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.

short story, Writing

Mary, Chaos Incarnate

(March 2022 short story) SUPER DUPER LATE

You know when even the things you dislike about a person make you love her even more? Well, that was Mary. On the one hand, she could talk endlessly about obscure texts. You couldn’t help but be drawn in. Her passion for obscurity was like a magnet bringing those in her vicinity nearer.

But, at the same time, she would go to great lengths to prove her point. Sometimes it was too far.

At this moment, she is about to get herself fired again. I am watching it happen, and there is nothing I can do to stop her. There wouldn’t be a point. If I try to intervene, it will only redirect her anger towards me. I don’t want to be in those crosshairs.

I only hope that when she is done telling the owner why his family is wrong to practice the school of magic that they’ve practiced for generations that he will not hold Mary’s outburst against me. I don’t want to lose my job.

Of course, there is also the chance that once he fires her, and believe me, it’s coming, she’ll ask me to quit in solidarity. It’s happened before. I hate job hunting. I’m not as charming as Mary, which is hard to believe at this moment as I’m watching her argue with someone about their family’s way of life.

Mary isn’t the only witch like this. She’s just too young to understand how incredibly rude she’s being. I tell her all the time that if she wants to educate people and change their minds, there is a polite way that they might actually listen to, and there is the Mary way, which immediately puts everyone on edge and shuts down their ability to listen to anyone.

But there is no arguing with Mary…

She was raised by a single father, a witch who collected spells as a hobby and who used those spells to try and force others to his view of the world. He was the magical world equivalent of an eco-terrorist. His daughter is a chip off the old block.

It is strange to me that I simultaneously love her passion for magical theory and hate the way she chooses to wield it.

I keep wiping the counters but stop when I hear the boss say, “that’s it. You’ve gone too far.”

“I’m just saying,” replied Mary.

He cut her off. “Get out. Right now. You don’t get to speak to me that way.”

“If you would only listen to what I’m saying,” Mary sighed. She rolled her eyes and pulled off her apron. She held her head high and her shoulders back as she walked around the counter. When she reached the other side, she glanced over towards me.

I shook my head. I silently pleaded with her to not drag me into this.  She shrugged and kept walking. The shop was silent, even after the door shut, ringing the bell above it.

I didn’t make eye contact with the boss and wiped the counter and made myself look busy.

“I’m going to the back,” he said as he stomped off and disappeared behind the “employees only” marked door. As the door was swinging on its hinges, I heard a few words he was mumbling to himself.

“Arrogant brat,” he said just as the doors stopped swinging.

**********

“Mary?” I yelled as I closed and locked the door to our apartment. I hadn’t seen any lights on from the street, but that didn’t mean anything. I’d closed the shop tonight; she might already by asleep.

“Mary?” I said again. No answer.

I took a few steps and turned on the lights. I scanned around and didn’t see her. Our studio apartment was small enough that I could see every inch of it from the entry way.

I wasn’t concerned yet. Maybe she decided to blow off steam. I checked my phone for the umpteenth time but there weren’t any messages from her.

I texted her asking her where she was and if she wanted any company. Knowing Mary, and I have since we were in the same kindergarten class, she was probably caught up in some drama.

She had a habit of going from one catastrophe to the next. You know that saying about celebrity deaths coming in threes, or whatever, that was true about Mary and disasters.

The first was getting fired today. Maybe she was out in the midst of disasters two and three. Hopefully whatever the tragedies were, she wouldn’t bring them home with her.

I looked again at my phone and saw that she hadn’t even read my message yet. It was pretty late. Should I be worried?

This was one of those moments. Mary wasn’t even here, and I was being drawn into her chaos. This time I vowed to not let it pull me in.

I worked on distracting myself instead. I plugged my phone in and placed it on the nightstand. I walked away from it.

I figured the best way to keep away from it was to keep busy. I tidied up, did the dishes, swept the floor, and even took out the garbage. Cleaning the whole apartment took just over thirty minutes.

I plopped onto the bed and reached for the phone. I stopped with my hand still hovering over it.

I would not be drawn in. I would not check my phone. I would not call her or text her.

Whatever was going on, she was in charge of her decisions. She knew where we lived. I didn’t need to check on her.

I took a deep breath and resting my hand in my lap realized that I’d been pulled along in the wake of Mary’s drama for too long now. I wanted to be in her life, but I didn’t need to rescue her or get arrested with her, either of which was equally possible.

The door to the apartment swung open with such force it banged into the wall, adding another dent.

“You are not going to believe what happened to me tonight,” said Mary dropping her bag and belongings and using her foot to kick the door shut.

short story, Writing

Magic Misunderstanding

February 2022’s short story of the month

All right, maybe it wasn’t the best way to start off a conversation. In my own way, I was trying to take her side. It’s not easy to take her side, and very few people do. She has two, maybe three real friends in the world. There’s me, there’s Tilly, and of course, Mitchell. 

As soon as the words left my mouth, she glared at me with those solid black eyes that seemed to reflect everything they were seeing, and at the same time, suck everything in like a black hole. It was really hard to turn away from that stare, even if it made me question my sanity. 

“What did you say to me?” Finch asked through clinched teeth. 

“Um…” I couldn’t gather my thoughts. How did she do that to people? “What I said was despite what Conner said, I think your new outfit looks very traditional. Great choice for picture day.” I took a step back as I finished repeating myself. 

Finch’s beak snapped shut, and she blew air out of her nares. “I don’t care what you think. I don’t need you or anyone else to approve of my choices.” When she said approve, she made air quotes and rolled her eyes. She stomped away. 

I didn’t move for several seconds, and before I had a chance to decide whether or not to go after her, I felt something land on my shoulder. I didn’t have to turn and look. It was Tilly. 

“What’s ol’ Finchy mad about this time?” asked Tilly. 

“Don’t call her Finchy. She hates that.” I didn’t answer Tilly’s question because I was too busy trying to figure out why what I’d said made Finch so angry. Harpies were hard to get along with, but I thought after years of being friends, I was finally understanding Finch—apparently not though. I shrugged and Tilly giggled. I’d forgotten she was on my shoulder. “Why don’t you just teleport to class? Why do you like hitching a ride with me so much?” 

“Oh, I see, the crankiness is contagious. Later then.” There was a popping sound as she disappeared. 

I was still trying to replay the incident with Finch in my mind. I got the books I needed and supplies from my locker. Putting my forehead on the locker, I sighed. 

“What’s eating you?” asked a raspy voice beside me. 

“Hi, Mitchell,” I answered without looking up. “I made Finch mad again.” 

“Hmm…” he didn’t finish his thought but kept repeating the same sound over and over. 

It took me a few seconds to realize he was having phasing problems. Today was really not off to a good start. In only a few minutes at school, I’d managed to anger a harpy, spread my crankiness to the happiest creature on the planet—a leprechaun—and send a ghost into a loop that wouldn’t allow him to fully form on our plane of existence. 

What else could possibly go wrong today?

I should know better to think things like that. It’s like directly challenging the universe to make things worse for you.

The challenge was apparently accepted by my history teacher—Mr. Avenue. As I sat at my desk, waiting for class to begin, Tilly ignored me, and Mitchell and Finch were no where to be seen.

“Attention class! Attention everyone!” He stamped all four of his hooves until everyone settled down. He brushed his mane over his right shoulder before he continued.

“That’s better,” he said. “I have a big announcement. Today you will be paired up with one another and the subject of your final projects for the year will be assigned.” He clapped his hands and stomped again.

The room shook a little whenever he got excited. I often wondered if the school had recently had any structural checks done. How many centaur teachers did we have now? Three? Four? I couldn’t remember just then, but I was sure that too many horses trapsing through the building had to be bad for the support beams.

“Okay. I’m going to use my magic hat to select names,” Mr. Avenue said, and with a flourish, he pulled the baseball cap out of thin air. A few of the brown nosers timidly clapped.

The rest of us just waited. Pulling things out of thin air was Mr. Avenue’s favorite pastime. We’d only seen him work that spell every day of the school year.

He started listing pairs of names.

“Morgana and Finch.”

Good news, I was working on my final history project with my best friend. Bad news, she was mad at me—again. It’d been happening more and more lately. Everything I said to her was the wrong thing, and somehow, I managed to offend her harpy sensibilities.

Mr. Avenue was still talking. “Okay, now that everyone has a partner, I will use my magic hat to assign topics.”

The pairs were given things like the First Magical World War, the Leprechaun Rebellion of 1920, or The Great Fairy Migration. All the subjects were big moments in magical history that were easily researched.

“Morgana and Finch,” Mr. Avenue looked at me as he reached into the hat and pulled out a little slip of paper. “The Fall of King Arthur.”

I groaned and buried my head in my hands. How on Earth could I possibly be expected to write about that? My ancestors were directly linked to it, and in my house, it was a subject that was forbidden.

My ancestors were on the wrong side of history with that one, and we did NOT bring it up.

“These projects will require you to learn your subject area backward and forward. You will each present them during the showcase.” There was a collective groan from the whole class. “Settle down. You’ll live through it. As I was saying,” Mr. Avenue continued, “you will present your subjects at the end of the year showcase that your parents are invited to.”

I was wrong, things could always get worse.

short story, Writing

Who’s That?

January 2022’s short story of the month

“When Bobby tells a joke, you’re always wondering if he’s going to take it just a little bit too far. He’s got this image of himself as outrageous and controversial, when in reality he…,” Shelley stopped talking mid-sentence.

Mary was staring at the boy who just walked into the cafeteria.

“Are you even listening to me, Mary?” Shelley asked.

“What?” Mary stuttered out. “What did you say?” She looked at Shelley and knew she was in trouble once again with her best friend. “I didn’t hear what you were saying.”

“No kidding,” said Shelley. “What are you staring at so intently?” She swiveled around on her cafeteria chair. She saw the boy standing in the doorway and shrugged before she turned back to her friend and her sad cafeteria lunch of spaghetti and a tiny salad of lettuce and three pieces of shredded cheese.

“Sorry,” said Mary focusing on her friend. She kept peaking around Shelley to sneak glances at the new boy, but she tried not to make it obvious. Something was off about him. She could sense it from where she was sitting. What was it though? She shook her head. Ever since she was little, she could read people’s auras and get a sense of who they were from just being near them.

She wasn’t near him though. He was all the way across the cafeteria, and yet, she could tell you things about him that she had no way of knowing. He was an only child. He’d just moved to town to live with his uncle. And then the thing that was bothering Mary about him finally hit her. She knew why something was off about him.

Death.

Death was following him. She didn’t know how to explain it to Shelley. Shelley, though her best friend since kindergarten, didn’t really believe that Mary had magical powers. She just thought Mary was really intuitive.

Mary’s aunts knew differently though. They came from a long line of witches and seers. The powers manifested differently in each person. Her aunts called her a soul reader.

And what she was reading right now from across a crowded high school cafeteria filled with egos and hormones, was a boy, close to her age, who’s soul was friends with death.

That was the only way she could explain what she was reading. She needed to talk to her aunts. She’d never encountered something like this before.

“I’m not feeling well,” she said, interrupting Shelley. “I’m going to the nurse’s office.”

“Right now?” asked Shelley. “At least wait until English, then at least you’ll get out of the most boring class in the entire universe.”

Mary smirked. Shelley’s disdain for their English teacher grew with each passing year. In a small town, you usually had the same teacher for each subject all years of high school. Their English teacher also happened to be Shelley’s dad. She spent the entire class rolling her eyes as her dad made nerdy puns and tried to make learning about poetry interesting to teens.

“I can’t wait,” said Mary. She placed her hand on her stomach. “Must have been something I ate.”

Shelley looked at her own barely touched food and pushed it away from her. “Probably.” She sighed. “Fine. Leave me here all alone.”

********

“I’ve never felt anything like it,” whispered Mary into the receiver. “What does it mean?”

“I don’t know, dear. We should probably look in our books. We can talk about this after school. Just stay away from him.”

Mary could practically hear her Aunt Carol wringing her hands through the phone. “Okay. I’ll see you later.”

Mary hung up, not feeling any better. When she’d tried to describe the sensation to her aunt, the only words that came to mind were dark and foggy.

********

She made it to class just in time to see everyone filing out of the room. Shelley came bounding toward her and looped her arm through her’s.

“Library day,” Shelley said as she skipped, pulling Mary along towards the library.

Library days were enjoyed by both teachers and students alike. The students liked them because they got to leave the confines of their normal classrooms and roam about in the book stacks out of the view of teachers. The teachers liked them because they escorted the students to the library, dropped them off, and then returned to their classroom for a blissful forty-five minutes of silence. On library days, they were someone else’s responsibilities.

After the librarian took role, they were released to “select books for personal reading.” Most students found a spot in the book stacks to use their phones or sat at the long library tables and wasted the time. As long as nothing caught on fire, and no one left bleeding, the librarian left them to it.

Mary and Shelley wound their way through the stacks on the balcony level of the library—the non-fiction section. They liked to camp out right in front of the encyclopedias (ancient tomes of information that no one even opened anymore. Thank you, Google!)

“Well, I take it you’re feeling better.”

Mary shrugged. “I guess.”

They sat on the floor next to each other for a few moments, but sitting there left Mary feeling restless.

“I’m going to wander a bit. Be right back.”

She circled around the shelf to the other side and took a deep breath. No matter what she did, she felt like the air was too thick since she’d seen him.

She walked further along the shelf, noting the dust was espically thick on this row of books. She stopped to look at the titles that were just at her eye level. It was more encycolopedias. These ones were in burgundy covers and had gold lettering that was practically worn away. As she was trying to figure out what the book in front of her covered, she felt like she was being watched.

A wave of oppressive air swirled around her. She tried to breath but felt like she might hyperventilate. She grabbed the shelf in front of her and closed her eyes to try and steady herself. After a moment, she felt better.

When she opened her eyes, she saw across the shelf and into the next row of books. There were two large green eyes looking back at her.

She didn’t jump. She’d never been one to startle easily.

“Are you okay?” the voice that she assumed belonged to the eyes asked.

“Fine. Why are you staring at me?”

“You looked like you might faint.”

“And you just stood there watching?” Mary asked, not hiding the annoyed tone from her question.

“My name’s Victor,” he said.

“Mary,” she answered.

As he stepped back from the shelf, she could see now that it was the boy from the cafeteria.

“Are you in my English class?” she asked.

“Guess so.”

Just then, Shelley popped up. “There you are. Come on. You are not going to believe what Bobby did now.” Shelley grabbed her and pulled her away. Not for the first time, Mary was glad Shelley was oblivious to other people’s lives.

short story, Writing

Mage Games 2021

November 2021’s short story of the month
(Super late)

The day was scorching hot and bone dry, the air smelled like burnt toast,
and everyone’s nerves were on edge. Only Zeke was calm. He patrolled the
perimeter, making jokes about women and how stupid they were.

“Hey, knock it off,” said Charles. He placed his hand over his chest pocket
where he kept a picture of his fiancé, Annie. He leaned back feeling the wood
of the makeshift fort they were currently waiting in. He couldn’t wait to get
this over with. One month from now he would be married, and his life could
begin. This silly game felt like the last of a very long to-do list he had to
finish before he was finally done being a child. He was ready. Ready to grow
up. Ready to start a family. Ready to start a career. His service to the Elders
was complete. He was now his own mage. There were a lot of exciting career
fields a water mage could go into.

The water mages were tired of waiting. The games were always like this—get
there, wait, and wait some more. The Magic Elders staged one game a year
between different teams. It was a way for mages all over the world to get
together and meet.

This year, they had decided that each team wound be a different type of
magic. This left the teams unevenly matched. Certain types of mages were more
common than others. For example, there were more earth mages than water mages,
and more fire mages than air mages.

As they sat in their temporary fort waiting for the start, they weren’t even
sure what their objective was.

Zeke was still making jokes that were inappropriate. He clearly didn’t care
who heard. He made another crack about women being dumb.

A water mage in a blue robe stood up and pushed her hood back away from her
face. She crossed her arms over her chest.

“You need to stop telling those jokes.” When she said jokes, she used air
quotes.

“I’m just saying,” said Zeke. “In my experience…”

“Don’t finish that sentence,” chimed in Charles.

“Why not?” asked Zeke.

Charles nodded towards the mage still standing and glaring at Zeke. “Pretty
sure, she’s a princess or something. Very powerful mage.” Charles bowed
slightly. “Your highness.”

She curtsied in return.

Zeke opened his mouth and then snapped it shut again. Even he wasn’t dumb
enough to purposely piss off royalty.

Charles never got a chance to see how Zeke would react, and the princess
never got a chance to tell him what she really thought.

There was a loud boom followed by tiny pebbles raining down on them.

“Take cover,” someone yelled.

He didn’t need to be told twice. Charles, Zeke, and the princess all dove
into the tiny makeshift room. It was the only place in the fort that anything resembling
a roof.

“What is happening?” asked Zeke.

The pebbles continued to rain down on their fort.

“Well, if I had to guess, I’d say the earth mages have found our fort and
are attacking.” She looked outside and saw the ground covered with tiny grey
rocks. They covered every square inch of the area inside the wooden fort wall.

“Shouldn’t we fight back?” asked Charles.

“Fight against what?” The princess reset her hood. “I haven’t seen any mages
yet. It was just pebbles. They’re just showing off. Trying to draw us out. I
say we sit tight. Let them get in closer and then we go for it.”

“Go for what?” asked Zeke. “You seem to know a bit more than the rest of us about
what is going on right now. What’s our objective even?”

The princess opened her mouth, but she never answered because another mage
listening in on their conversation shook his head. She shrugged. If she wasn’t
supposed to tell the others, fine, she could keep a secret.

Charles saw the princess respond to the other’s look. “You both know
something,” he said. “I get it. You were probably told not to tell anyone. But
how is it that you know something the rest of us don’t? You’re royalty, and I’m
guessing tall and silent here has some powerful family too. You guys always
come to the mage games knowing more than the rest of us. I don’t even know why
they invite the rest of us.”

Neither the princess nor the silent mage said anything in response.

Charles glared at them both. “You’re really not going to tell us anything?”

Both shook their heads.

“Great. That’s just great. Okay, Zeke. How do we fight someone we can’t see
and fulfill a mission that we have no idea what the goal is?”

Zeke shrugged. “I say we just run out there and hit ‘em with everything we’ve
got. Maybe we’ll get lucky.”

Charles stared at Zeke for several minutes trying to decide if he was being
serious. Zeke just stood there blinking. He was fully serious.

“You know what. I think I would like to be done with this sooner rather than
later, and if the two that have information aren’t sharing, let’s just go for it.”
Charles pulled his hood up. “You and me, Zeke.”

Zeke pulled on his hood too. He nodded.

The two walked out of the little ramshackle building, walking carefully over
the piles of pebbles that rolled around under their feet. They didn’t even
hesitate. They pushed open the large gate and walked out of the fort.

There standing in formation for as far as their eyes could see were the
other mages. The earth mages were in the center and made up the majority of the
ranks. They were flanked on either side by the fire and air mages. They were
all just standing there.

Two water mages versus the entirely of all the others.

“Right. Any ideas?” asked Charles.

“Only one,” said Zeke as he clapped his hands and started running right at
the assembled mages.

He wasn’t casting, and he continued running straight for them.

“If you can’t beat them…” said Charles as he too ran into the armies.

short story, Writing

Under the Full Moon

October 2021’s short story of the month

NIGHT OF THE FULL MOON

The moon broke through the clouds, and the four of them stood there, frozen, waiting for something to happen. They were in the middle of an open field, and it was as if a spotlight had been trained on them. Suddenly, without warning a shrill scream filled the air.

Daisy, Sean, and Clarissa turned to see Mr. Smith still frozen in place.

“Run,” the teens yelled in unison.

They didn’t wait to see if he followed. They hoofed it as fast as possible for the nearest tree line, but Daisy and Clarissa knew that even the trees would be little protection against such a creature.


TWO DAYS EARLIER

“You’re not going to believe what I overheard my mom and dad talking about,” Daisy said as she plopped into a seat. The practically ancient desk chair creaked as she dropped in.

“Easy on the furniture, Daisy,” said Mr. Smith walking down an adjacent row to the front of the classroom.

“Sorry,” Daisy mumbled, yanking her bag over her head and dropping it loudly on the floor.

Mr. Smith shook his head and sighed. Daisy was one of his best students, but she moved about like a wrecking ball.

Daisy waited for their teacher to be out of hearing range before she continued.

“Anyway,” she hissed barely above a whisper. “As I was saying, you guys aren’t going to believe what I heard my parents talking about.”

“What?” asked Sean. He was still new to their friend group, and he felt like he needed to be engaged in whatever Daisy and Clarissa talked about, even if he wasn’t really interested.

Clarissa turned around to join the conversation.

“Well?” Clarissa asked. “What are you so worked up about?”

Daisy crooked her finger and motioned for her two friends to lean in. “They said there is a harpy in the woods right outside of town.” She opened her eyes wider. Her face was pasted with a mischievous grin.

“So?” asked Sean. “Why are you so excited about it?” He really didn’t get girls sometimes. What was so exciting about a harpy? Daisy and Clarissa had grown up as a part of the magical world. He’d only recently learned that he too had magic. Seeing a magical creature didn’t seem like that big of a deal to him.

“A harpy,” Daisy hissed. “Can you imagine?”

Sean poked Clarissa when Daisy turned around to put her books on her desk. He didn’t say anything but when Clarissa looked at him, he raised his hands in confusion.

Clarissa shrugged. “It’s just one of those things that Daisy likes. Think of it like a collection. She is trying to see as many magical creatures as she can. She has a notebook that she writes in all down in and keeps track of dates and stuff. She’s weird like that.”

Mr. Smith only caught a part of their conversation but when he heard Clarissa say “magical creatures,” he tried to eaves drop some more. The students stopped talking though and settled down as the rest of the class showed up.

He gave the class an assignment to keep them busy. While they worked, mostly in quiet, he made notes in his own journal. He was keeping track of every time someone in town mentioned magic or anything magic related. He’d lived in this town his whole life, but it wasn’t until Daisy started attending his classes that he’d began to notice something else was going on and no one was talking about it. No one except for a handful of random teenagers.

At first, he assumed the kids were talking about a game or show, but the more he listened, the more he understood they were talking about the real world. And then as if to confirm his suspicions, he’d started finding strange tracks in the woods. He loved hiking and had been pacing the trails around town since he was a boy.

He knew there was a magical creature in the woods. He was going to find it and learn the truth that was being kept from almost everyone. If magic was real, people had a right to know. Why shouldn’t everyone know about it?

He wrote in his log: D, C, and S mention m.c.

As soon as he started paying more attention and actively tracking the secret chatter of those around him, he’d discovered that certain people talked about magic quite frequently. They didn’t even hide it really. Most people probably assumed, like he had, that the people were talking about something fictional.

Mr. Smith was determined to prove that it was real.


NIGHT OF THE FULL MOON

“We should go hiking on that trail behind the high school,” suggested Daisy.

“What? Like, now?” asked Clarissa. “It’s dark.” She went back to painting her fingernails.

“Yes, now. I’ve read about harpies. On nights with a full moon, they go hunting. Tonight there’s a full moon,” Daisy said as she sprang to her feet and yanked her curtains open.

“I’m in,” said Sean.

Clarissa’s mouth fell open.

“Don’t look so surprised. I’m curious.” He really was. Ever since class a couple of days ago, Daisy had talked about nothing but harpies. Sean wanted to see one for himself.


Mr. Smith saw some teens walking along the tree line as he was sitting on the bumper of his jeep changing out of his hiking boots. He’d stayed later than he meant to, and it was much darker than he expected. There was a full moon, but it kept getting covered by clouds.

As he watched, he counted three distinct silhouettes. He tied his boots and followed them.

They weren’t even trying to walk quietly. The three of them were making so much noise that he was able to catch up to them and trail them without any of them noticing.

“What are you going to do if you see it?” Sean asked.

Daisy tapped the pocket on her chest. Her journal was safely tucked away inside. “I write about it,” she said wistfully.

“That’s it?” asked Sean. “I don’t get it.”

“Don’t try to make sense of Daisy,” said Clarissa. “She’s been doing this since we were kids.”


Mr. Smith couldn’t believe what he was hearing. The kids were yammering on about magical creatures as if they saw them all the time. He distinctly heard them mention fae, leprechauns, and mermaids. Were they all real? How did they manage to stay hidden?


“Stop shouting,” said Clarissa.

“Tell me what’s going on,” yelled Mr. Smith.

A look passed between Clarissa and Daisy. Daisy shook her head.

“What are you talking about Mr. Smith? We’re just hiking in the dark. We’re not looking for anything,” Clarissa said.

“I don’t believe you.” He was so mad he couldn’t speak. His ears felt like there were drums inside of them. He needed to calm down.

The teens didn’t move. They weren’t sure what was going on. They saw Mr. Smith was following them as soon as they started to cross the field. Now he was yelling about crazy things.


They didn’t stop running once they hit the trees.

“Go, go, go,” said Daisy. “Harpies will eat people.”

“What?” yelled Sean. “Why did we go looking for it then?”

“What about Mr. Smith?” asked Clarissa. She was worried they were going to get in trouble. They’d lead a human to the harpy, even if it was an accident. The Magical Elders frowned on humans knowing about the magical world.

They collapsed in a heap once they found the parking lot.

Getting to his feet, Sean pointed at Daisy. “You’re going to get us all killed. From now on, no more.” He stomped off.

“No more what?” asked Daisy.

Sean didn’t get a chance to answer. Another scream filled the air. This wasn’t the harpy. There was a distinctive human quality to it.