#100DayProject: Photography-Week Eleven

“May, more than any other month of the year, wants us to feel alive.” -Fennel Hudson

My daughter’s 8th grade Waldorf class danced around the maypole yesterday in celebration of May Day. The entire community wears white clothing and colorful flower crowns. It’s one of my favorite traditions and it felt extra healing and important this year after not having it for the last two years. It was a day of beauty, connection, and community. I hope you enjoy these photos, they are some of my favorites I’ve taken.

If you’re unfamiliar with the 100 Day Project, the concept is simple. You choose any creative project you like and do it every day for 100 days, sharing your process on social media using the hashtag #The100DayProject. This year the dates are Feb. 13-May 24.

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Here’s a bonus photo of my beautiful daughter looking up at the completed maypole.

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The Red-Haired Beauty | A Short Story

Jasper’s yelling at me again. His puffy face so close to mine I can smell the tobacco tucked into his cheek and see how the sweat dripping off his bald head has formed snaking rivers in his makeup. He’s accusing me of being sloppy, but I never am.

“Girl, I’ve about had it with you,” he says. “Your dismount was wobbly and your feet looked like flat clubs. How many times have I told you to point your toes?”

There’s no way I can answer the question without making him angrier. I wish I could say, “at least I can see my toes.” He leans back on his heels, his thick right hand swings forward and for a moment I think he might slap me. It wouldn’t be the first time and I wonder if I could catch his wrist with my hand. I’m a lot stronger than I used to be. He spits a gob of black spit at my bare feet and I leap back. He laughs.

“Get out of my sight,” he says.

He’s off to get sloppily drunk on fat, yellow bottles of chartreuse he keeps in a round steamer trunk inside his tent. It takes two of the strong men to carry it from the train. He’ll have some of the young acrobats in his bed tonight performing tricks for him, and on him. Does he applaud after? At least I’m too old for him to want me anymore. He likes them young, with smooth skin.

Turning in the opposite direction of his tent, I weave my way through the maze of our makeshift portable city toward the far end where the animals are kept. My partner Dusty, a grey-speckled gelding I’ve been trick-riding for the last few months, will be waiting for me to put on his blanket and give him oats sprinkled with bran. 

One of the many barefooted kids hanging around the tents walked Dusty back to his stall after our act so I could try and get some food. The cook locks everything up an hour after the show and I’ve grown tired of rummaging through the garbage bins because I don’t make it in time. Tonight I was lucky and got a bowl of lukewarm stew with several pieces of meat.

The energy after the show can vary, but tonight it’s mellow. We have three more shows tomorrow and everyone knows they must conserve their energy. It never gets fully quiet in the camp, but there are small pockets of it. The shadow thing lives in those silent places, and I rush from sound to sound to avoid being alone with it. I don’t have many memories left for it to steal. I wonder if I used to know its name.

Dusty snorts as I approach, pawing the sandy, soft ground in his makeshift stall. The ocean roars in the distance, the air cool and sweet. I lean against the wooden fence and press my face to his soft muzzle, savoring his earthy breath on my face.

“Red!”

RJ runs toward me with two buckets in his hands, sloshing water everywhere. The muscles on his tanned back and chest are shiny and covered in glitter. He drops the buckets at my feet and I stare at the heart-shaped mole on his left cheek, a lucky fairy kiss. Perhaps that’s how he can walk the tightrope with such skill.

“Did ya hear?” he says. “Sasha ran off! Nobody can find her nowhere. Jasper’s gonna kill somebody.”

I scan the places between the tents as if the skeletally thin frame of the tan and black cheetah might be lurking in the spaces between the flapping colorful fabric walls. She’s one of the older animals in the show and it seems unlikely she’d run off. RJ smiles at me, leaning close enough I can smell he’s eaten something sweet. He doesn’t look the least bit scared.

“When did it happen?” I ask.

“No idea, but I know I ain’t sleeping in my tent tonight.”

“She won’t hurt you.”

“I don’t take no chances with this body. I’m gonna string a tarp up in the trees and you can slip in beside me if ya want.”

He winks, picks up his buckets, and runs off. I’m pretty sure cheetahs can climb trees. I press my toes into the wet spot the buckets left behind, feeling the cooling effect it has on my body. The men are always wanting me to “slip beside them,” even with my scars.

The sound of angry voices fills the night, blowing and hopping from shadows to light, from tent to tent. I can make out snippets of words forming into insults, accusations, and threats. Jasper’s angry growl sounds nearby and I jump. RJ’s right, someone will die if Sasha isn’t found and it might be me.

Jasper used to adore me, back when people flocked to see the Red-Haired Beauty ride Enormous Horace around the center ring. I had five huge trunks of costumes—silver and gold glittery jumpsuits, elaborate feathery headpieces, and exotic silk scarves. The cook would bring me trays of food and I slept on piles of soft cushions in the main tent beside Horace, my best friend. Jasper wishes I’d died in the fire with him, and sometimes I do too.

The dark shadowy thing lurks behind a barrel. Its spidery legs stretch across the ground toward me. What would happen if it swallowed all my memories? Would I die? The high-pitch trumpeting sound echoes inside my chest, as it has since the day Horace saved me but not himself. I touch the patches of thick pink skin on my arms and legs, wrinkled skin like him. The pain of loss shudders through me.

The voices are closer now. Climbing through the wooden fence, I swing my body onto the back of Dusty in one practice motion. His thick back twitches, ears flatten and his tail swishes back and forth. Beams of light come toward us in the darkness, and the thing by the barrels slinks away. I bend down and flip open the gate.

“Run,” I whisper into Dusty’s ears.

He doesn’t hesitate, springing forth like the starved race dogs when they are finally released from their smelly-cramped boxes and made to run the track for food. Jasper knows the amount of time it takes to make an animal desperate enough to run as fast as they can, but not too far gone they are lethargic or will fight one another. He plays with people the same way.

We weave in and out of the tents and past the pens holding the other animals. I consider flipping all the latches as I pass, but not all the animals want to be free. Jasper screams my name, and I consider calling back “I’m going to look for Sasha,” but it’s not true. At least I don’t think it is. I haven’t decided yet.

The sound of the ocean, faint in the campsite, becomes louder the further we ride. Resting my head on Dusty’s neck, I let him run where he wants. The rhythm of his hooves on the ground relaxes us both and allows my thoughts to wander back and forth in time. Memories mix with the night sky, bright spots of light in a sea of darkness, cliffhangers of thought, unfinished and grey. I can count on my fingers the number of complete memories I have left.

The moon, bright and round, interrupts my thoughts as if whispering “pay attention.” We are at the shoreline now, the dark waves moving in and out with foamy breath I can see and smell. Sliding off Dusty, I watch him wander toward a patch of wild grass, tough seedlings survived by wind and water. He tears at them with his large white teeth.

A tall, slender lighthouse stands perched on the edge of a rocky cliff far off to my right. A silhouetted figure against the black casting its sweeping gold beam into the night to warn ships of the jagged shoreline. I’d like to swim into the light and see if the creatures of the sea swarm up toward it, tricked into thinking daylight has become a fleeting line across the top of the water. They probably know better than I do.

Walking along the shore, I dance in and out of the waves, my old pink leotard shedding its sequins in a trail behind me. A large porous black rock covered with sea creatures lays exposed by the retreating tide with a deep ring of water around it. Leaning in, I see tiny darting crabs, a plump purple starfish, and rows of soft green sea anemones.

A constellation of stars reflected in the water reminds me of the jewels Horace wore around his neck. I touch them and the water ripples out from my fingertips. I miss him. A torrent of hot tears streaks down my cheeks and drips into the water. I watch them as they plunk loudly and form into tiny balls of light pulsing and moving in circles. They are alive, my tears, little balls of rainbow-colored light.

Scooping them into my hands, I find they are heavy and wiggly. Startled, I let them plop back into the still water and watch as they swim around and around. Tiny fish dart from hiding places in the rock to nibble at my tears. Are they saltier than the ocean?

Picking one up, I put it into my mouth. It tastes sweet, like puffed spun candy on a stick. It slides into my stomach and a fresh memory floats up from some hidden part inside me. Bright-green eyes and golden hair singing a lullaby of light—I was loved once. Sinking down into the sand, savoring the sound of her voice, the word mother glows golden within me. 

Greedy, I begin shoving the tears into my mouth, eating and eating, letting the images come in blasts and bursts. Forgotten faces, sounds, and tastes dance around me—treasures of time returned and restored in full color and sound. The sensation makes me tired, and I fall backward into the sand pushed into a deep sleep.

As if through a thick fog, I’m aware of my body being dragged out of the cool water and into the warm sand. Blinking and blinking, I can make out the shape of Dusty using his teeth to pull me across the beach by my now torn leotard.

“It’s okay,” I say.

Dusty lets go, whinnies, and paws the ground beside me. I sit up. Awareness prickles down my arms and legs, bringing everything around me into bright focus. The tide has risen high enough to almost fully cover the rock I was laying beside—its black peak sits like a tiny pyramid surrounded by roaring waves. The sun has begun rising, transforming everything from the white light of the moon to the golden pink of the sun.

Dusty snorts close to my ear and I look up to see people coming in a line down the beach carrying dying torches. They are still too far away to make them out, but I know it’s my circus family looking for Sasha and possibly me. For a brief moment I consider calling to them, but I remember the truth the memories revealed. They aren’t my family.

Running through the sand, I leap onto Dusty’s back and kick his sides with both feet. He gallops along the water’s edge before turning toward the shore. We scramble up two sand dunes until we arrive at a wide dirt road heading off in both directions. He stops and we see the long-lanky figure of Sasha walk slowly across the road. She looks at me, blinks twice, and then disappears into the bushes.

Dusty turns and walks down the road to the right and I run my hands along his neck. My real name is Gillian and I had a family before the darkness came and took their faces from me. They are still out there and I’m going to find them.


I’m dipping my toes into the poetry world and felt inspired to write these poems looking deeper at the magic hinted at in the story.

Bubbles I

Saliva pools inside puffed pink cheeks as the 
squishy bubble bursts between molars, exploding 
juices down my scratchy throat. Burning it fizzles
inside; soda pop madness, sweet as jars of candy 
swiped from dark corner shops while peers sit
behind rows of school desks. Her face, the one
swallowed by the slinky shadow creature while I walked 
unknowing into the wrong silent place, comes 
now with painful throbbing to sing words I’d heard
long ago but forgotten, and to brush the stray hairs off 
my sticky cheek with soft fingertips. The thoughts of love 
once mine, unasked for but given anyway, are pinpricks
of pain, nerves awakening after pinched off so long, messages
to tell my body to really feel. I stuff more into my mouth, craving
sensations of the forgotten, much too much, but oh
how my true name echoes and changes everything.

Bubbles II

Plucked from our icy home deep within 
the salty brine of life’s starting place, we 
slumber in grains of sand tinier than eyes can 
perceive. Minute flecks of light, rays of sun
mixed with moonlight, we live far below 
scuttling claws and slippery flippers. You called us 
forth in an instant, brought by proximity
to the shadow of the shadows mark upon
your soft imperfect body. We saw you weeping 
into our waters and felt compelled to stir 
and rise. We exist, persist, to seek balance 
between all things. Shifting, we move matter within 
moments with forces older than time, faster than 
light and sound. You can’t see until we let you 
the realness of your truth. The faces and moments 
feasted upon and stolen from you within the sacred 
silence it lurks behind. Teasing, we form 
into physical shapes, tempting you to taste of your 
life, plopped into waiting warm mouths, sliding
into the depths of bone and muscle, wiggling
and writhing—alive. We unleash captured memories
to dance on the surface of your consciousness, tangos 
of truth you knew but which it hid within the folds of time.


Author’s note: While at the ocean last week I messaged Anna I needed to go have a great big cry beside the water. She said something about my tears mixing with the saltwater and the image stuck. I imagined my tears becoming little fish in the water nibbling at my toes, and wondered if they could be some kind of mythical creature. The idea felt magical and I played around with it in my head for a few days.

The more I sat with the story, the main character no longer was me, but rather a girl running away from the circus. This thought bloomed, fed by a story I heard on NPR about Horace, an elephant at the Kyiv Zoo. I took nothing from the podcast story except his name and the sensitive nature of elephants, but I’d highly recommend you read about the bravery of those zoo workers to stay in a war zone to care for the animals.

I find myself wanting to know about Gilly and the forces warring around her. I may return to her and her world at another time. Thanks for reading, and as always, I’d love to know what you think in the comments below.


Short Story Challenge | Week 17

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 where the main character goes on a trip alone to gain perspective. We had to include the lighthouse, flock, muscle, sprinkle, insult, cliffhanger, cheetah, chartreuse, wrist, and seedling.


Write With Us

Next week’s prompt: A child’s dream literally becomes true

Include: high school, captivate, portfolio, argyle, witness, fertile, eyebrow, pentagram, thirsty, guidance


My 52 Week Challenge Journey

Poetry: Stumbling forth

I’ve fallen in love with poetry and have been reading a lot more of it. I’m inspired by the variety, depth, and beauty of the distinct voices poets bring to their works. While I’m still quite clumsy, I’m enjoying exploring different types of poetry and playing with line breaks, punctuation, and repetition.

Last week, I was blown away by the thoughtful comments of encouragement and support. My anxiety tells me those poems were a fluke and everyone will hate this week’s offerings, but I know that’s resistance taking the lead. Creativity takes a lot of courage, and I’m summoning all I got to keep moving forward. One word at a time.

This week’s classwork was to write poems inspired by our favorite books. I’m sharing three poems:

  1. Erasure poem from the first page of “The Name of the Wind” by Patrick Rothfuss
  2. Erasure poem from a random page “The Slow Regard of Silent Things” by Patrick Rothfuss
  3. Acrostic poem using “The Name of the Wind”

I hope you enjoy these latest attempts. As always, any and all feedback is greatly appreciated.


Night

Silence;
hollow lacking,
wind creaking,
brushed autumn laughter.

House;
music huddled,
quiet news,
sullen sorts underfoot.

Splintering;
black heat,
white hands, 
polishing lamplight flame.

Subtle;
wrapping deep,
wide stone,
patient flower waiting.


Surely

slow down, fingers touch
brushed sweetness
curled edges
realizing proper treasure

surely
surely

the moment eyes want
furious things
shame burning
greedy wanting twisting 
world of pushing desire 

she closed 
around herself
obviously

in
need 


Into the Wilds Within

Tired, weary I bring myself forth to press into
hallowed places, for I dare not travel alone into the
ethereal nest of words I can’t say out loud.

Nothingness, thick about me, caped and hooded,
aloof with boots of thick mud, trapped between
me and me and me, the versions of which I can’t
erase, write again and again for all time.

Oh, worldly wordsmiths of grace and mire
forgive me my shortcomings, for I’m not worthy.

Tis the smoke in my eye blinding me to the
hero, the pain of which I can’t find no matter how
earnestly I go into the woods and the wilds to

wrestle the places deep within to seek diverse
images. Words fail me, they don’t capture the
nothingness and everything of the beautiful
dreams of what could be, what I could be.

#100DayProject: Photography-Week Ten

“The sea always filled her with longing, though for what she was never sure.”
-Cornelia Funke, Inkheart

I was fortuate enough to spend my birthday weekend at the beach. There’s a part of me that can only be filled by returning to the magic of the ocean. I feel introspective, peaceful and altered each and every time my toes touch the sand. This trip was no exception. The hours I spent walking the beach taking photos were some of my favorites in memory—just me and my camera. I hope you enjoy my selections.

If you’re unfamiliar with the 100 Day Project, the concept is simple. You choose any creative project you like and do it every day for 100 days, sharing your process on social media using the hashtag #The100DayProject. This year the dates are Feb. 13-May 24.

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Here are a few bonus monochrome images:

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Honeymoon Treasure Hunt | A Short Story

Part I: Death at Sea

A scream wakes everyone aboard the Blue Moon, guests and crew alike. They rush from their bunks to the galley where Elle stands screaming. Her grandmother lies face down in the center of the room, a large knife sticking out of her back.

“Don’t get any closer,” Captain Clark says emerging from the ship’s cockpit dressed in a crisp navy blue suit and a bright-red tie. Apart from the stubble on his chin, he appears exactly as he had at dinner seven hours before.

“Return to your cabins,” he says. “Please.”

Nobody leaves, but they do move a bit, allowing Captain Clark to get closer. He lowers himself to the ground beside Millie, his knee brushing the pale pink of her silk pajamas. She’s wearing a white scarf tied around her head, the back of which has come loose, exposing several grey curls stuck to her neck. He checks for a pulse, although it seems unnecessary considering the amount of blood pooled beneath her. 

“She’s dead,” Captain Clark says.

Elle’s wails increase and she throws herself onto the floor. Kate, who has been standing motionless by the doorway for several minutes, shakes her head and walks on bare feet across the room. Dressed in a short white robe, Kate’s long grey hair is tangled and she’s got a crease along her left cheek from her pillowcase. She sits on the floor beside Elle.

“It will be okay,” Kate says. “It will all be okay.”

Kate smooths down Elle’s curly red hair and rubs her back—her best imitation of motherhood. They’d celebrated the girl’s 18th birthday the first week on the boat, but Kate sees her as the little girl with pigtails who has always been Millie’s sidekick. Elle’s wearing the same two-piece silk pajamas as her grandmother, only in a light lavender color. They were so close—two peas in a very strange pod. Kate can’t believe any of this is real.

“It will be okay,” Kate says again. “It’s going to be okay. I’m here.”

She’s comforting Elle, but inside she’s screaming “not my Millie” over and over. Her best friend, her shit-talking secret keeper, the one who wouldn’t let her die of loneliness, who has pulled her up off the ground for over 30 years, lies still and quiet. Kate wants to feel the pain of it, but she can’t let the door open even a crack. It would be too big and she’d be buried by it.

It’s a nightmare. It has to be. This is her honeymoon, after all. She’s waited her entire life for this love, for this trip, for all the good things to come to her. It can’t involve losing Millie, it simply can’t. There’s no place in her happily ever after without her.

Millie believed in her dad’s crazy treasure hunt story as much as her. They’ve spent years talking about what it could be, where it could be, and what they’d spend the riches on if they found them. There’s nobody else she wants beside her when she discovers if any of it is true.

Kate stares at the long wooden handle of the knife. Someone on this boat went into the galley kitchen, took the knife, crept up on Millie, and plunged it into her back. She looks around the room and can’t imagine anyone here doing such a terrible thing. It makes no sense at all. A sudden thought occurs to her; maybe someone snuck onto the ship. She read somewhere about modern-day pirates boarding ships and killing people. If that’s the case, they might still be here or there might be more of them coming.

“Do you think we are in danger?” she asks Captain Clark. “Could someone else be on the ship?”

“I don’t know,” he says. “I don’t think so. I haven’t heard or seen another ship approaching.”

Kate doesn’t feel comforted by this and scans the room for her new husband. They’ve been married a total of three weeks, but she feels like it’s been a lifetime. For over 20 years they were next-door neighbors, but it wasn’t until they were in their 50s, both widowed, that they began to see each other in a romantic way. It was a second chance at love for them both, and it has been a wonderful surprise Kate could have never seen coming.

She finds Marvin slumped against the far wall looking pale. She wants to run to him, to feel his warm hands on her back and disappear into his chest, but Elle needs her. She kisses the girl on her head and continues rubbing her back.

With a sudden jerk, Elle pushes Kate away and falls across the lower half of her grandmother. She puts her arms around her waist and screams into her lower back. When she lifts her head, the silence in the room has grown hard as ice.

“Who would do such a thing?” Elle screams.

Spit flies from her mouth. Pounding her fists on the wooden floor, she screams again. The sound makes everyone shrink back as if struck. It’s a volcano of pain erupting and erupting, and the room feels swept along with it. Carolyn sobs loudly into Will’s shoulder.

Kate tries to put her arms around Elle but she pushes her away. The sound of coughing comes from the hallway, followed a moment later by Jack. He’s wearing plaid pajamas and he’s forgotten his glasses, so he’s squinting. When his eyes meet Kate’s, she sees him stiffen.

“Okay,” he says. “Everyone stay calm.”

He circles the body of Millie twice. It’s hard for him to comprehend what he’s seeing. He’d kissed Millie on the bow of the ship last night, hours ago. She’d giggled into his neck and smelled of lavender. She’d made a cheesy joke about climbing his beanstalk and he’d walked away blushing.

He feels a pain in his chest as hope drains from him. He’d really thought maybe he’d have one last chance for love, at his age, but now it’s gone. She’s gone. Unfairness, his old friend, has struck again.

He makes eye contact with Kate and Elle. The tightness in his chest increases and he has to focus on his breath. They look at him for answers, and he knows he has no choice but to press away from his own feelings and let his training kick in.

Detective Jack might have retired with dreams of treasure hunts and moonlight kisses, but another bloody crime scene pulls him back to himself. This he knows how to handle.

Jack leans down beside Elle and speaks in a low, soft tone.

“When did your grandmother leave your room?” he asks.

“I don’t know. I woke up and she wasn’t there, so I went looking for her and…”

“Did you see anyone else awake on the ship? Another boat? Did you hear anything at all?”

“No. It was quiet and she was just lying here….”

Jack pats Elle on her shoulder, stands, and speaks in a louder tone, so everyone can hear him.

“Captain Clark and I will search the ship,” he says, “The rest of you stay put.”

The two of them leave together, and the room feels larger. Kate continues to stroke Elle’s back beside the body of Millie, while Marvin remains slumped against the far wall. Their friends, Carolyn and Will have moved to the couch and sit talking quietly with each other. The only other people on the ship, the cook and the maid sit staring at the empty fireplace without speaking.

The men are gone for a long time, and when they return Kate notices Jack’s wearing his glasses and his gun holster.

“We didn’t find anyone else on the ship or any sign anyone had boarded,” Jack says. “We are going to continue to investigate but Kate, I think it’s best you take Elle to your cabin and sit with her. Get her a drink and don’t leave the room, okay?”

Kate nods and Elle allows herself to be pulled out of the galley. Jack circles the room and takes in the position of everyone. There’s no sign of a struggle, and he wonders why Mille would have left her room in the middle of the night. The treasure map, which sits in a golden frame on the table in the center of the room, hasn’t been touched. It’s unlikely the motive then.

“Has anyone moved anything?” Jack asks.

“No,” Captain Clark says. “We all arrived to find Elle in here alone beside Millie.”

“How many members of your crew are on board this ship?”

“There’s just the three of us, me, the cook, and the maid.”

He gestures to the other two who sit beside the fireplace in big squishy chairs dressed in their pajamas. Both women are in their mid-twenties and look terrified. The cook begins to sob.

“You can’t think one of us would do this?” Captain Clark says.

“I don’t know what to think at the moment. How far are we from the nearest port?”

Before Captain Clark can respond, Marvin steps forward.

“We can’t turn back now. Aren’t we almost there?” he says. “Kate and I spent our entire life savings on this venture. If she doesn’t get to see it through, it will all be for nothing. Aren’t we close? Like really close to the island? I mean, couldn’t we finish and then go to port?”

“We have a dead body on our hands here,” Jack says.

“We are very close,” Captain Clark says. “We should arrive within the hour. The nearest port is at least two days away.”

“Are you both suggesting we still go on this ridiculous treasure hunt and what…leave Millie here on the floor?” Jack says.

Both look uncomfortable and say nothing for a few minutes—thoughts bubbling between them like rapids and riptides. Jack isn’t sure he likes any of this. When he agreed to take this trip, it was only because he’d promised Kate’s father he’d look after her. Jack walks around the room, stopping at the tattered map.

Kate’s father was his partner for 15 years. He’d cheated on his wife, gambled, and drank far too much, but he was a good cop and he loved his little Kate. He’d died days before the wedding in a car accident, and Jack had walked her down the aisle. He loved her like his own, and he knows how much this treasure hunt means to her.

From the time Kate could speak, her father told her the fantastical tales of their ancestor—Pirate Jacob Cutter. He’d been the captain of a large sailing vessel, and under the flag of the British, he’d crisscrossed his way across the ocean sinking ships and amassing tremendous wealth. He’d been a pirate for the Queen, but when he’d been called back to England, he decided to hide a large portion of his treasure on a remote rocky island. 

When he arrived home, however, he was double-crossed by a former lover of the aging Monarch. She had him pulled from the ship and hung from the mast the second he arrived. Luckily, he’d left the map and a key to his small son who hid in an empty barrel for several days on the ship. Eventually, he got away, and the map and key have been passed down from generation to generation ever since.

Jack assumed he’d made up the story to get Kate to fall asleep at night, or maybe to connect their family legacy to something bigger. However, after his death, Kate found the map and a rusty key in a safety deposit box along with a note encouraging Kate to “be the Cutter who finally retrieves what is rightfully theirs.” 

While the merits of seeking stolen treasure could be debated, Kate decided to organize this trip as part mourning her father’s death, and part treasure hunt adventure. Jack had agreed to come along, out of curiosity, and a need to protect his friend’s daughter. Her new husband, who has been pacing the wall, now stands with hands on his hips in front of him.

“I don’t see how we can turn back,” Marvin says. “You know how much this means to Kate.”

“I do,” Jack says.

After much discussion, some of it quite heated, the group decides to wrap Millie in blankets and put her in the large refrigerator until they can visit the island and see if the treasure is real. After talking with Elle and Kate they agree Millie would want them to continue.

Part II: Island Adventure

At daybreak, they board four kayaks to paddle through a small crack in the rocky shoreline and follow a little creek into the heart of the island. Kate pulled the map out of the picture frame, rolled it up, and stuffed it into her coat pocket. She and Marvin are in one kayak, Will and Carolyn in the second, Elle and Jack in the third, and Captain Clark on his own in the fourth.

Kate sits in front of Marvin, and he kisses the side of her neck.

“Are you okay?” he asks.

“Not really, but I’m glad we are still going to see what’s on this island.”

“Me, too.”

He kisses her neck again and she smiles despite all the sadness and uncertainty. She’s never been in love like this before, and sometimes it feels a bit like madness. He’d kissed her the first time in his beautiful garden, pressing her against the side of his tool shed and making her body feel young and alive. They’d made love on the ground, flattening a dozen or so daffodils, and she’d not been able to get enough of his touch since. It feels a bit like a drug.

“It’s just you and me,” he says into her ear. “It’s just you and me.”

She thinks about how he proposed to her in a kayak similar to this one while they paddled around the lake under the light of a full moon. He’d sung her a song he wrote about her body and his, about true love’s kiss, about destiny and waiting a lifetime for her. She’d cried as he slipped the ring on her finger.

Marvin kisses her neck again.

“I forgot to tell you, I overheard Will and Carolyn fighting before we left the ship. It was something about money. I heard the word divorce…”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah, they seemed really upset.”

Will and Carolyn have been in Kate’s life for a long time. Will worked as a dispatcher at the police station with Jack and her father, and Carolyn practices shiatsu. She’s healed Kate’s back more than once. She’s sure whatever Marvin overheard, it’s nothing.

The creek wanders through the island, away from the rocky shoreline, and into luscious green valleys dotted with flowering shrub trees and bright yellow and purple flowers. There are numerous flocks of big birds Kate thinks might be ravens, and they’ve spotted packs of animals resembling tiny deer.

The further inland they go, the harder it becomes to fight the current. Eventually, Captain Clark suggests they abandon the kayaks and move forward on foot. They paddle into a small inlet, pull the boats up the embankment, and stop to rest. Jack creates a makeshift picnic table with some pieces of driftwood and Kate spreads the map out for everyone to look at.

“It looks like we’ve entered here,” Jack points at a dot on the map and follows a thin black line with his finger. “And if we follow the creek, we should eventually find a waterfall.”

“I can’t believe we are here,” Kate says.

“I can’t either,” Elle says. “Grandma would be cracking some kind of joke right about now, probably something about how we should take a selfie to preserve the exact moment Kate finally believed in her father.”

Kate, Elle, and Jack burst out laughing. The others don’t seem to find it funny. Kate hugs Elle.

“Oh, she’d have us rolling on the ground for sure,” Jack says.

He points at Marvin’s khaki pants and giggles.

“She’d have a field day with your outfit,” he says.

“What’s wrong with it?” Marvin says.

The girls laugh hard, and Marvin looks hurt. Kate kisses him.

“Don’t listen to them,” she says. “I like the Boy Scout look. You’ve got a pocket for everything.”

She pats him on the butt and laughs again. He tries to join in, but she can tell he’s not enjoying being the object of their jokes. Millie was always teasing him, and he rarely enjoyed it. Captain Clark scowls at the laughter. 

“We better get a move on because we are burning daylight here,” he says.

“Who talks like that?” Elle whispers to Kate.

“Boy Scouts,” Kate says.

She bursts out laughing and the two link arms and follow the others along the creek. They hike for several hours, stopping occasionally to take a drink of water or to eat a snack from their backpacks. Each time they stop, Kate notices Captain Clark sitting closer and closer to her. She keeps catching him staring at her. It’s unnerving.

After another water break, she grabs his arm and pulls him away from everyone.

“Is there something you want to say to me?” she asks.

“Actually…”

He looks pale and for a sickening moment, Kate worries he might pull out a knife and kill her. She takes a step back and sees his eyes are teary. He swallows over and over before speaking in a low, shaky voice.

“I don’t know how to say this, and I know it’s not the time but…I knew your dad.”

Of all the things she considered he might say, this wasn’t it. Her father knew a lot of people, being a police detective, and she wonders in what context they knew each other.

“You did?”

“Yeah…I knew him my entire life….”

The tears fall down his cheeks now and he covers his face for a moment. Marvin and Jack have stopped and are walking back toward them. Captain Clark stares at his feet and then lets the words rush out as if he’d been holding his breath for his entire life.

“He was my dad too, well in name only really. He’d come around occasionally to give my mom money and tell me stories of Pirate Jacob Cutter. When I heard someone was wanting to charter a boat to these particular islands, I knew it must be you, and I made sure to give you the best price so you’d choose me. I wanted to tell you on day one, but it never felt like the right time. I mean, it’s not the right time now either…”

Kate pulls him into her arms and hugs him. She’d known her father was unfaithful to her mother for years, the two of them were not quiet when they’d fight. It’s surprising he had another kid though, but also wonderful. Kate lost her mother to cancer when she was in her 20s and she has no siblings. After her father died, she thought she was alone in the world. Now, it appears, she isn’t.

They stare at each other for a few minutes with goofy smiles, both feeling a little awkward. She can see a bit of her father in his eyes and wonders why she didn’t see it before. She’s hurt her father never told her about her brother, but she imagines he was probably too proud to tell her. She’d worshipped him as a child, and he probably didn’t want to do anything to sully her view of him.

“You were at the funeral,” Kate says.

She remembers him now, standing in the back crying. She’d not thought much of it at the time as her father knew a lot of cops and many of them had come to pay their respects. Clark looks like he could be one of the cops, with the same wide shoulders and tall frame as her father. It hurts her to think he didn’t get the same comfort she did, and that her father didn’t leave him anything in his will.

“Yes,” Clark says. “I thought about telling you then, but it didn’t seem right.”

“He was a complicated man,” Kate says. “I’m glad you told me now.”

They hug again and turn to face the waiting Marvin and Jack. Marvin steps forward and puts his arm around her waist and Jack has his hand on his gun holster.

“Hey guys,” Kate says. “I’d like to introduce you to my brother.”

Part III: All For Love

The small group follows the creek for another hour, the sound of rushing water getting louder and louder. While they walk, Kate and Clark share stories of their father and realize how much they have in common. He’d taught them both an appreciation for Star Trek, the music of Queen, and how to properly fold a towel. While he only saw his son every few weeks, he had a huge impact on his life. He’d become a Captain because of his father’s pirate stories.

“When did you know about me?” Kate asks.

“He told me about you all my life,” Clark says. “I thought of you as my secret sister, and he had a way of making it seem special and not sad. You know?”

“Yeah,” Kate says. “Dad did have a way with words, didn’t he?”

She wishes she could ask her dad why she didn’t get to hear stories of her secret brother, but she knows it comes back to his pride. Clark invites her to come for Christmas to meet his mother and his siblings. He’s got three brothers and two sisters, all of them share the same father, his stepfather who still lives with his mother.

“He’s a great guy,” Clark says. “They are all pretty amazing actually. They are going to just love you!”

Her father must be watching this all unfold with a big smile. He left her an entire second family to be a part of. It makes her heart swell with gratitude for his imperfections. She catches up to Marvin and slips her hand into his.

“Isn’t this simply amazing?” she says. “I suddenly have an entire family to be a part of. It’s incredible.”

He doesn’t say anything, and Kate can see something about the situation bothers him. She grabs his hand and squeezes it, but he doesn’t squeeze back. He walks faster and then stops.

“Would you look at that!” he says.

They’d been walking for a long time in a thick grove of trees, stepping over fallen branches and rocks, but they’d suddenly arrived at the source of the sound they’d been following for hours—a magnificent waterfall. It’s exactly where the map said it would be.

The group stands in a half-circle watching the cascade of white empty into a pool of light emerald green. The misty spray flattens their hair and makes Carolyn’s makeup run down her face. Kate and Elle exchange a little smile, knowing Millie would have made a Tammy Fey joke.

“Now what?” Will says.

He’s had the hardest time with the hike, and he stands doubled over trying to catch his breath. Kate thinks, with the exception of Elle, they are all too old to be playing treasure hunt. She can feel pains in her back, feet, and right hip. Marvin had a limp the last hour and Carolyn was crying off and on about her lower back.

“Rushing water, falling in, hides the treasure from within,” Kate recites from memory. “I think we have to go through the waterfall.”

“I’m out,” Will says.

“No he isn’t,” Carolyn says.

They exchange looks which make Kate wonder if what Marvin said might be true. She doesn’t want to think anything bad about her friends, but they are acting strange. Jack seems to be thinking the same thing, and he unbuttons his jacket so Kate can see the gun on his hip. Captain Clark does the same thing.

“So, how do you think we get into the waterfall?” Elle says. “We just like swim through it or something?”

“I see a path,” Jack says. “Off to the left there. Do you see it?”

They do, and all agree to follow Jack as he leads the way. They inch along a slippery rock ledge, helping each other around large boulders until they arrive inches from the waterfall, soaking wet.

“We might as well have jumped in,” Kate says.

The path curves around and disappears along the back of the waterfall, becoming a narrow walkway they have to squeeze sideways through. After several minutes of slowly moving, it opens up into a clearing of waist-high mustard seed grass blowing in a slight breeze. Sitting in the center, raised up higher than the surrounding land, sits a squat-looking red clay temple. It’s got sweeping lines and two tall spires on either side of an open doorway.

“Wow,” Elle says.

“It’s really here,” Kate says. “It’s real. Can you believe it? It’s real!”

“I didn’t think we’d find anything,” Jack says.

“Me either,” says Marvin.

“It’s beautiful,” Captain Clark says. “Just as dad described it.”

“Exactly like it,” Kate says. “Jacob Cutter’s treasure should be inside there. It’s unreal.”

“What are we waiting for?” Elle says.

They walk in a line through the weeds to the small temple. It’s covered with intricate carvings along the red walls—a hieroglyphic language filled with curves and lines. Kate runs her fingers over the markings as they pass, amazed at how ancient it seems. She wonders how long it’s been here, probably hundreds of years before Jacob Cutter discovered it.

The temple floor curves downward and ends at three very narrow tunnels. Kate pulls back out the map, and with the help of a flashlight, examines it. There’s nothing after the temple. No clues as to which direction to go.

“Maybe the temple is the treasure,” Kate says.

“I don’t think so,” Marvin says. “I think we should search the tunnels.”

“Maybe we should split up?” Clark says.

“It’s not a bad idea,” Jack says. “It looks like a pretty tight fit.”

Kate and Marvin take the left tunnel, Elle and Jack the middle, and Clark the right. Will and Carolyn decide to wait at the entrance to the temple, both too tired from the hike to go on.

Kate holds the flashlight as Marvin leads the way. It’s a tight fit and appears to be a natural rock tunnel, not something carved by those who built the temple. It’s damp and they have to brace their arms on the walls to not slip on the rocky ground and slide all the way down.

“It’s really quiet,” Kate says. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything so quiet.”

“I like it,” Marvin says.

“I don’t.”

He grabs her hand and pulls her closer to him. The tunnel stops inside a small round space, about the size of a closet. They shine the flashlight up and down the walls but find nothing. No markings. No treasure.

Marvin pulls Kate to him, slamming their bodies together in the way Kate has grown to love. It’s passion and desire, and it floods the space between them, filling her with instant longing. The flashlight falls to the ground and Marvin presses her into the wall and kisses her, his hands moving under her shirt. She moans as he presses his body closer to hers.

A sudden and horrific sound slams into them. It’s the sound of a gunshot, and it reverberates around the small room, vibrating the walls and making both Kate and Marvin pull apart in shock.

“What’s going on?” Kate says.

“I don’t know, but I’m going to go find out. You stay here.”

“No way! I’m not going to sit here alone.”

“Please, Kate. I don’t know what’s going on, but you are safe here. Nobody will get past me in the tunnel and I’ll let you know the second I figure it out. Okay?”

Kate knows he’s right, but she doesn’t like the idea of sitting alone. He hands her the flashlight, sweeping it along the walls several times, making sure there is no other entryway into the room. She hates when men are always trying to protect women, but she decides to let him have this. Her hip hurts anyway.

“I’ll be right back,” he says. “I promise.”

She sits with her back to the entrance and pulls out a water bottle from her backpack and takes a drink. Trying not to think about the gunshot, she focuses on where she is. Her father would be so proud of her. It’s not about a treasure for her anymore, although it would be wonderful if there was one, it’s the fact the map did lead them somewhere. They found the temple behind the waterfall, the story she’s heard a hundred times. Pirate Jacob Cutter was real and he was here.

Kate hears another gunshot and she stands up. She shines the light around the room, and then seconds later, she hears two more. Panic races through her and she hears someone coming down the tunnel with short, shuffling feet.

“Kate,” Elle calls. “Are you okay?”

“I’m okay,” she calls back.

Elle emerges with Jack behind her.

“Where’s Marvin?” Jack says.

“He went to see what was going on. You didn’t see him?”

“We didn’t.”

The three of them crawl back up the tunnel and find Will and Carolyn are no longer there. They exchange worried looks. Jack holds his gun out in front of him, while Elle and Kate form a line behind him. With slow cautious steps, they enter the tunnel on the right. The path is twice as wide as the one Kate went down with Marvin and it gradually turns several times back and forth. After a few minutes, they see a light ahead and Jack stops.

“Who’s there?” Marvin calls from up ahead.

“Jack, Kate, and Elle,” Jack says. “Are you alright? What’s going on?”

“Yes, I’m okay, but it’s horrible in here. It’s just horrible. Don’t come in.”

His voice doesn’t sound right. Jack inches forward anyway with Kate and Elle right behind him. They enter the room to find Marvin standing beside a large stone pedestal, a weathered metal trunk with a large rusty lock sitting atop it. Small holes in the roof let in dime-size rays of light, giving the round room a misty, underwater feeling. There are tiny rocks and leaves on the ground, and Kate’s footsteps are loud as she walks toward her husband. She fingers the key around her neck, excited by the possibility of unlocking the greenish trunk.

“Stop,” Jack says.

Kate does and her eyes sweep around the room, looking for the source of danger she can so clearly hear in Jack’s voice. She spots several things all at once. Marvin is holding a gun in his right hand, dangling it beside his leg as if he doesn’t know it’s there. Will and Carolyn lay motionless along the wall with liquid pooled beneath their heads. Clark lays inches from Marvin, half upright against the wall, his shirt dark with what appears to be blood.

“No!” Kate screams. “No, no, no, no…”

She runs to her brother and tries to pull him up, she feels warm blood soak instantly into her shirt. He smiles at her, still alive. He tries to speak, but his mouth fills with blood and he makes a kind of strangled burbling sound before falling silent. His eyes, her father’s eyes, still look at her.

Kate screams and Elle rushes to her side, trying to comfort her. The pain becomes too much, and Kate surrenders to it. It crashes into her, wave after wave, pounding and thundering inside her and around the room. She’s only vaguely aware of Elle’s arms around her, as she sobs and screams. Her life has unraveled on this trip, it’s all gone so wrong. She cries until there is nothing left in her body, slumping over onto the floor. A rock pokes into her cheek and she stares at the rays of light above and around her.

“I wish we’d never taken this adventure,” she says. “No amount of treasure is worth all we’ve lost.”

Jack, who had been walking silently around the room, moves to Kate and pulls her to her feet. He kisses her cheek and whispers something into her ear. Kate pulls Elle to her and they walk out of the room leaning on each other.

“What happened?” Jack asks Marvin.

He’s leaning against the pedestal looking tired and pale. Slick sweat has formed on his face and his shirt appears soaked. He doesn’t move.

“Greed,” he says. “They were all fighting over the treasure. They all wanted it for themselves. I guess they shot each other.”

“You didn’t see it?”

“No. I got here right before you did.”

“Did you?”

Marvin looks up at this and smiles. There’s a transformation in his face, one Jack’s seen before. It gives him chills. Both men begin to walk around the room, circling the pedestal in the center.

“What did you whisper in Kate’s ear?” Marvin says.

“Why?”

“Did you tell her something about me?”

“Why?”

“Because I won’t have you telling lies about me to my wife. She’s mine, not yours. You won’t poison her against me.”

“I don’t believe you, Marvin. I don’t believe anything you’ve said.”

“I don’t care if you believe me. You can’t prove anything.”

“I figure you killed Millie because she made those jokes about you all the time, and Kate was going to share the treasure with her, but I don’t understand why you killed the rest. Did you worry Kate would share the treasure with her brother? Did Will and Carolyn say she’d promised some of it to them? Was this all to protect your share? Was this about your greed?”

Marvin stops moving and raises the gun still in his hand and points it at Jack’s face. He smiles again and laughs. The sound echoes around the stone room.

“You don’t understand anything.”

“Enlighten me.”

“You think this was about money, I don’t give a shit about money. I have money Kate doesn’t even know about. I’ve always had money. What I want is Kate.”

“You have Kate.”

“No. You don’t understand. I don’t want to share Kate. Not with foolish Millie, not with some new brother, and not with you. Millie was trying to poison her against me with her little jokes here and little digs there. If I didn’t do something about it, she’d have used her stupid mouth to rip us apart. I wasn’t about to let that happen. You see, Kate is mine. She’s mine. I waited my entire life for her. I did my time with a wife I didn’t love, waiting for the day Kate Cutter would be mine. Nothing will take her from me now. Nothing. Certainly not a washed-up old cop like you.”

Jack doesn’t say anything for a few minutes. He’s sad for Kate, for all this trip has uncovered for her. She’ll never be the same, and he hates this man for doing this to her. He wants to shoot him in the face, but his years of training keep his temper under control. He needs to hear all of it first.

“What about Will and Carolyn? Why did you shoot them?”

“They came in at the wrong time, plus I could blame the entire thing on a dispute between them and Clark. They were stupid, useless people anyway. I don’t know what Kate saw in them.”

“The first gunshot?”

“Apparently, Clark thought he’d shoot in the air to signal he found the treasure. When I found him alone, it was easy to grab the gun from his holster and shoot him. He didn’t even see it coming. What a foolish, trusting little man.”

“So much like Kate, huh?”

“Don’t you dare compare them! Kate’s nothing like that idiot. She’s perfect, and after I kill you, she will be mine forever.”

Marvin raises the gun and Jack spins and hides behind the pedestal.

“Did you hear all that Kate?” Jack calls.

Kate steps into the doorway, tears streaming down her face. Marvin runs to her, but she pushes him away.

“You are a monster,” she says.

“No, Kate. You don’t understand. I did all this for you. For us. Don’t we deserve to be happy Kate? Remember, I promised we’d be happy. Look at me. It’s just you and me. It’s just you and me.”

Jack steps out from behind the pedestal and Marvin spins around and fires. Jack slides across the floor and shoots Marvin in the side. He falls to the ground and Kate kicks the gun from his hand. She stands over him trembling.

“I loved you,” she says. “We could have had everything.”

“Don’t leave me, Kate,” he says. “It’s just you and me…”

Kate stands silently looking down at Marvin. He holds his hands pressed against his side, the blood pooling around his fingertips. There are tears in his eyes, but he says nothing more. Elle and Jack stand beside her, placing a hand on each of her shoulders. She really loved him, but he was a monster in disguise, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and she hates she didn’t see it. More than anything, she feels angry she put all her friends and family at risk for this pathetic man. His love was nothing compared to what she’d felt in her life, a tiny pinprick of light in a world of sunshine.

Elle, Jack, and Kate pull the heavy chest off the pedestal and walk out of the temple together.

Author’s note: I don’t know why I decided to try and write something so huge this week, but once I made the decision I couldn’t turn back. The story is partly inspired by the film “Death on the Nile,” and partly a highly fictionalized account of the marriage of my own grandmother Kate to her neighbor Marvin when they were in their 60s. He wasn’t a murderer, but he did take her from me and I never forgave him.

This isn’t my finest work. It was too big of a story to tell in a week, and I worked for more hours on it than I’d ever care to admit to anyone. I’m posting it anyway. Do you know why? Because this weekly challenge of writing short stories isn’t about perfection or trying to be the best. No. It’s about me proving to myself I can write every single day. I can sit down and write through the fear, the messes, and the anxiety. It’s not about being “good,” it’s about finding my voice and playing with storytelling.

If you read the entire thing, thank you! It was a beast of a tale, but one I very much enjoyed writing. As always, I’d love to know what you think in the comments below.


Short Story Challenge | Week 16

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 newlyweds on their honeymoon. We had to include the words cockpit, selfie, kayak, thought bubble, picnic table, wander, propose, shiatsu, motherhood, and temple.


Write With Us

Next week’s prompt: The main character goes on a trip alone to gain perspective

Include: lighthouse, flock, muscle, sprinkle, insult, cliffhanger, cheetah, chartreuse, wrist, seedling


My 52 Week Challenge Journey

Poetry: New adventures

While I’ve always admired and enjoyed poetry, the skills it takes to craft such beautiful imagery within the framework of a poem have eluded me. In an attempt to improve my writing all around, I enrolled in a poetry class specifically designed for fiction writers. We meet once a week and have assignments that I find both challenging and enjoyable.

I’ve decided to be transparent about my journey, as a way to chronicle my exploration and perhaps inspire others. Here’s the culmination of my first week’s work. There are three free-verse poems.

  1. A poem borrowing heavily from Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky”
  2. A poem critiquing something we dislike in genre fiction
  3. A combination of the two poems

I hope you enjoy my first, clumsy attempts. As always, any and all feedback is greatly appreciated.


Part I: My gimble love

we were to meet near the Tumtum grove
sweetest Mimsy and I
in the wabe of the bright callay moon

vorpal drunk on too much gyre and honey-wine
myriad dreams rollicking, frolicking
singing multitudes, manxomes, moments

yet snicker-snack, quicker-quack and outgrabe
you caught me instead
slithy and slimy-the ultimate uffish trickster

tying my hands with rough tulgey strands
behind my burbled back
whispering wicked words under frumious breath

wound and wound, like ugly bandersnatches
to silence whiffling cries
hands and heart knotted, cold as beamish bears

you couldn’t let violet joy breathe between
sweetest Mimsy and me
no, not with such a frabjous, frivolous hallow heart

oh, what will become of me, dearest mome
without my gimble love
stuck within the fettered borgogoves for all eternity

Part II: Too sweet for me

Super sweet taffy names
sticky, pointless, giant cones of
toothaches
you feed them to me relentless
as if more is more is more
confused I throw you down
and you smile and tell yourself
it’s me
who doesn’t
get
you

wheels of definitions, connections
turn in place while
story gets lost under
sideways leanings
cleverness loses characters
messes mess with me
wondering
where
did the
story
go

where is the truth behind
the many, many words
names, places, movement
half-light and half-truth
half right
don’t tell me a lot of nothing
tell me all of one thing
I can
believe
is
real

where is the soul of the sweet
the ingredients of the truth
the messy darkness
cloudy with connections and conversations
the door within the door
the dream within the dream
truth 
I can
truly
feel

don’t just tell of deeds done
action, reaction, repeat
but the why and the why and the way
curiouser and curiouser
deeper and deeper
secret journals
in watery caves
monsters within who
fight
with 
gospelly
fingers

give me contradictions wrapped in truth
make me feel something I know
make me know it again
with the kind of 
unexpected gasp
I won’t, can’t forget 
so when I close the book
your words live
inside
me
forever

Part III: Lover, tell me more 

in the wabe of the bright callay moon
you feed them to me relentless
as if more is more is more
confused I throw down
singing multitudes, manxome, moments
you smile and tell yourself
it’s me
who doesn’t
get
you

slithy and slimy—the ultimate uffish trickster
turning wheels of definitions, connections
sideways leanings behind burbled backs
messes mess with me
whispering wicked words under frumious breath
to silence whiffling cries while I’m left
wondering
where did
you
go

untruths hidden behind many, many words
wound and wound, like an ugly bandersnatch
messy darkness stuck in action, reaction, repeat
half-light and half-truth—half right
vorpal drunk on too much gyre and honey-wine
don’t tell me a lot of messy nothing
tell me
the thing
I
seek

unwonted discovery, hidden verity
knotted, cold as beamish bears
door within a door—dream within a dream
secret journals in watery caves
frabjous, frivolous hallow hearts
monsters who fight with gospelly fingers
everyone, anyone
stripped
naked
real

let violet joy breathe between 
contradictions wrapped in truth
lost and found within the pulsing borogoves
make me feel something I know
but make me know it again
with unexpected gasps I won’t, can’t forget 
your words 
alive inside
me

my love

#100DayProject: Photography-Week Nine

“There is no exquisite beauty… without some strangeness in the proportion.” -Edgar Allan Poe

While out on a walk this week I stumbled across a field full of holes. This little guy poked out and I was able to snap a quick picture before he disappeared back into the ground. He’s got a torn ear, but I think it makes him even more interesting. Isn’t it true our flaws are what make us uniquely beautiful?

My birthday lies at the end of this week, as does a trip to the ocean, so I’m feeling a lot more chipper. We had some rain and the sky has been fantastically beautiful with lots of fat, fluffy clouds. I hope you enjoy my offering of photos and you have a wonderful week.

If you’re unfamiliar with the 100 Day Project, the concept is simple. You choose any creative project you like and do it every day for 100 days, sharing your process on social media using the hashtag #The100DayProject. This year the dates are Feb. 13-May 24.

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Here are two bonus photos from my iPhone 13.

My adorable nephew:

Full moon surrounded by clouds:

The Golden Muse | A Short Story

Blowing out as much air as I can, my heavy body sinks beneath the choppy surface of the lake. The sounds instantly mute, bringing with it the first moment of calm I’ve had in days. Opening my eyes, I see nothing but the cloudy silt of the disturbed lake bed from where I walked into the water. If she met me here, maybe I’d be able to hear her.

Surfacing, I walk on tippy-toes, my feet occasionally sinking into the slimy stickiness of decomposed leaves, peats, sedges, and what remains of the creatures who have died here. I imagine them sinking down, landing sideways on a giant rock to take their last gill-filled sip of water. Perhaps they look up one final time to see the sunlight casting golden rays in a circle around them, illuminating tiny dancing specks in the water—a fond farewell.

Something brushes against my left calf and my heart races with panic. It could be a plant, a fish, a water snake, or something else. I picture an ancient and ugly beast covered in grey scales, a blood-sucking descendant of the dinosaurs, disturbed by my unwanted presence in its waters. It stalks me through the murk, circling and circling, getting closer and closer.

As the idea of the creature grows and solidifies, so does my panic. I lean into it, thinking some truth might be found in the sensation. I notice how as the thoughts become bigger, the creature becomes clearer until the instinctual urge to run overtakes my writer’s curiosity. I dive under the water, kicking, twisting, and punching until I arrive in the shallows and can see there’s no monster beneath me.

Keeping my body perpendicular to the rocky bottom, I swim along the shoreline looking for small fish or tiny treasures. I resurface every few minutes to keep the cabin and the horizon within sight. Although these waters are a second home to me, I’m fully aware of how quickly the water can disorient you. When I was a child, we’d bring a bright rainbow-colored umbrella to keep on the shore so I’d always be able to find the home base.

My younger self, freckled pink, runs along the hot beach to escape under the umbrella where my mother sits reading beside a giant wicker basket of snacks. I grab a banana and some almonds and she touches my cool skin with her warm feet. I push her away.

Flipping to my back, keeping my ears under the surface, I savor the muffled silence. The white sky above remains motionless and still, empty as I am. I’m more than halfway through my stay here and I have nothing written. My outline lays shredded on the cabin floor and the silence I came for exists nowhere but here below the surface of the lake. The book I wrote last year feels as if it contained all my words and truth. I have nothing more to offer. I tug at my wet hair and twirl it between my fingers, pulling and pulling.

If I could bring a pen and paper into the mirrored waters, would she slip beside me and whisper the words? I’ve lost her, my golden shadow muse, somewhere in the noise I can’t seem to get away from. She won’t return, and the madness inside me seems to be growing; an itchy sliver embedded deep within my palm, a prickly cactus of sharpness, a dentist’s drill pounding. It all feels a lot like failure.

From day one at the cabin silence has eluded me, replaced by an unexpected and unwanted presence–whispers and movements I can’t quite hear or see. A permanent shadow of sound perpetually here, but not here. I’ve wandered looking for it, seeking it out, and found only its partners–its noisy neighbors.

First, it was the trees, scrapping and clawing at the cabin day and night. I found a ladder and a saw and trimmed them back, so nothing touched the house. Then the squirrels took up leaping and scampering from the cut branches to roll things along the roof, creating a cacophony of sounds, driving the words from me. I had to cut back more and more of the branches until the trees lay ugly and bare, the pile of wood taller than me.

Then it was the sound of water dripping from faucets, the kind of noise used to torture out truths in secret basements. I turned off the water, drove into town and bought new gaskets and a plumbing book, and spent over a week fixing and fixing and fixing. The drops stopped.

But then it was the birds. Chirping and singing in voices shrill and constant at all times, driving the words from me, keeping her from me. I’d yell at them, but they’d scatter and return moments later with louder cries. I flung baking soda along the rails, boxes and boxes of it, and strung together forks to hang from the porch. I scattered birdseed far from the cabin day and night.

It worked for a time until a small brown bird made the tiny peach tree outside the front window its home. It would sing and sing, mocking me day and night. A robotic bird, unreal and unearthly. In a fit of anger I chopped down the baby tree, its single peach the size of a walnut lay on the ground and I wept. My dreams of cobblers and ice cream were destroyed in a single impulsive moment.

The words, my words, lay within the silence, I’m certain of it. They lay with her within the curves and folds of her shadowy dress, waiting for the moment of peace to settle for her to creep on padded feet behind me and breathe into my neck and whisper to me the story I know is so close. I’ve found it and her before, but now it’s simply too loud.

From Sunday to Saturday, from Monday to Friday, the days blend into days, and the sounds blend into sounds. She won’t come until it’s quiet, and I can’t find words without her. They are locked inside a box within a box and the key lies in the silence I can’t find.

Diving down into the water I begin digging through the muck, struck by the idea the key lies here. My fingers feel inadequate and I wish I’d brought a shovel or some kind of underwater ax. I shove items into the pockets of my bathing suit skirt, surfacing to fill my lungs and then returning to dig and scoop, dig and scoop.

Eventually, my body and breathing become weary and I surface to find the white sky has turned dark. A small sliver of the moon sits surrounded by tiny twinkling stars mirrored in the black water around me. The mountains have released the sighing breath of night, and the cool air makes my body react with gooseflesh and shivers.

A sudden disorienting panic hits me and I swim as fast as I can, items falling out of my suit and returning to the muck below me. I’m haunted by the idea of hands in the water reaching for me, grabbing at me, taking the key back, and by the time I reach the shore I’m sobbing and far from where I’d left my towel and shoes.

Running across the sharp pebbled beach, ignoring the pain in my feet, I focus on the golden light of the cabin. I’d left one window uncovered and the hooded desk lamp has transformed the dull curtains into bright yellow beacons. I run and run, up the dark wooden steps and into the familiar musty smell of our family cabin.

I wrap the nearest quilt, a remnant of my mother’s last stay here, around my shoulders, and trembling I throw logs into the large brick fireplace. I rub my wrinkled hands along the blanket until they are dry enough to twist the pages of an old National Geographic magazine into cones to light. I scrape a match along the edge of the box and press the reddish flame into a gray photo of a gnarled gargoyle with pointy ears and watch the word Paris turn to ash.

When I sit on the floor, the items from the lake poke into my sides. I pull them out and lay them in a line across the hearth—Barbie head with matted brown hair, a bright blue fidget spinner turned rusty but still able to move, several bottle caps from various cheap beers, an “I Love You a Latte” pin missing the back, and a bright silver ring.

It’s the last item I think could be the key. I wipe it on the blanket and try it on several fingers and find it only fits my pinky. It’s a simple thin band, with no markings, dainty but heavy. I hold my hands closer to the fire to warm them and look at how the metal ring reflects back the orange and red light. The whispering sounds pulse around me. I wish they’d stop.

Out of the corner of my eye, I see my shadow stretching out, a thin skeletal version of me. I follow it down the hall and into the bedroom, strip off my wet clothes, and stand naked before an upright golden mirror. I don’t recognize myself in the dim light leaking in from the fire down the hall, the flickering body of a woman I might have known at some point, but who looks nothing like me anymore. I stare into the mirror version of my hazel eyes and have the terrifying thought I might do something like wink, or my eyes might suddenly becoming not my own.

I’m about to scream, but instead, I twirl my hair with my left hand and pull until several strands break free. I let them fall to the floor and notice the tops of my shoulders are beet red with small blisters forming under the skin. I grab a sample bottle of aloe from a drawer beside the bed, wondering if it has an expiration date, and rub it into the inflamed skin anyway. The cool gel makes me feel feverish and sick. I’m veering off course. I’m not me. I don’t like this and I wonder when I last ate something.

My shadow dances along the wall and I slip on warm pajamas and follow it. I’m sleepwalking or dreaming, moving through thick clouds, heavy and drunk. I sit at my writing desk by the front window, open a blank journal page, and put the pen on the paper. Hovering, I sit still for seconds, minutes…hours. A prickling sensation begins at my toes and travels in a rush up my body. All the nerves feel dull and alive at the same time—on alert. The pen begins to move.

“The golden shadow…”

The tiniest flicker of hope left inside dances with joy at the words, at the feeling of her behind me. She presses further, our bodies merge into one, the shadow takes the pen and writes an entire page and I know as it flows from my hand it’s the best thing I’ve ever written.

“Scratch…Scratch…Scratch.”

With a snapping feeling, my body lurches back and then forward. I hit my head on the desk with a thud. She’s gone. Some sound has chased her away and I scream, the sound traveling out of every pore of my body, emptying me of everything. My heart pounds and I begin to sweat and shake.

I stand on wobbly legs and follow the sound, a bloodhound tracking the scent through a dark and dangerous forest. I feel the rage inside at having the words taken away, a bubbling tea kettle screaming and screaming. The faint sound seems everywhere and nowhere. I circle the rooms, down the hall, and back.

“Scratch…Scratch…Scratch.” 

It’s in the hallway! I press my ear against the wall until I find the exact spot and realize, with horror, it’s the sound of a pen writing on paper. My words are inside the wall. Someone has stolen them, taking them from me, and I need them. I need them more than I need to breathe or eat or be. I bang on the wall and scream, but the sound continues without pause.

“Scratch…Scratch…Scratch.” 

I scrape and scrape with my fingernails until I’m able to pull at the flowered wallpaper, tearing off a wide strip and throwing it on the floor. I pick at the uneven wall underneath until I’m able to form a tiny hole. I run to the writing desk, grab my gold pen and press the tip into the hole, twisting and twisting until it pops through. I press down hard, like a lever, until a chunk of plaster falls to the floor.

“Scratch…Scratch…Scratch.”

Using my hands, I tear off the rest of the wallpaper and the crumbling bits of fibrous material as fast as I can. Throwing it all around me, I’m no longer aware of the why. My knuckles and fingers bleed, but I continue to rip and tear until I’ve uncovered the entire stretch of wall between two light-colored wooden posts. In the center of the blank wall, a black shadow oozes and bubbles out like oil, running down the wall in a thick stream.

“Scratch…Scratch…Scratch.” 

I scramble backward and fall against the wall behind me, sliding down until I’m clutching my own knees and rocking. The shadow moves slowly, like thick molasses across the floor, growing in size and shape until it becomes a grotesque twisted version of me. It leers tall and thin in the hallway, reaching with spindly cold fingers toward my face. I feel it reaching through nothingness, into nothingness, dragging me toward its thick dark madness.

The scratching sound fades, or maybe simply never was. The shadowy shape before me opens its mouth to reveal sharpened black teeth, a cartoonish Jack-O-Lantern, dripping down onto me the whispery sounds of fear and anger. It’s louder than ever before, a pulsing and grating sound, and I cover my ears and continue to rock in place.

Time seems to stand still in this moment, a frozen nightmare of my own creation. Knowingness eventually prickles along my back, bringing with it the vision of a small girl with pigtails. Her tiny voice begins to whisper in my ear, speaking of kindness, and worth and begging me to fight back. I’m sitting on the back fence of the home I grew up in, singing as loud as I can to the passing cars. The world needs to hear my voice. I have something to say.

The singing becomes louder and louder and I feel her wrap her golden arms through mine. We are one. I feel through the debris for my pen and stand with it held out in front of me. The shadow doesn’t shrink, but I grow. I stand tall and firm, my resolve larger than my fear has ever been, and I thrust my pen as hard as I can into the silhouette before me. It shatters, the darkness dissolving into tiny puzzle pieces of nothing, running down the walls and into the floorboards. It’s gone or maybe it never existed at all.

Holding the pen firmly in my hand, I walk on steady legs to the writing desk and set it down. Sunrise dances through the cloudy sky as I step onto the porch to listen for the sounds of the world. I don’t need to cover my ears anymore.

Golden muse, shadow of pen on paper

You inspired me, yet you feel so far away

Words float around, bubbles of colored vapor

Golden muse, shadow of pen on paper

Endings, beginnings round and round I caper

Lost in dark along the perfectionists highway

Golden muse, shadow of pen on paper

You inspired me, yet you feel so far away

Author’s note: My inspiration for this story came while writing at the coffee shop this week and looking down to see the golden shadow of my pen on my journal page. My mind was filled with images of shadow creatures, muses, and the idea of madness. As I began to write, the story took me to the lake and to the idea of needing silence to create. As the story progressed a bit of “The Shining” crept in and I had to resist the urge to have her hack the wall with an ax. You can probably also see the influence of Edgar Allen Poe with the sounds in the wall. Thank you, as always, for reading and if you feel so inspired, please let me know what you thought in the comments below.


Short Story Challenge | Week 15

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 writer with noisy neighbors. We had to include the words dentist, rainbow, explosion, horizon, cactus, palm, Saturday, latte, beets, and sample.


Write With Us

Next Week’s Prompt: Newlyweds on their honeymoon

Include: cockpit, selfie, kayak, thought bubble, picnic table, wander, propose, shiatsu, motherhood, temple


My 52 Week Challenge Journey

#100DayProject: Photography-Week Eight

The old grey donkey, Eeyore stood by himself in a thistly corner of the Forest, his front feet well apart, his head on one side, and thought about things. Sometimes he thought sadly to himself, “Why?” and sometimes he thought, “Wherefore?” and sometimes he thought, “Inasmuch as which?” and sometimes he didn’t quite know what he was thinking about. -A. A. Milne

I’ve been feeling like Eeyore this week—lost in contemplation and not quite sure what any of it means. The further I dive into my creative endeavors, the clearer it becomes I have no idea what I’m doing. I need to learn so much. In the meantime, my kids, my house, and my yard need my attention. I feel rebellious, antsy, and unfocused.

Part of this uneasiness might be my 45th birthday approaching. I wish I’d kept writing when I had children or started photography years ago. The horrible sense I’m running out of time has been hanging onto me this week and it made writing my short story and editing my photos this week far more challenging. My confidence feels fractured, but not fully broken. The only thing to do is keep moving forward.

One word and one image at a time.

Thank you for following my journey and rooting me on. I appreciate it so much.

If you’re unfamiliar with the 100 Day Project, the concept is simple. You choose any creative project you like and do it every day for 100 days, sharing your process on social media using the hashtag #The100DayProject. This year the dates are Feb. 13-May 24.

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I’m far more productive away from home. I can’t run into the kitchen for another snack when I feel a lull in inspiration or start doing something like laundry or dishes. I love the coffee shop I’ve been writing at, but it’s near my daughter’s school about a half-hour from home. Next year, she won’t be there anymore and I’ve been seeking someplace close to home.

After a few misses, I’ve found it at The Fig Tree. If I close my eyes tight and imagine the perfect place to create, this place would come close. Artwork on the walls, beautiful bricks, comfy spots to sit, bookshelves, and a drink called Persphone. I’m here right now and I feel at home and inspired. Here’s my view, taken with my iPhone 13 a few minutes ago.

52 Weeks – Week 14 – Something Bad

Prompt: Something bad is about to happen but nobody believes the main character

Include: Andromeda, stop sign, dandelion, iceberg, spectacle, poet, candlelit, keyboard, bumble, robotic

Anna’s Week 14: Andromeda’s Lament

“I’m very into science-fantasy, that kind of swordfights and magic and technology thing.” -Gary Numan

Dani and the Queen

“You know you can’t be here,” the guard says.

He stands wide-legged with his left hand on the hilt of his long sword. Dani tries to remember if she can recall his name and if she knows something about him she can use to her advantage. Coming up with nothing, she tries another tactic.

“You know me,” she says. “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t important.”

Taking a step toward him with her right sandaled foot, she presses into the slit of her silken dress so the entire length of her muscular leg shows from calf to thigh. She watches his eyes travel the length of her body, his voice wavers a bit when he speaks.

“I’ve strict orders,” he says. “You aren’t allowed anywhere near the Queen.”

His hand tightens on the hilt of his sword, steadying himself, as Dani leans forward allowing the tops of her breasts to become candlelit, the gold medallion between them catching the light and gleaming brightly. He shakes his head and takes a shuffling step back.

“I can’t,” he says. “I really can’t.”

Dani flows towards him, closing the space between them within seconds. She reaches for the guard’s rough right hand held rigidly at his side. She pulls it into her soft one and turns it over, running her thumb along the callouses. His breathing pattern changes and his shoulders and knees become soft. She presses her lips to his ear, allowing her body to fall heavily into his. He swallows loudly and she can see goosebumps prickle on his thick neck.

“I’ll be right back,” she whispers.

Slipping her body around the trembling guard, like smoke blowing from gently parted lips, she disappears into the shadows and up the wide stone steps. She’s learned to use her power like this, to lure and to distract. It’s how she befriended the Queen, and also why she’s been banned from the palace. The guard won’t follow her, and he won’t remember why. A heaviness makes her pace slow, followed by the familiar feeling of regret.

The monsters are coming. Her vision from the fire dances before her, an afterimage half in darkness and half in light. She has to warn the Queen. The ticking of a clock she can’t see surrounds her, whispering it may already be too late. She stumbles sideways and presses her palms into the cool wall to steady herself. The Old Woman told her she’d have a vision and it would change everything. She’s spent half her life waiting for the moment to occur, and when it did earlier tonight, it wasn’t at all what she imagined.

Dani was at the tavern performing one of her frequent concerts on her golden clavichord, a spectacle of purple layered silk. The packed crowd came to hear Dani sing of the beauty and tragedy of Andromeda, chained to a rock because of jealousy. She’d begun to sing the part about the serpent slithering toward the princess when she’d glanced at the fire.

That’s all it took—one single glance. There, as if waiting for her always, was the future displayed in all its horrid brilliance. It danced within the flames, vivid and terrifying. She’d stopped playing and screamed, the drunken audience clapping as if it was part of the show. Pressing through the crowd, she’d rushed outside and run all the way to the back entrance of the palace. The fate of the entire kingdom rests on her convincing the Queen to believe in this vision, but she isn’t sure she believes herself or if it can be stopped.

Dani feels a panic surge like bile within her gut and forces herself to continue up the dark staircase. Memory comes to her as she steps up and up in the dark on silent steady feet. She considers the nature of time and space, like old friends or playmates who either haunt or beguile you with visions of happiness or tragedy. It seems to Dani the older she gets the thinner the fabric of time seems, and the harder it becomes to distinguish memory from the truth. Words float around her. Words like crazy and cursed. She begins to think this might all be for nothing.

Perhaps what she saw in the fire had already been, a vision of evils far away and long ago. She wants to believe it more than anything, but a tugging in her chest, her heart perhaps, tells her what she saw will happen and will happen soon. Only the Queen can stop it, but after what happened between them, Dani isn’t sure she’ll listen. To hope feels childish, but it’s all she has. It’s all anybody has. 

As she nears the top of the staircase she imagines the Old Woman waiting for her dressed in her tattered brown cloak, her long silver hair flowing around her, leaning on her crooked staff and singing. She’s been gone for so long, and yet the memory of her hasn’t dulled. 

She’d found Dani in a mushroom patch, a dirty blonde baby smiling in a single ray of sunlight.

“My bright dandelion in the dirt,” the Old Woman called her.

As she grew, she taught Dani to play the clavichord, the instrument of wistful poets and star-struck lovers. The stringed keyboard would come alive in her tiny hands and she’d play for hours each night while the Old Woman stared into a roaring fire to read the flickering flames as if they were an open book. Dani would play and the Old Woman would sing of prophecy, destiny, and magic.

Dani smells her earthy scent and imagines her love like a mist or fog filling the dark staircase. She rushes up the final three stairs, to find not the Old Woman waiting for her, but an unfamiliar soldier in a bright, silver suit of armor. He holds a thick metal lance in front of him—a clear stop sign. She halts.

“Where do you think you’re going?”

His voice sounds echoey and deep from within his shiny helmet. Dani can see how small she looks in the reflection and tries to square her shoulders and stand straighter. The soldier presses the sharp iron lance into the flesh above her left breast. She feels the sharp point pierce the skin.

“I need to see the Queen,” she says. “It’s a matter of life and death. Just one minute with her. Please.”

“You aren’t allowed here,” he says. “She doesn’t want to see you.”

She can’t reach him through the metal, can’t touch the part of him open to her. He presses the sharp lance harder and she feels it slide further into her flesh, warm blood runs down the inside of her dress, making the purple fabric darken and stick to her body. Prickles of sweat form on her forehead and she sways slightly. She summons all her strength to stay upright.

“I must speak to the Queen,” she says. “It’s urgent. Please. Please!”

The soldier presses harder, the lance becoming thicker and thicker, widening the hole in her fabric and her body. She can feel the warm blood now on her foot and hear it dripping onto the stone floor. This man will kill her. The certainty of it emboldens her, breaking free a surge of power she usually keeps still and controlled. It whips around her, like a fierce wind, blowing out the nearest torches on the wall.

With closed eyes, she grabs the lance with both hands and spins with it still inside her body, freeing it from his grasp. He grunts in frustration and reaches for her, but she dodges him spinning and spinning in circles. She can feel his energy faintly but focuses on her own. With all she has, she pulls the lance free of her body with a sickening wet sound and a scream of pain. She staggers back from the soldier and holds the heavy lance out in front of her. Her hands and body vibrate and she opens her eyes.

“I need to see the Queen,” she says. “Please.”

“Never,” he says with a laugh. “Just look at yourself. You’re shaking like a leaf. You don’t have it in you, Dani.”

“You know me!” she says. “Please. You have to listen.”

He laughs again and she realizes he must be the Queen’s personal guard, the one who turned the Queen against her. The suit of armor and the iron lance are to protect himself from her, to make her power useless. It makes her furious, but there’s no time. She has to reach the Queen.

She lowers the lance and runs at the soldier intending to flick off his helmet, instead, the sharp point sinks into flesh she can’t see between his helmet and chest plate. Roaring, he stumbles back, teetering for a brief second, and then falls down the steps. The clattering of metal hitting stone over and over lasts for a minute and then goes silent. She can’t see the bottom.

For several breaths, Dani doesn’t move. The monsters are coming. The words slide like an iceberg inside her stomach and she spins from the staircase and into the torch-lit maze of hallways. As she walks, she tears a strip off the bottom of her dress and presses it against her bleeding wound, using the tight fabric of her bodice to hold it in place. She’s amazed that, after all this time, the path to the Queen’s room is as familiar to her as anything.

The Queen’s wide bedroom door sits ajar and Dani steps inside to find the formerly exquisite space has been transformed into a crude workshop. Gone are the beautiful paintings, the racks of dresses, and the ornate bureaus covered with sparkling jewels and crowns. Instead, long tables crowd the room in a haphazard way, filling the space and giving it a confusing and dirty feeling. Metal, wires, bolts, springs, cogs, and weights litter the tables and the floor. Dani steps carefully around the debris toward the center of the room.

Sitting in the place formerly occupied by the Queen’s four-poster bed is a wide metal barrel filled with bright orange coals. The Queen stands before it with enormous brown leather gloves covering her hands and forearms. Her golden hair, dirty and dull looking, is tied at the nape of her neck with a piece of leather. She’s wearing a soiled pair of dark pants and a matching shirt.

As Dani watches, the Queen pulls a rectangle piece of hot metal heated to a dull red color from the coals and carries it to a curved piece of black iron sitting on an old tree trunk. She grabs a wood-handled hammer and begins pounding the hot metal. She turns and hits, turns and hits. Dani inches a few steps closer, and the Queen looks up. Her eyes widen for an instant and her mouth looks about to form words, but instead, she looks away and returns to her pounding.

Dani feels weak from the heat, the acrid smell of the burning metal, and her recent blood loss. Her power completely drained, she steps carefully through the chaotic room until she finds a pile of dirty furs laying in the far corner. They smell of wet dogs, but she lowers herself onto them anyway. The Queen continues to work for several more minutes before suddenly slamming the metal onto the floor and kicking it across the room with a loud clatter. It lands inches from Dani’s face.

The Queen pulls off her gloves, throws them on the floor, and walks to Dani with loud, heavy steps. Hands balled into fists at her sides, she towers over Dani and presses her lips tight together. The Queen’s eyes, as blue and beautiful as Dani remembered, sweep over her bloody wound but the expression on her face doesn’t change.

“What do you want?” she says.

Dani tries to stand but finds her entire left side is now weak. Instead, she attempts a smile, which isn’t returned.

“I miss you.”

Dani regrets the words the second she says them. The Queen makes a strangled sound and takes a step back. She grabs the material of her pants and twists it in her hands. There are tears in her downcast eyes and when she speaks it’s a low hoarse sound spoken through a tightly clenched jaw.

“Get out. I don’t want you…here.”

The pause between the words feels important, and when Dani answers she speaks softly and carefully.

“I’m sorry…I didn’t come to fight with you. I’ve come because…well, I’ve come to warn you. The kingdom’s in great danger.”

“It was, when you were here,” her words an angry rush. “ You have no power now and I have no use for you. Get out!”’

She continues to stare at the floor and her hands are fists again.

“No, you don’t understand. I saw a vision in the fire…”

She’s told the Queen of her days with the Old Woman and her prophecy, and they make eye contact for a brief moment. It’s a flash, a slight lowering of the defenses Dani used to live behind, a softness of her features, and a small parting of her lips. Dani reaches a hand toward her and the Queen kicks it with her heavy booted foot and spits on the floor. It hurts. There’s no love left and Dani wishes she’d never come back to the palace. She should have gone far away like she asked. This has been a terrible mistake.

Sobbing, Dani manages to pull herself into a seated position. The pain radiates across her body to her right side. She swallows sour sickness in her mouth and tries again. She must make her understand.

“Please,” Dani says. “I know I hurt you and I’m sorry. You have no idea how sorry I am for all of it, but this isn’t about us. The kingdom is in great danger from…”

“From what?” the Queen says looking at the floor.

“Monsters…”

The Queen doesn’t shift or even lookup. Dani realizes she has no words to describe her vision and feels the horror of it rush through her. She should have thought of this, of how she’d have to convince her, what she’d say. She’d expected a flicker of love to be there, a tiny flame she could blow on and use to get the Queen to listen. She didn’t count on the iron lance or the Queen to look and act so differently.

She’d fully underestimated her heartache, the pain she’d caused with her betrayal, and the way it has transformed the once young and trusting Queen into this strange woman in front of her. It had all happened so fast and she’d not had a chance to explain. Now, it’s too late. The monsters will come and so will the piles of bodies. She can’t stop any of it.

The Queen stares at the floor for a few minutes further, sighs loudly, and then stomps across the room to one of the long work tables. Dani tries to summon something within herself to move, to get out of here, but there’s nothing left. She’s never felt this empty and helpless before. She’s numb and terrified.

There’s a series of flashing and popping sounds across the room followed by a loud creak and stomp. Steam fills the already hot room, smelling of oil and metal. Dani can’t see anything until the Queen returns with an odd-shaped soldier at her side.

He’s roughly the size and shape of a man but covered in darkened curving brass. A bright yellow dandelion is stamped in the center of his chest, the stamp the Queen would press into the letters she’d write and stuff under Dani’s pillow at night. The stamp created to represent their love and friendship. For a brief second, she thinks it’s a message of reconciliation. A symbol of hope.

Then she looks at the face of the soldier and where the eyes should be are giant slats looking into the darkness, a void of nothing. Realization hits her and Dani covers her mouth in a silent scream. The Queen’s lips curve into a chilling smile.

Fear beats within Dani like a second heartbeat. She can feel the two rhythms warring within her chest, a battle for her body. She begins to shake violently, and her breath comes in tiny raspy gasps.

“The monsters…” she whispers.

Looking around the room she can see what she didn’t before. The piles of metal and debris are parts. Body parts. There’s a pile of bronze legs on one table, several heads on another, arms and torsos scattered here and there. The Queen’s smile widens as the metal guard bumbles toward Dani with rigid, robotic steps. With much creaking, the bronze soldier lifts Dani into its hollow arms. Peering into the dark slats, she can see there’s no man inside the machine.

“The monsters…” she says again.

The Queen laughs as the metal man carries Dani’s limp body out of the room and into the maze of hallways. Dani touches the dandelion stamp with her fingertips and watches it disappear and reappear as they pass the torches on the wall. If she’d understood earlier, maybe she could have done something. If she’d patched things up years ago, maybe she could have stopped it. The Old Woman told her the vision would change everything.

Dani’s realization has come too late.

The monsters are here.

She will be the first to die.

The bodies will be piled in the courtyard.


Author’s note: Science fiction and fantasy are my two favorite genres. I mixed them together this week with this strange little fairytale of visions, monsters, and lost love. The idea for the robotic soldier came from years of exposure to Steam Punk and researching the story of the Ancient Greek robot Talos. I also researched the oldest instrument with a keyboard and was happy to find the quiet beauty of the clavichord. If interested, you can watch someone play music on a clavichord from late 16th or early 17th century Italy. Thank you, as always, to everyone who takes the time to read my short stories. Your comments make my day and keep me going on this crazy journey. I wouldn’t press so hard to find the story if it wasn’t for you. Your support means the world.


Next Week’s Prompt

Prompt: A writer with noisy neighbors

Include: dentist, rainbow, explosion, horizon, cactus, palm, Saturday, latte, beets, sample


My 52 Week Challenge Journey