Microfiction – A very short Contemporary Story

I’d spent the last ten years building my cooking skills, working in every professional kitchen I could, so I would qualify for Chopped and be the most confident person on the stage. As the first-round buzzer sounded and I looked at my plates, missing ingredients with raw chicken, I knew it was over.

Until Next Time,

Cathy Marie Bown

What I’m Reading…

My non-fiction book of the week is…

To be honest, I was a little leary about reading a book promoting being single. However, I highly recommend this book to anyone. So, I’m about halfway through right now, and this book is fantastic! Kim has a lot of insight into how we sabotage ourselves and our relationships, creating the downward spirals and codependency cycles most of us live in all our lives.

As I am trying to break the codependency cycle so I can be a better person, not only for me but for my children and family as well, I am seeking out books recommended to help me make sense of my past and the destructive habits I have adopted along the way through my traumatic life. I’m listening to the audiobook, read by the author, and it is fantastic. The author is a real person who has made monumental mistakes in his past and learned from them. He’s also a therapist, so he’s trained to know what he did wrong. The fact that he continues to learn and grow inspires me to do the same.

My fiction book of this week is…

#5 in the “Digital Dating” series, this book is the culmination of the pairing off of the Cunningham family as the mother, who lost her husband years before, finally finds love and completes the family’s transformation into a new chapter in their cumulative life.

The thing I love so far about these books is that it’s very clear from the beginning what the misunderstanding is going to be that causes the couple to break up, but the reader is helpless to stop it. Instead, you get to watch as both characters, and the side characters, bumble their way into making things so much worse before they reach a point where they have to stop and fix it.

Stay tuned this week for more creative writing, more upcoming project information, and more wallowing in existential dread. I look forward to seeing you there!

Until Next Time,

Cathy Marie Bown

Microfiction – A very short Supernatural Story

I’d spent my entire life searching for vampires, finding nothing until the moment of my death. As the creature bit down, I knew I would spend every day of my afterlife searching for a way to become human again.

Until Next Time,

Cathy Marie Bown

Microfiction – A very short Romance story

Losing Maggie on her thirtieth birthday had been devastating for Jason but hearing her heartbeat inside the chest of the beautiful woman in the other car had brought tears to his eyes. When the woman took his hand and thanked him, their eyes locked, and he knew he would do anything for her and follow her anywhere.

Until Next Time,

Cathy Marie Bown

Microfiction – A very short Young Adult Story

Juliet had already decided to die, of that, nobody could argue. Deciding to take Romeo with her was the greatest act of rebellion she could imagine.

Until Next Time,
Cathy Marie Bown

Free- a poem

Hopelessness is consuming me tonight, so I decided to try the crisis line. The woman on the other end told me she understood, but she wasn’t really listening. I feel like I’m screaming at the world, begging it to listen, but nobody can hear me. I have become the invisible woman. Since nothing is working, I will put my words here. I’ve written a poem that I want to share. To truly experience its meaning, you need to zoom out, so all of the lines fit on your screen completely. If you look closely and with your heart instead of your eyes, I’ve made a self-portrait for you.

When you look back on these days

I hope you know I loved you

I hope you know I tried

All I ever wanted was

to be exactly what

you needed

what

you

desired

you craved

what you wanted

But it didn’t matter because

I could never be good enough.

I could never be pretty enough.

I could never be smart enough.

I could never be sweet enough.

I could never be funny enough.

I could never be happy enough.

I could never be cool enough.

I could never be hot

I could never be

Enough

Perfect

Alive

Real

Free

What I’m Reading

I’ve moved on to #5 in the Christmas Tree Ranch series. I love this series so much! Everything about these books is like a warm winter hug.

I’m also reading #3 in the Digital Dating series. These books are so adorable and cute. I have been devouring them in a day.

My non-fiction book is still Save the Cat! Writes a Novel. I have been so wrapped up in the fiction books this week I didn’t make much progress on my non-fiction choice. Hopefully, this week I can make a dent in the book!

What are you reading right now?

Until next time,

Cathy Marie Bown

“Lanie’s Goodbye” – Short Story

Good morning readers! Today we are going to revisit “Magic Isn’t Real,” a short story I posted a few days ago. I played around with the night grandma went missing and created an extended scene for you to enjoy. I think I’m going to be playing around with this storyline and these characters a bit more and hopefully work them into a full-length novel in the near future.

What do you think? Do you want to know more about Lanie and her magical world?

Magic Isn’t Real – Lanie’s Goodbye

            “You can’t arrest grandma!” I shrieked at my mother.

            “Lanie, shut up. I don’t want to, but I don’t have a choice.” My mother put her hands on the countertop and stared at me. “Do you understand what is going on right now?”

            I bit the urge to scream again and answered as calmly as possible. “Not really.”

            “The president has outlawed magic. My department got the order an hour ago. Any persons known to practice magic are subject to arrest and removal immediately. Your grandmother isn’t exactly quiet about her practice. If I don’t do this, someone else will, and they won’t be nice about it. Lanie, it’s going to be a war zone outside very soon. You are old enough to understand a little of this.”

            “But…”

            “No buts Lanie. Dad will be home in an hour, and we have to report for emergency duty. You understand that we are cops, right? We have to uphold the law, even when we disagree with it. Listen very carefully. I’m taking you to grandma’s for an overnight visit. Tomorrow, I have to arrest her. I’ve made excuses for now, but they won’t last long.”

            I could sense the urgency in what my mother was saying. I gathered my things, and we left. Once we got to grandma’s house, I was sent outside to play while mom talked to grandma. When they were done talking, they called me inside.

            “Lanie, be good for grandma.” My mother said as she looked around the kitchen. My grandma was loading items slowly into a large ancient-looking steamer trunk. I only knew what that was from the Harry Potter books. Grandma had shown them to me when I asked while reading.

            On the table, my mother moved things around, clearing space. She pushed a large wooden chest to one end of the counter, spread out a velvet cloth, and then covered it in tiny glass bottles.

            I watched from the doorway, tears in my eyes, as I tried to understand what was happening. My grandmother was obviously packing, and it looked like my mother was helping, but she had told me she was going to arrest grandma. Was my mother going to help her escape? Where would she go? My brain couldn’t quite understand everything around me, but I wanted to.

            “Mom, are you helping grandma?” I finally asked as my mother was getting ready to leave.

            “What do you mean?”

            “Grandma is packing, right?”

            “Of course not.” My mother said, sounding worried. “I was just helping with a little cleaning.” I knew my mother was lying, but I didn’t want to say anything else. I was afraid. Something was wrong, and I couldn’t figure it out. So, I watched. My mother and grandmother hugged a few minutes later, and mom left. As my mother pulled away, grandma called me over to her.

            “Listen, sweetheart, a lot of bad things are about to happen. Do you understand?” Grandma said to me, her voice low but wise.

            “I think so. The president said you are bad and have to go away, right?”

            “Yes. But he’s wrong. Magic isn’t bad. Magic is nothing more than a tool. Do you understand?”

            “Yeah, like pencils and hammers.”

            “Exactly. But now, we can’t use this tool anymore. Okay?”

            “Okay,” I said, watching her closely. She had taken a small bag out of her pocket. Inside was a bright red cloth, a vial of bright red liquid that seemed almost to glow, and a small, vibrant yellowish-orange stone. She placed the stone in my hand.

            “This is yellow calcite. It will help you remember when it’s time.” She said, closing my fist around the smooth stone. All you need to do to remember everything is to hold the stone and try to think about what you want to remember, okay?”

            “Um…okay,” I said, playing with the stone. Grandma laid her hand on mine to stop my movements.

            “Drink this.” She held the vial in her other hand and passed it to me. As I drank the odorless, tasteless liquid, she whispered something under her breath in a singsong voice. It was rhythmic and pleasant, so I tried to hold on to the words, but I couldn’t quite wrap my mind around them. Grandma removed the vial from my hand and gently pushed my empty hand onto my lap.

            I sat at the table for a while, swaying my head and holding tightly to the stone. Nobody spoke for what felt like forever. Finally, my grandmother snapped her fingers, and I lurched forward, almost hitting the table. Feeling dazed, I fixed myself in the chair and watched her as she spoke.

“Now Lanie,” my grandma said, “I need you to remember that magic isn’t real. Promise me you’ll remember, no matter what happens.” I watched as she winked at me from behind her glasses.

            “I promise,” I said, then she tucked me into bed and left the room. A little while later, I snuck out of the bedroom and downstairs, where my grandmother was reading loudly from a large, brown-tattered book. On the kitchen counter, I watched bottles of liquids float just above the countertop, dumping themselves into a large pot on the stove.

            Magic.

            I knew it. I had always known it. But something nagged at the back of my mind, telling me to forget what I saw—something like a warning, an alarm, screaming at me to go back to bed.

            I hadn’t understood that night why my grandmother didn’t want me to know it was real. I had kept my promise since then, of course. I hadn’t talked about magic or tried to do anything magical since that night in her kitchen when I was thirteen. That was the night my grandmother disappeared. I had watched her make a bubbling concoction on the stove, and then she had poured the liquid into the small vials left out by my mother.

She loaded them into the large wooden chest, which I could only describe as an old treasure chest like pirates would use. She kept out one vial and sat it next to the chest. Then, she picked up the orange calcite stone, wrapped it in the bright red cloth, and tucked it into the small bag nearby. She then placed it inside the chest, closed the lid, locked the chest, and swallowed the key.

Afterward, she drank the vial, waved directly at where I was standing, hidden in the shadows, and disappeared.

            I never told anyone what I had seen that night. I ran back to my bed and cried for hours. When I woke up, nobody was home. Mom and dad came to get me. The police searched for grandma, but she was gone, and they asked me a bunch of questions. As they searched the house, not one person touched the chest. Even my mother ignored it. My grandmother’s house was locked up, and nobody ever went back.

            But I knew, deep in the back of my mind, that she wasn’t really gone. She was safe. She was waiting for me; I could feel it. But I knew it wasn’t time. Deep in my mind, I felt I would know when it was time for me to find her.

I can’t wait to share more with you in the future! I have a big creative writing challenge for myself coming up in February! I hope you will join me every day for a new story!

Until next time,

Cathy Marie Bown

A Covid Christmas Story e-book is on sale now! Buy your discounted copy today! https://cathymariebown.com/a-covid-christmas-story/

“Abandoned” – A Photo Prompt Short Story

Good morning readers!! I’m so excited to share another beautiful day with you! Digging into the vaults of my writing folders, I came across this contest entry from last January. It didn’t win but I thought it held some promise. What do you think?

Abandoned

By Cathy Bown

Sixty years ago, my grandparents married in this yard. Now, I’m standing here, the last in my family line, looking at the dilapidated building with the overgrown ivy and perfect snowy cover, untouched by any human foot. Having stripped the trees of their greenery months ago, the dismal weather leaves a dreary haze over everything. Like everything else right now, this building and its yard feel cold and empty.

I have nothing left but this little plot of land far away from home. I didn’t have a plan when I took off to come here. All I knew was that I couldn’t cry anymore. Losing my mamma and papa two weeks ago had been unbearable. My sister followed shortly after, succumbing to extensive injuries from the crash. I was supposed to have been in that car with them, but I was mad, so I refused to go.

Now, I am alive, and they are gone.

I didn’t know about this tiny house until a lawyer showed up three days ago, handed me the paperwork, and told me I needed to sign off on the property so it could be destroyed and reclaimed by the city.

After reading the paperwork, I insisted on looking at the place. I was here now to inspect and sign off on it—the last piece of my family history.

Everything I loved in my life is now gone. At twenty-six, I still live at home. Lived. I’ve rejected every man who has ever approached me, knowing my father would insist they weren’t good enough.

At night, though, I dream of love at first sight, happily ever after, and magic. Or I used to. Life has been so dark. Lately, I can’t dream.

“A pity about this house. My parents knew the last owners. Lovely couple.” A middle-aged woman and a younger man appeared behind me.

“You knew them? They were my grandparents.”

“Of course. You look just like your nonna, then. I can see it in your face.”

“Do you know why they left? They moved to America, but I don’t know why they would leave this. It must have been beautiful back then.”

“It was. It was. But everyone said America is where you raise children if you want them to have opportunities. They had big dreams. They were young and naïve, my parents said.”

“Yes.”

“Are you moving in?” The young man asks quietly, in a deep voice. I look at him and answer without thinking.

“Yes, I think I am.” The ivy on the house looks like a heart. There must be love here. There must be hope.

He smiles.

“You must join us for pranzo, lunch. My son, he is a magnificent cook.” The man blushes and buries his face in his scarf, hiding from my smile.

“Mama, stop.”

The future is unclear to me, but this suddenly feels right. I follow them home, watching the shy young man smile as we walk away.

Thoughts?

Until Next Time,

Cathy Marie Bown

Don’t forget to grab a copy of A COVID CHRISTMAS STORY! Starting tomorrow, the e-book will be on sale for one week!

“Sammie” – A Short Story

Hello dear readers! Today I’m going to share another short story with you.

“Mommy, I’m scared.” The angelic voice startled me. I had thought I was alone in the dark room. I didn’t bother turning on the light. It would only keep sleep farther away from me. Instead, I pulled the comforter closer to my chin and tried to calm my breathing.

The light flickered on, and I looked over at the small blond boy in the doorway, his eyes full of tears, ready to spill over at any moment. He wore faded fleece one-piece pajamas covered in dinosaurs and held a faded, tattered blue blankie in his left hand. His right hand hovered near his face, his thumb waiting patiently for him to be finished talking so it could resume its usual place in his mouth.

“Is everything okay?”  I ask the boy without moving from under the blankets. I was exhausted tonight and wasn’t sure I was actually awake. It was three a.m., and I was supposed to be in a virtual meeting at eight. His crying had already kept me awake half the night, but nothing had worked to calm the upset toddler.

“Can I sleep in your room?” he asked, turning to look at the corner of the room where a pile of blankets was arranged for such a request.

“Of course, you can,” I answered, then watched as he toddled to the pile and curled up underneath the top quilt. Within minutes, he was snoring softly. Eventually, my heart rate slowed enough for sleep to find me as well.

***

“Martha, you’re two weeks past the deadline we gave you for the second half of your contracted manuscript. Is there something wrong?”

I could see the concern on Jackson’s face, and I knew he was genuinely worried about me. I understood why. Arnold didn’t look concerned, but he did look angry. I’d been paid a healthy advance for the book, but I was late on the delivery. They had already given me several extensions to allow for the move to rural Wisconsin. Big city living had been stressing me out, and my doctor had suggested a respite in the country. I’d been settled in my rented farmhouse for several months but hadn’t made any progress on my novel.

“Honestly, I haven’t been sleeping well. It’s so quiet here, and sometimes I think I’m going crazy.”

“Well, the quiet is the reason you’re there, remember. I’m sure it just takes some time to get used to.”

“I suppose so,” I responded, but I knew it was more than that. I wouldn’t complain about the child, though. They wouldn’t understand anyway.

“How’s the depression? Are you still taking the medicines?” Jackson asked.

“Yes, I’m still taking them. The doctor here didn’t give me any trouble about offering refills.”

“Good.”

“Okay, look, we need to see some progress. The accident, the move, you know we are trying to be patient with you because of everything that happened.” Arnold said, looking down at his desk.

“Yes, and I appreciate everything you guys have done.”

Arnold sits on the desk and rests his head in his hands. After a minute, he lifts his head and scratches his beard. “Alright, Martha. One month. You’ve got one month to produce something. It doesn’t have to be the whole manuscript or even half. But something substantial. A solid chapter or two, at least. Give us something to justify holding out for the final product.”

“Okay,” I said, nodding at the camera. I knew I was going to have to find a way to get some serious work done, but I also knew that it was impossible.

“Let’s check back in a couple of weeks and see how you’re doing. I’ll send you an e-mail link.” Jackson wrote something down in front of him and then waved goodbye to me with a sad smile. I disconnected the meeting before Arnold could chastise me further. I understood the dynamic duo. Arnold was the strict editor who enforced deadlines and expected results. Jackson was the more mellow and emotional editor who connected with the writers and kept them sane.

***

I spent the day staring at a blank computer screen, trying to will the story to life. Instead, my mind wandered to the accident. It was an icy day in March, and Victor drove us to the doctor’s office for a check-up. It should have been a normal day, nothing special—a quick visit with the doctor, then lunch at our favorite café.

I don’t even remember seeing the semi-truck before it smashed into the side of our SUV. I remembered pain. When I was released from the hospital a week later, my husband and unborn baby died, and I couldn’t walk.

I tried everything I could to escape the accompanying depression, but being alone only made things worse. New York City was no longer my home. Everywhere I looked, I could see Victor and our shattered dreams, so I took my publisher up on their offer to relocate me to the countryside. Arnold and Jackson located the house, made the arrangements, and even managed to secure a caretaker for me since I was wheelchair-bound.

They checked on me often, but I still spent too much time alone. Well, I wasn’t really alone. Sammie was always here. And my caretaker, nurse Debra, lived with me and helped me learn to live again. My legs would never work, but I’d been learning ways to complete tasks, like strengthening my arms so I could lift myself into the bathtub.

Before I arrived, the house was renovated to be handicap friendly. A shower was installed that I could pull my chair into, but I hated it. Bubble baths had always been a vital piece of my relaxation routine, and I refused to give them up. The bathtub was on the second floor, between my bedroom and Sammie’s. I had to use the elevator that had been installed just for me to get there.

My office was directly underneath Sammie’s room. I often heard him giggling through the heat vents when I sat at my computer. He liked to play while the sun was out. I just wished he could sleep more since the long nights of crying were causing a level of sleep deprivation I had never experienced before.

***

“Debra, I’d like to go outside to the garden today. Can you take me there?” I had been staring out the front window for a while, watching the birds and wishing I could take Sammie out to chase them. He wouldn’t go outside, and I didn’t want to fight with him, but nothing was stopping me from going out without him.

“Of course.” My caretaker leaned the broom she had been using to sweep the entryway against the wall, put on her shoes, and then pushed me outside. In the garden, she pointed out the different birds and their names.

“I wish Sammie would come out and play. The sunlight would be good for him.” I said, watching Debra as she pulled a few nearby weeds. She stopped and looked at me with confusion.

“How have you been sleeping, Martha?” She asked me with her head cocked to the side and her eyes squinting against the sun.

“Sammie often cries at night, so I don’t get much sleep. You know that.” Martha squinted her eyes against the sun, then sighed.

“The doctor could give you something to help you sleep. I’m going to call him when we go back inside.”

“No, that’s not necessary. I never wake up to noises when I take sleeping pills.”

“That’s the point, dear.”

“But then I won’t hear Sammie when he needs me,” I said.

“I see. Martha, have you talked to the doctor about these nightmares?”

“What’s there to say? Sammie has them every night. I just wish there was something I could do to help him.”

“Martha, listen…”

“No, I don’t want to hear it. We’ve been over this already a hundred times.”

“But…” Debra protested, but I cut her off quickly.

“I’m ready to go back inside. Sammie might need me.” Debra exhaled loudly, made an unpleasant face at me, then dropped the weeds and pushed me back inside. I don’t bother going to the office. There won’t be any writing today. Instead, Debra helps me shower and settle into bed for the night. I managed to nap for a few hours before she brought dinner. Debra retreats to her room on the first floor, reminding me to ring my bell if I need anything. As if I’d forgotten what a bell was, she wrapped her hand around the thick black handle, thrusting the golden bell upwards and then back several times, producing loud, clear, tinkling noises.

***

The crying from the bedroom had been going on since sundown. As I watched the sunrise from my bedroom window, I heard the door creak open and knew the fit was finally over.

“Mommy, I’m scared,” the young boy whimpered.

“Is everything okay?” I whispered.

“Can I sleep in your room?” He turned and looked at the blanket pile, waiting for my answer.

“Yes, of course.” Again, as he did every night, the child curled up under the top blanket and fell fast asleep.

***

“Martha, Debra tells me you haven’t been sleeping well.” Dr. Anderson sat on the couch in the living room, a clipboard perched on his lap and a pen in his hand.

“Sammie has nightmares, and it keeps me up.” I fidgeted with the blanket on my lap, twisting the corner material between my fingers.

The doctor made some notes on his paper and then looked at me. “I see. Could I see Sammie?”

“Of course. He’s upstairs in his room.” Together, we took the elevator upstairs, the doctor pushing my wheelchair. Outside Sammie’s room, I pointed the doctor in. “He only leaves the room at night when he can’t sleep.” I didn’t follow.

Dr. Anderson entered the room, examining everything in the small boy’s play area. Toys were strewn about, but the bed was made. Sammie sat on the bed with a picture book but watched the doctor examine the space instead of reading.

“Sammie, how are you feeling today?” the doctor asked, not looking at the child. Sammie giggled but didn’t answer. Dr. Anderson wandered around the room, waiting for an answer that never came, examining everything but not looking at anything for too long.

“Sammie must not feel like talking today?” he asked, watching my reactions carefully.

“He doesn’t talk very much,” I replied matter-of-factly.

“I see. Maybe we should go back downstairs then and leave Sammie to himself?”

“Yes, that sounds fine.”

The doctor pushed my chair back to the elevator and backed me in. From inside the stainless steel box, I watched Sammie poke his head out of his bedroom door and laugh as the elevator doors closed in front of me. The laughter echoed off the elevator walls and reverberated inside my brain.

Downstairs, the doctor parked my chair across from the couch and locked the wheels. He sat across from me and picked up his clipboard.

“We need to talk about Sammie.”

“What about him?”

“How old is Sammie?” the doctor asked.

“Three years old,” I answered.

“And who are Sammie’s parents?”

“I am, of course.”

“Who is his father?”

“My late husband, Victor, obviously.” More writing, more confused looks.

“I see.” The doctor shuffled through the paperwork on his clipboard and then looked at me. “My notes indicate you and Victor were married two years ago.”

I swallowed hard and looked away, ignoring the implications. I knew where the doctor was going and refused to be towed along.

“Martha, how is Victor Sammie’s father?”

“I don’t want to talk about this anymore,” I said aggressively.

“Okay.” He made more notes on his paper and then stood up. “I’m going to prescribe Ambien to help you sleep.”

“I’m not going to take them.”

“That’s your choice. But they’ll be here for you when you’re ready for them.” He gathered his paperwork and bag, stopped at the front door, and turned back to me. “I will be back in a few days. I’m going to bring a psychiatrist out with me next time. Is that okay? I’d like you to be evaluated.”

“That’s fine,” I said and watched him leave. He must want to shift me to stronger antidepressants. I expected as much.

***

Two sleepless days later, Dr. Anderson returned with Dr. Maxwell. They spent hours asking me questions and writing down all of my answers. The doctors inspected Sammie’s room and mine. Then, they came back and asked more questions. When they finished talking to me, they went outside to talk privately. I fell asleep in my chair, waiting for them to return.

At some point, Debra came into the living room and moved me to the couch, covering me with a quilt and propping my head on a pillow. When I awoke, Sammie was standing next to me, watching me sleep with a worried look on his tiny face.

“What’s wrong, Sammie?” I asked sleepily.

“Please don’t leave me,” he whispered anxiously.

“Why would I leave you, baby?”

“They want you to go away,” he said, pointing toward the kitchen, where I could hear deep male voices. The voices came closer, and Sammie ran away.

“Martha? Are you awake?” Dr. Maxwell’s voice boomed from the other room.

Dr. Maxwell, Dr. Anderson, and Debra came into the room then, and the doctors sat down in nearby armchairs. Debra came over to the couch and helped me sit up.

“We need to talk about Sammie, Martha.” Dr. Maxwell said, folding his hands onto his lap.

“What about him?” I asked defensively.

“Listen, we’ve been over your records. We know all about your accident and how traumatic that was for you.” Dr. Maxwell replied, choosing each word carefully.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” I said.

“I understand that, but Martha, according to your records, you’ve never given birth to a child. The only pregnancy in your records ended the day of your accident.” Dr. Anderson said with a look of sympathy etched on his face.

Tears stung my eyes as they fell without permission. Nobody had talked to me about the baby since I left New York. Losing Victor and baby Angela had broken my heart. I wanted to die with them and was angry that I survived. The only thing that kept me alive now was Sammie.

The tears were flowing, and I couldn’t see anymore. I didn’t want to go further with the conversation, but I couldn’t leave.

“Martha,” Debra said softly, putting her hand on my shoulder, “sweetie, there is no Sammie.”

No.

Just no.

My breathing picked up, and I couldn’t catch a deep enough breath to focus.

This. Wasn’t. Happening.

I closed my eyes and felt the world spin around me. I hated these doctors and their lies. I hated the medicine and the way it made me feel so disconnected. I hated Debra for causing all this trouble. And I hated my legs because I couldn’t just stand up and leave.

The tears fell in torrents until I couldn’t see, couldn’t hear, couldn’t breathe, couldn’t feel. At some point in the deluge, I checked out of my own mind and watched from above myself, where I could see my couch, my doctors, my nurse, and Sammie sitting in the corner, watching me hover above myself. He laughed and came to me, but nobody else saw him.

He climbed onto my physical lap and reached his toddler arms towards me, floating above. Nobody noticed him there. No one reacted to his presence.

I watched as my body cried uncontrollably, sobbing with the child on my lap that didn’t exist. How could I see him, but they couldn’t?

Was I losing my mind then, or had I already lost it? I pondered these things as I watched the scene below me. Everyone sat stone-still in their places, watching and waiting to see what I would do next. I’m sure they were each predicting their own futures.

I thought Dr. Maxwell was mentally considering which institution to place me in where I would receive the kind of care involving heavy sedatives and solitary confinement. Debra was probably considering what her next job would be when I was sent away. And I considered Dr. Anderson would defer to Dr. Maxwell and sign off on whatever faraway institution was necessary. I had a small fortune in the bank from the accident settlement. They could keep me as a drug-induced vegetable for the rest of my life without using all the money.

When the tears stopped falling from my eyes, I refused to return to myself. I watched as my body went limp, and my eyes glazed over. I didn’t move or speak. The doctors tried to get me to respond, but I refused. Eventually, they took turns observing me while the others went about the house, trying to determine what should be done next. It seemed they couldn’t come to a consensus. Should I be sent away? Should I be left alone to return to myself on my own terms? Should they pretend they were never here and go about their lives, leaving me with my invisible child in a country house alone?

***

As I floated, I connected the dots in my mind. The doctor in New York City had called this behavior “dissociation” when I’d refused to acknowledge reality after the accident. He’d told me I could make it stop if I wanted to, but I had to focus very hard. I didn’t want it to stop. I wanted everyone to leave me alone here with Sammie. He needed me.

He was alone when I arrived. I could see that now. He had always been here, waiting for me to come to take care of him. On my first night in this house, I was so afraid of the quiet and the dark, but Sammie comforted me.

When you move to the country from a big city, nobody prepares you for how utterly dark and noiseless the night can be. Since relocating, I’d heard insects I didn’t know existed, and I’d seen a sky full of stars I’d never before laid my eyes on. It was all so overwhelming. But that first night, there were so many clouds but no rain, so the night was pitch black. The air tasted unrecognizable and felt heavier than I was used to.

My furniture hadn’t arrived with me, so my first night was spent on a dirty couch that came with the house. Debra slept on an air mattress on the far side of the room, so I could get her attention if I needed her. That first week, she was with me all day and night while I adjusted. The power went out just after Debra had settled me onto the couch, so she left me to seek out the breaker box.

It had felt like an eternity of quiet darkness, and in that space, I found myself in uncontrollable fits of tears and terror. I had stopped abruptly when I felt a small hand take mine, and when I looked over, Sammie was there.

“Nighttime is scary for me, too.” He had whispered.

Sammie had been mine ever since. I had taken care of him, listened to him scream, comforted him, and loved him. He wouldn’t sleep in my bed when he came to my room at night, so I carefully created the blanket stack for him after a few weeks of watching him sleep on the floor.

I never asked Sammie about his past. I simply adopted him as mine and never thought about it again. At some point, I’d accepted it into my memory as true and forgotten where he had started with me. I’d never wanted to know more. I could see that here, in this empty space outside of myself. I had known deep in my soul that he was meant to be with me in this place at this time.

Yet, I had so many questions about him I couldn’t answer. I knew I couldn’t ask anyone else anymore. In fact, if I didn’t make a move soon, I wouldn’t be here anymore either.

The moment I decided to reconnect with my body, it was done. I slowly looked around, trying to decide how to approach the two doctors and nurse who now held my fate in their hands. I didn’t want to leave that house. I didn’t want to go to an institution. But I knew they wouldn’t let me stay if they thought I was hallucinating.

Debra noticed me as I started moving around on the couch and rushed over to tend to me. Since I appeared lucid enough, she shooed the doctors away while she ushered me around the house, upstairs for a warm bath, downstairs for dinner, then finally, to my bedroom, where she tucked me into bed for the night. It wasn’t yet dark outside, but that didn’t bother her. She had decided I was ill and needed my rest. When Dr. Maxwell tried to approach me, she sent him downstairs to wait in the living room.

After I was tucked into my bed, she told me she wanted the doctors to spend the night in the house and asked for my permission. She wanted them to observe me overnight when things were at their worst before they decided to send me away.

Cautiously, I agreed.

***

“Mommy, I’m scared,” Sammie whimpered from my doorway, his tattered blankie dragging on the floor next to him. I hesitated before answering, pulling the quilt tighter to my face to ward off the cold. It was dark in the room, but the light from the hallway spilled in behind the boy.

“Is everything okay?” I whispered. “What can Mommy do to make it better?”

“Can I sleep in your room?” He turned and looked at the blanket pile, waiting for my answer.

“Yes, of course.”

I heard a rustling from the room’s opposite corner, and a light turned on. Dr. Maxwell was staring at the doorway, open-mouthed and bug-eyed when I looked. I thought maybe he could finally see Sammie, but I was wrong.

“How did you open the door?” he demanded, standing up and walking to the doorway. He walked out and in several times, examining the handle and behind the door. When he found nothing out of order, he turned to me. “You can’t walk! How did you open the door?”

“I didn’t,” I answered, watching Sammie from the corner of my eye as he settled into the blanket pile and ignored the doctor. The doctor continued examining the space, inching closer to Sammie’s pile but keeping just away from the edge of it.

“You must have! There isn’t anyone else up here. Debra and Dr. Anderson are downstairs. I was watching, and you were asleep. Then the door was open, and you were talking to yourself.”

“I’m sorry, Dr. Maxwell, but I can’t get out of bed. You know that.” I watched him stomp around the space, in and out of the room, over and over again, then walk back to his spot, sit down, and do it all over again. He couldn’t seem to accept what he had seen.

Dr. Anderson and Debra came up shortly after to find out what was causing all the noise. As they argued with each other, I looked at Sammie. He was fast asleep, so I stopped listening to the voices in the room and fell into a deep sleep.

***

            When I awoke, my room was filled with light. The curtains were open, the windows letting in a soft breeze of fresh air.

I was alone.

I looked around, seeking someone to remove me from the bed. When I couldn’t hear anyone, I rang the bell. Debra appeared shortly, took me to the bathroom, then downstairs to eat. I noticed both doctors were still in the house as I was wheeled from one room to the next, but neither spoke to me.

            After I had eaten, Debra moved me to the living room, where she parked me in front of my favorite large window, and I watched the birds in the garden. Throughout the morning, I listened to the doctors talk in hushed tones from the next room. It sounded like they would send me away no matter what happened next. I couldn’t spend the rest of my life in an asylum.

            I asked Sammie what I should do, but he didn’t have any answers for me. He just watched the birds with me through the window.

            At lunch, Dr. Anderson announced that I would be moved to a fully staffed hospital where I would get the best care available for someone in my condition. I asked him what condition that was, but he refused to answer. They thought I was hallucinating due to the trauma. I knew that. I’d heard them say it several times. Later in the day, they told me I would be moved the following morning. Debra packed my essential belongings but refused to pack anything from Sammie’s room. I sat in my wheelchair and cried in the hallway.

            I’d spent the evening thinking about how to avoid institutionalization, and I’d only come up with one solution, which was a long shot anyway. After dinner, I’d asked Debra to leave me alone in the bathtub for a while. I wanted to “enjoy my last bath,” I’d told her, then asked her to light a few candles and play jazz music to remind me of when I lived in New York. Victor used to surprise me with candle-lit bubble baths and rose petals every month.

            While alone in the bathroom, I pulled myself onto the ledge of the tub, then stretched my arm across the nearby sink, barely reaching the medicine cabinet. With a bit of help from my nearby toothbrush, I was able to drag a pill bottle from the bottom shelf across to the edge closest to me. It slid within my grasp, and I tucked it into my pajama bottoms. As I slowly lowered myself back into the hot water, I was grateful that Debra had insisted I work my arm muscles and practice moving. I didn’t know then if I’d have the courage to go through with my plan, but at least I had an option.

At bedtime, I was tucked in like normal, but Dr. Maxwell and Debra were both stationed in my room, and Dr. Anderson was in a chair in the hallway. They hoped to catch me opening the door myself. I’d overheard them talking about it while I was in the tub. Dr. Maxwell believed my legs worked fine, but my mind convinced me they didn’t. Dr. Anderson disagreed but was willing to go along with the experiment to see the depth of my mental damage.

***

“Mommy, I’m scared,” Sammie whimpered from my doorway, light spilling in around him.

“Is everything okay?” I whispered. “

“No, mommy. I can’t let you leave me.”

“I don’t want to leave,” I whispered, barely audible.

“Can I sleep in your room?” He turned and looked at the blanket pile, waiting for my answer.

“Yes, of course.”

Sammie climbed under the blanket and watched the doctors, who were furiously searching the room for something that had opened the door. I was still in my bed, and they knew it hadn’t been me. While they searched and talked amongst themselves, I slipped the bottle out of my pocket and pried the cap off as quietly as possible. I didn’t know how many pills I needed to take to achieve my purpose, but I’d read somewhere that Ambien was capable of doing the job. So, while everyone shuffled around the room, searching for something they would never find, I swallowed the sleeping pills, two at a time, until the bottle was empty. I left the bottle lying on my leg, reached for my glass of water on the nightstand, and drained it.

Ignoring everyone around me, I laid back down to go to sleep. Sammie climbed into bed next to me and curled up in my arms. As I drifted off to sleep, the coldness from his body faded.

Photo by alexandre saraiva carniato on Pexels.com

There you go. I hope you liked it! Feel free to let me know what you thought of this story!

Until Next Time,

Cathy Marie Bown

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