A Night at the Carnival | A Short Story

“You can’t tell me what to do!”

Her long red nails flash in the streetlight as she shoves me off of the curb and into the filthy gutter with a splash. My ankle bends at an unnatural angle, sending spikes of pain through my leg, I drop my cigarette. This night is turning to shit.

The roar of the traffic and my splitting headache drowns out the rest of what she’s yelling, but I get the gist of it. She’s pissed and I’m wrong. Story of my life. People crowd around us putting an end to any chance I had of defending myself. She got her big scene.

Leaning sideways, a sign behind her catches my eye—The Sassafras Carnival. It’s dingy with half the bulbs on the sign blinking and the other half burned out. Cigarette butts and beer cans press against the blacked-out window. A seedy dive. My kind of place.

I stand up and step onto the curb, trying to shake off the sickening smell of gasoline and garbage from my pants and shoes. She slaps my face hard and stomps away in shiny black heels. The crowd weighs in as they disperse with not-so-quiet whispers.

“Jerk.”

“Serves him right.”

“What a loser!”

My eyes are still on her. Her red dress trails on the ground, soaking up the wetness from the recent downpour and turning the bottom dark crimson. Her hair falls from its high perch, the wind blowing the red curls into a dancing frenzy. I want to go after her, or at least call to her, but my ankle hurts and I’m thirsty.

The double doors open easily, clearly greased, and I walk into the smoke-filled room. It’s deep and dark, the shape you’d expect from a place like this. Everything’s a shade of maroon or gold with lots of tassels and animal prints. It’s a mix of the Moulin Rouge and those safari-themed restaurants you find near big amusement parks. The faint sound of music can be heard far inside, but it’s mostly drowned out by the sound of people talking and laughing. I can disappear here. It’s perfect.

A waitress wearing a sparkling gold cocktail dress and balancing a tray full of empty glasses stops in front of me. Her hair is tucked inside an elaborate hat with feathers, but a few loose strands of auburn stick to her cheeks. What’s with all the redheads, I almost say out loud, but the look on her face isn’t welcoming so I shut my mouth instead.

“You want to sit at the bar or by the stage?”

She’s got the deep voice of a cigarette smoker and dull hazel eyes. I can’t guess her age behind the thick makeup but she has a no-nonsense way about her, suggesting she’s close to my age. No time for anybody’s shit. My kind of gal.

“Stage,” I say. “Who’s performing tonight?”

I hope my voice sounds like I’m a regular or like I know stuff about music. She doesn’t answer, striding away all gold sequined hips and shiny black shoes. I follow, limping slightly.

In another life, she’d like me. We’d link arms and she’d steer me to the best seat in the house. She’d know my drink order and have it to me in a flash with a playful wink. A lipstick kiss would be on my napkin. But this ain’t that kind of life. I’m a loser nobody and she’s really not interested.

The further we go into the place, the darker and hazier with smoke it gets. A long bar sits on the right side of the room, with crowds of people all trying to get the attention of a stunning young bartender with a low-cut leopard-print shirt and bright red lipstick. She’s laughing and moving fast.

Rows of colored bottles and stacks of glasses line the shelves behind her. Bright gold mirrors and blurry out-of-focus landscape pictures cover the rest of the wall, giving the impression that the bar is larger than it is. I catch sight of my face in a mirror and look away in disgust. The faint smell of bourbon makes me swallow hard. I need a drink.

At the end of the bar we curve right and the music, which I’ve heard faintly since walking in, now is unavoidable. I reach into my pocket for earplugs, a habit I’d taken to in the years I used to come to places like this, but realize I don’t have them anymore. Why is it so loud? My teeth feel the vibration and my head pounds more. This was a bad idea.

My brain finally registers the sound as piano music and I groan. A piano bar. Shit. Before I can stop it, a vision of my mother sitting straight-backed at our family piano rushes forward. I’m holding my sister’s hands and we are dancing around the room to Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. Sunlight reflects off the dozens of prisms hanging in the window, casting rainbows all around us. We are smiling like idiots. Like innocents actually, but what’s the difference?

I try to focus on the throbbing pain in my ankle, but more images roll forward with the music. The old stuffed dog on my childhood bed. The collection of seashells in the glass bowl on the coffee table from our many family beach trips. Mother’s dark green garden gloves hanging on a hook by the back door. The silly controversy over who ate all the candy mom hid in the pantry. The pang of the loss of my old life hits me and adds to the waves of pain I’m feeling. I stumble and grab the arm of the waitress.

“What’s the matter with you?”

She yanks her arm from mine and scowls.

“Sprained ankle.”

She looks at my soaked pant legs, sighs, and walks on weaving in and out of a sea of small, round tables in a complicated manner I find irritating and unnecessary. The tables are filled with couples laughing, talking, smoking, and touching each other. Anger erupts prickly and red, an apple with spikes in it. I bite my lip and clench my fists.

We stop at a table in the center of the room made of oxidized metal, orange in the dim light, covered with tiny scratch marks. I sit in one of the two chairs, high-backed and made of soft dark velvet. The waitress speaks directly into my ear sending shivers through my body.

“What will it be?”

The words don’t make sense because the piano music has reached a thundering crescendo and the memory of my mom on her deathbed stabs my chest. I bite back tears and look at the stage trying to calm myself. Get it together.

Two large black pianos sit on opposite sides illuminated by bright white spotlights. Both are played exuberantly by performers in cheap plastic masks covering only part of their faces. A zebra and giraffe in matching black tuxedos. What kind of place is this?

The zebra’s got a dark brown fluffy beard sticking out the bottom of its mask, thick bulging arms, and fingers covered in shiny silver rings. The giraffe isn’t wearing a shirt under the tuxedo jacket, but a bright red bra barely containing two perfectly round breasts. Her black curly hair sparkles with silver glitter. The waitress grabs my face and turns it toward hers. Her fingers are icy cold.

“What will it be?”

She speaks slowly as if I’m hard of hearing or stupid. At the moment I feel I’m both.

“Bourbon,” I say. “Neat.”

She’s gone in a flash as the animal players stand and bow. Applause crashes around me; smashing cymbals, screeching monkeys, juvenile catcalls, and relentless banging. My head falls onto the cool metal table and I squeeze my eyes shut waiting for the applause to end. It doesn’t. It increases and transforms into a strange repetitive rhythm. I raise my head and open my eyes.

A spotlight shines center stage on a new masked figure, a tall woman dressed in a sapphire floor-length gown with a slit ending at her hip. Curly red hair peeks out around an oversized peacock mask, colorful feathers fanning out from her face in all directions. Crazed morning glory in the moonlight.

She sways and twirls in time to the clapping, eyes closed, and arms outstretched with her palms facing up. I find my body reacting to her movements, wanting to move with her. When she drops her hands suddenly, the place falls eerily silent. My body turns to stone and I stop breathing.

It’s not until she’s seated behind one of the shiny black pianos that I find my breath return. I suck in the smoky air as she pounds on the black and white keys with an awkward and clumsy style, lacking any melody or form I’ve heard before. I expect people to laugh or jeer, but nobody does.

Everyone, including me, leans forward in their chairs transfixed by this peacock woman. Her feet and legs are bare, white as porcelain. She throws her head back and closes her eyes. Perfect pink lips hum a quiet melody in contrast to the piano playing. I find myself going limp.

A drink slides toward me and I lift it to my lips without taking my eyes off the peacock woman. I feel dizzy and light-headed. I take another long gulp of bourbon, draining my glass, and another slides in front of me almost immediately.

I look over to find a man sitting in the velvet chair to my right. He’s practically my twin with the same dark rings under his eyes, the same unshaven face, and the same black hair in bad need of a haircut. His clothes are different though, while I’m dressed in navy blue pants and a matching suit jacket, he’s wearing faded jeans and a grey t-shirt. He leans forward and I follow his lead. He smells of exhaust and diesel.

“Ya know her?”

It’s a gruff voice, but one I know as my own. Shaking my head no, I take out a cigarette from my coat pocket and my twin leans forward to light it. I take a long drag, feeling the realness of the tobacco burn my lungs.

“Look harder.”

I’m not sure if he means at him or the woman. Both are familiar but I’m not a fan of games or riddles. I drain another glass of bourbon from the several on the table and take another drag of my cigarette. Have I chased a white rabbit? Did I swallow the red pill?

“I don’t like this game.”

The second the words leave my lips the music ends. People leap to their feet in applause and my twin joins them. I watch his movements, my movements, and I wonder if I’m still laying in the gutter outside. Maybe I was hit by a car or hit my head on the curb. I’m in a coma or some shit.

“You’re not.”

He’s back in his chair staring at me with my own eyes. I reach for another drink and find the table empty. The show’s over and people are talking loudly all around us, the spell of the peacock broken. My twin grabs my hand under the table and squeezes it hard.

“You have to let her find her own way.”

I touch the spot on my cheek she slapped and blink away hot tears. Mother told me to look after her, but she doesn’t listen to me. She’s going to get hurt. He squeezes my hand a second time, much harder.

“If you don’t, she’ll never speak to you again. She’ll be fine either way, but you won’t. The choice is yours.”

Closing my eyes, I picture what letting go of her would look like. I’ve followed her around for the last ten years, barely doing much of anything else. She’s not a child anymore and neither am I. What if I decided to let her go? Would it give me permission to live my own life? I barely remember my dreams anymore.

“You okay?”

Lifting my head I find the waitress standing beside me. No sign of my twin. Wiping off tears with the sleeve of my jacket, I notice golden and amber flecks in her hazel eyes. They aren’t dull at all. I nod as she sets another drink on the table with a small white napkin. She smiles before walking away and I feel warmth explode inside me.

My sister will be okay. I drink in those words. She’s a peacock in a sea of pigeons. I need to get out of her way.

Sipping the bourbon I see a faint kiss mark on my napkin. Flipping it over I find a phone number scrawled in light blue ink. Maybe we both can be okay.

Author’s note: This week as I’m swamped with NaNoWriMo, I decided to cheat a little. During the start of quarantine, I created a FB writing group with the intention of working through all the prompts in “Write the Story.” It didn’t really take off and it was mostly me writing with zero likes or comments. I quit at prompt 14. I decided to resurrect the first one I wrote to see how far my storytelling chops have developed. The draft written back then was sloppy and about half this length, more a silly mashup of the words and less an actual story. It was fun to rewrite it and give it structure and I’m pleased with how it turned out. Let me know in the comments what you think and have a wonderful week.


Short Story Challenge | Week 45

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 strange request at a piano bar. We had to include the words carnival, apple, sprained, mask, juvenile, controversy, oxidation, twirl, awkward, and sassafras


Write With Us

Prompt: The last moment of childhood
Include: Thanksgiving, refrigerator, surprise, contribute, pier, bird, strength, iron, voices, and requirement


My 52-Week Challenge Journey

Let’s Go to the Ocean | A Short Story

“What you need is luck,” Gemma says.

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

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

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

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

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

“Let’s go to the ocean.”

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

“How about dinner tonight?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Get out.”

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

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

“What do you think?”

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

“Wow.”

“Right?”

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

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

“Thank you.”

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

“I loved it.”

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

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

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

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

“It’s 11:11.”

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

“Do you know what it means?”

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Your golden egg, huh?”

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

“Let’s go to the ocean.”

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


Short Story Challenge | Week 44

Each week the short stories are based on a prompt from the book “Write the Story” by Piccadilly, Inc. This week’s prompt was to write a story where a fortune cookie comes true. We had to include the words numerology, hilarious, dictionary, recycled, brick, ocean, meaningful, garbage, star, and origin.


Write With Us

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


My 52-Week Challenge Journey

The Abandoned Church | A Short Story

“Destiny calls when the angel sings
Flitting in darkness with silent wings”
-scrawled on the back of a polaroid

Jagged mountains line the horizon in all directions like cardboard cutouts in a child’s diorama. Bright sunlight and low fog have transformed the sky into a flat white blanket inches above my head. I fear it will fall on me for what I’ve done, for what I’ve taken, but I’m not turning back. My bare feet sink deeper and deeper as I trudge along the sandy path. I’m close.

The old woman at the lodge fought a lot longer than the others. Dark brownish blood foamed at her lips and she convulsed wildly in her four-poster bed, but she kept breathing through the night and into the morning. A lingering sour smell clung to everything, making me gag several times. I tried to be patient, but time was running out. It won’t wait for me forever.

She screamed when I pried the photo album from her hands. Her stiff grey eyes focused sharply on mine and I could see the truth as a statement and a question. The soup, I almost said but decided it didn’t matter. Instead, I held a pillow to her face until she stopped struggling and took the small, black key from the pocket of her pale pink nightgown. It was warm as I tucked it into the pocket of my jeans.

In the dim morning light filtering through the white gauzy curtain, I found the polaroid on the thirteenth page behind a thin protective layer of slightly browning plastic. Peeling it back inch by inch, I freed it from its sticky prison. Turning it over I saw the flowy cursive black writing and smiled tracing the letters with my thumb. It’s true. Tossing the rest of the album onto the old woman’s motionless body I walked out.

I’m holding the photo in my left hand now and I pull it to my nose and breathe in deeply as I’ve done hundreds of times during the seven hours of walking. It smells like plastic at first, but if I wait it’s followed by another scent far older. My body shivers with anticipation and deep recognition of the heavenly aroma. Damp stone. Wet Earth. Home. It’s waiting for me.

As I walk I notice my vision has a filmy quality to it, a haziness I’ve come to associate with sleep. It’s got to be the hypnotic effect of the singing. I feel it like a hook inside my belly pulling and pulling. The others didn’t believe enough to hear it. It chose me.

The path narrows and clusters of yellow flowers sit like torches on either side of me. They smell faintly of honey and are near enough to brush my arms as I pass with feathery softness. Without the lights of the highway, I feel as if I’m already transported to another place. Whiteness in all directions. Stillness too. Nothing but the soft, tender voice calling me with words I feel more than hear. So close now. 

A turkey vulture cries and circles above me. Its distorted winged shadow stretches across the path and I resist the urge to look at it. The stories are real even if people don’t believe in them. It requires more than faith to get what you want. I’ve proven myself capable of radical actions. I’m willing to do what the others are not. I’m a true believer.

The steady regime of exercise, prayer, and meditation has prepared not only my mind but my body for today. Although I’m bone tired, it’s nothing like I would have been before I arrived at the lodge. The old woman taught me well and a spark of remorse threatens to ignite. I blow it out. She didn’t hear the song because she hasn’t suffered like me. Nobody has. It’s not my fault it didn’t choose them.

When the church comes into view it’s exactly like the picture. I pause to savor the moment, holding the polaroid beside it to compare the old image with the real thing. White walls with a slanted red roof. Square windows along the side with divided panes. A red steeple topped with a small silver cross.

I feel static energy course through my body as warmth, like lowering myself into a hot bath after a lifetime of freezing cold showers. It’s here. I found it.

Trembling, I force myself to walk slowly and steadily with my head held high. I didn’t come this far to make a bad first impression. After leaving the old woman’s room I changed out of my bloody clothes, braided my long brown hair neatly into two braids, washed my body, and dressed in a flowing white gown. I’d left all my possessions behind.

Plucking one of the yellow flowers, I add it to my hair and smooth the soft cotton folds of my dress. The scent of frankincense oil, woody and sweet, clings to my skin. Tears fall from my tired eyes. It’s all happening.

Three wooden steps lead to the door, but my feet have suddenly locked in place. They won’t move. It’s as if they are encased in iron bands. Using my hands, I pry each foot off the ground setting it on the step above. I repeat this for each step. It’s a long, hard process. Sweat drips off my forehead, leaving a trail of little dark brown circles in the wood behind me. When I reach the top I’m panting.

For days the haunting song has called me here and now as I straighten my back and stare at the red door the beautiful sound stops with a sudden crack. The silence envelops me and I fall to my knees. No! I’m too late.

Frantically, I struggle to stand and tug at the rusted doorknob with both hands. It doesn’t budge. Panic thunders through me, a storm of anger and frustration. Clenching my hands into fists I pound wildly at the rough door. Splinters tear into my skin and I taste blood in my mouth. 

“No!” The scream comes from deep inside, an eruption more than a sound. It comes with a blast of exhaustion as I fall back to my knees shaking with full-body sobs. How could I have failed? After all I did. The image of the old woman’s face swims in front of my eyes. The others too. How many died? I swat the memories away.

Falling to my side I feel a stabbing warmth between my breasts. The key! I’d attached it to a silver chain and tucked it into my bra. How could I have forgotten? Hysterical giggles come with the realization. It’s not too late! 

With a loud hiccup I stand, tucking a few loose strands of hair back into place. Embarrassment burns hot across my cheeks and chest. Several ravens caw loudly behind me but I don’t look back. Instead, I study the door.

Carved runes line the frame, deeply embedded in the wood with a slightly silver glow to them. The old woman would have been able to read them, but I can’t. I locate the keyhole, round at the top and straight at the bottom. Undoing the clasp on the chain, I pull it from my neck and insert the black key into the lock and turn it to the left. It makes a loud click.

Part of me expected music or bright lights to greet me, but when I push open the heavy door, I find neither. White light from behind me casts my shadow down a long, dusty aisle between rows and rows of dark wooden pews. It’s silent. Cobwebs hang saggy and thick from the rafters and it smells strongly of dust and mold. 

“Hello?” I call.

A slight scuttling sound at the far end of the church echoes through the room for a brief second before returning to silence. I take a step forward and watch my shadow move ahead of me. It seems more sure of itself than I do and I watch it for a few minutes, listening hard. All I hear are the birds outside. They seem frantic. I ignore them.

With slow careful steps, I move down the aisle. Tiny pebbles and leaves stick to my bare feet. Most of the pews are empty but a few have old hymn books or bibles flipped open on the seats. The pages look thin and faded. If I touched them would they turn to dust?

Reaching the wooden pulpit at the farthest end of the church I’m disappointed to find it empty. No candlesticks. No crosses. No adornments of any kind.

A single deep note sings out into the darkness to my left. I feel my heart swell with the sound. It’s here! With a swift, light movement I rush down a flight of stone steps and through a long dark hallway. Suddenly, I crash hard into a solid shape. A door. Running my hands along the splintery wood I find a cold metal doorknob. I turn it and pull it open.

At first, all I see is the lamp on the desk. It’s the kind suited for a lawyer’s office, a gleaming golden base with an emerald green lampshade. A single sheet of paper and a brass pen is set in the center of the polished wood surface. It’s such a strange sight I almost laugh, but a sound beyond the desk stops me. I gasp.

Metal bars separate the part of the room I’m standing in from a cement square cell with rusty silver bars. The inside is covered in writing and pictures, like those you’d see under freeway underpasses or the sides of trains. Sitting huddled in the furthest back corner is the most beautiful creature I’ve ever seen. An angel.

Its deep blue eyes stare into mine and I feel the brokenness inside me stir like leaves in an autumn breeze. Its face looks carved from marble, smoothly perfect yet at the same time distorted and unnatural. It’s wearing a charcoal grey cloak covering most of its body and head. A single note escapes its ebony lips and I feel every cell in my body shudder in response.

Rising from the floor in a fluid effortless manner, it ruffles a pair of enormous dark feathery wings. Curving high above its head on both sides, they fall around it almost touching the floor. I imagine when they are open they’d easily stretch across the entire length of the church. A long, slender finger points at the desk and the pen zips across, clicking open.

Reluctantly tearing my gaze from the angel before me, I stare at the thick white sheet of paper. It’s written in a language I’ve never seen before, but I’m aware it’s a contract. A tiny flicker of doubt burns in my chest. An image of a red devil with spiraling horns, sharp black hooves, and bright yellow eyes flashes into my mind. Taking a step back I feel dizzy.

“Sign.”

It’s the voice I’ve heard in song calling, guiding, and luring me. The angel stands at the bars now. Hunger lives in those blue eyes, but also love. I sense it wants me and I want it too. I grab the heavy pen and sign as fast as I can, my name a blurry scrawl of black.

The bars snap away and I fall. Feathers flutter around me and the ravens outside scream. What have I done?

Author’s note: My story is a day late this week because after writing 3,000 words I discovered my main character was in the wrong story. She refused to do the things I asked of her and therefore the devil would not appear. As a result, I started over this morning and came up with this short story partly inspired by the amazing Netflix miniseries “Midnight Mass.” Please let me know what you think in the comments below. I truly appreciate every like and comment. Have a safe and happy Halloween!

A neighbor’s elaborate Halloween decoration.


Short Story Challenge | Week 43

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 featuring a deal with the devil. We had to include the words regime, album, torch, lodge, highway, sandy, rune, contract, taken, and suit


Write With Us

Prompt: A fortune cookie comes true
Include: numerology, hilarious, dictionary, recycled, brick, ocean, meaningful, garbage, star, origin


My 52-Week Challenge Journey

Afraid of the Dark | A Short Story

A long, razor-sharp claw scrapes against the round glass window sending Toothwort Button deeper into the folds of his enormous patchwork quilt. He tries to keep his eyes closed but they pop open as the wooden front door creaks within its minuscule frame. Rolling into a tight ball, he tucks his fingers and toes as close to his body as he can. His fluffy white beard tickles his knees.

Something’s in the house. He feels it inching through the room sniffing at the empty hearth, scraping by his collection of acorn caps, and bumping into his walnut shell bed. Maybe it will leave on its own, he hopes. Pressing his eyes tightly closed and covering his ears with both hands, he lays as motionless as he can, repeating silently to himself “please go away, please go away, please go away.”

When he’s certain some time has passed, he uncovers his ears and listens to the quality of the silence. The creaking of the door remains, but the shuffling and bumping has stopped. To be sure, he listens harder until he can hear the crickets outside and harder still until he can hear the faint babble of the creek.

Pulling back the edge of the blanket he peers around the dark circular room but with the thread-bare moon giving off only a sliver of light, all he can see are wispy shadows darting across the moss-covered ceiling. There’s still plenty of deep darkness where things could be hiding. He’ll have to light the lantern.

With careful, slow movements, he climbs out of bed, slips on his bright yellow wool slippers with upturned toes, and sneaks to the lantern beside the fireplace. It takes him three tries to get the match lit, filling the room with a sulfurous smell and a yellowish glow. After the shadows settle, he can see the room is indeed empty.

“Fiddlesticks and gumdrops.”

Not finding anything is the preferred outcome, of course, but it means he’s still afraid of the dark, and gnomes are not supposed to be afraid of the dark. The realization makes him feel like a silly fool. It’s a good thing he lives alone, for who would want to be friends with an old gnome with watery eyes and stubby fingers who is always scared. It’s laughable.

He kicks at a heap of dried calendula flowers sitting by the front door. In the morning he plans to use them to dye a fresh batch of wool yarn so he can knit himself a new sweater for winter. His old one is full of holes and, although it’s still comfy, has stopped keeping him warm.

Looking at the leafy shadows dancing around the walls of his house, he has an idea. What if he didn’t go back to bed tonight? What if instead, he decides to find out what’s so scary about the darkness? The idea makes him shiver with a kind of energy he finds both terrible and exciting. Maybe he can be brave. It’s worth a try.

Pulling on his old sweater, his bright red pointed cap, and sturdy brown boots, he grabs the rounded metal handle of the lantern and presses open the bark door fully to the night. For a few minutes, he stands on the threshold shivering. This is a very bad idea. A terribly stupid idea. But he’s going to do it anyway.

Toothwort Button lives in the center of a bustling ancient forest, but he rarely speaks to anyone. The creatures he meets are usually too much in a rush and gnomes don’t hurry. This time of year, when the leaves are crunchy and mushrooms are plentiful, there’s no shortage of things to do during the day. He might take a refreshing swim in the creek, forage for rose hips or the last of summer’s berries, or take a walk through the mushroom fields. 

Looking at the darkness around him now, however, he has no idea what to do. Everything is different in the dark—the trees more looming, the air thinner and harder to breathe, and the smells mustier and sharper. He takes a tentative step. Then another.

His boots look odd in the lantern light and he watches them walk over the dark soil as if they belong to someone else. Suddenly his face smacks into something sticky and he freezes. High above, a looming shape lowers through the canopy of trees, a large shiny wet body—a killer whale leaping through the dark to attack. 

This is exactly why he’s scared of the dark. He drops the lantern, closes his eyes, curls into a ball, and screams.

“Don’t eat me!”

“What?”

It’s a thin voice, not at all whale-like, and when he opens his eyes and looks up the creature has stopped a few inches above him. Dangling from a nearly transparent string, it rotates in a circle showing off its eight spindly legs and numerous shiny black eyes. The gnome wants to scream again but realizes it would be rude and instead swallows hard and takes a step backward.

“Are you going to eat me?”

The creature laughs, a soft and not-at-all unpleasant sound. Toothwort smiles and tries to look friendly, but his feet want to run. They wiggle inside his boots.

“Of course, I’m not going to eat you. The name’s Agaric. Agaric the Spider.”

It bobs its big body up and down, and although the small gnome finds it funny, he isn’t sure he should giggle so he swallows hard again.

“I’m Toothwort Button. Toothwort Button the gnome.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, but why are you out so late at night little gnome? You gave me quite a fright.”

The idea he could scare someone else made him giggle and this time he didn’t swallow it. The spider blinks its many eyes at him and smiles widely.

“I’m sorry. I was trying to find out why the dark is so scary. Do you know?”

The spider lifts each of its eight legs as if the answer might be found beneath them, and then shakes its head slowly.

“The dark is the safest time for me. I’m far more afraid of the light, so I can’t help you. I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay. Thank you for not eating me.”

“You’re welcome. Good luck!”

The spider waves all its legs at him which makes Toothwort giggle again. He waves back.

“Thank you!”

Picking up his little lantern, the gnome holds it out in front of him, noticing how the rays of light form a star pattern casting thin straight lines into the darkness. As he walks on, it’s hard to make sense of all the shadows. He knows the forest is filled with rocks, sticks, leaves, tree branches, ferns, mushrooms, and acorns, but in the darkness, they all become unfamiliar lumps.

Squinting hard through the thick trees, he can make out tiny stars dotting the vast blackness of the night sky. While safe in his bed he imagines them as friends watching over him. However now, in the dark of the night, they look more like balls of fire about to flash through the sky to land on his head. Feathery fear prickles across his skin as he walks a bit faster.

A rustling sound in the tree above him makes him jump and freeze in place. He wants to run, but this time his feet won’t listen and stubbornly sit still within his boots. Raising the lantern shakily upward, he expects to see twin gleaming fireballs streaking toward him, but instead finds two sharply pointed ears, two large outstretched wings, and one sniffy wet nose.

This is exactly why he’s scared of the dark! He drops the lantern, closes his eyes, curls into a ball, and screams.

“Don’t eat me!”

“What?”

It’s a squeaky voice, not at all fire-like, and when he peeks through his fingers at the figure above him he finds it hasn’t moved any closer. In the darkness, he can make out soft brown fur and round black eyes. It wiggles its outstretched wings and yawns making a strange high-pitched peep. A red liquid drips from its furry chin.

“You…you…aren’t going to eat me?”

The thing blinks its watery eyes and Toothwort worries it might be crying. Did he hurt its feelings? Before he has a chance to apologize, the thing swoops gracefully and lands on the ground beside him. Toothwort yelps and closes his eyes again. Why must it be so close and why won’t his feet run?

“Of course not.”

It’s making a wet, slurping sound and talking with its mouthful. Toothwort slowly opens his eyes to see it taking bites of a mushy raspberry sitting beside the lantern. There’s sadness in its wide black eyes.

“I’m Puffball. Puffball the Bat. Sorry if I scared you. Everyone is scared of me. Some rabbit called me a ‘depraved monster of the night.’ Can you believe it?”

Toothwort can. Despite being furry, it’s kind of scary with those veiny wings and strange big eyes, but it’s clearly hurting. Brushing himself off and standing he remembers his mother always said “the cure for sadness is praise.” He clears his throat.

“Well, I don’t think it was nice of that rabbit to call you names. You are beautiful with those wide, thin wings. I bet you can fly super fast too. Also, you must be good at finding things because I’ve not found any raspberries for weeks.”

The bat stops eating and stares at Toothwort blinking for a minute until a huge smile bursts across its face. It makes him look a lot less scary and the gnome smiles back.

“What’s your name?”

“Oh, sorry. I’m Toothwort Button. Toothwort Button the gnome.”

The bat pushes a piece of raspberry toward him, but he shakes his head.

“No thank you. I’m not very hungry.”

“What are you doing at night if you’re not eating?”

“Oh, I’m trying to find out why the dark is so scary. Do you know?”

The bat looks around the forest for a minute and shakes its head.

“The dark is the safest time for me. I’m far more afraid of the light, so I can’t help you. I’m sorry.”

The gnome nods. It’s the same thing the spider told him. He wonders if anyone will know. Picking up his lantern he gives the bat a final smile and waves.

“Well, I better keep looking.”

“Bye! Good luck!”

The bat grabs the rest of the raspberry with its feet and swoops into the trees with a graceful back-and-forth motion. He’s scary, but nice too. Pressing the lantern up a bit higher in front of him he continues through the forest.

All around him are unfamiliar shapes and fleeting sounds. Scuttling sounds. Whooshing sounds. Big dark shapes. Small thin shapes. It seems the further he walks from the bat the more fear clings to him. It’s like a rumbling inside, a thunderous feeling climbing up and up from his wee toes to the tip of his bright red cap. Toothwort doesn’t like this at all. He hates it.

Although his feet are still moving forward, he wishes he’d never left the warmth of his bed. Why did he think the answers to why he’s scared of the dark would be found in the dark? All he’s managed to accomplish is finding new things to be frightened of. What if he meets a spider who isn’t nice? Or a bat who isn’t sad? What if he meets something far far worse than both.

Toothwort has always been fond of his ability to play make-believe and imagine things, but it’s not a worthy skill when you are in the dark. He puts together creatures he’s seen in new and frightening ways. A large warty frog with bat wings. A scuttling ladybug with huge rabbit feet. A firefly with spider legs, spitting flames.

It’s at this exact moment when all the fears inside him seem ready to rip through his body and come pouring out into the night, he hears a rustling sound right next to him. Freezing, he moves the beam of his lantern slowly to the left and finds a large, dark bush mere inches from his face. And it’s moving.

This is exactly why he’s scared of the dark! He drops the lantern, closes his eyes, curls into a ball, and screams.

“Don’t eat me!”

“What?”

It’s a soft voice, not at all monster-like, and it ramps up immediately talking faster and faster. Toothwort isn’t sure what to make of this rapid-fire voice in the bushes, but by the time it’s done talking, he’s standing and brushing dirt off his yellow sweater.

“Eat you? Eat you? What are you talking about? You are about to eat me? I can tell with your light…your stomping…your breathing! Let’s make a bargain. Okay? We can do that, right? Right?A deal? You don’t eat me and I don’t eat you. What do you say? Deal? Deal? Deal?”

As it repeats the last word over and over Toothwort sees a small nose poke through the bushes twitching wildly. It’s quickly followed by two almond-shaped black eyes, two small ears, a long slender body, and an enormous bushy tail.

“I’m Truffles. Truffles the Squirrel and I hope you don’t want to eat me. Do we have a deal?”

It thrusts a furry paw out toward the gnome.

“We have a deal.”

They shake enthusiastically until the squirrel, overcome with excitement, sweeps Toothwort up into his arms and swings him around in circles. It’s a bit scary, but also fun, and Toothwort laughs and laughs. They spin so fast that the gnome’s boots fly off his feet disappearing into the night.

“Oh, I’ll get ‘em! Sorry!”

With a bouncy leap, Truffles scurries around in the dark, bumping into things and rustling leaves. In less than a minute the boots are back on the gnome’s feet, but Truffles mumbles quietly under his breath hopping from one foot to the next.

“What’s wrong?”

“You don’t like me. I didn’t even ask you your name and now….”

The gnomes thrusts out his hand.

“I’m Toothwort Button. Toothwort Button the gnome. And I do like you.”

Truffles sniffs loudly.

“You do?”

“I do.”

“Wait? What were you doing before you came across me? Did I stop you from some big quest? I did, didn’t I? I ruined your quest. I spoiled your fun. I’m always doing that. I’m such a silly fool!”

Toothwort is smiling again. There’s something so enduring about this new friend. He’s comfortable around him. It’s as if the broken parts inside him, the things he doesn’t like about himself, don’t matter as much. Taking Truffle’s paw into his hand he wonders if maybe he has the answer he’s been searching for.

“Actually, I’m trying to find out why the dark is so scary. Do you know?”

Truffles jumps into the air, spinning and leaping.

“I do!”

Toothwort jumps to his feet and the two of them dance together, holding hands and moving in a circle, but this time Truffles is careful not to spin him so fast that his boots fly off. When the celebration winds down, Truffles gives him a hug and steps back.

“You are scared of the dark because you are alone. You need a friend and now you have one.”

“I do?”

“You do.”

For a moment Truffles and Toothwort simply smile at each other in the pale golden light of the lantern. Neither of them jumps when an owl hoots in a tree above them or when they hear the sound of a mouse scuttling nearby. They are simply content to smile at each other in the dark.

“Truffles, I have an idea! Do you want to come live with me?”

The second the words come out the old fears inside Toothwort spring forth as well. He was so certain a second ago of everything, but what if this new friend doesn’t want to spend all their time together? What if he already has a friend? Truffles has a strange look on his face.

“Do you need help cleaning? Like a janitor?”

“Oh, no! I mean…like so we can be brave together. So the dark isn’t scary all the time…We could live in my house…together…”

Toothwort feels tears about to spring from his eyes, but before they do Truffles pulls him close whispering “yes” into his bright red hat. Hugging, they stand in the dark for a long time both thinking about what it’s like to not be scared anymore and to have a friend.

Author’s note: This week’s story is dedicated to my darling daughter with big feelings. It might be a silly little tale but it’s full of lots of heart. Sometimes the darkness is shadows across the wall, but most of the time it’s dealing with loneliness and scary thoughts of not being good enough. May you find something here you can cling to.


Short Story Challenge | Week 42

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 with a good reason to be scared of the dark. We had to include the words a killer whale, depraved, janitor, bargain, dye, fool, heap, kick, praise, and quilt.


Write With Us

Prompt: A deal with the devil
Include: Regime, album, torch, lodge, highway, sandy, rune, contract, taken, suit


My 52-Week Challenge Journey

The Cornfield | A Short Story

When the howling wind blows the cornstalks sideways and the air fills with the smell of ripe apples, Hazel brings up the conversation again. It’s not because she wants to fight, she doesn’t like conflict, but rather it has more to do with the way the leaves have lost their color and become crispy. It’s about acorns and pumpkins. Scarecrows and golden sunlight. Autumn makes her thoughtful.

“We could at least try it, Clyde. Don’t you trust our connection? I know we’d find each other again. I just know it.”

Turning away from the gaze of Hazel’s round, copper eyes, Clyde watches a flock of geese fly through a patch of fluffy white clouds and feels himself lifting off the ground to join them. He knows she’s never going to give up this notion of moving on, but he’s content where they are. What more could there be to discover? Adjusting his yellow bow tie he gives her his best smile and slips his arm around her corseted waist, pulling her toward him.

“Let’s talk about it later. Right now, let’s dance.”

“No, I don’t want to talk about it later. I want to talk about it now!”

Pushing back a bit too hard, Hazel floats across the field swept up in a swirling mass of orange and yellow leaves. She lets herself drift in circles until the wind deposits her beside the towering ancient oak leaning almost as far left as the slanted old barn. Clyde follows with his hands tucked into the pockets of his fine linen pants while chewing softly on the side of his cheek. He hates when she’s like this.

A pair of yellow-billed magpies hop from their nest as Hazel circles the tree looking for the carved heart of their youth. It’s below a dark, black knot and clear as ever since Clyde carved it deep into the hardwood. Tracing the C and H with her finger she feels tears forming in her eyes, but knows they will never fully form. Ghosts can’t cry.

“I want to carve something. I want to feel something solid in my hands again. I want to make mistakes, to hurt…to cry. I want to be…alive. Or something other than this…”

Clyde’s heard this before and hates how sad it makes Hazel, but he doesn’t want any of those things. To possibly struggle again feels pointless and frankly scary. They are happy living on these lands, watching the seasons pass through, and dancing together. There’s nothing else he wants or desires. He wishes it could be enough for her. He wishes he could be enough for her.

Taking a step closer, he wills the love inside his body to radiate from him. He imagines it as strands of wispy threads weaving between them, gently binding, creating security and loving warmth. If only he could create enough strands to make her stop bringing this up and simply be content in his arms. He starts to speak, low and soft.

“Remember the winter when we found the den of baby foxes. We watched them grow from being unable to lift their heads to frolicking in the fresh powdery snow, chasing and barking at each other. Your golden hair glistened with tiny perfect snowflakes and you looked like an angel…”

Reaching out to touch her, Hazel slaps his hand away. It makes a terribly loud whooshing sound startling several squirrels who run up the tree, flicking their bushy tails while squeaking and barking with frenzied panic. Although animals can’t see them, most can sense them. Hazel frowns.

“Stop it, Clyde. This has nothing to do with not loving our life here together and everything to do with being alive. That very same winter we watched helplessly as a baby deer lost its mother and froze to death. We tried so hard to help, but we couldn’t do a damn thing. We aren’t anything here. We are stuck and we feel nothing. Nothing!”

“That’s not true! We can feel things. We are alive to each other. I can feel you in my arms and kiss you with my lips. Why must you always wish for something more? Our life together is magic. It’s a gift! Why can’t you see that?”

Hazel doesn’t answer, but instead circles up into the sky as high as she can until she reaches the border wall of thick cold air. They are prisoners here in this place, locked within the boundaries of these lands, and although Clyde doesn’t seem to mind, she does. Her heart wants more. Craves more. It has nothing to do with the love between them and everything to do with wanting to know if this is all there is.

Pressing her palms softly against the wall of air Hazel can feel the thrumming heartbeat on the other side. Life lies beyond this and all she has to do is slip through the cracks. The golden light calls to her. It always does. It has to mean something.

“Hazel?”

Clyde’s beside her now his hands outstretched toward hers. There’s pain behind his blue eyes and she knows he doesn’t understand. They’ve had this fight hundreds, if not thousands, of times. He wants the here and now—the them that is guaranteed. She wants to know what else there is.

“Hazel…let’s go to the shimmering river and dance with the dragonflies. We’ll kick at the water with our toes until the moon comes out to yell at us. Please, Hazel? Come with me.”

He extends his hands again and Hazel can see the desperate love there—a kind of longing she used to crave but now finds suffocating. Her hands ball into fists and her cheeks burn.

“Why can’t you see this isn’t about you? Not everything is about you! I’m tired of you!”

Her voice comes out as an angry slip of misty words, almost a violent hiss. Clyde says nothing but she can see the pain light up as if she’d thrown a match in his face. She watches it twist and burn across his soft features until she can’t take it anymore. Tumbling away from him she curses the autumn. Why must it stir her up so? Why must it come between them like this? Why does the light call to her and not him?

Landing in the overgrown apple orchard, she looks around for Clyde but doesn’t see him. After nearly 100 years together, she understands when the line has been crossed and decides he needs space. Lifting the left side of her long blue skirt, she walks ladylike around the property weaving from one dusty path to the next. Several large crows call to her and she wonders, not for the first time, if perhaps they can see her.

Without intending to, Hazel finds herself at the scarecrow in the center of the farm. It grins at her with jagged metal teeth and large black button eyes. There are lumpy dark brown mushrooms growing in the folds of its neck and a wooden heart with sprockets and gears peeking out from a tattered, plaid wool jacket. She fears this not-real man created by some strange farmer a few years back and stares wide-eyed at its chest, frightened that it will begin ticking at any moment. She decides it’s the right place to sit when you feel bad about hurting the person you love. It’s a place of punishment.

A tiny field mouse inches forward to scrounge through rotting corn cobs for any edible morsels, its wee nose twitching as it keeps an eye out for danger. Such a helpless thing in a big field full of owls, foxes, snakes, hawks, and cats. Any second it could be ousted or eaten and yet it continues to try anyway. It wants to live.

Closing her eyes, Hazel thinks about how much she was like this mouse as a child. Scurrying around trying to hide and survive in a world where big things were always trying to hurt her. It was Clyde who saved her and broke her free. It’s always been, Clyde.

She’d run away from home after receiving yet another “hard lesson” from her father, which in this instance looked like hitting her with a leather belt 15 times across her bare back while her mother watched. It wasn’t really about anything she’d done, because she didn’t break any rules, but rather a way to punish her mother for looking at a man on the road home from church. Hazel’s mother never showed any emotion in her bloodshot pale eyes but it didn’t matter. He hit them both anyway.

Hazel endured it as best she could, gritting her teeth and trying to imagine herself flying away, and as soon as he finished she ran through the forest behind her house to cry alone at the river. Clyde found her. With his bright, curly red hair and intense blue eyes. Hazel thought he was a fairy and blurted it out. He didn’t laugh. Instead, he sat beside her and searched through the rocks until he found a smooth, black stone. He handed it to her and spoke softly while staring at the water.

“Are you okay?”

Others had said those three words to her before; teachers at school, the pastor at church, and kids at the park. It wasn’t the words so much as the way he said them. No pity. No blame. He wanted the truth and she gave it to him. All of it. When she finished he took her hand.

“It’s going to be okay.”

She followed him home, an apothecary shop in the middle of town with towering shelves of multicolored bottles. There were too many smells to distinguish them all, but she found the mix of them pleasant. His dad gave her medicine to calm her, numbed the skin, and patched up her wounds. Clyde held her hand the entire time and insisted she move in with them.

“I’m only 15. There’s no way I can just not go home.”

“Stay and see. Maybe it will be okay.”

It was. Nobody came looking for Hazel. A few years later Clyde proposed and they bought a farm in the middle of the woods—their sanctuary. They danced, had a family, and farmed the land selling pumpkins in the fall, pine wreaths in the winter, and flower bouquets the rest of the year. It was a happy life. A long life. A good life.

“Hazel?”

Opening her eyes she finds Clyde sitting beside her with his hands folded in his lap. He’s staring at the ground but when he feels her looking at him he turns and gives her a half-smile. She can see the dimpled face of the boy she met beside the river as well as the wrinkled one who died beside her during the big storm. He’s her everything.

“I’m sorry.”

They say it at the same time and giggle. Clyde shakes his head and reaches for her hand. She lets him take it.

“I’ve been wrong to keep us here. You are right. There might be more for us beyond this place. I’m scared of losing you, but I do trust our bond. We will find each other again.”

Hope like a thousand breezy days rushes through Hazel. She feels it as tingly pinpricks of light on her skin, as the fluttering of her long hair in the wind, and as beating inside where her heart long ago stopped. Their life together, alive and after, plays before her eyes as they quietly stare at each other for several minutes. When she speaks her voice comes out as a breathy whisper.

“Are you saying what I think you’re saying?”

Clyde stands and pulls her into a warm embrace, their bodies fitting perfectly together as they always have. Dipping her low in his arms he kisses her, and when their lips touch it’s as if all the kisses of 100 years together erupt between them. Crows and ravens for miles feel the vibration and rush into the air filling the darkening sky with their triumphant caws.

“One more dance?”

Rising high into the air, Clyde spins her through the cloudy blue sky. The light shines behind both their eyes, memories flashing as colorful as spring flowers, deep as winter’s darkness, hot as summer’s sun, and as brisk as autumn’s breezes. With a final embrace, they interlock their fingers and press together through the wall of air and into the golden light.

Author’s note: Inspired by the season and recent conversations with my teenage daughter, I present this ghost love story about finding peace with moving on. There’s beauty to be found in all stages of life and all seasons. Our family seems to be in a rough patch and writing this story felt slightly cathartic. I’d love to hear what you think in the comments below and have a wonderful week.


Short Story Challenge | Week 41

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 tumultuous soulmates are on opposing sides of a conflict. We had to include the words apothecary, bow tie, ladylike, sprocket, mushroom, scrounge, frenzy, match, oust, and prisoner.


Write With Us

Prompt: A good reason to be scared of the dark
Include: a killer whale, depraved, janitor, bargain, dye, fool, heap, kick, praise, quilt


My 52-Week Challenge Journey

Room 313 | A Short Story

When I enter the darkened room he grunts and throws a fat, pale arm across his eyes to block out the beam of light from the hallway. Smelling strongly of the cheap whiskey sold in the bar downstairs, he’s spread out across a thin patchwork blanket, wearing only filthy brown pants cut off at the knees. I focus on the dried blood under his fingernails and crusted around his knuckles before shutting the door quietly behind me. There’s no rush.

“Wh-whoo’s t-t-th-ere?”

It’s mostly gibberish, a slurry mix of boozy sleepiness, but I understand the words from hearing them from hundreds of men over the past ten years. I slink through the reddish light given off by the old lantern’s nightlight until I’m near the foot of the bed. The sour smell of sex fuels the fury coursing through my body until I’m burning red hot with it. I wonder if he can feel the heat radiating off me.

I sit on the golden, velvet bench at the foot of the bed to unlace my black boots. He’s fallen asleep or passed out, I can’t quite tell. His heavy breathing, in and out, feels like a knife slowly tracing the length of my spine. While he’s sleeping in this comfortable room, Viv lays on a mattress in the cellar being stitched up by Doc Baker. Tearing my boots off, I fight hard to unclench my teeth and relax. There’s an order to these things. They take time.

My stocking-covered feet are cool on the wood floor and I close my eyes, traveling back to the windswept coast and swelling ocean waves of my childhood. My red hair whips around my freckled cheeks as the pockets of my yellow dress bulge with partial and whole sand dollars. The foamy white edge of the water laps against my bare toes as I watch a crab scuttle by with a missing claw. My sister sings sweetly to herself behind me—my happy little shadow.

This memory is before pappa came back from fighting the war in Texas with a dreadful dead look in his eyes. It’s a good one. The last time I felt truly safe.

“H-hey, dar-dar-lin’, ya-ya a t-tad ollllld fer m-me likin’.”

Propped up on his calloused elbows and clearly still drunk, he smiles at me with bloodshot eyeballs and cracked thin lips. There are bits of black tobacco stuck along his inflamed gums. I bet he spits blood. I won’t regret this. I never do.

“Need a drink?”

Standing, I lean forward and press my breasts together giving him the smile I know all men like. His hungry eyes travel from my lacey white corset to my thin, black knee-high stockings. Although I’m far from the age of my girls, he’s definitely noticing I’m not without my charms. He sits up and licks his lips. It’s showtime.

Crossing the room carefully and moving so my hips sway slowly, I take out a miniature glass bottle shoved in my garter and set it on the table beside the lantern. It’s hardly noticeable, this tiny bit of nothing filled with red dust. It could be paprika or cinnamon. It’s common enough that if he dares to look beyond my body it won’t raise any alarms, but he won’t take his eyes off me. They never do.

“I-I ain’t pa-paying n-no ex-extra…”

His slurred voice begs to differ, desperate and a bit whiny, but I’m not looking to provoke him. I’ve had my days of fisticuffs, of brawling on the floor when I couldn’t contain my rage, but I’ve outgrown those childish urges and can control myself. Mostly.

“Oh, this is on the house. For being such a loyal customer.”

Turning back to him I smile and lift my left leg so it rests on the edge of the wooden dressing chair. Slowly, while staring at his ugly face, I inch up the edge of my shortened petticoat until he can see the lacey ruffled top of my stockings. I’m giving him a little show, a rehearsed choreographed number honed after years of infuriating mistakes. Within seconds, he’s panting and drooling.

“May I recommend the bourbon? Best around.”

He watches me with twitchy fingers and I wonder where he stashed the knife he used to cut Viv up. It doesn’t really matter though because he won’t have time to retrieve it. Making a show of reaching deep between my breasts I pull out a small bottle of dark bourbon. Using my teeth I pull off the top and take a swig. He shifts. I can tell he’s enjoying the show.

With a little kick, I press off the chair and begin dancing around the room with the bottle in one hand, flicking up my petticoats with the other. The ghostly shape of bloody clothes peers at me from under the bed and I move away from them. Fury thrums through me as if I’m some divine instrument being played, but I know better. There’s nothing Godly about what’s about to happen.

Letting him touch my thigh as I pass, he moans deeply. If I wait any longer he might rush at me and I’ll lose control of the situation. Twirling back to the table where the lantern sits, I bend over to pick up a small lowball glass from the bottom shelf. With a quick practiced movement, I flick in the red powder before standing.

“Thirsty?”

Pouring the drink as I walk toward him on tiptoes leaning slightly forward, I swirl it around to mix it up. Once I reach him he takes the glass, swallows it back in one gulp, and smashes it against the far wall. He’s on his feet in a flash rushing toward me. I let him chase me a bit before jumping onto the bed and patting the space beside me.

“Be a good boy and lay down.”

He jumps on top of my body pressing his groin instantly against mine. Holding my breath as best I can, I allow him to kiss my neck and grind into me with frantic, wild, nearly rabid energy. I’ve been through this part enough to know I must do something to calm myself. I close my eyes and count backward from 30. I only get to 10 this time.

“Wh..wh..wh..?”

He’s stopped moving now so I roll him off of me. There’s foam at the edges of his lips and he’s begun to twitch. Wiping off my body with the edge of the blanket, I make sure to get all the places his grimy hands and mouth touched. He can’t move but his eyes have bulged out and I spit in his face.

“Wi…wi…witchcraft.”

It’s his last word and it’s honestly a bit disappointing. I prefer when they plead a little, beg forgiveness or ask why. He didn’t struggle nearly long enough and it makes me reconsider this almost humane way of killing the men who hurt my girls. Then again, it’s easier and far less disruptive to do it quietly. Better for business.

My heart beats wildly in my chest and I stand still to savor the moment. What used to be fear draped around my shoulders like a shawl now is power. I took his life because he deserved to die. Part of me knows remorse should still be there somewhere but I feel none. Maybe this makes me evil.

I walk to the window and pull back the thick red curtains to look at the street below. There are several horses still tied out front but most folks have gone home as sunrise is an hour away. Piles of dead leaves have blown against the buildings creating shadowy homes for the rats to hide in. The wind howls and whines to get inside with crackling claws and it makes me think of the first time I saw this godforsaken Gold Rush town.

Draped across the back of a stinky old horse, with my feet and hands tied with thick scratchy rope, I watched the town appear in the distance as a black silhouette against a layered sky of orange and gold—a late autumn sunrise. The man my father sold me to grunted “welcome to Bicknell” as the wooden buildings took shape and slowly came into focus the closer we got. Black crows circled high above calling out a warning I wish I could have heeded.

Bicknell is a grimy town made up of a single smelly street dripping with broken promises and broken men. The creaky wooden sidewalks slant towards the dusty road, so when the drunks fall down they roll into the dirt and piss themselves there. Summers are so hot the men become possessed, walking from the mining camps and descending upon the town like locusts—loud, angry swarms of hot-headed frustration. They fight and fuck in equal parts, filling the night with screams of agony and pleasure.

Still, I prefer the heat to the winters. When it rains everything swells, making the doors impossible to close and the feces from the outhouses run in rivulets down the backs of the buildings to form a sludgy mucky mud that sucks at your feet like a monster. You have to tie a cloth across your face to walk outdoors or else you breathe in the flies and the smell until it nearly eats you alive. The only way it’s comfortable inside is to keep the fires roaring and let the smoke do the rest.

The sheriff pays the small orphan boys to clear the shit from the center of the road and cover it with layers of hay so carriages can pass through. Sometimes these passerbys come inside—women in big-hooped dresses and men in crisp suits. They gawk at the shocking nature of our establishment, but it’s only luck separating them from me and my girls. Smiling, I take their money and spit in their food. They gamble, drink, and sometimes stay the night and pay for my discretion as they invite one of my girls to join them upstairs.

I’ve learned to profit from the lusty wills of the ignorant and to build a business where I feel less like the victim I was when I arrived and more like a protector. It’s not been easy as the miners drift in and out of this grimy soul-sucking place and I’m proud of who I’ve become. Madame O. Even the sheriff tips his hat when I pass him on the street. Nobody messes with me anymore.

My thoughts return to young Viv with her dark, black hair and almond-shaped brown eyes who has been working here less than two weeks. I found her laying behind the butcher shop with an eye infection so bad she was nearly blind. Doc Baker fixed her up for me, as he does for all my girls, but now she’ll have scars across her face. I’ll give her an exotic costume with a silk veil but she’ll have to learn how to take control of the situation better or she might not live next time. Some girls aren’t cut out for this work. I wish I wasn’t.

Closing the curtains I make my way through the semi-darkness to where the miner lay dead and motionless—a stupid nobody. He probably has family somewhere but they won’t ever know what happened to him. My boys will take him out in an hour and throw his body off the side of the mountain to be eaten by wild animals. My girls will clean the room and burn the bloody clothes. Tonight business will continue like nothing happened and only Viv will hold the haunting memories of what took place here for the rest of her life. May he rot in hell for what he did to her.

Opening the door I see Opal standing in the hallway with her hands in the pockets of her little calico dress. A freckle-faced kid who looks so much like my sister did when I left that I often have to restrain myself from pulling her to me and hugging her. I found her wandering alone one night outside by the garbage looking for scraps and made her a kitchen girl. I’ve tried to shelter her from the real business of this place, but here she is standing barefoot in the dim hallway. Darting around me she runs into the room with a slight giggle.

“What are you doing in here?”

She runs to the windowsill and retrieves a rag doll from the ledge but stops when she sees the man on the bed. He’s got black blood running out of his mouth and he’s shit and peed himself. There’s already a terrible smell. The girl sticks her thumb in her mouth and makes a scared little whimper.

“I left my dolly…”

“Why were you up here? You know you aren’t allowed up here!”

“Viv…she let me look out the window…”

Spotting the bloody clothes under the bed, she inches along the wall as if they might spring to life and attack her. I know she’s probably seen lots of horrible things before coming here, but my inability to shield her from another horror flashes red hot inside my chest until I’m shaking with rage. I rush toward her, but she runs from me with a terrified look in her soft green eyes. She’s scared of me.

“Come back here!”

“No! You’re like all of them!”

“Opal!”

It’s too late. By the time I reach the bottom of the winding staircase she’s run through the bar and out the front door which creaks and swings wildly in the fierce winds. Leaning against the wooden frame I search the darkness for signs of her, but I know she will run as fast as she can without looking back. It’s all she knows. I’m just another boogeyman, another villain in her story. Maybe she’ll find a real hero to save her. For now, I’ve got work to do.

Author’s note: This week I tried my hand at writing about one of my daughter Lola’s favorite time periods in history—1800s California during the Gold Rush. I loosely based the location on The National Exchange Hotel in Nevada City which claims to be the oldest continuously operating hotel in California. It was built in August 1856 under the name “Bicknell Block” and has survived many fires.

The photos I used are from a visit I took last year where I had lunch at the restaurant Lola, which was named after the infamous performer and all-around badass Lola Montez. She lived in Grass Valley from 1853 to 1855 where she performed her scandalous “spider dance” which was supposed to imitate a woman with spiders climbing within her petticoats.

This story is quite a departure from my sweet story of last week, but it was challenging and might be some of my best writing to date. Let me know what you think and thank you to everyone for your continued support.

Here’s my girl and me during her 4th grade trip to Malakoff Diggins. Aren’t we the cutest?


Short Story Challenge | Week 40

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 the villain is really the hero. We had to include the words witchcraft, recommend, sand dollar, fisticuff, paprika, eyeball, nightlight, gibberish, infuriating, and dreadful.


Write With Us

Prompt: Tumultuous soulmates are on opposing sides of a conflict
Include: apothecary, bow tie, ladylike, sprocket, mushroom, scrounge, frenzy, match, oust, prisoner


My 52-Week Challenge Journey

The Wheels on the Bus | A Short Story

There’s a massive maple tree outside Nudgee’s new house that’s covered in golden orange and yellow leaves nearly as big as his wicker lunchbox. With wide brown eyes, he stares up into the twisted branches trying to locate the source of an odd clicking sound he’s been hearing since they moved into this small, yellow house two weeks ago. It’s driving him crazy.

He catches a brief glimpse of something shiny and black, but a gusty breeze makes the leaves wiggle and sway and he loses it. Shoot! This place isn’t anything like his real home. He picks up a small rock and throws it at one of the branches, but he’s small for his age and it doesn’t go very far.

“I know you are up there!”

“Who are you talking to?”

Holding her favorite “Live, Laugh, Love” coffee cup with both hands, his mother appears in the doorway wearing her old faded blue bathrobe. Her thick, black hair is rolled up into dozens of pink foam curlers and she’s wearing a pair of dad’s old, grey socks which are too big and floppy. Nudgee thinks she looks like an alien and wishes she’d go back inside.

“Nobody.”

“It’s going to be okay, you know?”

“Yeah, I know.”

“First days are hard, but you got this.”

“I know!”

His mother’s neon blue nails flash in the morning sunlight and Nudgee stomps away in his brown, leather boots to the end of the driveway. He’s 11 years old and that’s old enough to know his mother can’t be sure things will be okay. Why do adults insist on saying things that aren’t true? How about being more honest by saying “I hope it will be okay” or “it might not be okay but you are strong and can handle it.”

Ding! Dong! Ding! Dong! Ding! Dong!

Nudgee turns around to see his mother leaning against the small rectangular doorbell. With a kind of stumbling shuffle, she steps back and spills her coffee down the front of her robe. Her big blue eyes look droopy with dark smudges of yesterday’s mascara. Nudgee’s worried she might start crying again.

“Ouch! Damn it! Shit! Sorry, lovebug! I’m okay.”

Go inside. Go inside. Go inside. Nudgee turns away from his mom and chants the words like a magic spell and when he doesn’t hear anything for a few minutes he turns back around to find she’s gone. It worked.

The familiar rumbling sound of a school bus turns his attention forward. He straightens out his green plaid jacket and tucks his thick, tawny curls inside a bubble-shaped tan hat. A fluttering of nervous energy makes him feel jumpy and he considers simply running down the street. How long would it take to run 100 miles? Didn’t his best friend’s mom say he’d be welcome back anytime?

All morning Nudgee didn’t actually think he’d be going to school. Things have been terrible since his father left, and part of him expected his dad to show up in his black El Camino saying it was all just a big misunderstanding. Yes, mom cheated, sure, but dad wouldn’t leave his little “pollywog” behind forever. He loves him. Right?

The yellow school bus door opens outward with a loud swooshing sound and a lean man with small, round glasses stares down at Nudgee blinking softly. He’s got grey hair, a large bushy mustache, and pale pink lips. Tipping his colorful plaid hat with a gloved hand, he gives the boy a wide warm smile.

“Are you Nudgee?”

He pronounces his name perfectly with a smooth, deep voice, and Nudgee nods. There’s a small golden pin on the collar of the bus driver’s blue shirt in the shape of a snail. Nudgee’s old neighbor, Mr. Arnold, used to pay him a penny a snail to collect them from his garden and destroy them, but he always let them go in the park instead. He liked their weird stalky eyes.

“Oh, good. All aboard!”

Drawing out the last word like an old-timey train conductor, Nudgee smiles. He likes this bus driver. His feet, however, don’t want to cooperate. It’s as if he’s been cemented to the sidewalk and all he can do is look at his boots in frustration while picturing all the kids inside the bus staring at him and making the determination if he will or won’t fit in. His stomach hurts.

With smooth, careful movements the bus driver gets out of his seat, walks down the three stairs, and reaches his gloved hand out to Nudgee. Before he can really think about it, he’s followed the old man onto the bus. He walks down the narrow aisle, staring at the creased lines of the black floor toward the rear of the bus while trying hard to not make eye contact with anyone.

There are no strange whispers or points as he walks, just the regular sounds of kids talking and laughing with each other. It makes Nudgee feel better. As he reaches the rear of the bus he looks up to see two girls playing on some kind of touch screen to his left, and a large boy with fluffy blonde hair sleeping to his right. With a red, white, and blue sweatband around his head, the boy hugs his backpack like a stuffed animal and snores slightly. Nudgee almost squeezes in next to him, but a low calm voice stops him.

“Don’t do it. Roger will drool on you. I, unfortunately, know from experience. It’s a bad idea. ”

Taking a step forward, Nudgee finds a small-framed boy sitting alone against the window of the very last seat with his hands folded on his lap. He’s got shiny black hair, cut short, and small dark eyes. With a wink, he motions to the seat beside him and Nudgee sits down.

“Do you know what Krav Maga is? I didn’t either until I looked it up. It’s some kind of fighting thing the Israeli military uses in battle. Well, Roger says he studies it, but I doubt it. He mostly sleeps and grunts. I think he’s sad.”

The boy points at the seat in front of them and gives a sort of pained look. He’s got deep dimples, dark thin eyebrows, and delicate small hands. The boys smile at each other.

“Oh, thank you.”

The boy puts out his hand and Nudgee shakes it. There’s something familiar about him as if they’ve met before, and it makes the jumpiness inside him calm down. He sighs and settles back in his seat with his lunchbox on his lap.

“I’m Akiamo but most people call me Aki. My mom says it’s not okay to change your name, but I didn’t exactly change it. I just think it’s easier to have a short name. You know? People can never say my name right anyway. Are you new?”

He’s wearing brown and white striped pants, a brown button-up jacket, and shiny brown shoes. There’s a leather knapsack on the seat beside him which is slightly open exposing books, notepads, and several glass jars. Nudgee nods and sets his lunchbox next to Aki’s leather bag.

“I’m Nudgee.”

As he says his name, he braces himself for the inevitable question “what kind of name is that?” He’s used to having to explain that his parents found it in a book and thought it sounded cool. He hopes Aki won’t mention it rhymes with “pudgy” or “fudgy.”

“Wow. What a cool name! I think I’ve read it before in a book. I’m certain of it. Sounds like perhaps a warrior or an explorer. I bet it looks cool as your signature with those double e’s at the end. Can you show me?”

He pulls out a small pad of yellow paper and a bright silver pen. Nudgee writes his name several times across the paper in flowy black letters. He likes how smooth the fine tip writes. Never has writing his name felt so fun as with Aki. They smile at each other again.

“Our dog had a litter of puppies last night. They’re all fat and white with eyes glued shut. You should come to see them.”

Aki pauses for a moment and looks out the window.

“I sometimes wish my eyes were glued shut, but mom says I shouldn’t say such things. It’s just that sometimes you can see too much. You know?”

Nudgee knows and nods. He remembers the night dad came back from his business trip and found Mr. Lobel in the bedroom with mom. He was naked when he ran out the front door, his white butt looked scary and ghostlike in the moonlight. Then the screaming began.

“Are you hungry? My mom always makes me a big breakfast, but I honestly can’t eat before I get on the bus. I’m not sure why, but I think it’s because up until the moment I climb into my seat I’m pretty sure I’m going to get out of going to school. I just expect something to happen, you know? Like a miracle or something. Anyway, you hungry?”

Aki pulls out a small glass jar filled with cut apples. Nudgee takes one and to his delight finds it tastes like honey and cinnamon. It’s his favorite snack.

“Good, huh? My mom gets all our fruit from this organic vendor at the farmer’s market. She knows I have an aversion to anything meat or bread related, so she gives me all these little jars of fruits and vegetables. I used to bring dried seaweed, which is my favorite thing, but kids thought it smelled weird. It’s okay though.”

They finish the apples together in silence as the bus stops several times and more kids get on. Nobody else wanders to the far back and Nudgee realizes why Aki likes it so much. If it wasn’t for the terrible bounciness, it would be almost peaceful.

When the bus stops at a red light, Aki suddenly gasps and points out the window. Nudgee scoots closer, squishing the two bags between them and looks at where he’s pointing. There’s a strange black bird sitting on top of a parked yellow VW bug. It’s nearly as big as the roof of the car. It turns and looks at them with bright red eyes and makes a loud clicking sound.

“What is that thing?” Nudgee says.

“I have no idea, but nobody ever sees it but me. It’s always making that horrible sound. You see it right? You really do?”

“Huge black bird with weird blue beak and creepy red eyes. Yep. I see it.”

It hops off the car and starts walking across the street toward them. The clicking sound increases as it gets closer. Suddenly it swoops into the air and dives toward the bus.

“Shoot!” Nudgee says.

“Yeah, shoot!”

They jump to their feet and work together to pull the big glass window closed. The bird reaches the window far before it closes, but it doesn’t try to get inside. Instead, it just hovers and watches them.

The light turns green and the bus starts moving down the street again, but the bird remains right outside the window, clicking its beak wildly. It blinks, a sort of milky membrane covering its shiny red eyes, and then disappears with a puff of blue smoke. Nudgee scrambles over the two bags and stands in the aisle holding onto the back of the seat.

“What’s going on?”

“I don’t know. It’s never done that before.”

Aki pulls out a tattered-looking notebook filled with drawings of the strange bird. There are scribbled notes all over the margins. He puts both bags against the window and motions for Nudgee to sit beside him. Shakily, he does and realizes nobody on the bus has even looked in their direction.

“I’ve been seeing the birds for years, but usually they just stare at me and blink. I’ve taken out every book about birds from the library, including mythologies and legends, but I can’t find anything about this particular creature. Nothing at all. Have you seen one before?”

Nudgee shakes his head but then suddenly remembers the sound he’s been hearing since arriving in town.

“Not before now, but I started hearing that clicking sound the day we moved in and I think one was in my tree this morning. What do you think it wants with us?”

“I don’t know. Are you a witch or something?”

“Are you?”

Both boys laugh at the absurdity of the question but quietly consider it. Nudgee knows his family history does include “healing women,” but he’s never really considered what that means. Aki has heard similar things about “mystics” in his own family. Could they be magical in some way?

When the bus pulls into the school, the boys gather up their bags and follow the other kids as they slowly exit the bus. Before Nudgee can take in the enormity of the brick schoolhouse, Aki grabs his arm and guides him away from the front entrance. He doesn’t want to be late to class, but he has a feeling this is more important than school.

They follow a dirt path along the edge of the building behind a row of large, spiky hedges. Aki runs his left hand along the bricks as he walks and Nudgee copies him. It feels cool and rough.

This is not how Nudgee pictured his first day of middle school, but there’s something about this new friend he trusts. After all, they just saw a magical bird together and that’s more exciting than anything he could learn in school today. Aki stops at the sharp corner of the building and Nudgee bumps into him.

“Sorry.”

Aki smiles but puts his finger up to his lips.

“It’s okay but be quiet. Follow me.”

“Where are we going?”

Aki doesn’t answer but instead holds his bag to his chest and sprints across an empty cement courtyard. Nudgee follows. They reach a small grove of scraggly trees with peeling white bark. The ground is covered with chip bags and candy wrappers.

Aki walks through it without pausing, stepping over garbage and through a large row of dense bushes. They climb down a small rocky embankment and walk a few more minutes until they enter a grove of old oak trees. Aki stops to pick up an acorn and hand it to his friend.

“I come here to think,” he says. “I want to show you my favorite spot.” 

“Okay.”

Stepping through streaks of golden sunlight and over dozens of fallen logs, the boys wind their way through a dense forest of tall trees until they reach a small clearing. A narrow creek flows between two large moss-covered boulders making a gentle babbling sound. Dropping their bags, the boys kneel down and put their hands in the cold water. Tiny tadpoles and minnows swim by. Nudgee feels a sudden surge of happiness, the first time he’s felt this good since his father left.

“Wow. It’s beautiful here.”

Before Aki can answer, the sound of clicking fills the air. The boys look up to see the strange black bird perched on one of the boulders staring at them. Without standing, the boys hold hands and listen as the clicks become softer and then start to sound like words. It’s a high-pitched voice wobbly and unclear at first, but then it suddenly shifts and they can understand it.

“Hello, my friends.”

The boys say nothing as another large black bird lands on the second boulder. Both birds stare at the boys. Wind rushes through the forest releasing brown and yellow leaves from the trees to dance around them with a low rustling sound.

“We mean you no harm,” the bird says.

Aki squeezes his new friend’s hand and then lets go. He stands up and steps slowly forward, putting his hands out in front of him. Both birds shift slightly and lower their heads in a small bow.

“We don’t want to harm you either. Leave my friend out of this. What do you want with me?”

“You both need to come with us. We’ve been waiting for you. We need your help.”

Nudgee stands and takes Aki’s hand again, grasping it tightly. They are in this together, and although they are both still scared, it’s hard to not be excited by a talking bird and the possibility of adventure. It sure beats schoolwork.

“Go with you where?” Nudgee says.

“Our world is in danger and you are the only two who can save us. There isn’t time. It might be too late already. Please, we need your help.”

With a silent flapping of their wings the birds swoop down, landing in front of the boys. Tucking their legs underneath their bodies, both birds spread out their massive wings and lower themselves onto their bellies. Aki and Nudgee embrace, giving each other courage and encouragement. One bird speaks quickly while the other makes a series of clicking sounds.

“Climb on, please. We have to go. There’s no time.”

With a final look at each other, the boys climb onto the backs of the giant black birds. Grabbing a handful of the soft neck feathers, they brace themselves as the birds gently stand and soar into the cool autumn morning. With a puff of blue smoke, they are transported to a pink sky over a sea of bright blue. The adventure has just begun.

Author’s note: I was stalled on this prompt for most of the week while my kids both suffered from a pretty intense case of strep throat. For some reason, I was interpreting “magic in everyday occurrences” in a very narrow way trying to make it be a coincidence or perhaps the kind of magic you feel when falling in love. Neither of those ideas was working for me though and I turned to my kids for ideas. 

My son blurts out, “two kids see something magical out a window on a school bus, easy, boom!” Just like that, I was off and this tale was born. Partway through I realized it could also be a nod to one of our family’s favorite children’s books we’d read when they were sick, “Frog and Toad.” That story of friendship is magical in so many ways and so Nudgee (Aboriginal word meaning green frog) and Akiamo (Japanese for autumn mountain) were born.

I hope you enjoyed this story and thanks so much for reading. Your comments and likes mean the world to me. Have a wonderful week.


Short Story Challenge | Week 39

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 magic in everyday occurrences. We had to include the words Krav Maga, touch screen, litter, vendor, doorbell, finish, hungry, aversion, signature, and sweatband.


Write With Us

Prompt: The villain is really the hero
Include: witchcraft, recommend, sand dollar, fisticuff, paprika, eyeball, nightlight, gibberish, infuriating, and dreadful


My 52-Week Challenge Journey

Meet Me at the Elephant Ears | A Short Story

Most of the time mom’s snores are a source of aggravation for me and my younger brothers. The sound oscillates between dry wheezes and wet aggressive snorts. Siam thinks she does it on purpose and Theil worries it’s a sign she will die early. I don’t know about either of those things, but tonight I’m grateful for the sounds. When you want to do some sneaking, being able to hear if your mom is asleep is quite useful.

Rolling off the corner of our shared mattress and standing, I pause by the back door and look at my sleeping family through the dim light of the lantern mom always keeps lit. They’re huddled together in the center of the empty room under a thin paisley afghan we found in a wooden trunk in one of the upstairs bedrooms. It smelled like rot and mold, but mom washed it over and over in the small sink until it smelled like nothing at all.

Theil looks like a baby holding a ratty stuffed lion and sucking on one of his long, slender thumbs. Mom’s got her arms around him and his mass of curly brown hair is pressed into her chest. Siam has rolled away from them both into the spot I just left. He looks sweaty and he’s frowning. He’s probably hungry. After all, he’s always hungry.

Mom shaved her hair off when we arrived a few days ago and I’m still not used to seeing the scars on her bald head. If I was a bit more creative I might think they formed the shape of something, but I find them unnerving to look at. They are reminders of what we’ve been through and I want so hard to forget for a moment. Tonight is a time of new things, not old. A time for me, not mom and my brothers.

Pressing open the back door as slowly as I can, Siam opens his eyes and spots me. I’m worried he might scream, but he doesn’t even flinch. There’s a kind of “be careful” look in his deep brown eyes and I silently mouth, “I’ll be back, promise.” He gives me a little thumbs up and my heart breaks. What if I don’t come back? I’m tough, but the world is unpredictable and he’s lost so much already. It’s almost enough to stop me, but then I think about the softness in Remi’s golden-green eyes. I grab my backpack and close the door softly behind me.

In the orange light of a huge harvest moon, the overgrown backyard looks wild and inviting. Elongated and exaggerated shadows dance merrily across the broken fence—huge fractured flashes of dark and light. I’m suddenly excited to be on my own with only myself to protect. It’s alluring to be selfish.

There it is though—selfish. A battle rages within my chest, thudding uneven and fierce. Guilt. I’ve never snuck away from my family before, not even when the world was right-sided. Am I wrong for leaving my family to meet this boy? Don’t I deserve a moment of being a teenager?

“Meet me at the elephant ears tonight,” Remi whispered when I’d passed him in the street today with my brothers. He’d winked and smiled at me from beneath his black cowboy hat and touched my bare arm with his warm, strong hand. Since that moment all I can think about is what will happen if I do. Does he like me in the way I like him? Will I have my first kiss? What if this is some trick to humiliate me?

For the past two years, we’ve been on the run. I’ve not had time to really think about how I look, but now I feel self-conscious and dirty. Letting my curly black hair down from the messy bun it’s almost always in, I run my fingers through the tangles but they immediately get stuck. It’s too late now. Either I go as myself and risk being wrong about his feelings for me, or I go back inside and wonder forever what tonight could have been. I make the quick decision to pull my hair back up.

Inching around the side of the house, barefoot in jeans and a t-shirt, I stop beside an old rabbit hutch covered with thorny vines and open my backpack. Pulling on my favorite olive green sweater and my brown cowboy boots, I strap the leather-sheathed hunting knife to my thigh. There’s no reason to be stupid and walk around unarmed.

Looking at the empty hutch it occurs to me we’ve not seen any animals in town since we arrived. Usually, animals know when the monsters are coming and run far away from them. We’ve taken our cues from nature, running from place to place hiding as they do, until now. Is it a mistake to stay in the false sense of comfort this town affords?

For a split second, I picture myself bolting back inside to wake everyone and insist we run before the monsters attack, but the feeling passes. No fight or flight decision is necessary at this moment. Everything is okay. Mom’s got my brothers and I can take care of myself.

Mom says she wants to try living in town for the boys. They are small and all the running has made them skinny and weak. Although we both carry them on our backs as much as we can, they aren’t growing enough and they barely speak. It’s as if the fear of the last two years has pressed pause and they are stuck at age three.

The truth is, mom and I need this place too. Even if I’m right about the animals, I don’t want to leave. We all deserve a shot at something more normal.

Mom’s become friends with a woman we met on the road who led us here, Mer. She’s a tall, striking woman with rich brown skin, almond-shaped eyes, and jet black spiky hair. Dressed always in black leather pants, she has a pink smiling cat tattooed on her left bicep. She makes mom laugh, a sound I didn’t even know I missed until it shined around us all like a bright colorful rainbow. Maybe it signals the terrible scary storm has ended.

There are about 100 people here in the town of Amal, which mom says is an Arabic word meaning Hope. Surrounded by a makeshift wall with ten lookout towers, there’s limited electricity, a doctor, and rumors of a school starting for the little kids. It’s as close to a return to the old ways as we can get, but I’m not ready to lower my defenses. Not quite yet.

Climbing over the locked side gate, I walk along the cracked sidewalk, scanning all directions for any sign of movement. Most of the debris has been cleared away from the town, but there are still objects in the bushes and gutters. I pass a rusty French horn with dandelions growing around it, a reddish tricycle turned on its side, and a pile of shattered Christmas lights.

As I get nearer to the place with the elephant ear plants, my thoughts turn away from the town and toward Remi. What do I even know about him? Yes, he’s cute, everyone seems to like him, and he smiles a lot. However, those are superficial things. Nothing of substance. I’d been so worried he wouldn’t like me, what if I don’t like him? 

What if he’s a bad person and I’ve been swept up in this fantasy version of him because we happen to be the only two teenagers in the town? What if I’ve misread everything and he simply wants to be friends? What if he’s going to kill me?

“Qamari?” Remi says softly from behind a huge maple tree whose bright reddish-orange leaves almost match the moon’s intensity. He steps out and all my fears of him fade in an instant. I can’t stop a big grin from flashing across my face.

“These are for you. I grew them myself.”

I take the bundle of lavender flowers wrapped in yellow ribbon and put them up to my nose. They smell wonderfully fresh and I feel myself inflate with an intensity I’ve not experienced before. It’s not love, I don’t think, but something more primal. A feeling of deep desire or maybe it’s the sensation of being desired. Either way, I really like it.

“I’m glad you came. I was worried you wouldn’t…I mean you barely know me.”

He’s not wearing his cowboy hat tonight and I can see he’s got wavy black hair. Dressed in dark jeans and a blue t-shirt, he smiles at me and then kicks the ground like my brothers do when they are about to be scolded. He’s as nervous about this meeting as I am and it makes me like him even more.

“I’m glad I came too.”

For a few minutes, we just stand close to each other in silence. The elephant ear plants around us have drops of water inside them—little reflection pools containing the splendor of the starry night sky. It’s like walking in the galaxy, I think.

I can hear his heavy, even breathing and he smells of something like campfires or fresh-cut wood. He grabs my hand and squeezes it. My cheeks flush pink as I feel myself growing warm all over.

“Can I show you something?”

Nodding, I let him lead me through the quiet town. He shows me the flowers which bloom only for “night owls and teenagers.” Behind a pale blue house, we find a cluster of evening primroses, delicate yellow flowers which smell sweet and tangy. Along a back fence, we find three trumpet-shaped moon flowers with a strong lemony scent and he warns me they are poisonous and to not let my little brothers eat them.

Finally, we arrive at a wooden gazebo near the center of town almost entirely overgrown by a dark green bush covered in tiny white star-shaped flowers. There’s a strong, sweet smell in the air and he picks one of the flowers and hands it to me. I turn the long stem in my fingers watching the petals spin.

“Night-blooming jasmine,” he says. “My mother planted these all over our property when I was little. One year I pulled off all the flowers and soaked them in a bowl of water to make perfume to give to the girls at school. Almost every girl who used it got a rash and mom was called for a meeting.”

I laugh but he doesn’t join me.

“A lady’s man then?”

He shuffles his feet and swallows hard. Turning from me and looking up at the sky, he talks in a low hesitant voice. I can tell he’s not sure he should be sharing so much with me.

“No. I was kind of an outsider, actually. My mom was like a town joke…an outcast because our property was covered in wild plants and she dressed a bit…different. I was trying to get the girls to like me with the perfume, but it backfired and it just gave them new names to call me. ‘Witchy boy’ I think was their favorite, but it’s better than how the boys treated me…”

For a few minutes, we are silent again and I consider telling him about how my father used to beat my mother every day before the monsters came…but then decide it’s not the time to exchange stories. I’d rather stop the discomfort, ease his pain, not transfer it into sympathy for me. Moving so I’m facing him I lean forward and wrap my arms around him.

We sort of sway in place for a few minutes until he pulls away and we lock eyes. I want to memorize the way the flecks of gold dance within the sea of green. I want to be looked at the way he’s looking at me forever. He leans in and I feel the warmth of his breath on my lips.

The sound of footsteps and voices pulls us instantly apart. Within seconds I’ve unsheathed my knife and Remi has found a jagged metal pipe. Crouching low, we slink together into the darkness of the old gazebo holding our weapons tightly in front of us. The voices are arguing, one whiney and the other gruff.

“I told you, man, I don’t want no trouble. No trouble at all.”

“Sure.”

“Come on…it’s not like I did something really wrong. So what if I took some extra bread. I’m hungry, man. I’m starving. You can see my bones. Can’t you see my bones?”

“Put down your shirt and walk.”

“Then tell me where are we going? Can’t you tell me? I don’t like this, man. I got a bad feeling about this. It doesn’t feel right. I’m sorry. Didn’t you hear me say I was sorry?”

“Walk.”

Remi and I kneel next to each other and peer over the railing of the gazebo. The dense plants hide us in shadow, but we are careful to stay low and not move. I can feel Remi’s breath beside me is calm. He’s been through much worse situations and so have I.

The shorter of the two men, the one with the whiney voice, is dressed in saggy, ripped clothing and isn’t wearing shoes. He’s got a scruffy blonde beard and his hair is wild and dirty. There’s a sour smell coming from him that reaches through the jasmine to sting my nose.

I recognize the taller man, but don’t know his name. He and mom talked for a long time the first day we arrived while my brothers and I waited in a room filled with toys and books. I think he might be in charge of security as he dresses like an old-timey sheriff with a bright white cowboy hat and a crisp button-up tan shirt.

Keeping my knife at my side, I inch close enough to Remi to whisper directly into his ear.

“Who are they?”

Despite his even breathing, Remi’s holding the pipe white-knuckled. Something about the situation has him on alert and it’s not at all about being caught out at night as a teenager. His eyes don’t leave the pair, but he whispers back as low as he can.

“That’s Tom, but I don’t know the other man.”

The smaller man suddenly stops and crosses his arms in front of him. He’s breathing hard now—tiny, wheezy gasps. Tom unholsters his black gun and points it at his face. Remi grabs my hand and we slink a little further into the shadows, but keep our eyes on the men.

“I said walk.”

“Please, man. I’m sorry. I won’t do it again. I promise. You can’t do anything to me. It’s not right. We aren’t monsters. We don’t do this to each other. I’m just starving man. Starving!”

“Walk or I shoot you.”

The smaller man begins to cry but resumes walking. Tom reholsters his gun but keeps his hand on the grip. They walk past the gazebo toward a line of boarded-up storefronts. Tom pushes the wailing man past the hardware store, book store, and pharmacy and then stops at a place called “Sweet Symphony.” It’s painted gold and purple and I imagine it was either a candy or music store, perhaps both.

There’s a strange muffled sound nearby, a kind of faint moan I usually associate with the monsters. I look at Remi, but he’s focused straight ahead at the men. The hairs on my arms stand up and I tighten my fingers around the leather handle of my knife until I can feel the ridges dig into my palm.

Tom bends down and picks up a rusted silver crowbar from a pile of tools laying near the door. He hands it to the sobbing man who only takes it after Tom nearly hits him over the head with it. The faint moan comes again and I feel my heart pounding and my muscles tighten.

“Open it.”

“Why man? I just wanted some bread. I’ll work it off. I’ll do anything. Don’t hurt me.”

Tom slaps the wailing man across the face and he stops crying. They stare at each other in silence for a minute and Remi squeezes my hand tighter. I’m unsure if he’s nervous because he knows what’s about to happen or because he doesn’t. The small man blows his nose on his shirt.

“Shut up and open it.”

He does. We watch in silence as it takes the sniffling man several minutes to pry open the wood from the door. Eventually, it falls to the ground with a splintery, cracking sound. The door has a red X spray-painted across it and Remi gasps.

“What?” I mouth without sound and he shakes his head. He knows what’s going to happen. He knows what’s in there. I realize by the way my body feels, I do too. They can’t have one here in the town. They just can’t. Remi smacks the pipe against his legs hard and then makes a kind of low growl in the back of his throat.

“No!” the man screams the second he realizes what’s happening. The scratching sounds of the monster behind the purple door intensify. Remi lets go of my hand to grip the pipe with both hands as Tom turns the doorknob and pushes the man inside. 

We don’t see what happens next, but we hear it. The man’s garbled scream is swallowed up within seconds by the sound of the thing feasting on his body. The tearing, clawing, liquid sounds make my body shiver and I realize I’m standing now with the knife pointed toward the door. Remi’s beside me with his pipe. We don’t make a sound.

Tom shuts the door. There’s no mistaking the wide smile on his face as satisfaction. I shiver at the look. It’s wicked and wrong what he did and there’s no explaining it away. Remi and I slink back down as Tom opens a toolbox beside the door and hammers fresh nails into the piece of wood.

The second Tom’s footsteps disappear back into the night, I turn to Remi. He’s still grabbing the pipe tight and he looks sweaty. The image of my family sleeping a few streets away makes me feel sick to my stomach. I was right. There’s no such thing as comfortable in this new world.

“Did you know?” I say more to say something than to really know the answer. It doesn’t matter. My family is in danger and I’m already planning on how I’m going to explain to my mom what I just saw. She will be mad I snuck out, but I can take her anger. There’s no staying now.

“There were rumors…but I didn’t want to believe it.”

“We can’t stay here.”

Remi turns to me and there are tears in his eyes. I can tell he’s been thinking the same thing. We could kill the monster, yes, but it’s not about that unthinking beast behind the purple door. It’s the fact this town is being run by someone who would feed it and keep it nearby as a tool. Someone who smiled after. Someone who is far more dangerous than the monsters.

“We could go together,” Remi says in a whisper. 

I don’t answer. The dream of kissing his beautiful face seems almost silly now. All I can think about is saving my family. I touch him gently on the arm and run out into the night. It’s time to move again.

Author’s note: I thought it would be interesting to explore the idea of witnessing a crime in a post-apocalyptic world where the ideas of morality are slightly skewed. They did this so well in the early days of “The Walking Dead,” and I think it’s where most of my inspiration for this story came from. I’m not sure I did exactly what I wanted, but I did grow really fond of Remi. I might want to do more with him in the future, this sweet “witchy boy” who is simply trying to do his best in a world torn apart by monsters. 


Short Story Challenge | Week 38

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 the main character witnesses a crime. We had to include the words Christmas, almond, paisley, lion, pipe, scream, fade, French horn, inflate, and maple.


Write With Us

Prompt: Magic in everyday occurrences
Include: Krav Maga, touch screen, litter, vendor, doorbell, finish, hungry, aversion, signature, sweatband


My 52-Week Challenge Journey

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

The Octopus in the Room | A Short Story

“Healing winds with all their might 
reveal an eight arm gift of ancient sight.”
-The Secret Guide to Ocean Magic

Tracing the dark blue waves stitched onto the white comforter with her pointer finger, Meri takes a deep steadying breath. There’s nothing to do right now but rest. She did everything she could. It’s not her fault.

There’s a sense she’s forgetting something, but the smell of peppermint tea distracts the feeling away. Dressed in warm, soft pajamas of pale pink, she rises from bed and slips on a pair of matching fur-lined slippers. Her arms and legs feel heavy and weak.

She’s in a small, square room with no windows. There’s a large blue octopus painted onto a white brick wall. An unknown wind blows her thick brown hair about her face for a moment before sticking to her damp, pink cheeks. She closes her eyes tight and a murky image slowly comes into focus.

There’s a golden chandelier, a dance floor of soft brown wood, and a jazz band playing in matching maroon suits. She’s wearing a midnight blue silk dress with her hair piled in ringlets on the top of her head. She feels far more grown-up than ever before. This is what her life will be like now. A life she can create all by herself far from the reach of her abusive parents. She gets to call the shots.

“There’s a forest of life inside your green eyes,” a young man says while holding Meri in his arms. Handsome and tall, she can feel his strong heartbeat against her palm. His lips are plump and pink and his hair is long and golden. “I’m lost when I’m with you.”

Dressed in a sparkling silver dress, a beautiful woman bumps into the young couple and drops her cocktail drink to the floor. Its pink liquid sloshes all the way to the wall, pooling along the edge. The floor tilts further sideways and someone screams. Meri opens her eyes.

There’s a delicate teacup covered in tiny pink starfish steaming on a wooden end table across the room. Beside it sits a thick book with a deep blue cover and a pair of golden brown reading glasses. She takes a wobbly step toward it.

“Well, I suppose I could do some reading.”

Her voice sounds crackly in the quiet room as if her throat is swollen. Has she been screaming? Questions waft away before answers can be formed. The sound of waves lapping against wood can be heard in the distance.

Meri sits in a white cushioned chair and covers her legs with a heavy wool blanket which smells faintly of saltwater and is the dark green color of wet seaweed. Her long brown hair feels matted and dirty, but when she runs her fingers through it she’s surprised to find it silky and soft.

The book has no title and no author. It’s a picture book of sorts but seems unbound by the conventions of normal storytelling. Instead, it meanders between two stories, both of which Meri finds herself getting emotionally invested in within moments.

The first story is of a tiny piglet, the runt of the litter, who lives in a petting zoo in the middle of a noisy town. This plump ball of pink with a curly tail dreams of running away to attend a summer camp near the ocean so it can swim with dolphins. He tries various ways to escape but the evil zookeeper always catches him and throws him back into his metal cage.

The second story is of an immortal being living in the deepest, darkest part of the ocean. A creature of eight who spends its days hiding alone within a cave of bright silver coral created by collecting bits and pieces of shipwrecks and hammering them together. Annoyed by the noises and pollution of the world, it lives a solitary and peaceful existence. It floats gracefully in the icy waters often dancing among its garden of tiny phosphorus plants cultivated through years of careful nurturing.

On a particularly busy weekend at the petting zoo, the piglet sneaks into the backpack of a small girl with bouncy blonde pigtails. Within hours, the small animal finds itself off on a grand adventure aboard a giant white ship headed into the vast ocean. Its happiness, however, shifts when a terrible storm rolls across the glittery water, turning the soft smooth surface into terrible walls of white that crash hard into the sides of the ship. The girl tries to hold onto the piglet, but it slips from her grasp and into the choppy sea.

Meri shuts the book with a snap. Her body feels terribly cold and she looks around panicked about the wall of white and the piglet. Instead, she sees the muted lights of the room blink softly and feels the chair beneath her roll from side to side. It’s only a story, she tells herself. She stares at the white brick wall with the octopus. I’m in a room.

The number one hundred and twelve flashes golden along the wall and then disappears. Meri rubs sand from her eyes. Terror and sadness flush through her and then quickly dissipates as her eyes fall on the teacup beside her. The pretty cup with the tiny starfish.

Meri takes a sip and tastes strong herbs with just a hint of honey. She’s amazed to find the glass remains hot and full no matter how much she drinks. Feeling warmth return to her body she picks the book up and thumbs through the pages until she finds where she left off.

Yes, the piglet was in the water. Its piercing cry for help echoes through the deep blue waters, a sound that reaches the very depths of the ocean where the creature of eight resides. Immediately concerned by such a plea, it moves toward the surface with flickering quickness. After several minutes of desperately searching, it finds the source of the sound—a small piglet paddling frantically for its life.

“What are you doing here?” the creature asks.

The piglet has tears in its eyes but brightens at the friendly voice it can hear but not see.

“I wanted to swim with dolphins. Are you a dolphin?”

The primordial creature is moved by the sweetness of the young piglet. It’s been through so much already and it doesn’t want it to suffer further. With magic as old as Earth itself, the creature morphs into the shape of a dolphin with a sleek grey body, a pointed nose, and a wide crescent tail. Surfacing, it swims in a circle splashing the tiny pig’s snout and ears.

“Yes! I am a dolphin and I’ve come to rescue you.”

The piglet squeals with delight.

“A real dolphin is saving me! Wow!”

Working together the piglet climbs onto the back of the creature. They swim through the foggy remains of the ship; twisted pieces of metal, empty orange flotation devices, dinner plates, and splintered wood. There are other shapes in the water. Shapes that the piglet finds scary.

“Where are the people?” the piglet asks.

Answering with a series of whistles and squeaks, the creature of eight leaps out of the water skipping from wave to wave as if it’s flying. The piglet giggles and feels the sadness of the moment before fleeing in a rush of warmth and love. It’s going to be okay. There’s nothing to be done right now but rest. You did everything you could. It’s not your fault.

Meri sits the book on her lap again. Sunlight shines through a crack in the ceiling and the calls of seagulls break through the silence of the small, warm room. One hundred and twelve people died on the ship. She was saved by something she can’t see but can feel. Its presence radiates around her like a warm hug. So much was lost, but this creature saved her and gave her a moment of peaceful rest. Gratitude brings tears to her eyes.

“Thank you.”

Her voice sounds stronger now. She takes another sip of the warm tea, stands, and drops the book to the floor. The door opens a crack and she hears voices calling across the sand. Her body suddenly begins to shake as she falls through the door of room 112 and onto the cold, wet sand. Her true love has perished, but she’s still alive.

“Over here!” a voice calls.

“We found a survivor!”

Author’s note: I’ve started a lot of my short stories lately with a made-up quote. It’s becoming a bit of a calling card for me and might prove useful when I begin organizing the best of these stories into a collection to publish next Spring. As I’m looking at healing and transition right now, it felt right to center my story around an octopus as they have long been symbols of renewal and regrowth. I hope this story brings you comfort if you find yourself needing the reminder you did your best and you are going to be okay.

*The photos above were taken at the Lamplighter Inn in Bandon, Oregon. It’s a super cute place to stay with ocean-themed rooms. I’m afraid they don’t actually offer free tea, super comfy pajamas, and magical books. Not yet anyway.


Short Story Challenge | Week 36

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 that takes place in one room. We had to include the words petting zoo, handsome, unbound, annoy, weekend, invest, immortal, piglet, cocktail, and camp.


Write With Us

Prompt: A story pulled from today’s headlines and rewritten
Include: boxer, cherry blossom, magic, implement, artwork, safety, chime, chain link, towel, and ingredient


My 52-Week Challenge Journey