The Child | A Short Story

Crawling out from a hollowed-out cavern at the base of an ancient tree, the small child stretches her pudgy arms up toward the warm rays of vertical light peeking through the wide yellow leaves. Two tiny birds peck the ground and hop around her, pulling at piles of dead leaves looking for something to eat. Her belly growls.

“Hi birdies,” she says.

Startled by her small voice, the birds jump and take flight, landing on the thick branches above her. They squawk and she mimics the sound. Her head hurts and she stumbles in a circle. Mother isn’t coming back. She’s a bad girl.

Beside a fallen log in a shadowy space between two trees, a scruffy rabbit appears. It sits on its hind legs with its front paws held daintily in the air as if waiting to catch something. The sunlight peeks through its long upright ears revealing snaking purple lines streaked through light pink ovals.

“Hello rabbit,” she says.

Its nose twitches, but it doesn’t move, so she takes a step toward it. The rabbit spins and hops into a moss-covered log, a movement so fast the girl barely sees it. She runs after it, peering into the log just as it hops out the other side and disappears into a tangle of thick bushes.

“Wait,” she says. “Come back!”

She scurries after it in dirty, pale pink converse. Both the off-white shoelaces and the turn-downed lace of her socks are covered in round grey burrs. Her ankles are red and itchy. She catches a glimpse of a furry brown tail jumping from one bush to another and follows it through thick vines, climbing over several fallen tree branches.

She loses sight of the rabbit in a field of yellow and purple flowers, wispy weedy things which stand as tall as she does. The brightness of the morning sun without the trees to dilute it makes her eyes burn and something causes her to sneeze. She stops.

“Rabbit!” she calls.

Several blackbirds take flight around her, but there’s no sign of the furry friend with the big ears. She picks a yellow flower and holds it out in front of her watching how the sun seems to be inside it when a fuzzy bee lands on the soft petals. She remembers sharp stabbing pains on her arms and face, and the burning red welts her mother had to cover in pink medicine. No, she wants no part of bees. They hurt.

“Leave me alone,” she cries.

She throws the yellow flower, covers her face with her small hands, and runs through the field of wildflowers. The loud sound of the buzzing bees surrounds her, but the tiny insects don’t land on her or sting. The ground slopes and she tumbles several feet before landing on her butt at the base of a tall pine tree. She cries.

It’s darker and colder here. Her thin purple leggings and soft pink princess t-shirt, dirty from sleeping on the decomposed leaves under the tree and now ripped from the fall, are thin and damp. Shivers travel through her like convulsions and the cries turn to sobs.

“Mommy,” she whispers, knowing there’s no use in calling for her anymore.

She wipes her wet nose with the sleeve of her shirt and sniffs loudly. The brown rabbit hops out from behind one of the squat trees and stares at her. He twitches his ears and she laughs.

“Oh,” she says. “Hi!”

Its deep black eyes look watery and she wonders if its mother left it in the woods too. It turns and begins hopping slowly down a small, dirt path. The girl follows although it’s becoming harder and harder for her to walk. Her legs don’t seem to want to move and there’s a strange pounding sound making her head feel as if it’s blowing up like a balloon.

The path ends at a beautiful cottage of reds, greens, and blues. Its sloping roof looks made of cookies, the windows of spun sugar, and the air smells of carnivals and bakeries. The girl giggles.

The red door sits partly open and the rabbit hops inside. The girl follows. It’s a small cluttered room filled with colorful items, none of them as interesting as the steaming wooden bowl of porridge sitting in the center of a round, blue table. She takes another step inside, looking for any place someone could be hiding.

“Hello?” she calls.

There’s no sound except for the rabbit munching loudly on a carrot it found on the floor. Her stomach growls and she crawls onto a large wooden chair and puts her finger into the warm porridge. It’s just right. With dirty hands she scoops it into her mouth, eating and eating until it’s gone.

There’s a bed along the far wall covered in colorful pillows and soft blankets. She takes off her shoes and sets them carefully on a rainbow rug beside a pile of books. Climbing under the warm blankets, she curls into a ball and falls asleep.

***

Alita carries a wicker basket in the crook of her left arm filled with the treasures of a morning spent forging; ginkgo biloba seeds, blackberries, mugwort, and aloe. She’s taken to wearing long dresses of faded blue, soft brown moccasins and braiding her long hair into two thick braids. Today her hair is bright red, warring with the cardinals for the brightest in the woods.

She’s humming a song and when she realizes it’s “Singin’ in the Rain,” she smiles. Her last daughter was an avid moviegoer, a regular cinephile who could tell you the makeup Vivian Blaine wore in “State Fair” and the plot of “Superman and the Mole Men” with George Reeves. She’d stay up late at night, clicker in hand, eating popcorn and watching everything she could. Alita misses her.

After three hundred years, Alita has given up on the world of people. She’s had all the humanity she can stand. Her Fortress of Solitude suits her well, a tiny home in the middle of a temperate forest she can change at will. Maybe she’ll bring back snow tonight and turn her home into a log cabin, she misses the fields of white and a crackling fire sounds nice.

One of her rabbits hops out of the open door of her candy house to greet her, a brownish thing with comically large ears. There’s a bit of orange around his mouth. She sets down her basket beside the door and sits on the ground.

“Hello Ralph,” she says. “You are early today.”

The rabbit hops into her lap, but before she can pet its soft fur, he hops out of her arms and back into the cabin. He stops on the threshold and looks at her with twitching ears. She’s not seen him do this before, and the odd behavior puts her on alert. She heightens her senses, seeking out what might be different, and finds it. There’s someone in her cabin.

The impossibility of this knowledge brings Alita to the brink of fury within moments. She’s not ready to interact with humans again. Her barriers have worked for decades; a field of stinging bees to the West, rushing rivers to the North and South, and an unclimbable rock field to the East. What could make them falter now? Whoever it is, they might be dangerous.

Alita shrinks herself, gaining wrinkles and grey hair, before entering her cabin with the use of an old yardstick turned walking stick. A small child lays on her bed, curled up beneath the quilt she made herself over 50 years ago. Thumb in mouth, the child looks no older than 4 or 5. It’s impossible, yet there she is.

The rabbit has curled into the space between the child’s feet and knees. Alita takes in the fresh cuts on the child’s cheeks, the empty bowl of porridge on the table, and the careful placement of the dirty shoes beside the bed. She backs out of the cabin.

Throwing aside the staff, she transforms into a snowy white owl and flies into the cool morning air. Following the trail of the child, she traces her journey back through the field of bees, inside the hollow of an old tree, and to a dirt road on the edge of the woods. There, Alita finds the tire tracks of the mother’s car. She circles the scene three times before landing.

In the bright light of the empty road, she retakes human form, giving herself a sweeping robe of bright purple and long ringlets of hair as golden as the sun. A young ground squirrel scampers to her, his tail twitching up and down.

“What did you see and hear little one?” Alita asks.

“She, she put girl here,” he says. “She, she says nothing.”

He runs across the tire tracks and back.

“She, she cries,” he says. “Cries and cries.”

Alita touches the tire tracks with human fingers and a jolt of icy pain stabs through her. A universal story, one which mirrors her own, sings out through the faint connection left behind. The mother left her child to protect her from someone who would kill them both. Desperation skews logic, transforming the impossible into hope. She had no other choice.

Alita stares at her human hands; long, thin fingers covered in silver rings. She presses them together in prayer as the mother did.

“Save my child.”

Did her own mother say this prayer when she left Alita? Her early memories are foggy and unclear. She can recall a mother with greying hair who seemed frightened all the time. There are flashes of angry men and terrible fires, but none of these images hold still long enough for Alita to examine them closely. Her first clear memory is of crows circling her in a field and Alita discovering she could become one of them.

It was a decision she found wild and exciting. She tried out all the creatures of the Earth, moving from place to place to experience the richness of the world through the form of any creature she liked. Dainty butterflies fluttering from flower to flower, sleek lions stalking prey, eagles with giant wingspans who can soar high above the clouds, enormous blue whales gliding through deep cool waters, and humans.

She learned to conform to the seasons, to the limits placed on what humans could be and understand and lived among people for decades. Her many lives and loves took her around the globe. She’s been married, a doctor, a performer, archeologist, teacher, soldier, sailor, and mother. Everything always ends in heartache. Everyone she’s ever loved has died.

In all her travels and experiences, she’s found nobody who can transform like she can, and she quickly learned most can’t handle the information. It would inevitably become about morality or spirituality—both things Alita has no use for. She’s connected to everything and yet they see her as connected to nothing.

Although she feels most comfortable in human form, her inability to experience time and death makes her feel like something else entirely—a creature seperate from everyone and everything else. Alone.

She likes living in these woods and caring for the creatures who live within them. The space allows her to transform her environment to match her mood and to play games to amuse herself. She loves being a witch or a wizard, playing with wands or flying broomsticks. It’s the way she’s found happiness, but this child changes everything. She can’t let her stay. It will only end badly.

Alita decides to walk back to her cabin on the same path the small child walked. A family of mice tells her of the child sobbing all night beneath the tree and the bees tell her they couldn’t sting her because she wasn’t a threat. The journey takes her several hours, a meandering path leading her straight to her own candy front door. She peels off a piece of licorice around the doorknob and takes a bite.

“Hello,” the little girl says.

She’s sitting at the round table with a paintbrush in her hand and a small uneven piece of paper before her. The rabbit sits beside her on the big chair, snuggled beside her legs. She dips the brush into the blue paint and continues.

“You found my paints,” Alita says.

“Ralph showed me,” she says.

“Ralph?”

“He’s funny!”

“Indeed he is. Can you talk to him?”

“When I’m a rabbit.”

Alita sits on the edge of her bed and watches the small child paint. She could have sworn the child had blonde hair before, but now it’s the same shade as Ralph. The color in her cheeks has changed too.

“Did you say you could become a rabbit?” Alita asks.

The child sets down her brush and frowns.

“Mommy gets mad…” she says. “She says I’m bad.”

Alita sits down on the edge of her bed across from the child and takes a calming breath. She’s playing a game. Children make up stories all the time. There’s no way, after all this time, she’d find someone like her. The hopefulness comes without permission though and it takes Alita a moment to be able to speak.

“Can you show me how you become a rabbit?”

The child frowns and looks at the floor. Ralph presses his nose into her hand and tickles her with his whiskers. Alita runs her hand through her hair changing it from loose golden ringlets to tight red curls. The child’s eyes widen and she giggles.

“I like red hair too,” she says.

She pulls at a matted curl beside her ear and turns her hair the same shade.

They both smile.

Author’s note: This story began with the idea of a child lost in the woods who stumbles upon a witch. As I started writing, little fairytale elements began to emerge and I decided to go with them and even embellish them a bit on the rewrite. It wasn’t until I began to tell Alita’s story I realized she wasn’t simply a witch. I loved the imagery of her being able to transform into all the creatures of the Earth, yet she wasn’t like any of them. It might be an “X-Men” situation or perhaps she’s from some deeper part of the world connected to it in ways humans have lost. I’ll leave that up to you to decide. When I wrote the words “Ralph showed me”—I realized I’d found my ending. I love giving both Alita and the child this connection and I hope you did too. Please let me know what you think in the comments. 

I’d also like to introduce you to a new writer of our weekly challenges, Angelica. I’ve known her since her birth and I’ve watched her grow into an incredible human capable of creating amazing stories. I know you will fall in love with her words as much as I have. Check out her version of the week’s prompt and give her some love.


Short Story Challenge | Week 20

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 young child making a discovery. We had to include Superman, ginkgo Biloba, cavern, clicker, aloe, moviegoer, stretch, fury, yardstick, and makeup.


Write With Us

Prompt: High school hierarchy

Include pyramid, cowboy hat, amateurish, angle, ripple, cheese, jersey, blister, odyssey, reorder


My 52 Week Challenge Journey

Playing Games | A Short Story

The Shadow can hear the wet sound of a tongue licking a dry lip or the tiny flick of an index finger scrapping the cuticle of a thumb. With no eyes and no nose, it relies on its heightened hearing to track its prey. It flows like liquid smoke back and forth in front of a small rocky waterfall, its arms and legs are sweeping willow branches made of darkness.

Faven’s knees and thighs ache from sitting cross-legged on the cold, wet stone floor. It’s been hours since she’d run into this cramped spot, hiding within the sound of the rushing water. She can see the Shadow moving through the blurry wall, its distorted blackness plunging her from light to dark as it paces. It knows she’s nearby.

Soaked from the icy mist, Faven knows she can’t stay here much longer. She presses her translucent wings, tied close to her body with a piece of soft white rope, hard into the jagged rocks behind her to stop them from quivering and giving her away. She shouldn’t have come here.

A loud ripping blast, the sound of wood being shattered, roars through the night. The Shadow’s inky black shape stops moving and its elongated body stands silhouetted by hundreds of dancing red sparks. The fragrant sugary smell of burning petals floats into the cave, the smell of the pink lyndol tree, and Faven covers her mouth to prevent herself from coughing.

The Shadow presses its hands onto the place hips might be, a stance Faven would find comical if she wasn’t so terrified. Two more explosions echo around her, followed by a blast of hot wind which roars through the cave and singes her eyebrows. She needs to cough but swallows it back. Her throat burns.

The Shadow slinks toward the fire, roaring in all directions. Faven watches it swallow up the smoke as it goes, sucking it up with big gulping sounds, the hungry eye of a tornado. She crawls on hands and knees keeping her eyes on its black shape until she can push her hot face into the cold water. Pulling back, she catches the icy liquid into her cupped hands and takes several long gulps.

Faven removes a three-inch green knife the shape of an elongated leaf from her leather belt and swipes up to cut the rope. Her wings spring out and flap back and forth swirling the pink vapor until it forms a whirlpool around her. She presses through the smoke and the water, out the entrance of the cave, and straight up into the still night sky. Stars shine above and around her, wishes made into balls of brilliance to twinkle for all time as beacons of hope.

Savoring the feeling of the wind pressing into the curves along the thin membranes of her wings, Faven circles above the burning trees. Her long brown braid has come loose and thick strands of hair whip at her cheeks and eyes. She searches the forest for her friends.

Apollo, dressed in his favorite green argyle suit, presses through the forest blasting trees with a long, twisting staff made of dark redwood. It looks too big for his small hands and Faven wonders where it came from. He’s pale and chanting something under his breath. His short black hair, wet with sweat, sticks to his head.

Luz runs beside him holding a small hand mirror of tarnished gold, an object Faven has never seen before. Streaks of yellow light flow from its shimmery surface to create a crisscrossing web around the two of them. She’s wearing a pinafore of pale pink and her curly blonde hair has been pulled up into two puffs at the top of her head.

Both of their wings are tied back with a white rope to conserve energy. They are moving further into the woods, away from the Fae towns to the West and East. Faven can’t see the Shadow but knows it’s not far behind.

“Up here!” She calls to them, but they don’t hear her.

With a burst of energy, she flies ahead, landing in a field of weeds and wildflowers just a moment before her friends appear through the tree line. They smile as she tucks in between them, running in a line together across the field and down a small hill toward the foul-smelling waters of the brine lake.

“I told you to go home,” Faven says.

“You’re welcome,” Apollo says.

“Hi!” Luz says.

“Where did you get those?” Faven says.

She points at the items her friends clutch in their hands, the gnarled staff, and the antique mirror. Although all three of them have portfolios of skills far greater than most 10-year-olds, nobody would trust them with such powerful magical artifacts. They are the orphans of the temple, the forgotten children of the Fae, and nobody gives them such expensive gifts. Apollo laughs.

“Stole them,” he says.

“Borrowed them,” Luz says. “From the Fae High School.”

“Nobody saw us,” Apollo says. “We were stealthy little rats.”

“I’m no rat,” Luz says. “More like a colorful chameleon or a snowy owl.”

A sudden sharp crunching sound causes them to spin around. The Shadow, free from the smoke and fire, moves toward them with impossibly long strides. Streaking, sneaking, sliding across the ground, closing the gap between them within moments with slick untiring movement. The clicking sound of its gnashing teeth comes from the center of its black body, making all three of them shiver.

“Go!” Faven says. “It only wants me.”

“There’s no time to argue this again,” Apollo says. “We aren’t leaving you.”

“We fight together,” Luz says.

Faven appreciates their loyalty but wishes they’d simply go home. She’s the one who woke up the creature and she’s the one it wants. It was her stupid idea to draw the pentagram in the forbidden woods and call forth the Shadow. They were simply witnesses to her incredible foolishness.

She grew up hearing the bards sing of her mother—a raven-haired beauty who fought with twin golden blades while her baby suckled at her breasts. She defeated packs of horned drooling beasts from the center of the Earth with a fierceness said to have been forged by her years of solitude within the forbidden forest. She died when Faven was two-years-old, poisoned by a former lover.

Faven wants a chance to do something brave, to be something more than the orphaned trouble-maker the Elders make scrub the stone temples with wire brushes to keep her small hands busy. Everyone expects more of her, yet no matter how hard she tries, she’s the one who ruins everything.

She tried to create a fantastic dessert made of strubel berries harvested under the full moon for the summer feast but ended up setting fire to the kitchen when her cooking spell backfired. She collected an assortment of exotic and strange-looking flowers for her crown at the spring dance, but a seed pod exploded a few minutes after the music began and the smell made everyone sick. Last week she’d been showing off her flying skills in the garden and thought it would be impressive to fly through a large open window into the great hall, spin around, and come back out. She accidentally knocked over a magical corked vase. It broke and filled the hall with rainbow-colored rain. They still haven’t been able to stop it.

Faven didn’t think the stories of the Shadow were real. She’d heard them for years but believed they were told by the Elders as another way to control her and keep her grounded. Her mother lived in the forbidden forest alone for over a decade, so the story goes, and she thought maybe the Shadow would know her. Really, if she’s being honest with herself, she thought the Shadow might be her. It’s why she took the risk and performed the summoning spell, but now she’s ruined everything. Her friends might die because of her. The thought instantly fills her with dread.

“What do we do?” Luz says.

Without slowing, Faven removes her knife and carefully slashes the ropes holding back their wings. She grabs their hands and as they reach the edge of the lake and all three of them rise into the night sky as one. Apollo blasts the ground below them and Luz holds the mirror out to cast the net of protective light.

The Shadow, confused, circles below them making its horrible clicking sound. It won’t hesitate for long and it can fly. Faven has seen it spiral around the forest, swirling like an autumn leaf, sniffing for her. It won’t give up and it’s faster and stronger than all of them.

Apollo and Luz are red-faced and sweaty. Faven can feel them trembling and she tightens her grip on their free hands. They are getting tired, the magical weapons are draining them of all their energy. They are running out of time.

“Where do we go?” Luz says.

“We can’t go home or to the villages,” Faven says. “It will follow me wherever I go and put everyone in danger.”

“I know a place,” Apollo says. “But I don’t know if I can make it.”

“Show me,” she says.

On Faven’s 9th birthday, after blowing out the candle the Elders put in her morning bowl of oatmeal, she reached out and touched Luz’s hand. An image of a package wrapped in pink cotton flashed into her mind. It was sitting under the sink in the kitchen beside the big blue bottle of cleaner. She jumped from her chair and ran into the kitchen and pulled it out.

“Hey,” Luz said. “That was supposed to be a surprise for tonight!”

“But you wanted me to have it now,” Faven said.

“I did!” Luz said.

A feeling, like a blush, rushed through her body—she could read minds! After experimenting with her friends, she discovered it wasn’t mind-control or a way to captivate the mind of others, but rather a one-way guidance system allowing her to retrieve information given freely by someone she trusts. So far, she’s mostly used it to gossip and pass math tests. However, right now, she hopes it will allow her to lead her friends to safety.

Apollo nods and presses an image through their connected hands—an abandoned Eagle nest perched high in one of the ancient rendel trees. It’s covered with fertile tangry mushrooms, strong and pungent. If they can make it there, the scents will protect them for the night.

“I’ll get us there,” Faven says.

Flapping her wings as hard as she can, Faven pulls her friends away from the lake and back into the dense trees of the forbidden forest. There’s a sweeping sound behind her and she’s certain the Shadow has taken flight. She dips and dives, pulling her friends with her, using all of her strength and skill to swerve up, down, and around. 

The nest sits exactly where Apollo showed her and she swoops down into it landing on a smelly pile of discarded eggshells, layers of white bird poop, and hundreds of the fat dark brown tangry mushrooms. The fetid stench makes all three of them gag as they lay on their sides catching their breath. The Shadow swoops past them and disappears into the forest.

“You saved us,” Luz says after a few minutes of silence.

“For now,” Faven says. “He won’t give up. Go home! Please. I can’t be responsible for your deaths. I won’t be able to live with myself.”

“This again?” Apollo says. “We aren’t discussing it. There’s no home without you and we stick together. There’s no other way. We are one.”

“We won’t leave you,” Luz agrees. “You can’t get rid of us.”

Faven nods but doesn’t agree. Her friends curl up beside her, three tiny children folding into one another as they do every night in their tiny bed at the top of the temple. Fatigue overpowers the smell and the fear, allowing the warmth of their bodies to melt into the oblivion of dreamless sleep. The rendel tree, the oldest of the trees in the woods, rocks them gently as the night wind sweeps across the fairylands.

Dreams swirl in and out of focus for Faven, gentle sweet images of honey, flowers, and tiny butterflies dancing between her fingertips. Her mother’s face appears above her, bronze-skinned with wide eyes the color of the deepest part of the sea. She hovers with thin milky white wings, flapping them slowly, creating a sweet-smelling breeze Faven feels like kisses upon her cheek. She wants to cry out to her mother, to speak to her, but she’s unable to do anything but look at her. Her deep black hair flows around her face, waves of dark strands flowing nearly vertical from her now unsmiling face. Inky blackness swirls into her hair, mixing with it.

With a flash of panic, Faven opens her eyes and finds it’s still night. She’s not too late. Peeling herself from her friends, she moves to the edge of the nest, hangs her legs over, and tries to remember the story of the Shadow. 

Birthed at the dawn of time, it is made out of the hallowed madness left in the wake of its mother—death. A cousin of torment, it was captured by the ancient forest and allowed to dwell below the roots of rotten trees. It can be woken, brought to the surface, by those knowing the ancient ritual and calling its name. Once called forth, however, it won’t return to the soil until it kills the soul of its summoner.

Faven must die. There’s no loophole and until she dies her friends are in terrible danger. She stretches her wings out behind her, flapping them three times to allow blood to flow into the soft folds before falling out of the nest head first. Swooping over the trees, she calls the Shadow forth using its sacred name. It appears within moments and she swoops to the forest floor to greet it.

“No!” Apollo screams.

She sees Apollo spiraling down behind her and watches as the Shadow twists and changes directions in mid-air. Within seconds, hardly a breath, it reaches Apollo and dives through his small body. The color instantly drains from his face and Favin screams. She takes flight and catches his falling figure, the impact causing them both to crash land into a pile of soft brown bark.

Luz lands without a sound on a low tree branch near the sobbing Favin. She hangs upside down by her knees, a silent bat in a cave. Teary-eyed Favin runs her hand through Apollo’s black hair and kisses his soft cheeks.

“It’s all a game,” she says. “Just a game.”

The Shadow lands beside her and when she turns to face it the long, low sound of a bell rings through the air. It lasts several moments, and as it vibrates through the forest, the trees disappear leaf by leaf. Luz jumps down from the green metal bar and lands beside her.

“The bell rang,” she says.

Apollo stands and laughs. He grabs Favin by the hand and pulls her from the bark. She blinks, tears still in her eyes.

“I didn’t really die,” he says. “Because I’m not done playing the game. It’s not fair.”

“We can figure it out next recess,” Luz says. “Maybe we find a rejuvenation spell or something.”

“Yeah.”

Favin stops and looks at the two kids in front of her. Apollo’s wearing faded blue pants and a green shirt with some kind of creature on the front with big teeth and tiny arms. Luz wears a dress of bright yellow with rainbows covering her legs. Both are wearing shoes with metal circles and crisscrossing white strings.

“Are you okay?” Luz says.

“I don’t know,” Favin says.

“I’m not dead,” Apollo says again. “Okay, guys? It’s not fair.”

“Okay,” Luz says. “We heard you the first time! We wouldn’t kill you off, right Favin?”

“Right,” she says.

The three of them hook arms and walk across the hard, cracked grey earth toward short buildings painted blue and white. Kids stand in lines talking, pushing, and laughing. Favin doesn’t mind this new game at all.

After School | A Triolet

she’s waiting for me when the bell rings
faded yellow sweater smelling of home
unknown to me except in dreams, no wings
she’s waiting for me when the bell rings
my name upon her lips she does sing
with bluest eyes framed by glasses of chrome
she’s waiting for me when the bell rings
faded yellow sweater smelling of home

Mother’s Love | A Nonet

my mother knows every inch of me
her child from any time or place
we fold into each other
her arms a warm blanket
of protection from
the bad dreams of
shadowy
death
my mother heals every inch of me

Author’s note: If you’ve been around this blog for some time you’ve probably realized my love of fairies and fantasy. This week, my story was inspired by the elaborate games I watched my daughter play with her friends at school. They had one storyline they played for over a year, adding more and more backstory and adventure. I thought, what if the game was real and the main character wished it to not be and was instead transported to a playground. It’s a bit of a twist on the “it was all a dream” plot, and one I hope you enjoyed. Thanks for reading, and as always, I’d love to know what you think in the comments below.


Short Story Challenge | Week 18

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 a child’s dream literally becomes true. We had to include the high school, captivate, portfolio, argyle, witness, fertile, eyebrow, pentagram, thirsty, and guidance.


Write With Us

Next week’s prompt: An alien in disguise among humans

Include: Aurora Borealis, paintbrush, cornfield, cluster, lineup, overlook, suspect, bridge, dome, dash


My 52 Week Challenge Journey

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

52 Weeks – Week 13 – Haunted

Prompt: A haunted house

Include: silver, relativity, watercolor, Copper Beech, limited, affect, broccoli, politician, arsenal, cufflink

Read Anna’s Week 13

The Old Man

My neighbor left a slip of lined paper under a rock on the front doorstep at 5:35 p.m. I watched him on one of the four grainy black-and-white video monitors in the furthest corner of the old barn. From my perch on an upturned crate, I saw him look in the windows and knock on the front door for more than five minutes. I haven’t been able to breathe properly since.

I don’t understand why people can’t leave me alone. I’ve put up signs and made it clear the property is monitored but still they come and pry. Last Tuesday at 10:15 a.m. a uniformed man from the city came to the door with a clipboard and a long, black flashlight that he shined through the windows. He walked around the property calling my name, upturning several boxes, and looking through them. I felt sick.

He left behind a bright yellow notice stuck to my front door saying I’m in violation of a bunch of city codes, which translates to them wanting to chase me from my home. I have no doubt it’s some bored politician looking to make a name for himself by picking on an old man. My father designed and built this house before I was even born. It’s his house and I won’t budge. I’m not hurting anyone and I simply want to be left alone with my stuff.

I check the monitors one final time and, finding no sign of my neighbor’s return, I stand and shake my legs back to life. Using an old rope strung for this purpose, I pull my way outside, into the dark, through the cramped backyard, and into the house. My breath begins to normalize when I stand inside, the walls of stuff surrounding me like shadowed friends. I touch everything I can with outstretched hands and feet. It’s all here.

I press between two large boxes to reach the light switch, sucking in my gut as much as I can. My pants slip down to my hip bones and I blink for a few minutes until the familiar shapes and patterns come into fluorescent focus. The visit by the neighbor affected my routine and I curse at the lost time. I don’t like when people interrupt me.

Swaying in place I try to remember what I was doing when I heard the gate open and ran outside. My belly aches and I realize I’ve not eaten anything today. I shuffle sideways into the kitchen and rummage for several minutes until I find an instant rice cup with broccoli and cheese. I add some water and put it in the microwave. 

The lined note is still on the doorstep. I try not to think about it, but it feels like an intruder lurking nearby and the uneasiness almost makes me dash back outside to check the cameras. No, he’s not coming back tonight. It’s too late. He’s the kind of guy with a family who goes to bed at sunset and rises before the light to dash off to some 9-5 job. I hate that there’s still a part of me envious of men like him.

The shrill sound of the microwave timer makes me jump. I remove the paper cup and grab a silver fork from a pile in the sink. It’s not clean and I wipe it on my faded plaid shirt and move to the round wooden table behind me. My watercolors sit open beside a dry and ugly painting half-finished. I don’t remember what I was trying to do with the colors. I crumble it with my hands and throw it onto a pile of garbage, then sit to eat my food. 

My father used to sit upright and proud in this faded yellow chair before it became stained and cracked. Straightening my own back to match his I hear him calling from his bedroom for me to come and help him. I shake my head to clear the sound. I don’t want to remember him then.

Instead, I crane my neck around, popping it, until another image comes into focus of him sitting at the clean kitchen table with a starched white shirt on. He’s putting on golden cufflinks and talking about the art museum he’s designing downtown. My feet don’t quite reach the floor and my mother is still alive. There’s laughter and bread baking. He strokes her rounded belly and they kiss.

The images float away though, like they always do, like a dream you can’t quite hold onto or tiny filaments of dandelion fluff in a slight breeze. No matter how hard I try, the memory fades into the room around me, absorbed by my things until his hoarse and crackly voice begins to yell at me.

“Hey, shithead! Do something useful for a change.”

“You can’t even cook rice right you useless piece of garbage.”

“What have you done with your life? Nothing! Absolutely fucking nothing.”

“Such a waste.”

His arsenal of insults echoes around me and I can’t finish my food. Throwing it across the room I watch it splat into a pile of wires. I can wash them off when I need them, is my first thought, followed immediately by the knowledge I’ll never need them. Then an itchy thought begins to form around the idea of waste and garbage, but the sound of wind chimes outside stops it.

My body feels stiff when I stand and my legs ache from sitting on the crate for hours, but I need to be sure the wind doesn’t blow away the lined note. It suddenly feels important for me to read it, to decipher the messages from the outside world. It could be crucial.

The path to the front door has become narrow and impassable at points, limiting my ability to move quickly or even fluidly through the space. It requires concentrated effort and a bit of climbing. My breath becomes wheezy and after removing the pile of boxes stacked against the door, I begin coughing. It’s several minutes before it subsides and I grab an old t-shirt from the floor to spit mucus into. I throw it back down. I’ll wash it later.

I look through the peephole, but despite the bright floodlights illuminating the porch and front gate, I can’t see anything but shadows. I search them for movement on tip-toes for several minutes, listening to my collection of wind chimes ringing out in various tones throughout the night. The cacophony makes me smile. It’s enough to scare away the monsters, I think, and then laugh at being such a scared old man. The boogeyman died a few years ago.

There are five locks across the door, and I unlatch them from top to bottom. Pulling the door open requires both hands, as it scrapes on the dirty ground and pulls with it discarded pieces of paper and little items which have fallen out of the boxes. I spot a pair of argyle socks and an old cellphone. Both are in good shape, and I bend over to pick them up and shove them into my pants pockets to examine in more detail later.

The lined note, which I can now see is on yellow legal paper, sits folded in half longwise under a rock painted to look like a giant ladybug. The rock was a gift from a friend years ago and when I touch it I can hear her laughter twirling around me. It’s such a vivid sound and I call out to her into the darkness.

“Mabel?”

There’s no response because she isn’t here. I’ve not seen her in fifty years. The number fifty sticks in my throat, burning and itching until it causes another round of coughing. I snatch up the note and the rock through the spasms, spit bloody phlegm into a box of old tools and close the door behind me by pushing against it with my back. I slide to the floor, the cellphone tumbles out of my pocket and lands on an old candy wrapper beside me.

I set down the rock and grab for the phone, balancing it on top so it sort of teeters back and forth for a moment before finding its stopping point. It looks incomplete, so I pull the colorful socks from my pocket and drape them across the top. Yes, that’s right.

Unfolding and smoothing the paper I find a handwritten note printed in neat, black letters. It looks like the handwriting of a woman. I pull my glasses from my breast pocket and read out loud to myself.

“Dear neighbor, 

The large beech tree in front of your house appears to be dying. The neighborhood children walk past the tree to and from school and we are concerned it could fall onto one of them or hit a passing car on the road injuring someone. Could you please remove it?

Thank you,

Your Concerned Neighbors”

Scrawled under the neat printing are a dozen or so signatures in various colors of ink. Conspiracy. Collusion. They must have spoken to the official who came here to try and take my father’s house from me. I stare at the paper and tears fall from my eyes blurring the ink, streaking it, and creating something new from something old.

Inspiration prickles through me and I twist my body so I can use the doorknob to pull myself to my feet. I fold the damp paper and put it in my front pocket with my glasses and restack the boxes in front of the door until I can’t reach to add another. I climb and crawl my way back to the kitchen table.

Unearthing rusted scissors from a pile of stuff on one of the chairs, I pull the paper note out of my pocket and begin cutting it into blurry yellow and black strips. When I’m done I arrange them on the table, tearing some pieces even smaller until they form the image inside my mind. I’ll need tape, dark brown fence paint, and one of the broken canvases in the barn.

“Tomorrow,” a voice inside says.

I push it away and shuffle through the house, touching things as I pass, making notes of other items I can combine and transform. There’s a wildness inside me roaring like it does, a beacon of need my father called crazy and my mother called art. I don’t know what to call it, but it drags my tired body into the chilly night until I’m standing near the beech tree sweating and panting.

The reddish-purple leaves glint in the moonlight. Copper Beech, I remember. My mother planted this tree and now it’s sick. I press my cheek against the rough bark and find it covered in puckered welts leaking sticky whitish residue. The leaves, once glossy and firm, are fragile brittle nothings in my fingers.

“There’s nothing wrong with you,” I say to it. “You are simply sad.”

I hug the bark, feeling the cancerous bumps press through my shirt into my delicate thin skin like needles pressed through or fingers thrust hard. I stumble back and suddenly recall a book I’d seen in the barn with a tattered brown and gold cover, the pages filled with colorful illustrations of plants. “The Family Herbal, or an Account of all those English Plants, which are Remarkable for their Virtues.”

“I’ll be back,” I say.

After several minutes of stepping around stacks of empty flower pots, piles of rocks, and overturned rotting boxes, I find the rough rope and use it to pull myself into the barn. Through the maze, I travel, hand over hand, until I reach my destination in the sighing darkness. I find a string above me and pull it, illuminating cobwebs and the shadowy shape of things old and new.

I begin shoveling my way through the boxes and piles, moving things as I search for the book. I try not to linger too long as I uncover tiny smiling Santas, satin dress shoes, half-eaten leather belts covered in chew marks, a box of rubber bands, a collection of gold jar lids, and my father’s old wheelchair. These items all have stories to tell, but I’m not interested right now. The book is all that matters.

Tiny creatures scatter unseen around me, their scent mixed with my own so we are barely distinguishable from one another. Dirty. Filthy. Diseased. The words take shape and then are replaced. Tree. Knowledge. Savior. There will be no need to remove the tree, for I might be old, but I still have tools and the ability to work. I have my hands. I have my stuff and my house. No, not my house. His house and my stuff.

A tall stack of boxes teeter toward me and I try to push them back upright, but I’m not heavy enough. Slowly, ever so slowly, they lean into my body until my legs give way and I slide backward tumbling. My head hits the wooden planked floor with a thud I don’t hear but rather feel—an internal earthquake. My arms are pinned beside me, boxes sit on and around me, as the light above sways and sways.

When the light stills and stops I see a small book with a faded-blue cover that has landed beside my head, inches from it. I can smell the musty, gluey scent as if it’s trying to lure me to it—calling me to pay attention. Squinting at the faded gold letters for several minutes I eventually make them out, “Relativity.”

From somewhere deep inside the word rings and rings. My mother’s soft voice fills the barn reading to me late into the night of light, space, time, and gravity. Her voice like a thousand stars in the night sky calls and twinkles around me until I see her above me with outstretched arms. Her eyes speak of things I’ve forgotten—being called “her boy,” feathery kisses in the golden morning light, flower gardens, and midnight comforts when the nightmares came.

The stuff around me, the precious items I’ve held close to protect and comfort me, melt before my eyes and turn to colorful yellow vapor and sweet-smelling smoke. I watch it swirl around me, around her, until it floats out the windows and into the clear night sky. She pulls me to my feet, and I’m small again. Tears stream down my cheeks, but there’s only happiness on her face. The full moon shines bright behind her.

The word “sorry” wants to come, but she pulls me into her arms and pushes it away.

“Home is when we are together,” she says.

I smile and allow her to carry me home on her hip.


Author’s note: I tried to come up with a haunted house story, but since I wrote one in Week 10 I challenged myself to think about other definitions of haunted. I took inspiration from the many stories of trauma in my own family and our tendencies toward hoarding as a response to those experiences. The idea of being haunted by your past drove me to this story of the old man.

The photos in this story are mine, taken while cleaning out a relative’s home who struggles with hoarding and mental illness. I know this wasn’t a happy piece to read, but I hope you liked the ending. I didn’t know where I was going with this story, but once he was trapped under the boxes the ending came and I cried while typing it. The loving mother returning to rescue her hurt son was the happy ending my heart desired for him. If it touched you in some way, please let me know. Thank you.


Next Week’s 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


My 52 Week Challenge Journey

How’s the writing going? 

I’m sitting at my favorite coffee shop with avocado toast and an oat milk latte. Low-fi beats play in my rose gold headphones and I’m lost in the art of storytelling. People rush around me, blurring on the edge of my vision, but I’ve fallen into the words and barely register the ticking of the clock or the feel of my body in the chair.

It feels like magic. 

I’m an archaeologist uncovering the bones of an ancient beast buried deep within myself. I’m a wizard casting a spell upon the page. I’m the heroine discovering the power to change the world was inside me the whole time.

I’m a writer.

I’ve had this realization before, but something this time feels different. It’s not simply an identity adopted, but a feeling deep inside my bones I’m doing the thing I’m supposed to be doing.

It feels a lot like purpose.

Thank you 52-week writing challenge.

When my writing partner Anna and I sat down late last year and envisioned the challenge, we were seeking more accountability. We wanted to continue the momentum we’d experienced doing NaNoWriMo—harnessing our creative energy more consistently. We figured the more we wrote, the more energy we’d have to work on our manuscripts and the closer we’d be to following our dreams of being published.

Twelve weeks in is the perfect time to reflect on what I’ve learned so far:

  • I’ve started to see a clear pattern in the way I approach a story idea. I read the prompt over and over until a character begins to speak to me. I journal each morning, playing with possible story ideas for the character and feeling them out with many starts and stops. When I hit on the story it feels like something clicks and then, and only then, can I begin to write. If I start before that moment it will be rambling and I’ll have to start over.
  • I need the accountability of writing on deadline. My week has a definite rhythm now and it revolves around publishing on my blog and my photography. It feels comfortable and is getting easier. The first few weeks I waited until the last minute to begin and it resulted in a lot of late nights. Now, I publish on Saturday, rest on Sunday, and begin planning and thinking of the next story on Monday.
  • I find story ideas and photo opportunities everywhere. I sit still and feel the energy of the words inside me. I craft sentences in the shower, while I’m driving, and when I’m folding laundry. It feels like managed chaos—the energy has a place to go.
  • I’m making my writing a priority. I used to “try and write” around my schedule. I’d let things get in the way all the time, often seeking and finding ways to sabotage my writing time by doing things for others, cleaning my house, or playing games on my phone. I felt like I wasn’t a “real writer” and therefore I couldn’t take the time away from my family or my friends for a “hobby.” These short stories have shifted that. I write now because I must, and it is a priority.
  • My anxiety has lessened. The beauty of the weekly challenge is you have to post on a deadline so there isn’t time to short-circuit and collapse under the weight of self-doubt. I don’t have time to think too much about if what I’m writing is “good” or “good enough.” Time chases me and doesn’t allow me the space to think too long and hard about any of it. I can’t let Anna down. I can’t let myself down. I have to keep going.
  • It’s completely reframed the way I look at writing and my goals for the future. While I don’t have the time I thought I would for working on my manuscripts, I feel my writing style shifting and my skills improving with each short story. It feels like these words are necessary to keep growing my skills so when I return to my manuscripts it will be with fresh eyes and new skills. I still dream of being a published author, but I’m aware of the fact I’m not ready yet. I have more work to do.
  • I’m investing in myself. I’ve grown my readership on my blog and I’ve signed up for writing classes and workshops. I paid extra to have the ads taken off my website. I’ve not been this committed in the past, and I’m excited to see where it’s going.

The overall feeling is one of potential and growth. I don’t know why this project feels important, but it does. I’m going to keep moving forward and trust this is leading somewhere.

I’d like to thank my writing partner Anna for constantly pushing me, inspiring me, and blowing me away with her artwork and incredibly beautiful writing. I’m so happy to be on this journey with her. It’s fun to see how different we both interpret the prompt and I’m looking forward to a huge party with her at the end of the year.

Also, thank you to everyone who likes or comments on my blog. I value each and every one of you. Your support feels like a warm blanket I can slip into when the negative self-talk becomes too loud. It’s encouraging and appreciated.

See you on Saturday with my take on a haunted house story.


Write with us

If you find yourself in a rut or could use a framework for your chaotic creativity, consider joining us on this journey. We’d love to have you! There’s no commitment, and you can start and stop whenever you like. You make the rules for yourself. The prompt for the next week is at the bottom of our stories each week. Let me know if you write one of the prompts and I’ll link to your blog.

My 52 Week Challenge Journey

52 Weeks – Week 12 – Woods

Prompt: A hike through the woods

Include: leprechaun, covert, fireball, snoop, wart, pity, backpack, practice, nausea, collar

Read Anna’s Week 12

Meeting Time

I don’t remember driving or getting out of my car. I’m running down the narrow tree-lined trail as if speed or distance could remove his words. They stick to my body and crawl across my skin. I pump my arms and push harder. My sandaled feet slapping against the trail send up little puffs of dirt, smoke signals to nobody. He wishes I’d leave for good. Maybe I will.

My toe catches on a twisted root and I tumble forward, landing on my side. My head smacks a rock with a painful thud. I suck in air for a few breaths until it finally reaches my lungs and burns. Lightning bolts of pain flash in my temples and down my left side. Shuddering, I blink repeatedly to return focus to my eyes.

The sudden sound of music alerts me to the fact I’m not alone and I sit straight up. It’s a wooden flute playing a soft earthy melody, calling and calling. I stand and leave the trail. Pulled and lulled I move as if half-asleep, or half-drugged, toward the gentle notes.

The trees and the music collide to hide the creatures I can now sense close by me. The veil pulled thin as if half-wanting to reveal to me what I know with certainty lies hidden in the murky darkness. I hear them as rustling leaves and cracking twigs. They play peek-a-boo in the dimness, breathing and watching me as I pass.

A fracture of light bursts through a tree branch and blinds me temporarily; the glint off the horn of a unicorn perhaps or the gleam of gold held tight in the fist of a greedy leprechaun. I squint as I feel my way forward with outstretched hands and pointed toes. Cool darkness surrounds me, wetting my clothes and my head…or is it blood?

The creatures continue to swirl at the edges of my vision, not allowing me to see their full shapes or forms. Fairies with backpacks of magical delights dance through the shadows moving with the music, taunting and teasing with giggles I can almost hear. Darker, deeper creatures of warts and madness peek out from beneath rotten logs threatening to pull me toward them, into the cool, moist ground.

I jump as hundreds of birds burst from the trees around me, erupting into a swirling, pulsing black mass of cawing and tweeting. They fill the yellow fireball sky of sunset—a dark cloud of mass exodus. Raising my arms out I wish to sprout wings and follow them into the near night, but the sound of the flute stops me. The pitch and tempo have shifted, matching the frenzy of the birds, drawing me back toward the invisible pied piper hidden deeper and deeper into the woods.

I’m drawn forward by a tugging within my body that I can’t explain, a burning cavernous flame in my core. A part of my mind feels the absurdity of it and wonders if I’m laying on the forest floor bleeding out. I think about the fight with my husband, the horrible things we said to each other and didn’t mean. Our past, our history, and our life together feel twisted and entangled. If I could unravel it, what would be left of me?

Mischief and enchantment lie covert and waiting as I step into a clearing of tall weeds and see a magnificent green willow tree before me. The source of the music hides behind its sweeping branches which move as if dancing to the sounds. Nausea punches through me and I stop as the familiar scene plays out in front of me. I’ve been here before. The air stills and I can sense him watching me with all-seeing eyes of practiced seduction.

He crawls forward through the long, dark branches, emerging first as a great bronze shoulder and a deep green eye. Swaying in place for a moment, the half-lit creature of my dreams made flesh again, I shudder. My body knows him and heat rushes through me, bringing painful longing below my belly button, a primal and ancient ache I feel in my breasts and lips.

The music slows as collar bone, second shoulder, second eye, and golden hair come into view with a seductive ooze; liquid and solid, warmth and ice. He unfolds his body and stretches cat-like to a standing position, his hands and lips continuing to play the wooden instrument, the sound slowing and slowing until it’s deep and breathy like him.

I step toward his warmth, and he lifts his chin in welcoming remembrance. The memory of hands and lips on flesh burns and burns until I’m shuddering and aware my breath now comes in tiny gasps. With snooping and pitying eyes he stares into me and I know the time for choice has arrived.

He is time itself, the choice of life continued or life restarted. The reset of all things. The wheel of life spins before me, spun by him, but the final decision remains mine. It’s been this way before and it will be this way again. I feel the truth of it course like passion, like lust, and I sway with the music to the tension of decision.

The web of choices pour from his flute singing of the doors I’ve opened and closed, connections forged or severed, moments linked by a series of yeses and noes. My husband’s blue eyes swim before me too, the link of our combined paths entwined from years of sharing decisions and bodies, for better or for worse. The tug of the past and the pull of fresh starts war within me with cannon blasts and fire.

Running my hands down my heavy body I feel the effects of eating sadness for every meal and I want to tear the extra flesh from the bones. I twist uncomfortably and see his eyes following my hands, feasting on my self-hatred and tasting my unhappiness. He swells larger and the strength of his gravitational pull increases.

Time slinks toward me with a smirk of satisfaction around his pursed lips. He feels the moment coming, the giving up of this flesh and returning to him. He circles me now as the breathy notes fall around me slower and slower, winding toward me and the moment of finality I know will come in an intake of breath. He smells of fresh starts, like a thousand showers, the deepest part of the ocean, and fresh-turned soil.

Inevitability weakens me, but at the last moment, I turn from him and run. My head explodes as I crash through the trees.

I’m not ready yet.

Author’s note: I’ve written many versions of this story, including my latest manuscript during NaNoWriMo last November. The storyline of wanting a mythical and romantic character to sweep in and take away all my troubles returns to me again and again. When the going gets tough, I dream of being rescued. My Prince Charming, however, always comes with a dash of fear, magic, and some makeup.

It should, therefore, come as no surprise my favorite film of all time is “Labyrinth.” I often like to envision David Bowie/Jareth coming to rescue me and giving me all the things I say I want. Of course, like Sarah, I’d probably refuse his offer and fight my way through the Goblin City and back toward the family I love.

I hope you enjoyed this take on the rescue story, with the “he” being the seductive personification of time. I’d really love to know what you think in the comments below, and thank you for reading.

Related blog: My love affair with the Goblin King


Next Week’s Prompt

A haunted house

Include: silver, relativity, watercolor, Copper Beech, limited, affect, broccoli, politician, arsenal, cufflink


My 52 Week Challenge Journey

52 Weeks – Week 11 – Fired

Prompt: The main character thinks he or she is about to get fired

Include: magazine, blow-dryer, congeal, bluebell, cummerbund, wheelie bag, pastels, cheeseburger, binding, science

Read Anna’s Week 11

Aw, Phooey!

Elle leans on the black metal railing in front of the train station in a lopsided blue hat, matching blue shirt, and bright red bow tie. There are two round white buttons at her waist. She places her gloved hand on top of a small boy’s head to mess his hair and he giggles.

Click. Click. Click.

A girl in a twirling pink princess dress runs at top speed and almost knocks her over. Elle saves the moment, catching her and doing a sort of silly dance. They turn to face the camera together, a whirl of happy motion.

Click. Click. Click.

All pacifier and big eyes, a terrified toddler hides in his stroller clutching a stuffed mouse to his face. Elle gets down on one knee and plays peek-a-boo behind her gloved hands until he warms to her. He gives her a high-five and smiles for the camera.

Click. Click. Click.

A group of teenagers in the crowd yell out they love her and Elle makes a heart shape with her hands and presses it towards them. She waves and waves as children pass by her, the joy contagious and beautiful. Smiling, she hops on one foot and then the other, until she spots Greg off to her right with a clipboard in his hand. He’s writing and she feels herself deflating.

Everyone knows when Greg comes to watch your shift it means one of two things; promotion or firing. Elle tries to ignore him, but her eyes keep returning to his dark handlebar mustache, blue pinstripe suit, and bright white cummerbund. His pen stays in motion.

She can’t help but think about her now ex-roommate Britney. Greg visited her a few weeks ago during her final performance of the day and afterward released her. He said she “didn’t have the right energy” and “looked off-brand.” In an instant, her dream of being promoted to a face character ended. It broke her.

Elle found her sobbing on the locker room floor. They took a bus to a small diner far from the tourists and Britney cried into her cheeseburger for a long time, her snot congealing with ketchup to form a stream of gross gunk down her face.

“How dare he do this to me! I’ve worked so hard!” Britney sobbed. “Greg’s a monster!”

“I know.”

“It’s not rocket science, Elle! I don’t know why he makes it out to be so difficult. I didn’t do anything different today than I’d been doing for two years. It makes no sense. I deserve to be a princess! He was never going to give me a fair shot.”

“I know.”

Elle had worked beside Britney a few times, and although she’d never say it to her face, she understood Greg’s decision. Britney felt she deserved better, begged for it all the time, and didn’t put much heart or enthusiasm into her current role. Elle felt a mix of sadness and relief watching Britney stuff her blow-dryer into the top of her packed wheelie bag and walk out the apartment door. 

Click. Click. Click.

A large family approaches and Elle lays on the ground in front of them, as she’s been taught. It’s the only way to make the large group photos work. She knows her poses are correct, but Greg writes and writes on his clipboard and she can’t imagine what he could be writing.

“Fails to be perfect.”

“Not good enough.”

Elle gets the signal and follows her handler to the cast-room. She waves and does a little dance until she’s fully out of view. Although she can’t see him, she knows Greg followed. As she removes her giant head and gets a drink of water, he walks in smiling.

“Wonderful job Elle,” he says.

“Thank you.”

“You know why I’m here, right?”

Elle doesn’t want to make any guesses, so she shrugs and smiles. He smiles back.

“I know you have been waiting for this, so I wanted to tell you in person. You have done it, Elle. Congratulations. You are now friends with Snow White.”

He hands her a red hair bow and she rubs the satin with her fingers.

“You will begin your training next week,” Greg says.

Elle finishes up her shift, 30 minutes on and 30 minutes off until the park closes. It isn’t until she walks back to her apartment, the full moon bright in the sky above her, that it hits her. For as long as she can remember, her mother has dreamed of her playing Snow White at the Happiest Place on Earth. She’d told Elle it was her destiny because of her pale white skin, dark black hair, and red lips. There wasn’t any other plan for her and now she’s done it.

She should call her mom. She should celebrate. She should be happy. All the shoulds feel wrong.

She takes a hot shower, slips into soft pink pajamas, and runs her hand along her bookshelf until she finds the well-worn book of pastel drawings, the soft cloth binding frayed slightly on the edges. She flips to her favorite page marked with a red silk ribbon, a beautiful painting of a garden filled with bluebells and snowdrops. Written in her neatest handwriting along the bottom are the words, “Snow White’s Garden/My Garden.”

She remembers writing those words when she was 10-years-old, the year her mother gave her the book and told her she would become Snow White. Elle loved the idea. It made her feel special and loved. She practiced singing and talking until she could mimic Snow White as well as anyone. Her mother would beam with pride watching her.

When she was 18, they drove across five states to California for the auditions. On the drive, her mother opened up a bit about her own life, something she rarely did. She told Elle she’d been a model her entire childhood and teenage years, and how she’d been on the cover of hundreds of magazines and traveled all over the world.

“But my mother didn’t protect me, Elle,” she’d said. “And people hurt me. Lots of people hurt me. I won’t let anyone hurt you.”

Her mother stayed for several months after Elle got hired, and pressed hard for her to be Snow White. Elle understood she had to put in time as other characters, and she didn’t mind at all. She enjoys slipping on the costumes and transforming into the beloved characters of the park. The ritual of it, the tears of joy, and the infectious laughter make Elle feel whole.

The day her mother finally left for home, she’d squeezed Elle painfully tight to her and sobbed into her shoulder. They’d never spent time apart and Elle was a bit terrified of being on her own, but also excited. She felt it was time for her to make her own decisions and friends—something she’d not done her entire life.

“Promise me you’ll be okay,” her mother said, black mascara running down her cheeks.

“I’m okay mom,” Elle said. “I’ll be okay.”

She wasn’t sure she would be, and the first night alone with Britney in the apartment she’d spent a long time crying in the shower. She wondered how she’d manage to feed herself, work until late at night, and do her own laundry. It felt overwhelming, but Elle surprised herself. She found a rhythm, made friends, and discovered she was more than capable of caring for herself.

Now, with Britney gone, Elle realizes how much she loves being alone with her own thoughts. She’s taken up reading, painting, and baking. On her days off she meets friends at the park, goes for a run, or has friends over to play games. Her life has become full and her own.

Her mother calls her at 5 a.m. every morning, and Elle waits up for her call. It’s always the same questions, rapid-fire and breathy from her anxious mom.

“Are you okay?”

“Are you Snow White yet?”

“Why not?”

“Who can I talk to?”

Elle brews herself a cup of mint tea and snuggles under a blanket. She looks around the room at her place and feels a swelling of pride. It’s been two years since her mother left, and Elle loves her life. She thinks about how wonderful it feels to see children light up at the sight of her and how often their joy brings her to tears. Snow White may have been her original dream, her mother’s dream for her, but it doesn’t fit her. It’s not what she wants.

Elle takes a sip of tea and picks up her cellphone. It’s her life, she thinks, and smiles.

“Sorry to call so early, Greg, but I’ve been thinking about the offer and I’d like to decline. I love my current role and I wonder if I might keep it.”

“Are you sure, Elle? You’d make a fantastic Snow White.”

“Yeah. I’m sure.”

“Okay, then. See you tomorrow.”

She sips her tea, watches the sunrise through her front window, and happily waits for her mother’s call.

Author’s note: As you may have guessed, I spent the week in Disneyland celebrating my nephew’s 3rd birthday. It was a wonderful whirlwind of a trip! There was very little time for writing and thinking, but I did manage this short story written late at night with sore feet and a full heart. I hope you enjoyed it.

Photos/Bridgette White

Next Week’s Prompt

Prompt: A hike through the woods

Include: leprechaun, covert, fireball, snoop, wart, pity, backpack, practice, nausea, collar


My 52 Week Challenge Journey

52 Weeks – Week 10 – Ghost

Prompt: A ghost story

Include: tango, diversify, blog, invisible, missile, glitter, scuff, balloon, birdcage, grizzly bear 

Read Anna’s Week 10

The Water

Leo stumbles from bed on his first morning in the old farmhouse and finds the porcelain bathroom sinks, the claw-footed bathtub, and the toilets filled with water up to the brim. It feels as if the house has swelled during the night and absorbed all the water it could find. It makes him uneasy.

He wanders into the kitchen and plunges his hand into the sink. The icy cold water stings like bees attacking his skin and he fights the urge to yank it out. He fumbles for a minute until he finds the stopper, but when he pulls it up the water stays put as if held in place by an invisible hand. He jumps back, splashing the frosty water on his bare chest and belly. His uneasiness grows.

Leo gets dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, climbs into his new truck, and makes the thirty-minute drive into the town of Knotts. It’s the kind of small-town she always wanted to live in and he hopes it will be the perfect place for his recovery. It’s a quaint, quirky place his truck’s GPS doesn’t recognize; the line on the digital map looks like he’s driven into the middle of a field.

The town consists of a pair of long brick buildings facing each other across a two-lane road, a curving white archway with a flashing red light, and a three-pump gas station. Leo parks in the empty gravel lot behind the building which houses the bank, post office, and general store. He finds all three places closed. The red light reflecting off the dark windows feels ominous and he crosses the empty street at almost a run.

He walks past a rustic-looking bar, the smell of smoke and sour beer lingers around the doorway and he can see a ratty-looking pool table through the dark window. A feed store sits beside it, a line of hay leads from the double doors to the street. Both are closed, but the cafe has a flashing open sign, and Leo darts inside.

A metallic bird sound calls out as he opens the door and the owner appears from the back room singing a greeting in a high, loud voice.

“Welcome to Birdwatch Cafe,” she sings. “Where the early bird catches the worm.”

She giggles. Ornate metal birdcages with brightly colored stuffed birds line the walls and Leo feels their glassy black eyes watching him as he approaches the wide orange counter. The sound of tango music blares from a small neon green boombox he’s sure dates back to the 1980s.

The plump woman smiles at him with a curved nose and small eyes, a bit bird-like. Dressed in flowing colorful clothing, she wears a large peacock clip in her red curly hair and thick blue eyeshadow. He orders a black coffee and a fresh blueberry muffin and sits down at a round purple table near the front window. She plants herself across from him and leans forward.

“You’re new around here,” she says.

It’s not a question and he reads enough mystery novels to know small towns in the midwest are filled with gossipy folks like her. He smiles and tries his best to answer her questions in a way she won’t be likely to exaggerate when recounting it later. She fires them off, one after the other without much pause.

He moved from San Francisco into the old farmhouse on Route 22 to work on a novel. No, he’s not published anything she would have read. Yes, he found the place easy enough. No, he doesn’t plan on getting any animals or farming the land.

“Just you up there all alone, huh?”

She leans further forward with this question and presses the sides of her arms against her breasts to make them swell out the top of her now slightly pulled-down hot pink sweater. He can see her leopard print bra. Her question, a missile launched across the bow of the ship to signal her intent and to stake her claim, makes his cheeks burn and he looks at the floor.

“Yeah,” he says.

He considers lying or telling her about Cecilia, but instead, he stands, wipes crumbs off his pants, and tries to maneuver around her to the front door. She stands and faces him, and he feels obligated to speak.

“Do you know when the general store opens?” he asks.

“Jim should be there now,” she says. “You need to fix somethin’? Everything okay with the house?”

The way she looks at him implies more than a question, it’s as if she knows something about the water. He wants to ask her about it, but he’s anxious to be free of her piercing eyes and prying questions. She’s standing so close he can see freckles on her nose.

“No,” he says. “I just want to look around.”

He inches around her, but she sidesteps him so they remain facing each other.  Smiling, she pulls him into her, hugging his stiff body, his arms remaining fastened at his sides. She smells of baked goods and loose-leaf tea. The silent hug lasts forever, and when she releases him he staggers back.

“We are huggers ‘round here,” she says.

“Okay,” he says.

“Don’t be a stranger, now.”

She winks and his face flushes red, as red as the blinking light in the center of the road. He steps outside and wishes the weather was either hot or cold so his burning cheeks would make sense. There’s nobody on the street, but when he starts to cross a large man comes out of the store and leans against the doorframe.

The man seems to grow and grow as Leo gets closer until he’s looming in front of him, blocking the entire doorway. He’s a grizzly bear of a man, shockingly tall and wide-shouldered with unkempt dark brown hair and a thick beard obscuring all but his broad nose and his deep brown eyes. Without a word, he turns and disappears into the store with a sort of lumbering, limping walk.

Leo follows him inside and finds the store well-lit and crammed full of stuff. It seems determined to be the very definition of diversified goods. Shelves upon shelves lay packed with hardware, hunting gear, medicine, groceries, clothing, and small electronics. He’s surprised so much fits into such a small space. Leo finds the plungers and stands in front of them with his hands in his pockets.

“Can I help ya, fella?” Jim says.

Leo jumps and faces him. He feels like a startled rabbit and stammers a minute before finding his voice.

“I’ve got a problem with water,” he says.

“The old homestead off Route 22, eh?”

“Yeah…how did you know?”

“Follow me.”

He scuffs down the aisle, his left foot slightly deformed and tilted inward. When the man reaches the front counter he lowers himself onto a wooden stool with a gruff grunt.

“The name’s Jim,” he says. “But I reckon Tami told ya that. She loves to talk.”

Leo nods.

“There’s nothin’ wrong with the plumbing at the house boy,” he says. “I fixed it myself.”

Leo isn’t sure if he should tell him about all the water, but Jim continues before he can.

“I can’t tell ya why things happen there, they just do. You got to learn to live with it…” his voice trails off. He looks hard at Leo who takes a step back. “Or not. It’s your choice.”

Leo grabs a package of balloons and some gum by the register, pretending they are what he came for. Jim raises his eyebrows and smiles.

“On the house,” he says.

“Thanks.”

Leo shakes his head all the way to his truck, trying to rid himself of the feelings settling there. He blares 50s music and drives with his windows down singing along to “Blue Suede Shoes” and “Long Tall Sally.” When he arrives back at the farmhouse, the water is gone. Very well, he thinks. He sets to work unpacking and cleaning, determined to not let the water enter his mind again.

He’s unsuccessful. Leo thinks about the water all day. When he sits down to work on his novel he keeps returning to water; flowing prose spills from his fingertips and his main character finds himself floating down the river, dreaming of the ocean, and drinking gallons of water. He finally snaps his laptop shut and wanders his property until dark, looking for a creek or river. He finds neither.

Before bed Leo checks each faucet, turning them on and then off as tight as he can. Under layers of blankets in the cold house, he dreams of her. A mixture of truth and fiction; he dreams of the rocky cliff, the horrible roaring waters below, of her car falling and falling, of her hands clawing and clawing, of her last gasping breaths. Sharks tear the car to bits and feast on her body. He wakes in tears and cries out into the night.

“CiCi! Oh, CiCi! I’m so sorry. I’m so so sorry.”

She doesn’t respond. She never does. 

He rolls onto his side and his brain does its thing; spirling thoughts tumbling one after another, a terrible snowball effect of grief and regret. He should have gone to her sister’s birthday party with her. She hated driving at night. He wanted to work on his novel and she didn’t hold it against him. She never did. She encouraged him and kissed his head. She believed in him. He didn’t write. He’d spent the night staring at the blank screen, reading poetry blogs, then writing and rewriting the same sentence over and over. The words didn’t come. He couldn’t make them.

The driver of the semi-truck had been on the road for two days without stopping, trying to earn extra money to pay for his daughter’s wedding. He fell asleep, crashed into her tiny Prius, and pushed it off the cliff and into the sea. If he had been at the party they would have left earlier or later. She’d still be here. He didn’t even write.

His Cecilia. His beautiful, young wife. Gone. He wishes they’d have died together. The grief gnaws at his insides and he pulls the blankets over his head to try and stop the thoughts and the horrible lingering images from his nightmares. It doesn’t work. The knife in his gut twists and twists.

He rushes from bed to puke in the toilet—it’s full of water, so is the sink, the bathtub, and the cup he’d used to rinse out his mouth before bed. He rushes out the back door and pukes into a hydrangea bush. He drops to his knees and sobs, the big purple flowers watch him, glittery flecks of moonlight reflecting off his sickness.

When he can stand, he walks outside in his pajama and the cold night air makes him shiver. It’s been two years since her death, and yet it feels like two minutes. The grief feels as thick as ever. His therapist told him he needed a change of scenery and to start writing again, the project she believed in. He would dedicate his book to her, but first, he has to write it. He has to write the words stuck behind the grief, or maybe tangled up in it. He’s not sure he can.

Returning to the house he drapes a blanket around his shoulders and walks from room to room looking at the water, searching it for signs of CiCi’s face, for some sign she’s here with him. He wants so much to believe she’s here, but he feels nothing of her. It’s just water. She’s gone.

The next few days at the farmhouse were more or less the same, but eventually, Leo finds his own rhythm. Coffee and watering the flowers in the morning. Writing, or attempting to, from breakfast to late lunch. A long walk around the wild property in the early evening, followed by reading and a light dinner beside the fireplace until bedtime. Each night he crawls into bed and the nightmares come and each morning he wanders the house looking at the water.

Leo begins to leave out bowls, vases, and cups to test if they will be filled in the morning. They always are. No matter where he hides them or how small, come morning any empty vessel is filled to the brim with icy cold water. He vacillates between amusement and fear of the water, or more precisely, who gathers the water. It’s not his CiCi, but it is someone.

Three months after arriving, having made little progress on his now water-themed novel, Leo decides to pretend the water bringer is CiCi. He begins talking to her out loud.

“Hey CiCi, how’s it going? I can’t remember, do you like peach jam?”

It’s weird at first, his voice echoing in the empty rooms. However, the more he does it, the easier and more enjoyable it becomes. Soon it’s as if she’s with him all the time, beside him as he walks through his day. He narrates his daily tasks to her, talks out plot ideas for his book, and reads to her each night before bed. He picks her flowers from the garden and she fills the vases at night with fresh water.

He knows it’s weird, but he feels comfortable with his pretend CiCi, and she seems to feel the same. Sometimes he can feel her near him; a brush of air near his ear or the lingering smell of fresh lemons. It’s strange and soothing.

A year passes and he finishes his novel. He lights a roaring fire, drinks a bottle of wine, and reads it out loud in one sitting. It takes all night. He feels as drained and full as he can ever remember feeling in his life. 

He curls up on the floor and feels a shape beside him, a hand touching his cheek. He wants to recoil, but he doesn’t. He sits up and pulls the empty air in front of him to his chest, embraces, and let’s go. Tears fill his eyes.

“It’s time for you to move on, CiCi. You don’t belong here. I’ve loved our time together, but you have to go. It’s okay. I’ll be okay. You deserve to find happiness away from here. Go, sweet CiCi. Go.”

The words feel as if they’ve been pushed through him by some divine hand, soothing words of love speaking comfort to them both. A sense of calm surrounds him and he lays down and falls instantly asleep on the rug in front of the fire. When his dreams come, they are lovely.

***

Lucille doesn’t know why he loves her. He’d arrived one day and, unlike the others before him, he didn’t leave. He calls her CiCi, the name her father called her. She loves him.

She risked touching him tonight and he didn’t recoil, but it was the words he spoke she felt seeping into her body. She felt them like cool liquid spilling down her throat and she smiled.

She’d been thirsty for a long time. A hundred years maybe. The fever had ripped at her, burning her from the inside, and she couldn’t get enough to drink. Gallons of water sloshed around inside her, but nothing stopped the fire and the burning. Nothing until his words.

A brilliant white light fills the room and Lucille steps toward it without a backward glance.


Author’s note: I’m not one for ghost stories. I’m a scaredy-cat and I stray away from books, movies, or television shows which give my brain fresh imagery for nightmares. I made an exception with the Netflix shows “The Haunting of Hill House” and “The Haunting of Bly Manor.” Both are phenomenal and serve as my inspiration for this week’s story. I hope I didn’t borrow too much of the imagery from either, and that you enjoyed meeting Leo and Lucille.


Next Week’s Prompt

The main character thinks he or she is about to get fired

Include: magazine, blow-dryer, congeal, bluebell, cummerbund, wheelie bag, pastels, cheeseburger, binding, science


My 52 Week Challenge Journey

52 Weeks – Week 9 – Career Change

Prompt: A midlife career change

Include: chef, upgrade, monkey, turkey, fashion, team, harden, noon, elevator, baste

Read Anna’s Week 9

Returning Home

The handmaidens bathe me in rose water and sing songs to me of the setting sun. They dress me in layers of white undergarments followed by a soft yellow dress embroidered with white lilies. I slip a heavy gold serpent bracelet onto my right wrist and fasten an emerald teardrop necklace around my neck. My hair sits braided on top of my head, like a crown, with tiny dried star flowers and fresh roses.

None of the women of the court have come to see me off, but the house staff stands silently in the hallway bowing to me as I pass. Some have tears in their eyes. At the front door, an old woman from the kitchen presses a silver coin into my palm for good luck.

“May the moon and wind guide you always,” she says.

The doors open outward and I expect him to be waiting for me with a smile on his face, but instead, I’m greeted by two palace guards and a small team of horses ready to escort me away. I tell them I’d rather walk. They hand me a heavy wicker basket and leave in a cloud of dust.

The noonday sun burns bright as I walk unaccompanied through the ornate palace gates. I’d known all along it would end this way, but I’m struck by how strange and unreal it feels. We’ll never see nor touch each other again. I try to remember his parting words to me, but it’s like trying to remember the foggy wisps of a dream and I can’t solidify them into something tangible. I do remember we’d laughed.

Keeping my eyes downcast, I walk for hours through the twisting and noisy city streets, down the steep mountain road, and through the peaceful farms of the valley. I eventually turn onto the well-worn dirt path leading toward the woodlands and the rushing river—towards home.

The further I walk, the more I feel a loosening of the ropes tying me to him and his bed. The gold-sealed letter arrived late last night filled with flowery goodbyes and pleas for forgiveness. I burned it in the fireplace and climbed into our bed searching everything for his scent. I’d slept late and lingered hoping he’d come home and tell me he’d made a terrible mistake. He did not.

My feet hurt. The stiff leather sandals, fashionable in the court, aren’t good for walking. I sit on a moss-covered log to remove them and see three young children playing Monkey in the Middle with a rock at the edge of the woods. They don’t look at me and it’s freeing. I realize I’ve been holding myself in the upright way I had to amongst the ladies of the court, but I don’t have to anymore.

I dig my toes into the squishy ground before leaping into a run. My body responds with all the sensations I’ve missed—the quickened breath, the tightening and contracting of my leg muscles, and the thunderous pounding of my heart. The heavy basket on my arm slams repeatedly into the side of my leg, but I’m overcome with joy. I’d forgotten the wildness inside me and I roar as I run faster and faster.

My feet slip in a patch of slick mud and I fall flat on my back with a jarring thud. I lay looking up at the clear blue sky catching my breath, feeling cold and alive. My basket lies beside me in a patch of green clovers dotted with tiny delicate yellow flowers. I pick a few and press them to my nose, remembering the elaborate bouquets I’d seen in the inner chambers of the palace women.

They’d all been so kind to me, even the Goddesses with their striking beauty and regal ease. They’d dress me in their most alluring gowns and would confide in me intimate secrets and family gossip. I’d been a plaything to them, lusted after and treasured, but I’d also been a friend. It hurts that they didn’t come to say goodbye, but perhaps it is for the best. I don’t know what we’d say.

Gathering up the heavy basket, I notice my dress and legs are now streaked with thick, reddish mud. I walk toward the sound of the rushing river, the lifeblood of my family. Its icy waters are fast running this time of year, so I walk until I find a calm inlet to wash myself. I wade slowly into the cold water and rub my dress in my hands trying to remove the dirt before it has a chance to harden.

“Cal!”

Nobody has called me by my childhood name for so long it takes me a moment to realize the person coming along the riverbank is calling to me.

“Cal! Is that you? Cal!”

A broad-shouldered boy with thick curly brown hair rushes into the water, picks me up, and spins me in a circle. He plants kisses on my cheeks and head. I pull his scruffy beard and giggle.

“Timothy! Is it really you?”

“I was about to say the same thing about you! Does this mean we have you back?”

“Yes!”

“Mother will be beside herself and you won’t recognize Maple. Wasn’t she a baby when you left?”

“Barely three days old…”

“She’s going to flip out when she meets you. She’s quite jealous of you, you know.”

I wonder what they’ve told my little sister of my alluring beauty. The story of how, when he saw me fishing along the shore with my father, he’d leaped from his riverboat and swam to me. How he claimed my green eyes and silky hair had transformed him into a foamy sea monster who would die without my touch. A far-fetched claim my parents had found ridiculous and insulting.

They’d tried to reason with him but, in the end, he’d won them over with his sultry charm and enchanting dark eyes. I’d left immediately, too excited and young to feel the enormity of what was happening. His words and his hands were the only things I could think of. I’ve spent Maple’s entire childhood drinking wine, eating elaborate feasts, and being the plaything of a God. I’ve barely thought of her, and the realization makes my stomach hurt and my face burn.

Timothy pulls me to him in a tight embrace. I’d forgotten how it feels to be held by my loving brother and I sink into his warmth for a long time, allowing the tears I’ve held in to flow into his chest. He rocks me back and forth.

“I’ve missed you,” he says over and over.

I don’t know what to say, so I say nothing.

He carries the basket in one hand and holds my other hand firmly as if I might drift away. We used to be close, my brother and I. He’d been my protector and best friend. For the first time since I’d left home, I consider what life has been like for him without me and I feel a crushing sense of guilt and shame. I push it away with an uncomfortable laugh. He taught me how to do that.

Our fishing hut sits along a sunny riverbank surrounded by spindly green trees and large colorful rocks. Raised onto tall wooden planks to avoid the floodwaters, our home has always reminded me of a fat wooden spider. It’s early evening and a thick plume of smoke puffs out the narrow brick chimney—like clumpy white spiderwebs. As we enter the yard the smell of fish stew makes my belly rumble. An intense longing and ache rises within me and I wipe tears from my eyes, lean on Timothy’s arm, and laugh.

“Guess who I found?” Timothy calls as we walk up the steep ramp.

My mother stands at the cookstove stirring soup with a large wooden spoon while a young girl with thick brown braids holds a stack of wooden bowls ready to set the table. My father sits in the corner working on one of his many fishing poles, restringing wire, and preparing for tomorrow’s work. When they spot me, my parents throw down their tasks and rush to me.

“My Calla Lily,” my mother says. “You’ve returned to us! My sweet, sweet Cal.”

She looks the same and it makes my heart sing. My father pushes my mother to the side and pulls me into his warm embrace. He smells of fish and the river and home.

“We’ve missed you around here,” my father says. “Your brother isn’t half the fisherman you are.”

“Thanks, dad,” Timothy says with a laugh from the stove where he’s taken up stirring the pot.

Maple sets down her stacks of bowls and walks toward me. She has my eyes and Timothy’s wild hair. We stare at each other for a moment and then she leaps into my arms. I plant kisses on her head and we spin around and around until my mother pulls us apart and demands we all eat before the soup gets cold.

We eat a family dinner at the small round table, talking in a rush, filling in the gaps of our time apart. My mother’s stew makes my body feel settled and calm. When the table has been cleared, I bring the wicker basket into the room and pull the items out one by one to be examined; delicately embroidered handkerchiefs, fine jewelry, gold coins, and my favorite honey buns from the old pastry chef. 

My sister cries with excitement over each item, but my parents and brother are far more reserved. I’m sure they don’t think this small amount of treasure makes up for losing me for five years. I should have brought more. He’d said I could have whatever I wanted, but none of this stuff matters.

“It’s time for bed, little missy,” my mother says.

Maple argues, but then agrees when I offer to tuck her into bed and lay with her. The loft used to be mine and I cuddle under the familiar patchwork quilt and pull her close to me. She smells of river water and dirt. I spin a strand of her wild curls with my index finger and feel her vibrating with energy and questions.

“What was your bed like in the palace?” she whispers.

“Large and filled with piles of soft pillows and more blankets than you could imagine. I’d get lost in the covers.”

She giggles. I’d get lost with him, I think. He’d had a way of making days pass in a moment.

“What did you eat in the palace? Fish?”

“Sometimes, but we had all kinds of food. My favorite was wild turkey basted in plum sauce served with mashed turnips. Oh, and of course the desserts! They’d have piles of them each night and I’d eat so much I’d barely be able to walk to bed.”

He’d carry me out sometimes on his back as if we were children playing horses. Galloping and snorting we’d pass his horrified father and brother who’d scowl with great disapproval. They didn’t share his sense of playfulness and he delighted in torturing them.

Maple runs her fingers over my necklace and dress.

“Did you have lots of pretty dresses?”

“I had a wardrobe of the latest fashion of the court. It took several women to dress me each day in layers upon layers of silk, velvet, cotton, and wool. The corsets were made of whale bones and would make it nearly impossible to take a deep breath. I wore jewels so heavy I couldn’t bend down for fear I’d fall over.”

“That’s silly!”

“Do you want to hear something far more silly?”

“Yes!”

“The men wore fancy clothes too. Some of them wore elevator shoes designed to make them appear taller and more important. They would make a terrible clomping sound when they walked into the great hall and I’d have to cover my mouth so they’d not see me laughing.”

Maple lets out a huge laugh and I join her.

“That’s enough girls,” my mother calls from below. “It’s getting late.”

Maple giggles and rolls on her side. I rub her back and sing her a lullaby about the moon and wonder if my mother still sings it when she bakes bread. I want to ask Maple, but she’s already breathing heavily.

I wait a long time until I’m sure the others have gone to bed before leaving the loft and slipping outside into the cool night air. Moonlight bounces off the rushing water and I walk along the rocky edge listening to the sounds of my home. I’d nearly forgotten how wonderful it feels to be alone outdoors. I undo my hair and let the flowers fall into the dark water.

I’m Cal again, the girl with the freckles on her nose who fished in the river with her father and could outrace anyone.

I find my favorite stone which juts out over the river and l lay on its cold flat surface. My body shivers and I sniff my arms and hair, searching for any lingering scent of him. He’d called me Lily, not Cal or Calla Lily. I’d been his plaything and he’d made me laugh harder than I thought I could. Forever scheming, playing, teasing, and pleasuring, he was mine for a time, my own God to hold and touch.

He’d made me love my body, kissing and praising each part of it with elaborate speeches and endless poetry. We’d shared our bed with others, but it was me he’d return to over and over. Our bodies fit perfectly and I’d never tire of hearing him talk.

He’d let his mask fall last week and I’d held him as he wept in my lap like a small child. I knew as I stroked his hair and his tears soaked my nightgown—it was the end. The God of Mischief, the trickster, the magician with the lightness of a thousand suns; he can’t allow anyone to truly see him.

He’ll have another in his bed by now, an upgraded version of me, younger and eager to please him. I run my hands along my body and know I’ll remember the tenderness and love he’d bestowed upon me for the rest of my life. He will remember it too.

Tomorrow I’ll wake before the sun and find my old overalls and fishing pole. Following my father and brother to the water’s edge, I’ll return to the life I had before. The time I’d spent in the palace will fade until it’s a distant memory, and my life will become as ordinary and beautiful as the river.

Pulling up the right sleeve of my dress I look at the marking on the inner part of my arm, tattooed into my skin by him in the dead of night with a sharp needle and black ink. He told me it would protect me for all eternity. I trace it with my finger and smile.

 I’ll forever remain Loki’s girl.


Author’s note: I’m currently reading “The Silence of the Girls” by Pat Barker, the story of a Trojan princess who becomes the war prize of the Greek half-god Achilles. As I went through the possible ideas for this week’s prompt I kept returning to the idea of a woman’s career change being something out of her control. I considered a mother turning to crime to care for her children after falling ill, a sort of female-centered Breaking Bad. As I began to write, however, the idea of using my love of Norse Mythology merged with the prompt and we get this tale of Calla Lily and Loki.

My NaNoWriMo project two years ago was a middle-school adventure novel featuring a fictional daughter of Thor I’d called Thorn. It was based on a game my daughter used to play when she was younger, a sort of coming-of-age tale of a girl who wants to break free of her expected role. I’d love to revisit the tale soon and perhaps turn it into a series of books for young girls.


Next week’s prompt: Week 10

Prompt: A ghost story

Include: tango, diversify, blog, invisible, missile, glitter, scuff, balloon, birdcage, grizzly bear


My 52 Week Challenge Journey

52 Weeks – Week 3 – Fairy tales

Mash-up two classic fairy tales into one story

Include: fireplace, sword, grove, stroke, underbrush, mourn, seven, friendship, cardboard, giver

What is 52 weeks?

Read Anna’s Week 3 (my faithful writing partner)

It Bearly Fits

“What a waste of time,” Bruce says to nobody in particular. “I knew it wouldn’t fit any of those twelve silly sisters. I feel bad for their poor father with all of them talking at once and dancing everywhere. Such a nightmare.”

Prince Charming nods but says nothing. He holds his head high, mounts his pure white stallion, and kicks him forward with boots of shiny black leather. Bruce watches him for a moment, taking in his blonde curls, his golden crown of ivy, his white riding pants, and his blue velvet jacket. He looks like a boy playing a game, not a grown man who will be crowned King.

Bruce has been the valet and personal assistant to Prince Charming since he was seven. When he’d met the small, pale boy, his nanny had quit and his father wanted him to have a male attendant. Bruce thought it would be an easy job. He was happy to move out of his rundown shack, wear nice clothes, eat three meals a day, and live in the gleaming white palace.

He had no idea how difficult the job would be. At first, the young boy would run from him and hide all over the palace. He’d jump out and scare the maids, break things and run, or leave the palace grounds and roam the nearby villages. Each time the prince got into trouble, it was Bruce who faced the consequences. He soon learned his real job was covering up the prince’s actions and hiding them from the King. Not an easy job at all.

When he was 8, Prince Charming became obsessed with a white lamb in the stables. He named it Weatherby and spent all his time carrying it around. The King had a strict no-animal policy in the palace, but the prince insisted on sneaking it inside and feeding it food he swiped from the cook. Each night, Bruce would remove the lamb from the prince’s arms and return it to the stables, and each morning he’d find it curled up sleeping on the prince’s pillow. Bruce would smuggle it back outside in his jacket before it could be discovered, leaving him smelling like an animal for the rest of the day.

When he was 10, Prince Charming decided he wanted to become a knight. Bruce would find him pulling a heavy sword down a hallway or practicing archery by shooting the King’s prized pumpkins. Once he snuck out at night and tried to join the watchmen, wearing one of their uniforms he’d swiped from the laundress. Bruce had to follow him everywhere, making sure he didn’t hurt himself or others.

As the prince grew, he showed less and less interest in playing games or sneaking around. Instead, he grew sullen and serious. He’d walk around the gardens with his head hung low, refusing to do his lessons or practice his swordsmanship. Bruce became more of a friend and mentor, encouraging the young prince to prepare himself for the day he would become King. They’d spend hours together reading, talking and Bruce grew quite fond of the prince.

On the prince’s 16th birthday, a caravan arrived from the Eastern Kingdom bringing with it an auburn-haired girl wearing a flowing dress of bight pink. Her name was Princess Papillon and she was presented to the prince as his betrothed, an arrangement made when he was a baby to brokerage peace. He knew nothing about the deal, and neither did Bruce. It felt like a cruel birthday joke, and the prince was furious. He refused to have anything to do with her, even if she was incredibly beautiful.

“She’s a pink pampered poodle of a person,” he’d screamed loud enough for the entire palace to hear.

Bruce knew the prince’s anger was about being told who he had to marry, rather than towards the girl herself. However, the statement caused a great rift between the two kingdoms. It almost ended in war. Lucky for all involved, the King was a powerful negotiator and, after many days of heated discussion, he was able to negotiate a peace treaty involving trade benefits in the Eastern Kingdom’s favor.

The moment the delegation left, the King rounded on Prince Charming. They had a terrible fight, and the prince said he would rather give up his title than marry any woman his father chose for him. As the prince is the sole heir to the throne, a compromise had to be found. 

The “Who Wants to be the Queen?” ball held last night was the compromise. The King invited every girl in the kingdom, including princesses from far and wide, and the prince agreed to pick one to be his future queen. It was an elaborate evening with the finest of everything; food, clothing, decorations, and musicians. Bruce got quite drunk and figured the evening would end with the prince happy and content, but things got strange.

The mysterious girl the prince spent the evening dancing with, a stunning girl with golden hair and sparkling bright eyes, suddenly dashed out of the palace at midnight leaving behind her glass slipper on the grand staircase. Prince Charming, devastated and heartsick, organized a quest at once. Bruce, as his right-hand man, had spent the last six hours knocking on doors and shoving the slipper on the sweaty foot of more girls than he can count. It’s been exhausting, demeaning and rather depressing to see the Prince acting so lovesick.

It takes several soldiers to hoist Bruce back on his horse, a brown filly with a gut as round as his own. Both Bruce and the horse grunt, the horse from carrying his weight, and Bruce weary from lack of sleep and a night of excess food and drink, even for Bruce. A soldier hands him the golden basket containing the slipper, and he considers, for about the hundredth time, dropping it on the forest floor and watching it shatter. Instead, he kicks his horse forward until he’s beside Prince Charming.

“Sire,” Bruce tries. “I know I’ve said this already, but I wish you’d reconsider. This girl should be coming to you, not the other way around. You should not have to track her down. You are going to be King. It’s unbecoming.”

Prince Charming’s hand rests on the hilt of his sword, but he says nothing. Bruce pulls on the reins, and his horse slows. They ride in silence, surrounded by a dozen soldiers and pages, toward the next house on the search. Bruce knows when the prince has his mindset and there’s nothing he can say or do to change it.

Everyone at the ball agreed, the girl had the glow of magic about her. Bruce worries she may have been an enchantress who has bewitched the young prince. Her quick disappearance, the one glass slipper, and his complete and utter obsession with her all points to sorcery. He’d tried to get an audience with the King to share this opinion, but he would not grant one. As usual, the King wants results and doesn’t care how they happen. While the King’s focused on securing his legacy by having the prince married, Bruce wants the prince to be happy.

A family of rabbits dart from the underbrush, scaring the horses who whinny and jerk to a stop. Bruce loses his grip on the basket, and it tumbles from his hands. A freckled-face young page dives off his horse and catches the basket before it hits the ground. He stands, several fresh cuts on his cheek and arm, and bows before Bruce.

“I saved it,” he says.

“So you did,” says Bruce.

Prince Charming gives the young boy a nod, and he beams. He will be telling this story to his family for years to come, the day he saved the glass slipper for the prince. He limps over to his small horse and remounts. The other pages give him encouraging smiles, but Bruce scowls. This was so close to being over.

They’ve been riding in the direct sunlight for an hour and Bruce feels weak and light-headed. He clutches the basket with one hand and wipes sweat from his eyes with the other. He sighs with relief when they turn off the main road and enter a dense grove of tall redwood trees.

The path here’s a bit overgrown, and he considers catching up to Prince Charming to suggest they return to the road when a small two-story cottage comes into view. It’s made of wood and thatch, with a pattern like a stacked deck of cards, boards of varying dark and white wood. There’s a kind of wildness about the place, and it makes the hairs on Bruce’s arms stand on end.

Prince Charming dismounts and waits with his hands on his hips for Bruce. It’s a bit of a process to get the chubby man off his horse, and it involves several guards and a fair amount of moaning. Stiffly, he carries the basket and meets the prince at the door.

“This could be the place,” the prince says. “I can feel it. We are getting nearer to her.”

“Sure,” Bruce says.

Prince Charming grabs him by his shoulders and spins him so they are facing each other. There’s a look of manic love in those baby blue eyes, a sort of desperate hopefulness Bruce can’t ignore. For a moment he forgets his pains and wishes happiness for the young prince.

“We will find her,” he says.

“Your friendship means the world to me. I can’t imagine doing this without you.”

“There’s no place I’d rather be.”

He’s surprised he means it and hopes the owner of the slipper loves Prince Charming and isn’t an evil enchantress. He gestures for the royal horns to be blown and knocks on the door. It’s a few minutes before a high voice can be heard through the heavy wood.

“Who’s there?”

“Open the door,” Bruce yells. “Prince Charming has arrived and demands an audience with you at once.”

“Seems a bit harsh,” the prince whispers.

Bruce agrees, but it’s the first time he’s had to answer such a question. Each house before had thrown open its doors when they heard the horse hooves on the road. All had laid out elaborate settings of food and wine. Bruce had eaten and drank more than he could handle, but he was taken back by this house’s lack of pomp.

The door opens with a creak, and they are face to face with a young girl dressed in a strange costume. She’s wearing large round glasses, far too big for her face, making her eyes appear as two giant saucers of blueberry jam. An oversized pink-flowered bonnet covers her hair, ears, and forehead. Wrapped around her body, held closed by a rather dirty hand, is a tattered quilt of brown and green squares with a noticeable amount of brown fur clinging to it.

She blinks and yawns. It’s clear they have woken her up, even though it’s getting close to lunchtime. She shifts and it looks like she might close the door in their faces.

“What’s going on?” she says.

There’s no mistaking the grumpiness in her voice, and the prince takes a step back. She scowls and for a second, Bruce worries she may attack them. Perhaps she’s a wild child living alone in the woods. He takes a protective step in front of the prince.

“Are you the only one home?” Bruce asks.

He tries to peer behind the girl, but she’s blocking the doorway. She lowers the glasses from her nose and gives them a good look, up and down. Her gaze stops on the prince’s crown, and her face transforms. She gives them a huge smile of brilliantly white teeth, and her voice becomes sugary sweet. 

“Wait a second. Did you say he was a prince? Like The Prince Charming?”

“Yes,” Bruce says.

The girl giggles, her cheeks turning instantly pink. She bows, bending her body so her nose touches the floor. The pink bonnet falls from her head revealing an abundance of shiny blonde ringlets. She stands and removes the oversized glasses, but her blue eyes remain large and bright. She throws the quilt to the floor and bounces on her heels.

“A prince has come to see me,” she says. “It’s my lucky day!”

She does a sort of elaborate curtsey, with one knee almost touching the floor and one leg pulled far behind her. Her dress, soft blue checkered with a fluffy white petticoat underneath, has splotches of porridge all down the front. She doesn’t seem to notice though, beaming at the prince.

“Oh, you’ve caught me at a bad time,” she says, grabbing his hand and pulling him forward. “I’m usually much more bubbly. Please, come in and join me by the fireplace.”

The prince doesn’t move, so she yanks his arm. The guards press forward, but he waves them away.

“Come on,” she says.

He allows her to pull him into the dark cottage. Letting go of his hand, she chucks large pieces of wood in the direction of the fireplace but misses terribly. She knocks over a table, a beautiful yellow-flowered lamp smashes onto the floor.

“Oops!“ she says.

The cottage has the look of a bar after a huge fight. The kitchen table has one empty wooden bowl set in the center, but two others sit on the floor, the sticky contents of uneaten porridge pooling around them. By the fireplace, a large and medium-sized chair are knocked over and covered with dirty shoe marks. A small wooden chair has been smashed to pieces. The girl picks up a splintered leg, breaking it free with a loud snapping sound, and adds it to the wood she’s stacked in and around the fireplace.

“We don’t need a fire,” Bruce says.

“Oh,” the girl says.

“What’s your name?” the prince says.  

“Oh, silly me. I didn’t tell you! Why I’m Goldilocks! You know, the girl with the beautiful hair. Everyone knows me.”

“I don’t know you,” Bruce says.

“Don’t be silly,” the prince says and gives Bruce a reproaching look. “Goldilocks. Of course, we know you. It’s a pleasure to see you again.”

He holds out his hand and she shakes it up and down so vigorously the crown on his head slips to the side. He removes his hand, wiping the sticky remnants of dried porridge on the back of Bruce’s shirt, and straightens his crown.

“We are sorry to intrude,” Bruce says. “Thanks for letting us in, but we better get moving.”

Bruce thought, for sure, the prince would agree to skip the foot of this very odd child, but the prince scowls at Bruce, and returns his attention to Goldilocks. He gives her a little bow, which causes her to giggle madly and blush.

“We are traveling throughout the kingdom today in search of a girl who was at the ball last night,” the prince says. “She left her glass slipper and we are trying to return it.”

Goldilocks smiles and, for the first time, she notices the basket in Bruce’s hands. She reaches forward to stroke it, but he steps back before she can. Her hands twitch, and for a moment, he can see a bit of anger in her blue eyes. She composes herself and walks into the kitchen.

“There’s a chair in here,” she calls.

Bruce sees her grab an object off the counter and slip it behind her back. He sighs. He didn’t know how many young ladies in this land could be sneaky and dishonest. Many, including this young girl, didn’t even attend the ball. Yet, he knows how important this quest and the ritual have become to the prince.

“I’m waiting,” Goldilocks calls in a sing-song voice.

Bruce and the prince follow Goldilocks to the kitchen. She’s sitting on a large wooden chair, her small bare feet dangling in front of her. Bruce hands the basket to the prince and lowers himself into a kneeling position. His joints creak and he feels a sharp stabbing pain in his lower back. He’s too old and too fat for this nonsense. He clears his throat, and begins the ceremony, exactly as he’s done each time.

“Goldilocks, please present your foot,” he says.

The girl wiggles her toes and giggles. He grabs the foot in his hand, it’s warm, covered in dirt, and smells faintly of bread.

“The glass slipper,” Bruce says.

The prince takes it out with two hands and closes his eyes. 

“Oh, sweet giver of the beautiful slipper, I will find thee,” he thinks. “I won’t rest until you are in my arms again.”

He can feel her energy attached to the glass slipper, and while he knows it’s not the girl before him now, he feels a certain reverence for the process. It’s practice for when he finds her. He wants the moment to be perfect.

“Last night the most…”

Goldilocks doesn’t wait for the prince’s speech, but instead yanks the slipper from his hand and spins around in the large chair with it held to her chest. The prince screams and lunges for her, knocking Bruce from his kneeled position to his butt. Goldilocks hops onto the table, turns her back to them, and slips it onto her left foot.

“It fits!” she yells. “Look at me! I’m the Princess! I’m the Princess!”

She dances across the table, the glass slipper tapping, her barefoot slapping. Tap. Slap. Tap. Slap. The prince feels light-headed and staggers back until he’s leaning against the kitchen sink. Bruce tries to get up but falls onto his back like a turtle. The soldiers look confused, and sort of shuffle around the room.

The front door swings open with a growl, and a family of three bears stomp in; a father bear, a mother bear, and a wee baby bear. They are dressed in fine clothing and holding baskets of fresh-picked blueberries. They scan the room with wide eyes, taking in the terrible mess, the dancing girl, the prince, Bruce, and the soldiers.

They all three growl, a low rumbling sound, and the soldiers move toward the prince.

“My bonnet,” Mother bear says.

“My glasses,” Father bear says.

“My blankie,” Baby bear says.

Goldilocks continues her slap, tap dance on the table, oblivious to the scene unfolding around her. The soldiers help Bruce to his feet and form a huddle around him and the prince. They watch as the bears walk around the room, pointing out broken items to each other, getting more and more upset.

“My chair’s covered in shoe prints,” father bear says.

“My chair’s torn and filthy,” mother bear says.

“My chair’s broken,” baby bear wails.

Father bear growls. Mother bear growls. Baby bear wails. They stalk toward the prince and Bruce, the soldiers form an even tighter circle around them. The bears look from the group of men to the dancing girl, and back.

“Who did this?” Father bear growls. 

The hair on the back of his neck stands on end as he notices the spilled bowls of porridge on the ground. The prince peeks through the wall of soldiers and points at Goldilocks.

“She stole my glass slipper too,” he says.

Father bear growls. Mother bear growls. Baby bear growls. 

The prince, Bruce, and the soldiers turn away.

Slap. Tap. Slap. Tap.

“I’m the princess!”

There’s a loud roaring, followed by ripping and tearing. The men cover their ears and inch as one group across the room and out the front door. A few moments later the door opens behind them and the three bears emerge. 

Father bears mouth drips red.

Mother bears mouth drips red. 

Baby bears mouth drips red.

“Here,” baby bear says in a wee voice.

He holds the now ruby red glass slipper in his small paws. It’s unbroken, and they can see a large piece of bread shoved in the toe. The prince takes the slipper with shaking hands.

“Thank you,” the prince says.

The bears say nothing, returning to the house and slamming the heavy door behind them. A page removes the bread and uses water and a cloth to clean the glass slipper, polishing it and polishing it until it’s returned to its former beauty. It’s placed back into the golden basket, everyone mounts their horses, and they continue on their quest.

Not one of them, not even the freckled-faced page, pauses to mourn the death of Goldilocks.

Author’s note: My favorite part of motherhood has been reading to my children. I’ve read them all the classic fairy tales, as well as hundreds of picture books and chapter books. This prompt had me spinning in lots of directions for several days, until I happened to be eating oatmeal for breakfast and the image of Prince Charming and a bloody shoe came to me. I had so much fun writing this short story, and I sure hope you enjoyed reading it.

My little Prince Charming and his butterfly princess sister.

Next week’s prompt: Week 4

A missionary in a remote village

Include: orchestra, finch, aim, development, ex, bold, old-fashioned, gut, brassy, sharp