Chuck Wendig over at his blog, Terrible Minds, issued a flash fiction challenge with the writing prompt: Unexpected Guest. Chuck will choose his 10 favorite entries and award them with an e-copy of one of his books. *squee* And I’m squeeing for a couple of reasons. First of all, I absolutely worship Mr. Wendig in a totally non-creepy way, so if he reads my story and likes… *dies*. Second I’ve been waiting to participate in #fridayflash for a while, and the prompt got me plotting. Third, I want his new book. And for free would be awesome!
It’s not my typical type of story, but I hope you enjoy and tell me what you think!
The Unexpected Guest
The knocking at the door continued.
Stella was trying to enjoy her rainy Sunday, reading the day away in her pajamas. She wasn’t prepared for guests. She wished whoever it was would just go away.
No such luck. Stella sighed and heaved herself off the couch.
She opened the door and looked up into the handsome face of a man soaking wet from the rain. Simple t-shirt and jeans. Hands stuffed into his front pockets. A lock of dark hair dripped on his forehead.
When he finally glanced at her from under bunched brows, Stella gasped. His clear blue eyes met hers and she felt an instant recognition. But she didn’t know this man.
“Can I help you?” she stammered.
“May I come in?”
Come in? Why am I even considering it?! But . . .
“Yes,” she whispered.
Just as he crossed the threshold, she felt a churning in her belly and bile rising in her throat.
He eyed her warily. “Bathroom?”
She nodded and ran for the bathroom down the hall. She barely managed to get the lid up before she lost her lunch.
Then the man was there, in the small bathroom with her. His touch was cool against her neck as he pulled her hair back from her face. She retched while the stranger comforted her, his presence soothing.
When there was nothing else in her stomach, she straightened slowly. The man guided her to her couch with an arm around her shoulder. He pulled the afghan over her shivering body and went to the kitchen.
She felt weak and disoriented. But not afraid, as she should have been with a stranger in her house. She was simply too exhausted to question his purpose here.
Feeling woozy, she lay down and wrapped the blanket tightly around her. The sun dappled her face. That’s when she noticed it was no longer an overcast day. Looking over the back of her sofa, she could just make out the upper branches of the cherry tree in her backyard. They were full and ripe with beautiful blush-colored blooms. The same blossoms she loved watching burgeon every spring.
Halloween was last week.
The stranger reappeared with a glass of water in hand. He held her up gently as she took big gulps of the cool water.
“Easy,” he said.
“What’s going on?” she rasped, her voice rough from her battle with the porcelain bowl.
“I wish I had a way of explaining,” he replied, taking the water from her shaking hand. “Try to rest.”
Yes, rest. That’s what I need. Just for a moment . . . .
Stella closed her eyes and let her senses wander. The birds chirped merrily outside. The air smelled faintly of toast—she nearly burnt it this morning. The round band-aid from the doctor’s office on the inside of her elbow was sticky around the edges. She’d left it on for too many days.
She heard the stranger move, crouch down by her head, and begin to stroke her hair. His fingers were gentle but sure as he lightly massaged her scalp. She opened her eyes and looked into his cerulean depths.
Recognition. It was like looking in the mirror and seeing a piece of yourself you never knew existed.
His gaze never wavered. No danger or cruelty in those deep blue pools. Only compassion.
The stranger’s hand came away from her head, and she saw strands of brown hair tangled in his fingers. She grabbed his wrist and noticed the pile of hair at his feet.
With a strangled cry she pulled herself up. Her hands flew to her head and felt the bald patch.
“What have you done?” she screamed at the man standing guilelessly in front of her. “You bastard! Get out of my house!” She pushed and beat him toward her back door. The closest exit.
The man was silent as he took her desperate and enraged shoving. He didn’t fight her. He simply moved in the direction she pushed until he was finally on her back porch.
Stella slammed the door in his face and locked the deadbolt. She ran to the bathroom where she was sick all over again. When the nausea subsided, she reluctantly peered at herself in the mirror, first twisting to look at the right side of her head.
She turned the other way and let out an anguished cry. Except for a few sparse strands, there was a large patch of hairless skin above her ear. She reached delicately to finger the remaining length. Despite her light touch, the beautiful mahogany hair surrendered in her hands.
Her legs gave way. She collected her hair and cried.
When Stella finally emerged from the bathroom she found, once again, a dreary day. On the bench in her backyard, under the now-bare-again cherry tree, sat the stranger.
She opened the door and gasped at the biting cold. Ignoring the chill, she went to sit by the man.
He took her hand and kissed it gently.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered. She nodded. They both knew he was responsible for what was happening to her. Yet she wasn’t afraid of him.
She shivered, so he picked her up easily and sat her in his lap. Her body felt so frail. Then she looked down and noticed how her clothes hung on barely-there limbs.
When she stared into his eyes, she felt peace. So she looked there and nowhere else.
“What’s your name?” she breathed.
She bolted upright in bed and struggled to breathe. Her heart was pounding ferociously in her chest, and her skin was damp with sweat.
The phone was ringing. The noise must have woken her from the dream. She stroked her beautiful tresses as the message began to play on the answering machine.
“Hello, Stella. This is Dr. York’s office calling,” a nasal voice intoned through the speaker. “Please call us back. Dr. York would like to see you for another appointment. It’s regarding your test results. Thank you.”