Sunday, September 27, 2009

Nana's Rules

This is a story based on a dream. I've cut all of the most disturbing parts out. But I left the nail gun in.

The picture is of the drinks I wish I'd had afterward.

Nana’s Rules

The small living room was comfortable in a grandmotherly kind of way. All of the furniture was overstuffed and floral patterned, every chair had a hand knitted throw draped on it, and the walls had cross-stitched sayings and bible quotes surrounded by bunnies and bluebirds. It didn't seem like a place where a wooden, straight backed chair could exist, let alone one with a woman tied firmly to it with the cords from two lamps and one old canister vac.

But impossible or not, there was Cassandra, bound upright on the chair, her ankles tied to the legs and her arms held behind her back with zip ties that cut into the skin if she moved too much. She was dozing fitfully, not daring or really able to sleep fully the way she was bound. Her head would jerk occasionally when the air conditioner cycled on and off, but her whole body jerked when a door creaked behind her. She was instantly alert and winced when she shifted her raw wrists in the attempt to sit up straighter. She quickly cleared her expression, knowing Nana wouldn't approve of her frown and would punish her for it. Her face was carefully neutral by the time the tiny old woman stepped in front of her chair, her wrinkled hands clutching a bulging shopping bag. Standing, Nana's head was on a level with Cassandra's, her hair fluffy white around her head. Her light green cardigan and her soft smile made her look inviting and friendly, the kind of old lady Cassandra would have automatically held doors and carried bags for.

Cassandra's heart stuttered at the sight of the canvas bag and the smile.

"Been a good girl, have we?" Nana asked, setting the bag down against the wall.

Cassandra kept her eyes on Nana's, not daring to look directly at the bag. "Yes, ma'am," she said softly.

"I wish I could believe you, but you've told so many lies," Nana reminded her sadly, pulling something out of the bag that she then plugged in to a nearby outlet. She shielded whatever it was with her body as she stood. "I know you've been bad."

When the old woman stepped closer Cassandra couldn't help but glance down at whatever Nana was holding and caught a glimpse of something that looked like a power drill before she felt a sharp pain in her leg.

"Eyes front. Good girls remember their manners," Nana said conversationally, as though she hadn't just kicked Cassandra's already bloody and bruised shin.

Cassandra locked her eyes with the old woman and breathed through her nose to keep from making any sound. That would only make Nana angry. She reminded herself that this was a minor punishment, just something for her attitude. The real punishment was still coming and it would be worse if she didn't play her part.

"Now, I'm going to have to set you straight dear. I've been working so hard with you, but I don't think your heart is really in this. I don't think you want to be good," Nana informed her, coming to stand so close to Cassandra's right side that she could smell the mint on the old woman's breath.

She shook her head hard. "I do, I do want to. Really Nana, I'll try harder," she said desperately. She hated calling the old woman the same name she'd called her own grandmother but she would say anything at this point to postpone one of the lessons.

Nana shook her head, looking as though the outburst made her very sad. "You'll see this is all for the best."

Cassandra steeled herself, not closing her eyes because that wasn't allowed, but clenching her teeth and knotting her hands together despite the pain in her wrists.

She was never prepared for Nana's speed. One moment the old woman was just standing there, the next she had the tool in her hand, a nail gun, the cold metal pressed to Cassandra's bare shoulder. The sound of the mechanism driving the nail into the skin filled Cassandra's whole world.

At first the pain was sharp and then it burned, like a hot brand had been shoved through the whole joint.

"Look at what you've made me do," Nana said loudly enough to be heard over Cassandra's ragged breathing. "Look."

Cassandra turned her head toward the burning because if she didn't she knew another nail was ready for her. At the top of her shoulder, freckled from dozens of childhood sunburns, a nail protruded less than half an inch. Around it, obscuring the skin, was a heavy wash of blood. It seemed to flow endlessly, like all the blood in her might rush out through one puncture.

"What do you say?" Nana asked in her sharpest tone.

Cassandra swallowed against the smell and the sight of the blood. "Thank you, Nana," she intoned, carefully looking the woman in the eye, silently hoping that she really could bleed to death from the nail.

"Good girl. Now you sit here and think about what you've done while I go to the market and pick up supper," Nana said, patting Cassandra’s arm and putting the nail gun back in the bag.

Cassandra followed her with her eyes, craning her neck to try and keep Nana in view until the front door was locked behind her. She hadn't been able to think of anything she had ever done that was horrible enough to deserve this, but when she got back, Nana would ask and she'd have to have an answer. So far she'd admitted to some things she had done and made up a lot of things she hadn't. She'd admitted to everything from arson, to theft, to hitting pedestrians with her car for fun. Nana seemed to know when she was lying until she'd started describing crimes she'd read in books instead of wildly inventing while the old woman stared her down.

Cassandra felt the blood running down her arm and wondered if Nana would ever be satisfied enough with any of these admitted sins to release her. Her vacation didn't end for another three days and until then no one would come looking for her. And even if they looked, who would believe Nana was the one who had her? She had never met the harmless looking old woman until she'd woken up in the dim apartment, already bound to the chair.

Cassandra took a deep breath and started shifting her legs from side to side. One of the chair legs had begun to creak a few days ago. After a good hour's wiggling while Nana was shopping there had been a definite crack in one leg. She just hoped she was strong enough to break apart the rest of the chair once she had her leg loose. She thought of the nail gun with a grim smile. If she could find it once she was free, she'd show Nana a real crime.


  1. "This is a story based on a dream. I've cut all of the most disturbing parts out. But I left the nail gun in."

    umm... okay... Because what was left wasn't disturbing at all :) Your dreams would scare Stephen King.

  2. Do you eat strange things? Drink strange drinks, i need to know so i can stay away from what induces these dreams.

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  4. Never have I been more thankful for my dreams.

    Part of what makes this so horrifying is the normalcy. Some would be tempted to make Nana look more like a witch or "hide" little hints of evil imagery. But this is really just grandma.

    Very well written. Not only does my shoulder now hurt but I don't think I'm ever going to trust a little old lady again.

  5. That's exactly what I wanted to convey. She was so normal and everything was very matter of fact. It's what made the dream so scary.

  6. Well uh. Wow. Gosh perhaps you should collect all your stories from your dreams and put them into an anthology. The whole casuality of it, Nana's cool head while she horrifically tortures a young woman is so frightening because it's just like business as usual. I know I am echoing other commenters but you have done a great job with this. This is fantastically horrifying and I'm with Mk, I think whenever I see old ladies I'm gonna give 'em a wide berth. I lie, I love old people. I'm a goner aren't I?


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