Hello and welcome to April’s first Tuesday Tales. It isn’t snowing today, which is a wonderful thing, although we have rain. But rain is good, so… Tuesday Tales is the brainchild of author Jean Joachim. Each week, a group of authors, myself included, post an excerpt from our work in progress based on a word or picture prompt. My current TT is the novel, Wedding Belle Blues. The story’s winding down, heading to the climax.
Here’s today’s post, based on the word NUMBER.
MJ awoke in the darkness, vicious wind and rain pummeling the bungalow. How could anything as fragile as this house on stilts withstand such a battering? The bright flashes of lightning lit up the room as if midday and the explosive thunder made everything tremble, reminding her of the mild earthquake she’d felt on her visit to California.
Never a fan of storms, MJ shivered under the blanket, not from cold but from fear. When they’d finished the bottle of champagne, the wind and rain had stopped. She’d assumed the storm had played itself out, but they must’ve been in the eye. Needing to go to the bathroom, she climbed out of bed, grateful Paul let her sleep on the side closest to the washroom, and hurried as another crack of thunder shook the building. Closing the door, she felt for the light switch and flipped it on. Nothing.
The power was out, but that was only a mild inconvenience. She might be afraid of storms, but the dark didn’t bother her. Mama used to say she had a cat’s eyesight, capable of seeing even in the darkest corners when the room was pitch black. Allowing her eyes to adjust, she found her way to the toilet, the sink, and then opened the door.
Mother Nature’s light show made her shiver, reminding her of another Greek myth Aunt Maria used to tell, the one where Zeus had almost destroyed the world of men by throwing thunderbolts at the Titans who’d escaped from the underworld. If anything was capable of such destruction, it was this storm. Debating the wisdom of staying in the bathroom until the tempest ended, she jumped as another sound all but obliterated the most recent crash of thunder. In the next flash, she saw Paul thrashing on the bed, agonizing moans and cries escaping him.
“Don’t,” he shouted, caught in a nightmare that had to be far worse than her fear of the storm. MJ climbed into bed and spoke softly, hoping to wake him without startling him too badly. The next boom of thunder sent her scurrying across the tangled sheets to his side.
“Paul, it’s okay. You’re safe. Wake up. It’s just a nightmare,” she whispered loudly, her voice catching in her throat as the bungalow shuddered again. Something slammed against the windows, and panic filled her. Right now, she needed him as every petrifying memory of that childhood storm filled her, but Paul remained caught in a terror only he could see.
She reached out and touched his bare shoulder, his skin hot beneath her palm. Praying he wasn’t sick, she shook him slightly, stunned when he sat up suddenly.
“Fiona, stay behind me. Stay down,” he cried, pushing her face into the pillow. “Don’t get up! Don’t give him a target.” He removed his hand from her shoulder as if he were moving away from her. In the momentary flare of light, she saw Paul’s eyes open and fill with fear. Wherever he was, it wasn’t here with her. He was with Fiona. Jealousy replaced her earlier panic, but the agony on his face shamed her, grounding her as nothing else could in these circumstances. He needed her, and she wouldn’t let him down.
Knowing she had to wake him, MJ grabbed both sides of his face, forcing it to stay still, willing him to see her, although she doubted he saw anything but Fiona and the horror going on inside his head.
“Paul, it’s me, it’s MJ.”
Even though his eyes were open, she knew he was still deep in the throes of the vicious dream, a flashback to his time in Afghanistan when he’d been fighting for his life. Pulling herself up close against him, she put her arms around him and held on, the way she’d seen Mama do to Ron after the terror attack at the Boston Marathon. He’d only been seconds behind runners who’d lost limbs. While shrapnel had embedded itself in his leg, he’d survived, but those nightmares had haunted him for months, so much so that he’d moved home afraid he might harm Lucy who’d been having a difficult time with the late stages of her pregnancy.
Ron’s doctor had explained that the nightmares were vivid flashbacks, with not only the images playing through his mind, but the sounds and smells as well, so powerful and realistic that it was as if the incident was happening all over again.
Paul’s flesh was sweat-covered, and his heart beating so rapidly that the number of pulses couldn’t be counted.
“Paul, Paul, it’s MJ. It’s okay. You’re not in Kabul. You’re here on Paradise Island with me,” she spoke loudly, her tone the one she used to get a classroom full of teenagers to settle down. She lifted her hand to his cheek and his jumped up, gripping her wrist so tightly, she feared he’d snap it.
“Paul, you’re hurting me. It’s MJ. You’re not there. You’re here with me.”
Lightning blazed once again, illuminating the room and Paul blinked, releasing his grip.
She moved away and rubbed her hand.
“MJ?” he asked, staring at her as if she were some kind of apparition. Thunder crashed once more and the bungalow shook.
“Yeah, it’s me. The storm’s back, and it’s worse than ever. You were having a bad dream…”
He blinked again, looked down at the way she was rubbing her wrist, and jerked away from her.
“I hurt you, didn’t I?” He stood and began to pace near the bed. “This is what I was afraid of. Why I should have stayed away from you. I knew it could happen. I’ve put you in danger. This time I grabbed your arm, but what if the next time, I grab your neck? People died because of me, and now I’ve harmed you, too.”
“Paul Davis, you stop talking stupid right now,” she said crossly, getting out of bed and standing in front of him, fisted hands on her hips, her teeth clenched. “You did not harm me. You let go as soon as I said you were hurting me. I’m fine. Mark did far worse this afternoon. You may not want to do it, but you need to talk about what happened to you. I went through something similar after the Boston Marathon.” She quickly explained what had happened to Ron. “He and Lucy saw a counsellor for months, and the one thing that made it better was talking through his fear and his memories. He finally started running again last year, although I doubt he’ll ever be able to go to Boston again. Today, you told Mark that I was your wife. If you believe that, then tell me about Kabul. Let me help you.”
He moved to turn on the bedside lamp.
“The power’s out. There are candles on the table I can light, but sitting in the dark—if it would stay that way—is fine with me.” She sat back on the bed and moved over to give him room to join her, not sure he would, but praying for it.
Reluctantly, he settled on the bed and surprised her by reaching for her wrist.
“I guess this isn’t the best kind of night for you either, is it? I’m sorry I hurt you,” he said, kissing the flesh. “I haven’t had that nightmare in weeks. I almost thought I was past them.”
“Who’s Fiona? You called out her name, intent on protecting her.”
He stood abruptly. “I need to go.”
Moving quickly despite the dark, the room illuminated by nature’s fireworks, Paul disappeared into the washroom.
MJ wrapped her arms around herself. How much longer could this go on? Something struck the window once more. At this rate, by the time the storm let up, the island would be ruined.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s post. Don’t forget to check out all the other on Tuesday Tales.