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.

The Truth

December 2019 short story of the month

Sometimes kids are the only ones willing to say what’s really on their minds, and our family needed a little dose of honesty. We almost never said something straight out. My step-mother was the worst. All she would do was pretend like nothing happened. And she expected all of us to do the same. We were supposed to pretend to be the perfect family in public. We didn’t want anyone to know the truth about us.

So the day Sam finally said something, no one believed him. Everyone assumed he was lying. Who would believe those things about our picturesque blended family? We were the epitome of how a family with kids from two original marriages could come together and be happy again.

We weren’t though, not even on our best days. Most days we barely spoke to one another, and when we did, it was just shouting.

********

“Sam! Stop fidgeting. Please sit still; you are distracting those around you trying to take their quiz,” Ms. Morgan yelled.

Sam couldn’t get comfortable though. His legs hurt. Finally, he gave up trying to sit and just stood up. Every person turned to look at him, except his step-sister. They hated being in the same history class. She didn’t need to look up. She knew what was wrong with him.

He knew he shouldn’t. The repercussions for what he was about to do could be worse than what he was already going through, but he was only 15 and he didn’t see anyway around this.

“Can I go see the nurse?” he asked Ms. Morgan loud enough for the whole room to hear. He made sure his step-sister heard him too. She looked up and shook her head before returning to her quiz.

********

Sam didn’t bother sitting on the hard plastic chair in the nurse’s office. He didn’t like waiting. It was making him anxious. He rocked back and forth from his heels to the balls of his feet and shoved his hands deep into his pockets. He was still doing that when she finally came back from checking on a student who sprained her ankle in gym.

Sam told the nurse his legs hurt. She watched him rock back and forth and didn’t really believe him.

“Are you trying to get out of something going on in class?”

Sam shook his head. He had a feeling she wouldn’t take him seriously, so he did the only thing that would convince her. He turned with his back to hear and dropped his jeans.

The nurse sent him to the counselor’s office and immediately went to speak to the principal.

********

He spoke with the counselor for over two hours. He almost missed the bus to go home. When he took his seat on the bus, his step-sister watched him over her sunglasses but didn’t say anything. She shook her head again and put in her headphones.

********

Several weeks later a social worker visited the family. By then there were no marks. The social worker spent less than an hour in their home. She questioned the children with both parents there.

Her assessment when she left was that Sam had lied. The kids were fed everyday and clothed. They had a roof over their heads; the boy was clearly acting out. Such a waste of her time.

Wounded

November 2019 Short Story of the Month

Present Day

Even after a long day at work, my mother’s hands worked tirelessly: chopping vegetables for dinner, stitching our clothes, whatever needed doing. I loved her hands and admired them. I wanted to be strong like her. But at the time, I couldn’t be. I would have, and gladly, if I weren’t so wrapped up in my own world — a world she would never understand.

I was sitting at the table when she came in from cleaning houses. She gave me a withering look out of the corner of her eye. She thought I didn’t see those looks, but I did. 

I knew I should be better but there was a large part of me that wouldn’t care. I couldn’t make myself. The pills kept me from caring about almost everything. I liked being checked out. It was easier. The longer I stayed checked out, the longer I wouldn’t have to acknowledge what happened to me. 

*********

Two Years Ago

“Have a great day at work,” my mother said as I was walking out the door. I nodded over my shoulder but kept walking. My partner was waiting for me in a navy sedan bobbing his head to whatever was on the radio. 

“Let’s roll,” I said shutting the door. 

The first few hours of our shift were uneventful. We broke up a fight between two men arguing over the price of fish, and we were called out to a domestic disturbance. We ended up putting bracelets on the husband, the wife, and the mistress. 

The next call was the call that would change my whole life, but I didn’t know that at the time. 

*********

The Next Morning

I woke up in the hospital. The pain was excrutiating. I couldn’t even sit up. I couldn’t feel anything other than the pain. I screamed or thought I was. Then, I saw the nurse just standing there, so maybe I wasn’t screaming. 

She leaned over me. “Are you awake?” She asked. 

“Yes,” my voice sounded scratchy and hoarse. 

The doctor was brought in and talked to me a lot, but I couldn’t focus on him or really process what he said.

Then my mother came into view. She was talking to the doctor and there were tears coming down her face. 

**********

Present Day

I didn’t care and I didn’t want to talk about it. I’d lost my job and everything that day, but there was no way I was going to tell the department appointed therapist about it.

We did our usual stare off for my required weekly hour and then I left. She knew what had happened, and she knew I was taking pills. She didn’t talk about it, and I didn’t either. But I still went because if I didn’t my mom would be really disappointed in me.

At this point, it was no longer about getting better; it was about keeping the looks to a minimum.

November’s Prompt

IT’S NANOWRIMO!!! So, why aren’t you writing? Stop reading this and get writing.

Only kidding.

I have yet to write one word today.

If you are participating in NANOWRIMO, good luck to you! I am attempting it and editing my novel at the same time. My brain is sort of fried, and I’m beginning to question what the point of a comma is….

Anywho… if you need something to get you started, here is this month’s writing prompt:

Even after a long day at work, my mother’s hands worked tirelessly: chopping vegetables for dinner, stitching our clothes, whatever needed doing. I loved her hands and admired them. I wanted to be strong like her. But at the time, I couldn’t be. I would have, and gladly, if I weren’t so…

Happy reading and writing this month!!

Secrets and Money

October 2019 short story of the month

“Deal?” he said, extending his hand toward me.

I hesitated then reached out. Frank thought he had the upper hand, and in a sense he did. What he didn’t know was that I’d promised him something that wasn’t mine to give.

I left his office feeling a mix of anxiety and victory. I’d bought us some time, but Frank was volatile. He wouldn’t let it go for long. And then there was the matter of my father’s business. Could Frank really take it from my dad? I held no claim over it, but I’d just bargained it to save my neck. Should I tell my dad about the deal or wait and see what happens?

For now, I was off the hook. If I told my father the truth, he’d probably turn me over to Frank himself. I needed cash, and I needed it fast. I was desperate, and desperate times called for crazy Nick.

When I arrived at Nick’s apartment, he was on the phone but motioned for me to come in anyway.

“Sure. Yep. Sounds good,” Nick was saying to whoever was on the other end of the call. “Next week works for me. Yep. Check ya later.” He pocketed his cell and joined me in the living room.

“You look desperate, man,” he said sinking into the sofa cushion. He propped his feet on the table. His left sock had a hole in the heel and the big toe.

I had doubts about what I was about to ask, but the other option was to tell my dad the truth.

Two days later, cash in hand, I walked into Frank’s and put the money in front of him. Frank’s mouth literally fell open. He didn’t even count it; he just sat there looking at it like it might disappear.

I didn’t say anything, just nodded at him and walked out. Nick and I made a deal. No one was to ever find out how we got the money – no one. We would take that secret to our grave.

October’s Prompt

Here is October’s short story of the month prompt:

“Deal?”he said, extending his hand toward me. I hesitated then reached out. Frank thought he had the upper hand, and in a sense he did. What he didn’t know was that…

I hope everyone is having a great start to the month! I am in NANOWRIMO prep mode combined with an over-sugared pre-Halloween craze!

Happy reading and writing this month!

Hidden in the Ice

September’s Short Story of the Month

The lake was as still and shiny as glass, as if he could step on it and walk all the way across. It was one of those days when anything seems possible, and he stood there, breathing deep and imagining the feeling of soaring over the cool lake and feeling the crisp new winter air slide across his skin.

“Jack! Jack! Where is that boy?” he could hear his mother yelling in the distance.

He snapped out of his daydream and let out a deep sigh. As he looked once more at the lake that would soon freeze and become a place of fun and joviality, he let the cold air fill his lungs to the point that it hurt to breathe.

As he walked up the stone path leading to his house, his mother stuck her head out the door and began to yell again.

“Jack! Jack!” Before she could say it a third time, she spotted him. “There you are. What have you been doing? The groceries aren’t going to pick themselves up. Take my car.”

“Sorry, Mother.” I was just walking to clear my head because winter is coming, and I can feel the old longing in my bones. The longing to use the powers of ice and wind to create a winter wonderland – to feel everything hibernate and slumber for a season. Jack thought this part but didn’t say it to his mother. She and father didn’t like it when he talked of magic.

It didn’t matter anyway; he didn’t have any powers. But for some reason, he remembered having them, which didn’t make sense. He was only 17. How could he remember bringing winter to the world? He’d never even left his hometown.

As he drove away, his mother stared at the car leaving the driveway. She pursed her lips and failed to hear her husband walk up behind her.

“What’s troubling you, dear?” he asked.

“Nothing,” she said at first. Then she shook her head and tried to shake the nagging feeling that was always at the back of her mind lately.

“Actually…” she began, but then she hesitated and didn’t finish her thought.

“What is it?” her husband asked.

“I think he’s remembering again.” She looked at her husband, conveying a knowing idea that neither really wanted to say aloud for fear of giving it life.

Her husband paled at that look. “What should we do” he asked.

“I don’t know. We’ll keep him busy. Like always.”

“What if that’s not good enough anymore,” he asked tentatively.

“It has to be.” She was staring out the window as she said this, but whatever was troubling her, she let pass. She turned to her husband. “You know the consequences if he remembers who he really is. And they won’t be happy with us if his powers reawaken.”

“I know; I know. Don’t even say that.” He left the room in a huff very troubled with their conversation.

That night as Jack tossed and turned, he could hear his parents shuffling around in the living room watching the tv low enough that he knew it was on but couldn’t make out the actual words.

He thought he finally drifted off, but he had a strange dream.

He overheard his parents talking with someone. Whoever it was, their voice hissed and cracked like a log burning in flames. That was an odd way to describe someone’s voice, but it seemed accurate.

“He cannot be allowed to discover the truth,” the voice hissed and crackled.

“We know that.” His mother sounded afraid.

His father remained silent but Jack could hear the repetitive creak of his rocking chair.

“We are doing the best we can. But every winter it gets harder.” His mother paused, but then continued, “You can see it in his eyes.”

“Perhaps, it would be a good idea to move south then. Someplace warmer. Less winter. Less temptation.” The voice was moving around the room in a pattern. The speaker must have been pacing as he was speaking.

The rocking chair stopped moving. “We can’t go further south. You know what happened the last time we tried.” His father spoke forcefully, and Jack heard the words clearly in his room.

He remembered the day his father was referring to. It’d been a little over two years ago at around the same time of year. The seasons were changing – fall giving way to winter.

His parents talked about it for weeks. They were moving south. His father had found a better paying job – at least, that’s the reason they gave to Jack when he asked why they were moving in the middle of the school year.

They were heading south on the interstate following the moving truck loaded with all of their household goods. They’d been driving for about 6 hours when Jack started to get a headache. His parents stopped and purchased some medication for him, but it wasn’t helping.

After another 4 hours in the car, Jack could barely sit up. He was waning between awake and unconsciousness. His mother wanted to go to an ER, but his dad said he was probably just car sick. They never took long car rides and Jack just wasn’t used to it.

They finally pulled over at a rest area when Jack complained that his fingers felt cold. His mother threw open the car door and pulled him out of the car. She placed his hands inside a sweater, wrapping them like they were diseased.

“Get back in the car, Jack. I need to talk with your father. And leave that sweater on your hands.”

They walked a few steps away from the car. Jack couldn’t make out what they were saying because he could barely keep upright, but his mother was furious. She kept gesturing back the way they’d come. His father kept shaking his head and pointing the other way.

In the end, they’d turned around and headed home. As they went further north, he began to feel better. The symptoms disappeared in the opposite order that they’d arrived, and by the time they pulled into a hotel in the town he’d grown up in, he was feeling 100% again.

The morning after the strange dream with the person who spoke like fire, Jack’s mom prepared him a big breakfast.

“What’s all this for?” Jack asked as he dug into homemade waffles loaded with butter and syrup.

“I just wanted you to know that we love you.” His mother looked sad when she said it.

Jack just nodded and kept shoveling food into his mouth.

That day while Jack was at school, his mother paced about the house unable to complete any task because she could feel something was off. It was happening. She never understood how she had such a strong connection to Jack; he wasn’t actually her son. She’d raised him, and she’d always been able to sense his moods.

Today was the strongest feeling yet. Jack was awakening. The real Jack. Not the Jack who left his backpack on the floor despite there being a hook just for it right inside the foyer. Not the Jack who loved to dip French fries in his slushie at the movie theater. It wouldn’t be her Jack who came home from school. She didn’t know why but she knew it was true.

Jack would come home and be the truest version of himself. A version that had to be locked away with magic and wards. A Jack who given a chance would try to destroy the world because that was his nature. He would cover the world in ice and snow and watch as every living thing froze because he wanted to see the world end.

Fortuitous Robbery

August’s Short Story

I asked her if she was joking. Her frown told me she wasn’t. “Every last penny, gone,” she said. “And that’s not the worst of it,” she continued, leaning across the table. “They completely destroyed our security system.”

“Why would they do that?” I asked.

“No idea,” she said.

“Well, I would say we should fix it, but without the gold…” I let the thought trail off. We were screwed. Maybe there was something we could do. “What about the show room?”

“They left it alone,” she commented.

“Well, that’s something at least…” I was starting to form a plan.

She scoffed. “Not really. In order for that to be useful, we’ll have to convince the boss to part with one of his collection.”

I wasn’t going to hold my breath. We both knew that wasn’t going to happen, at least not easily.

The show room was so packed, you could barely move through it. It smelled of gasoline and wax. The cars on display never actually left the floor. It was a front – an obvious one – for the actual business we ran for the boss. He used the area to store his precious vintage automobile collection. Personally, I hated each and every single one of those cars. They caused no end of headaches for me and my associates.

We were in the business of high-interest short term loans. Loans that sometimes cost more in flesh than they earned us in coin.

“Are you going to tell him?” she asked.

As I looked at her, my face went pale. “He doesn’t know yet?” I asked. I never imagined having to tell him. It was not a conversation that would end well, especially if I mentioned selling off one of his precious autos. The boss was a believer in shoot the messenger. Things were just not going my way lately.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> 

I was right; it didn’t go well. Go figure. The only good thing was at least I’d walked away with all ten fingers and ten toes and all of my limbs.

Back in the showroom, a decision had to be made…

“He said we could sell one to fix the security,” I said.

“No kidding,” she said with actual shock on her face.

“He also wants the video footage that survived sent to him right away.”

“You told him there wasn’t anyway to tell who it was, right?” she asked.

I shrugged. “I told him. He said he wants to see it anyway.”

As I stood there staring at row after row of cars, I made a decision. We were going to sell more than one. How often did the boss come down here anyway? In fact, before the security system was fixed, I planned to arrange for several of the god forsaken hunks of metal to be relocated at a discount price to people with sticky fingers.

Of course, I didn’t tell her any of this. She would disapprove. She liked her job, and she still had respect for the boss. I was past that. It’d been too many years.

The robbery may have lost us a lot of money, but it was providing an opportunity for some much-needed revenge.

Death Valley Trial

July’s Short Story (Finally done)

The desert is an unforgiving place. This one is called Death Valley for a reason. Every living thing there has to fight for survival. And we would have to fight, too, or else everything they’d said about us would be true.

I was tired of hearing, “You don’t belong here,” “Women shouldn’t be in the landing party missions,” and my least favorite, “There was no room for weakness in my military.”

All those things and more were running through my head. This was our final survival training requirement. If we passed this, we were fit to join the landing teams, which would be the elite of the elite forces.

Our unit was an all-female team. The powers that be were trying to prove a point. They let us all in the program, kept us lumped together, and didn’t want us to succeed. From day one, they made us train with inadequate gear and malfunctioning equipment. And despite their best efforts, we’d made it this far.

We had to pass this – to survive, even in an environment designed to kill everything.

As team leader, I was trying to keep my soldier’s morale up, but it was proving difficult. We were lost and running out of water. There was a distinct possibility that we would not survive the next 48 hours. It was my task to pull the plug before any causalities happened, but my own stubborn pride was not in the mood for failure. 

We were currently sitting under a tarp enduring a windstorm. No one was saying anything. There were twenties eyes on me. I could feel them willing me to make the call.

Every second of training I’d ever been through brought me to this moment. I was in charge of these ten lives, ten women, ten daughters, sisters, mothers, friends. What I wanted more than anything was for all of us to succeed and to finally prove that we have what it takes to make it with the rest of the squads in the landing missions.

If I wanted that moment, this might not be it. If I let them all die out here, or if I even lost one life, the powers that be would never let us join the landing parties.

We needed to live if we wanted to be a part of those teams. Dying during a training mission would not get us to Mars.

For some reason, even with all of them staring at me, I wasn’t thinking about our current situation. All I could think about was a story my mother used to tell me. Why did it keep coming to me now?

There were two brothers who begged and begged their mother for a kitten, but she repeatedly told them no. After many months of pestering her on a daily basis, she finally gave in and adopted a cat for them.

However, the brothers were disappointed because the cat was already full grown and they’d wanted a kitten.

Despite not getting exactly what they wanted, overtime the boys grew to love the cat. It followed them everywhere. If they went to play, the cat went too. If they were sleeping in their room, the cat slept with them.

As the boys grew, so did the cat. Their attachment only became stronger. When the boys reached school age, the cat would follow them to school and wait patiently outside the gate.

With winter in full effect, the boys would try to get the cat to stay home and not follow them because they didn’t want her to wait out in the cold for them all day. But she would bolt out the door the first chance she got.

One day after school, the boys started to walk home, and they noticed the cat was not waiting for them. They were hopeful that their mother had finally found a way to persuade the cat to stay inside.

As they walked home, they had to circle around the lake. As they were passing the west bank, they heard a familiar sound. It was the cat. It was mewing.

The boys looked around and they saw her standing on the lake, and she wasn’t moving. What was she doing? Was she stuck?

The boys knew better than to go out onto the ice. The lake wasn’t frozen through yet, so they stood on the bank calling to her. She wouldn’t come towards them.

The brothers decided that the youngest would walk out a little way, very carefully and hoped that if the cat saw them coming, she would make her way towards them.

He’d only made it about five steps when he heard the lake crack. He froze and he could see the fear in the cat’s eyes. She still wasn’t moving.

The older brother was yelling frantically to his brother to come back to the shore as quickly as he could. The younger brother was snapped out of his fear and made it back to land safely.

When the boys looked back towards the center of the lake, the cat wasn’t there. The lake was splintered and ice was floating about. There was no cat though.

Sitting under the tarp listening to the harsh, dry wind of the desert, why could I only think of that story and those two boys with the cat? What was it about that story that I couldn’t let go of?