“I wonder if the snow loves the trees and fields, that it kisses them so gently? And then it covers them up snug, you know, with a white quilt; and perhaps it says, ‘Go to sleep, darlings, till the summer comes again.’”― Lewis Carroll
A storm blew through this weekend bringing rain to our town and snow to the mountains. On Sunday, my daughter and I drove until chains were required to play in and photograph the beauty of the first flakes. Not having ever lived in the snow myself, it’s easy to romantize the way the white clings to the green of the trees. It felt truly like the spirit of the winter season and I wish we could have stayed all day.
Please enjoy this selection of images below and have a wonderful week.
Photos were taken with an Olympus OM-D and edited with ON1 Photo RAW
My feet won’t stop moving under the hard, wooden desk. It’s as if they have come alive and are set on getting me in trouble. I look at my brown spoonwood shoes in irritation and hiss at them as quietly as I can.
“Cut it out.”
Several students turn to look at me and I stare straight ahead, ignoring them. My feet stop moving but the jitters move up my legs and I know it will have to come out somewhere. I try hard to focus on the Old One in charge today, Mr. Hawthorne.
“Dandelion. Taraxacum officinale. Irish daisy. Monk’s-head. These bright yellow flowers can be used for many things, including immunity boosting and reducing inflammation. They are hardy regardless of the conditions you submit them to unless, of course…”
Mr. Hawthorne’s voice sounds rumbly and low, reminding me of the tired lion I saw on the class field trip to London last year. He’s reading from a dark brown leather book with thin yellow pages and his wire-rimmed glasses keep slipping to the tip of his pointy nose. My fingers have turned fidgety and I sit on them.
To distract myself, I count the hairs on Mr. Hawthorne’s big toes and wonder for the hundredth time why none of the Old Ones have to wear shoes. It seems wildly unfair. I’ve been to Headmaster Buckthorne’s office to discuss my objections to all the dress codes so many times the school secretary, Mrs. Yarrow, calls me a thistle in her side. I can’t help it.
I don’t like being in trouble, but it seems every school rule was designed to squash me and me alone. None of the other students seem to have as much difficulty doing what’s expected of them. My fingers wiggle loose from under me and find a home in my tangled, violet hair.
I wind a messy curl around my index finger until a hangnail on my thumb gets stuck and I’m forced to yank it out. It hurts and I hide the torn strands of hair inside my desk before anyone notices. It’s a good thing I have a lot of hair.
The jitters have exploded through me now and I can’t stop them. Slipping under the desk, I crawl across the floor of the library and sit crossed-legged under the farthest back table. Nobody seems to notice, or if they do, they don’t say anything.
My wings are bound inside the pale yellow uniform all fifth-year fairies must wear to prevent us from flying or doing magic. It’s not the best color to go with my dark violet hair, but far better than the ugly brown uniforms of fourth-year. The color I’m most excited to wear is the dark green of the eighth year because they get to have their wings out.
I discovered last year a way to still wiggle my wings a tiny bit under the bindings of the uniform. It’s not much movement, but it creates enough magic to amuse myself. Setting my pencil on the floor, I make it perform a complicated twirling dance number. I hum a song about three blind mice.
“Piper,” Mr. Hawthorne calls.
His voice is sharp and I snap to attention. Grabbing the dancing pencil, I slide out from under the table and run back to my desk. Mr. Hawthorne’s dark grey eyes watch me the entire time. He might be smiling, but it could also be a grimace. I’m not so good at reading faces. Tucking my pencil into my desk, I fold my hands and answer with my formal classroom voice.
His glasses have slipped again and his eyes are sort of crossed. I know better than to laugh, but a giggle brews dangerously in my stomach. I dig my nails into the tops of my hands to stop it.
“Can you answer the question?”
All the eyes in the room are on me. I swallow hard and speak as clearly and confidently as I can.
His eyes widen and he’s definitely smiling now. Pride surges through me although I know it shouldn’t because I didn’t know the answer. He rubs his hands together.
“Well…yes, actually. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome, sir.”
I purposely avoid looking at my best friend Rosemary, but I know she’s smiling too. She quickly scrawled the answer on her palm in bright red ink and flashed it to me as I passed her desk. Saved again.
Rosemary and I met when the school year started and Headmaster Buckthorne says we are “thick as thieves.” I know this is a dig at me, but I don’t care. Rosemary is the best thing ever to happen at Hollyhock’s Fairy School for the Highly Gifted. The best thing in all my years here.
Rosemary keeps her long black hair in two braids, tied with blue ribbons the same shade as her eyes. When she laughs she throws back her head and sticks out her round belly. She holds my hand and saves me when the jitters get too big. I’m not sure how I survived before Rosemary.
Mr. Hawthorne dismisses the class for lunch and Rosemary and I walk to the furthest part of the field behind the school to eat together. She’s got a large sandwich of honey and hazelnut, decorated with a tiny sprig of lavender. She cuts it in half and hands me the biggest piece.
“I’m not going back to class,” I say with my mouth full.
Rosemary laughs. It’s my favorite sound in the world.
“You always say that.”
I try to give her a serious look, but I don’t have one.
“I mean it today. I can’t take another minute. I’m going crazy.”
Rosemary takes a sip of hot tea from a thermos with tiny pink tulips painted on the side. The minty smell makes me a bit sad. It smells like mothers. I look at the ground until Rosemary speaks again.
“Where will you go?”
Jumping to my feet, I do a dramatic twirl before answering.
“Don’t you mean, where will we go?”
Rosemary’s face changes to a frown, but I pretend to not see it. Instead, I watch two butterflies chase each other across the field. My wings twitch wildly in their bindings.
“Oh, no, not today. My mom was upset last time. She cried and cried and made me promise never to go off without telling her again. She thought I died! I had to sleep in her bed for a week!!”
Short of sticking my fingers in my ears, I do everything I can to block this out. With a huge leap, I chase the butterflies across the field. I do a somersault followed by a cartwheel. A few of the smaller kids applaud and I bow. Rosemary can’t understand how much her words hurt. How could she? It’s not like she knows.
When I was 4 years old my mother had an accident. She came out of the bedroom of our small cabin in the woods and her bright green eyes had turned milky white. Her curly strawberry-blonde hair had turned grey and her peachy smooth skin had become bumpy and pale as snow. She was cold to the touch and unresponsive. I didn’t know what to do.
For two days I watched this chilly version of my mother wander from room to room, unblinking and silent. A neighbor finally stopped by for a visit and found me crying alone in a closet. It wasn’t until years later, Headmaster Buckthorne told me the truth about what happened.
My mother had been trying to complete a complex and illegal magical spell to locate my father, a soldier in the Fairy Force. He disappeared during an intense battle in the Sage Mountains a week before I was born. She used old and unstable magic. It changed my mother permanently, leaving me an orphan.
With no family to take me in, Headmaster Buckthorne brought me to Hollyhock’s Fairy School for the Highly Gifted a few weeks after my mother’s accident. He studies “magical amnesia” and is fascinated by my mother’s case. While he studies her and tries to look for a cure, I live in a room above the library and I’m allowed to attend this prestigious school.
I don’t care about grades or how great this school looks for future magical employers. I don’t think about my future at all. I do think about mothers. I think about them a lot.
Rosemary’s mother has beautiful red hair and bright pink cheeks. She puts notes in her lunchbox and makes sure she has a thick enough jacket when it’s cold out. I wish I had been enough for my mother, but I wasn’t. She wanted my father more than me.
Sometimes I pretend she’s not locked up in the Hospital for the Incurable, but rather living with my father in a magical glen deep within the Blackwood Forest. I see them with a new daughter, one who sits still and follows the rules. They want nothing else than to be with her because she’s loveable and sweet. She’s nothing like me.
Rosemary’s smiling at me and I’m ashamed of my jealousy of her mother. I wish I could tell her about mine, but the words are locked inside me. They are stones buried far too deep to unearth. I touch her soft hair and dance around her.
“Well, I’m going with or without you…and it’s going to be amazing.”
I drag out the last word and I can tell this interests her. She sets the sandwich on her lap and stares at me with wide eyes.
Spinning, I wink and grin as wide as I can.
“You have to come with me to see.”
Rosemary frowns, but it’s not a real one. I can see a smile hidden beneath it waiting to come out.
“Oh, Piper, don’t do that to me. My mother will kill me!”
Fluttering my wings under my uniform I use a little magic to make a leaf jump into the air and land on her nose. She giggles.
“It’s going to be amazing.”
I sing the words and I know I’ve hooked her. She likes adventure as much as I do, maybe even more, and her mother forgives her every time.
Headmaster Buckthorne isn’t as forgiving and I’ll pay for my disobedience by losing my weekend flying privileges for several weeks and maybe I’ll have to clean the school bathrooms too. I don’t care. An adventure with my best friend is worth any cost.
Sitting on the itchy grass beside her, she leans close enough that our shoulders touch. Whispering our plans is part of the fun. Her breath tickles my ear.
“How are we going to get off school grounds this time?”
It’s becoming a lot harder to escape as each time we do Headmaster Buckthorne blocks us, but last time he couldn’t figure out how we did it. I plan to use the same route.
“We’re going under the sign again.”
Rosemary sighs and crosses her arms over her chest. She doesn’t like this plan and I don’t blame her. The school sign sits on the edge of a steep cliff. Last time we removed our school uniforms and slipped through a small hole, but I didn’t realize how cold and fast the falling would be. It took a few minutes for our wings to open. Instead of fun and exciting, it was more like dangerous and scary.
“I don’t like the sensation of falling. It makes me dizzy and I don’t want to be in my underwear again. What if someone sees us this time? It was so cold!”
She’s right, but I’ve thought of all this already. I pull my leather school bag onto my lap and open it wide enough to show her what’s inside.
“What if we don’t fall, but fly instead?”
I’ve stolen two light blue tunics from the laundry room before my breakfast—the uniforms of the fairy garden workers. Our wings will be free for flying and we will be able to roam the grounds around the school without drawing too much attention to ourselves. Rosemary claps.
“You are amazing!”
I try not to look too pleased by the compliment, but my cheeks burn hot. It’s good to hear her say it. She grabs my hand and whispers as close to my ear as she can.
“Even in the tunics, how can we get out the front door of the school? Last time you got Basil to free a bunch of beetles from the garden and the chaos provided our distraction. We can’t do the same thing…it would be too obvious.”
Several second-year students in pale pink wander by us and I make sure my bag is shut tight. The bell rings and without another word, we pack our things and walk arm and arm back toward the main school building. I whisper as low as I can as we walk.
“Don’t worry about a thing. It’s all arranged. Luckily, Basil still likes me and he’s working on a very good distraction. Let’s hurry though, I don’t want to miss it.”
We walk through the large wooden double doors and into the main entryway, a cavernous room with a vast grey stone floor and a giant golden chandelier burning bright with hundreds of tiny candles. The two main staircases wind off to the left and right, along with several dark hallways. We see Basil waiting near the golden statue of the founders, Claude Mugwort and Bella Vervain. He’s not wearing his uniform.
Freckle-faced with bright blue hair, poor Basil has the unfortunate fate of being in love with me. He’s followed me around since year two and I’m afraid I’ve abused his kindness. When he sees me he blushes and gives me two thumbs up. I mouth “thank you” and the redness of his face seems to darken—is it vermillion or beet? My face reddens too, but mostly out of guilt.
Taking Rosemary by the hand, I lead her into a little alcove near the stairs where a picture of a bowl of lemons sits hidden from view. I press the third lemon with my pointer finger and a secret door opens revealing a closet filled with cleaning supplies. Rosemary gasps.
Growing up in a school that is empty part of the year, I’m probably the only student to know some of its secrets. It has many. A tiny magical blue light shines above us.
“Change, quick! We haven’t much time. We can store our clothes and my bag here.”
Rosemary and I untie our identical school uniforms and change into light blue tunics. They are a bit big for us, but we tie a few extra knots so they won’t fall off when we fly. Rosemary’s bouncing on the balls of her feet like me. We are ready. The sound of raised voices and the shuffling of feet fills the main hall outside.
“Not yet,” I whisper. “Basil will signal us with a whistle.”
The sound of voices grows louder, accompanied by the most lovely and intoxicating sugary smell. My mouth waters and Rosemary giggles beside me. A few seconds later we hear a short burst of sound, like a train whistle. It’s the signal.
We open the door slowly and walk out from the alcove. The scene before us makes us both double over in laughter. Basil is brilliant!
The main entryway has been transformed into an oversized and elaborate butcher shop. Sausages, whole chickens, ducks, and pigs hanging from strings in every direction. Only, these aren’t dead animals. No, they are all made of candy. Chocolate turkey legs and cream-filled pork chops. Gummy hamburgers and malted meatballs.
Basil sits at a large wooden table in the center, eating a platter with a huge candy pot roast complete with fake glazed carrots and roasted red potatoes. He’s throwing bits of food at the gathering crowd who are stuffing their faces and screaming. We lock eyes for a minute and I mouth “I owe you.” He laughs and throws a peppermint onion at the approaching Headmaster Buckthorne.
It’s almost too much fun to leave, but I don’t want Basil to have gotten into trouble for nothing. I pull Rosemary by the arm, through the screaming crowd and out the front door. It’s silent as we cross the lawn with our wings flapping awake behind us.
“Basil’s the best,” Rosemary says.
“What I have to show you is even better.”
I’m lying. The truth is, I have no idea where we are going or what we are looking for. I only know I have to get away from this place—both my home and my prison. A place so close to my mother, yet I’m not allowed to see her. A place I only get to escape when Rosemary comes with me.
The truth is, I don’t have the courage to go alone. I grab her hand and squeeze it. Guilt tears at my stomach. She’s got a mother who loves her. So does Basil. I’m going to get them both hurt.
Holding hands, we squeeze through the small hole, spread our wings and fly off together to find adventure.
Author’s note: I know with confidence I’ll be writing a middle-grade fairy book at some point and perhaps the seeds for it are right here. I hope you enjoyed meeting Piper, Rosemary, and Basil. Thanks as always for your likes and comments—you have no idea how much they mean to me.
Short Story Challenge | Week 48
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 a day in the life. We had to include the words identical, pot roast, decorate, sign, abuse, library, amnesia, butcher, submit and sensation.
“All he needed was a wheel in his hand and four on the road.” -Jack Kerouac
Yesterday I took a leisurely drive with my daughter through the more undeveloped parts of our area. It was a clear, beautiful autumn day and I stopped occasionally to take photos when the roads provided enough space to pull over. My photos this week are the best of those images. I edited them all to have a similar tone. Is it my best work? No. Is it okay to simply like them and not love them? Sure. I’m learning and growing. It’s all part of the process.
These next few days are the final push to finish up NaNoWriMo. I’m behind. I’ve got to write 7,652 words by Wednesday. I’ve reached the “Brain, activate Deadline mode” phase. Here’s where being an unpublished writer gets tricky. Nobody really cares if I make this deadline except me. I have to be the one continuously digging deep to make my deadlines. There are really no consequences if I fail. Yet, I don’t want to fail. I don’t want to let myself down.
To everyone giving me support and cheering me on, thank you. You have no idea how much I appreciate it. May everyone have a wonderful week filled with the things you love best.
Photos were taken with an Olympus OM-D and edited with ON1 Photo RAW
Harsh streaks of morning sunlight break through the thick grove of oak trees, casting bright lines across the towering ancient building before me. My time has run out. My final act will be incomplete. It seems fitting.
My hands, raw from rubbing the chalk into the rough stone of the cathedral steps, shake wildly. I ball them into fists and find they don’t fully close anymore. Everything hurts.
Drops of blood from my nose escape onto the concrete, spoiling my act of redemption, and I dab at them with the dirty hem of my dress. They transform into dark red smears polluting the ground and my art. Poisoning it.
Father Rudolph will be here any minute to make sure I’m gone before his beautiful parishioners arrive for Easter Sunday services. Nobody wants to smell the decay already clinging to my young ragged body. It’s a day for resurrection and lilies, not ashes and death. I’m not what anyone wants to see.
For three days I’ve knelt here, drawing and redrawing these images of the afterlife. I thought if I depicted heaven with as much detail as possible I’d be allowed in. If I got it right, the churchgoers would love it and I’d be saved. I’ve gone without food, water, or rest. My last desperate act. A final plea for forgiveness.
I doubt it will work. Some deeds are unforgivable. Blood can be washed from your fingers, even scraped out from under your nails with a wire brush, but the stain remains forever. At least for those like me.
A ticking sound fills the courtyard, loud enough to drown out the chittering of the birds. The sickness I caught when I arrived here three weeks ago has progressed faster and faster. My breathing has become slow and painful. It won’t be much longer.
Closing my eyes I see the face of the one I thought to be my true love and protector—Cyrus. The curve of his thin nose, the thick pink of his lips, and the soft blue of his uneven eyes. His heart beat strong and clear, but the love he had was for himself not for me. I figured it out too late.
He promised me life would be different after we smashed my mother’s head in with a shovel and buried her in the dark soil of the garden. It proved only true for him. He was praised as the “Witch Killer.” I was shunned as her filthy daughter.
I’ve been living in a small wooden house behind the church. The women in the black robes pray over me and tell me it’s never too late to love God, but they don’t see the darkness inside me—lust, hatred, and jealousy. They don’t understand the truth. I wish I was wrong.
The last time I saw Cyrus he stood smiling and holding hands with his pretty, pregnant wife—his thick fingers covered with gold rings. He glowed brightly with rebirth, his soul cleansed by the God of second chances. While I remain soiled—polluted and corrupted by my birthright of pain. My thin fingers are covered in scratches and dirt.
Opening my eyes, I see a large hawk circle above my masterpiece. It casts its winged shadow over the colorful chalk images as if it knows the truth about me. It caws and I hear the demon of my mother’s shadow call out to me.
“You are nothing but a sponge soaking in the evil of the world.”
I escaped the prison of my childhood only to be sentenced to another. The badness inside me, the parts inherited from her, wriggling alive and venomous, make it impossible for me to expect anything but unhappiness. It’s hopeless.
This last-minute grand gesture, this final Hail Mary, will do nothing. I’m unredeemable. Unloveable. Tainted.
The truth lies in my fractured heart. This attempt at worship, a sacrifice worthy of wiping away my sins, have failed because at some point it morphed into vanity. It’s a ploy to get recognized and blessed.
Cyrus and his wife will be forced to walk through my images. The chalk will stick to their shoes and follow them home. He will have to see what he left behind. What he did.
I’m not truly sorry for what I’ve done. My mother was evil and deserved to die. I did what was right. We both did, but I’m the one who has to pay the price. I’m the sacrificial lamb.
Fatigue throbs at my temple, a relentless steel hammer pounding my brain. I can’t stop blinking. My back has become a cord knotted tight—rigid and unmoving. I’m unable to straighten or fully stand. Pain sings through every cell. The end is near.
Leaning back on my heels, I smile at my army of chalk angels covering every step; playing instruments, sitting, standing, wings outstretched, praising, and praying. I wanted to add a sheep in the meadow, more flowers along the picket fence, a parakeet in the hollow of the eucalyptus tree, variation to the clouds, and more feathers on the wings of the final angel. I wanted to do so much more.
Mother taught me to draw before I could speak. My thoughts have always been colorful pictures I could channel through a pencil or pen to make come alive. Chalk proved a bit harder to use, but perhaps it’s because the stakes are much higher. This time I hoped my images would buy me a seat at the heavenly table.
With a loud creak and a bang, the ornate double doors of the church open. I wrap my chalk into a burlap cloth and gather my sketches and rags. Throwing them into my tattered grey bag, I stumble to the bottom step and fall to my knees gasping for air.
Footsteps and voices head toward me but I don’t look. I’m a statue, the patron saint of “I’m sorry”—a pile of broken glass. Two shadows cover my body, shielding me from the world. A man speaks low, almost in a whisper. He’s close enough I can feel his warmth.
Father Rudolph answers. He smells of fresh bread, coffee and frankincense.
“Would you like to meet the artist?”
“I’d be honored.”
I raise my face to them, but their white robes blur my vision and I focus on the opulent gold cords around their necks. Outstretched hands reach to touch mine and I present my palms, a rainbow of scrapes and colors. A pauper of the pavement.
“This is Amelia, the girl I told you about.”
The man sighs and covers his mouth. I wonder what he’s been told about me. He touches my shoulder gently and I see his hands are covered in bright gold rings.
“You’ve done a remarkable job.”
Warmth fills my heart for a brief moment—the sin of pride. I should not be so pleased with myself. Tears fill my eyes.
A hoarse croak. Did I speak the words or think them? Panic strikes my heart as the enormous bronze bell dances in the tower striking its thunderous note for all to hear. The time has come. This is no place to die.
The mothers in wide-brimmed hats covered in colorful flowers will be here soon with their children. Little girls in lacy pink dresses with bright, clean braids. Little boys in pressed suits of baby blue with shiny black shoes. Fathers with handfuls of crisp dollar bills for the collection plate. All smiling and forgiven.
I gather my bundle into my tired arms and run. The bell chases me, thundering loudly the way my heart did when Cyrus touched me for the first time. As a missionary visiting our lands, he taught me about beauty and love. He told me we could be together in a place where my talent would be celebrated and appreciated. He showed me another way.
As I run through the manicured gardens, pain coursing through my chest, my thoughts are only of him. When he sees my drawings will he remember our night together under the stars? Will he remember the love we shared? Will he be sorry?
I make it to the garden behind the church, but my legs falter. Weakness forces me to collapse in a heap—a rag thrown onto the bricks of a crumbling stone statue. Is it Saint Jude, the patron saint of lost causes? Or Saint Nicholas, the patron saint of children?
A bystander with deep blue eyes and large soft hands touches my head gently. Is it Cyrus? Has he come to say goodbye?
No. I don’t recognize the man trying to lift me, but I see the distress on his face. I’m a horror, a terrible nightmare made real. I don’t want him to watch me die. A tiny voice escapes through my dry cracked lips.
His eyes widen in surprise as mine flutter shut. Pain swallows me whole. I surrender to its tightening grip.
I couldn’t outrun or trick my way into a different destiny. Time always wins. The sky fills with clouds and I feel the raindrops on my closed eyelids. Does this render my army of chalk angels irrelevant? Am I truly not capable of being saved? As the breath leaves my body I realize the truth—I know nothing.
Author’s note: The young girl of this bleak story, Amelia, chases the enemy of time. Her last shot at redemption washes away in the rain, but she realizes it meant nothing. In the end, it’s not up to her to decide what happens. I hope you found something interesting or redeeming here. I’m incredibly thankful to everyone who reads my blog and comments. Thanks for believing in me even on the days I do not.
Short Story Challenge | Week 47
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 chasing the enemy. We had to include the words demon, bystander, escaped, parakeet, destiny, hammer, singing, ash, cathedral, and heels.
I forgive myself for idealizations of holidays past For quick crying between wishes For wiping tears on my pumpkin apron For missing the harvest moon For yelling at myself for falling short For taking too many or not enough pictures For missing the sweetness of giggly formality For not savoring the warmth of deep red wine For demanding you write on the thankful chalkboard tree For unrealistic expectations and not asking for help For not seeing paper-thin leaves on the carpet as beautiful For forgetting the windowsill wishbone For making cranberry sauce when you just want canned For not snuggling under warm blankets For playing martyr music to myself
I am grateful it’s never too late to learn hard lessons For pretty glass pumpkins bought 20 years ago For delicious pies from Apple Hill For crochet leaf coasters and sparkling cider refills For round crackers and salty meat For the mystic splendor of deer on the ridge For marching bands and behemoth balloons For bad jokes and big laughter For pink cheeks and crackling firelight For making you write on the thankful chalkboard tree For the perfect turkey placemats for four For forgiveness and second chances For squirrel salt & pepper shakers For snuggles and holding hands For midnight sandwiches and full bellies For every moment we’ve had together
*Thank you for supporting my blog this year. Your kindness keeps me going. May your Thanksgiving, if you celebrate, be worry-free and wonderful.
“Well, we all make mistakes, dear, so just put it behind you. We should regret our mistakes and learn from them, but never carry them forward into the future with us.” -L.M. Montgomery
Yesterday I took family photographs of a dear friend and her beautiful family. It was a wonderful opportunity for me to stretch my photography skills and offer this service to people I love. What I learned was…I need to learn a lot more. Although it went well, as far as flow and everyone staying in wonderful moods, I didn’t do great with lighting or poses. While some of the photos were beautiful, others fell short. Ultimately, I failed in a lot of big ways.
When I woke up this morning I felt defeated and upset. I wanted to do so much better. While I could let this setback derail me, after coffee and a long hot shower, I’ve decided to keep going. I think after the new year I’ll enroll in some photography classes, invest in some new software, and keep trying. Everything is a learning experience and the only way to get better is to keep going.
My photos this week were all taken before the family shots and were edited to be black-and-white. I hope you enjoy them and have a wonderful week.
Photos were taken with an Olympus OM-D and edited with ON1 Photo RAW
A light touch on the bottom of my left foot drags me instantly from the rainbow haziness of the dream world to the very real darkness of my bedroom. I’m not alone. With a jerk, I retuck my legs into the safety and warmth of my colorful blanket cocoon and look around.
A wild wind outside my window batters the branches of the big oak tree casting wispy skeletal shadows along my purple walls. Everything else looks still and normal. Through the lacy curtains, the moon appears as a tiny crescent in a sea of black. When will this end?
Wiping tears from my eyes with the sleeve of my plaid nightgown, I realize I’m crying. My cheeks burn hot. I’m tired of feeling sad and scared. It’s not fair!
Burrowing my nose into the worn calico fur of my stuffed kitty Butterscotch, I breathe in the familiar sweet and musty smell. Snuggles by the fire. Hide-and-seek. Christmas morning.
As I’ve done the last ten nights in a row, I grab the red plastic flashlight from inside my pillowcase. I don’t expect to see anything but I make myself look just in case. I hold Butterscotch tight as I move the yellowish beam around the room.
Starting with my bookshelf, I scan my collection of rocks and figurines, moving along the floor past several mounds of dirty and clean clothes to the huge pile of stuffed animals. All fine. Unicorn poster. Tiny fake plant. Corkboard of Polaroids. Three empty cans of sparkling water and two empty Frito bags on the desk. Hello Kitty backpack spilling its contents out on the chair. Everything is where I left it.
My foot feels tingly and weird as if the imprint of the mystery touch lingers. Pulling the covers over my head, I sit under the blankets and use the flashlight to search every inch of my foot for clues—a fingerprint, scratch mark, or some tiny speck of goo. Nothing. It’s my normal foot.
For a moment I consider turning on the desk lamp and working on an essay for English class about the Giver, but my rumbling stomach has other ideas. I wish when I turned 12 last week my parents gifted me my future job instead of an event planner and a plain gold watch. I don’t want to make checklists, set goals, or make decisions. I know free will and emotions are supposed to be blessings, but I’m tired of them.
Tucking Butterscotch into the top of my nightgown, I tiptoe through the hallway toward my parent’s bedroom. I’m forced to pass the tall grandfather clock with its dark mahogany wood, sharp spiky top, and creepy drawing of the moon with a baby face. Its eerie ticking sound echoes in the silent house and I sneak a quick peek at the time before rushing by. The two ornate black hands point at the gleaming golden 12 and 2. Whatever keeps waking me is pretty punctual.
My parents sleep with the door slightly open and I peek in to see them both in their light brown wooden sleigh bed. They’re snuggled against each other under a purple and green checkered quilt and my dad’s snoring lightly. I watch them for a few minutes, seeing if they might be pretending to sleep, but they’re breathing deeply and don’t stir.
The first night I felt the touch on my foot I screamed with surprise and terror. My parents came rushing in, mother throwing on the light and father scooping me into his arms. When I told them what happened, dad checked the entire house for signs of anyone and mom gave me a cup of warm milk. I didn’t fall back to sleep that night or any night since. It’s almost becoming routine, which explains why I’m extra tired and hungry.
I rush down the stairs and take a quick peek into the living room for any signs of my foot toucher and, finding none, I head for the refrigerator. A small white bowl of leftover rice pudding sits on the middle shelf. Although mom will yell, I take it anyway. Pulling off the plastic wrap, I grab a spoon and head to my favorite squashy chair by the front window.
Snuggling under mom’s grey, wooly blanket and setting Butterscotch on my lap, I eat the sugary pudding and scan our quiet street. A tall silverish lamppost sits at the edge of our lawn casting a bright yellow glow around it. Cars sit quietly on driveways and grey garbage cans line the curb. Nobody is watering their lawn or jogging and I see no birds. It’s too early for much of anything.
The house next door has a huge maple tree and its reddish leaves dance in the wind as if alive. Dad and mom’s song plays in my head, spinning like the old record they bring out after they’ve shared a bottle of wine. Dad slips his hand around her waist and she puts her head on his shoulder.
Everybody’s feelin’ warm and right/It’s such a fine and natural sight/everybody’s dancin’ in the moonlight.
Across the street, our new neighbors have added a giant blow-up turkey to their yard for Thanksgiving. The wind has blown it sideways and its butt wiggles in the air. Abby would know the perfect joke. The thought makes the pudding no longer taste good. Don’t think about her, Brin. Just don’t.
Setting the bowl on the floor, I pull Butterscotch up to my face again. I don’t know why this is happening to me. I’ve googled “something touched my foot while sleeping” several times and it’s led me down some strange and winding paths. I could be suffering from any number of ailments from sleep paralysis to periodic limb movement disorder to restless leg syndrome.
One website said it could either be a bad omen or mean you were experiencing a spiritual awakening. Another said it’s a ghost or spirit and it’s important to cleanse your house with sage. I downloaded several ghost detector apps on my iPad but they proved useless and confusing. My parents have proved useless as well.
On the way to school a few days ago I told mom about my research, but she cut me off after a few minutes and pulled the car over. Clutching the steering wheel so hard her knuckles turned white, she stared intensely at me. It’s the look she uses when she means business. Her voice went all tense and low.
“Listen to me, Brin. Nothing touched your foot. You were dreaming. No, I won’t buy you sage or take you to the doctor. No, I won’t keep talking about this and if you keep googling stuff on your iPad I’ll take it away. Do you understand?”
I told her I do, but what choice do I have? For over a year now I’ve begged for a cellphone and if I have any hope of ever getting one, I know I have to drop it with her. She’s practical and has no patience for anything unexplained. Plus, she thinks I’m making it up for attention. She hasn’t said it directly, but I can tell.
Dad’s equally useless. He works all the time and dozes off after dinner, but I managed to catch him alone yesterday when he took the garbage can out to the curb. Without my mother around, I tell him about my research and ask him for his help. He grabs my shoulder and smiles.
“You just have an overactive imagination is all. It can trick your senses into believing anything. It can feel real, but I assure you it is not. Remember your imaginary friend…what was his name?”
Why does he have to bring him up? I whisper his name as if he’ll hear us talking about him.
“Right! You were convinced you saw him jumping around and hiding in the bushes. Now you are getting older and your brain does the pretending while you sleep instead of during the day. It’s part of growing up. It’s normal, kiddo. You aren’t little anymore. It’s good. You’ll see.”
It all comes back to me growing up. It’s all my parents seem to talk about these days. Last week my mother gave me a box and asked me to fill it for a children’s charity her work is sponsoring. When I filled it with old clothes she scowled at me.
“What about all these toys you have laying around? Barbies? Dolls? This mound of stuffed animals? You are a teenager now. It’s time to let stuff go.”
I cried and locked myself in the bathroom until she dropped it, but I know she’ll bring it up again. I don’t want to stop playing with my toys. I love them. They don’t get it. Abby was the person who did, but I was wrong about her. She’s the worst. The absolute worst.
Balling my hands into fists, I fight the memory but it’s like throwing up with the flu. It comes at me in a wave of ugliness and I don’t have the strength to fight it off. I press my nose to Butterscotch’s pink plastic one and feel the pain come roaring in.
It’s the 8th-grade science field trip and we stand on a wooden pier looking at the seals in the water. They roll around and bark at each other. Most of the other girls are trying to get the attention of either Cameron or Dylon by posing with their sunglasses and giggling like idiots. Not us. Abby and I are above such nonsense. I grab her arm and sing into her ear.
“Rolling, rolling, rolling, keep those seals rolling. Fisheye!”
Abby laughs but looks over at the students on the trip and blushes. She inches a little away from me, as she has done all day. Stepping closer and grabbing her arm, I create exaggerated British voices for the seals. Her body feels tense beside me. Stiff. Unmoving. Frozen.
“Oh, hi Cheryl, I didn’t see you rolling over there. Fancy a cuppa, mate?”
“Oh, hi Carol. Yes, I’d love one. I’m simply knackered. A cheeky fish kept me awake all night with its chittering.”
“What a bugger! Hey, did you change your whiskers, darling?”
“Yes, I waxed them with fish oil. It’s all the rage in Paris these days. Tip-top posh and all.”
“Oh, bloody brilliant!”
Abby doesn’t laugh. My British voice always makes her laugh. Instead, her cheeks turn bright red and she spins from me. My arm falls limply to my side as she walks over to the three most popular girls in our grade, Tracy, Stacy, and Pam. We’ve nicknamed them STP—Stupid Tall Pretty. She doesn’t look back.
For a brief moment, I think she’s gone to play a prank on them, but I know it’s not true. I saw it coming but tried to ignore it. Abby pulls a pair of round blue sunglasses out of her backpack. She didn’t tell me about those and we don’t have secrets. We didn’t have secrets.
The glasses are an expensive name-brand kind. Abby’s talking fast and running her fingers through her curly blonde hair. They all take turns trying the glasses on and taking selfies.
“Oh, Abby,” Tracy says, touching my best friend’s cheek with a bright red fake nail. “I never realized the perfect shape of your lips. You have to try this!”
She hands Abby a tube of pink lip gloss and she puts it on. The bubblegum smell is strong and sickly sweet. Stacy links arms with Abby and coos beside her in a stupid baby voice.
“Do you have Instagram?”
“Not yet, but I got a new cell phone last week and haven’t had a chance to download it yet.”
Another secret she didn’t tell me about. She pulls a bright pink phone out of her backpack and they all examine it. Apparently, it’s cool from the sounds they are making. I clench my fists tighter to resist the urge to rush over, grab it, and throw it into the ocean.
“You are too pretty to not be on Insta,” Pam says. “Let’s do a photo shoot for your first post!”
“You can use my scarf,” Tracy adds. “It matches your eyes.”
The entire time this unfolds I feel tears welling in my eyes, but I wipe them away and straighten my back. I won’t give up on my best friend without a fight. Okay, she suddenly cares what they think. I can play along.
Tucking my wild brown hair behind my ears, I walk to where they are all standing in a semicircle. Nobody looks at me but I flash the brightest smile I can muster. Abby looks miserable like she might be sick. I want to hold her hand and pull her away. You don’t have to do this, I want to say. Instead, I pull off my charm bracelet and hold it out in front of me.
“I’ll contribute my bracelet for the photos.”
A gift from Abby on my 10h birthday, she’s added new charms to the bracelet each Christmas and birthday since. The charms represent special memories we have; a pair of roller skates, two stars, a mermaid, bunnies, ice cream cones, and daisies. The girls all stare at it in silence while Abby looks at her blue converse. I see the sharpie heart I drew yesterday on the left toe is smeared.
“Uh, no thanks,” Tracy says. “What is it…iron?”
“I don’t think cheap metal is the look we’re going for,” Stacy says. “Plus, it’s kind of babyish.”
My voice sounds tiny and they laugh. It’s the kind of laugh you can’t escape from, high and lifting and fake. I search Abby’s face looking for recognition, a hint at the girl I’ve loved since kindergarten. She looks away.
“The light’s better over here,” Pam says.
They walk away and I don’t follow. Returning to the spot where we stood moments before, I stare at the seals trying to make sense of what happened. It feels as if my heart broke in half and my face lit on fire.
I don’t know how I manage to keep the tears in, but I do until sitting alone on the bus ride home in the back row. While Abby rests her blonde hair on the shoulder of someone other than me, I let go and sob. Nobody notices.
The last ten days without Abby have been the worst of my life. She doesn’t look at me at school and won’t return my emails or phone calls. She missed my birthday. Dad says learning to cope with change is a requirement of growing. Mom says heartache gets easier with time and I’ll make new friends. It’s not getting easier, I don’t want new friends and I don’t want to grow up.
Tears come. I hate Abby for what she did to me. I hate getting older. Why must my life change? I liked the way it was. I’m sobbing now pressing my face into my stuffed kittie. A horrible pain stabs at my stomach and chest. Broken-hearted. Crushed. Gutted. When will it stop hurting this bad?
A familiar touch on my foot makes me jump and I pull my legs to my chest. A small man stands exactly where my foot sat a moment ago. He’s frozen in place with his hand still extended out in front of him. We stare at each other and his tiny dark brown eyes grow wider and wider. Neither of us blinks.
The size of a mouse, he’s dressed in dark green overalls with a light green shirt underneath. He’s chubby and smells of dirt and moss, like the logs by the creek behind our house. His cheeks are puffy and pinkish. I whisper quietly hoping to not startle him away.
“Are you real?”
His voice isn’t squeaky, but deep, almost a croak. He lets his hand fall to his side and shuffles his dirty little bare feet. His toes are the size of a grain of sand.
“I think so. Why do you keep grabbing my foot?”
“You keep making a horrible sound and I want you to stop.”
What kind of sound do I make in my sleep? He points to the tears on my face and I suddenly understand.
“I don’t know what you call it, but I don’t like it. You keep doing it. Stop it!”
He stomps his little foot as if to emphasis his point. It makes the tiniest of slapping sounds on the wood floor.
“Oh! Well…I’m sad and when I’m sad, I cry.”
“Well, get un-sad then.”
He stomps his foot again and I can’t help but smile.
“It’s not that easy.”
“Yes, it is.”
With a quick movement, he half hops and half climbs the blanket onto the arm of the chair. Looking at him closer I realize he’s much younger than I first thought, like a small, hairy child. He has freckles on his nose, long eyelashes, and bright pink smiling lips.
“See, you aren’t doing the loud sound now. You stopped.”
“Well, you distracted me.”
He claps and jumps up and down. Flecks of gold sparkle in his big brown eyes.
“Well….the next time I’m not distracted, I will start crying again. I can’t stop it.”
“My heart is broken.”
Frowning, he hops forward and grabs onto my pointer finger with both hands, and closes his eyes. A faint tingling radiates from his touch and I close my eyes too. The sensation grows and grows, moving from my finger to my hand. It travels up my arm and across my body until soon every part of me feels warm and alive.
I’m standing on the banks of a wide gentle river that sings as it flows over hundreds of stones in shades of grey and white. Sunlight dances off the surface as tadpoles and minnows dart in and out of shadowy hiding places. Colorful ducks drift past and several round turtles scuttle off logs disappearing under the rippling water. A frog sits on my foot blinking up at me with wide, watery eyes.
My body feels as if all the sadness has been squeezed out. It flows away from me with the water. In its place, happiness bursts and blooms. I feel as I did when I was four years old. Free and silly. I splash into the water as a faint humming sound surrounds me. I open my eyes.
Sitting on the armrest of the chair is the creature I drew hundreds of times as a child. A wide green frog with kind watery eyes and a huge smiling mouth. He ribbits and sticks out his tongue. The little man has transformed into his real form. I laugh so hard I nearly knock him off the chair.
“Mr. Croaky! You’ve come back!”
He blinks but says nothing. I found him by the creek one day hiding in an old log. Mother told me she didn’t see him, but I knew he was real. When scary dogs barked at me on walks in the neighborhood, he’d hop onto my head to distract me. If nobody else could play, Mr. Croaky would show up and we’d go on adventures in the backyard. He came with me on my first day of school. He helped me meet Abby on the playground, hopping into her backpack and croaking until I came over and talked to her. I’ve missed my old friend.
The tingly feeling is fading from my body and I fear all my sadness will return when it does. I reach out to touch Mr. Croaky and he hops across me toward the other armrest. I hear a faint splash as something round and hard falls into my lap. A stone.
In an instant, I know things have shifted. Mr. Croaky has disappeared again and this time it’s forever. It doesn’t hurt like I thought it would, but it feels as if a part of me has left too. In its place though, I feel a spark of something new forming. A kind of hope which wasn’t there before. I think I’m going to be okay.
Picking up the stone I find the river still there when I close my eyes. It will be there for me whenever I need it. The sun outside rises slowly, painting the sky shades of gold and pink. Butterscotch falls to the ground as my mother comes in to tell me it’s time to go to school. I pick her up and gently place her back in the chair.
Author’s note: I rewrote the ending of this story for three days trying to find it. I kept having her whisked off to Neverland-type places so she wouldn’t have to face pain anymore. I wanted her to stay a little child so badly, but it’s not the truth. Although this ending broke my heart a bit, I know it’s the right one. I hope you enjoyed my story and I’d love to know if you remember your last moment of childhood. Did you have one? Have a wonderful week.
Short Story Challenge | Week 46
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 last moment of childhood. We had to include the words Thanksgiving, refrigerator, surprise, contribute, pier, bird, strength, iron, voices, and requirement.