About my process:
Christi honored me with her invitation to participate in Wednesday’s Word of the Day. I decided to write a non-genre story, because that’s what I see on Writing Under Pressure. This confused my poor husband. As he test-read, he kept looking for the speculative element. It’s not there.
My word was “creep.” Two concepts come to mind at the same time when I think of this word: (1) a person who intentionally causes stress to another person and (2) to move slowly, as if in escape of a predator. This story incorporates both meanings.
An End to the Creepy Game
This is kinda mean, Cali thought as she waited, scrunched in the dark closet with her head against a box of Fruit Loops. I’ve won the last three–oh, ha!–the last four times. Even if he hasn’t stopped playing, he’s not going to like me using food against him.
Her thoughts disintegrated at the sound of her cousin’s soft, halting footsteps. He was braced for her attack but unable to guess at its direction.
She held her breath, as much as to keep herself from giggling than to prevent him from hearing her. He stopped in front of her door, horizontal stripes of blonde hair, a black shirt and blue jeans visible through the slats. She’d left the kitchen light on to help cover her form in the closet’s shadow. His head turned: hair, ear, cheek. She half-closed her eyelids to cover the whites of her eyes.
The door opened.
She lurched forward. “Boo!” she said, inches from her cousin’s face.
“Holy–” Hayden fell back, twisting to hit his side on the island counter and sliding to the tile floor.
Cali threw herself beside him. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry! Did I hurt you this time?”
“My breakfast!” he answered.
“I know, I shouldn’t have, but I realized I could fit and you couldn’t, and I’m sorry. Are you alright? I’ll get an ice pack.” One bare foot sank into soft object halfway across the kitchen. She lifted her foot to see the mutilated remains of a cheesecake slice.
“Great, Cali. Making me drop it wasn’t enough?” Hayden grunted with the effort of standing.
“My girlfriend made that for me, you know.”
“You were eating cheesecake for breakfast?” Cali hopped the remaining distance to the freezer on the foot not coated in ick. “What’s wrong with you? You’d hit a sugar low by your second class.” She pulled the freezer door open and grabbed their ice pack.
He pulled the pack out of her hands. “Now I’ll get something on campus. Like ibuprofen and caffeine. You can clean up the mess.”
She yelled another apology to his back as he headed for the front door.
I don’t think he’s playing anymore.
* * *
When Hayden returned after dark, Cali tried to talk with him.
She closed her textbook and set it beside her on the sofa. “I sent you messages.”
“I saw.” His book bag hit the floor with a thunk. He picked it up with a grunt after his shoes were off.
“How’s your back?”
“Fine.” His expression showed as much comfort as a thunderstorm.
“Hey-day, I won’t sneak around the house, anymore.”
He sighed and stopped to lean against the sofa. “I don’t see the point, anymore.” Some of the dark energy in his face and voice lightened. “You can obviously wake up in time to get to classes. So can I. Wasn’t that the point of creeping each other out?”
“Yep.” Months ago, he’d snuck into her bedroom to shake her out of sleep. The anticipation that one of them would scare the other each morning had encouraged them to wake earlier and earlier until they were no longer arriving on campus late or ungroomed.
“But I owe you one, Cali-girl.”
* * *
Mornings passed with as much anticipation as before, at least for Cali. Whenever she entered her bedroom or the bathroom, she locked the door. She padded through the house on the alert for sounds of movement or the smell of aftershave. She couldn’t help but jump every time Hayden turned a corner. He smiled and acted like nothing bothered him.
And why shouldn’t he? He didn’t have to worry about her popping out of strange places.
The biggest concern for her was the old rules didn’t apply. Hayden’s attack could come at any time from anywhere.
Pleading to set rules didn’t help. He refused to say when or how he’d end her debt.
On the third week, she gave in. Doors stayed unlocked, and she turned her back to them as she studied. Other times, she wandered through the house with the hope of entering a trap.
Hayden struck on the fourth week.
* * *
Coming home from a particularly long day on campus, she hauled the front door opened.
“Surprise!” In the living room, about a dozen friends and classmates threw their hands in the air.
Hayden strode forward to give her a hug. “Happy birthday, Cali-girl.”
Cali glanced over her shoulder at every smiling face. “That’s on Sunday.”
At the sight of her cousin’s warm smile, tears welled in her eyes. A month of waiting and he’d scared her with kindness. “Hey-day, I’m sorry. I never imagined you’d do this for me. Are we even?”
His smile widened. “Just get some cake.”
She grinned and turned to wait for her piece. The cake made her mouth water. Layers of gooey chocolate dripped onto one plate then another. Her chemistry partner handed her the last piece. “You’re supposed to get the first piece, but you were busy.”
“Thanks.” Fudge filling jiggled on her plate. “May I have a spoon?”
Something tapped Cali’s shoulder. She spun to face her attacker. Too late, she remembered the slippery condition of her cake. Chocolately goodness lay on the floor as ick.
“Now we’re even,” Hayden said. “You can clean up the mess.”
Ann M. Lynn is a writer of speculative fiction. One of her favorite hobbies is reminding people that hope and kindness can exist in the darkest of places. She resides in a place of light and shadows, in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains with her husband, cat, and dog.