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It’s the first Friday of the month. Time for another fiction installment. (Links for this and all Fiction Features can be found on the Freebies page.)

This short story is inspired by a writing challenge given at last year’s OCW Conference. That contest required the story to fit on a 3″ x 5″ index card. This story is a bit longer than that.

Fifty Sheds of Grey

grey shedFifteen-year-old Mallory was a loner. Being alone was pretty much the only way she got any peace. When she was at school, she was the constant target of pranks and barbs.

Because of her cousin Polly.

While Mallory was born into a middle class family, Polly was born with a silver spoon in both her hands. Mallory secretly suspected she had one up her butt, too. Polly made her life miserable. When Mallory was younger, she’d tell her mother how mean Polly was to her, but her mother would say it was because she was jealous. Mallory didn’t know what Polly could possibly be jealous of, but as her mother never had any advice for her, she stopped talking about Polly and kept her pain to herself.

As they grew older, Polly only got worse. As the most popular kid at school, everyone followed her lead. And because she tormented Mallory mercilessly, the kids at school teased her, too. The only person who never followed Polly’s lead was Tommy. Mallory harbored a secret crush on him, but would never admit to it. Tommy was in Polly’s crowd, and Polly made sure Mallory wasn’t.

No wonder she preferred to be alone.

Given their history, it struck Mallory as more than odd that Polly invited her to her back-to-school bash. It was at their grandparents’ farm—known to the locals simply as The Barn. Mallory accepted despite her reservations.

“Wear lip gloss and bring breath spray,” Polly said. “We’ll be playing some… games.”

“Games?”

“Yeah. You know the shed by the barn? The games are in there. I call it ‘Fifty Sheds of Grey.’ Know what I mean?”

Mallory didn’t answer, but she knew what that meant. Polly, of course, had plenty of experience with boys, but Mallory had never played “Spin the Bottle” let alone been kissed. Ever fiber of her being screamed at her not to go. But not showing would be social death, and her popularity was already on life support. Better to go than be labeled a chicken.

Mallory procrastinated and stalled as long as she could, but finally had to take the plunge. She hoped to go late and blend into the background, but when Polly saw her, she announced her arrival to everyone. As Mallory approached the group, she was greeted to taunts about her inexperience.

How could they possibly know?

Polly, of course.

Mallory scanned the crowd, hoping to see Tommy’s friendly face, but she didn’t see him. To avoid acknowledging the never-ending jeers, she turned around and took in the surroundings. She used to feel so comfortable there, but when Polly started hanging out there with her friends, Mallory had stopped going to the barn. When she visited her grandparents, she stayed at the house and didn’t wander the grounds for fear of running into Polly and her friends. She missed it.

When they were younger, the barn was her sanctuary. She’d climb over hay bales and tuck herself into the corner of stalls with the cats and a good book or a sketch pad. Polly was too prissy to sit in straw, so it was safe to go there. Then Polly discovered how isolated the barn was, as it was far from the house and separated from view by the tree line. Polly started bringing her friends there, and Mallory lost her haven.

It had been about five years since she’d spent time at the barn. Not much had changed. Trees bordered the property on both sides, and the paddock spread out behind it. The barn itself, formerly a proud red but weather-faded to a mud brown, cast a shadow on a tiny grey aluminum shed with chipped paint and a dented roof. Polly gestured to the ramshackle hut. “Tommy’s been waiting in there for you. It’s time for your seven minutes in heaven.”

Tommy? Waiting for her? Her mouth was suddenly way too dry. She tried to swallow, but there was a huge lump in her throat.

Polly must have noticed her hesitation. “Afraid, Mal?”

Mallory didn’t answer. Her lips parted, but no witty come back came to her. She wouldn’t have been able to get a word past her lips if she tried, anyway.

“What’s the matter? Cat got your tongue? We know Tommy doesn’t.”

Everyone started taunting her. She had no choice. She tuned them out and wiped her palms on her jeans. Polly took her by the elbow and all but dragged her to the shed. Then she cracked the door open and shoved Mallory inside. She’d barely crossed the threshold when the door slammed shut behind her.

Plunged into darkness, she cried fruitlessly for help. Eyes tearing, the stench of manure choking her, she fought off the bile rising in her throat and turned to flee. The door wouldn’t budge, so she reached into the stifling blackness, tripped and fell. Her face landed in a mound of fresh straw-laced droppings from the horse stalls. Shrieking, she rose and plowed through the shed door, knocking Polly to the ground and vomiting on her head.

The tables, without any intentional efforts on Mallory’s part, were turned. The kids started taunting Polly. Chants of “Puke Head Polly” echoed throughout the farm, as well as a few cheers for Mallory.

With as much dignity as a filthy fifteen-year-old could muster, Mallory walked away, Polly’s screeches a cadence for her feet.

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