My photos this week were all taken around the pond at William Land Park in the early evening. It was warm outside and I learned the lotus flowers I wanted to capture only open early in the morning and are closed by mid-afternoon.
I had the intention of returning later in the week to try again, but my son started summer school and life got busy. Perhaps in a few weeks, when school finishes, I’ll have time to return to this beautiful spot.
Although I didn’t get the blooms, I am happy with the photos I was able to capture of the animals living around the pond, especially the dragonflies. Let me know what you think in the comments below and I hope you have a wonderful week.
An ant crawls along the edge of the tub, looking for a way out. I don’t want to kill it, but I’m scared it will lead others to me. It winds around the large bottle of rosemary mint shampoo he bought me after our last big fight and stops at the edge of my pink razor. I could squish it easily but I don’t.
I hear him packing things in the bedroom, loudly slamming books and clothes into his large black suitcase. I want to believe this is like all the times before but I know it isn’t. We aren’t coming back from this.
Sinking below the bubbles I travel into the safe place of memory where I can wrap my arms around his waist and slide behind him onto his silver and green motorcycle. I press my face into his warm back breathing in his deep, rich scent. We drive through the darkness to the little white chapel in the woods. Several ravens perch on the branches of the towering sycamore tree singing to us, serenading our love. It’s us versus the world.
A loud thud brings me back and I sit up and stare at the dark wooden door separating me from him. I wonder if he still has the black gun he held to his temple last night or if he threw it in the lake like he told me he did. I sweep my hand over the cloudy water clearing away a patch of white foamy bubbles so I can stare at my reflection.
“Are you going to say anything?” he says quietly through the door. He doesn’t try to open it.
I don’t have any words left so I stare at the reflection of my distorted puffy face in the water searching for recognition in my swollen eyes. He’s crying loudly as if he’s an animal howling at the moon; misery bubbling and echoing through our tiny home in the woods. We were supposed to sit in matching rocking chairs on the porch drinking homemade lemonade with arthritic hands and wrinkled eyes. He promised me so many things.
“There once was a girl who stole the Eiffel Tower and put it in her pocket. She carried it with her everywhere she went, her own little plaything she could pull out and amuse herself with whenever she liked. It was for her alone to enjoy.”
He has stopped crying and his voice sounds watery and soft through the door. I hang on to his words like I always have, breathing in his musically-rich voice, his distinct way of making everything sound romantic and mysterious. Poetry mixed with madness; the way it began and has remained.
Closing my eyes I see myself swimming along the shoreline of the murky lake near my parent’s home distraught after yet another messy breakup. The soft sound of a guitar on the shoreline breaks my fluid rhythm. Surfacing, I spot him sitting on my favorite rock—the one with the smooth flat top filled with little hearts carved by teenagers proclaiming “B+W forever” or “CR+TJ for life.”
“Fig tree resting in the shady woods reaching toward the light…”
His singing voice is deeply rich with a slight hint of his British accent and I’m mesmerized. A large white dog with straggly white fur sits beside him and when it spots me it dives into the water. He stops playing and watches as the big hairy thing tries to lick my face, lapping at the water while its tail churns bubbles behind it.
“Don’t mind Brutus,” he calls to me. “Like me, he can’t resist the allure of beauty in the water. Tell me, are you a mermaid?”
I couldn’t speak for a long time. I’d never met anyone like this lanky man with a head full of curly hair and eyes as bright and deep as the rainbow moon labradorite stone I wear around my neck. I was enchanted from the start.
“The world missed the Eiffel Tower. They put up posters asking for anyone with information to please come forth, but nobody did for the girl was careful. She cradled it tight to her body at night, only bringing it out when she was sure nobody else would know. It was her secret.”
The last word he spits at me through the door, banging his fist for emphasis. Yes, I know this story. He’s still angry about the pale pink envelope he found stuck in my copy of “The Ocean at the End of the Lane.” It was never a problem with love between us but with secrets. He wanted to hold them all and I wanted to protect him.
“I wish you’d never found the letter,” I say.
He slams his fists into the door several more times and screams. This wildness usually presses me against the wall, bites my shoulders, and fiercely presses our lips together. Now it’s mutated into undulating wails of anguish and anger. He screams and screams. The ant has disappeared and I wonder if it jumped under the water to escape the sound.
I cover my ears and think about the day Brutus died. I found my love wrapped in a dark green wool blanket under the willow tree beside the still lake water. For the next two days, he didn’t move—refusing food, water, and my touch. It was his way—go inside himself or explode. There are no grey areas within him. For someone so beautifully expressive and poetic, it makes no sense to me he can be so black and white.
He’s gone silent and I hear the door creak as he leans his body against the thin wood. When he speaks the sound oozes toward me like spilled toxic honey. I shouldn’t listen but I do. I let the words seep deep into me.
“The day you promised would never come has arrived. You swore with all you are to never do this to me, but your words were lies. You killed the last buffalo, shot it with your pretty little shotgun and now the world shall never see it again.”
“No,” I say into the cold bath water. “I never lied to you.”
He’s not there. I follow the sound of his steel-toed boots walking through the house back and forth; our cozy cabin we’ve slowly made our own with paintings, piles of books, and squishy chairs made for two. He slams the front door and I jump gasping for air. I’ve been holding my breath.
The sputtering sound of his old red pickup truck makes me bolt out of the water. I run wet and naked out the front door to catch a glimpse of the rusted bumper disappearing into the dense forest of tall pine trees. I don’t breathe as I listen for the sound of him turning around and returning. It doesn’t come.
Several black birds circle the woods above me. Are they the ravens who witnessed our nuptials in the woods? Could they be here to witness our end? The sun creeps down the tree line releasing the swirling night winds blowing in from the far away ocean. Shivering, I fall onto the wooden porch and pull my legs up to my chest. He will be back. He always comes back.
I cry into the splintered wood. We are going to sand it down and repaint it this summer a soft sandy brown color. I rub my palms into the reddish splintery wood until one embeds itself into the palm of my hand. I stare at it and wonder if it symbolizes something.
Closing my eyes tight I travel back to our night. He pulls a bouquet of flowers from his oily dark brown saddlebag; a dozen pink, yellow, and white tulips tied together with a piece of soft brown leather. I hold them in my hands as we stand on the church steps under a vast dark sky of bright stars. He kisses my neck and a breeze blows my lacy white dress around my knees.
“Happiness, cheer, and forgiveness I give to you among the witnesses of the night,” he says. “May our forever be like this forgotten chapel, sacred and wild.”
I pick at the splinter, grabbing at it with the tips of my pointer and thumb. The weathered steeple leaned to one side and I wonder if it’s fallen now, blown to the ground during the big storm we had last month. It’s home to the animals anyway and they don’t care if it’s vertical or horizontal. Its bones will continue to provide shelter and nesting material for far longer than it was a place of worship hidden in the unforgiving woods.
A dark bird swoops from the trees grabbing at a tiny shadow scurrying out from behind the woodpile. I think I hear a tiny squeak and picture a fluffy grey mother mouse leaving behind her nest of too-naked pink babies. The tears I thought had dried up come again but the sound of his truck doesn’t.
He burned the pink letter in the fireplace while I stood beside him. I watched it curl up and fade into ash. The only remnant of my life before him I’d stowed away, my mother’s words scrawled out in thick, black ink. Her words of love and concern. Her words of anger and hurt. He burned them as he had all my things the night we moved here.
“Don’t let him erase who you are,” he quoted back at me. “Don’t let him take my beautiful girl from this world and tuck her away into the wilderness like a caged bird.”
Holding the black handgun against his left temple he made me convince him I didn’t believe her words. I tried to do so, over and over, but he saw the pain in my eyes and knew the truth. He was incapable of sharing me with others, and I missed my mother and my friends. I paid a price for loving him and he decided it was too much and he must leave. I fought to convince him to change his mind, but he would not. Black and white.
Pulling myself from the porch I stagger into the dark, quiet house. I see the empty places where he took things, gap-toothed holes punched into our singular woven life. He’s never taken things when he’s left before. I suck in the thick air and it feels like being in the middle of a forest fire, crackling heat breaking all around me.
Falling to the floor again, I pull his soft grey blanket from the light blue loveseat and press it around my shivering body. You want this, I tell myself. You need him to leave because you’ll never have the courage to walk away by yourself. You want this. You need this.
I force myself to focus on how his brilliant eyes would cloud over when he’d get angry or sad. All the hurts of his life, the abuses inflicted on him through his childhood, and the tortures of his teenage years, would turn into a visible mist encasing and transfiguring him into a shadow of himself—a monster. He’d stagger around, his feet forgetting how big they were, kicking anything in his way.
“You never loved me,” he’d say. “You are like all the rest.”
I’d never know how long these transformations would last, these stormy tempest-torn moments he’d become someone else. It was best to go for a swim or a long hike, leaving him to splinter wood with his well-worn ax or throw shiny knives into the trees behind the old barn. To stay was to fight against a stranger who couldn’t see me. It wasn’t a fight I could win.
I stagger to the bathroom and rinse myself off in the shower before drinking an entire bottle of red wine and slipping under the soft covers of our bed. The smell of him surrounds me and I fall asleep telling myself he will return tomorrow and it will be different this time. The rainbow after the storm will streak across the sky and he will be back within my arms free of the misty madness forever.
A sound outside wakes me. He’s back. I run into the bathroom and rinse my mouth with mouthwash and run a brush through my tangled blonde hair. I’m wearing the one shirt he left behind, a long blue flannel that reaches mid-thigh. My thick, strong legs look good in the golden light streaming in from the bathroom window.
Unbuttoning the top three buttons, I splash some rose oil onto my breasts and under my arms. My body vibrates with anticipation of his electric touch. I slither into the living room smiling and panting but find it empty. He’s not here.
There’s a low moan outside followed by a thumping and scratching sound. It reminds me of the time a rabid dog took refuge in a dilapidated barn with broken legs. It still crawled toward us, foaming and feverish. I’d fetched the shotgun from under the bed and left when he’d shot it. We both cried as we buried it under the moonlight.
Climbing onto the couch I peer through the faded yellow curtains. There’s no sign of his truck, but there’s a large shape at the foot of the porch steps roughly the size of a man. I can’t make out any details, but it’s writhing and crawling. The sound of the moan comes again, a deep guttural sound followed by the sound of nails scraping on wood.
What if it’s him? Maybe he had an accident in his truck and he was forced to crawl through the woods injured toward me. While I slept warm and intoxicated in our bed he could have been struggling to stay alive. Guilt burns my cheeks red as fire.
I throw open the front door and the horrible sour smell of death blows into my face as the creature at the bottom of the steps raises its head as if to see me, except there are no eyes, only inky black crusted holes. It opens and closes its mouth with a sickening clicking sound of teeth on teeth.
I scream and it quickens its movements, clawing at the wooden steps towards me. It has exposed bones for legs with no feet. The sharp broken-off bones dig into the ground trying to get leverage to propel it up the stairs. I scream again and slam the door shut.
Monster. Zombie. Undead. This must be a nightmare. I splash water on my face from the kitchen sink as the sound of the thing moaning and moving continues. A loud thump tells me it has made progress and is getting closer.
I pull on a pair of jeans and my faded brown boots. Laying on my stomach I find the shotgun still under his side of the bed. It was his grandfather’s and the fact he left it behind tells me he either plans to return or he knew I might need it. Either way, I hold it across my chest and return to the living room.
The 12 gauge shells are in a box on the bookshelf made to look like three old books sitting together. As I pull it down and load the gun, I remember him trying to convince me that learning to shoot is part of living in the woods. When I’d still fought him on it, he told me he’d had a nightmare where I’d been torn to shreds by a wild animal. He begged and begged until I finally relented.
The prophetic poetry of this moment brings tears to my eyes and I can’t help thinking I’ll never be loved the way he loved me again. He’d move the world to save me. Would I do the same for him?
The moaning sound rises as I inch open the door holding the end of the gun snug against my shoulder and focusing on keeping my knees flexed. The horrible thing has made its way to the third step and when it senses me it quickens its movements. There’s nothing natural about how fast it is and I aim at its head and shoot. I’m surprised by how little I hesitate and how easily I absorb the recoil.
It slides down the stairs landing in a motionless heap on the ground. Its chest lays splayed open, a twisted mass of raw flesh and bone. It reminds me of a computer I saw laying in a ditch on the side of the road once—a discarded heap of tangled wires and splintered metal. Motherboard exposed. This thing had a mother.
I scream and the sound echoes in the woods around me and is answered by the call of hundreds of birds circling the morning sky. I’m alone out here and wonder if the shot and my cries are calling more of these things to me. I cover my mouth as a wolf howls in the distance—awake at dawn as confused as me as to what’s going on.
I kick the now twice-dead thing on the ground to make sure it doesn’t move. It makes a squishy sound and leaves a wet mark on my boot. I gag.
Has the end just begun or has it been raging on while I’ve been tucked away from the world in my love nest? Or was my mother right and it’s been more like a gilded cage? The tears return and I can see the night I pledged myself to him playing like a film in the sky. A golden cast of clouds and sunlight reenacting it all; forcing me to see and feel it.
He kicked open the chapel doors at midnight, swollen shut after years of being unused, lifting me into his arms and carrying me down the dark vine-covered aisle. Silver moonlight shone through holes in the roof and illuminated the stained glass window set behind a small wooden alter; a giant golden cross in a swirling sea of blues and greens. He placed matching homemade twisted-wire rings onto our fingers, symbols forever entwining us together.
“Let the stars, the moon, the beasts of the world bear witness as we pledge our pure love to each other. May nothing stand between us now or for all eternity. Soul mates through infinite space and time, we are no longer two beings lost at sea, but one being bound together in the blissful bonds of dutiful devotion.”
We made love on the altar in the single most romantic moment of my life. I was utterly devoured by him; swallowed up and erased from the Earth. I’d become a part of his magic; an alluring rhythmic line in an epic poem composed by and recited by him year after year. Looking down at the monster at my feet I feel the words he’d spun around me crack and shatter.
I return to the cabin and pack my things into my two matching blue suitcases. There is no reason to stay here anymore. I need to see what’s happening in the world and decide for myself what to do next. I stretch my arms out and feel the muscles of my shoulders and back loosening.
I load my old Mazda 3 and lay the shotgun in the seat beside me. I’ve pictured the day I might leave here for years, and although it’s nothing like I could have imagined, the sense of freedom still lingers at my fingertips. I take off my ring and tuck it into the pocket of my jeans.
Author’s note: You might find similarities between this story and one I wrote in week 8 titled “Sunset, Sunrise.” Both have to do with an end of a toxic relationship and include violence. I thought it might be interesting to explore a couple on the fringe, away from media and other people, at the beginning of a zombie apocalypse. I found their twisted love story fit neatly at the end of the world. I apologize if it was a bit too dark or graphic for some of you. Thanks as always for reading and supporting me in this 52-week journey. Almost halfway there!
Short Story Challenge | Week 24
Each week the short stories are based on a prompt from the book “Write the Story” by Piccadilly, Inc. This week’s prompt was to write a story about the early days of the zombie apocalypse. We had to include a motherboard, buffalo, Eiffel Tower, raven, motorcycle, envelope, tulip, moon, reflect, and sycamore
would you have trusted me more if I’d known about fingertip sparks and fluttering hearts?
or if I’d really looked at tiny pencil drawings on matchboxes and folded paper napkins?
you’d pass notes I didn’t understand— messages scrawled on scraps of paper palm to palm
rainbows hung around your pretty neck; delicate lovely things refracting light into everything you did
you left without goodbyes—fleeing rejections spurred by fevered religious hate disguised as family love
you drew naked ladies in Paris seeing worldly wonders dreaming nightly with fingertips stained black
floating down stone steps in tailored suits you charmed everyone with your soft blue eyes
returning home sick, thick sketchbook under heavy arms we talked about everything but the truth
you left without me seeing you kiss your lovers, pink-skinned blushing on ornate bridges
or watching you dance under moonlit skies with flowers tucked into your fluffy blonde hair
driving nowhere we sing with windows down, wind blowing tangles into your fluffy red hair
I sense something brewing behind quiet lips, fingers fidget with your many bright silver rings
with a trembling voice, you say you like girls—scared of rejection bare legs shake
you’ve known since kindergarten, but it wasn’t something you wanted to explore or talk about
honored, I listen to your deeply held sacred truths; as you discover who you are
my old friend breathes words of comfort through me helping me ease your coming out
grabbing soft hands tightly, I squeeze three times letting you know my love remains unchanged
balancing stone words we build together walls to fight against those who would seek destruction
inked drawings, musical explorations, the Heartstopper you share everything with me, showing me the way
crying at pride, past present swirl promising to do better armed with free mom hugs
In honor of Pride Month, I dedicate this poem to a dear high school friend who died of AIDS and my beautiful daughter who trusts me with her truth. I reference the show “Heartstopper” on Netflix and can’t recommend it enough for its sweet portrayal of love. Happy Pride Month!
I’ve been looking at a lot of photographs and find I’m really drawn to photojournalism. I love when a photographer tells a story through their images, capturing a moment in time or the essence of a person or place. I’d like to work on developing my own style of images.
On the road to improvement, I’ll be dedicating the next few weeks to photographing on a theme. This week, my offering is from a recent visit to the Sacramento Zoo. I had a small child with me, so I didn’t have as much time as I’d have liked to stay in one place and capture multiple images. However, it’s all part of the process and I rather enjoyed myself.
Thank you for your support and have a wonderful week.
Ruth stares into the bright pink drink and wonders if the dye used on the lemon slice will make her stomach hurt later. The tightening pain in her lower back hasn’t loosened yet, despite three glasses of champagne and two rum and Diet Cokes. Maybe this “Pink Panther” drink will do the trick.
Taffy waves at her from the black-and-white checkered dance floor. Her long blonde hair hangs in ringlets down the middle of her exposed back. Her floor-length red sequined dress hugs her hips and exposes several inches of her breasts. She doesn’t look 60.
The young man pressed close to her, nuzzling her neck, has slicked-back hair and tight black leather pants. Ruth wonders if he’s paid to dance with the women here. Maybe it’s like a “Dirty Dancing” situation, part of the resort package. Then again, nobody has asked her to dance.
It’s close to midnight and Ruth wants to go to bed, but she knows Taffy will stay until the band packs their shiny instruments back into their cases and the staff escorts them to their 8th-floor suite with apologies and promises for new adventures in the morning. It’s been three days of this and Ruth’s ready to go home. She’d much rather be laying by the pool all day than following Taffy around.
The two of them have been friends since high school, meeting through the shared trauma of marching band uniforms and having both dated the drum major at the same time. He had terrible acne, but could play the hell out of the trumpet and knew how to sweet talk a girl. He was Ruth’s first love.
They dumped him together at the annual Jazz Festival downtown. He’d just finished playing on the main stage with an adult band from Louisiana, a huge honor for a high school junior. After the applause, Ruth and Taffy slowly walked toward the stage. His face dropped when he saw them holding hands. Taffy slapped him and loudly told the entire audience he’d been dating them both.
“Let’s go for a night swim!” Taffy says, slipping into the turquoise booth beside Ruth.
She takes a drink of the strawberry margarita she’s left sitting out for the last hour. It’s melted and separated, but she doesn’t seem to notice. There’s sweat on her face from dancing giving her a shiny, youthful glow with slightly pink cheeks. She reapplies her red lipstick and smiles at herself in her gold compact. Ruth wonders how they’ve remained friends when they are both clearly wired so differently.
“Night swim. Night swim. Night swim.”
Taffy’s pounding her palms on the table with each word and the few people still in the bar look over. Ruth sucks down the remainder of the pink drink with a few loud gulps hoping the alcohol will give her the courage to stand up to her friend and cease the never-ending party which is hanging out with Taffy. It doesn’t.
She allows Taffy to grab her hands and pull her from the farthest corner booth where she’s spent the last several hours silently drinking. As they pass the matching black-suited salsa band, the drums and trumpets swell. Taffy grabs Ruth and twirls her three times in a circle. Her tropical flowered sundress floats out exposing her Spanx-covered thighs for a brief moment, but Ruth doesn’t mind. She allows Taffy to guide her around and around the dance floor, marveling at her friend’s energy, her fast footwork, and how good it feels to be with her.
With a flourish of her dress and a wave to the band, Taffy guides them out of the bar and into the wide brown-tiled lobby—a place of bright neon colors, seashell chandeliers, egg-shaped chairs, and an abundance of driftwood artwork. At the far end is an ornate brass archway leading outside covered in tiny gleaming depictions of sea creatures. Ruth touches a penguin with her hand thinking how out of place it is among the sea turtles and starfish. Maybe it’s supposed to be a pelican but the artist forgot the legs.
Once outside, the music fades into the soft lapping sound of the ocean dancing along the jagged shoreline. Ruth and Taffy walk hand and hand along the wooden walkway swinging their arms like children, their high heels making matching clicking sounds. When they reach the sand they sit down to take off their shoes. Despite being in the tropics, there’s an autumnal breeze and a light mist.
“I’m so glad you are here with me,” Taffy says.
“Me too,” Ruth says.
Taffy squeezes Ruth’s hand and holds it for a few minutes. She’s considering all the things she wants to say to her friend, but it never quite feels like the right moment. They’ve grown so distant in the last 30 years, living lives very different from each other. She’d really hoped this trip would be a chance to be together and talk, but her friend hasn’t stopped moving. In fact, Ruth isn’t sure Taffy has slept the entire trip.
The quiet moment is broken by the low sound of a fog horn coming from the old lighthouse. Its beam sweeps across the dark waters illuminating large black rocks far from the shoreline. Ruth wonders what dangers lurk in the ocean late at night.
“What are we waiting for?” Taffy cries.
Taffy releases Ruth’s hand, strips off her clothes, throws them in a heap and runs naked into the dark ocean waters. Her aging body looks remarkably the same as it always has, beautifully curved and covered in freckles. She swims quickly away from the shore with a practiced steady breaststroke.
Ruth scans the beach for late-night scuba divers or couples looking for a place to be alone. She’s also thinking about sharks and jellyfish. 30 chest compressions and then two breaths. Clear the airway. 100-120 per minute.
“Come on, Ruth!” Taffy calls from the water. “It feels wonderful!”
“I’m not sure…”
“When will you ever swim in the ocean at night again?”
“No! Don’t think. Come on! Night swim! Night swim! Night swim!”
Ruth carefully takes off her clothes, folds them, and sets them in a pile far from the water’s edge. Naked, she’s aware of the folds and sagging skin of her aging body—a softness and heaviness all her own. She touches the stretch marks on her stomach and smiles. Taffy whistles at her.
“Hey, hot stuff,” she calls.
Ruth spins in a circle and laughs. There was a time, not long ago, she’d have let hoards of self-loathing thoughts take over a moment like this. It would have turned into a full-blown invasion of shame and anger mixed with the kind of jealous-comparing it took nearly 50 years to finally be rid of. She’s proud of how far she’s come and wonders if Taffy’s confidence is true or if she’s trying to mask her own insecurities. If they were different friends, maybe she could ask her.
“Are you waiting for a merman or something?” Taffy calls from the water. “Come in already!”
Ruth laughs and walks into the water. It’s brisk and cool, but not enough to make her shiver. She dives under the low waves and swims out to where her friend treads water with graceful fluid movements. Her fluffy blonde hair looks dark when wet and is stuck flat to her head. The heavy makeup she wears has faded making her look even fresher and younger.
“Hi,” Ruth says.
“About time,” Taffy says. “Want to race?”
“No. I do not.”
“Are you afraid you will lose?”
“No. I will lose. I don’t care.”
“Let’s see who can dive down the furthest?”
“No. Let’s just float.”
Taffy dives under anyway as Ruth allows her body to float on the mostly still saltwater. The white half-moon peeks out from behind the clouds along with a milky sky sprinkled with tiny, bright stars. With her ears under the water, Ruth concentrates on her own breath. In and out. In and out.
Water sprays Ruth’s face and she returns to an upright position to find Taffy swimming in a circle with hard, splashy kicks. She scans the water for any signs of danger, and finding none, feels annoyed at her friend’s behavior. There’s no reason for her to use such aggressive movements in the water.
“What’s that about?” Ruth says. “You okay?”
Taffy stops and treads water a few feet from Ruth. For a few minutes, the friends say nothing. Taffy turns away from her and Ruth has the horrible feeling her friend might be crying. Ruth’s always done the crying for the both of them and she doesn’t know what to do. She swims a little closer.
“The seaweed is always greener in somebody else’s lake. You dream about going up there but that is a big mistake.”
Taffy’s singing “Under the Sea” in her very best Sebastion voice. She’s trying to make Ruth laugh, and it almost works until movement in the dark water makes her stop. There’s something swimming in a circle between them creating a small whirl of movement right below the surface. Both of them freeze, terrified.
“Did you see that?” Ruth says.
“What is it?”
“I don’t know.”
A silent eruption of bubbles floats to the surface around them on all sides. Ruth covers her mouth to stifle a scream and Taffy swims beside her. Leaning close together they watch as the bubbles pop and leave behind tiny balls of light pulsing, circling them. The churning water below them stops.
“What’s happening?” Ruth says.
“I don’t know.”
Taffy reaches out her hand and grabs one of the slightly rainbow-colored bubbles turned solid. It’s heavy, squishy, and warm. The muscles in her body relax, something like a bell ringing fills the air and she can taste the oatmeal cookies her grandmother made her as a child. She looks into the eyes of her friend and truthful words pour forth with fluid ease.
“I’m so lonely,” she says. “I don’t let anyone in and I’m afraid if I stop moving I’ll die.”
It’s as if the words have been waiting behind a wall and the bubbles pressed them through. Taffy stares at the thing in her hand feeling uncertain about what to do next. Ruth touches her friend on the arm and smiles at her. She’s got tears in her eyes.
“Thank you for telling me that,” she says. “You can tell me anything.”
Taffy grabs Ruth’s right hand out of the water and drops the ball into her palm. It dances through her fingers and Ruth makes a fist to keep from losing it. She sighs deeply, tastes fresh-baked cinnamon rolls, and hears the sound of doves cooing. Her body feels loose and the words come, like magic, from deep inside.
“I’m lonely too,” she says. “I haven’t told you the truth about so many things. I just couldn’t.”
The balls around them glow brighter and press into them illuminating their faces with a soft white light. The women gather them into their arms, letting the sensations of memory wash over them, freeing up truth and vulnerability. They spin connections sharing stories back and forth as they float in the dark ocean water. One after another the balls sink below the surface.
Night turns to day and the sun makes its climb out of the water and into the morning sky. With the rays of pink and golden light comes the awareness of time and exhaustion. The friends embrace each other.
“I think I’m ready for bed now,” Taffy says.
“You think?” Ruth says.
Side by side the old friends swim back to shore.
Author’s note: A lot of my stories take place in and around water. I’ve been lucky enough to have some powerful moments with friends at the ocean—connections forged through the beauty of vulnerability. This story is dedicated to those in my life who have trusted me with their truths. I see you and love you for being fully yourself with me.
Each week the short stories are based on a prompt from the book “Write the Story” by Piccadilly, Inc. This week’s prompt was to write a story about adult friends on vacation in the tropics. We had to include scuba diver, champagne, invasion, archway, hoard, strawberry, penguin, autumnal, cease and mist.
unable to move I gasp, turning tumbling down rabbit holes meant to not be remembered at dawn
Pulling up behind my darkened house in their shiny black El Camino, bass booming—a thunderous storm descends upon my unconscious fragile form. I don’t hear their footsteps as they scribble scramble through the muddy murky darkness toward sleeping me.
wondrous whispering willows lean in to reveal secret truths, sacred words hidden behind the cloudy half-lit moon
Steadfast friends, The Sand Man and The Grater share midnight missions of messy madness. Sneaking in at night’s exact middle, they come silently ruffling my soft, warm blankets. Unknowing, I am fully helpless to the whims of these nighttime lurkers.
when did missing sunshine turn my insides colors, making a mockery melody moment within my comfy covers
They simply divide and conquer, each moving around my room to deliver their own precise brands of nightly justice. The Sand Man sprinkling dream dust into closed eyes, invoking silky soft dreams of rest, while his counterpart sharpens his claws.
don’t be afraid little ones they say as monsters lurk under billowing bed sheets with cutting wits
I’ve never seen The Grater’s form, but I’ve felt his silver touch as he comes to dance with my worries. It seems rather unfair he’s allowed access when the doors and windows are so carefully locked with shiny brass deadbolts.
nothing blends into something, twist the knob, turn the handle, flip switch after switch without the keys
He presses his shiny sharp grates into whatever skin he can reach, slipping under the quilted comforter held tight by my sweaty fists. The words come with him—frightening little whispery repetitions singing songs of my insecurities/fears with feverish unrelenting cruelty.
he’s never coming back to you you’ll be left alone with dark silent shadows under creaking floorboards
The Tooth Fairy has seen his lumbering shape peeking out from the sheets—flashing silver eyes and sharpened talons. She folds her transparent wings tightly together, snatching at long ago lost baby teeth—forever forgetting her pouch of golden coins.
shivering, shaking, my body fights back but movements do nothing to protect openings—internal portals of pain
Heaviness, his tell-tale calling card, will linger around me when I finally fully wake from the night. Throwing off blankets, I yawn as the echoes of his work stick tight on red, raw skin. Failure feels immediate and imminent.
tomorrow always comes without command or permission, blasting hazy new thoughts refracted backward, inward, outward toward light
Breath deeply. Stretch. I mustn’t stay still for the poison will set and I’ll stay in bed. Fight to the shower to scrub the sticky words off with fragrant suds, washing his work down silver drains back to the darkness.
shake awake fingers, dance to life toes, and say farewell to nightmares until fractured, the moonlight returns
This week was another busy one. It seems I’m running from one place to the next with barely enough time to write or photograph. It was my nephew’s graduation and we have family visiting from out of town. I’ve gone to bed late and woken up early each day and I still feel behind in everything.
I’m disappointed in all my photos this week. I’m not sure if I’m simply exhausted or I’m at the tipping point where I can see the faults in my work but do not have the skills yet to fix them. I’ve included two photos from the graduation and a few from a visit to the California State Railroad Museum.
Thank you for stopping by and I hope you have a great week.
Mary tips the brass watering can into the small strawberry patch and watches as thirteen different streams of water flow onto the small green plants. Maybe she will have berries for the children this year. It would be nice to offer them something sweet that doesn’t come from a can.
“Mary,” Felix calls from the cab of his rusted Ford pickup truck. He’s driving slowly down the driveway. Mary knows the sound of his voice means he found another one.
He brings her the broken children. The ones he finds wandering alone—mute and shivering. Who better than the one without memories to care for those with too many.
She sets down the watering can and wipes her damp hands on her faded yellow apron. Felix pulls to a stop beside her, turning off the engine. The sounds outside the walls swell and then fade again. Leaning on the window, Mary peers into the cab. She catches a quick glimpse in the side-view mirror of her freckled nose and messy red curls.
“Morning, Felix,” she says. “How are you?”
“I’ve been better.”
There is blood, both fresh and dried, on his plaid collared shirt. By the look and smell of him, she’d guess he’s been out of the gates for a week or so. The grey around his temples has grown, as have the wrinkles around his soft eyes.
There’s no child in the cab, but piled on the passenger seat are a clunky grey satellite phone, a long wood-handled shotgun, and a rather old-looking book. Its cover is faded brown with splotchy water stains. She can’t make out the title.
Felix was an antiquarian before the outbreak, studying rare books and writing academic papers. He once had an invitation to be the guest speaker at the annual White House Historical Association conference, an honor he’s proud to say he declined because he didn’t agree with the political divide of the country. He doesn’t support corruption on any level, even if it would have brought him notoriety.
“You find something good?” Mary asks, pointing to the book. Felix’s tired face transforms into a wide, youthful smile. He lifts the book into his hands and traces the golden letters on the spine with his pointer finger.
“An Enquiry concerning Political Justice and its Influence on General Virtue and Happiness by William Godwin. I found it among a stack of books in an old farmhouse. It’s in remarkable condition, considering it’s a first edition published in 1793. The cover is a bit of a mess, but the pages are untouched.”
When he talks about books Mary can see a glimmer of what he must have been like before people started dying and then coming back as monsters. She wonders if the two of them would have been friends or perhaps lovers if they’d met before all this. When he’s close to her she feels a spark between them, a kind of electric energy similar to how the air feels before a storm. She’s too scared to ask him if he feels it too.
Mary doesn’t know who she is. Felix found her wandering the woods covered in blood looking for something. She has no memory of how she got there, what she was searching for, or who she was before the world descended into chaos. She owes Felix her life, her name, and her purpose.
“You find anything else?” she asks.
He knows she’s not asking about supplies, although she’d really love some fresh fruit or some cinnamon. His face changes from excitement to something she can read as distress. Yeah, he found another one.
“In the back,” he says. “Under the blanket.”
He grabs her hand through the car window and squeezes it. The intensity in his dark brown eyes reminds Mary of the world she’s not a part of. She’s happy to stay within the safe harbor of the compound walls blocking out a world she knows only from the stories the children tell her. There’s dried blood under his fingernails.
“Brace yourself,” he says. “This one seems really hurt.”
Mary takes a step back and watches as Felix drives down the dirt road to the home of the doctor. The child will have to be checked for wounds and disease before being released into her care. The process usually takes a day or two which gives her time to get things ready.
“Stephen?” she calls. “Where are you?”
She finds the young boy sitting with his back against the large cedar tree eating one of the oatmeal cookies she made this morning. His soccer ball sits beside him. He’s been with her for over a year and she’s watched him transform from a terrified jumpy child to one who is prone to giggles and loves to make other people laugh.
“We have a new friend joining us,” she says. “Can you help me get things ready?”
“Yay,” he says. “Boy or girl?”
“I don’t know yet.”
He’s hoping for a kid his age he can play soccer with. It’s been hard for him only to have Tiff as a companion. She’s half his age and hasn’t spoken since arriving three months ago. A small, sweet child who scares easily but who trusts Stephen and follows him around everywhere he goes.
Mary finds Tiff sitting on the other side of the tree with a cookie in each hand. She’s got long black hair she loves Mary to brush. Today she allowed her to braid it into two long braids tied off with soft purple ribbon. She offers Mary one of the cookies and gives her an adorable gapped-tooth smile.
The three of them make their way inside their cozy two-bedroom house painted pale blue with yellow curtains and filled with lots of squishy, soft furniture. Mary loves to collect items from nature and display them in little glass dishes around the house; acorns, pinecones, dried flowers, and stones. They are her treasures—her Mother Earth fortune.
Felix cleaned out this house for her. It was supposed to be temporary until her memories returned. It’s been two years and she still remembers nothing.
A few weeks after rescuing Mary, Felix found a small blonde girl with wide green eyes and a badly broken leg. She screamed and screamed in terror night and day. The doctor kept her medicated, but the community scolded Felix for bringing her in. They were afraid of her.
“Could you take her for a bit?” Felix asked Mary. “Just until we find her another home.”
Mary agreed. It was a month before the child could leave the bed and another two months before she spoke. She found it easy to be with the silent child, to hold her as she cried, and to be a calming presence. Being around children feels natural to her as if she was made for this and nothing else. It makes her wonder if perhaps she was a teacher before, or maybe she had a child of her own.
She’s nursed a total of six kids to health. She wishes she could keep them with her, but there comes a time when they need other children to run and play with and to be removed from the new children with fresh nightmares who wake to scream during the night. Although it’s hard for her to say goodbye, each time they leave she feels a great sense of relief, accomplishment, and happiness.
Mary figured out pretty quickly the children could not sleep in a room alone, so she filled the master bedroom with three large mattresses. It creates a huge bed where they all cuddle close in order to make it through the night. Stephen has been moving further and further away from her and Tiff. He’s very close to not needing her anymore.
“Let’s wash all the bedding,” Mary says. “Help me gather it up.”
The day passes in a series of chores. Mary, Stephen, and Tiff work together to prepare as much as they can for the arrival of the new child. After washing the bedding, they gather up clean clothes and bake blueberry muffins from a mix. Tiff seems excited when Felix comes for a visit and tells her the child is a 4-year-old girl with curly red hair and lots of freckles. Stephen tries to not look disappointed.
As the day winds down, the community gathers at the old Catholic church for a town hall meeting. Apparently, some are worried the new child has “the sickness,” causing a fresh round of panic and renewed anger at Felix for his rescue missions. Mary can hear the angry voices traveling down the street toward her and the children. Using the generator, something she rarely does, she plays a King Harvest record Felix recovered for her a few months ago.
“Everybody here is out of sight They don’t bark and they don’t bite They keep things loose, they keep things light Everybody was dancin’ in the moonlight”
She and Stephen hold hands and dance in the small living room, around and around the big flowered rug. Tiff sits on the green couch and bangs her hands on an upturned tin can with perfect rhythm. Mary sees her smile and it brings tears to her eyes. She’s going to be talking soon. She’s so close.
They play the record late into the night, over and over, drowning out the fear being played out by the adults down the road. Mary wishes they’d learn how to speak softly and worries about all the children living in the community. Fearful talk brings new rounds of nightmares.
The next morning, Felix arrives with two canvas bags of supplies. He’s freshly showered and shaved. Stephen and Tiff smile from their place at the kitchen table, always happy to see the person who rescued them.
“I have a special treat,” Felix says.
He pulls out a plastic bag filled with red, round apples. The sight of them makes both the children giggle with glee, and Mary rushes to Felix and gives him an enormous hug. They haven’t had fresh fruit in ages.
“Thank you,” she says. “You have no idea how happy this makes me.”
“I have some idea,” he says.
Mary thinks he might have blushed and it makes her own face turn red. She busies herself with putting away the canned goods and offers him some pancakes and coffee. Stephen talks his ear off as he eats asking all kinds of questions about soccer, a topic apparently Felix knows a great deal about.
“Oh, I almost forgot,” Felix says between bites. “You can come to get the child today. Since she isn’t talking, I’ve taken to calling her, Annie.”
After breakfast, Mary leaves Stephen and Tiff to clean up and walks with Felix down the road. They walk in silence, side-by-side, their pinky fingers brushing a few times. Mary thinks she can feel those sparks again and wonders if he notices them too.
She searches for the words, but can’t find them. They feel stuck inside her, perhaps locked with her memories, safely hidden where she can’t be hurt. Felix stops a few steps before the doctor’s house and grabs her hands into his.
“I have a strange feeling about this child,” he says.
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t know exactly.”
He pulls Mary to him, hugging her tight against his body. He smells of pine and fresh air. There’s something about him that reminds her of her Earth treasures, a certain kind of preciousness she wants to keep for herself. She rests her head against his chest and listens to his heartbeat.
“I’m glad you are here,” Doctor Bains interrupts.
They pull apart and face the tall, thin frame of the doctor. He has deep black rings under his dark brown eyes and a scruffy unkempt beard. He must have been handsome at one point, but the stress of the last few years has made him look perpetually unkempt and in need of rest.
“How is she?” Felix asks.
“Stable now,” he says. “She had a deep gash along her side which required some complex stitching and a blood transfusion. She will need to be kept still while she heals. She’s very weak.”
“Has she spoken to you?” Mary asks.
“I’m afraid not. I’m sedating her to keep her calm and I’ll send some meds with you. I know you don’t like to use them, but if she tries to run away she might die. She was very close to death when Felix found her. You need to keep her calm and resting.”
“Don’t worry, Mary will work her magic,” Felix says. “She’s got her now.”
He grabs Mary’s hand and squeezes it three times, a code Mary isn’t sure what it means. She squeezes him back and she sees the skin around his neck turn red.
“Very well,” Dr. Bains says.
They follow him inside and find the small child laying on a bed in the dark back room. There are scrapes and cuts all over her thin body. Mary lowers herself to her knees beside the bed and speaks in a slow, careful voice.
“Hi, dear. I’m Mary. My home is down the road and there are two other children there who are excited to meet you, Stephen and Tiff. We are going to help you heal. You don’t have to talk to me or them, but I hope you will when you are ready. You are safe now.”
The child turns her head sharply and stares into Mary’s face. Her blue eyes widen and fill with tears. She reaches her hand out and touches Mary on the cheek—the softest of touches.
“Hi,” she says.
“Hi,” Mary says.
A strange sensation takes over, a kind of rumbling inside her mind which might be the act of remembering. There are no clear images yet, but it’s as if someone shook up a snow globe giving Mary silhouettes through the snowy bits. She stumbles a bit and Felix grabs her arm. He gives her a reassuring smile and she continues.
“Is it okay if my friend Felix here carries you? I’m afraid I’m not quite strong enough.”
The girl nods and Felix lifts her into his arms. She’s so tiny—a baby lost in the woods. There’s something different about her, a calmness transcending the medication. Mary reaches out and holds her tiny hand. Snippets of memory tug at her mind, straining and straining to be made clear. Annie’s hand feels sweaty and begins to shake in her own.
“Are you okay?” Mary asks.
“Yeah,” she says. “I’m okay.”
They walk down the road in silence but the child keeps her eyes on Mary. The intensity of her stare feels a lot like longing and they arrive at the house in what feels like a moment. Felix lowers Annie onto one of the mattresses beside a bundle of wildflowers Stephen and Tiff gathered for her. She rolls onto her side and pulls the bundle to her nose.
“Welcome home,” Mary says.
“Thank you,” she says.
Mary gives Felix a hug goodbye and lays beside the small child. Annie latches herself to Mary’s arm, wrapping her small body as close to her as possible. Stephen and Tiff wander in and out of the room for the next few hours, but they understand Annie’s need to be close to Mary.
She doesn’t speak again, but Mary expected this. She simply breathes in and out, Mary accepting the child’s need to rest and to be held. She watches the sky outside turn dark through the open window and realizes how hungry she is. In her most gentle of voices, she speaks to Annie.
“I need to cook dinner, but I don’t want to leave you alone. Do you want to come with me?”
The girl nods. Mary picks her up and takes her into the kitchen. She places the child on a wooden chair beside her and the child grabs the hem of her long skirt with her fist. Stephen and Tiff set the table and pour each person a glass of water from a pitcher on the counter. Mary pours several cans of chicken noodle soup into a large pot to cook before pulling out the bag of apples.
“These will be our dessert,” she says.
She cuts an apple in half and sees the star shape inside and gasps—the fairy star. It takes her a minute to catch her breath. The memory rings through her like a golden bell.
“Do you know what this is?” she tells the children. “Long ago there was a small apple tree, the first of its kind. It loved to look up into the night sky at the beauty of the stars. It longed more than anything to have a start for itself, to hold it within its hands. It wanted to feel it and touch it.”
Crying now, the words come easier and easier.
“One day a small fairy heard the apple tree talking to the stars and offered to go up into the sky and bring one back. It took her a long, long time. Seasons passed. Spring became Fall. Fall became Winter. Winter became Spring again and the fairy returned. She had gathered the magic of the stars within her wand and touched all the bright shiny apples with its glittery tip, forever locking a star inside each one.”
She holds up the apple for the children to see. Stephen and Tiff clap, but Annie grows silent. Mary scoops her into her arms and pulls her tight to her chest. The impossible has become real. Mary buries her nose into the child’s red curls and breaths in the truth, her memories popping and clicking into place one after the other.
In the middle of the night, her toddler wandered out into the world of monsters. She woke up in a panic the moment she didn’t feel her child’s weight beside her, but it was too late. She couldn’t find a trace of her anywhere. For days and weeks, she searched for her girl, growing further and further manic with worry and despair. She didn’t sleep. She didn’t eat. She killed the monsters with a sharpened stick through the eye and kept moving. She walked and searched until her mind and memory snapped and Felix found her.
“My baby Lula,” she says. “It’s you. It’s really you.”
“Mommy, “ she says.
She kisses her face over and over.
“I’ll never lose you again.”
Author’s note: I cut open an apple this week and remembered the Waldorf story explaining the origin of the star inside. I wanted to weave that sweet tale into this week’s prompt, playing with finding moments of kindness in a time of chaos. It’s been another hectic week and I wish I had another few days to make this story better, but I don’t. Some weeks I have to allow myself the grace to walk away knowing it’s the best I can do given my schedule. I’m writing and sticking to my goals—22 weeks in a row. Thanks, as always, for reading and I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments below.
Short Story Challenge | Week 22
Each week the short stories are based on a prompt from the book “Write the Story” by Piccadilly, Inc. This week’s prompt was to write a story about the main character having amnesia. We had to include antiquarian, satellite, cinnamon, fortune, cookie, harbor, cedar, invitation, soccer, annual, and speaker.
The Waldorf school my daughter graduated from last week names each class after a tree. That tree becomes the class name, a symbol to rally the class together and form them into a cohesive unit. I wrote this poem to honor her teacher and the Linden tree class. The image was drawn on the chalkboard by her lovely teacher on their very first day together. I hope you enjoy it.
Under the Linden Tree
I. Branches and Leaves
Swept forth into the strong branches of the Linden tree, you call out “look at me” and “it’s not fair” straining to be heard among the others. Within your fellow heart-shaped leaves you found symmetry, serrated edges—your pointed tips sharpened by your proximity to magic.
Noisy bees circled, drawn by your sweetness, your softness transformed by storms into hardened beauty carved into any form you like. Tilia, basswood, lime— your names ring out like justice and peace dancing around the base of graceful towering magic.
Seasons danced happily through your green leaves, braced together and held firm by the juggling trunk’s deep roots far deeper than any tempest could shake. Tiny creamy yellow flowers burst forth in bundles, hanging tight to the tree with ambrosial scented, delicate magic.
Youth green fullness, brash and vividly bold, gave way to golden autumn’s crisp firmness curled tight together clinging on for one more precious moment. Yet, breezes come to transform one into many, flying on fitted spiraling wings from your fertile orchard, singing the forever song of Linden magic.
Blown into an orchard, banded cord thick with butterflies, steady roots plant deep in slippery soil ripe with crawling, noisy seekers crying out with “whys” and “how comes.” Beneath the Linden branches the red-winged cardinal’s two-part whistle sings of beginnings, suns, moons—ancient woody magic.
Gathered together under loosely woven branches communing and feasting wildness transforms into dancing movement. Light streaks through limbs to cover crowns as Jack Frost frolics with snowflakes as hands, melting hardness into puddles of kindred kindness. Leafy bunches become conical, balanced magic.
Ridged, furrowed scaly bark grows and smooths until shining with etched runes it reaches across fast-moving water to capture sacred geometric truths within bright colored folds. Bears prowl near, scratching fears, stretching up toward cascading waters, ravens, dragons, stones–Earth magic.
Winds blow birds nests nestled into grooves worn smooth by patient hands. Across distances the song remains strong, drawing the Linden into itself, singing melodies deeply woven through delicate leafy veins forever connected, forever entwined, forever part of sunlight’s loving embrace, warmth wrapped in bonded magic.