Margga’s Curse, revised: Chapter 4 [fiction]

CT scans, MRIs, PET scans, x-rays, all in five days … “I’m gonna glow in the dark,” I said to Mom while I looked out at the rain and soggy countryside zooming past us. It was 4:30 p.m. and New Cambridge was behind us. Ridgewood and home was less than an hour away.

Mom asked if I wanted to see Daddy’s grave. I shook my head, then sighed, leaned the side of my head against the window’s cool glass, and hoped the temperature change wouldn’t cause a seizure.

Stupid tumor.

I shut my eyes from a patch of brighter daylight that picked at my headache, and listened to the SUV’s wipers travel at full speed across the windshield. Mom turned on instrumental music from her favorite New Age CD and said, “I told you that Grandma and Grandpa are living with us now. The sinkholes are swallowing more of their farm and we have the room, so…. Grandpa bought you some new canvases. And Grandma is fixing that Greek dinner you like.”

My stomach gurgled at the mention of Greek food. Though Mom and I had eaten before leaving New Cambridge—a fish sandwich for her and hotdogs and fries for me—my mouth watered at the thought of Grandma’s scrumptious moussaka casserole for supper and her melt-in-your-mouth kourabiethes for dessert.

I undid my ponytail and let my hair fall down my back. The rain let up then, and most of the trip was a peaceful one with soothing music playing inside Mom’s silver Sorento.

Then the SUV’s transmission made rattling noises. Ahead, a large, weather-beaten billboard sign read WELCOME TO RIDGEWOOD in large, black letters.

I clutched my new Dior handbag and swallowed at the panic rising in my throat. I pressed the bag to my chest. The multihued embroidered bag contained a new smart phone, a tablet, a wallet with one hundred dollars in it, some makeup, and medicine for headaches and nausea—everything I needed to keep from falling apart.

I inhaled and tried to look happy.

I really wanted to go home. But that would mean being where Daddy had died. Lightning had killed him because … because I was unable to push the lawnmower to the shed.

The road gave way to three sets of bone jarring railroad tracks. The tracks passed by a defunct steel making factory with lots of broken windows facing me. The broken glass looked like sharp teeth and the windows were like mouths wanting to devour anyone passing by. Below them, names and obscenities spray-painted on the concrete walls in a convoluted mess reminded me of Ridgewood’s seedy underbelly.

Past the factory and a block of typical, residential clapboard houses, the town came into view. Chipped and faded brick and cement storefronts pressed tight against each other on both sides of the street. Their big windows with names like Suzie’s Styles & Cuts, Jerry’s Discount Shop, and Coleman’s Sporting Goods in large fonts revealed no one shopping inside the stores. Even the wide, downtown street lacked cars and foot traffic.

New Cambridge had teemed with traffic. As usual, Ridgewood looked like a ghost town.

Mom stopped at a red light. Outside my window, a nondescript brick and mortar building with a green steel door belched two ragged looking men onto the uneven sidewalk. The men staggered past the building’s two grimy windows that had neon signs advertising ice-cold beer inside. The last window sported a black and white sign in it that announced fifty-cent wings on Saturday nights only.

The men disappeared around the building’s corner and a moment later, three girls on bicycles turned up the street. They shrilled and shrieked obscenities at each other as they raced by. Then the green door belched again and a dark-complexioned, white-haired woman exited. She leaned against the front wall of the two-story building and smoked a cigarette. She seemed to pay no attention to the chugging Sorento, or anything else around her for that matter while she inhaled deeply from her cigarette. Her lined face looked ancient and her plump body had on a tattered green Army jacket, a red sweatshirt, and blue jeans that looked brand-new.

A chill crossed over me as the beer joint’s exposed inner darkness pulled my attention to it. Past the door that the woman had propped open with a broken cement block, two large red eyes peered from within.

DOES IT SEE ME?

The words came to me in a shout.

CAN IT SEE BLOOD?

I turned away from the spooky eyes and shuddered from the voice’s ferocity.

Buzzing sounds followed, as though thousands of bees had flown inside the SUV and were now inside my head.

The air rippled around me like disturbed pond water and made me nauseous. I fell back against my seat, worried that I was going to lose my hotdogs and fries all over my lap, and closed my eyes.

“Wait,” I cried out when Mom started through the intersection. Something terrible was going to happen. A chill ran between my shoulder blades. “Stop the car. Please stop the car.”

Mom brought the SUV to a quick and white-knuckle stop, then turned in her seat. “What’s wrong?” Worry mixed with the exhaustion and sweat on her face.

The rippling air and buzzing noise stopped.

Beyond the hammering of blood rushing past my eardrums, the ticking and rattle of the Sorento’s engine relieved my anxiety with their familiarity.

“Are you okay?” Mom asked.

Outside the window, the white-haired woman still leaned against the wall and smoked her cigarette. The red eyes inside were gone.

“I got really sick for a moment,” I said, which wasn’t a lie.

“Do you feel like you need to vomit?”

“I’m feeling better.” I closed my eyes and tried to make sense of what had happened. “But I’m not fine.” I fumbled in my bag and found my pills for nausea.

The Sorento’s engine stalled for a moment before it roared to life and the SUV leaped through the intersection.

I grabbed the bottled water in my cup holder and washed down the pill. As I closed my eyes and tried to relax, my mind replayed the red eyes I saw and the words I heard. Does it see me? Can it see blood? What did that mean? What blood? Whose blood? Who had said those words?

Had something tragic happened back at the beer joint?

“Almost home,” Mom said after striking an open palm against the dashboard. The AC’s fan started working again.

The scenery outdoors became country again. Acres of second growth fields and pastures with old fences rolled past us. I wondered about my grandparents and if living with them would be a happy arrangement, or if they’d bicker as usual when they disagreed about something, which was most of the time.

Storm clouds remained threatening over Myers Ridge as we drove past fields of tall grass, barley and corn, and turned up a long gravel driveway that took us to our white Colonial house and two-car garage painted to match the house. Mom’s lush flowerbeds and rosebushes around the house were overgrown a little and needed pruning.

I looked up at the garage roof and thought I saw a white crow there. I blinked, but Mom pulled inside the garage. A chill ran down my spine. Something dark and unsettling lingered in the darkness when Mom opened the door and said, “Come on, Vree honey, we’re home.”

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Margga’s Curse, revised: Chapter 3 [fiction]

Storms have a way of looking worse through windows.

It was a sudden thought as a torrent of rain outside the hospital drummed like a carwash rinse down the long and narrow plate glass windows at my left. Outside, the streets were probably empty, everyone indoors, cursing the rain, but celebrating the Fourth of July Weekend, all the same.

The stormy Sunday afternoon skylight over New Cambridge had darkened to a faux twilight that exaggerated the artificial lighting inside the anteroom of the hospital’s Radiology/Nuclear Imaging floor, which made the sterile white walls glow almost ghostlike.

Next to me, Mom sighed from a matching green, plush chair. She leaned against the chair’s left arm and pushed at the keypad on her smartphone. Worry lines still creased her brow where strands of auburn hair curled and rested against her forehead. She wore a red blouse, black slacks, and black pumps—her usual “business casual” outfit.

“It shouldn’t be much longer,” I said. The digital clock behind the empty receptionist area read 3:49. I was the last patient after seven hours of body scans, and I was out of the hospital gown and in my street clothes after residing at New Cambridge Mercy Hospital for fifteen days.

Worry that there was something life-threatening wrong with me crept into my thoughts. Thinking about eating Chicago-style hotdogs and fries afterwards provided a form of anesthesia that helped me relax. I sat back and closed my eyes, my hands folded on my lap until

“Hello, Karrie,” Dr. Carlyle said. Then, “How do you feel, Verawenda?”

I put my hands to my side and sat up straight. This was it. Soon I would know why I had developed seizures and severe migraine headaches after waking from my coma.

The doctor stood next to Mom’s chair and peered down at me. Even though Dr. Carlyle was probably Mom’s age, I found myself attracted to his handsome, good-natured face.

“I’m good,” I lied at the same time Mom said, “What have you found out?” The strain in her voice made its pitch sound higher than normal.

Dr. Carlyle sat next to her, away from me.

Silence fell and I found the sound of rain disturbing. With each breath, I waited for Dr. Carlyle’s revelation. A long moment passed before he leaned forward and peered at me. His expression no longer held the good nature from a moment ago.

“The tumor pressing against your brain is inoperable but likely treatable with stereotactic laser ablation.”

“What’s stereotactic laser ablation?” Mom asked.

Dr. Carlyle turned back to her. He answered but his voice sounded far away and muffled as though he were underwater. Had the lightning that struck me and put me in a coma caused the tumor? Or had the tumor already been there?

I focused again on Dr. Carlyle.

“The procedure concentrates on the tumor itself,” he said, “while preserving neighboring healthy tissue.” He looked at me, which caused me to lean toward him. “Some patients have seizures afterwards, but they’re mild and happen less often than if you were to have surgery.”

“Do you do the ablation?” I asked. “And how soon can I have it done?”

Dr. Carlyle smiled and shook his head. “No. Our hospital’s not equipped for that.” Then to Mom, he said, “It will mean traveling to New York City or Philadelphia. Both have excellent hospitals.”

“She will get better,” Mom said. “Right?” Hope flickered around the sadness that etched her eyes and mouth.

“That’s what we’re aiming for. Meanwhile, Verawenda can continue her meds for now.”

Mom nodded but the glimmer of hope in her eyes vanished. She said, “You mentioned yesterday that brain tumors are commonly caused by cancers elsewhere in the body that later spread to the brain.”

“Yes. But let’s take care of the tumor first. Get Verawenda feeling better.”

“So you haven’t ruled out cancer?”

“Your daughter is young. Secondary brain tumors usually occur in patients with a history of cancer. We’ve checked her kidney, colon, skin and lungs, and all her tests have come back negative. If you’d like, we can schedule her to have a breast exam tomorrow.”

“Yes. That would be best.”

“I agree.” Dr. Carlyle looked sorry when he looked at me, but he looked back at Mom and returned talking about me as though I were invisible.

I left my chair, walked to one of the narrow windows, and stared out at the rain, down at the headlights of cars driving past on the street five stories below. The people in those cars weren’t celebrating the Fourth of July like I thought they were.

What’s wrong with them?

What’s wrong with the world?

A white crow walked into view. It stood on the concrete ledge and peered at me with black eyes. It cawed from a black beak, though the rain striking the glass muffled its sound. It cawed again, then vanished as though it had never been there.

What’s wrong with me?

“It may take three or four months. It all depends on what we find.” Dr. Carlyle stood and said goodbye. I watched his reflection in the glass leave the room.

Life has a way of looking worse when you start poking at it.

I turned and followed Mom to the elevator bay. I prayed I wouldn’t faint or have a seizure on the way down.

I didn’t.

*.*.*

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Correction [writing news]

In my haste to post more often, I misspelled Margga, the witch-spirit character from the Vree Erickson story, Margga’s Curse, in my most recent posts. Corrections were made and, while I had a few minutes to spare, I redesigned my site to a slimmer, sleeker one. I plan to continue posting the revised version of Margga’s Curse as soon as I get time between my busier-than-usual work schedule.

Meanwhile, if you haven’t done so, check out my free stories here at this site, along with other free stories available at Smashwords and Wattpad.

Margga’s Curse, revised: Chapter 2 [fiction]

Wherever I was, I could not see much, just gray darkness similar to the warm and safe kind beneath my blankets when Zoey and I used them for tents in my bedroom. But I was not beneath my blankets. The grayness was infinite here, wherever here was, and I floated and rolled and swam in it, which made me certain I was dreaming.

There was nothing to look at, only my hands and arms and the rest of my body below my head, though they were almost impossible to see in the grayness. I wore a gown—no. Not a gown. It was a long T-shirt—the kind I wore as pajamas. I also had a pair of white ankle socks on feet that seemed far away. They floated in and out of sight.

I soon grew bored with floating, so I sat, surprised to find a plush seat beneath me—a sofa by its size and shape when I stretched out my arms on either side.

“Nice,” I said.

The sofa made a comfortable bed.

“Very nice.”

I floated alone. And I liked it.

I floated with my sofa, going nowhere.

There was no sense of emergency here—no alarm to awaken me to another day of chores, no schedules to follow and adhere to, and no places to be at, like Chase’s baseball games and Trina’s piano recitals.

I liked that, too.

Except for the infinite grayness. It was like being underwater. I searched for color. I had seen plenty of colorful underwater worlds of coral reefs and tropical fish.

But this was not the ocean.

“Where am I?” I asked a pinpoint of white light far above me, shining like a solitary star a billion miles away.

An urgent need to go to it overwhelmed me. Whatever was there was important. Perhaps color was there. I sat up.

“Hurry,” I said to my sofa, which floated and ignored my requests for it to speed to the light. “I need to go there. Now.”

“Let it come to you,” a familiar voice said from the sofa seat to my right.

“Daddy?” I squealed, delighted to hear his voice.

“Be patient,” he said from the grayness, his thin body an almost featureless shape next to me. I scrambled into his embrace of long arms that wrapped around me and held me close. His Aqua Velva cologne made me grin wide while I snuggled against him.

Sudden white light bathed us as though someone had flicked on a light switch. I fell from Daddy’s embrace but remained snuggled against him. He wore his usual dark work suit and polished, black leather Florsheim wingtip oxfords—all business. And my T-shirt was the Bugs Bunny one from last Christmas.

I felt a change in the cloth against my left cheek. Daddy now wore his blue silk robe and matching pajamas and slippers from the same Christmas.

“How did you change clothes so fast?” I asked.

“It’s Christmas,” he said, pointing a long finger at the infinite white space in front of us. I looked, wanting to see a Christmas tree and decorations there, but there was none. No Christmas smells of cookies and cake, and no carols playing in the background. No noise at all.

Someone coughed. A quick, soft cough loud enough that it sent my attention to an armchair that descended from above us. It stopped in front of the sofa and a girl looked up from an open, oversized hardcover book.

“You look like me,” I said.

The doppelganger smiled at me, then closed the book softly and laid it in her lap of skinny leg jeans—my favorite pair from last Christmas. She even wore my oversized tank top with a print of Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night on the front, which had also been a Christmas gift. Her blonde hair—either fastened in a bun or a ponytail in the back—was pulled tight from her face.

I brushed a hand against my hair. It was loose and draped around my neck and shoulders.

“Who is she?” I asked Daddy. “Why does she look like me?”

“I am you,” the doppelganger said.

“This is such a weird dream,” I said to Daddy. “I don’t think I’ve ever dreamed about me before.”

“’Tis no dream, girlfriend,” the other me said. “Welcome to one of death’s many realities … home away from home … the land of repetition and boredom.” She yawned audibly.

“Hush,” Daddy said to her. Then, to me, he said, “She’s your subconscious. She needs to be a part of you, not floating here without you. You must pull her in so you can recover. The two of you need to be one again.”

Recover? I clutched Daddy’s arm in a tight embrace. “Recover from what?”

“A coma,” the other me called out. “Lightning struck us. It killed Daddy and put us in the hospital, dying.”

I scowled at the girl. “I don’t like this dream. I wish you’d go away.”

“You’re in denial, girlfriend. But that doesn’t change the facts. You need to wake from this coma.”

“I don’t believe you,” I said. “Daddy’s right here. This is just a dream trying to go bad.” I searched Daddy’s solemn face. “Tell her she’s crazy.”

Daddy met my gaze. “To awaken from your coma, you need to be one with your subconscious and create order in your mind. You need to embrace your subconscious again.”

“What are you saying?” I shook my head.

“You can do this, Vree, honey,” Daddy said. “The lightning separated you from your subconscious, but it also triggered special abilities in you. You need your subconscious so you can live.”

I let go of his arm, scooted away, then crossed my arms over my chest and said, “This is just a dream. Nothing more. Just a dream.”

No one said anything.

My clothes felt damp and cool. I uncrossed my arms and looked down at myself. I no longer wore the Bugs Bunny shirt. My red KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON T-shirt made me think of rain, thunder, and—

“If this isn’t a dream, then where am I?”

“Somewhere between life and death,” the other me said.

I moaned and shook my head. “Stop talking about death.”

“Hey-hey, girlfriend,” she called out, “where’s the love?”

“I don’t love you!”

“Without her, you cannot live,” Daddy said.

“If all this is true and you’re dead but I’m not, I don’t wanna live without you.”

“Hush your nonsense, Verawenda Renee. You need to continue living. You need to do important things where you’re going. Now, sit up straight, chin out, and bring your subconscious to you. Think it and it will happen. Accept her and she will come. Let it happen.”

I frowned at him. He had moved closer to me. He reached out and took my left hand, lifted it to his mouth and kissed the back of it. Then he released it. A white light glowed from my hand, spread up my arm, then over me until the light bathed me.

Across the short distance, white light bathed the other me.

“Now that you’re awakening, it’s time for me to go.” Daddy’s form grew translucent. “The path of your new life will be difficult, especially where you are headed. But your subconscious will be with you to help.” He raised a finger to hush my interruption. “You can do this.”

He vanished.

The light hurt my eyes, so I covered them with my hands.

“Breathe,” the other me said, her voice coming from all directions.

“I am breathing,” I said.

“Breathe,” she said again.

I sucked in a breath. “See? Breathing.”

“Deeper. I want you to take a deep breath this time. A really big breath.”

“Why?”

“You know why.”

I wanted to tell her I didn’t, but she was right.

I uncovered my eyes. Then I took in a deep breath. The pinpoint of white light far above me, shining like a solitary star a billion miles away, rushed at me and consumed me in blazing light.

*.*.*

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