Category Archives: Flash Fiction

Flash Fiction – Choose Three Sentences

I’m back to the Flash Fiction! Last week, Chuck Wendig encouraged us to post one great sentence and this week, our challenge was to choose three of those awesome sentences and write a <2,000 story.

Three sentences jiggled my brain-wires in just the right way:

— Sometimes, the only thing left to build is a fire. (Rich Hayden)

— Shrouded in white, garlanded with marigolds, she lies on brushwood waiting for the cleansing flames. (Debb Bouch)

— Flicker, fade, expand again, and the flame burns steady, a tiny light against descending dark. (Beth)

The story comes in around 870 words.

_____

Sometimes, the only thing left to build is a fire.

We didn’t know what else to do. Even if we’d been able to sell the house and everything in it, we wouldn’t have had enough for a proper funeral. This was the easy way out, really, and in this backwoods cabin in the middle of nowhere, no one would notice or care. She’d outlived everyone she’d ever known except for her children and grandchildren, and we were just happy to be rid of her.

To hear my mother tell it, she was a miserable, hateful old woman who was never satisfied, never happy. “Nothing was ever good enough for her,” my mother said. “Not even me, her only daughter.” She was bitter and angry to have to deal with all of it. When I’d offered to come sit the deathwatch, my mother had said, “No, don’t bother.” And after my grandmother’s passing, when I’d offered to come take care of things so my mother wouldn’t have to, she’d said, “It’s not your obligation. It’s mine.” Still, she hadn’t refused our help, so here we were.

Shrouded in white, garlanded with marigolds, she lay on brushwood waiting for the cleansing flames. We’d built the pyre in the middle of her living room, knowing the fire would claim all of it and finally rid us of her, for good. The shroud and the marigolds were my idea. My mother just wanted to douse the whole thing in gasoline and walk away.

My mother kept the $20 gold piece my grandfather had had mounted in a gaudy pendant, hoping to please her. “She never wore this and always hated it, but he insisted that I keep it,” my mother said. “I don’t know what I’ll do with it. It isn’t my style either.”

My sister kept the silver tea service. “It’s a family heirloom,” she said. “We can’t just destroy it.” To be honest, I’d never seen my grandmother use it, so I’m not sure if it was an heirloom so much as a thing she’d owned that now had to be disposed of, like everything else in her house, like the woman herself.

My niece had wanted the gigantic mirror over the living room couch, but when she realized that the gilded frame was only plastic, she’d changed her mind. “It’s kind of tacky,” she said, and I had to agree.

My nephew found my grandfather’s old Stetson and a pair of like-new Tony Llama boots. They suited him and fit him perfectly, like they were made for him. “These remind me of Granddad,” he said. I insisted that he keep them. He’d been closer to my grandfather than any of us, and I was frankly surprised that my grandmother had kept them around after he’d died. She was never one to be sentimental and she loathed clutter. We used to joke that if you set your coffee cup down for a minute, she would wash it and put it back in the cupboard. Maybe she had been a little sentimental after all, or maybe she just hadn’t gotten around to cleaning out Granddad’s closet.

My mother tried to give me her old mink stole. “She would’ve wanted you to have it,” she said, almost convincingly, and I admit, I did consider keeping it for a moment.

“No,” I told her, “I think she should wear it one last time. It’s the only thing I can think of that she truly loved.” I unwrapped the shroud just enough to drape it around her thin, cold shoulders while the rest of the family watched, unwilling to touch her.

When we’d finished, we all stood there, her only remaining relatives. “Someone should say something,” I said, with a pointed glance at my mother, “before we do this.”

“What do you want me to say,” she said. “She had no accomplishments. She didn’t do anything with her life. I’m not sorry she’s gone and I’m not going to miss her.” Her voice cracked at the last bit, and she turned away so we wouldn’t see her pursed lips trying to hold back tears. My sister put her hand on her shoulder as she began to cry, and my niece and nephew shifted uncomfortably, staring at the ground.

“You all go back to town. I’ll take care of this last bit.” I said the words before I could change my mind, and the relief on my sister’s face convinced me I’d made the right decision. They all shuffled back to their cars without a backward glance, and soon I was alone with my grandmother and my thoughts.

I walked through the house one last time, using the fireplace lighter to ignite bedding, curtains, wallpaper, anything that would burn. As smoke began to fill the house, I pulled my kerchief up over my nose and mouth, returning to the shrouded figure in the living room and kneeling to light the pyre.

“Goodbye, Nana,” I murmured. “I hope you end up somewhere that makes you happy.”

I shut the door behind me and walked to my car, backing it to the end of the driveway, far away from the growing fire. Flickering, fading, expanding again, the flames burned steady, a tiny light against descending dark.

 

Flash Fiction Challenge – Pick an Opening Sentence

Last week, Chuck challenged us to write an opening sentence. You know where this is going, right? Yep, this week, we are instructed to choose one of the opening sentences and write a 2,000-word story. This one comes in considerably less than that, but more words aren’t necessarily better.

I chose the sentence John Freeter submitted. It felt like the perfect opening to a story I’ve had rattling around in the back of my skull for years.

Trigger Warning – there’s some violence and sexual content here. Enter at your own risk.

_____

I followed the nice man to his basement. He seemed nice enough, anyway, but in truth, his personality and disposition was the furthest thing from my mind. All I cared about was whether or not he would be as good a lay as he purported to be. He had all the requisite parts – lean, muscular body, most of his teeth, a promising bulge straining the front of his grimy jeans. As we walked down the musty stairs, he kept my hand tightly clenched in his own, as if he was afraid I’d run away before the deed was done. He needn’t have worried, though. I wasn’t going anywhere until he gave me what I wanted.

I shucked off my overcoat as we entered the room, draping it over the back of a chair. His eyes raked over my shiny black vinyl corset and patent leather heels, his mouth slack with lust. He reached for the red satin ribbon that laced my generous figure into a perfect hourglass shape, but I slapped his hand away.

“Is that a sleeper sofa?” His eyes darted to a moldering couch in the middle of the room and he nodded.

“Open it.” He hurried to do as I asked, throwing cushions to the floor and extending the frame. The mattress was bare but I was beyond caring, my hunger and need growing fierce. When he stood, I unbuttoned his pants and let them drop around his ankles, admiring his swollen cock. As he reached for me again, I pushed him backwards onto the bed, untying the side of my g-string and straddling him before he could protest. His hard length felt so good inside me that I abandoned all pretense of romance or seduction and began to thrust against him, pinning his wrists on either side of his head. I was dimly aware of his grunts and moans, and as his seed exploded inside me, I slid my hands to his throat, crushing his windpipe as I came. He was dead before my body had stopped spasming.

I slipped my overcoat on and stuffed my panties into my pocket as I walked back up the stairs. I could already feel the new life stirring inside me.

When I arrived home, I was surprised to see that the kids were still awake. After a quick shower and a change into my pajamas, we all crowded into my big, soft bed, four adorable little bodies of various ages and ethnicities snuggling into my own. I ruffled the curly mop of the littlest one, who looked up adoringly.

“Mama, tell me the story of my daddy again.”

“Me too! Tell me about mine too!” the others chimed in.

“Well, Marco, your daddy was a doctor. He used to fix people’s broken bones and hurt joints. And Sherrill, your daddy drove a big, blue truck and delivered fruits and vegetables to all the grocery stores.”

“Mama, are you going to have another baby?” my oldest asked. She was already so wise for her years, I mused.

“Yes, I am, but not until after Christmas,” I said. The kids squealed with delight and patted my belly as I smiled at the memory of this evening’s encounter. I could now add “rock musician,” to my list of mates.

My smile was content as I drifted off to sleep, already looking forward to my new arrival.

Flash Fiction Challenge – 100 Words

This week, Chuck has challenged us to write a flash fiction piece of no more than 100 words.  This was both terribly easy and terribly difficult for me, all at the same time.

I don’t have a title for the piece yet, but it comes in just under the limit at 97 words. And if you have a moment, I encourage you to follow the link back to Chuck’s blog to read some of the other entries. There’s some pretty great stuff there.

_____

“I’m scared,” she says.

I smile my most reassuring smile. “I’ll be right here with you the whole time.”

“Will it hurt?”

“Only for a moment, like ripping off a Band-aid.”

She exhales deeply and closes her eyes, trusting me. “Okay, I’m ready.”

I gather her into my arms, pressing our bodies together. My quick jab elicits a tiny gasp from her lips, and then she softens, relaxing against me.

When it is over, I gently kiss her brow before laying her limp form against the pillows.

Then, I rise and leave, already thinking about my next appointment.

Flash Fiction Challenge – Random Cocktail Generator

This week’s flash fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig instructs us to use the Random Cocktail Generator to come up with the title for our next 1,000-word piece. I got “Brutal Hammer,” which sounds like a completely disgusting drink (half French red wine and half vodka, mixed in an old fashioned glass and then slammed) but sparked a whole slew of ideas for a short story. I went in what I hope is an unexpected direction, and the story turned into a little YA/coming of age piece.

___

I’d been trying to get into the Honeys for weeks. It’s never easy being the new kid in town, but since we’d moved a dozen times in my sixteen years, I’d gotten pretty good at figuring out who to hook up with, and the Honeys were the most popular girls in school. I didn’t particularly care for them, actually, because they seemed too focused on looking down their noses at people, but I knew that getting accepted by the in crowd was the only way to survive high school when you were an outsider.

I’d been thrilled when Beth, the leader of the Honeys, invited me to go check out a carnival in town. When I showed up, though, I realized why they’d invited me.

“Oh look, girls, here comes Cissy,” Beth said, her eyes scanning me from head to toe. A few of the girls snickered. I tried to ignore it.

“Hey, Beth,” I said, trying to sound casual. I’d never been into fashion, but I’d tried to make an effort today. I’d worn my favorite blouse and pulled my hair back into a ponytail, trying to emulate the Honeys’ look, but my non-designer jeans and scuffed sandals were definitely sub-par. I made a mental note to upgrade my wardrobe. “What’s up?”

“You, hopefully,” Beth sneered. “Gillian tells me you want to join the Honeys.” Gillian peeked out from behind Beth and smiled. She was the one member of the Honeys that I genuinely liked.

“Yeah, I’d like that,” I said.

“I’ll bet you would,” Beth said, which set off another round of snickering. “But we don’t just let anyone in. You have to prove yourself worthy.”

“Prove it how?” I said. Something told me this could be bad.

Beth gestured toward a ride towering over the midway. “By riding the Brutal Hammer.”

I hate carnival rides, especially ones with names like The Brutal Hammer. I’ve hated them ever since I got stuck on The Zipper with my little brother, who puked all over me about ten seconds into the ride. The operator was too busy looking at his Hustler to notice my pleas to stop the ride, so I endured the longest three minutes of my life covered in half-digested cotton candy and corn dog.

The Brutal Hammer looked like a bunch of dryer drums rolling on a flat track, which then tilted straight up and down. Not only would I be somersaulting horizontally, but spinning vertically as well. As we walked toward it, I knew I was in trouble. No one getting off that ride looked well, and the screams and groans sounded more like people being tortured than kids having fun.

“You know, spinning rides aren’t really my thing.”

“Why am I not surprised. Your name is Cissy, after all. It figures you’d be chicken.”

“I’m not chicken, I just don’t like rides that spin. How about if I ride the Mega Wheel or the Tornado Coaster instead?”

“Sure, if you want to. But the Honeys are riding the Brutal Hammer, so if you want to be one of us, you have to ride it too.”

I’d been willing to do almost anything to be accepted into the Honeys, but now that almost anything involved this, I wasn’t so sure. If I puked, I’d never live it down, but I might still be admitted into the gang. If I refused to ride, though, any chance I had would be gone.

Gillian came out from behind Beth. “It’s okay. I’ll ride with you,” she whispered, leaning in close.

Surely I could stand this for a couple of minutes. How long could the ride be anyway? “Okay, let’s do this,” I said, hoping I sounded brave. Beth flashed a look at Gillian and then marched to the front of the line. We all paired off and loaded into our drums, and I was relieved to find my seat puke-free. I sat facing Gillian, our knees touching. She reached out and took my hand as the ride operator latched the door.

“It’ll be okay, Cissy,” she said. “Try closing your eyes if you start to get sick.” I nodded, too nervous to speak. My hands were shaking as I pretended to look over the midway, embarrassed to make eye contact. She gave my hand a little squeeze as the ride fired up and I closed my eyes, feeling myself roll backward. Gillian squealed as we flipped over, but it was such a happy sound that I smiled in spite of myself.

“I can do this,” I chanted in my head, willing the ride to be over. Then the track started rising and the drum began to lurch crazily.

Gillian was really shrieking with delight now, but I found it oddly comforting. I was hardly even surprised when she pulled me toward her and pressed her lips to mine. I kissed her back, hard, caught up in the dizziness, the spinning, holding on to the one thing that felt good in the chaos around me. She smiled against my lips and opened her mouth slightly, our tongues touching tentatively at first. She tasted of vanilla lip gloss and I clung to her, cupping her head with both hands, pressing as much of my body as I could against her. We seemed to kiss forever and I didn’t care if everyone could see us making out as we tumbled ass over tea kettle.

She pulled back as the ride began to slow, and I opened my eyes to see her smiling in that shy way of hers. As the ride stopped she sat back against the headrest and said, “You did it, Cissy! You survived the Brutal Hammer!” The ride operator opened the door and unfastened our seat belts, offering us his hand as we climbed down. I felt pretty wobbly, but I wasn’t sure whether that was from the ride or from Gillian’s kisses.

That’s when I heard the puking, and I looked over to see Beth, head over a trash can, dry heaving for all she was worth. There were splotches of puke all over her and her ride partner. Suddenly, it didn’t matter whether or not I was accepted into the Honeys. It didn’t matter whether I was one of the cool kids or whether the other girls liked me. All that mattered was what Gillian thought.

She caught my eye and took my hand again, giving it another little squeeze. I squeezed back and we turned, walking away from the Honeys.

“Can I buy you a soda or something?” I said as we left the midway.

“I’d like that,” she said.

 

Flash Fiction – One Random Sentence

This week, Chuck Wendig posted ten random sentences and encouraged us to choose one or more for a flash fiction piece of around 1,000 words. They are all pretty great sentences (the list is here, if you’re curious), but one in particular really stood out to me and immediately put me back in the world of By the Queen’s Command. The result is about 630 words of prequel or backstory inspired by the sentence, “The river stole the gods.”

The river stole the gods. Not all at once, mind you. It crept up slowly, almost imperceptibly, over many years, eons even. But eventually, the river spirited them away, one at a time. At first, only a few individuals, the priests mostly, noticed the river’s steady march toward the temple. They tried to raise the alarm, to warn us all of the river’s approach, but few paid them any heed. “There go the old priests,” they said, “babbling again about unimportant things when we know there are more pressing concerns – the paltry harvest, the failing power grid, the constant threat of the invaders. Don’t they realize that we don’t have the time or resources to devote to a decrepit building and a bunch of crumbling statues?” And so, a generation passed and the river still came.

As the water rose to engulf the steps of the temple, those who were still devout began to express their concern, but again, we failed to heed the warning. We had other things to concern us – the wasting sickness that swept through our village, the freezing winters, and the scorching summers. It was only later, they say, when the river finally swept the first god away, that we began to really pay attention. Our village was under near-constant attack it seemed, from plagues of insects and desperate predators, both human and animal. We struggled to survive in a world that grew increasingly hostile. It was into this world that I was born. My earliest memories are of conversations, long into the night, between the few who were left. “The gods are angry that we have neglected the temple,” they said. “We must protect it and appease them if we are to have any hope of surviving.” And so, some of us began to try. We piled stones in the doorways to block the river’s entrance, and when that failed, we began to dig at the riverbank, to try to change the river’s path. But still, inexorably, the river came, stealing away another god and eroding away the ones who were left. I still remember how my mother wailed and clung to the god as it slipped it from its pedestal and floated away from her, out of sight.

As I grew to adulthood, the conversations continued while the river stole another god, and then another. “This is proof that they are abandoning us,” some said. “We must build another temple, on new land far away, and move the gods who are left,” still others said. We fought amongst ourselves, squabbling like apes, until finally, we were torn asunder. On the day the others left, packing their meager belongings and setting out toward the rising sun and away from the river, I could do nothing but hang my head and weep. I did not understand how they could abandon our village, our land, the only home we had ever known. “These gods are dead,” they’d said. “We will find a new land and build a new temple with new gods.” They shook their heads at my folly and left me alone with the one god who was left in our temple.

I kept vigil over the years as the river rose higher and higher, swirling around, pushing at the last of the gods until it had its prize, snatching it away from my clutching hands and sweeping it downstream, out of my sight.

The temple was empty now. I knew the time had come. I piled my few belongings into my canoe and pushed off into the river, determined to follow where the gods had led, looking back only once to sear the vision of our land in my mind before taking up my paddle and facing forward, anxious to learn where the gods would lead me.

Love Story Part IV

It turns out that there are more than a few of us participating in Chuck Wendig’s Four-Part Flash Fiction challenge who are suckers for a good romance. I managed to find a Part I, Part II and Part III to “Love Story,” that I hadn’t had my fingers in yet, so to prove that I just can’t quit a good thing, I’ve added a Part IV to “Love Story,” coming in at around 700 words.

___

Part I (by lisboeta1)

Holy crap! It’s him, I heard my inner voice yell out. I was sitting in a small booth in my favorite coffee shop doing what I do best; drinking coffee and reading. As my eyes wondered from the pages of the book to the crowd gathering by the registers I saw him. He hadn’t changed much in the last twenty years. If anything he seemed to have improved like a good wine. I noticed that he was even taller than the last time I had seen him all those years ago. Thick blondish curly hair still framed his handsome face and his slanted almond-shaped eyes looked just like I remembered them. Not the skinny, slightly awkward young man he had been at 18, his well-toned arms and chest now stretched the black plain t-shirt he was wearing. He had obviously just come from the gym, sweatpants hanging low on his tight hips and sneakers on his feet. A smile crept up to my lips; I remembered him saying that his mom used to tell him that when he died he would die standing up because of his giant feet. God! I remembered our conversations as it was only yesterday.

My eyes went to his hands, big and masculine, and a shiver went through me. I remember well the feeling of those hands on my body. I was so young back then. Still, I was about two years older than him, an “older woman”. For all sense of purpose I was an adult but I still fell hard for the young man he was then. The first time I laid eyes on him, walking across the hotel atrium, I was lost. My heart fluttered every time I saw him and my legs turned to Jell-O every time we spoke. Ours was a whirlwind romance that lasted a few days but left a soft spot in my heart for 20 years. I always thought of James as the one who got away. And now, there he was, a mere few feet away from me, and my heart was doing that familiar flip-floppy thing it had always done in his presence. What was he doing here? More to the point; what was I going to do?

Part II (by Helen Espinosa)

As it turned out, I didn’t need to do anything at all. Before I could even begin to think whether it was a good idea or not to walk up to him, our eyes met and a slow smile spread across his face as recognition dawned in his eyes. My heart picked up speed inside my chest and my face felt hot as the blood rushed to it. God, I hated that! I hated the fact that I couldn’t control the blush as it flamed across my face in what I knew was a bright red color.

I put my head down as he started walking in my direction, trying to get the color under control. I didn’t know what to do with my hands, so they became a tight knot in my lap that grew tighter the closer he got to the booth. I look like an idiot just sitting here. I stood up and lifted my head to meet his eyes once again, startled at how close he was and that he was still getting closer. My eyebrows lifted as he walked right up to me and put his arms around me like we were old friends.

“Oh my God, Liz! It really is you!” He leaned back, his hands holding my upper arms as he took a long look at me that did nothing to help the heat in my face.

“Hi James.” I sounded so awkward.

“Where have you been all these years? What happened to you?”

“Me? I seem to recall it was you who disappeared.” I said it with a smile but watched as something flitted across his eyes and it looked like he was going to say something but he dropped his hands instead and cleared his throat. What was that about?

He finally said, “I can’t believe it’s you after all these years. How have you been?”

“I’m good, just, you know. I don’t know.” I didn’t know where my eyes should go, so I looked down and shuffled my feet. My eyes landed on my coffee sitting on the table and the book beside it. I gestured towards it with my hand. “This is my favorite place for coffee and a book.” I glanced back up at him and caught him smiling at me.

“That’s one of the things I remember best about you. You always had a book. It’s nice to see that some things don’t change.”

“Can you stay a while? Catch up? I can buy you some coffee…” The words trailed away as I realized how dumb I sounded. God, I was so nervous. I wanted the shaky feeling in my stomach to settle down so I could breathe.

“Damn, Liz, I wish I could. I’ve gotta get showered and get to work. Rain check?” He really looked like he meant it and I almost couldn’t believe my ears. He wanted to see me again? My face went back to flaming just as I thought it had settled down. I couldn’t trust my voice so I just nodded my head.

“Well, uh…” Now he was the one stammering and shuffling his feet.

“Do you… Can I give you my number?” There. I said it. I wanted to see him again, but I knew that if he walked away without leaving me with something, I would probably never see him again. I never thought of our city as a big one, but if he lived here and we hadn’t run across each other in twenty years, who knew how long it would be before we crossed paths again, if ever.

“Of course! Geez, I don’t know why I didn’t think of that.” He let out a short laugh as he reached into his sweat pants. He pulled out his cell phone and punched on the screen a few times then actually held it out to me.

“Here, put it in my phone.”

When I reached for it, our hands grazed slightly and a bolt of electricity jumped from his hand to mine and sent my heart racing again. I looked into his eyes and the world seemed to spin. Could it really be that after all these years he still felt the same way? I wasn’t getting any answers staring into his eyes like a love-struck fool, so I gently took the phone and dialed my number into it. I slowly handed it back to him, suddenly struck dumb, not knowing what to do next.

“Is it okay if I dial it so you have mine?”

“Uh, yeah. That’s perfect, actually.”

I heard my phone buzzing behind me and reached over to click the ignore button. As I looked back at James, I realized he was leaning in again. I didn’t know if my senses could take another hug at this point, but I didn’t want to refuse either, so I hugged him back, trying to keep the tingling under control.

“It was really great to see you, Liz. I almost hate to leave,” he said as he pulled back for a second time in less than five minutes.

“Yeah, I know the feeling.”

We stood there for a few minutes more in an awkward silence that hung suspended between us. I didn’t know what else to do so I said, “Take care of yourself, James.”

He smiled again, “You too, Liz. I’ll call you.” And then he turned and walked away.

My entire body was wobbly and I fell back into the booth with a loud swoosh and sat staring at my now cold coffee. Could I even hold out hope that he would call me? Did I even dare to invest my heart in something that had lasted only two days twenty years ago? The crazy thing was, I’m not sure my heart was giving me a choice. It was still beating so fast and I knew that if he didn’t call or text or something, I would be heartbroken all over again.

Part III (by Carolyn Astfalk)

I’d waited three weeks for that call. Every time my phone buzzed, chirped, or rang, I dashed for it hoping for a missed call, a voice mail message, a text. Something. I’d knocked over my coffee yesterday in my mad scramble.

This morning I’d woken with a firm purpose of amendment. I would not waste another second anticipating a call that would never come, a foolish hope in the first place, considering the source. Seriously. The guy had taken off twenty years ago after only a few days never to be heard from again. Until now. What made me think his word was good for anything more than the pleasure of watching his lips move?

Today my coffee sat safely in the center of the table, its hazelnut fragrance teasing my nostrils. I’d tucked my phone into my purse, and a stack of freshman essays lay in front of me. I set aside my book, a literary best-seller, and clicked my red pen.

I laid my hand over the name in the upper corner, wanting to read my new students’ short biographies without prejudice. Five essays in, I discovered a real writer, one with authenticity, a unique voice, and an understanding of comma usage – all three a rare commodities.

In dynamic prose, the young woman recounted her father’s abandonment before her birth, her admiration for the man who became her dad, and the her mother’s battle with cancer. Despite her hardships, the girl remained hopeful, grateful, and upbeat. A testament in part, no doubt, to her father.

I marked several grammatical errors and scratched some notes in the margin.

My ringtone sounded from deep inside my purse. At least I thought it did. Two tables over, a busboy dropped his tray. Ceramic mugs and silverware clattered to the floor. The room went silent save for the pumped-in pop music. And my phone.

I wanted to ignore it and complete my work. Why hadn’t I turned the ringer off? Seven seconds in, curiosity got the better of me, and I shoved aside tissues, lip balm, and crumpled napkins in pursuit of the vibrating phone. Afraid that I’d miss the call altogether, I raised the phone to my ear without examining the caller ID.

“This is Liz.” I hoped my breathy voice didn’t betray my anxiety.

“Liz, it’s James.”

My heart leapt. He’d finally called.

“Hey, I’m sorry it took so long to call. I’ve been busy moving my kid into college then catching up on things at home. . . . But I thought about you every day.”

I swallowed. Lingering too much over that last statement would throw me into a dither, so I ignored it. “Oh. It’s, uh, it’s fine. So, you don’t live nearby?”

“Nope. I was just in town to get Stacey situated in her dorm. Had to get back to my Shelby and work.”

“I see.” My stomach dropped. He wasn’t even local. And he had a daughter, which most likely meant he had a wife. Shelby?

“I’m in town again though. Parents’ weekend. Can I meet you at that coffee shop a–” His voice cut off.

I pulled the phone away from my ear. The call was still connected. Signal was strong. “James?”

He cleared his throat. “Look up, Liz.”

He stood just inside the door, stamping the rainwater from his shoes. He smiled and slipped his phone into the pocket of his denim jacket.

I averted my gaze to end the call and replaced my phone in my purse. Butterflies stirred in my stomach.

He walked toward me.

Shuffling my papers, I tapped them into order and placed them beneath my book. I laid the pen across the top and sipped my coffee, hoping it would settle my nerves. How ridiculous was that?

James pulled out the chair across from me. “May I?”

I nodded. “Sure.” I’d daydreamed about this encounter for weeks, but now everything had changed. James was married. Was he looking to catch up with an old flame? Just a ‘hey, good to see you again’ kind of thing? Or did he hope to rekindle the passion of the most magical three days of my life?

If it was the latter, he had another thing coming. A married man was a line I didn’t cross. Period. If I got even one inkling that this encounter was a means to a cheap fling, I’d grab my things and hightail it home, deleting his number from my phone as I went.

“Well, my day just got a whole lot better. I think this coffee shop is my lucky place.”

My lips tightened in a smile, still unsure of whether this tete-a-tete would bring good or bad luck for me. “So, your daughter is a student at State U?”

“Yes, Stacey is a freshman, hard as it is for me to believe. My baby girl is all grown up.” He grabbed a napkin from the metal dispenser and wiped away the pound cake crumbs I’d left on the table. The ring finger on his left hand was bare. Of course, that didn’t mean he wasn’t married. Plenty of married men didn’t wear a wedding band. My own dad complained it was uncomfortable and got in his way.

“You mentioned getting back to work. What do you do?”

“Advertisting. I design print ads, mostly.”

I remembered the cartoonish drawings he’d  made of us using the hotel notepad. He was talented.

“What do you do, Liz?” He nodded toward my pen, papers, and book. “Something to do with writing, I’d bet.”

My cheeks heated. “Yes. I teach some basic writing courses at the university and do a little freelance writing on the side.”

I emptied my coffee and steeled my nerves for the answer to my next question. “You said you had to get back to your Shelby, too. Is Shleby your wife?” I gritted my teeth and waited.

His brow furrowed in confusions for a moment before he burst into laughter. Loud, unrestrained laughter, that caused the heads of the other patrons to turn in our direction.

Finally, he quieted. “No, Shelby is not my wife. I said I had to get home to my Sheltie. I have a Shetland Sheepdog.”

Part IV (by me)

The world stopped. I couldn’t believe what I’d just heard. Emboldened, I decided to press for more information. “Your Sheltie? Oh, you mean, you’re not married.?”

Was that a shadow that crossed his eyes for the merest of moments? “Not since my wife passed away ten years ago.”

“Oh, James, I’m sorry.”

“We had a good life together, and if it wasn’t for her, I would never have met my daughter. You know, it’s funny, I never really wanted to have kids when I was younger. Now, I can’t imagine my life without her.” His gaze was a million miles away, but then he caught my eyes, returning to the present moment. “What about you? Married? Kids?”

“No, nothing that permanent. Just Fabio, my beta fish.” I didn’t know why I suddenly wanted to tell him all about my failed relationships, my struggle with substance abuse, my redemption as a professor at the university, but I kept my peace. No need to scare him away with tales from my sordid past.

“Fabio? That’s great!” He reached across the table and took my hand, making the butterflies in my heart lurch again. I willed my hand to stop shaking and looked into his eyes.

“You know, I’ve always regretted leaving you that night. I thought I was being so cool, so smooth, to slip away without a trace. But the truth is, I fell hard for you and it scared me. I was such a young, dumb kid. Can you ever forgive me?”

I didn’t know what to say. The truth was that I, too, had fallen hard and had held every potential suitor up to his impossibly high standard. No relationship was ever good enough to replace what I’d imagined we’d had so many years ago, even if it was only for a couple of days. Now, the universe had given us a second chance and I wanted to believe him with every fiber of my being. If my recovery had taught me anything, it was that everyone deserved a second chance.

“We all make mistakes, James. I forgive you.”

He let out a breath I hadn’t realized he was holding and gave my hand a gentle squeeze. “Thank you. I would like the chance to make it up to you, if you’ll let me. Maybe we can start over?”

“No, we can’t start over, but we can start again. I’d like that.”

We sat like that, hands clasped across the table, smiling at each other for a thousand years in one heartbeat, until the alarm on my phone buzzed, reminding me that I had a class to teach in 30 minutes. I reached into my purse to turn it off, wondering if it was too late to cancel my class, not willing to let James out of my sight again.

“Um, I have to go. Creative Writing 101 awaits.”

“Can I walk you to class? I’ll carry your books.” He grinned in that wonderfully devilish way I remembered and I nodded, standing to gather up my things while he cleared our dishes. As he returned, he glanced down at the stack of papers in my hand, moving behind me to look over my shoulder at the one on top. I should’ve stopped him from reading the paper, but something about the look on his face made me hesitate. He was dangerously close to me and I could feel the heat from his body and smell the faintest whiff of his cologne, one that I remembered from our nights together so long ago. Obsession for Men.

“Liz, this is Stacey’s paper.”

“Stacey?”

“My daughter.”

“Are you kidding me?”

“You know what this means, right?”

He was so close now that our lips were almost touching. I couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe, for wanting to kiss him.

“It means this was meant to be. It’s fate, destiny.” I could feel the kiss before his lips grazed mine, so gently at first, and then more deeply.  Kissing him was the most natural, most comfortable thing in the world and I knew that there would be many more kisses in our future.

Flash Fiction Challenge – Part III

Continuing on the theme of “write the next scene to someone else’s story,” here is Part III of “Love Story,” started by lisboeta1 here and inspired by Chuck Wendig’s original challenge here.

Now wait a minute, you may be saying. Didn’t you write a Part II to this story last week? You can’t write a Part III to the same story! That’s cheating!

And you would be correct, except that Helen Espinosa wrote a Part II to lisboeta1’s original Part I, so I’m opting to continue their story. See what I did there? Clever, eh?

And now, I give you Part III to “Love Story,” in which things get weird …

___

Part I (by lisboeta1)

Holy crap! It’s him, I heard my inner voice yell out. I was sitting in a small booth in my favorite coffee shop doing what I do best; drinking coffee and reading. As my eyes wondered from the pages of the book to the crowd gathering by the registers I saw him. He hadn’t changed much in the last twenty years. If anything he seemed to have improved like a good wine. I noticed that he was even taller than the last time I had seen him all those years ago. Thick blondish curly hair still framed his handsome face and his slanted almond-shaped eyes looked just like I remembered them. Not the skinny, slightly awkward young man he had been at 18, his well-toned arms and chest now stretched the black plain t-shirt he was wearing. He had obviously just come from the gym, sweatpants hanging low on his tight hips and sneakers on his feet. A smile crept up to my lips; I remembered him saying that his mom used to tell him that when he died he would die standing up because of his giant feet. God! I remembered our conversations as it was only yesterday.

My eyes went to his hands, big and masculine, and a shiver went through me. I remember well the feeling of those hands on my body. I was so young back then. Still, I was about two years older than him, an “older woman”. For all sense of purpose I was an adult but I still fell hard for the young man he was then. The first time I laid eyes on him, walking across the hotel atrium, I was lost. My heart fluttered every time I saw him and my legs turned to Jell-O every time we spoke. Ours was a whirlwind romance that lasted a few days but left a soft spot in my heart for 20 years. I always thought of James as the one who got away. And now, there he was, a mere few feet away from me, and my heart was doing that familiar flip-floppy thing it had always done in his presence. What was he doing here? More to the point; what was I going to do?

Part II (by Helen Espinosa)

As it turned out, I didn’t need to do anything at all. Before I could even begin to think whether it was a good idea or not to walk up to him, our eyes met and a slow smile spread across his face as recognition dawned in his eyes. My heart picked up speed inside my chest and my face felt hot as the blood rushed to it. God, I hated that! I hated the fact that I couldn’t control the blush as it flamed across my face in what I knew was a bright red color.

I put my head down as he started walking in my direction, trying to get the color under control. I didn’t know what to do with my hands, so they became a tight knot in my lap that grew tighter the closer he got to the booth. I look like an idiot just sitting here. I stood up and lifted my head to meet his eyes once again, startled at how close he was and that he was still getting closer. My eyebrows lifted as he walked right up to me and put his arms around me like we were old friends.

“Oh my God, Liz! It really is you!” He leaned back, his hands holding my upper arms as he took a long look at me that did nothing to help the heat in my face.

“Hi James.” I sounded so awkward.

“Where have you been all these years? What happened to you?”

“Me? I seem to recall it was you who disappeared.” I said it with a smile but watched as something flitted across his eyes and it looked like he was going to say something but he dropped his hands instead and cleared his throat. What was that about?

He finally said, “I can’t believe it’s you after all these years. How have you been?”

“I’m good, just, you know. I don’t know.” I didn’t know where my eyes should go, so I looked down and shuffled my feet. My eyes landed on my coffee sitting on the table and the book beside it. I gestured towards it with my hand. “This is my favorite place for coffee and a book.” I glanced back up at him and caught him smiling at me.

“That’s one of the things I remember best about you. You always had a book. It’s nice to see that some things don’t change.”

“Can you stay a while? Catch up? I can buy you some coffee…” The words trailed away as I realized how dumb I sounded. God, I was so nervous. I wanted the shaky feeling in my stomach to settle down so I could breathe.

“Damn, Liz, I wish I could. I’ve gotta get showered and get to work. Rain check?” He really looked like he meant it and I almost couldn’t believe my ears. He wanted to see me again? My face went back to flaming just as I thought it had settled down. I couldn’t trust my voice so I just nodded my head.

“Well, uh…” Now he was the one stammering and shuffling his feet.

“Do you… Can I give you my number?” There. I said it. I wanted to see him again, but I knew that if he walked away without leaving me with something, I would probably never see him again. I never thought of our city as a big one, but if he lived here and we hadn’t run across each other in twenty years, who knew how long it would be before we crossed paths again, if ever.

“Of course! Geez, I don’t know why I didn’t think of that.” He let out a short laugh as he reached into his sweat pants. He pulled out his cell phone and punched on the screen a few times then actually held it out to me.

“Here, put it in my phone.”

When I reached for it, our hands grazed slightly and a bolt of electricity jumped from his hand to mine and sent my heart racing again. I looked into his eyes and the world seemed to spin. Could it really be that after all these years he still felt the same way? I wasn’t getting any answers staring into his eyes like a love-struck fool, so I gently took the phone and dialed my number into it. I slowly handed it back to him, suddenly struck dumb, not knowing what to do next.

“Is it okay if I dial it so you have mine?”

“Uh, yeah. That’s perfect, actually.”

I heard my phone buzzing behind me and reached over to click the ignore button. As I looked back at James, I realized he was leaning in again. I didn’t know if my senses could take another hug at this point, but I didn’t want to refuse either, so I hugged him back, trying to keep the tingling under control.

“It was really great to see you, Liz. I almost hate to leave,” he said as he pulled back for a second time in less than five minutes.

“Yeah, I know the feeling.”

We stood there for a few minutes more in an awkward silence that hung suspended between us. I didn’t know what else to do so I said, “Take care of yourself, James.”

He smiled again, “You too, Liz. I’ll call you.” And then he turned and walked away.

My entire body was wobbly and I fell back into the booth with a loud swoosh and sat staring at my now cold coffee. Could I even hold out hope that he would call me? Did I even dare to invest my heart in something that had lasted only two days twenty years ago? The crazy thing was, I’m not sure my heart was giving me a choice. It was still beating so fast and I knew that if he didn’t call or text or something, I would be heartbroken all over again.

Part III (by me)

I didn’t know what to do next, so I gathered my things and headed out the door. I thumbed my phone as I picked it up, intent on saving James’ number before I lost the only connection I had to him.

I walked back to my condo. It was time to stop mooning over James, but I didn’t know how I was going to concentrate when all I could think about was our last encounter – his hands on my body, his lips hot against mine, his skin silvered in the pre-dawn light.

I let myself in, trudging upstairs to drop my bag and slip off my shoes, when my phone rang. My heart lurched as James’ name flashed across my screen. I stared at it, afraid to answer and afraid not to. Could he really be calling me? Was it a misdial? I took a deep breath and answered just before it rolled over into voicemail.

“Hello? James?”

“Hi Liz, it’s James. Oh, wait, you already knew that.” He laughed and I did too, relieved that it really was him and that he was just as nervous as I was.

“Yes, your name came up on my phone.”

“Oh, of course. Look, this is going to sound crazy, but can I see you?”

“Yes, I’d like that.” He was asking me out on a date! He really did want to see me again.

“Great! What are you doing?”

“Right now? I thought you had to get to work.” A tiny alarm went off in the back of my mind. Something wasn’t quite right.

“I, uh, just called in and cleared my calendar for the day. I … I just really need to see you, to talk to you.”

“Wow, um, okay.” I desperately wanted to see him again and to find out why he’d disappeared, but I was also wary. This was moving really fast.

“Where are you? Do you want to meet back at the coffee shop?”

“Actually, I’m parked outside your condo complex. Can I come up?”

“What? Did you follow me?” Now I was really confused and more than a little nervous.

“Yeah, but I’m not some creepy stalker, I swear! I just … I made a stupid mistake when I left without saying goodbye, and now that I have another chance, I’m not going to screw up again. Please just let me apologize to you and to explain why I did it. If you don’t want to see me after that, I promise to never bother you again.”

He sounded terribly sincere and more than a little desperate. And although my head screamed out that it was a really bad idea to let James in, my heart wouldn’t listen.

“Um, okay, sure.”

“Great! Can you buzz me in?”

“Oh, yes, of course.” I tried to steady my breath as I hurried downstairs to punch the code on the alarm panel. “I’m in #101, nearest the gate.”

“I know,” he said, which gave me another moment’s hesitation, but I pushed the thought from my mind and opened the door to see James already standing there, one hand poised to knock. He was still in his sweat pants and t-shirt, and he looked both sheepish and relieved.  Any doubts I’d had about letting him in slipped away.

“Come in,” I said. “Sorry about the mess.” He glancing up and down the corridor before closing the door and locking the deadbolt. Again, my mind chirped out a warning, but I ignored it as I started up the stairs, James following behind me. When we got to the top, we stood facing each other, then started to speak at the same time.

“Liz, I …”

“Well, should we sit …”

We both chuckled and he insisted that I go first. “Do you want to sit down?”

“Yes, that’d be great.” We sat on the sofa and he took both my hands in his. They were warm and strong, just as I remembered.

“Liz, I want to apologize. I never should’ve left you without saying goodbye. I have always regretted it.”

“I figured you just weren’t that into me,” I said. I was surprised at the flash of bitterness I felt. He’d broken my heart and although I’d told myself that I’d moved on, I realized that I’d never really gotten over it. “I thought we had something. I thought you were different, but we were both so young …”

“I was a fool and I’m sorry,” he said. “Please believe me when I tell you that I have cherished the memories of our few days together for all these years. Now that I’ve found you again, I intend to make it up to you, if you’ll let me.”

I didn’t know what to say. I had dreamed about this moment for years, but now that it was happening, it felt surreal.

“Why did you leave without saying goodbye?”

He seemed to weigh his options before continuing. “I … had to leave. I had a prior commitment.”

“And you couldn’t even leave me a note or something?” I didn’t want to be angry, but the words spilled out along with tears I thought I’d cried out years ago.

James leaned close, tenderly cupping my jaw in his hand so that my eyes met his. The pain I saw reflected there mirrored my own.

“Liz, I am so sorry. I … it was …” He struggled to find the words, finally blurting out, “I was engaged to be married and I didn’t want to break your heart.”

“Too late!” I tried to swallow the bitterness in my voice, but it seeped out anyway. “So, I was the last big fling as a swinging single, huh? You cheated on your fiance to get with me? Was I worth it?”

“No, please, you don’t understand.” I’d pulled away from his grasp but he caught my face again, turning me to face him and look into his eyes once more.

“Where is your wife now? Or were you hoping to have another fling with me?” I moved to the window, looking out at nothing, still feeling betrayed.

“She’s dead.”

I turned to look at him, and although he was facing me, his gaze was a million miles away. “And, for the record, we never got married. I … got cold feet … and she killed herself … on our wedding day … at least that’s what the paper said.”

“Oh, my god …”

“It was an arranged marriage. We hardly knew each other. I didn’t have anything against her, but I wasn’t ready to get married. I didn’t want to do it, but I had … an obligation …”

I didn’t know what to say. As I moved back to the sofa, he stood to face me as if seeing me for the first time.

“Liz, you’re the only one who can save me. Will you help me?”

Flash Fiction Challenge – Part II (Continuing Someone Else’s Story)

Last week, I wrote Part I of a collaborative four-part story in response to this challenge. Today, as per Chuck Wendig’s instructions, I’m writing a Part II to a story lisboeta1 (sorry, I don’t know her real name) started last week. I’ve copied it here for easy reference and made a few minor style edits, but please go check out the rest of her work for yourself. You won’t be disappointed.

_____

Part I

“Holy crap! It’s him,” I heard my inner voice yell out. I was sitting in a small booth in my favorite coffee shop doing what I do best, drinking coffee and reading. As my eyes wandered from the pages of the book to the crowd gathering by the registers I saw him. He hadn’t changed much in the last twenty years. If anything he seemed to have improved like a good wine. I noticed that he was even taller than the last time I had seen him all those years ago. Thick, blondish, curly hair still framed his handsome face, and his slanted almond-shaped eyes looked just like I remembered them. Not the skinny, slightly awkward young man he had been at 18, his well-toned arms and chest now stretched the black plain t-shirt he was wearing. He had obviously just come from the gym, sweatpants hanging low on his tight hips and sneakers on his feet. A smile crept up to my lips; I remembered him saying that his mom used to tell him that when he died he would die standing up because of his giant feet. God! I remembered our conversations as it was only yesterday.

My eyes went to his hands, big and masculine, and a shiver went through me. I remember well the feeling of those hands on my body. I was so young back then. Still, I was about two years older than him, an “older woman.” For all intents and purposes I was an adult but I’d still fallen hard for the young man he was then. The first time I laid eyes on him, walking across the hotel atrium, I was lost. My heart fluttered every time I saw him and my legs turned to Jell-O every time we spoke. Ours was a whirlwind romance that lasted a few days but left a soft spot in my heart for 20 years. I always thought of James as the one who got away. And now, there he was, a mere few feet away from me, and my heart was doing that familiar flip-floppy thing it had always done in his presence. What was he doing here? More to the point; what was I going to do?

Part II

The line was slowly moving forward and I knew I had to act fast. I’d rehearsed this moment in my mind for the better part of two decades, hoping against hope that I’d see him again, and although the passage of time had not been unkind to me, I felt awkward, hesitant. I’d come through failed relationships, drug addiction, self-loathing and a minor health scare, finally finding my strength, my voice, my grace at midlife. I was wiser, rounder, softer and grayer now, and happier than I’d been in longer than I could remember. Fate had brought James back into my life, and I’d be damned if I was going to let the opportunity to reconnect with him slip away.

We’d spent our last night together in a tangle of naked limbs and bedclothes, drinking rum punch and watching old movies in my hotel room. We’d discovered that we both had a fondness for “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” laughing and reciting lines from the movie as it played in the wee hours of the morning, until he grew suddenly serious, catching my face in his hands and holding my gaze before crushing my lips with his, the intensity of his hunger matching my own.

“You will always be the Marion to my Indy,” he’d whispered against my hair as our passions cooled and sleep overtook us. When I woke up a few hours later, he was gone.

I slid from the booth, tucked an errant curl behind my ear and walked up beside him. “James Appleton. I always knew some day you’d come walking back through my door.”

His golden hazel eyes caught mine and he smiled at the movie reference. “Hello, Karel,” he said, pulling me into his embrace. I stood on tiptoe to buss his cheek, but he turned at the last moment so that our lips met in a gentle kiss. A palpable tingle passed through me as we touched, and I could tell he felt it too. The hiss of the espresso machine, the soft jazz wafting over the PA system, the murmur of the other customers in line, it all slipped away as we stood there, lost in each other’s gaze.

“It is so good to see you. What on earth are you doing here, in Southern California?”

He pulled away slightly, but we stood close together, almost touching. “I was just about to ask you the same thing? Do you live around here?”

“Yes, just up the hill. I’ve been haunting the back booth here most mornings since this place opened.”

He’d reached the front of the line and reached into his back pocket to retrieve his wallet. I noticed that he wore no wedding band and my heart skipped a little. Could it be that he was single? This was looking better and better.

“Can I buy you a drink?”

“I’d like that. They pull a phenomenal latte here. Classic Italian style, not one of those sugary, coffee-flavored things.”

“Sounds great. Two lattes, please,” he said to the server, hardly taking his eyes off me.

We retrieved our drinks and moved to the back of the shop where my things were still spread all over the booth. “God, it’s great to see you. It’s been what, twenty years?” he said, settling his long frame into the seat across from me.

“Yes, almost. March 1996. The Hyatt Brittania in Grand Cayman. You were the divemaster on my snorkling trip to Stingray City.”

“That’s right! Back in my beach bum days.” His smile crinkled the corners of his eyes and he took a sip of his latte, catching my gaze over the top of his cup. The touch of deviltry that flashed there hadn’t changed with the passage of time. I felt my breath catch and my heart pound again. Forty-years old and still getting fluttery over handsome boys, I thought. But James was no boy. He’d matured into an incredibly good-looking man. How could he not be married, or at least in a relationship?

Emboldened by his gaze, I plunged ahead. If the past twenty years had taught me anything, it was to carpe the hell out of each diem. “So, what are you doing in SoCal? Are you living here now?”

He took another sip of his latte, his gaze on his cup this time. “I just finished some work in town and I’m waiting for my next assignment.”

“Really? What do you do?”

He looked out the window briefly, considering. After a beat, he met my gaze again. “Executive protection,” he said, a little too casually, as if trying to gauge my reaction.

“What, like a bodyguard?”

“Something like that.”

“Interesting. What led you into that line of work?”

He glanced out the window again, uncomfortable with my questions. Suddenly, he grabbed my hand and stood up, pulling me to my feet as well. “Look, I may not have much time, and I know this is a little awkward, but do you want to go somewhere … um … you know … private?”

A tiny flicker of doubt pricked at the edge of my mind, but I pushed it aside. The thought of making love to him again far outweighed any inkling I had that something wasn’t quite right about the situation. I turned to face him, pressing the length of my body against his and snaking my arms up and around his neck. “I thought you’d never ask,” I murmured as our lips met again, more urgently than before.

As the kiss ended, I pulled away slightly, tilting my head up to look up into his eyes. “We can go back to my place. It’s just up the hill a couple of blocks from here.” I gathered up my things and followed him out the door, taking his hand again and leading him toward my cottage.

Flash Fiction Challenge – The Four-Part Story (Part One)

Chuck Wendig’s flash fiction challenge for this week has us writing the first 1000 words of a four-part story. Here is my offering for Part One.

_____

I noticed her almost as soon as we boarded the train. It was hard not to. She was arguing with the conductor, trying to convince him to let her change seats on the train. She had an accent that seemed familiar but I couldn’t quite place – something Middle Eastern, I guessed, but she certainly didn’t look the part. She looked like a significant portion of the women I’d seen when I lived in L.A. – too thin, too tight, too tan, too highlighted, too made up, too gaudy. A woman somewhere between 40 and 70 but desperately trying to pass for 25. She had a pair of oversized sunglasses on in a feeble attempt to cover up a huge bruise and scar just under her left eye and I wondered if she’d “had some work done” or had been involved in something more sinister. But then I got distracted by the conductor asking for my seat assignment ticket, meeting my seat mate (when you’re part of a group of three, someone always ends up sitting with a stranger), and generally settling in for an 8+ hour train ride. I noticed that the woman walked past my seat several times en route to the Lounge Car or the Cafe Car or the bathroom or somewhere, but didn’t think too much about her until we went to the Dining Car for lunch.

For some reason, Amtrak insists on filling up each table in the dining car before seating people at another table. Put another way, there are only four-seat tables available, and if there are less than four in your party, you will be sharing a table with someone else. (Why they do this is a mystery to me, especially when at least half of the tables were empty while we were in there, but I digress.) As we arrived for our lunch reservation, the server said, “There are three of you? You’ll be sitting here,” and pointed us to a table already occupied by the lady in the sunglasses. She wasn’t happy to have to share her table, and I could tell that she and our server had already gone around a bit before we got there, so my husband, my son and I sat down and I braced myself for an unpleasant experience. I sat next to her, which seemed the proper thing to do, and before we had hardly settled into our seats, we’d heard about her choice of lunch entree (veggie burger without the bun, because she is on a diet) and her cataract surgery (which is why she was wearing sunglasses, too much concealer and a big bandage under her left eye). I decided that the accent was definitely Persian but opted not to ask her about it, and couldn’t have gotten a word in edgewise to do so anyway. We exchanged a few pleasantries and she had a loud cell phone conversation with someone about when and where to pick her up at the Van Nuys station when the water glass she was holding slipped out of her hand and spilled all over the table and between my husband and my son. She began to exclaim and apologize and beg our forgiveness and call for the server, saying “Oh my God, I am so sorry. It was an accident. I will do anything to make it up to you.” I just grabbed the extra napkins and started sopping up the water, telling her it was okay, the guys hadn’t gotten wet, nothing was damaged, they weren’t going to melt, etc., but when I said the words, “I know it was an accident. I forgive you,” her entire demeanor and attitude changed. She stopped mid-sentence, turned to face me, patted my arm and said, “You’re water.” I didn’t know what to say and I wasn’t even sure I’d heard her correctly, so I just smiled. For the rest of the meal, she told us about how her husband had died recently and that she finally had a chance to travel, but had had to come back to the states when her daughter, who was married with two children, had fallen into drug addiction. She kept asking me questions about what she should do about her daughter, but not really wanting answers, so I took that as a sign that I needed to listen. I made sympathetic noises and she just kept patting my arm and saying, “You’re water. You are water.”

 

Flash Fiction Challenge – Must Contain Three Words

Here is the latest flash fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig. Per instructions, I borrowed Liam’s D10 and rolled a 3, 2, and 9, which gave me “betrayal,” “a lost comic book,” and “a shoebox full of photographs.” I haven’t come up with a good title for this story yet, but it comes in at around 980 words.

___

Zandrea had waited for this moment for thirteen years. Finally, it had come. She had smiled and said, “Yes, Grandmother,” and done all the stupid, little things a good apprentice does – fetching and carrying, cooking and cleaning, massaging the crone’s gnarled, bunion-y feet. Ugh! She wouldn’t miss that!

She’d genuinely liked the old woman in the beginning. When she was initiated, she was honored to be Grandmother’s apprentice. “Only our cleverest and most trusted young initiate is worthy of serving one so venerable,” they’d said, but it hadn’t taken long for Zandrea to see the truth. There was no doubt that Grandmother was powerful, but she was also certifiably insane. She muttered and cackled constantly, and Zandrea was never sure whether she was talking to her, to herself, or to one of her ever-present cats, rats or birds. She’d learned many things from the old bat over the years, but always felt that Grandmother was withholding vital information. She’d learned charms for finding lost items and spells to help the lovelorn or those looking for lucky lottery numbers, but she yearned to work big magick – spells to change the weather, to bring wealth and fame, to bend another’s will to your own. Whenever she would press for those secrets, Grandmother would cackle, “You’re not ready yet!” and the more she said it, the angrier Zandrea became. She longed to scream that she was absolutely powerful enough and certainly smart enough to learn all the secrets, but she bided her time instead.

Everyone knew Grandmother was crazy, with her dreadlocked silver hair, her bedraggled skirts and shawls that belonged in some hippy commune, and her skeletal, arthritic frame covered in strange jewelry. And that horrible, tattered shoebox held together with bits of string and layers of tape, decoupaged a half-century ago with pictures cut from magazines, like something a child would make to hold valentines received at school. Grandmother never let that box out of her sight, even sleeping with it clutched against her breast like a weird teddy bear. Every evening, she would sit in her rocker, muttering and cackling to herself as she rummaged through it. Over the years, Zandrea became convinced that it held nothing more than old junk – a lost comic book, a pile of yellowed photographs, a dried rosebud, a moldy bird feather – proof that Grandmother was crazy, and one more item she could use to build her case against the old hag.

Grandmother shuffled into the main hall of the covenstead clutching the shoebox under her elbow. She stopped in the center of the room, unfazed by the rest of the coveners standing opposite her. She pulled herself upright as best she could, holding her apprentice’s gaze with clear eyes that held no trace of madness. Zandrea almost wavered, but took a deep breath and stepped forward.

“Grandmother, I have been your apprentice for 13 years. I wish to be released from my service.”

“You shall be, at Beltane, along with the others at the end of their apprenticeship.”

“No, I wish to be released now.”

“Always in such a hurry, little one. Always so impatient. Why can’t you wait for the releasing ceremony with the rest of the girls?”

“Because I’m done! I’m done living with you and working for you and feeding your cats and rubbing your feet. You haven’t taught me half the things I need to know to be a true witch! You haven’t held up your end of the bargain!” Zandrea hadn’t intended to shout, but angry tears rolled down her cheeks as she willed herself not to sob.

“I have taught you to observe the seasons and the phases of the moon. I have taught you our ways. I have tried to teach you to listen to those who would seek your counsel, but I fear that lesson was lost on you, little one.”

“Stop calling me that! I am 24 years old and I don’t need you anymore! I have this!” Zandrea thrust an ancient, leather-bound book into the old woman’s face. It was Grandmother’s Book of Shadows containing notes, incantations and spells collected over many years. She had planned to give it to Zandrea at her releasing ritual.

Grandmother threw back her head and cackled, an eerie sound that pricked at the neck hairs of everyone in the room. Then, moving more quickly than anyone had seen her move in years, she lurched forward, grabbing hold of a cloth belt around Zandrea’s waist. She unsheathed a small knife and yanked Zandrea forward, slicing cleanly through the belt and pulling it from the girl’s waist before tossing it to the floor. She had resheathed her knife and bent to retrieve her shoebox before anyone in the room could react.

“There. It is done. You are free, little one.” As she turned to go, the room erupted into chaos. She had it! Grandmother’s Book of Shadows! The other coveners crowded around Zandrea, clamoring to get a look at the book that surely held the greatest, most powerful spells the coven had ever seen. There would be no stopping her now. Everything she desired would be hers.

– – –

Grandmother sat in the back of an old, VW microbus with “Portland or Bust” scrawled on the grime-covered windows. She was surrounded by suitcases, animal cages and barely-clothed young people who smelled of patchouli and marijuana, but she hardly paid them any notice as she sifted through her shoebox full of mementos and memories. Every so often, she would pick up the comic book or a photograph, squint at it just so, and waggle her arthritic fingers at it, murmuring to herself. If her fellow passengers noticed the images swirling and changing into text, they didn’t mention it. They just laughed it off as the effects of the righteous weed the awesome old lady had provided for the trip.