Flash fiction: Sign by Val Muller



Welcome to the Spot Writers. This month’s prompt is to write something that includes a spider—either real, mentioned, or metaphorical. Today’s tale comes to us from Val Muller, author of the Corgi Capers kidlit mystery series.

Sign

Val Muller

“He always said he’d leave a sign,” she whispered to her mug of tea. With the splash of honey, it was the only calories she’d had in four days, and the sugar was making her head whirl.

She looked up at the orb weaver reflecting the last rays of sun in the darkening autumn evening. “Damn it, come on,” she said, her voice startlingly loud. Her throat hurt. Did she need more liquids?

She pushed off the wooden porch with her foot, making the bench swing. The chains creaked against the ceiling hooks. She pulled her blanket tighter around her. The bench felt too big without Ryan.

“I’ll hold a séance,” she mused. “He can talk to me then.” She wondered if she still had her Ouija Board, the one that had freaked out her mother, the one her mother said had to be out of the house, or else. Her mother hated that kind of thing. She’d lied about getting rid of it, stowed it under her bed, and then went off to college. Did she still have it somewhere, maybe? Had she packed it when her parents died?

Then again, who would she have a séance with? It was just the kind of thing Ryan would love. Talk of death was one of the things that brought them together. They loved all things Ouija: tarot cards, walking through graveyards, speaking of reincarnation and the Great Beyond. They laughed at films like Beetlejuice and promised each other that whoever died first would send signs to the other.

“It can’t be that hard,” he’d said. After all, there’d been ghosts for as long as humans had been dying. Ghosts in dreams, ghosts in the dark, ghosts in the mind. Ghosts in his work at the hospital. He’d heard dying patients call out to lost loved ones and claim to see ancestors they’d never even met. It happened all the time.

“It can’t be that hard,” she repeated, thinking again of her Ouija Board.

But he was gone now. Her friends… she had pushed them away to be with Ryan. She couldn’t just call them up out of the blue and expect them to come over to summon ghosts, could she?

She looked again at the spider. It just sat there, in the middle of the web, doing nothing. Her mind traveled back to childhood, to Charlotte’s Web. Why does a pig get a messenger spider, and I get—nothing?

He’d never mentioned marriage, but she always assumed their relationship would get there eventually. He was literally her everything. They had spoken of moving in together, of saving rent money to buy a house.

Her stomach growled, then churned in nausea. She knew she should eat, but damn it, Ryan would never eat again, and so why should she? Maybe she could shrivel up smaller and smaller until she disappeared into a gossamer puff of air, a ghost. Then they could be together again.

Her thoughts swirled and swirled. The tea was doing nothing for her throat. Why did it hurt so much?, she wondered. Or maybe she spoke the question aloud. Maybe she had been speaking aloud these four days. Maybe that was why her throat burned. But this tea sure as hell wasn’t doing anything for her throat. The tea was as uncaring as the universe.

In a flash of inspiration, she splashed the tea at the spider web, holding the mug tightly as she watched the sticky tea cling to what was left of the web after the liquid assault. The motion-censor porch light turned on now against the darkened sky. She watched the beads of tea drip, drip, drip. What shape would they make? What sign would they provide?

She squinted at the web.

Not a god damned thing.

A shuffle of footsteps came up the porch. How dare someone disturb her concentration! Of all times, why at this moment? One of the drops of tea was starting to take the shape of… a moon? A mole? No, a shoe? A shoe stepped on the drop of tea.

She looked up.

A figure blocked the web. It was a twenty-something standing there with a pizza box, a backpack, and a sleeping bag rolled up on top. “Hi,” she said. “You must be Eleanor. I’m Maggie. I’m moving in upstairs.” She pointed to the third-floor apartment that had been marked “for rent” for a few weeks now.

Eleanor looked up. She hadn’t even noticed the “for rent” sign had disappeared from the window.

Maggie laughed. “I feel kind of silly, but my brother is helping me with his truck tomorrow, so all I have tonight is a sleeping bag, my laptop, and a change of clothes. I figured I’d eat pizza on the floor, then do some yoga and hope morning comes fast. I don’t even have a lamp!”

Eleanor blinked.

“But it’s better than sleeping in my car.”

Eleanor tried to stop breathing. Could people will themselves not to?

“Or, I could eat the pizza here on the porch? Are you hungry? The landlord said it’s a shared porch, but if I’m overstepping my bounds…”

Eleanor peeked behind Maggie at the spider web. It was a sticky mess, and the orb weaver had skittered out of sight. Was this her sign? This? This girl? This Maggie person? Could it be so mundane as pizza on a porch and yoga in a darkened apartment?

Maggie had already sat down on the porch swing and placed her pack and sleeping bag against the door. “Want a slice?” she offered, opening the pizza box on her lap.

Eleanor’s stomach growled without her permission. The large pizza box felt warm against her knee.

Maggie laughed. “I’ll take that as a yes.”

Eleanor watched her hand work without her permission. Okay, so she was holding a pizza. It weighed a million pounds. She would take a bite, and either her stomach would rebel and she would commit to wasting away to nothingness, or it would taste delicious…and if that unlikely scenario happened, she would have to figure out what to do next.

Maggie leaned back and bit into the pizza. “Mmmm,” she said. Then she looked up at the porch. “Oh, an orb weaver. They’re my favorite. I know, right? It’s weird for a girl to like spiders. My dad always said they were good luck. Something about new beginnings. I’ve always found them fascinating.”

Eleanor looked from Maggie to the spider to her pizza. She took a slow, deep breath. She inhaled the scent of cheese. It was an individual moment, an olfactory one. Nothing else. A small, distant part of her knew it was the first moment she hadn’t been thinking about Ryan, and there was something freeing about that. Then she took a very small bite of pizza and braced herself for the worst.

She chewed.

The universe hung in the balance.

The pizza tasted delicious.

#

The Spot Writers—Our Members:

Val Muller: http://valmuller.com/blog/

Catherine A. MacKenzie: https://writingwicket.wordpress.com/wicker-chitter/

Phil Yeats: https://alankemisterauthor.wordpress.com

Chiara De Giorgi: https://chiaradegiorgi.blogspot.ca/

 

valm16.sg-host.com

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