This short story was inspired by The Haunted Wordsmith’s daily prompt. I’ve chosen to use all the prompts for this story – the picture and the words: Cloud, Fluff and Whipped Cream. Enjoy!
Monica thanked the waitress as she set the cup of steaming coffee topped with whipped cream on the table in front of her. This was Monica’s favorite place to come, a little coffee shop tucked away within an old brick building, across from the town’s park. She made a point to spend a few hours each week meandering through the park and always ended up coming in to enjoy their delicious brew on the patio before heading home and back to reality. It was her time to recharge and regroup.
Today’s plans had not originally included a visit, however her fiance, Scott, had called to cancel their lunch plans. Some last minute changes to a project he was working on with the mayor necessitated a working lunch for him today. So Monica decided to take advantage of some unexpected free time.
She dipped the tip of her finger in the whipped cream while she waited for the coffee to cool down a bit. As she licked it from her finger her eye caught on a glass ball sitting on the table in front of her. They changed out the decorations on the tables every month and this was new. Her niece was into photography and had been begging her mother (Monica’s sister – Maggie) for a photography ball for weeks now. This appeared to be the same thing. It reflected an image of the park, however it was upside down in the ball. The result was a scene that looked a bit familiar but took on a whole new look.
Monica remembered as a child laying on her bed on her back, hanging her head off the edge and looking across her room as her head hung upside down, feeling the blood rushing to it. Viewing it from that perspective gave her room a whole new feel. The room she had grown up in all her life and of which she knew every nook and cranny took on a new life. It was slightly familiar but now filled with mystery and new possibilities.
Monica gazed at the image in the ball, watching the clouds dance across the sky on the bottom while the grass and trees hung from the top. She noticed a bright red bird hopping along a path in the park. She looked up from the glass searching the park for the bird. However, it was nowhere to be seen. She glanced back down at the glass ball. It was still there. She could see the bright red fluff of feathers hopping across the grass now.
“What in the world?”, she whispered, leaning closer to the ball. She reached out a hand to pick it up for a closer look when all of a sudden a wave of vertigo swept over her. She closed her eyes for a moment and when she opened them she was sitting on a stone bench in the middle of the park.
“What the hell…?” Monica looked around. There was no sign of the coffee shop or any buildings at all. She was surrounded by a rolling green lawn with a cobbled path leading into a grove of trees. It has a familiar feel to it, kind of like deja vu, but Monica knew she had never been here before. “And how did I get here?” she asked herself aloud.
As she looked around she noticed the red bird she had seen in the glass ball. However, now it was hopping along the path right side up and stopped in front of her. It looked at her and took a couple hops towards the trees and then looked at her again and let out a soft chirping sound.
“You want me to follow you?” Monica asked. She shrugged her shoulders, “I guess I might as well. Nothing else to do. And since I’m talking to birds anyway, why not follow them.”
The bird led her along the path into the grove of trees. Dappled sunlight filtered through the branches above her head and slight breeze with the scent of vanilla wafted by her. She breathed deeply, enjoying the scent. It was a scent she associated with family. She and her sister got together to bake every holiday. And sometimes for no reason at all other than an excuse to hang out. It was the one thing they both loved to do. One of the few things they had in common other than blood.
The bird stayed just ahead of her, never within reach but never out of sight. It would hop and sometimes flutter along the path, looking back and chirping at her along the way. Monica found herself relaxing and starting to hum to herself as she followed the bird. Yes, this was weird but oddly she was at peace. As she pondered the strangeness of this, she noticed the trees ahead of her start to open up and for the first time the red bird disappeared around a corner out of her sight.
The sun momentarily blinded her as she stepped out of the shadows of the trees into a clearing. The scent of vanilla was much stronger here. As Monica’s eyes adjusted to the light she felt heat flush her cheeks as she realized she had inadvertently walked into a lover’s tryst. Laying in the midst of the wildflower strewn clearing was a woman, her blonde hair fanned out around her and her neck arched back and mouth wide open. Her arms and legs were wrapped around a dark haired man whose face was buried in her neck. As Monica slowly backed out of the clearing the woman turned her head, locking eyes with Monica. Monica gasped, it was her sister, Maggie! Straight laced, no nonsense Maggie! And that man was NOT her husband!
As Monica stared a smile slowly spread across Maggie’s face and she winked at Monica.
“Hello, sweetie.” Her voice sounded like a cat purring. Monica continued to back up into the trees, her face fully aflame now. She felt her shoes hit the cobbled path. At just that moment she heard the man’s husky voice as he turned his head to look her way.
“Maggie, who are you talking to…?” His eyes met Monica’s. She reached out to grab hold of the nearest tree as she felt her legs give out beneath her. Her face which had just been red with embarrassment was now drained of all blood. She felt her heart drop to her toes and her breath catch in her throat.
“Scott?” It was barely a whisper.
It only took a moment and she felt the strength come back to her legs. She turned and fled as the reality of the situation hit her head on. She ran blindly, leaving the path and not even caring. All she cared about was out running that vision in her mind. The vision of her sister and her fiance locked in an embrace. The wicked smile on her sister’s face. The one person she had always trusted and relied on. Tears blinded her as she ran faster, weaving between trees. She felt the branches scratching her face as she ran by, but she did not even care. She was desperate to get as far away from that clearing as possible.
All of a sudden Monica felt her feet hit air and then she was falling. She thought she had tripped and waited to hit the ground. To have the air knocked out of her and maybe she could then wake from this nightmare. However, she never hit. She just kept falling.
She reached out her hands, trying to grab for anything to slow her descent. She felt tree roots slip through her hands. She dug her fingers into the sides of the hole that she seemed to have fallen into. However, her fingers just slid through the dirt. She did not even slow.
Monica closed her eyes. What else could she do but wait for the end to come.
With a jolt, she felt a hand on her shoulder.
“Are you okay, honey?”
Monica opened her eyes and looked into the concerned face of the waitress. She was sitting at the table in the cafe. It seemed like it has been hours that she had been away but when she looked down at her coffee, the whipped cream had not even melted yet.
“Yeah. . . I must have dozed off or something. It’s been a long week.” Monica smiled up at the waitress. “Thank you for checking on me.”
The waitress smiled at her and walked away. Monica looked out across the park. It had all seemed so real. Was she really so stressed out lately that she was falling asleep at lunchtime in coffee shops now? Having horrible nightmares about the people dearest to her?
She picked up her cup to take a sip of her coffee. As she did she saw her fingers. They were covered in dirt.
“Here honey,” she heard the waitress say beside her. A white napkin came into her view, held out by the waitress. “You have a scratch on your face. It’s bleeding. I thought you might need this.”