Mar 28, 2015

The Beast

Something a little different--as I have mentioned on here, I have returned to school to get a degree in English, specifically, creative writing.  My heart's desire is to take it further, to a Masters degree. This has proven to be a challenge for me as I have spent so many years writing what is now known as "creative non-fiction". I am enjoying every step of the way, though, and relish the opportunity to improve my skills. In the past few years I have done very little on this blog. Well, I decided that since so much of my time has been spent writing for my class, I should share some of that writing here, where so many have encouraged me in my writing endeavors.  So, here ya go, my first assignment in my first official "Creative Writing" class. I hope you enjoy...

The Beast

He didn’t know what jolted him awake, he only knew was that she was gone.  He called out her name as his eyes scanned the room, not really focusing on anything in his panic.  His breath sounded harsh and ragged in his ears and he could feel his heart pounding out of his chest.  He called again, in desperation, “Claire!”
Footsteps sounded in the hall, then she rounded the corner, flying through the doorway.  “What?!  What’s wrong?!”
He looked at her wordlessly, drinking her in.  He gulped for air, each searing breath bringing him back to now, away from the terror of his dream until he was able to answer  “I…you…I don’t know.  You were gone.”  
He could tell from the way her mouth quirked that she was biting back a joke and he was grateful.  The panic was still over him like a mantle and he was not sure how he would have taken condescension, still, the predictable everyday flavor of the action helped bring him even more into the day.  He said helplessly “I guess it was just a dream”.  He felt stupid for behaving like a little kid and wished he knew why his gut still twisted.  
Later at the table she toyed with her spoon.  He knew that she wanted to ask how he was feeling, the fiddling was a certain tell that there was something on her mind, but he did not feel like going into it.  He looked away, towards the window through which the sunbeams streamed that held the dust captive.  His eyes traveled the light as it slanted through the air past the table and back again, back and forth, not looking out the window.  “You running by yourself today?”  
“Mmm” he answered with an absent minded nod.
“You ok?  I mean, you gonna to be ok to run?”
“Yes” he snapped “It was just a dream, for crying out loud.”
“Whoa!” she put up both hands “I was just worried about you, ok?  No need to get nasty, excuse me for caring.”  She pushed back her chair, standing abruptly.  Shaking her head as she wheeled around to cross the kitchen with her coffee cup, she set it down next to the sink.  He could tell that she was hurt by the way her chin jutted out. He sighed.  Dang, she was so moody these days.
Running was a good amnesiac.  As each foot pounded the pavement he could feel the anxiety slowly slipping away to be replaced by the mundane.  Might. Need. New. Shoes. Need. To. Re-search. Wonder. Dinner. Tonight. Claire. Still. Mad?
He stood in the shower and the water streamed down his back, steam rising.  She hadn’t been at home when he got back from running.  He thought that she had mentioned needing to run some errands.  He guessed that she would be home by dinner time, she always was.  Then they could go out.  She would be home by then…certainly she would.  He felt the uncertainty knot in his stomach and he shook his head.  Of course she would be home.  She was probably home already, he wouldn’t have heard her coming in over the water.  He dried off, the steam making rivers that ran through the mirror.  He gave a quick swipe of the towel on the mirror but it fogged up as quickly as the towel left the glass. He felt the tension grow at the inability to see clearly in the mirror.  He shook his head, water splattering the mirror and walls and growled at himself as he wrapped the towel around his hips.  What was wrong with him?  The knot grew, tightening into a fist that began almost to hurt.  His heartbeat grew louder in his ears, picking up tempo.  The fear grew palpable, something unnamed crouching in the corner waiting to strike.   He bolted for the door and flung it open, calling out “Claire?!”  His voice sounded muffled in their bedroom and his desperate footsteps consumed the distance to the bedroom door.  He grabbed at the doorknob, his panic growing as his hands slipped on the slick metal until it turned and he propelled himself out into the hallway, calling again, “Claire?!!”
Down the hall he pounded, the beast hard on his heels.  He burst into the den and rushed to the window, faster, faster, the lamp toppled from the table as he shoved aside the blinds to look outside.  Nothing.  No car, not even people on the quiet street.  He placed both hands on the cool glass, the slick cold jarring after the suffocation of the steamy bathroom.  He rested his forehead on the glass beside his hands and drew a deep and shuddering breath.
He did not know how long he stood there.  He was not aware when the shift occurred, he only knew that it did.  No longer being chased, the cold window slipped from a lifeline into clammy shame.  He felt the leg of the table pressing uncomfortably against his own.  He had not been aware when it turned over.  His eyes became seeing once more and he saw the car with the familiar dent turn the corner and pull into the driveway and he felt rather than heard the garage door beneath him slide open.  He looked around, embarrassed, and grabbed the table, setting it upright and scrambled to replace the lamp.  He eyed it critically and rotated it so that the crease on the shade faced the street and bolted back to the bedroom.
He heard her call out that she was home and he called back to her.  He looked around the bedroom quickly—all seemed normal.  He ducked into the bathroom, keeping the door open, and looked around,  Brush teeth?  Shave?  Shave.  
Razor in hand, he looked in the mirror.  He didn’t look like a man who had just battled with…what?  He looked again, deeper.  Was he going crazy?  She stepped into the bathroom and he whirled stepping towards her as he reached out.  Pulling her to him, he buried his face in her hair.  “Mmm, you smell good.”   She laughed and pushed him away.  “Stop it, you nut, you’re getting me wet!”  Hands on his shoulders, she held him at a distance while searching his face critically.  “You ok?”  she asked.
“Because I think you smell good?” he retorted, finding safety in the familiar banter.  “Because you look good?  Because you feel good?”  he grinned as his hands slid down her back until they reached her waistband.  Hooking his thumbs inside the fabric, he moved his hands around her waist, tugging as they reached the front so that she fell into him.  She hugged him back and he repeated “but you do smell good.”

They went to their favorite Middle Eastern place, with the falafel as dry and crumbly as old play-doh but with soft and fluffy pita bread.  They made it fresh here, they could watch from their table, if they wanted to, but they looked at each other, instead.  
“So, what do you think?”  she asked.  He looked at her.  His mind was blank, he was so tired.  He tried to grasp at words, but they spun, swirling away.  “Well…?”  She prompted.
“I don’t know.” He finally managed to grasp at the desired words.  “Tell me the details again.”  She sighed in exasperation.  He could tell that she was impatient, that this was important to her, but his brain felt like the thickest mud and he was unable to think clearly.  All he knew was that she was going away.
“…Should only be four weeks, six max.  I was thinking that maybe you could join me for part of the time?  I would have to work, but not every day and we could explore together.  It has been so long since we took a trip and you do have several weeks vacation time coming…?”
He sighed.  “I don’t know.  When do you have to let them know?”
She dropped her eyes to her plate.  “Well…”
He drew in his breath sharply.  “You already took it, didn’t you?   You already said yes.  Dammit, Claire…”
He just shook his head in disgust, not meeting her indignant face but looking at a distant point over her shoulder
“Why are you so upset?  I have taken trips like this before, you have never had problems with it in the past, why shouldn’t I take it?”
“It didn’t occur to you to consider my feelings on the matter?  That’s not cool.  I wouldn’t do that to you.
“Well, I wouldn’t keep you from going, either!” she looked away.  He couldn’t read if she was hurt or being stubborn—she did both with total abandon.  
“Look.  Its not that I don’t want you to go.” As he said the words he knew they were a lie.  “Its just…”
“Come with me!  We can make a fantasy of it!”
“I can’t.  Maybe.  No, I probably can’t” he shook his head “I have work…”  He tried to ignore the growing feeling of dread.  Why did she have to go?  He realized that he was clenching his jaw and made a conscious effort to relax.  “Look. We can talk about it tomorrow, see what we can work out then.”  He made an effort to catch her gaze as he forced a grin.  “Ok?”

They drove home in silence.  He was sure that she was working on new ways of framing the argument, but he didn’t care, he appreciated the respite.  He didn’t have an answer as to why he didn’t want her to go, he just knew that he didn’t.  It had just been a crappy, weird day all the way around, this didn’t help him feel any more settled.  He hated feeling weak and uncertain, but he just did not feel settled about this.  She was right, he knew, she had taken trips like this before and they were good at turning them into fun as well as work, but all he knew for sure was that the thought of her going caused the gnawing feeling to grow and his breath to catch in his throat.  What was wrong with him?  This was crazy!  He shook his head to clear his thoughts and she turned to look at him quizzically. He didn’t return her gaze and after a few minutes she turned to look out the window.  Silence lay between them in bed as he turned his back to her, lying on his side.  He could tell by her restlessness that she wanted to talk, but he did not trust himself to talk and he did not offer the opportunity, feigning sleep.  He listened to her breathing as it slowed and settled as she finally slipped into sleep.  As he heard her soft snoring begin, he heard the familiar creak and crack of the beams in the attic.  He knew this familiar sound well, it was as comforting as an old pair of sweats but tonight it seemed foreign.  He heard the tapping of the branch on the window—another familiar noise.  He laid, waiting. He had the sense that something was watching, something living and breathing, something foreign.  Something malevolent. He listened, talking himself down with each creak and tap.  That’s the branch.  Just the branch.  Why didn’t I do something about it last Fall when Claire asked me to.  There. That’s the joist upstairs. And again.  Finally he slept.
He called her, but she did not answer.  He searched the house, opening each door, door after door, in endless number, each time calling out “Claire, you there?” Each time, silence answered, but not really silence,  Behind the silence he could hear it growing, the rushing sound like wind, the sound of emptiness.  Now he was running, slamming into the doors, one after another, the noise pursuing him.  He tried looking over his shoulder.  He could see nothing in the dark, but he felt it.  He was the prey and he was desperate.  He whirled around to face it and was overcome.  It was on him, putrid breath and foul, the sound of each breath snarling in his ears and he shrieked.  He curled in a ball to protect himself, shaking uncontrollably, yelling out against the darkness “ClaireClaireClaireClaire!”
And she was there.  He felt her in the darkness and then a great flooding light.  She was over him, kneeling by his side, looking down, alarm on her face.  He bolted upright in bed, pushing her to the side and looked around with wide eyes, the room unfamiliar.  He stared at her, panting.  She reached out for him and he started away, but she grasped his arm and gave it a shake.  “Hey.  It’s OK.  I’m here.”  She brushed his hair from his forehead and looked at him with an inscrutable look, repeating “It’s ok”.  He slumped forward, into her and she wrapped her arms around him.  “Shhh”  They rocked like that for what seemed hours.  He laid down and curled up and she curled around him
“shhh.  It’s just a dream.”  He felt the warmth of her breath on his back.  He relaxed behind her comforting walls.
And the beast waited.

No comments: