Tim McMullen's Missives and Tomes

Monday, October 30, 2017

The Hill - A Short Story for Halloween

A Short Story by Tim McMullen

This is a preview of an eleven story collection of humor, horror, fantasy, sci-fi, and satire entitled, So It’s All Done With Mirrors? That’s No Reflection on You! The collection was originally submitted as my final project for the completion of my Master of Arts in English, with an Emphasis in Creative Writing, from CSU Fullerton.
The Hill” is an attempt to continue a line of stories that have a similar impulse. Ray Bradbury acknowledged his debt to the lineage in his introduction to The Collected Stories of John Collier. The original story that Bradbury cites is “Sredni Vashtar” by Saki; I would argue, however, that this piece is preceded by several of Ambrose Bierce’s stories found in his brief collection, The Parenticide Club, including “Oil of Dog” and “My Favorite Murder.” In the continuum, the Saki story was followed by Collier’s “Thus I Refute Beelzy,” Lewis Padgett’s (pseudonymn of husband and wife writing team, Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore) “Mimsy Were the Borogroves,” and Bradbury’s own “The Veldt,” “Zero Hour,” and “The Small Assassin.” My piece is a bit more ambiguous than these pieces, but I think it explores a similar experience although perhaps from a rather different point of view; i.e., not the kid!
For those who will be wondering, the literary catch phrases in this story are from the following pieces, in order of appearance:
The Little Engine That Could” or “The Pony Engine,” the Children’s Tale
The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
Rapunzel,” the Fairy Tale
Most Bugs Bunny Looney Tunes
The Three Little Pigs,” the Fairy Tale
Little Red Riding Hood,” the Fairy Tale
Little Red Riding Hood,” the Fairy Tale
The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Snow White,” the Fairy Tale
The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Chicken Little,” the Fairy Tale
Ding Dong the Witch is Dead!” by Harold Arlen and “Yip” Harburg from
The Wizard of Oz, the Movie
Alice, Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll
Jack and the Beanstalk,” the Fairy Tale
Billy Goat Gruff,” the Fairy Tale
Alice, Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll
Ding Dong the Witch is Dead!” by Harold Arlen and “Yip” Harburg from
The Wizard of Oz, the Movie
Ding Dong the Witch is Dead!” by Harold Arlen and “Yip” Harburg from
The Wizard of Oz, the Movie
A Short Story by Tim McMullen ©1982 Tim McMullen All Rights Reserved

The picnic was her idea. One last attempt at a reconciliation, she had told herself. I think I can…I think I can….
Jeff, of course, was overjoyed at the suggestion.
That’s the ticket, Jody,” he said, his initial surprise instantly effervescing into an almost adolescent joy. “That’s just what this family needs—a little frolic—a day in the park!”
He slapped his knee lightly with the Sports Illustrated he'd been flipping through and then dropped the magazine into the rack beside his recliner. His drooping, rust-blonde, “Wild-Bill” mustache twitched up and down as his tentative grin flickered itself into a full-faced smile. Secretly, Jody had hoped that the suggestion would coax one of Jeffrey’s smiles, and, moth-like, she fluttered toward him.
I’ll go and tell the munchkin to get ready,” he said as he raised himself from the chair.
Nol” she cried; then, realizing how it must have sounded, she tried to soften it by adding, “Wait just a minute, okay?
Let’s just sit and talk for a few seconds before we get ready to go.” There’s no place like home...there’s no place like home....
Regaining the recliner, he perched on the edge and regarded her quizzically.
Okay, shootl” he said.
She walked over and knelt down beside him. She didn’t really want to talk; she just wanted.... Wondering up into his face, her eyes glimmered confusedly from beneath their lashes. His mustache now framed a careless, beach boy grin.
She followed the lines of that grin to his temple. Only a few weeks earlier she had found several white hairs sequestered in his sideburns. She wasn’t sure why, but she had chosen not to mention them to him. She found the hairs again instantly, but this time she smiled to herself. These singular, hoary intruders were like a lone blanket of albinos surrounded by a beach of sun-bronzed surfers. Flecks of gold shimmered from the feathery blue depths of Jeffrey’s eyes, but a triple furrow ruffled his brow. Unable to alleviate his look of bemused confusion, Jody simply locked her arms around his legs and rested her temple on his knee. He responded warmly, letting his fingers trail gently across her cheek.
It’ll be alright, Hon,” he said, smoothing an errant strand of blonde hair behind her ear. “We’re not gonna’ let fourteen good years go down the tubes for no good reason!”
She nearly corrected him: Eleven good years, you mean. A foreboding tremor pulsed through her body, and Jeff eyed her curiously. Twisting toward the entryway, she clutched at her abdomen as she heard him speak.
Hello, Sweetheart! Come here, you little munchkin. What have you been doing?”
The sudden, anticipated pain seared through her midsection. Clutching tighter with her useless hands and gasping silently for breath through clenched teeth, Jody crept away as their diminutive daughter trundled toward Jeffrey’s chair. He reached down and pulled the little creature up to perch on his knee, the same knee that had supported Jody’s cheek only moments before. The child sat facing away from her father who bounced her gently. She giggled light, infectious laughter. Jeffrey laughed, too.
Goodbye, Mommy!” said the little girl, and she waved jovially. The mirth in the child’s voice and gesture was belied by the glaring disdain which Jody read in her black eyes. Jody’s momentary joy, ignited by her closeness to Jeffrey, now flared into a self-immolating flame of anger and frustration. Her daughter’s long, ebony hair floated as she bounced up and down on her father’s knee. Rapunzel… Rapunzel….
Goodbye, Mommy!” the child repeated jovially.
Jeffrey laughed again and swung her around.
Cassie, you little silly!” He chortled and hugged her to his chest. “You mean ‘’hello,’ not ‘goodbye,’ ”he explained.
Bugs Bunny, chomping on a fiery orange carrot, wisecracked, “Eh, What’s up, Doc?” in white letters from the child’s pale blue pajamas. The little girl wriggled around and looked intently at Jody.
Goodbye, Mommy!” she repeated emphatically.
Oh, Cassandra,” Jeffrey smiled, “You are such a stubborn little scamp.”
The child squirmed, and he placed her on the floor.
Inexplicably immobilized, Jody groped for a look of amusement for Jeff’s sake, but she had great difficulty finding one.
Guess what?” she heard him say. “Guess what we’re gonna’ do this afternoon, Sweet-pea?”
Go somewhere?” came the reply.
That’s right,” he said. “Now, guess where.”
Picnic?” said the child.
Jody’s jaw tightened, and she dug her nails into the flesh of her palms. Heat flushed her face.
HOW do you do that, Munchkin?” He looked over at Jody for the first time since she had left his side. “That’s one heck-of-a-kid you got there, Mommy.”
Cassandra! Were you listening at the door?” Jody snapped accusingly. Even to her own ear, her voice sounded shrill and pinched, but she couldn’t help it. “Did you hear your Daddy and I talking just now?” she demanded in clipped staccatos. I’ll huff… and I’ll puff….
The child sat motionless and stared at her mother. Jody raised herself from the floor and moved toward the little girl menacingly.
Did you hear us?” Jody demanded. “Did you? Tell me!” she cried through clenched teeth.
NO, Mommy,” her daughter calmly replied, “I just guessed.”
Jody was suddenly aware of both pairs of eyes glaring at her. What big eyes you have... All the better to see you with…. She looked from one to the other, and again she felt the crimson rising in her cheeks. Both pairs of eyes continued to stare: Cassandra’s showed that maddening, defiant amusement, and Jeff’s filled with the rising anger that had become so commonplace in the last four years. She saw the knuckles of his large, rough fists whiten as he moved to rise.
I’m sorry, Sweetheart,” she said quickly, desperate to force sincerity into her voice. “You know that it’s wrong to listen to other people when they don’t know that you’re there, don’t you?” What big ears you have…All the better to hear you with….
I know,” came the reply, “But I didn’t listen—I just guessed.”
Alright then…that’s a good girl,” Jody added as she moved toward the kitchen. “Let’s get ready for the picnic,” she said, carefully avoiding Jeff’s eyes as she disappeared through the door.
Once in the kitchen, the unbearable confusion began again. How could she feel so un-motherly toward her own child, her baby, after all this time? She gazed down at the ripe, red tomato that she had started to slice; she stared into its open face for a moment, and then crushed it savagely in her hand. The bursting was accompanied by a satisfying, snapping squish. Jody stared disconnectedly at the orange-red ooze dripping from between her grinding fingers. Curiosier… and curiouser…. Rinsing her hand in the faucet’s cool stream, she directed the remains of her handiwork down the drain. The disposal growled for an instant and then whirred complacently. As she wiped her hands on a paper towel, she realized that the ache in her abdomen had completely disappeared.
A perfect pregnancy,” the doctor had said.
Perfect. What did he know? He couldn’t even explain the pain in her gut that was ripping her insides apart and driving her crazy. What could any man know? Not even Jeff could understand.
A movement at the edge of her eye drew her gaze out the window toward the garage. She felt the corners of her mouth rise slightly as she watched Jeff readying the car. She loved him so much—she had always loved him so much—she could never bear to lose him!
Suddenly, the yard grew dark, and she refocused on her own face reflected in the pane. She had never been one of those vain, fragile women who agonize over every sign of life in their vapid faces, but now, she peered into the dim reflection. Mirror, Mirror on the wall…Who’s the fairest? Her hair draped her shoulders, and in the darkness of the pane, she was alarmed and horrified to see her mother’s face, pinched in resentful frustration and despair. She squeezed her eyes tight and held her breath. Opening her eyes, she found her own face again, but the rage and despair remained, spectre-like in the shadowy glass.
My God!” she said aloud, “What is happening to me?”
1 know,” said a voice from the door.
Jody dropped the paring knife she had been holding. It grazed her foot as it thudded dully on the cushioned linoleum.
Oops!” exclaimed the voice playfully. “I know, Mommy.”
She turned to see the Cheshire Cat smiling smugly.
By-the-bye, what became of the baby, said the Cat. I’d nearly forgotten to ask.
It turned into a pig, Alice answered very quietly, just as if the Cat had come back in a natural way.
I thought it would, said the Cat, and vanished again.
I know, Mommy,” the voice repeated.
You do?” Jody said, fear and menace mingling in her own voice. “What do you know?”
I know where for the picnic,” Cassandra exclaimed gleefully. “The Hill…Daddy’s Hill.”
The mother turned quickly from the child’s expectant gaze and bent down. The glint of the knife blade drew her eye, and her breath caught in her breast as if pinned there by a blade thrust through her heart. She grasped the knife, and, still crouching, she looked into the eyes of her daughter. The blood surged audibly through her temples, but the handle, hard and cold in her trembling hand, was comforting as she moved toward the grinning pajamas. Off with her head… OFF WITH HER HEAD….
Suddenly, she turned away and leaned against the counter for support.
That’s a good idea, Cassie,” she choked. “You run and tell Daddy, and I’ll finish up here, okay?” With unseeing eyes, she felt her heart attempting to pound its way out of her breast.
Goodbye, Mommy!”
Jody jerked her head around angrily, but Cassandra had already disappeared from the room.
It’s me, she cried silently, it’s got to be me. As her eyes closed, her chin fell heavily to her heaving breast, and her mind whirled in a jumble of swirling colors and darkness. Her shoulders shrugged deeply, trying to accommodate the breath that raged into her lungs. When she finally opened her eyes, she found the knife still clutched in her rigid right hand and flung it away, her fingers outstretched in horror.
As they rode in the car, Jody sat in the back seat and stared vacantly out the window. The giggled games of father and daughter faded from her consciousness as she thought about the hill. It had always been “Our Hill” since that day, fourteen years earlier, when she and Jeffrey had spent their first afternoon together; there, at the foot of the hill, they had fallen so deeply, so wonderfully in love. Two years later, as she glided on the swing and listened hypnotically to the metallic squeak of the chain and the abrasive crunch of Jeffrey’s thongs on the sand, he had suddenly caught her in mid-swing and proposed marriage. In fact, it was there on the crest of the hill that she had first suggested that they ought to have a child. That last. What perversity, what insanity, had prompted her to want a change?
You can’t improve on perfection,” they had always said, whenever the question had arisen. But she had been suddenly possessed by an unrelenting desire to have a baby. She and Jeffrey had joked about her ·biological clock, but why, as they stood together on the brow of the hill, had she suddenly been so insistent? So positive?
As the silent question insinuated itself into her consciousness, another image emerged. The day had been so perfect. They were celebrating Jeffrey’s promotion to assistant buyer. He had worked so hard and had been so worried about both the job and Jody’s pregnancy; they were relieved and overjoyed when he got the good news. As if to join in the celebration, the jacarandas were in full bloom, and their flowers burst in purple explosions against the verdant hillside. The sun melted warmly through the still morning air. The fierce kick from within had so surprised her that she had dropped to her knees. At that same instant, a fierce wind had startled the jacarandas into exaggerated motion and the sky darkened ominously.
Jody had yelled, “Jeffrey!” and had turned to see him standing at the very top of the hill, silhouetted against the gray-purple sky. He made no move. He just stood there, looking down at her from that distant spot. Suddenly and inexplicably terrified, she called to him again. He came running down the hill to her side. In his bright sunlight, the shadow and the fear had simply vanished. She had never even thought to ask him why he hadn’t answered when she’d called, but it seemed suddenly important enough to ask him now.
Looking up, she felt a shadow fall across her face. Startled, she looked out past the front of the car. There, looming before them, was the hill.
We’d better hurry,” Jeff said. “The sun’s already starting to sneak down behind the trees.” He stopped the car and unfastened his seatbelt. “Is Daddy’s best girl ready to go?” He repeated the ritual as he unlocked the door.
Oh, yes!” came the anticipated answer. “Is Cassie’s Daddy ready to go?” she cried and leapt down from the seat.
My God, thought Jody. My God, there it is. Doesn’t he see? The sky is falling… The sky is falling….
Jody took the picnic basket out of the car, walked to the picnic table, and began laying out the food. As she picked up the large carving knife to slice the ham, she looked around. Some things never change, she thought. Same old grassy knoll; same old ravine; same old—she stopped. Terror. There was a name for the pain that was wrenching her insides. Ever since that day, that first day when Jeff had stood at the crest of the hill, that first day when Cassandra had made herself known, the Hill had become an unconscious archetype of her singular, obsessive terror. The terror had crept in, and their marriage had gone mad.
Though steeped in despair, she had clung to the desperate hope that motherhood and the birth of their child would destroy the deadly, debilitating dread. The worst part was that she had no one in whom she could confide. How do you tell a joyous father-to-be that his wife is afraid of their expected baby, frightened nearly out of her wits? How could anyone explain it? She had not been afraid of childbirth itself; that might have made some sense. She was afraid that the child would live, for she already sensed that the monster writhing within would surely destroy her if it were allowed to live. But it had lived, and she had lived with it…and lived with it….
Goodbye, Mommy!” rang in her ear. They had yelled it in unison as they galloped up the hill, her hill, together.
A shudder ran through her as she underwent a paroxysm of the most intense loneliness and isolation. When she could move again, she immediately turned her gaze to the top of the hill.
It had gotten darker in the last few moments, and it took her eyes several seconds to adjust. They were there at the top of the hill, standing together, looking down at her. Jody fell to the ground, just like the last time, shaken by a violent kick from inside her abdomen; that struggling, writhing, malevolent entity was mocking her, reminding her of the last three years. She screamed his name.
Jeffrey!” echoed beyond the hilltop. She shot a glance in the direction of the hill and saw a lone figure standing on the crest. The little figure waved ominously. Which old witch? The wicked witch….
A sudden rage metamorphosed itself instantly into sudden resolve, and a powerful courage coursed through her being. The time has come, the walrus said.... Her eyes searched until they found the evil thing silhouetted against the dusk-stained sky. BEWARE THE JABBERWOCK…. It stood there calmly waving, silently directing the scene below. SHE TOOK HER VORPAL BLADE IN HAND…. Raising the butcher knife over her head, she lurched toward the hill. FEE…FIE…FOE…FUM….I’M BILLY-GOAT-GRUFF….
Good-bye, Mommy!”
A wraithlike scream escaped Jody’s lips, and she fell to her knees, beating furiously at her stomach, her hands clenched together, pounding and pounding. SNICKER-SNACK…. This time she knew she would kill it and be finally free. Again, she plunged her hands deep into her abdomen, but the pain wouldn’t stop. Finally, she looked down at the wet warmth that had become her hands and gazed at them in wonder. Gore-drenched, they gripped the blood-soaked handle of the blade which protruded from the pulp that had been her belly.
A mindless, sense-shattering shriek, like that of a stricken, helpless animal burst forth from her own subconscious as she drooped, gurgling, onto her side. Then she heard a childish, playful little voice echo from the hill.
Goodbye, Mommy!”
Which old witch? The wicked witch…

©1985 T. McMullen
All Rights Reserved

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