Second Place Winner in the Fiction in Five contest sponsored by The Center for Writing Excellence. http://janiewrites.com/writing-contests/year-two-fiction-in-five-winners/august-2011-winners/  

“Off Beat”
by Camas Baugh

Bang…Bang…Bang…The metronomic rhythm of the stapler lulled me into my usual Monday state. I numbly assembled the market reports for the Tuesday meetings I knew I would never attend. The incessant and barely audible tick of the clock, the hum of the copy machines, and the hushed conversations all blended seamlessly into the perfectly pale, gray office that had become my coffin. If I could have strung an entire thought together, I suppose I would have wondered when I lost my heart. In the recess of my mind, I could almost touch a memory creativity. Just before the thought became whole, just before it became tangible, just before a touch of color made it to my frontal lobe, however, it dissipated like a wisp of a cloud on a summer day. I could feel my eyes glass over and a tear moisten my crow’s feet. I couldn’t tell you if it was a tear of sadness or a tear of function.

Bang…Bang…RING…The shrill of the phone suddenly tore through my daze like shrapnel. Daniel looked up from his desk, his brow knitting itself into a frown. I couldn’t hear what he was saying, but it felt as though a clutch of snakes suddenly hatched in my stomach. My hand froze on the stapler when he looked right at me. I had been dreading this day for fifteen years. Daniel’s eyes never left mine as he slowly hung up the phone. He nodded, almost imperceptibly, confirming what my body already told me was true. It was finally over.

Click…Click…Click…The sound of my own high heels guiding me to the elevator, to the lobby, to the street, to the intersection, gave me some comfort, as though walking away needed to have the same rhythm of staying. As I waited for the light to change, I felt my cell phone vibrate in my jacket pocket. I numbly pulled it out and saw Daniel’s name come up on the caller i.d. screen. I suppose I should have waited for him, but hearing the words would have made it too real. I pressed the ignore button and looked up. A billboard screamed at me to “save for the future.” Just as I began to wonder what Kelley would have thought about this, a blackbird landed on the corner of the ostentatious advertisement. I wondered if it was the same bird from the day my life fell apart a decade and a half ago. Do birds live for fifteen years? Could this one be the talisman I had been seeking for so long?

With the warmth of the sun on my back, my mind languidly drifted back to the day my sister Kelley, our neighbor Daniel, and I played tag in the field below my house. We had invented our own “Dragons vs. The Wizard” version of freeze tag in honor of Daniel’s recent obsession with Dungeons and Dragons.

“Daniel!” Kelley squealed as she ran through the shoulder-high, wild grass. “You can’t keep picking on me!”

“Stop being a sissy, Kelley,” he shouted back, still chasing her. “You know you chose to be a dragon!”

I always felt a little left out when the three of us played. Daniel and Kelley were the same age, but I was two years younger. Even though no one was chasing me, I ran frantically through the golden tipped grass savoring the feeling of it brushing against my arms. I loved the freedom of believing I was a dragon with magical powers. Kelley leaped gazelle-like through the pasture as I watched in awe while Daniel closed in on her with ease.

“Hey,” she wheezed, “Look at that blackbird!”

“No way, Kelley. You’re not going to trick me again!”
Daniel had gotten used to Kelley’s wild distractions, but I never had. I expectantly raised my eyes to see a blackbird flying erratically through the crisp blue sky.

“Look, Daniel! Look!” I yelled.

Kelley had stopped and was shielding her eyes from the sun as she looked up. Daniel finally stopped and looked up as well. We watched with child like awe as the bird suddenly fell limply from the sky. Wondering what possibly could have happened to this poor creature, we ran toward it. We stopped just short of the stream that ran through our kingdom of magic. With the same abruptness as the bird, Kelley slumped to the ground.

“Kelley? Kelley! Wake up!” I screamed, near hysteria. My feet wouldn’t move. My body had frozen in place, as though I was finally a part of our game of tag. I watched helplessly as Daniel ran to her side.

“Kelley,” he said weakly, shaking her shoulders, “Kelley, what’s wrong?”

I felt a tear slide down my cheek. I was only seven years old. How could I possibly know what to do?

“Kelley,” I heard Daniel say, louder this time. He slapped her cheek lightly. “Kelley, wake up!”

I felt oxygen fill up my lungs when I saw her eyes flutter open. My body released its hold on me, and I stumbled forward to help Daniel pick her up. We carried her to the log next to the stream and sat down, her arms over our shoulders.

“Look, guys…the bird,” Kelley whispered, almost inaudibly, pointing up at the sky as the blackbird flew away. From that moment on, Kelley’s heart defect ruled our lives.

I jumped when Daniel put his arms around me. Suddenly, the city rush, the incessant honking, and the smell of diesel buses overwhelmed me. I don’t know how long I had been standing at the intersection.

“She got the page, Liz. She’s going in for the transplant today. She’s going to be okay.”

“Me too, Daniel,” I replied. Tears slid warmly down my cheeks as the gray veil finally lifted from my life. “Me too.”



The Contest Rules: 
the prompt: three children are sitting on a log, one of them points to the sky and says…

the words: talisman, dragon, billboard, phone, stapler, blackbird

the limit: 700-1000 words, 5 days

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