The Child | A Short Story

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

“Hi birdies,” she says.

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

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

“Hello rabbit,” she says.

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

“Wait,” she says. “Come back!”

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

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

“Rabbit!” she calls.

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

“Leave me alone,” she cries.

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

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

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

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

“Oh,” she says. “Hi!”

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

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

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

“Hello?” she calls.

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He runs across the tire tracks and back.

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

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

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

“Save my child.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hello,” the little girl says.

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

“You found my paints,” Alita says.

“Ralph showed me,” she says.

“Ralph?”

“He’s funny!”

“Indeed he is. Can you talk to him?”

“When I’m a rabbit.”

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

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

The child sets down her brush and frowns.

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

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

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

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

“I like red hair too,” she says.

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

They both smile.

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

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


Short Story Challenge | Week 20

Each week the short stories are based on a prompt from the book “Write the Story” by Piccadilly, Inc. This week’s prompt was to write a story about a young child making a discovery. We had to include Superman, ginkgo Biloba, cavern, clicker, aloe, moviegoer, stretch, fury, yardstick, and makeup.


Write With Us

Prompt: High school hierarchy

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


My 52 Week Challenge Journey

Playing Games | A Short Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I told you to go home,” Faven says.

“You’re welcome,” Apollo says.

“Hi!” Luz says.

“Where did you get those?” Faven says.

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

“Stole them,” he says.

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

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

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

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

“Go!” Faven says. “It only wants me.”

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

“We fight together,” Luz says.

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

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

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

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

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

“What do we do?” Luz says.

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

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

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

“Where do we go?” Luz says.

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

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

“Show me,” she says.

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

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

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

“I did!” Luz said.

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

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

“I’ll get us there,” Faven says.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No!” Apollo screams.

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

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

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

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

“The bell rang,” she says.

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

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

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

“Yeah.”

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

“Are you okay?” Luz says.

“I don’t know,” Favin says.

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

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

“Right,” she says.

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

After School | A Triolet

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

Mother’s Love | A Nonet

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

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


Short Story Challenge | Week 18

Each week the short stories are based on a prompt from the book “Write the Story” by Piccadilly, Inc. This week’s prompt was to write a story where a child’s dream literally becomes true. We had to include the high school, captivate, portfolio, argyle, witness, fertile, eyebrow, pentagram, thirsty, and guidance.


Write With Us

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

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


My 52 Week Challenge Journey

52 Weeks – Week 14 – Something Bad

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

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

Anna’s Week 14: Andromeda’s Lament

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

Dani and the Queen

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I can’t,” he says. “I really can’t.”

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

“I’ll be right back,” she whispers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Where do you think you’re going?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What do you want?” she says.

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

“I miss you.”

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

“Get out. I don’t want you…here.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Monsters…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The monsters…” she whispers.

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

“The monsters…” she says again.

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

Dani’s realization has come too late.

The monsters are here.

She will be the first to die.

The bodies will be piled in the courtyard.


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


Next Week’s Prompt

Prompt: A writer with noisy neighbors

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


My 52 Week Challenge Journey

There are moments when the monster wins

Walking up the stairs with my arms full of laundry and my coffee cup balanced on the top, I tripped.

I didn’t fall, but my knee hit the stairs and I dropped everything. The hot coffee burned the front of me and also managed to get on most of the newly cleaned white clothes I’d been carrying.

On another day, I’d probably laugh or curse. Or maybe I’d do both.

Not today.

Today the tears I’d been holding back came rushing forward violently. Before I knew it, I had to sit as my body convulsed with sobs, the deep kind that take over every inch of your body. I felt like my insides were ripping apart and that nothing could ever be right again.

After a few minutes, I stopped.

Grabbing a white sock to dab my eyes, I started to clean up the mess. I’d have to wash all the clothes again, spray clean the carpet, wipe down the walls and put burn cream on my chest.

I moved through the motions trying to squash down the pain inside and just go forward, but I could feel it clawing at me. Its talons scratching my gut, begging me to just succumb to it.

So, I made my way to my bed. Pulling the covers over my head, I let it come. The pain didn’t disappoint. It was faithful in its ability to crush me and tear at me. I buried my head in my pillow and screamed.

This happens sometimes.

The weight of life just crushes me and everything just becomes too much.

My mind becomes a prison in which I am stuck reliving decisions and fighting against my own reality. Over and over the same records play until I want to smash them against the wall.

Then the fantasy takes over and my mind becomes a blur of alternative realities where I’m not here in this bed screaming in pain, but I’m happy and living a completely different life constructed from dreams of what might have been.

Sadness, disappointment, grief, regrets, guilt and fear all swirl around until it almost becomes a game to see how deeply I can feel.

Then it just stops.

The tears cease, my gut unclenches and I roll onto my back and look at the ceiling. I will myself to slow my breath and to be calm.

I roll onto my side and look at the green walls of my bedroom.

Flashes of the day my husband and I painted it run through my head, along with images of cool forests and tall trees.

I stare at the walls and concentrate on being here.

I’m right here.

Scanning the room, I take in all the little mementos of the life I have.

Moon lanterns made at camp, my collection of old perfume bottles that were my grandmothers, a painting of a creek running through a forest that hung in my childhood home and two large pictures of my children as babies.

My boy. In this picture he has this little drop of drool right on his chin and he is staring straight at the camera. I love looking at those sweet wispy curls and I still get lost in those amazingly bright blue eyes.

My girl. She is wearing this adorable pink knitted bonnet and dress that her grandma made her and is lying on her tummy. Those soft and chubby cheeks fill the picture and I remember how I couldn’t stop kissing them.

Nothing is so bad that I can’t endure.

Sacrifice.

It’s what being grownup is all about.

Sarah: That’s not fair!

Jareth (Goblin king): You say that so often, I wonder what your basis for comparison is?

–Labyrinth

Life is pain, highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.

–The Princess Bride

I’m up and writing, but that monster is still calling me back to bed. I can feel its pull, almost hear its talons clicking together in anticipation of ripping at my gut some more. It doesn’t always give me a choice, but today I have some fight in me.

I’m going to fight.

Time to shower and leave my home.

Reinforcements, a good book and coffee, are greatly needed.

Sadly, I am acutely aware that I am not even close to alone in this battle and that so many will relate to this piece. Know that although I am often lost in my war, I am here to support yours. If you need an ally, you’ve found one.

I’m still here.

bridgette