Emerald Shoes | A Short Story

“supreme moon—
librate broken hearts
trapped in adolescence

fertile mourning fields
divine cooling light
deliver them to Freya”
-unknown poet

The rhythmic sound of my cell phone buzzing on my nightstand wakes me. I try to cling to the warmth of my dream, an image of a roaring fireplace in a cozy log cabin, but it fades away. The buzzing continues. I roll onto my side, unplug my phone and see Carly’s smiling face. It’s 3 a.m.

“Hello?”

For a few seconds, she doesn’t say anything and it’s enough to allow my brain to flash through an assortment of macabre images of blood and death. I haven’t heard from her in over 6 months and a lot could have happened.

Fully awake now, I sit up in the dark room listening hard. My body feels fidgety and strange.

Carly’s breathing heavy and I have a new terrible thought—maybe she didn’t mean to call me at all. Music plays in the background, a deep pulsing bass, and my heart matches it. When she finally speaks it’s in a small, distant voice I barely recognize.

“Do you remember how you always wanted emerald shoes?”

Of course I do. When I was small my mother read the story of the Wizard of Oz to me and I pictured Dorothy’s shoes as sparkling green and wanted an exact pair. I cried when I saw they were red in the movie. Carly’s the only person I told the story to—the only one I trust with embarrassing details of my childhood.

Why is Carly calling me? Our last conversation was strange and filled with too many pauses—too many things unsaid. Now, she’s calling in the middle of the night with a question I can’t help but read more into. There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.

My body tenses as I lean over and switch on the lamp. I keep my voice as neutral as I can, but I know it sounds shaky. I grab a handful of blankets and twist them in my left hand.

“Are you okay?”

Carly laughs. It’s a lousy attempt at sounding casual. If Jonas hurt her, I’ll kill him. I shouldn’t have let her go.

“I’m fine.”

I don’t believe her. The last time I saw her was over a year ago, the day before she moved. Jonas had spent months chipping away at my best friend, carving out pieces of her he didn’t like and replacing them with religious doctrine. When she left I barely recognized her anymore, and I wonder how much of her is left.

“Where are you?”

“I’m in Vegas and I saw them—the emerald shoes. A dancer had a shiny pair and I thought…exactly like Harriet dreamed…exactly…”

Her voice fades out. None of this makes sense. Jonas controls everything she does and its way out of character for him to take her to Vegas. The alarm bells turn into sirens and I feel my body shiver at the thought of Carly alone in such a big city. I can’t come up with a single scenario in my head to make sense of any of this.

“Vegas! Why are you in Vegas? Where’s Jonas? Are you sure you’re okay?”

She ignores my questions and speaks in the same distant voice.

“The shoes are so pretty, Harriet. You’d love them.”

Jumping out of bed I pace across my faded yellow rug. Carly, my Carly, is calling me and talking about emerald shoes. The wall built around my heart to protect myself cracks slightly and I reinforce it immediately by reminding myself she’s gone. She chose Jonas. She left.

Vegas. The world of casinos, excessive drinking, Elvis impersonators, and drive-up wedding chapels. Wedding chapels. I fall onto the bed and close my eyes. Hardening my voice, I speak again.

“Why are you calling me Carly? It’s the middle of the night and you haven’t called me in a long, long time.  What are you doing in Vegas?”

She sniffles and I realize she’s crying. Why is my Carly crying? I want to run to her and save her…but no.

“The shoes, Harriet. I saw them and I…well…I thought of you. I always wanted to find a pair for you, but I never did.”

I’m crying now, scared for her. All the old feelings I thought I’d cleared away bubble inside me. The more I talk to her the greater the intensity. My voice floats to the ceiling and circles above me like a ghostly shadow. Carly speaks again and I picture her face. I don’t want to. It’s too painful.

“I…I just wanted you to know I was thinking of you.”

I think about you all the time, but you left me, Carly! You left me! The words dart and stab at me long after she hangs up. I try to call her back but it goes to voicemail. I roll into a ball and cry until my alarm goes off.

On the drive to work, everything is Carly and I slam my fists into the steering wheel in frustration. I’d finally stopped looking at her photos and had started healing. Now one phone call and our history waves at me from every car and window. Everything is Carly.

We met freshman year in English class and bonded over our love of Edgar Allen Poe. She drew a raven on my hand and I couldn’t stop staring at her green eyes. By the end of the first day, I knew how to make her laugh and did it as much as possible. My world became wrapped up in all things Carly.

It wasn’t until our junior year I realized my feelings were more than they should be for a friend, but it felt too late. I watched her date an assortment of guys, each eventually breaking her heart. I’d run my fingers through her coppery curls as she lay across my lap until the pain of the loss wasn’t so big.

At some point, it felt like a betrayal to tell her how I really felt. I wondered if she’d think I was only being nice to her because I wanted her for myself, like all the guys she dated. So, I stayed quiet. Even after we graduated and she met Jonas. Even when she told me she was moving away. I couldn’t tell her. I just couldn’t.

Pulling into the parking lot at work, I wipe my eyes and blow my nose. I tuck my thick brown hair back in a bun and apply some mascara and lip gloss. It’s the best I can do today.

I still can’t believe I get to work at the independent bookstore in town. It’s my dream job and I love everything about it. Walking in the door the smell of the books distracts me and by the time I reach the back counter my heart isn’t screaming Carly anymore. It’s more like a whisper.

“Hi, Harriet.”

Trudi’s standing beside the espresso machine, smiling at me. Her curly blonde hair is braided today so it looks like a crown on the top of her head. Her lips are glossy and pink.

My legs freeze up for a moment, and a traffic jam inside my brain slows everything until I’m stiff and awkward. I’m smiling too big. I’m blushing. Her eyes are green and gold—sunset filtered through sweeping willow tree branches. I get so weird around her. I don’t know what to do with my hands.

“Would you like a peppermint tea?”

I nod, insecurity reducing me to a caveman. Don’t grunt or scratch yourself, Harriet. Take a deep breath. She likes you.

For months we’ve been flirting with each other, but I don’t trust it. What if she isn’t really into me, but just friendly? I don’t want to chase another Carly for years only to end up heartbroken and alone. I wish I could be sure.

Trudi fills one of the white mugs with hot water and adds two tea bags and a bit of honey. She’s wearing a silver ring on her right index finger with an oval piece of labradorite. I pull my necklace out of my sweater and wonder if she’s noticed we wear the same stone.

“Hey, I want to ask you something.”

Her voice is light and airy—no hint of nerves. She places the steaming mug on the counter in front of me and leans on her elbows. I try to look casual, but I’m shaking. I grab the mug with both hands and stare intently at the light brown water.

“My brother and some friends are throwing a ‘Save the Environment’ party on the rooftop of their apartment tonight and I wondered if you wanted to come with me?”

Carly. It’s the first thing I think and I hate myself for it. If Trudi would have asked me out yesterday I’d have jumped for joy, but now I feel torn. What if Carly calls? I hate how much hold she still has on me. Trudi places her left hand over mine so we are cupping the mug together.

“I don’t want any confusion here. I like you, Harriet, and this would be a date. Not a friend thing.”

I let my hand fall from the mug and Trudi grabs it. We smile at each other for a long time until a customer walks up to the counter beside me. She gives my hand a gentle squeeze before letting go.

“No pressure. Let me know.”

She turns to the customer and politely takes their order. For a few minutes, I can’t walk. I’m upset I didn’t say yes right away. I’m confused about last night. If Carly had a family who cared I’d text them to check on her, but she doesn’t. All she has is me and Jonas. I don’t know what to do.

My boss comes over and I try to listen to what he says but my mind isn’t here anymore. It’s still on my ceiling at home. After a few hours of messing things up and fumbling around, he tells me to take the rest of the day off. I can’t find Trudi so I text her an apology. 

“I’m not feeling well. Let’s try again. I like you too.”

I don’t go home right away, but instead, drive to a spot along the river Carly and I used to go when we were upset. I park my car beside the boat ramp, take off my shoes, and sit so my feet dangle in the cold water. I say, fuck it, and call Carly. It goes right to voicemail again. I cry so loud I scare away the ducks who yell at me as they fly to the other side of the river.

“That’s right! I chase everyone away!”

Gathering up a pile of rocks, I throw them as hard as I can at the water. It doesn’t help, so I grab larger rocks and toss them. I scream and scream until a couple in a kayak pass and ask me if I’m okay. I tell them I will be. They offer to paddle over and sit with me but it makes me feel worse.

Driving home I consider changing and still meeting Trudi for the party, but the truth is I’m not over Carly. She’s my person. I know it deep in my bones and I can’t shake it. I can’t be wrong about this. I just can’t.

I stop at the liquor store and grab a bottle of wine, a huge bag of Hershey kisses, and a frozen pizza. Tonight I’ll feel sorry for myself and maybe tomorrow it will be easier. I need a good, long cry.

Holding the paper bag in my arms so the flimsy handles don’t break, I walk across the parking lot and down the sidewalk toward my apartment. As I get closer I see a woman sitting crosslegged on my welcome mat. Holding a box in her arms, she stands and takes a step forward. It’s Carly.

The world around me slows and sharpens. A blue jay on the fence ruffles its feathers and hops sideways. My neighbor shuffles his feet as he walks by carrying a stack of mail. A calico cat peeks out from behind the bushes and twitches it tail. I’m on high alert. Alarm bells ring in my ears and I almost drop my bag.

Carly’s cheeks are flushed bright red. She stares at a spot above my head. Neither of us seem capable of making eye contact.

Although I’ve dreamed of this moment, I remind myself it might not be what I think it is. The wall. She chose Jonas. She left. I take a step back and speak as loud as I can but it comes out in a shaky whisper.

“What are you doing here?”

She’s wearing a white sundress covered with tiny black ravens. Her curls are longer and they frame a slightly chubbier face. The redness of her cheeks spreads to her chest. She’s scared. I am too. She looks at the box in her arms and her voice is as shaky as mine.

“I left Jonas…”

The walls crack and the ground below me shifts. I reinforce it by taking another step back. I can’t have her in my life again. No. It’s not fair to assume I’d forget everything we went through and just let her back in. What does she want? A place to stay? A refuge from her life until she falls into the arms of the next man who tells her she’s pretty?

I take another step back. The bag in my hands feels suddenly too heavy and I set it on the ground. I wish the wine was twist-off so I could take a huge swig. I don’t know how to tell her to leave, but I’m not going to be used again. I deserve to be loved. She speaks louder and faster, the words tumbling into a pile on the sidewalk between us.

“I’m sorry, Harriet. I know I don’t have any right showing up here and I don’t expect anything. I promise. I…I just brought you something…”

Our eyes meet for the first time and I feel the walls crumble. I try and hold onto the pieces but they fall through my fingers onto the sidewalk as dust. She walks closer and closer. Run away! Yell at her! Do something! Her eyes are bright and clear—sparkling emeralds in a sea of golden stars. She’s close enough I smell her familiar scent—mint tea and lavender. 

“I really am sorry…”

Ocean waves. Rain falling on the roof. Christmas carols. She’s all the happy things and I’m falling.

She flips open the lid of the box and I see a shiny pair of emerald green shoes. My dream shoes. Nothing about this moment feels real and we both stand frozen in time—statues in a garden where life isn’t so complicated and weird. 

We are both crying but I don’t know if it’s for the same reason. I touch the shoes lightly and I’m surprised they don’t evaporate into smoke. They are real. She’s really here.

“Thank you…”

The words squeak out as a million questions race through my mind. I don’t want to leap, but my heart already has. As if waking from a dream, she quickly pulls me to her, squishing the shoes between us. Her mouth finds mine and all my questions are answered. Carly, my Carly, has found her way home to me.

Author’s note: I hope you enjoyed this sweet little story inspired by my true desire for everyone to find love. It’s a small nod to the Respect for Marriage Act signed this week and my commitment to supporting everyone in the LGBTQ community. Love is love. Let me know what you think in the comments below and have a wonderful week.


Short Story Challenge | Week 50

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 taking place when the phone rings at 3 a.m. We had to include the words supreme, emerald, careless, traffic, liberate, adolescence, lousy, wave, environment, and oval.


Write With Us

Prompt: Magic interferes in New Orleans
Include: matriarch, throat, impossible, vinegar, apology, snare, choose, raspberry, microwave, and slice


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

Midnight Wedding Vows | A Short Story

An ant crawls along the edge of the tub, looking for a way out. I don’t want to kill it, but I’m scared it will lead others to me. It winds around the large bottle of rosemary mint shampoo he bought me after our last big fight and stops at the edge of my pink razor. I could squish it easily but I don’t.

I hear him packing things in the bedroom, loudly slamming books and clothes into his large black suitcase. I want to believe this is like all the times before but I know it isn’t. We aren’t coming back from this.

Sinking below the bubbles I travel into the safe place of memory where I can wrap my arms around his waist and slide behind him onto his silver and green motorcycle. I press my face into his warm back breathing in his deep, rich scent. We drive through the darkness to the little white chapel in the woods. Several ravens perch on the branches of the towering sycamore tree singing to us, serenading our love. It’s us versus the world.

A loud thud brings me back and I sit up and stare at the dark wooden door separating me from him. I wonder if he still has the black gun he held to his temple last night or if he threw it in the lake like he told me he did. I sweep my hand over the cloudy water clearing away a patch of white foamy bubbles so I can stare at my reflection.

“Are you going to say anything?” he says quietly through the door. He doesn’t try to open it.

I don’t have any words left so I stare at the reflection of my distorted puffy face in the water searching for recognition in my swollen eyes. He’s crying loudly as if he’s an animal howling at the moon; misery bubbling and echoing through our tiny home in the woods. We were supposed to sit in matching rocking chairs on the porch drinking homemade lemonade with arthritic hands and wrinkled eyes. He promised me so many things.

“There once was a girl who stole the Eiffel Tower and put it in her pocket. She carried it with her everywhere she went, her own little plaything she could pull out and amuse herself with whenever she liked. It was for her alone to enjoy.”

He has stopped crying and his voice sounds watery and soft through the door. I hang on to his words like I always have, breathing in his musically-rich voice, his distinct way of making everything sound romantic and mysterious. Poetry mixed with madness; the way it began and has remained. 

Closing my eyes I see myself swimming along the shoreline of the murky lake near my parent’s home distraught after yet another messy breakup. The soft sound of a guitar on the shoreline breaks my fluid rhythm. Surfacing, I spot him sitting on my favorite rock—the one with the smooth flat top filled with little hearts carved by teenagers proclaiming “B+W forever” or “CR+TJ for life.”

“Fig tree resting in the shady woods reaching toward the light…”

His singing voice is deeply rich with a slight hint of his British accent and I’m mesmerized. A large white dog with straggly white fur sits beside him and when it spots me it dives into the water. He stops playing and watches as the big hairy thing tries to lick my face, lapping at the water while its tail churns bubbles behind it.

“Don’t mind Brutus,” he calls to me. “Like me, he can’t resist the allure of beauty in the water. Tell me, are you a mermaid?”

I couldn’t speak for a long time. I’d never met anyone like this lanky man with a head full of curly hair and eyes as bright and deep as the rainbow moon labradorite stone I wear around my neck. I was enchanted from the start.

“The world missed the Eiffel Tower. They put up posters asking for anyone with information to please come forth, but nobody did for the girl was careful. She cradled it tight to her body at night, only bringing it out when she was sure nobody else would know. It was her secret.”

The last word he spits at me through the door, banging his fist for emphasis. Yes, I know this story. He’s still angry about the pale pink envelope he found stuck in my copy of “The Ocean at the End of the Lane.” It was never a problem with love between us but with secrets. He wanted to hold them all and I wanted to protect him.

“I wish you’d never found the letter,” I say.

He slams his fists into the door several more times and screams. This wildness usually presses me against the wall, bites my shoulders, and fiercely presses our lips together. Now it’s mutated into undulating wails of anguish and anger. He screams and screams. The ant has disappeared and I wonder if it jumped under the water to escape the sound.

I cover my ears and think about the day Brutus died. I found my love wrapped in a dark green wool blanket under the willow tree beside the still lake water. For the next two days, he didn’t move—refusing food, water, and my touch. It was his way—go inside himself or explode. There are no grey areas within him. For someone so beautifully expressive and poetic, it makes no sense to me he can be so black and white.

He’s gone silent and I hear the door creak as he leans his body against the thin wood. When he speaks the sound oozes toward me like spilled toxic honey. I shouldn’t listen but I do. I let the words seep deep into me.

“The day you promised would never come has arrived. You swore with all you are to never do this to me, but your words were lies. You killed the last buffalo, shot it with your pretty little shotgun and now the world shall never see it again.”

“No,” I say into the cold bath water. “I never lied to you.”

He’s not there. I follow the sound of his steel-toed boots walking through the house back and forth; our cozy cabin we’ve slowly made our own with paintings, piles of books, and squishy chairs made for two. He slams the front door and I jump gasping for air. I’ve been holding my breath.

The sputtering sound of his old red pickup truck makes me bolt out of the water. I run wet and naked out the front door to catch a glimpse of the rusted bumper disappearing into the dense forest of tall pine trees. I don’t breathe as I listen for the sound of him turning around and returning. It doesn’t come.

Several black birds circle the woods above me. Are they the ravens who witnessed our nuptials in the woods? Could they be here to witness our end? The sun creeps down the tree line releasing the swirling night winds blowing in from the far away ocean. Shivering, I fall onto the wooden porch and pull my legs up to my chest. He will be back. He always comes back.

I cry into the splintered wood. We are going to sand it down and repaint it this summer a soft sandy brown color. I rub my palms into the reddish splintery wood until one embeds itself into the palm of my hand. I stare at it and wonder if it symbolizes something.

Closing my eyes tight I travel back to our night. He pulls a bouquet of flowers from his oily dark brown saddlebag; a dozen pink, yellow, and white tulips tied together with a piece of soft brown leather. I hold them in my hands as we stand on the church steps under a vast dark sky of bright stars. He kisses my neck and a breeze blows my lacy white dress around my knees.

“Happiness, cheer, and forgiveness I give to you among the witnesses of the night,” he says. “May our forever be like this forgotten chapel, sacred and wild.”

I pick at the splinter, grabbing at it with the tips of my pointer and thumb. The weathered steeple leaned to one side and I wonder if it’s fallen now, blown to the ground during the big storm we had last month. It’s home to the animals anyway and they don’t care if it’s vertical or horizontal. Its bones will continue to provide shelter and nesting material for far longer than it was a place of worship hidden in the unforgiving woods.

A dark bird swoops from the trees grabbing at a tiny shadow scurrying out from behind the woodpile. I think I hear a tiny squeak and picture a fluffy grey mother mouse leaving behind her nest of too-naked pink babies. The tears I thought had dried up come again but the sound of his truck doesn’t.

He burned the pink letter in the fireplace while I stood beside him. I watched it curl up and fade into ash. The only remnant of my life before him I’d stowed away, my mother’s words scrawled out in thick, black ink. Her words of love and concern. Her words of anger and hurt. He burned them as he had all my things the night we moved here.

“Don’t let him erase who you are,” he quoted back at me. “Don’t let him take my beautiful girl from this world and tuck her away into the wilderness like a caged bird.”

Holding the black handgun against his left temple he made me convince him I didn’t believe her words. I tried to do so, over and over, but he saw the pain in my eyes and knew the truth. He was incapable of sharing me with others, and I missed my mother and my friends. I paid a price for loving him and he decided it was too much and he must leave. I fought to convince him to change his mind, but he would not. Black and white.

Pulling myself from the porch I stagger into the dark, quiet house. I see the empty places where he took things, gap-toothed holes punched into our singular woven life. He’s never taken things when he’s left before. I suck in the thick air and it feels like being in the middle of a forest fire, crackling heat breaking all around me.

Falling to the floor again, I pull his soft grey blanket from the light blue loveseat and press it around my shivering body. You want this, I tell myself. You need him to leave because you’ll never have the courage to walk away by yourself. You want this. You need this.

I force myself to focus on how his brilliant eyes would cloud over when he’d get angry or sad. All the hurts of his life, the abuses inflicted on him through his childhood, and the torture of his teenage years, would turn into a visible mist encasing and transfiguring him into a shadow of himself—a monster. He’d stagger around, his feet forgetting how big they were, kicking anything in his way.

“You never loved me,” he’d say. “You are like all the rest.”

I’d never know how long these transformations would last, these stormy tempest-torn moments he’d become someone else. It was best to go for a swim or a long hike, leaving him to splinter wood with his well-worn ax or throw shiny knives into the trees behind the old barn. To stay was to fight against a stranger who couldn’t see me. It wasn’t a fight I could win.

I stagger to the bathroom and rinse myself off in the shower before drinking an entire bottle of red wine and slipping under the soft covers of our bed. The smell of him surrounds me and I fall asleep telling myself he will return tomorrow and it will be different this time. The rainbow after the storm will streak across the sky and he will be back within my arms free of the misty madness forever.

A sound outside wakes me. He’s back. I run into the bathroom and rinse my mouth with mouthwash and run a brush through my tangled blonde hair. I’m wearing the one shirt he left behind, a long blue flannel that reaches mid-thigh. My thick, strong legs look good in the golden light streaming in from the bathroom window.

Unbuttoning the top three buttons, I splash some rose oil onto my breasts and under my arms. My body vibrates with anticipation of his electric touch. I slither into the living room smiling and panting but find it empty. He’s not here.

There’s a low moan outside followed by a thumping and scratching sound. It reminds me of the time a rabid dog took refuge in a dilapidated barn with broken legs. It still crawled toward us, foaming and feverish. I’d fetched the shotgun from under the bed and left when he’d shot it. We both cried as we buried it under the moonlight.

Climbing onto the couch I peer through the faded yellow curtains. There’s no sign of his truck, but there’s a large shape at the foot of the porch steps roughly the size of a man. I can’t make out any details, but it’s writhing and crawling. The sound of the moan comes again, a deep guttural sound followed by the sound of nails scraping on wood.

What if it’s him? Maybe he had an accident in his truck and he was forced to crawl through the woods injured toward me. While I slept warm and intoxicated in our bed he could have been struggling to stay alive. Guilt burns my cheeks red as fire.

I throw open the front door and the horrible sour smell of death blows into my face as the creature at the bottom of the steps raises its head as if to see me, except there are no eyes, only inky black crusted holes. It opens and closes its mouth with a sickening clicking sound of teeth on teeth.

I scream and it quickens its movements, clawing at the wooden steps toward me. It has exposed bones for legs with no feet. The sharp broken-off bones dig into the ground trying to get leverage to propel it up the stairs. I scream again and slam the door shut. 

Monster. Zombie. Undead. This must be a nightmare. I splash water on my face from the kitchen sink as the sound of the thing moaning and moving continues. A loud thump tells me it has made progress and is getting closer.

I pull on a pair of jeans and my faded brown boots. Laying on my stomach I find the shotgun still under his side of the bed. It was his grandfather’s and the fact he left it behind tells me he either plans to return it or he knew I might need it. Either way, I hold it across my chest and return to the living room.

The 12 gauge shells are in a box on the bookshelf made to look like three old books sitting together. As I pull it down and load the gun, I remember him trying to convince me that learning to shoot is part of living in the woods. When I’d still fought him on it, he told me he’d had a nightmare where I’d been torn to shreds by a wild animal. He begged and begged until I finally relented.

The prophetic poetry of this moment brings tears to my eyes and I can’t help thinking I’ll never be loved the way he loved me again. He’d move the world to save me. Would I do the same for him?

The moaning sound rises as I inch open the door holding the end of the gun snugly against my shoulder and focusing on keeping my knees flexed. The horrible thing has made its way to the third step and when it senses me it quickens its movements. There’s nothing natural about how fast it is and I aim at its head and shoot. I’m surprised by how little I hesitate and how easily I absorb the recoil.

It slides down the stairs landing in a motionless heap on the ground. Its chest lays splayed open, a twisted mass of raw flesh and bone. It reminds me of a computer I saw laying in a ditch on the side of the road once—a discarded heap of tangled wires and splintered metal. Motherboard exposed. This thing had a mother.

I scream and the sound echoes in the woods around me and is answered by the call of hundreds of birds circling the morning sky. I’m alone out here and wonder if the shot and my cries are calling more of these things to me. I cover my mouth as a wolf howls in the distance—awake at dawn as confused as me as to what’s going on.

I kick the now twice-dead thing on the ground to make sure it doesn’t move. It makes a squishy sound and leaves a wet mark on my boot. I gag.

Has the end just begun or has it been raging on while I’ve been tucked away from the world in my love nest? Or was my mother right and it’s been more like a gilded cage? The tears return and I can see the night I pledged myself to him playing like a film in the sky. A golden cast of clouds and sunlight reenacting it all; forcing me to see and feel it.

He kicked open the chapel doors at midnight, swollen shut after years of being unused, lifting me into his arms and carrying me down the dark vine-covered aisle. Silver moonlight shone through holes in the roof and illuminated the stained glass window set behind a small wooden altar; a giant golden cross in a swirling sea of blues and greens. He placed matching homemade twisted-wire rings onto our fingers, symbols forever entwining us together.

“Let the stars, the moon, the beasts of the world bear witness as we pledge our pure love to each other. May nothing stand between us now or for all eternity. Soul mates through infinite space and time, we are no longer two beings lost at sea, but one being bound together in the blissful bonds of dutiful devotion.”

We made love on the altar in the single most romantic moment of my life. I was utterly devoured by him; swallowed up and erased from the Earth. I’d become a part of his magic; an alluring rhythmic line in an epic poem composed by and recited by him year after year. Looking down at the monster at my feet I feel the words he’d spun around me crack and shatter.

I return to the cabin and pack my things into my two matching blue suitcases. There is no reason to stay here anymore. I need to see what’s happening in the world and decide for myself what to do next. I stretch my arms out and feel the muscles of my shoulders and back loosen.

I load my old Mazda 3 and lay the shotgun on the seat beside me. I’ve pictured the day I might leave here for years, and although it’s nothing like I could have imagined, the sense of freedom still lingers at my fingertips. I take off my ring and tuck it into the pocket of my jeans.

Author’s note: You might find similarities between this story and one I wrote in week 8 titled “Sunset, Sunrise.” Both have to do with an end of a toxic relationship and include violence. I thought it might be interesting to explore a couple on the fringe, away from media and other people, at the beginning of a zombie apocalypse. I found their twisted love story fit neatly at the end of the world. I apologize if it was a bit too dark or graphic for some of you. Thanks as always for reading and supporting me in this 52-week journey. Almost halfway there!


Short Story Challenge | Week 24

Each week the short stories are based on a prompt from the book “Write the Story” by Piccadilly, Inc. This week’s prompt was to write a story about the early days of the zombie apocalypse. We had to include a motherboard, buffalo, Eiffel Tower, raven, motorcycle, envelope, tulip, moon, reflect, and sycamore


Write With Us

Prompt: Memory editing wreaks havoc
Include: Jupiter, chocolate, domestic, blossom, ladder, steam, extension, pine cone, sunrise, tide


My 52-Week Challenge Journey