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Janet Hartwell
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Ashes and Dust

 

by Janet Hartwell

 

 

I struggle to breathe in the frozen, gray air. Sandy is holding my hand, gently encouraging me to continue. We run and then walk for a long time before we stop and rest. I am so cold, tired, and weak, I want to sleep, but Sandy will not allow me.

Sandy tells me to try not to think about the horrors of the past two weeks, the man grabbing me off my bicycle, tossing me into his van. Sandy tells me to think about my mom and my cat. Sandy knows I will see them again. I need to keep going.

Sometimes, Sandy carries me and tells me stories. Her stories are about little children overcoming great adversity, becoming people who feel safe, simply because they are who they are.

We are looking for a road. I want to stop and rest again, but Sandy says no, he will come after us as soon as he realizes we are gone.

Sandy helps me climb up a steep, slippery embankment and then lifts me over a snowbank plowed against the guardrail. She tells me that when a vehicle comes up the road, we must jump up and down and wave our arms to get attention, to get help.

When headlights finally approach, we hop around, shout, and wave. The car stops. Sandy drapes her necklace around my neck, holds my cheeks in her hands, and kisses my forehead.

An older man approaches with an alarmed look on his face. Sandy steps away.

The abduction was two decades ago, when I was ten. I went to the convenience store to get candy, and I ended up over a thousand miles away. The police never caught the man who grabbed me. They never found Sandy, or any evidence of her. They say the man who abducted me gave me the necklace, or I found it along the way.

I have discussed Sandy with therapists. I tell them she was seventeen, had blonde hair, and was from California. They tell me my mind created Sandy to help me cope with extreme danger, calling it Third Man syndrome, or bicameralism. I show them the necklace, and they try to identify the material.

 

My Grandma believes Sandy was an angel. My mom says she was the best imaginary friend ever. A psychic told me that Sandy was the spirit of another victim. The woman who babysat me after school said Sandy sounded like the teenager I wanted to become.

I can still see her smile and hear her gentle voice saying, "You're such a good girl!" I think about her every day, and I always wear her necklace.

It appears I live a normal life. I've had boyfriends, hung out with girlfriends, and joined bowling teams. My relationships seldom last long. They intensify my longing for something I cannot identify.

I wake up one day, and I cannot find the necklace. I panic and rip the house apart, looking for it. I cry when I finally locate it. I walk past a mirror, and I glimpse Sandy looking out at me.

I make up my mind to go back to that forest. I request vacation time, and I leave.

A couple of days later, I drive along the road where the elderly couple found me and locate the point where they believed they picked me up. I know this is not the correct spot.

I drive further until I feel a wave of relaxed knowing, then I park the car and walk into the woods. I hear a stream and walk toward it, then I see a group of boulders, and I know which way to head.

I am aware of someone else being in the forest, near me, shadowing me, but I feel safe, not because I am who I am, but because I have a Glock 19.

I walk for hours before I come to his cabin. I crouch behind some blackberry bushes and study the thin smoke escaping the stovepipe. I hear the door open, and I watch him step out. I remember the hair and sneering facial expression.

I stand, and I empty the Glock into his chest and his crotch as I walk closer to him. He sinks to the ground and rolls on his back. I look down at his death face, and I feel complete as Sandy steps inside me, and my lips move when Sandy says, "You're such a good girl."

I pull the necklace from my neck and watch it turn back into ashes, dust, and tears in my hand.

 

 

 

Lisa’s Revenge


 

By Janet Hartwell


  


I’m swiping through “Professor Payback’s Revenge” website on my phone, looking for ideas, and I get blindsided, slammed face down into the dirt. I’m spitting dirt out of my mouth as I try to stand up. Bam, someone kicks me in the head, and I am in the dirt again. I roll over slowly, expecting to get hammered again. I look up and see Lisa holding a gun on me.


          “What the hell are you doing, woman. Are you crazy? Don’t point that at me. Put that down before you hurt yourself.” I say as I start to get up. A kick to my head knocks me back down.


          “Stay down.” Lisa glares.


          “What the hell is your problem?” I say. I don’t need Professor Payback to know I gotta act innocent.


          “You know. Why’d you do all that to me?”


          “What are you accusing me of? You got problems?  Maybe it’s because of you being conceited, not knowing your place, or respecting your betters.” I knew exactly what she was talking about, but I couldn’t admit it. I know from “Professor Payback’s Revenge” website that I gotta pretend she's crazy, and I am innocent.


          “You think you’re one of my betters? A loser like you?” Lisa jerks the gun toward me.


          "I'm saying you should be more considerate of other people’s feelings” Professor Payback suggests always talking up feelings and avoiding words like ego or pride.


          “I’ve never done a damn thing to you.”


"Come on, girl, I asked you out, and you said no. Yet you went out with that Mark guy, and he isn't even from our company. Don’t make no sense.”


          “You’re married. Mark is single. That make any sense to you?”


"I saw you talking to Mark, and I knew you were available, wanting some action. I wanted some too. Not a big deal." I needed to make her think she was unreasonable, while I was just an average guy. I learned my strategy from Professor Payback.


          “You told Mark I was sleeping with you. You lair.”


          “What, he broke up with ya? Over that? No big loss. Jesus, Lisa. Guys bullshit about that kind of stuff all the time.” I try to minimize her loss while fighting the urge to gloat.


          “I love him, and now he won’t even talk to me.” Lisa’s eyes tear up.


          “Lisa, if he believes every little bit of gossip, he’s an idiot. Looks like I did you a favor.”


          Lisa kicks me again, but not as hard. I feel I am successfully talking my way out of this situation. Professor Payback would be proud of me.


          Then she says, “You set it up so I would get fired. You told my landlord I was making meth, and I got evicted. I've been living in my car for two weeks, which is about all the good it is cause it ain't runnin' no more. You did that too, didn't you?”


"Hey, I admit taking a shit in Mark's head, but why you blaming all your problems on me? Maybe those problems are karma for being conceited. I didn't get you fired, it was all you, baby. Women shouldn't try to do that kind of work." Professor Payback instructs to shift the blame.


"Well, you've been bragging about doing it on this website. You even posted pictures!"


Oh shit, Lisa has my phone. If she calls the cops, they will bust me for stalking, malicious harassment, slander, libel, vandalism, and maybe a few other things. Luckily, Professor Payback has developed a strategy for every situation. I will say Lisa does not understand me or that she made me think she wanted me to do stuff.  I’ll parade my wife and kids in front of the jury and get off with a slap on the wrist, just like Professor Payback says.


I need to get that phone back and avoid the hassle. Then I am gonna mess with this bitch until she is living in the gutter with no teeth. I wonder if the "confession and regret" routine or the "you forced me to do it" method would work better.


          “Look, you really hurt my feelings when you wouldn’t go out with me. I wanted revenge and found that website. Yeah, I did a few bad things, but you can’t blame me. Lisa, give me a chance to show you what a nice guy I am.”


 I am talking about my hurt feelings, figuring to transfer the blame to the website, when I notice Lisa is staring at my phone and bawling. She starts babbling about her kitty.


          “Lisa, it’s not a big deal, it didn’t suffer, and I’ll get you a new one. You should try and be a good sport. This is just a misunderstanding.”


Lisa slides my cell phone into her purse and now has both hands on the gun. She is aiming it at my head. Her finger is on the trigger.


          “Lisa, I am sorry. I guess I got carried away because of that website. But you know my feelings were really hurt. Haven’t you ever had hurt feelings? Try to ….”



Janet Hartwell lives near the Rocky Mountains with her dog and cat. She enjoys reading short stories and flash fiction, and her flash fiction has been published in Yellow Mama and Shotgun Honey. Janet is also an AFOL (adult fan of Lego) and occasionally travels in an RV.

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