Wandering with my eyes and heart open, searching for pieces to add to my own personal big picture.

Category: Short Stories Page 1 of 2

Inspired to Tell Stories

The following attempt at short story writing was inspired by The Plottery and their fun July writing prompts that they posted on their Instagram account, @the.plottery! A big ol’ THANK YOU to them for putting the jumper cables on the old imagination engine.

I actually do enjoy writing my own stories. I haven’t had much practice, and I’m not all that confident about it, but I still LOVE writing them. But sharing them? That’s so scary, so I do it even less often than I write them!

Today I feel brave. Not really, but I feel good about this little story. I made me smile and laugh writing it. I hope you enjoy it!


Michael had always wanted to celebrate the 4th of July. It’s Independence Day and that’s what he wanted, independence. From what? Family, of course. Who doesn’t complain about restrictions put on them by well-meaning family members, the keepers of tradition and order?

He respected them, but he was different. He wanted to try new things, experience new places and meet new people. He wasn’t interested in the same old family games and annual gatherings.

Summer is complicated for a vampire. The nights are so short, you know. It makes the evening hunt feel rushed and mechanical. Before the sun hits the horizon, the whole family starts to anxiously stir in their secluded coffins. Even with the new air conditioning pumped up into their belfry, the summer’s heat is only partially abated. Those satin lined coffins are stifling, and everyone is chomping at the bit to get out and stretch their limbs in the cooler night air.

How they know the sun has completely set and those burning rays can’t reach them, has always been beyond him. The best he can do is say that he “feels” it in his dry bones, and when he does, he can’t help by start to yawn and stretch to wake himself and push against his coffin lid in the hopes that he’s the first to emerge.

Why the first? Because being alone in such a small space with such a big family is a luxury. Sometimes he lives dangerously and peeks out at the room before the sun has dropped its upper edge below the horizon. He can see it streaming through the room and hitting the ceiling at high angle, but if he’s careful, he can sneak out underneath it and gaze upon the land from out the window before anyone else. Sometimes his sister beats him to it, and he finds her draped in a large hood and cape, her eyes shaded by dark glasses, every inch of her pale body covered, sitting on the windowsill staring.

She never acknowledges his presence when he joins her. She just sits there, staring straight ahead. Maybe she longs for independence, too? He’ll never know because she never speaks. He doesn’t take it personally. She speaks to no one. Never has. He’s sure it has something to do with how she came to this family, who brought her in and that she’s no longer with us. But that’s her story to tell, and she won’t.

As soon as darkness covers the land below, without a word she makes a scooting move with her butt and drops into the space below them. To anyone below, she would look like a larger bat dropping from the roofline. She won’t be back until morning. She never joins in family meals or games.

Michael enjoys watching the night spread out over the land. It hits the valley first, spreading out to the foothills and then climbs steadily up to the mountain tops and finally the land succumbs to darkness, stillness, and quiet.

He hears his family stirring in their coffins, the creak and hard thump of lids being pushed open and dropped to the side, the rustle of black capes and the murmur of hungry voices. Their excited chatter annoys him. In moments, they are off into the night to hunt without a word to him, kindly or otherwise.

Do they even notice the world around them? Do they ever pause to think about their existence? Or is it all animal instinct? And why is he so different?

He sighs into the night as he watches them float on the evening breezes in a wide swath of bat like wings. Death on the move.

He’s hungry too, and he realizes his time is shorter in the summer months, but there is more to life that feeding. Isn’t there?

One of those fine evenings, where the angst was sweetest, a piece of paper floated on the breeze beneath his tower. At first, he believed it was a small white bird returning late to its evening roost. Poor thing. He dropped off the ledge and dove toward it. Once he had it in his hands though, he realized he was mistaken.

He turned the paper over in his hand. “Don’t miss the 4th of July Fireworks, after sunset in the park!” it read. Ever since then he’d wanted to see these “fireworks.” He brought the idea up to his family as they each returned just before dawn. They came in the window in groups of three and four, chattering on about the evening’s hunt. He hated hearing their callous remarks about the lives they’d taken that night.

When he tried to show them the flyer, they scoffed. Human celebrations were not for them, especially when the short summer nights compelled them to hunt so swiftly. That’s when his father came in with, “Wait a minute. I think Michael is on to something.”

It didn’t take them long to forge a plan to turn a pyrotechnic spectacle watching event into a bloodbath. He was so disappointed. He tried to explain to them why he wanted to go, that watching those fireworks in the park, set to music, with the people singing and dancing below, the smell of BBQ and popcorn wafting up to them would be so beautiful.

“And just think! We could fly above and around them, a view from a new angle with every burst!”

They barely heard him. Plans were being laid.

All throughout June, Michael thought about his family ruining his Independence Day celebration, and then one night something came to him. He brought it up the next evening, before they headed out into the night.

“Has anyone thought that maybe swooping down into crowd of revelers might be a bad idea? There would be no mistake about what had attacked them. There would be survivors, and they’d be angry. It wouldn’t take them long to find their lair and destroy them all, especially with such long summer days.”

That got them thinking in a different direction. A feast would be a spectacular thing, but the results would be a bummer. They went to considering their options. Maybe pick off a few as they wandered into the less crowded areas of the park. A lost child. A pair of lovers. And old lady that had fallen behind.

Ugg…why aren’t they interested in the fireworks?

And There We Sat: A Modern Myth Begins

The plan: walk as far as we could toward the caves below.

We had no intention of getting to them. The steps were far too steep for us. We may get to the bottom, but we didn’t believe we would ever get back out and there we would sit, making our lives at bottom of the ravine.

Maybe we could open a taco stand? Sell sustenance to the others that had made their way down, only watch them lithely clamber back up the path and those treacherous steps after partaking of our hard work.

I can just see the sorry looks on their faces as they pity bought our delicious tacos. Oh these poor people, stuck at the bottom of a ravine! The humanity!

We’d make up a story about how we had traveled down and seeing how beautiful and rich in resources it was, we decided to make it our home.

Taking a startled look around, they’d start to wonder. Resources? Say… how do you get the ingredients for these wonderful tacos? Someone would eventually ask.

We’d take a sly look at each other and smile. Yes. Locally sourced, of course.

Those silly people would slowly chew the last bite of their “delicious” tacos, or stop chewing altogether and think… wait a minute. Locally sourced what?

In the distant past, a wandering cow may have found its way up the ravine, but certainly not a chicken or a pig. And since the area was made into a park, there were no more cattle. So what kind of meat IS this?

And what about tortillas? Lettuce? Tomatoes? What kind of salsa is this?

A little late to ask now, we would giggle to ourselves as we stacked the bodies up in our “cold storage” for later use.

And there we sat at the end of the evening, another days work done, a modern myth created and maintained.

Drunken Trees: A Vacation Post

It was after 6am when I woke up today in a hotel room in Arizona. I can’t remember the last time I slept that late.

I stumbled upon something precious while exploring a creek in Northern Arizona yesterday and I was lucky enough to get a picture to share with you.

“Day Use Only” the sign posted on the spilt rail fence along the side of the road read. We had spotted a nicely maintained graveled road off the main highway with promising sign that read, “No camping within 200ft of river.”

I assumed that meant that camping elsewhere was ok, so we decided to explore the route more.

Two or three established spots along the road and then we find, “No camping beyond this point.”

Well…ok…we kept driving. The junipers here are tall and shaggy, not like the squat bushy ones around my area. Peeking out between them are grasses and prickly pear cactus growing in the cracks of large red rocks that look like an ancient sea bed pushed up toward the sky over millenia.

The road sloped downward and curved east and when we came around a bend we found… a day use area with river access and a bathroom!

Oooh! This is a gorgeous little picnic area! It was Saturday afternoon, the weather was gorgeous, but no one was there.

Maybe it’s haunted?

We keep heading down the road to see where it goes. Maybe there’s more camping further back?

We found another “No camping beyond this point. ” and then another. Confusing. Where is this point? Where CAN you camp?

“I think the sign is being moved. We keep driving slow. They think we’re looking for a place to camp so they move the sign.”

“Who?”

“The trees.”

Being in the bottom of a small canyon, along a river that flows all summer, there were a lot of trees. Junipers, sycamores, birch, and another tree that had tinee tiny pinecone looking seeds. It’s early spring here so the leaves are just starting to come out. The diciduous trees look fuzzy green with the evergreen shaggy junipers standing among them.

That’s when we came to the end of the road, for us anyway. The road went on but it became private at that point, a driveway to a ranch tucked back in the canyon. I imagined living there a hundred years ago or more, when it was likely established.

A small house, a large meadow near a river in the desert, shaded by the rocks of the steep canyon. Seems perfect for cattle.

That split rail fence we parked next to, you remember the fence don’t you? It has a break in it to allow humans (I think) access to the grassy bank along the river, so we took the invitation and walked down.

There was indeed a beautiful picnic area and some evidence of recent visitors; a broken pail, a crushed egg shell, a frayed rope from a overhanging branch (I assume some kids used to jump into the river and not the local ranchers used to hang horse thieves).

That is when I saw this.

Looks like these two had a bit of a bender last night, stayed out too late and ended up frozen like this as the sun came up. The juniper, always full of its tiny leaves, sap running all winter long, sidels up beside the sleepy sycamore.

Come on Harry. Wake up. It’s spring!

What? No, more week.

No, now. Look the creek is rising and the sun was so warm today that I can still feel its warmth in my branches.

Yawns and stretches…I suppose… one drink tonight and then I’m going back to sleep.

Yeah, that’s what he said every year.

Several hours and many drinks later, they’re swaying with their arms around each other, singing their hearts out to the sleeping canyon. And that’s how we found them.

A Little Writing Anarchy: “Bought & Paid For”

Today, I’ll be promoting a little writing anarchy. Just a little, nothing too crazy.

Do you have to use writing prompts to create fiction? I don’t think so! I don’t think there’s anything I HAVE to do when I’m writing. I’m reminded of a scene from a movie: “You’ll do it and then he’ll do it and soon enough, EVERYONE is doing it! It’s total anarchy!” Probably not a scene from any movie that was actually made, just one that I believe exists only in my head.

“Bought and Paid For” is the prompt given to me today by Writer’s Write. I’ve heard it used before, in old movies and books, but I’m not totally sure of the meaning, so I looked it up.

Urban Dictionary’s entry was no help at all. Wiktionary was only slightly more helpful. I mean, at least I know how to use the phrase in a sentence now. But where did it come from?

The History Channel’s article “10 Common Saying with Historical Origins” sounded promising but the phrase I wanted wasn’t listed. How does that show up in a search?

Thinking about the meaning, I saw Santa’s workshop and all the elves working away at all those toys (for good little boys and girls). A small boy, maybe 8 or 9 years old, starting to lose faith in the existence of such magic, stumbles across the workshop while exploring old warehouses in the dark heart of a big city.

Magic can be found anywhere these days, if you look for it. No need to sequester it in far off places. Most people would walk right on by this place, maybe even work right along side it, and never see what’s shimmering beneath “reality.”

The boy explores down an alley and catches a whiff of something pleasant, warm cinnamon and cool pine. He follows his nose. Then a tinkling of small bells catches his ear, almost a laugh. A twist. A turn. And then a glow under a large sliding warehouse door.

He pulls but it’s too heavy for him. He lays down on the ground to see if he can catch a glimpse of what’s inside. Laying down, he presses face against the cold damp asphalt, and sees…no…that’s very strange…small green and red felted shoes walking busily back and forth.

The pace of the feet quickens, the singing swells louder, and then it all stops. He hears the clomp of a heavy boot moving towards where he lays, then sees the culprit. Black shiny boots pass in front and stop at his head, facing away from him.

His breath catches at first and he forces his next breath to draw in slow and quiet. Is he afraid of scaring the dream away, waking himself up?

The chattering he heard previously has hushed and all the felted feet turn toward the black boots. The black boots rock forward onto the toes and back again to the heels, while a long heavy breath is drawn in.

Suddenly a clatter is heard, possibly a dropped tool or project supplies, he can’t be sure. The rustle of quiet heads turns in awe. And then… The black boots shiver in front his eyes with a chuckle as it deepens into a belly laugh. A sigh comes from the amassed felted feet and the giggles, singing, and tinkling of bells returns.

But the boots continue to stand there. He imagines the body above the boots surveying the work being done in front of him. When will he move on? The boy is starting to grow cold, though so curious about what’s happening beyond the door. The damp is starting to creep up into his clothes and chill him. Besides…he really has to use the bathroom.

He decides he can wait no longer and slowly, quietly as he can, begins to move his hands under him in an effort to stand up and sneak away, when the boots rock and turn toward him in a flash. The boy freezes in place only to see the crack beneath the door grow dim with the approaching feet.

His breath freezes inside him as the huge sliding door creaks with pressure and then groans slowly open, flooding him and the alley with warm yellow light. He knows he’s been seen but he still can’t will himself to move.


I went for a walk to think of an ending to this story but only came up with, “Does a story ever really end?” Also, I’m out of time today. I never did get to a place to use “bought and paid for,” but I will or maybe I won’t. Writing anarchy!

I am very excited about where the story was going. Aren’t you? I think, for both our sakes, I’ll spend some time on Part Two tomorrow morning. I may not find an ending to the story, just a decent place to stop for a moment, but at least we can find out what happens to our little friend and what might be “bought and paid for.”

Go back to the first post of my November writing prompt challenge, “NaNoWriMo: But It’s NOT a Novel, It’s…” for more of these non-book related posts!

Earlier This Morning I Wouldn’t Have

Earlier this morning… This is going to be a quickie. Rough and short. So much fun!

What time is it?

Taps fitbit.

4:10am

Shit.

I’d hoped for an extra hour of sleep. I was dreaming all night. Crazy dreams about a young man on a bar stool, Disneyland being underwater so we had to swim to rides, on vacation I had the vet put my dog and cat down and I wasn’t sure why or how I would explain it, and I needed my shoes out of the car to go for a walk but my aunt had tied herself up and locked herself in the trunk to get attention.

This is not abnormal. I dream crazy crap just about every night. You could make a movie of a string of them, disjointed and strange. You’d leave the theater trying to puzzle them together. Why? What does it mean? It means nothing at all. It’s just a random string of unconscious thought.

Stumble to my closet, grab my flannel pants (put them on) and my fuzzy warm jacket. Stupid cat scratching at the door. Dog precedes me into the kitchen and paws her bowl. She’s up! It’s breakfast time! Finally!

I’m rubbing my eyes and she’s losing patience. Ok! Sheesh! Fills bowl only to watch her look at it like it’s the worms and lay down beside the bowl.

Coffee. I need coffee. I’ve recently taken to using my travel mug in the morning, even though I’m not traveling. Is that a transgression I can be held accountable for in court? It’s insulated and my coffee stays hot for an hour. I’m a sipper while I read in the morning and I’m always gulping down cold coffee twenty minutes into the book. Not anymore! Consequences be damned!

What time is it now? 5am.

Ugg…I’m hungry. I better eat and THEN write today’s post. I need to leave for my breakfast date at 7am.

Today’s post? You’re writing TODAY’S post TODAY?

Yep. This writing practice is fun. I’ve put the graphic from Writer’s Write for November’s prompts on my background screen, so I see it and remember my plan. Thirty minutes writing on the day’s prompt, edit a few minutes, and then post (even if I hate it).

My point isn’t to write something brilliant every day. I’m only trying to build a new habit of writing without worrying so much about what to write and where it fits in. Too many days, I get to the time of day that I like to write, only to come against a roadblock because I’m worrying if there is any point at all to what I’m writing.

Earlier this morning, I had planned on writing my final thoughts about the book “Rationality” that I finished reading yesterday, but I’m short on time and I’m not sure what I’ll say just yet. If I didn’t have this fun exercise to do, I’d probably skip the post and read a little longer instead. I have an excuse. But not this month, baby!

I opened up a new file, gave it a title of today’s prompt, and started in. And here we are together…humming along, just like we would be if we were chatting over coffee. Me babbling on about nothing in particular and you laughing at what a real weirdo you’re stuck with. Is this love? I think so.

What was I doing? Oh yes, earlier this morning!

I got a bowl of oatmeal, wrote in my journal, made another pot of coffee, and snatched up my laptop, flipping it open as I snuggled down into my spot on the couch again.

What times is it? 6am.

Crap. I’m not going to leave on time if I keep this up. Right. I’ll just play with the prompt for a bit while I finish one more cup of coffee and then hit the showers.

Earlier this morning I’d hoped for at least thirty minutes to write. In the past I’d have skipped the whole months exercise because I know (with all I have planned this month) I’ll never succeed in writing like this EVERY day. I’ll fail, so don’t start.

Not this time! Something is better than nothing and most days are better than none.

That’s all the television, I mean story, there is.

Go back to my first post “NaNoWriMo: But It’s NOT a Novel, It’s…” for more weirdness.

Try? Maybe I Just Don’t Want To

Today’s thirty minute fiction write for your entertainment: “Try” I’m posting these daily, with just a little editing, for fun and practice. They are not fully thought out pieces, most likely ramble and go nowhere, but I’m having fun and want to share them with you as I go!

try
“These birds are far more promising.”

Here we go. Thirty minutes of words on try.

Try. Try, again.

Try?! That’s your advice? Try?

One does not try to jump off a cliff or get hit by a car. One does not try to perform open-heart surgery. And one does try to…

Try to what? I don’t know.

Try not. Do or do not. That Yoda guy. But we all try things? Right? I always thought that was a silly saying. I try new foods…sometimes. I try my hand at new skills. I try to be nice. I try to understand and fail miserably.

Try. Ok…let’s see.

I paste a smile on my face as I walk into the room but instantly think better of it. A neutral look would be better. Don’t bring attention to yourself. Act natural. This is what people do. They walk into bars, sit down, and order a drink. But this is no bar, it’s a coffee shop. Hmm…

A quick scan of the room shows me there aren’t too many people, plenty of places to sit and watch…I mean, relax while I have a cup of coffee. How does this work? Oh, yes, approach the counter.

“Hello! What can I get for you?” Cheerful. Noted. Sounds positive, non-threatening.

I stumble with the use of the voice. “Umm…” Cough. Heavy breath in. Ok, got it. “Yeah. Um…I’ll have a large black coffee.”

The barista gives a strange looking smirk, I think it’s called. Does it know? I mean, does she know? I think I’m not sure. They all look alike really. “Ok. Room for cream?”

I stumble again. Their language is complicated by emotion and vagueness. On top of that, they don’t seem to listen well. Their communication system really needs updating.

I pause to think, wonder if I have used the wrong words, then realize it’s one of their comprehension gaps, “No, thank you.”

Turning to take a step away, I hear behind me, “That will be three dollars and fifteen cents, please.”

“What?”

“Three fifteen.”

My brain struggles to decipher the words and behavior. Shit. I knew it was too soon to try this. I should have kept a shade and watched from a high corner, or at least remained invisible to move through the motions one more time before attempting to be seen.

“Cash or card?”

Oh! Yes! I got it! “Oh, of course. I’m sorry, my mind wandered.” To another time and place where I didn’t have to try so hard to communicate. Yikes. Waving my hand gently before me, connecting my mind with hers, I create the memory of my payment, and she responds, “Thank you!” She hands me the cup.

I know. It’s cheating. If I want the real experience, I really should have been better prepared. But rather than abort the whole effort, I try to keep going by fudging where I need to.

Taking the cup from her hand, I smile. “You have the most beautiful earlobes.” In my studies, I’ve read they love this kind of compliment, but it seems to fall flat, or I’m misinterpreting the facial expressions. Geez! Why is this so hard?!

Laughing, “I’m sorry. I mean earrings! My English. I mix the words.”

I’m not waiting for a response. I quickly turn away and move toward an empty table near the windows.

As I sit with my back toward the bar, so that I can’t be distracted by the human chatter, I try once again to observe in peace. My gaze lands on the dense foliage outside the floor to ceiling windows and the tiny, winged creatures hopping on two feet beneath them.

Now this is interesting. I hear nor feel anything from these simple creatures. They hop contentedly among each other, pecking the ground and pushing each other aside. Now and then, one spreads its brown wings and flies away, only to be replaced by another. The new arrival begins the same pecking action, at what I cannot see. The particles are two small for my eyes. They do seem so much less hostile than the humans behind me, from which I still hear the discussion of my mistake in nouns a moment ago.

I take a sip of the coffee I procured and settle in to watch the “birds” again.

There’s a hand on my shoulder, not physically, the sense of being brought to task descends on me. “How many times must you read about this, make the attempt, and fail like this? It’s like you’re not even trying.”

Maybe I just don’t want to succeed. I think these birds are far more promising.

Read yesterday’s post prompted from the word “ruins,” “NaNoWriMo: But It’s NOT a Novel, It’s…”

A Recorded Life: Restored Memories – a short story

Nearly five-hundred years ago there was a book that came across my path. I know you’re thinking I’m speaking figuratively here but I’m not. A book literally came across my path. I was walking in the woods along a well-worn and shaded path when a book stumbled out from the underbrush.

Yes, I was taken aback, astonished you might even say. This kind of thing doesn’t happen every day, you know. What kind of a book keeps itself in a wooded underbrush? It’s fraught with danger even for the hardiest books! Dampness being the least of his problems, there were mice looking for nesting material (they can’t read you know) and hungry beetles looking for a good snack (book bindings are nutritious).

This book had obviously been neglected. As it pulled itself out into the path, I could see its binding had indeed been recently chewed. Its cover, once pristine and gold pressed, was faded, and so worn I could not make out the title. Its pages dragged along the ground as it used its cover to pull itself to a slightly upright position directly in front of my feet.

I stopped, and withdrew in disgust, blindly blaming the book for its condition. What degeneracy could bring a once proud book to this level? But then it sighed and slumped to the ground as if dead right before my eyes. My heart softened at the sight. Stooping to the ground, I gently gathered the poor weak thing into my arms. As I stood and brought the book up, it nestled to my chest like a lost and exhausted child and sighed its covers shut.

I resolved to bring it home immediately, in the hope of restoring it to health. I didn’t have much hope for it though. It seemed so weak and frail, possibly already expiring in my arms as I hurried my step. By the time I got home, all that would be left to do was cremate the poor thing, use it as a fire starter to keep my cabin warm. At least it would be useful one last time.

I quickened my pace further at the thought and got home as fast as my feet could carry me. I tried my best not to shake or jostle the (hopefully) sleeping book in my arms as I went. It shifted its weight and rustled its pages in response each time I stumbled or jerked too suddenly to avoid a low branch or diving bird.

When I reached my cabin door, I knocked gently with my foot, hoping my elves would be alert to my presence and come pattering in to help me. The book was completely asleep in my arms and its dead weight needed both my arms to carry it. I didn’t want to shift its weight and disturb it.

They came running as I had hoped they would, and seeing me with the poor tattered and torn book fainted dead away in my arms, both were moved to compassion and jumped to assist me as best they could. Being so small, it took both to open the door, but they achieved the task as quiet as mice. They instinctively knew what to do and bustled about the cabin, stoking the fire and getting a good strong broth going on the stove.

I moved toward the couch and gently laid the book down upon the cushion so as not to wake it. Arranging a few small throw pillows so that if it did stir as it rested it might not roll off the couch to further injure it, I set myself up in the chair across the room to start my vigil.

“What could I do?” I thought to myself as I sat in rapt attention to its every ragged breath. “Is there something it needs? Some spell I could use to insure its quick recovery, or at least its peace?” My elves knew my thoughts, they always did. It wasn’t that they had some extra special sense, a telepathy to read my mind. They’d simply spent their whole lives in my presence and in several hundred years, you learn things. But they, being older than I, seemed to have seen this kind of thing before. They knew what the poor thing needed; a quiet, safe rest for now, and some attention once it had gathered some strength.

My watch dragged on into hours. I was already exhausted from my travels and was looking forward to a long and quiet rest myself when all this trouble began. What trouble, you ask? I mean, really, how much trouble can an old book be? You obviously haven’t read many books. One book can change your life, lead you to another that changes you yet again. One well-written line, one finely crafted paragraph, one poignant and timely chapter, can change the world. And this book looked like it had seen some action in its past. Why was it even here?

I sighed a tired breath as I watched it rest upon my couch, my sweet and worried elves bustling quietly in the kitchen and pattering back and forth between us and their duties about the cabin. “Where could it have been? What brought it to my path? And what would be in store for both of us?” My eyes fluttered, I leaned back in my chair, resting my head on as I pondered, and drifted off into sleep.

I dreamt some sweet and pleasant dreams of my early childhood. A fishing pond with my long since passed grandfather. My mother’s face as she presented my birthday cake. My father’s kiss on my head as drifted off to sleep. The dreams got darker as my mind went deeper into my subconscious. The man that broke my heart. The teacher that hurt my feelings. The friend that betrayed me. I shifted in my seat, opening my eyes a bit to gaze upon the book. The sun had finally set, the room had grown darker, but it was still there.

With a pat of a small elvish hand upon my knee and the smell of a strong kettle of stew in my nostrils, my mind went back to the past in my dreams once more.

Witchery school pranks and antics, lover’s spats, children born and raised or passed on before me; my life continued to roll by in pictures like a flickering film on a silver screen before my mind’s eye.

I suddenly woke with a start. What had happened? How long have I been asleep?

The cabin room was filled with morning light diffused by the gauzy curtains I had hung over the windows last year when the morning sun had begun to shift and blind me with its brilliance. Birds twittered outside and I could hear the chattering of my elves in the kitchen, the smell of breakfast wafting in.

Was it a dream that I found the book in the path yesterday afternoon? Had I imagined the whole affair? I was exhausted from my travels. I’m not as young as I used to be. Maybe I should start traveling with a companion for safety’s sake. And then I heard a soft sigh from the couch.

There it was, sitting up on my couch with a hot cup of tea sitting next to it as if it belonged there, as if it wasn’t breathing its last just a few hours previous. I sat up and stared and it stared back. It shook its covers and fluttered its pages in response to my stare, as if to say, “What did you expect? You can’t leave a story in the cold brush forever and expect it not to come crawling back for help!”

Confused by its signs of indignation, I quietly rose and approached it. Standing over it, it shrunk back into the couch. Did it sense my confusion as hostility? A rustling in the doorway alerted me to the presence of my elves. They had come when they heard the commotion. Worried about my state of mind, how I might react to the presence and attitude of the book, they came to reassure and console me in the hopes of…what?

I looked at them. I looked at the book. Why should I feel such confusion? It’s just a book with faded cover and tattered…wait a minute.

I sat down on the couch beside the book and took a closer look. It seemed that in the night the elves had ministered to the thing in a way I had not thought to do. Its cover was clean. The dirt gently brushed away. Its leaves shaken out and smoothed over. Its dampness dried out. It didn’t smell half bad either.

I smiled at it and it straightened itself back up, almost seeming to reach for me. My heart softened. I had known from the start that this was no ordinary book, but my exhaustion, the darkness, had started my imagination and fear had set in instead of curiosity.

What was so familiar about this book? I couldn’t put my finger on it. We sat across from each other almost as friends would when something strange began to happen. The longer I sat, the slower and deeper my breath became. The book seemed to “breathe” with me, the front cover gently rising and falling like a chest. I couldn’t tell who was affecting whom. Was the book relaxing and copying me or was it the other way around?

Time seemed to slow, as if I were dreaming, when images began to flicker through my mind. Far distant childhood memories, adolescent dreams and plans, more of the same, like my dreams the night before. The images startled me, and I looked back at the book beside me. For the first time since I had found it, I could almost make out the letters of its title. I reached for it and it came into my arms and settled down into my lap.

It lay closed upon my lap, warm and heavy like a cat. I still could not quite make out the letters on the cover, so I opened it and began leafing through its pages. The images that came to me were far more vivid now. Whole scenes played out in my mind. The time I fell in a well and was stuck there all night. The moment I first fell in love. The day my father passed away. It all played out, not in real time, we’d have been stuck there forever, but like I simply remembered every moment all at once.

When I looked at the pages and began to read the words, I realized they were my memories written out word for word. The first chapters were the most faded and the hardest to decipher. Some pieces were bold and in a large font, some smaller and printed more like a romantic script.

I flipped through the pages. Hundreds of years all written here. Was everything here? Would I find memories written here that were so far back in my subconscious that they seemed like someone else’s story? And what about the future? Was my life already written out? Was there such a thing as fate?

I started to thumb through the pages faster and the book, stiffening in my lap, tried to shut its covers against my curious eyes. My hands grasped it tighter and brought me to this moment, holding the book and turning a page.

The next words were there but faint and shimmering, getting more and more faint with every page I turned until there was nothing but blank paper.

My hands loosened their grip and the book quietly closed itself. It sighed in my lap. I looked up from it and my elves were there beside me. They were curious too, but not about what was in the book. I think they knew the whole time. I sensed their tension the moment we had come into the house. No, I believe they were more worried about my reaction. What did they think I would do?

When I looked back at the book, the cover was pristine as if it had just then been created. The leather cover was soft and the binding clean and tight. The letters of the title were once again embossed with gold and I could clearly read the title now.

“Your Life”

Mind Wandering

“If you can be anything be a ____.”

Be a bird.

Be a bug.

Be a mom.

Be a hero.

Be an ass.

Be a jerk.

Be a kid.

Be a student.

Be a master.

Be a slave.

Be a product of your own imagination.

Hmm…there’s a good one.

I can’t say what you should be if you could be anything. I mean, if I told you to be a hero, maybe you’d argue that isn’t what you want to be. Even if I could come up with the perfect thing, with all the reasons and arguments for it, you’d probably be unhappy being that.

So…be a product of your own imagination. Dream it up and be it. Find out what it takes and do it.

What would I be if I could be anything? I’m thinking about that. There are several ways we could go here. Philosophical, fantastical, poetic, romantic. If I could be anything I’d just be me, but without the self-conscious part of me. I’d like that part of me that makes me worry what people think magically removed and thrown into the fire. That part that says, “No, Michelle, don’t. Just keep those words to yourself. If you say that, everyone will be angry with you.” That piece of me that says, “You can’t. You don’t know how. You’re not good at that.” Take that away too and I’ll just happily bob along without a care in the world.

If I were self-assured and confident, I’d be able to go anywhere and do anything without the fear of looking like an idiot. I could ask a question in a classroom. Hell, I could take a class, maybe even discuss philosophical ideas with peers. I could invite a friend out to go shopping and try on interesting clothing, just to see how it looks. I could sit in the park under a tree with a book and big cup of coffee and read without worrying that people think I’m weird. Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it?

If I could be anything, I’d be a bird, probably a big bird with few predators. I’d fly high up into the sky and look down on the world and wonder, “Where could I go today?” Birds probably don’t adventure, test out their flying skills, or see how far they can go, but I would. I’d stand on something really tall and fall off, plummet to the ground headfirst, and then spread my wings at the last minute and soar to the rooftops again. I’d spend my whole day flying as far as I can in one direction just to watch the land beneath me change. I’ve always wanted to fly.

If I could be anything, I’d be a kind person, the loving person, the person people go to for help and comfort. I’m afraid my compassion skills are fake, my friends. When you’re troubled, I really just want to tell you to get over it and move on. When I do something nice for others, it’s because it’s easy and/or convenient. I’m not a good listener. I tend to hear you out a bit and then tell you how I dealt with a similar situation, and then walk away if you get emotional.

I know lots of people think I am genuinely kind and attentive, but it’s an act that I put on for as long as I can stand it. Most of the time, I avoid real connection with people so that I don’t have to deal with them. That’s why I like text and social media so much. It puts a kind of permeable wall between me and my friends, one that I can see through and sometimes communicate through but can shut down and walk away from at any moment.

Honestly, I can only maintain a hand-full of deeper relationships and right now, my dance card is full.

If I could be anything, I guess I’d just want to be the real me without the fear of being judged and dismissed.

What if I went on one of those spirit quests like you see in movies? I’d sit in a dark hut and smoke something serious…then let my mind wander. Where would I go? Probably down a dark nasty path and find out that in my heart of hearts, I’m am an axe murder, a sociopath that really cannot grasp that other people have their own lives, that they matter too.

I don’t believe I am a nice person at heart and that scares me. What if someone finds out who I really am?

Bird Watching

Ideas coming into focus. I search for a place to sit and quietly watch them settle, hoping I can make note of them, capture them before they…

Be careful! Don’t startle them. Any sudden movement or noise may scare them into flight and who knows when they’ll be back again. Ideas, like birds, are flighty things.

An old woman sits on a park bench and watches the birds. She simply watches, content and satisfied with her view. They alight, coo, and walk around pecking the ground at her feet.  

A young mother comes by, pushing her new baby in a stroller. It’s one of those big heavy contraptions that a car seat fits into. From her park bench, she sees the mother arrive in the parking lot. Stepping from the sedan, she walks to the back of the vehicle as the trunk pops open. She reaches inside, and with both hands heaves the stroller base out onto the pavement, snapping it open as she lowers it to the ground.

“I remember being that strong,” the old woman thinks. The young mother maneuvers the stroller to the side of the car, opens the back seat door, pulls the baby car seat out of its base, turns on one foot and sets it atop the stroller, locking it into place with a snap.

“Does that baby even know where he is?” She chuckles to herself. “I sound like an old woman, even in my head. Back in my day…” She smiles as she watches the mom start her brisk walk around the park. She’s here for the exercise and baby is the resistance weight. “Two for one deal,” she thinks, “Mom gets a good walk and baby get some fresh air. He’s probably napping the whole time anyway.”

She goes back to her birds as they settle once again at her feet, instinctively pecking the ground. There are so many different varieties of the same kind of bird. Pigeons are not known for their beauty, but they are fascinating. Interspersed between them are several sparrows that flit in and out of the group, dwarfed by the lumbering pigeons.

A war cry is sounded to her right and the pounding of small feet, “Josh, honey, no! Don’t chase them off!” Mom comes walking breathlessly after her toddler son just as the birds scatter to the sky and trees. “I’m so sorry. He gets so excited about the birds.” She bends down and scoops him up into her arms. “That’s ok. They’ll be back. I love watching them return just as much.” Mom smiles. “How old is he?” “24 months and always running.”

Twenty-four months. Why not just say 2½? It’s strange the way we do that with a babies age until they’re three years old. Maybe after that it gets too cumbersome. Fifty-four months would be a lot to calculate, I guess.

“Sit down, honey. Let him chase around the bench for a moment and catch your breath.”

“You don’t mind?”

“Not at all. He reminds me of my own sons when they were that age. Always chasing after something. I’m just sitting here taking in the sights and right now, you’re it!”

“Thank you. Young boys aren’t always welcome. All that energy. They have to run it off somewhere!”

As she takes a seat, she leans forward to set her son down. The moment his feet hit the ground, he wobbles and takes off again, toddling to the back of the bench. He babbles about the rocks and sticks he finds back there as the two women smile and listen. While he’s distracted and out of view, a few birds return to the ground in front of the bench.

He makes his way around to the side of the bench, quietly, almost stalking his prey. He’s showing a lot of restraint for a two-year-old. He wants to see the birds so badly. As another bird lands he bolts out among them, “Birds!” They scatter and he laughs ecstatically. Mom and the old woman shake their heads. “You’ll never catch them that way,” mom playfully scolds.

“I don’t think he wants to. He sure gets a lot of joy from the power he exerts over them. See that smile as they scatter? He has won his battle.”

“Birds!” the boy yells again.

“Yep. Birds. Birds everywhere.”

He smiles and grabs mom’s hand, pulling her in the direction of the playground. “I guess we’re leaving. It was nice talking to you.”

“Nice meeting both of you. Have a good time out there!”

She settles back into her spot on the bench and sighs. The quiet of the park starts to move back in and surround her. The birds have returned, along with a small squirrel. They don’t seem to mind the small stranger and she watches as the birds move out of the way when he darts in among them. They all know this is where people will leave snacks for them. They scour the ground around the bench for bits of popcorn, sunflower seeds, and cracker bits. So much energy put into scratching around for scraps.

It’s warm out today, but the soft breeze brings comfort. It smells of fresh cut grass and wet pavement. She takes a deep breath and tastes the scent. It brings back memories of her childhood in this same park. Climbing the jungle gym and standing atop that slide thinking it was the longest drop she had ever seen. Looking toward the playground, she can see young girls on the swings. Their bare feet pointed to the sky, hands reaching to the side to try and touch as they pass back and forth.

She hears their mom call to them from a picnic table nearby. “Come eat your lunch, girls! We have a little work to do, but I think it will be fun.” The girls jump from the top of the arch of their swing and land gracefully in the sand, plop, plop. One stumbles over from her dismount, not so graceful but full of energy, rights herself and comes running behind her sister. “Nice one, dork.” “Stop. Please don’t start, you two.”

The girls fall to the table and begin munching on sandwiches and chips, as their mom picks up a book and starts to read to them. The cover is so bright and bold, the old woman can see it from her park bench. “Drawing with  Children” is says. They must be homeschoolers, she thinks.

“Girls, after you eat, let’s try to draw things we find in the park. What do you think?”

“I’d rather swing!” the older one states. “Me too!” her little sister chimes in.

And then surprisingly, “So would I!” says Mom. She closes the book and heads toward the swings, both girls running ahead to get there first. The swinging commences with gusto, Mom reaching the highest point first due to her expertise. The girls struggle to keep up.

“Ok, that’s enough for me!” Mom stops pumping her feet and slows the swing to hop off.

“I’m beat. I think I’ll draw birds instead!” She goes back to the table, picks up a sketch pad, and sits in the grass. Within a few minutes, both girls are by her side. They want to see what Mom is drawing. “You guys, I can’t get anything on paper with you pushing your face in to see what I’m doing. Get your own sketch pad and draw something yourself. We can share ideas in a bit.”

Running to the table and back, they plop down in the grass beside her and begin to draw with intention.

The old woman smiles as she watches the swings sway and slow and finally stop. Her birds begin to return, and her attention is pulled toward them once again. There are more now. A few of her favorites have arrived. They are clearly pigeons of the same build and make, but these are snow white and without a blemish. How does that happen? They look like obese doves, ones that escaped from someone’s wedding cake and have been gorging on bits of cracker and popcorn instead of their usual kept bird diet of clean birdseed.

Stroller mom walks by, earbuds in. She isn’t loud or sudden, so the birds just move out of the way as she goes by, returning to their pecking the moment she passes. It’s a small neighborhood park, so she passes by every couple of minutes as she does her loop. The fourth time, she slows and stops to sit and rest.

“Do you mind sharing the bench for a moment?” she asks the old woman, slightly out of breath.

“I’d love to. I was hoping you’d stop so I can get a glimpse of the new human.”

Stroller mom chuckles. “He is pretty cute, if I do say so myself.”

“I’ll be the judge of that.” She smiles and Stroller Mom lifts the canopy of the car seat to reveal her prize. Her new son, all chubby and swaddled, sleeps his afternoon away, completely unaware that he’s being rocketed around the park.

“Don’t you wish you could sleep like that?” she asks.

“I wish he’d sleep like that at night!”

“That’s the way, isn’t it? As soon as it’s quiet, the noise in your head gets louder and you can’t get a moments rest. I’ve always had trouble sleeping at night. It’s when all my ideas start to come through. My husband used to complain that I’d be up all night writing out ideas, only to sleep all day while the tv blared and the traffic snarled outside our window.

“Babies probably feel the same way. Once all the stimulation is gone, they start to think and process, and then cry about it. I know I did!”

“That’s funny. I do the same thing. Growing and creative minds must be so similar.”

Stroller Mom closes the canopy. “Breath caught. Three more laps and I’m off to the showers. Thanks for the insight. You come here often? Maybe I’ll see you again?”

“Every afternoon I can, that is, until it gets too hot.”

Stroller Mom smiles and gets on her way.

The birds are quick to return to the ground around her bench once again. She is quiet and doesn’t move much and besides, she has seed they can’t resist.

“It’s fascinating to me how easily they startle and how quickly they forget what scared them and return. Do they forget, or is the lure of food too much for them to ignore? Or maybe they know how fast they are? Whatever the reason, they’ve gotten this far with the strategy. Look how many there are!”

As she sits and ponders the evolution of park birds, she notices a woman walk in from the parking lot with a lawn chair and a sketch pad. Clad in a flowing skirt and a tank top, she seemingly glides across the park like a dryad.

She seems to know exactly where she’s going, a small shaded spot under a flowering tree directly across from the old woman. She sets her lawn chair down and situates it so she is facing the old woman and her birds, expertly flipping open her sketch book. She attempts to pull a charcoal pencil from behind her ear, but it gets tangled in her flowing gray hair.

“Ugg.” The old woman hears her grumble to herself as she sets the sketchbook down and tries to extricate the pencil. The birds are frightened into flight once again by the angry flop of the sketch book.

“Dammit.” She looks up at the old woman and eyes her apology.

“It’s ok, sweetheart. They’ll be back soon.”

The artist smiles at the old woman, too shy and embarrassed to approach and speak. She’s there to draw after all, not have a conversation. The old woman has been her subject for weeks now. The looks are all the conversation either of them needs. She gathers her pencil and paper, settles back in her chair and waits quietly, filling in from memory where she left off the week before.

The old woman knows what the artist is up to and subconsciously tries to look her best. She sits up a tad straighter, fixes the fallen hair from her bun, and sucks in her sagging belly as best she can. With the return of the birds, the distraction of an adorable squabble between a chipmunk and a pigeon, she relaxes again into her natural state, and the artist attempts to capture the charm with her pencil.

One of the swinging girls has taken an interest in the old woman feeding the birds and comes to investigate. She’s been creeping up slowly and shyly from the side for several minutes. The old woman noticed her minutes ago but hadn’t said anything yet. She hoped to allow the girl to prove her bravery and approach. After several slightly stressful minutes, she decided to help and speak first.

“Is there something you need, dear?”

The girl glances back at her mother for encouragement, returns her gaze and shakes her head no.

“There’s plenty of room for two here, if you’d like to sit.”

Again, the girl glances back at her mom. Mom smiles, “It’s ok. Most people warn you with behavior if they bite.”

The old woman chuckles. “Oh, I don’t bite anymore, but I used to. Do you want to hear the story?”

The girl looks down and smiles from under her blonde bangs. “Yes.” She says, and giggling walks up and plops herself on the bench beside her.

“Well, I fibbed a bit there. I never was a biter, even when I was little. More of a hugger.”

The girl smiles up at her. “A hugger?”

“Yes. I’ve always loved hugs from anyone I meet. You can tell a lot about a person when you try to hug them. Some move away when you try to put an arm around them. Some don’t but stiffen up when you hug them, like they’d rather you didn’t but can’t say no. And then some…oh these are very special; they simply melt into your arms like it’s all they ever needed in the world but never had.”

The old woman is tossing the last of the seeds in her bag to the birds as she talks. She stops and looks at the youngster beside her. “What kind of a hugger are you?”

“Me? I don’t know.”

“Would you like to find out? I’ve always found that asking a person if they’d like a hug before you hug them is a good idea. Some people just don’t appreciate a touch from someone they don’t know and springing it on them makes it much worse. Would you like a hug?”

The girl looks to her mother. She’s always been told to keep her distance from strangers, not because they’re dangerous, but out of respect for their space. The mother is walking over with the picnic basket in one hand, a backpack over her shoulder, and holding her little sister’s hand. “That one has always been a hugger. We’ve been working on consent since she was tiny.”

The old woman smiles at the thought. She never could understand why anyone would want to refuse a hug, but to each his own. We have to respect each other’s feelings if we’re going to want people to respect ours.

The little girl stood up from the park bench and turned to the old woman and as she leaned in for a hug, her little sister came barreling in from the side. “Let me in!” she squealed and all three melted together in a comforting embrace like old friends.

“You smell like a grandma!” the little girl chimes. The old woman chuckles, “That’s because I am a grandma, several times!” The older girl laughs, “I knew it. Only grandma’s give hugs like that!”

“Come on girls. Let’s give her a break from your ruckus. We have baseball practice in an hour.” Shifting her attention to the old woman. “I hope we weren’t bothering you. We see you here every week and kind of feel like we know you.”

“Never a bother, dear. I love hearing the way you talk to them. I feel like you respect their person and they sure seem to love you.”

“Thank you so much for saying that. Really. When we took them out of school and decided to ‘unschool’ I was terrified about what it would look like to people. Most people just laugh and shake their heads. Some are outright angry and have told me in no uncertain terms that if I didn’t get control over them, show them who’s the boss now, I’d lose them when they are teenagers. I just don’t see children that way, something to be controlled and molded into what we want.”

“Neither do I. That’s how we were raised, and I always feared my parents. They thought they had control over my brother and I, but we just lied to them and hid our real lives away until we were old enough not to need their approval. But wouldn’t it have been nicer to be able to talk about things together? Ask questions and get their advice?”

She sat thinking about the last time she saw her mother. “No dear, you’re doing right. Things change and so can we. These days we need to communicate openly, use less force, and allow children to do things their way as long as they aren’t hurting anyone else.”

Sighing in relief, “You have no idea how much that means to hear someone say that.” Gathering up her things, “Listen, we need to run, but you’ll be here next week? Maybe we can talk more?”

“Of course! I’ll bring some cookies.”

“Like a regular play date for grown ups.”

They both laugh. “Bye, then! See you next week!” She calls as they race to their car.

The afternoon rolls on and the shade of the tree starts to move off her favorite bench. It’s almost time to head home. Most of the birds have given up on getting any more food, but there are a few persistent beggars pecking around under her feet. “There’s no more, I tell you. Why do have to try and ruin a beautiful day?” She chuckles at them.

A scream of indignity calls her attention to the parking lot. The toddler doesn’t seem to want to leave yet and mom insists with her most stern voice that it is, indeed, time to leave. She argues with the boy but finally gives up, reaches for him and scoops him up, plopping into his car seat. That’s when the real howls begin.

She looks up apologetically at the old woman on her bench and the old woman, in turn, gives her the sympathetic universal look of, “We’ve all been there.”

The artist/dryad seems to be giving up on the moment as well. She’s packing up her pencils and folding her chair. Will she come to talk to the old woman this time? Her focused attitude as she packs and heads toward the bus stop says, probably not.

“I would have liked to know her story.” She thinks as she gathers her things as well, slings her bag over her shoulder and dusts her hands of any bird seed crumbs. Two quick beeps of a car horn alert her to the presence of her ride home.

Her daughter pushes the passenger side door open from inside, “Hi, Mom. Do you need help with your things?”

“Oh, no, I’ve got it. I’ll just put these at my feet.”

“Have a nice time?”

“Always do. And today I met a new person.”

“Got a hot date, Mom?”

“Oh, no. Too young even for me! Would you mind stopping for coffee on the way home?”

“That sounds nice. Let’s go in and get a muffin too!”

The Agony of Decisions – A Short Story

I feel like my soul is split in half! “Split in half.” That’s a joke; more like splintered into a thousand pieces.

‘Hurry up!’ she says. Yeah, right. That’s just what I need. If I lift a foot to hurry my pace, I feel like I’ll become uprooted by the wind and blow across the desert like a tumbleweed. These decisions can’t be made lightly. I need time to think.

Why does everyone have to bombard me with their advice? It’s like an invasive weed in my heart. Here I am, on my hands and knees, pulling out the weeds on one side, while they sow seeds on the other and I’m watering it all with my tears.

What can I do? Speak my mind and risk being ostracized by everyone I know, or worse? Should I remain silent and watch as the situation deteriorates? It’s better to say something now and stop the snowball before it gathers more material and crushes everything, right?

But what if it would have stopped on its own? What if the sun comes out hot and melts it all away before it ever gains momentum? What if I’m wrong and should simply keep my mouth shut?

I’m torn. “Splintered” is a good word for the feeling. There aren’t two ways to go. There are thousands of choices to consider.

Back to my principles, that’s what I should consider. What are my core principles? What is my ultimate goal? What is it that drives me?

The Stoics say to live and die by a prescribed set of principles, and that’s what I feel like I’ve been doing. It was easy until now. Live well so that death is welcomed. Be honest so that people trust you. Don’t let negative emotions overwhelm your judgement and rule your life.

But here I am, stuck with a life or death decision. Is everyone waiting for my answer? Will my choice to voice my opinion influence others? What’s next? Will there be a line of people outside my virtual door waiting to hear my advice, set their own dreams aside, and follow my brilliant assessment of the situation?

I doubt that.

It could be worse. Once I take a stand, I could be ridiculed, thrown out of society, tossed out alone into the cold to fend for myself forever.

“Screw them!” That’s what I want to say, how I wish I could feel. My opinions are mine alone. They don’t have to agree with me, but they do have to respect that I have the right to make my own judgment about things that directly affect me.

But then I start to cow. Sometimes my need to belong to the group trumps my personal convictions about what is “right.” I need friends more than I need to be right. It makes me sick.

Here she comes again. “And what will you be having for dessert tonight?”

I shift in my seat, take a deep breath and make the bold statement I’ve been agonizing over for the last ten minutes, “To hell with the calories! I’ll have the chocolate cake.”

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