Today we’re happy to have this exclusive excerpt from Christa Carmen’s story, “Flowers from Amaryllis.” That story and more can be found in her new collection, Something Borrowed, Something Bloodsoaked. Check out this synopsis and stick around after the cut to check out this intriguing excerpt from the story.
Synopsis: A young woman’s fears regarding the gruesome photos appearing on her cell phone prove justified in a ghastly and unexpected way. A chainsaw-wielding Evil Dead fan defends herself against a trio of undead intruders. A bride-to-be comes to wish that the door between the physical and spiritual worlds had stayed shut on All Hallows’ Eve. A lone passenger on a midnight train finds that the engineer has rerouted them toward a past she’d prefer to forget. A mother abandons a life she no longer recognizes as her own to walk up a mysterious staircase in the woods.
In her debut collection, Christa Carmen combines horror, charm, humor, and social critique to shape thirteen haunting, harrowing narratives of women struggling with both otherworldly and real-world problems. From grief, substance abuse, and mental health disorders, to a post-apocalyptic exodus, a seemingly sinister babysitter with unusual motivations, and a group of pesky ex-boyfriends who won’t stay dead, Something Borrowed, Something Blood-Soaked is a compelling exploration of horrors both supernatural and psychological, and an undeniable affirmation of Carmen’s flair for short fiction.
FLOWERS FROM AMARYLLIS
An excerpt from Something Borrowed, Something Bloodsoaked By Christa Carmen
You step onto the ward with your densely-bandaged wrists and your hollow, haunted gaze and you don’t look into a single friendly face upon being introduced. Your hair was once the color of wheat beneath a noon-day sun, but has faded to a brown the shade of timid rabbits in a shadowed thicket. As soon as you’re able, you retreat into the room you’ve been assigned, and don’t come out for the rest of that night, the next day, or the following evening. At almost midnight on what will be your third day on the ward, you pitter-pat out in your hospital garb and tangled hair, and you shake and sob and tell the nightshift nurse that there’s someone in your room.
“Of course there’s someone in your room. Two someones to be exact,” the nurse says. “Your roommates, Olive and Lauren.”
You are inconsolable, and the nurse softens, offers you something to help you sleep. You place your Elavil and your substantial dose of Valium upon your tongue, and on the way back in to make bargains with the Sandman, you mutter something that sounds like, ‘please let it be gone.’
On your fifth day on the ward, your former foster parents try to visit, but you deny them entry (why won’t they cut you off, the way Imogene has?), and the staff has no choice but to obey your wishes. Outside the locked doors, in the cramped anteroom where an ancient elevator chimes regardless of whether or not the call button has been pressed, the woman who did all she could to mother you after your parents were killed stands, crying and pleading to be able to see you.
The mental health clinician, Lisa, a patient woman who elicits understanding from even the most distressed of visitors, convinces Sheila Gonzalez that you are being well-taken care of, and that if there’s anything she’d like to leave for you—clothes or candy, books or playing cards—she can do so, and you’ll have access to it as soon as it undergoes the requisite contraband check. Sheila visibly brightens, turns to Ray Gonzalez, slight and silent at the corner of the anteroom, and gestures for him to give her what he holds between his hands.
It’s a decorative fabric box, the kind for storing photos in, and Lisa takes it, tells Sheila and Ray that they should call tomorrow, that perhaps you will be ready to speak to them then.
“Before we go, can you tell me, has our daughter’s wife, Imogene, been to see her yet?”
Lisa tells Sheila that by some strange stroke of misfortune, each instance of Imogene’s arrival has seen you off the ward for one medical test or another.
“Make sure Willow knows,” Sheila implores. “She’s convinced her struggles will lead those who love her to abandon her, but Imogene’s not going anywhere, and neither are we.”
The visiting hour is hectic, and the box of photographs is forgotten until the following morning, when your doctor arrives for the day’s appointments. You are third on his list, which means you are pulled from a group on relaxation and deep breathing exercises, though neither tactic has had any effect on your state of mind. You trudge into the office with the enthusiasm of a cat before a bath and sit on the edge of the chair, your body language a testament to your distrust and exhaustion.
After questions about your meds (you feel lethargic), how you’re eating (you’re not), and how you’re sleeping (in fits and starts, for fifteen minutes or so each hour), the doctor asks if you would like to go through the photographs that your once-foster parents delivered.
You bristle, but Dr. Mendelevitch explains that the duration of your stay depends on the effort put into your treatment, and so with pursed lips and a shrug, you agree, and brace for this Rorschach test of images rather than cnidarian blobs of ink.
The doctor lifts the stack of photographs from the box and unties the salmon, satin ribbon keeping them in place. On the desk, he fans them out like he’s reviewing paint samples, plucks up a single photograph, studies it, then turns it so it’s facing you. A long-taloned hand reaches up from the depths of your empty stomach to grab you by the throat. In the photo, you are fifteen…
* * *
You are fifteen, and it is the evening of your sophomore homecoming dance. Neither your mother nor your father has a sharp word or worried glance at the news that you are going with Imogene Rogers.
“I love you no matter what,” your father says, and you warm with the knowledge that all is, and will continue to be, right with the world.
When Imogene arrives, your mother stitches a tear in the girl’s hem, while you make last minute adjustments to your cat-eye liner and Heidi-braid. Your father takes rapid-fire shots of you and Imogene until you smile shyly, kiss Imogene on the cheek, and ask your date if she’ll take a picture of you and your parents. Imogene counts to three, you squeeze your parents’ hands with each of your own, and your smile is like a spray of tulips at the start of April, blooming toward the flash of light.
No one snaps a picture of you at your parents’ funeral the following week. If they had, any beholder would think your lips incapable of flowering smiles or kisses.
* * *
When Dr. Mendelevitch lowers the photo, you are looking out the room’s one barred window. Your hands are shaking, and you struggle to clasp them in your lap around the bulky bandages encircling your wrists.
The doctor squints at the computer screen. “I see you’ve been treated for an irregular heartbeat and electrolyte imbalances in the past. During these prior hospitalizations, you were identified as a suicide risk due to the nature of your self-inflicted wounds. Did these behaviors begin immediately after the death of your parents?”
Your eyes do not stray from the window. A seagull soars past the glass, and you visualize the sandy beach to which it is traveling, the algae-slick rocks above the crashing surf on which it will perch.
You drag your gaze away from the outside world and back to the doctor as if you’ve lived out five hundred lives on the ward since Friday, as if the first of the photographs has had a vampiric effect on your vitality.
“Maybe we should move on to the next photo,” Dr. Mendelevitch says.
You nod, emit a small exhalation of relief.
“What can you tell me about this one?”
The memory associated with the photo leeches what little color was left in your face. You remember that day, the storm, your vision swimming along a horizon that surged like a storm-ravaged sea. You remember the seismic wave of nausea; you remember stopping to lift the tangle of hair from your neck, and strain to hear past the ringing in your ears. The thunder is closer now, a hornets’ nest knocked from the eaves and rolling, helter-skelter, down the sidewalk. You are nineteen…
* * *
You are nineteen, and days pass with all the detail of half-finished pencil sketches, grey and smudged and evanescent. You have been living from acquaintances’ couches to shelters and back again for three years now, unwilling to burden Sheila, Ray, and Imogene with your defectiveness any longer. It is easier this way, easier to subject your body to the repertoire of tortures it requires. Food is scarce and instruments of pain abound in the absence of everything else.
On the day you are caught in the storm, you have not eaten in over a week. Though indiscriminate shapes bob at your periphery, the shadow wolf is unmistakable. It’s been stalking you since the night of the accident, the night a young man’s negligence cost your parents everything. Nineteen of Keith Coates’ driving citations had been covered up by his father, a local senator. The twentieth was a head-on collision with your parents’ Prius.
You will never put the ones who love you in the position of wishing they hadn’t given you a second chance. Maybe the shadow wolf is real, and maybe it’s a manifestation of your fractured mind; either way, you will not string your family along while you do what needs to be done to escape it.
The rain increases from a drizzle to a deluge, and, unexpectedly, the front bedroom of the Gonzalez’s warm, inviting home flashes across your mind’s eye with a corresponding zigzag of lightening. You shake the image of this place you have abandoned from your head, and turn to put some distance between you and the shadow wolf.
You stop at the sound of a whimper on the wind.
You can make little sense of a tiny foxhound puppy beneath the verdant stalks of a plot of amaryllises, but a flourishing garden in this neighborhood of debris-strewn lawns and boarded-up windows is equally perplexing. You bring the puppy to your chest, and its quivering body is like fur-covered twigs tossed together by the storm. You set your jaw and focus your gaze, preparing to outrun the shadow wolf.
When you look over your shoulder to gauge the distance between you, its sinister presence is gone.
It is only later, of course, that the picture is taken. Euphoric at your return, frantic to feed both the foster daughter who left and the malnourished puppy she has returned with, Sheila Gonzalez sets you up at the kitchen table with a massive plate of food, and snaps a photo on her old Minolta camera without warning.
The black and white film cannot soften the angles of your cheeks, or the depressions beneath your eyes, but it does capture something else. The tilt of your jaw is like a daylily in fall, set against the wind, confirmation that the shadow wolf did not destroy you, that deliverance is at hand.
You name the puppy Amaryllis, after the flowers under which you found her. Perhaps it is only a coincidence that they were your mother’s favorites.
* * *
A knock comes at the door, and the nurse who opens it doesn’t bother to hide her annoyance at Dr. Mendelevitch and his lack of progress on the day’s appointments. The doctor shoos her away with an impatient gesture. His movements cause the satin ribbon to cascade over the side of his desk like molten lava over a volcano summit. The doctor nabs the end of the ribbon right before it is lost, and you ask if you can hold it. Dr. Mendelevitch wavers.
“Just while I’m in your office,” you say. “I know we can’t have anything resembling rope on the ward.”
He smiles at your insight, passes over the ribbon. You run it through your fingers, tie it in a bow around the arm of the chair, the way you used to around Amaryllis’ neck. The dog would prance as if the Gonzalez’s living room was the Westminster Kennel Club arena, velvet ears falling back from her delicately-boned face, tail drumming a beat against the side of Ray’s leather armchair.
“Your last hospitalization…” Dr. Mendelevitch pauses to calculate forward from the date scrawled on the back of the photo he still held, “was a little over a year after this was taken.”
You think, the duration of your stay depends on the effort put into your treatment, and therefore say, “The shadow wolf stopped chasing me when I found Amaryllis. It took a little while for my body to acknowledge this.”
“The…shadow wolf? Can you tell me more about that?”
The shadow of another bird passes the glass and you fight the urge to surrender to the pull of the world outside the window. “I… it’s hard to explain. I saw it for the first time the night my parents died. The last was the day of the thunderstorm…
To read the rest of this and all the other stories, pick up your copy of Something Borrowed, Something Bloodsoaked.
About Christa Carmen
Christa Carmen is a writer of dark fiction, and her short stories have appeared in places like Fireside Fiction Company, Unnerving Magazine, Year’s Best Hardcore Horror, Outpost 28, DarkFuse Magazine, and Tales to Terrify, to name a few. She has additional work forthcoming from Lycan Valley Press Publications’ all-female horror anthology, Dark Voices, and her debut fiction collection, Something Borrowed, Something Blood-Soaked, will be released in August 2018 by Unnerving.
Christa lives in Westerly, Rhode Island with her husband and their ten-year-old bluetick beagle, Maya. She has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania in English and psychology, and a master’s degree from Boston College in counseling psychology, and she’s currently pursuing a Master of Liberal Arts in Creative Writing & Literature from Harvard Extension School. Christa works at a pharmaceutical company as a Research & Development Packaging Coordinator, and at a local hospital as a mental health clinician. When she’s not writing, she is volunteering with one of several organizations that aim to maximize public awareness and seek solutions to the ever-growing opioid crisis in southern Rhode Island and southeastern Connecticut.
Author Website: www.christacarmen.com
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/author/christacarmen