My Grandmother’s Things

I am searching through my grandmother’s things in a room of wood paneled walls and plush white carpet. Curtains thin as lace allow sand-colored light to stretch across a bed smothered in three hand-sewn quilts folded in tiers along the pillow, halfway down the mattress, and along the foot of the bed. They are 70s toilet pink, denim blue, and yellowish white, respectively.

I remember when I told her, at twenty-five, that I felt old. I remember how she put her hands on her hips, always aproned in accompaniment to the smell of scratch-made yeast rolls in the oven, and told me, “Alan James, your elbows are still sharp as glass.” She would ask me to clear out the beehive under the back-porch roof while I pondered this.

She died three days ago. I am sitting on the end of her bed, which she has not slept in for the better part of a year, on a Thursday afternoon on the last week of May. Her gurney is still against the inside wall of the living room, close to the vent to help keep her warm on the unseasonably cold May nights that crept in during the last miserable week of her exceptional life.

I knew she was exceptional because she was Rhoda Genevieve Clark, an unabashed victory girl during the Second World War, a shunter of societal expectations before anyone else in our family. She was, more accurately, my great-grandmother.  My grandparents lived across the country, on the West Coast, and Grandma Rhoda knew that they would not care to raise another child. They believed they had done their job with Sam, my dad. She raised me because my parents couldn’t. They were still kids, she’d told me. They didn’t even fight for custody. I came to learn that the reasons she won custody without a fight involved opioids and some level of neglect I am capable of recollecting only through what my grandmother told me when she thought I was ready to hear it.

He is in the kitchen now, my father, and I can hear him riffling through the old recipes and batteries and rubber bands of her drawers in search of something about which he will not deign to tell me. I am holding a porcelain cat, white with blue paint in the grooves of its fur, its head cocked to the left and smiling with bright green eyes. There is a silk purple ribbon tied around its neck, and the tip of its tail is missing. This reveals a vague cavern of unpainted porcelain within the figurine. I am starting to look inside when my father calls from the kitchen.

“Al.”

I don’t answer because I hate that nickname. He calls again, “Al,” and I dig my heels deeper into the carpet. “Alan!” he calls, sounding edgy, like he needs a fix.

I leave her room and move through the den, also carpeted in white, with cloudy gray light pouring through a hole in the green curtains along the far wall. The couch, big enough to seat four people with room, is stacked with boxes full of papers and a duffel full of medical equipment waiting to be returned to the hospice she spent a few days in before begging to go home to die from the cancer eating her stomach.

I enter the doorway to the kitchen and lean against the wall, swallowing the urge to scream at him. It is worse in here than my hearing gave me credit for. He has torn every object from the drawers. There is Scotch tape, rubber bands, at least four whole notepads saying Thinking of You…, and a pile of paper clips directly in front of him, and numerous hand tools and silverware and who knows what else sprawled on the pale blue counter.

“Called for you,” he grunts. He has a hand on one hip and a hand on the counter, and in another universe, I might have thought he looked like Grandma Rhoda. In this one, I am livid. She was more than my great-grandmother. She was my mother and my father. I feel myself starting to cry. My dad—Sam—laughs.

“You cryin over an old bat, boy?”

“Fuck you, Sam,” I snap.

Sam gets serious, then. He is gangly and pale, old, and I like to think my days at the gym have benefitted me. I am thirty-two now, and I’m not his boy. He stomps up to me with a clenched fist and I shove him back as a preemptive strike. “Boy,” he starts.

“Don’t touch me. And get out of here. Whatever you’re after, it’s not here.”

“She was my grandmother, boy,” Sam says. His nose is beaklike and his two front teeth are gapped so that I can see the black space in between. There are track marks on his arms, bright and brown against the blue-gray of his shirt.

“You didn’t give a shit about me, you sure as hell don’t care about her. You want something. And I promise you, it’s not here.”

I’m not even trying to play stupid. We both know what he’s after. His eyes narrow, bulgy in their sockets, and he smiles. “You already have it, don’t you?”

“Me and my grandparents. There’s nothing for you or your wife here.”

He’s starting to get angry, but he doesn’t know about the police caddy weaving its way along Beckley’s streets to here. I called fifteen minutes ago. They are taking their time, but it’s worth the wait.

“You know she was a whore, right?” Sam says, throwing his hands out. The skin of my knuckles splits against his teeth and he collapses, sad and old, against the white linoleum.

“She was not a whore. She raised me when you and Mom chose pills and locked closets over your screaming baby. Get the fuck out, Sam.”

A knock on the front door from the den, and what perfect timing. I cross the living room and pull the door open to find an officer. When all is said and done, my father is in the back seat of the reversing police car with his hands cuffed behind his back and his nose and lips streaming blood. The house is mine, legally. Grandma Rhoda put my name on it two years ago. I wash my hands in the bathroom, run peroxide over the cuts on my hand.

I remember being older when I came to my grandmother’s house, but she had told me on multiple occasions that I was still a baby. “Barely tripping over my toes,” she’d said, describing my attempts at toddling. I remember doing menial tasks around the house, but never anything too strenuous for my age. I remember her fingers caked in bread crumbs and egg yolk as she prepared fried chicken on Saturday nights, the smell of corn on the cob boiling in the silver pot on the back of the stove, fresh yeast rolls in the oven.

The house smells rancid now. Like sickness. I open the windows and switch on the wax burner her daughter and son-in-law sent her ten years ago. The wax cubes smell of butterscotch as they puddle in the metal tray. I clear the boxes from the couch and place the duffel by the door. I pass the gurney on my way to clean the counters off, to remove the taint of my father’s greed and ignorance and restore this house to its glory.

When I am finished, the house is blue-gray in the setting sun. I stretch out on the couch and close my eyes, rest my hands on my belly. I try to remember what it was like to hear her working in the kitchen, the sound of her voice as she protested politics on the news, the soft whisper in her throat as she told me she was proud of me a week before she died. Some of her things are on the bed she had shared with my great-grandfather before he’d died, sometime before I was born. Others are still in the cabinets untouched by my father, still more are in the shed behind the house, waiting to be sifted through by my grandparents when they arrive back in West Virginia for the first time in thirty years.

My grandmother’s things are not just the things she owned, but the things she loved and hated, those that loved and hated her back. They are the photo albums stacked in the back-left corner of the living room, behind an ottoman that her husband, who I never met, liked to rest his feet on in the wintertime. My grandmother’s things are not just physical, they are the words and lessons that echo in my mind, the values and punishments that shaped me into the man I am today. This house is a thing of hers, a book of memories in the form of walls and foundation. My father, his mother, and I. We are things of hers.

Fragments

Too small for her cigarette.

A raw nerve, meant to touch but be untouched.

She smiles in passing, but there is a hollow in her eyes

Whose wintered trees bend over holey roads

Whose sides are flecked with snow like marginalia.

 

When asked where she comes from,

She doesn’t know the difference between where she’s born

And where she’s born again.

She doesn’t speak softly; the words are weighted in metaphor.

The words are fragments of broken dreams and stitched history.

Play

           Thirty-six-thousand, five hundred days had passed when time resumed. Jan knew it was a contradiction: after all, how can days pass if there is no time? Yet she had tracked the passage of days carefully on one hundred calendars of varying styles: some with cats, others Norman Rockwell paintings. Some were painted carefully in oils of waterfalls and mountain ranges. Others were cartoons that might have gone extinct by now, if the rest of the world had been aware of a century’s passing. Jan crossed off the last day of the last calendar, pushing dirty—not the color, but literally dirty—blond hair from her pale green eyes. Her mouth was turned down in one corner, as if the muscles had learned to stay that way after a century of frowning.

            She remembered Oren, a man who had annoyed her into loving him through interrogation. He would still be by the lake, in the tent, balanced on one elbow with sweat licking his brow, dark blond pseudo-curly hair over one eye and his hand still balanced in the air where her lower ribs had been when she lay there looking up at him all that time ago. His lips would still be open in the form of a question he had been asking, which she had forgotten.

            “Jan, right? What’s your real name? Janet? Janey?” he had said upon their first meeting. She had seen him on a dating app, and had sent him an invitation while her girlfriend slept beside her. She was not disappointed at his face, just the questions. They were at a bar in downtown Beckley, West Virginia, whose title, Foster’s, reminded her of a childhood spent in homes that were not her own and troubled siblings of varied birth. Oren reminded her of one of them, an older boy of twelve years whom she had liked intensely at eight years old, before her foster parents had caught her sitting on his lap behind the trailer one day in summer and sent him away. For all she knew, this could be him. But she knew it wasn’t. She knew she would know that boy, even though she did not remember his name.

            “It’s January, actually,” Jan had said, bending the tiny black straw from her mixed drink between her fingers. The bar had hardwood floors scuffed, sealed, and scuffed again, a reddish brown color that she always seemed to remember differently, despite how often she was there. It was mid-afternoon, brilliantly bright outside, and he wore a suit jacket and slacks with a white V-neck and black hi-top Vans. Her top was too tight, a white sleeveless vest buttoned tightly over a black camisole with black skinny jeans and flats, and she had stared into her Irish cream whiskey and peppermint schnapps and tried not to smile at the fact that they had color-coordinated their outfits without talking about it.

            She didn’t like Oren too much at first. He was attractive, but he joked too much, and he asked too many questions that didn’t matter, like “So were you born in January? (she was born in November),” “You’re named after a Bond girl, right? (no, her father just liked New Year’s Eve and wanted to name her after a fresh start),” and “do you come here often? (a hybrid joke and probe to make sure she was single: she was not, but she would be soon, and he didn’t need to know about any of that). Oren had plagued her with questions over three weekends spent at Foster’s, until Jan had finally been drunk enough to take him home the same day she had finally worked up the gall to break it off with the beautiful woman who had not been working out. Maybe it was because he looked just enough like the boy from foster care, or maybe it was because she was lonely and liked his questions as much as she hated them, but one hundred years later, she could not figure out what on Earth had led him to her.

            The most disappointing thing about a century, Jan had come to realize, was that it did not feel like a century. Sure, if she looked back at that moment when, wrapped in a foamy blanket in a sweaty tent on the unexplored edges of Lake Stephens, she had wished that time would stop for only a hundred years so that they could do the things they wanted without the pressure of obligation, it felt distant. But in the present, she felt like that had been yesterday. Or never.

            It had been exciting at first: all electronics functioned as they should. Her 2002 navy blue Ford Explorer ran as usual (terribly, with a sound like forty tin cans tied on strings bouncing off the road as she drove) right up until it didn’t, at which point she rode her bicycle to a nearby dealer and found the Honda CR-Z she had always wanted. Filling the backseats with strangely expensive garments from stores she would only shop in on special occasions or nervous impulses, she had spent the last hundred years in every state, in new homes fitted with expensive furnishings and smart refrigerators. Jan did not like the homes in which people already lived, because the people were frozen in myriad positions. Most had been sleeping when her wish had come true, so that many were out of the way, and most stores were empty. She had seen a crime in the middle of occurring: a man holding a gun at arm’s length in a back alley in Seattle, and a woman was crouching away with her hands in front of her face. She had pried the gun from his hands and thrown it into a green-tinted lake an hour’s drive away, and tried never to think about it again.

Jan had found peace in a small, lightly furnished house for sale on the shores of North Carolina, enjoying a beautiful summer night with no wind and perfect warmth, the dark, dead silence of a paused ocean stretching out before her. It was relieving at first, seeing so much beauty on hold for her, like walking through a painting. Thirteen years ago, she had moved back to Beckley, returned the car (a similar model; the one she had originally taken was long dead by the side of the road someplace she’d forgotten) to the lot and rode her bicycle to gather food and clothes as she needed and wanted. She’d thought more and more about Oren in the tent by the lake and loss prevention and confusion and wondered what the world would be when time resumed. Did others know the time had passed, or was it a second? Was it perceivable at all, or was it like a lazy day when the time seems to drag until you look at the clock and realize that you’ve spent eighteen hours sitting on a single piece of furniture?

“Hi,” said one of the veteran bartenders at Foster’s, a long-legged beauty with black hair in a tight bun on the crown of her skull and bangs cut straight across her eyebrows. She wore red lipstick and had a geometric half-sleeve tattoo spreading across her right shoulder and tapering off at her elbow.

“Hello,” Jan said, knowing that her stare would be confusing, but unable to stop trying to understand whether this woman knew how much time had passed. Jan looked no different: she had not aged a bit, had cleaned herself and styled her hair, which had not grown, and wore an outfit that was slightly tighter than was comfortable: a white, sleeveless vest with a black undershirt, black skinny jeans, and black flats. She felt beautiful, but also exhausted.

“You look a little tired,” said the bartender.

“You have no idea,” said Jan.

“The usual?”

“Absolutely.”

The woman smiled and began the musical process of shaking a brew of Irish cream whiskey and peppermint schnapps together with cubes of ice. Jan smiled and stared down at the scarred bar, at the carvings patrons had snuck over the years, and wondered if some of the initials paired together had survived the promise of commitment that was carving your name beside someone else’s in the severed limb of a dead tree. The door whined open and she turned her head, as she always did, looking for someone to walk through the glass door and change her life.

The man was tall, the light from outside casting his front in shadow, the deep blond hair outlined in a halo of curls unsure whether they wanted to be straight or not. A slinky gait, swinging hands, the left bearing a watch that reflected a ray of light into her eye. Her stomach seemed to fold over on itself, her heart to trip over its own arteries. It was him. It was him, after all, over all this time and space, despite the distance, despite the division of influence outside her control; he had found her, was walking toward her, was sitting beside her at the bar in a black suit jacket and a white V-neck and slacks and Vans, and was saying,

“Jan, right?”

Back to Basics

So it’s been two years since I last posted here. Not sure how that happened. Well, I’m pretty sure. I became intensely focused on a novel I’d been writing for five years. I completed it in December 2016. I read it and realized I needed to learn how to build plot and develop characters. Essentially: I needed to learn how to write.

Luckily, thanks to a handful of incredible writing classes at Marshall University, I have learned a lot about writing. I have all but abandoned my novel (for the time being, at least) while I explore more intrigant and intricate aspects of the human condition.

I’m going to be posting my short stories here from time to time. No more Jukepop – one of many lessons which taught me I needed to improve my writing skills. In the coming weeks, you will find short stories about the human condition. Some may be whimsical. Some may be boring. But all will be the result of my journey toward becoming a better writer and a better explorer of the world around me.

If you should feel a desire to leave me feedback, I would love it. I love constructive criticism (or whatever kind of criticism suits your fancy – I can take it). If you want me to read your work, please send it to me or tag me, or anything. Let me know.

That’s all for now. Happy writing to my fellow writers, and happy day to the rest.

-J. Humphrey

Calamity Road – Link and Chapter One Preview!

I never dreamed I would commit murder, however much it occurred to me over the years. What occurs to me now, in the aftermath of stealing my first life and under the promise of anarchy without consequence, is to do it again and again, to see how far it will take me. To build my repertoire of lives stolen until I am fearless, until the hunger is too much, and then I will eliminate the source of my hunger. I may burn in the end, but so will he. 

Above is the synopsis for Calamity Road. Previously, when it was known as Murder in the First, it was over very quickly and did not have much depth. Where a mighty explosion of character and excitement might have been, Murder in the First even wore a title that made you want to make a sandwich instead of reading it. But, like all people whose goal is to master something meaningful in life, I had greater hopes for this story. I’m going to cut short the chatter and share a segment of Chapter 1 with you guys! If you like it, follow this link: http://jukepop.com/home/read/5894?chapter=1


It’s too quiet. I am violently shaking, blinking slowly in hopes that the blood does not drip into my eyes. It is everywhere, that precious elixir. I haven’t moved an inch since I stood up from her broken corpse, but the blood still creeps along my skin. It is relentless. My senses falter at the abomination of mutilated human flesh below me; my sense of smell seems to have given up and my mouth tastes of copper. The blood and sweat trapped between my palm and the plastic knife handle fade in and out of my awareness as I stare at him across the small space between us. The deadly sharp blade in my grip could cleave the tension that is filling the sunlight-stained air.

His breath heaves in and out. He looks terrified and excited staring down at her. One would not think that they are husband and wife. I open my mouth to make a smart remark; something along the lines of “Why don’t you just kiss her, already?” formulates in the base of my throat, but somewhere on their way through my larynx, the words are shredded into tiny, half-crying gasps. I grip the knife tighter. A single drop of blood seeps into my tear duct and I blink furiously instead of trying to swipe it. A final middle finger to her murderess. My stone insides are softening now and my knees feel increasingly as if they are about to lose their ability to hold my weight. I open my mouth again, this time in an effort to whisper his name, but she seems to have stolen my voice in her final moments as well, and only more shuddering gasps escape.

“Jesus, Claire, stand there why don’t you.” He snaps. “God forbid you rush out of here like you just, I don’t know, murdered my wife.”

A tornado of hot and cold fury begins tearing apart my nerves. “Remember who’s holding the knife, Logan.” I growl, before I can stop myself. The cyclone stops immediately, as if it has met its end at a pesky mountain peak. A mountain peak of love, that is. “I—I’m sorry, I just—”

“Whatever. Just get out of here. I’m calling the police in two minutes.”

The sunlight glares hideously as I peek out of the back door that conveniently found itself left open. There are no vehicles parked outside of the garages at this end of the cul de sac, but I’m taking no chances. I dash across the flat backyard and lunge through the open gate of a privacy fence. Her screams echo in my ears as I sprint to my car, parked just feet from the fence on a small dirt road which is the only separation between a well-financed neighborhood and a swollen, rushing river. I open the car door and start to get in, but something stops me. Instinct. The knife remains coddled in the palm of my hand, its black handle a stark contrast to the rivulets of blood and remnants of flesh that have begun to dry on the blade. I look back to the river. It seems to be reaching for the pregnant sky, clawing and crying to smoke-grey and white undulating clouds in hopes of tasting what they contain. Past them, I can see the seedy outline of the city beneath a lazy smog of pollution.

I glance back down at the knife, seeing past it to the streaks of blood on my pale legs. Why did I wear shorts, again? All of those CSI shows talk about dead skin cells and this and that. Whatever. It’s not like I’ve killed before. I can’t do much in the way of my legs, but I remove the once off-white slouchy sweater I am wearing and wrap the knife in it. With one full swing and a grunt like I’ve never emitted, I launch the bundle toward the river. The bloodstained sweater sails through the air, one sleeve waving goodbye to me before the hard evidence of my crime disappears beneath the choppy waves. I am hypnotized by the oblivious hurry of the water before a nagging pull begins at the base of my stomach and my mouth begins to water incessantly. I am going to throw up. But not here. I dive into the car and drive as carefully as I can to avoid leaving tracks before disappearing into the afternoon traffic.


If you liked this, please feel free to follow the link to Chapter 1. From there, you can create a free account, +vote, shelf, and leave feedback if you want. I won’t bite. If you write as well, I urge you to follow me! I will read your stories and +vote them as well. Here is another link, and thanks for reading!

http://jukepop.com/home/read/5894?chapter=1&sl=8

Calamity Road and the Wonder of JukePop Serials!

It’s been quite a while since I last posted, and the last thing I posted was a sample and link to a short story I had written titled Murder in the First. But there was so much wrong with the story. It had so much more potential. It was frustrating, but I pulled the story from Amazon and tucked it away in the back burner file of stories I keep on my computer. A couple of months ago, however, I was exploring the Internet and came across a website called JukePop. It was everything I had been searching for:

It is an environment in which readers and writers can share opinions. Writers can publish stories as often or as seldom as they please, the topics are limitless. You send in your first chapter as a pitch, and they’ll let you know if they want it. If they do, and they usually do, your story is made available to other people just like you, people who are not friends or family and are not obligated to tell you that it is good.

My mouth nearly started watering, guys. I mean, really. I had always feared that those who told me my writing was good were only saying it, that for every ten people who said the writing was good, only one or two meant it. And here is where Murder in the First took a turn for the better. I re-engineered the story, fleshed out the plot, and transformed my boring short story into an ongoing serial that is gaining a reasonable amount of traction via the Bookshelving and +Voting options given to readers on the site. It’s a place for writers to network and expand, where we can be who we are freely, we can write what we want. We can get ourselves out there and be recognized.

So, here is my request: to anyone who is reading this, who hasn’t begun using Jukepop, check it out. Even if you only like to read amateur writing, do it. +Vote. Comment your thoughts. Donate if you like. Show your support for the craft of writing. If you want to write, pick up that old story you dropped forever ago. If you have a big project and you just want to make yourself known, grab up that short story or novel you started and breathe new life into it. Make it something new. Give us something to read. Give yourself some credit.

If I can do it, anyone can. Have a lovely day!

Murder in the First (Sample and Link)

“It’s too quiet,” I say to him. I am violently shaking, blinking slowly. I have never seen so much blood in my life; I could never have imagined that it would feel this way against my own skin. It is slick and warm, and even the slightest touch seems to smear it. I have a heavy urge to try to wipe it all off where I am standing, but that would be a bad idea. I stare at him across the small space; the tension in the air is measurable; I am sure that the bloody knife in my right hand could cut it.

My ears ring in the silence filling the house. I can almost hear her faded screams echoing off the marble floors and cavernous ceilings. It feels as if the earth is about to exhale, as if my world is going to spiral out of control more than it already has. I hold the knife unwaveringly tight, my hands shaking, and my knees fighting the urge to buckle beneath my weight. He still hasn’t said anything, but his expression is clear and calm. It’s as if he’s not yet processed what has happened. What I’ve done. My eyes drift to the blood as it spreads through the grout lines between the marble tiles. I was hoping she’d have stopped bleeding by now.

The still air tastes coppery; it makes me feel uncomfortable. I am still processing the actions I’ve taken, how I have been altered—tainted, even, in what seems like no time. I look up at him for a long second, but he won’t meet my gaze. We look back down at the freshly dead body. I wonder what went through her mind… There is a hole in her cheek, marring her once-beautiful features. Her face is frozen in an expression of dull confusion. Something is surfacing within me; it is creeping up through the waves of shock, but it hides just out of sight, and I can’t decipher it now.

“Stop staring at her like that,” he snaps, and I pry my eyes away from the train wreck of her bleeding body, still unable to order the mania of words shooting around inside of my head.

“We should get out of here,” I say quietly, shaking harder than I can stand.

“Let’s go, then.” He says calmly. He isn’t even shaking. He is steady, and I am a raging sea of terror and doubt.

He steps across her lifeless body, the blood pooling around her form not fazing him in the least. He kisses me faintly on the cheek and then leads me across the hardwood floor to the back door. I stop suddenly, almost mechanically, and look back through the hall. Most of her body is obscured, but I can see one hand, bloody and mangled from her futile attempts to stop me stabbing her. It stirs something in me, but I am numb. I am thinking panicked thoughts, but I do not feel panicked. Maybe I’m in shock.

I think of the second I saw the light in her die, the instant that the panicked look on her face became a mask of emptiness. Her fighting body fell still, and then all at once the fight vanished, and she was gone. Dead. Her indefinitely puzzled expression haunts me as I make my way through the house. I don’t feel anything except a distant concern about the bloody footprints I am leaving in my wake. Her husband has promised me that he will remove any evidence I may have left. After he has dealt with the police and the world has moved on, we will be together at our leisure. A voice whispers a daunting question in the very back of my head: Was it worth it?

“Ariana, now.” Tyler says sharply, and I run out of the house, feeling filthy and blank.

The vomit is dry and thick as I heave into the toilet for the fifth time. My throat is raw. Tyler still hasn’t called. I guess that he wants me to have a clean alibi… calling me would put that in jeopardy. My nerves are long since shot. The adrenaline aside, I am numb. Yet, numb is not the proper description of the way I am feeling. I refuse to let myself fully comprehend the gravity of my actions. I turn on the news, hands shaking. There it is: “Breaking News: Suburban house-wife brutally stabbed to death in home.” A wave of nausea washes over me; this is unreal. “Details… surface… grisly crime… suspects…” I can’t concentrate on anything the news anchor is saying. I shake my head and turn the television off, a pulse of fear tearing through my chest. What have I done? I mean, really, what was I thinking?

             No, no, I tell myself, Tyler suggested it. Tyler wanted her dead so that he wouldn’t have to deal with divorce proceedings… so that he could be with me. They had signed a prenuptial agreement. She would get everything if they divorced. A small voice in the back of my mind only adds to my anxiety. Why didn’t he kill her, then? Why did he convince you to do it? Why would you do such a terrible thing? I have already showered three times since my crime, but I just can’t rid myself of this feeling. It continues to creep beneath the light of my consciousness, taunting me.

I climb back into the shower, bracing for the heat of the water. I need it to be this hot. I need to be rid of this filth. I scrub my skin in the scalding water. Once it is raw, the shower feels even hotter, but I ignore the pain and focus on exfoliating; I scrub hard enough to bring blood in some areas, but it feels as if her blood is still there and a grueling realization begins to whisper in the darkest areas of my mind: the stains are deeper than flesh. The stain is inside.

I hear the distinctive ringing of my cellular phone that signals his call. I step out of the shower, slipping on the puddle-covered floor, and move into the kitchen while hastily wrapping a towel around myself.

“Tyler,” I say in one breath, noticing for the first time how shaky and raw my voice has become. A vague memory of screaming into a pillow crosses my mind. I don’t even remember doing it.

“Where the hell are you?” He snaps, an unprecedented anger in his voice piercing my senses.

“I’m… what’s going on? Is everything okay?” A phone call comes in. I check it: my mother is calling. I don’t hesitate to answer her call. Something is wrong; I can feel it.

“Ariana, Ariana—” Mom’s voice is panicked. “Ariana, have you seen the news?”

“Wh-What?”  I say, jolted. Does she know it was me? How could she know?

“Ariana, it’s on the news… Hannah Alderson was killed… Tyler was on the news… Ariana, did you…?” her voice drops to a whisper as she says, “Sweetheart, please tell me you didn’t…”

But I zone out. Do they know it was me? A wave of disgust washes over me. I hate to be on this end of the spectrum. To be the one they are searching for. I have turned the news back on and there he is; there is the interview replaying on a loop, and he is there, eyes shiny with tears and all a mess. “My wife, my wife…” he gags, his face dropping into his hands. What the hell is he doing on television, putting up such a show? He’s attracting attention to himself. They’ll suspect him… Unless… Jesus.

“Mom, I have to get out of here. I love you,” I say.

“What’s happening, sweetie? Ariana, talk…” But I don’t hear the rest. I toss the phone down, not paying attention to whether I have disconnected the call, scramble into some clothes, and throw a few last things into a duffel bag. I have at least five minutes before Tyler will be here, given that he didn’t tip my address to the police… I slip on my favorite pair of boots, glad I don’t have to tie them because they’ve loosened over time, and run for the door with the keys in my hand. Please don’t let there be a million cops outside the door, I beg a higher power, even though I’ve more than likely lost the favor of any sentient being by now. I pull the door open, holding my breath, but no one is there. Thank God. The air is so hot; I can hardly breathe. It makes the panic welling inside of me even harder to handle.

The inside of the car is even hotter than outside. Christ, I know I screwed up. Give me a break. I stifle a feeling that I really shouldn’t be asking for a break, and turn the car on. I can’t breathe. I’m hyperventilating, on the verge of tears, and I slam my hands into the steering wheel a few times before I finally stop to breathe. Okay. Where in the hell am I supposed to go now? Out of the city? No, they’d expect me to be somewhere nearby. Out of the state. Yeah. That will do just fine.

“Okay,” I say out loud, breathing as I drive through the city in as bland a manner as possible. I drive as aggressively as I can manage without attracting attention. “Breathe. Okay. Just get the hell out of here.” And I take the next exit out of the city. As I’m driving, my phone rings. In a haze, I dig it out of the bag beside me, which proves difficult while trying to stay on the road. I’m terrible at multi-tasking and driving.

“Where are you?” I hear before I even put the phone all the way to my ear.

“Why would I tell you, you bastard?” I snap angrily. Fury is welling up inside of me with a dizzying force. “You sold me out!”

“I didn’t sell you out!” Tyler’s voice snaps. Why is he the angry one?

“Yes you did!” I scream.

“Damn it, Ariana, you—” he begins, but I cut across him.

“Tell me why you were on the news like that.” I demand.

“Because you murdered my wife! What is wrong with you?”

“What?! I didn’t kill her on my own. You planned everything, asshole.”

There’s a moment of silence, and Tyler is breathing heavily into the phone. His anger is almost believable. Like a light has flickered on, a wave of suspicion hits me like a punch to the stomach, and I end the call. Speeding down the highway, the windows down, I throw my phone as hard as I can at an angle that, I hope, stops any potential process of triangulating my location. I continue driving until an hour later, when I have crossed far over the state line. Finally, I pull over on the side of the road, and I take a minute to think.

Suddenly, it hits me: I murdered someone today. And I scream.

Here is a sample of my recently self-published short-story titled Murder in the First. If you enjoyed this and want to read more, it only costs 99 cents on Amazon, and is available for Kindle and Kindle apps. The link is below. Thanks! And I wouldn’t mind a review or two! 🙂 

http://www.amazon.com/Murder-First-Jamie-Humphrey-ebook/dp/B00FYD6O8A/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1382378756&sr=8-1&keywords=jamie+humphrey