short story, Writing

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.

short story, Writing

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.

prompt, short story, Writing

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!

short story, Writing

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.

short story, Writing

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.

short story, Writing

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.

short story, Writing

Double Double

November 2020’s short story of the month

In German it’s called a doppelganger, a look-alike. Literally, a “double-goer.” I stared at the boy in the newspaper article. Was it possible that he wasn’t aware that he had a double out there, just like I didn’t know until today when my cousin showed me the paper?

I was spending the summer with my cousins. We were doing our best to keep out of trouble, but we’d started taking day trips outside of town. We weren’t supposed to, and if their parents found out we were using magic to travel, we’d all be grounded until we were grown.

“He looks just like you,” Mary said. Her sisters nodded in agreement.

“I know. I can see,” I said exasperated. “Does it matter though? Don’t they say that everyone has a double?”

“That’s just something people say to be funny,” said Tilly the youngest of my cousins.

“What if it’s true though? It’s probably just coincidence,” I said.

Mary, Angela, and Tilly all glared at me for being flippant.

We were all casters, and one of the first lessons we learned as children was if it seems like a coincidence, it’s probably magic.

“Should we tell your parents?” I asked.  

They all shook their heads in unison.

“How would we tell them we found a newspaper from out of town?” asked Mary. “They’ll know we left town, and worse, they’ll know we used magic.”

“We’ll be grounded for life,” whispered Angela.

“Okay. Okay. We won’t tell them. Why would a doppelganger of me be here? I don’t live here. I’m just here visiting.”

We were sitting on the patio of an ice cream store. We were splitting a banana split. While Tilly and I had been buying the sundae, Mary and Angela were claiming a table. That’s how they’d found the paper. Someone who’d been here earlier had left it on the table.

That seemed like a coincidence too. It probably wasn’t.

He really did look just like me. He was in the paper for helping save a little kid from drowning at the lake. The article was titled “Local Teen Saves Child.” The article was about how he was a hero, and he was standing there grinning in the picture shaking the hand of the mayor.

If it was a spell, I didn’t see the point.

If we weren’t going to tell my uncle and aunt, we needed to look into it ourselves. That meant more trips to town and more possibilities of being caught.

“What can we do?” I asked. I should have known better than to ask my cousins to help with something like this. Any opportunity to scheme or defy their parents, and they had a habit of taking things too far. I loved them. They were more than family; we’d grown up together and were truly friends. However, they were a handful, especially Mary.

“We’ll start by tracking him down,” said Mary. Her eye twinkled with mischief. She was plotting already.

“We could look him up at the library,” suggested Angela. “The article included his name. I’ll bet he’ll be easy to find.” She was spooning up the melted ice cream and whipped cream.

“It’s a good idea,” I said.

We let Angela finish the ice cream soup before we set out. We didn’t walk there; it was too hot for that. We went behind the shop and teleported to the library.

I loved this town’s library. The architecture was classic from the stone steps and façade to the columns holding up the roof. Stone lions sat on either side of the stairs guarding the knowledge of the collected books.

My cousins and I moved chairs and gathered around one computer. The article said the boy’s name was Cole Mathers. At the keyboard, Mary put his name into a search engine. The article we’d just read was the first hit.

After that all the results we tried took us to information about an adult named Cole Mathers who was well known for founding a town further north. He was also a philanthropist whose vast fortune was left to various charities.

We couldn’t find any other information about the local Cole Mathers. That wasn’t all that surprising; he was a teen after all, just like us. It was odd though that he didn’t have a single social media account. My cousins and I weren’t supposed to use that stuff because our families were backward—most magical families were that way. But non-magic teens were always online. Their whole lives could be found there.

“Try searching for any adults who are local with the last name Mathers,” I whispered to Mary.

We didn’t get any results.

“Why don’t we try an old-fashioned phone book?” suggested Angela. “I saw one on the front counter by a public phone.”

I shrugged. “Might as well try,” I said.

Tilly and Angela left to go search the phone book while Mary and I tried more of the links from our first search. We weren’t having any better luck. Everything we opened was still about the former Cole Mathers, not the teen.

Before long, the other two returned from the front. As they sat, they both shook their heads—no luck then.

“We could try to find him with magic,” said Tilly.

“Shhhhh…,” I said. Other library patrons weren’t paying attention to us, but I didn’t want anyone to over hear us. Most people would assume we were just kids being silly playing some game, but we still needed to be careful. We weren’t the only magical users in the whole world, and if this doppelganger was part of a spell, we might be on someone’s radar already.

“That’s a bad idea,” Angela said.

Mary cleared the computer screen and motioned with her head for us all to follow her.

Back outside in the sun on the library steps, my cousins escalated things. Mary cast a tracking spell on the paper. When I realized what she was doing, I broke it up.

“Don’t do that,” I said. “It might draw him here. We should just tell your mom and dad.”

“Malcom,” said Mary in her exasperated voice. “Don’t be such a baby.”

short story, Writing

New Friend

October 2020’s short story of the month

She was the new girl. The one who sat in the cafeteria at lunch alone. Maybe she was from the next state over. Maybe she was from another country. I wanted to know everything about her: her mother’s name, her favorite movie, if she had brothers, sisters, what she ate for breakfast—in other words, everything.

In my ten years going to this school, we’d never had a new person. No one ever moved to this town. They moved away and never came back. Well, there was that one family, but they were weird, even for this town.

If I wanted to make friends, I needed to move fast. Every kid in the school would be chomping at the bit to get to know her, my sisters included. My family was well liked in town and my younger sisters were considered popular, but everyone, including my family, considered me an odd duck. If I wanted a chance at a new friend, I needed to make my move now.

She’d already been here for a week, and every day she sat in the cafeteria alone. No one had invited her to sit with them. See how weird we all were. We didn’t even have the decency to invite a newcomer to share a meal.

I got up from my seat and grabbed my tray. I walked slowly over to where she was sitting. I didn’t want to move too fast and draw attention. If the others knew what I was up to, they might suddenly become interested. I also didn’t want to run up to her and seem like a lonely weirdo.

When I got to her table, I stopped and waited standing across from her. She slowly looked up at me. She didn’t say anything. I guess I was going to have to break the ice.

“Mind if I sit here?” I asked, indicating the seat across from her.

She shook her head causing her messy up-do to slip a little. Several pieces of hair fell out of her tie and brushed her shoulders.

“My name is Mary,” I said, hoping it would prompt her to talk, but she just sat there. She stared at me for a while then went back to eating her sack lunch. It looked like a ham and cheese sandwich, and she was piling the crust directly on the table and only eating the middle.

I wasn’t going to let her shyness prevent me from making a friend. I needed a friend. In this small town, you didn’t get many chances to make them, and this late in high school, it was almost unthinkable to gain anyone into your social circle.

“So…you like it here so far?” I asked.

She just shrugged.

“Yeah, that’s how I feel too, and I’ve lived here my whole life.” I wasn’t giving up.

She finished shredding her sandwhich and reached into her bag for something else. She pulled out a juice box and inserted the straw. She drank it until it slurped loudly and then flattened it on the table and put it back in the bag.

Meanwhile, I was taking small bites of what our cafeteria considered spaghetti and trying to think of something else to say.

“Do you like your classes?” I asked. She just shrugged again. “I haven’t seen you in any of mine.” I waited, hoping it would prompt her to say something about her teachers. I was determined to get something out of her. “I have English right after lunch. What about you?”

She shook her head.

That didn’t really answer my question. “Well…” I was running out of ideas. I looked up at the clock and saw that lunch was almost over. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” I said gathering my tray and heading to my locker.

**********

The next day I went straight to her table. This time I didn’t say anything. She had a sack lunch again, and I had what the cafeteria considered a hamburger. There were large chunks of orange in it, which were obviously carrots. They weren’t subtle about hiding vegetables in the food.

She ate her sandwhich just like she had the day before. She pulled the crusts off and dropped them on the table. Then, she pulled her jucice box out and emptied it then proceeded to flatten it. She finished by putting all of it back in her sack to be thrown out. Then she just sat there watching me eat.

I didn’t speak. I thought maybe if I just sat there smiling, she might be tempted to say something. She didn’t. We ate in silence, and just before the bell, I left and went to English.

*********

The next day I decided on yet a third tactic for getting her to talk. When I sat down with my chef’s salad from the cafeteria, and she opened her sandwich, I just started talking. I didn’t wait for her to answer this time. If she couldn’t be bothered to speak, or was too shy, I was still going to make her my friend.

“I’ve lived here my whole life. I have two sisters. You might have met them. I’m nothing like them. They are kind of popular, and I’m more like you,” I paused realizing she might have taken what I’d just said as an insult, but she didn’t say anything or even react. I kept talking. I told her about my parents and my grandparents. I told her about what I liked to eat, when I wasn’t at school. I told her about my favorite movie, and retold it scene for scene. Just before the bell, I cleared my tray and went to English.

As I sat down in English, Tracie tapped me on the shoulder. I turned around to see what she wanted. She rarely spoke to me because she was part of the more popular crowd.

“Yes?” I asked.

“Why do you keep sitting alone at the first table and talking to yourself during lunch?” she asked.

“What are you talking? I’ve been sitting with the new girl.” I thought maybe they hadn’t seen her. But she had sat alone for a week before I’d joined her.

“There is no new girl,” Tracie just stared at me.

I turned around but all through class I sat there wondering if she was just messing with me. At the end of the day, I went to the office. I knew how I could learn the new girl’s name. I asked the secretary but she told me there hadn’t been any new students this school year.

********

The next day at lunch, I sat with the new girl again. I didn’t speak this time. I just watched her as we ate. She watched me back. I didn’t smile at her this time. When I stood up to go to English, she winked at me.

short story, Writing

Trouble, Trouble, Trouble

September 2020’s short story of the month

She kept pacing the living room, back and forth, back and forth, not saying a word. It would have been easier if she had just come out and told us how disappointed she was, announced our punishment, and sent us to our rooms. But she wanted us to apologize, or explain, or something.

Finally, I couldn’t stand the silence any longer and I slammed my fists on the table. “It’s not fair,” I said with all the righteous indignation a ten-year-old could muster. “It wasn’t my fault. It was her idea,” I added, pointing at my sister Angela.

“No way,” Angela said, shaking her head back and forth. “It was her fault,” she added, pointing down the couch to our youngest sister Tilly. (Her name was actually Matilda, but she hated that name).

Tilly stuck her hands in her armpits and also shook her head. “Nope. No way,” she said.

I knew what was going to happen. I was going to get blamed. I was the oldest; I always got blamed. Dad jokingly would call me a ring leader, but not this time, it wasn’t even my idea.

********

Earlier that day

It wasn’t looking good. It was raining, and our aunts were visiting, which means we were stuck inside with our boring cousin Malcom. Malcom was the biggest tattle tell in all of creation. We could never do anything fun with him around.

So far, we couldn’t get him to leave us alone. He followed us like a puppy, except he was a stinky whiney annoying puppy.

“Why don’t you stay here in the library with Malcom?” I whispered to Tilly. “You guys can read books and color and baby… I mean, maybe, you’ll have fun.” I was trying to convince Tilly to give up her day so at least Angela and I could have fun. She wasn’t falling for it.

“No way,” she said, shaking her head. “I want to go with you two.” She crossed her arms and planted her feet. There was no way I was changing her mind.

“What about you Angela?” I looked at her pleadingly.

“No.” Angela shook her head and had the same stubborn look that our mother always did when we weren’t going to change her mind. “Why don’t you hang out with him, and Tilly and I will go off to play in our room?”

“No way,” I said. “He’s a baby.”

“That’s why we don’t want to play with him either,” said Angela.

Malcom was younger than any of us. He wasn’t actually a baby, but he was a snitch. We could never use our magic when he was around. He always told our mother. And the day was wasting away. We rarely got a whole day without our mother supervising us, and spending our free day with Malcom was unbearable. And that’s when I got a wonderful idea.

“What if we make it so that he can’t leave this room?” I asked.

“What?” asked Tilly and Angela at the same time.

“We magic the room. We can lock the doors. Or freeze him. Or stick him to the floor. There are lots of ways we can do it.” I smiled from ear to ear. I was so proud that I’d thought of a way around our cousin problem.

My sisters, however, didn’t look happy. They both had furrowed brows and were looking at me like I was crazy.

“We can’t use magic on him,” said Tilly.

“We could get in trouble by the council,” added Angela. “It’s forbidden to use magic on other casters without being licensed.” She shook her head.

They were right. We would get in more trouble than we could handle if we magicked our cousin.

“Okay. Do you two have any better ideas then?” I asked them. I started tapping my foot impatiently. We really were wasting our whole day with this.

“What if we just tell him he has to stay here?” said Angela.

“He won’t listen to us,” I said.

“We can say his mother said he has to stay here,” added Angela.

It wasn’t a horrible plan, but it might not work. We had to do something though.

“Okay. Here’s what we’re going to do.” I leaned in and lowered my voice so they would move closer. We were in this together. “I’ll tell him, and then we leave quietly. No bolting. He’ll suspect. Once we are out of the room and down the hall, we’ll make our way to the foyer and then we’ll run to our room and lock the door.” I paused hoping they were taking it all in. “And, if he comes knocking, we don’t answer.”

They nodded in agreement.

Within five minutes, we were in our room with the door locked. We went straight to work building the best rainy-day fort out of every blanket and sheet we could find. We used magic to make them float exactly where we wanted them. We spent the rest of the afternoon in that fort casting light spells. We each would summon a tiny ball of light no bigger than a firefly and send it floating throughout the enclosed space. By the time our mother caught us several hours later, the blanket tent was filled with twinkling orbs bouncing off the fabric and our noses. We were lost in fits of giggles and happiness, and we didn’t notice when our door opened and our mother’s shoes clacked on the wood floor.

And that brings us back to the living room. Our mother and her sisters finished their luncheon and discovered Malcolm climbing a book shelf in the library with no one watching him, and incidentally, my mother had tasked me with his care earlier in the day.

Our mother stopped pacing. She turned slowly to face all three of us.

“You’re all in trouble. It doesn’t matter whose idea it was. It doesn’t matter who said what. It doesn’t matter who locked the door.” Her voice was getting louder and higher the longer she listed things.

She looked in my direction and said, “I expected better from all of you.”

She clearly meant me. I sunk further into the chair.

“Malcom is family. We treat our family better.” She resumed glaring at each of us in turn.

prompt, short story, Writing

September 2020 Prompt

I have been working on my novel again, and it’s on track to release later this year!

I’m still working on my short story of the month though, and I managed to get caught back up to where I should be at this point in the year. (It’s all coming together).

Here is the prompt I am using for September’s story:

She kept pacing the living room, back and forth, back and forth, not saying a word. It would have been easier if she had just come out and told us how disappointed she was, announced our punishment, and sent us to our rooms. But she wanted us to apologize, or explain, or something. Finally, I couldn’t stand the silence any longer and I…

Complete the Story

If you haven’t been following me that long, let me explain how the short story of the month works on my blog. Generally, I post a prompt, and then, by the end of the month, I post a story using that prompt. However, this year I’ve added some additional challenges to push myself. The story needs to be at least 1000 words, and the stories are all taking place in the same “world.”

In fact, so far, the stories are all taking place within the same family, over several generations. The family is magical, and despite that, they have normal family drama, just like the rest of us.

If you want to write a story using the prompt, please do!

Happy writing and reading this month!