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.

short story, Writing

Men Are Allowed to Cry

September 2021’s Short Story of the Month

After my father’s stroke, he started crying all the time. He cried about everything; sentimental commercials, pop songs on the radio, or saccharine movie endings. It was like he couldn’t stop crying. It was such a contrast to the man he’d been before that I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how to interact with him. 

Growing up he’d been stern, and my mother was the one who my brother and I went to when we needed comforting. The one and only time I’d seen him cry before the stroke was when his dog of fifteen years passed away. He didn’t even cry or get choked up when my wife and I announced we would be adopting a baby because we couldn’t conceive one. He’d just nodded. 

The first time he broke down in the car was on the way home from the hospital. After being there for several days, I knew he was relieved to be released, but I didn’t expect him to cry. Having a stroke was terrifying. I didn’t say anything. I thought he was most likely just happy to be alive and out of the hospital. 

The second time it happened later that day as we were sitting in my living room watching tv while my wife, Annie, prepared dinner in the kitchen. I was busy reading an email from my boss about the work I would need to catch up on the following week. A commercial for the Humane Society came on, and my father burst into tears. They weren’t subtle silent tears. He was balling, the crocodile tears leaving streaks on his face. His nose was snotty, and he reached for a tissue all while trying to stammer out, “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.” 

I just shook my head. I didn’t know what to say. 

Over the next week, it kept happening. On Saturday, my brother arrived at my house around lunch time. We’d decided it was better, for now at least, for Dad to stay with one of us. We would have to trade off until work slowed down for me. Flood season was always a busy time for a water mage. 

My brother walked up the path to my porch. He didn’t speak but arched an eyebrow when he saw me. 

“I’m guessing since you’re standing out here waiting for me, that you want to tell me something without the rest of the house hearing it.” He stuffed his hands in his pockets and rocked back and forth slowly waiting for me to speak. 

“So, about Dad…” I didn’t know what to say. I felt like I was tattling on the man who’d been such a fierce figure in my life. I know my brother felt the same. “He’s been different since he got out of the hospital.” 

“What do you mean?” my brother asked. 

“He’s just not himself.” I still couldn’t say it out loud. It was too strange. “He keeps…” 

“Come on, out with it. What could be so hard to say?” My brother was always the more impulsive of the two of us. 

“It’s just that. He keeps crying.” I finally said. 

“Crying?” He looked at me like I was losing my mind. “Dad? Our dad?”

I nodded. 

“Well, he’s been through a lot.” He stopped rocking. “Our Dad?” he asked again. 

“Yeah. I know. It’s weird. Everything sets him off. Tv, music, reading, you name it. I just wanted to let you know so when it happens you won’t be concerned.” 

“Well, it’s too late for that, I’m concerned now. Our dad doesn’t cry.” He paused and opened his mouth like he was going to say something, but then stopped. 

“Yeah, I know.” I clapped him on the back. 

The next day, I was casting spell after spell working with my team to try and redirect some troubling weather formations, when I got a call from my brother. Nothing we were doing was making a difference. Sometimes mother nature had her own plans, and nothing we did could change her mind. 

“Let’s take a break,” I told my team. 

I called my brother back, and he picked up before it even rang once. 

“Chuck,” he said, “you have to let Dad stay with you. I can’t… I just can’t handle him like this.” 

“Calm down,” I replied. “It’s only been one night. It couldn’t have been that bad.” 

“It was. He’s not the man I remember. I know it’s sound dumb, but I can’t be around him when he’s like this. It’s too much for me.” He paused only for a moment before he said, barely above a whisper, “It’s like he’s a broken man.” 

“Don’t be that way. The doctor did say that what Dad went through might cause more changes over time, including his personality. Near death experiences change people.” 

“It’s too much. Our dad doesn’t cry.” 

“You can handle this. Give it a few more days at least,” I told him before hanging up. 

I went back to work and finished my day, but I kept playing that conversation over and over in my head. 

On the way home, it was like it was on surround sound in my head. All I could think was, “Our dad doesn’t cry.” Over and over. I didn’t know what to do with those words. I felt the same as my brother. What was wrong with us? Our dad had almost died; he was entitled to cry. 

I don’t know if it was the song on the radio or what, but a tear fell slowly down my cheek. I wiped it away, but it was followed by another. What was wrong with me? Was I losing my mind too? Why was I crying? I needed to pull myself together, if only the radio would stop playing such sappy music. I jabbed at the radio knob, and the car was filled with silence and the sound of me sobbing. 

I turned off at the next ramp and parked my car in a space away from prying eyes. I cried, and I cried. 

short story, Writing

Earth Magic

August 2021 short story of the month

When he tried to express himself with words, he could never get it right. But with his hands, he could shape things, mold things, and make things. He had discovered that gift as a young boy when he fell in love the first time.

He was only six, and despite his young age, he fell in love with Cheryl. She was his nanny, and much to his liking, she was younger than the previous ones.

She always played the games he liked, and she sang him to sleep. But the reason he fell in love with her was that she made cookies with raspberry jam on them.

He drew her pictures that she proudly displayed in the toy room. He sang her songs that she learned by heart and sang back to him.

She began working for his family in the spring, and she joined his family as they spent the summer at their beach cottage.

It was the best summer of his life. They would spend all day at the shore. Some days he swam, and others they would build elaborate sandcastles.

One afternoon in addition to himself and Cheryl, there were some young men loitering at the beach. They were loud and Cheryl seemed distracted by them. She kept smiling and looking in their direction. It never occurred to him that he was her job, and she really wanted to frolic with people her own age.

One of the beachgoers approached. He was smiling from ear to ear.

“Hi there,” the newcomer said to Cheryl.

The child watched the exchange between Cheryl and the young man with interest. How could he get Cheryl to bat her eyelashes and smile at him like that? He knew Cheryl loved him too; she had too.

Cheryl talked and flirted for several minutes with the young man. At the end of their conversation, she made plans to meet him later.

“It’s a date,” she said as her new friend walked off to rejoin his cronies.

The rest of the day the child was inconsolable. Nothing cheered him up. The lunch wasn’t the food he wanted. The sun was too hot, and the water was too cold. He wasn’t tired and didn’t want to nap. He didn’t want those stories read to him. And no, he didn’t want a song.

The next few days Cheryl was distracted and prone to daydreaming. Sometimes she didn’t even answer when he asked one of a thousand questions.

He was losing her. He knew it. He needed to do something that would impress her and win her heart back.

As the days passed, he couldn’t think of anything. What was he supposed to do? He was only six.

He sulked and fussed with Cheryl even though he wanted her to like him.

Summer started to wind down. After that first date, Cheryl sometimes took days off.

On the days she returned, the child was always at his worst. He couldn’t help it; he knew he was losing his tenuous hold on her.

He needed to do something, anything, to win her back.

One day, near the end of summer, he was made to stay near the house. The sky was an unsettling shade of grey, and the clouds were unfriendly.

He was allowed to go outside, but he had to stay in the yard. He walked in circles around the house. Cheryl sat in the back prepping vegetables for supper.

After walking around the house so many times, he was creating a path in the yard, he stopped to play in the dirt. He was not within eyesight of Cheryl. She would have stopped him. If he got dirty, he would have to be bathed before dinner.

He dug a hole about the size of a dinner plate and dug down and down until he had a nice little pile of dirt. He intended to keep digging. He was trying to get as dirty as possible. The more dirt, the more time Cheryl would have to pay attention to only him.

As he reached his hand into the hole to scoop out another handful, the texture of the earth was different. The dirt he’d already removed was a chocolate brown color with little grey pebbles throughout.

This new layer was stickier somehow and the color was lighter. He had to push harder to move it out of the hole. Once he had a handful, he held it up to examine it.

It even smelled different.

It was clay. He’d seen a pottery studio on one of their walks through the beach town. The sign in the window said the pottery was made from locally sourced clay. And he’d found some of his very own.

He scooped out more and more until he had a pile in his lap. Then he closed his eyes and pictured one of the vases he’d seen in town.

He wanted to make Cheryl a vase. She would like that. She liked flowers, and if he made a vase, she would think of him every time she put fresh flowers in it.

He moved his hands around the clay molding it the way he imagined it should look. In his mind, he was making a beautiful curvy vase.

When he opened his eyes, he was disappointed. It was still just a pile of clay.

His brow furrowed. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes again. He had to make a vase. He was desperate. The summer was almost over.

When Cheryl hadn’t seen the boy for several minutes, she walked around the yard until she saw him playing in the dirt. She didn’t want to disturb him. He looked so content.

She would have to give him a bath before dinner, but it was worth it for the few minutes he was not behaving like a brat.

She went back to prepping vegetables on the back porch. After some time had passed, and it was nearing time to take the boy in, he appeared holding the most beautiful vase she’d ever seen.

“Where did you get this?” Cheryl asked.

“I made it,” he said proudly, sticking his chest out.

short story, Writing

What’s in a Name?

July 2021’s short story of the month (better late than never).

“Clarice,” said her teacher.

“Clarissa,” she said, correcting her teacher. Names were important. For years, she’d been embarrassed about her name and wished it were something ordinary. But then something happened that changed her mind. That day was always at the forefront of her mind.

She’d almost made a fatal error. She’d almost been consumed by a dark fae. She shuddered just thinking about the fae’s claws, teeth, and foul presence.

“Clarissa,” Daisy hissed at her trying not to attract their teacher’s attention. “You’re doing that thing again.” Daisy’s brow was wrinkled, and she was a shade pinker than normal. Something was wrong with Clarissa, but she wouldn’t talk to Daisy about it.

“I’m fine,” Clarissa whispered back. She faced forward. She couldn’t afford to get detention again. Her parents would be furious.

Mr. Smith glanced in their direction. He pressed his finger to his lips but didn’t let it stop his lecture. Mr. Smith tried not to glance too frequently at the girls, but this town was getting to him.

He was starting to believe in magic, and he had a sneaking suspicion that these two girls were… well, for lack of a better word, witches. All he knew was something was going on that defied explanation, and the more he looked into the strange occurrences, the more he saw a pattern. A pattern that included the families of both Daisy and Clarissa.

As soon as he finished his lecture, he wrote the assignment on the board and reminded the class that this was independent work, no asking their neighbors for help. Some reminders he needed printed on signs he could wave around every few seconds, including “no cheating.”

The rest of the period was uneventful. Mr. Smith sat at his desk waiting for the students to turn in their assignments and leave. Clarissa lingered, waiting for everyone else to exit. Daisy hesitated at the door but decided against saying something to her friend and went to her next class.

Clarissa cleared her throat as she stood a few feet from Mr. Smith’s desk. He was gathering the assignments and trying to tidy the stack into something neat enough to stuff into a folder.

“Yes, Clarissa, what is it?” he asked.

“Please make sure to get my name right,” she blurted out and then dashed out of the room.

He just shook his head in confusion and considered it another one of those weird teen outbursts that happened from time to time.

During their lunch break, Daisy and Clarissa sat in silence eating. Daisy kept looking up at Clarissa between bites, but she didn’t know what to say. She knew something was wrong. It’d been going on since spring break. Clarissa overreacted to everything. Who cared if Mr. Smith called her the wrong name? It was no reason to draw attention to yourself. Daisy’s philosophy was to stay under the adults’ radar as much as possible.

Sean plopped down across the table from Daisy and elbowed Clarissa as he took items out of a brown bag.

“Don’t,” Clarissa said, sliding away from him a few more inches.

“Sorry,” Sean said holding his hands up in mock surrender. He raised his eyebrows and looked to Daisy.

Daisy shook her head and mouth, “No idea.” She shrugged.

“So,” Sean said trying to break the awkward tension created by Clarissa’s outburst. “Big plans this weekend?”

Daisy shook her head again. “Not really. Clarissa and I were thinking about going to the movies on Saturday. Do you want to join?” She reached across the table and stole a few of Sean’s Doritos.

Clarissa didn’t mean to snap at her friends, but ever since Mr. Smith had called her the wrong name that morning, she’d felt like a dark cloud was following her around.

She closed her eyes and wrapped her arms tightly around her body. Maybe if she counted imaginary sheep, she could calm down.

“What are you doing?” asked Daisy barely above a whisper.

Clarissa opened one eye and looked at her friends. They were both staring at her wide eyed with raised eyebrows.

“Sorry,” she said letting go of herself. “I’m…” She didn’t even know how to finish that sentence. “I’m not feeling well.” She looked down at her lap trying not to let her friends see the tears filling her eyes.

Sean slid closer to her but didn’t reach out to touch her. “Hey, we’re here for you. You can tell us. What’s wrong?”

Clarissa nodded and wiped the tears away. “Okay, but not here. Not at school. Can you guys come over today after band practice?”

Her friends nodded in unison.

Daisy and Sean arrived at Clarissa’s house together. As they were walking up the sidewalk, they couldn’t help but speculate about their friend.

“What do you think is going on with her?” asked Sean.

“I honestly have no idea,” said Daisy. “Whatever it is though, it’s nothing good. I’ve never seen her like this.”

Clarissa’s mom, who never stopped cooking or baking, handed them each a piece of pumpkin bread and a cup of tea before letting them head upstairs to find Clarissa.

Clarissa ushered them in and shut the door. She cast a spell that soundproofed the room. Daisy and Sean exchanged a look because Clarissa never used her magic unless she felt threatened.

She sat down on the floor with them and folded her legs.

“Okay. I’m going to tell you what’s been bothering me, but you can’t tell anyone. Not your parents, especially,” Clarissa said staring them down. “Swear it.”

They both nodded and said almost in unison, “We swear.”

In the back of her mind, Daisy made the promise, but she also knew that if her friend was really in danger, she would break that promise.

Clarissa swallowed and began her story. “I know you won’t believe it. I still can’t believe it sometimes. Even though I have waking nightmares and see it everywhere I look, I can’t believe I…”

She paused. “Let me start again.”

short story, Writing

Lost Memories

June 2021’s short story of the month (sorry it’s late)

It was like an echo from the past, or a dream that he was only just now remembering. He recognized everything about the room, even though he was sure he’d never been there before. He knew the paintings on the walls, could name the artists who’d painted them. The only thing that puzzled him was who was he? He couldn’t remember his own name.

A door creaked behind him.

“Who are you?” he asked the man and woman staring at him.

They quickly glanced at each other, and some secret passed between them. He didn’t know what the look meant, and the secret was apparently not his to know.

They both watched him but when they noticed him looking back, they quickly averted their eyes. They were frowning, and both had wrinkled brows.

The man was the first to speak. “We were afraid this would happen.” The man stepped toward him and stuck out his hand. “I’m Charles, but my friends call me Chuck.”

He shook the hand being offered to him and as he did, something nagged him. He knew this man. At least, he thought he did. And the woman. He knew them both. They were a set. No, that was the wrong word. They were a couple.

He shook his head in frustration. He rubbed his hands on his face. It was like all the information he needed was there but behind a curtain or hidden behind a panel he couldn’t quite unluck.

“Do I know you?” he asked.

Chuck nodded. “Yes, both, my wife and I,” he said pointing to himself and the woman, “we know you very well. We’ve all been friends since we were children.”

They looked at him expectantly, but he wasn’t sure what they wanted.

“That’s good. I guess. Can you tell me who I am?” he asked.

Chuck and his wife exchanged another one of those looks that meant something inexplicable to him.

“Well,” Chuck answered with hesitation, “we can, but we’re not supposed to.”

It was his turn to wrinkle his brow. He was confused and frustrated by this point.

“What do you mean you’re not supposed to?”

Chuck’s wife spoke up this time. “We’re supposed to let you remember for yourself. It’s one of the rules you’ve always emphasized about time magic.”

Chuck shook his head as his wife spoke. “Annie, we’re not supposed to tell him anything.”

She glared at Chuck. “Seriously, Chuck. He’s our friend. We can’t let him wander around not knowing who he is or how he got here.”

Chuck threw up his hands in frustration. “I don’t make the rules. He does.” Chuck pointed at him and stomped around in a small circle. “Perhaps we should notify the Elders.”

“No,” he said, but he didn’t know why. He didn’t want them to notify the Elders. There was that nagging feeling again. He knew even though he couldn’t recall the context of it, that he would be in a lot of trouble if the Elders were called on his account.

Chuck stopped his pacing. “So, you remember that?”

“Why don’t we take him to our house tonight?” suggested Annie.

Chuck pulled Annie aside and whispered to her. “We don’t know what he was doing or when or where he went. He’s been missing for nearly five years. That’s the longest he’s ever been gone before.” Chuck paused and looked at his friend, who was definitely listening in. “We knew this would happen one day,” he said in defeat.

Chuck marched out of the room. He said over his shoulder, “Fine. Let’s go. Come on, Reggie.”

Annie motioned for him to follow and let out a sigh of relief.

As he was following Annie out to their car, he asked her, “Am I Reggie?”

She smiled at him. She just nodded as she opened the car door for him.

He couldn’t sleep that night even though their guest room was comfortable. He crept down the stairs and into their kitchen. He hunted for something to eat, but for some reason, he couldn’t think of what the food items were called and he couldn’t remember what things he liked and didn’t.

He was standing staring at a package of bread when he heard footsteps behind him.

“Can’t sleep?” asked Annie. She took the bread from him. She placed two slices in a device and went around the kitchen gathering other things.

She motioned towards the counter. “Sit on one of the barstools.” She pointed again. “I’ll make you some toast. With butter and jelly. Just the way you always eat it.”

He paused as he was sitting. She kept letting information slip about him. Whatever “rule” there was about not telling him things, she didn’t seem to think it mattered.

He let her make the toast. She placed a plate and a cup in front of him then sat next to him at the bar and watched him eat like a mother fawning over a child.

He had a million questions for her, and he had no idea how to get the most information out of her before she would clam up.

At this point, he didn’t really feel like he had anything to lose.

“Why can’t you tell me things? And why can’t I remember anything about my own life?” He didn’t look at her when he spoke because whenever she made eye contact with him, she looked at him sadly.

“I shouldn’t,” she hesitated and glanced over her shoulder towards the stairs.

“Please,” Reggie begged. “Tell me something, even something small.”

She nodded. “Okay. I can’t imagine what it’s like to not know anything about your own life, not even your own name.” She sighed. “Okay, but it might be best if I don’t give you any specifics about yourself. I’ll explain why you don’t remember anything, but no details.” As she finished speaking, she shook her head. “No details,” she repeated.

He looked at her waiting for her to decide.

“It was always your rule, not mine,” she added.

Several minutes passed and she opened her mouth to speak a couple of times, but she didn’t say anything.

“Okay,” she said again. “You can’t remember who you are because it was the cost of whatever spell you cast.”

Reggie looked at his hands in confusion. Somehow he knew she wasn’t lying.

short story, Writing

Just a Game

May 2021’s Short Story (better late than never)…

It was just a game, or course. But it was more than that, and everyone knew it. They were from the upscale part of town, and we were from the wrong side of the tracks. Literally. North of the rail line, where nothing ever went right. The odds were never in our favor. Our teams didn’t win any trophies, and all the crimes in town happened in the North. The high school graduation rate was almost 25% lower North of the tracks.

And even when things went wrong somewhere else, it was always the fault of those of us from the Northside. We were the bad apples. The losers. The failures.

But I had a plan. Tomorrow night, we would be champions. Tomorrow night we would be winners. Tomorrow night something good was going to be ours.

A plan that would, if nothing else, knock those from the Southside of the rails down a few pegs.

It was after all just a game, and we were only high schoolers. But we deserved a moment, just a moment, to be winners.

My only reservation was that in order to complete my plan, I would have to violate the one rule my parents said I could never break. They said if I ever did what I was about to do, they would disown me. For magic users, that meant being stricken from the family tree, and stripped of the protections the Magic Elders granted.

I didn’t care. It was worth the risk. It wasn’t my fault I was born on the Northside of the tracks. I deserved a small amount of glory.

I had water magic and for months now I’d been testing ways to make this help the football team. I’d finally come across a spell that would grant my team increased stamina and strength. It was technically a spell meant for combat, but this was war. War between the haves and have-nots. A war that had been one sided for too long.

And only a few weeks before the big game, I’d found a spell that casters used to bless their fields of battle. I didn’t know exactly what it meant, but it sounded like it would help.  The night before the game, I put my plan into action.

I snuck out of our apartment after both my parents were passed out on the couch with the late show still playing. The sounds of their snores masked the fake laugh of the audience. I didn’t even have to sneak; I just walked right passed them and out the front door.

My best friend, Tom, was waiting outside with his bike and his kid brother’s. My bike had been stolen only a week ago. It was just my luck. It’s like the universe was trying to cancel my plan before it even started. My parents always said the North was cursed. Maybe they were right.

I didn’t care. Tomorrow night under the lights, we would be champions.

“What are we doing first?” asked Tom as we peddled to South High School’s field.

“Let’s start in the field,” I said pumping the bike as hard as I could.

When we got closer to our destination, we slowed. The lights were off, and no one seemed to be around. So far, everything was going okay.

A cop car rounded the corner on the far side of the field, coming toward us. I jumped off the bike and carried it behind a maintenance shed with me. Luckily, Tom saw the cop too and followed suit without me having to say anything.

“Let’s wait a few minutes,” I said.

We sat on the ground and leaned the bikes against the shed.

“You sure you want to do this?” Tom asked. “It’s not too late to turn back.”

“No way. We are going to win tomorrow.” I punched him in the shoulder to reinvigorate his enthusiasm. He just laughed.

We waited until the street was absolutely silent again. The only sound was the bugs in the trees. In the distance something loud screeched in the woods, but it was too far away to worry me.

We went to the field and laid out the elements we needed to complete the ritual. Tom sat on the bleachers keeping a lookout while I enacted the spell. When I finished, nothing happened. I shrugged and gathered my things.

“Next stop, the locker room,” I said.

“Did anything happen?” Tom asked surveying the field.

I shrugged again. “I guess we’ll find out tomorrow night,” I added.

Just as we were about to enter the gym, thunder rumbled from only a few miles away. That was odd. Normally I could feel a storm coming for hours before it arrived, but this one was coming in fast.

It started to sprinkle as Tom was picking the lock. I put out my hand and caught a few drops.

“I hope this is a good sign,” I said looking warily at the night sky growing darker and darker as more clouds rolled in.

Tom and I walked carefully down the halls using our cell phones as flashlights. Getting into the locker room was easy. They only bothered to lock the outside of the school and the computer rooms.

The spell for stamina and strength was even simpler than the blessing. I just dropped a few droplets of an already prepared potion into the team’s water cooler. Every person who drank from the cooler would be supped up without any other effort on my part.

Tomorrow night was going to be epic. I barely slept. I was too excited to see what, if any, fruit my spells would bear.

The storm raged outside my windows adding to my restlessness. I don’t know what time the lightening started to strike, but I felt the bolt that hit the tree outside our apartment.

My parents were sound asleep when I peaked out my window and watched as the tree caught fire and then was immediately doused by the pouring rain. I wasn’t sure how, but I knew this storm had something to do with my spell on the field.