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Flash Fiction #54 – What are You Waiting For?

 

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Okay, so this month’s song fic was chosen by our resident Canadian and number one Nickelback fan. The song is What are You Waiting For? Here are the lyrics and the video.

Through the open door, Molly stared at what she’d been convinced was the answer to her prayers. It was all there in front of her. Their first apartment together–the one-bedroom loft above the town’s only bar. She glanced at the woman who’d brought her here–to her past, and she smiled benevolently.

Molly had thought the woman was full of shit when she’d told her that it was possible to go back to a time when she as Christopher had been happy. That she could have a do-over and go back to prevent things from ever going wrong in the first place.

As she drew closer to the doorway, she recognized her old leather coat hanging over the back of the chair shoved under the cheap formica-topped kitchen table. He’d always hated that jacket. She frowned. Was that why she’d decided to get rid of it?

She glanced around the rest of the room, smiling at the hideous cow-shaped salt and pepper shakers sitting on the counter next to the hand-me-down coffee pot from her sister. There was the spider plant rooting in a jar in the kitchen window along with a collection of cobalt blue glass bottles. Those had survived a bit longer than the jacket, but all but one had been smashed to pieces in a long ago arguement.

The calendar on the wall next to the microwave read March 1999. If she remembered correctly, they’d only been in that apartment for six months, at that point. There were so many memories here. And most of them had been good. Like Halloween parties they’d thrown or the Christmas feasts they’d invited both their families to. The book club she and her sister had started and the nights they’d spent gaming with their friends.

Molly crept closer to the doorway–a niggling sense that something was wrong. Almost as if something was out of place. But she couldn’t put her finger on it. From her changed vantage point, she could see past the kitchen doorway, through the dining room and into the living room. Christopher was sitting on the couch playing some Xbox game, and a younger version of herself, looking ridiculously dressed up for an evening at home, sat curled up in a chair reading.

Only she wasn’t really reading. She was sighing and staring at Christopher who didn’t seem to have any clue that she was even in the room with him. Nope…he knew. He’d just asked her to get him a beer. Another beer from the looks of it as she noticed the the three empty bottles by his feet.

Past Molly got up and grabbed him a beer from the fridge looking just as dejected and defeated as she currently felt. He barely acknowledged her when she handed him the bottle and returned to her chair.

“What are you waiting for?” The woman at Molly’s side gestured to the open door.

Molly had forgotten she wasn’t alone. “What?”

“I said, what are you waiting for? This is when you wanted to return to, right? The time when things were still good between you.?”

Molly’s gaze landed on the calendar again. On the day that had a big heart drawn in the center of the square–March 20th–their one year anniversary. The day that he’d decided he’d been too stressed with school and work to acknowledge their anniversary. Sure, he’d attempted to make up for it later, but she realized now, he’d never really been sorry. Like the majority of his attempts at amends hadn’t really been about her or their relationship. He’d just been looking for a way to make his current situation more comfortable, and often that meant appeasing her.

How had she been so stupid not to grasp that it had been this way since the beginning? She glanced around the apartment and was again struck by the onslaught of memories. And she realized that almost all of the positive ones were ones that included other people.

Molly looked at the woman. “I just realized that I’m in the wrong time. This isn’t the right door. I need to go to January, 1998–the seventh, I think.”

In a blink, Molly stood outside O’Toole’s Pub, the biting wind blowing in off the river and the snow swirling in eddies around her feet.

“Is this where you wanted to go?”

Molly nodded as she watched her past self push her chair away from a table full of her friends. Grabbing the cold metal handle, she pulled open the door and entered the bar, the woman following silently behind. Molly rapidly crossed the floor, cutting off her past self as she headed up to the bar, and the two collided.

Molly stopped stopped in the middle of the floor, a sudden chill skating up her spine. She glanced around noticing a vaguely familiar woman by the door. Molly shook off the chill–must have been a blast of cold air from when the woman came in from outside–and walked up to the bar. It was her turn to buy the post finals rounds.

As she waited, trying to catch the bartender’s, a cute guy to her right said, “Let me guess—you just finished your last exam?”

She smiled. “That obvious?”

“Me, too. My name’s Christopher. Can I buy you a drink?”

She stared into the prettiest blue eyes she’d ever seen and shook her head. “Thanks, but I’m here with friends.”

He nodded. “No worries.”

As the bartender took her order, she couldn’t help but feel that she’d dodged a bullet.

Okay, so that’s it for me today. Be sure to check out the other bloggers’ stories by clicking on their names. Jess, Kris, and Deelylah.

Flash Fiction #53 – The Room

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It’s time for another photo flash fiction, and I have a feeling this one is going to be pretty short–partially because of the idea I have, and partially because of the million and twelve things I need to accomplish today because I’ll be out of town all day on Sunday when I usually start writing these. I should also mention that this story was inspired by this picture in conjunction with another photo a friend texted me yesterday morning. So, Amanda…this one’s for you.

***

Amanda sighed as she headed toward the last cottage on the lane. There had been rumors that someone was living there after hours, and based on what some eagle-eyed teenagers from one of the local school tours had pointed out earlier that afternoon, she had a good idea of the squatter’s identity.

She stretched her neck from side to side as she walked, trying to loosen the perpetually tight muscles. Why had she thought managing a historical reenactment village was a viable career change? More importantly, why had she thought hiring David Mulder was was a good idea?

She supposed she’d fallen prey, much like the majority of actresses in the village, to the effects of the last residual bits of stardom that clung to him no matter how much shit he rolled in. She’d been stunned when the washed up television actor had shown up for the open casting call, and of course he’d nailed everything he’d read for–Washington, Jefferson, Madison. But he’d insisted on taking the smaller part of Paine. Said he didn’t want to be a distraction. And he’d smiled that crooked grin–the one that always seemed to reach his heavy-lidded eyes, and she’d hired him on the spot. She was a moron.

Pausing outside the cottage door, she lifted her hand to knock, but thought better of it. It wasn’t like this was someone’s private residence. Shaking her head at herself, she opened the door and immediately regretted it.

David lifted a teacup in her general direction. “Hey, bosslady.”

She opened her mouth, but nothing came out. David Mulder, former star of various sci-fi shows and crime procedurals, was sitting, bare-ass naked, on the kitchen counter, holding a historical reproduction teapot and matching cup. The coordinating creamer was sitting in his lap. A half-eaten pizza was to his right, and an empty sandwich bag was next to his hip.

“I made tea,” he added unnecessarily.

“I see that.”

He blinked at her, a slow, lopsided smile lifting his lips. “Want some?”

Whatever the hell was in there would likely get rid of the tension she’d been carrying for months, but she said, “I’m thinking probably not.”

He shrugged. “Suit yourself.” Tossing back the contents of the cup, he poured himself another.

“We need to talk.”

He frowned. “Is this about Abigail Adams’ boyfriend? I didn’t even know she–”

“No,” she snapped, interrupting him. “And her name’s Brittany.”

“Right. Right. Brittany.”

She knew he wasn’t going to remember the name. “This is about the rumors that someone is living here after hours. And,” she added, her voice growing louder, “the weed growing in Benjamin Franklin’s garden.”

He frowned. “I was just going for historical accuracy.”

“Look. I gave you a chance. You’re gonna get me fired.”

“Pffft. Nobody’s gonna care about this.” He slouched against the wall and took another drink.

She sighed. “As soon as one of the parents from today’s tour group gets wind of your horticulture project, I’m jobless. And so are you.”

He didn’t say anything, but he didn’t look at her, either.

“You can’t stay here after hours,” she continued. “You can’t grow weed here. And just to remind you, this is an education center, so this entire property is smoke free.”

“I’m all over that last one. I gave up smoking.”  He lifted his cup and grinned. “Makes a damn fine tea, though.”

She stalked over to him, grabbed his cup and gulped down the cooling liquid. “Put your fucking clothes on, David.”

That’s it for me today, be sure to check out the other bloggers’ stories. Jess, Deelylah, and Kris.

Flash Fiction #52 – Glycerin

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This month’s post was inspired by Bush’s Glycerin. Here are the lyrics and the video.

Thanks to Edna and her loathing of maraschino cherries, I rushed into room 406, bright red spots marring my scrubs and far later than I should have for the evening med round.

“Hey there, Hector,” I said as I cleared the threshold.

“Don’t let the days go by.” His voice sounded like a rusty tin can being opened–all metallic scrape and rasp–but he didn’t look at me when he spoke.

His words were so unexpected and startling, my hand convulsed around the styrofoam cup I carried. Water splooshed through the  now-cracked sides, wetting his paper-thin pajamas and the tiny paper cup of pills I held in my other hand, dissolving them almost instantly.

I should have been more worried about what the Sadie, the charge nurse, would say when she found out I’d screwed up the med schedule, but it was the first time I’d ever heard him speak. I’d been working in the head trauma unit for nearly four months, and he’d never uttered a word the entire time. He just watched the sharp angles of sunlight travel across the gray wall, slowly turning his wheelchair as he marked the progress. On overcast days, he just stared at nothing. Or maybe it was something. I wasn’t in his head, so what did I know?

“What did you say?”

He lifted his head and stared woodenly at me, blinking slowly, as if he were looking straight through me. This was more like the guy I was used to.

“Cathy?” And just as quickly, he changed again.

“Nope, I’m Dani.” I grabbed a towel from the bathroom and dabbed at his water-soaked knee. “I’m really sorry about this. I’ll get you some fresh PJs.”

His fingers, dry and papery, but still surprisingly strong closed around my wrist. “Could’ve been easier on her.

“On Cathy?” The question was out of my mouth before I could stop it. We weren’t supposed to engage about anything that had the potential to upset them, and the way his hand tightened around my wrist, I knew I’d just blown that directive.

“Tell her I’m sorry.” He stared into my eyes then his hand finally fell away from my skin. “I couldn’t change.”

“I’m sure she knows you tried.” I glanced at the clock on the wall behind his head. Shit. I was almost twenty-five minutes behind schedule, and I still needed to get him fresh meds. “I’ll be back in a few, okay?”

I needn’t have bothered speaking. He was already back to staring through me. While I waited for Sadie to sign off on a new med cup, I asked, “Hey, who’s Cathy? Hector mentioned her.”

Sadie’s eyes widened. “He spoke?”

“Yeah. Said he could’ve been easier on her or something.”

Sadie counted and recounted the pills in the paper cup. “Cathy was his daughter. She didn’t make it.”

 

That’s it for me. Be sure to check out the other bloggers’ stories. Jess, Gwen, and Deelylah

Flash Fiction #51 – Red Cape

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I peered through a broken window in the once spectacular public museum. They were coming. Hooded cloaks and greatcoats hiding their identity as they walked along what had once been the portico to one of the most amazing libraries in the entirety of North America.

It was hard to believe that only three years ago this had been building had been full of life–full of students, professors, families, even tourists. Now, it was a shell. The books that hadn’t been destroyed by the oppressors for containing “treasonous content” had since been used by the homeless as kindling. And we were all homeless, now. Well, more of us than not. There was nothing left for us anymore. No jobs. No way to pay back our mountains of student loans for degrees we’d never use. We were all surviving as best we could.

In the basement of the library, searching for the blueprints for the subways and sewers, I found something else–something that had become our last hope. Shoved out of sight, under a desk in the staff area of the special collections room was a wooden packing crate. I pried it open with the tire iron I never let out of my sight. After society had crumbled, I’d learned the hard way that I could never let my guard down. Not any more.

Inside the crate was a single book–large, ornate, and very, very old. Not having read anything but the propaganda pamphlets the oppressors bothered to drop on us every few months, I couldn’t bear to burn the book. I shoved it inside my backpack and dragged the crate upstairs to burn.

Keeping clear of the oppressor’s foot soldiers and those who’d turn me in for a day’s worth of food rations, I read the book. It was nonsensical–a spellbook–but that didn’t matter. The symbols on the page became words and the words became images in my head. And the images birthed thoughts I hadn’t dared think in far too long. Thoughts about fighting back. Thoughts of resistance. They were so powerful, that were so intense, they hammered on the inside of my skull. They clawed at my graymatter. They slipped into my dreams until I woke, gasping for breath and my heart in my throat, repeating words I hadn’t realized I’d memorized. Repeating the Spell of Gathering. 

The woman in the red cloak stepped over the debris strewn across what had once been a beautiful mosaic floor. She glanced toward the others who’d gathered then approached me. “We’ve been waiting for your call.”

My confusion must have been clear on my face. She pushed her hood back. “We knew the book hadn’t been destroyed. And we sensed when it had been found–when you found it. But until you spoke the words, we couldn’t narrow our focus.”

Swallowing thickly, I pressed the book into her hands, not wanting to relinquish the words I’d come to depend on, but knowing I must.

She cradled the book to her chest. “Can you get us to the roof? ”

I nodded then turned to lead the way to the access stairs in the rear of the building. The woman in red followed me and her companions fell into step behind her. We climbed in near-silence, the rustling of fabric and the shuffling of feet the only sounds. In the darkness, I felt something that felt a lot like hope.

It was a hope I was afraid to examine too closely. Afterall, if the book was to be believed, I’d just summoned an army of witches to fight the greatest evil ever known–an utterly corrupt government led by an egomaniacal despot and his collection of  pet monsters.

As I led the witches out into the moonlight, the woman with the book smiled grimly at me and took my hand. That tentative feeling of hope grew a little bit stronger.

 

Okay, that’s it for me today. Be sure to check out the other bloggers stories, too. Deelylah, Jess, Kayleigh, and Kris.

Flash Fiction #50 – Albatross

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I can’t believe this is my 50th flash fiction. I mean, I know there are people out there who write a piece of flash fiction every day. I, however, am not that person, so I’m gonna go ahead and be impressed with and delighted by 50–especially since, when we started doing this, I was so weirded out by the idea of throwing unedited fiction out into the wild. Now, my attitude is more like, “Welp…I hope it doesn’t suck. But…if it does, it does. I can always come up with something better next time.” Okay, it’s laced with more anxiety than that, but I’m getting better about it. 

Anyway, this month’s song is Albatross by Susan McKeown and The Chanting House. It’s one of my all time faves, and wouldn’t you just know it? I have absolutely zero ideas for what to write. *sigh* But you can hear this gorgeous song: here and read the lyrics: here. I’m gonna go listen, too…in hopes of coming up with something. 

 

“You listening for the mermaids, girl?”

I smiled and nodded like the grizzled sailor expected and turned my face into the headwind. There was only one song I was listening for–one voice–as the sun sank low and red on the horizon, setting the clouds on fire while lightning flashed violently to the east.

“Watch your head, girl,” the first mate barked as he tossed a coil of rope past me to where some of the crew was busy lashing cargo to the deck. “You should go below with your sisters. We’re headed for weather.”

“I’ll go down before the rain starts.”

I’d traveled often enough with my father that the ship’s crew felt comfortable speaking to me almost as if I were one of their own. I didn’t demand the deference my sisters did. Actually, I didn’t demand anything at all which was probably why they liked me. There were some among them who disliked the idea of my father marrying me off to a fellow merchant as much as I did.

The first mate frowned, then shook his head. “See that you do, lass. Yer father wants you chapel-ready when we dock.”

Forcing myself not to allow the shrieks past my lips–the wails that had been trapped in my lungs since my father had announced my betrothal–I nodded and turned back to the open water. Ignoring the the frantic preparations behind me, I crept closer to the bow and listened for the sound of her voice carrying over the waves.

Thunder rumbled and lightning illuminated the now choppy water. I’d never seen her in seas so rough. But she’d promised if I ever needed her, she’d find me. She promised she’d come for me.

“Where are you?” I whispered. The tears I’d willed myself not to cry every time I thought of my husband-to-be finally slid free, loosed from their mooring, and fell into the churning  water below. Closing my eyes, I could almost feel Ianthe’s lips on mine as she’d said goodbye. And then she’d vanished beneath the waves.  The last I’d seen of her had been the iridescent, flashing scales covering her tail, shimmering in the sunlight as she dove to who knew where. That had been nearly three years ago…on my fourteenth birthday.

The ship pitched violently as a huge wave slammed into it–the hull creaking beneath me. I fell hard against the rail as the rain exploded from the sky in sheets. I smiled grimly as my hair clung to my face. So much for being chapel-ready.

The ship begin to rise awkwardly, and I clung to the rail, preparing for another swell. Suddenly, through the noise of the storm and the shouting of the crew, I heard it–her voice. I couldn’t tell where it was coming from, but I’d recognize it anywhere. It had been burned into my memory.

As the wave hit, I let my fingers uncurl from the rail and allowed the motion of the tilting ship carry me over the side. Icy water enveloped my body, stealing my breath. From somewhere up above me, I heard the sailors shouting, but it didn’t matter. I was free. Whether Ianthe came for me or not, I was free.

My sodden skirts dragged at me, pulling me inexorably down. I slipped beneath the surface and let the anchor of my clothing carry me lower. As the water closed over my head, lightning streaked across the sky above, illuminating the water–illuminating her delicate features as she swam to meet me and brushed her lips across mine. And together we sank lower still.

That’s it for me. Be sure to check out the other blogger’s stories: Deelylah, Kris, and Jess.

Flash Fiction #49 – Northern Lights

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Annie woke with her face pressed against cold glass. Slowly sitting up straight and peeling her face off the window, she swallowed. Clearly something had crawled into her her mouth and died while she was out. And where the fuck was she, anyway? She rubbed her hand across her crusty eyes and  came away with a smear of glitter and mascara as she blinked, trying to make sense of the landscape outside the car.

She glanced around the car’s interior. Around the car that had a One with Nature BPA-free water bottle in the center console and a peace sign dangling from the mirror.

Lizzie. 

The clock read 2:38 am. Blinking and trying to ignore the brutal throbbing in her head, Annie focused outside the car, at the glowing dome tent. Where the godforsaken hell had her little sister brought her? She unlocked door, pushed it open, and forced herself to her unsteady feet. After finding the little tent empty, she stumbled to the top of the nearest hill and found her sister sitting on a thermal sleeping bag with another wrapped around her shoulders.

“You’re awake. Good. How are you feeling?”

Annie crossed her arms over her chest. “There’s a tent over there.”

“And?”

“We talked about this. My idea of being outdoorsy is having a glass of wine on a screened-in patio.”

Liz lifted a bottle from her open backpack and held it out to Annie. “I have wine.”

Annie wrinkled her nose and took the bottle from her sister. “Screw top? Really, Lizzie?”

She shrugged. “You weren’t complaining on the way up here.”

Sighing, Annie handed the wine back to her sister. “I was drunk. I obviously didn’t realize the difference.”

“Exactly. Which is why I wasn’t about to drop seventy bucks a pop on your usual brand.”

“That’s fair.” Annie sat next to her sister on the sleeping bag and nodded toward the bottle. “No wonder I woke up with a horrible taste in my mouth.”

Her sister laughed, but it sounded a little brittle. “It’s either that or all the puking you did in and out of the bar.”

Heat rose to Annie’s cheeks. “That bad, huh?”

“It wasn’t pretty.”

They sat in silence, and she tried not to shiver as Lizzie dug through her backpack. Eventually, she handed Annie four Motrin and yet another BPA-free water bottle. This one said, Respect your elders. (And your oaks, pines, and maples, too.) 

Annie unscrewed the lid and tossed back the pills and a couple of mouthfuls of water. “Thanks.”

“No prob.”

“So…” Annie ventured. “What are we doing?”

“You’re sobering up. And I’m watching for the northern lights.”

Annie wrapped her arms around her knees. “I don’t even remember you coming to get me.”

Liz snorted. “I’m not surprised.” She looked at Annie. Her confusion must have been clear on her face because her sister’s expression softened. “Chelsea called me. Said the manager was threatening to call the cops on you.”

“Awesome.”

Liz scooted closer to her and draped the sleeping bag around them both. Annie clutched it gratefully.

“It was only seven o’clock when I got there.”

Annie rested her chin on her knees and stared out at the darkened landscape. Jesus. How pathetic was she? Kicked out of a bar on New Year’s Eve? Five hours shy of midnight? That was just sad. Familiar pain welled, but she pushed it down before it could seep through the cracks and bubble up through the surface.

“I’m sorry,” she murmured. “I’m sure babysitting your drunk-ass sister wasn’t how you’d envisioned spending your New Year’s Eve.”

“Not really. But it beats bailing you out of jail.” She took a deep breath. “Or identifying your body at the morgue.”

Annie winced. She’d been there. Done that. She wouldn’t wish that experience on her worst enemy.

“I’m sorry I had to drag you up here,” her sister was saying. “I was just worried about leaving you alone.”

“I get that. And I do appreciate it.” She rested her head on Liz’s shoulder.

Liz laid her head against Annie’s. “I know you do.”

Annie cringed. Her sister sounded so tired. So defeated. Annie had been putting her through this shit for almost as long as she’d been putting herself through it.

“I just miss him so much,” she whispered, and her voice cracked.

“I know, honey,” she said as she slid her arm around Annie’s waist. “But what you’re doing…it’s not going to bring him back. You know that, right? And it’s not going to help you forget. Not permanently, anyway.”

She nodded, her head brushing Lizzie’s, hat-covered temple and her own shoulder. That was for damn sure. A shimmer of purple and green flickered along the horizon, and the sound of diffused static filled the air along with an occasional, quiet pop.

“Is that…?”

“Yeah. It’s starting. I know you hate nature, but I promise, you’ll never see anything more magical than this.”

The sheen of colors spread in waves across the night sky, stealing Annie’s breath.

Liz offered Annie the bottle of wine, but she shook her head, her eyes on the undulating light. It was beginning, and so was she.

That’s it for me, today. Be sure you check out the other bloggers’ stories. Deelylah, Paige, Kris, and Jess.

Flash Fiction #48 – It Takes Two

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It’s time for the last song fic of the year, and this month’s song is It Takes Two  by Katy Perry. Here’s a link to the video, and here’s the link to the lyrics.

“Seriously?!”

I glared at the term’s final psych paper that refused to send no matter how many times I typed and retyped my professor’s email address or how many times I attached the file. Glancing out the window at the blowing snow, I sighed. The last thing I wanted to do was go out in a raging blizzard, but I needed to get my paper turned in.

I flipped on the printer and sent the the file to it. Nothing. I repeated the action. Nothing. I turned it off and on. Still nothing. I slammed the keyboard drawer back into the desk then shoved it in again when it popped back out at me.

Goddamn it. Now, I was going to have to not only drive to campus to drop off the paper, I was also going to have to find a printer in the student union that actually worked, print the file there and then deliver it to my prof…all by the three o’clock deadline. I had  forty-two minutes. Disengaging my flashdrive, I shoved it in my pocket and immediately got a papercut from the check stub I shoved in there earlier. “Can’t one fucking thing in my life go right, for once?”

“What do you expect when you send that attitude out into the universe?”

Instead of responding, I flipped off my boyfriend turned zen master. Of course, he didn’t notice, he was too busy becoming one with all that is with the X-Box and whatever bullshit game he was into now.

I couldn’t decide what was worse–his gaming addiction or the fact that he’d discovered the self-help section at the library.

Pushing my feet into my boots, I yanked my winter coat off the back of the chair and managed to scratch the back of my hand with the metal zipper that was far sharper than it should have been. “Fuck this day already,” I muttered.

Benji looked away from the TV, and his brow furrowed in  confusion. “Where are you going?”

“To campus. To print my paper. So I, you know…don’t fail my class. Ringing any bells?” I walked toward the door and pulled on my mittens.

He glanced back at the TV and resumed playing his game. “I wouldn’t bother.”

“I’m sorry, what?”

“All the trouble you’re having with the computer, the printer–you’re not going to get your paper turned in on time, anyway. Might as well stay inside where it’s warm. Mercury’s in retrograde.”

I just blinked at him. “Mercury’s…”

“In retrograde,” he finished, focusing on his game. “It affects all forms of communication.”

I pulled on my hat. “You don’t say.”

If he heard the sarcasm in my tone, he gave no sign.

“Yep. Electronic. Verbal. Written–hell, even if you get that paper printed, you’ll probably fail, anyway.” He chuckled and shook his head. “Mercury in retrograde is a bitch.”

I marched over to where the X-Box was plugged in and yanked the cord out of the wall. “Yeah. Me, too.”

Welp, I think I’m the only one this week, and that’s it for flash fic for me this year. But we’ll be back next year with more prompts and more short stories. Thanks for reading!

Flash Fiction #47 – Child with Lantern

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It’s time for the last photo flash fic of the year. I don’t even know how that’s possible. What the hell, man?

“Seriously, Maggie. Why can’t you just do your Christmas shopping at the mall like a normal person?”

I rolled my eyes at my brother, Aaron. “Because it needs to be perfect.”

“Perfection is overrated,” he muttered as he turned down one of the narrow downtown streets filled with indie art galleries and high-end specialized boutiques.

“Oh please,” Audrey said. “Don’t listen to her bullshit. It’s not about the perfect gift. She’s just trying to win Christmas.”

“You can’t win Christmas,” Aaron scoffed as he looked for a place to pull over and let me out. “It’s not a competition.”

Audrey took a swallow of coffee then turned toward the back seat to glare at me. “It is if you’re Maggie.”

I shrugged. She wasn’t wrong. There wasn’t anything else in life that I was the least little bit competitive about. Except for gift giving. I wanted to make sure that whatever I gave was the best thing they got. Not the biggest or the most expensive–but the most thoughtful. And if it involved learning to knit or macramé, then I’d do it.

My sister was just pissed because she never won–and she was competitive about everything. Well, there was that one time our niece was going through her Marie Antoinette phase, and Audrey found the Marie Antoinette doll with the detachable head before I did. My gift had paled in comparison. That wasn’t happening this year. Not if I could help it.

Aaron stopped the car in front of a little store that sold handmade paper and journals.

This looked promising.

“Hurry up,” he said. “I’m double-parked.”

I grabbed my purse and climbed out of the car.

“We’ll be back around four,” he called as I shut the door.

I nodded to let him know I’d heard, and walked into the little shop. I immediately found a leather-bound sketchbook and handmade colored pencils for my nephew, but I couldn’t find anything for my niece who was now heavily invested in mid-eighteenth century miniature portraits. Because of course she was. What 15 year old girl didn’t love miniature portraits?  Audrey had already gotten Annabelle a book on portraiture, so whatever I came up with needed to be better than that.

I left the paper shop holding my purchases and crossed the street. It had begun to snow while I was inside, and snowflakes clung to my eyelashes. I blinked them away as I ducked inside a gallery I didn’t remember seeing before. Glancing around at the items on display, I noticed that it looked like the artist specialized in oils.

As I wandered through the shelves, my gaze fell on some pendants lying in a glass case. On each chain hung a miniature, perfectly rendered painting. Most were landscapes, but there were a few people and animals scattered among the rolling hills and churning oceans. Inspiration hit. I knew what I wanted to get Annabelle. Her very own miniature portrait of  herself.

A woman approached. “Would you like to take a closer look at anything in the case?” she asked, surprising me with an English accent.

“Are you the artist?” I asked.

“No, no. I don’t have that kind of talent.”

I smiled. “Do you know if the artist does custom orders?”

“Oh, he does. Absolutely.” She pulled a pad of paper and a pen out from beneath the counter. “If you’ll just write a description of what you’d like, I’ll get it over to him.”

I glanced at the paper in her hand. “Actually, I was kind of hoping to speak with him directly.”

Her lips thinned for a moment. Then her smile was back in place as if it had always been there. “Cornelius!”

A little boy, maybe nine or ten, rounded the corner. He was dressed from head to toe in gray wool–trousers, jacket and sweater.  He wore a slightly darker gray newsboy cap on his head. “Yes, mum?”

“Take this lady to Augustus.”

“I don’t want to trouble anyone. If you’d just give me an address or a phone number or email address, I’ll be out of your hair.”

There was something off about this situation, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was.I looked between the woman and what I assumed was her son. I really didn’t want to miss this opportunity for the chance at the perfect gift, and who knew…I was likely imagining things anyway. The stress of holiday shopping was probably getting to everyone.

“Nonsense. Augustus will be glad of the company. Now, off you go.”

Cornelius looked up at me with the bluest eyes I’d ever seen. “This way, mum.”

I followed him through the labyrinth of boxes and packing material that made up the back room of the store hoping the kid wasn’t leading me to some kind of murder basement. He stopped at a big steel door and picked up an old fashioned lantern that sat on a nearby wooden stool.

I watched, curious, as he lit it. Glancing back at me, as if making sure I was still there, he tugged open the heavy-looking door, and a swirl of snow blew in. I adjusted my scarf and followed him outside. Augustus must have some sort of studio in the courtyard that ran between the businesses on this street and the next one over.

I blinked at the blowing snow and stepped away from the building, trying to catch up with the little boy. I stumbled slightly and looked down. The courtyard had been paved with cobblestones. But when I looked up to see Cornelius at least fifteen yards ahead of me, I realized I wasn’t in a courtyard at all.

I was in the middle of a street, about to get run over by a horse drawn carriage. I jumped to the side and bumped into a…lamplighter…?

“Oy! Watch it, will ya?”

“I’m…sorry.”

I turned back to the building I’d just left, but it was gone. Vanished as if it had never been there. Panic built in my chest, and I ran after the child, keeping my gaze fixed on the lantern light bobbing in the distance.

Okay, so that’s the last photo fic of the year from me. Be sure to check out Deelylah’s story. 

Flash Fiction #46 – War

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This month’s song fic is inspired by Poets of the Fall’s song, War. Here are the links for the video and lyrics.

Sidenote on this story. I, along with many other people, got some terrible news recently about a couple of people we love. And I guess this is me trying to deal with that.

 

More often than not, I find myself in a broken field–huge cracks in the earth and the world washed in that strange gray light that makes it impossible to tell if it’s morning or evening. And I’m alone in the world. There’s only me, the endless sky and the bent and dried stalks of grass.

It’s only when the pain comes that I know you’re with me. Even though I can barely open my eyes, I know you’re here. I can feel your hand around mine, and the weight of your head against my hip as you rest your forehead against the bed.

And I hear you talking to me. I can’t answer, even though I want to. Desperately. I tried to tell you everything you needed to know before I couldn’t any more. And I thought I had. I thought I’d told you all the things I love most about you. I want to tell you you’re remembering our first date wrong. I want to tell you that no one has ever made me as happy as you have. I want to tell you about the broken field where I’ll be waiting for you, but the pain steals my breath. It steals my words. It steals me away from you.

Cool relief spreads through my body, and that relief carries me away from you. Farther and faster than usual. But I can still make out your lips on my head, and the heat of your tears on my skin.

I know you can’t hear me, but I’ll be waiting for you in the broken field for as long as it takes.

Be sure to check out the other bloggers’ stories – Jess and Kris  Also? Fuck cancer.

Flash Fiction #45 – Fallen Tree

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It’s time for another photo flash fic.

I don’t know why I thought going home wouldn’t affect me. I guess, when it comes right down to it, it was pride. I suppose I hadn’t considered what it would be like to view the place through someone else’s eyes.

I watched Eric take it in. From the wood-sided dilapidated farm house that was now more dry rot than paint to the oxidized tin roof, to the old, orange Allis Chalmers tractor, to the corrugated metal shed that doubled as a chicken coop…until the foxes had figured figured out the chickens were there.

He took a step forward then stopped at the sound of a crunch beneath his expensively-clad foot. I knew what he’d see before he picked up his foot. “Is that a…”

“An old chicken bone. Yeah.”

He swallowed thickly then gestured toward the house. “Did you want to…”

Eric was normally decisive, commanding. I couldn’t ever remember seeing him this unsure. It made the blur of the last few days seem that much more dreamlike–unreal in a way that I felt that if I avoided going inside, I could pretend that none of it was actually happening. The house would still smell like stale cigarette smoke and Canadian Mist, and a ballgame would be playing through the tinny-sounding speakers of an old radio that barely picked up a signal this far from town. And the Tigers would be about to throw away the lead with the bases loaded.

I shook my head. “Not right now.”

Kicking off my stupid heels, I walked toward the overgrown field that lay beyond the gravel driveway, the sharp stones cutting into my perfectly pedicured feet. Once upon a time, I’d been able to run across the stones with bare feet and barely feel anything. The skin on my feet had been far thicker than that on my heart. Now, it was the other way around.

“Ashley,” Eric called. But I didn’t answer.

The field was a bit of a relief for my tender feet, but the dried blades of long grass scratched at my bare calves and snagged at the delicate fabric of my skirt. This field should have been hayed weeks ago. I’d need to mention that to–  I’d need to mention that to someone. I wasn’t sure who, but I’d figure it out.

As I got closer to the treeline, my steps slowed. Something about the delineation between earth and sky just looked…wrong. Panic bloomed in my chest like flowers with petals sharp enough to draw blood. But I couldn’t quiet the building anxiety any more than I could slow my gait. Finally, I stumbled to a stop as my brain began to make sense of what I was seeing.

The old oak–the one I’d climbed constantly as a kid, the one with the thick armed branch that had held the swing my dad made me, and later, the treehouse we’d built together–had been completely uprooted. Probably with the last bout of straight line winds that had torn up the area. I needed to let my dad know. Maybe if we got the tractor running we could wrap a chain around the trunk and get it upright. Try to rebury the roots. We’d have to borrow a field irrigator from a neighbor to get enough moisture into the to the ground and the root system, but maybe the oak could be saved.

I took a breath and turned to holler for my dad. I saw Eric, carefully picking his way toward me in his somber charcoal suit, and everything came rushing back. The phonecalls. The police. The funeral home. Buying my dad the only suit he’d ever had, other than the one he’d worn when my parents had married. The service.

I looked back to the tree and dropped to my knees, heedless of the field stones I’d hit on the way down. I stared at the dirt clumped roots as my throat thickened and my eyes burned. The tears I hadn’t been able to cry streamed down my face, and I realized that no amount of chains or tractors or moisture would change anything. The tree and my dad were both gone.

Okay…so this uplifting bit of fluff is all I’ve got going on today.  Um…let’s go see if Deelylah’s is more cheerful.

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