Tag Archive | Suspense

A GRIP ON THE SOUL

Slowly creeping through his veins like a caterpillar inching its way inside a leaf, the sensation made Harry irritated as his leg cramps returned.  He had been sitting in the same spot for hours.  Lying down earlier had relieved some of the pain but now it was back again.   So he stood up to stretch, his feet slipped out from under him, flinging his legs into the air and sending his butt to the ground with a thud.  Instead of staying in one spot, the weight of his body slid him closer to the edge and then suddenly stopped.  Harry’s breathing ceased for a second and he froze.  Slowly moving only his eyes, he looked around him to determine why he was still on the mountain.  After coming to the immediate conclusion that he was on his back staring at the sky above him, he glanced in the direction of his hands and saw that the only thing holding him on the cliff was a branch caught between a rock and a hard place.  His hands had turned white against the strain.  “Whew”. he gasped.  “That was close.  What was I thinking?” he muttered.

Having spent the night up here, he had removed his shirt at sunrise, giving praise to the beautiful day and giving in to the chill and wetness of the heavy dew.  A compiling of wood-chips had been built up as high as a tiny ant hill beside the rock he had perched his butt on the night before. Needing to keep his hands busy so his mind would remain calm, he had whittled a stick so much that there was nothing left of it but a small stub.

Memories of the past seemed to flood his mind.  Growing up, he had always turned the other cheek like the Bible told him to. His family had always gone to church and fervently believed in God and the devil.  Both of these concepts were deeply believed by his family and were alive and well and living on earth and in Heaven.  His family had chosen to always turn the other cheek like the Bible had taught them for generations.  “A man can walk away from a fight and still hold his dignity but once you join in, you are just as bad as they are,” his dad would often say.  His family did not act like Christians all the time, however.  People were different behind closed doors.  His dad was drunk half the time so it was a real challenge believing a word that came out of his mouth.  Once again, Harry’s heart chilled at the thought he had been contemplating all night.

The air stung briskly as it hit his skin, rushing in from the trees and the sunny mountain sky.  Earlier, looking over the edge of the mountain, bare-chested and in shorts and hiking boots, he could not believe how far down the drop was. Pulling himself up to his knees, he started to stand but sensed something in front of him. His muscles tensed at the sound he heard. Standing between him and the edge of the cliff was a rattlesnake whose shade rock had fallen when Harry had slipped.

Trying to give his mind a respite from the problem it now faced and trying to maintain his balance without moving a muscle, he tried to think of the right thing to do at the moment. But instead, his mind went back to earlier in the day when he had been sitting near the edge of the cliff.

While sitting on a rock, he had received a feeling of power and control over his life.  It felt right.  He had never known this feeling of control at any time in his life.  He could remember a lot of incidents where he did not have control, and as the memories crossed his mind, his attitude started to change from a feeling of ambivalence to an almost uncontrollable anger.  Popping into his mind at the moment, he recalled a conversation between him and Jessie, a child-hood friend who had been in his life for a brief time.
“Harry, why do you always let them get to you? Nobody can take your attitude away from you.  You have control over how you feel.  Don’t let them get to you, no matter what happens. Promise me you won’t let them get you down”, she would often say.

“I promise I won’t let them do that to me. Don’t let me catch you doing that either, you hear me?” he would shout back into the wind.

Times were hard back then, and soon his one and only friend was gone.  She had moved to another state and handwriting letters was not his forte so they soon lost touch and the words she had often encourage him with soon left him too.  The comforting words pushed into the recesses of his mind did nothing to protect him against the cruel world and the promise was soon forgotten.  Teased and ridiculed for having a family who believed in turning the other cheek and having a birth name of Harry Gripp, he had endured a lot of torment over the years.

His mind bogged down with nothing except the memories of pain and the dispositions of everyone he had known all his life.  With his support system failing him at home and with no one to count on but his mother, he could not seem to ignore the ridicule and the alcoholism that pervaded his home. His life now had no meaning for him and there was nothing left.  He thought there was nothing he could hold on to, not even the love of his mother.

As the late morning started to fade and the sun had  moved out from above him, the sweat on his brow drenching his face brought him back with a start.  The decision he had to make about the circumstances he was currently in was driving him nuts and standing in a semi-crouch position and not moving a muscle had begun to give him the shakes.  Complications were starting to set in quicker than anticipated.  It was now or never, he thought to himself.  It was time to make a decision.  It was time to act. Sweat trickled down his neck, making his back itch, and resisting the urge to scratch was too much.  Before he had his mind made up, he instinctively moved his hand and the snake arched its neck and struck, biting his leg.

His first thought, of course, was of his mother and what she would have thought had she been here.  Had she come up to him at that moment, she would have been appalled to know that he had come to this decision and she would have told him that it was a sign from God who was intervening in his life for a reason.  He could still make something of his life if only he would see the good around him and the chances still to take.  God had a purpose for him despite the past.

Ignoring the thoughts of his mother, Harry knew this was the moment he had waited for.  It was time to prove to him-self and to the others who had taunted him over the years that he had the guts to finish what he started.  Closing his eyes and breathing slowly, he knew he had to clear her judgmental face from his mind, from his heart.  He knew that deep down she loved him and had always been his ally, but over the years his trials had become hard for her to bear and she had begun to think that it was his fault.  That it was him bringing on all the pain.  He could not afford to contemplate what she would think of his decision now.  At 15 years of age, he was considered a man in many cultures and was old enough to make his own way in the world.  His mind was made up and he swore to himself he would not budge.

Coming back to reality, the pain sinking in to his senses, he fell to the ground and screaming in agony, he tried to see where the snake had gone.  Inching out from behind a twig, the snake bit him again and again until it had enough room to maneuver to the other side of Harry.  Trapped no longer, the snake slithered out of sight.  Harry lay there thinking of everything that had happened, the real and the imagined, and it dawned on him that he needed to do something quickly or he was going to die a fools death.  Having not been the method he wanted to die from, he managed to get off the ground with the help of a stick he found lying near his head.

Inching his way to a standing position, he looked around him trying to get his bearings.  He knew all too well what this meant to him now and the decision he had started with the night before was slowly changing into a desperate need for survival. As the pain grew and retreated like the waves of an ocean, his mind eased with the course of the wave so that he could recall in those moments of retraction where he had left items not needed in his journey the night before.

In one of those tearful moments through the pain, he remembered where he had parked his truck.  It was a forty-five minute walk from the truck to the top of the mountain, and he knew he would be dead before he got there.  He had deliberately parked where no one could see his truck from the road, and he had hiked in without any extra clothing or survival equipment as his intent was not to survive.

Now, he was berating himself for not being prepared for Mother Nature’s interference.  He  should have known better.  He’d had encounters with her as a child and many a time she had interfered with her gusty winds or bears eating the fish that should have been his while he was fishing in the same stream.  Scattering the poles into the water, he would run, leaving the bears to the fish before they sniffed the air and made a meal out of him instead.

Facing once again a powerful pain in his gut, he had to do something quick. Feeling his pockets, he found the pocketknife he had been whittling with last night and he tried to remember what he’s read in that book on snakes as a child.  Oh yeh, he said to himself, I should cut the site and suck out the poison.  And with that thought, he did.  Doing this bought him some time and he managed to make it to his truck.  Finding the extra keys underneath the truck made it easy for him to drive.

Halfway down the dirt road, he started to get dizzy and passing out at the wheel he slammed the truck into a ditch almost hitting a tree. Opening his eyes slowly and assessing where he was, he tried to maneuver the truck out of his ditch.  Mud sprayed everywhere and the tires went deeper into the soft earth.  After many attempts, he finally realized he should put it into four-wheel drive.  Doing this gave him an advantage between the mud and his losing battle which gave him the necessary traction to get the truck back on the solid dirt road.

Every minute seemed like hours, and the act of driving became such an effort that even though he was sure he had sucked most of the poison out he began to doubt himself and with this doubt came the fear that he would not make it through this after all.  He was hard pressed to realize that staying alive meant, as much to him as his original intent– to kill himself.

Harry could not appreciate the beauty surrounding him as his face was dripping in sweat once again, only this time it was from the poison and not from the sun.  He wanted to live and he now wanted to prove that he could turn his life around despite his past.

About an hour down the dirt road he turned off and hit the freeway.  Another ten minutes, he saw a hospital sign and taking the exit off the freeway he followed the signs and pulled up to the front doors of the emergency room.  Leaving his car door open and the engine running, he stumbled in and collapsed on the cold sterile floor.  An attendant rushed to his side.

Hours later, feeling much better and very much alive, he had such a tale to tell.  The first person he was going to talk to besides his mom was Jessie– a friend that he had thought was lost forever, a friend that had helped him realize what a goober he had been and what potential he could become.

Worse for Wear

Checking her watch against the train station clock, Judy wanted to make sure she had the right time.  Judd was expected off the train at 6:0 p.m. today and she hated being late.  She double-checked the time every five minutes.  Feeling anxious for Judd to show because she’d heard about a train accident on the news, she considered talking to the attendants at the station to see if the schedules had been changed. She thought she must have missed his train.

Checking her watch again, she watched the minute hand move fast around the face. Had she gotten the directions messed up again? Had she gotten the time and day right? She couldn’t remember.  She was nervous and anxious.  She had missed him terribly and couldn’t keep these terrible thoughts out of her brain even though she was a smart and sensible person.

Judd had ridden the train this last time to Vegas for a conference on P.O.S. terminal systems.  He was one of the project managers and was mainly there to spy on the competition and to explain the new flat- screen technology at the company’s demonstration booth.  Taking the train had been cheaper than flying this time around.

Thinking about their relationship as she waited on the platform, Judy wondered how the years had passed by so quickly.  They had been together now for almost four years and had never been happier.  Having a lot in common with each other was like a gift from God.  Other relationships had not worked out because they lacked having things in common.  Going for hikes in the hills and lying underneath the stars were some of their favorite things to do.  They also liked to go on spur-of-the-moment trips.  However, the last-minute trips had slacked off since the joining of their families, and now all trips had to be planned.  Having kids still in school made taking any trip harder.  Plans had to be arranged around the school schedule.  Kids seemed to need more things as they got older. They seemed to grow out of things more quickly too, which hit the budget unplanned for. Growing was predictable in some ways but you could not plan when it was going to happen.

Checking her watch for the umpteenth time, Judy tensed when she felt a hand on her shoulder.  Jumping out of her skin, her shoes staying on the platform , she slowly turned around.  Judd stood behind her smiling with that huge, boyish grin of his, and she couldn’t help but melt.

“You scared me to death” she said as he was brought into a close embrace. “Don’t sneak up behind me again.” she managed to say after coming up for air.

“I didn’t sneak up on you.  My stop is behind you.”

“Oh, I must have gotten the tracks messed up.  I’m so used to picking you up at the airport, I thought for a few moments that you were in that train wreck they’ve been talking about on the news.  Did you hear about it on the train?”

“I didn’t hear a thing. . . I’m starved.  Where’s the nearest restaurant?” he said in one excited breath.

“Judd, is that all you ever think about? Food! How’d the conference go? Was it successful sales wise?”

“Yes it was,” he replied. “Sales went through the roof.  We sold one thousand terminals, and the competition has a new screen out that’s 3-D . My boss is gonna flip when he hears how they did it.  It’s hysterical.  Let’s go.”

Reaching the nearest restaurant that did not serve dinner in plastic containers, they opened the door to find the place all lit up with candles and ivy.  A waitress dressed like a French maid showed them to a secluded table in the back of the restaurant where candlelight serenaded them. Judy could not take her eyes off him.  It was like he had never been away.  Time stood still and Judy did not glance at her watch.  All the uneasiness disappeared when Judd was within her presence.  He gave her peace and she had no reason to look at her watch when his gaze was so entrancing.  She could look at him for hours and not get bored.  They trusted each other immensely.

Hours later, Judd was so thrilled to be in his own bed that he did not let go of Judy when they spooned that night. Having their tummies full of food and their hearts full of love for each other, they soon fell asleep in each others’ arms.

The next morning, Judy knocked on the children’s doors as she headed to make breakfast downstairs.  Her footsteps were soundless on the plush two-ply red carpet they had installed on the second floor of their two-story home in California.  Two the children answered with “uh, what. Ok.” And the other two children made no sound at all.  Judy knew she would have to go back upstairs to try waking them again, but time was short and she needed to finish what she had started in the kitchen.

The sounds of pots and pans being taken out of the cupboards and put on the counters and the stove echoed in the sparse remodeled room which would eventually take the place of their old kitchen.  She could not wait to have cabinets and a hanging rack above the island where she could put the pots and pans that did not fit under the counter.  She had waited four years for a new kitchen.  When they had moved in, there were limited cub-boards and no room on the counters for the equipment needed to prepare meals, but she had made do knowing that someday a new kitchen would be one of the projects they had in mind for the house.  It had taken a good two years to begin the project in the first place. Having not a lot of money when they first lived together, they had made do with what was already built and there were several projects that had taken precedence.  But now, the kitchen was almost complete and she could not wait for it to be done.

Judy loved to cook and it relaxed her to no end when everyone got on her nerves or she had a bad day at work.  Measuring ingredients helped her to focus and kept her hands busy and out of trouble.  Each leveling of the measuring cups and spoons soon whisked away her troubles.

When he came downstairs after a short shower, Judd grabbed Judy by the waist, pulling her close to him so she could feel his smooth, bald head.  Feeling his body awakened memories of the night before.  Squeezing away from Judd’s arms, Judy finished breakfast and left the room to finish waking up the other two boys who were still in bed.

Heading out the door after a quick breakfast which neither of them sat down for, Judy hit the back of her thigh on the edge of the house at the end of the landing. “Ow, dammit”, she said out loud.

“What’d you do now?” Judd asked. “I can’t take you anywhere. You always have to hit something, don’t you? Have a nice day at work. See ya tonight.”

“Have a nice day too.  See ya later, baby.”

On Saturday, the morning came quickly, and as the sun came through the curtains the alarm clock went off loudly in their ears.

Not being able to hear anything for a few minutes, Judd finally said, “What the hell kind of alarm is that?” as he tried to find the source so he could turn it off.  “It sounds like a fog horn.  When did you buy that? Who sold it to you . . . a deaf man? Did he demonstrate that monstrous thing?”

“No, he did not”, Judy said from the other side of the bed. I really wish you would stop yelling all the time.  It really is getting on my nerves.  And for your information, I don’t have that many nerves left.”

“Why, what happened while I was gone?” Judd demanded. “I was only gone for two weeks.  Surely you could have managed the household for that long without getting into too much trouble.  I’m back now so we don’t have to worry.  Discipline is back in town and anyone who disrespected you while I was gone is gonna get it.”

“Nothing major happened.  The kids get along better when you’re here and it’s not because you’re the only one who can discipline because I did my share while you were gone and I am just as good as you are.  Now none of them are restricted anymore so we won’t have a problem taking them to buy school clothes.  They just won’t get everything they want.  We don’t have the money and I don’t want to hear about it from you. Do want a lunch this morning or should I call in the respect police instead?” she said with emphasis on the word respect.

“No, that is not what I meant and you know it.” Judd said as he stormed out of the house on his way to work.

Once he was home that evening, Judy avoided him like the plague.  Not willing to start another fight or to continue with the same one that had started the day, they both went to bed angry.

The next morning came way too early and as the sun shone into the room, Judy woke with a start.  Screaming the name of her son, “Jeff !” she yelled from her bedroom behind closed doors.  Pausing long enough for an answer and not hearing one she rattled off the next person on the list of children that she and Judd had together.  “Joe !” Not getting a response out of either one, she wondered where they could be.  Surely they were not so deep in sleep that they were deaf.  On the way to to bedroom door, Judy reached for her robe which was on a hook kept neatly off the floor.

Reaching for her robe on the hook made Judy think about what Judd had told her when they first moved in together.  Now they could afford to live like they wanted, he’d said. Everything would have its own place. Together we have the money to be able to do that. Nice, neat and perfect never did fit into Judy’s way of life.  Being a single mom she had never had the money to buy the things that would organize her home into the kind that always had a place for everything.  Living with Judd, she had accomplished this to some degree.  He had helped her to become neater and they could afford to buy the little things that kept them organized.  Still much of a slob, she had a hard time putting stuff back.

Coming back to reality and now looking for her slippers, Judy yelled the next name on he mental list. “Josh!” No response from anywhere in the house.  The house was so quiet you could hear a pin drop.  Searching her memory for the last name she had said out loud, she ran through the list  in the order she had gotten used to.

Old habits were hard to break.  She had a hard time remembering the children’s names so she had to run through the names in a certain order so that she could remember which one she had previously called.  Having four boys in the family was tough enough, especially when their names began with the letter “J”.

Yelling the last name on the list, she sighed with trepidation.  “Justin !” Judy’s voice echoed in the hallway.  It was odd that the children were not home at 5:30 in the morning on a Monday.  The children were school age, and none of them left the house at this time.  On a normal day, they were in the kitchen making themselves breakfast or were taking showers before they left the house.

Thinking back to moments ago, Judy tried to recall what had happened after waking from one of the weirdest dreams she had ever had. The dream felt as if she were falling off a cliff. She recalled yelling for her son but could not tell if she had been yelling in the dream or if she had said it out loud.  Shortly after yelling his name, she became aware of the blaring alarm clock going off in her ear.  With the fog surrounding her dream, she tried to shake the bad dream in which her husband was dead. Leaning over and putting a hand on his shoulder to wake him, she did not feel a stir out of him.  Sometimes she could get away with tickling him awake. It usually worked but she thought perhaps he was avoiding her this morning after the disagreement they had last night about the kids.

Sitting up in bed, she tried to assess the situation and decided to try again.  Enough was enough. It was time to get out of bed and she knew if they dallied long, they would both run out of time.  This time, she leaned over and tried to shake him.  Shaking did not work either.  She started to get worried.  “Judd, it’s time to wake up. Come on, let’s go. It’s too early to be playing games.”

Not getting a response, she started to panic and pulling herself together for a moment she felt for a pulse at the base of his neck.  Not getting a pulse, she thought she was dreaming or had her hand in the wrong spot so she laid her head on his chest and tried to feel his breath.  No breath came out of his mouth, not even a shallow one.  Turning on the bedside lamp, she looked at his face and tried shaking him again, panic now rising in her throat.  He was a lot heavier than she and it was hard turning him over with no help.  Looking at his face, she knew he was dead.

Jumping off the bed she pulled the covers back.  The white silk sheets were covered in dark red blood.  Looking for wounds, she inspected the body for any point of leakage.  His face did not have a scratch on it and his eyes had been opened as if the incident had happened while awake. Judy did not have any cuts on herself.  There was blood on her nightgown, but she had no idea were it had come from.

Continuing her yelling for the children, she soon found she was alone.  There was no answer from anyone.  The hall was quiet.  The only sound she could hear was the beating of her heart, which was so loud she could not think. Afraid to check on the children, she continued to call their names but none answered back.  She was alone in an empty, dead house.

Not knowing what to do next, she feared that not hearing a peep from the children meant that maybe they had met the same fate.  Checking on them would be too much of a shock if it turned out that her worst nightmare came true, that they were also dead.  It would be too much to know that she was the only one left alive.

How could she not hear anyone? She knew she was a sound sleeper but come on, she told herself. I’m not totally dead to the world.  Of course not, she muttered to herself like some crazy woman, pull yourself together and call 911. What’s the number? she asked herself, what’s the number? she repeated like a mantra.  I can’t seem to remember what number I am supposed to dial.  How can I not know the number?  I know I have never dialed it but so what, she kept saying to herself as if she were a child.  She was numb and in shock and there was only one thought racing through her brain.  Where are the children?

Her mind lay open like a fresh canvas.  Blank.  Lost in thought, she waited ten minutes before she was calm enough to dial the cops.