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.

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.”

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.

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.

Creature in the Woods

April 2021’s short story of the month (late but finally done)

He had hunted and hiked and led backpacking trips through these woods for twenty years, and he had never seen an animal track like that. At first glance, it resembled a bird. But it was too big. Way too big. He estimated its length to be close to eighteen inches from toe to heel. Did ostrich feet even get that big? And why would there be an ostrich in the woods? They didn’t even live on this continent. He took a picture of the track with his hand placed beside it for comparison. He would share it online. Someone would know.

After his daily hike checking to make sure the trail markers were still visible for others, he uploaded the photo online with the caption “What bird could this be?”. He asked anyone to comment.

He waited five minutes but nothing.

The next morning before school, he checked his post; no one had commented yet.

“Settle down everyone!” he said to his unruly fifth period students.

Most of them slumped into their desk chairs and stopped talking, but they still shifted their belongings around loudly. He waited while they tested his patience. It was always this way in fifth period; he suspected it was because they had just finished lunch and were hyped up on sugar.

“Ok, now that I have your attention. Let’s continue our discussion on our local flora and fauna.” This was his favorite unit to teach each year. The students actually seemed more enthused with things they could personally relate to.

The next forty-five minutes went by quickly as he showed them slides of the various trees found in the local forests. Class was coming to a close, and he wanted to keep them excited until the next meeting.

“Over the weekend, consider taking a hike on the marked trails. You never know what you’ll see in these woods.” He clicked the mouse, and the photo he’d taken yesterday appeared on the board.

Most of the students chuckled thinking it was his attempt at teacher humor.

“Nice one, Mr. Smith. What did you do, track Big Bird?” asked a student. His fellow classmates laughed along with him.

He let them laugh, and as he looked around at their smiling faces, he noticed one student wasn’t smiling. In fact, she had a look of terror on her face. She was noticeably pale, and her mouth hung slightly open.

He knew better than to call on her. Daisy was new this year, and she was painfully shy. But she was having a very strange reaction to the photo.

The rest of the school day was uneventful. As he was packing up his things, he couldn’t help but think back to the reaction Daisy had when she saw that photo. Maybe it was just shock. He knew she’d been home schooled; she just wasn’t as jaded as the rest of his students. They’d assumed it had been a fake, a product of photoshop or something.

He left the school and went to the trails. He usually enjoyed his afternoon hikes; the clean clear forest air melted the stress of being a high school teacher away. Today though, he kept searching the ground around him hoping to see another track like yesterday. By the end of his hike, he had a knot in his neck and shoulder muscles from looking down so much. When he got back to the car, he rode home feeling worse than when he’d left school.

Eating a microwave dinner while he booted up his computer was not helping his mood. He almost dropped the plastic tray when his email popped up. He had hundreds of emails relating to his post.

People from all over the world were contacting him. Some wanted to know how he’d faked such a realistic footprint. Others gave him suggestions for what it might be, none of which made any sense for where he lived. The discussion was rife with debate. He ignored all the comments except for one.

The poster’s name was DaisyChainIRL. She wrote, “Looks like a harpy track to me. LOL. Weird post dude?! Totally faked!”

He sat back in his chair and scratched his head. It couldn’t be Daisy from his class. But, if it was, and she had gone out of her way to find his picture online and comment on it…

He didn’t know what to think. He read her comment over and over again. He stopped reading the whole thing and just read her first sentence. Could that be why she had looked surprised in class? Did she think it was a harpy track?

This was crazy. Harpies weren’t real. But, who would have gone out of their way to fake a giant bird track on a trail that almost no one hiked but him? Either way it was crazy. It was fake or it wasn’t. If it wasn’t then it was a track of something living.

His mind was racing and racing and going places that made little sense. He stopped letting his wheels spin and researched harpies on the internet.

Most of what he found was written for fantasy novels and roleplaying tabletop games. He even found some very elaborate cosplayers in harpy costumes.

He tried searching for “real sightings of harpies” and it mostly brought up results for Loch Ness and Bigfoot sightings. That’s apparently the reality he was now looking at. Was he actually suggesting that a harpy was real? And not only that but there was one living in the woods near town?

And then something else occurred to him. If it was real, and it was a real harpy track, how had Daisy known that?

Something bigger was going on here than he could understand at this point. He needed to ask Daisy, but he didn’t want to message her. That was severely inappropriate for a teacher. He could ask her after class tomorrow, but he had a feeling she would claim she was just being a teen or something equally flippant. He knew she knew something, but how could he find out more?

Maybe he didn’t need to.

He’d lived in this town his whole life. He basically maintained the trails on his own, just like his parents had before retirement. He knew everything about these woods. He could find a harpy.

If it was out there somewhere, he would find it.

Magic Doesn’t Fix Everything

March 2021’s short story of the month (super-duper late)

“Maybe the doctor was wrong,” Annie said, though her voice cracked revealing her disappointment.

I ran my hands through my hair, trying to calm myself. “He wasn’t wrong.” I didn’t want to have this argument again. I tried to steady my nerves, but it wasn’t working. My hands were shaking, and I was dripping sweat. Lately my anger was getting the better of me, and I needed to find a way to not let that anger out at home. It was just too much at once.

Work was becoming increasingly difficult. Being a water mage was always stressful during droughts. It was like the world was blaming all the water mages for manipulating water and droughts were our punishment.

For the record, we didn’t cause the droughts. People did, normal people, magic people, all people. Mages were not at fault for the damages to the environment, not entirely. Everyone had a share in that blame.

Despite the global calamity, right now, those problems seemed to pale in comparison to my home life. But I couldn’t deny that the stress from one wasn’t making dealing with the other more difficult. My wife and I were having a rough time.

“This is the third specialist we’ve seen. All of them have said the same thing.” I kept looking at my hands, avoiding making eye contact with her. I knew she would be tearing up, but she needed to accept the truth. “We can’t have children because you are barren.” I didn’t mean for it to sound so cruel, but she needed to hear it.

I looked up just as she was getting to her feet. She left the room slamming the door. I could hear her crying. She cried loudly and openly without trying to calm herself. I didn’t know someone could cry for that long without stopping.

I said it and I meant it, and I was right. Still, I wish I could take it back because there’s no way I can make it up to her, no way I can ever make her feel like she isn’t failing as a wife.

We’ve been trying for years to have a baby. Last year we decided to consult a doctor about it. We went through the tests to determine the problem. After the first round of tests, my wife didn’t believe it when the doctor said she had zero chance of getting pregnant.

I didn’t like the way the doctor talked to her, so I’d agreed to get a second opinion. After the second doctor said the same thing, though with a much better bed side manner, my wife still didn’t want to believe it.

We’d fought so many times after that. For months, if we were home together, we were either fighting or silent. Eventually I’d agreed to see one more doctor.

Today had been the final straw. The doctor we’d seen was not only a trusted and expensive OBGYN, but she was a mage, like us, with healing magic. She literally specialized in helping magic families create stronger magic bloodlines. I knew my wife would listen to her.

The crying finally stopped. As Annie came into the room, she said, “It’s not my fault.” Her face was splotchy, and her eyes were bloodshot.

I quickly went to her and wrapped my arms around her. “It’s not your fault.” Even though I said it to comfort her, the words felt hollow. I knew it wasn’t her fault, but I also knew my family wouldn’t accept that.

I am the oldest son of an extraordinarily strong line of water mages. I’d broken with tradition to marry Annie, a time mage. If my family found out about this, they would be furious.

As I stood there with my arms around Annie, I could feel her anger and sadness pouring like waves out of her small frame.

I was being incredibly selfish. I knew she was blaming herself and feeling like a failure, and all I could think about was how my family might react.

I needed to do better.

I pulled away from her and looked her in the eyes. “What do you want to do?” I asked.

She shook her head. “I don’t know.” Her shoulders sagged and she turned to walk away.

I stepped in front of her. “Whatever you decide, I’m in. All in. You don’t have to figure it out today. Take your time. Think about what you want.”

She nodded and sighed deeply as she walked past me to head upstairs.

The weeks after that day became a blur for me. I was at work longer and longer hours. There were too many droughts worldwide for the number of water mages we currently employed. We were doing what we could, but it wasn’t making that much of a difference. Sometimes nature had its own plans and we just needed to accept it.

At home, things were not great. Annie barely got out of bed and she said very little. I didn’t want to push her.

I wasn’t sure how much longer I could keep living in what felt like a holding pattern no matter where I went. Something needed to give.

As I came into the house, something was different. I could feel it in the air.

The smell of roast and potatoes hit me in the face as I walked through the foyer. I turned the corner and saw Annie setting the table. It was set just for the two of us. There was a centerpiece with candles and freshly made rolls. She even smiled as I took my seat.

“How was work?” she asked.

“Ummm…” I was trying to act like nothing was wrong, but this entire scene was such a stark contrast to the person I’d been living with for so long now. “It was about the same as always.” I shrugged.

“Hopefully it will get better soon,” she said as she took a dish out of the oven.

I couldn’t wait any longer. “Annie, what is going on?”

She shook her head. “Let’s eat and talk about it after dinner.”

“I think maybe we should talk about it now,” I said.

She stopped what she was doing and turned to face me. “Okay. I suppose that’s a reasonable request.” She stood up a little straighter and said, “I’ve come to a decision.”

“That’s great. What have you decided?” I asked hoping for the best, but honestly, I was prepared to fight.

“We’re going to adopt.” She continued to prepare dinner.

I sat there dumbstruck. I didn’t have a response to her decision. It was a perfectly reasonable idea. I just didn’t know how to feel about it.

April’s Short Story Prompt

How is it the last day of April already? I swear yesterday was the first!

I am super behind with just about everything this month, so tomorrow I’ll work on getting myself back on track. That being said, I am now two short stories behind for the year!! EEEKKK! I don’t like that.

So next month…. is going to be busy and productive (remind me I said this in a couple of weeks if you don’t hear from me).

Without more stalling… here is the April short story prompt:

He had hunted and hiked and led backpacking trips through these woods for twenty years, and he had never seen an animal track like that. At first glance, it resembled…

Complete the Story

I am really excited to write this story because I love to write about creatures! If you didn’t already know that about me, you should check out my novels: https://amandaniblock.com/my-novels/

Happy writing and reading today and every day!

Numerology

(February 2021’s short story of the month)

He wasn’t sure how he was able to do the math problems in his head like that. He just closed his eyes, and the numbers found their places, like trained dancers, or like magic. It didn’t matter what type of problem or how challenging. He could solve them all.

When he was in grade school, his teachers thought he was gifted, and this meant being placed in the highest math class available. By the time he was in middle school, he realized not everyone solved math like he did. They didn’t just see a problem and know the answer.

He started to guard his secret. He was afraid it meant something was wrong with him. When he was 8, he’d told the cashier that a total calculated by a computer was off by a few cents because of a sale sign. His parents had looked embarrassed that he argued with a grown up. And then another time, he’d told his dad that he’d calculated a tip wrong and had underpaid a waiter. His father told him very promptly that he was only 10.

Not long after that and a few other incidents involving grown ups giving him dirty looks because he knew the answer that was so clearly right in front of them, he started to protect his “math magic.”

That’s what he started to call it, but only to himself. He never said it out loud. He was afraid that if he even whispered the word magic, that it would be taken away from him.

He learned to hide his secret by writing out most, but not usually all, of the steps to solve a problem. He didn’t need to do it, but sometimes when he wanted to show off, he would just blurt out an answer in class. His teacher always glared at him. One time his teacher asked if he was cheating somehow. He was being questioned even though he’d written out his work. The teacher had never seen a student not miss a single problem the entire school year, even the problems that were bonus questions using math they hadn’t been taught yet. He just mumbled through the meeting and said, “I’m just good at math. Math makes sense to me.” He shrugged, and the teacher didn’t bring it up again.

The next year in school, he had the same teacher, and he knew he should be careful, but there was a new girl. He couldn’t help himself; he kept showing off by solving the problems fast in front of the class without writing out any steps. The teacher sat at her desk with her arms folded across her chest tapping her foot. She clearly thought he was cheating somehow.

Number Magic

He did everything to try and get Daisy’s attention, but she never looked up at him when he stood proudly at the front of the class. He always glanced to see if she was looking, but normally, she was just writing out the problems herself.

Walking home from school after another day of showing off in math class, he was surprised to see Daisy sitting on a fence on the route he walked. She usually walked home in the opposite direction. He looked around as he drew nearer to her to see if maybe she was waiting for someone walking behind him.

The only students behind him were not even in their grade. He hefted his backpack higher and tried to stand taller as he walked past her, but he didn’t say anything.

“Hey, Sean,” Daisy said hoping off the fence.

She knew his name. And she was saying it out loud. She was waiting for him. He tried to appear nonchalant about the whole encounter but inside his stomach was filled with butterflies and there was a voice in his head yelling, while he imagined himself running a victory lap, while simultaneously fist bumping himself.

“Hey. You’re…” he said trailing off, “Daisy, right?”

“That’s right. I was wondering if you were out of your mind?” She was glaring at him, and if looks could kill, she was repeatedly shooting him with laser beams.

“I… I… wait. What?” he stammered. He couldn’t look at her when she was staring at him like that. She was intimidating and powerful. Why did he think that? He wasn’t sure, but he knew it was true.

“I asked if you were crazy.” She was tapping her foot and waiting for him to respond.

“I’m honestly not sure what you are talking about?”

She took a step closer to him and looked around to make sure no one was within hearing range. “You can’t use your magic like that right in front of normal people. Didn’t your parents teach you better?” She was whisper-yelling.

“I’m sorry, what are you talking about?” He took a step away from her.

“Your magic.” She rolled her eyes and took a half step back. And then she was whisper-yelling again, “You know… that thing you do in math class. That magic. Whatever it is, you need to stop doing it in front of everyone. You’ll get reported to the council.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.” He was staring at her now. She was clearly crazy. Did she think magic was real? What was this council she was talking about?

Daisy stared at him without blinking for what felt like forever but was in reality only a matter of seconds. “You really don’t know?” She peered at him now, squinting her eyes and leaning closer to ascertain the truth.

He leaned away. He liked the attention, but she was being really weird. “I have no idea what you’re talking about. Magic isn’t real. Is this some kind of prank?”

“Would you like to come to my house for dinner?” she asked.

That was unexpected. “Sure. I’ll text my parents, so they won’t worry.” He smiled at her.

This was going better than he thought. As they turned and walked the opposite way of his house, he asked, “What was that all about? Were you trying to freak me out or something?”

“It’s nothing,” said Daisy. “We should do our math homework at my house while we wait for dinner. My mom is really good at math.” She kept walking.

Magical Lineage

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


I sat down next to her on the couch. It was time to start telling the truth. But I couldn’t just dive into the heart of the matter, so I started with the little things. I told her that her father and I had loved her from the very first time we saw her, and that we couldn’t imagine having any one but her as a daughter.

She just sat there glaring at me with that smug teenage face full of angst. She wanted me to say it. For some reason I didn’t understand, it was like she was trying to draw it out of me by sure force of will. She didn’t give up until I told her the truth, no matter how much it hurt both of us to finally say it.

One week prior

I didn’t like the idea of Daisy-May going to school. I mean, Daisy. She had asked me all summer to stop calling her Daisy-May. She was starting high school and she wanted to go by Daisy now, just Daisy. I told her that her name was Daisy-May, like I always did when she mentioned it, but after the first dozen or so arguments and the sighs that tugged at my heart strings, I relented and started calling her Daisy. Her father called her sweetpea or princess or sweetheart, and she never challenged him about it.

I needed to accept that Daisy and I were now standing on two sides of a battle that I didn’t want to be in. She was a teen and growing up, and I, her still cool and very hip mother, was in fact neither hip nor cool.

Until this year, I’d taught Daisy at home. The schools were decent enough in our neighborhood, but I knew my Daisy was a special kid, and I wanted to teach her myself. Until this summer, she hadn’t asked to go to public school, but once it came up, I knew she wouldn’t back down.

Her father and I had several fights about it. Finally, I decided I couldn’t argue anymore. We enrolled Daisy in school, and today was her first day at public high school. I figured she would come home and tell us all about her new friends, that we would not approve of, but say nothing about.

I wasn’t prepared for what she asked when she walked in the door that afternoon. The whole day I wandered around the house cleaning things and picking up things, but there wasn’t much to do. By lunch time I was lost and alone in my own house.

I tried to read a book but ended up re-reading the same sentence over and over and finally gave up. I tried to watch tv but nothing held my attention. I ended up daydreaming and not accomplishing anything for the rest of the day.

Daisy came in the door and the smile I spied as she came up the walk, instantly disappeared the moment she looked at me.

“Why is my magic different than yours and dads?” Daisy asked. She didn’t wait for an answer. She went up the stairs making it a point to stomp each and every step. She stomped down the hall and slammed her door.

I just stood there until my husband came home a couple of hours later. I didn’t say anything to him. I burst into tears. He wrapped his arms around me and hugged me.

“Did something happen today?” he asked.

I kept sobbing.

“It couldn’t have been that bad,” he said. “She just went to school.”

I tried to collect myself and through sobs that I couldn’t get under control, I managed to say, “She knows.”

“Knows what?” he asked. All he had to do was look at me to know what I meant.

The next day Daisy went to school. I spent the day lost in my house again. When she came home, she asked the same question, but I didn’t answer. I just shook my head and she stomped off to her room.

That continued for the whole first week of school. On Saturday morning, she sat down at the table and I placed a plate of waffles in front of her. She sighed and went to the living room and slumped with folded arms.

At first I kept moving things around in the kitchen, but I could feel her staring at me the whole time.

I sat down next to her on the couch. It was time to start telling the truth. But I couldn’t just dive into the heart of the matter, so I started with the little things. I told her that her father and I had loved her from the very first time we saw her, and that we couldn’t imagine having any one but her as a daughter.

Then I launched into a lecture on how magical powers are inherited and that magical families would arrange marriages to increase the chances of having children with multiple forms of magic. These children were usually stronger casters than those who could only control one element.

And then she asked the question I’d been dreading since she was little when her powers first manifested. She had earth magic. My husband used water magic and I had time magic.

“Am I adopted?” she asked, punctuating each word to drive home her point. She already suspected the answer, but for some reason she wanted me to admit it.

I couldn’t say the words. She didn’t feel adopted. She was ours. She’d always been ours. I didn’t know how to explain it to her. Because she wanted the truth.

I looked at her and didn’t just see the almost fifteen year old sitting next to me. I saw her the day we brought her home, only a few days old. And I saw her covered in icing on her first birthday. I saw the first time she fell and skinned her knee. I saw the time she chopped her hair and we had to chop the rest to even it out. I saw her face from only a week ago when she was nervous excited about her first day of school. And then I saw her now. She wanted to know who she was.

Real Life

December 2020’s short story of the month

As a kid I’d spend almost all of my allowance money on going to the movies. I’d go see a double feature on a Saturday afternoon and emerge from the dark theater into the blinding sunlight, and it seemed like it was the “real” world that was made up and fake. I’d walk home and invent stories about the people in town, like Mr. Roberts, our mailman, who was clearly an evil villain and secretly a vampire.

I wanted desperately for magic to be real and for it to triumph over some unknown emerging power. I wanted to travel to space or find out that I was actually a member of some distant royal family. They’d just misplaced me at birth. The movies were better than the small town I lived in. Everyone was better looking, and even though the obstacles the characters faced were earth-shattering, they always overcame them in the nick of time.

I wanted there to be something more. I didn’t care if it involved danger. I just wanted something to happen. Nothing ever happened here. No one ever murdered anyone because of a tragic love triangle. No criminals set up shop in town. There were no traffickers or smugglers. There wasn’t even a village idiot. I lived in the most boring town in the whole world. The biggest thing that happened this year was the town council voted to put in a stop light. We didn’t even need a stop light. They just wanted to feel “fancy.”

Someone needed to tell them that having a stop light wasn’t fancy. It was needed to control the flow of traffic and prevent accidents. We didn’t even have accidents here, not bad ones anyway.

Our newspaper was filled with pictures of school age children posing with participation trophies alongside the most recent winners of whatever the local charities were raffling off.

Instead of escaping to the movies this Saturday, I was standing on main street like the rest of the town, waiting for the tape cutting ceremony for the new traffic light. As I stood there next to my parents and sister, I scanned the crowd. I knew everyone. I saw all of my class mates. They all looked about as thrilled as I was to be idling along the street for something that I didn’t care about.

As I crowd watched, my eye landed on three girls who attended my school. The oldest was in my grade; her name was Mary. Her younger sisters, Angela and Tilly, were her only friends. They were an odd family. In fact, the more I thought about it, if there was a secret in town, it had to be something relating to their family. They were just slightly off, even for this town.

They kept to themselves, almost exclusively. I couldn’t put my finger on what was out of place about them, but they were an odd bunch. I’d bumped into them once at the movies; they were there with a boy close to their age and a woman I didn’t recognize. It was literally the only time I’d seen them go to the movies. That was fairly odd. It was one of the only things to do around town, and the sisters had only been once in their whole lives.

What did they do all the time? What were they hiding? Their parents weren’t friends with anyone either. They were always polite to everyone, but they weren’t a part of the community in any real way.

I watched the sisters as they looked bored just like the rest of the kids standing around. There was a loud boom as a cannon was fired at town hall. It was followed by the sound of the marching band beginning the parade.

They were actually having a parade for the inauguration of a traffic light. This town was so lame. The parents of the sisters were watching everything with fascination. None of the other parents were that enamored with the situation, but their parents watched everything with a sense of awe and wonder.

The sisters realizing their parents were distracted, used the opportunity to sneak away. I looked up at my own parents. They were carrying on a conversation with the family next to them. I also made a break for it.

I took a few steps away from my family and then checked to see if anyone noticed my movement. Everyone was distracted. I wove my way through the people and got behind the crowd. The longer I was moving, the more everyone pressed forward to watch the parade. I quickly found myself near where the sisters had been standing.

I moved behind the crowd again and searched for them. I didn’t see them anywhere, but there was an alley between the barber shop and the antique store. I dashed towards it but stopped short of turning the corner. Instead, I peaked around. I saw them casually walking arm in arm away from the parade. They turned behind the buildings. I tucked my hands in my pockets and strolled through the alley following in their footsteps. I didn’t want to run because I might draw unwanted attention, but I wanted to know what they were doing.

As I came around the building, I slowed and tried to peak around the corner. I saw them running off towards the park. They were giggling and laughing so I ran after knowing they wouldn’t hear me.

Once they crossed onto the green grass of the park, they all ran straight for the playground. I ran until I was in the park, but made for the trees so I could watch them.

They were just being normal kids. They were climbing and running and sliding. They laughed loudly and freely. I’d never seen them at the playground before. It occurred to me that this was something their family didn’t do very often.

After they’d ran around for several minutes, they made their way to the swings. They each took their own and where swinging back and forth in no time.

I felt like a fool. I’d chased after them hoping to learn their secret but they didn’t have any secret. Other than having an overprotective family. They were just kids.

I was about to leave and return before my family came looking for me. I watched them.

Mary jumped from the swing when it was at its highest point. She didn’t fall clumsily to the ground and land with a thud; instead, she went higher and higher and then gently glided down touching the ground almost gently.

I shook my head. How did she do that?

And then her sisters did it too. They moved in a way that didn’t make sense. How did they float? They should have fallen like every other kid on the swings.

Once they were all back on the ground, they joined hands and spun in a circle chanting a nursey rhyme.

I sat down against the tree. What had I just seen? It didn’t make sense.

I turned to spy on them again, but they were gone. I scanned around but didn’t see them. I walked back towards the noise of the parade. I could hear someone on a glitching mic discussing the momentous occasion.

I felt like I’d just left the movie theater. Nothing felt real. The real world was fake. The sisters were real. I knew it down to my bones.