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There Is No Way This Turns out Well: A Short Story

A Short Story

A couple weeks ago I did a writing exercise, just something to keep my skills sharp, and I shared it with the HP community. This, then, is the short story borne from that exercise. I hope you enjoy it.

Tucked into the woods

Tucked into the woods

The Encounter

I remember thinking, there’s no way this turns out well.

Have you ever experienced that? You’re suddenly faced with a situation, a decision, a fork in the friggin’ road, you take a moment to ponder, your neurons engage, your options flash by in a millisecond, the computer between your ears comes to a conclusion, and that conclusion is nope, no way this turns out well no matter what the hell I do.

That’s where I was two months ago, a knock at the door, me on my second cup of tea of the night, turn the tv off, get up off the couch, open the door and there she was, breathtaking, a catch-of-the-breath beauty, raven hair flowing over her shoulders, green eyes illuminated by the porch light, her exhales pluming in the nighttime cold, maybe five-six, maybe one-twenty, hard to tell with the bulky clothing, holding a manilla envelope in her left hand.

She didn’t raise her head enough to look directly at me, choosing instead to keep her head bowed, raising only her gaze, an odd gesture I thought at the time.

And my first thought, the aforementioned there’s no way this turns out well.

Such a strange thing to think, faced with loveliness, nothing out of the ordinary happening outside, nothing at all to trigger that thought, and yet there it was, harkening back to the cave man, hunter-gatherer of yesteryear, trusting instincts fueled by life and death experiences, fight or flight, choose right or become a meal for others.

There’s no way this turns out well.

I should have listened to that voice.


What I Should Have Done

I should have closed the damned door right then. It would have been so easy to do, a simple movement of my arm, right to left, gently close and latch it, forever shutting her out from my life. I knew it then. I know it now.

Instead, I sought answers in those guarded eyes, answers to my uneasiness.

“May I help you?”

Her answer pierced my heart.

“I need help!”

That’s where it should have ended. Pull out the phone, call 911, let the cops handle it. No visit, middle of the night, to my cabin, two-hundred yards off the main road, unseeable from the road, couldn’t be anything other than trouble. I knew that, deep in the marrow of my bones, some animalistic switch in my brain, turned on, saying flight is always the best option when faced with the unknown, tell her to wait outside while I call for help, do it now while there’s still time to embrace safety.

“Come in, let’s warm you up by the woodstove, you can tell me what the problem is.”

The interior lights showed her to be thirty, give or take a year or two, maybe ten years my junior. I pulled a chair from the table, set it near the wood stove, took her parka, told her to have a seat.

Still no direct gaze from her as she quietly shook from the cold just escaped.

“I need help!”

“Is someone chasing you?”

A shake of her head.

“Let me get you something warm to drink and you can tell me all about it. Hot chocolate all right with you?”

A nod, hugging herself, looking at the floor.

No one chasing her, but she needs help. Middle of the woods, Cascade Mountain foothills, late March, colder than a witch’s tit, no reason for her to be where she was, no reason for me to give a damn, but she needs help.

I live where I live for a reason. I don’t want this shit in my life. Quite simply, I just want to be left alone, thank you very much, is that too damned much to ask?

But she needs help!

How Do You Say No to That?

I wasn’t raised that way. You don’t refuse to help someone who genuinely needs it, and she needed it in the worse way.

I handed her the steaming mug.

“Tell me what’s wrong.”

Another shiver from the cold. The outside seemed to grow quieter, as though we were in a space vacuum, no sound possible.

“I’m going to die.” Almost a whisper, like a wisp of wind gently caressing my face. The hair rose on the back of my neck. My arms tingled. Flight or fight, it came down to that, I don’t know how I knew, but I knew, one moment from the millions we live, one moment, one decision, flight or fight, forever altering the course of a life.

“Is someone threatening you? Who is it? Where is this person now? Give me something to work with and maybe I can help.”

She shook her head, took a sip of the hot chocolate, finally raised her head and looked directly at me, the green eyes boring a hole into my psyche.

“I have a brain tumor. I was told at the hospital, St. Pete’s, there are only five surgeons in the world who can perform the surgery. You’re one of them. I need you to save my life.”

There it was! The impossible asked.

“If they told you that, they must have also told you I retired. I don’t do surgeries any longer. I’m terribly sorry, but I’m no longer a practicing surgeon.”

A single tear slid over a downy cheek.

“It’s growing in my brain right now. They said they can’t operate. They said it’s too dangerous. And yes, they said you retired, but I need you. I know all about Paula Stillwell. I know she died, but I don’t care. You must help me.”


The Past Returns

Paula Stillwell, a name I had spent nine months trying to forget. They had said her tumor was inoperable, but they had been wrong. Everything proceeded as planned, perfect extraction of her deadly invader, me dead tired from an emotional week from hell, too little sleep, too jangled nerves, the slightest of slight movements and a nick of an artery. We stopped the bleeding, pumped new blood into her, and then the cardiac arrest. Paula died on the table. I left the hospital staff the next day, world-renowned surgeon retreated to the cabin, drank heavily for six months, dried out for three, and then this woman, and the past, returned. There simply is no such thing as outrunning the past.

She handed me the envelope she had been clutching.

“My hospital records. Please look at them.”

How could I make her understand what I went through after Paula’s death? A surgeon who doubts himself should never enter the operating room again. It’s as simple as that, a recipe for disaster, a landmine on a gentle country lane, should be permanently closed to traffic, never give the damned thing a chance to explode.

“Paula Stillwell died because of my mistake. I tried to drink myself to death afterwards, but I even failed at that. Believe me, you don’t want me raking around inside your head. You have no idea what you’re asking. I’m rusty. A surgeon needs to constantly hone his craft, and I haven’t picked up a scalpel in far too long.”

Another tear. Again, eye contact.

“Paula Stillwell was my sister! She and I had a horrible argument several months before her death. We weren’t speaking at the time of the operation. I wasn’t even there when she died, and I should have been.”

The walls seemed to shrink inward. For a thirty-second count I was afraid to breathe. I could feel my heart, a locomotive pounding in my chest.

“Then why me? I’m the one who killed your sister.”

She placed the mug on the floor, stood up, took two steps to where I was sitting, cupped my face in her hands, those damned green eyes wrapping chains around my heart.

“Because, Doctor Andres, it’s all about redemption! We are both in dire need of it.”

I should have never opened that damned door!

We’ll Leave It at That

I don’t know where this is going, but there you have it. Maybe this is Chapter One. Maybe it’s a fitting ending. We shall see, but thank you for reading.

2021 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

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