3rd Place Winner in Fiction: “Not Today”

Posted on: August 13, 2012
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By Dennise Sleeper
 
 

Thump, thump, thump. Kate’s running shoes rhythmically slap the pavement. Long, black hair swats her shoulders and brushes over her pink jogging suit. Her nose and throat ache from the cool air. Breathless she slows and turns the corner. A gentle breeze rustles through the bright autumn leaves. She stops and checks her heart monitor. One hundred and thirty. Too close to the top end of the range her physician recommended.  She takes a deep breath and relishes the smell of damp earth and rotting leaves.
Autumn, she sighs, the season of color and cool morning jogs. She walks to slow her heart rate and marvels at the wonderful song of nature’s winter preparations. The silence of the birds, except when a group flies over calling to each other ensuring no members are lost. The lack of buzzing mosquitoes, flies and the music of crickets, grasshoppers and cicadas almost forgotten in the crinkle of the dry leaves. Thoughts of snow, icicles, turkey and Christmas trees remind her of her favorite time of the year. Who could ask for more?
 
 

“Kate,” a male voice calls.
 
 

Her stomach twists and tightens. She turns to look. The shadows and path appear clear. Wary, she continues her jog.
 
 
“Kate. Stop. Wait for me.”
 
 
Realization spreads fear from her stomach to her chest. No! He can’t be here. Not now.
 
 
“Stay away,” she shouts, “You hear me?” Her throat tightens. Where is he? She looks around but sees no one. “I’ll scream,” She breaks into a run and is soon gasping for air. Visions of her dead sister swim through her mind. She died 25 years ago.
 
 
Why has she come to mind now?
 
 
Sudden, severe pain forces her to the ground.
 
 
What’s happening? Is that tormented screaming from me? Is this the end?
 
 
The three most important people in her life consume her thoughts and minds eye. Dave looks into her eyes and says ‘I do’ then kisses her with such passion. It’s their wedding day. Next Dave hands her their son wrapped tight in the blue and white hospital blanket. Three years later he’s handing her their daughter.
 
 
“Kate, come with me,” the man, closer now, calls out again. “Let me help.”
 
 
Another wave of pain reminds her to focus on her family. As before, this helps her relax as the pain subsides.
 
 
She feels a cold, insistent touch as he softly speaks her name. Alarmed, her heart, stomach and airways tighten. Arms weak, she pushes herself onto her knees, then stands. Her eyes, white with fear and pupils dark with pain, meet his, “Don’t touch me. Go away! I don’t want your help.” She shoves him and stumbles toward the nearest bench. Unable to stand, she tumbles onto the wooden seat.
 
 
“But, I can end your suffering.”
 
 
“No,” she shakes her head and again concentrates on her family. Her pale lips smile as the pain continues to recede. “Guess the Grim Reaper isn’t needed today,” she whispers to herself.
 
 
“Kate,” he’s close to her right ear, “let me help.”
 
 
“No,” she shakes her head, “you lose. I’m fine. Leave me. I-I’m not go-going anywhere wi-with you.”
His gold-flecked, blue eyes pierce her soul. Unable to turn away, she senses he’s an ancient being.
 
 
“No!” She severs contact and rolls against the back of the bench. Eyes wide, she struggles to breathe. The sound of a pulled drain plug breaks the silence. Grateful for the air, her lungs fill to capacity.
 
 
“You shouldn’t have pulled away. Your sister almost welcomed you home.”
 
 
“Home? No! Get away!” She forces herself to sit and leans against the arm of the bench. The vision of her dying sister returns. She compares this man with the angel that came for her sister. She starts at his black loafers and Italian wool pants and lets her eyes rest a moment on his white dress shirt open to his chest. Fear darkens her face when she gets to his eyes. Petrified they will pull her in again, she turns her gaze to his sable hair.
 
 
It’s him. She takes a deep breath and let’s it out slowly. “Is it my turn now? Have you come for me like you came for my sister?” she asks, her voice trembling.
 
 
“Yes.” he moves closer, “The pain will end soon. You won’t suffer.”
 
 
“Did she suffer?”
 
 
“No.”
 
 
Kate avoids his eyes.
 
 
“She’s happy and can’t wait to see you. It’s time.”
 
 
She pulls away when he reaches for her and anger conquers her fear, “Do you know what it’s like to be left behind? I begged you to take me with you when my twin died. I wanted to tell her I was sorry I didn’t die too. I wanted to tell her I loved her. Instead, you left me with parents who couldn’t cope and no confidante. From conception until her death, we were inseparable. My parents couldn’t look at me without seeing her. Dad drank himself to death and Mom turned inside herself and withered away.”

 
 
She looks off in the distance and regroups her thoughts, “I wanted to take my life, but hell and the lake of brimstone scared me. So, I prayed to heaven, to my sister, to you, to anyone who would take me to her. I craved the love you took from me. No one knew what to say. No one knew what to do. Dave answered my prayers. He cared.” She turns to meet his eyes, “He still cares. You came into my life and I lost everything. Dave came into my life and gave it all back.”
 
 
She grimaces as she stands, her overworked muscles complaining, “I’m not going anywhere with you. So tell God, or whomever you answer to, I never want to see your face again. When I’m in my 90’s and have lots of grandchildren and great-grandchildren, I expect to see an angel that will listen and take me.” She points to her chest with her thumb, “When I am ready.”
 
 
Infuriated, but relieved, she turns and disappears around the bend.

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