A short story based on the image shown
from a prompt from Writers Unite! – June 2019
Bucket of Life
A Short Story by Lynn Miclea
Squeezing pressure. Hard to breathe. My chest ached. My jaw hurt. Dizziness flooded through me and I felt weak. I stumbled to the phone and called 9-1-1. Didn’t feel well. Nauseous. Felt awful. Could not take a deep breath. Shuffled to the front door and unlocked it. Lay down on the floor in front of the unlocked door and hoped they would get there in time. Darkness.
Surrounded by a flurry of activity. I was placed on a gurney. I felt a mask pressed to my face. I felt movement and heard sirens as the ambulance raced to the hospital. Felt hot and sweaty. Would I make it? Not sure I would survive. Darkness.
A room. Surrounded by doctors in blue scrub suits. I ached all over. Felt heavy. Something was horribly wrong.
“We’re losing her again.”
I floated up. Surrounded by brilliant white light. Warm and soothing.
Who was talking? I looked down from the ceiling and watched my body bounce on the hospital bed. Doctors frantically moved and worked on my body. But I was up here above it all. That wasn’t me anymore. I was light and free. No more pain.
The light softened and I was surrounded by dazzling yellow flowers. They were so beautiful. And butterflies—hundreds of them. Thousands. They were exquisite. What was this place? Where was I?
A figure approached. Familiar, but looked different. My mom! She looked like she used to look when she was younger.
“Mom!” I called out to her.
She approached, a smile on her face. “It’s not your time.”
“What? No, I like it here. I don’t want to go back.”
“We’ll meet again, I promise. But there’s something you still need to do down there.”
“No, I’m done there. I want to be here with you.”
Beautiful music surrounded me. Beethoven? Chopin? Mozart? I wasn’t sure. But it was familiar and overpowering. I loved it.
My mom had something in her hand. “You have to go back and do something.”
“No, don’t make me go back.”
“Here.” She handed me something.
“What is this?” I looked at it. It was a small bucket.
“You’ll know what to do.”
“Huh?” I looked at the bucket—it was pink with yellow polka dots. What was this for?
I bounced on the bed. I was so achy. Pain radiated throughout my body.
“Jenna, can you hear me?”
Where was I? I tried to respond. My eyes wouldn’t open. My mouth was dry.
“I see movement. She’s responding now.”
My eyes flew open. Doctors surrounded me, peering down at me.
“Jenna, can you hear me?”
I nodded. What happened to my dream? I remembered having such a nice dream. I couldn’t quite remember it, but it was nice.
A mask was placed on my face and I relaxed. There was a flurry of activity. I was moved to another gurney and wheeled somewhere. I slept.
A month later, I sat at my kitchen table for lunch and sipped an iced tea. I had recovered from my heart attack, but that really scared me and left me feeling vulnerable. And recovery was slow—I still didn’t feel great. I was alive, but I was not sure for what. Here I was, in my late sixties, retired, and no close friends. Why had I even survived? What good was my life?
I finished my sandwich and drank more iced tea. Feeling fatigued, I closed my eyes and let out a long sigh. It felt good to relax, even if I was still achy. Vague memories of a dream flitted through my mind, but I couldn’t quite catch it. I remembered seeing my mom. It had seemed so real. And she had given me something. Something important. But I couldn’t remember what it was.
I got up, placed the dirty dishes in the sink, and wandered aimlessly into the garage. Glancing around, everything seemed in place, except … what was that? It looked like a few of my storage boxes had been moved. But I didn’t remember moving them.
I moved closer. A pink handle of some sort stuck out next to one of the boxes. Something tickled in the back of my mind as I slowly reached forward and pulled on the handle. A pink bucket with yellow polka dots. What the … I gasped as the memory flooded back. The dream! That’s what my mom had given me in that dream! Nooooo!
How was that possible? I never had this object in real life. This was a dream object. It crossed over from the dream world into the real world. It made no sense. A shiver ran through me.
I looked inside the bucket. There was a folded piece of paper at the bottom—a note with writing on it. I cautiously pulled out the note, opened it, and read it.
Hartview Bridge. Today. 2:00 pm.
I felt my heartbeat quicken. My mouth went dry. What was this? I felt a vague pressure in the air. Was I having another heart attack? No, I felt okay. Just a vague overall pressure. I didn’t know why, but I knew I had to be at the Hartview Bridge at 2:00. I glanced at my watch. I’d have to leave in ten minutes. I didn’t want to be late for whatever it was.
I arrived at the bridge with five minutes to spare. I quickly scanned the area but didn’t see anything. Then movement caught my eye, and I squinted and started walking closer. A young teenager, male, maybe fifteen or sixteen, walked to the middle of the bridge. I felt that pressure increase. I still didn’t understand it, but I knew this young man was why I was here.
I quickened my steps and rushed forward. As I got closer, I could see that his hair was disheveled and his face was streaked with tears. Now twenty feet away, I could hear gasps and choking sobs coming from him.
He climbed up onto the first of three rungs that spanned the length of the bridge. I knew instantly that he intended to jump. I sprinted to him, and as he climbed up onto the second rung, I grabbed him around the waist and pulled him down.
He gasped and sputtered and spun around, looking at me. “What the hell? Leave me alone!”
“No, please don’t jump. Please. Talk to me. Whatever it is, don’t end your life. You’re needed here.”
He scowled and looked angry. “You don’t know me. You don’t know anything.”
I nodded. He was right. I had no idea what his life was like. “Please just talk to me.” I spoke softly. “My name is Jenna. What is your name?”
He hesitated. “Shawn,” he whispered.
“Shawn, whatever you’re dealing with—”
“No, you don’t understand. I can’t take it anymore. I’m tired of the bullying. I’m tired of getting beat up.” His face contorted and he sobbed. “Everyone hates me and makes fun of me because I’m gay. But that’s who I am. I can’t—”
I squeezed his shoulder. “Actually, I do understand. My cousin is gay and I know what he’s been through. And I’m bi.” I hesitated and then went on. “Shawn, I promise you’re safe with me.” He sniffed and nodded. When he stayed and didn’t run away, I continued. “Can I buy you lunch? Please? Let’s talk.”
He nodded and began sobbing again. I reached for him and hugged him. I held onto him. After a couple minutes, I felt his body relax and I felt him cling to me. My heart broke for him. As we walked to my car and I took him to lunch, the pressure around me eased, and I knew that’s what I was here for. And I also knew I was the right person to help him.
A couple weeks later, I went into the garage to get a bottle of water. I felt a familiar pressure building. It occurred to me that I had not looked in that bucket in a while. I picked up the pink pail with the yellow polka dots and looked inside. Another note was at the bottom. How was this possible?
I picked up the note and read it.
439 Magnolia Blvd. Today. 10:30 am.
Chills ran up my spine. I felt gripped by that same pressure as it increased. I knew I had to be there. And I had to leave right away.
Parking my car two houses away from that address, I walked toward the building. It was a modest, two-story, gray house with white shutters and white trim. What was I doing here? I walked closer to the house. The lawn had been recently mown, and the hedges were neatly trimmed.
Shouts from the second story drew my attention. Looking up, I saw smoke billowing out of one of the windows. A woman, holding a baby, leaned out the window as flames shot out behind her. She wailed and looked around frantically. “Help!” she called out. “Is anyone there?” She screamed. “I’m not going to make it.” Flames licked the wall around her. “I’m sorry, my baby. Please survive.” She threw the baby out the window, trying to aim for some shrubbery.
I saw the baby flying through the air, screeching, its little arms flailing. I rushed forward toward the baby and caught him as he fell into my arms. I held him and rocked him as I heard sirens racing toward us. I glanced up and saw the woman straddling the window, ready to jump. She looked toward the sound of the fire engines and then saw me holding her precious baby. I rocked her sweet baby and talked to him as his mother’s heart-wrenching sobs filled the air. Within moments, firefighters rushed over with ladders and they climbed up to rescue the woman.
A few minutes later, I handed her the sweet baby, who was now cooing and reaching for his mama.
The pressure around me eased, and I knew I was done. I got back in my car and headed home.
Confusion settled around me. Who was putting the notes in that bucket? Why was I chosen for this? How long would this go on? But I received no answers.
Later that week, I felt the familiar pressure building again, and I ran to the garage and looked in the pink bucket. Sure enough, there was a note in there.
Lake Granada. South side. Today. 3:00 pm.
My gut knotted up. What was going on? Why me? I didn’t understand any of it. But I also knew I had to be there.
Parking my Honda in the parking lot by the lake, I checked the sign to make sure I was at the south end of the lake. I was. I got out of the car and looked around at the peaceful setting. Graceful sycamore and maple trees surrounded the lake. A cool fresh breeze blew off the water and washed over me as I walked toward the lake.
I thought I heard something. The pressure around me intensified. Again I heard a sound. Whimpering. Coming from the lake. I ran to the edge. Something was in the water—a small dog struggling to stay afloat. I could tell it was fatigued and could not make it to shore. I quickly took off my shoes and socks and ran into the cold water. The dog went under, then came back up, its snout barely breaking the surface. I swam as fast as I could. The dog saw me coming and tried to hold on, but I could see it was losing strength. It went under again just as I reached it. I quickly grabbed the furry brown dog and pulled him out of the water and held him to me. He clung to me as best he could, panting, making small whimpering noises.
Holding the poor dog in one hand I slowly made my way through the water to the shore. Breathing heavily and climbing out onto the small sandy area, I looked at the dog. I was fatigued myself, and I knew the dog would not have lasted much longer.
Grabbing an old towel from the back of my car, I sat down in a grassy area and examined the dog as I dried him with the towel. He looked like a terrier mix to me, exhausted but okay. I sat with him a few more minutes, drying him and comforting him. He licked my face. He was a sweet dog and looked like he had been well cared for. He must have gotten lost. He had a collar and a tag, and I called the number listed. The owner answered. Yes, he had lost his dog and had been frantic, trying to find him.
We made arrangements to meet, and I felt the pressure ease.
I hoped that would be all I was requested to do. I did not want to be in this position. I was tired and confused and still did not understand any of it.
The next week, I felt that familiar pressure building again. Reluctantly, I went into the garage and looked in the pink bucket with the yellow polka dots. Another note.
Market St. and Fourth Ave. SW corner. Today. 11:00 am.
Did I want to do this? I had to. I had no choice—it was compelling. The pressure was building, and I knew I needed to be there.
I parked my Honda down the street and walked to that corner. I didn’t see anything unusual, and I felt uncomfortable standing there just waiting for something to happen.
The pressure increased. Traffic was busy at that intersection, but not busier than usual. The light turned green, and I saw an older man waiting to cross the street as he watched the light but not the cars. A van was barreling down the street, and it was clear that it was not going to stop—it was going to run the red light. The man stepped off the curb, into the path of the van.
I jumped forward, grabbing the man’s arm and pulling him back onto the curb. “Hey—” he yelled as he fell back onto me and we both crashed to the sidewalk. “What the hell—”
The van rushed past us, the wind and dust kicking up behind it and blowing over us. We both stared after the van. “It would have hit you,” I said softly.
The old man looked at me. “I just wanted to get a newspaper,” he muttered.
“Are you okay?”
He nodded and I helped him get up. “Thank you, miss.” He ran his fingers through his thinning hair. “Thank you.”
I felt the pressure ease, and I patted him on the back. Before I left, I warned him to look both ways at the traffic before he stepped off the curb, and to be safe.
There were no more notes for a couple weeks, and then it started again. A few times each month I went on assignments, following the instructions on each note as it appeared. As much as it was rewarding to help others, it was also a bit unnerving. It was hard to wrap my head around it, and I never felt worthy of being in that position.
After about six months, the bucket remained empty for a few weeks. I wondered if it was over. Was I done? Who was sending the notes anyway? And how? It was all baffling and also exhausting. And I still did not understand any of it or why it was happening. And why me? Was I supposed to learn something? Make amends for something? I had no idea.
Then I felt the pressure build again. I made my way into the garage to the familiar bucket and pulled out the note.
Your living room. Today. 8:00 pm.
Huh? What or who would need my help in my own living room? But I knew I would honor the call. At 7:30, I sat on the couch in my living room. All was quiet. I turned on the TV and watched the news. Almost 8:00. The pressure increased. But no one else was there.
The pressure suddenly intensified. My heart pounded. My heart felt like it was exploding in my chest. What was this? My jaw ached. No! Nausea overwhelmed me and I broke out in a sweat. I ran for the phone. My legs gave way and I collapsed after a few steps. I could not reach the phone. It was hard to breathe. My vision grew black.
The room now flooded with bright light.
My mom was here again! “Mom!”
She smiled and opened her arms to greet me. “Hi, honey.”
I felt light and free. Brilliant yellow flowers were everywhere. Butterflies filled the air. A sweet, delicate fragrance washed over me.
I remembered that I had questions and needed answers. “Mom, how did the pink bucket appear in physical form? And why did I have to do all that? And why me?”
She laughed and glowed with love. “It will all become clear as you meet with your guide. That will happen shortly. Then you will understand all of it.”
“Okay.” That made sense and satisfied me for now. I smiled back at her as the butterflies danced around us. “Can I stay here this time?”
She nodded, as warmth and light radiated from her. “Yes, you can stay. Welcome home, honey.”
I was floating and it was intoxicating. Sparkles of glittering light flowed endlessly around me. That beautiful music permeated the air. A powerful sense of love enveloped me. I couldn’t help laughing as joy bubbled up within me.
The answers to my questions could wait. It was all okay.
I was home.
Copyright © 2019 Lynn Miclea. All Rights Reserved.
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