Writing Prompt: Never Looking Back

It’s Friday, which means it’s time once again to share a little something I’ve written. This past week in AT, we had a writing prompt and I did something with it. 

While it really lends itself to horror, I tried really hard to keep it NOT horror. I played with some suspense, a plot twist, and some darker subject matter. 

Prompt: And then the murders began


Heidi sat against the rough cement wall, watching her puffs of breath curl away in the bright moonlight of the chilly evening. She swallowed, looking around, listening. She could hear the footsteps coming and she pushed herself up and took off again, pounding her feet into the frozen earth feeling the coldness of the ground through her worn-out imitation Converse, pumping her arms as she kept her eyes trained ahead of her. Not wanting to trip and fall, she scanned the ground, the grass bursting through the dirt in clumps. Her lungs ached from running, but she did not want to be caught. Diving behind a giant boulder, she listened again. Her breath heaved and she pulled her sweatshirt hood up onto her head, balling up her fists and squeezing them between her thighs, trying to warm them up. 

“Come on, Heidi,” John called, breathless himself. “I give up.”

Heidi kept silent, trying to decide if she wanted to let him off that easily or not.

“Come on, Heidi,” John repeated, his shoes scuffing along the ground. “I’m not kidding. This place gives me the creeps.”

Heidi sighed and turned to sit, her back against the giant rock, her threadbare jeans not providing any protection against the ground. Flicking her eyes up, she saw someone walking toward her and jumped.

“Okay, I’m coming,” she yelled and sprinted back toward John, glancing behind her to see where the figure was. She didn’t see anything or anyone. 

“There you are,” he said, throwing his hands out wide.

“Let’s go,” Heidi said, grabbing his hand and dragging him. “Someone’s over there.”

John looked the direction she’d come from and his brown hair fell into his eyes. He swiped it away and took a breath. Heidi looked again, but still saw nothing.

“Okay, yeah, let’s go,” he said.

Holding hands, they walked as fast as they could back to the car. Climbing in, Heidi immediately re-locked the doors as John fumbled with his key before turning over the ancient station wagon. He pulled out of the park and weaved his way through the neighborhood back to the main streets of town. This park was always fun to play nighttime games of hide-and-seek, or so Heidi thought. John would only go when the moon was out, but she’d take what she could when she could. Unfortunately, no one else wanted to go out tonight, but they’d gotten a few rounds in before John called it a night. 

They’d never seen anyone else there before, though. That sprawling upscale park with its trees and boulders was always deserted at night. For some reason, that figure creeped Heidi out, and she wasn’t easily spooked.

John pulled up and parked in front of her house. Heidi lingered in the car, not wanting to go into the giant, run-down place they called home. Who knew who would be there tonight?

“Are you sure you’re good to go home?” John asked, reaching over to take her hand. Heidi looked up at him and smiled.

“Yeah, sure. What’s the worst that could happen?” She felt her lips twitch, but tried to paint a nonchalant look on her face. It’s not like it hadn’t all happened before. 

John raised his eyebrow but didn’t say anything. Heidi pursed her lips and chewed on the inside of her bottom lip. Finally she reached out and opened the door, the door creaking. Heidi stuffed her hands into her sweatshirt pocket and walked up to the front door. Pulling the key up from the lanyard hiding down her shirt, she unlocked the door. Pushing it open, the stink of the inside of the house wafted out: pot and beer and old food.

“Heidi,” the gravelly voice called out. “So glad you’re home.”

Heidi glanced over to the sitting room just off the front door to the right. 

“Hey, Pete.”

“I was wonderin’ how long you’d be sittin’ out there ‘fore joining us.”

Not answering, she walked up the creaking, threadbare stairs and into her room, closing and locking her door, pushing her bed in front of it. Despite the cold air, she cracked her window open to try to let out some of the smell. Her eyes wandered around the peeling wallpaper and badly scuffed floorboards. 

Laying in bed in her clothes on the cardboard thin, yet somehow lumpy mattress, Heidi tried to fall asleep, leaving the light on. The only time she didn’t sleep with the light on was when the electricity was shut off. She probably could have gone home with John. At least she could have eaten something in the morning before the weekend. Maybe it would be worth the beating she’d get when she returned. Who knows what she would find to eat around here? Squeezing her eyes shut, Heidi tried to will herself to sleep.

 

Heidi’s eyes popped open, but she wasn’t sure what had woken her up. The familiar shuffle was coming down the hall. That’s what it was. Soon, came the expected knock.

“Heidi,” Pete whispered. “Heidi, let me in.”

“Go away, Pete,” Heidi hissed, her hands clamming up and heart pounding.

“Come on, Heids. I just want to talk.”

“Right.” Talking was never on Pete’s mind. “Go downstairs and sleep on the couch.”

He punched the door and Heidi jumped, her breath quickening. He kicked at the door and she tried not to scream.

“Not again. Please, not again,” Heidi whispered. Pete thrashed against her door and Heidi lay frozen on her bed, praying that it would hold. She’d borrowed money from John and got a solid wood door after Pete broke through her last one. And she got a beating for “lying” about Pete. At least she got to keep her new door and stronger frame. 

No matter how loud either of them were, everyone else was always too drunk and stoned to hear what happened to her. Nobody believed her. She’d lost count of how many times Pete had come to “chat”. How could they all sleep through this? How could no one believe her? No matter where they went. No matter how many times they moved, Pete was always there. 

The door frame cracked and her bed moved. Heidi screamed as Pete wrestled his way into the room, his eyes wild.

“You really made me work for that one,” he said, that greedy, lusty look in his eyes. “Got me all… worked up.” 

“Pete, please don’t,” Heidi pled, tears in her eyes, her voice quivering. She tried to keep her eyes locked on his, tried not to see the bulge between his legs. “Not tonight.”

Pete grunted, climbing onto her bed, tugging at her waistband. She tried to fight against him, pushing his hands away. The temperature in the room dropped as Heidi fought against the much larger, drunker, stoned man. His breath smelled like garbage wafting past her face. She kneed him in the stomach, missing her mark. He back-handed her, the pain exploding through her head as she tumbled off the other side of the bed.

“Hey!” A new voice broke through the ringing in her ears. Heidi half-sat up on the floor and tried to focus on the figure by her window, but her vision was still blurry. How? Who?

Pete turned just in time to get hit with something, a sickening thud followed by him slumping over. A hand grabbed her and yanked her up. Her head throbbed and spun. She tried not to throw up. Not that there was anything in her stomach anyway.

“Hey, you okay?” A unfamiliar bearded face loomed and Heidi backed away.

“Who are you? What do you want?” Heidi whispered as the wall stopped her backward progress. She could feel her whole body trembling. 

“I heard the noise from outside and so I came to investigate.” His voice was higher than she’d expected. And his eyes. They were kind. Like John’s. 

“You what?” Heidi tried to make sense of the explanation amidst the pounding inside her brain. 

“I heard the noise outside. I was walking by.” At least he wasn’t trying to get closer to her. 

“You were walking by?” 

His eyes flicked away from her and he shifted his weight to his other foot.

“Yes, I was walking by. I know that, um, I just–” He cut off and licked his lips. “Look, I live around here and I know what goes on in your house, okay? And I’ve had enough of what they do to you.”

“You what?” Heidi knew she was repeating him and repeating herself, but she couldn’t believe what he was saying. The man didn’t say anything. 

Heidi’s mind whirled. Everyone who lived around here partied with her dad. She was 15 now and they’d moved every six months or so since her mom overdosed when she was seven. They’d actually been here almost 8 months. In this ramshackle, rundown house in this ramshackle, rundown neighborhood full of ramshackle, rundown people like her dad. They all did their drugs and drank together and sometimes some of them worked and sometimes there was even a little for her to eat.

It had taken a minute for him to respond. His expression was confusing to her.

“Yeah, I live around here, okay?” He took a step toward her and Heidi tried to back up even though her back was already pressed against the wall. He pointed toward the door, his shoulders and chest starting to heave with breath, his eyes burning. “What they do is not okay. I’m sorry I didn’t step in sooner. I didn’t think it was my problem, but after six months of hearing the same screams and cries, I couldn’t take it anymore. Maybe it’s not my problem and maybe I should just go, but I’m not going to. This is never going to happen again.” He grabbed her arm and shoved some cash into her hand. “Go. Get out of here. Go to your friend’s house with the car, but go. And never come back here.”

Heidi stared into his blue eyes for another moment before turning and running down the stairs and out the front door, flinging the key into the grass. She ran in the cold darkness, feet slapping against the pavement lit only by the moon, and never looked back.

She’d find out later that that was when the murders began.

2 thoughts on “Writing Prompt: Never Looking Back

  1. Wow, that is a darker side of you Cari. I really liked it, in a way it was hand of god-ish and in another way it was like a fairy tale. I hope Pete wasn’t her Dad. Why did you choose to an estranged neigbour instead of the friend with the car to save her?

    Like

    1. I felt like the prompt lent itself to horror and I’m not much of a horror writer or reader. I’m reading for a friend who is a horror writer and that’s really the extent of my exposure to that genre, so I wanted to go in a different direction than just outright horror.

      I’ve recently read one book (The Shadow) and am in the middle of reading another about trafficking and I suppose that’s probably where the general inspiration came for this particular story. However, my general lack of knowledge in that area (and this area, too, if I’m honest) was going to be huge obstacle in getting a decent story.

      Originally, I had wanted to try to play more on the strange figure in the park theme and was going to try to tie that together, but it just didn’t work. As I wrote that plot line where he explains “I followed you from the park”, it just wasn’t working at all. The guy’s on foot, why would he choose to follow them? And if he followed them, why save the day? I just couldn’t make it work out realistically, so I had to change that plot direction.

      I’d considered writing John in to be the rescuer coming from the window, but I think I didn’t because I was so attached to the idea of the park stranger at the time. Realistically, it probably would have made much more sense for John to be the rescuer. I hadn’t really fleshed out their relationship in my mind, either. Is he a boyfriend? Just a friend? Even now, I’m still not really sure who John is to her.

      Finally, I know that in my fantasy story, there will be times that it turns very, very dark and so I wanted to start exploring some of these darker themes and practice writing them. I found that I struggled with determining the balance between insinuation and being graphic – implying vs. outright shock value – so I have some work to do there. I was also working with description, trying to write the description in such a way that it feels real to the reader and they can feel the ground and smell the house, etc.

      I’m glad you enjoyed it!

      Like

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