short story, Writing

No Bounds

January 2023’s short story of the month

He had trouble walking, trouble standing up, trouble buttering his toast. But his mind was as sharp as ever. He had this amazing way with trivia. He could tell you the atomic weight of every element on the periodic table. He could name every bone and muscle in the human body. He recited whole books of the bible like they were common knowledge. He memorized facts from every science text he could get his hands on. He learned to speak ten languages. His ability to memorize astounded people. He didn’t have an eidetic memory. He was just really good at retaining information, and he craved learning new things.

When he’d been a young person, he spent every moment he could at the library. As a teen, he’d been a champion knowledge bowler. In college, he passed classes easily. With his vast wealth of knowledge, he’d been drawn to the sciences. In particular, he was fascinated by theoretical fields. He loved the idea of creating new knowledge.

As he’d aged, he never lost that thirst for learning. He lived alone and spent his free time reading. He also enjoyed puzzles. There wasn’t a crossword he couldn’t finish, and he always did them in pen. It was a point of pride for him that he could solve codes and crack word puzzles that others struggled with.

The one thing he’d failed to consider as he aged was his own genetics. Unfortunately for him, muscular disorders were common in his family. Even as he watched his father fight with a deteriorating body, it didn’t occur to him that he might also get the disease in the future. He never considered the genetic fate awaiting him.

When it finally caught up to him, he was in shock. But mostly, he felt like he was in prison. The prison was his own body. And he wanted out. Using his vast knowledge, he began to formulate a plan.

********

Victor’s new ambition was to cheat death. The knowledge was out there, somewhere, he just had to figure out how to unlock it.

He sent his assistants in search of esoteric texts, things that in the past he wouldn’t have concerned himself with. He no longer devoted his time to the sciences, not entirely.

As the days ticked by, he became increasingly interested in the sciences of old—things like alchemy and mysticism. It didn’t matter to him that the theories had been debunked centuries ago.

The more he studied ancient “sciences” the more he felt his brain tingling. There was something there. He was sure of it. Surely with his knowledge of modern science, he could find the final steps to these processes that most considered nonsense.

It’s not that he wanted to live forever, not exactly. What he wanted was the ability to heal his body until he was ready to end it. He wanted to control his destiny. And he wanted to give the world that ability to.

Can you imagine the legacy that would live on for the person who finally discovered the process of reverse aging humans? The ability to live forever would mean so many things. It would mean the end of terminal illnesses. It would mean the ability to truly become an expert at something. It would mean so much…

Studying and experimenting became increasingly difficult for him. He was tired so easily. He was lucky if he could accomplish a couple of hours of work each day. His body betrayed him every second. He continued to be increasingly debilitated.

He ended up relying on his assistants more and more. Sometimes he would send them on errands only to be asleep when they returned.

********

His first break through happened by accident. He was using a combination of archaic knowledge and modern science to heal a wound on his hand. He’d cut himself trying to open a package the previous day.

He drew a spell circle from an ancient text, but he changed the symbols, using modern icons to represent medicine  and cells. A pile of herbs burned in a tightly secured bundle in the center. He chanted the words to the original spell and added a few of his own. He used the scientific names for things instead of laymen’s terms.

The proper naming of things was important. Every story about fairies mentioned it. How could something that repeated so often in folk lore not be a lesson humans were supposed to learn?

To call something by it’s true name gave you power over it. To command the trees, to call on animals. Or simply to find the words to work magic, the naming of things was powerful.

And luckily for Victor, science loved naming things.

His chant continued. He kept his voice steady, and the volume level. There was no need to get excited. This was science after all. Leave all that emotional who-haw at the door.

The first spark surprised him. He stuttered a bit, but then he thought maybe he was just imagining it and the sparks disappeared.

He kept chanting. And when something sparked again, he continued. He’d set up a camera before he’d begun. All good science would need verification and would need to be repeatable. This wasn’t his first experiment.

He kept chanting, checking his excitement. As he’d been chanting, one of his assistant’s was counting the number of times Victor made it completely through the spell by tapping a clicker.

As the sparks started to get bigger and brighter, the clicking stopped. The assistant was mesmerized watching what could only be described as a tiny firework show happening over the spell table.

As each spark grew and then burst, the magic dissipated leaving no sign that it had existed to begin with. This continued to for several minutes. Eventually, the residual magic began to build up.

Victor could see the circle drawn on the table’s surface starting to glow one section at a time. When Victor noticed the glow, he started chanting a bit faster. He was getting increasingly tired the longer the spell went on. He needed to see what would happen if the entire circle was glowing.

He chanted and chanted and chanted. The circle continued to glow and one small bit at a time, the diameter began to glow.

When the circle was about three-fourths complete, the assistant took a step forward. His mouth was agape. He couldn’t believe what he was seeing.

The single step of his assistant caused Victor to faulter momentarily. A bit of the circle’s glow faded in response.

Victor shook his head and kept chanting, trying not to let his assistant’s behavior deter him.

After what felt like hours, with sweat dripping from his head and his voice practically gone, Victor succeeded in completing the circle.

Just as the glow connected, drawing the perfect diameter of the spell, Victor stepped forward and placed his hand in the center.

There was a bright flash forcing Victor to shut his eyes.

With his eyes shut, he didn’t see what happened, but he heard a pop and then the room was eerily silent.

********

As Victor looked at his hand, he couldn’t believe it. The wound was gone. He’d done it. He was healed.

He turned toward the camera and turned his hand so the wound that was clearly visible moments ago could be examined.

He then looked at the table. The spell circle was once again nothing but a drawing on the table. It looked ordinary. There was no glow. No sign that anything had happened to it.

Victor reached out and wiped a small section away. It came away easily.

That’s when Victor turned to where his assistant should have been. There was no one. Nothing. His assistant was gone.

Victor assumed his assistant had fled. Perhaps the light had hurt his eyes or he just needed a moment to collect himself.

Victor didn’t waste any time. He sat at his computer and opened the file that had recorded the whole thing.

********

He watched, realizing only a few minutes in that he was terribly hungry and tired. He needed to eat. He stopped the video, intending to watch it after a much-needed break. He finally looked at the time on the screen.

Seven hours had passed since they’d started the spell.

Victor couldn’t believe that. He opened the video file once again but didn’t restart it. He looked at the bottom which indicated the total time. Seven hours.

That seemed impossible to him. It had felt exhausting, but Victor rarely went an hour or two without needing a nap these days. The clock had to be wrong.

His hunger, thirst, and bladder were screaming at him. The time would have to wait until he met other needs first.

********

He didn’t get around to watching the video until the following day. He woke up exhausted and couldn’t remember when he’d felt so tired.

His assistant was late. Victor would have to make his own coffee.

He sat at his desk with his coffee watching the video. He fast forwarded to the part where the sparking started and watched it for several minutes. Then he moved on to the part where the circle began to glow.

As he pressed forward on the video, speeding towards the end, he saw the clock going and going.

He stopped the video when there were only five minutes remaining.

He leaned forward, watching every moment barely able to breath.

As the bright flash occurred and the circle filled with light, he saw his assistant near the table and then he didn’t.

Wait? What?

The Victor on the video stepped towards the table and healed his hand, just as he remembered.

Where was his assistant?

short story, Writing

On the Horizon

(December 2022’s short story of the month)

“They’re out there,” he told me. “Fields and fields of them. As far as the eye can see.”

I wasn’t sure what he was talking about. He pointed to the horizon, and I looked, but all I could see was crops and open sky. What the hell was he talking about? I should have been listening, but when you have to sit, watching a field for twelve hours at a time, your mind tends to wander.

Howard and I were the newest members of the security team. Our days consisted of sitting in a tower, watching the crops. Not much ever happened, but in the past, wild creatures had wreaked havoc in this area of the planet Z.

Planet Z was almost entirely crops and farms. There was one small port city connected to the closest space port where the farmers shipped their goods to the planets that people actually lived on. The other planets in this system were so overpopulated that they’d elected to deem one planet set aside for growing food. Over time, the entire planet had been doled out and cut into properties. There were no wild creatures anymore, but on occasion, farmers had a bad year and were known to steal from each other.

Either way, wild creature or farmer-turned-thief, our job was boring.

“What are you talking about?” I asked Howard, though a voice in my head said not to ask. Howard tended to talk about wild conspiracy theories and far-fetched fairy tales.

“Fairies. You know, the fey folk, magical creatures.” There wasn’t a hint of humor in his voice.

“Are you messing with me?” I stared at him without blinking. I shouldn’t have asked.

He shook his head. “No, I’m completely serious. This planet was covered with fey before the farms arrived.” He stared out the window towards the fields.

I couldn’t look away from him. My brow furrowed. I gave up trying to figure out what was wrong with Howard and went back to staring at the fields with him.

The day dragged on and like usual, nothing was happening. Howard had been quiet since earlier, and I don’t know why I decided to engage him. Probably sheer boredom.

“Howard, why do you say there ARE fields and fields of them? I’m looking at the fields. All I see are fields. They aren’t any fairies out there.” I pointed out the window waiting for him to respond.

“They’re still there. They’ve just learned to hide themselves.”

“You’re kidding. You think there is a whole planet of creatures just hiding in plain sight?” I couldn’t hide the disbelief from my voice.

“They had to survive somehow, so they learned to blend. They’re there—if you know how to look.”

I would almost swear I saw a twinkle in his eye. “Okay. I see. Very funny. You’re messing with me. I guess it’s something that passes the time.”

The rest of our shift was uneventful, like always. As we were switching shifts with the next set of guards, Howard kept grinning at me.

I ignored him and made my way to the elevator. As the door was closing, his hand shot in between. He stepped onto the lift with a huge smile on his face.

“Why are you grinning?” I asked.

“Because you’re thinking about it. Aren’t you?” Howard was practically bouncing on his feet with excitement.

“Howard, I am not thinking about fairies. I’m thinking about what I’m going to have for dinner.” I leaned against the elevator trying to will the machine to move faster.

The ding of the elevator felt like the sound of freedom as I made my way towards the path that led to the employee quarters.

“I’ll tell you what,” Howard was keeping pace with me. “I’ll show you some fairies, but only if you don’t tell anyone that I showed you.”

“You’re not funny.” I didn’t break stride and kept trying to out pace him. It wasn’t working.

He ran ahead of me a bit blocking my path. “I’m fully serious. If you want to see something amazing I’ll show you how to find them.”

I stared him up and down trying to figure out if he was messing with me. He didn’t look like he was kidding. In fact, his smile had faded. He looked eager, but not like he was pranking me.

“Fine. Let’s say I agree. What do I need to do?”

“Meet me at the back of the dorm after dinner. As the sun starts to set.” He turned to finish the trek back. He spun around again, “Oh and bring a mirror and some crumbs.”

“Crumbs? Of what?” I asked.

“Doesn’t matter. Bread. Pastry. Whatever you got.”

As I ate, I pocketed a package of crackers with peanut butter. Hopefully they would be good enough for whatever I’d gotten myself into.

As the sun was setting, I followed Howard away from the dorms. We walked for nearly an hour. The sun was barely still above the horizon.

“Quickly now,” he said as he reached in his pocket and spread crumbs in a circle.

I crushed the package of crackers in my hands. “In a circle around me?”

Howard nodded and stepped away from the circle he’d made. He pulled me towards him once my own circle was complete.

“Hurry, sit down over here with me. Turn your back to the circles. Did you bring the mirror?” He was talking so quickly and softly I barely understood him.

“Yeah, right here. I pulled a compact mirror out of my pocket.” I sat next to him on the ground wondering if any second now more of the security team was going to pop out and make fun of me.

“Hold it up so that you can see your circle.”

I held the mirror up until I could see the crumb and peanut butter circle reflected back at me.

Nothing was happening. The sun was still dipping lower and lower. As the sun passed below the horizon, I glanced at my mirror.

Reflected back at me were three sets of purple eyes.

short story, Writing

The Colony

(November 2022’s short story of the month)

It was just ridiculous enough to be true. Then again, she could be making the whole thing up. It was just so hard to imagine Diane’s father, the respectable banker who never left the house without a suit and tie, actually spending time at “the colony.” Everyone in town called it that.

The colony sprung up a few years ago, and since then, the town had seen more than a few of its respectable members seek the excitement within the extra tall privacy fences.

Cynthia listened as Sammy kept talking, but she found it hard to concentrate after the big reveal that the newest person to go to the dark side was Diane’s dad. It just seemed so unlikely. He was super boring, like worse than her own parents.

She tried to imagine him at the colony and instantly she regretted it. She didn’t actually want to picture that. She shook her head. Without saying anything to her friends, she took her tray and got rid of the rest of her lunch. Suddenly she wasn’t that hungry.

The rest of the day, everyone was talking about it off and on. It was like the only thing that had happened in the last week. Honestly, Cynthia was tired of hearing about it by the time she got home.

As she dropped her book bag right inside the doorway, her mother called, “Snack on the counter. I’m in the middle of laundry. Homework first.” Her mother didn’t even peak out to see who had walked in. Cynthia went to see what her mother had made for a snack. As she stepped past the door to the garage, she spotted her mom folding laundry. She didn’t wave or stop.

Her mother looked up and asked, “Did you hear about Diane’s dad?” She chuckled. She kept talking but Cynthia moved further away, and her mother’s words turned into a murmur.

She grabbed her snack of pb and celery. She walked quickly and snatched her bag off the floor taking the stairs two at a time to escape the gossip.

***

The next morning, she avoided her family in the morning. She didn’t want to talk or hear about the colony. It grossed her out. The only people who lived there were over forty, no kids allowed. That was probably a good policy.

Cynthia hated the place for one reason—she hadn’t been able to see her grandmother since she’d moved into the colony last year. She missed her. To Cynthia, the colony was synonymous with “homewrecker.”

School was the same as the day before. The hottest gossip was still about Diane’s dad. Apparently, he’d moved in. Cynthia hadn’t listened to that part. She’d thought maybe he was one of those people who just visited the colony for fun. But, he was like her grandma—he’d decided to move in and live there.

The idea made Cynthia shudder—gross. Poor Diane. She would try to find time to talk to her during lunch.

She didn’t get a chance to though. Diane was absent. Sitting her tray down, Cynthia sat next to Sammy.

“Sammy,” she whispered, hoping no one was listening. “Where is Diane?”

Sammy didn’t lower her voice. It wasn’t in her nature to talk at a reasonable level. She was a gossip and didn’t care when other people overheard what she was talking about. “Didn’t you hear?” She gawked at Cynthia like she was out of touch.

Cynthia shook her head and took a bite of her rectangle slice of pizza.

“Well, she won’t be coming back to school. At least, not for a while.” She beamed as she spoke looking around, trying to get others to listen in. “Her mother threw her and her brother into the car the day her dad moved out. They’re staying at her aunt’s. I think my mom said Diane’s aunt lives in the city.”

“Why would her mother just leave like that?” Cynthia asked.

Sammy looked at her like she was crazy. “Because of her dad, duh.”

“Oh, right,” Cynthia responded, blushing. “It just seems like an extreme reaction. I mean, Diane and her brother already go to school here. It seems like adding more problems to what’s happening.” Cynthia was trying to explain herself, but she felt embarrassed. She was sure Diane’s mother felt the same way. Having a family member leave and join the colony was embarrassing. She didn’t like what the colony was doing to families. She wanted to stop it, but she was only a kid. What could she do?

After school, she dropped her bag in the hall like always. She went in search of her mother.

“Mom. Mom!” she shouted.

“Upstairs.” Her mother answered.

She found her mother cleaning in one of the bathrooms.

“I want to call Grandma,” Cynthia said.

Her mother stopped scrubbing the counter and stared at their reflections in the mirror. She didn’t speak.

“Please, Mom. It’s important.” Cynthia whined.

“Why?” Her mother hadn’t spoken to Grandma, her own mother, since she’d moved into the colony either.

“Trust me. I just need to talk to her. I know you’re angry with her, but I miss her. I want to just say hi.” Cynthia begged, hoping her mother would give in.

Her mother let out a loud sigh. “Fine. I’ll get you the number. But just because you call, it doesn’t mean she’ll talk. You know what they do there.”

“I know, but I really need to talk to her.”

***

Cynthia waited until she could hear her mother cleaning again upstairs before she took a deep breath and dialed the number.

Someone picked up on the third ring.

“Hello, you’ve reached The Colony.” A friendly voice spoke.

“I would like to speak to my grandma, err, Mrs. Hudson,” said Cynthia.

“I’ll see if she wants to speak. Can I have your name so that I can tell her who’s calling?” the voice continued being friendly.

“It’s Cynthia, her grandkid.”

“Just a sec,” the voice said.

Cynthia heard a click and the phone was put on hold. While she waited, she listened to the sound of bees humming.

As she listened to the bees, she grew angrier and angrier. She couldn’t take it and hung up the phone.

short story, Writing

Two Hearts

(October 2022’s short story of the month. SOOOOOOOO LATE!)

The doctors had never seen anything like it. She was a perfectly healthy little girl who just happened to have two hearts. The only explanation they could offer was that at some point the embryo had started to transition to a twin, but then reverted back.

After all, having extra body parts wasn’t completely unheard of. Polydactyls had extra parts. But the medical and biological complication of having an extra heart wasn’t as problematic as the emotional aspect of being known as the girl with two hearts.

Her mother became an internet sensation. She enlisted her daughter to become the face of several major charitable foundations. The first foundation was called “Twice as Much Heart.” They funneled money into many other charities, including research for cardiac diseases.

Amara hated that her whole life was one long blip of content making for various social media sites. She couldn’t even go to the mall and hang with her friends because it would turn into a frenzy of people trying to take selfies with her.

At only thirteen, she didn’t really have any friends, not true friends anyway. There were people that her mom would let hang out with her, but they were all kids who’s parents were friends with her mom. She wouldn’t have hung out with a single one of them if her mother hadn’t made her.

Her teenage years were going to be lonely and annoying, so Amara made a wish. She couldn’t sleep one night and was sitting alone in her room listening to music via headphones.

She squeezed her eyes shut as hard as she could and wished and hoped and prayed to any one or being that was listening.

She wanted a friend. Someone who couldn’t be corrupted by the influence of her mother and who wouldn’t care about the drama of her life. She wanted a true friend. Someone to share her secrets with. Someone who didn’t want to be around her for status. Just someone to be real with.

She wished so hard that every thought she had over the next few weeks was about finding a friend. She couldn’t stop wishing.

On a night, much like every night of her life, she was alone in her room. She was laying on her bed, facing the wall. She sighed.

“Have you ever tried telling your mother you don’t want to do it anymore?” a voice asked from behind Amara.

She was alone in her room, or at least she thought she was. She was too scared to move.

“Are you going to talk to me, or am I just going to sit her all night waiting for you?” the voice asked.

Amara still couldn’t move. Then someone, probably the person connected to the voice, spun in her squeaky computer chair. Amara huddled into the fetal position.

“Are you scared of me?” the voice asked. “Of course you are, we’ve never met. Turn around and look at me. I won’t hurt you, Amara.”

Amara still couldn’t move. Maybe she was dreaming. She didn’t hear the door open. Besides, her mother wouldn’t let a complete stranger into her room.

Amara rolled over slowly but didn’t open her eyes right away. She took a deep breath and then swallowed. She slowly opened one eye just so she could peek out.

She saw a girl—a girl that looked just like her but was see-through. She was looking at a ghost. But how could that be? The ghost looked like her. She wasn’t dead. Maybe she was dreaming.

She closed her eyes again and pinched her upper arm as hard as she could stand.

“Ouch,” she whispered. She opened her eyes slowly again.

The girl was waving at her. “You going to sit up and talk to me, or what?” the girl asked.

Amara couldn’t believe what she was seeing. This girl looked like her, but she didn’t sound like her. Her voice was louder, more confident. She didn’t seem shy and withdrawn.

Amara sat up without looking away. She couldn’t take her eyes off what was before her. She was afraid if she blinked or looked away, she would disappear.

“Wha… what? What are you?” Amara finally managed to stutter out.

“A friend,” the girl and/or ghost version of herself said. “You can call me Cara.” She stuck her hand towards Amara. “Put ‘er there.” She smiled, grinning from ear to ear.

“Cara?” Amara paused because she didn’t want to offend the apparition. “What are you?”

“Like I said, I’m a friend. Do you want me to go?” Cara leaned back in the chair.

From where Amara was sitting, she could see the outline of the chair through Cara’s form. There was a faint green glow surrounding Cara. “A friend? Do you mean the friend I wished for?”

Cara nodded and then spun in the chair. “Yeppers,” she said.

Amara shook her head. She had to be imagining this. “Then how?” she started to ask. “But why?” She stopped again. She couldn’t seem to form a coherent question. “What are you exactly? Like a ghost or something?”

“Not a ghost.”

“But are you real?” asked Amara. “I mean, are you alive?”

“Yes, and no.” Cara kept spinning in the chair, faster and faster.

“So, what are you?” Amara asked.

“I’m a friend, that’s what matters most.” She stopped abruptly. “Let’s talk about why you’re sitting up here alone when you could be outside or downstairs, or anywhere but here staring at a wall.” Cara crossed her arms over her chest and started tapping her foot.

They talked for hours. Amara told Cara things she’d never told anyone else. They discussed her mother, the constant chaos of her life, and how lonely it was being her.

At some point as they were talking and giggling, Amara lay back down and closed her eyes, but they still talked for many more minutes.

Amara woke up the next morning, but there was no sign of Cara. As she splashed water on her face, she couldn’t shake the feeling that maybe she’d imagined the whole thing.

short story, Writing

Skills that Pay the Bills

(September 2022’s short story of the month. Better late than never!)

As a young girl, she learned how to juggle fruit: apples, oranges, sometimes pears. There was little risk, little drama, and people smiled politely and then moved on. But they started paying attention when she started juggling knives and saws.

She didn’t notice when the same man returned day after day to watch her. She smiled at the crowd and faked moments of danger. She didn’t notice him the first day when he watched in a suit, and she didn’t notice the second day when he watched in a hoodie and jeans. She didn’t even notice him on the third day when he was in a suit again, albeit a much nicer suit than the first time.

She didn’t notice, but Chuck did. Chuck watched her tips and drew in the crowd by hyping her skills.

As they sat on their bunks in their 400 square foot apartment, he asked, “What’s with that guy that keeps coming back?” He didn’t see any reason why someone would want to see the act more than once. It was always the same. The same fake moments of peril and the same planned moments of success.

“What guy?” Laney asked. She stacked the bills in a neat pile with each one facing the same way. “We did alright today. Might make the rent on time this month.”

“The guy in the suit,” replied Chuck. “He’s been back at least three times that I’ve noticed.”

“Weird,” said Laney and went back to counting their tips.

The next day the man returned. This time, Chuck nodded towards the man when he was collecting tips to indicate to Laney this was the guy.

After the performance, Laney collected their things, and Chuck took off after the guy. He followed him until he ducked into a coffee shop. Chuck stood outside waiting to see if the man would go somewhere else. Instead, hours ticked by. The man did nothing but sit in the shop ordering cup after cup of black coffee.

Chuck texted Laney the location. She arrived several minutes later, and Chuck still stood watch outside.

“He moved yet?” asked Laney.

“Nope. Just sits there like he’s waiting for something,” answered Chuck.

Laney looked through the window, and the man was looking right at her and waving.

“Pretty sure he’s waiting for me,” she said as she took a deep breath. “Stay here, and keep watch. If things seem off, don’t let me out of your sight.” Chuck nodded.

As Laney sat down across from the man, a waitress walked over and placed a latte in front of Laney.

“I didn’t order this,” said Laney looking back and forth at the waitress and the strange man.

“It’s all right. I ordered for you. I took a shot. Cinnamon latte. Don’t drink it if you don’t want to.” He folded his hands on the table in front of him.

Laney sat down reluctantly. She could smell the coffee. It was enticing. She didn’t trust the situation, but she wasn’t going to let a six dollar cup of coffee go to waste either. She took a sip. She waited for him to talk.

He smiled as she drank the coffee. “Right. You’re probably wondering why I’ve been watching you?”

She didn’t say anything or give any indication that she’d noticed him watching her. She kept studying him to see if she could figure out his game.

His hair was brown and cut and styled in a nondescript basic cut. He was clean shaven. Today he was wearing a suit that was dark grey with matching jacket. His buttoned up shirt was also grey. Everything about his was designed so that he wouldn’t stand out in any way.

He was caucasian with blue-grey eyes. He had an average build, and average height. She wouldn’t be drawn to notice him in anyway.

As Laney was taking all this in, she realized that the man’s whole point was to go unnoticed. He was boring in every way.

“I work as a recruiter for someone who needs people with a specific skill set. Specifically, the ability to look fear in the eyes and not flinch.” He didn’t smile or smirk. His eyes didn’t have a hint of humor in them.

This guy was being serious. Laney wasn’t sure what to think. What could he possibly want with her? She still didn’t say anything.

“I would like to recruit you to work for me.” He leaned back like he was waiting for her to respond.

“I don’t know what to say to that. Recruit me to do what?” Laney reached into her pocket and texted Chuck. Within a few seconds he was in the coffee shop too.

The man didn’t react when Chuck showed up. “Why don’t you join us, Chuck?”

Chuck shrugged and pulled up a chair. He sat close enough to Laney for their legs to touch.

“He offered me some kind of job, but he’s being purposefully vague,” said Laney. She and Chuck didn’t have secrets.

The man glanced at Chuck and Laney and seemed to come to a decision. “I can offer you both a job. You wouldn’t be the first pair we’ve recruited.”

“Recruited to do what, exactly? You haven’t said anything yet that makes me want to believe anything you’re saying,” responded Laney.

The man was quiet and stared at them for several minutes before he finally spoke. “You would be asked to perform odd jobs. Whatever is asked of you.” He paused and leaned forward. His voice dropped to a whisper, “No matter what is asked, you find a way to make it happen. Do you understand me?”

Laney and Chuck looked at each other. This was nuts. There was no way this guy was for real. Did he think they were stupid?

Without speaking, the two stood up, pushed in their chairs, and turned to leave.

They went back to their apartment hoping that was the last time they would see him. When they opened the door, they thought at first they’d been robbed.

Turning on the lights, they realized their mistake. All their belongings were packed like they were moving. As they stood trying to understand what they were looking at, there was a knock on the door.

short story, Writing

Flying Bison aka Blimpies

August 2022’s short story of the month

The boy woke up before dawn. The horses were restless. Something wasn’t right. He rose and tiptoed quietly down the hall, careful not to wake his mother. She was exhausted after last night’s attacks. With the help of their neighbors, his mother had fended off the vamp-wolves again. Their attacks had been increasing lately, and his mother was up many nights protecting their homestead.

He paused outside her door and waited until he heard her deep snores. He let out a silent sigh of relief and walked down the hall. He slowed only as he descended the stairs. They didn’t creak, but he didn’t want to run down them stomping either.

Morning light was spilling into the living room. He grabbed a cookie on his way out the kitchen door. He didn’t have to think. This was his morning routine. He tended the horses first. They had four of them. One mare and three of her offspring. He gave them fresh water and hay. He filled their feed bins.

When he opened the fourth stall to lay down fresh hay, he saw the blood. It was everywhere. The horses must have smelled it too. This, at least, explained their restlessness. He’d just walked past them out in their pasture. They’d been standing right next to the fence waiting for him. He paused and had to think if he’d sensed anything off about any of them.

He’d been so used to going through his morning without thinking about it that he didn’t trust himself. He walked back out to where the horses were munching away. Nothing appeared amiss.

He shrugged. He’d clean the stall and ask his mother about it later. Maybe she knew where the blood came from.

After the horses, it was time for his favorite chores—tending the flying bison. Their family farm had been raising blimpies for generations. The creatures were docile and gentle despite their size. Every once in a while, he would sneak atop one and ride it. His mother said it was disrespectful. They were not horses.

He loved them. They were about the size of a small hover car when full grown. Their demeanor was friendly like a dog’s. And they weren’t scared of humans. Most people owned one or two, but only certain families knew the secret to breeding them. Their wooly coats made the warmest and softest textiles.

As he loaded the hover cart with everything he would need, he couldn’t help but grin. This season they’d had more younglings than any year he could remember. He loved the younglings. They were so full of joy.

His favorite thing to do was to go out into the field with mints in his pockets. He would give one youngling a mint, and it would start grunting at him. The other younglings would hear the one and come over to see what the commotion was.

Before long, he would be surrounded by them all grunting at him. They were fluffy and round and would bump into one another. And since they didn’t have good control over their bodies yet, they would float off a bit. It was like being in the center of bumper cars bouncing into one another over and over again.

It was easily the cutest thing they did. The adult blimpies would look on without venturing closer. He made sure to always save at least one mint for the elder blimpie. He was their oldest, and his mom didn’t even know his age. She told him that when she was a girl, the elder had been ancient even then.

As he approached the field, something strange caught his eye. The blimpies were pressed up against the door all huddled together. They normally floated about seemingly at random within the dome enclosure.

He searched around by didn’t see any reason for their alarm. His first thought was that he should go wake up his mom, but then he felt ashamed. She needed to sleep. He could handle this.

He restarted the hover cart and drove toward the door. The blimpies parted and let the door swing in and surrounded his cart as he settled it next to their feeders.

Their collective grunts and snorts bombarded his ears. He pushed his way through. The blimpies kept near the cart.

He looked once again at the blimpies all huddled together and turned to search the dome. He didn’t see anything immediately. He heard something in a moment when the herd quieted.

He didn’t know what it was, and he needed the herd to still before he could listen longer. He fed them and despite their nervousness, they ate and calmed down.

As he placed the now empty feeding tubs on the cart, the sound came through clearer.

It sounded like a whimper from a dog. That didn’t make any sense. They didn’t have any dogs on their ranch. Could a wild dog have wandered into the dome? That also seemed unlikely. The dome only had a few doors, and you needed their programed farm equipment to open it. Nothing could just wander into it.

Could there be a breach in the dome? He hoped not. It was expensive to fix the dome and his mom would be furious.

He left the cart and stepped towards the sound. He moved toward one of the boulders in the field. He climbed on top. He scanned the pasture hoping to find the source of the sound and the blimpies’ anxiety.

He heard it and saw it at the same time. The elder blimpie was standing next to something bloodied and whining on the ground.

He approached cautiously and patted the elder as he walked alongside him.

The crying animal was a vamp-wolf. It had been stomped and from the looks of the elder’s front hooves, he’d done the stomping. He’d never heard of a blimpie killing another creature.

Even though that fact would shock his mother, because there was no way he could keep this from her, the more troubling part was that a vamp-wolf was in the dome. There had to be a breach somewhere.  

short story, Writing

Sally’s Sadness

July 2022’s short story of the month!

They’ve done all these studies about how twins remain connected, psychically, their whole lives. I haven’t seen Sally for twenty years, but sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night with pain in my knee and I know it’s her pain, not mine. Or I’ll be taking a walk and I’ll feel her sadness permeate my being.

Without asking though, I know she still doesn’t want to see me. I can’t ask why she wakes up in pain so often, or why she feels sad all the time? She won’t let me help her.

Maybe I should have chosen my words more carefully. But I know I was right all those years ago. If I’d been wrong, I would be happier, and so would she. If I’d been wrong, she wouldn’t be in pain as often.

Twenty Years Ago…

Sally and I kept waving as our parents pulled away. I could see Mom wiping her eyes. It brought tears to mine too, and I knew Sally would be welling up too.

This was it! We were starting college. Our parents had been both happy and sad for us when we’d chosen a college three states away from home.

Sally and I were thrilled. No parents for the first time ever! It was going to be so epic!

The first semester flew by. Sally and I signed up for every activity we could reasonably fit into our schedules. We had so much to tell our parents over the holiday break. I swear we didn’t stop talking the whole three weeks.

Second semester was the same. Things were wonderful until Sally announced her big news.

“I’m going to join the summer abroad program,” she practically chirped while we were eating in the dining hall in mid-March.

“What?” I asked. I thought maybe this was one of those times when she was pulling a prank on me. Sometimes I didn’t get her sense of humor. She said that was because I didn’t have one.

“We’re going to Europe. We’re going to like ten countries in like eight weeks. It’s going to be the trip of a lifetime.” She dropped a pamphlet on my dinner tray.

The front cover literally said, “Ready for the best summer vacation EVER? Join the summer abroad program for the trip of a LIFETIME.” The words were surrounded by picture of co-eds sitting in cafes and riding trains.

“When you say ‘we,’ do you mean you and I?” I asked pointing back and forth between the two of us.

“Of course,” Sally answered.

I took a deep breath. I couldn’t believe this, but for the first time in our lives, we were on very different wave lengths. I wanted to go home. I was looking forward to spending days with Mom and Dad. I wanted to sleep in my own bed and enjoy my days relaxing until the fall semester started up again. I was wiped. This year had been a whirlwind. I was beyond tired.

“I don’t want to go,” I said. I didn’t look at Sally when I said it. I assumed that would be the end of it. She wouldn’t go without me.

There was a long uncomfortable silence. I felt something that wasn’t my own emotion. It was Sally—she was furious.

“I’m going.” She crossed her arms and glared at me.

I shrugged. I fully believed she would change her mind before summer.

By May, I realized I’d underestimated Sally. She was determined to prove me wrong. We didn’t even say goodbye when our parents dropped her at the airport.

In the weeks she was gone, I felt her ups and downs. I didn’t know what she was doing because she refused to speak to me. I knew she was on a rollercoaster of emotions though. I was just angry.

My parents said it was good for us to do things apart. We needed to become our own people, not just twins. As the weeks passed, I started to agree with them. My anger faded, but it coincided with anxiety that wasn’t my own.

Sally still wasn’t talking to me, but she was a bundle of nerves. I could feel it. I had no idea what was happening to her, but there were no longer moments of joy. She went from panic to anxious to sad and then the cycle started again.

What was happening to her? Why wasn’t she enjoying her trip anymore? I should have picked up the phone, but I knew she didn’t want to hear from me. She still wasn’t ready to talk.

At the end of her trip, she didn’t come home.

“What do you mean she isn’t coming home?” I asked Mom.

“She’s living with some friends near the campus now. They all went on the trip together. I think it sounds like she is having the time of her life.” There was a longing in my mom’s eyes.

I didn’t understand it until the next weekend when my parents had Sally come over for lunch.

Sally brought the reason she wasn’t coming home with her.

His name was Dean.

I knew as soon as I saw him that he was the reason she wasn’t happy. It was coming off her in waves. She was panicked. Every time she spoke around him, she would glance at him questioningly. She was making sure not to say anything he didn’t want her to say.

I was quiet throughout the meal. Dad took Dean on a walk around the backyard, showing off the new deck and in-ground pool.

As soon as the patio door slid shut, I asked Mom to give us a minute.

“You shouldn’t be with him.”

“What are you talking about?” Sally said, but she wouldn’t make eye contact with me. “You don’t even know him.”

I didn’t have to. I knew him because she did. To make my point, I kicked her shin really hard causing my own leg to hurt.

She winced.

“You don’t know him.” She stood up from the table and went toward the patio door. “Leave me alone.”

Those were the last words she’d said to me.

short story, Writing

Just Breathe

(June 2022 short story of the month, yep, it’s finally done)

She told him to try again, and he did, and she couldn’t help but laugh. 

“I told you I wasn’t a dancer,” he said, protesting. 

“But you’re an athlete,” she said, “you ran circles around everyone in p.e.” 

“Dancing and running are not the same,” he protested again. He bounced in the air and tried to flip. It didn’t work. He was strapped into a harness and was trying to learn to be graceful and move the contraption where he wanted it to go. It wasn’t working. He needed to master this. If he couldn’t master the basics of acrobatics, they wouldn’t let him train on the trapeze or on the high wire. He pushed off and tried once again to flip. He didn’t get even one rotation. He just moved across the room and bounced towards the wall. He growled as he dragged his feet slowing his movement. 

She laughed again. “You can get this. You must be over thinking it.” 

“Maybe we should take a break. Try again tomorrow,” he suggested. 

She nodded. “I’ll wait for you outside. Let’s skip some rocks.” She spun around and made running leaps until she was out of the building. 

He worked quickly to get out of the harness. He was beyond frustrated with training. He tossed the straps onto a pile of others. He took a deep breath. He needed to get this. He didn’t tell her what he and everyone else in the troupe knew—he was getting too old for his current acts. He needed to learn something that adults did. If he didn’t, then he would be relegated to being part of the crew that tore down and set up. He wouldn’t be part of the true circus people—the ones who performed. He grew up with them; he needed to be part of the big show. He didn’t just want to be a worker bee. 

He’d never shown any talent for the graceful acts. He couldn’t dance, flip, or fly like the others. He was strong. He’d work with his uncle as a part of the strong man act. He was billed as “The World’s Strongest Boy.” 

He was getting too old though, and his cousin had been performing most nights instead of him. 

Skipping rocks usually calmed his nerves. It was hypnotic when you skipped one just right and it bounced in tiny little beats across the surface of the water. 

He heard a large splash but didn’t look to see what it was. He just watched his rock skip, skip, skip. 

There were odd ripples crossing the surface of the water. He ran as fast as he could. She was face down in the water. She wasn’t moving. 

He picked her up in one swift motion and placed her gently on the shore. She wasn’t breathing. He didn’t know what to do. Should he move her? He didn’t know cpr. 

He couldn’t sit there and do nothing. He picked her up again and ran. He went to the center of the camp. Someone would be in the mess hall. Someone was always cooking something. 

“Help,” he yelled as he placed her on a picnic table. 

Three women came out of the kitchen. They didn’t say anything but pushed him aside. They worked together pressing on her chest and taking turns to get her breathing again. 

It felt like forever and an instant all at once. He watched them pump, pump, pump against her heart and felt every press on his own. What was happening? Why had she fallen into the water? He didn’t understand what was happening. 

The women kept working on her, but nothing was changing. She wouldn’t breathe. As he watched, he felt his heart racing. He wanted to give her his heartbeat. He placed his right hand over his heart and closed his eyes.

Breathe. Beat. Be. Alive.

He thought those four words over and over again. He could feel them being chanted at the same pace the women were pressing on her.

Breathe. Beat. Be. Alive.

He needed her to live. She was his best friend. He couldn’t handle this world without her in it.

Breathe. Beat. Be. Alive.

She had to live. What would he be without her?

Live.

He thought the last word and let out a deep breath.

Everything was quiet. No one was trying to resuscitate her anymore. He opened his eyes and was about to ask why they had stopped.

The women were looking at him. Their eyes were wide with shock.

“What have you done?” one of them asked. The other two wrapped their arms around themselves and rubbed their bodies like they were cold.

“What? What happened?” he asked.

The woman who’d scolded him stepped aside. He could see her. She was looking at him.

She was alive.

She was staring at him wide-eyed. She slowly raised her hand in front of her face and spread her fingers, as if she was seeing them for the first time. She put her hand on chest over her heart.

She smiled and took a deep breath.

As the years passed, the memory of that day faded for him. He didn’t understand it then, but he’d done something he shouldn’t have. He was ostracized even among the circus.

Everyone eyed him warily when he walked past. They never made him leave, but they never forgot that day. They talked about it all the time. They warned all newcomers. And whenever there was an accident, as was apt to happen around flimsy rides and wild animals, he wasn’t allowed to help. As soon as anything would go wrong, he would be shoved away and forced to leave the area.

They were made to live in a RV separate from the others.

But the strangest result of that day was that she never spoke again. She followed him everywhere, and most times, even without speaking, she seemed to understand what he was thinking.

short story, Writing

Marriage Options 1, 2, or 3

May 2022 short story of the month, late, but finished

They were getting married in just three weeks, and things were not looking good. They hadn’t found a decent band, and Sheri was not going to have a DJ at her wedding.

While Daryl didn’t have an opinion about anything, his mother, Denise, seemed to have an opinion about everything, even the specifics of their honeymoon. Denise talked Daryl into a shorter trip and even planned their daily itineraries. She didn’t think they should plan a shopping day or scuba diving. She felt it would be better if Sheri and Daryl did a couple’s spa day.

********

Option One

Sheri listened to the voicemail from Daryl for the third time and took a deep breath. She held it for longer than was comfortable and when she couldn’t resist it anymore, she exhaled. This wasn’t going to work. She was getting married, not her mother-in-law. This was her wedding, and she was not about to give into Denise’s every suggestion.

There was a simple solution to all of this—very simple.

They would elope, and then as soon as they arrived on the islands, Sheri could change all of the pre-booked activities she wanted.

********

Option Two

Sheri listened to the voicemail from Daryl for the third time and mashed the phone to end the call. She slammed the phone onto the counter and paced around the kitchen island.

She was furious. This was the last straw. Her mother-in-law was determined to control everything. Sheri couldn’t get Daryl to tell his mother when enough was enough.

There was a simple solution to this—very simple.

“Sometimes you have to break a few eggs to make an omelet,” said Denise to the kitchen as she stopped pacing right in front of the knife block.

*******

Option Three

Sheri didn’t answer the phone when Daryl called. She let it go to voicemail. All of their conversations lately were about the same thing. She wasn’t interested in having another argument about their wedding. Daryl always opted for whatever his mother told him to choose.

Sheri was having serious doubts about going through with the wedding. It was only a month away. Maybe it was time to say enough is enough.

After all, there was a simple solution to having a fiancé who wouldn’t stand up to his mother–very simple.

She could just end this. She placed her hands on the cool surface of the kitchen counter and took a deep calming breath. Sheri knew what she needed to do.

********

Option One

She called Daryl and told him they needed to talk immediately. It went straight to his voicemail, but she didn’t waste any time. She pulled her new luggage out of foyer in the closet. She was saving it for their honeymoon, instead, they would be using it for the wedding and then a honeymoon in Vegas.

She wasn’t one hundred percent sure that Daryl would go for eloping, but she wouldn’t leave him with a choice. It was her or his mother. That was a strange way of phrasing it, but he would understand.

********

Option Two

Sheri called Daryl and told him to invite his mother for dinner tomorrow night. She wanted to have a nice quiet evening with just the three of them. The only condition was that they were not going to talk about the wedding.

They all needed a break from that.

********

Option Three

Sheri texted Daryl four words, “We need to talk.”

Daryl called Sheri as he left the office, but she didn’t pick up. He didn’t leave a voicemail. He figured she was just going to rant about his mother again. He was too stressed about everything to get in the middle of their petty fighting. He just wanted to get married to Sheri and then his mother would stop. Wouldn’t she?

********

Option One

Sheri was waiting in the living room when Daryl got home from work. She had packed both their suitcases.

He raised his eyebrow as he entered the room. “What’s going on?” he asked, gesturing at the luggage. “Going somewhere?”

“We both are,” Sheri replied. “Tonight. I’ve already booked the tickets. We leave in a couple of hours.”

“And where are we going?” asked Daryl.

“Vegas.” Sheri answered but didn’t explain. She figured Daryl could put two and two together himself.

“Is this because of the honeymoon changes? My mom explained why…”

Sheri cut him off, “It’s not just about that. If you love me and want to marry me, we’re eloping to Vegas. This is the only option left.”

********

Option Two

Sheri made lasagna, salad, and she even baked a focaccia bread. It was a simple and delicious meal.

Daryl arrived just after six with his mother in tow. Denise walked into their condo with pursed lips. She was clearly biting her tongue.

“Please sit,” said Sheri. “Start with salad. I just have a few things to finish up in the kitchen.”

********

Option Three

They talked for hours. In the end, Sheri told him it was over.

Daryl couldn’t believe she wouldn’t just let his mother make a few decisions for them. What was the big deal?

********

Option One

They held hands on the entire flight. They went straight to the hotel, put their luggage in their room, and went straight to the chapel.

After the wedding, they had a week to themselves. No one in their family knew where they were.

They knew when they returned home, Denise would be furious, but they were so blissfully happy, they didn’t care.

********

Option Two

Neither Daryl nor his mother suspected anything. They were both dead before the lasagna was ready.

Sheri ate her’s in the kitchen with a fresh piece of baked bread.

********

Option Three

Sheri moved out of the condo and into her sister’s basement. She lived with them for nearly six months before she could afford to move out. Daryl’s mother had insisted she pay back half the cost of the wedding.

It was the price of freedom, and she gladly paid it.

short story, Writing

Magical Archeologist

(April 2022’s short story of the month)

(Finally done, I KNOW! SOOOOOOOO LATE!)

Don’t let this one get away, she thought to herself. Tom had the look of a man quietly planning his escape. Christine watched him closely as he tried to check his phone without making it obvious that he was checking his phone.

Christine cleared her throat loudly. Tom barely heard it through the din of the music.

“I’m sorry,” Tom said. “Did you ask me something?”

“I wanted to hear more about your work,” answered Christine, while batting her eyelashes and smiling her warmest grin. Her eyes went to his phone, but she hoped he didn’t notice and quickly looked back at Tom’s face.

“It’s honestly about what you might think. Artifacts come in. I run them through tests. Data is collected and verified. If the item is genuine, the museum keeps it.” He shrugged.

“It has to be more exciting than that. What is the strangest item that’s come in?” she asked. She wouldn’t let him get away easily. She knew there was something here. She’d felt it the first time they’d met. She locked her eyes on his, hoping he would glance up and there would be an instant connection between them.

He kept shifting his gaze back to his phone and looked at every item on the table, avoiding her at all costs. He couldn’t stop thinking about earlier that day.

Christine waited an awkwardly long time before she cleared her throat. Tom’s involuntary reaction was to look towards the sound. Christine was staring at him intently with one eyebrow raised.

“I’m sorry,” Tom said. “Did you say something?”

Christine was trying not to lose her patience. Maybe she’d been wrong, again. It wouldn’t be the first time she’d fell hard for a man she barely knew.

She straightened up in her seat and sighed. “I was just making conversation, but I can see that you have other more important things going on. Perhaps this was a bad idea.” She dropped the cloth napkin on the table and pushed her chair back.

Before she stood, Tom reached across the table and touched her hand.

“Wait,” he said. “Don’t go. I’m sorry. You’re right. I’ve been very rude. Let me…let me explain. Please.” He had to tell someone, even if she would think he was crazy. He had to say it out loud.  

Christine thought about it for a second. Her heart wouldn’t let her just leave without giving him a chance. She sat back down, lowering herself without looking away from him. She was worried that if she broke eye contact, he would return to his previous distracted state.

Tom waited until Christine was fully sitting again. “Okay,” he said and then took a deep breath. “I know what I’m about to tell you will sound crazy, but I swear it’s true. I haven’t told anyone because I don’t really believe it myself.”

Christine sighed again and folded her arms across her chest. What now? Her impression of Tom had clearly been wrong.

Tom watched her face change from simply annoyed to judging. “Please, just let me tell you everything, and then if you want to leave, I won’t stop you,” he said.

“Fine.”

**********

Tom put on a freshly cleansed set of gloves and said the enchantment spell that activated all the magics sewn into the fabric. Today was going to be another day of opening packages and finding mundane objects, just like every day had been for the past few years.

When he’d graduated and entered into the field of magical archeology, he’d been young and thought he would be one of those famous wizards who discovered a legendary magical artifact. He’d daydreamed about it all through his studies. How could he not? Every course focused on another area of magic and told another story of how it had been rediscovered by some unsuspecting wizard. Then that one find solidified their career. They rode that wave for the rest of their days, landing the best jobs, at the best museums or worked for private collectors. Some didn’t even have to search for funding. Tom wanted all of that for himself.

However, when he finally found work after applying for every position under the sun, he realized that magical archeology was not as exciting as the books made it seem. He spent his days sorting through items that people mailed to the verification department.

The packages were scanned and if even a microscopic amount of magic remained, the scanner fed it to the verification department, also known as Tom. He worked alone in a room filled with machines, many of which he didn’t get to use. Few objects were more than rudimentary magic items. They had trace on them from being in contact with a spell, but so far, nothing was a truly magical item.

This week he’d verified a small pile of cauldrons. Yes, they’d been used for magic, but no, they didn’t have any magic of their own.

Wands came in by the dozens. People wanted to know if a famous wizard had used them. Again, like the cauldrons, the wands were usually mundane, and there was rarely enough magic left in any of them to complete even a small light spell. And to date, he’d not been able to verify previous users of the wand. Something like that required DNA or embedded magic. Wands of that caliber were usually passed down and inherited by family members. They didn’t need the magical verification department to prove their value.

He could have buried himself in the countless number of stones that were sent in. Stones had magical properties, but they weren’t magical without someone to conduct them.

What he really hoped to find was something that a truly powerful wizard had imbued with magic. The greatest find of them all would be a Book of Shadows. Wizards each made their own. They spent their whole lives filling them with personal spells and information. Their magic soaked into the ink and melded with the pages. Books belonging to really powerful wizards had more magic in them than most people could summon in a lifetime. And for some reason that no theoretical physicist wizard could explain yet, the magic never faded from them.