A Whisper of the Axe (Dark Flash Fiction)

The old man swings his axe in an arc up over his head and brings it down hard. There is a wet sound when the blade makes contact. Not at all what he was hoping. And it’s quieter than expected. He decides to keep at it and lifts the axe for another swing. It is tiring work.

~  

Melody walks toward home from the campus bookstore after her closing shift ends. It’s dark outside by 5:30 pm. She doesn’t pass a single person in the first block. A blanket of snow mutes the ambient sound in the deserted streets, the way acoustic fabric panels tame the noise in a recording booth. Between that and her fuzzy earmuffs, she wonders whether she would be able to hear another person walking up behind her. She turns around just to check, feeling silly. No one is there.

Although it may look as if Melody is dressed for the Arctic, it’s just her typical January-in-Wisconsin getup. After five semesters at UW, she had learned that the frigid temperatures are an enemy she should not underestimate. Packing on thick layers is the only way to fight back. Because she is from Nevada, that wasn’t always second-nature.

Her family can’t afford to fly her back home for the holidays, so she embraces these lonely winter breaks on the vacant campus. Melody takes the opportunity to double down on her gym time. Toughen up for next semester. She likes walking too. And besides, she doesn’t trust the buses, what with all the black ice on the roads that’s no doubt hiding underneath the snow. The long icicles clinging to the eaves are proof of that.

Is it the solitude playing tricks on her mind? She feels that she’s in danger and there is a psychopath headed right for her, ready to grab her purse or do worse. She prepares a strategy for the assailant. She recounts the basics of self-defense that she heard in a workshop some years ago.

Avoid physical fighting if at all possible.
Say what you need to to get out of the situation.
Find an object to throw, a wallet, a book, anything.
Flee whenever possible.

But Melody does nothing. There is no one actually here on this block either. She finds it is only shapes and shadows cast off some shrubbery and a post office box. She reaches her apartment building.

~

He should not have used the axe. But he continues nonetheless. The old man is restless. Being a new retiree does that to a person. Sometimes, he becomes so stir crazy that he questions his own sanity.

The little girl sees him chopping. She notices how much the old man is sweating from the work. She walks toward him.

~

Locking the deadbolt and sliding the security chain into its track is what Melody does first (even before flicking the lights on) when she enters her dark, first-floor apartment. She’s glad to be home and ready to get out of her ridiculously puffy coat. She turns, unzipping it with one hand and reaching for the living room lamp with the other. But she freezes mid-motion. There is a man sitting in her armchair across the room. Sitting in the dark. His silhouette–whoever he is–looks strong. His left ankle rests on his right knee.

Maybe ninety-nine out of one hundred women would have screamed or ran immediately. Melody doesn’t even breathe. Time slows and she processes a dozen thoughts at once. Thoughts about whether she knows him, whether he knows she’s spotted him.

She’s managed to numb the memory of a past trauma for the better part of a decade. But now–in the midst of this silent stand-off with a man who has apparently broken into her apartment–that horrible day comes back to her. It was the day of the big family reunion on Grandpa’s farm in northern Wisconsin. It’s so vivid she can smell the pine trees even now.

~

The old man continues chopping at a large section of a pine tree trunk that is laying on the ground. The little girl sees him grunting, sweating, cupping his hand over his aching side, and comes closer to watch.

“Whatcha doing, Grandpa?”

“Well, Melody girl, I thought everyone might enjoy a bonfire later tonight.” They are near the edge of Grandpa’s farm property which includes a small forest of pine trees. In the distance, all the other family members and their significant others are gathered around red-and-white tableclothed picnic tables, laughing and carrying on. Some others play a spirited game of badminton. “I’m trying to make us some fire logs, but the sap hasn’t had a chance to dry up from this here tree I cut down not too long ago.” He gestures for his granddaughter to bend down and see the sap. “And it’s still wet from the rainstorm on Thursday. Wouldn’t even be worth burning like this, if I can manage to light it. It’d be all smoke. Make everyone’s eyes itch.” Melody looks up at him wonderingly. She politely listens. “That’s life, kiddo. When she’s just right and all dried up, the wood’ll crack apart with a whisper of the axe. But when she don’t wanna be cracked, when her mind’s made up, you’re fightin’ a losing battle.” Grandpa’s philosophizing is over Melody’s head. He picks up his axe and starts back toward the other relatives.

Melody hears someone calling to her from the woods. She walks a ways into the trees and recognizes the man’s face. He waves. She can’t remember who he is, but would later learn he was the boyfriend of a second cousin.

He tells her there is a very, very special spot in the forest. She goes willingly. The man then explains that the little girl can do a very, very good deed for him. God loves when children do good deeds for their elders, he says. The deed itself isn’t fun and the man makes her promise to shut her eyes very, very tight and that he would put her jeans right back on just as soon as she was done doing helping him like a very, very good girl.

The helping doesn’t last long, but the sick feeling Melody has afterwards lingers for years and years.

~

She speculates whether there is anyone in that armchair at all. The man shifts just enough to convince her that he is real and not imagined. There is indeed a man in the darkness. Waiting.

What is he going to do to me? She wonders. What!?

Nothing, she decides. She’ll be damned if anyone’s going to hurt her or lay a filthy fucking finger on her ever again.

Melody turns and unlocks the deadbolt and the safety chain in one graceful movement. She leaps outside and slams her apartment door shut. She clambors to wedge a patio chair up under the door knob then considers fleeing at full speed. Her mind changes when she eyes a hanging icicle that is almost three feet long. It takes her four tries before she can snap it off the eaves.

The intruder kicks at Melody’s apartment door a couple times before stopping. For a moment, Melody waits in silence with the giant icicle in her leather-gloved hands. She then hears a noise from the side of her building. He is coming out through the bedroom window, she realizes.

As soon as the man’s feet hit the ground, he comes face-to-face with Melody. She screams and lunges forward, burying the heavy icicle into the man’s eye socket.

Leaving the man laid out and spilling blood, Melody runs down the street. She mumbles to herself, hysterical (unable to manage tears which would pour from her face hours later, after all the police questioning is finalized).

“You’re not…not gonna crack me…not all dried up…no. Made up my mind. Never, ever, ever again.”

She takes her cell out of her pocket and dials 9-1-1.    

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21 thoughts on “A Whisper of the Axe (Dark Flash Fiction)

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  1. I actually placed the book I was reading on my lap when I got a notification that you had posted …. and the interruption to my Pulitzer Prize winning Author’s flow was WELL worth it. You held my attention, a solid tale with a dark underbelly. You are a damn fine story teller 💟💟

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    1. D, take a stab at how many times I’ve reread this comment of yours? Well, a lot. I lost count. I am speechless and unworthy of this. You make a girl want to be a better writer!!! I will see if I can try, after I get my tongue untied from this incredibly wonderful compliment you paid me here. xoxoxo. May you have the best week and thank you endlessly for your support!

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  2. This is beyond words. So captivating, it held me wholly from start till end. So amazingly weaved. What a lovely name the girl has, ‘Melody’ and she is really very strong. Loved this. May Allah bless you.

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    1. Muuuuuuuuuun!! AA WRWB! Oh I agonize over naming characters. I try to avoid it and not give names if at all possible and the fact that it was a decent choice in your eyes makes me happy. For some reason your approval means a lot to me. Idk why. I just respect you. Yes so names are a sticking point for me in my writing, one of many sticking points. Thanks for mentioning the strength. I wanted a “fighting back” story so hopefully it worked. May Allah bless you continuously and make your very clear gifts / talents known and entertaining and teaching many observers for many years to come! Jazakiallahu khair girrrlll! ❤

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      1. Wa alaykum Assalam wa rahmatullahi wa barkhatahu. I did observe that you generally don’t name your characters, but really ‘Melody’ is such a lovely name.
        We are sitting in different corners of the world, connected by a mere virtual screen. But somehow it is not just that. I too respect you a lot.
        It was a really nice story. You have a gift of writing so beautifully, mashallah. Barakallah hu feekum

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Newsflash Mariam, YOU’VE ALREADY ARRIVED! Who told you, who decided you need to rise to some level that I am at years from today!? Nah-ah sistah. You iz already there and then some more than me even! And still though, I lower my head and clutch my heart and cannot even believe how awesome of a compliment you just gave me about this. Do I even deserve it? Wow is that even possible? Have I mentioned how much I like writing!!? and when someone like you with your amazing humor and wit and prose-weaving tells me they have some goal towards me? like Subhanallah, how is that even real!? Have the best week, Allah Hafiz, and keep in touch and keep writing and keep shining!

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  3. This is really compelling! You share so much good character development here, and the story is powerful. There’s lots of effective tension, too. Well done!

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    1. Margot my dear friend, I am so glad. I bet you know quite a bit about tension. I hope to learn much more from you about how to create better suspense and action. Happy Blogging! God Bless! Have a fabulous week. You are much appreciated by me.

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        1. I am so happy you found my writing and took the time to let me know that. I’m not even kidding. Made my day! Also, I must’ve clicked on something that made me think you are connected with the Ladies of Horror Fiction on Instagram? Am I wrong? I have been following that page for a while and got really excited when you commented. And what you said means a lot more coming from a person who has published multiple times. I hope to attain the level with my writing that you have. I’ve followed your instagram and maybe in time I will learn a little more about the multiple pathways to publishing. The only experience I have with publishing is virtually just rejections from Dark Fiction magazines. And I suppose many of those were way out of my league. Anyway. Thanks again. ❤ Glad to have connected with your sites now!

          Liked by 1 person

          1. I’m surprised to hear about the rejections, but I’m glad to hear you’re putting your work out there. You have a unique talent. I just came across this call and thought it might be a good fit for you https://sirenscallpublications.wordpress.com/2019/01/05/open-submissions-the-sirens-call-issue-43-wihm10-horror-opencall-reprintswelcome-fiction/ I’m no expert in publishing either. I’ve self-published my novellas and was part of a crowdfunded anthology. I have only begun submitting to agents and publishers because up until now I was too insecure to try! I’m still figuring this whole writing thing out, but we writers have got to have each other’s backs. I’m so glad I came across your blog!

            Liked by 1 person

            1. I am so grateful you told me about this submission call. I sent them a story tonight. Either way this time around goes for me, thanks again and I appreciate the support. Really sweet of you to take the time to do that for another writer. Bless you!

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