Location: Foreclosed home.
Object: A rabbit’s foot.
I received zero points for my round one story. I thought well outside the box and I believe that plan worked against me. I went with the most obvious story that came to me this time, let’s see how it does.
As always, thank to my lovely Mrs. Susan for letting me bounce ideas off her and get some good ideas. And thanks as always to Laura Matheson in the wilds of Canada for her editing help.
A young woman, forced out of her inherited family home, finds something forgotten from her past.
Martha took a last look at the only home she’d ever known. Today, her thirty-fourth birthday, the bank officially foreclosed. She had to leave.
Responsibility for the mortgage had become hers after her father’s death a decade ago. He’d tripped in the shed and been impaled by a pair of garden shears. Ten years earlier, her mother fell while cleaning a second floor window, breaking her neck.
Owing more than it was worth, Martha’d struggled to make the payments. A year ago, she gave up, choosing to stay until the bank forced her out.
“Happy Birthday to me,” she said to the snowflakes falling around her.
Standing on the sidewalk, she tried to recall a happy time. Whenever she tried to recollect anything from her early life, her mind’s eye turned to static. While she clearly remembered a birthday with two cakes, she had no idea why there were two.
Her ‘S-Mart’ brand galoshes left tracks in the snow as she circled the house, determined to find at least one good thought from her childhood. As she neared the garden shed, a neon-green object caught her attention.
She tremored at the thought of the shed where her father would lock her when she was disobedient. After his death, she’d avoided it, hiring a lawn service to maintain the yard. Now, she couldn’t afford to have a neighborhood boy mow the lawn.
As she drew closer, she saw a keychain. A dyed rabbit’s-foot keychain.
The moment she touched it, the static that obscured her memories cleared,an image of her father’s face as the points of the clippers pierced his chest flashed before her. She could feel the thick wooden handles in her hands as his ribs cracked. She’d felt the same sense of resistance and release when she’d used the broomstick to knock her mother off the windowsill.
When her sight returned, any memory of the vision vanished.
Looking towards the shed, she saw small barefoot prints. Martha’s tracks were the only others in the fresh snow.
I can’t just leave a barefoot child to freeze, can I?
A gentle arc of snow, pushed away from the door, hinted that it had been opened. A rusted lock hung from the latch, snow piled in a delicate heap on the top of the loop. Locked, just like her father had done to her so many times.
The neighbor’s boys, Martha thought. It’s a prank.
She looked toward the next house, suspecting that, somewhere out in the falling snow, they were laughing their fool heads off.
As she stepped away from the shed, she heard crying and dropped the keychain.
Martha was unique in the way she felt fear. To some it’s a gripping in their gut, to others a tightening of the shoulders as the hair rises on the back of their necks. For her, all her strength fell away. Her body, sensing she couldn’t control the outcome, would give up trying.
They’re using a radio to make that sound. They don’t want the joke to end.
“You’ll be rid of me soon enough!” Martha shouted into the storm as she took another step away.
Then, in the hush of the snow, she heard a small voice. “Marta, please don’t leave me again.”
Her legs gave out.
Kneeling in the wet snow, her faulty memory finally delivered. Thirty years ago, there really had been two birthday cakes: one for her, and one for the only person to ever call her Marta.
“Berta,” she whispered her twin sister’s nickname into the storm.
How could I forget her?
Pinching her eyes closed, she blocked out the cold, the sound of the wind, the fear that gripped her. Martha focused on the small voice crying out to her.
When did I see her last?
Night, moonless and still. Quiet but for the sound of Bertha whimpering from the other side of their father as he dragged them both to the shed. Even then—we couldn’t have been more than four or five—Martha’d learned to not fight back. That always made it worse.
“Just go limp, Berta. Daddy will be done quicker.” She tried to teach her sister to be compliant, but Bertha always fought back, she never gave in.
Martha opened her eyes. The boot-prints that led from the house were still there, but where there had been one set of bare prints, now there were two.
She ran back to the shed and picked up the rabbit’s-foot. The lock popped open despite its decade of dis-use.
“Berta! Oh, Berta, I’m so sorry. I won’t leave you.” Martha dragged the door open and stepped through, returning to the memory of that night.
Martha stood flaccid, watching her sister struggle, helpless to stop their father as he pummeled her twin. The beating ended only after Bertha too had become limp, the fight permanently squeezed from her small neck.
Martha looked at the workbench, the last place she had seen Bertha alive, and saw her there, face bloody and broken, the purple outlines of her father’s hands visible on her neck. Martha walked to the tool-covered wall, picked a dusty hacksaw off a hook, and clamped the tool, blade up, into the jaws of the vise. Looking at Bertha, she turned her head and placed her neck on the jagged blade.
“Berta, I tried to keep the house as long as I could so we could be together, but the bank has taken it. Remember how I took care of Daddy for you? And Mama? Remember how I pushed her from that window? She should’ve protected us from him. I will never leave you again.”
Martha leaned into the saw, and in a swift sideways motion, tore open her own neck. Blood from the ruptured carotid artery sprayed onto the dark cement floor.
The storm outside intensified, covering the single pair of boot prints that lead from the house. The blizzard muffled the sound of children singing Happy Birthday.