Men Are Allowed to Cry

September 2021’s Short Story of the Month

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What do you mean?” my brother asked. 

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

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

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

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

I nodded. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 2021’s Prompt

It’s September! I love this month! And I’m working very hard to get the draft of my third novel sent to my editor by the end of this month! (Wish me luck!)

If you’re here for this month’s short story prompt:

After my father’s stroke, he started crying all the time. He cried about everything: sentimental commercials, pop songs on the radio, or…

Complete the Story

Now go get writing!

Happy reading and writing today and everyday!

Earth Magic

August 2021 short story of the month

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hi there,” the newcomer said to Cheryl.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It even smelled different.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Where did you get this?” Cheryl asked.

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

What’s in a Name?

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

“Clarice,” said her teacher.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her friends nodded in unison.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She paused. “Let me start again.”

Lost Memories

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

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

A door creaked behind him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do I know you?” he asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He looked at her waiting for her to decide.

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

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

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

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

August 2021’s Prompt

I don’t know how or why I’m so far behind with everything right now. I haven’t been that busy, but I’ve just been spending too much time having fun instead of writing. At this point, I need to finish 3 short stories this month!

Well, let’s get this horse pointed in the right direction… here is August’s short story prompt:

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

Complete the Story

I also need to back track and write a story for June and July.

Here is June’s prompt in case you missed it:

It was like an echo from the past, or a dream that he was only just now remembering. He recognized everything about the room, even though he was sure he’d never been there before. He knew the paintings on the walls, could name the artists who’d painted them. The only thing that puzzled him was…

Complete the Story

And here’s July’s prompt:

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

Complete the Story

I can do this! The story for June is basically done, just needs some polishing, but the other two haven’t left the station.

Anyway, I have things to do…

Happy reading and writing today and everyday!

July’s Short Story Prompt

It’s the first of July! This month I am not messing around, and I fully intend to get my blog caught up and everything else I’ve meant to…

I woke up feeling pumped today, so I’m hoping to continue that energy this month! I’ve got my to-do list prepped and I’m focusing!

Without further delay, here is this month’s short story idea:

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

Complete the Story

If you follow my blog, you’ll know that my goal is to write a short story every month using the prompt. In addition, I write a minimum of 1000 words, and the stories are all connected for the year. This year the stories are set in a smallish town with several magic users going about their normal lives. So far, the teenagers of the town have been my focus. I’m still hoping I can find a way to connect the teens together as the year goes on.

Happy reading and writing today and every day! Stay tuned for June and July’s stories (I’m still a little behind).

June 2021 Prompt

I swear yesterday was the first week of June… where is the time going? What’s even stranger to me is that I haven’t really been that busy this month, and I feel like I’ve gotten a lot done… just not on my blog… but trust me, I haven’t been idle.

I finished a huge needlework project! (One of my hobbies is cross-stitch and needlework).

My finished project and me peaking out from behind the frame.

I’ve also been working on cleaning out our garage, which we use for storage. It was so full you couldn’t really walk in it. Now, there is almost room for my car.

Anyhow, I’ve also been working on my novel! I’ve also been reading a bunch and I’m finally on pace to meet my goal for the year (according to Goodreads).

So, anyway, it’s been a good month… if you are here for the prompt, here it is:

It was like an echo from the past, or a dream that he was only just now remembering. He recognized everything about the room, even though he was sure he’d never been there before. He knew the paintings on the walls, could name the artists who’d painted them. The only thing that puzzled him was…

Complete the Story

This is (fingers crossed) going to be a fun one to write about.

Happy reading and writing this month and every day!

Just a Game

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Let’s wait a few minutes,” I said.

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

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

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

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

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

“Next stop, the locker room,” I said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Creature in the Woods

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

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

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

He waited five minutes but nothing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe he didn’t need to.

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

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