deserved the torment of the dreams. Seeing her smile and knowing I’d destroyed it and that I was only witnessing a reflection. But every day I could live in her honor, try and do her memory proud. Perhaps, was it possible I could someday outweigh that single act and meet her in heaven? No. That was beyond me, but perhaps I could earn a quiet peace.
When I’d caught my breath, I stood up again. Tomorrow I’d have a chance. Parole was the brightest hope I’d had. I was so young then, I’m a different man now. But I should try and be rested.
So I crawled back beneath the blanket. Laura’s smile never haunted me twice in an evening so I closed my eyes in peace. Sleep was foggy on my brain when a soft wind stroked my cheeks. Cold as graveyard wind, my first instinct was to turn away but my body was heavy. A smell like meat left out too long in the heat swamped my nostrils.
“Joey,” she whispered. Her voice was hoarse and wet. More of a gurgle than a human tone but still I knew her.
Laura. I squeezed my eyes closed.
“I don’t want you to live for me,” she said. Hands slipped under the blankets, fingers thin as bone stroked me. “You touched me, Joey, after you stabbed me. Did you like me better dead?”
“So sorry Laura. I can’t take it back.”
Her grip on me was tight and something slimy and cold slid from my ear to my mouth. Against my will my eyes opened. Her mouth was next to mine, lipless and rotted. She grinned, no longer a gap tooth smile. One of her front teeth was missing. I felt a phantom pain in my knuckle, remembering the punch to her jaw that had dislodged tooth, sending it spinning into her throat. Blood had spurted from her mouth as she coughed and gagged.
“Sorry? I don’t want sorry.”
She wasn’t there, couldn’t be there, but the smell blocked out all reason. And my body responded to her touch in ways I didn’t intend. Her flesh against me was spongey and slick. The nightshirt was torn at the neck, falling open to reveal sunken, rotted breasts in a blood-caked bra.
“Stop,” I said.
“There’s only one thing I want from you.”
I shoved her but she was stronger now. She held me down and even as I heard her finger bone’s snap I couldn’t so much as budge her. She laughed and black saliva dripped to my face. And then she was gone. I gagged and turned on my side, next to my head was a blade.
I picked it up reverently. A gift from Laura. The blade shone in the sallow light and I stretched a finger toward the gleam. The steel burned cold, far colder than the room around me. Even in the dim light, I recognized the blade.
Ten years ago, I’d bought this same weapon. Meant for hunting, it had an odd weight unlike that of the military knives my uncle kept in a locked cabinet or my parent’s kitchen knives. The impressive size impressed me at fifteen, made it seem destined, a sign I was acting out some sort of divine will not just a deluded teenage urge.
I slid a finger down the edge half-expecting her blood to coat my fingers, drip down my wrists. Half dried blood became sticky, like honey coating my skin… but the only blood was the warm, wet trickle from my finger. Laura’s gift seemed to drink the liquid leaving the blade pristine.
My finger lifted to my mouth and the sharp metallic taste brought a flood of memories. Her blood spurted up, spraying into my eyes, my nose, and my mouth. My hand fell away and I grinned, for a moment I might have walked on air.
Was this what she wanted? Could it be that my blood would pay the price, earn her forgiveness? I was willing to devote the rest of my life to honoring her, but I was aware nothing I did could bring her back. If my death could earn me true clemency…
I recalled her blood warming my thighs as I plunged the blade through the hand she used to shield her face and then again into her chest.
I lifted the blade to my throat. Fitting for a hunting blade, a quick pressure across the throat and the animal died. Cold steel settled against the hollow of my throat. My eyes closed, and I took in a deep breath, her scent still lingered in the air, abrasive and angry.
My grip tightened.
My cell-mate let loose a loud rattling snore and my eyes flew open to the dreary cell and the picture of Laura’s smile on the wall.
No. My death would solve nothing. It would not balance the scales. I’d already wasted one life, wasting another wasn’t the answer. That was why I’d tried so hard for parole. The best way to earn my soul back was to live. But if Laura wanted me to suffer, perhaps parole wasn’t the answer either.
I stood and pivoted, staring my grizzled cell-mate in the face. I lifted the knife and held it over his neck. So simple, I kill him and I’d never get out. And I’d be taking out a fiend. My grin broadened thinking of the deluge of blood. Thinking of how his hands would raise to his neck, trying to hold the life inside him. Power ran in me and I was a god. Life and death were mine.
Again the blade fell. No, it meant nothing if I enjoyed it. Would I have enjoyed it…No. It was only thoughts of earning Laura’s forgiveness that were confusing me. I wasn’t a killer. It was just a mistake.
I tucked Laura’s gift under his mattress. I was getting out tomorrow and I was sure she’d understand I couldn’t’ be caught with a hunting knife. I settled back into my bed. Yes, tomorrow I would be free.
** This story was inspired by a documentary I watched on mandatory life sentences for killers who committed crimes while under 18. While the central idea (the horror of the smile) was from a specific person in that documentary, the crime is not. I don’t like the idea of fictionalizing real people’s pain. Laura is purely fictional and not based on any real victim.