If you wish to download this as a .pdf file, click here.
Remember to sign up as a member for notifications and access to more.
Slap slap slap...
Slap slap slap...
Norma Ray Bottner dreamt of fruit flies. It was not an unpleasant memory, one she'd had many times before. The fruit flies danced over a bowl of peaches that her grandmother had picked fresh from her trees, and placed them in a green, china bowl on her kitchen table. That is where Norma sat every time in the dream, at the kitchen table, scrunching her nose when one of the fruit flies tried to fly in her nostrils. She put her elbows on the vinyl table covering, and spun the bowl with her thumb, eyeing the peaches and trying to decide which of them would be the sweetest to pluck from the pile before the insects had their way. A warm, summer wind blew through the screen door every few seconds and morning light filtered through the kitchen window onto a belfast sink. Above and below, cherrywood cabinets lined the walls until a gas oven broke the line.
The countertop was a spotless mint green and held a lot of things; a cookie pot shaped like a fat, lazy bear, a large mason jar holding cooking utensils, a honeypot-shaped container filled with sugar, a hand mixer, and an old, wood breadbox her grandfather had made for Christmas, inscribed with the words 'My Angel Takes the Dough to Heaven’. There was no microwave, her grandmother was afraid of the radiation and refused to allow one in her home. The microwave was however, something Norma’s mother would later utilize to great effect until they’d lost their house. Her mother was not much of a cook, but in fairness it was a difficult task raising four children and working two jobs, after her husband ran away with their neighbor's wife. That is not important, though, not really. Norma had lived her life just fine after her mother had moved in with her parents and she had green hills to roam, and peaches in the kitchen.
She sang ‘You Are My Sunshine’ in her child-voice, one that long ago had evaporated under the cowl of age. She turned the bowl again, and listened to the wind whistle through the trees outside while she made her selection. Then with big eyes, she took the biggest peach from the center of the bowl and bit into it. The peach skin snapped easily under her teeth, the flesh was juicy and tender in her mouth. She closed her eyes and smiled, savoring the moment.
That was always the entire dream, the same as it had been for decades and she'd had it almost nightly. There was neither rhyme nor reason to the dream and no one else was ever there, not even Grandma. Norma wasn't sure why she didn't dream of people, like most do. She supposed that it was just a nostalgic memory for her, one unencumbered by the gravity that comes after most good things. It was simple, elegant and continuous. She supposed it was the way she wanted Heaven to be when her time came, and if the doctor was right then it was coming very soon. There was comfort in believing her Heaven was that little table with the sunflower vinyl covering it, and the little bowl of peaches, and the kitchen that always smelled like hay fields through the screen door. It brought her peace every time... except this time.
This time when she opened her eyes it was not morning and there was no pain or hospice nurses or pictures of her deceased husband. There were no electronic machines making motor noises and beeps, no plastic tubes running all over her body and into her nose where the fruit flies once danced. She was not in her home a mile east of 50 Acres Golf Course, where her husband had once driven everyday down into the mines where he helped reap a harvest of rock. This time she opened her eyes and she was still eight, not eighty-three and white clouds rolled by the kitchen window. The peach was gone from her hand, back in the bowl on the table like she'd never touched it, and the bowl was still spinning, though no longer with the aid of her thumb.
The hardwood flooring behind her creaked and moaned like it did when someone was walking down the hallway. There were steps coming at her and she recognized them instantly. They were heavy thuds, the steps of a titan walking with purpose, the king of the castle.
"Grandpa?" said Norma and she tried to turn around but realized she couldn't. Nothing was holding her, but all the same she couldn't move. He was standing behind her and she could hear him breathing. It wasn’t him though, not really. What it was didn’t belong there, coiled inside her mind like a parasite.
"Grandpa is that you?" The hair was standing on the back of her neck. Grandpa wouldn't stand there like that, he was a friendly man, one of the few in their lives. He had taken care of them as best he could before his heart had hit the off switch. Norma felt her hands tremble on the table and she tried to hold them still. This wasn't right, none of it was right. Nothing like this ever happened in her dream. Whatever was behind her was only borrowing her grandpa's boots, she could feel it inching closer. She could only sit there in her chair while steady, hot air touched the back of her neck. It was labored breathing, filled with mucus, like air being forced through a tube and she could smell it, like rotting fish thrown in a trash-burn pile.
That's when she noticed the cookie jar. It was painted orange and black and it wasn't a fat, lazy bear anymore, it was a tiger with gleaming, black eyes and an open mouth full of teeth made to eat something more than chocolate chips. It was sliding, very slowly, across the counter towards the sink, but its eyes never turned away from her. She watched it go, trying to breathe, but the air was caught in her chest. She tried to lift her arms from the table, but they wouldn't move. Her whole body was paralyzed. "Not you..." whispered Norma. "Ted told me about you, down in the mine. I know you."
The tiger shot across the counter and into the sink, shattering in the basin. The sound of it breaking was so loud that she felt as though her eardrums might burst. She tried to cover her ears, but they were glued to the vinyl. Then she heard a noise in the sink, like the fragments of the jar were still moving around inside it. She tried to look down into it, but her legs were stuck in place.
The sound of the roar echoed, and then suddenly the sink filled with a black-oil liquid which oozed over the edge of the white porcelain onto the floor. The arms of a tiger extended out of the sludge, and began to claw its way out, spilling oil all over the terracotta tiled floor. Then its whole body stood there on the counter, eyes wide with fury, mouth full of ink-stained teeth. With another roar, it lunged at her before she could scream.
Norma woke in bed, frozen to sweaty sheets, trying to pry her eyes open, stuck between the real world and the realm of the incubi. There wasn't a difference anymore and she knew. There was something in the room with her, something that didn't care if she was asleep or awake. It was on her chest, a squatting shadow that reached into her mind and plucked her darkest thoughts from her subconscious. The Sandman, her grandmother had called it. The demon had risen from the mine to take her husband, and now it came for her. A pool of darkness conjured on the bed all around her, and as she tried to scream again she began to sink.
“You...you can take me," she whispered "But you leave those sweet babies alone. Leave them...leave them!"
Then she was gone and all that was left was the sound of a flatline on a monitor now tethered to a dead heart. The oxygen hissed from the ventilator into lifeless lungs. Norma slipped into a black pool of shadows, tentacles of it coiled around her skin and her body disintegrated in a rising tide of ink from which she never dreamed again.
Copyright © 2020 by Kenneth McIntosh
All rights reserved. No parts of this short story may be reproduced or
used in any manner without written permission of the copyright owner
except for the use of quotations in a review.
Thank you for reading! Comments are always welcome and appreciated. This is the third entry for the Mine'd Scanner series. Click here to read the first story or here for the second. If you wish to download this as a .pdf file, it will be available in the next few hours. Remember to sign up as a member for notifications and access to more. And be on the lookout for exciting news about my upcoming book, The Silent Hand!