Flirting with the Dark
April had to get her daughter away from this farm.
Her husband, Frank, and his father—Papa BB, as
he insisted on being called—were preparing to brand the new herd of cattle. Soon there would be the
sounds of pain, the smell of burning flesh. April had seen her first
branding shortly after she married Frank.
She had been
halfway through her
pregnancy and the image of it never left her: Frank huddled over a prostrate cow, sweat dripping from his face, features tight and intense. I would add more description here about the branding to justify April's horror and fear
April still dreamed of the smoking iron advancing on her, aimed at
her swollen belly. Describe the dream a bit more. 1-2 sentences is sufficient to build tension. Perhaps add how it changed.
You need some transition between her thoughts and the action
She went outside to
the large pen where Frank and Papa BB were wheeling out the portable furnace and laying out the branding irons and ropes. Spring was on the air A bit generic; look into trying for a fresher (ha) phrase
. Like a hint of something sweet and fresh to clear away the stagnancy of winter like
a warm hug cleared away despair.
Papa BB was out in the field rounding up the herd. 1 sentence to set up setting and describe scene further.
Frank leaned against the pen's steel railings, cigarette in hand. 1 sentence to describe where he is.
He let the smoke slither up from his lips and over his thick ugly mustache. It was unfashionable one that college kids might grow as a gag. But Frank liked to think of himself as the only true cowboy still standing in the tamed west.
The reason I'm asking you to add a little sentence is to set the scene (which can be its own metaphor) and to provide more detail about the story's setting
“Whatchya bundled up for?” Frank said as April approached. “Y-you wanna help?” He grinned at her as
though April were a very small child.
“Just came to say I'm taking Mel down to the beach.”
Frank stared at her a bit before he
nodded. “You know one day she'll have to see.”
“She'll decide when. I explained again last night what you were doing. She doesn't want to see.”
“Oh yeah?” He pushed off the railing and staggered toward April, his bad leg dragging in the mud. “And what'd you tell her? That I hur—that I h-hurt the cattle?” He took a long drag. The smoke clouded his face. “That what you said? You tell her I like to hurt? I enjoy
April watched the cigarette's amber tip and, unconsciously, rubbed at the tiny scar on her forearm. She shook her head. “No, I didn't say that.” She watched the cigarette carefully.
Frank chortled without mirth. “I'm not gonna b-burn you.” He tossed the butt and waved April away. “Get outta here. You're gonna spook the herd.”
On the upward trek back to the farm I assume?
, April decided that today she would finally broach, with Melanie, the subject of marriage and love. She tried to prepare the right words in her head. Marriage isn't always forever.
No, too direct. You see, honey, two people can love and still hurt each other.
Not gentle enough.
April never was much of a word smith.
I'm leaving your father and you're coming with me.
She found Melanie sitting cross-legged in the middle/corner/side of
her blue-wall, black-ceiling bedroom, drawing on her arms with Magic Markers. “Come on,” April said. “We're going down to the ocean.”
Melanie's eyes widened and her mouth opened upwards
. “Can we bring a picnic?”
She dropped the Marker and dashed off to find her little woolen pony. No doubt, it was suffocating in some dirty crevice under the couch or in the
back of a cupboard. Melanie and Tickles “The Pony” McScratch often
played hide-and-seek, and Tickles usually managed to evade capture for days at a time. Melanie claimed he changed places while she looked.
homemade cheese and dried fruits and a few packets of ketchup that Melanie liked to spread on apple slices into a wicker basket (try and avoid passive voice)
. The pair set off. April made Melanie hold her hand while they baby-stepped along the gently-sloped,
. This was
despite the fact
an eight-year-old who walked to the bus stop alone by herself
, and did like really grown-up things at school, and hadn't actually seen
a cougar but was completely prepared
to see one and confront it if that's how the cards were dealt. ...what? I changed it to make more sense but I doubt I conveyed the original intent.
When the driveway
levelled, April let Melanie scamper ahead. There were hundreds of dandelions and other nameless weeds poking up through the gravel, and April inconspicuously
began timing her strides to step on as many of them as she could. It was her little pleasure
. She liked
the precise placement of her feet and the little twist of the heel as she flattened each organism but she especially loved
the secrecy of it. She stopped considering why a long while ago.
The main road was like a serpent Again, cliche
. It endlessly
twisted along the coastline, the pavement cracked and flaking from decades of harsh weather. The evergreens lining both sides of the road rattled and hissed as they were
shaken by the ocean breeze.
Melanie pointed up at a douglas fir. “Thomas said these are called monkey trees, because monkeys like to live in them.” Her expression became grave and almost cynical. “I said, 'Thomas, no. They're not called monkey trees. They're dugglefurs. My mom told me and she knows every tree.'” She took April's mittened hand and squeezed it. Idly she asked, “Have you seen a monkey—like, in real life?”
“My father took us to the zoo once. But
when everyone went to the monkey hut I stayed behind. I didn't want to see them.”
Melanie looked genuinely perplexed. “Why?”
“I think it's wrong to keep such smart animals in a cage.”
“Oh.” She tightened her grip on April's hand and fell into a thoughtful silence. “But at least they'll never get eaten by crocodiles.”
April shrugged. “Yeah, I guess
Heavy wind swept across the beach. It rippled the water and combed the tall grass smooth. It shook the blackberry bushes lining the shore, producing *find a better word--'producing' is too mechanical, controlled)
a dry rattle like that of a poltergeist's breath. Across the water, above the long peninsula jutting out into the ocean, a score of crows played on the air-currents, dive-bombing each other in mock battle.
“Stay close, all right?” April tried to affect a degree of sternness. “I'll be right here looking for stones.”
Melanie helped enthusiastically for awhile, bent way low in a sort of chicken walk. She presented to April first what she called a world rock
, which was blue-green swirled and ovular from certain angles, and then a host of other stones Melanie pretended would power an anti-pollution machine that cleansed
the air and churned
it out minty-fresh just like toothpaste did
. When she considered her mission complete, Melanie took off toward the peninsula's tall grass, Tickles “The Pony” McScratch in tow.
April watched Melanie run with her arms in wings
, long hair floating and twisting in the wind behind her
. Not for the first time April thought that was
how a mother bird must feel watching her baby take a
successful flight from the nest. An oil-water combination of pride and loss. April had been so young when her stomach tell-taledly
ballooned. At first
that slight bulge in her mid-riff hadn't
a child in her mind. It was an iron prison-ball she carried inside of her. The invisible
chain extended to Frank's hand and he could tug at her whenever he pleased. But when Melanie was born, those feelings had disappeared. Frank had somehow become tolerable.
But now, April felt as though she and Melanie both were prisoners. Or cattle. Just two more heads under Frank's scrutinous watch. Letting the days idle by. Waiting for slaughter.
April filled two tall mason jars with distinct stones. She would sell them at market as necklaces, or bracelets, or perhaps fitted as the twinkling eyes of a wood-carven cat. Her stomach gnawed at itself as she set the glass jars carefully into the wicker basket. She set off toward the peninsula, where Melanie had just moments ago wandered out of sight.
“Me-el,” she called. “Your picnic's getting eaten!”
The scream, moments later, was like glass erupting (that is a strange metaphor)
. The sound of it hung in the air and echoed around the bay and came back faintly. April froze mid-step for just a fraction. Another scream, this one muffled. April threw the basket off to her side and ran like fire was at her heels, toward the peninsula where a flock of crows exploded
into the sky, blackening it, as Melanie's screaming continued, shattering the silence.
April found Melanie scurrying through the tall grass, low to the ground, and two crows tearing down toward her. The crows finally scattered as April reached Melanie. There was blood all down her arm. The gash—ripped by beak or talon—ran long and deep. Melanie's whole body tremored as she looked unfocused up at April. “There was a baby bird,” she whispered, over and over again
. “There was a baby bird...
I-I was only trying to help it.”
April, slipping out of her sweater, told Melanie to be silent. “We're going to get you home,” she said. “Don't talk. We're getting you home.”
And she wrapped the sweater tight around Melanie's upper arm and tied it off. But
the blood still flowed strong. The wound ran deep as bone. It was too wide. Melanie's face had already paled. She shook as though every bit of warmth had bled from her.
April tore across the beach with her baby cradled in her arms. She was numb to the pain in her lungs, to
the too-bright technicolor making everyone
two-dimensional. “Don't talk,” she wheezed when
squinting up at her. “Don't—don't say—anything.”
When April burst into the farmhouse five minutes later, Melanie's eyes were closed.
“Frank!” she screamed. He came running from the kitchen.
“Oh my—f-fuck,” he said. “What have you—?!”
“Shut up! The keys, Frank. Give me the keys!”
“Hold on!” He took Melanie's pulse at her neck. “She's in shock already, her heart's barely there.” April tried to say something. “No, April—the hospital's almost an hour drive. You know
that. We have to stop the bleeding.”
“We have to leave now!”
He grabbed her shoulders roughly and shook her. “She'll die in the car if we don't stop the bleeding. Now give me my little girl!”
handed Melanie over—and Frank wheeled through the front door and took off toward the barn. April followed, stumbling over her own numbed legs. She followed him to the large pen where the furnace still smoldered, a few branding irons submerged in the embers. He lay Melanie down beside the furnace. (I would add description; make it more dreamy/crazy/tense)
“What are you doing, Frank?!”
He untied the sweater. “I'm cauterizing the wound.”
April grabbed one of his arms. “She'll bleed out if there's no pressure!”
He fought against her grip.
“Frank, she'll bleed out
And Frank pushed his weight back against her, elbowed her
, and sent her sprawling back into the mud. Frantic, she grabbed one of the branding irons from the furnace and crazily brandished
it. “Get away from her!” she screamed. “Stop what you're doing!”
He finished exposing the wound. Frank stood to his full height and glared at April with animalistic intensity. His voice was barely more than a whisper. “I will kill you, woman, before I let my daughter die.” His eyes were moist with tears. “She'll die if we don't seal the wound. Now put that down and help
April dropped the iron, numb, and went to Melanie's side, sobbing quietly now, while Frank retrieved the other branding iron and brought it over. The tip, a huge cursive F
, glowered at April.
“Hold the arm still now,” Frank said. His voice wavered
The iron slammed