by Nina Powers
Cramp contest entry
Pricilla carefully maneuvered the old dodge she’d been living in for the past four years around trees, roots and jutting rocks. The road had been neglected for so long that even the ‘use at own risk’ sign was trampled and engulfed by the forest around it.
When she finally weaved the old dodge around the final bend and spotted the charred remains of the ramshackle cabin, her breath caught in her throat and she began to quiver. The imaginary sound of children’s laughter rang in her ears, taking her back to a time of innocence, youth and disaster.
Pricilla shook the sound from her head and reached hastily for her empty pink lighter. She spun the wheel with her callused thumb seven times, paused and then spun it seven times again. The grating sound of the lighter, the click producing no flame and the tingling numbing sensation beneath her hard callus brought her back to center.
With renewed resolve, she opened the car door, stepped out and spent a moment taking in her surroundings. Years of being a vagabond numbed her nose to her own stench as she took in the deep wet smells of the forest. This time she completely ignored the children’s laughter in her head and opened the back door of the car reaching for the can of gasoline. She touched the outside right pocket of her moth-eaten, brown trench coat and felt comforted by the feel of the two lighters rubbing against each other.
She was careful of her footing as she made her way over to the debris of the cabin. She didn’t realize she was trembling as the sound of laughter got louder, drowning out the swooshing sound of the gas rocking back and forth in it’s can. Blackened wood enveloped by moss, trees and other forest growth disguised the cabin she knew. Pricilla’s heart tore with the realization that the old cabin had been forgotten by the world, just like she had been. But Pricilla had not forgotten.
Though the day was uncomfortably cool, beads of sweat ran down her forehead and she reached into her pocket grabbing both lighters. She looked at the two colors in her filthy hand and chose the pink one over the blue. She started to flick the lighter franticly, counting to seven before pausing each time. Nothing was drowning out the sound of children’s laughter and she let her mind bring her back in time.
Pricilla was 10-years old, her twin brothers were both seven. Pricilla and the boys were all dressed in high fashioned jeans and polo shirts. Their parents found it cute to dress the twins alike, and eventually Pricilla just followed suit. Unlike the blue shirts her brothers wore, hers was pink and she wore a matching pink cardigan around her shoulders.
Alex and Andy were always following Pricilla everywhere she went, and though she acted as if this were an inconvenience for her, she truly loved the attention and superiority of being the sought-after older sister.
“Why are we here again”? Andy whined. “There’s nothing to do here, it’s dirty and smelly. Why don’t we go home and swim or play in the toy room?” Andy wasn’t the adventurous type. “There’s nothing we can do here that we can’t do there.” He continued whining.
Alex looked at me expectantly. He trusted that I would come up with something brilliant. I pulled my dad’s lighter out of my pocket and said “We can build a fire!” Their eyes lit up at the idea. We went into the cabin, grabbed some took some of the old books and dry wood from the broken floorboards and lit a fire in the broken down fireplace against the north wall. The fire was instantly big and bright. We all sat around looking at it in wonder… for awhile. When that got boring, and the room became smoky Alex jumped up and shouted “let’s play hide and go seek”. He tapped my shoulder and said “You’re it!” grabbing Andy’s arm running out the door.
I counted aloud to 25 and yelled “Ready or not, here I come!” and went on the search. I could hear their laughter now again, giving me clues to where they may be hiding but the forest could play tricks sounds. After about an hour of looking for the boys it dawned on me that I had been played. No doubt that this was all a ruse for Andy to get back to playing in our pool and the comforts of home.
Pricilla headed back to the cabin to grab her cardigan with the full intention of ignoring both of the boys for a full three days as their punishment. She stomped along the earthy path when the smell of smoke stung her nose. Panic washed over her as she broke into a run towards the cabin, she dropped to her knees in horror when she saw the red and orange flames flickering beyond the cloud of black smoke that was once their refuge.
It took fourteen hours to put out the fire and identify the two bodies within the cabin.
Pricilla came out of reverie with a stir. She reached up to investigate the dampness on her face and was surprised to find tears. She hadn’t cried in many years, a fact that her many counselors and therapists had tried so hard to remedy. Wouldn’t they be proud, she thought absentmindedly?
Pricilla placed the gas can on top of the only piece of cabin that was bare. She pulled a rag out of her left pocket and shoved it into the hole at the top of the canister leaving a good fuse to light. She took the blue lighter out of her right pocket and lit the fuse. She whispered “Ready or not, here I come” as she sat on what was left of the old ramshackle cabin and hugged the gas can hoping beyond hope to finally win the game.