Here’s some free fiction! I’m posting this as an experiment; something unpolished that I wrote in an hour, and posted raw. As writers, I think that we focus on editing areas that are important to us, but maybe not to our readers. Comments on how this story could improve are welcome, so that I can compare a list of readers’ editing priorities to my own. Yes, learning can be fun!
Visit my profile page for links to twenty published, more polished stories.
“Oh, hey, Dylan,” the stranger said, rising out of Elliot’s favorite chair. “You’re finally home.”
Somehow, my reflex was to explain: to apologize to this intruder for holding up her busy schedule of breaking and entering. “I, uh… had some shopping to do,” I told her stupidly.
She glanced around at the collection of cloth bags near my feet. “Shame,” she said about my motley montage of groceries and toiletries. “I wish you’d called. I could have saved you the trouble.” I could see that this confident stranger was wearing heels, but her steps were oddly silent as they crossed the floor toward me. Kneeling, she started poking through my bags.
Behind me, the open door framed me with the fluorescent glow of my building’s hallway. The buzz from old lights like that drove me crazy; Elliot had always sworn she couldn’t hear them, but I needed to close the door.
I needed to get rid of the stranger, first. “I’m sorry: what’s your name?” I managed.
She looked up at me, holding the can of Lynx I’d just bought. “Big night planned, I see,” she leered. “Such a shame, really. Hey, come on in; make yourself at home. I mean,” she caught herself, laughing back into my apartment, “you are home, aren’t you?”
I didn’t turn back to the elevator; I didn’t even reach for my cell. Something about this odd encounter seemed so natural, so… normal, that I just gathered up my shopping and brought it inside. She stood there, leaning against the refrigerator as she watched me unpack. She settled into the familiar buzzes and ticks of my home as though she belonged.
“Did you know Elliot?” I finally asked.
“I remember Elliot,” she admitted, “if that’s what you mean.” The stranger grabbed a bag of Doritos from my grasp, and looked at them like an old friend. “Haven’t had these in the house for awhile, have we?” With a sound like gunfire, she popped the bag open and started crunching.
I was frozen for a minute, startled by the bang. “Elliot loved those,” I told her—reminded her. “It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to buy them.”
“Elliot,” she mimicked me. “Your daughter. Thirteen years old at the time of the… tragic incident.” The stranger’s teeth gnashed hardened cornmeal into her sarcasm. “Nine years ago, now; the day she stopped living with you.”
Through the dimly lit kitchen, I watched the salon coloring in her hair pass through slivers of light while she chewed. The glow from my microwave stained some blonde streaks with green; a set of passing headlights played across the darker layers like prison bars. Those layers were as dark as Elliot’s had been, but her sneer had none of Elliot’s sweet trust in it. Watching her masticate my daughter’s favorite snack, I’d finally had enough of this intruder.
I pushed past her to the landline. The receiver seemed lighter in my grip.
“Inviting some friends over, Dylan?” she mocked me as I dialled Emergency. “Taking the old Lynx on a test run?”
“Police,” I said to the phone, then told her, “you might want to leave just now.”
“I’ll stay,” she smiled.
“Yes. This is Dylan Edwards. I’m here with—yes, that’s right, Edwards. E-D-W…”
“You always did like to spell things out, didn’t you?”
I waited until she finished crunching to make my threat. “The police are on their way. If you’re not leaving, then I will until they get you out of here.”
That’s when this woman tried to show me who I was to her. On my way to the open door, she dropped her chips and dropped to the floor with her legs around my ankles. Limber in her early twenties, she managed to scissor her legs around my ankles so I couldn’t move.
The last time I’d heard a female voice in my home, it was Elliot’s; timid and questioning and filled with a daughter’s fragile trust. This was nothing like that. The woman’s throat grated her voice as she tightened her hold on my ankles. “Did you think I would just let you go?” Her past squeezed out words that blamed me for it. “Did you think I wouldn’t learn to fight after what you did to my mother?”
The elevator arrived, and I saw a way out. If I could just fall, I might break her hold long enough to tumble into it.
But two men in white came out of the elevator to catch me. They caught me, one by each arm, and they wouldn’t let go.
“It’s all right, Ms. Edwards,” a third man—an older man—said to the stranger. Then, to me: “Dylan, I’m here. It’s Doctor Wallace. Your mind has blocked out your assault on your wife and all nine years since. This hasn’t been your home since then. We’re going to take you home.”
I had that reflex again, to apologize to the stranger. Leaning into the grip of the orderlies, I watched her through the open door of the only home I remembered. Her hatred buzzed into the fluorescent hallway, and I basked in it. She’d tried to show me who I was to her, but she still felt like family to me.
“What’s your name?” I asked the stranger.
She didn’t answer. In her twenties, she’d become someone I could never know.