Something This Way Flutters
By Jeremiah Donaldson
A breeze brought Carl some relief. Then the wind dissipated and he felt the Florida heat again. The exhaust from the highway didn’t help.
He stuck the hedge clippers in the ground and picked up his water jug. He’d had a heat stroke before, making him more sensitive to heat, and he didn’t relish the idea of a second. He drank half and dumped the rest over his head.
He tiptoed inside the house again to check on his eight month-old daughter, Rhianna. She still napped soundly in her crib. Just like he knew before going inside since the monitor bouncing on his hip was silent. He kissed his fingers and touched her forehead before exiting the house to go back to shaping the hedge that grew on three sides of the house. Only one bush remained when someone tapped on his shoulder.
Carl spun around.
The gaunt woman stood taller than himself by several inches. Rumpled clothing looked like she’d drove all day, and greasy hair spilled over her shoulders. Makeup had been smeared time and time again. Her eyes were rimmed with red. A burgundy Ford Explorer with tinted windows and Ohio tags sat in his driveway. Noise from the highway had masked her approach.
“Are you lost?” Carl pushed his sweaty hair back from his face.
The woman nodded. “My cell phone died. Can I use yours?”
“Uh, sure.” Carl handed her his cheap flip-phone.
“Thank you.” The woman smiled, draining blood from her lips and making her look years older than her indistinguishable age.
Carl nodded and went back to clipping the last bush while the woman walked to the front of the house. Moments later a paper fluttered against his leg. Road garbage. He always had to pick up stuff thrown from cars. He waded the paper up and noticed the driver’s door stood ajar on the Explorer. So his visitor littered the yard.
He looked and didn’t see the woman in front of the house. Carl approached the SUV, trying to see through the tint.
“You dropped something.”
No answer. Maybe she didn’t hear. He knocked on the window. No response.
The door opened with a slight pull to reveal a pigsty of empty soda bottles and chip bags in the floorboard. The rear seat overran with sheets of paper covered in writing. Another piece slid out from under the seat. He grabbed it and dropped it immediately. Goosebumps rose all over his body while his stomach flipped end over end.
He picked it back up. Both sides were covered in tiny print that repeated one phrase over and over: I killed my baby. His shaky hands held two sheets next to each other. They were the same. Not copied either. The woman had written it all with pencil. Thin lines gave way to thick as the pencil she’d used wore down before being sharpened. Carl reached into the back and grabbed a handful of the loose pages. They were identical. All several thousand of them from what he could see.
Carl bolted to the front porch. The door stood half open. He reached Rhianna’s room just as the woman picked her up, making her cry. His stomach knotted. The monitor on his hip repeated every sound a quarter second after it happened.
“Such a pretty girl.”
“Put her down!” He couldn’t tackle the woman. Yet. “I won’t call the cops if you just get out of here.”
“And leave such a baby behind.”
The woman put Rhianna back in the crib. “Then we’ll have to find out who walks out, won’t we?”
Carl tensed, looking for her to pull a weapon. She drove her shoulder into his chest, pushing him backwards to the floor. His right arm caught under her leg, and he took two boney fists to the face that made spots dance in his vision before he managed to ward off the blows. He grabbed her forearms only to be rewarded with a headbutt that brought tears to his eyes and a rush of warmth from his nose. He rolled her into the glass coffee table, shattering the glass under her weight.
The woman groaned while Carl found his feet and steadied himself with the TV. A deluge of blood poured from his broken nose, dripping to the floor like rain. He kicked the woman in the ribs. She slipped on the broken glass, going down on her hip. Rhianna cried louder in response to the noise.
“Get the hell out of here!” Carl knew they were useless words while he watched the woman struggle to her feet, cutting her palms on the glass. “Don’t make me hurt you. More.”
“You don’t know.”
Carl waited for her to finish the sentence. She didn’t. “I don’t know what?”
“YOU DON’T KNOW!” The woman charged across the short space.
Carl caught her knee in the thigh, but that didn’t hurt, being knocked into the corner of the TV table did. Her hands groped for his face. The manicured nails gouged down his cheek. One broke off and stuck in his skin. He grabbed the offending arm by the wrist and elbow, twisting. Something gave in the woman’s shoulder with a wet pop that he heard and felt. He gagged while she screamed so loud in his ear that he feared for the eardrum. He pushed her back. Her arm hung at a bad angle.
“Get out of here!”
The look on the woman’s face didn’t change. She aimed a kick at his crotch. He caught her foot and flung upward. Her other leg came out from under her and she went down, hitting her neck on the edge of the coffee table frame. She went into convulsions.
He waited for the body to stop moving before calling the police.