author’s note: this was the first story i wrote after the great divide of my creativity. i spent years doubting myself, not wanting to write, not wanting to create. in june of 2016, i joined the subreddit NoSleep. a few days later, sitting in the corner of a bar i worked in at the time, i wrote this story on my phone. it’s terribly cliche and not very well-written, but it marks an important time in my life, and i’m thankful for it.
I bustled around the brightly-lit kitchen, my red sundress with the white flowers flapping around my knees. Stephen would be home in just over an hour and I wanted to make sure I had a proper dinner finished and waiting before he stepped through the door, shrugging the day’s stresses off of his shoulders. New accounts had him working 60 hour weeks and it was obviously taking a toll.
The buzzer on the oven went off, indicating that the rosemary-garlic bread (my personal specialty and one of Stephen’s favorites) had about 20 minutes left to bake to golden perfection. I could hear faint popping noises coming from the oven, but chalked it up to age – we really needed to replace a few of our appliances over the next month. Plus, I’d never messed up a loaf and I really needed to get started on the teriyaki marinade.
Turning to the cutting board, a cute, quaint thing in the shape of a bitten apple, I began pouring seasonings and sauces into the glass dish, showering three large pink chicken breasts with a well-practiced hand. I’d made this meal so many times I could practically do it with my eyes closed. Reaching to grab the baster, I stopped and stared at the now black and green-peppered chicken. It seemed to be… quivering? I unconsciously reached out an uncertain hand and lightly touched the middle one. The quivering stopped. I blinked. I was imagining things. I really needed to get more sleep. Too many late nights staying up watching tv recently. A sigh escaped my lips as I heard another series of pops from the oven. Stupid old thing.
I glanced at the clock. 4:58 flashed a few times, mocking me. I had enough time, but I was cutting it close.
The buzzer sounded – 10 minutes left.
The potatoes were done, the bread almost so, I really only needed to get the chicken in the oven and throw together a salad and I could break into my first glass of Cabernet. A faint pain throbbed in my arm and I rubbed it. Fatigue. Bleh. Yawning, I put the kettle on the stove and grabbed a bag of green tea – seriously, no tv tonight. Well… maybe one or two episodes. But no more. Self control? Never heard of it!
Picking up my favorite knife from the set Stephen’s parents had gifted us for our second anniversary, I turned back to the chicken and began to cut the marinated breasts into neat strips. One of them slipped (jumped, almost) and slid across the glass bottom of the dish. There was far more juice than I’d intended, probably from the soy sauce. Ugh, I hated messing up my recipe. Oh well, no time to redo anything now.
Suddenly, I heard the front door open and close. They let Stephen off early! I’d wanted to have the food done by the time he got home but at least now we could have a drink together while the chicken baked.
“Hi honey!”, I called out.
The buzzer sounded – the bread was finished. Golden perfection.
Footsteps approached the kitchen and the kettle started to whistle. Out of nowhere, with a jolt, I was on the floor, my head rocking off of the green and white cabinets.
My arm throbbed. My head split into resounding echoes of pain. The kettle whistled louder.
Reeling, I looked around, groggily coming out of my high. The needle and spoon lie strewn in the middle of the floor.
The kettle whistle stuttered and became even more shrill.
My head moved up as though underwater. Black shoes in front of me, twitching with deep heaves. Black pants above them. Belt. Shirt. My eyes finally settled on Mr. Young’s face, contorted with fury and grief and a thousand other jumbled emotions.
He and Mrs. Young weren’t supposed to be home for another two hours.
Black, rancid smoke billowed from the oven, no longer making popping noises.
The kettle screamed and hitched and sobbed and screamed and I looked to the living room doorway to realize it was Mrs. Young, bent over with vomit down her dark blue dress.
A drop of thick red liquid fell on my arm and I glanced up to see a miniature hand hanging over the edge of the counter, the fingers just barely moving.
Just before the darkness overcame my vision, my head slumped into my chest and I saw a red collar with a silver tag in the shape of a bone, sitting in front of the oven.
My eyelids fluttered and slid shut. Mrs. Young screamed. My arm throbbed.