Her family was going to Hell, and there was nothing she could do about it.
The red block letters stood out as she read the notice threatening to turn off her electricity. The foreclosure was wreaking havoc on her nerves, her husband’s benefits were running out, the medical bills were piling high, and the goddamned dog wouldn’t stop eating the couch.
She went to check on Amanda. The girl lay sleeping in her crib, her forehead beaded with sweat in the sweltering room. Why the hell was it so hot in here? No breeze blew through the open window. She shooed a fly from her daughter’s face. What would she do when the benefits ran out? How would her daughter get treatment?
Bending to plant a kiss on the girl’s forehead, she felt a sudden warmth tug her from behind. She turned and gaped, the wall suddenly funneling back into a bright spinning vortex. Searing heat pulled her, the room’s furniture falling toward the hole, dragging them to the edge. The mother screamed, clutching her unconscious daughter, and bolted for the open doorway. Clutching her precious daughter, she threw herself into the hall and fell panting against the wall.
From the floor outside, she watched the portal expand. Heat emanated from its depths; its light left its imprint on her retina when she looked away, the image seared into her brain. Soon, her husband bounded up the steps. When he saw the vision through the open doorway, he slammed the door shut and wound his family in his arms. “I didn’t know this would happen!” he sobbed. “It’s fine. I can reverse this. It’ll be just fine,” he said.
The mother had her doubts. Acts of god (or mad scientists, for that matter) were rarely covered by insurance policies, and their policy would expire at the end of the month.
It had been years since she’d assisted Ralph in his work, but minions were one luxury they couldn’t afford under present circumstances. She donned her goggles, adjusted the straps on her leather apron, and soldered the final piece of the machine into place. This would work. Their home would be destroyed in a matter of hours if the portal expanded exponentially, but Ralph assured her this would work. It needed to work.
She could barely stand to look as they aimed the reversal-gun at the gaping hole that had once been the heart of their happy home. She thought of their daughter safely stowed at Grandma’s house. At least the old bat was useful for something.
Presently, what remained of the house hummed with the machine’s vibrations. Electricity crackled. Sparks flew. She took cover behind the protective shield alongside her husband, gazing up at the hole that had once been the nursery. The gun went off. A sudden explosion of light and heat sent them reeling, despite the shield, into the wall beyond. She watched in horror as the portal engulfed the rest of the ceiling. She wondered how long the roof would hold. How much longer did they have?
Ralph stood up beside her, the expanding circle of fire reflected in his goggles. His mouth gaped. He made no attempt to move, and she screamed, “It’s getting worse!” – yanking him from his reverie as woodwork fell around them. “Goddamn it, Ralph! It’s getting worse!”
Her husband turned to reply, his face blackened by ash and sweat. They dodged falling debris, and she caught the fiery glint on his goggles once more. “I don’t know what else to do,” he sobbed.
She stopped and watched him run through the screaming remains of her former kitchen. Soot and debris rained around her, but none touched. “Screw it, Ralph. We tried it your way.”
She raised her eyes to the portal and muttered ancient words. Her voice rose until she was screaming above the din, pointing at the light beyond. A fierce growl emanated from its depths. Smiling, she turned, grabbed the small kennel, and hurled it into the flames. There was one horrific howl; then the portal sealed itself and the house was engulfed in silence.
She grinned. She had really loved that couch. Besides, their insurance did cover fire damage.
*The above story was completed as part of a worksheet for a Writers’ Workshop that I attended a few weeks ago. The three authors who taught the workshop discussed writing techniques. My thanks to Lucy A. Snyder, Linda Robertson, and Gary A. Braunbeck – as well as Backlist Books and the Massillon Museum – for providing this service.