First, a sad note: my beloved Microhorror.com has closed. Microhorror gave me and my fiction a chance in 2014, and for this, I will always be thankful.
The story below is the last thing I sent out, to Microhorror, actually, and since the website is closed to submissions, I thought I’d share it here.
(And here’s to Microhorror.com, which published some of the best of the horror/flash fiction scene.)
“Afraid of the Road”
She awoke on the couch. Asleep on the couch again? If her mother were here, she would remind Melody she was no longer sixteen years old. Too old to forget to put on pajamas, brush her teeth, and crawl into bed like a normal adult. And why couldn’t she remember falling asleep? It was dark out and now she definitely wouldn’t be able to check the mailbox. She would have to hope Derrick did so on his way into the house, which he rarely remembered to do.
Maybe if they didn’t live on a rural backwoods road. Maybe if traffic out here didn’t move so goddamn fast. Like the speed of light. Like everyone had something more important to do.
She was waiting on a response from that magazine in San Francisco. The one she’d sent her play to this past Spring. They didn’t take e-mailed submissions and always sent acceptance or rejection letters by snail mail. She should be hearing from them any day. And getting out to the mailbox to check, especially in the dark, was too hard.
Derrick used to tell her she was getting a phobia, or perhaps she already had a phobia. How else could she explain, as a grown woman, being afraid to simply walk out the front door, down the walk, and cross the street to get to the mailbox? It was a common enough activity. Millions of people scooped up their mail every day, and no one had a panic attack. When had she become so damn weird about it?
You’ll never publish another collection this way, he chided her once, thinking a little egotistical temptation might motivate her. Don’t Real Authors have to read their correspondence?
I am a real author, she said. Nobody has ever cared about my mail getting skills before now.
Well, if you want to be famous, he’d said, smiling.
Why can’t you just remember to bring in the mail? was her reply.
It became 7:30. Then 8:30. Then 8:45. Where was Derrick? She was tired again. Perhaps she should go back to bed, wait for the mail to show up on the hallway table in the morning like it usually did, although by that point he would be off at work again.
At long last, she took her first tentative steps out of the house. Then two more. Then she was all the way in the driveway. Now she had to make it across the street. It was so cold out. Was it still January, or had they drifted into February and she hadn’t noticed? She considered stopping right there. The magazine should have gotten back to her by now. They hadn’t taken her play. Was there any point in checking the mail tonight?
But she was sick of not being able to do this, this simple act of crossing a road. With tiny steps, like walking across hot coals, she made it to the black, metal box and its cheerfully upright flag.
Then couldn’t get it open. Melody banged and banged on the cold aluminum sides, but either the frigid air or some other mysterious obstacle had thwarted her attempts to extract her ‘correspondence’ for now.
Suddenly, a door opened on the porch to her left. Apparently, she had made such a racket she had disturbed one of their few and far between neighbors. Two women edged reluctantly out their front door.
“What was that?” the one in back asked the woman who had come out in front of her.
“Probably the ghost again. A girl got killed out here last winter, hit by a truck. Threw her two hundred feet thataway and she wound up in the Freeman’s yard. Sometimes people see her by the mailbox.”
“Trying to get one last letter?”
“Well, trying to get the mail. That’s what she was doing before she died.”
Melody froze. That couldn’t be right, could it?
She watched the two women go back inside.