No one really understood what it took to be a single parent running your own business out of your house.
Anne treasured a few hours of uninterrupted sleep and nap time when she could get a little work done.
No one could expect her to do everything. She had to prioritize. Sometimes things just creep up on you, as Anne discovers in this story.
Anne had her arms full of fresh-smelling, warm right-from-the-dryer clothes when she stepped out of the laundry room and saw something long and dark slither rapidly away from her bare foot.
She screamed! She jerked back. Clothes flew into the air and rained down around her. She hit the door frame. Blood rushed to her face and she brought her hands up to her mouth. A short slender woman in her twenties, suddenly realizing that her reaction must have looked pretty silly. She laughed uneasily and peered around.
Had she really seen it? Had that been a snake?
If there had been a snake she didn’t see it now. She looked at the clothes scattered about with suspicion. What if the snake was under that black t-shirt? Or her purple panties?
Then suddenly she heard baby giggles and Carrie toddled across the hard wood kitchen floor towards the scattered clothes. Anne stuck out her hand.
Carrie skidded to a stop, wind-milled her arms to keep her balance. Her big eyes looked at Anne in total surprise.
“Sorry, honey,” Anne said quickly. “Momma’s not mad, but stay there. Okay?”
A wide smile spread across Carrie’s fat round face showing her four bottom and four top teeth. Deadly cute, Anne thought, and wicked.
“No, Carrie. Stay there.”
Carrie laughed and toddled rapidly across the floor towards the fallen clothes. If she hit them she could slip or worse ― she might step on the snake! Anne lunged forward, stepping right in between her black lace bra and the dark blue hand towels. Not fast enough to stop Carrie from grabbing the violet washcloth.
A long black and yellow snake jerked into motion. It slid across the wood to Carrie’s leg and curled around a fat ankle. Carrie stopped. The snake slithered right around her leg, up around her waist and out around one out-stretched arm so that its head came back looking right at Carrie’s face. A long tongue flicked out as if tasting Carrie’s breath.
Anne felt like her heart might explode. “Oh. Oh. Oh. Shit. Carrie! Don’t move! Don’t move, honey!”
Carrie turned her head a bit to the side with her blue eyes locked onto the snake’s yellow gaze. She giggled deep in her chest and brought her arm and consequently the snake’s head closer to her face.
Anne reached out towards the snake. She didn’t want to spook it. What if it bit Carrie? Was it poisonous? How would she know? Shit. Shit. Shit.
She clenched her fingers into a fist and froze. Maybe it would just slither away on its own. The snake slid further up over Carrie’s arm. The end of its flicking tongue only a hair away from Carrie’s face. Carrie reached over with her other hand, her fat fingers reaching out for the snake.
“No, honey! Don’t grab it!”
Carrie didn’t even look up. And she didn’t stop. She grabbed the snake just behind its head but gently. Then she lifted it up and took a hold of its body with the other hand. She slowly lifted it up and then lowered it down over her head so that the snake hung like a scarf over her shoulders.
Carrie laughed and clapped her hands together. The snake lifted its head and regarded Anne with black eyes. Carrie lurched into motion, toddling towards Anne with outstretched arms. Anne screeched ― Carrie giggled ― and Anne jumped back. Carrie kept coming and Anne couldn’t help it. She back-pedaled away from her daughter.
“Stop! Stop, right now Carrie!”
Instead her daughter just kept coming. Anne scrambled backwards and her foot came down on something hard that twisted underneath her. Pain flared in her ankle and she stumbled. Almost fell down. A bright red plastic triangle block. She caught her balance and saw the snake watching her with those horrid black eyes. The tongue came out and tasted the air. Carrie kept coming.
Anne looked behind her at the sliding glass door. An idea came to her. She hurried over to the door and forced a smile on her face. “Come on Carrie! Let’s go outside!”
Even to her own ears her voice sounded high-pitched and fake. Carrie obviously didn’t care she just kept coming. Anne opened the sliding glass door and stepped out. She moved back away from the door. Carrie appeared in the door, squinted and hung onto the side to step out onto the back porch. She immediately did what she always did and headed for the steps and the lawn beyond. Anne crossed her arms and watched. She felt sick. What if the snake bit Carrie? She didn’t know if it was poisonous. She didn’t want to touch it. So far it didn’t show any sign of wanting to leave Carrie.
Carrie reached the steps and sat down to scoot down the two steps. She stood up and ran towards the lawn. Right at the edge she forgot to step up and tripped.
She fell flat forward on the grass. Anne hurried towards the edge of the porch and saw the snake slither away unharmed into the grass. Carrie picked herself up and patted her chest. When she didn’t see the snake her little face screwed up and she screamed.
Anne scooped her up and ran up the stairs back into the house. She shut the slider and locked it while still holding Carrie. Then she went to the couch and sat down rocking her daughter.
“It’s okay. It’s okay now.” She didn’t know who she was trying to reassure more, her or Carrie.
It was absolutely the weirdest thing ever, a fact that somehow escaped people when she told them about it. Her own mother said, “Anne, that’s just what children do. They love all those creepy crawlies.”
Anne shuddered. “I never liked snakes!”
To which her mother responded, “But Anne, you were always a fussy girl. You’d go into hysterics if a bug so much as crawled on you. I guess not much has changed.”
After that Anne sat stewing at the window looking out at the yard. A perfect lawn. Flower beds with roses kept trimmed around the edges. All sorts of roses. She loved looking at the roses. Carrie was down for a nap. She still had reports to finish for her bookkeeping clients. She needed to get as much of that done before Carrie woke as possible. These days it seemed nearly impossible to get anything done when she was awake.
Anne got up from the couch and headed down the hall to Carrie’s room. She eased the door open and looked in at Carrie sleeping peacefully in the oak crib.
The spider crouched with malevolent intent on Carrie’s arm. Giant freaking spider! All big hairy brown legs and body. Carrie had her arms up, hands palm up beside her cherubic face and the spider was right on the soft underside of her arm next to her elbow. Two legs waved in the air as if the spider just need to pick the most delectable place to bite.
Anne felt like she had swallowed a tennis ball. She couldn’t breathe at all. There was a giant freaking spider on her daughter’s arm and her hand felt glued to the door jamb. She couldn’t breathe. Her heart probably wasn’t even beating anymore. In her head she heard a high keening noise that she couldn’t get out but then she realized that she was getting it out, that that sound was really coming from her and oh my god giant freaking spider!
If anyone were there to say “just a spider” she’d hit them. If she could move. But what was she going to do? Stand there and watch the spider bite her defenseless daughter? What kind of mother would she be? Carrie would hate her. She could just see the disgust in Carrie’s eyes every time that a bug came into the house and sent Anne into cataleptic shock.
Anne managed a breath. She could do this. This. Remove the spider. How? She let go of the door jamb and could almost swear that her fingers creaked. She drew another breath. Let it out.
She could do this. Would do this.
Anne eased into the room on tiptoes. She slowly reached out and picked up Mr. Moo from the end of the crib where the raggedy cow hung watching over Carrie. Fat lot of good you did, Mr. Moo. Time to make up for it.
Right up alongside the crib. Then Anne brought Mr. Moo up into the air. Her hand shook. She took a breath and swept Mr. Moo down. The raggedy cow, still soggy from Carrie teething on him, snapped across Carrie’s arm and sent the spider flying out of the crib into the center of the room.
Carrie screamed. Anne looked down and saw the skin on Carrie’s arm had turned bright red. Shit! She reached in and scooped up her daughter. Cradled her and grabbed her arm to look at it closely. No fang marks. She’d done that, when she hit the spider the raggedy cow and snapped across Carrie’s arm like a locker room towel. Shit. Shit. She rocked Carrie.
“I’m so sorry honey,” she murmured as she backed out of the room. The giant freaking spider had scurried off into a toy or under the dresser. Maybe in that hole in the wall where the previous owners had pulled through cable into this room. “Shhh, honey. It’s okay now.”
Anne closed the door and took Carrie down the hallway to her own bedroom. She sank into the rocking chair and tried not to sob as she rocked Carrie back to sleep. And what made her feel really guilty? She wanted to go scrub Carrie’s arm where the spider had touched her. What kind of a mother was she?
The question plagued Anne the next day. She hovered over Carrie while her daughter played with blocks. She put off doing the laundry because she didn’t want to leave Carrie alone in the living room. They read books together and played patty cake. Carrie’s arm didn’t even have a mark on it anymore but Anne still felt guilty.
A little after three Carrie started rubbing her eyes. Then when the plastic barrel of monkeys wouldn’t go back together again she screamed and threw the toy away. Anne scooped her up and rocked her.
“Time for a nap, honey. Somebody is too tired.”
Carrie nodded sleepily against Anne’s shoulder. Anne kissed her soft hair and kept rocking her until Carrie’s breathing settled down and she went limp in Anne’s arm.
Even though it made Anne’s stomach feel all fluttery she took Carrie into her room and laid her down in her crib. Anne had picked up all of the toys early that morning and had vacuumed all of the cracks and crevices. She hadn’t found the spider, which bothered her still, but it didn’t seem to be anywhere in the room. It must have crawled away.
Carrie looked so peaceful lying in her crib. Her face scrunched up a bit as Anne lay her down and then she was peaceful. For several minutes Anne stood beside the crib watching her daughter. Then she realized just how grungy she felt. She hadn’t showered today because she had been so afraid to leave Carrie alone. But she was sleeping peacefully and Anne could leave the doors open. And it wouldn’t take very long to just get in, a quick wash and then out again.
The hot water felt great. Twice she stuck her head out and listened but the house was quiet. Anne finished washing and toweled off quickly. As she walked down the hall she thought she heard something and stopped. It had sounded like Carrie laughing. Or coughing. But nothing now.
Anne went into her room and pulled on underwear, jeans and a plain green t-shirt. She left her wet hair loose and walked in bare feet across the hall over to Carrie’s room.
She eased open the door.
Peeked inside at the crib.
Her brain couldn’t process what she saw. She didn’t see Carrie. It didn’t make sense. Carrie couldn’t be in the crib, but she couldn’t have left.
A swarm of flies crawled around over the blankets. Then the flies moved enough that Anne saw a small pink pinky finger before more flies crawled over it again.
Carrie! Anne ran into the room. Flies crawled all over Carrie. A few buzzed around in the air above her as if searching for a place to land. Others crawled along the light wood rails.
Carrie giggled. Anne realized that her daughter was awake. Flies moved and she caught a glimpse of Carrie peeking out at her between the flies. Carrie giggled again.
Anne took a step back. Her hands pressed against her mouth. She bit down on her knuckle. This wasn’t normal. Something was horribly, horribly wrong!
Carrie rolled over and the cloud of flies buzzed up around her. Anne saw her daughter sit up, smiling. She looked up at the hundreds of flies buzzing around her and spread her arms. As if invited the flies started landing again all over her arms, her face, her head and everywhere else. The flies enveloped her once again.
“Mama?” Carrie waved her fly-covered arms the way she always did when she wanted to be picked up. “Mama?”
Sobbing, still biting her knuckle, Anne shook her head. She backed up into the hall.
“Mama?” Carrie cried out, more frantic.
Anne popped her finger out of her mouth, flinging spittle onto the wood. “I can’t!”
She turned and ran away from the room. Down the hallway, out and across the kitchen, through the laundry room. Unable to stop. Out into the yard. She staggered out right into the middle of the grass and dropped to her knees.
Faintly, from the house, she heard Carrie screech louder. “Mama!”
Anne’s gut clenched and up came coffee with eggs whites and toast and bacon all splashed across the brilliant green lawn. A fly buzzed through the air and circled her head. She screamed and scrambled away across the grass batting at the fly.
Anne huddled in the back of the ambulance watching the flashing lights from the police cruiser. Neighbors must have called after she ran out of the backyard screaming. So embarrassing, but they’d know. They’d understand. All they had to do was go inside.
Poor Carrie. She must be so scared. Anne turned and looked at the paramedic slipping a blood pressure cuff on her arm. An older black woman with gray in her hair and a thin, kind face, she smiled at Anne.
“There, just a little pressure now.”
“My baby, she’s inside,” Anne said. “Is she okay?”
Pressure built on Anne’s arm. “I’m sure that they’ll take good care of her. Let’s just look after you right now.”
Two police officers, both heavy set men, walked past the ambulance. Anne caught snatches of their conversation.
“― a mess. Food and dishes everywhere in the kitchen ―”
“Lost it, looks like.”
Anne looked at the paramedic. “What are they saying?”
“Don’t worry about it. Please hold still.”
Anne leaned forward, straining to hear. She didn’t see Carrie anywhere. Who was taking care of her?
“Ma’am, please?” The paramedic pulled on her arm.
Anne pulled away and stood at the back of the ambulance. “Carrie?”
Then she saw her daughter. Carrie sat on the roof with bright yellow and black butterflies all over her upraised arms. Carrie waved her arms and a couple butterflies took off into the sky.
Hands grabbed her shoulders. Anne jumped out of the ambulance and ran towards the house.
Carrie toddled towards the roof’s edge. Didn’t any of them see?! “Carrie!”
Anne stopped and pressed her hands to her face. Carrie teetered right on the edge. Anne heard them coming, running up behind her. “Please, honey?”
More butterflies took off. Carrie snatched at them with her perfect, delicate fingers and then she fell and as she fell she broke apart into dozens of butterflies.
They scattered, flapping away in all directions. Carrie’s laugh floated on wind.
Hands grabbed Anne and dragged her away from the house. She sagged in their grasp and watched the butterflies that had been her daughter fly away.
This story is the 41st weekly short story release, written in July 2010, and initially released under my “R.M. Haag” pen name. Eventually I’ll do a standalone e-book and print release when I am satisfied that I can create the cover art that I want for the story. In the meantime I’m enjoying these weekly releases. Stories will remain until I get up the new e-book and print versions and at that point I’ll take the story down.
If you’re interested in longer works, feel free to check out my novels through the links in the sidebar or on the Books page. I’m also serializing a novel, Europan Holiday, now on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Check back next Monday for another story. Next up is my horror story Hauntlet.