The Golden Muse | A Short Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The golden shadow…”

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

“Scratch…Scratch…Scratch.”

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

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

“Scratch…Scratch…Scratch.” 

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

“Scratch…Scratch…Scratch.” 

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

“Scratch…Scratch…Scratch.”

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

“Scratch…Scratch…Scratch.” 

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

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

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

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

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

Golden muse, shadow of pen on paper

You inspired me, yet you feel so far away

Words float around, bubbles of colored vapor

Golden muse, shadow of pen on paper

Endings, beginnings round and round I caper

Lost in dark along the perfectionists highway

Golden muse, shadow of pen on paper

You inspired me, yet you feel so far away

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


Short Story Challenge | Week 15

Each week the short stories are based on a prompt from the book “Write the Story” by Piccadilly, Inc. This week’s prompt was to write a story about a writer with noisy neighbors. We had to include the words dentist, rainbow, explosion, horizon, cactus, palm, Saturday, latte, beets, and sample.


Write With Us

Next Week’s Prompt: Newlyweds on their honeymoon

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


My 52 Week Challenge Journey

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 6 – The Hitchhiker

Prompt: Picking up a hitchhiker

Include: hospital, defer, interface, experiment, beaker, visualize, mattress, skyline, interpret, zap

Read Anna’s Week 6

Through the Glass Windshield

Alice can’t remember being this bored in her life. She flops down on her bed, disturbing a pile of textbooks and papers. Her tutors seem intent on overworking her since her sister left for college as if an increased workload could keep her from her feelings. Alice wishes it could.

Bianca, the fluffy white cat her sister left behind, jumps onto Alice’s stomach and begins kneading her belly with its paws. She should shove the cat off because she’ll get white hair all over her nice blue cardigan and white dress but she doesn’t think it’s fair. Bianca is sad too.

Alice reaches her fingers out in front of her toward the peaked ceiling of her attic bedroom. Her nanny Margaret used to say “adventure lies at your fingertips.” Alice can recall all the times she’s tried to see something beyond her fingertips, laying in the grass staring at the cloudless sky or crawling under one of the large hydrangea bushes and pressing her fingers through the mass of green and purple. To her, adventure seemed far beyond the reach of her fingertips, perhaps hidden behind a veil she couldn’t see.

Her parents haven’t been home in months, traveling for this thing or another, and Alice feels their absence mixing with her sister’s to form a sort of melancholy madness within her. Her feelings are like an underwater volcano rumbling and fuming but hidden under the deep dark water. The bubbles of hot steam would take days to reach the surface.

Bianca pounces on a pencil but lands on a pile of slippery paper. She does a sort of ungraceful pawing in an attempt to get her footing but ends up falling onto the floor. Alice rolls onto her stomach and peers at her. She’s shaking her paws and ignoring Alice as if it was her fault. This sort of thing used to make Alice laugh but instead she just feels sorry for the cat.

Alice rolls out of bed, straightens her dress, pulls up her white tights, and fixes her pearl necklace so the clasp rests at the back of her neck. Standing at her lone triangular window, she watches the gardeners weeding the flowerbeds along the driveway. She can recall waving to the flowers in the mornings as a child, especially the sunflowers and daisies as they moved their heads to follow the sun. She has an urge to do it again.

Pressing her fingertips into the glass she follows the line they make to the light blue VW Beetle her parents bought her for her sixteenth birthday, a car she’s driven only a handful of times. Alice rarely has anywhere to go. Tutors come to her. She has no friends. There are people who cook for her, clean for her and shop for her. She traces the round curve of the car with her fingers and makes a bold decision.

She slips on her black ballet flats and pats the now sleeping Bianca on the head before tiptoeing down the wooden stairs. She’s supposed to be studying and the house staff keeps a close eye on her. She can visualize a detailed report of her activity being compiled and sent to her parents daily and it makes her furious. She’s not something to be managed, and without her sister to distract those thoughts away, she lets them rage inside her. The volcano might be close to erupting.

A wooden rack by the tall front door contains a neat row of silver and brass keys of various sizes and shapes all hung on small black hooks. Alice has no idea what all the keys are for despite asking her parents and the staff numerous times. Her keys, the last in the row, are easy to spot thanks to the keychain her sister sent her; a silly grinning pink striped cat with a curling tail and yellow eyes.

Alice peeks through the stained glass of the front door to see where the gardeners are and smiles at the way the colored glass transforms the tidy lawn, flowerbeds, and trees into a kaleidoscope of topsy-turvy colors and shapes. It feels like magic. She opens the door and senses an opening inside herself; a beginning. She runs to the car before someone can stop her.

She imagines people are chasing her, calling her back to her room and her studies, but when she glances in her rearview mirror she sees nothing of the sort. Her quiet street remains neat and orderly with all the hedges clipped into unnatural shapes, not at all the way they grow in nature. Alice realizes she craves wildness, an undisturbed and disorderly place. She turns from the city and presses her fingers out in front of her-letting her fingertips lead the way.

At first, Alice drives with a hyper-focus on the rules of the road making sure to stay three car lengths from the vehicle in front of her and to stop for a full 10 seconds at each stop sign. She plays no music but listens for sirens or signs of someone following her. As the skyline of the city shrinks and disappears behind her, she keeps imagining she’ll be arrested and incarcerated for breaking a rule-the first time in her life.

When nothing happens, Alice begins to relax. She rolls down the window and lets the wind mess up her perfectly styled blonde hair. It occurs to her, in a rush, she’d left her cellphone and purse upstairs in her room. For a moment it feels like a fatal mistake. She imagines a true-crime podcast trying to make sense of her actions, taking her absence of forethought to be some dire clue. The feeling doesn’t take hold though. The further she drives without incident, the more it changes into a sense of giddy freedom. Nobody can track her and she can do what she wants. It makes her laugh.

Alice finds herself leaving the highway and driving on a series of two-lane roads weaving through a part of town she didn’t know existed. There are tall fields of wild grasses dotted by an occasional horse or cow, long driveways disappearing into clumps of tall trees, dusty tractors cutting deep grooves into the soil, and watery rice fields with long-necked white cranes. It feels reckless and Alice enjoys the feeling. Each turn feels like an unwinding or maybe a winding up.

After going across a series of small one-lane bridges she turns onto a dark strip of road filled with things both wonderful and scary; tall unmanaged weeds with giant thorns, rows of scraggly trees leaning across the road as if trying to touch each other, rusted cars stripped and naked without seats or mirrors, and a heaping pile of junk with a faded yellow mattress set on the top like a dirty garbage throne. 

It’s a bumpy road and it occurs to Alice she doesn’t know how to change a tire. She slows to avoid needing to figure it out when she spots a strange short man standing dressed in an expensive and spotlessly clean white linen suit. He holds a large gold pocket watch in his hand attached to his jacket by an extravagant gleaming chain. Her windows are down, and as she nears him, she can hear him exclaiming in a quick agitated voice.

“I’m late! I’m late! Oh, this isn’t good at all. I’m so late and I do have such an important date. Oh me, oh my! I’m late.”

Alice stops the car beside the man, aware this isn’t something she should do. Vaguely she recalls the words “stranger danger,” but dismisses it because he looks familiar. He has small watery eyes and hops from foot to foot.

“Are you alright?” Alice calls.

The man jumps, quite high considering his large belly, and then peers into the passenger window at Alice. She notices this close up he’s got a small thin mustache and rather large ears. The buttons on his jacket are gold faces, all slightly different expressions, but all with large bulbous noses. The man looks at his watch and then back at her several times before speaking.

“I’m so late! I’m so very very late!”

“Would you like a ride?” Alice asks.

She’s shocked at her boldness and marvels at how different being impulsive feels. The man looks from the watch to her and back again. He smiles at Alice and she wishes she could remember where she knows him from, perhaps he’s a friend of her father.

“I’m late! I’m so very late!” he says. “I wouldn’t dream of imposing, but if you really don’t mind…”

He’d given her a chance to change her mind, but Alice unlocks the door and smiles at him. She’s being a good citizen. This man is harmless and…he’s late!

He slides into the passenger seat bringing with him the unmistakable smell of flowers. He opens and shuts his pocket watch several times before erupting into a series of sneezes, each a bit larger than the last. He pulls out a white handkerchief covered in tiny red roses from his jacket pocket and loudly blows his nose.

“Are you okay?” Alice says.

The man sneezes again, and it’s such an exuberant thing it makes Alice giggle. She covers her mouth to stifle the sound, afraid to hurt his feelings. He opens and closes his watch, blows his nose several more times, and then stares at Alice.

“Do you have a cat?” he says.

Alice nods.

“I’m allergic,” he says and sneezes a few more times.

Alice wishes she’d not let Bianca climb all over her, but the man gives her another smile and his cheeks flush a light pink.

“I’m late,” he says, flipping the watch open again.

“Where should I take you?”

“That way,” he says.

He points straight ahead and Alice begins driving slow on the uneven road, avoiding holes in the ground and the odd pieces of garbage. She wants to speak to the man more, but he seems rather absorbed in looking at his watch, sneezing, and mumbling to himself.

“I’m late. Oh, dear. This will not do. I’m so late.”

“What are you late for?” Alice asks, unable to contain her curiosity.

The man doesn’t respond, and she thinks it would be rude to ask a second time. 

The road takes a sharp turn to the left followed by two more sharp turns to the left. Alice knows, logically, it should lead back to the place they started, but it does not. The road has become wide, smooth and lined by tall hedges cut the exact same height and width. They drive through a pair of golden gates toward an impressivly large mansion surrounded by gigantic rose bushes.

Alice pulls into a valet loop stopping directly in front of the house. Two men rush past her car with buckets of red paint and she swears they look oddly square. Without a word, her passenger jumps from the car, straightens his suit, and runs toward a gathering of people in the gardens to the left of the house. Alice can make out red banners, red carpets, and people dressed in fancy clothes. She calls after the man, but he doesn’t hear her. A long black car appears in her rearview mirror and honks impatiently for her to move.

Alice wonders about the party and why the man was so worried about being late. Perhaps he’s supposed to officiate a wedding or give out an award. Alice doesn’t like not knowing things. She plans to circle back to get some answers, but once she’s pulled away from the house the road narrows and narrows until it’s barely wide enough for her small car to pass. 

Without the ability to turn around she’s forced to continue as the one-lane road winds around and around and up and up. It’s dizzying how high she climbs and how cold the air becomes. Alice rolls up her windows as patches of snow appear beside the car. Tall pine trees form a barrier along the road and she can’t see anything past them. She fears the twisting road will go on forever, but it doesn’t.

Without warning the road stops at an enormous white wall stretching left and right as far as she can see. Alice rubs her eyes. She climbed a snowy mountain to arrive at the base of a wall with no snow in sight. How curious!

There’s a zapping electrical sound in the air and Alice rolls down her window to search for the source. She’s amazed at how warm the air has become. A tall thin man dressed in colorful clothing, layers, and layers of it, leans against the wall. He has a cloud of smoke in front of him, and as she watches, he breaks into an interpretive dance. The smoke changes color from white to blue as he moves in a fluid circular motion, his long arms and legs making graceful arches around him.

Alice can’t take her eyes off him and, as if she’d willed it to happen, he moves toward her car. He arrives at the driver’s window in a flurry of colorful smoke. He has one green eye and one blue. The smell of patchouli, sage, and clove fills her car and makes her dizzy. He gives her a relaxed smile she recognizes but can’t remember why.

“Who are you, man?” he asks.

He says it slowly, drawing out each word, and it makes Alice giggle. He spins in a circle, a blur of colorful silks floats around him like smoke. He smiles again, leaning so close his blue stone pendant necklace touches her arm.

“Who are you, man? Like, where did you come from?”

“I’m Alice. I came up the mountain. I mean I came down the mountain. Actually, I’m not sure.”

“Whoa, that’s trippy man. Did you go up or did you go down?”

“I don’t know.”

“Far out, man.”

Alice watches him as he begins to dance again, spinning and spinning until she worries he may fall down. He doesn’t. He pulls out a small wooden pipe and fills her car with green smoke smelling of pine needles. Alice swears it circles around him like a wreath, the old line from “Twas the Night Before Christmas” ringing in her head. He gives her a dimpled smile.

“Where are you going, Alice?”

“I don’t know.”

“Then how can you go there? I mean, how can you go somewhere you don’t know, man?”

“I don’t know.”

Alice feels confused. The man pulls out a dark brown bottle from a hidden pocket in his clothing and dumps two pills onto his dirty palm, one red and one blue. He holds them out for Alice to examine.

“One pill makes you larger. Like, real big, man. The biggest you can imagine being. You might not stop either, getting bigger and bigger and bigger.”

Alice nods but has no idea what he’s talking about.

“One pill makes you smaller. Like tiny, man. Like so small you can hide in plain sight and nobody can touch you. So so small.”

It occurs to Alice he’s some kind of drug addict and maybe these are experimental drugs or pills he created. He holds the pills out to her in offering, but she shakes her head no. He swallows both pills without water. He giggles and Alice does too. There’s a sort of mania about him, but it doesn’t feel dangerous. It feels electric.

Suddenly, a purple smoke smelling of lavender fills the car and it makes Alice feel a bit sleepy. The man begins dancing again and, as Alice watches, he appears to become bigger and smaller over and over. The wall behind him appears to grow and shrink as well. Alice rubs her eyes and realizes she might be drugged by the smoke. It’s an unsettling feeling, but it has made her too relaxed to fully care.

With a flourish, and returning to his regular size, he climbs into the passenger seat and shuts the door behind him. He points at the wall, a flurry of silver bracelets slipping up and down his arm.

“You want to go through, man? Break on through to the other side?”

Alice nods.

“You need to use the interface, man. You gotta like tell it to let you pass.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

He points a long finger at the wall. His nails are painted purple and there’s a large butterfly ring on his thumb.

“Tell it, man. Tell the wall you want to go through.”

Alice leans out her window and faces the wall. She feels foolish.

“Can you let me pass, please?”

The man laughs and touches her hand. A spark of electric energy passes between them; a shock. His eyes blaze brightly.

“No, man. You got to tell it, not ask it. Tell it!”

Alice hasn’t had the occasion to demand anything in her life, so it feels awkward. He squeezes her hand reassuringly, and she feels another shock. She leans out the window toward the looming white wall and shouts with all her might.

“I demand you let me pass! Now!”

It works! The wall opens wide enough for the small blue car to pass through onto a wide-open countryside with rolling green hills in all directions. The sun shines overhead in a clear blue sky, and the man blows out a yellow smoke smelling of honeysuckles and springtime. He looks at Alice through the haze.

“Who are you, man?”

“Alice. I told you, remember?”

“Yeah, but like, what’s an Alice?”

Alice can’t think of what to say. It’s a strange question, one she hasn’t considered before, and she’s about to ask him who he is when he opens the door and rolls out of the car. Alice slams on the brakes, but he’s on his feet skipping up a small hill covered in daisies waving madly in a flurry of color and movement. Alice waves back until he disappears from view.

For a long time, Alice drives in silence pondering the strange man’s question; what’s an Alice? She’s defined herself by the roles she plays; the little sister, the dutiful daughter, and the student. Alice must be more though, right? She can’t simply be a thing to other people.

Last summer her sister took a course in philosophy and she’d become dull and full of unanswerable questions. Alice can recall her talking about reality and consciousness until she’d talked herself into a frenzy and cried herself to sleep. Alice feels close to the same feeling now.

The road takes a sharp right turn, and then another, and then a third. Alice finds she’s left the countryside behind and she’s passing a large hospital with rows of reflective windows reaching high into the sky. Straining to see the top, she doesn’t see a man crossing the road until she’s upon him. She slams on her brakes and stops less than an inch from his legs.

“Sorry!” Alice calls. “Are you okay?”

The man gives her a crooked smile and laughs with a small snort. He’s got a bulging brown leather bag draped across his chest and is carrying a large misshapen birthday cake on a plate with bright pink frosting. He rushes to her car window and leans in.

“Oh, it’s you!” he says.

He’s wearing dark black eyeliner accentuating murky blue eyes with tiny black pupils. Curly reddish hair peeks out from under a large black top hat with colorful patches. Dressed in purple pants with a maroon jacket, he bows slightly and Alice feels the spark of familiarity she’s been feeling all day. Curiouser and curiouser! 

“Do I know you?” she asks.

“Does a butcher know a baker or a candlestick maker? Does a sailor know a ship in the deep blue sea? Does a turtle know the sand it’s hatched into?”

“I suppose.”

“Suppose or supposed?”

“I don’t know.”

The man moves to the passenger side of the car and climbs in, bringing with him the sugary sweet smell of cake and frosting. The familiar pang of worry hits her stomach for a moment. She doesn’t know this man, for sure, but she dismisses it and realizes it has become easier and easier to do so.

The man unstraps the leather bag and lets it fall to the floor with a clattering of glass. He balances the cake on his knees and Alice can see “Very Merry Unbirthday” written in blue frosting across the top.

“Unbirthday?”

“Why, yes. Don’t mind if I do.”

While Alice resumes driving, the man retrieves from his bag a beaker of pale pink liquid and a white teacup with a matching saucer covered in tiny red hearts. Holding both above the cake, he pours the liquid from the beaker into his teacup splashing several drops onto the cake. He returns the beaker to his bag and sips his tea loudly.

Alice doesn’t want to make the mistakes she’d made with her other passengers today in her efforts to be polite. She’d like some answers. Perhaps it was yelling at the wall, but she feels braver and begins questioning the smiling man as he sips his pink tea, firing off one question after another.

“What is your name?”

“The Mad Hatter or Matt Hatter, or some call me Simply Mad or Raving Mad. I prefer Hatter or Hattie, but I do answer to all.”

He attempts to tip his hat to Alice and more of the pink tea drips onto the cake.

“Do you know a man who wears a white suit?”

“White suit, White suit, have you any wool? Yes sir, yes sir, three bags full.”

“Do you know the colorful man with the smoke?”

“Oh, yes I know the smokey man, the smokey man, the smokey man. Oh, yes, I know the smokey man that lives on Drury Lane.”

The Hatter removes a small brown Dormouse from the front pocket of his jacket and sets it on the tea saucer. The sleeping thing wakes, puts its paws on the lip of the cup, and takes a long drink.

“Who is that?”

“Why he’s the cheese to my sandwich and the peanut butter to my jelly is all.”

The Hatter puts his ear down toward the Dormouse and nods as if the tiny thing is speaking to him.

“The Dormouse would like me to thank you for the ride. He’s quite fond of car rides and its been ever so long since we’ve had one.”

“Tell him he’s welcome.”

“Tell him yourself.”

The Hatter holds the Dormouse up toward Alice’s face and it blinks at her with small black eyes.

“You are welcome,” she says.

The Dormouse curls up into a ball in the plam of the Hatter and falls asleep.

“You must defer to me for all further inquiries,” the Hatter says.

He lurches forward with no warning and points excitedly out the window. The cake slides with him creating a trail of frosting on the door and on the sleeve of his shirt. Alice follows where he’s pointing.

“The hospital?” she asks.

“Yes, yes. I must go there,” the Hatter says. “The very merry unbirthday of my friend must take place today, for he might not have another one for a long time, poor fellow.”

“I’m sorry,” Alice says. “Didn’t we come from there?”

“Who can say where we come from? The land? The sea? The lollipop tree?”

Alice feels exhausted but turns the car around. Within a few minutes, they arrive at the place they started, but when she stops the car the Hatter begins to cry.

“Whatever is the matter?”

“Whatever is the Hatter you mean?”

“Why are you crying?”

“I’ve only just remembered that my friend, the March Hare, isn’t here because it’s April and that’s why you hit me with your car.”

Alice doesn’t know what to say so she drives away from the hospital. The Hatter pulls another beaker from his bag of a brownish liquid, pours it into his teacup, and drinks it down in one gulp.

“There!” he says.

He points to a park with a large pond and Alice pulls over. She recognizes this place and it feels comforting to be somewhere she’s been before. Her nanny Margret took her and her sister to this park each Tuesday and Thursday afternoon for three hours-the happiest times of her childhood. The slides, swings, and sandbox look the same as she remembers. The Hatter jumps out the car and Alice follows him. He sets down the cake and pulls a patchwork quilt from his bag and spreads it on the ground near a wide Willow tree.

Alice smooths out her dress and straightens her legs out in front of her. She’s had quite an adventure! She imagines this must be what it feels like to visit old friends. Perhaps she has! She wants to ask the Hatter about it but is afraid it would break the spell and the happiness she feels.

“It’s time,” the Hatter says.

Sixteen white candles pop and sizzle on the top of the lopsided cake. The Dormouse peers at Alice from the brim of the black top hat and she’s certain he winks at her. Without warning the Hatter sings to Alice with an exuberance she can’t recall anyone ever showing her before. It brings tears to her eyes.

“A very merry unbirthday

To me?

To you

A very merry unbirthday

For me?

For you

Now blow the candle out, my dear

And make your wish come true

A very merry unbirthday to you.”

Alice blows out the candles. The Hatter pulls plates, forks, and a serving knife from his bag and cuts them each a thick slice of the cake. Alice eats it while staring at the ducks in the pond. There are two young girls holding hands by the edge of the water, the smallest leans in and whispers to the larger one. Alice knows this moment, a secret between sisters, and it’s sweeter than the cake.

Alice, the Hatter, and the Dormouse watch the sun change the sky to orange, yellow, and purple before plopping down at the edge of the horizon like a fat orange ball. The Dormouse yawns and the Hatter slips him into his pocket, giving Alice a smile she feels reaches every part of her.

Laying down on the blanket Alice raises her hands toward the sky and watches the faint light as it dims and goes out at her fingertips.


Author’s note: When I read the prompt my first thought was to continue my theme from last week and write about a woman picking up her grandmother as a teenger on the road and hearing her story-a nod to Field of Dreams. This idea felt overdone and I went through a list of other ideas; aliens, angels, demons, ghosts (Large Marge!), killers, a person from the future. I ticked each off as not feeling right until I came up with the idea of setting the story with characters from one of my favorite childhood books. I’ve always been attracted to the story of Alice in Wonderland and wondered what it might be like for Alice to revisit her friends at a time in her life she might need a little adventure. This was wicked fun to write, and although I’m certain I didn’t get the characters quite right, I hope you enjoyed it. Stay curious!


Next week’s prompt: Week 7

Prompt: Selling a childhood home

Include: dreamscape, convince, pioneer, genesis, cumulous, jump, mash, condition, erase, gold


The Mad Hatter by Lola White

My 52 Week Challenge Journey

The Unbirthday Song (Alice in Wonderland) lyrics © Walt Disney Music Co. Ltd., Walt Disney Music Company, Wonderland Music Company Inc.