Free Fiction Friday: Departure

Departure is a short sequel to my first short story titled AMY. The story picks up several years after that horrific passing of Amy, and is laced with flashbacks of that tragic day of discovering. It was included in An Anthology of Short Stories: Winter 2016.

This short story is offered free on this website for one week only. It’s also available in ebook and print, along with six other short stories here.


Paul B Kohler

As Emily followed Blake in from the cold, the warm air from the house felt like a loving embrace. The temperature difference between inside and out was nearly seventy degrees.

“Damn, it’s cold out there,” Emily said as she quickly closed the door. “Whose idea was it to shovel instead of paying the neighbor kid to do it?”

“Yeah, about that,” Blake said as he pulled off his ice-covered ski gloves. “Next time, demand we accept his offer.”

Emily stepped out of her boots, unzipped her Parka, and walked directly to the thermostat. Even though the house was hot, she was shivering and raised the temperature a few degrees until she heard the furnace kick on.

“It’s strangely quiet in here, don’t you think?” Blake said, placing his boots next to Emily’s on the linoleum floor.

“If you check downstairs for Bug, I’ll check up here after I pee,” Emily said as she headed to the main floor bath.

Blake nodded and headed down the stairs.

As Emily walked down the hall, it was oddly dark as all the doors to the rooms were closed. She opened the first door on her left and flipped up the light switch. Their master bedroom was cold and void of their daughter. Passing by the bathroom door on her right, she walked straight to Amy’s room. Not wanting to startle her, Emily quietly cracked the door an inch before opening it fully. Their daughter wasn’t in her room, either.

Reckoning that she must be downstairs playing, Emily stepped back to the bathroom to relieve her bursting bladder. When she opened the bathroom door, Emily was confronted with not only another empty room, but also the contents of the bathroom vanity strewn across the floor.

Momentarily stepping back into the hall, Emily called out to Blake, “Looks like kiddo was in the bath vanity again!” She received no response and decided that he must’ve found Amy in her playroom.

An immense shiver ran through her body, warning her that she must relieve herself now. Stepping back into the bathroom, she had to use her foot to push aside the bottles, tubes, and brushes to reach the toilet. She pulled the cabinet door open enough to slide a finger through the crack and release the childproof lock. In one swift movement, she reached down and picked up a roll of toilet paper with one hand as she swung the door open with the other. As she was about to toss the roll into the cabinet, Emily froze. It took a long moment for her mind to register the nightmare in front of her. Slumped in an awkward position against the back of the cabinet lay the body of her daughter.

“Amy! Oh, god! Blake! Come quick!” Emily screamed as she dropped to her knees and gently pulled her daughter’s lifeless body to her own. Tears instantly filled her eyes upon seeing the once beautiful blonde hair now highlighted with crimson streams of coagulated blood. What happened?

“Amy, baby. Can you hear Mommy? Baby? Mommy’s here now,” Emily said as she stroked Amy’s damp cheeks. They were cool to the touch – much colder than they should have been. She lifted Amy’s tiny neck slightly and felt for a pulse. None could be found.

“Nooo!” Emily screamed, looking into her daughter’s lifeless face, afraid that she would never again see her daughter’s beautiful green eyes return her gaze.

Emily awoke in a cold sweat, despite the ocean breeze coming through her cracked window. She’d had another nightmare. The same nightmare she’d been having for months. Sometimes, it came right after she dozed off. Other times, it came in the middle of the night. She preferred them earlier than later, but her subconscious mind never gave her the option.

It was just before 6:00 a.m., and Emily decided to make the best of her early day, despite reliving the single most horrific event in her life. She slid out of bed, crossed the room, and closed the window. She picked up the empty wineglass from the night before and took it to the kitchen. The dishes from last night’s dinner sat stacked in the sink – an inviting playground for flies. Emily detested doing dishes – certainly a vestige of her life with Blake, as he never helped with them, leaving her the only one in the house with the tedious chore. Choosing to ignore the mess, Emily instead poured herself a glass of orange juice before retreating to the shower.

As she started the water, Emily’s mind gravitated to her past.

“Thank you all for joining us here today, although I’m sure all of us wish this gathering was in celebration rather than mourning. I’m Eva, Amy’s aunt, and I’ll be speaking on behalf of Amy’s parents, my wonderful sister Emily and her husband Blake.”

“The light that was Amy was extinguished entirely too soon. She had just begun to live, so it is hard for us to comprehend why someone so young and special should have to die. We will never know the true reason why this happened to such a precious child. We can simply be glad that we were touched by the angel on earth that was Amy and rejoice that our lives were forever changed for the better because she was a part of them.”

“I remember Amy’s birth like it was yesterday. She was the most beautiful baby girl you could ever hope to see, and she was an especially wonderful gift to Emily and Blake, who’d struggled for years to have a family. With this one child, all their prayers had been answered.”

“Amy was by all accounts an easy baby to raise. She slept through the night early on, and she had a naturally happy disposition. Anytime someone would enter the room, Amy would give a great big smile and stretch out her arms to offer a welcoming hug. Of course, this instantly endeared her to everyone who ever came in contact with her. Amy was definitely meant to bring love into this world for the all-too-short time we would have with her.”

“The heavens above saw how dearly Emily and Blake wanted to know the joy of having a child of their own, and even though it might not have been meant to be, Amy had been given to them for their keeping for a short time so they could know that joy. Amy was taken away from Emily and Blake far too soon. I believe she now waits patiently for the day when her parents will join her, and they will all live happily together once again. I believe that she would want us all to dwell on the happy times we shared with her, and let the sad memories fade.”

Emily could barely keep it together. She sat next to Blake, who was much more composed. As Eva finished the eulogy, Emily sobbed quietly and leaned her head against Blake’s shoulder. Blake shrugged her off with indifference and stormed out, leaving the gathering mourners in shocked silence. Emily lost complete control, having been left to cope with Amy’s death alone, when she needed her husband the most.

The splash of water brought her back to the present in the shower. Emily forced away the memory and tried her best to forget. She knew that it would only be temporary, though, as the past seemed to constantly invade her thoughts.

After a long, soothing shower, she dressed in her brightest blouse and skirt, without looking too jaunty. She slid on a pair of open-toed sandals and slipped out the door to the beach.

The morning sunlight shone drearily through a haze-filled sky – a remnant of the grey, ominous fog from the night before. Emily liked to take walks on the beach and had done so almost every morning since moving to the beach ten months ago. The salty smell of the ocean helped calm her thoughts and clean her soul.

Her normal path took her south along the beach until she reached the pier, then returned to her house along the boardwalk. Not wanting to cope with the crowds usually taking up the boardwalk, she opted to head in the other direction, up the beach. She didn’t much care for walking north, though, due to the abounding seaweed across the sand.

Trying not to step on the slippery leaves, she walked barefoot – sandals dangling from her fingertips. She came upon the only other house within a few hundred feet of her own. The house was clad in faded yellow enamel and had sat empty most of the summer. The windows were usually shuttered and the doors boarded over, but Emily noticed a change today.

She paused at the clump of beach grass growing along the edge of wood planks leading up to a wraparound deck. She tried to look past the dirt-stained windows, which most likely hadn’t seen the light of day in more than a year, but the house was dark beyond.

“If you’re planning on robbing the place, you’ll not get much for your efforts,” came a man’s voice from behind her.

An electrical pulse rushed through her body, causing her to jump nearly an inch into the air.

“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you like that. You just appeared to be staring intently at my new house.”

“Oh, no. I should be the one to apologize. I shouldn’t be so nosy,” Emily said, slightly embarrassed.

“No need to apologize. So, you’re not here to rob me then?”

“No, I was just out for my morning walk and noticed the shutters were gone from the windows, and …” Emily explained, but her voice trailed off.

“And?” said the man, with a mischievous smile.

“I should start over. Hi. I live next door,” she said, pointing to her own house. “I usually walk the other way, but this morning I was drawn to head north. I’m Emily.”

“Hi, Emily. I’m Dan. Like I said, I’ve just moved in, and as you can see, you caught me heading back from the grocery,” Dan said, as he hoisted his hands up to show her the filled plastic sacks.

“Oh, I should get on with my walk and let you get your groceries put away.”

“Nonsense. I just bought some fresh squeezed orange juice from the market. Can I offer you a glass? It’s kind of a ‘welcome to the neighborhood’ drink … to myself.”

Emily laughed out loud and smiled. She suddenly realized it had been ages since she’d laughed. “Thank you, Dan, but I mustn’t intrude. Perhaps another time,” she said as she started to walk towards the retreating waves.

“Well, okay then. I’m going to hold you to that,” Dan said as he walked up to his house.

Emily continued to walk up the beach, her feet tracing the water’s edge. As she continued north, a rock-formed jetty curved away from the beach, forming a large tide pool on the far side. Walking out on the jetty to the very edge, Emily found a large boulder along the water and sat down to rest.

As she dropped her toes into the cresting waves, her mind returned to her nightmare. Instead of reliving the horrific moment again, Emily focused on the love that she had for her daughter. She envisioned Amy’s smile in her mind’s eye and smiled herself. Tears came quickly, as they usually did, but something was different. For the first time since running away from the horror of living a life without her daughter, she felt that she might in fact be able to move beyond her past. She looked out across the crashing waves and wondered what it was that had changed this day. What was different?

She knew what it was but was too afraid to accept it as the reason. It was the brief moment meeting her new neighbor. Since leaving Blake after Amy’s death, Emily had become a hermit – staying inside her own shell. She spoke to others only when it became absolutely necessary. Sitting on that boulder, Emily realized that she had moved past the self-loathing aspect of her daughter’s death. She knew it was time to make some changes.

The metallic whine from a boat passing brought her mind back to reality. The boat was heading out to sea, and she wondered if she should do the same.

Copyright 2019 by Paul B. Kohler

Published by Global Endeavor Publishing

First published in An Anthology of Short Stories: Winter 2016.

Cover, Interior design, and layout by Paul B. Kohler

Departure a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.

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