I started challenging myself with quick stories based off a first impression from a photograph. I allow myself a time limit and write until times up. Whatever comes out, comes out. After having a few people request a bit more of last week's story Ramshackle, here is part two. It is unedited and rough. My goal is simply to stir my brain, not produce perfection. I attached the beginning and the second part is in red, for those who just want to scroll down. Thanks for looking.
Twenty-five years slipped away the minute Claire Davenport caught a glimpse of her childhood playhouse tucked in the far reaches of her family farm. Her feet rooted to the forest floor while her eyes surveyed the place she vowed to leave behind and never return. Despite the overgrowth and ramshackle appearance, it was as if she’d never left.
“Do you want to go back?” her husband, Michael, asked.
Claire clutched his hand without tearing her attention from the shack. “No, I want to do this.” She exhaled and forged a smile. “I can do this.”
She may have wanted to push through her doubt, but her mind refused. Claire stood frozen, gripped by the memories of her sister and the last time they’d been in this very spot. A moderate breeze stirred the leaves in front of her, lifting them high in a circular dance.
“She’s here.” Claire’s voice mingled with the sounds of the fluttering leaves. “I can feel her.”
With one careful step after the next, she ambled forward. Michael lumbered behind, his heavy footfalls offering his wife reassurance and safety. The smell of time bit at her nose as she neared the door. Claire balled her fists and turned around to face Michael—she was ready.
“Are you sure you want to go in there? There’s no telling what’s roaming around.” Claire nodded. “Help me up.”
Michael hopped onto the porch and peered inside before offering her a hand up.
He lifted her onto the stoop and stepped back allowing her full access into the playhouse. She rubbed her palms against the front of her jeans then held her breath as she pushed the door open. The hinges shouted their resistance with a piercing shriek, sending her heart racing, but it didn’t stop her curiosity.
“Stay away from the center,” Michael said, “the flooring looks in bad shape.”
Claire eyed the bowed floorboards and hugged the walls as she wandered through the room. She searched her memories to transform the dank interior into the cottage she remembered. It once was the envy of all the girls in town, if only they knew the real price of such a luxury. Claire crouched down and picked up a brittle fragment of the pink and red rose-filled wallpaper.
“My mother and I picked this out,” she said, “Lizzy hated flowers, but my mother insisted a girl’s dollhouse needed frilly white curtains and tea-roses on the wall.”
Michael leaned against the doorframe and smiled. “You’re still a girly-girl.”
Claire looked down at her three inch heels and shrugged. “Lizzy and I used to play in here for hours every day—hiding mostly.” Her face grew solemn. “It’s smaller than I remembered.”
“Are you sure you’re okay?”
Claire inhaled and nodded as she returned to a standing. “No, I’m . . .” She paused as her eyes found her reflection in the window on the opposite wall. She inched forward, stepping over branches and debris, until she stood directly in front of the window. She lifted her trembling hand to her cheek and titled her head. “Even with the same face, Lizzy and I were as different as petticoats and blue jeans.”
“Claire? You in there?” a man’s voice roared through the shack.
Claire whipped around, her eyes wide. “He’s here.”
Michael held his hands out in a calming gesture. “Let me take care of this.”
“I can’t face him. Not yet.”
She watched her husband jump onto the ground and wander out of view. “I’m Michael, Claire’s husband.” She turned her head, straining to hear.
“Claire! Get out here. Let me take a look at you.”
“If you’ll give her a moment—“
“I’m her damn father, now move your ass.”
Claire stepped backwards as the sounds of cracking sticks and rustling leaves sent pinpricks across her spine. There was nowhere to run and hide. The man she vowed to never lay eyes on again stood only yards away. She straightened up, fighting the numbness in her limbs.
“Come on, out with ya.” Her father appeared and extended a weedy arm disguised as a welcome.
She stood transfixed, her eyes washing over the withered man before her. The beastly image she had stored away faded as pity took hold. He shifted the weight on his wooden crutch without taking his gaze off her. A stir of gratification roiled her insides: she never thought she’d see the day when her father became the defenseless one.
Her curiosity carried her feet toward him, one wobbly step after the next. She called on Lizzy to guide her, give her strength to finally slay the dragon.
“Jump. I got you.” Michael held his hand up to her.
Claire glanced down at her husband and smiled. She slipped her hand in his and squeezed once. She saw the worry weighing on his brow and knew he was desperate for reassurance. He was the only person who knew the pain this moment held, but he didn’t know everything. The heaviness of such truths was her own to bear—her consequence for what happened to Lizzy.
After gaining her footing, Claire turned toward the man who gave her life then threatened to take it away more times than she remembered. “Pop.” She nodded, regarding him with the blandest of gestures.
Her father split the distance between them and drew her into his bony frame. “You grow’d up real pretty.” He beamed. “Ain’t she pretty.”
Michael pulled Claire from her father’s clutches in a subtle yet protective movement. “Yes, she’s”—he gazed into her eyes and smiled—“she’s real pretty.” The weight of Michael’s hand on the small of her back tipped her lips and incited more confidence. But, confidence or not, she didn’t know how long she could keep up this modest bravado.
“I didn’t come here for you. I thought you should know that.” Claire struggled to maintain eye contact.
Any sort of joy diminished as her father lifted his hat and raked his fingers through the thinning white strands on his head. “Came here to cause trouble, did ya?” He returned the hat to his head and pursed his lips. That puckered sneer haunted many of her dreams.
“I’m here for Lizzy and mama.”
“Hmph. Well, good luck to ya then,” he growled and pushed passed her.
Claire watched her father hobble away. “That was too easy.”
“Maybe he’s different.”
“No. He’s up to something.” Claire bit at the soft skin around the nail of her ring finger—a habit of long ago. “He knows why I’m here.”
“But you never told anyone the real reason for your visit, did you?”
“No.” She wrapped her arms around her body. “But he knows. Somehow how he knows.”
“My father wouldn’t know the meaning of the word guilt.”
Claire waited until Pop was out of sight before making her way around the back of the playhouse. She used her hand to swipe away the overgrowth, revealing a small dirt path. Visions of two giggling sisters leaping through the brush, with makeshift swords and newspaper hats, swirled in her mind. Lizzy’s games had always been the best. Perhaps because she relied on her imaginary world to see her through the darkness that usually shrouded her. Either way, Lizzy loved to play make-believe. Claire walked deep in the woods, following her memories and the winding trail to the secret place—the fateful place.
The twisting and churning of her stomach was the first clue that she’d travelled far enough. The second, could’ve been missed if she hadn’t been looking for it. A large rock lay atop a pile of smaller stones. She swallowed and turned to find Michael, who was a few yards away. When their eyes met, he quickened his pace. If her facial expression mirrored the turmoil in her body, he wouldn’t waste time. He’d know she needed him.
With Michael by her side, she meandered through the quaking aspens and knelt over the small mound of earth and stone. She regarded it for a moment, holding back the tears from stealing her courage. Her trembling hand reached for the large rock and brushed away the dirt and debris of the forest. Then, her same quivering hand covered her mouth as her eyes fell on the painted cross and the name John.