I'm relatively new here so it feels a bit awkward barging in with a short story and asking for feedback, but since the section exists and I have stuff I would like to hear back about, well, here it is. This is a story I did for a fiction workshop at college this semester. I was relatively happy with the results, but I intend to revise and possibly expand it, so I figured more feedback might be handy.
Malory was falling, sliding down a dark tunnel as the only light receded far above. It dumped her into a mass of groping hands, each pair attached to one of a thousand twisted versions of herself. Tearing and pulling her in every direction as she fought to crawl back into the chute.
There, a new light above, a new tunnel, a way out, but another abomination blocked her way. She kicked and clawed, pulling the obscene clone out of the way and shoving her way up the tunnel. From below her own voice called out.
“Come back!” “Don't go!” “You have to stay!” “Where are you going?”
Finally, the light above seemed within reach. One hand moved to touch it and, on contact, she awoke.
It wasn't with a jerk, but merely an instant change in consciousness. Suddenly it was clear that the struggle was a dream, she was safe in her apartment. Slowly, she sat up and moaned as she became aware that every muscle in her body ached. Her legs and arms felt overused and worn, shoulders shot with pain each time she moved, and a burning sensation spread across her stomach. As she reached down to pull up her shirt and examine what was wrong, Malory noticed her arms.
In high school she had gotten a tattoo that depicted a single, red wildflower on the inside of one wrist. She had found that it once represented the forsaken, which was exactly how she felt at the time. It was after her father's death and Malory had become increasingly distant from her friends and mother. The more she tried to relate to them, the more detached she became. Fortunately, that wound had since healed.
Now though, the tattoo had spread. Strings of ivy branched out from the original flower, connecting to a forest of yellow begonias and clusters of tiny purple flowers she didn't recognize. Malory's eyes followed the twisting design up her left arm and across her shoulders. It began down her right arm and ended in a tight wrapping of gauze. Cautiously, she began to unwrap the bandaging. There was no pain in her arm, but underneath was the dried blood and bruising of a fresh tattoo. The final bit of ivy curled down to a new wildflower.
What the hell?
Confused, with a building fear, Malory jerked up her shirt to find another pad of gauze taped around her midsection. This one had a faint hue of red even on the outside. She carefully prodded it, taking care not to cause herself more pain than the bandage already hid. Her fingers found the tape's end and she began unraveling it. As the gauze came away, still clinging to her skin with thick, undried blood, she found a long, thin slash stretching across her upper abdomen. It was carefully sutured and cleaned, but the bandage she had just removed made it apparent that the wound still bled.
What happened to me?
She unwrapped herself from the blankets and slowly got to her feet, being mindful to not stretch the wound in her stomach. Intending to make her way to the bathroom mirror, the room gave new reason to pause, and to fear. It was her apartment, yes, but everything was wrong. She wasn't compulsive about her tidiness, but the room looked like a drunken wrecking crew had come through with the wrong equipment. Some of her furniture was still there, but none of the drawers held anything. The bedroom set that her mother helped pay for when she moved out of the dorms was gone, replaced with a mismatched mix of woods, some of which looked suspiciously homemade.
Clothing of all kinds lay strewn across the floor, on top of dressers, in piles in the corners. All covering or covered by various dishes, silverware, boxes, movies, CDs, and other junk. Some of it she recognized, but among the disaster she saw none of her book collection, none of her homework or drawings. All the clothing seemed barely a step above rags, though some of it she had almost never ever worn.
Now she needed the bathroom to puke, her head swam as she tried to imagine what had happened to her life in just one night. A sharp pain in her stomach made her double over as she dropped to the toilet and began dry heaving. Every lurch in her chest and stomach brought another stab of pain, but the stitches held. When the room stopped spinning and she was able to struggle back to her feet, Malory finally stood in front of the mirror. She stripped off the shirt she had slept in and stood inspecting her body. Besides the expanding tattoo the first thing she noticed was the extensive bruising, especially on her back and shoulders, and on her face. One black eye and a cheekbone highlighted in a greenish hue. The bruises lay atop muscles she didn't recognize. Malory thought she stayed fit, but the body in the mirror was toned beyond what she expected of herself. She was probably in impressive shape, if not for the mass of injuries.
Holy shit Malory, who are you?
That was it, she needed to find another person, needed to talk to someone. Her mother should be home, assuming that it was, in fact, Sunday. She taped the bandage back over her stitches and dug out the least ratty, best smelling clothes in the room. Fortunately, her keys still lay in the same bowl, on the same table where she always threw them, a small comfort in stormy seas.
As she reached to open the door a knock sounded. Malory froze in place and waited. Another came. Finally, a voice.
“Malory Walsh? This is detective Peters. I have a few questions to follow up what you told me last night.”
She slowly backed away from the door.
It was time to make a decision. This detective Peters could probably give her an idea of why everything was so messed up, but she didn't have answers for whatever he was talking about. She kept quiet and waited to hear his footsteps recede down the hall. After an extra ten minutes she quietly slipped into the hallway and walked to the far door of the complex.
Her mother lived way out in the Rochester Hills suburb and the drive through Detroit took some time. Along the way she was half expecting to see major changes to the city, in the same way her body and apartment had changed, but nothing looked abnormal. Every building, every sign, every broken traffic light, construction barrier, and overflowing dumpster was just as she recalled. It seemed clear that only she had changed, rather than the world around her.
At long last she parked on top of the hill holding what she hoped was still her mother's house. For a moment she stopped and stared, looking to pick out something that would indicate a different resident. It was the same house, an expensive modular design, big enough for a family of four with some room to spare, but supporting only one. It matched the surrounding neighborhood. Bright green, trimmed grass, new siding, a small flower garden with some bushes between the steps and the garage. The sprinklers were still running. Finding nothing unusual she calmly walked up and hit the doorbell.
Please be home, mom.
Before long her mother's familiar voice called out.
“Yes? Who's there?”
Oh thank God. “It's Malory, mom. Can you open up please?”
The door flew open violently, an expression of rage filled more than just her mother's face, the woman shook with anger.
“What are you doing here?” she practically screamed.
“Mom?” Malory replied meekly, once again full of fear and dread. This had already gone horribly wrong.
“I told you not to bother coming back and I meant it! Worthless excuse for a daughter, go back to your street friends, I'm sure they'll be happy to give you whatever you need.”
“Mom, I...” but the door had already slammed shut, hard enough to rattle the frame. From the other side of the door she could hear her mother sobbing, probably leaning against the door, waiting for her to leave.
“Go away!” she cried.
Shocked and heartbroken, Malory returned to the car.
If mom hates me, what does everyone else think?
She could only imagine what friends were alienated, what horrible event had turned her own mother away in such a violent fashion. Her eyes got blurry. Things had been patched up with her mother, they were good friends. What changed? If not her mother who could she turn to? As tears streamed down her bruised face she tried to think.
Ted. They may not be dating any more, but Ted was always a good friend, willing to drop everything for her. He'd be working at the bar this evening, but there would probably be another tender that could give him a few minutes break. Malory turned the car around and sped back into the city, wiping her red eyes.
It was confusing to get to, as always, but the lot at the sports bar was surprisingly empty for Sunday night. She walked in and heads turned, voices lowered, just like one of those westerns Ted liked to watch. The bar was non-smoking, but the smell of tobacco wafted from many patrons. Dim light came from under stained glass lampshades depicting various beer brands and football teams.
Come on Teddy, you better be here.
As people turned back to their words and drinks Malory carefully made her way to the main bar and leaned over to see who was tending. It was Frank, a good friend of Ted's and a generally respectable guy. When he finished serving the current drinks she tried to get his attention.
“Hey Frankie. Over here.”
He visibly jumped at her voice, not a good sign. He turned slowly and shuffled over.
“Uh, hi Mal, you need something?” He seemed nervous, almost afraid as he glanced about, unable to meet her gaze.
“You alright Frank?”
“Sure,” he tried to straighten up, but spoke lower, “what do you need Mal.”
Why Mal? Nobody calls me that.
Malory was confused, but Frank was her line to Ted, if he was going to act weird she'd just work through it.
“I, ah, was hoping Teddy was around.”
“Why?” he asked, like it was an odd request.
“Well, I wanted to talk to him for a few minutes.”
“Just talk to him?”
“Uh, yeah.” She was become more confused by the minute. “Frank, what's wrong.”
“Nothing's wrong, I just don't really think Ted wants to see you,” his voice dropped again, “you know you're not supposed to be in here, right?”
Finally, Ted came from the back and took up his post behind the bar. Frank might say he didn't want to see her, but she needed to see him.
His head snapped over to her, the quick motion almost looked painful.
This is going to be as bad as mom.
As soon as he saw her, he stomped over. Quietly, through gritted teeth he asked what she was doing. Now her fear was directed at him, not at the abstraction of change that surrounded her life. She was afraid of Teddy.
“I...I wanted to talk to you.”
“Why,” still through his teeth.
“I need help.”
“You sure do, but you lost any right to ask me for it.”
“How? What did I do?” Not Teddy too, did she have any friends left?
“Don't pull that shit with me, go read the restraining order. You know, the one that's supposed to keep you out of this bar!” His voice rose as he finished the sentence and turned to walk away.
“Teddy wait.” She pleaded.
He bellowed as he pointed to the door. “Leave. Now.”
Malory shoved away from the bar, a lance of pain stretched across her abdomen as she marched to the door, now more angry than afraid. How dare he just eject her from his life like that. Nothing she'd ever done could warrant a restraining order. Screw him, she'd go back to the apartment and see if that detective left a number or something.
By the time she pulled up to the apartment complex the sun was dropping behind the city, igniting the skyline in a fiery gleam. She started up the stairs to her room before noticing a warm sensation trickling down her stomach. Looking down, her shirt had a minute red stain, when she pulled it up there was a smear of it across her skin, coming from under the gauze. She'd popped a stitch.
Wonderful. That's just great.
Now she'd have to head to the hospital, or at least find a doctor that could fix it. First though, she wanted to see if she had a number for Peters anywhere. If nothing else the police operator could connect her to him.
She struggled for a moment with the lock, then shoved the door open. Immediately a pair of meaty hands grabbed her shirt and flung her to the floor. A tearing sensation shot through her stomach again, as more stitches gave way. Three young men stood over her. All were dressed casually, hoodies and jeans, not even the sagging pants she would expect from gang bangers. Two white boys looked like they were probably wasted. Wandering red eyes had trouble staying on her, but the tall Latino, he had it together. His eyes bore through her. He was angry and, yet again, she had no idea why. Malory tried to crawl, shoving herself away with her legs.
“What, no fight today?” the two with absent eyes laughed as the Latin man spoke
“Who are you? What do want from me?” she blurted out as her back hit a wall.
“Oh, now she doesn't remember us,” more laughter, “come on Mal, Eddy wants a chat.”
She tried to shove away as they pulled her up, clawed at them and trying to connect with a fist. They quickly pinned her arms and pulled her into the hall. She kicked and screamed as they dragged her down the stairs and through the back door, but no heads appeared from other apartments. Hopefully someone was at least calling the police. Outside, she was tossed in a minivan and one of the druggies took the wheel.
My God, I'm living a cliché.
“Alright Mal, cut the crap. What'd you tell the cops?” That tall, dark one was handling all the talk.
“I don't know what you're talking about!” she pleaded.
“I said cut the crap,” he shouted, “One of our houses got busted this morning, what others did you give up?”
“What?” the look of confusion on her face was unmistakable.
“What did you think they'd do? What did you think we'd do? We try to run you out, but you had the balls to go to the cops, then, like a dumbass, you go back home,” he said, shaking his head.
“Run me out?”
“What did you think the beating was for? Should've killed you, guess you put up more of a fight than we expected.”
From the front seat one of the others spoke, holding up a small switchblade. “Hey Mal, I finally found it. Maybe I should dig a little deeper this time.”
“Shut up Rob.” the man in charge commanded. Rob turned back to the front.
Tears welled up in Malory's eyes again.
Are these my 'street friends'?
“I can't believe you were really that stupid.”
“I don't...I don't understand, I don't know you people.”
He looked down at her, considering, while streaks started to run down her cheeks.
“You really don't, do you?”
She shook her head. Rob was talking again.
“Guess that beating did more than we thought, eh Al?”
“I said shut it Rob.”
The rest of the ride continued in silence as the one called Al carefully studied her.
They arrived at a decent enough house in a middle class neighborhood, pulled into the garage. This time they gagged and tied her before leaving the vehicle. The three men pulled her out of the van and down to a finely furnished basement. She was dumped on a couch and only Al remained. He paced back and forth across the basement, impatiently waiting for something.
Eventually a middle aged man, slightly over weight, wearing what Malory imagined to be golfing clothes, stamped down the stairs.
“Alfonz, you've brought a gift for me.” He looked pleased, all smiles.
“Just what you asked for, but there's a problem.”
“Don't tell me that Al, not right now, you can share all your problems later.” Eddy's demeanor hardened a bit, the smile started to fade.
“No Eddy, it's about her,” he pointed to Malory, “I think we have the wrong person.”
“Are you serious, what kind of bull is she pulling?” He stepped over to the couch, “she's got the tattoos, the same pretty brunette head. Look, she even has the leftovers from last night.” Eddy jabbed her in the stomach as he spoke. Malory yelped in pain and tried to suck in her gut, now covered in blood from the broken sutures.
“I know all that, but she doesn't know anything, she doesn't even recognize me.”
“Idiot, do you really believe that?”
“Yes, she's confused, just look in her eyes. Mal would be fighting for her life this whole time, this girl could barely throw a punch. For Christ’s sake she was crying on the way here.”
Yes Al, please, whoever you are, get me out of here.
“That's a load. Whatever she's doing is an act, she's trying to play the sympathy card. Don't. Fall. For it.” Eddy jabbed a finger at Al as he finished. He slid open a drawer and fumbled around for a few seconds. When he turned again his hand held a small pistol with a large tube stuck to the front.
“Now, let me fix this this problem.”
Alfonz stepped back, but kept talking, “Is that really a good idea? If she went to the cops they'll be looking for her.”
“I don’t' care Al.” He turned to aim the gun. Malory closed her eyes and tried to pull on her bindings, expecting a shot soon.
“We should take her somewhere else, you're going to need a cleaner for this basement.” Alfonz kept talking.
“I don't care Al, she's already bled all over my couch.”
“We'll take that too.”
“Shut up Alfonz.”
“Let me take her up to...”
Malory never heard where he wanted to go, two loud pops registered along with a screaming impact and pain in her chest. She didn't feel shots three and four.
Then she was back, back in the dark tunnel falling away from the light, but now it didn't grow dim. When she reached the bottom no hands pulled and tugged, they caught her gently and lowered her to the ground with great care. One of her copies, now much less disgusting, in fact quite beautiful, sat down and pulled her close.
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