Friday, January 31, 2014

Fiction Friday: Spoiler Alert

If you're like me, you sometimes skip to the second-last chapter of a book, just so you can find out how it ends. I always go back to where I've left off, because I'm interested in learning how the author gets to that climax, but I have NO PATIENCE.

Today, I'm letting you do that with Methuselah, for two reasons:
1. I'm kind of bored with Methuselah and need something to jump-start my writing.
2. On Pinterest, I came across the above writing prompt. (I've started a board for Writing Fiction.)

So here we go: The Death of Agnes

Agnes slid into Glen's old, moth-eaten sheepskin jacket. It was miles too big for her and in dreadful condition, but it was the warmest thing she could find. The fleecy inside nuzzled against her sweater like a benevolent cloud. She imagined she could smell him, but more likely it was just the smell of the fur itself. Regardless, she had a flash of him on cross-country skis, gliding with long strides down a gentle slope, trees on either side of him, the sun low on the horizon, casting long shadows. He'd been breaking the trail for her, and she followed with a full heart.

The warmth of that memory and of the jacket warmed her inside and out as she grabbed some kindling and laid a fire in the woodstove. It had been years since she'd done so and she forgot to open the flue. Smoke began to flow into the room as she scrambled to find the lever.

Finally, with the fire crackling, she jammed in the two proper logs that had been left in the wood bin, and watched as the bark began smoking and the logs caught. Then she set about moving in.

She'd packed hastily, focusing on survival: dried and canned foods, basic clothing and blankets (though she knew there would be some up at the cottage). Books -- that was a scramble as she hadn't used a paper-based book in decades -- a few small toys for Gisela, some sewing supplies. A water purifier from the camping kit.

Gisela was snoring and snuffling, swaddled in the drawer that Agnes had placed near the woodstove. Agnes kissed the baby's fuzzy head and couldn't help nuzzling her sweet neck even if that might wake her from the deep sleep. (She almost wished it would.) Gisela, however, was in that newborn torpor that an earthquake could not disturb. Instead, Gisela's lips puckered into a precious rosebud and she suckled in her dream.

Agnes allowed a few tears to fill her eyes. She felt her breasts let down milk and grabbed a rag to stuff under the jacket. Thank god, food for Gisela would not be a problem for a while.

The small room had warmed up quickly, but the logs were burning down and Agnes would need to get more before it got dark. She cracked open a window so she would be able to hear the baby if she cried, then Agnes grabbed the wood tote, gloves, and axe and stepped out to the woodpile. She hated to leave Gisela unattended, but she would have to get used to it; there were no other options.

The gloves were Glen's as well, so Agnes didn't have a good grip. She slipped them off and worked up a sweat splitting logs, stopping every so often to catch her breath and listen for Gisela. She'd never split wood before (she and Glen had quite an archaic relationship when it came to domestic chores).

On one such pause, she thought she heard a noise from the forest, not from the house. But it didn't repeat. Could have been anything. A squirrel. Snow falling from a branch. She stepped to the door so she could peek in at Gisela. Still sleeping.

Agnes started on one final log, but her anxiety (paranoia?) kicked into high gear and suddenly she couldn't stand to be away from Gisela for one more second. Leaving the axe embedded in the log and most of the freshly split wood scattered near the block, she hastily filled the wood tote and stepped toward the door.

She tripped over a stick of kindling she had cast aside and almost fell. At the same moment, she heard a gunshot. She had no idea what kind of weapon it was, but it was undeniably a weapon. If she hadn't stumbled, she would undoubtedly be dead right now. She dropped everything and scrambled for the door. Gisela!

A second bullet broke the slumbering forest, as she knew it would. This one hit her, she fell forward, stretched out over the scattered wood, blood spreading across her chest. She dragged herself toward the door, screaming in pain. It wasn't far. Every atom of her being moved toward the infant.

She could hear movement behind her and crawled the last yard to the cottage. Glen, she prayed, GLEN, help me!

She could hardly breathe but adrenaline helped her shove a bench across the door with her legs, blocking it. She reached the drawer. Gisela had started to cry, her face screwed up into a bright red ball of fury.

Agnes felt milk coming down again but knew it was for naught.

"Oh, sweet Gisela. I'm sorry. I won't let them hurt you." A window broke and a fresh round of bullets pierced her body.

Agnes let her full weight fall across Gisela, smothering the infant's cry, smothering her baby. A red pool spread around them.

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