A Quiet Ravine

Roused from its sleep by the ruckus in the trees, it slunk from its den; head down, teeth bared. It sensed pain and fear on the humid air. Slowly it approached; the stench of contorted metal nearly overwhelmed the scent of iron-rich blood. In a low crouch, it moved toward the mass of debris resting in the stream. Caution barely quelled the hunger it felt, so much so that it shivered with need. Seen from a distance, a bulbous shadow began to move. The shape grew frantic, it hung upside down like an animal in a trap. Quicker, its appetite fully aroused, it sprinted towards its quarry. Screeching sounds now emanated from the pile. It responded by clawing at the crumpled mass, eager for the taste. The movement inside stopped, it paused in unison; both awaited the other. A tentative mewl from within sent it into a mad frenzy. It slammed its body against the teetering hulk, snapped and snarled at its prey, pounded every surface until the vehicle rocked violently.

***

Terror vibrated through her body; her wide eyes peered helplessly as the thing outside ravaged the mangled vehicle. She knew she shouldn’t scream, but hysterics and fear won out. As it backed away a few feet, she could see it contemplating the cracked window. It burst through the passenger side in a cacophony of shattered glass, screams and growls. Trapped upside down in the locked seat belt, she could do nothing but wait. A moment of tense silence hung between them. She began to pray, but no god answered her prayers as stiletto teeth fastened themselves around her midsection. She gurgled red foam as it ripped the engorged bump of her unborn child from her body. She watched as it shook the mound with feral brutality. Her body gushed a moan that matched the sound echoing in her mind. The creature’s head lashed out again; its jaw crushed her ribcage, collapsed her lungs, stilled her heart. Her scream ended in a useless gasp as her body slumped forward in grotesque embrace of that which feasted upon her.

∼ Nina D’Arcangela

© Copyright Nina D’Arcangela. All Rights Reserved.

Hairpin

Please, oh please, oh please, was all she could think as she raced to the hospital. The call had come nearly thirteen minutes ago; thirteen minutes of unadulterated hell. She’d dropped everything in a frantic rush and flew from the house. It was such a beautiful summer day; he’d asked if he could ride his bike with the neighborhood kids. It was such a big deal for him – they’d never asked him to hang out before, there was no reason to say no. She was so proud to see her little man growing up.

Oh, God! He just learned to ride last month. I should have said no, why didn’t I just say no? Her own thoughts tugged at her as she narrowly missed being crushed by a semi hauling lumber as she darted around a slow-moving car in her lane. She’d panicked the moment she’d heard the woman from the hospital say his name, she didn’t listen to the rest of what the nurse had said, she’d just bolted for the car. All that mattered was getting to Robbie.

BWWAAHHH! A blaring horn interrupted her thoughts. She was rounding a hairpin turn in the outside lane passing yet another car when she looked over at the driver. He was trying to signal her; swinging his arms wildly as he screamed from inside his own vehicle. She glanced forward just in time to see a cement truck bearing down on her full speed. Slamming the brakes and yanking the wheel hard to the left, she saw a flash of metal just before her tires skidded off the road.

The car tumbled down the wooded mountainside. As it careened off trees and rocks, the sound of shattering glass and screeching metal was a symphony of destruction in the cramped interior. Mouth stretched open; the violent downward motion choked back her scream. Time seemed to slow to a crawl, what took mere seconds turned into infinity as she stared in terror through the cracked windshield. The car eventually came to rest in the ravine. Inside, all was silent as the shattered safety glass tinged sienna; her crushed and mutilated form hung from the seat-belt above it.

∼ Nina D’Arcangela

© Copyright Nina D’Arcangela. All Rights Reserved.

Dark Soil

Plunging, scooping, the sound of dirt sliding off each shovel as it’s tossed to the side. Another plunge, another scoop, more shoosh – the pile grows larger, the hole surrounding their boots deeper, the men more weary. The scent of dry dirt giving way to the earthy aroma of moist, dark soil.

Removing his cap and scratching his head, he asks, “‘Ere, guv, don’t you think this looks more than a bit odd?”

The other spits, digs, then replies. “Blood well is, son.”

Digging deeper, the dirt turning firmer, becoming more dense. Each shovel still plunging; a foot braced on the back lending force to the spade as it slides into hardened ground. Loose dirt scooped upon the belly of the trowel tossed above as it slips off the metal edge – the hole growing with each effort.

Removing his cap, wiping sweat from his brow, he asks, “Take a butcher’s. Tell me that ain’t too wide.”

The other spits, digs, then replies. “Blood well is, son.”

Tree roots tangle and snag, yet dig further they’re told, so they do. No longer plunging, only scraping a hardened surface painted putrid with residue – ground now removed, the scent is strong, almost fetid; a pungent odor.

Removing his cap and squinting in the dim light, he says, “Weird innit? Strange that there ain’t nothin’ but wooden planks, eh, guv?”

The other spits, swings, then replies, “Blood well is, son.”

Hefting the crimson coated shovel over his shoulder, he glances at the body lying near his feet, takes in the breadth of the pit they’ve dug, then turns to the man standing above him.

He spits, stares, then says, “Ain’t fill in’ ‘er in, am I, guv?”

One pistol shot fires. “No, I believe not.”

∼ Nina D’Arcangela

© Copyright Nina D’Arcangela. All Rights Reserved.

Swept Away

Dwindling twilight; a summer breeze. He hands her a chilled glass of wine. She smiles, thanks him, sips the dry fruity liquid and blushes. He returns the smile, sips from his own glass and looks out over the lapping water of the bay. Taking her hand, he leads her down the steps, across the patio and opens the gate leading to the surf. Slipping off her shoes, she steps through the gate and onto the cooling sand. He follows. Hand in hand they stroll to the water’s edge. Leaning down, he places a chaste kiss upon her forehead, her cheek, her moistened lips. They walk in silence, letting the water caress their ankles.

Rounding the tip of the inlet, the water is much more aggressive, the waves coming ashore with more force. The open ocean lies before them. They’ve always dreamed of sailing away together, escaping the drudgery of day to day life and living as nomads on the sea. They walk for what seems hours, both glasses long since drained, both sets of feet tiring of the sand. She smiles in the moonlight and nods the way they came, indicating they return home. Never one to deny her, he smiles his agreement. They turn, begin the trek back; the tide is coming in. She veers towards the gentler sand; he tightens his grip, holding her in place. She glances up, sure he has misread her cue. His face is shadowed, but seems harder, less indulgent. She tries to pull her hand free; he doesn’t allow it. He draws her further into the water; she tugs back, still believing he is playing. The moonlight slants across his face; she sees no mirth in his smile, but an ugliness she didn’t know existed. She begins to panic; he drags her toward the undertow. Being the stronger swimmer, he doesn’t fear the water at night; he relished the fight of the high tide. She swims only when the sea is calm, terrified of the unseen depths. Waves begin to crash over them; she sputters, he grins. Turning with an iron grip on her wrist, he drags her out into the inky blackness.

Eight days crawl by; he still clutches the swim trunks the police believe he was wearing the night he returned home, unable to find her. The detective sits on the opposing deck chair, tells him there is nothing more they can do. He begs, he weeps; he pleads for them to understand she would never enter the water at night alone. The detective understands, is sympathetic, but must still inform him they are declaring her lost at sea. The only item found thus far is her swimsuit that washed ashore. He identified it himself she reminds him. He is shattered, a broken man, the love of his life lost. The detective apologizes once more and excuses herself. The police presence withdraws from his home, his life, his world. He is the affluent one; there is no reason to suspect foul play. There wasn’t even a life insurance policy to question; she never had one. Playing the part of the grieving widower, he ceremoniously lays her to rest at sea; friends mourn his loss.

Three months later, he sails into port; she waits for him in the lavish bungalow they purchased on the French island of Réunion. They’ve had no contact in the months between. For two estranged lovers, it has been an eternity. They reunite; he pours each a glass of wine; she asks if there was suspicion. He tells her of his hysterics, burying his wife at sea, the long journey to reach the island. She asks again if he was suspected of having a hand in his wife’s death. He laughs as he answers that while he did indeed have exactly that – a hand in his wife’s death – they never suspected a thing. She asks how that could be. He smiles, places his wine on the table and cups her face while reassuring her the plan was flawless. Convincing her older sister to marry him, then gift him her wealth was a stroke of genius; it placed him above reproach and set them up to share a lifetime of extravagance. She’s the one he loves. The wedding; a ruse.

She smiles in return; she’s been swimming these waters for quite a while. She knows which underwater caves have air pockets, and which don’t.

~ Nina D’Arcangela

© Copyright Nina D’Arcangela. All Rights Reserved.

Blink

I cower in the corner trying not to hear the scuttling sounds from above. The scratching of tiny claws, the beating of minuscule feet, the giggling of inhuman laughter – it’s maddening! Frozen in terror, I’m not sure I have the will to force my body to move. I shift slightly as my left calf begins to cramp. Silence – the noise from the attic ceases. Did they hear me? I should run; this may be my only chance.

Gathering my wits about me, I lean forward placing one hand on the floor. Still nothing from above. Bolder now, I place the other hand on the floor and shift my weight. The damn wood betrays me as the old boards squeal. I freeze mid crouch listening for signs of movement; all remains quiet.

My crawl from the corner is agonizingly slow. What in reality takes only seconds, feels like an eternity to my pounding heart. I’ve made it to the center of the room. Pausing for a moment, I glance up toward the hatch that separates the attic from the bedroom.

My lungs suck for breath, my body shakes uncontrollably – I’m ashamed to admit it, but I wet myself. The corner of the hatch is ajar; two sets of blinking eyes stare down at me in silence. Then a fifth eye blinks open, quickly followed by its accompanying sixth. As I watch, a multitude of tiny gleaming orbs struggle to see through the slight gap. I stare in horror as the hatch lifts further to allow more of the beings a view of what’s below.

The small creatures stare at me from every available space. I begin to wonder if they’re harmful or not – they look kinda cute… One of them speaks, I can’t discern if it is meant for me or not, so I continue to stare upward in mute silence.  A muffled reply sounds from farther back in the dark space. The first, turning its head, speaks again. This seems to excite those gathered around the hatch. They began to fidget; bouncing and bumping into one another. The one that was speaking turns and looks directly at me. This time, it makes no pretense of hiding its wickedly-long, slender teeth – teeth clearly intended to rend meat from bone.

~ Nina D’Arcangela

© Copyright Nina D’Arcangela. All Rights Reserved.

Trust

I crouch cowering in the shadows of the barn. I should not be here, I was asked to stay away yet I could not.

The unnatural sound of bone snapping, sinew tearing, and skin stretching is a thing so foreign that it rends my soul to shreds. Yet for all the breath left in me, I cannot turn away from this creature I see.

I should have respected his wishes and not intruded upon his privacy – one so warily guarded till this day. Trust is what I offered blindly for so long; now I see that my trust was both justly placed and unspeakably abused.

The depth of sorrow that emanates from eyes I have so often peered into is more than one should have to bear. I now know why he asked to own this anguish in solitude, I now know why he felt a need to protect me from the torture of his full nature; I now know the extent to which he wished to guard my innocence.

He suffers in pain; my heart weeps. I reach out to touch him, he begs me stay away with his gaze; so longing, so loving, so final.

Struck by a rising terror I’ve not felt before, my soul screams that he is no longer mine but belongs solely to the night. If only I had not violated our trust, we would have been as one forever.

Fully morphed, yet still I see him. He turns one final time – his eyes saying all his misshapen mouth is no longer capable of speaking. A blink; he is gone.

Rushing forward I see all that remains, rough hair twisted upon a nail, while I listen to his baleful cry carried upon the night’s savage wind.

~ Nina D’Arcangela

© Copyright Nina D’Arcangela. All Rights Reserved.

Granules

Soft granules shift with each step as I walk the sandy strip. They ease between my toes, slide over my sandaled feet; leave a rim of grit around each nail-bed. A favored place, this swing. During the day, it basks in the full cast of sun’s light; at night, it hides in the coolness of evening’s deepest shadow. A place to laugh, to steal a kiss, perhaps a first touch… Hallowed ground made sacred by whispered promises broken only by those foolish enough to make them.

I sit. The ropes stretch taut, the plank groans beneath me as the swing gently begins to sway. My mind wanders, time passes; my thoughts fill with remembrance of you. The shade of the tree swallows me as day turns to dusk and dusk quickly flees before night. The image of you with another beneath our swing flashes by; my rage no less tempered with time. I kick my sandals aside, dig my toes deep into the soft sand. I reach for you. I know you’re there, you promised you always would be, a promise I saw kept with pickax and spade. The only blight on our perfect evening… the cunt that lies dead beside you, but I can look past that and enjoy our time together, if only in my mind.

~ Nina D’Arcangela

© Copyright Nina D’Arcangela. All Rights Reserved.

Waves

Trapped within this bubble, I feel nothing of the arid landscape that surrounds me. I sit in subjugation, offered scraps to feed upon; amuse-bouche for the soul, or so I imagine. Apportioned morsels to sustain me, but never more than your callous ego will allow. Yes, I have licked the plate and the tang has seared my tongue, left a residue of shame that will forever taint my palate. I once soared with as much grace and majesty as the prey that circles overhead – a dangerous companion to adopt, folly perhaps, as I know what it awaits.

Freedom, such a simple thing, stolen from me by destiny’s choice; a truth mourned beyond measure. I was vibrant once, as vibrant as the now desiccated tree before me. I see its brittle limbs, its exposed bones; the crack that foretells of the next fractured moment. I live that moment with every breath, forever caught just before the fall, perpetually suspended in a state of flux. With bowed back, I am forced to genuflect, to stare into a shallow pool that lacks reflection; a me without identity, stripped of all dignity. With broken wings, I stagnate in this cage never to glide on lighter waves of air again.

~ Nina D’Arcangela

© Copyright Nina D’Arcangela. All Rights Reserved.

Pup

I scrambled through the woods at break-neck speed. I had no idea which direction I ran, I only knew I had to escape the beast that attacked me. A clearing in the trees ahead revealed the flicker of a fire’s glow. As I stumbled into the mudded tract, I realized I’d come upon a gypsy encampment. Two men immediately rose in defense, but a hunched old woman shushed them away. She guided me to a rough-hewn bench. I sat in the brisk night air, chest heaving, lungs still gasping for breath as the crone examined my scratched torso, the gouges left upon my arm by the beast’s maw.

Heavy drapes at the rear of a nearby caravan parted. Concealed behind a voile sheath loomed a tourmaline eyed creature of exquisite beauty. She held my gaze for but a moment before her eyes crept down toward my bare chest and further still to the ruined forearm. The old gypsy woman tending my torn flesh immediately bowed her head and began to back away.

As the black veil unfurled, I saw the illusion for what it was; the alluring countenance of the creature’s face belied the grotesque malformation of its body. A withered arm snaked its way forward, grasping the rail along the stairs in its elongated hand. The exposed flesh covering it resembled nothing more than flaking mica. The body that followed was near indescribable. Multiple legs, in varying size and stage of abortion, dangled beneath the tattered rag it wore around its distorted midsection. One hip jutted upward and away from its body while its engorged abdomen bucked in sway with something yet unseen. I tried to avert my eyes, to look away from this aberration, but fear and revulsion would not allow it.

Moving in awkward jerks, it approached. Terror demanded I flee, but a wave of authority emanating from those rapturous eyes locked me in place. It lowered itself to the muddy earth at my feet. Its stare burned through me as it brought its mouth to my savaged arm. Crimson lips whispered an incantation that danced with the feather-light touch of its breath over my aching skin. It then clutched my arm in its claw-like grip, threw back its head and began to screech a banshee’s wail.

As its legs tore open, a gush of fluid sluiced from between them. The screech morphed to a guttural moan as something passed from its body and darted into the woods. The echoes of torment silenced; the only sounds left were labored breathing and what scurried in the dark underbrush.

The creature before me spasmed, struggled to right itself, to regain its knees in the slick afterbirth. Composed once more, it stared at me with fierce brutality. Once again, it grasped my wounded arm in its roughened talon and spoke a single command as it seared its mark into my flesh. I saw depths of rage, hate, regret, pain and sorrow in its release as the eyes dimmed and the body fell backward to lie unmoving.

The old gypsy woman approached. She looked upon the corpse from the caravan, the wound and brand on my arm. Compassion and terror colored her countenance as she dipped her fingers into the mingle of blood and amniotic fluid. While making a sign of sanctity to ward herself from evil, she spoke these words.

“The pup is born, the mantle passed. Protect it, and you may yet find your own salvation.”

~ Nina D’Arcangela

© Copyright 2017 Nina D’Arcangela. All Rights Reserved.

Red and Blue

I sit curled up next to the fireplace, my head resting against the surround. A goblet of heavy Merlot in my hand; heavy for its body or heavy for my longing, I cannot say. As I stare into the crackling blaze, my mind wanders. So many memories from years gone by, so much love shared here, in this very room. My soul shrieks with grief as I collapse into a ball, no longer able to hold myself upright; no longer able to stem the wracking sobs.

The fire now a blur through swollen wet eyes, my head lolls and I glance toward the tree with its twinkling lights, glittering ornaments and brightly wrapped packages tucked neatly below. You always were such a perfectionist. My eyes flutter shut as the day you dressed the tree forces itself upon my mind. You were so happy, so excited to pick the largest pine available. I recall joking that one of us would have to move out so the tree could move in. You kissed me with icy cold lips and a bright red nose. Little did I know how soon I would long to feel that frigid touch once more. Your enthusiasm knowing no bounds, you spent the entire day arranging everything just so; making sure the colorful glass baubles were placed with precision, everything to an exacting measure. I’d playfully moved a strand of tinsel while you weren’t watching, only to reenter the room moments later to find it placed back in its original position.

The gifts. Oh, how you tortured me over the gifts long before the season began. A sad smile steals across my lips as I think of the hours you spent fretting over the perfect surprise for each of our friends. As I sip from my glass, a slight chuckle escapes me only to end in a bleat of pain as I recall how you stressed over wrapping each gift in the perfect color foil. God, how you loved this day.

I think back upon the last evening I saw you. I was standing at the island between this room and the kitchen preparing dinner; you remembered one final detail you couldn’t do without. I kissed you as you bounded past me, told you not to be long and that I loved you. You grabbed your coat from the hook, turned to me with purse in hand, golden locks bouncing, and smiled before replying as you always did – not nearly the way I love you. I smiled back; you left. Two hours later, a knock sounded. I wasn’t worried, you often became infatuated with something or other and lost track of time or misplaced your keys. As I moved to open the front door, I noticed the bare flicker of red and blue light drifting in from the balcony. Seeing the officers standing at the threshold, I turned and walked to the glass, placed my forehead to it, and knew in that moment… you were gone. I woke lying upon the couch. The officers explained there’d been an accident at the corner – our corner; a young woman had been hit by a car that ran the red light. You were that young woman.

My eyes crack open seeking a red light on the tree, your tree – our tree. But instead, my sight finds the red fairy lights you used to decorate the balcony. Barely able to stand, I stumble to the sliding doors. As I fumble to open them through my tears, the Merlot in my glass pours onto the white carpet. My addled mind tells me how angry you’ll be if I don’t clean the deep burgundy spill right away; my breath hitches, another sob escapes me. Finally managing the lock, I step through onto the bitterly cold veranda. Standing at the rail, I exist in a halo of red light, my long chestnut mane whipping in the wind; the flush on my cheeks all but gone in a tinted haze. Another balcony, the one next to ours, is adorned in blue twinkling lights. I wonder why I’d not noticed it before. The blue and red lights blur together as my inebriated mind struggles to adjust. Five stories below, more lights glitter, cars rush past; the ground wears a fresh blanket of snow. I’m so tired, and the blanket seems so inviting. Please, don’t go without me – words I should have spoken that night. Letting myself lean forward, the world pitches as my mind screams for release from this sorrow, begs me to join you. I grasp the railing, sink to my knees and crawl back inside. Too much a coward to follow you; too devoted to allow your memory to die.

~ Nina D’Arcangela

© Copyright 2014 Nina D’Arcangela. Revised 2016. All Rights Reserved.