100 word story
“Remember—squeeze the trigger gently. Like I showed you.” Henry’s grip on the rifle faltered as he felt his father’s looming presence over his shoulder. The animal in front of him made an attempt to stand, but faltered as blood – thick, black, arterial – oozed from an existing bullet wound in its thigh and it crumpled to the ground again with a howl of pain.
The animal reached out towards him, silently pleading, and Henry swallowed against the bile at the back of his throat as he aimed between its eyes.
The gunshot echoed through the trees – the animal let out a whimper, and fell still.
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Two o’clock in the morning. She woke, as usual, to the distorted audio from the monitor on the bedside table, the little green and red LED lights flashing in time with the baby’s wailing.
“S’your turn,” she mumbled, nudging the husband-shaped lump of duvet next to her before rolling back over onto her side.
Several minutes passed and she lingered somewhere in the limbo between sleep and consciousness; when she woke again it was to a blessed lack of noise from the monitor. The only sounds that came now were a voice whispering calming little nothings and the gentle susurrus of the baby’s breathing.
“Thank god,” she murmured, dropping her head and letting her eyes drift shut again just as her husband let out a muffled snore into the pillow next to her.
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She still gets giddy when she sees a firefly.
Every day, he forgets a little more of their sixty five years together; he never tells her, but the thought terrifies him that he might one day wake up next to her without her name ready on his tongue.
But when their children and their children’s children have gone home, and they sit huddled together on the porch swing, he just has to see her eyes light up – like the sky spared a star to light up the back yard just for her – and he’s right back at the start again.
Once before, she dreamed you had wings twice as long as your arms, one of them crooked when you landed in her back garden with a crash and the splintering of apple tree branches. She rushed outside, barefoot in the dew-soaked grass, and patched you up with a strip torn from the bottom of her nightgown. This time you hover at the end of her hospital bed, counting down the computerised beeps of her heart monitor and clutching a new white robe to replace her old one. In the morning, the nurses make up her bed for a new patient.
Actually I lied about it being the end of the “Dreamers” stories– I found a couple that were cut out to keep the word count down.
She tells the stage hand that there’s been some sort of mistake, that she’s not supposed to be performing, but he’s having none of it. He gives her a firm shove and she stumbles out onto the stage, the red curtain rippling behind her. Her throat goes dry, tongue far too heavy like a beached whale behind tombstone teeth as she realises she can’t remember the words. You sit forward with your fingers steepled, brows furrowed, and tell her sternly that “we’ve gone through it a hundred times, if you haven’t got it down by now then you never will.”
You push your fingers into the spaces between hers, lead her out onto the floor and into the very centre of the crowd. She casts a glance behind her at the man she should be dancing with before you turn her again, the other dancers obscuring him from view. The rest of the night passes in a blur of stolen kisses and little golden lights hanging from the archway; in the morning she lies awake with her head pillowed on her husband’s chest, listens to his quiet snoring, and can’t help but feel guilty when she wants the dream back.
There was a time when you would visit him every night, with rusted metal claws and skin grey like cigarette ash; he used to try and run, only to feel you still breathing smoke thick as tar down the back of his neck with every step. He drew you in the margins of his school books, a stick-thin biro scribble with sharp teeth and wide, empty eyes, until the headmaster sent him to a Very Nice Lady who gave him a sheet of white pills to pop like bubble wrap. You still visit him, but he doesn’t run any more.