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.

Time Magic

August 2020’s short story of the month

Always the same old lines whenever she came home for the holidays, like her parents were rehearsing a play over and over and never could get it right. Yet they didn’t seem to notice how much they repeated themselves. Her father would sit down to dinner and say how much he missed her, he couldn’t wait to hear about where she was living now, and he had a story or two to tell about her nieces and nephews.

Mary was sure he meant well, but that same old small talk turned into criticism in her mind. Saying he missed her meant she didn’t visit enough. Asking about her new job was really his way of saying she was unsettled, and the icing on the cake was finding a way to mention her nieces and nephews. She knew exactly why he always brought it up.

She was his oldest daughter and unmarried without any children. Who would inherit her gifts if she never had children? Did he really think she didn’t dwell on those things constantly? Her mother never failed to voice her disappointment.

Magical families tried to arrange marriages to keep the bloodlines strong and powerful. Even then, some children inherited more of the gift than others. It was completely random. Having a parent with strong magic didn’t guarantee children with the same, but in her case, her father was one of the strongest casters of his generation and she had inherited magic even stronger than his. She could manipulate all the magical elements, and even more rare, she could affect time.

Her gift was so rare that even the council of mages who ranked casters had made her prove her gifts over and over again before they would believe it. A mage who could affect time hadn’t been born for over three centuries.

Unfortunately, she was in her thirties and wasn’t married yet. Her parents had been fighting with her about it for a long time now, but something was different this visit. The normal prattle of her father was even more chipper and upbeat. Her mother was bustling around the kitchen and kept looking over at her and smiling. Something was up.

Mary was nursing her cup of tea and not really listening to her dad’s chatter. She heard a noise outside. She didn’t turn to acknowledge it because neither of her parents did. If she heard it, they definitely had. They knew someone was coming. What was going on?

Come to think of it, they didn’t usually invite her over without inviting her sisters too. Where were they? She’d spoken to both of them this week and neither had mentioned dinner with her parents.

Her parents glanced at each other, and she could have sworn she saw her dad wink at her mother.

“What is going on?” Mary said, getting to her feet and pushing away from the counter.

“What do you mean, dear?” Her mother tried to catch her father’s eye, but he was staring at his cup of tea avoiding all eye contact.

“You two are up to something.” Mary glared at her parents trying to look pissed, but honestly she was kind of curious what they were up to. It wasn’t like them to be sneaky; subtleness was not their strong point.

“Mary, we are not up to anything,” said her dad smiling a little too broadly.

“Please don’t lie to me.” She looked back and forth between the two of them. “You know I don’t like surprises. Please. Whatever it is. Just tell me.”

They never answered because the doorbell rang. Her mother wiped her hands on a kitchen towel and practically bounded out to answer it.

“Dad…” Mary said pleadingly. “Please tell me what is going on.”

Her dad wanted to tell her, but there wasn’t time. Besides, nothing he could say would change what was about to happen.

“Just remember she is only doing this because she loves you,” her dad answered.

Then Mary did something that she hadn’t done in a long time, mostly because after she cast the spell, the council would always show up to see what was going on. They had a way of knowing when she messed with time, and they had warned her from a very young age to not meddle too much with time. She listened, mostly, but if she was the only mage who could manipulate time, why shouldn’t she use it and learn how the magic of time worked? She reasoned with herself that it was better to be prepared.

She froze time. Without even waving her hands or saying a spell, she stopped everything. She didn’t have to use written spells or devices to cast time magic. How easily it came to her was another reason the council didn’t like it. They didn’t understand it, and they couldn’t stop her from using it. She could manipulate time by just thinking about it.

She left her dad in the kitchen and made her way down the hall to the foyer. Her mother was there, still as a statue, shaking the hand of another woman similar in age. With this guest was a man, also of the same generation, and a younger man.

It was a set up. Of course it was. This was a suitor or some such nonsense. Her mother had gone too far this time. Even though most magical families arranged marriages for their children, her parents had allowed her sisters to choose their own spouses. Her mother had some nerve.

Mary was contemplating how to handle this situation when the strangest thing happened.

“Hello, Mary. It’s nice to meet you,” the unwanted suitor said.

“How are you talking right now?” Mary asked. She looked him up and down. No one had ever been able to break one of her time spells.

“With this,” he said holding up an amulet that had been hidden by his shirt.

“What is that?” she asked, alarm bells were going off by this point. Why had he come prepared to stop a time spell? He obviously knew what she was capable of, but if this was just a potential suitor, why was he counteracting her magic?

Battlemage for Life

July 2020’s short story of the month

It felt uncanny, but oddly good, to hear kids running through the house again. I wondered if I could handle being a father, or at least a father figure, after all these years.

I thought about the times when my wife and I fought. It was always about the same thing – she hated my job. When we were young, she’d been attracted to how brave I was. At least, she said she was, but it didn’t take long for her mood to sour.

Being the wife of a battlemage was not what she wanted from life. At some point after the girls were born, she asked me to walk away and find something safer to do, but mostly something that kept me closer to home. She said she was tired of being a single parent.

I got it on some level, but being the dad to three girls was not what I’d expected either. I felt useless when I was at home, like I was in the way. They were so used to me being gone that their routine didn’t include me, and when I tried to “help,” I just ended up messing it up.

If I’m being honest though, it wasn’t just that being home made me feel inadequate. I was addicted to the fight. I tried not to dwell on those times because my wife said she could always tell when I was thinking about my glory days.

As I walked outside to the yard, I took a moment on the deck and breathed in the fresh clean air. There was no smell of sulfur or smoke from fire spells. There was no lingering tang of electricity from magical attacks. It was just fresh plant life and the clean smell of dirt. I could hear children laughing and the murmur of voices in the distance.

As I rounded the corner of the house, I spied my family sitting around a set of tables covered in dishes, food, and party favors. It was all in my honor and I was momentarily overwhelmed by it all. I hesitated.

In battle, I never hesitated. I was always sure and ready for the next attack. Battlemages didn’t usually serve very long at the front, but there were a handful of us old timers who kept coming back for more. I shook my head and tried once again to keep my mind from wandering.

As I joined my wife, our three daughters and their husbands, and my many grandchildren at the table, they all got quiet. After I took my seat in the place of honor, they all rose and started clapping. I shook my head.

This was my retirement party. I was done being a battlemage. I would stay home and be a husband, father, and grandfather full time. I should have been happy and relieved. Instead, I was anxious. I didn’t know how to fit into home life with all of these people who kept looking at me expectantly.

********

There were forty pairs of eyes staring at me expectantly. This was my moment. After the last battle, I’d been promoted to commander. I was now in charge of my own tactical unit of casters. I had a full arsenal of fire mages, weather casters, healers, and energy sappers. This was the moment every battlemage worth his mettle longed for – this was my chance for greatness.

I squared my shoulders and stood as tall as I could. “This is it. You all know your roles. Follow your unit leaders and don’t hesitate. Use your instincts. If you need to refuel, make sure you switch out quickly.” I paused looking around into each pair of eyes. I wanted them all to feel the connection, the bond that only battle can instill.

“Make me proud,” I stated as way of dismissal.

They all squared up and walked away neatly into units. The weather casters began to rise off the ground to protect and fight from above.

*********

Their eyes were hopeful and full of pride. They reminded me so much of the young men and women I’d fought alongside for so many years. There was something else though when I looked at my wife and daughter’s eyes, something that I’d never seen in the eyes of my soldiers. I didn’t know what it was.

Perhaps learning to understand these people who love me would be enough in my retirement. I didn’t know what they wanted from me, not exactly.

I cleared my throat and got to my feet.

“Thank you all for coming today.” I glanced at my wife sitting on my left. She looked relieved, as if a huge weight was lifted. I knew why she was feeling that way. I didn’t want to take that feeling away from her by discussing my fears here in front of the whole family. Instead, I said, “I’m looking forward to spending a lot of time with all of you. Especially you little ones.” I raised my glass. “To my grandkids.”

“Here! Here!” Everyone said in unison. They all raised their glasses, even the littles, and drank to family.

********

After a long night of fighting, we trudged into the mess tent. As we sat around the table, no one was eating, most were just pushing their food around the plates.

We’d taken heavy loses. We were no longer a full tactical unit. We’d lost so many that we would be pulled from the front until our numbers could be replenished with new troops.

I looked around at those who remained and not one pair of eyes looked up at me. They were either staring at their food, not really seeing it, or doing their best to hide their tears from their fellow soldiers.

I raised my glass. “To those who died.”

There was a long pause, and I kept my arm raised until everyone was looking at me.

Further away, another voice said, “To those we’ve lost.”

And then another, “To our fallen brethren.”

The chants went up one after another. Before long, the entire mess tent, not just our little band, was raising their glass to the fallen.

Love Letters

June 2020’s short story of the month

After the funeral, I spent the next few days in the attic, reading the letters my mother had written him in the years before they were married. He had never been the sentimental type, so I was surprised to find a whole box of them, carefully bundled. Holding on to something that served no practical purpose was completely out of character for my father.

Even more surprising was how many times my mother wrote to my father about not wanting to go through with their marriage. At first, I felt like I shouldn’t be reading them. They were very personal and not written to me. My curiosity got the better of me though. They were from a time before I was alive, before I was even a thought. They were proof that my parents, with their seemingly perfect life, had personal struggles just like the rest of us. The letters made me see them both in a new light.

The bundles only contained the letters from my mother so I had no idea what he’d written in return, but he must have said something convincing because they’d been married for over 50 years when my mother had passed last year.

I read them slowly and got lost in trying to piece together what must have been going through both their minds back then. By the time I gathered the letters and took them and a few other items out to my car, I was struggling with my mother’s reaction to her arrange married.

Even in this day and age, magic users are paired up and their families arrange their marriage. The idea is to keep the magic genetics strong. One of my own daughters was challenging the traditional way we did things and refusing to get married. She’d already declined three arrangements. Our family was from a long line of powerful users, and when my daughters were finally ready to wed, they’d had multiple offers. We allowed our daughters to meet and choose from the offers, which was fairly progressive of us, but it wasn’t enough for my oldest.

I put the small box of things in my trunk and paused before I got into the car. I gazed at my parent’s house. My two sisters would go through the house later in the week and then we could put it on the market. Soon it would belong to someone else, hopefully another family would thrive in it’s walls. It felt strange to be parentless, even though I was already a grandmother myself. One of my daughters had a baby a few months ago, and the youngest was pregnant, though she hasn’t “announced” it yet.

My oldest daughter, the strongest user in the family, she would probably never have children — or get married. It was such a waste. She’d definitely inherited her father’s power more than the other girls. To think it might end with her was weighing heavily on me lately.

As I drove home in the afternoon light with the wind blowing through the windows, I couldn’t help but think of my mother’s letters again.

My daughter could never see them. It would only further strengthen her campaign to prove that marriage wasn’t necessary. I needed to destroy them. They may have been precious to my father, but they would only lead to more drama if she discovered them.

I waited until my husband fell asleep in his recliner reading a dusty old book. I gathered the bundled letters and made my way to the kitchen. Throughout the evening as I’d absentmindedly cooked dinner and tidied things, I came to a decision about the letters.

I wasn’t just going to destroy them. I was going to use them in a spell.

In the pantry, I gathered the ingredients I would need – rose petals, lavender, and something to bind them… something strong… dark molasses.

My daughter would be furious with me if she knew what I was about to do. I’d raised my daughters to never use magic when they could do something for themselves. And I taught them to never, under any circumstances, try to raise the dead or make people fall in love. Both magics never worked out the way people wanted them to.

I boiled the rose petals, lavender, and honey in water from a mineral spring. I let it boil down some and then placed the letters in the pot so they were submerged in the liquid.

I took a deep breath and cast my spell. I wanted my daughter to fall in love and the love would be unbreakable, no matter what trials came their way.

When I was finished, I opened my eyes and there was a flash of magenta flames from the pot. I watched as the spell rose up and was caught by a breeze coming in the open window.

It was done. I looked into the pot and all that remained were ashes. I tidied up so that there was no evidence that I’d been working a spell. As I was putting the pot back in the cabinet, I was startled by someone clearing their throat in the kitchen.

I stood up and my husband was standing there smiling at me.

“I think it’s time for bed, my love,” he looked around the kitchen thoughtfully. I could have sworn I heard him breath in deeply as he walked out.

I wondered if he suspected something. I didn’t often cast spells with out discussing it with him. He was a much stronger caster than I, but mostly we were just used to discussing everything with one another. After a lifetime of marriage, there wasn’t much we didn’t know about each other. That’s what I wanted for my daughter.

As I closed the window, I looked out at the night sky and hoped that the spell would work. I should have known better though. The truth about love spells is that they are often cast out of desperation and that fear and anxiety get mixed with the hope and longing causing the spell to twist and distort.

Dad, Follower of Merlin

May 2020’s short story of the month

Present day…

It was odd to be in a room full of people who all seemed to look up to my dad like he was some kind of hero. A part of me wanted to see him through their eyes just for a moment. I tried to picture him as one of the Followers of Merlin. The Followers were some of the most powerful magic users in the world, and they were treated like rock stars in the magical world. Was that really how these people saw my dad?

Dad was just… Dad. He wasn’t a hero or even all that powerful. He wore socks with his sandals, and he sang oldies while he washed dishes. He wasn’t anything special.

As I moved from group to group, listening to the stories being told by the Followers, I started to see my dad in a new light. He hadn’t always been Dad. Before my sisters and I were born, and before he’d settled down with Mom, he’d been an active member of the Followers.

I stopped roaming and listened to one member tell the story of how he met my father.

“He was the fastest caster there,” the story teller said to the group around him. His anecdotal evidence resulted in a lot of head nodding and smiles. Apparently, the rest of this group had similar encounters with my father at some point.

A woman standing on my left chimed in with, “His fire bolts were hot enough to burn a tree in a matter of seconds.”

Again, there was a round of nodding.

I walked off trying to understand what I was hearing and reconcile it with what I knew of my dad.

Just that morning, my father was making pancakes and he used magic to make them into scenes from fairy tales, but that was the first magic I’d seen him use in almost a month.

My mother didn’t encourage any of us to use magic for day to day tasks, even my dad. I just couldn’t understand why the person everyone was talking about would give all that up to be a dad.

Finally, the hall lights flickered, which meant it was time for the ceremony.

I stood next to my dad while the Head of the Followers gave a speech introducing my dad and his accomplishments. Throughout the entire speech, I couldn’t help myself; I kept looking at my dad trying to see him how these people did. I just couldn’t see it.

********

Many years ago…

He chose his battle armor carefully that day. He was leaving for the front with a conclave of users. He shouldn’t be excited about going to war, but he was. He wanted the glory. He wanted the fame. He wanted to show his meddle. This was his moment.

His grey caped billowed around him as he marched proudly down the hall to find the others. His belongings were all ready packed and waiting. He could feel it in his bones; this was going to be a great time in his life.

*********

A few weeks after his arrival at the front…

He opened his eyes but couldn’t make himself get up. He was weary, so unbelievably weary. His bones were tired. He wasn’t sure if he had the will to attend to his watch that night. He just wanted to rest.

“On your feet,” the shift sergeant yelled.

He didn’t move. He stared at the ceiling.

The sergeant stepped closer to him and whispered so the others wouldn’t hear, “Come on. Get up. Everyone is tired. This is what you signed up for.” He looked down at the wizard with sympathy and moved on to get the others up.

********

A few months after that night…

“Come on men! We are finally making them retreat. Don’t lose hope now. Show me what you got. Put everything out there. Don’t try to conserve energy. Hit them with everything you have!” He was shouting as he paced in a circle in the middle of a group of weary wizards who’d been too long at battle.

This war was supposed to be over in matter of weeks, but it was trailing on and on. He’d joined for glory and fame. There was no glory here at the front, only death and blood. He’d lost count of the number of troops and wizards that had rotated through his conclave.

“The important thing to remember is that we’re winning.” The sergeant walked up behind him and placed his hand on his shoulder.

“Let me take it from here,” he whispered.

He just nodded and stepped aside. Pep talks were not his strong suit. Others followed him because his name was spreading like a wild fire. He was a war hero. A hero who wouldn’t leave the front even though he’d fulfilled his duty to crown and country. He stayed and continued to fight.

He knew what the troops were feeling. He remembered those days when he could barely move day after day. Somehow, he had managed to push through those feelings and keep going.

********

Sometime between present day and his last day at battle…

He paced in the hallway and could hear the screams again. He wanted to help but there was little he could do in this situation.

The screaming continued, broken up by sobbing. He could hear people moving about and at one point, something metal dropped onto the floor.

After what felt like ages, a door finally opened.

The midwife who popped her head out said, “You have a daughter.”

He smiled and stopped pacing. He sat down on a bench and felt weary down to his bones, but there was something else there too. He felt hope and saw a future that didn’t ask him to be anything more than what he was.

Lesson Learned

April 2020’s short story of the month

It was different, writing on a typewriter; the clatter and noise, the resistance of the old keys forcing her to really put effort into each letter. She imagined she was writing the next best-selling novel. This momentarily distracted her from the reality of what she was really doing – writing a history paper that was all ready past due.

Meredith, who preferred to be called Mary, stopped for a moment and looked at the neat rows of black letters on the new white paper. She smiled to herself, but it quickly faded. She didn’t want her mother to know that she was actually enjoying this.

Her mother was making her write the paper the “old-fashioned” way to teach her a lesson. Mary was forbidden to use magic in any way to help. Not to mince words, but she was being punished, and rightly so.

Mary had put off the assignment until the last minute and then tried to conjure a finished project. Her spellcraft needed work though. Much like her normal school work, Mary had a bad habit of not practicing her spells like she was told to.

Making her type the paper on an old typewriter without magic to aid her was her mother’s idea of teaching her that just because you could use magic didn’t mean you should. Mary tried to point out that if her mother had let her turn in the original magicked paper, at least she might have gotten a passing grade, but because she failed to turn in anything, she received a zero. And to top it off, she would now be taking history during summer school. Her mother was still making her write the paper even though her teacher said at this point it wouldn’t matter one way or another.

Mary spent the rest of the afternoon flipping through her history textbook and various old books she’d pulled from the family library. She worked diligently at the kitchen table until her mother told her to take a break so they could set the table for dinner.

Promptly following dinner, Mary pulled out the heavy typewriter again and got back to work. She was still typing away after her mother tucked both her sisters into bed.

Mary heard her mother enter the kitchen but didn’t look up. She was in the zone and didn’t want to lose her train of thought. Her mother sat down across the table from her but didn’t speak.

Finally, Mary got to the end of a paragraph about a particularly gruesome battle. Mary was discovering that writing about history could be entertaining. She wondered how so many humans could go about their lives not realizing that magic was real, especially after they read about wars and famines and other horrific catastrophic events.

“You can’t turn this in to your history teacher,” her mother said while skimming through the pages stacked neatly on the table.

“Why not?” Mary asked.

Her mother had to suppress a smile. “Mary, be serious. You cannot write a paper about how magic was used during the civil war and then hand it in to your normal school teacher.”

“Why not?” Mary countered with all the smugness of a rebellious teen who didn’t care what the world thought. “It might do Mr. Hunt some good to read some real history for a change.”

Her mother just shook her head. “Dear, remember something I’ve told you over and over again. Humans believe their own version of the truth.” She paused and smirked as she read about how witches placed curses on cannonballs and muskets. “This is the world we live in. We keep our secrets for our safety and for theirs.”

Mary was sitting back now with her arms crossed firmly over her chest. This was not the first time the battle line was drawn between mother and daughter, and it wouldn’t be the last.

“Maybe it’s time we stop keeping secrets.” Mary didn’t want to say something else, but she couldn’t help herself. “Maybe it’s time we stop being scared.”

Her mother just shook her head. “We’ve been over this. If humans knew we had magic, bad things would happen to our kind. Very bad things.”

“You say that, but the world is changing, it’s 1990. This isn’t the middle ages. We have power, and we basically can’t use it. Think of the good we could do for this world if we stopped hiding.”

“Enough.” Her mother stood and slammed both hands on the table at the same time. “If you want to know why we live the way we do, you are looking in the wrong history books.” Her mother worked a spell and the table was covered with books open to horrific drawings and paintings.

Each one depicted a scene from various times in history when witches were persecuted. There were women being burned alive and others being held under water by men laughing. The truth was that most of the women who died during witch hunts weren’t even true witches. Real witches were better at hiding their powers, but they had stood by and saw what would happen to them if people knew the truth.

The books open before Mary were handmade books that had been passed down in her family. One of her ancestors had been at each of these terrible events. They had witnessed the cruelty of living with no secrets.

Her mother picked up the history paper Mary had spent all day on and with a deliberate snap, the papers turned to ash.

Adventure

March 2020 Short Story of the Month

To call him stubborn would be polite. Not that politeness mattered to him. Malcolm would probably describe himself as principled. Those closest to him would probably use different words, like jack ass. He never broke the rules. He made the rest of us uncomfortable. We never asked him to tag along when we were going to use magic because he was worse than having our parents around. He NEVER allowed us to use magic within a five-mile radius of a non-magic user, and when we did, he would purse his lips and tap his foot. Then the second we got home, he ratted us out. He was my least favorite cousin.

This summer his family had spent an inordinate amount of time with us. Something was going on – something the adults didn’t want us to know about. As much as my sisters and I had tried to discover what the meetings were about, Malcom had thwarted us at every attempt. The grown ups must have told him to keep an eye on us.  

Today though, we had a plan. Two of us were going to take him on an adventure. The other would pretend to not feel well, and then after the others were out of the house, the “sick” one would be free to nose around and find out what the grown ups were up to.

The problem, however, is that we all wanted to be the one to stay home.

“I’m the best at sneaking,” said my youngest sister.

“Mom is more likely to believe me,” said our middle sister.

I looked at both of them and realized quickly I would need to pull rank because time was running out and the two of them could argue like this for ages.

“I’m the oldest,” I said. “And I’m staying. You two find a way to keep Malcolm busy for as long as possible.”

Their collective groans didn’t stop me. I returned to my room and got back into bed.

Not long after that I heard feet running down the hall and then one door opened. I heard the murmur of their voices. My sisters and Malcolm were talking. Then the door opened again and they came to my room where I lay with the blanket pulled up to my chin.

I peaked at them through squinted eyes. “Turn the light off,” I said barely above a whisper. “My head hurts. The light.” My voice trailed off as if I didn’t have the will to finish.

Malcolm took a step nearer but my sisters stayed behind. Even with my eyes barely open, I saw one of them roll her eyes.

“You’re not coming with us?” Malcolm asked.

I grunted. “Not today.”

I saw him doing some mental calculations. He was definitely meant to spy on us. How could our parents put him up to something like that?

“It’s okay,” my youngest sister said. “Come on Malcolm. We’ll tell her all about our fun later. Wait till you see where we’re going.” She was doing her best to sound enthusiastic, and she elbowed my other sister to chime in.

“Yep,” the other said. “It’s going to be super fun.”

If there was ever a contest for vaguest description, my sisters were winning it.

“Maybe I should stay here,” suggested Malcolm. “Your sister might need someone to entertain her and bring her drinks.”

“No,” I said a little too loudly. I fell back and shut my eyes acting like the sound of my own voice hurt me. “It’s just a headache. I’ll be fine alone.”

“It’s related to her woman time,” said my youngest sister.

Malcolm went white. “Okay, then. Let’s go.”

After they left I rolled my eyes. I don’t know how my youngest sister knew that would work, but it did. She was quick.

I didn’t get out of bed immediately. I let the house settle. I heard other people moving about downstairs but everything was muffled.

Then I felt it. The house went absolutely silent. Our house was in the country; it was never this quiet. You could always hear animal sounds outside, and my parents had several windchimes along the porch beams. I couldn’t hear any of them. The house itself often creaked, even during the day, but not right now. Everything was still.

One of the grown ups had cast a spell. Maybe they didn’t know I was still here, but I was definitely inside the bubble. I would need to move about without making any noise. They were sure to hear even the tiniest of noise with everything else hushed.

I turned on the bed and placed my feet on the floor one at a time. I didn’t stand up but let my weight gradually slide that way. As soon as I was standing, I wanted to run down the hall and slide down the banister and get to the kitchen as quickly as possible, but I didn’t want to risk it.

The only way I could think to get down there without them noticing me was to use magic. My mother would be furious if she knew, and luckily Malcolm wasn’t around to rat me out. I cast a flying spell on myself. I wasn’t great at them. My spells didn’t last long, but I had pretty good control over my movements.

I flew out my room slowly and looked around the hall. No one was around and I didn’t hear any movement in the house to indicate someone had felt my spell being cast. My sisters and I were always casting small things around the house, so hopefully I could continue to go unnoticed.

I floated down the hall past empty rooms and headed for the stairs. At the landing, I did another quick search to sense if my movements were being noticed – nothing seemed amiss.

Uneventfully I made my way down the stairs and through the foyer. I was floating outside the kitchen door when my spell began to waver. I tried to recast but I didn’t work it out in time. I fell flat on my face just outside the door and smacked my face into the kitchen door that was being held firmly closed.

It took about two seconds for the door to open. My mother was on the other side. She didn’t even say anything; she just pointed toward the front of the house. My charade was at an end.

I went outside to join my sisters and Malcolm. I sat on the front porch and waited for them to return. Hopefully their adventure was more exciting than mine.

Canned Memories

February 2020 short story of the month

I didn’t cry when she died, or at the funeral, or at the reception. It wasn’t until the next morning when I went to the pantry and saw row upon row of canned vegetables, fruits, and jams she had prepared for the long winter ahead. The shelves were filled with memories of her. Canning was one of her hobbies, left over from a time when she’d learned to do it for survival. It seems strange that magic users needed to do things like canning to survive. We could snap our fingers to make fields grow, but we didn’t.

We’ve always had to hide what we were by doing “normal” things. Tough winters meant canning and stocking up for us just like everyone else to make it through the season without attracting attention. If too much fortune favored us, people got suspicious. It wasn’t that long ago in history that witch hunts were common practice. We tried our hardest to blend in.

It was exhausting.

I picked up a jar of my mother’s homemade blackberry jam. It was a blue ribbon winner at the country fair. I smiled when I looked at it labeled in her sloppy handwriting. If I hadn’t been reading it my entire life, I wouldn’t have known it said blackberry.

I wiped the tears from my cheeks before I left the pantry. I didn’t want my daughters to see me like that. I was determined to be strong in front of them. Raising three girls was more challenging than I’d ever imagined. They were grown now and that brought a whole unforeseen set of problems. Most of my parenting now was about trying to steer them towards their own futures and navigating their constant bickering. For three people raised in the same house, they were incredibly different. They reminded me daily of me and my two sisters.

They were seated now at the farm style dining table. They were all sitting on one bench and their father was on the opposite side. No one was talking. They were all staring at their cups of various hot drinks.

“I found a jar of blackberry,” I said as I placed it on the table. I gathered utensils and small plates and started making toast. As I was about to place four pieces of bread in the toaster, a wave of grief hit me.

I placed my hands flat on the counter in front of me and squeezed my eyes tightly. I took a deep breath in and then let it out slowly. After I collected myself again and reopened my eyes, I snapped my fingers and there was a pile of perfectly toasted bread on the plate in front of me.

I took it over to the table and set it in front of my girls. They all looked up with shock on their face. I was always lecturing them about using magic for things they could do themselves.

“Not today,” I said and sat down next to my husband to eat some toast with my mother’s blackberry jam smeared on it.

The jam hit my tongue, and it brought with it a swarm of memories. They flashed through my mind so quickly I couldn’t focus on a single one. Then they settled and one in particular surfaced.

I was walking with my sisters; the three of us were holding hands. We were eight, nine, and ten. It was a summer day, and the heat was all ready sweltering. Our mother had made us wear baby blue dresses for family pictures. We were supposed to stay nearby, but instead, we’d wandered off a little bit to explore while our parents had pictures of the two of them taken.

We walked away slowly at first, but once we realized our parents weren’t paying attention to us, we increased our speed and moved quickly away. We were still walking hand in hand, the three of us strung together like beads on a string.

I was in the middle and with a sister on either side of me, I felt safe even though we could no longer hear or see our parents. Our oldest sister was pulling us towards something.

“Look!” she yelled as she pointed frantically. I saw what she was pointing at — blackberry bushes. There were so many of them I couldn’t see where they stopped and the rest of the woods continued. They were laden with fruit.

My younger sister didn’t immediately seem as impressed with this discovery as me.

“These might be someone’s property,” she said. “We should go back to mother and father now.” She released my hand and placed her hands on her hips, looking very haughty for someone only eight years old.

“We’ll only have a few,” my older sister said. “I’m hungry. We’ve been out here for hours.”

She moved away from us and began to pop berries in her mouth.

I looked at her and then over at my younger sister trying to decide which side of this battle I wanted to be on.

“They’re delicious,” my sister said, berry juice was on her hands and face.

I joined her and ate berries with abandon. Neither of us paid much attention to what we were doing, and after a minute of being the odd one out, our sister joined us too. We were giggling and walking along picking berries and popping them in our mouths without a care.

“Girls!” our mother yelled.

We stopped in our tracks. That’s when I looked at my sisters. Their dresses were spotted with berry juice and their faces and hands were sticky.

My younger sister spun around quickly. “I told them not to,” she blurted out. Tears were welling in her eyes. She never liked getting in trouble.

And we were in so much trouble.

Our mother was practically turning purple. She didn’t yell at us till we got home. She pointed back the way we’d came, and we walked off silently toward the car without making eye contact with her.

That night back at home we were scrubbed until our skin was red. And then the lecture began; she sat us all down in a row on the couch. We all sat looking down at our laps. And then my younger sister, always the pragmatist, opened an even bigger can of worms.

We were all thinking it, but usually we didn’t have the nerve to question our mother, especially about magic use.

“Mom, why didn’t you just snap your fingers and make us clean again?”  

Turkey Dinner Stalemate

January 2020 Short Story of the Month

Present Day…

I stopped for a breath before cutting the turkey. I wanted to appreciate the moment. Seeing everyone there, sitting around the table, almost felt like we were a family again. But if we had been a real family, my decision wouldn’t have caused a war. I knew standing against generations would be challenging, but I thought my own family would understand. They didn’t have to agree with me, but they didn’t have to openly fight me either.

This dinner was a weird momentary truce in a cold war that I started by refusing to marry Phillip.

********

Two Years Ago…

I looked around the parking lot and saw my siblings’ cars already parked. I was the last to arrive – like usual. I slammed the door and anticipated all the grief I was about to get.

I glanced up as I walked. The sign over the diner had three letters out and two more were flickering. Why didn’t my mother just fix them? Sometimes I didn’t understand her.

All she had to do was blink and the lights would be working again. Did she think the broken ones added character? That would be just like her.

Just because I could, and no one was around, I made one of the broken ones come back on. My family hated when I used magic out in the open. They were terrified someone would see me. I didn’t care. Early on I realized that even when confronted with the truth of magic, most people refused to believe it was real. Their brains couldn’t handle it, so they ignored it.

I sighed audibly. I was dreading this meeting. My mother had said there was “big news.” I had a pretty good idea what it was about. Why couldn’t this wait till after Thanksgiving? It was only a few days away. The whole family would be gathered – it was one of our more pleasant traditions.

Maybe the rest of the family already knew and I was the last to know. That would be par for the course with my parents.

Opening the door, a bell tinkled over my head. Every person at the counter turned and looked in my direction. Every person was also a member of my family. My parents were both behind the counter. Both of my sisters and their husbands were sitting at the counter with coffee and pie. No one was eating their pie.

My mother pursed her lips as I approached. I sat on the only empty bar stool between my two sisters. They were both younger than me, but they often acted like I was younger than them because I was “less of an adult.” I was in my thirties, unmarried and without children. I was also guilty of not “settling down” – an apparently unforgivable sin among my family. They all lived here in town, but I liked to travel and moved almost as soon as I was done unpacking my last box every time.

It always surprised me how magic users were some of the most conservative backward fuddy-duddies.

My mother placed a piece of pie and a cup in front of me. My dad filled it with coffee and winked at me. I couldn’t help it; I grinned at him.

“Now, you two don’t start,” my mother said.

My dad turned his back and put the urn back on the warmer. I smiled as I added sugar and lots of creamer to my cup.

My mother didn’t waste any time.

She cleared her throat. “I’ve asked you all here because your father and I have an announcement to make.” She paused, and they held hands to show their solidarity.

“That’s right,” my dad added. “Big news.” He was grinning so big it stretched his mouth too far over his teeth. I didn’t like it when people smiled like that. They looked manic.

My sisters kept peeking at me in a not very subtle way. I whispered to them, “I can see you, you know.” They both sat up a little straighter.

My mother was intermittingly frowning and then forcing herself to smile. Whatever she was about to say, she didn’t want to.

“A match has been made,” she said looking directly in my eyes.

“No,” I said. I honestly wasn’t surprised. My family seemed to be under the impression that I just didn’t know how to look for a husband. What they failed to understand is that I didn’t want to find one.

Amongst magic users, one of the steadfast unwritten rules was that magic users married other magic users. By marrying and breeding together, magical lines became stronger. I’d all ready refused three matches over the last ten years; why did they think this one would be different?

My mother stared at my dad and motioned with her head that he should handle me. He and I always got along better than my mother and I. However, I didn’t like being handled.

********

Present Day…

“Hey!” my sister yelled at me. “Stop daydreaming and cut the turkey. I’m eating for two here.” She rubbed her belly and smiled at it.

I scowled at her. I didn’t care if she was pregnant. She didn’t have to be rude. I lifted the knife and simultaneously opened my mouth to say something. Before I could get a word out, my dad stepped up behind me and said, “Let me handle this.”

I sat down between my sisters and tried not to look at them. As I glanced at my dad, he winked at me.