• The Writers' Group

Homecoming Queen - Martin Eastland

THE RAIN HAMMERED on the roof of the farmhouse as Christina – or Tina, to her friends and family – sat down, finally, after a particularly hard day at the office. She had endured 4 years in UMASS for a degree in IT and a second in Business Admin, only to discover that she had wasted her time. Jobs had been a nightmare to find, having eventually settled for a sideline in interior decorating, to tide her over in the interim.

The farmhouse had been bequeathed to her by her parents, both dead within five years of each other – dad first, mom soon followed (Tina liked to believe it had been a broken heart – it was the romantic in her that had survived against the odds).

She emerged from the kitchen, holding a tray filled with snacks and a bottle of white wine. Date night with the DVD player – again!

“Well, if there were any guys actually worth investing time and effort in, maybe she’d entertain them,” she had told her friends, all of them chasing the bad boy types, most of them not knowing what having a good man was like. These were the women who sat at home every weeknight, stuffing their faces with pizza and Ben and Jerry’s, while they waited on the phone like an order at Wendy’s. They always moaned about “where all the good guys went?” and Christina, raised by a caring father, kept silent. A thousand times she wanted to scream in their ears, You chased them all away, ya dumb ass bitches! You wanted the bad boys and you got ‘em. What the fuck are you complainin’ about?

She knew the value of a good man, and she had kept her distance from that whole “he hasn’t called in a week!” set. Tina knew her man would surface like a K9 Widowmaker soon enough. Why rush it? Her view? Simple. She would wait for him to do the romancing from now on. That way it would eliminate the chaff from the wheat; the pedigrees from the strays – or however that ol’ melody ran.

She sat on the black leather, throw-encased couch, the remote control in her hands, preparing to watch a few old movies (Casablanca being her favourite) when the phone rang, making her jump out of her, as recently, wet skin (that bath had been awesome, she thought as she got out of the tub, stained pink with the scented bath bombs she favoured). Cursing her breath, she paused the movie just after pressing play on the screen menu.

‘Hello?’ she said, politely, but itching inside to tell whoever it was to get lost.

It was her Aunt Cindy (Cynthia, proper). The irreverent pitbull pissing on the Miller family tree.

‘Hi, Aunt Cindy…no,I was just about to go hit the hay. Been rushed off my feet all week. Gonna catch up on some sleep, y’know? Ok, you too. Bye, now!’

Tina replaced the handset on the cradle (one of them thar novelty retro phones) and exhaled her lack of patience into the air. She started the movie again, and looked fondly, smiling, over at Scratch, her little beagle, sleeping soundly in his basket. She stifled a laugh as a sneaky fart escaped the basket. She had it all, right here. A beautifully-appointed, tastefully-decored refuge to come home to; a full roster of consultations to last a month;a fully-restocked freezer; and Scratch, the farting beagle – what more could a girl possibly want?

SHE WOKE UP with a jolt, looking around her. Scratch had vanished, nowhere to be seen. She stood up, walking to the bathroom, fixing a sink of hot water as she left for a moment to attend to the fridge. The steam began to form and fill the bathroom in a shroud of rose-scented mist, fogging up the mirror. Tina re-entered the bathroom with fresh towels and a new bottle of mouthwash. She turned off the hot tap, and looked up at the mirror. Her heart skipped a beat, her eyes bulging, as she saw what was written in the steam. From places unknown, a deep, low growling voice repeated the phrase.

TIME TO DIE, BITCH

Backing out of the bathroom in terror, screaming, Tina fell against the toiletry shelf which collapsed to the tiles from the impact. Bleeding from the shoulder, she ran to the front door to get out.

Fuck! Where are the goddamn KEYS?!

She tried the kitchen door, which led to the rear patio decking. That door was locked.

Shit!

Only one way left, now, and she knew it. She would have to go through the fruit cellar. The same fruit cellar that her eldest aunt had killed her self in by hanging from the centre beam. That cellar had been off-limits since that day. No member of the family was allowed near it, much less to go in there. Tina had laughed at the decade-long insistence after she reached her eighteenth.

She grabbed the fire-axe from her dad’s rusted old toolbox, smashing the lock with everything she could muster. It broke open like a cantaloupe, nearly off its hinges, and she ran for the bulkhead door, the axe at the ready, only to find that door had been left unlocked. It burst open and Tina flew out of there, running to the crumbling, decayed perimeter wall that bound the property. Her eyes were closed, as her head hung low over the edge. She opened her eyes as her nostrils flared out in reaction to a peculiar odour, putrid and copper-like. She screamed, the darkness of the farm and its inherent silence shattered by the carnage she had just witnessed. There, beneath her gaze, lay Salem, her Appaloosa stallion – dead. The sight of it revulsed her and violated every sense she had been inspired to embrace. The horse had been decapitated, it’s eyes mottled and haemmorhaged, as it lay there motionless, the drenched sinews bathed in the enormous blood loss which painted the field.

Holding her hand over her mouth, backing away for what seemed to be an eternity, she finally turned to confront the evil that had pursued her.

In a blink of her gorgeous green eyes, it engulfed her in darkness.


SHE AWOKE IN the field near where she had found Salem brutalised and, with bleary eyes, she looked at the farmhouse, burnt to its foundations. Her new life shot to shit – and for what?

Entranced by the ruins of her beautiful refuge from the world, tears cascaded down her face as she walked weakly towards it, her legs almost dead, she was released from reverie by a welcome sound in the near distance. There was no breeze in the air, but the wheat stalks were moving in one section of the harvest. Like a lion, a small, bulky form sprang from the camouflage of gold straight into her arms, tail wagging like a rattler, licking her face to a pulp. She held Scratch tightly and, in regretful resignation, she walked the short journey into the nearest town.

THE END

(C) Martin Eastland - 2019

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