Waiting for the Bus | A Short Story

Someone watches me from within the shadows of the curving metal archway of Hotel TwentyThree across the street. Although all I can see is a vague dark shape, I’m sure of two things—it’s a man, and his eyes are fixed on mine. Protectively, I pat the stack of freshly printed pages tucked in the inner pocket of my black, woolen coat and lick off my peppermint lip gloss.

The icy rain has turned the sky into a hazy, vertical river and I press my back into the farthest corner of the tiny bus shelter and hope the man can’t see me. The next bus won’t be here for another 20 minutes, perhaps longer due to the storm. I’m running out of time.

A car drives through the gutter creating a small tidal wave of grey water which soaks into my soft leather boots. An old oak tree scrapes its branches against a third-story window of the hotel and raindrops thunder against the bus shelter’s metal roof. I pull the edges of my black woolen cap further over my ears and try to disappear.

Time folds around me, an odd constricting as if I accidentally wrapped my checkered scarf too tight around my neck. Several people come and go through the doors of the hotel, but I stare at the dark shadowy shape of the man willing my instincts to be wrong. A dog barks. Another dog answers.

The rain stops for a brief minute and the sun casts a single ray of light onto the shiny wet pavement in the center of the street. It’s at this moment the man reveals himself by taking two steps forward. He’s tall and thin with a sharp, angular face. I wrap my arms around myself and take tiny sips of the too-cold air. 

He’s found me again. His piercing blue eyes meet mine and I’m falling. The deepest part of the ocean. The dark spot on the moon. Chaos.

It doesn’t matter how much time goes by or how far I travel, he finds me every time. My body can’t decide how to react—it flushes hot with anticipation and shivers with fear. He makes me crazy. I look for a place to run, but it’s pointless. He’s already spotted me.

Without breaking eye contact, he crosses the small foyer and steps off the curb. His careful, graceful movements suggest he might be kind and gentle. He isn’t. He’s a fierce rushing river. A smooth, hard stone. A prowling, sleek panther.

The rain returns, but he’s unfazed by the water falling onto his curly, thick, black hair. He walks straight into the road and past the spot the sun touched moments ago. A battered grey truck almost doesn’t see him, but slams on its brakes at the last second honking madly. He doesn’t look up but instead keeps his eyes fixed on mine. An invisible cord pulls him closer and I wonder who controls it—him or me.

A raven cries out and my legs stop working. I fall sideways into the glass wall of the bus shelter and see the word “rouge” written in cursive red letters. I close my eyes and his scent reaches me—saltwater, driftwood, and wet paper. The day we met, more than 20 years ago, plays as it always does when he arrives.

Mother didn’t want me to come on her beach vacation, but my father didn’t want me either. I sit with my back pressed against a large piece of driftwood writing in a notebook my 7th-grade English teacher gave me on the last day of school. It’s got a field of bright sunflowers on the cover and I love it.

I’m trying to ignore the sounds my mother and her new boyfriend are making under the stripped umbrella off to my right, and the fact his hands are under her bathing suit again. It’s slightly overcast but the beach is packed with families. I wish I’d been allowed to stay in the hotel room.

My teacher says I have a natural writing ability and I’m trying to prove myself worthy of her compliment by writing a poem about the ocean. My words flow slowly and I’m concentrating so hard I don’t notice the boyfriend until he’s ripped the notebook from my fingers.

“What do we have here?”

“Please, give it back!”

My voice sounds desperate and it makes him smile. I hate the look on his face. My mother isn’t around to see what happens next. How he stands with one hand on his hip and holds the book up high with the other. How with a ridiculous screechy voice meant to imitate me, he reads my words loudly for everyone within earshot to hear as I run around him grabbing at the book.

Flowing, like my breath, the waves whisper
my name. “You aren’t wanted here,” mother
said, but the wind tells me another story.

The boyfriend laughs, as does a mother and son sitting on a beach towel a few feet away. Others join in and by the time my mother returns, the boyfriend has thrown my notebook into the ocean. It bobs up and down in the waves erasing my words, sucking the ink to the bottom of the sea.

My mother tries to comfort me, but I run from her, diving into the cold churning water. I fish out my soggy pages, cradle them to my chest, and run along the beach until I find an empty rock cave. I sob into the echoing space, listening as my pain becomes its own kind of thundering wave.

It’s in this moment of sorrow, as I tell myself writing doesn’t matter anyway, the man appears. At first, he’s nothing more than a silhouette in the cave entryway. A shadow I tell myself is an illusion or a trick of the light, but then he comes closer and I feel his warmth. His blue eyes meet mine and I fall into them, the color of sapphires or the hottest part of the flame.

I’m scared of him at first, but he stays with me for the rest of the trip. He speaks to me of love. He tells me to trust him. When I get home, I pack up all my books in a box and shove them into the back of my closet. I don’t need words anymore.

Opening my eyes, I see him staring at me. He looks exactly the same today as he did in the cave—fiery blue eyes, black leather knee-high boots, tight grey pants, a flowing white shirt, and a gold brocade jacket with a high sweeping collar. A medallion sits on his chest, a silver circle with a large blue stone. I resist the urge to touch it, as he presses closer. A soggy cigarette hangs from his perfect pink lips.

“We meet again, my love.”

I want to argue with him, to scream “I’m not your love,” but I’d be lying. Every part of me wants to dive into his arms and let him smother me with suffocating kisses. He knows this and presses close enough to warm my lips as he speaks.

“It’s been a while and I see you have written more. Still struggling, are we? Still fighting to be heard.”

I don’t like these words. Standing upright, I place my palms on his broad chest and push hard. The heat of his body moves through mine. He takes the cigarette from his lips, tosses it into a puddle, and pushes himself into my palms. His muscles tighten beneath my hands and my words come out far weaker than I intend, fading to barely a whisper with the last word. 

“I’m fine. I don’t need you. I prefer the struggle to you…”

He steps back, pulls my hands from his chest, and kisses each fingertip. Shivers of memory come with those delicate, breathy touches—decades lost in his seductive embrace. I’ve missed him. As he speaks, he unwinds the scarf from my neck.

“Come with me, my love. I have a room across the street covered in candles, waiting for you. The bath is drawn, warm, and smelling of lavender. You only have to let the pages go, take my hand, and we can spend eternity together. Isn’t that what you really want?”

Dropping my hands, he grabs tightly to my waist and snaps my body to his. The pages flatten between us as his mouth finds the spot on my neck marked years ago by him. He kisses it softly, using his lips and tongue. My body screams in response, begging me to surrender. His voice oozes around me, through me, invading every cell.

“Aren’t you tired?”

His lips are on mine now. Honey. Buzzing. Madness. I’m slipping, but he holds me in place with his strong arms. It would be easy to be his again. Isn’t this what I want—to be loved? Pulling back he cups my face with his hands. His eyes are madness maddened—swirling pools of intensity.

“You’ve tried so hard, but you aren’t very good, are you? It hurts me to see people laughing at you. They don’t know you like I do. I’m the only one who truly sees you.”

Tears fall instantly at these words and his large hands move from cradling my face to circling my neck. His thumbs press into my throat, trapping my words, making it hard to swallow. He drips more warm poison into my ears and I think of Hamlet, and then Ophelia.

“You know all those people who say they like your writing…they are being nice because they don’t want to hurt your feelings. They are lying to you. I’d never lie to you because I’m the only one who loves you. I’m the only one willing to tell you the truth.”

While still speaking in the soft tone of a lover, he takes one hand off my throat and unbuttons the top button of my jacket. He’s going to take my words and throw them into the puddle with his cigarette. They will become mushy garbage. Aren’t they already?

“You’ve given it a try and it didn’t work out. The time has come to stop trying. Writing and creating isn’t who you are. They are a thing you tried and failed at. It doesn’t have to define the rest of your life.”

He’s at the second button.

“You deserve a life of ease and comfort. No more waking up early to write or trying to make deadlines nobody cares about. You can sleep in. You can throw away all those pesky books and notepads. You can stop thinking so much. All we need is each other to be happy.”

He’s at the third button.

“You are a fraud, my love. It’s only a matter of time before everyone knows. It’s best you stop now and give up this silly, childish dream. Honestly, it’s foolish to cling to dreams at your age. Aim lower. Be content with less. I’m all you need now. Let me be your dreams.”

His hand slips into my jacket and his fingers touch the stack of freshly printed pages. Dreams. Dreams. Dreams. The word becomes a hole and I’m falling, falling, falling. I land at the bottom and sit in the blackness. It’s cold and scary, but I know this place. I’ve been here many times before.

I light a match and stare at the tiny dot of warmth in a sea of nothingness. I watch it with fascination as it grows and grows. Images come into view in the flickering light, words too, they dance and play—cave drawings, ink on parchment, a typewriter in a back room, a glowing laptop.

I’m surrounded by a sea of sunflowers. The bright golden blooms move slowly with the setting sun. I’m not alone. Characters stand around me, a bit hazy and unclear, but they are speaking to me. A tiny fairy who doesn’t like flowers. A teenage girl stepping out of the shadows of a dark family legacy. A world where art has become weaponized.

What will happen if I quit writing? Will he truly love me and care for me? He’s left me before. Once I give him my words to destroy he disappears. Without the struggle, he doesn’t want me.

I’m Alice sitting across the messy tea table from the Mad Hatter. “First you lose all hope, and then everything is arranged in the best way.”

I’m Dorothy standing beside Glenda the Good Witch in the courtyard of the Emerald City. “You’ve always had the power, my dear, you just had to learn it for yourself.”

I’m Anne sitting across from my friends discussing exams. “I’ve done my best and I begin to understand what is meant by the ‘joy of the strife.’ Next to trying and winning, the best thing is trying and failing.”

His scent surrounds me and pulls me back. The smile on his face has left and he’s gripping the pages within my pocket hard and pulling at them. They won’t budge. Not an inch. He’s breathing heavily and the hand holding my neck loosens at the sound of the bus approaching, its hissing brakes sound like a freedom bell.

I grab his hand and pull it out of my jacket. His eyes are darker now, grey storms in a sea of blue. The bus door opens as I’m buttoning my coat closed.

“I’ve got to meet my editor,” I say. “It was nice to catch up.”

His cheeks redden as he reaches a weak hand toward me. I sidestep it easily. The power he held over me has temporarily lifted. Even if his words are true, I’m going to keep writing. My characters need me and I need the struggle. Life isn’t about easy.

The bus driver and I exchange pleasant words as I pay my fare and take a seat in the back near a window. When the bus is pulling away, I look at him. He’s the same as ever, beautiful and scary. Our eyes meet and in them is the familiar “see you later” look. He will return. Nothing about him ever changes, but I do. I’m getting stronger.

“You have no power over me,” I whisper as he becomes a blurry image lost behind swirling raindrops.

Author’s note: I’ve another short story for you this week. I’m taking a writing class called “Exploring Your Aesthetic” and the assignment was to personify one of the plagues of being a writer. I chose Imposter Syndrome and made him into a lovely little homage to David Bowie’s Goblin King. It was supposed to be a short writing exercise, but I spent days on it and decided to share it here. Let me know what you think and have a wonderful day!

52 Weeks: My Year of Becoming a Writer

“Rule one, you have to write. If you don’t write, nothing will happen.” –Neil Gaiman

“Somehow, even at that young age, you know that writing can be a wind that blows through you, makes you more spacious inside, more free. You feel it from the very start. You will still feel it, decades later.” –Gayle Brandeis

Last year I decided to stop messing around and write already.  The decision was born out of working through the “Artist’s Way” program during the pandemic with my dear friend Anna. I learned the ways in which I held myself back, and made myself smaller, and the reasons behind those things. I was ready to step out of the shadows and be visible.

So, I wrote 52 short stories. I showed up every day to the page and I thundered through my anxiety, depression, and past trauma. I wrote through all the negative voices and all the pain.

What I found was a roadmap to calling myself a writer—a way to step further into this cavernous place inside myself to mine and question everything. It’s made me curious and hungry. It’s become my life.

I don’t wake up each day fully confident I’ll someday have a book published, but I do wake up excited to try. The path ahead doesn’t seem so murky anymore and I’m getting to know my golden watery muses. I’ve named them and invited them to tea. We are friends.

While my internal shift feels big, I’d like to share some other things I’ve learned through this process:

*Deadlines work for me. Not only do I need concrete deadlines, but once I have them I can expand on them. I went from publishing one story a week to adding a photo essay and a poem. Having clear deadlines not only pushed me to write and create daily, but it propelled me to explore more avenues of expression.

*My life struggles can be explored in my writing. During a year a lot happens. My daughter graduated from 8th grade and her mental health declined. My mother-in-law passed away. I went on several vacations. In the past, it would have been easy to quit writing during these times, but instead, I used my life in my work. As a result, I processed things in a healthier way for me. I found writing saved me in times when I didn’t think I could go on.

*Each story must be written differently. While I expected to find a clear path to writing short stories, I did not. Each week I’d stare at the blank screen and rewrite the first two paragraphs until the voice of the characters emerged. Nothing about discovering the story ever became easy. Sometimes I’d start writing a character and it was clear they were in the wrong story. Other times, I’d start a story and realize it was far too big. False starts and stops became the norm, and I learned to be patient.

*I’m always going to freak out. You can ask my family, each week I’d get to a point where I’d say “this is the week I don’t finish my story” or “this is by far the worst thing I’ve ever written.” It became a joke and I realize it was part of the discovery process for me. It’s exhausting, emotional, and hard, but I did it 52 times and I can do it 52 more.

*Write around the mess. Life is busy and crazy. While sometimes I’ll be able to write in my now beautiful workspace (photo above), it won’t always be the case. Places I’ve written this year: coffee shops, my van, under a tree at a music festival, outside a hotel room in Oregon, on my phone beside my dying mother-in-law, on my daughter’s bedroom floor, and in various hotel bathrooms and beds.

*Investing in myself. From paying more to remove ads from my website to taking writing classes, this year I’ve learned to invest my time and money into myself. I also hired an editor to give each of my 52 stories a read-through. She was invaluable in moving me forward, showing me the common words/mistakes I made, and helping guide me toward using more descriptions. If you are interested, you can find her at breecedigitalservices@gmail.com. She’s encouraging, kind, and a phenomenal editor! She also happens to be a dear friend.

*Reading is as important as writing. It’s hard to make time for reading with everything in my life, but it’s vital to my growth as a writer. I’ve joined a few book clubs and I’ve decided to make a goal this year of reading 52 books. It seems a bit overwhelming, but I know reading will improve my writing. Period.

*WordPress is about cultivating relationships. I’ve made so many wonderful friends during this last year! This wasn’t something I expected to happen and it’s been such a wonderful bonus. I can’t thank you all enough for every kind word you’ve given me. As much as I want to think otherwise, having someone read and comment on my writing has kept me going on the weeks when I wanted to quit. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

*I can do hard/scary things. Putting yourself/your words out into the world is a scary thing. I still remember hitting publish on my first story and wanting to puke. For some reason I thought people would be mean or simply wouldn’t read it. I was wrong. Getting over the anxiety of hitting publish has given me the courage to not only push through the 52 stories but start trying my hand at poetry and photography. It lead me to open mic poetry nights where I stood before a room full of people and read my words. I still have anxiety, but it’s far easier to push it away now. The more I do it, the more I realize I can.

*The stats. I couldn’t do a recap without including numbers/stats. This is kind of crazy for me, but here we go:

Where do I go from here? 

It’s Saturday and I’m publishing this recap in place of a short story. It feels weird. Part of me wants to continue doing the exact same thing—photo essay on Monday, poem on Wednesdays, and short story on Saturdays. However, I have other goals and I need time to pursue them.

My word for the year is balance. I plan on still publishing three times a week here, but it could be any number of things. It could be a short story, a poem, a photograph, a personal essay, a book review, or maybe even a peek at one of the novels I’ve got in the works. I need to work on getting my physical body into shape and continue to grow my writing skills. I need to find a better balance in all things.

I’m not going away, but I do need to say goodbye to my 52-week challenge.

Before I close, I need to thank a few people.

My family. My husband reads every single story before I hit publish. He gives me feedback, protects my writing time, and brings me cups of coffee on the weekends. My daughter listens to me talk out every story idea and sometimes gives me the direction I need. My son bursts into my room to bring me levity and remind me it’s time to eat (or rather, it’s time to feed him). I’m so lucky to have a family who loves and supports me in doing this crazy writing thing.

Anna. We came up with this project together and I loved the first 25 weeks we wrote together. You are an incredibly important person to me and a wildly talented writer and artist. You are the first person I call when I need to talk about something and you always know the exact right thing to say. You already know this, but I’m your biggest fan and I look forward to what you create in 2023. loscotoff.com

Angelica. You know I’ve loved you since you were born. It’s been wonderful getting to know the adult version of you and writing alongside you since week 21. That means we wrote for 31 weeks together—cheering each other on and commiserating when the prompt just didn’t lead us in a good direction. I’m so happy to have been on this journey with you and to see you thrive. I can’t wait to hold your first published novel in my hands. reecewriting.wordpress.com

To everyone who supports me in big and small ways, thank you! I’m grateful for your love and support. I couldn’t have done it without you.


My 52-Week Challenge Journey

Under the Sign | A Short Story

My feet won’t stop moving under the hard, wooden desk. It’s as if they have come alive and are set on getting me in trouble. I look at my brown spoonwood shoes in irritation and hiss at them as quietly as I can.

“Cut it out.”

Several students turn to look at me and I stare straight ahead, ignoring them. My feet stop moving but the jitters move up my legs and I know it will have to come out somewhere. I try hard to focus on the Old One in charge today, Mr. Hawthorne.

“Dandelion. Taraxacum officinale. Irish daisy. Monk’s-head. These bright yellow flowers can be used for many things, including immunity boosting and reducing inflammation. They are hardy regardless of the conditions you submit them to unless, of course…”

Mr. Hawthorne’s voice sounds rumbly and low, reminding me of the tired lion I saw on the class field trip to London last year. He’s reading from a dark brown leather book with thin yellow pages and his wire-rimmed glasses keep slipping to the tip of his pointy nose. My fingers have turned fidgety and I sit on them.

To distract myself, I count the hairs on Mr. Hawthorne’s big toes and wonder for the hundredth time why none of the Old Ones have to wear shoes. It seems wildly unfair. I’ve been to Headmaster Buckthorne’s office to discuss my objections to all the dress codes so many times the school secretary, Mrs. Yarrow, calls me a thistle in her side. I can’t help it.

I don’t like being in trouble, but it seems every school rule was designed to squash me and me alone. None of the other students seem to have as much difficulty doing what’s expected of them. My fingers wiggle loose from under me and find a home in my tangled, violet hair.

I wind a messy curl around my index finger until a hangnail on my thumb gets stuck and I’m forced to yank it out. It hurts and I hide the torn strands of hair inside my desk before anyone notices. It’s a good thing I have a lot of hair.

The jitters have exploded through me now and I can’t stop them. Slipping under the desk, I crawl across the floor of the library and sit crossed-legged under the farthest back table. Nobody seems to notice, or if they do, they don’t say anything.

My wings are bound inside the pale yellow uniform all fifth-year fairies must wear to prevent us from flying or doing magic. It’s not the best color to go with my dark violet hair, but far better than the ugly brown uniforms of fourth-year. The color I’m most excited to wear is the dark green of the eighth year because they get to have their wings out.

I discovered last year a way to still wiggle my wings a tiny bit under the bindings of the uniform. It’s not much movement, but it creates enough magic to amuse myself. Setting my pencil on the floor, I make it perform a complicated twirling dance number. I hum a song about three blind mice.

“Piper,” Mr. Hawthorne calls.

His voice is sharp and I snap to attention. Grabbing the dancing pencil, I slide out from under the table and run back to my desk. Mr. Hawthorne’s dark grey eyes watch me the entire time. He might be smiling, but it could also be a grimace. I’m not so good at reading faces. Tucking my pencil into my desk, I fold my hands and answer with my formal classroom voice.

“Yes, sir.”

His glasses have slipped again and his eyes are sort of crossed. I know better than to laugh, but a giggle brews dangerously in my stomach. I dig my nails into the tops of my hands to stop it.

“Can you answer the question?”

All the eyes in the room are on me. I swallow hard and speak as clearly and confidently as I can.

“23, sir.”

His eyes widen and he’s definitely smiling now. Pride surges through me although I know it shouldn’t because I didn’t know the answer. He rubs his hands together.

“Well…yes, actually. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome, sir.”

I purposely avoid looking at my best friend Rosemary, but I know she’s smiling too. She quickly scrawled the answer on her palm in bright red ink and flashed it to me as I passed her desk. Saved again.

Rosemary and I met when the school year started and Headmaster Buckthorne says we are “thick as thieves.” I know this is a dig at me, but I don’t care. Rosemary is the best thing ever to happen at Hollyhock’s Fairy School for the Highly Gifted. The best thing in all my years here.

Rosemary keeps her long black hair in two braids, tied with blue ribbons the same shade as her eyes. When she laughs she throws back her head and sticks out her round belly. She holds my hand and saves me when the jitters get too big. I’m not sure how I survived before Rosemary.

Mr. Hawthorne dismisses the class for lunch and Rosemary and I walk to the furthest part of the field behind the school to eat together. She’s got a large sandwich of honey and hazelnut, decorated with a tiny sprig of lavender. She cuts it in half and hands me the biggest piece.

“I’m not going back to class,” I say with my mouth full.

Rosemary laughs. It’s my favorite sound in the world.

“You always say that.”

I try to give her a serious look, but I don’t have one.

“I mean it today. I can’t take another minute. I’m going crazy.”

Rosemary takes a sip of hot tea from a thermos with tiny pink tulips painted on the side. The minty smell makes me a bit sad. It smells like mothers. I look at the ground until Rosemary speaks again.

“Where will you go?”

Jumping to my feet, I do a dramatic twirl before answering.

“Don’t you mean, where will we go?”

Rosemary’s face changes to a frown, but I pretend to not see it. Instead, I watch two butterflies chase each other across the field. My wings twitch wildly in their bindings.

“Oh, no, not today. My mom was upset last time. She cried and cried and made me promise never to go off without telling her again. She thought I died! I had to sleep in her bed for a week!!”

Short of sticking my fingers in my ears, I do everything I can to block this out. With a huge leap, I chase the butterflies across the field. I do a somersault followed by a cartwheel. A few of the smaller kids applaud and I bow. Rosemary can’t understand how much her words hurt. How could she? It’s not like she knows.

When I was 4 years old my mother had an accident. She came out of the bedroom of our small cabin in the woods and her bright green eyes had turned milky white. Her curly strawberry-blonde hair had turned grey and her peachy smooth skin had become bumpy and pale as snow. She was cold to the touch and unresponsive. I didn’t know what to do.

For two days I watched this chilly version of my mother wander from room to room, unblinking and silent. A neighbor finally stopped by for a visit and found me crying alone in a closet. It wasn’t until years later, Headmaster Buckthorne told me the truth about what happened.

My mother had been trying to complete a complex and illegal magical spell to locate my father, a soldier in the Fairy Force. He disappeared during an intense battle in the Sage Mountains a week before I was born. She used old and unstable magic. It changed my mother permanently, leaving me an orphan.

With no family to take me in, Headmaster Buckthorne brought me to Hollyhock’s Fairy School for the Highly Gifted a few weeks after my mother’s accident. He studies “magical amnesia” and is fascinated by my mother’s case. While he studies her and tries to look for a cure, I live in a room above the library and I’m allowed to attend this prestigious school.

I don’t care about grades or how great this school looks for future magical employers. I don’t think about my future at all. I do think about mothers. I think about them a lot.

Rosemary’s mother has beautiful red hair and bright pink cheeks. She puts notes in her lunchbox and makes sure she has a thick enough jacket when it’s cold out. I wish I had been enough for my mother, but I wasn’t. She wanted my father more than me. 

Sometimes I pretend she’s not locked up in the Hospital for the Incurable, but rather living with my father in a magical glen deep within the Blackwood Forest. I see them with a new daughter, one who sits still and follows the rules. They want nothing else than to be with her because she’s loveable and sweet. She’s nothing like me.

Rosemary’s smiling at me and I’m ashamed of my jealousy of her mother. I wish I could tell her about mine, but the words are locked inside me. They are stones buried far too deep to unearth. I touch her soft hair and dance around her.

“Well, I’m going with or without you…and it’s going to be amazing.”

I drag out the last word and I can tell this interests her. She sets the sandwich on her lap and stares at me with wide eyes.

“What is?”

Spinning, I wink and grin as wide as I can.

“You have to come with me to see.”

Rosemary frowns, but it’s not a real one. I can see a smile hidden beneath it waiting to come out.

“Oh, Piper, don’t do that to me. My mother will kill me!”

Fluttering my wings under my uniform I use a little magic to make a leaf jump into the air and land on her nose. She giggles.

“It’s going to be amazing.”

I sing the words and I know I’ve hooked her. She likes adventure as much as I do, maybe even more, and her mother forgives her every time.

Headmaster Buckthorne isn’t as forgiving and I’ll pay for my disobedience by losing my weekend flying privileges for several weeks and maybe I’ll have to clean the school bathrooms too. I don’t care. An adventure with my best friend is worth any cost.

Sitting on the itchy grass beside her, she leans close enough that our shoulders touch. Whispering our plans is part of the fun. Her breath tickles my ear.

“How are we going to get off school grounds this time?” 

It’s becoming a lot harder to escape as each time we do Headmaster Buckthorne blocks us, but last time he couldn’t figure out how we did it. I plan to use the same route.

“We’re going under the sign again.”

Rosemary sighs and crosses her arms over her chest. She doesn’t like this plan and I don’t blame her. The school sign sits on the edge of a steep cliff. Last time we removed our school uniforms and slipped through a small hole, but I didn’t realize how cold and fast the falling would be. It took a few minutes for our wings to open. Instead of fun and exciting, it was more like dangerous and scary.

“I don’t like the sensation of falling. It makes me dizzy and I don’t want to be in my underwear again. What if someone sees us this time? It was so cold!”

She’s right, but I’ve thought of all this already. I pull my leather school bag onto my lap and open it wide enough to show her what’s inside.

“What if we don’t fall, but fly instead?”

I’ve stolen two light blue tunics from the laundry room before my breakfast—the uniforms of the fairy garden workers. Our wings will be free for flying and we will be able to roam the grounds around the school without drawing too much attention to ourselves. Rosemary claps.

“You are amazing!”

“I know.”

I try not to look too pleased by the compliment, but my cheeks burn hot. It’s good to hear her say it. She grabs my hand and whispers as close to my ear as she can.

“Even in the tunics, how can we get out the front door of the school? Last time you got Basil to free a bunch of beetles from the garden and the chaos provided our distraction. We can’t do the same thing…it would be too obvious.”

Several second-year students in pale pink wander by us and I make sure my bag is shut tight. The bell rings and without another word, we pack our things and walk arm and arm back toward the main school building. I whisper as low as I can as we walk.

“Don’t worry about a thing. It’s all arranged. Luckily, Basil still likes me and he’s working on a very good distraction. Let’s hurry though, I don’t want to miss it.”

We walk through the large wooden double doors and into the main entryway, a cavernous room with a vast grey stone floor and a giant golden chandelier burning bright with hundreds of tiny candles. The two main staircases wind off to the left and right, along with several dark hallways. We see Basil waiting near the golden statue of the founders, Claude Mugwort and Bella Vervain. He’s not wearing his uniform.

Freckle-faced with bright blue hair, poor Basil has the unfortunate fate of being in love with me. He’s followed me around since year two and I’m afraid I’ve abused his kindness. When he sees me he blushes and gives me two thumbs up. I mouth “thank you” and the redness of his face seems to darken—is it vermillion or beet? My face reddens too, but mostly out of guilt.

Taking Rosemary by the hand, I lead her into a little alcove near the stairs where a picture of a bowl of lemons sits hidden from view. I press the third lemon with my pointer finger and a secret door opens revealing a closet filled with cleaning supplies. Rosemary gasps.

Growing up in a school that is empty part of the year, I’m probably the only student to know some of its secrets. It has many. A tiny magical blue light shines above us.

“Change, quick! We haven’t much time. We can store our clothes and my bag here.”

Rosemary and I untie our identical school uniforms and change into light blue tunics. They are a bit big for us, but we tie a few extra knots so they won’t fall off when we fly. Rosemary’s bouncing on the balls of her feet like me. We are ready. The sound of raised voices and the shuffling of feet fills the main hall outside.

“Not yet,” I whisper. “Basil will signal us with a whistle.”

The sound of voices grows louder, accompanied by the most lovely and intoxicating sugary smell. My mouth waters and Rosemary giggles beside me. A few seconds later we hear a short burst of sound, like a train whistle. It’s the signal.

We open the door slowly and walk out from the alcove. The scene before us makes us both double over in laughter. Basil is brilliant! 

The main entryway has been transformed into an oversized and elaborate butcher shop. Sausages, whole chickens, ducks, and pigs hanging from strings in every direction. Only, these aren’t dead animals. No, they are all made of candy. Chocolate turkey legs and cream-filled pork chops. Gummy hamburgers and malted meatballs.

Basil sits at a large wooden table in the center, eating a platter with a huge candy pot roast complete with fake glazed carrots and roasted red potatoes. He’s throwing bits of food at the gathering crowd who are stuffing their faces and screaming. We lock eyes for a minute and I mouth “I owe you.” He laughs and throws a peppermint onion at the approaching Headmaster Buckthorne. 

It’s almost too much fun to leave, but I don’t want Basil to have gotten into trouble for nothing. I pull Rosemary by the arm, through the screaming crowd and out the front door. It’s silent as we cross the lawn with our wings flapping awake behind us.

“Basil’s the best,” Rosemary says.

“What I have to show you is even better.”

I’m lying. The truth is, I have no idea where we are going or what we are looking for. I only know I have to get away from this place—both my home and my prison. A place so close to my mother, yet I’m not allowed to see her. A place I only get to escape when Rosemary comes with me.

The truth is, I don’t have the courage to go alone. I grab her hand and squeeze it. Guilt tears at my stomach. She’s got a mother who loves her. So does Basil. I’m going to get them both hurt.

Holding hands, we squeeze through the small hole, spread our wings and fly off together to find adventure.

Author’s note:  I know with confidence I’ll be writing a middle-grade fairy book at some point and perhaps the seeds for it are right here. I hope you enjoyed meeting Piper, Rosemary, and Basil. Thanks as always for your likes and comments—you have no idea how much they mean to me.


Short Story Challenge | Week 48

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 day in the life. We had to include the words identical, pot roast, decorate, sign, abuse, library, amnesia, butcher, submit and sensation.


Write With Us

Prompt: A family-run farm
Include: temporary, invent, trust, horse, burst, pulley, dam, punch, and checker


My 52-Week Challenge Journey

Poetry: Spoonwood for Perseverance

fingers pause over the keys
whispy white clouds drift by
soft green magnolia daydreams
distract away wee wiggly words

woo them back with gifts
of fiery red phoenix feathers
balls of dancing dandelion fluff
twisted ancient oak tree wands

lure them with magician cloaks
flapping on a griffin’s back
whispering old spoonwood spells
in round tortoise-shell glasses

capture them again and again
with bright lotus flower nets
50,000 twirling points of light
trapped in your spun-sugar bowl


*A short poem inspired by the saying “Spoonwood for Perseverance” on the NaNoWriMo winner certificate. Congratulations to everyone who participated this year.

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

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

The Broken Shell | A Short Story

Where the rolling sea meets the sand
you will find the ancient ocean man.
Sit still and listen if you can
to broken sea shells in shaking hands.”
-Old Sea Proverb

Vanora squats beside a rotting pile of kelp to examine the tiny insects buzzing around it. The golden tinge of sunset makes their wings appear delicate and translucent. They must be a kind of fly or gnat and she wonders how long their lifespan is. Probably days or perhaps only hours.

A wave of nausea hits and she falls forward in the sand on aching, aging knees. When did she last eat something? Breakfast was a large bowl of fresh strawberries and a cup of weak coffee in an off-white mug with a slight chip along the rim. She’d almost cut her lip but noticed at the last second and turned the mug.

The rest of the day is blurry and Vanora doesn’t like when her memories aren’t clear. Her grey hair smells of coconut shampoo and it’s braided back so the wind doesn’t tangle it. She must have showered and taken a nap. She feels clean and rested in black leggings and a loose purple sweater, but awfully hungry. She probably forgot to eat again.

For most of her life, she’s been a writer, always scribbling herself notes, poems, snippets of song lyrics, and endless to-do lists. Her novels were never on the New York Times Best Seller list, but she’s proud of how they reflect her as a mother and a woman. In the last few years, however, the words won’t come. The notes she leaves herself now are cryptic and upsetting. It’s as if she speaks a different language each day and there’s no global translator.

It’s hard to accept such a drastic change within herself, particularly as most of the time she feels like the same person—viewing the world through a lens of flowery words, colorful contrasts, and abstract connections. Yet her mind doesn’t hold everything at once anymore—sand running through a sieve collecting only the bits and pieces large enough to not fall through. It feels terribly unfair.

Sitting back, she touches the slimy seaweed with her pointer finger and sadness suddenly ripples through her chest, making it hard to breathe. This plant provided shelter, food, and protection to generations of sea life only to be ripped from its foundation and deposited onto the sandy shore like a banana peel thrown in an overflowing trash can. Or like an old woman who gave everything for her family only to find herself living alone in a travel trailer moving from town to town.

Waving her hands frantically to scare off the bugs, she lifts the limp plant up by the bulb, runs to the edge of the water, and tosses it as far as she can. The roaring waves mask any plunking sound but she imagines it’s similar to dropping dumplings into a boiling pot of chicken broth. Bloop.

Her children always loved soup night sitting around the large wooden table throwing crusts of bread at each other. It’s been years since they were all together—scattered now like sand in the wind. Maybe she should call them all to meet her by the sea. Would they come? Life can be so busy for those in the thick of it. This she remembers.

Vanora stands and brushes the wet sand off her clothes as best she can. There’s nobody on the beach except a few seagulls and a scraggly-looking crab missing a leg. She watches him scuttle sideways, struggling to cross the sand, and is struck by how similar they both are. Unable to move as they like. Pondering what’s next. Needing help.

Grabbing the large reddish shell with both hands she lifts the terrified crab from the sand and carries it into the icy water. The cold seeps into her pants and it requires all her focus to keep balanced, but she doesn’t stop until she’s certain the crab won’t be dragged back instantly to shore.

“Good luck, little fellow.”

With a flick of her wrists, she lets it go and it immediately disappears beneath the bubbly white foam. Vanora feels a pang of jealousy and wonders if anywhere will feel like home again. It’s been years since she’s felt the comforting feeling of belonging, but it feels more like decades. Lost memories and lost time. When did loneliness become her only constant?

Finding a large piece of driftwood to use as a backrest, Vanora sits in the sand with her legs out in front of her. The blue of her nail polish has chipped and she’s shivering from the cold. The sun continues to inch toward the water, painting the sky with thick, vivid brushstrokes of pink and gold. Nature’s nightly masterpiece always changes and surprises her.

“Every starry galaxy morphs and sings
caught within its own orbital rings, 
but it’s humans who have the power
choosing how to spend every hour.”

An eerie deep voice crackles beside Vanora and she turns to find a tall, wrinkled man sitting in the sand beside her staring at the sea. His limbs are long and crooked and he’s dressed in only a pair of tattered brown pants. There are tears falling from his pale green eyes, cutting a path through his weathered, sandy face. Sadness, the great connector, erases all traces of fear from Vanora and she’s left with only peaceful curiosity.

It’s as if he’s simply another creature found along the shore—nothing less and nothing more. There’s a slick wetness about him as if he crawled out of the water moments before and perhaps he did. His feet are covered in sharp, white barnacles and his long, grey hair and beard are peppered with pieces of dark green seaweed. His speech is slow and careful.

“Skulls of restless men do lie
beneath the choppy waves and sky,
searching for what they already know
love transcends the moon’s bright show.”

These words are followed by a blank expression and silence. Vanora feels as if she should respond but the man has now opened a tiny burlap sack he pulled from his pants pocket. He unties a thin brown rope and withdraws several shells with long, pointy fingers. Grasping them loosely between his palms, he begins shaking them.

The colorful sky swirls and tilts until everything is cloudy and grey. All sounds are muted except for the shells within the ancient man’s hands. Vanora sways to their rhythm finding herself falling into a sleep-like trance. Images appear dream-like and cloudy swirling for a moment until they flash into vivid, sharp focus. One after another.

Rattle. Rattle. Rattle.

Thirty-five seconds are left on the timer before the roast is ready to be pulled out of the oven. Vanora wipes her hands on her faded flower apron and watches the children rushing around setting the table. The older boys carry the glassware while the little ones help with napkins and silverware. Her husband kisses her on the cheek before washing his hands for dinner. The baby fusses in the high chair.

Rattle. Rattle. Rattle.

Turning off the radio reports announcing another deployment of troops, the family gathers in the overgrown field behind the house in the late hours of the night. Using a borrowed brass telescope they take turns looking at the moon, Venus and Mars. They eat banana pudding and vanilla cookies from a thermos. The little ones pick flowers using a flashlight. Vanora wipes a tear from her husband’s cheek with her pointer finger.

Rattle. Rattle. Rattle.

Walking through the empty house Vanora checks one more time for anything left behind. She doesn’t want to leave her home, but the war isn’t stopping anytime soon and without her husband, she must do what she can to protect her children. Her youngest just learned to walk and he waddles across the clean wooden floors giggling at how much space there is to move. The oldest children fold their arms and scowl. Nothing she can say will fix this for them.

“What you have always given free
I have taken from the sea,
stolen from the ocean’s dark abyss
a broken memory shell to reminisce.”

Minutes pass into hours as the chilly night gives way to foggy dawn. Vanora sits stiffly with her eyes closed, locked in a slideshow of the past. She watches echoes of herself and her children grow up and change through vivid snapshots of her 70 years of life. Meetings and partings. Happiness and grief. Love and loss. Fullness and beauty transform into warming gratitude that radiates like flashing sparks through her tired body.

A hawk swoops across the sky calling loudly. She opens her eyes. The strange ocean man beside her is gone and the world looks bright and hopeful. A broken sand dollar sits beside her and she holds it close to her chest and smiles. Walking back to her small trailer the words flow as they haven’t in years, almost singing themselves within her, weaving with memories unlocked and free.

“What once was taken far from me
hidden inside the Tumtum tree,
this broken shell gimble gave
for might memory now to wave.

With burbling breath and flowing pen
I return back unto myself again,
for within my beating beamish heart
truth whispers of another fresh start.”

Author’s note: I’ve been working all week to get my house ready to host my mother-in-law’s memorial this Sunday and I left myself no time for writing. To be honest, I wasn’t sure if the words would come at all. I stayed up late last night, far into this morning, and this story is what developed. While it may not have stayed entirely on topic, I’m kind of proud of this one. Let me know what you think in the comments below and I’ll catch up on reading everyone’s blogs next week. I miss all your words!


Short Story Challenge | Week 35

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 conversation between artists. We had to include the words skull, galaxy, expression, trash can, deployment, visitor, brushstroke, decade, forgot, and ponder.

For an added bonus this week, here’s a picture of Angelica as a unicorn and me as Raggedy Ann back in the early 2000s. She was simply the cutest. Still is.


Write With Us

Prompt: A story that takes place in one room
Include: petting zoo, handsome, unbound, annoy, weekend, invest, immortal, piglet, cocktail, and camp


My 52-Week Challenge Journey

The Masterpiece | A Short Story

“Tipped paint splatters
Tenor boldly serenades
Treasured dinner platters
Transformation fully made.”
-old family saying

Salvador wants to blame everything on global warming but the summers have always been hot in the desert. I’m preparing things for our guests but he’s still running around in the boxers he bought from an expensive art boutique in Paris years ago. He’s claiming it’s too hot for clothes.

Covered in tiny yellow butterflies, the silk design looks less like a masterpiece and more like he’s got a problem with incontinence. At his age, it’s a miracle he doesn’t.

“You need to get dressed, Sal. They will be here any minute.”

“What? You don’t think they’ll like my fancy pants? I know you do.”

With this, he tries to do a little dance gyrating his hips toward me until something seems to catch and he winces. He braces himself against the kitchen counter and his cheeks flush red. I don’t laugh or ask if he’s okay. Long ago I learned his ego bruises easier than one of our garden tomatoes and with guests on the way I need him in a good mood.

He should be using his carved wooden cane but he’s often too proud. Despite his age, his lean body still contains hints of strength and youth. I can almost see the man he used to be and it gives me hope. His blue-grey eyes catch mine and I see hurt and maybe hesitation behind them. The pain of aging feels unfair and undignified. I wink at him and force a smile.

“Get dressed, Mr. Cassanova. Save the sexy for later.”

This does the trick and he saunters away into the bedroom the best he can with a slight limp. I consider crushing up some pain pills to put in his dinner but I think a few glasses of wine may have the same effect. We’ve got a lot riding on this evening and everything needs to go as planned. One misstep and we will have to abandon everything and start over.

Sprinkling a dash of fresh pepper on the top, I smile at the masterpiece waiting for our dinner guests—my grandmother’s rather unorthodox bean and rice casserole which takes an entire day to make. I slip the blue cast iron pot into the oven to keep it warm, take off my flowery apron, and stand in front of the hallway mirror to apply some pink lipstick and a little mascara.

Although my long silver hair looks stunning braided into a crown on the top of my head. I frown at the uneven tone of my skin and the way the wrinkles around my faded hazel eyes and mouth make my features appear sunken. I’ve never gotten used to seeing myself like this.

Salvador wraps his arms around my waist and nuzzles my neck. My body reacts to his touch, as it always has, and I breathe out loudly in fake annoyance. He laughs and steps back. Watching him in the mirror, I see him put up his wrinkled hands in surrender and then let them drop. When he speaks his voice is breathy and low. There are careful layers hidden behind his words and I wonder if he’s having second thoughts.

“You can’t blame me, Toba. You look so good in that dress. I want it to be just us.”

My emerald green dress has a plunging neckline and shows off all the parts of my body he loves so much. He leans against my back and reaches around to playfully tug on the intricate thick golden chain around my neck. I want so much for this moment to last but I can’t trust those feelings. Tonight needs to happen for everything to be okay again. One more time.

“You’ve seen me wear this dress a hundred times, Sal. Now, let’s look at you!”

Spinning around I face him and examine his white linen pants and rich burgundy silk shirt with tiny brass buttons. He’s swooped back his unruly grey hair with gel taming it to the sides of his head, but I know it won’t stay down for long. Our outfits go well together and I pull him beside me and turn back to the mirror to take us both in. We are a stunning pair for being in our 70s and I know it will put us at an advantage tonight.

The doorbell rings and Sal pulls me to him for a quick kiss. There’s homesickness in the way his lips press into mine, and I know it’s been too long since I’ve allowed myself to sink into him. There’s been too much to organize and sort through. I’ve barely kept it together, but tonight will change it for us. Hope makes me feel bold as I kiss him passionately on his neck.

“Tell them to go away.”

His voice and body shudder. For a moment I worry he’s forgotten where we are but then he smiles and his hands travel along my body tracing the curves until he reaches the places he likes best. Does this need to happen? Is he trying to tell me he doesn’t want to go through with it? It’s been so long since I’ve seen such clarity and passion behind those cloudy eyes and I want to send our guests away and simply be devoured by him. The doorbell rings again and I hear Frida’s soft voice.

“Hello? Is anyone there?”

Reality rings through me and I reluctantly pull myself from Sal’s strong arms. He looks like he may cry so I grab his hands in mine and squeeze them. If I could freeze time I’d lock us at the doorway with passion flowing electrically between us, but I can’t. Tonight is important. I will him to understand the message in my eyes and then kiss him quickly on the cheek.

“Later, my love.”

My voice cracks. Tears threaten to erupt and I pinch my forearms hard to bring myself back to this moment. Draping purpose around my shoulders and swallowing hard, I step around him and open the door to our guests.

“Later.”

His voice trails behind me and the word lands on my shoulders pressing so hard I stumble in my flat ballet shoes as if they are the six-inch stilettos of my youth. Sal says nothing more and I wonder if perhaps I’ve misread his intentions. Maybe this was a mistake after all.

“Hello!” I say. “Welcome to our little home!”

Frida and her date stand beaming in the doorway with a bottle of wine and a bouquet of fresh colorful tulips. I chose Frida for her stunning curves, gorgeously thick black hair, and rich brown eyes. She’s wearing a white linen dress and I realize how perfect she will look standing beside Sal. It feels almost like fate and it eases some of my anxiety.

Her partner for the evening, though, surprises me. From our conversations at the coffee shop, I expected her to be attracted to the artsy kind with glasses and wild hair. Instead, this tall dark man looks like a supermodel complete with a dimpled smile and incredibly deep brown eyes. I blush a little as he steps forward and kisses my cheek.

Frida follows behind him and kisses me as well. The rich rose scent coming off her makes me wish I’d thought to spruce myself up a bit more. I probably smell like food and perhaps Sal’s musky aftershave. They are an extraordinary and glamorous pair.

“This is my dear friend, Diego,” Frida says. “We met on holiday in Rome last year and haven’t tired of each other yet.”

Diego winks at her and then turns his attention back to me.

“We are so grateful you invited us to your home. Frida can’t stop raving about her new friend and her famous artist husband.”

With a look of fake embarrassment, she playfully punches him on his tanned muscular arm. I straighten my back and remind myself of my mission. Play the part, Toba. You are fully capable of this. You’ve done this many, many times before. You can do it again.

“Don’t mind him, Toba. He’s just jealous I’ve been talking about someone other than him.”

“Guilty as charged.”

They both laugh and I join in and take the bundle of beautiful flowers from Frida and place them in an empty vase just inside the door. Sal has disappeared. This doesn’t work without him and I feel panic squirming inside my gut—a swarm of wild cicadas chirping “danger, danger.” I hate this feeling.

What if he’s forgotten they are here? What if he’s gone to the studio to paint or climbed the ladder to the rooftop garden? What if it’s not a good day after all? His memory has been slipping more and more. I need him alert and strong tonight.

“Drinks?”

Sal appears in the doorway to the kitchen holding a bamboo tray with four crystal wine glasses and a bright silver bottle opener. Winking at me, he crosses the cozy living room and places it on the wooden coffee table. There’s a look of triumph in his eyes at the look of shock in mine. He remembers.

“Thank you,” I say. “Diego and Frida, I’d like you to meet my husband Sal.”

Diego crosses and the two shake hands, but Frida looks a little starstruck. She hasn’t moved and I savor this moment. My words have worked on her. The spell is cast.

“I’m…I’m…oh, my goodness, listen to me babbling. I’m sorry. I’m just such a big fan of your work and I can’t believe I’m finally meeting you.”

“Well, I hope I’m not a disappointment to such a stunning woman as yourself.”

Sal steps forward takes her hand and kisses it gently. Frida blushes and Diego pulls her to him with a giggle. I get the sense he’s jealous of her obsession with both of us and that’s understandable. It’s far worse than he can imagine, however. I swallow back regret and shame. There’s no time for that.

“You are everything I thought you’d be and more.”

Frida’s cheeks are pink and her voice sounds a bit shaky. She stares around the room at Sal’s paintings, her eyes wide and filled with tears she doesn’t even try to hide. His artwork has this effect on most women and I watch a small smile cross Sal’s face. It’s always nice to be appreciated.

Diego offers to open the bottle of wine and Sal nods, taking my hand and sitting with me on our stripped green couch. Frida walks around to look closer at “Midnight in the Garden” and then “Dinner for Two.” Diego removes the cork and pours four glasses of a strong-smelling red wine. Sal squeezes my knee.

After passing a drink to each of us, Frida and Diego sit in the two antique chairs across the coffee table and we all stare at each other. Youth and beauty radiate from both of them. It’s an almost tangible thing in this dim room—a glowing warmth I feel calling me. I deserve to feel this again.

There’s a brief moment of silence, but Diego laughs and fills it with his confident, booming voice. He’s a man used to having everyone looking at him with a strong jawline and a head full of luscious deep, black curls. Confidence mixed with the arrogance of old money.

“You’ve got a beautiful house here, Sal. It’s quite a bit away from the world though, isn’t it? I suppose that’s on purpose. Wanted a break from the big city life? All your adoring fans?”

With this, he gives Frida a little patronizing glare but she doesn’t notice. She’s staring back and forth from Sal to his paintings. Her eyes are glassy and she’s barely blinked.

“We chose this location for the stunning views of the night sky. There’s nothing else quite like it,” I say. “Perhaps you saw it when you drove in?”

Diego nods and then goes on and on about telescopes and seeing the Aurora Borealis from his yacht. I’m more interested in the way Frida’s looking at Sal. She’s barely sipped her wine and she’s holding tight to the arms of the chair. Her soft voice cuts off Diego in mid-sentence.

“Have you painted the sky, Sal?”

Everyone looks at her and she blushes. Her red lipstick has left a slight mark on her glass and the dim light of the room makes her thick hair appear shiny and wet. Sal smiles gently and avoids looking at either me or Diego.

“Yes, I’ve painted many versions of the night sky. Hundreds, maybe thousands.”

Frida leans forward and I almost laugh as she presses her breasts together unnecessarily. There’s no denying her beauty in any setting but she seems to be untethered. This is happening far faster than it should.

“I bet they are wonderful.”

“Would you like to see one?”

The timer I set in the kitchen dings right on time. Sal finishes a second glass of wine with a huge gulp. Memory seems to be returning to him. He knows what’s happening and appears to be playing the part a bit too early.

“Why don’t we eat first,” I say.

Diego nods and adds, “Yes, I’m rather hungry.”

He pulls Frida’s arm but she doesn’t move. It’s as if the world has shrunk down for her and all she can see is Sal. An artist and a muse.

As familiar as the scene is for me, it never gets easier. The gravitational pull of Sal’s magnetic energy feels electric and I have to shake my head to avoid allowing jealous thoughts to take form. Play your part, Toba. No second guessing or stopping it now. One more time.

“Diego, would you help me set the table?”

Without a word, he looks from Frida to Sal and then follows me into the kitchen. I hand him the deep blue starry napkins and point to the small round table outside on the veranda surrounded by strings of white globe lights. He blinks back tears and doesn’t move.

“There will always be a Sal to take her from me.”

He’s not talking to me, but I understand the feeling. If I didn’t need Frida so badly I’d happily end this all right now. This isn’t something I accounted for, his feelings, and I feel a bit ashamed of myself for not realizing it before this moment. He will suffer from tonight, yes, but men like him always bounce back. He will be fine.

“He’s an old man, Diego. You are handsome and strong. You have nothing to fear.”

My words seem to have shaken him back to life and he looks at me as if he has no idea what I’m talking about. He laughs, grabs the pile of silverware sitting on the counter, and walks smoothly out the back door. Far off in the desert, I hear the howl of a lonely wolf calling for its pack.

I watch Diego from my place in the kitchen as he gently sets the table with careful attention to detail. A graceful man with long limbs and manicured hands. There’s an ease and beauty about him and I realize I’d have fallen hard for him in my youth. He stares up at the night sky and scowls.

“It’s not so great.”

He’s mumbling when he returns to grab the bowls and the basket of fresh-baked bread. I can tell he’s unnerved far greater than even he himself understands. Perhaps he feels the danger sparking around him but can’t name it.

Purposely I move into his path and smile at him holding the dutch oven in my hand. Tilting the lid, the strong spicy scent of the dish spills out around us. He returns my smile.

“That smells wonderful.”

“Thank you. It’s a family recipe passed down for generations on my mother’s side. I’m the fifth woman in my family to make it and it’s only for special guests like you, Diego.”

This compliment seems to have brought back some of his joie de vivre and he takes the heavy dish from my hands outside to the table. Frida and Sal join us moments later and I can tell she’s on the hook. A few more well-placed words combined with the food and we’ll have her.

“What did you think of my Sal’s work?”

Frida and Diego greedily spoon the food into their mouths while Sal and I watch. It’s working. They seem mesmerized and although I can’t be sure, I think Sal’s already feeling better. He touches my leg under the table. Diego begins talking with a mouthful of food.

“Forgive my manners, but this is the best thing I’ve ever eaten and that’s saying something. I’ve eaten at the finest restaurants in the world and nothing compares. I’m serious. You could make a fortune on this dish.”

They always want to make money off of it. I’m disappointed by his predictability, but it’s Frida who matters right now. Smiling, I repeat my question.

“What did you think of my Sal’s work?”

Her dark brown eyes look up and meet mine for the first time since starting dinner and I can see the start of the change in them. They are smokey and the pupils shrunk so small you can barely see them, a tiny seed in a murky sea.

“Oh, it’s just about the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. The phoenix…the moon…I’ve never seen anything quite like it. I wasn’t prepared for any of this. It’s just so…overwhelming.”

Frida begins to cry and Diego looks alarmed but can’t seem to stop himself from spooning the food into his mouth. Frida scoots her chair back and walks around the table until she’s standing beside Sal’s chair. It’s time.

“Would you like to watch me paint something?”

Sal stands and squeezes my left hand. Neither of us like this part, but tonight will be the last time. We’ve agreed on just one more painting. One more canvas covered in blood. One more shot at youth. This time we won’t waste it playing and traveling. We will have a family—a daughter to pass things onto. We will be smarter and more careful. One more time.

“I’d like nothing more.”

Frida’s crying harder now and her voice cracks, but when Sal takes her hand a rush of happiness causes her to visibly relax. He guides her down the winding path behind the house to his studio. She will give her life for us. For Sal. She will be his muse. Our sacrifice. Another great work of art.

Diego continues to eat but panic has set into his eyes. I move so I’m sitting on the table beside him and begin to sing. The rich tenor of my voice spills out around us, following Sal and Frida to their tasks, and flowing out into the desert in all directions. It’s a visible mist now and Diego breathes it in.

He’s smiling by the time I walk him to his car. There will be no memory of visiting us and he’ll forget about Frida too. Tomorrow will be a new day for him, for all of us, and I kiss him on the cheek. He pulls me into a tight embrace.

“Goodbye, dearest Diego.”

“Goodbye, my love.”

There’s no confusion on his face. He’s forgotten already. I watch until the red taillights of his silver car disappear over the horizon and then spin in a circle. The aches and pains of aging are already fading and I can’t wait to jump into Sal’s arms and make love in the morning.

One more time.

Author’s note: The process of writing continues to both amaze and delight me. I started out with an idea of an elderly couple needing to sell a forged piece of art to not lose their house. The husband perhaps has dementia. However, as I started to get to know Sal and Toba, something far more sinister appeared to be brewing. When the ending hit me I was again surprised by it and I had to go back and rewrite the beginning to match. I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I did writing it.


Short Story Challenge | Week 33

Each week the short stories are based on a prompt from the book “Write the Story” by Piccadilly, Inc. This week’s prompt was to write about a dinner party. We had to include phoenix, canvas, homesick, evening, spicy, rooftop, cicada, orthodox, ding, and spruce.


Write With Us

Prompt: An interrupted journey
Include: butterfly effect, vulture, cramp, industry, purge, scruple, snorkel, snitch, warning, useless


My 52-Week Challenge Journey