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 for 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 of 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 electric 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 visibly relaxes her. 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 breaths 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

New Experiences | A Short Story

Irona stands in the large round tiki hut, waiting to board a ship with the word “Excursion” written in golden letters along its side. A black and white bird sits on a sandy rock outside the entrance silently opening and closing its beak. The temperature is 35°C with no breeze.

“There’s nothing to worry about,” a Parent says. “It’s 100 percent safe. Top ratings.”

There are six pairs of Parents and Children waiting in a straight line to board the ship tied at the end of the long wooden pier. Irona was chosen to be at the head of the line. The feelings are of pride mixed with apprehension. Everyone will be following. Irona must do things right.

A Tour Guide wearing a tan jumpsuit and a wide-brimmed straw hat walks down the line handing white powdered donuts to each Child from a square, pink box. Irona notices the lack of gloves. This must be part of the “rugged” and “authentic” experience promised in the tour description.

Irona chews the treat slowly and swallows it. Sugar, enriched flour, soybean oil, dry milk, dextrose, cornstarch, and water. Using a wet wipe from the front pocket of the standard-issued denim overalls, Irona cleans off the sticky residue before tossing the used cloth into a garbage can in the shape of a crocodile. It makes a small, metallic growling sound.

“Right this way!”

Another smiling Tour Guide calls out to them in a cheery, high-pitched voice. Wearing tan shorts and a bright shirt with red flowers, they point toward the open-air boat rocking gently in the turquoise water. Irona nods and walks swiftly along the wooden planks, relieved to find the ground feels solid despite looking old and weathered. It doesn’t move at all.

Children at the 10th stage of development must choose a tour to experience. Irona wanted to explore lava tubes or the rocky terrain high in the Appalachian mountains, but Teacher insisted they pick someplace outside their normal interests. The Florida Keys, with its clear water and wild animals, fits this description. It’s too bright and too loud.

Irona squeezes closed both eyes and imagines the comfortable darkness of the workspace; the thick black headphones blocking out all sounds, the bank of large clear monitors, and the rows and rows of buttons. Projections of earth’s magma levels scroll across the screen followed by charts on how to optimize and magnetize different metals. 

“Don’t do that.”

It’s the Parent beside Irona talking with a firm, angry voice. They’ve both stopped walking and the Parent has grabbed Irona’s soft squishy cheeks and is squeezing them tightly. It feels odd. Could it be pain?

“Stay here. You must stay here,” the Parent says. “It’s important.”

Irona’s eyes open to find the Parent smiling with an oddly firm mouth. It’s not quite a smile. It’s important to do the right thing. Irona knows this and feels the other pairs of Parents and Children staring in their direction. The burning feeling inside is quickly identified as shame. Irona doesn’t like it and vows, like many times before, to not allow it again.

“I’m sorry.”

There’s no closing of eyes or turning off on the tour. Irona knows better. Anger brews behind the shame.

“We are open to new experiences,” the Parent says.

Irona nods. The Parent has the same look as before and their hands squeeze harder along the sides of Irona’s face.

“Say it.”

“We are open to new experiences.”

The Parent’s smile softens and they release Irona’s face. They embrace each other for a full five seconds, a firm yet gentle hug, and it makes both of them feel better. They walk holding hands to where another Tour Guide dressed in a blue flowered shirt waits to help them aboard.

“Right this way, please. Watch your step. Careful. Careful.”

The Tour Guide helps Irona over the rocking ledge and onto the boat with a firm arm. The others follow. The off-white slightly wet floor moves and sways. It’s an interesting feeling and Irona isn’t sure if that’s a good or bad thing. The voice of another Tour Guide interrupts all further analysis. It’s loud, bassy, and booming and is coming from the far end of the boat they are walking toward.

“Hellloooo! Welcome aboard the Excursion! You are in for a treat my new friends. Yes, indeed! Today you leave behind the world you know and step into a world of wonder. Before we do that, however, I’ve got to pack you all in here like sardines. Tight, tight, tight! Don’t worry though, we don’t plan on eating you!”

Irona recognizes this as a joke. A bad joke. The loud Tour Guide standing at the bow of the ship looks far different than the others; taller, wider, and wearing clothes of the brightest colors Irona has ever seen. Strapped along both legs are brown leather holsters holding black revolvers. Guns. Wars. Death. It makes Irona feel something. Perhaps it is nervousness or curiosity. It’s unclear.

“It’s okay,” the Parent whispers. “It’s part of the experience and…”

“We are open to new experiences,” Irona finishes.

They sit down on a wooden bench in front of the Tour Guide who is talking into a little black speaker. Irona realizes it’s why the voice sounds so loud and distorted. It’s too loud.

“Squeeze closer together. I don’t think anyone will bite you…at least not yet.”

Another joke. Irona absolutely doesn’t like the Tour Guide who has now pushed a button on the boat which brings the motors to life. It’s a low humming sound Irona finds comforting and the boat glides away from the shore and toward the open waters.

“We are off! Wave goodbye to the people on the shore. We will never see them again.”

There are only the other Tour Guides on the shore but some of the Children wave. Irona recognizes the joke and does not. There’s black dirt caked to the bottom of the Tour Guide’s chunky boots which have flaked off creating a little puddle of muddy water. Irona finds it fascinating and wonders what it would feel like to touch it. To taste it.

“Look up,” the Parent says.

Irona obeys realizing the real show isn’t inside the boat but outside in the passing scenery. There’s a slight breeze caused by the boat’s forward momentum and Irona tries to embrace the sensation, but it’s a disappointment. Metal tracks can be seen guiding the boat, a lot like the transport vehicles in the city. It’s too familiar. Not at all what Irona hoped it would be.

The Tour Guide turns back toward them, winks, and begins talking into the speaker again. Irona silently hopes there’s more to this adventure than moving through the water. There has to be.

“The name’s Jinx and I’ll be your tour guide today. The best tour guide around if I do say so myself, which I most certainly do! I’ve only just got a few rules and if we all abide by them, we should have a nice day. A fine day. A perfect day!”

Irona smiles and sits up straighter. Rules mean order and that means competition. There will be a Child who does the best and Irona will be it—Number One rule follower on the Excursion. Does it come with a prize or simply the knowledge of being the best? Either way, Irona is in.

“The rules are simple: stay in the boat and have fun!”

The Tour Guide laughs. Those aren’t real rules and there are no clear parameters for measuring fun. It’s another joke. Irona feels the familiar sensations of anger and disappointment. It’s not pleasant.

“The tour today will explore this beautiful coral clay archipelago located off the southern coast of Florida. You may notice red maple, thatch pine, gumbo limbo, and of course all the cute and crazy creatures of this wonderland. Keep your eyes open and enjoy the ride!”

They pull beside a lush green island and the Tour Guide tells them about each animal, facts mixed with jokes. Key deer, found nowhere else in the world, eat grass raising and lowering their heads in a slow, even movement. Largo woodrats, known for their large stick nests, scurry across a wide tree branch dangling just far enough over the water for them to be seen clearly and heard. They make a tiny metallic squeaking sound. Irona sighs loudly but nobody notices. They are all too delighted.

The boat pulls into a swampy inlet and several large manatees poke their heads above the water and then back under rolling to their sides and wiggling their flippers. A few of the Children clap. One of them cries out in excitement. Irona isn’t impressed at all. It’s not real and not at all the experience promised to “give perspective” and “change ideas.” It feels a lot like everything else at school. Designed for a certain Child in mind. Not Irona.

They pass three dolphins which jump into the air and then splash back down. One. Two. Three. Irona turns back and sees it repeated again. One. Two Three. More Children clap. They are beside themselves with joy, wiggling and jumping in their seats.

It’s exactly like the violin recital last week. Everyone feels and does the same thing except Irona. It’s not from a lack of trying or wanting to be the best. It simply doesn’t work for Irona. The instrument actually called to be played differently. It begged for variation in its notes. Why can’t others hear what Irona can? Why didn’t Irona win with the only original piece? It makes no sense. New is better than old. Isn’t it the point of everything to learn and grow? To find new ways of doing things?

The boat moves from scene to scene. Irona pays attention, mostly, but it’s more of the same. Crocodiles open and close their mouths. Leopards growling and prowling back and forth. Monkeys with swishing tails and little pink mouths which open and move toward bright yellow bananas they never quite reach. The Tour Guide makes jokes. The Children laugh and clap. The Parents smile.

Irona feels the same feeling as at the recital bubbling inside—revulsion followed by compulsion. It’s a line of programming entirely new and perhaps only within Irona. It speaks of creating a real experience. The idea gets louder and louder until Irona looks away from the line of pink flamingos standing on one foot and stands up in the center of the boat.

Humans have been gone from this planet for centuries having wiped themselves out with wars and pollution. Irona’s kind was created by them and left behind to figure things out on their own. While studying the past helps them to not recreate it, Irona thinks they are missing out on the more important aspects of humanity. Feelings. Relationships. Choices. They must do more than live like them while pretending to have choices. They have to have real choices.

These tours are nothing more than fake experiences designed to keep them thinking the same way. All the same way. How can they grow and develop by denying and deleting anything outside normal parameters? How can they experience life without living it? What can Irona do about it?

“What are you doing?” the Tour Guide says. He laughs. “We have a little one who is a bit too excited. I bet you want to try and stand like a flamingo, eh? Like this?”

As the Tour Guide lifts up the muddy boot, Irona lunges forward and pulls the black revolver from the leather holster with a quick, easy motion. The safety pulls back with a snap and Irona fires it directly into the mouth of the laughing Tour Guide who doesn’t even frown or realize what’s happening until it’s done.

Wires lay exposed, spilling out like spaghetti noodles, like wild grasses in the wind, like the strings broken on the violin when Irona slammed it onto the ground. It’s chaos. It’s a choice. The Parents and the Children move toward the back of the boat.

“We are open to new experiences,” Irona says and then laughs.

Author’s note: This started out as a challenge to see if I could write something without using gender pronouns and, like always, it took on a life of its own. It’s an odd little tale and I think there might be a good idea hidden in there somewhere…or maybe it’s simply nonsense. Let me know what you think and thanks for reading. Your support means the world to me.


Short Story Challenge | Week 31

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 tour guide in the Florida Keys. We had to include a revolver, headphones, doughnut, leopard, spaghetti, tiki hut, magma, magnetize, swampy, and recital.


Write With Us

Prompt: A letter changes everything

Include: alchemist, waterfall, birthday, cottage, spring, roar, syrup, sift, immeasurable, bank


My 52-Week Challenge Journey

The Golden Muse | A Short Story

Blowing out as much air as I can, my heavy body sinks beneath the choppy surface of the lake. The sounds instantly mute, bringing with it the first moment of calm I’ve had in days. Opening my eyes, I see nothing but the cloudy silt of the disturbed lake bed from where I walked into the water. If she met me here, maybe I’d be able to hear her.

Surfacing, I walk on tippy-toes, my feet occasionally sinking into the slimy stickiness of decomposed leaves, peats, sedges, and what remains of the creatures who have died here. I imagine them sinking down, landing sideways on a giant rock to take their last gill-filled sip of water. Perhaps they look up one final time to see the sunlight casting golden rays in a circle around them, illuminating tiny dancing specks in the water—a fond farewell.

Something brushes against my left calf and my heart races with panic. It could be a plant, a fish, a water snake, or something else. I picture an ancient and ugly beast covered in grey scales, a blood-sucking descendant of the dinosaurs, disturbed by my unwanted presence in its waters. It stalks me through the murk, circling and circling, getting closer and closer.

As the idea of the creature grows and solidifies, so does my panic. I lean into it, thinking some truth might be found in the sensation. I notice how as the thoughts become bigger, the creature becomes clearer until the instinctual urge to run overtakes my writer’s curiosity. I dive under the water, kicking, twisting, and punching until I arrive in the shallows and can see there’s no monster beneath me.

Keeping my body perpendicular to the rocky bottom, I swim along the shoreline looking for small fish or tiny treasures. I resurface every few minutes to keep the cabin and the horizon within sight. Although these waters are a second home to me, I’m fully aware of how quickly the water can disorient you. When I was a child, we’d bring a bright rainbow-colored umbrella to keep on the shore so I’d always be able to find the home base.

My younger self, freckled pink, runs along the hot beach to escape under the umbrella where my mother sits reading beside a giant wicker basket of snacks. I grab a banana and some almonds and she touches my cool skin with her warm feet. I push her away.

Flipping to my back, keeping my ears under the surface, I savor the muffled silence. The white sky above remains motionless and still, empty as I am. I’m more than halfway through my stay here and I have nothing written. My outline lays shredded on the cabin floor and the silence I came for exists nowhere but here below the surface of the lake. The book I wrote last year feels as if it contained all my words and truth. I have nothing more to offer. I tug at my wet hair and twirl it between my fingers, pulling and pulling.

If I could bring a pen and paper into the mirrored waters, would she slip beside me and whisper the words? I’ve lost her, my golden shadow muse, somewhere in the noise I can’t seem to get away from. She won’t return, and the madness inside me seems to be growing; an itchy sliver embedded deep within my palm, a prickly cactus of sharpness, a dentist’s drill pounding. It all feels a lot like failure.

From day one at the cabin silence has eluded me, replaced by an unexpected and unwanted presence–whispers and movements I can’t quite hear or see. A permanent shadow of sound perpetually here, but not here. I’ve wandered looking for it, seeking it out, and found only its partners–its noisy neighbors.

First, it was the trees, scrapping and clawing at the cabin day and night. I found a ladder and a saw and trimmed them back, so nothing touched the house. Then the squirrels took up leaping and scampering from the cut branches to roll things along the roof, creating a cacophony of sounds, driving the words from me. I had to cut back more and more of the branches until the trees lay ugly and bare, the pile of wood taller than me.

Then it was the sound of water dripping from faucets, the kind of noise used to torture out truths in secret basements. I turned off the water, drove into town and bought new gaskets and a plumbing book, and spent over a week fixing and fixing and fixing. The drops stopped.

But then it was the birds. Chirping and singing in voices shrill and constant at all times, driving the words from me, keeping her from me. I’d yell at them, but they’d scatter and return moments later with louder cries. I flung baking soda along the rails, boxes and boxes of it, and strung together forks to hang from the porch. I scattered birdseed far from the cabin day and night.

It worked for a time until a small brown bird made the tiny peach tree outside the front window its home. It would sing and sing, mocking me day and night. A robotic bird, unreal and unearthly. In a fit of anger I chopped down the baby tree, its single peach the size of a walnut lay on the ground and I wept. My dreams of cobblers and ice cream were destroyed in a single impulsive moment.

The words, my words, lay within the silence, I’m certain of it. They lay with her within the curves and folds of her shadowy dress, waiting for the moment of peace to settle for her to creep on padded feet behind me and breathe into my neck and whisper to me the story I know is so close. I’ve found it and her before, but now it’s simply too loud.

From Sunday to Saturday, from Monday to Friday, the days blend into days, and the sounds blend into sounds. She won’t come until it’s quiet, and I can’t find words without her. They are locked inside a box within a box and the key lies in the silence I can’t find.

Diving down into the water I begin digging through the muck, struck by the idea the key lies here. My fingers feel inadequate and I wish I’d brought a shovel or some kind of underwater ax. I shove items into the pockets of my bathing suit skirt, surfacing to fill my lungs and then returning to dig and scoop, dig and scoop.

Eventually, my body and breathing become weary and I surface to find the white sky has turned dark. A small sliver of the moon sits surrounded by tiny twinkling stars mirrored in the black water around me. The mountains have released the sighing breath of night, and the cool air makes my body react with gooseflesh and shivers.

A sudden disorienting panic hits me and I swim as fast as I can, items falling out of my suit and returning to the muck below me. I’m haunted by the idea of hands in the water reaching for me, grabbing at me, taking the key back, and by the time I reach the shore I’m sobbing and far from where I’d left my towel and shoes.

Running across the sharp pebbled beach, ignoring the pain in my feet, I focus on the golden light of the cabin. I’d left one window uncovered and the hooded desk lamp has transformed the dull curtains into bright yellow beacons. I run and run, up the dark wooden steps and into the familiar musty smell of our family cabin.

I wrap the nearest quilt, a remnant of my mother’s last stay here, around my shoulders, and trembling I throw logs into the large brick fireplace. I rub my wrinkled hands along the blanket until they are dry enough to twist the pages of an old National Geographic magazine into cones to light. I scrape a match along the edge of the box and press the reddish flame into a gray photo of a gnarled gargoyle with pointy ears and watch the word Paris turn to ash.

When I sit on the floor, the items from the lake poke into my sides. I pull them out and lay them in a line across the hearth—Barbie head with matted brown hair, a bright blue fidget spinner turned rusty but still able to move, several bottle caps from various cheap beers, an “I Love You a Latte” pin missing the back, and a bright silver ring.

It’s the last item I think could be the key. I wipe it on the blanket and try it on several fingers and find it only fits my pinky. It’s a simple thin band, with no markings, dainty but heavy. I hold my hands closer to the fire to warm them and look at how the metal ring reflects back the orange and red light. The whispering sounds pulse around me. I wish they’d stop.

Out of the corner of my eye, I see my shadow stretching out, a thin skeletal version of me. I follow it down the hall and into the bedroom, strip off my wet clothes, and stand naked before an upright golden mirror. I don’t recognize myself in the dim light leaking in from the fire down the hall, the flickering body of a woman I might have known at some point, but who looks nothing like me anymore. I stare into the mirror version of my hazel eyes and have the terrifying thought I might do something like wink, or my eyes might suddenly becoming not my own.

I’m about to scream, but instead, I twirl my hair with my left hand and pull until several strands break free. I let them fall to the floor and notice the tops of my shoulders are beet red with small blisters forming under the skin. I grab a sample bottle of aloe from a drawer beside the bed, wondering if it has an expiration date, and rub it into the inflamed skin anyway. The cool gel makes me feel feverish and sick. I’m veering off course. I’m not me. I don’t like this and I wonder when I last ate something.

My shadow dances along the wall and I slip on warm pajamas and follow it. I’m sleepwalking or dreaming, moving through thick clouds, heavy and drunk. I sit at my writing desk by the front window, open a blank journal page, and put the pen on the paper. Hovering, I sit still for seconds, minutes…hours. A prickling sensation begins at my toes and travels in a rush up my body. All the nerves feel dull and alive at the same time—on alert. The pen begins to move.

“The golden shadow…”

The tiniest flicker of hope left inside dances with joy at the words, at the feeling of her behind me. She presses further, our bodies merge into one, the shadow takes the pen and writes an entire page and I know as it flows from my hand it’s the best thing I’ve ever written.

“Scratch…Scratch…Scratch.”

With a snapping feeling, my body lurches back and then forward. I hit my head on the desk with a thud. She’s gone. Some sound has chased her away and I scream, the sound traveling out of every pore of my body, emptying me of everything. My heart pounds and I begin to sweat and shake.

I stand on wobbly legs and follow the sound, a bloodhound tracking the scent through a dark and dangerous forest. I feel the rage inside at having the words taken away, a bubbling tea kettle screaming and screaming. The faint sound seems everywhere and nowhere. I circle the rooms, down the hall, and back.

“Scratch…Scratch…Scratch.” 

It’s in the hallway! I press my ear against the wall until I find the exact spot and realize, with horror, it’s the sound of a pen writing on paper. My words are inside the wall. Someone has stolen them, taking them from me, and I need them. I need them more than I need to breathe or eat or be. I bang on the wall and scream, but the sound continues without pause.

“Scratch…Scratch…Scratch.” 

I scrape and scrape with my fingernails until I’m able to pull at the flowered wallpaper, tearing off a wide strip and throwing it on the floor. I pick at the uneven wall underneath until I’m able to form a tiny hole. I run to the writing desk, grab my gold pen and press the tip into the hole, twisting and twisting until it pops through. I press down hard, like a lever, until a chunk of plaster falls to the floor.

“Scratch…Scratch…Scratch.”

Using my hands, I tear off the rest of the wallpaper and the crumbling bits of fibrous material as fast as I can. Throwing it all around me, I’m no longer aware of the why. My knuckles and fingers bleed, but I continue to rip and tear until I’ve uncovered the entire stretch of wall between two light-colored wooden posts. In the center of the blank wall, a black shadow oozes and bubbles out like oil, running down the wall in a thick stream.

“Scratch…Scratch…Scratch.” 

I scramble backward and fall against the wall behind me, sliding down until I’m clutching my own knees and rocking. The shadow moves slowly, like thick molasses across the floor, growing in size and shape until it becomes a grotesque twisted version of me. It leers tall and thin in the hallway, reaching with spindly cold fingers toward my face. I feel it reaching through nothingness, into nothingness, dragging me toward its thick dark madness.

The scratching sound fades, or maybe simply never was. The shadowy shape before me opens its mouth to reveal sharpened black teeth, a cartoonish Jack-O-Lantern, dripping down onto me the whispery sounds of fear and anger. It’s louder than ever before, a pulsing and grating sound, and I cover my ears and continue to rock in place.

Time seems to stand still in this moment, a frozen nightmare of my own creation. Knowingness eventually prickles along my back, bringing with it the vision of a small girl with pigtails. Her tiny voice begins to whisper in my ear, speaking of kindness, and worth and begging me to fight back. I’m sitting on the back fence of the home I grew up in, singing as loud as I can to the passing cars. The world needs to hear my voice. I have something to say.

The singing becomes louder and louder and I feel her wrap her golden arms through mine. We are one. I feel through the debris for my pen and stand with it held out in front of me. The shadow doesn’t shrink, but I grow. I stand tall and firm, my resolve larger than my fear has ever been, and I thrust my pen as hard as I can into the silhouette before me. It shatters, the darkness dissolving into tiny puzzle pieces of nothing, running down the walls and into the floorboards. It’s gone or maybe it never existed at all.

Holding the pen firmly in my hand, I walk on steady legs to the writing desk and set it down. Sunrise dances through the cloudy sky as I step onto the porch to listen for the sounds of the world. I don’t need to cover my ears anymore.

Golden muse, shadow of pen on paper

You inspired me, yet you feel so far away

Words float around, bubbles of colored vapor

Golden muse, shadow of pen on paper

Endings, beginnings round and round I caper

Lost in dark along the perfectionists highway

Golden muse, shadow of pen on paper

You inspired me, yet you feel so far away

Author’s note: My inspiration for this story came while writing at the coffee shop this week and looking down to see the golden shadow of my pen on my journal page. My mind was filled with images of shadow creatures, muses, and the idea of madness. As I began to write, the story took me to the lake and to the idea of needing silence to create. As the story progressed a bit of “The Shining” crept in and I had to resist the urge to have her hack the wall with an ax. You can probably also see the influence of Edgar Allen Poe with the sounds in the wall. Thank you, as always, for reading and if you feel so inspired, please let me know what you thought in the comments below.


Short Story Challenge | Week 15

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 writer with noisy neighbors. We had to include the words dentist, rainbow, explosion, horizon, cactus, palm, Saturday, latte, beets, and sample.


Write With Us

Next Week’s Prompt: Newlyweds on their honeymoon

Include: cockpit, selfie, kayak, thought bubble, picnic table, wander, propose, shiatsu, motherhood, temple


My 52 Week Challenge Journey

How’s the Writing Going? 

I’m sitting at my favorite coffee shop with avocado toast and an oat milk latte. Low-fi beats play in my rose gold headphones and I’m lost in the art of storytelling. People rush around me, blurring on the edge of my vision, but I’ve fallen into the words and barely register the ticking of the clock or the feel of my body in the chair.

It feels like magic. 

I’m an archaeologist uncovering the bones of an ancient beast buried deep within myself. I’m a wizard casting a spell upon the page. I’m the heroine discovering the power to change the world was inside me the whole time.

I’m a writer.

I’ve had this realization before, but something this time feels different. It’s not simply an identity adopted, but a feeling deep inside my bones I’m doing the thing I’m supposed to be doing.

It feels a lot like purpose.

Thank you 52-week writing challenge.

When my writing partner Anna and I sat down late last year and envisioned the challenge, we were seeking more accountability. We wanted to continue the momentum we’d experienced doing NaNoWriMo—harnessing our creative energy more consistently. We figured the more we wrote, the more energy we’d have to work on our manuscripts and the closer we’d be to following our dreams of being published.

Twelve weeks in is the perfect time to reflect on what I’ve learned so far:

  • I’ve started to see a clear pattern in the way I approach a story idea. I read the prompt over and over until a character begins to speak to me. I journal each morning, playing with possible story ideas for the character and feeling them out with many starts and stops. When I hit on the story it feels like something clicks and then, and only then, can I begin to write. If I start before that moment it will be rambling and I’ll have to start over.
  • I need the accountability of writing on deadline. My week has a definite rhythm now and it revolves around publishing on my blog and my photography. It feels comfortable and is getting easier. The first few weeks I waited until the last minute to begin and it resulted in a lot of late nights. Now, I publish on Saturday, rest on Sunday, and begin planning and thinking of the next story on Monday.
  • I find story ideas and photo opportunities everywhere. I sit still and feel the energy of the words inside me. I craft sentences in the shower, while I’m driving, and when I’m folding laundry. It feels like managed chaos—the energy has a place to go.
  • I’m making my writing a priority. I used to “try and write” around my schedule. I’d let things get in the way all the time, often seeking and finding ways to sabotage my writing time by doing things for others, cleaning my house, or playing games on my phone. I felt like I wasn’t a “real writer” and therefore I couldn’t take the time away from my family or my friends for a “hobby.” These short stories have shifted that. I write now because I must, and it is a priority.
  • My anxiety has lessened. The beauty of the weekly challenge is you have to post on a deadline so there isn’t time to short-circuit and collapse under the weight of self-doubt. I don’t have time to think too much about if what I’m writing is “good” or “good enough.” Time chases me and doesn’t allow me the space to think too long and hard about any of it. I can’t let Anna down. I can’t let myself down. I have to keep going.
  • It’s completely reframed the way I look at writing and my goals for the future. While I don’t have the time I thought I would for working on my manuscripts, I feel my writing style shifting and my skills improving with each short story. It feels like these words are necessary to keep growing my skills so when I return to my manuscripts it will be with fresh eyes and new skills. I still dream of being a published author, but I’m aware of the fact I’m not ready yet. I have more work to do.
  • I’m investing in myself. I’ve grown my readership on my blog and I’ve signed up for writing classes and workshops. I paid extra to have the ads taken off my website. I’ve not been this committed in the past, and I’m excited to see where it’s going.

The overall feeling is one of potential and growth. I don’t know why this project feels important, but it does. I’m going to keep moving forward and trust this is leading somewhere.

I’d like to thank my writing partner Anna for constantly pushing me, inspiring me, and blowing me away with her artwork and incredibly beautiful writing. I’m so happy to be on this journey with her. It’s fun to see how different we both interpret the prompt and I’m looking forward to a huge party with her at the end of the year.

Also, thank you to everyone who likes or comments on my blog. I value each and every one of you. Your support feels like a warm blanket I can slip into when the negative self-talk becomes too loud. It’s encouraging and appreciated.

See you on Saturday with my take on a haunted house story.


Write with us

If you find yourself in a rut or could use a framework for your chaotic creativity, consider joining us on this journey. We’d love to have you! There’s no commitment, and you can start and stop whenever you like. You make the rules for yourself. The prompt for the next week is at the bottom of our stories each week. Let me know if you write one of the prompts and I’ll link to your blog.

My 52 Week Challenge Journey

The Car Wash

“Auntie,” he calls from the back seat.

I adjust the rearview mirror so I can see him smiling from his car seat in his striped footie pajamas. He turns the tiny gold key to my jewelry box over and over in his small hand. We spent all morning unlocking tiny doors around the house, letting out imaginary rabbits to rush around and find carrots in the carpet.

“The van is dirty,” he says.

We make eye contact in the mirror and he giggles. His bright blue eyes are hidden behind my pink sunglasses and he’s wearing a knit blue cap. I play along.

“Are you sure?” I say. “It looks clean to me.”

“Yes! It’s dirty!”

“Well…what do you think we should do?”

“Car wash!”

He says the words with a squeak at the end. His entire body jerks and the sunglasses fall off his face.

“You think so, huh?” I say.

“Yes! Car wash!”

“I don’t know…”

“Car wash! Car wash! Car wash!”

He knows I’m going to give in and I do. When he sees the yellow duck on the sign he claps his hands and kicks his legs. I put on our song, “Working at the Car Wash” by Rosvelt, and pull the shade back from the sunroof so we can see the bubbles all around us.

“Ready?” 

“Yes!”

I watch the joy and excitement on his squishy face as he stares at the green, blue and purple bubbles. We sing, dance, and giggle over the harsh sounds of the water and the fat colorful rollers slapping against the van.

It’s pure joy.

A ritual we’ve discovered together.

An auntie thing.

He turns three on Saturday and I live for these pockets of magic we uncover. 

Our shared treasure.

They feel big and important.

And fleeting.

My own children are teenagers, beautiful and complex. We are close and continue to create new memories, but I miss when they were small enough I didn’t have to share them with school or friends.

When they were mine.

I’ve discovered playing with my nephew allows me to slip back into memories of my own kids in a new and different way; to uncover the feelings and sensations of burying them in the sand, snuggling them at bedtime, and holding them when they’ve fallen. 

These little snapshots of my kids at his age come into focus with surprising intensity. It’s like remembering an old language I used to speak, slipping on an old sweater, or opening a tiny door.

It’s a wonderful and unexpected gift.

All the love.

All the silliness.

All the tears.

All the firsts.

This week my son got his first bank account and started his first job. As I drive him to work it occurs to me it’s the exact route I took to his preschool. The feelings swelling up are familiar too; another moment of letting go and another shifting of our relationship.

The sadness I expect to come, however, doesn’t.

It feels different.

When I pick up him at 10 p.m. he requests a Happy Meal and hopes he gets a Stitch toy. He talks animately about his job and the people he met. He laughs and we listen to “Pump up the Jam” at high volume and sing along.

My boy.

There you are.

The pandemic and his accidents robbed him of growth and some of the firsts he should have had. It put us in a strange place of adversaries, and we’ve both lost the comfortable way we’d always been together. The silly way we could look back and move forward; our own dance.

I’m remembering it.

I hope he is too.

We have a lifetime of firsts left.

First job uniform.

52 Weeks – Week 7 – Childhood Home

Prompt: Selling a childhood home

Include: dreamscape, convince, pioneer, genesis, cumulous, jump, mash, condition, erase, gold

Read Anna’s Week 7

The Final Goodbye

I wasn’t always like this.

To look at me now you might think all kinds of bad things about me, but I can assure you my beginning hinted nothing at what was to come.

Built on a new curved road with fresh brown dirt and bright pine wood, everything about me said potential. My genesis was unremarkably normal as far as these things go, but it was paired with a sort of frenzied hopefulness for the kind of place you can be proud of. 

The suburban dreamscape of middle-class pioneers.

Plans and potential. 

Hopes and fresh starts.

My walls were painted bright colors and covered in wallpaper with large bold flowers. My rooms overflowed with golden light and fresh air. Every inch in pristine condition—new and welcoming, surrounded by tiny baby plants taking root in the soft soil.

It’s unfair to erase it all as if it didn’t happen, but I see you crying and perhaps you can’t remember. The dark cumulous clouds have blocked out all the light and all you can see is the eye of the storm. 

It’s okay.

I’ll remember for you.

There was a swing set, a dollhouse, and a front-yard wedding. Kids ran through my halls, drew on my walls, and hid in my cupboards. There were bubble baths and birthday parties.

A pot-bellied pig rushed through my screens and a dog died on my doorstep. Doves sang caged inside a back room, while a parakeet flew out the front door. There were guinea pigs and kittens and fish. 

I held you all, but you don’t seem to remember. 

You look and see the end of things and it breaks your heart. You see the way the broken things left unfixed became hazardous and ugly. The holes in the ceiling, the torn mashed carpet with exposed sharp nails, the brown-tinged water stains growing larger each day, and the tangles of weeds pushing through the cracks in the walls.

You try to convince yourself it’s all for the best, but you can’t let go. I see it in the way you touch my textured walls and turn the lights on and off. You take photos of my doorknobs, but you don’t recognize me. 

I don’t either.

Time has jumped ahead, and without someone to protect and sustain the old me, I’ve transformed into a living representation of the sadness I’ve held within me for the last decade.

It hurt to watch it happen. I could do nothing to stop it.

Oh, if I could have stopped it.

I want so much for things to be different, but we both know it’s neither of our faults and it can’t be undone.

Things break and things change.

You use a shovel to remove the garbage piled inside me into black shiny bags, an archeological dig of the past. I see you unearth a few treasures I protected for you, loading them into your van before you turn to say goodbye.

There’s so much we want to say to each other, but we don’t have to.

The love and memories we’ve shared are intact and unbroken.

We get to keep them and we don’t have to say anything.

I watch you take a pair of scissors and fight through the weeds to gather up the last of the spring roses, a fragrant bundle of pinks, yellows, and reds. Breathing them in, you trace the gold house numbers with a shaking finger.

You stand in the middle of the driveway and we stare at each other. I watch you fall off your bike and get a black eye, run across the street to play with your best friend, and kiss your boyfriend beside his car. I see the transformation of us both as if it’s happening in a blink before me.

It’s painfully beautiful.

Crossing your arms across your chest and squaring your feet, you seem unable to move.

I want you to go.

You haven’t lived here in a long time and neither of us are the same as we were. We’ve been looking back through a cloud of time, yearning for something long gone, but it must end.

It already has.

Release me and turn from here.

Go, dear child. 

Don’t look back.

I’ll be okay.

There will be a new future for me and there’s nothing left here for you.

Go.

It’s time.


Author’s note: When I read this week’s prompt I was flooded with memories of my childhood home. It felt visceral and raw, a wound not quite healed. I wrote about the experience of letting it go a few years ago, but apparently, I wasn’t done processing my feelings around the loss.

My childhood home wasn’t sold but was foreclosed upon. My brother and mother lived there, both suffering from depression. The house had endured a long-drawn-out decay, breaking bit by bit, and by the end, it was a mere shadow of the place I grew up.

It was something about the final goodbye which brought about the contrasts for me of how it was when I was a child compared to what it had become. I wrote this week’s short story in a rush, a blend of reality and fiction that poured out faster than I could type. It felt cathartic and I cried as I typed the final words. Three years later, I think I’m finally ready to let it go.

Related blog: Home, Broken, Home


Next week’s prompt: Week 8

Prompt: A wild animal loose in the house

Include: pregnant, community, logo, statistics, democracy, honesty, criminal, ankle, orange, comment


My 52 Week Challenge Journey

52 Weeks – Week 6 – The Hitchhiker

Prompt: Picking up a hitchhiker

Include: hospital, defer, interface, experiment, beaker, visualize, mattress, skyline, interpret, zap

Read Anna’s Week 6

Through the Glass Windshield

Alice can’t remember being this bored in her life. She flops down on her bed, disturbing a pile of textbooks and papers. Her tutors seem intent on overworking her since her sister left for college as if an increased workload could keep her from her feelings. Alice wishes it could.

Bianca, the fluffy white cat her sister left behind, jumps onto Alice’s stomach and begins kneading her belly with its paws. She should shove the cat off because she’ll get white hair all over her nice blue cardigan and white dress but she doesn’t think it’s fair. Bianca is sad too.

Alice reaches her fingers out in front of her toward the peaked ceiling of her attic bedroom. Her nanny Margaret used to say “adventure lies at your fingertips.” Alice can recall all the times she’s tried to see something beyond her fingertips, laying in the grass staring at the cloudless sky or crawling under one of the large hydrangea bushes and pressing her fingers through the mass of green and purple. To her, adventure seemed far beyond the reach of her fingertips, perhaps hidden behind a veil she couldn’t see.

Her parents haven’t been home in months, traveling for this thing or another, and Alice feels their absence mixing with her sister’s to form a sort of melancholy madness within her. Her feelings are like an underwater volcano rumbling and fuming but hidden under the deep dark water. The bubbles of hot steam would take days to reach the surface.

Bianca pounces on a pencil but lands on a pile of slippery paper. She does a sort of ungraceful pawing in an attempt to get her footing but ends up falling onto the floor. Alice rolls onto her stomach and peers at her. She’s shaking her paws and ignoring Alice as if it was her fault. This sort of thing used to make Alice laugh but instead she just feels sorry for the cat.

Alice rolls out of bed, straightens her dress, pulls up her white tights, and fixes her pearl necklace so the clasp rests at the back of her neck. Standing at her lone triangular window, she watches the gardeners weeding the flowerbeds along the driveway. She can recall waving to the flowers in the mornings as a child, especially the sunflowers and daisies as they moved their heads to follow the sun. She has an urge to do it again.

Pressing her fingertips into the glass she follows the line they make to the light blue VW Beetle her parents bought her for her sixteenth birthday, a car she’s driven only a handful of times. Alice rarely has anywhere to go. Tutors come to her. She has no friends. There are people who cook for her, clean for her and shop for her. She traces the round curve of the car with her fingers and makes a bold decision.

She slips on her black ballet flats and pats the now sleeping Bianca on the head before tiptoeing down the wooden stairs. She’s supposed to be studying and the house staff keeps a close eye on her. She can visualize a detailed report of her activity being compiled and sent to her parents daily and it makes her furious. She’s not something to be managed, and without her sister to distract those thoughts away, she lets them rage inside her. The volcano might be close to erupting.

A wooden rack by the tall front door contains a neat row of silver and brass keys of various sizes and shapes all hung on small black hooks. Alice has no idea what all the keys are for despite asking her parents and the staff numerous times. Her keys, the last in the row, are easy to spot thanks to the keychain her sister sent her; a silly grinning pink striped cat with a curling tail and yellow eyes.

Alice peeks through the stained glass of the front door to see where the gardeners are and smiles at the way the colored glass transforms the tidy lawn, flowerbeds, and trees into a kaleidoscope of topsy-turvy colors and shapes. It feels like magic. She opens the door and senses an opening inside herself; a beginning. She runs to the car before someone can stop her.

She imagines people are chasing her, calling her back to her room and her studies, but when she glances in her rearview mirror she sees nothing of the sort. Her quiet street remains neat and orderly with all the hedges clipped into unnatural shapes, not at all the way they grow in nature. Alice realizes she craves wildness, an undisturbed and disorderly place. She turns from the city and presses her fingers out in front of her-letting her fingertips lead the way.

At first, Alice drives with a hyper-focus on the rules of the road making sure to stay three car lengths from the vehicle in front of her and to stop for a full 10 seconds at each stop sign. She plays no music but listens for sirens or signs of someone following her. As the skyline of the city shrinks and disappears behind her, she keeps imagining she’ll be arrested and incarcerated for breaking a rule-the first time in her life.

When nothing happens, Alice begins to relax. She rolls down the window and lets the wind mess up her perfectly styled blonde hair. It occurs to her, in a rush, she’d left her cellphone and purse upstairs in her room. For a moment it feels like a fatal mistake. She imagines a true-crime podcast trying to make sense of her actions, taking her absence of forethought to be some dire clue. The feeling doesn’t take hold though. The further she drives without incident, the more it changes into a sense of giddy freedom. Nobody can track her and she can do what she wants. It makes her laugh.

Alice finds herself leaving the highway and driving on a series of two-lane roads weaving through a part of town she didn’t know existed. There are tall fields of wild grasses dotted by an occasional horse or cow, long driveways disappearing into clumps of tall trees, dusty tractors cutting deep grooves into the soil, and watery rice fields with long-necked white cranes. It feels reckless and Alice enjoys the feeling. Each turn feels like an unwinding or maybe a winding up.

After going across a series of small one-lane bridges she turns onto a dark strip of road filled with things both wonderful and scary; tall unmanaged weeds with giant thorns, rows of scraggly trees leaning across the road as if trying to touch each other, rusted cars stripped and naked without seats or mirrors, and a heaping pile of junk with a faded yellow mattress set on the top like a dirty garbage throne. 

It’s a bumpy road and it occurs to Alice she doesn’t know how to change a tire. She slows to avoid needing to figure it out when she spots a strange short man standing dressed in an expensive and spotlessly clean white linen suit. He holds a large gold pocket watch in his hand attached to his jacket by an extravagant gleaming chain. Her windows are down, and as she nears him, she can hear him exclaiming in a quick agitated voice.

“I’m late! I’m late! Oh, this isn’t good at all. I’m so late and I do have such an important date. Oh me, oh my! I’m late.”

Alice stops the car beside the man, aware this isn’t something she should do. Vaguely she recalls the words “stranger danger,” but dismisses it because he looks familiar. He has small watery eyes and hops from foot to foot.

“Are you alright?” Alice calls.

The man jumps, quite high considering his large belly, and then peers into the passenger window at Alice. She notices this close up he’s got a small thin mustache and rather large ears. The buttons on his jacket are gold faces, all slightly different expressions, but all with large bulbous noses. The man looks at his watch and then back at her several times before speaking.

“I’m so late! I’m so very very late!”

“Would you like a ride?” Alice asks.

She’s shocked at her boldness and marvels at how different being impulsive feels. The man looks from the watch to her and back again. He smiles at Alice and she wishes she could remember where she knows him from, perhaps he’s a friend of her father.

“I’m late! I’m so very late!” he says. “I wouldn’t dream of imposing, but if you really don’t mind…”

He’d given her a chance to change her mind, but Alice unlocks the door and smiles at him. She’s being a good citizen. This man is harmless and…he’s late!

He slides into the passenger seat bringing with him the unmistakable smell of flowers. He opens and shuts his pocket watch several times before erupting into a series of sneezes, each a bit larger than the last. He pulls out a white handkerchief covered in tiny red roses from his jacket pocket and loudly blows his nose.

“Are you okay?” Alice says.

The man sneezes again, and it’s such an exuberant thing it makes Alice giggle. She covers her mouth to stifle the sound, afraid to hurt his feelings. He opens and closes his watch, blows his nose several more times, and then stares at Alice.

“Do you have a cat?” he says.

Alice nods.

“I’m allergic,” he says and sneezes a few more times.

Alice wishes she’d not let Bianca climb all over her, but the man gives her another smile and his cheeks flush a light pink.

“I’m late,” he says, flipping the watch open again.

“Where should I take you?”

“That way,” he says.

He points straight ahead and Alice begins driving slow on the uneven road, avoiding holes in the ground and the odd pieces of garbage. She wants to speak to the man more, but he seems rather absorbed in looking at his watch, sneezing, and mumbling to himself.

“I’m late. Oh, dear. This will not do. I’m so late.”

“What are you late for?” Alice asks, unable to contain her curiosity.

The man doesn’t respond, and she thinks it would be rude to ask a second time. 

The road takes a sharp turn to the left followed by two more sharp turns to the left. Alice knows, logically, it should lead back to the place they started, but it does not. The road has become wide, smooth and lined by tall hedges cut the exact same height and width. They drive through a pair of golden gates toward an impressivly large mansion surrounded by gigantic rose bushes.

Alice pulls into a valet loop stopping directly in front of the house. Two men rush past her car with buckets of red paint and she swears they look oddly square. Without a word, her passenger jumps from the car, straightens his suit, and runs toward a gathering of people in the gardens to the left of the house. Alice can make out red banners, red carpets, and people dressed in fancy clothes. She calls after the man, but he doesn’t hear her. A long black car appears in her rearview mirror and honks impatiently for her to move.

Alice wonders about the party and why the man was so worried about being late. Perhaps he’s supposed to officiate a wedding or give out an award. Alice doesn’t like not knowing things. She plans to circle back to get some answers, but once she’s pulled away from the house the road narrows and narrows until it’s barely wide enough for her small car to pass. 

Without the ability to turn around she’s forced to continue as the one-lane road winds around and around and up and up. It’s dizzying how high she climbs and how cold the air becomes. Alice rolls up her windows as patches of snow appear beside the car. Tall pine trees form a barrier along the road and she can’t see anything past them. She fears the twisting road will go on forever, but it doesn’t.

Without warning the road stops at an enormous white wall stretching left and right as far as she can see. Alice rubs her eyes. She climbed a snowy mountain to arrive at the base of a wall with no snow in sight. How curious!

There’s a zapping electrical sound in the air and Alice rolls down her window to search for the source. She’s amazed at how warm the air has become. A tall thin man dressed in colorful clothing, layers, and layers of it, leans against the wall. He has a cloud of smoke in front of him, and as she watches, he breaks into an interpretive dance. The smoke changes color from white to blue as he moves in a fluid circular motion, his long arms and legs making graceful arches around him.

Alice can’t take her eyes off him and, as if she’d willed it to happen, he moves toward her car. He arrives at the driver’s window in a flurry of colorful smoke. He has one green eye and one blue. The smell of patchouli, sage, and clove fills her car and makes her dizzy. He gives her a relaxed smile she recognizes but can’t remember why.

“Who are you, man?” he asks.

He says it slowly, drawing out each word, and it makes Alice giggle. He spins in a circle, a blur of colorful silks floats around him like smoke. He smiles again, leaning so close his blue stone pendant necklace touches her arm.

“Who are you, man? Like, where did you come from?”

“I’m Alice. I came up the mountain. I mean I came down the mountain. Actually, I’m not sure.”

“Whoa, that’s trippy man. Did you go up or did you go down?”

“I don’t know.”

“Far out, man.”

Alice watches him as he begins to dance again, spinning and spinning until she worries he may fall down. He doesn’t. He pulls out a small wooden pipe and fills her car with green smoke smelling of pine needles. Alice swears it circles around him like a wreath, the old line from “Twas the Night Before Christmas” ringing in her head. He gives her a dimpled smile.

“Where are you going, Alice?”

“I don’t know.”

“Then how can you go there? I mean, how can you go somewhere you don’t know, man?”

“I don’t know.”

Alice feels confused. The man pulls out a dark brown bottle from a hidden pocket in his clothing and dumps two pills onto his dirty palm, one red and one blue. He holds them out for Alice to examine.

“One pill makes you larger. Like, real big, man. The biggest you can imagine being. You might not stop either, getting bigger and bigger and bigger.”

Alice nods but has no idea what he’s talking about.

“One pill makes you smaller. Like tiny, man. Like so small you can hide in plain sight and nobody can touch you. So so small.”

It occurs to Alice he’s some kind of drug addict and maybe these are experimental drugs or pills he created. He holds the pills out to her in offering, but she shakes her head no. He swallows both pills without water. He giggles and Alice does too. There’s a sort of mania about him, but it doesn’t feel dangerous. It feels electric.

Suddenly, a purple smoke smelling of lavender fills the car and it makes Alice feel a bit sleepy. The man begins dancing again and, as Alice watches, he appears to become bigger and smaller over and over. The wall behind him appears to grow and shrink as well. Alice rubs her eyes and realizes she might be drugged by the smoke. It’s an unsettling feeling, but it has made her too relaxed to fully care.

With a flourish, and returning to his regular size, he climbs into the passenger seat and shuts the door behind him. He points at the wall, a flurry of silver bracelets slipping up and down his arm.

“You want to go through, man? Break on through to the other side?”

Alice nods.

“You need to use the interface, man. You gotta like tell it to let you pass.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

He points a long finger at the wall. His nails are painted purple and there’s a large butterfly ring on his thumb.

“Tell it, man. Tell the wall you want to go through.”

Alice leans out her window and faces the wall. She feels foolish.

“Can you let me pass, please?”

The man laughs and touches her hand. A spark of electric energy passes between them; a shock. His eyes blaze brightly.

“No, man. You got to tell it, not ask it. Tell it!”

Alice hasn’t had the occasion to demand anything in her life, so it feels awkward. He squeezes her hand reassuringly, and she feels another shock. She leans out the window toward the looming white wall and shouts with all her might.

“I demand you let me pass! Now!”

It works! The wall opens wide enough for the small blue car to pass through onto a wide-open countryside with rolling green hills in all directions. The sun shines overhead in a clear blue sky, and the man blows out a yellow smoke smelling of honeysuckles and springtime. He looks at Alice through the haze.

“Who are you, man?”

“Alice. I told you, remember?”

“Yeah, but like, what’s an Alice?”

Alice can’t think of what to say. It’s a strange question, one she hasn’t considered before, and she’s about to ask him who he is when he opens the door and rolls out of the car. Alice slams on the brakes, but he’s on his feet skipping up a small hill covered in daisies waving madly in a flurry of color and movement. Alice waves back until he disappears from view.

For a long time, Alice drives in silence pondering the strange man’s question; what’s an Alice? She’s defined herself by the roles she plays; the little sister, the dutiful daughter, and the student. Alice must be more though, right? She can’t simply be a thing to other people.

Last summer her sister took a course in philosophy and she’d become dull and full of unanswerable questions. Alice can recall her talking about reality and consciousness until she’d talked herself into a frenzy and cried herself to sleep. Alice feels close to the same feeling now.

The road takes a sharp right turn, and then another, and then a third. Alice finds she’s left the countryside behind and she’s passing a large hospital with rows of reflective windows reaching high into the sky. Straining to see the top, she doesn’t see a man crossing the road until she’s upon him. She slams on her brakes and stops less than an inch from his legs.

“Sorry!” Alice calls. “Are you okay?”

The man gives her a crooked smile and laughs with a small snort. He’s got a bulging brown leather bag draped across his chest and is carrying a large misshapen birthday cake on a plate with bright pink frosting. He rushes to her car window and leans in.

“Oh, it’s you!” he says.

He’s wearing dark black eyeliner accentuating murky blue eyes with tiny black pupils. Curly reddish hair peeks out from under a large black top hat with colorful patches. Dressed in purple pants with a maroon jacket, he bows slightly and Alice feels the spark of familiarity she’s been feeling all day. Curiouser and curiouser! 

“Do I know you?” she asks.

“Does a butcher know a baker or a candlestick maker? Does a sailor know a ship in the deep blue sea? Does a turtle know the sand it’s hatched into?”

“I suppose.”

“Suppose or supposed?”

“I don’t know.”

The man moves to the passenger side of the car and climbs in, bringing with him the sugary sweet smell of cake and frosting. The familiar pang of worry hits her stomach for a moment. She doesn’t know this man, for sure, but she dismisses it and realizes it has become easier and easier to do so.

The man unstraps the leather bag and lets it fall to the floor with a clattering of glass. He balances the cake on his knees and Alice can see “Very Merry Unbirthday” written in blue frosting across the top.

“Unbirthday?”

“Why, yes. Don’t mind if I do.”

While Alice resumes driving, the man retrieves from his bag a beaker of pale pink liquid and a white teacup with a matching saucer covered in tiny red hearts. Holding both above the cake, he pours the liquid from the beaker into his teacup splashing several drops onto the cake. He returns the beaker to his bag and sips his tea loudly.

Alice doesn’t want to make the mistakes she’d made with her other passengers today in her efforts to be polite. She’d like some answers. Perhaps it was yelling at the wall, but she feels braver and begins questioning the smiling man as he sips his pink tea, firing off one question after another.

“What is your name?”

“The Mad Hatter or Matt Hatter, or some call me Simply Mad or Raving Mad. I prefer Hatter or Hattie, but I do answer to all.”

He attempts to tip his hat to Alice and more of the pink tea drips onto the cake.

“Do you know a man who wears a white suit?”

“White suit, White suit, have you any wool? Yes sir, yes sir, three bags full.”

“Do you know the colorful man with the smoke?”

“Oh, yes I know the smokey man, the smokey man, the smokey man. Oh, yes, I know the smokey man that lives on Drury Lane.”

The Hatter removes a small brown Dormouse from the front pocket of his jacket and sets it on the tea saucer. The sleeping thing wakes, puts its paws on the lip of the cup, and takes a long drink.

“Who is that?”

“Why he’s the cheese to my sandwich and the peanut butter to my jelly is all.”

The Hatter puts his ear down toward the Dormouse and nods as if the tiny thing is speaking to him.

“The Dormouse would like me to thank you for the ride. He’s quite fond of car rides and its been ever so long since we’ve had one.”

“Tell him he’s welcome.”

“Tell him yourself.”

The Hatter holds the Dormouse up toward Alice’s face and it blinks at her with small black eyes.

“You are welcome,” she says.

The Dormouse curls up into a ball in the plam of the Hatter and falls asleep.

“You must defer to me for all further inquiries,” the Hatter says.

He lurches forward with no warning and points excitedly out the window. The cake slides with him creating a trail of frosting on the door and on the sleeve of his shirt. Alice follows where he’s pointing.

“The hospital?” she asks.

“Yes, yes. I must go there,” the Hatter says. “The very merry unbirthday of my friend must take place today, for he might not have another one for a long time, poor fellow.”

“I’m sorry,” Alice says. “Didn’t we come from there?”

“Who can say where we come from? The land? The sea? The lollipop tree?”

Alice feels exhausted but turns the car around. Within a few minutes, they arrive at the place they started, but when she stops the car the Hatter begins to cry.

“Whatever is the matter?”

“Whatever is the Hatter you mean?”

“Why are you crying?”

“I’ve only just remembered that my friend, the March Hare, isn’t here because it’s April and that’s why you hit me with your car.”

Alice doesn’t know what to say so she drives away from the hospital. The Hatter pulls another beaker from his bag of a brownish liquid, pours it into his teacup, and drinks it down in one gulp.

“There!” he says.

He points to a park with a large pond and Alice pulls over. She recognizes this place and it feels comforting to be somewhere she’s been before. Her nanny Margret took her and her sister to this park each Tuesday and Thursday afternoon for three hours-the happiest times of her childhood. The slides, swings, and sandbox look the same as she remembers. The Hatter jumps out the car and Alice follows him. He sets down the cake and pulls a patchwork quilt from his bag and spreads it on the ground near a wide Willow tree.

Alice smooths out her dress and straightens her legs out in front of her. She’s had quite an adventure! She imagines this must be what it feels like to visit old friends. Perhaps she has! She wants to ask the Hatter about it but is afraid it would break the spell and the happiness she feels.

“It’s time,” the Hatter says.

Sixteen white candles pop and sizzle on the top of the lopsided cake. The Dormouse peers at Alice from the brim of the black top hat and she’s certain he winks at her. Without warning the Hatter sings to Alice with an exuberance she can’t recall anyone ever showing her before. It brings tears to her eyes.

“A very merry unbirthday

To me?

To you

A very merry unbirthday

For me?

For you

Now blow the candle out, my dear

And make your wish come true

A very merry unbirthday to you.”

Alice blows out the candles. The Hatter pulls plates, forks, and a serving knife from his bag and cuts them each a thick slice of the cake. Alice eats it while staring at the ducks in the pond. There are two young girls holding hands by the edge of the water, the smallest leans in and whispers to the larger one. Alice knows this moment, a secret between sisters, and it’s sweeter than the cake.

Alice, the Hatter, and the Dormouse watch the sun change the sky to orange, yellow, and purple before plopping down at the edge of the horizon like a fat orange ball. The Dormouse yawns and the Hatter slips him into his pocket, giving Alice a smile she feels reaches every part of her.

Laying down on the blanket Alice raises her hands toward the sky and watches the faint light as it dims and goes out at her fingertips.


Author’s note: When I read the prompt my first thought was to continue my theme from last week and write about a woman picking up her grandmother as a teenger on the road and hearing her story-a nod to Field of Dreams. This idea felt overdone and I went through a list of other ideas; aliens, angels, demons, ghosts (Large Marge!), killers, a person from the future. I ticked each off as not feeling right until I came up with the idea of setting the story with characters from one of my favorite childhood books. I’ve always been attracted to the story of Alice in Wonderland and wondered what it might be like for Alice to revisit her friends at a time in her life she might need a little adventure. This was wicked fun to write, and although I’m certain I didn’t get the characters quite right, I hope you enjoyed it. Stay curious!


Next week’s prompt: Week 7

Prompt: Selling a childhood home

Include: dreamscape, convince, pioneer, genesis, cumulous, jump, mash, condition, erase, gold


The Mad Hatter by Lola White

My 52 Week Challenge Journey

The Unbirthday Song (Alice in Wonderland) lyrics © Walt Disney Music Co. Ltd., Walt Disney Music Company, Wonderland Music Company Inc.