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Rainbows

William R.D. Wood lives with his wife and children in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley in an old farmhouse turned backwards to the road. His work has appeared in Nature, Tales to Terrify and Alien Invasion Short Stories. Visit his website at WilliamRDWood.com.
****Editor's warning: Dark, adult tale. ****
Jacob held Becca so she could see out of the dusty basement window. She'd have just climbed onto the back of the ratty old family room couch if he hadn't. She was a stubborn little thing.
A cloud of cancer fibers drifted across the yard outside like spider silk. Some were inches long, some longer than that, but most were dust. Sunlight tangled inside them, splitting into tiny rainbows that danced in the air.
The swarms had been getting thicker and heavier every day. He'd been praying they'd thin out but prayers hadn't worked this time, either. Thicker and heavier every day. Heavier than the tiny pill bottle he'd slipped into his pocket just before Becca woke from her nap.
"Daddy, do you see the one that got Mommy?"
"No, honey, these are a different kind. Mommy... was already sick before they got here."
He had trouble talking about her. Becca talked about her constantly though, with endless matter-of-fact details only a four-year-old can deliver.
A cancer bumped against the outside of the window with a squeak, leaving a scratch.
"You know that Mommy really loved you, right?"
"Kitty!" Becca bounced in his arms, pointing out of the window.
A calico readied to spring from the bushes by the swing set. Had it seen them in the window? Did it think they could feed it, hold it, save it somehow?
"Let her in, Daddy, let her in."
Jacob turned his body, lowering Becca.
The calico darted from cover. A long strand responded, sparkling and twisting in the air. Momentum carried the cat six, maybe ten feet before she tumbled apart like a wad of wet dishrags.
Dust motes nicked at fur as the cat writhed, swatting at the air. The cloud crossing the yard convulsed, redirecting like a slow-motion flock of starlings.
Jacob pulled the curtain. She'd be gone in a minute. Two tops. The bottle in his pocket felt like an anchor. Today had to be the day. He couldn't keep pretending. "Too late," he said.
Becca's lip quivered.
"No, no, honey." He sat her on the couch. "Too late for the cancers. The kitty was way too fast for them. She totally got away."
"Totally?"
Jacob nodded. The weight of the bottle moved from his pocket to his chest.
"Cookies," said Becca, squirming down and running for the shelf in the corner.
A calendar, half covered in exes, hung on the wall beside the family photo from last year. Sarah's cheeks had already been hollow. Stacks of canned and dry foods lined the shelves to both sides, enough for weeks, maybe months.
A single pack of Oreos sat on the top shelf beside the lock box, where Becca couldn't normally see.
She sang as she jumped, arms stretching high in front of the shelf. "Cookie Day, cookie day, cookie day!"
Behind the curtain, cancers squeaked, scratching at the glass. Everyone picks their own, sooner or later.
He slid the bottle from his pocket and placed it by the lock box.
He had a promise to keep. But not today.
Today was Cookie Day.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, October 21st, 2019


Most of my stories begin with an image, or a moment, something I often carry for a long while before it connects with some other beastie. "Rainbows" began with my youngest daughter looking out of a similar basement window when she was very small and the world outside was way bigger than either of us ever imagined.

- William R.D, Wood
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