With a Touch of the Tapestry | A Short Story

After weaving through the crowded streets of London on the back of my boyfriend’s motorcycle, we finally arrive at an old three-story brick building east of Charing Cross and park next to a chain link fence covered in red and blue ribbons. It’s another obligatory charity event we must be seen at, this time featuring the eclectic artwork of a Tibetan monk with the unlikely name of DC Jones.

Smoking beside the wooden back door, Brax spots us and flicks his cigarette to the ground using the heel of his chunky black doc to snuff it out. He’s been waiting to let us in so we don’t have to face the crowds of paparazzi waiting out front. Without his usual black hat, I can see he’s dyed his buzzcut the color of sharp cheddar.

“Did ya hear?”

There’s a quickness to his nasally voice that I associate with being high and I prepare myself for whatever crazy thing he’s about to say. His bright green eyes are outlined with thick black eyeliner and his lips are painted sparkly blue. There’s a huge hole in his black t-shirt exposing some of his hairy stomach. I hope he’s staying outside or in some back room.

“Hear what?” Ollie says, pulling off a dark leather helmet and dismounting his shiny black Ducati. His blonde curls are matted and sweaty, which only enhances how incredible he looks in his expensive tailored maroon suit. He helps me off the bike and I have to stop myself from leaping into his arms so our bodies are touching again.

We’ve been together for six months and I’ve lost my mind. He’s all I think about. Ollie Sinclair, the man with the icy blue-grey eyes of a wolf, is the enthusiastic lead singer of the underground punk band Juxtaposed. A wild child of famous parents, supposedly chummy with the royal family, he’s unpredictable but kind with a husky voice like some fabled siren. I can’t get enough of him.

Pulling off my own helmet, both men turn to watch as my long red ringlets fall down cascading out like the red carpet undoubtedly unfurled at the front entrance. My hair is part of the magic of my family and I smile at the effect it has on both of them. The sound of brass chimes can be heard from inside the building followed by applause, but none of us are in a hurry. Brax smiles and steps closer to me.

“Hi, Neev.”

His voice is slurred, he’s got a glazed look in his eyes, and his hands are twitching. I know he wants to touch me. Wearing black leather pants, a tight maroon corset, and spiky heels, there’s little doubt I will distract every person in the room tonight. It’s how it’s always been—the good part of my family legacy. The complicated, yet easy part.

Brax stares into my olive green eyes and swallows hard. Ollie punches him on the arm and Brax shakes his head and looks at the ground. A former heavyweight boxer with a bit of a heroin problem, Brax is the manager of the band. He’s got a boyish smile despite being in his 50s and it’s hard to stay mad at him for long. Ollie gives him a quick hug thumping his back hard.

“What’s the big news?”

Brax sighs and looks up at the starry night sky. A sliver of the moon is visible behind a cluster of dark grey clouds. It might rain.

“Oh, yeah. The Queen died.”

Nothing could have prepared me for the sensation felt inside my body at those words. Thunder. No. Lightning. Electric sparks of pain shoot out from the center of my body activating every nerve ending. I’m not ready.

I want to believe the Queen’s death is a delusion of Brax’s current high, but the truth of it can be felt as an awakening inside me. Like when the cherry blossoms bloom overnight in Greenwich Park creating an arch of pink thick enough it nearly blocks out the sun. I’m lost in the haze of pink and I can barely breathe.

This will end everything. I knew it would happen, she was 96 years old, but no part of me really thought she’d die. I don’t want to do this.

“Are you okay?”

Ollie pulls me to him and I bury my face into his warm chest and let the wailing sobs come. The men talk softly saying things like “she loved the Queen” and “she’s got a tender heart.” They have no idea my feelings are purely selfish. After tonight I’ll pass them in the street and they won’t even look at me. My life as I know it has come to an end.

Brax runs into the building and returns with a wet towel that he places gently across the back of my neck. I gasp for air and Ollie looks like he might cry. His worried expression makes the fluttering chaos inside me intensify. Maybe I don’t have to do this. It’s ultimately my choice, right? What if I choose Ollie?

“Should we call an ambulance?” Brax says. He has tears in his eyes and probably thinks I’m having a bad trip or something. Ollie strokes my hair and kisses my cheek. It only makes things worse.

“No. I’m okay.”

Taking a step back from both men I run a hand through my long hair, parting the thick curls. This magic is an implement, a tool, given to our family for one purpose only. To abandon my duty is simply unheard of, but I’m not like the women before me. Ollie isn’t like the men before him. We could be something real in this world. The thoughts calm my breathing and I take Ollie’s hand and tenderly squeeze it.

Pulling a handkerchief from his pocket, I wipe the tears from my face and force a smile. I know what’s at stake here, but I don’t want to think about it anymore. I’d rather spend the evening beside the man I love being admired and envied. The alternative turns my stomach. I don’t want to think about it.

“Let’s go inside.”

“Are you sure?”

“I’m okay. People are looking forward to seeing us tonight. Let’s not let them down.”

Holding tightly to Ollie’s arm and leaving Brax at the backdoor, we walk through a maze of dark hallways toward the low humming sound of people talking. Each step requires immense concentration as a nuclear war rages inside me—fulfill my duty and save the world or do nothing and save myself. I’m in charge of my destiny. I get to make the choice but time is running out.

We reach a large square room lit by rows and rows of candles in tall brass holders, giving the space a flickering ghostly feeling. Several hundred celebrities and rich Londoners wander about the room looking at the monk’s odd, splotchy black-and-white paintings set on wooden easels in a spiral pattern in the center of the room. It feels as if I’m in a psychiatric hospital surrounded by flicking Rorschach tests.

A waiter hands me a tall glass of red wine and Ollie and I make our rounds kissing cheeks and trading compliments. Everyone wants to touch us, but instead of feeling the normal thrill of being seen and desired, I feel dizzy and weak. If only they knew the truth about me. If they knew what my inaction would do to their country, they’d be spitting in my face and tearing out my hair. Am I really willing to destroy everything to be fakely admired and loved?

Dressed in a rich brown fur shawl, a large pudgy woman with bright red cheeks grabs my arm and smiles. She smells of fig pudding and I imagine she’s a duchess of something. The rim of her wineglass is covered in pale pink lipstick.

“The Queen’s funeral is likely to be the social event of the decade. It will be a who’s who of the entire world and I’ve already made a call to several designers to get on the list for a dress. You have to work quickly in these situations or you will be left looking like a fool. Do you have a designer in mind dear?”

Her grip on my arm is too tight. Ollie senses my discomfort and answers for me. With a wink he defuses the situation, leaving the woman laughing. Her touch lingers on my skin, burning slightly as Ollie guides me to the next painting. As we stand side-by-side I know I have to get out of here.

“Are you really okay?”

Ollie’s voice drips with pity and concern. I hate this. I wish there was a way to fulfill my destiny and keep him, but that’s not how it works. Once I complete my task, everyone I’ve ever met will forget about me and I’ll return to my childhood home outside of London. That includes Ollie. It’s how it’s always been and always will be. It’s the bargain made and the price I have to pay for the years I’ve spent in the spotlight.

Mum tried to prepare me. She told me not to get close to anyone and to have fun. I should have listened. It’s too late.

“What time is it?”

For a moment we stand staring into each other’s eyes and I feel the room and all the people fading from my view. Standing on my tiptoes I kiss him with every ounce of passion in my body, hoping my lips and tongue can convey what my words can’t. Stepping back I pull up his sleeve and look at the golden watch on his wrist. 10:30 p.m.

“Do you know what time the Queen died?”

Ollie looks around the room and realizes I’m talking to him, he slowly shakes his head. Spinning from him I walk to a cluster of people standing around one of the paintings talking softly about the proper ingredients for Yorkshire pudding. I’m doing them a favor by interrupting such a boring conversation.

“Excuse me, but do any of you know the Queen’s time of death?”

Several people look at me and shake their heads, but a handsome middle-aged man I recognize from the game show “Mastermind” steps forward and touches my arm. He’s a former journalist with a warm smile and rich brown eyes. There’s a bit of sadness mixed with longing in his voice.

“It was announced at 6:30 p.m. that Her Majesty the Queen died peacefully at Balmoral, but I suspect she died much earlier than that. Perhaps sometime around noon and they were giving the family time to arrive.”

“That gives me roughly 1 1/2 hours. Shit.”

“1 1/2 hours to do what, my dear? Are you okay?”

Before I can answer, Ollie makes a joke and then pulls me from the group. Holding my arm tight, we walk silently through the crowds of people until we arrive back into the dark maze of hallways. Once we are out of earshot of the others, he stops and presses me against a brick wall. I think he might kiss me, but instead, he hugs me gently.

“Are you okay? You seem shaken by the Queen’s death. Is there something you aren’t telling me?”

For the second time tonight, I consider telling him the truth about the history of my family and our connection to the crown, but I know how insane it sounds. Plus, I’d have to reveal his attraction to me isn’t exactly of his own free will. Instead, I flip around and press him into the wall and kiss him one final time. I’m going to miss being Ollie’s girl. Tears roll down my cheeks.

“Goodbye,” I say, stepping back. He grabs my arm and pulls me hard into him with a mix of desire and an urge to protect me. He looks wild and scared. The magic is working overtime, but I remind myself he won’t remember any of this. I have to be strong. Pulling his watch off his wrist, I slip it onto mine.

“What’s going on? You aren’t acting like yourself? You are scaring me.”

His desperate voice is interrupted by the sound of heavy footsteps coming in our direction. Brax appears in the dark hallway holding up his cell phone flashlight. His nasally voice sounds frantic and there’s something that looks suspiciously like a gun in his other hand.

“Is everything okay?”

With a burst of adrenaline, I push away from Ollie and sprint past Brax through the dark hallways. They call to me, but I ignore them, bursting out the back door and into the cold darkness of the late summer evening. The pull inside me I’ve tried to ignore all night roars to life with fevered urgency.

I don’t bother with a helmet, but instead, hop on Ollie’s bike, turn the key, and press the starter button. Within moments I’m zooming toward Buckingham Palace, my magical hair blowing straight behind me like fluttery red ribbons. I’ve made my choice.

Tears stream down my face as I silently curse myself for being so stupid and not following procedure since mum died a year and a half ago. I’m supposed to visit the palace on a tour every summer and locate the tapestry so I’ll be able to reach it quickly. What if this is the year it’s been moved to another room or worse another palace?

When mum died suddenly of a heart attack, something inside me broke so fully that I lost all perspective. For a year I rebelled against every institution there is, testing the boundaries of my magic to see how far it protected me. I swam as far as I could out to sea without a life jacket, walked in front of speeding cars, and took all the drugs. Every time I was in danger, a stranger would risk their safety to save me.

All of my foolishness ended on the night I stumbled into a smokey club and saw Ollie on stage. From the second he opened his mouth I knew I wanted him. The last six months have been a dreamy mix of passion, music, creativity, and love. I got to do all the things I’ve wanted in life and now it’s time to do the thing I was born to do. My magic is a gift but it comes at a price and it’s time to pay.

Nearing the palace I see the roads are blocked off and there are hundreds of mourners streaming onto the grounds with bouquets of flowers, silver photographs, and stuffed animals. Some are carrying candles and singing. The Queen’s death will be a cause of great mourning, but if I don’t act quickly, things will become far more dire.

Ditching Ollie’s bike on the side of the road, I sprint past the mourners and toward the soldiers dressed in red tunics and black bear hats which have formed a line across the entrance to the palace. Walking slowly in front of them, I find a soldier who has already spotted my hair and is looking at me.

“I need to get inside,” I say. “It’s urgent.” 

Without a word, he escorts me through the large gates, across the lawn, and to a side door locked with an iron padlock crested with the head of a lion. Smiling, he takes out the key and turns it with a loud click. He’s young with soft, blue eyes. He and the other soldiers won’t remember they saw me, but I give him a kiss on the cheek anyway touching the golden strap of his helmet.

“Thank you.”

He blushes and I hurry inside. The lights are dim and I walk through what must be some kind of service area until I find the more familiar palace rooms I’ve visited every summer of my life. Checking Ollie’s watch I see it’s 11:30, which means I’m almost out of time. Fear thunders in my chest and I kick off my strappy heels so I can walk faster.

Although I’m seen by several officers and officials, nobody stops me or talks to me. I’m under the deep protection of magic, nearly invisible to everyone I pass. The energy inside my body vibrates and hums louder and louder.

Closing my eyes, I let mum’s voice guide me toward the tapestry, toward my destiny, and the role the women in my family have played in the monarchy for decades. I’m not sure how long I wander, occasionally bumping into a wall or a red velvet rope, but suddenly I feel it calling to me. Opening my eyes, I run barefoot down several long hallways, through two large sitting rooms, until I reach a room of gold and red.

Taking up almost an entire wall is the gorgeous tapestry of my ancestor. She’s standing with one hand up in the air and the other down at her side dressed in a vibrant dress of emerald green. There are several doves fluttering around her bright red hair which is filled with tiny white flowers. As I watch, one of the flowers falls to the ground.

Touching my own hair, I peek again at Ollie’s golden watch on my wrist. 11:55. I’m almost out of time. With all my might I push an antique desk from the wall until it’s close enough to the tapestry I can climb on top of it. 

Sweating and panting from the effort, I feel the magic inside my body pull into a giant ball within my chest—a beating heart of its own. Standing on tippy-toes I reach my hand up and touch the outstretched hand of the woman on the tapestry—my ancestor.

My mother did her best to explain what would happen, but I think part of me always thought it wasn’t true. How could our family lineage be responsible for protecting the sovereignty of a monarchy we weren’t directly related to? Yet, as the power flows out of me and into the tapestry the truth comes with it. A beautiful story of love and sacrifice.

The woman on the tapestry, Margret, was a faithful friend of the beautiful Queen Elizabeth I. A traveler and explorer, she loved her Queen with all her might and would bring her gifts from around the world. Unfortunately, lingering anger from the actions of her sister Mary and her father King Henry VIII had created conflict with the fairy kingdom. The result was pestilence, famine, and lingering curses throughout the land. 

Marget traveled far across the sea to the home of the Fairy Queen brokering peace between the two worlds offering herself and her descendants as servants of the fairies. The deal was agreed upon and Margret returned home with the tapestry. Once the Queen hung it within Richmond Palace prosperity and wealth once again flowed within the kingdom.

Each woman in our family since has been born with the power of incredible beauty and magic, but upon the death of the current King or Queen, we must return the magic to the tapestry by the stroke of midnight or the peace between the worlds would be shattered. It’s an incredibly important role and one I can’t believe I considered not fulfilling. Duty and destiny are far greater than any individual’s love and desire.

Falling backward onto the desk with the power returned where it belongs, I feel peacefulness spread through me as if I’m sitting in wool pajamas before a roaring fire. I thought I’d feel empty, but I don’t. The memories of Ollie and the life I’ve lived before this moment feel precious, but also hazy and far away. It’s as if it was all a beautiful dream and I’m finally awake.

I feel connected to my mum and the women before me in a way I can’t fully understand. Pride and love have replaced the magic. It’s a sensation of being whole and complete. A turning of the page.

Sliding off the desk, my bare feet feel cold against the stone floor. It’s time to leave the palace and return to my small childhood home on the outskirts of London. I feel the stirring of new life within my body, a shuddering sensation as if my capacity to love has grown instantly and infinitely greater. Closing my eyes I can see her—my own little red-haired beauty to carry on the family legacy. Touching my belly, I walk through the empty rooms and out the front door.


Author’s note: A few years ago I was fortunate enough to take a tour of Buckingham Palace. As I wandered the rooms almost in a trance, I was taken back to my younger self who dreamed of a “Princess Diaries” scenario. I imagined at any moment someone would appear from behind one of the rich tapestries to whisk me away to some secret room where I’d be told I belonged not in my middle-class home in the United States but rather within the historic walls of the palace.

When I discovered the prompt this week was to write about a story pulled from today’s headlines, I had to do something relating to the recent death of Queen Elizabeth II. Hopefully, this story was a fitting tribute of sorts and not at all offensive to anyone living in the UK. I tried to stay away from actual facts as much as possible, sticking instead to my naive love of fantasy tales like Neil Gaiman’s “Neverwhere.” Any errors on my part are simply a result of my trying to tell a compelling story.

I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did writing it. Let me know in the comments below and I send my deepest condolences to the royal family and all the people of the United Kingdom.


Short Story Challenge | Week 37

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 pulled from today’s headlines and rewritten. We had to include the words boxer, cherry blossom, magic, implement, artwork, safety, chime, chain link, towel, and ingredient.


Write With Us

Prompt: The main character witnesses a crime

Include: Christmas, almond, paisley, lion, pipe, scream, fade, French horn, inflate, maple


My 52-Week Challenge Journey

Poetry: My Grandma’s Jinn

as a tiny girl, I’d stare at the pretty bottle
on grandma’s cherrywood dressing table
while she covered my head in foam curlers
so I’d look good for the Lord on Sundays

when she wasn’t looking I’d run pudgy
fingers along its sleek pink sides before
silently tugging at the curved pearl top 
hoping for a peek at its magical elixir

it never gave away its secrets though
and as I grew up and moved far away
thoughts of it faded like my imaginary
friend—lost in the realm of make-believe

grandma died on a Tuesday in October
while I knelt in the pumpkin patch pulling
weeds, but it wasn’t until mid-November
the small box arrived covered in stamps

wrapped in several layers of colorful silk
with a scrawled note from grandma saying
“this is for you” was her pretty pink bottle
smelling faintly like rosemary and mint

tenderly I stroke it with tears in my eyes
thinking of kneeled prayers and organ music
before curiosity takes hold and using a knife
from the kitchen, I pry open the sealed top

he springs forth with mystical blue smoke
singing foreign words with a husky bass
directly addressing the lonely parts locked
deep inside my shattered, broken heart

“Kate” he purrs while locking his sapphire
eyes on me, crawling naked across freshly
washed hardwood floors until his hands
grasp mine with a burst of golden sparks

“I’m Katie” I struggle to say through ragged
breath “Kate was my grandma”—I don’t say
she was a devout Christian who would never
keep a naked man of blue smoke in a bottle

pulling himself to his full height he laughs
like a thousand brass chimes in the wind
like the roaring of the sky before a storm
like all the words inside me spoken at once

“Kate was my lover and I her faithful jinn
but after two wishes she trapped me within
to await the perfect time when I would be free
to dance with my love along the foamy sea”

confused by his musical words, I inch back
muttering softly “she died” while looking
at anything but the fierce intensity of his
piercing eyes—”she left the bottle to me”

salty ocean air floats through open windows
calling me to run on sandy shores barefooted
as waves swell and crash, swell and crash until
falling backward I land in his strong blue arms

thick perfumed smoke billows around us
folding me into his warm embrace as it always 
has been and always will be—his sultry soft lips
brush my ear whispering “what do you wish?”

  • Inspired by my grandma Kate and the film “Three Thousand Years of Longing”

The Blackberry Quest | A Short Story

It isn’t easy to surprise your mother when you are five years old, but Henrietta doesn’t mind doing hard things for the people she loves. For the last several hours she’s been on a hunt for blackberries to give her mother for her birthday. A tiring barefooted quest that’s led her to the very edges of where she’s allowed to go on their small farm.

Despite checking the ditches along the road, the field behind the animal barn, the banks of the small creek, and the apple orchard, her little wicker basket remains empty. Henrietta thought finding the berries would be easy as she’s gone with her mother to harvest them many times, but she never paid attention to where they picked them and now she wished she had.

Mother does so much for Henrietta and she loves blackberries and cream. She can’t go home empty-handed. She simply must keep looking.

Stuffing her left hand into the pocket of her favorite purple linen dress and swinging the basket in her right, Henrietta skips along the edge of the property marked by a two-rail wooden fence. Her thick, blonde braid bounces against her back and she sings a song about blue jays and mockingbirds with a sweet high voice her mother says is “purely delightful” but her new teacher calls “truly distracting.”

Pink-cheeked, she stops abruptly when she spots a dirt path leading into a patch of scrubby-looking old trees she’s never noticed before. Perhaps that’s where the berries are hiding. She stares at it for a long time, wrinkling up her nose and twirling the basket in her hand.

To follow the path means she must break the rules. It’s beyond the border of the wooden fence—the one she swore to never, ever cross. Closing her eyes tight she pictures the joy and delight on her mother’s face when she hands her the basket of berries and the decision is made. She has to go for it.

Hiking up her dress, Henrietta carefully climbs over the fence and lands with a thud on the other side. Her heart races as she sprints to the clump of scraggly trees, certain a huge blackberry bush will be waiting among them. It isn’t. There are only rocks, dirt, and weeds. She picks up a round grey stone and throws it in frustration. The berries must be just a little further.

For the next few hours, she follows several winding paths through a mostly dry forest of thorny weeds. She knows she should turn back but she keeps thinking she sees the dark green leaves of the berry bushes just around the next corner. Just a little further.

The path suddenly ends at a lumpy hill covered in swaying, yellow grasses. With hope still wrapped around her like a tiny silken cape, Henrietta tucks the basket under her arm and climbs on all fours like a bear to the very top. Thorns make her palms and bare feet burn and itch. Just a little further.

On the hilltop, Henrietta watches the dark purple wild lupine flowers sway slightly in the warm breeze of the now late summer evening. Tiny golden hairs escape her thick braid and curl around her ears. Still no sign of berries.

Scrambling onto a small boulder, Henrietta stands on tiptoes and reaches for the puffy white clouds in the darkening blue sky. She’s certain eating one would make things better. It certainly can’t get any worse.

Suddenly her left calf starts to cramp and she yelps in pain, tumbling from the rock into a patch of scratchy brown weeds. Curling into a ball she uses her thumbs to try and massage out the pain but it doesn’t work. Tears from her soft blue eyes make tracks down her bright pink cheeks. It’s not fair.

Rolling onto her back, she lands in a patch of soggy mud and feels it soak completely through her thin dress. Mom will be furious at the stains. She’s stupid and dumb for wandering away and getting lost. A useless baby.

These kinds of thoughts aren’t like Henrietta at all and she wonders if perhaps the wind is saying these awful things to her. She’s simply lost. That’s all. There’s no need for name-calling.

“Stop it wind. Stop being mean.”

As if in response the wind gusts across the hilltop causing the long stems of the flowers to lean almost to the ground. There’s a high-pitched sound, like when mother’s yellow tea kettle is ready, and Henrietta covers her ears and closes her eyes. She isn’t sure she wants to look for berries anymore.

When the wind stops, Henrietta sits up, expecting to see her beautiful mother appear over the crest of the hill and rescue her. When she doesn’t, Henrietta wipes the tears from her eyes with the muddy hem of her dress and sniffs loudly. Being brave is getting harder and harder.

Maybe it’s time to go home and give mother something else for her birthday. Henrietta’s thinking about putting together a bouquet of wildflowers when a horrible screeching sound causes her to look up. Two rather ugly birds sit on the rock she fell from. They are covered in black feathers with bright pink naked heads, hooked white beaks, and intense black eyes.

She scrambles backward further into the mud puddle and the birds laugh at her. It’s a horrid sound and it makes her mad. Jumping to her feet, she places her hands on her hips and stomps her foot sending a spray of mud up around her.

“Go away you mean things.”

“We aren’t mean things. We are vultures. Don’t you know anything?”

They take turns speaking, each saying one word at a time, with matching slow growly voices. Henrietta feels her cheeks heating up and she twists the hem of her dress in her left fist. The birds smell terrible so she plugs her nose, causing her voice to sound strange.

“I know lots of things.”

“Like what?”

“I know how to spell my name and count to 100.”

“Everyone knows that.”

“I know all the names of the flowers in my mother’s garden; pansy, bellflower, iris, candytuft, tulip, wisteria, and hydrangea.”

“Everyone knows that.”

“I can snorkel in the water all by myself and know the names of all the fish in the lake; trout, salmon, bass, catfish, perch, and pike.”

“Everyone knows that.”

The vultures laugh again, scraping their shiny black talons loudly against the rock and clicking their beaks. Henrietta thinks nothing of this warning but instead grabs a handful of mud and throws it at the birds. They dodge it easily and then dive toward her with loud, terrifying squawks.

“Oh, no!”

Realizing a bit too late she’s in danger, she turns quickly and sprints down the far side of the hill. About halfway down she discovers she’s going too fast but can’t stop herself. Instead, she falls forward until she’s rolling like a wild croquet ball spinning towards a field of wire wickets.

“Help! Someone help me!”

Within seconds a mass of blue and white swirls around her, circling wildly with tiny quick moments too fast to fully see. There’s a sweet sugary smell in the air and a low rhythmic humming Henrietta associates with lullabies and bedtime. She’s scared but also very curious.

The creatures move faster and faster until they are able to stop Henrietta’s forward movement and suspend her in midair upside down. She looks from the delicate soft creatures to the sky beneath her wiggling toes and giggles.

“Thank you, but I think I’m pointed the wrong way.”

The swarm of blue and white butterflies lightly laugh, flip her around, and gently ease her dirty feet onto a patch of soft green clover. Holding out her arms and spinning in a circle she dances with them until they eventually disperse and fly off into the darkening forest around her.

“Wow. What was that?”

“Butterfly effect.”

The fast breathy voice comes from inside the branches of a large sycamore tree leaning slightly to the right. Henrietta moves closer and finds a tiny squirrel climbing up and down the branches grabbing acorns from a pile at the base of the tree and then storing them inside a hole midway up the tree’s trunk. Its long bushy tail twitches up and down.

“Did you say butterfly effect?”

“I did.”

“What’s that?”

“What’s what?”

“The butterfly effect?”

“Yes.”

Henrietta laughs in frustration but the squirrel doesn’t stop moving and doesn’t add anything further. She leans down to examine the fat brown acorns touching one of the wooden caps with her fingertip. A terrible squeaking sound erupts and the squirrel rushes toward her.

“Don’t you dare! Those are mine!”

Henrietta quickly pulls her finger away and takes a step back.

“Oh, I’m sorry. I was just looking at them.”

“Had to purge my other spot…got too busy. Too busy. Industry moving in. Those beavers have no scruples I say. No scruples at all. They just take and take and take. These are mine. I collected them. Mine. Mine. Mine.”

Henrietta covers her mouth to stop a chuckle from escaping and then smiles gently at the squirrel who has stopped moving to look at her closer. It sniffs her hand with its twitchy nose and she can see the forest reflected in the shiny black of its small eyes.

“You lost?”

Its voice is slower and softer. Henrietta thinks it sounds worried about her. Looking around the thick forest of tall trees she finds nothing looks familiar. She really is lost.

“I guess I am. I was looking for blackberries for my mother’s birthday and I didn’t find them and then…I kind of got lost. I don’t know where I am.”

The last words bring a few tears and Henrietta quickly sweeps them away with the back of her hand. She feels like she should be tougher, after all, she’s a kindergartner now and can go down the big twisty slide without anyone to catch her at the bottom. The squirrel takes another step toward her with its head turned to the side.

“Can I help?”

Henrietta brightens at this.

“Maybe….do you know the way to my house? It’s the big blue one with the white fence behind it.”

The squirrel shakes its head sadly and they both sit quietly for a few minutes staring at the forest floor. Henrietta feels bad for stopping this kind creature from its work but then she has an idea. An exciting idea.

“Could I help you?”

“You’d do that for me?”

“Of course! We can use my basket to gather up the acorns and then I can climb up and dump them inside.”

Nodding its head vigorously they get to work putting the plan into action. Henrietta climbs trees in the orchard all the time to help her mother get the apples near the top, so climbing with the basket isn’t hard for her at all. Before the sun sets another inch in the sky, they are done.

The squirrel rushes around the tree chirping excitedly and Henrietta feels proud of herself. She loves to be a helper. It makes her heart feel as if it has grown big and full inside her body. Her mother would be so proud.

“Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” it chants over and over in time with its twitchy tail.

Stopping mid-tree, a thoughtful look breaks across the squirrel’s face followed by more frantic running and squeaking. Henrietta laughs hard and this time she doesn’t hide it. Bouncing on its back legs as if ready to spring high into the air and take flight, the squirrel talks super fast.

“I have an idea! I have the best idea of all the ideas in the woods. Will it work? I don’t know. But it’s a good idea. A fine idea. A wonderful idea. He owes me a favor and he has to be able to help. He has to. It’s a good idea. A great idea. I can help you!”

“You can?”

“Yes. I know someone who might be able to help! Wait here!”

With that, the squirrel scampers away at top speed mumbling “great idea.” Henrietta sits on the forest floor and picks out thorns from her dress and tosses them as far as she can. She wishes she’d asked for one of the acorns because her mother loves to draw little faces on them and line them up along the kitchen window. She decides she will ask the squirrel when it returns.

“I’m no snitch. I tell ya. No snitch. You can’t make me talk. No. No. I won’t tell you. I won’t.”

A gruff voice breaks through the woods and within moments Henrietta sees the squirrel walking slowly beside an old, fat, grey rabbit with a slight limp. It’s shaking its head, making its long, floppy ears flap all over the place. Henrietta thinks it’s the cutest rabbit she’s ever seen and has to sit on her hands to avoid reaching out to touch its soft fur.

“See! She’s nice and she needs our help.”

Stopping a few inches away the rabbit stares at Henrietta for a long time. She’s not sure if she should say something to it, and after what feels like forever, it nods once.

“I’m no snitch. I tell ya. No snitch. But I’ll show her the berries. For her mother…”

Henrietta jumps to her feet, sending both the squirrel and the rabbit into a nearby bush.

“Sorry. I’m just excited.”

“It’s okay. I’m no snitch, but let’s go. Don’t tell anyone I told you okay? Nobody. I’m no snitch.”

“Oh, I won’t tell a soul.”

The squirrel rushes to its pile and then returns to Henrietta with an acorn in its tiny paws.

“For you mother.”

“She will love it! Thank you!”

“You’re welcome.”

Henrietta wants to touch its soft fur but decides it might be bad manners and instead blows the squirrel a kiss before turning to follow the grumpy rabbit into the forest. They walk slowly in silence for a long time around fallen logs, through patches of bright green ferns, and around several large colorful mushrooms.

The sky beyond the trees has turned golden orange and purple. Soon the moon and the stars will be out. Her mother must be so worried about her and it makes Henrietta feel terribly upset. By the time they reach a large blackberry bush hugging the edge of a small stream her enthusiasm for picking has been replaced with utter despair.

“Here you go. Now, remember, I didn’t take you here. I’m no snitch.”

Henrietta begins to sob. She can’t help herself. All she wanted to do was make her mother’s birthday special and she missed the entire day, broke the number one rule, and probably won’t ever find her home again. Thinking about her mother’s crying green eyes makes her feel sick as she clutches her stomach.

The rabbit hops into her lap and looks at her with concern in its dark shiny eyes.

“You can pet me if you want.”

Henrietta does and is surprised to find it makes her feel better. The more she strokes the soft, grey fur the calmer she becomes. The babbling sound of the nearby stream draws her attention to the blackberry bush and she feels a renewed sense of purpose. This day can be saved!

“Thank you, rabbit. A million times thank you.”

It hops from her lap and she runs toward the bush and begins picking the fattest, prettiest blackberries she’s ever seen until her basket is filled to the tippy-top. Mother will be so overjoyed she’ll forget everything else. Henrietta pops a few of the berries into her mouth and chews them happily.

“Excuse me…”

A deep voice causes Henrietta to almost drop her basket and she’s shocked when she turns around to find an enormous deer with huge antlers pawing the ground a few feet from where she stands. It occurs to her in an instant that the berries must be his and he’s going to be really mad.

“I’m sorry. You can have them back.”

She’s about to pour the basket onto the ground when the deer laughs. It’s not mocking like the vulture’s cackle but rather a gentle soft chuckle between friends. Tilting his head he nods to her.

“My forest friends have told me you are trying to get home for your mother’s birthday. You are almost too late little one. Mother moon has opened her eyes and her starry children are rushing out to play. The day is almost over.”

Tears reform in Henrietta’s already swollen eyes as all the feelings of the day flood through her again. She falls to the forest floor letting the basket of berries tumble from her hands. Nothing is as important as being with her mother and she should have never left the farm. Love and time together are the most important gifts of all.

“It’s okay,” the deer says. “It’s all going to be okay.”

Henrietta looks up to see all her new forest friends gathered in a circle around her—big deer, grey rabbit, twitchy squirrel, and the swirling mass of blue and white butterflies. They gather the berries for her and return them to the basket. They kiss her on the cheek and help her onto the smooth back of the large deer. She can feel his breath beneath her and her own breathing slows to match his.

“Time to go, little one. Your mother’s waiting for you,” the deer says.

“Thank you!” she calls to her friends who stand waving until she’s out of sight.

The journey takes no time at all and soon Henrietta sees the fence at the back of the orchard. Her mother stands near the treeline with her back to her. She’s wearing a long purple dress covered in tiny white flowers. The moonlight makes her hair look sleek and silver.

“Henrietta! Where are you, daughter? Henrietta!”

Sliding quickly off the deer’s back she kisses him on the nose, leaps over the fence, and runs toward her mother.

“I’m right here! Mother! I’m right here!”

Her mother scoops her into her arms and kisses her from head to toe, the basket of berries falling to the ground beside them.

Author’s note: This was a hard week for our family. We gathered together in my sister-in-law’s home as my strong loving mother-in-law gently faded away from us in her upstairs bedroom. We held her hand, kissed her face, and brushed her hair. We made sure she knew she was loved but also that it was okay to leave us. It was a beautiful and incredibly hard week.

My short story, written mostly in one sitting, was inspired by my love for her and many of the wonderful moments we’ve shared over the years. There’s a little Alice, a little Blueberries for Sal, a nod to family history, and a lot of grief. I’ll miss you forever, Janet. Your loving legacy will not be forgotten.


Short Story Challenge | Week 34

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 about an interrupted journey. We had to include butterfly effect, vulture, cramp, industry, purge, scruple, snorkel, snitch, warning, and useless.


Write With Us

Prompt: A conversation between artists

Include skull, galaxy, expression, trash can, deployment, visitor, brushstroke, decade, forgot, ponder


My 52-Week Challenge Journey

Blood Moon Messenger | A Short Story

Dark goes the atavistic night
Deeply held by mystic sight
Words hang stoney and set
Fate falls within epoch’s oubliette
-Medieval Moon Prophecy

With an arthritic, wrinkled hand covered in thick, golden rings, the ancient Alchemist hastily scrawls with black ink across the water-stained parchment. Wild words of black winds. Stark words of naked truths. Secrets born of a lifetime studying darkness and light.

From its iron perch near the top of the peaked roof, an enormous red-tailed hawk tracks the movement of the feather-quill pen with unblinking amber eyes. Silently it nods in understanding. The end has come at last.

“Boy,” the Alchemist says weakly. “Boy, come here.”

Galdur has been waiting outside the slightly ajar round door for hours, shivering in a light robe of tattered brown, looking at his burned hands in the glow of the blood moon. With shuffling steps, he presses open the door fully then enters and bows deeply. He’s not a boy but feels the title fits him better than other things he’s been called.

“Yes, sir. I’m here.”

Slumped at his desk near the low-burning fire in the center of the room, the Alchemist folds a thick piece of parchment into thirds and doesn’t acknowledge him. The enormous brown and white hawk, however, clicks its beak and opens its wings, flapping silently for a moment. Galdur avoids looking at its four sharp black talons but can’t escape its monstrous shadow cast against the far wall. He shivers.

Colorful smoke drifts around the small circular room and Galdur holds his robe to his mouth to avoid breathing in the sour smells. His eyes water as he makes his way toward the Alchemist by stepping carefully around tall stacks of antiquated books, through little nooks of shadowy space, and around shelves filled with bottles of dark, swirling liquid. Galdur feels the room and the hawk watching him. They are waiting for him to fail. He always manages to do things wrong.

For as long as he can remember, the Alchemist has called for Galdur to fetch him food, clean his wounds, test his potions, run his errands, and take the hits when his frustration makes him moody. He can’t remember life before coming here but sometimes imagines leaving the fear and failure of this life behind in search of something else. Although he isn’t sure he deserves anything else.

Silently he takes his place on a short wooden stool beside the fire and looks at the aging Alchemist’s long, gnarled, grey hair and beard. He can see the dark puffy skin around his faded blue eyes and his crooked sloping back. It appears he’s aged decades since yesterday, but that can’t be. Galdur wonders if he’s looking through a prism or some kind of magical fog. Everything feels heavy and unstable around him. He wonders if he might be getting sick.

Using one of the many stout beeswax candles lit on the crowded desk, the Alchemist melts a square of silver wax onto the fold of parchment and presses a golden moon stamp into it to seal the paper. Clicking its sharp beak, the large hawk swoops down and lands on a wobbly pile of books taking a moment to settle itself securely before presenting its scaly, orange leg. The Alchemist shakes his head slowly with tears in his eyes.

“Not today, old friend. This journey isn’t for you.”

Decades ago, the Alchemist and the hawk met on the sandy banks of the roaring river Thames. Under the light of the full blood moon, the same moon as tonight, tendrils of destiny and time weaved together forging an unbreakable bond. Together, they’ve seen the world reshaped time and time again by the forces of shadow and light, an immeasurable war raging forever behind the faces of man. It’s been a long, exhausting battle. They are both very tired.

The Alchemist strokes the soft feathers on the back of the bird’s neck. This isn’t a moment for nostalgia, reflection, or hesitation. There’s no time for such things. When this night is over, both he and the hawk will be dead and his last act will either save or condemn this world. It’s no longer in his hands and there’s a certain relief in the knowledge he has done all he can. His work, their work, has ended. Only the moon knows what lies ahead.

“Come closer, boy.”

Slipping off the stool, Galdur takes three slow steps forward with dirty, bare feet. There’s a pounding in his head and he realizes the smoke has reached his lungs, making him dizzy.

“Put out your hands.”

Galdur opens both hands palms up and braces himself for the pain which usually accompanies this command. Instead, the Alchemist gently places the silver-sealed parchment into them as if returning a baby bird to its nest. Galdur feels a rush of warmth flood his body followed by a sense of urgency. The Alchemist closes his eyes and makes a deep bassy sound in his throat. The hawk tries to mimic it but it comes out as a haunting high-pitched hoot.

With a shudder, the Alchemist opens his greyish blue eyes and stares at Galdur. There’s a look he’s never seen within his teary eyes. He recognizes it as finality, as a goodbye. Whatever happens next will be the end of their relationship and the beginning of something new. He tries not to smile as fate seems to be on his side for the first time in his life.

“You know where to go. You’ll find the cottage behind the waterfall. She will be waiting for you. Nothing else matters.”

Galdur knows the place he speaks of. For years he’s been made to study maps and travel halfway there and back, but never has he been allowed to leave the forest. The Alchemist has both prepared him and broken him. He wonders if he has what it takes to fulfill this task. It feels too important to be left to someone who fails as much as he has.

“You can do this.”

Not for the first time, Galdur has the sense that the Alchemist can read his mind—an unpleasant and uneasy thought. Even so, the words of encouragement feel as refreshing as the first spring rain and he savors the cool sweetness. He didn’t know just how thirsty he had become.

Staring down at the flickering shadows across the sealed parchment in his hand, he searches for something to say to the man who found him as a child and both raised and abused him. Conflicting feelings fight for dominance, begging like hungry abandoned pups to be heard and acknowledged. He sways slightly.

Galdur’s lived a life shut off from the rest of the world. A childhood without birthdays, syrupy treats, or any trace of kindness. A life of only service, servitude, and solitude. A life designed for a single purpose—to deliver this parchment into the hands of the Lady of the Lake. He feels overwhelmed as the pieces of his life click into place. Each task led him to this very moment. He begins to cry.

“Thank you.”

He’s surprised by his own words and how much he means it. He’s grateful for a life with purpose, even if it’s been difficult and lonely. When he looks up he sees the Alchemist and the hawk have both bowed their heads and closed their eyes. He considers trying to rouse them but decides the time for talking has passed. It’s time for action.

Without looking back, he holds the parchment to his chest and walks swiftly through the room and into the cool night air. There are three things waiting for him draped across an oak barrel of mulled wine: a pair of leather boots, a thick wool cloak, and a small sword. He’s certain none of it was there when he went in, but he knows destiny doesn’t require explanation or belief. It requires faith.

“Thank you.”

The deep brown leather boots and dark green cloak both fit perfectly. The sword, a short silver dagger with tiny gleaming stars etched along the sharp blade, comes with a leather holster and belt. Galdur secures it around his waist and spins in a circle. There’s a sense of all things coming together. A feeling of completion and new beginnings. He laughs.

Reaching inside the cloak he finds several leather pockets. One is the exact shape of the parchment letter complete with a silver button to secure it close to his heart. There’s a pocket with a flask filled with wine, another with a sack of gold, and a final one filled with tiny carved stones each a different phase of the moon.

Sifting through the smooth stones with his left hand he pulls out the tiny full moon and holds it up to the sky. The journey ahead seems etched on its surface, calling him to be swift, to be bold, and to be brave. If he doesn’t deliver the letter by sunrise all will be lost. He turns toward the foggy forest and takes off in a run. 

Destiny awaits and only the moon knows what truly lies ahead.

Author’s note: There’s nothing more fun than a good fantasy adventure. I set out to write one centered around the journey of an important letter but ran out of time to complete the story. Instead, you get the beginning of an epic journey that might someday be made into a novel including shadow monsters, the lovely Lady of the Lake, and a tale of true redemption for dear old Galdur. Thanks, as always, for reading my story of the week.


Short Story Challenge | Week 32

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 about a letter changing everything. We had to include alchemist, waterfall, birthday, cottage, spring, roar, syrup, sift, immeasurable, and bank.


Write With Us

Prompt: A dinner party
Include: phoenix, canvas, homesick, evening, spicy, rooftop, cicada, orthodox, ding, spruce


My 52-Week Challenge Journey

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