Poetry: Grandma Kate

I was far too small 
to reach the dusty glass 
jars stacked on the wooden 
shelves of your garage. I’d
skate by wondering what orange

or yellow or green meant
and if you’d teach me
your secrets. I outgrew wanting
to know before your mind
forgot all the things—including 

me. It’s been 17 years 
since you left without meeting
your great-grandchildren and now
I wonder if my persimmon
jam would fit beside yours.


Poetry: Frosty

Crystalized tears form soft
uneven lines around youthful
forgiving skin. Bright veins 
turn brittle, trapped beneath 
unspoken truths—too many

days passed under harsh
sunlight. Hollow flowery voices
drowned out by chickadee
songs erupt into icy
frozen maps leading lost

souls nowhere. Glowing warmth
melts away glassy biting
shards—pieces of us
grown frigid. Numbed by
quiet moonless nights, we’ve

wilted.

Full Moon Harvest | A Short Story

Laying on my side under a fluffy blanket, I stare at the tiny blue flowers embroidered on the white curtains trying to picture the face of the woman who stitched them. Father says she had straight honey-brown hair like mine with eyes as dark green as the spiky holly leaves growing behind our house. I don’t remember her at all.

What I do remember is the blood, red as the poisonous round berries, pooled around her body at the base of the towering willow tree. The bright, white moon reflected in the thick red liquid. The terrible swishing sound of the feathers.

It was an accident. Nobody knows why she left 3-year-old me sitting beside an empty wicker basket to climb the old twisty branches, but she did. She fell to the ground and it was hours before my father returned from working in the fields and found us. I was sitting silently beside the basket with the barn cat on my lap.

I lightly touch the three round scars on my left arm where the crow dug its talons into my soft skin. I wonder why I can’t remember her face but I can remember its oily black feathers were tinged with a hint of blue.

“Ayla, are you still awake?”

Father’s at my door so I close my eyes tight and don’t move. He wants to talk about me returning to school, but I can’t bear to face the guilt and shame in his deep, brown eyes. He thinks he failed me, but the truth is I’ve failed him.

He grabs my foot with his warm hand, giving it a gentle shake. Part of me wants to roll over and tell him everything, but it feels as if an enormous dam has been built around my heart and the truth would burst it open. My father doesn’t deserve the tidal wave of pain it would cause him, so I stay as still as I can.

Letting go of my foot, he moves around the room, trying to be quiet but the tiny glass perfume bottles on my dresser clink together as he opens and closes each wooden drawer. He slides a few books out of the bookshelf, ruffles the pages, and slides them back. He’s always searching my room for hints at what has changed between us, but it’s not an object to be discovered.

He moves to the window and I peek out from my blankets, taking in his broad shoulders and long greying hair pulled back with a light brown leather cord. He’s still in his faded blue bib overalls, the ones he wears every day for working on the farm. I wish I could reach around and grab the treasures out of the big front pocket like I did when I was little. 

I used to lay the items out across my bedspread and touch each one as if they belonged in a museum. The well-worn and super soft red paisley handkerchief—more pink than red these days. The round silver watch his father gave him when he inherited the family farm a few years before I was born. My mother’s golden wedding ring slipped off her finger before she was buried in the cemetery right outside of town.

He turns around and I catch a brief glimpse of his round belly and his bushy grey beard before shutting my eyes tight again. He kisses my forehead and I smell the lingering woodsy vanilla scent of the pipe he smokes every night on the porch before bed. My uncles join him, and on nights when the work hasn’t been too brutal, they all bring out their guitars and we sing together. It hasn’t happened in a while though. It’s been a rough harvest.

When father reaches the door I hear a gasping, choking sound I know means he’s about to cry. He shuts the door tightly before the sobs fully form and I wonder if he’s thinking about my mother or me. Either way, it breaks me and my eyes burn hot with tears. I hate the way things are.

Three months ago I turned 13 and the strangeness started. I’d shove it all back if I could, but once you learn a thing it’s impossible to not know it. Although the sneaking and lies are temporary, it makes me feel horrible. Tonight I hope it will be the last time I sneak out. One last full moon harvest alone at the willow tree. 

I’ve been laying fully dressed under the covers since nightfall, but everyone is up late because of the chaos caused today by my dad’s youngest brother. He likes to invent new ways to speed along the process of the harvest, and today he hooked up our old plow horse Checker to a new pulley system for shaking the almond trees. It didn’t work.

Checker got one of his legs tangled terribly in a rope and pulled it until the metal snapped. It spooked him so bad he ran far out into the wheat fields causing my father to lose several hours of work retrieving him. Although Checker only has a few cuts on his legs and chest, my father was terribly upset. I heard him punch the couch pillow when he came in for dinner, a rare outburst for him.

The farm isn’t doing well. I hear snippets of anxious conversations when my father and uncles don’t think I can hear them. They’ve discussed selling off parts of the land, but none of them want to lose any of the property their father and grandfather farmed. I wish I could help, but I’m afraid my problems only complicate matters. I’m a distraction.

Framed by wispy dark clouds, I stare at the large white moon outside and the calling inside me swells and grows until it’s almost a wail. I try to picture my mother’s face and how her lips would look making such a sound. No. All I see is bright red blood and blue-black feathers. Her face remains below the rippling waves, a blurry almost-image. I twist my blankets and wipe my tears onto my pillow.

The one face I can see clearly is Penelope, with her tiny upturned nose and bright pink cheeks. She’s the one who decided I was an outcast at school and spread the rumors about me kissing every boy in town. Penelope with the bright shiny golden hair. Penelope with the pretty homemade dresses and colorful satin ribbons. Penelope with a sharp tongue and mocking laugh.

I jump out of bed to stop myself from thinking of her hurtful words and walk quietly to the window. Pulling it open slowly, I lean out so I can peek at the porch to see if anyone is still sitting in the wooden rocking chairs. It’s empty. 

Throwing my legs over the window ledge, I drop to the ground and pull my grey work boots and a small wicker basket out from where I stashed them in the bushes. I slip on my boots, pull up the hood of my faded red jacket, grasp the basket handle tight, and take off at a run.

The farm looks different at night. All the noise, the sharp edges and straight lines, fade into a blanket of muted softness in the silvery light. I run past the large barn filled with sleeping animals, the row of hulking metal plows, and into the almond orchard. Twinkling stars dance amongst the rows of trees hidden occasionally by dark fast moving clouds.

Low grumbling voices call in the dark around me in a language I don’t understand and I spin in circles trying to see them. They are too quick. I feel their eyes watching me and it brings with it the familiar fluttering of fear in my chest. 

Can I trust them? Just because they call me to the place my mother died doesn’t mean they know anything about her. Hope feels dangerous, but I have it anyway. It’s sugary and heavy, thick like honey. I stop running and slowly walk.

At the end of the orchard, the shadow of the willow tree waits for me—a twisting dark shape reaching out with sharp leafy fingers. With even slower steps, I approach the massive gloomy tree and slip under its long hanging branches. The voices follow me, surrounding me on all sides.

Slanted beams of moonlight illuminate them as they come—tiny lunar spotlights. They climb out of the branches above me, tunnel in from the ground below, and walk out of the shadows. Little dark hairless men no bigger than my hand. Made of dirt and roots they have tiny, watery black eyes and huge flat feet. In an instant, their voices go silent.

Each carries an acorn out in front of them with both hands. Taking turns, one at a time, they run forward and throw it into the basket. The small, oblong nuts make a soft thunk as they hit each other. I watch the tiny men, searching their blank faces for answers, but they give me none. They seem content with completing this harvest ritual—giving me a gift I have no idea what to do with.

On the first full moon I heard the voices and followed them to the willow tree. I screamed when the little men appeared. They threw acorns at me as I ran away, pelting me softly on my back. The next day I searched the space under the tree and found no little footprints or acorns—nothing to prove it had happened at all. They didn’t call for me again for an entire month and I decided it had been a very vivid dream.

The second full moon when I heard the voices I grabbed a basket for the acorns. I sat perfectly still as they filled it, exactly like I’m doing right now. When it was complete, they stood around me waiting for me to do or say something. I froze. It felt too unreal, too terrifying, and so I did nothing at all.

Minutes stretched into hours and eventually I must have fallen asleep. I woke up the next morning in my bed with no memory of walking home. I ran straight to the willow tree and found the basket exactly where I left it. The acorns were gone, but I at least had some proof it had been real.

My mind cloudy and jumbled and my vision blurry, I try to count the little creatures as they slink forward, throwing their acorns into my basket. All I can focus on is the soft thud of the nuts hitting each other. After a few minutes, it occurs to me it’s rhythmic—almost a song. Am I missing a message? I listen harder.

The last little man throws his acorn into the basket and steps into the shadows, leaving the space below the tree silent again. They stand still, watching me. Blinking. I bring one of the nuts to my nose and sniff it. It smells of earth and sunshine. My moment has arrived so I clear my throat and speak.

“Thank you for these treasures, but I wonder if any of you can talk to me. I have questions…about my mom.”

My voice sounds shaky and small. The little creatures respond by stomping their tiny feet on the ground and making a low humming sound. It’s the sound of thunder far off in the distance. It grows and grows around me and a new sensation blooms inside my chest—a loosening. My shoulders fall slightly and my hands become limp at my sides.

“Ayla.”

A deep voice outside the tree speaks my name and it echoes around me. The little men repeat my name over and over—a  chant now matching the stomping.

“Ayla. Ayla. Ayla.”

The branches of the tree part and a face appears. It’s a beautiful man with high pointed cheekbones and brilliant sparkling green eyes. He reaches his large hand toward me and I let him pull me into the moonlight. My body vibrates with warmth and energy—I’m floating toward him.

Once my feet return to the ground I gasp. He isn’t a man, but rather the most majestic creature I’ve ever seen. Half-man, half-horse, he stands smiling at me with bright pink lips. I stare at his flowing golden hair, his thick palomino horse body, shiny black hooves, and swishing nearly white tail. Breathe, Ayla. Breathe.

“I’m Dawa and you’ve already met my helpers. I call them the Root Men, but they go by many names.”

He gestures to the little men who have followed me out. They stand silently in a circle around us and all at once bow so low to the ground their tiny noses touch the dirt. I’m not sure if they are bowing to me or him. I return the gesture regardless, bending at my waist and sweeping my arms out in front of me. A sound like giggling follows.

“I wish we could have met under different circumstances, Ayla, but I’m afraid you are in danger.”

He points at the darkening clouds and I see they are swirling. Deep black with a hint of blue. Feathers. Dawa’s voice is breathy and fast. He paws the ground with his front hooves.

“They are coming for you, as they did your mother.”

The words feel like a key turning inside me. Horribly, vividly, the memory comes. Its razor-sharp clarity knocks me to my knees and I cover my ears and rock back and forth. No. No. No.

Mother and I are on an apple hunt weaving through the rows of trees looking for signs the bright red fruit is ready to be harvested. I’m not paying attention though because our old barn cat Theo is chasing birds and I want to make sure he doesn’t catch one. A bright warm sun sits high in the sky and I’m wearing my favorite daisy sundress without shoes.

I chase Theo through the tall green grass of the orchard until he climbs into the branches of the old willow tree. The moment Theo reaches the top the sky around us turns dark. The sun has been replaced by inky black swirling clouds dancing, twirling, and falling. It can’t be right. The sky can’t fall. Can it?

Mother screams and runs to me. She sets the wicker basket below the tree, holds my face in her soft hands, and speaks slowly and firmly. Her dark green eyes are wide.

“Sit beside the basket and look toward the house. No matter what happens, do not look behind you. Do not move and stay quiet. Not a sound. It’s extremely important, Ayla. I need you to promise.”

I nod. We’ve played this game before. The “don’t move” game. Mother’s serious about it and I listen. She breaks off a low branch of the tree, holds it in her hand, and climbs. I think she’s going to rescue Theo, but he’s beside me now. He climbs into my lap and I close my eyes tight. 

I cover my ears, but the sounds wiggle through my fingers and I hear them anyway. Terrible low growls. Mother’s ragged uneven breathing. A ripping sound. Mother’s long scream.

A loud thump shakes the ground behind me. I don’t turn around, but I do open my eyes. A horrible creature crouches low in front of me with dozens of long spidery legs. It’s got bright yellow cat-like eyes and is covered with inky black feathers with a tinge of blue. Its tongue darts in and out of its tiny red mouth.

It grabs hold of my arm with one of its legs and three spiky nails pierce my skin. Mother would be proud. I don’t make a sound. I don’t move. I stay right beside the basket.

“Ayla!”

Dawa pulls my hands from my ears. Tears fall hot from my eyes. Mother was killed by these creatures and they are coming for me. The centaur grabs my shoulders and shakes them gently. His dark green eyes are wide and his voice is firm.

“You must come with me. Now!”

The little men have turned away from us and are facing the clouds. The sky is falling. It’s coming. Dawa grabs my hand and swings me onto his back. I hold onto his neck as he takes off at a run. When the creatures dive low behind us I don’t make a sound. Mother would be proud.

Author’s note: I ran out of time for this story and am disappointed it’s more of a first chapter again than a complete short story. Regardless, I hope you enjoyed meeting Ayla and stepping into her world for a bit. Let me know what you think in the comments below. Thank you!


Short Story Challenge | Week 49

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 family-run farm. We had to include the words temporary, invent, trust, horse, burst, pulley, dam, punch, and checker.


Write With Us

Prompt: The phone rings at 3 a.m.
Include: supreme, emerald, careless, traffic, liberate, adolescence, lousy, wave, environment, oval


My 52-Week Challenge Journey

Poetry: Mr. Willowby

weathered, treasured pages
lit twinkling lights
childhood has stages
measured in Christmas nights 

rollicking, frolicking fire
child-led merrymaking
favorite book magnifier
for a mother’s heartbreaking

old family traditions
wee bit oversized
find new conditions
for love to crystalize

sharp scissors snip
trimming the top
recast as partnership
family love doesn’t stop


*Inspired by the family’s favorite Christmas book “Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree” and my need to learn flexibility as my son turns 18 this month.

Under the Sign | A Short Story

My feet won’t stop moving under the hard, wooden desk. It’s as if they have come alive and are set on getting me in trouble. I look at my brown spoonwood shoes in irritation and hiss at them as quietly as I can.

“Cut it out.”

Several students turn to look at me and I stare straight ahead, ignoring them. My feet stop moving but the jitters move up my legs and I know it will have to come out somewhere. I try hard to focus on the Old One in charge today, Mr. Hawthorne.

“Dandelion. Taraxacum officinale. Irish daisy. Monk’s-head. These bright yellow flowers can be used for many things, including immunity boosting and reducing inflammation. They are hardy regardless of the conditions you submit them to unless, of course…”

Mr. Hawthorne’s voice sounds rumbly and low, reminding me of the tired lion I saw on the class field trip to London last year. He’s reading from a dark brown leather book with thin yellow pages and his wire-rimmed glasses keep slipping to the tip of his pointy nose. My fingers have turned fidgety and I sit on them.

To distract myself, I count the hairs on Mr. Hawthorne’s big toes and wonder for the hundredth time why none of the Old Ones have to wear shoes. It seems wildly unfair. I’ve been to Headmaster Buckthorne’s office to discuss my objections to all the dress codes so many times the school secretary, Mrs. Yarrow, calls me a thistle in her side. I can’t help it.

I don’t like being in trouble, but it seems every school rule was designed to squash me and me alone. None of the other students seem to have as much difficulty doing what’s expected of them. My fingers wiggle loose from under me and find a home in my tangled, violet hair.

I wind a messy curl around my index finger until a hangnail on my thumb gets stuck and I’m forced to yank it out. It hurts and I hide the torn strands of hair inside my desk before anyone notices. It’s a good thing I have a lot of hair.

The jitters have exploded through me now and I can’t stop them. Slipping under the desk, I crawl across the floor of the library and sit crossed-legged under the farthest back table. Nobody seems to notice, or if they do, they don’t say anything.

My wings are bound inside the pale yellow uniform all fifth-year fairies must wear to prevent us from flying or doing magic. It’s not the best color to go with my dark violet hair, but far better than the ugly brown uniforms of fourth-year. The color I’m most excited to wear is the dark green of the eighth year because they get to have their wings out.

I discovered last year a way to still wiggle my wings a tiny bit under the bindings of the uniform. It’s not much movement, but it creates enough magic to amuse myself. Setting my pencil on the floor, I make it perform a complicated twirling dance number. I hum a song about three blind mice.

“Piper,” Mr. Hawthorne calls.

His voice is sharp and I snap to attention. Grabbing the dancing pencil, I slide out from under the table and run back to my desk. Mr. Hawthorne’s dark grey eyes watch me the entire time. He might be smiling, but it could also be a grimace. I’m not so good at reading faces. Tucking my pencil into my desk, I fold my hands and answer with my formal classroom voice.

“Yes, sir.”

His glasses have slipped again and his eyes are sort of crossed. I know better than to laugh, but a giggle brews dangerously in my stomach. I dig my nails into the tops of my hands to stop it.

“Can you answer the question?”

All the eyes in the room are on me. I swallow hard and speak as clearly and confidently as I can.

“23, sir.”

His eyes widen and he’s definitely smiling now. Pride surges through me although I know it shouldn’t because I didn’t know the answer. He rubs his hands together.

“Well…yes, actually. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome, sir.”

I purposely avoid looking at my best friend Rosemary, but I know she’s smiling too. She quickly scrawled the answer on her palm in bright red ink and flashed it to me as I passed her desk. Saved again.

Rosemary and I met when the school year started and Headmaster Buckthorne says we are “thick as thieves.” I know this is a dig at me, but I don’t care. Rosemary is the best thing ever to happen at Hollyhock’s Fairy School for the Highly Gifted. The best thing in all my years here.

Rosemary keeps her long black hair in two braids, tied with blue ribbons the same shade as her eyes. When she laughs she throws back her head and sticks out her round belly. She holds my hand and saves me when the jitters get too big. I’m not sure how I survived before Rosemary.

Mr. Hawthorne dismisses the class for lunch and Rosemary and I walk to the furthest part of the field behind the school to eat together. She’s got a large sandwich of honey and hazelnut, decorated with a tiny sprig of lavender. She cuts it in half and hands me the biggest piece.

“I’m not going back to class,” I say with my mouth full.

Rosemary laughs. It’s my favorite sound in the world.

“You always say that.”

I try to give her a serious look, but I don’t have one.

“I mean it today. I can’t take another minute. I’m going crazy.”

Rosemary takes a sip of hot tea from a thermos with tiny pink tulips painted on the side. The minty smell makes me a bit sad. It smells like mothers. I look at the ground until Rosemary speaks again.

“Where will you go?”

Jumping to my feet, I do a dramatic twirl before answering.

“Don’t you mean, where will we go?”

Rosemary’s face changes to a frown, but I pretend to not see it. Instead, I watch two butterflies chase each other across the field. My wings twitch wildly in their bindings.

“Oh, no, not today. My mom was upset last time. She cried and cried and made me promise never to go off without telling her again. She thought I died! I had to sleep in her bed for a week!!”

Short of sticking my fingers in my ears, I do everything I can to block this out. With a huge leap, I chase the butterflies across the field. I do a somersault followed by a cartwheel. A few of the smaller kids applaud and I bow. Rosemary can’t understand how much her words hurt. How could she? It’s not like she knows.

When I was 4 years old my mother had an accident. She came out of the bedroom of our small cabin in the woods and her bright green eyes had turned milky white. Her curly strawberry-blonde hair had turned grey and her peachy smooth skin had become bumpy and pale as snow. She was cold to the touch and unresponsive. I didn’t know what to do.

For two days I watched this chilly version of my mother wander from room to room, unblinking and silent. A neighbor finally stopped by for a visit and found me crying alone in a closet. It wasn’t until years later, Headmaster Buckthorne told me the truth about what happened.

My mother had been trying to complete a complex and illegal magical spell to locate my father, a soldier in the Fairy Force. He disappeared during an intense battle in the Sage Mountains a week before I was born. She used old and unstable magic. It changed my mother permanently, leaving me an orphan.

With no family to take me in, Headmaster Buckthorne brought me to Hollyhock’s Fairy School for the Highly Gifted a few weeks after my mother’s accident. He studies “magical amnesia” and is fascinated by my mother’s case. While he studies her and tries to look for a cure, I live in a room above the library and I’m allowed to attend this prestigious school.

I don’t care about grades or how great this school looks for future magical employers. I don’t think about my future at all. I do think about mothers. I think about them a lot.

Rosemary’s mother has beautiful red hair and bright pink cheeks. She puts notes in her lunchbox and makes sure she has a thick enough jacket when it’s cold out. I wish I had been enough for my mother, but I wasn’t. She wanted my father more than me. 

Sometimes I pretend she’s not locked up in the Hospital for the Incurable, but rather living with my father in a magical glen deep within the Blackwood Forest. I see them with a new daughter, one who sits still and follows the rules. They want nothing else than to be with her because she’s loveable and sweet. She’s nothing like me.

Rosemary’s smiling at me and I’m ashamed of my jealousy of her mother. I wish I could tell her about mine, but the words are locked inside me. They are stones buried far too deep to unearth. I touch her soft hair and dance around her.

“Well, I’m going with or without you…and it’s going to be amazing.”

I drag out the last word and I can tell this interests her. She sets the sandwich on her lap and stares at me with wide eyes.

“What is?”

Spinning, I wink and grin as wide as I can.

“You have to come with me to see.”

Rosemary frowns, but it’s not a real one. I can see a smile hidden beneath it waiting to come out.

“Oh, Piper, don’t do that to me. My mother will kill me!”

Fluttering my wings under my uniform I use a little magic to make a leaf jump into the air and land on her nose. She giggles.

“It’s going to be amazing.”

I sing the words and I know I’ve hooked her. She likes adventure as much as I do, maybe even more, and her mother forgives her every time.

Headmaster Buckthorne isn’t as forgiving and I’ll pay for my disobedience by losing my weekend flying privileges for several weeks and maybe I’ll have to clean the school bathrooms too. I don’t care. An adventure with my best friend is worth any cost.

Sitting on the itchy grass beside her, she leans close enough that our shoulders touch. Whispering our plans is part of the fun. Her breath tickles my ear.

“How are we going to get off school grounds this time?” 

It’s becoming a lot harder to escape as each time we do Headmaster Buckthorne blocks us, but last time he couldn’t figure out how we did it. I plan to use the same route.

“We’re going under the sign again.”

Rosemary sighs and crosses her arms over her chest. She doesn’t like this plan and I don’t blame her. The school sign sits on the edge of a steep cliff. Last time we removed our school uniforms and slipped through a small hole, but I didn’t realize how cold and fast the falling would be. It took a few minutes for our wings to open. Instead of fun and exciting, it was more like dangerous and scary.

“I don’t like the sensation of falling. It makes me dizzy and I don’t want to be in my underwear again. What if someone sees us this time? It was so cold!”

She’s right, but I’ve thought of all this already. I pull my leather school bag onto my lap and open it wide enough to show her what’s inside.

“What if we don’t fall, but fly instead?”

I’ve stolen two light blue tunics from the laundry room before my breakfast—the uniforms of the fairy garden workers. Our wings will be free for flying and we will be able to roam the grounds around the school without drawing too much attention to ourselves. Rosemary claps.

“You are amazing!”

“I know.”

I try not to look too pleased by the compliment, but my cheeks burn hot. It’s good to hear her say it. She grabs my hand and whispers as close to my ear as she can.

“Even in the tunics, how can we get out the front door of the school? Last time you got Basil to free a bunch of beetles from the garden and the chaos provided our distraction. We can’t do the same thing…it would be too obvious.”

Several second-year students in pale pink wander by us and I make sure my bag is shut tight. The bell rings and without another word, we pack our things and walk arm and arm back toward the main school building. I whisper as low as I can as we walk.

“Don’t worry about a thing. It’s all arranged. Luckily, Basil still likes me and he’s working on a very good distraction. Let’s hurry though, I don’t want to miss it.”

We walk through the large wooden double doors and into the main entryway, a cavernous room with a vast grey stone floor and a giant golden chandelier burning bright with hundreds of tiny candles. The two main staircases wind off to the left and right, along with several dark hallways. We see Basil waiting near the golden statue of the founders, Claude Mugwort and Bella Vervain. He’s not wearing his uniform.

Freckle-faced with bright blue hair, poor Basil has the unfortunate fate of being in love with me. He’s followed me around since year two and I’m afraid I’ve abused his kindness. When he sees me he blushes and gives me two thumbs up. I mouth “thank you” and the redness of his face seems to darken—is it vermillion or beet? My face reddens too, but mostly out of guilt.

Taking Rosemary by the hand, I lead her into a little alcove near the stairs where a picture of a bowl of lemons sits hidden from view. I press the third lemon with my pointer finger and a secret door opens revealing a closet filled with cleaning supplies. Rosemary gasps.

Growing up in a school that is empty part of the year, I’m probably the only student to know some of its secrets. It has many. A tiny magical blue light shines above us.

“Change, quick! We haven’t much time. We can store our clothes and my bag here.”

Rosemary and I untie our identical school uniforms and change into light blue tunics. They are a bit big for us, but we tie a few extra knots so they won’t fall off when we fly. Rosemary’s bouncing on the balls of her feet like me. We are ready. The sound of raised voices and the shuffling of feet fills the main hall outside.

“Not yet,” I whisper. “Basil will signal us with a whistle.”

The sound of voices grows louder, accompanied by the most lovely and intoxicating sugary smell. My mouth waters and Rosemary giggles beside me. A few seconds later we hear a short burst of sound, like a train whistle. It’s the signal.

We open the door slowly and walk out from the alcove. The scene before us makes us both double over in laughter. Basil is brilliant! 

The main entryway has been transformed into an oversized and elaborate butcher shop. Sausages, whole chickens, ducks, and pigs hanging from strings in every direction. Only, these aren’t dead animals. No, they are all made of candy. Chocolate turkey legs and cream-filled pork chops. Gummy hamburgers and malted meatballs.

Basil sits at a large wooden table in the center, eating a platter with a huge candy pot roast complete with fake glazed carrots and roasted red potatoes. He’s throwing bits of food at the gathering crowd who are stuffing their faces and screaming. We lock eyes for a minute and I mouth “I owe you.” He laughs and throws a peppermint onion at the approaching Headmaster Buckthorne. 

It’s almost too much fun to leave, but I don’t want Basil to have gotten into trouble for nothing. I pull Rosemary by the arm, through the screaming crowd and out the front door. It’s silent as we cross the lawn with our wings flapping awake behind us.

“Basil’s the best,” Rosemary says.

“What I have to show you is even better.”

I’m lying. The truth is, I have no idea where we are going or what we are looking for. I only know I have to get away from this place—both my home and my prison. A place so close to my mother, yet I’m not allowed to see her. A place I only get to escape when Rosemary comes with me.

The truth is, I don’t have the courage to go alone. I grab her hand and squeeze it. Guilt tears at my stomach. She’s got a mother who loves her. So does Basil. I’m going to get them both hurt.

Holding hands, we squeeze through the small hole, spread our wings and fly off together to find adventure.

Author’s note:  I know with confidence I’ll be writing a middle-grade fairy book at some point and perhaps the seeds for it are right here. I hope you enjoyed meeting Piper, Rosemary, and Basil. Thanks as always for your likes and comments—you have no idea how much they mean to me.


Short Story Challenge | Week 48

Each week the short stories are based on a prompt from the book “Write the Story” by Piccadilly, Inc. This week’s prompt was to write a story about a day in the life. We had to include the words identical, pot roast, decorate, sign, abuse, library, amnesia, butcher, submit and sensation.


Write With Us

Prompt: A family-run farm
Include: temporary, invent, trust, horse, burst, pulley, dam, punch, and checker


My 52-Week Challenge Journey

Poetry: Spoonwood for Perseverance

fingers pause over the keys
whispy white clouds drift by
soft green magnolia daydreams
distract away wee wiggly words

woo them back with gifts
of fiery red phoenix feathers
balls of dancing dandelion fluff
twisted ancient oak tree wands

lure them with magician cloaks
flapping on a griffin’s back
whispering old spoonwood spells
in round tortoise-shell glasses

capture them again and again
with bright lotus flower nets
50,000 twirling points of light
trapped in your spun-sugar bowl


*A short poem inspired by the saying “Spoonwood for Perseverance” on the NaNoWriMo winner certificate. Congratulations to everyone who participated this year.

Late Night Visitor | A Short Story

A light touch on the bottom of my left foot drags me instantly from the rainbow haziness of the dream world to the very real darkness of my bedroom. I’m not alone. With a jerk, I retuck my legs into the safety and warmth of my colorful blanket cocoon and look around.

A wild wind outside my window batters the branches of the big oak tree casting wispy skeletal shadows along my purple walls. Everything else looks still and normal. Through the lacy curtains, the moon appears as a tiny crescent in a sea of black. When will this end?

Wiping tears from my eyes with the sleeve of my plaid nightgown, I realize I’m crying. My cheeks burn hot. I’m tired of feeling sad and scared. It’s not fair!

Burrowing my nose into the worn calico fur of my stuffed kitty Butterscotch, I breathe in the familiar sweet and musty smell. Snuggles by the fire. Hide-and-seek. Christmas morning.

As I’ve done the last ten nights in a row, I grab the red plastic flashlight from inside my pillowcase. I don’t expect to see anything but I make myself look just in case. I hold Butterscotch tight as I move the yellowish beam around the room.

Starting with my bookshelf, I scan my collection of rocks and figurines, moving along the floor past several mounds of dirty and clean clothes to the huge pile of stuffed animals. All fine. Unicorn poster. Tiny fake plant. Corkboard of Polaroids. Three empty cans of sparkling water and two empty Frito bags on the desk. Hello Kitty backpack spilling its contents out on the chair. Everything is where I left it.

My foot feels tingly and weird as if the imprint of the mystery touch lingers. Pulling the covers over my head, I sit under the blankets and use the flashlight to search every inch of my foot for clues—a fingerprint, scratch mark, or some tiny speck of goo. Nothing. It’s my normal foot.

For a moment I consider turning on the desk lamp and working on an essay for English class about the Giver, but my rumbling stomach has other ideas. I wish when I turned 12 last week my parents gifted me my future job instead of an event planner and a plain gold watch. I don’t want to make checklists, set goals, or make decisions. I know free will and emotions are supposed to be blessings, but I’m tired of them.

Tucking Butterscotch into the top of my nightgown, I tiptoe through the hallway toward my parent’s bedroom. I’m forced to pass the tall grandfather clock with its dark mahogany wood, sharp spiky top, and creepy drawing of the moon with a baby face. Its eerie ticking sound echoes in the silent house and I sneak a quick peek at the time before rushing by. The two ornate black hands point at the gleaming golden 12 and 2. Whatever keeps waking me is pretty punctual.

My parents sleep with the door slightly open and I peek in to see them both in their light brown wooden sleigh bed. They’re snuggled against each other under a purple and green checkered quilt and my dad’s snoring lightly. I watch them for a few minutes, seeing if they might be pretending to sleep, but they’re breathing deeply and don’t stir.

The first night I felt the touch on my foot I screamed with surprise and terror. My parents came rushing in, mother throwing on the light and father scooping me into his arms. When I told them what happened, dad checked the entire house for signs of anyone and mom gave me a cup of warm milk. I didn’t fall back to sleep that night or any night since. It’s almost becoming routine, which explains why I’m extra tired and hungry.

I rush down the stairs and take a quick peek into the living room for any signs of my foot toucher and, finding none, I head for the refrigerator. A small white bowl of leftover rice pudding sits on the middle shelf. Although mom will yell, I take it anyway. Pulling off the plastic wrap, I grab a spoon and head to my favorite squashy chair by the front window.

Snuggling under mom’s grey, wooly blanket and setting Butterscotch on my lap, I eat the sugary pudding and scan our quiet street. A tall silverish lamppost sits at the edge of our lawn casting a bright yellow glow around it. Cars sit quietly on driveways and grey garbage cans line the curb. Nobody is watering their lawn or jogging and I see no birds. It’s too early for much of anything.

The house next door has a huge maple tree and its reddish leaves dance in the wind as if alive. Dad and mom’s song plays in my head, spinning like the old record they bring out after they’ve shared a bottle of wine. Dad slips his hand around her waist and she puts her head on his shoulder.

Everybody’s feelin’ warm and right/It’s such a fine and natural sight/everybody’s dancin’ in the moonlight.

Across the street, our new neighbors have added a giant blow-up turkey to their yard for Thanksgiving. The wind has blown it sideways and its butt wiggles in the air. Abby would know the perfect joke. The thought makes the pudding no longer taste good. Don’t think about her, Brin. Just don’t.

Setting the bowl on the floor, I pull Butterscotch up to my face again. I don’t know why this is happening to me. I’ve googled “something touched my foot while sleeping” several times and it’s led me down some strange and winding paths. I could be suffering from any number of ailments from sleep paralysis to periodic limb movement disorder to restless leg syndrome.

One website said it could either be a bad omen or mean you were experiencing a spiritual awakening. Another said it’s a ghost or spirit and it’s important to cleanse your house with sage. I downloaded several ghost detector apps on my iPad but they proved useless and confusing. My parents have proved useless as well.

On the way to school a few days ago I told mom about my research, but she cut me off after a few minutes and pulled the car over. Clutching the steering wheel so hard her knuckles turned white, she stared intensely at me. It’s the look she uses when she means business. Her voice went all tense and low.

“Listen to me, Brin. Nothing touched your foot. You were dreaming. No, I won’t buy you sage or take you to the doctor. No, I won’t keep talking about this and if you keep googling stuff on your iPad I’ll take it away. Do you understand?”

I told her I do, but what choice do I have? For over a year now I’ve begged for a cellphone and if I have any hope of ever getting one, I know I have to drop it with her. She’s practical and has no patience for anything unexplained. Plus, she thinks I’m making it up for attention. She hasn’t said it directly, but I can tell.

Dad’s equally useless. He works all the time and dozes off after dinner, but I managed to catch him alone yesterday when he took the garbage can out to the curb. Without my mother around, I tell him about my research and ask him for his help. He grabs my shoulder and smiles.

“You just have an overactive imagination is all. It can trick your senses into believing anything. It can feel real, but I assure you it is not. Remember your imaginary friend…what was his name?”

Why does he have to bring him up? I whisper his name as if he’ll hear us talking about him.

“Mr. Croaky.”

“Right! You were convinced you saw him jumping around and hiding in the bushes. Now you are getting older and your brain does the pretending while you sleep instead of during the day. It’s part of growing up. It’s normal, kiddo. You aren’t little anymore. It’s good. You’ll see.”

It all comes back to me growing up. It’s all my parents seem to talk about these days. Last week my mother gave me a box and asked me to fill it for a children’s charity her work is sponsoring. When I filled it with old clothes she scowled at me.

“What about all these toys you have laying around? Barbies? Dolls? This mound of stuffed animals? You are a teenager now. It’s time to let stuff go.”

I cried and locked myself in the bathroom until she dropped it, but I know she’ll bring it up again. I don’t want to stop playing with my toys. I love them. They don’t get it. Abby was the person who did, but I was wrong about her. She’s the worst. The absolute worst.

Balling my hands into fists, I fight the memory but it’s like throwing up with the flu. It comes at me in a wave of ugliness and I don’t have the strength to fight it off. I press my nose to Butterscotch’s pink plastic one and feel the pain come roaring in.

It’s the 8th-grade science field trip and we stand on a wooden pier looking at the seals in the water. They roll around and bark at each other. Most of the other girls are trying to get the attention of either Cameron or Dylon by posing with their sunglasses and giggling like idiots. Not us. Abby and I are above such nonsense. I grab her arm and sing into her ear.

“Rolling, rolling, rolling, keep those seals rolling. Fisheye!”

Abby laughs but looks over at the students on the trip and blushes. She inches a little away from me, as she has done all day. Stepping closer and grabbing her arm, I create exaggerated British voices for the seals. Her body feels tense beside me. Stiff. Unmoving. Frozen.

“Oh, hi Cheryl, I didn’t see you rolling over there. Fancy a cuppa, mate?”

“Oh, hi Carol. Yes, I’d love one. I’m simply knackered. A cheeky fish kept me awake all night with its chittering.”

“What a bugger! Hey, did you change your whiskers, darling?”

“Yes, I waxed them with fish oil. It’s all the rage in Paris these days. Tip-top posh and all.”

“Oh, bloody brilliant!”

Abby doesn’t laugh. My British voice always makes her laugh. Instead, her cheeks turn bright red and she spins from me. My arm falls limply to my side as she walks over to the three most popular girls in our grade, Tracy, Stacy, and Pam. We’ve nicknamed them STP—Stupid Tall Pretty. She doesn’t look back.

For a brief moment, I think she’s gone to play a prank on them, but I know it’s not true. I saw it coming but tried to ignore it. Abby pulls a pair of round blue sunglasses out of her backpack. She didn’t tell me about those and we don’t have secrets. We didn’t have secrets.

The glasses are an expensive name-brand kind. Abby’s talking fast and running her fingers through her curly blonde hair. They all take turns trying the glasses on and taking selfies.

“Oh, Abby,” Tracy says, touching my best friend’s cheek with a bright red fake nail. “I never realized the perfect shape of your lips. You have to try this!”

She hands Abby a tube of pink lip gloss and she puts it on. The bubblegum smell is strong and sickly sweet. Stacy links arms with Abby and coos beside her in a stupid baby voice.

“Do you have Instagram?”

“Not yet, but I got a new cell phone last week and haven’t had a chance to download it yet.”

Another secret she didn’t tell me about. She pulls a bright pink phone out of her backpack and they all examine it. Apparently, it’s cool from the sounds they are making. I clench my fists tighter to resist the urge to rush over, grab it, and throw it into the ocean.

“You are too pretty to not be on Insta,” Pam says. “Let’s do a photo shoot for your first post!”

“You can use my scarf,” Tracy adds. “It matches your eyes.”

The entire time this unfolds I feel tears welling in my eyes, but I wipe them away and straighten my back. I won’t give up on my best friend without a fight. Okay, she suddenly cares what they think. I can play along.

Tucking my wild brown hair behind my ears, I walk to where they are all standing in a semicircle. Nobody looks at me but I flash the brightest smile I can muster. Abby looks miserable like she might be sick. I want to hold her hand and pull her away. You don’t have to do this, I want to say. Instead, I pull off my charm bracelet and hold it out in front of me.

“I’ll contribute my bracelet for the photos.”

A gift from Abby on my 10h birthday, she’s added new charms to the bracelet each Christmas and birthday since. The charms represent special memories we have; a pair of roller skates, two stars, a mermaid, bunnies, ice cream cones, and daisies. The girls all stare at it in silence while Abby looks at her blue converse. I see the sharpie heart I drew yesterday on the left toe is smeared.

“Uh, no thanks,” Tracy says. “What is it…iron?”

“I don’t think cheap metal is the look we’re going for,” Stacy says. “Plus, it’s kind of babyish.”

“It’s silver…”

My voice sounds tiny and they laugh. It’s the kind of laugh you can’t escape from, high and lifting and fake. I search Abby’s face looking for recognition, a hint at the girl I’ve loved since kindergarten. She looks away.

“The light’s better over here,” Pam says.

They walk away and I don’t follow. Returning to the spot where we stood moments before, I stare at the seals trying to make sense of what happened. It feels as if my heart broke in half and my face lit on fire.

I don’t know how I manage to keep the tears in, but I do until sitting alone on the bus ride home in the back row. While Abby rests her blonde hair on the shoulder of someone other than me, I let go and sob. Nobody notices.

The last ten days without Abby have been the worst of my life. She doesn’t look at me at school and won’t return my emails or phone calls. She missed my birthday. Dad says learning to cope with change is a requirement of growing. Mom says heartache gets easier with time and I’ll make new friends. It’s not getting easier, I don’t want new friends and I don’t want to grow up.

Tears come. I hate Abby for what she did to me. I hate getting older. Why must my life change? I liked the way it was. I’m sobbing now pressing my face into my stuffed kittie. A horrible pain stabs at my stomach and chest. Broken-hearted. Crushed. Gutted. When will it stop hurting this bad?

A familiar touch on my foot makes me jump and I pull my legs to my chest. A small man stands exactly where my foot sat a moment ago. He’s frozen in place with his hand still extended out in front of him. We stare at each other and his tiny dark brown eyes grow wider and wider. Neither of us blinks.

The size of a mouse, he’s dressed in dark green overalls with a light green shirt underneath. He’s chubby and smells of dirt and moss, like the logs by the creek behind our house. His cheeks are puffy and pinkish. I whisper quietly hoping to not startle him away.

“Are you real?”

“Are you?”

His voice isn’t squeaky, but deep, almost a croak. He lets his hand fall to his side and shuffles his dirty little bare feet. His toes are the size of a grain of sand.

“I think so. Why do you keep grabbing my foot?”

“You keep making a horrible sound and I want you to stop.”

What kind of sound do I make in my sleep? He points to the tears on my face and I suddenly understand.

“My crying?”

“I don’t know what you call it, but I don’t like it. You keep doing it. Stop it!”

He stomps his little foot as if to emphasis his point. It makes the tiniest of slapping sounds on the wood floor.

“Oh! Well…I’m sad and when I’m sad, I cry.”

“Well, get un-sad then.”

He stomps his foot again and I can’t help but smile.

“It’s not that easy.”

“Yes, it is.”

With a quick movement, he half hops and half climbs the blanket onto the arm of the chair. Looking at him closer I realize he’s much younger than I first thought, like a small, hairy child. He has freckles on his nose, long eyelashes, and bright pink smiling lips.

“See, you aren’t doing the loud sound now. You stopped.”

“Well, you distracted me.”

He claps and jumps up and down. Flecks of gold sparkle in his big brown eyes.

“See. Easy!”

“Well….the next time I’m not distracted, I will start crying again. I can’t stop it.”

“Why?”

“My heart is broken.”

Frowning, he hops forward and grabs onto my pointer finger with both hands, and closes his eyes. A faint tingling radiates from his touch and I close my eyes too. The sensation grows and grows, moving from my finger to my hand. It travels up my arm and across my body until soon every part of me feels warm and alive.

I’m standing on the banks of a wide gentle river that sings as it flows over hundreds of stones in shades of grey and white. Sunlight dances off the surface as tadpoles and minnows dart in and out of shadowy hiding places. Colorful ducks drift past and several round turtles scuttle off logs disappearing under the rippling water. A frog sits on my foot blinking up at me with wide, watery eyes.

My body feels as if all the sadness has been squeezed out. It flows away from me with the water. In its place, happiness bursts and blooms. I feel as I did when I was four years old. Free and silly. I splash into the water as a faint humming sound surrounds me. I open my eyes.

Sitting on the armrest of the chair is the creature I drew hundreds of times as a child. A wide green frog with kind watery eyes and a huge smiling mouth. He ribbits and sticks out his tongue. The little man has transformed into his real form. I laugh so hard I nearly knock him off the chair.

“Mr. Croaky! You’ve come back!”

He blinks but says nothing. I found him by the creek one day hiding in an old log. Mother told me she didn’t see him, but I knew he was real. When scary dogs barked at me on walks in the neighborhood, he’d hop onto my head to distract me. If nobody else could play, Mr. Croaky would show up and we’d go on adventures in the backyard. He came with me on my first day of school. He helped me meet Abby on the playground, hopping into her backpack and croaking until I came over and talked to her. I’ve missed my old friend.

The tingly feeling is fading from my body and I fear all my sadness will return when it does. I reach out to touch Mr. Croaky and he hops across me toward the other armrest. I hear a faint splash as something round and hard falls into my lap. A stone.

In an instant, I know things have shifted. Mr. Croaky has disappeared again and this time it’s forever. It doesn’t hurt like I thought it would, but it feels as if a part of me has left too. In its place though, I feel a spark of something new forming. A kind of hope which wasn’t there before. I think I’m going to be okay.

Picking up the stone I find the river still there when I close my eyes. It will be there for me whenever I need it. The sun outside rises slowly, painting the sky shades of gold and pink. Butterscotch falls to the ground as my mother comes in to tell me it’s time to go to school. I pick her up and gently place her back in the chair.

Author’s note: I rewrote the ending of this story for three days trying to find it. I kept having her whisked off to Neverland-type places so she wouldn’t have to face pain anymore. I wanted her to stay a little child so badly, but it’s not the truth. Although this ending broke my heart a bit, I know it’s the right one. I hope you enjoyed my story and I’d love to know if you remember your last moment of childhood. Did you have one? Have a wonderful week.


Short Story Challenge | Week 46

Each week the short stories are based on a prompt from the book “Write the Story” by Piccadilly, Inc. This week’s prompt was to write a story about the last moment of childhood. We had to include the words Thanksgiving, refrigerator, surprise, contribute, pier, bird, strength, iron, voices, and requirement.


Write With Us

Prompt: Chasing the enemy
Include: demon, bystander, escaped, parakeet, destiny, hammer, singing, ash, cathedral, heels


My 52-Week Challenge Journey

Poetry: The Mall Santa in November

Long before the first whiff of candy canes rise
A bauble-covered evergreen, enormous in size
Arrives in the mall for all the holiday-hooked
While fat turkey waits to be basted and cooked

Sitting center stage on a velvet couch of green
Glad tidings brought forth before casserole of bean
Dear Father Christmas, old Santa Claus himself
Precedes eggnog, gingerbread, or elf on the shelf

November’s mall Santa has quite an easy gig
Before shopping gets desperate, pushy, and big
Fur-lined coat, hair of white, smiling with ease
He waves at the shoppers, aiming only to please

So if you like your Saint Nicholas full of glee
Don’t wait until the line snakes around the tree
November’s the time to gather up all the holly
And visit the mall for your dose of the Big Jolly

Poetry: Current Mood

Crawl out of mismatched blankets to shiver write, heater broken again.

Cracked heels bleed in fuzzy grey socks, add self-care to today’s to-do list.

Must hold breath another week for mental health help, therapists get sick.

Tears fall fast in upstairs bathroom, moms know the art of hidden sadness.

Can’t take another hit, cold sore erupts fat, ugly on bottom lip.

Coffee in my cup is ice already, but what I need is some warmth.

Write, write, write all my crisp inside words, but does anybody want them?


Inspired by Brandon Ellrich, I used the format of the American Sentence this week to explore some of my current feelings. If you are unfamiliar with this poetic form, it was Allen Ginsberg’s effort to make American the haiku. It must be seventeen syllables and it comes from the notion, “poets are people who notice what they notice.” Thank you for reading my first attempt at these.

Let’s Go to the Ocean | A Short Story

“What you need is luck,” Gemma says.

We’re hiding out in the storage room, pretending to move things from one spot to another. Although she’s wearing the same ugly blue vest as me, it doesn’t look bad on her. She pulls up the mesh sleeve of her striped undershirt and taps a tattoo of a magic eight ball on the inside of her wrist with a pointed black fingernail. One of her silver rings clinks against the other.

A moment of silence sits between us. I’m wondering if she means I need her, but I’m terrified to think such a thing. Last night after work we hung out by her beat-up brown car. She offered me a clove cigarette from her huge black purse and we stood shoulder to shoulder smoking. She talked nonstop, hilarious shit about her roommates. I laughed like an idiot.

I grab a bag of expired bread rolls and toss them at her. She catches them and sticks her tongue out at me. Her green eyes sparkle and dance like sunlight bouncing off the river. I’m in trouble. I force a laugh and look away.

“No shit I need luck. There’s no way I’m paying my rent this month. Whatever. It’s a crappy place anyway…”

My voice trails off because it sounds like I’m asking for a place to stay and I know her two roommates are assholes. I’m fucking this up. She gives me a reassuring look and I feel unsteady. My words come out in an outtake of breath as if they’d been sitting in my mouth waiting for me to let my guard down.

“Let’s go to the ocean.”

The image of her sitting beside me in the sand at sunset makes my face burn and I turn away from her. What am I doing? I haven’t had a car in two years let alone funds for gas or food. All I do is complain to her about being poor. She’s got to think I want to use her. I’m such an idiot.

“How about dinner tonight?”

She’s beside me now holding my hand. I look at her and it’s as if kindness has taken human form—all soft edges and gentle warmth. Flecks of gold dance in the green of her eyes. I’m drowning.

“Would you go out to dinner with me tonight, Eloise? My treat. I want to show you something.”

I nod as one of the night bosses, Mr. Parker, walks in the door. His brick-red puffy face looks at us standing close together and he frowns. I catch a glimpse of a golden cross in his chest hair and I brace myself for whatever nonsense he’s about to throw our way. His voice is fast and breathy.

“Eloise, go outside and break down the boxes to be recycled. Gemma, I’m moving you to books. Let’s go girls! I don’t pay you to stand around smiling all day.”

My shift ends a half hour before Gemma’s and I spot her standing in the book section holding a dictionary in her hand as some sweaty overweight man yells at her. He’s inches from her face. I want to punch him and rescue her, but Mr. Parker’s lurking nearby. I can smell his cheap cologne. I don’t want to get her into trouble and I need my stupid job. My feet drag as I walk away.

I wash myself up in the bathroom and go outside to stand next to her car. She comes out ten minutes after her shift ends with tears in her eyes. Instinctively I hug her close and she lets me hold her while she sobs. The customers at our store can be brutal. The bosses aren’t much better. I wish I could take her away from this place.

“Some people are so mean, you know?” she says into my shoulder.

I do know. My entire life has been filled with mean people, but it won’t help her to compare pain. She hands me a clove cigarette and we smoke again, standing with our backs against the cool metal of her car. A flock of geese flies past honking loudly. The sky darkens. She flicks her cigarette on the ground and grinds it out with the toe of her black Doc Martin boot.

“Okay, let’s get away from this place.”

We drive to a Chinese restaurant called “Lucky Day” and she orders us both rice bowls with extra chicken to-go. She plays old Britney Spears music and we sing along at the top of our lungs. We watch the sunset turn the sky orange and purple.

After about 20 minutes she pulls onto a dirt road. It’s bumpy and uneven so she slows the car. We drive through tall arching trees and a narrow twisting road going up and up. I hold onto the door handle and she laughs at me. When we reach the top she turns off the car and smiles.

“Get out.”

A tiny part of me wonders if this is where I die. It’s a ridiculous thought because I’m not scared of her, but it’s the middle of nowhere and we barely know each other. She seems to sense my discomfort and laughs again.

She pulls out a flashlight, a blanket, and two black hoodies which we quickly put on. She hands me the bag of food and I follow her through a densely wooded area until we reach a pile of boulders. Without hesitation, she scrambles to the top and I follow as best I can. She drops the blanket and clicks off the flashlight.

“What do you think?”

At first, my eyes see nothing but blackness, but soon I’m able to recognize a vast field of trees and grasses spreading out below us for what looks like forever. A tiny patch of glittery water catches the pale moonlight—a river or stream. She tilts my head up and I gasp. Without any streetlights or homes, the sky above us has exploded with more stars than I’ve ever seen. It’s what poets write about and artists paint. It’s breathtaking.

“Wow.”

“Right?”

We stand for a long time saying nothing until her stomach rumbles loudly eliciting giggles from both of us. Spreading out the blanket, we eat the rice bowls in silence. I’ve never been able to recognize a meaningful moment when I’m in it, but this time I do. This isn’t any old place and she’s not any old person. It feels like fate. Like destiny. Like an origin story of happiness.

Eventually, it gets cold and we decide to walk back to the car. She blasts the heater but leaves off the lights. We sit in silence for a long time. It’s as if neither one of us wants to break the spell cast by the night sky. I finally speak and my voice sounds small.

“Thank you.”

“It’s my favorite place. I found it a few years ago when I was looking for a place to…well…I didn’t really want to live anymore. This place sort of healed me. I’m glad you liked it.”

“I loved it.”

A loud crinkling sound fills the car as she reaches into the front pocket of her hoodie and pulls out our fortune cookies. She turns on the overhead light and we both crack them open.

“The real kindness comes from within you,” she reads. “Ugh. These things are getting more and more generic. That’s not a fortune. Maybe you will have better luck. Read yours.”

“A golden egg of opportunity falls into your lap this month.”

We both burst out laughing. I know a joke is there somewhere about her on my lap, but I don’t try to get it out. Instead, I fold up the fortune and put it into my pocket. Who knows? Maybe my luck is about to change. With her, it feels like anything is possible.

“It’s 11:11.”

She’s pointing at the small clock and I nod. I can tell I’m missing something. She squeezes my hand.

“Do you know what it means?”

“You turn into a pumpkin? I wake up and it’s all a dream? Your clock is broken?”

“11 in numerology is a master number. It’s extra powerful. It takes the energy of 1 and amplifies it. To see 11:11 means you are on the right path.”

She squeezes my hand again and when our eyes lock the car tilts sideways.

***

My studio apartment has an old-fashioned landline with a chocolate brown phone attached to the kitchen wall beside an electric stove with one working burner. The back left. The dirty tan spirling cord stretches long enough to reach every room. I find myself sitting on the wobbly toilet staring at the torn flowered wallpaper with the phone still pressed to my ear.

The person on the other end of the line, Jimmy something, has hung up. Boop. Boop. Boop. It’s a faded electric sound and for a moment I think it’s someone mimicking or mocking the noise. I listen harder and realize I’m wrong. Nobody is there. I’m alone.

You’d think finding out your only relative has died would be terribly sad, but I’ve not seen my grandpa for a long time. He left me with a family for the weekend when I was five and never came back. I don’t blame him.

Holding the phone out in front of me as if the booping sound might be a countdown to an explosion, I walk through the narrow hallway to the kitchen. With a click of plastic sliding into plastic, it’s quiet again. I sit on the cold linoleum floor in my underwear and bra. Crumbs stick to the back of my thighs. All I can think about is the phone call.

I didn’t know the landline worked until it rang. A British man speaks to me in a soft tone, as if he’s speaking to a small child or a furry animal, not someone who will be 20 years old in a few weeks. I suppose it’s meant to be soothing, but it feels condescending.

“I’ve been trying to reach you for days but apparently your cell number has been disconnected. I got this number from your work. I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, Miss Lewis, but your grandfather has passed away. He died in a car crash on Friday night after attending a concert at the Hollywood Bowl. It’s a tragedy. He was a good man. A fine man.”

He pauses. I’m not sure why. Perhaps he’s waiting for me to cry or ask follow-up questions. I don’t do either. Eventually, he clears his throat and speaks again, this time he sounds happier. Almost gleeful.

“He left you a considerable sum of money, Miss Lewis. Property too. I’ll need you to come into my office in LA. to sign the paperwork. It’s pretty straightforward. Check your email for the details. You are about to be a very wealthy woman. Congratulations.”

Another pause. I probably mumble “okay” or “yes” but I don’t remember. His voice transforms back to soothing—the sound equivalent of backing away slowly. He knows it’s a lot for anyone to process, especially someone clearly not doing great in her life.

“Sorry for your loss, Miss Lewis. See you soon. Goodbye.”

Magic eight ball. Golden egg. 11:11. Gemma.

A dripping sound from the sink brings me back to where I am—sitting on my dirty kitchen floor shivering. The faucet’s been leaking for the past three months, but right now the sound feels like an urgent alarm. I’ve got to get moving. Things to do. I don’t know how to do any of them.

A line of ants marches across the floor toward a stray light-brown generic toasted O piece from the last of the cereal I ate dry for dinner last night. I trace the line as it marches up my scratched brown cupboards to the small curtainless kitchen window. My thoughts wander as I watch them, backward instead of forward.

Both my parents died when I was a baby in a horrific accident on the highway. They’d gone dancing at the Elk Lodge as their first outing since I was born. The headline in the newspaper read “Swing Dance Champions Killed in Two-Car Crash” with the subhead “Alcohol Involved.” I printed out a copy of the article from the library when I was a teenager and remembered the words “quick” and “instant.”

Framed in my bedroom is a photo the babysitter took before they left. We are standing in front of a glittery silver Christmas tree. Mom’s dressed in deep purple and dad in dark green. He’s got his lean arms around her tiny waist and they are both staring at me smiling. I’m wrapped in a pale pink blanket and my red hair and blue eyes are the brightest things in the photo. We look deliriously happy. I wish I could remember.

My grandpa did his best but he wasn’t cut out to care for a small child. A music producer with contracts with some of the biggest names in the business, his lifestyle wasn’t exactly family-friendly. His LA office walls were covered in shiny gold and platinum album covers. He talked fast, always clicked a pen, and smiled a lot. He chewed gum. I don’t remember if he ever hugged me.

I do remember his secretary. She wore cat-eye glasses, and bright red lipstick, and smelled of vanilla. I spent a lot of time hiding under her desk and eating chocolate. Her name was Valerie. Will she be at the funeral? She’s got to be in her 80s.

I need to make plans. Take out the garbage. Spray the ants. Get time off from work. A bus ticket. I’ll need something black to wear to the funeral. Will Gemma miss me?

“You are about to be a very wealthy woman.”

I can’t think about it too much or maybe it won’t happen. Bad things always follow when I get my hopes up. Fortune cookies are nonsense. I look at the clock and see it’s 11:11.

***

The last few weeks have been a blur of technicolor LA opulence. Jimmy, the fancy British lawyer who called me, is a pretty decent guy with his silk Italian suits, well-manicured hands, and rich warm laugh. I know he’s paid to help me, but I couldn’t survive without the services he provides—a strict and steady Hollywood regime of valium, alcohol, and expensive dresses. I’m Alice in Wonderland and it’s all curiouser and curiouser.

I stay in grandpa’s posh LA apartment, one of three properties he left me in his will. Most of the place is chrome, absurdly clean, and lacking any personal artifacts. The one exception is a photograph of me on his nightstand. I am 4 or 5, the age when he left me, laughing in candy cane pajamas. When I tilt my head in the dim light faint fingerprints appear on the silver frame. I stare at them for hours wondering why he never tried to find me.

Jimmy said grandpa paid a “nice family” to raise me in the suburbs. He thought they’d give me a better home. “Safe from the LA crazies.” He didn’t come to visit because he wanted me to have a normal life. It’s probably good he didn’t. I’m not sure what would have happened if he knew the truth about how they treated me. The abuse. I’m sure it would have broken his heart.

Grandpa’s funeral is a who’s-who of the music scene and I meet more famous people and Hollywood stars than I can name. Each one says “your grandfather was a hell of a man.” I say “thanks” as if I’d been a part of it.

Grandpa left a lot of unfinished business, personal and professional. I sit through dozens of wildly uncomfortable meetings where people glare at me and say “who is this again?” They want to be sure I know I am a nobody. Unfortunately for them, I am the nobody who gets the money they think is theirs.

Apparently, grandpa led a very active social life. I have more than one drink thrown in my face. One woman even calls me a “charlatan.” For some reason I like it. I might have it tattooed on my arm. I can afford it.

Besides the apartment in LA, I now own a penthouse in New York and a beach house along the Northern California coast. I also have a car. It’s not just any car. It’s a shiny black 1956 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz. I polish it myself with super expensive wax. I name it Ben.

After kissing Jimmy goodbye and promising to come back soon, I kick off my shoes and drive barefooted the six hours back home. I eat sunflower seeds throwing the shells out the window while wearing a flowing white dress with tiny daisies embroidered on the sleeves. My red hair tangles in the wind and I sing at the top of my lungs to the Grateful Dead.

“Walk out any doorway. Feel your way, feel your way like the day before. Maybe you’ll find direction around some corner where it’s been waiting to meet you.”

Pulling into the parking lot of my old work, I’m thrilled to see Gemma’s old brown car parked along the side entrance. I park beside it, run my fingers through my hair, and apply pink lip gloss. It’s a little over three hours before she comes out. I’ve been dozing off and on, but at the sight of her, I’m wide awake.

She’s wearing a black hoodie and she stops beside her car, digs through her big black bag, and pulls out a clove cigarette. Her makeup has smeared and it’s clear she’s been crying. I don’t want to startle her, so I wait.

After a few minutes, her eyes find mine. Recognition takes a moment but it’s worth it. Her face transforms. Light returns to her eyes and her cheeks pinken.

“Your golden egg, huh?”

Smiling, I nod slowly and pat the leather seat beside me.

“Let’s go to the ocean.”

Author’s note: It’s the first week of NaNoWriMo and so far I’m on track! Last night I ventured across town to read my poetry in person at an amazing bookstore. I’m leaning more and more into this writing life. It’s scary and beautiful. My story this week features the character who wanted me to write her last week, Eloise Lewis. She didn’t want to meet the devil, but she did want to run away to the ocean. It felt nice to give her a happy ending. I hope you enjoyed it.


Short Story Challenge | Week 44

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 fortune cookie comes true. We had to include the words numerology, hilarious, dictionary, recycled, brick, ocean, meaningful, garbage, star, and origin.


Write With Us

Prompt: A Strange Request at a Piano Bar
Include: carnival, apple, sprained, mask, juvenile, controversy, oxidation, twirl, awkward, sassafras


My 52-Week Challenge Journey