So I wanted to do something special for everyone. I have the first three chapters for a novel called The Shrinking House finished. I’m hoping to have this novel finished by November but I am a long way to being finished since it took three chapters to reach the second point in my outline of nineteen.
*Content warning* There are some sensitive subjects considering recent news. I apologize in advance. I don’t watch the news much and had no clue. However, I refuse to change the story as I feel it is something others can relate.
I give you, The Shrinking House.
The separation between a mother and children were said strong enough to rip a soul. A soul tear created from loss of a physical part of a person. The damaged spirits cursed for a lifetime. Death ended the suffering as the spirit’s energy purified. However, the living remained lost, an empty shell with one cure, a love so powerful the void filled.
A terrified teenager shifted through the darkness. She hid in the bushes consoling a newborn. The shrubbery offered little protection from the rain. The water soaked her into shivers. The infant remained warm wrapped in his mother’s coat. She coughed. Blood splashed the branches before the stream of droplets washed away the evidence.
The traffic died in front of the safe drop box at the local firehouse. She slipped across the street. She gave her son a kiss on the forehead. In the pocket of her coat, she left a note for him. She hoped he would forgive her someday. The baby boy swaddled and warm slept as his mother rang a bell.
She hid before the fire chief made it to the box. Her cough almost gave her away as her arm shook from her mouth. He walked back in with the child. The girl ran around the corner. The shivers intensified with the price of her balance unaware of the hyperthermia. The cold crept further through her body as she landed on the sidewalk. Her tears were lost as she forced her muscles to function.
She no longer felt cold. Her feet were unsure of their path. She blinked for a second then the ground was gone. Her temple smacked the newspaper box by the curb. Her eyes didn’t blink again. She remained sprawled face down in a puddle of diluted blood for an hour before anyone noticed.
The chief read the note. He wiped a tear away. He left the note with baby Robert in the car seat. On the way to the hospital, he passed an ambulance. He radioed to see if assistance was needed. No, they had a Jane Doe that was dead on arrival. He sighed and turned the child over to Child Protective Services. He went straight home for a stiff drink.
“How was work, dear?” His wife called as he entered the foyer.
“It was hell. We had another infant dropped off and a few blocks away a young woman fell on the sidewalk. She died before help arrived.” He bypassed the living room for the liquor cabinet in the kitchen. “I’m pretty sure she was the mother.”
“Oh, no, that’s awful. Bless her heart. Was the baby okay?”
“Yes, he’s at the hospital. I already completed the paperwork with social services. He’s now a ward of the state.”
His wife sat up. She glared at him with determination. “You know, Charles, we could always try…”
“I don’t know, Jo Ann.”
“I know why you don’t want to raise a child, but we tried for so long. Here’s a baby that needs a family.”
“Ugh, we can go ask tomorrow, Jo. Despite what I want, I’ll do this for you.”
Jo Ann could not hold her glee. She bounced out of her chair. She crossed the room in a couple of steps and reached down to kiss him. He offered a half-hearted smile.
“I’m going on to bed, dear. Please don’t stay up too late.”
Charles squeezed her hand. “I’ll be up soon. Let me finish this drink.”
Jo Ann wandered up the stairs while Charles stared at the amber liquid in his glass. With everything he saw every day, she still wanted a child. He sighed before killing the bourbon. He took the glass to the sink. Charles shook the doubt from his head. He followed his wife upstairs.
The couple interviewed the next day in hopes of having a child. Charles remained skeptical after they went home. Jo Ann was always the optimist. Her mind was set they would bring him home in a few days. Charles refused to dampen her bright light no matter how much he doubted.
Charles came home the fire station a week later. “Any phone calls today, dear?”
“Not a single call?”
“I said no! Why do you keep asking?”
“Did you check the mail?”
“Charles, what is wrong with you?” She walked toward the foyer to properly scold him until she noticed him holding something in his hands. “Charles, what’s that?”
“Jo Ann, come say hi to our son, Robert.”
Robert woke up to his alarm clock. The music blared as he smacked at the snooze button. A couple of misses compelled him to sit up against his will. After a perfect shot, the song stopped. Robert buried his head back into the pillow. He began to nod off when the alarm screamed at him again.
The voice of his mother flowed up the stairs after him. “Robbie, it’s time to get up for school!”
He fought gravity into a sitting position. “I’m up. I’m up.”
His hand rubbed the sleep away from both eyes. Numb feet carried him to the closet. He yanked a shirt and pair of jeans off the hangers. Robert got dressed and lumbered down the stairs to breakfast.
A plate waited on the table. It contained eggs, bacon, and toast. He shoveled the food into his mouth.
“Stop right now.” Robert lowered his fork as his mom stared him down. “Did you wash your hands?”
He looked his hands over. “They’re clean.”
“Did you wash your hands?”
“No, I didn’t. I’ll go wash them.” He moved toward the bathroom.
“That’s what I thought.”
Robert knew better than argue. He scrubbed his hands and dried them. With his mom satisfied, he returned to his meal. He tried to finish as fast as possible.
“Thanks, Mom. That was great.” He jumped from the table for his backpack. His kissed her head before he rushed out the door.
“Be careful,” she called out.
“I will,” he yelled back. He jogged down the steps by the garage and reached a full sprint at the end of the driveway.
Robert arrived at the corner as the bus stopped in front of the other students. One of the girls rolled her eyes. Robert held his hand up to gesture for her to go first. He watched her climb up before he hopped on before the doors shut. He made his way down the aisle until he flopped into the seat with the girl.
“I’m serious, Robbie. You’re going to miss it one of these days and then you’ll be screwed.” Candace had her backpack unzipped searching for a book. She flipped a blonde ponytail out of the way. A pair of glasses clung to the end of her nose. She shoved them back up with a finger. “Could this day be any more annoying?”
“Well, we could be going to school today.”
“Oh, that’s clever. Did you strain anything thinking of that?”
“Is that why I have a cramp in my left leg? What book are you reading now?”
“Pride and Prejudice,” she smacked him in the arm. “Don’t think I didn’t realize you were staring at my butt earlier.”
Robert rubbed his bicep. “I do every day. My goal is to someday be able to touch it.”
“That’s so weird. We’ve been friends since kindergarten.”
“I didn’t find you attractive in kindergarten.” Robert nudged Candace with his elbow. Candace raised her fist. “I’m joking. I know. We are best friends, after all. It would be weird.”
She dropped the book and stared at him. “Why do you want to be my boyfriend so bad?”
“Because you’re my best friend,” Robert replied. He looked toward the front of the bus afraid of her reaction.
Candace had no words for him. She shook her head and smiled. The book covered her face when he turned back. They never spoke another word as the bus rolled up to school. Robert held the line up so Candace could manage out in front of him. With a sheepish glance, she scurried off toward their homeroom.
Robert followed behind trying to think of anything he might say. He came up empty. They took their normal seats beside each other surrounded by twenty other classmates. He ignored the boring beige walls with the fading world map and clock that ran five minutes slow.
The final bell rang at 8:15 am acting as the teacher’s cue to shut the door. He moved back to the front of the room. He started roll call as a student walked in. The curly-haired ginger wore a black leather jacket over a death metal band tee. Black jeans covered the top of his combat boots. The teacher never raised his head. “Thank you for joining us today, Mister…”
Robert jumped with the first shot that drove Mr. Williams backward in his chair. The popping sound increased as his mind caught up to the moment around him. Everything was in slow motion when he turned to Candace, but she wasn’t in her chair.
Time sped up in the second Robert slid across to her on the floor. Blood poured from her left shoulder. All the CPR training he received over the years from his dad flooded into his brain. He tried to put apply pressure covering his hand. He stripped his shirt off to help stop the bleeding. “Candace, talk to me. Candace?”
“Oh, thank God, focus on me. Help will come soon, sweetheart, talk to me.”
“Robbie, I like you too. I always have.” Candace gave his hand a light squeeze. Alarms went off in his head.
“Save this speech until we get you to a hospital and I know you’re safe.”
“Robbie… I love you.”
Robert’s head bounced off the wall behind him after the bullet hit him in the shoulder. He reached for Candace. He tried to save her. He, he… He lost consciousness.
“Robbie, are you okay, son? Robbie?”
“Ma’am, he needs to rest.”
“Listen here. He is my son. You either get out of my way or I will remove you. Do you understand me?”
His eyes flickered. A shadow moved in the light. Shapes sharpened into figures then further into faces as his brain processed everything. His mother appeared above him hovering in full protective mode. Tears streaked her face with glistening eyes.
“Mom, how’s Candace? I tried to stop the bleeding then I hit my head.” Robert pushed forward to drop back grabbing his sore shoulder. The questions seeped out of him at his mother.
“Robbie, we can answer questions later. You need to rest.”
“Where is she? Tell me, mom.”
She turned away from him. In that moment, he knew. “Robbie, she didn’t make it. I’m so sorry, honey.” She reached for him.
He shoved her away with what strength remained. “No! Don’t touch me. Don’t try to hold me right after you tried to tell me my best friend is dead. She was the only girl I have ever loved. And now she’s dead? All of my efforts were for nothing?” His face warmed with anger, and the one good hand trembled.
“It wasn’t your fault, Robbie. You were shot in the shoulder. The force slammed you into the wall. You busted your head open. The bullet went straight through, and you almost bled to death. You came close to dying, too.”
He rolled away to face the window, despite the excruciating pain that shot through his body. Why was it he still lived while his best friend died right beside him? He let the tears fall. The pain hurt more, but he couldn’t tell which pain was the worst. Exhaustion stole his last thought of Candace.
Robert stood in a cluttered house. He recognized a few parts in the moonlight flooding the slanted windows. A set of stairs climbed up the wall closest to him. A path led the way through piles of magazines in perfect stacks. A few careful steps brought him into the kitchen. The one window filled by moonlight shined onto the table. There in the center was a birdcage.
“We’re waiting for you,” a voice whispered from behind him.
He spun into consciousness with a passing glimpse at flowing red hair. Robert closed his eyes to see who was attached to the hair. The dream vanished without another image. Lights reflected off the window catching his attention.
He noticed the shape lying underneath the sill on the couch. He raised his head to get a better view. The pain shot through the shoulder wound like a thousand bonfires in his muscle fibers and bones. He winced and grabbed the side rail with his good arm. With a lot of wiggling and struggling, Robert managed to sit up better.
“She hasn’t left your side for longer than the time it took her in the bathroom earlier after I got here. You were already asleep. You know, I know that you found we adopted you as a baby. I know you’re hurting a lot in every way. But don’t forget, you were her dream come true and she loves you more than you can imagine.”
Robert’s father leaned forward in the chair next to the bed. He rubbed Robert’s head for a second. “Something else you shouldn’t forget- I love you too.”
“I love you too, Dad. I’m sorry. Like you said, I was hurting. She was there to catch it all.” He looked back at his mom. “How do you do it? I tried to save her. I tried to save her and Candace still died. How can you handle it?”
“It’s hard. In the end, I have to remember that I did everything I could. You have to realize you don’t get to decide who lives or dies.”
Robert studied his father. “Yeah, you’re right.”
Silence settled between them. Robert turned on the television for the noise. He made sure the volume remained low for his sleeping mother. The pair stared at the show until Robert fell back to sleep.
He sat in the wheelchair waiting for his father to pull the car to the door. Robert stared at the arm in a sling. It served as a reminder that he was alive. The road to recovery began and it would be a long one. In his mind, Robert watched the weeks of physical therapy pass. He could move both arms but his injured arm still hurt too much for constant use. We’re waiting for you. He saw a flash of red. His eyes popped open.
The car arrived in time to save him from any chance of awkward conversation. A male nurse pushed the chair next to the open back door. The man made sure Robert was secured into the car before he disappeared into the building. Robert realized how uncomfortable his tense shoulder felt in the seatbelt.
“Are you doing okay back there?” His father could read his expressions through the rearview mirror.
“I’m fine.” Robert winced as he adjusted.
“Well, that’s good. We have to stop by the store so your mom can do some shopping.”
“What?” His eyes widened.
“Just kidding, I wanted to see your reaction.”
“Charlie, leave him alone.” Robert watched his mother smack his father’s shoulder.
“Oh god, Robbie, can you drive me back to the emergency room? I think I need surgery now too.” He held the ‘wounded’ shoulder with overdramatic flair.
“This is not Star Trek, Charles. You are not Captain Kirk.”
“What do you mean by that, mom?”
His father slammed the brakes bringing the car to a sudden stop. He turned around to face Robert. He shook his finger as he spoke, “You take that back, right now. If you don’t get that reference, I have failed you as a father.”
Robert laughed until tears ran down his cheeks. His mother chuckled. “Charles, you’re holding up traffic. Let’s get home.”
The wheels lurched forward again. Robert focused on the sounds the car made while his father drove. His parents continued talking but he heard distant muffles. The blurred image of life moved passed his car window like an impressionistic painting. The blood in his face aimed for boiling point. He tightened his grip on the door handle. The last few seconds of his worst nightmare replayed in slow motion. He saw Candace’s face. He reached for her as everything grew dark.
“I love you, Robbie,” She said
“Robbie!” His father’s voice pulled him back. “We’re home, son. Let’s turn loose of the door so your mom can open it. Then you can go rest when we get inside.”
“Yeah, I’m sorry. I was, umm.”
“It’s okay. You don’t have to explain to me.”
Robbie shuffled up the stairs to his room. He slid across the comforter propping his arm up. He checked the time as he grabbed the TV remote. A few channels stuttered until he found a show. He listened to the voices turn to static. The room faded to that classroom. The bell rang right before the first shots. If he had reacted soon, she could be alive. They could have lain on the floor behind the desks. He fell into a troubled sleep.
Candace sat down beside him. She looked the same as the day she died. She wore her red shirt and long, flowing skirt. Her hair pulled back in a ponytail. A smile settled on her lips.
Candace brushed the hair away from his face. “Robbie, how could you let me die? I loved you.” Her face leaned next to his ear. “You said you loved me. Why are you still alive? How dare you live without me!” She pointed a gun at his head and pulled the trigger.
A knock rang from the other side of his bedroom door. Robert sat in the window staring at the rain. His mom stuck her head through a small opening. “Robbie, would you like something to eat?”
“What’s the difference? Not like anything matters anymore.” He tightened the hug on his bent knees.
Her shoulder slumped against the frame. A sharp inhale forced an ever-present heartache into a lump in her throat. She considered the usual conversation of keeping up his strength and needing to live so her memory continued. She could not find the words. She lost the will to argue with him.
The door shut without another word.
Robert watched his mother run out the door for the safety of her car. She rushed from her home and the son she couldn’t save.
Robert felt the chasm widen in his soul. The depths reached a point of no return. All other emotions fell victim to the growing emptiness in his heart. The dull blue that encircled his heart dimmed into an abysmal black.
Robert grabbed his backpack. He dumped out the ridiculous school books and notebooks. Pens and pencils scattered across his bed. The mess held no interest for him though. Robert grabbed his most weather appropriate clothes. He shoved them in the bag before moving to the bathroom. A toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, a washcloth, and a towel were tossed on top. He zipped it closed.
In the front of the bag, he added his tablet, a charging cord, a couple of pocket knives, and a solar-powered charger his dad bought him when he was in boy scouts. He pushed what cash he had into his jean pocket then went down the stairs to the kitchen. Robert slipped on his shoes, grabbed a cinch bag, and filled it with non-perishables. He found a couple bottles of water and his old canteen.
Robert turned off the GPS locator on his phone at the back door. He looked around the room soaking in the memories. He hoped the good times would always stay with him.
Robert laid his house key on the counter. He locked the door and crossed over into the woods beyond the backyard. The nearest city was thirty miles away. He had to cover as much distance as possible with time to find shelter with the remaining light.
To be continued…