Category Archives: Original Short Stories

Feed Your Head

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Clear your mind; invoke the senses. Focus. Pay homage to the sun, earth, water and air. Float. Float like a leaf on the wind. Lightly. Ever so lightly. You’re invisible. You’re all powerful. All knowing. Omnipotent. No longer a prisoner of your fleshy bonds and chains. You are an angelic sprite of a girl. Slipping…slipping higher. Ascending into the heavens.

Continually she repeated this montage to herself. Continually it failed to accomplish any sort of empowerment or transcendence. It wasn’t as if she were truly gliding against any atmosphere. No. Not really. She was high on some new “fix” her weekend warrior buddies had passed on to her. “Try this,” one glassy eyed doll had said. ” It’ll overheat your processor chickadee.” Then the manic pixie had laughed before vomiting on her designer shoes.

It wasn’t as if Mindy ever indulged like this. She was the practical one. Sensible. Her head square; her jaw set in a thin line of “I-told-you-so” logic. Sure, she’d get drunk occasionally. Loopy-eyed and doe-eyed at one or two parties, but who hasn’t? Still, for all of her previous rebellion she had never before wandered into the Caterpillar’s den and asked him for his hookah. Things had changed however. (Don’t they always?) And tonight she needed this high. Deserved it dammit.

Too many nuclear winters had already passed through her body. Too much time had been spent rattling the bars of her lonely cage hating herself and despairing at her perpetual isolation. The thing inside herself (her soul or was it her self loathing) wanted to waste the body to kill the mind. Because you know what folks? Nothing ever stuck. No matter what Min gave, people always wanted more. Expected more. Better. Perfection. But Mindy didn’t have all the answers.

If she did then wouldn’t she be out of her parent’s house by now? Wouldn’t her name be plastered in print? Bestselling author maybe? With publishers clamoring up the wazoo for more of Mindy’s brilliant sardonic wit and special brand of sass? Yeah, she sure as shit wouldn’t be this apathetic nobody. She’d be a somebody making waves, unleashing stories like hurricanes unto the masses. She’d be important. Known. Free of the lingering disappointed stares of her father whenever he passed her in the hallway, hands calloused from hard labor and late nights working construction.

Feeling dizzy, the tired dreamer curls up into a ball. Sweat stains Mindy’s forehead as her skin begins to buzz and tingle, as if an entire hive of bees were suddenly alive within her. God she was a loser. Loser. Loser. Loser. Should she text him? Jacob? She missed him and the way he held her when she cried and spooned her with one of his legs always straddling her while they slept. She missed the taste of him salty like peanut butter, but. . .

What was her dulled mind trying to remember? Oh. Right. He’d left her behind. Said they grew apart, while muttering a half-hearted apology about time healing all wounds. Some bullshit that was. Blearily Mindy finds Jacob’s number and writes him. Her text is a jumbled mess of verbs and adjectives but the gist of her anger is clear: You abandoned me when I needed you most.

In the morning ten missed phone calls and several, “Are you okay” messages will be beeping on Mindy’s cracked cell phone. It’ll mortify and mollify the girl. It’ll bring back all the old hurts too. But what’s the use thinking about tomorrow? Today is the day that counts. Mindy sure as hell thinks so in her current state. I mean, who gives a rat’s greasy fat patoot about romance anyway? Loners don’t get that luxury. Nope. Love exited Mind’s stage right after carelessly tossing twenties on her nightstand, so why cry about it? Everything she shared with Jacob meant nothing to him. Nothing.

Unable to breathe without wheezing, proper sophisticated “Mindful Mindy” drops her second raw round pill upon her tongue. She savors the flavor of it all chalky sweetness. Slipping. Slipping. Slip-lip-lipping. Colors contort as the walls wheeze. Sounds roar, whisper and retreat. Then CLANG! BANG! BOOM! A marching band serenades our sad swan, her wings covering her ears until the sounds become music. Mindy knows this song. Likes it. A lot.

Thank Christ her parents were away on holiday. Thank Christ. Because this song is just too good not to sing. Giggling, Mindy belches out the words in her own uneven pitch. “Go Ask Alice,” is her jam and the covers in her bed are too soft not to pet as if her sheets are moss not goosedown. Down, down, down the rabbit hole Mindy will go tonight. Fall, fall, fall into oblivion she’ll merrily sink. Cosmic “oneness” could go royally screw itself. All that was needed was an escape; some form of ruined release. Life itself could grow small as Mindy grew tall. She wasn’t anybody’s Alice anyway. She belonged nowhere. She was Mindy and Mindy walked alone.

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Lit Up

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Run. Running for hours. Running until the air within my lungs became stale. Moving like a gazelle through the trees as my muscles cried out agonized. Tripping over uprooted roots and the occasional twig as I careened faster and faster and faster away from society. Where was I going? Where was I headed? I hardly knew. I just had to keep going. 

The glow was intensifying. Surreal. Almost as if it were transforming the forest into a dripping oil canvas. Nothing around me felt right. Off. Everything was off. Like I were drowning in watercolors. The light ever creeping upon me; the hum of its tendrils ever close to my skin. 

Unearthly light! It conceals a madness among its brightness. Earlier, when it was dark (when the stars twinkled and he held my hand) all was normal. Quiet. Safe. Not a sound audible except the distant chirp of crickets or the odd hooting of an owl. Nothing relevant but the way his lips pressed softly then urgently against mine. His very scent heightening my senses. Sam had always smelled like home to me. 

At his request, I had wandered into the woods with him. We had both been feeling jittery. Time itself was working against us. No space to breathe together. No room to relax alone. The summer was fading faster than a shooting star fades from the heavens. Soon Sam would be venturing off to Rhode Island leaving me far behind. My ticket out of our little town wouldn’t be until January. Plenty can happen in six months. Your love can find someone new, prettier even. More suited to his liking. The core of myself whispers, ” You will eventually grow apart.”   

So this rendezvous sounded ideal to me. I was eager to allow the darkness of the pines to swallow us whole. I wanted him to say, ” I love you” before it was too late. I had wanted our goodbye to be memorable. A moment that could be savored during the barren winter months I would be spending alone. An instance of nirvana amidst the mediocrity of small town suburbia. 

Our date didn’t last long. Perhaps an hour before it blinded us. The cold was the first thing I noticed. A shiver had wrapped itself around my spine, needling sharp pains down my back. The kind of chill which steals away your energy and zaps the vitality from your bones. Samuel had noticed it too. Suddenly his hands were shaking compulsively. He muttered, “We should go” into the hollow of my ear. Then the light… .

That damn light. It dazzled our surroundings. Made everything pop out at odd angles. Turned normal on top of its head. The din of night became a welcomed friend in comparison to this obscene blast of sunshine. No…not sunshine… . Daylight never looked so…fierce. So strange. I tried to move, but couldn’t. Fear choked me still. Sam though…he couldn’t stop his shaking. 

Rocking back and forth he swayed drunkenly beside me. His grey eyes turned a glossy hue. I kept repeating his name like a prayer. Over and over, getting louder and louder, but I couldn’t get him to focus on anything other than that hellish illumination. Enraged I forgot my fear. I grabbed his hood, yanked him towards me. He was right, we had to go. Now. 

But Samuel didn’t respond to me. He didn’t take my hand to flee. Instead, he hit me. Hard. A quick smack across the cheek. Tears escaped my eyes. He yelled, ” Don’t touch me!” Mumbled something about having to save her… Who the hell was her? And that I should run. Run without looking back. When I continued standing stupidly in front of him, he lunged at me again.

I don’t know exactly how long we danced around each other… but. .  .eventually it ended. Sammy went towards the light, and I’ve been running ever since… .And…and I can feel it reaching for me. Whispering into my ear, pulling at my hair, rustling my clothes. It… it aims to eat me alive too; it aims to finish its meal. It grows hungry while I grow weak… .

I can’t run for much longer. I’ve grown winded. Not much reason to keep moving forward really. The woods are endless… empty without Sam… Screw it. I’ll wait. Wait for that godforsaken light to devour me. I’m done running. This ends tonight with either Samuel and myself reunited or my body blown to bits. I’m ready for the lights. 

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Her Letter

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Words splattered before her like rain. Hard unforgiving print. The looping handwriting familiar yet alien. She had written this letter.

Page after page contained a bit of her soul; line after line sorrow sizzled. Almost (and only almost) had the girl forgotten her prose. Such prose had been tucked away, concealed within a dresser drawer upon their completion. Kept in case needed.

The letter went something like this:

I am not prepared to die. I am shaking as I compose cool verse. My hands are like two trembling branches that cannot be stilled. I know it’s because of this storm inside of me. It thrashes around like a tsunami. Makes me feel heavy as if I’ve got an impossible weight to carry, breaking my back and my heart. Forgive me. Please. Please. I am compelled to say goodbye. I am compelled to make all this ugliness stop. 

How can I endure any longer? How could any sane person really? Another twenty-five years looms before me, speaking its language of loneliness and, frankly, I’ll be damned if I have to face another twenty-five more. Of this I will not abide. I am incapable of dancing anymore; the quick step of living makes a mockery of my feet. It all hurts so damn much….

I’m existing not living. Mine’s a slipping down kind of life. Every single thing I have loved or tried has failed me. People leave constantly because they can’t stand my sadness. Constantly I’m being judged for my depression and anxiety. I hear phrases like, “Why not smile more,'”and “What do you have to be sad about,” all the time. Then there’s the classic try harder mantra from family members. Yeah, Uncle Dave it’s not as if I’m not already doing just that. I’m out of bed aren’t I? Got dressed even though it felt pointless just to hear you give yet more insensitive lame advice. Thanks a million buddy.

Well, you know what ladies and gentlemen? Fuck you too. If it were all that simple then I wouldn’t be writing this damn letter. I wouldn’t be wanting to silence these angry thought so badly that. . .that I’d be amped up to die. I’ve got an idleness that pollutes my sensibilities. With each new dawn I’m sucked dry by the pestilence of self hatred. It turns me into a succubus by default, and steals all joy out of my lungs as I steal away all the joy out of a room.   

This is what I am: Insignificant and small. 

To those that somehow loved me, thanks for that. However undeserving I was (and probably am) I was grateful for the affections you bestowed. Not one ounce of your tenderness will ever be forgotten. Not even in the next life if there even is such a thing. For all my faith I guess that’s what scares me the most. The silence will be a relief, but what if there’s really nothing waiting for me? What if I’m just going to simply cease to be? It’s a scary thought. Whatever happens, at least take solace in the face that I’ll have finally found peace. 

Do not weep or place blame or rage on yourself, okay? I was always meant for this. Doomed from the start. Churchill once wrote about the black dog that hounded him and I’m no better off. It’s somehow funny because I always wanted a dog but instead I’m given the lousy “black dog is depression” metaphor as my pet. I’ll have to hand it to him, this animal does his job well. Hounded me pretty persistently. His jaws clamped down around me like barbed wire. Enabled shadows to creep around my heart. 

Please, think of me no more. (That means you mom and dad). Time is precious and I refuse to steal any more of it from you guys. I love you too much to be your burden anymore. Instead of worrying about me now you can go on vacation. Take that lost honeymoon to Hawaii you guys so often talked about. Seriously. Go. I want you to live and be happy.

There’s not much else to say now really. Nothing left but goodbye. I’ll see you around sometime (crappy joke I know). I never was very good at humor or levity was I? Still, wherever your path takes you I hope it’s a better one than mine. I’ll miss you all. 

Love always,

Sarah

Gulping air as if she had almost drowned, our writer tore her message to shreds. No, she was better now. She would no longer safeguard this note. It wasn’t needed. Not now, not ever.

With resolution in her eyes, the hearth within her heart was lit. Goodbyes were said, but only to the sadness. Clara didn’t need to weep any longer. She was stronger than her melancholy. Better than her fears. Now was the time for saying hello again. Clara deserved happiness; she deserved the world. And you know what else? Clara believed that herself too.

Taking a deep breath, the brunette gazed sideways at the clock on the wall. Her therapy session was to begin in fifteen minutes. Resolutely Clara took out a fresh sheet of paper. She wrote three words:

I choose life. 

Smiling, she folded the paper and placed it in her pocket. The dog that hounds her wouldn’t be devouring her today. No. Not today.

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Terror By Night

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Another nightmare. Nothing new or fantastical, only horrifying. The same woman always pursuing, always hunting me while ripping at trembling flesh. There is no escaping this strange possessed being. She demands payment; she demands to suckle on bone.

Stranger still, it is as if I know her. Intimately too. Her pursuit is personal. She rages at me with the intensity of a wronged slighted lover. I can see the hatred in her dead eyes, even though she’s sightless. It sears into the heart of me quickly without any delay.

I flee and my stomach churns. I am about to turn around. I can never stop myself from looking backward (I wish I could). Always, I succumb to curiosity, wishing to know for certain that I am free. During this rem stage, I turn into her arms. I fall towards a godless smile.

Terrible claw like fingers dig deep into me. I scream. I plead with it; I reason to its long absent humanity. This she-devil laughs stinging me with her foul hot breath in response. Her mouth widens more as her tongue lolls lazily to the right. She is hungry and drooling and thirsty for blood. It is here, right before death, that I awaken.

Recently, after I waste a dull minute recouping, a buzzing in my skull begins. It becomes amplified like an opera singer hitting an impossible note. The noise turns into a chant and the chant says, ” Why must you kill yourself? Why must you murder in your sleep?” Frustrated tears spill forth onto my pillow; silent sobs escape my lips. I fall asleep again and hate myself for it. The night knows no end.

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Once Upon A Time

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It had been a dreary sort of day, though the sun had been brilliant. The boy she had dislodged her heart for had chosen another in her stead. It made the most vibrant colors cross her vision as muted; it made her pulse weaken as if she lay on her deathbed. The slighted woman felt homeless all of a sudden. She yearned for an escape; somewhere to call home. Distressed, she went in search of comfort.

Books had always been there. When mother had left they had called to her. Such tomes eased her childhood tears and melted her motherless sorrows. This was one such day. She needed them again.

Into the private library she crept, as cautious as a mouse. No one knew this was her safe haven. Her elders assumed she only cared for fast music, handsome devil may care suitors, and expensive frocks. No, for this lanky youth it was words which drove her dizzy with delight.

The voices of the past made her feel as if she were not alone, but alive in a thriving metropolis of free thinkers. Stories were her family. Among the tales of old she would be welcomed as a beloved one.

Tears splashed down the delicate cheekbone. No bother. Soon she would be somewhere else, someone else. Pulling a dusty worn fantasy novel from its shelf, the reader sat herself down. For a moment she caressed the binding with reverence. Yes, this one felt like the right choice.

With a flick of her wrist, chapter one was laid bare before her. Almost instantly smoke began to rise from her latest literary treasure. The heartbroken young woman closed her eyes then sadly smiled. Time to go on another adventure; time to forget about love gone wrong.

When she opened her eyes she was no longer at her uncle’s. No sir. Instead, a lush wood surrounded her. Into its dark depths she traveled, patiently waiting for her story to begin.

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Unkempt Things

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The bed was unmade. Messy like everything else in the house. Dishes in the sink, crusty pans on the stove and laundry piling up downstairs. So much clutter. The house looked as if a bomb had dropped within it. Nothing was serene; everything was chaos.

Death could make a person forgetful though. Little mundane tasks become less important as the hole inside yourself grows bigger. Nothing feels worth it anymore. Nothing. Smiling or laughter become nuisances better left for the carefree and unburdened. As the shroud of decay settles over yourself, the world becomes more obscure and surreal——almost unreachable.

Lovers were not meant to follow each other into the dark. He had left her early into their union. Year two and she was already a widow. She had become something revered in close society; she was transformed into the “black lady” or the “mourning woman.”

At parties people parted from her as if she were the Red sea. They gave her sorry looks and whispered among themselves about the tragedy of her story. Bella Anderson had no “happily ever after,” and wasn’t it a shame? Such a pretty face already worn down by worry lines and puffy tear ducts. Such a travesty!

The unlucky lady bore their poking and prying with as much dignity as she could muster. What would Jack have said? Something sarcastic about society and all its “ills.” She missed his dry wit and the way his hair was always unkempt and how he smelled of tobacco, though he never smoked. She ached for his gentle touch and the sound of his violin being tuned. She craved his voice with its lazy southern twang and drawl. She missed all the things she took for granted and all that death bore away… .

Focusing back on the present, Bella adjusted her bathrobe. She was home (as usual). The mainstream world no longer appealed to her “widowed” sensibilities. What struck her fancy was black and white films with two lovers ending up in each other’s arms with nothing like cancer to dampen their dreams. No, cancer was not on the menu for her; Bella had digested her fill of tumors, sickness, and frailty to last her a lifetime. It was a bitter meal to eat and one that had left her lonely with only the angry taste of loss in her mouth as some sort of prize.

Jack had been her everything. He had the smoothness of Cary Grant, the sensitivity of Gregory Peck and the humor of Gene Wilder. How could she ever replace such a lover? Such a friend? The idea repulsed her.

Already friends and family were implying she try to catch another “keeper.” It was as if all good men were like fish to be netted or reeled in. The world was not so simple as that and true loves not so easy to let go of. Her mother was the worst offender. It was this need to have kids that drove the woman to push eligible bachelors into her daughter’s way. “Here.” mother would say. ” This one’s a doctor! Isn’t that nice? Wouldn’t you have smart children? Wouldn’t you feel secure being such a man’s wife?” Such talk made Bella wish she had the will to commit patricide.

Dusk was settling over their home again. The setting of the sun singled take out Chinese food and sleeping until noon. She supposed at some point she’d have to join the world again. Bills were accumulating and her job wasn’t always going to let her take so much time off. The school would ask her to come back sooner or later to teach. She knew that. However, all Bella wanted was the quiet and the peace and the tears that she needed to cry.

This woman carried a hurricane of hurt inside herself and time was to be her only remedy for it. Nothing else would do. No amount of tidiness or order could erase the sheer pain of loneliness. As fine as her sheets could be (looking all tucked in and firmly pressed) they wouldn’t erase the knowledge that they once swathed two people instead of one. Those dishes in the sink? Picked out by a deceased husband because he liked the abstract design. The filthy forgotten pans? Well, they once cooked meals for special occasions and not so special occasions for a couple not a single girl.

All these things were harsh reminders of what Bella no longer had: Her better half. When Jack died, so did she. That part of herself that believed in magical impossibilities and the infinite wonder of love’s everlasting light had grown sallow too. It too had perished alongside that fragile tumor riddled body of her man. It was her heart. She visited it every Sunday at Calvary Cemetery whenever she visited Jacky Boy.

Bella supposed that these messy disorganized things wouldn’t hurt her so much as time wore on. Eventually the sameness of the world would take her over once again. Life continues to live on, right? It cannot be helped. We as humans are programmed to thrive and to embrace the world. However, for all that survival instinct we cannot be forced to bend to the will of the earth altogether either. We must dance to our own music in order to find our way or else we’ll suffocate. We all march to the beat of our own drummers after all. Grief is no different.

Bella too will learn how to dance again. She knows this. She has accepted this fact even if such an acceptance feels like a kind of betrayal somehow.

Even now, atop Jack Anderson’s grave, there grows one resilient poppy. How’d it get there? I couldn’t tell you. Sure, it might be a coincidence. I’ll give you that. The seed could have been carried on the wind and dropped over any grave, but why pray tell that one? Why his tombstone? I choose to see this as a small sign to Bella from Jack himself.

Despite the odds that single poppy grows tall and large (much like the heart of a widow) because love drives all things to blossom in the end. This flower is a testament of “renewal.” Just look upon Bella while she slumbers. See her there akimbo in her disheveled bed then listen. Shhhh. Hush. I can hear a faint heartbeat. A gentle thrum. Can’t you hear it too? Bit by bit and notch by notch Bella’s heart is returning.

It’s a miracle isn’t it? That the ability to love can always find its way in spite of death itself? Jack would almost certainly say so. He believes in love as much as he still believes in his wife. The heart always triumphs. So too will Bella’s. Because she is more than a widow she is a woman who loved and loves and nothing can smother out a heart so strong. Cancer be damned. 

 

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The Fall

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The atmosphere outside was melancholic. No birds chirped; no wind whistled through dying leaves. Silence prevailed. Such stillness suited the girl with the braids and skinned knees.

Earlier on her brisk morning walk she had slipped. The dirt pathways slick from rain water caused the ground to loosen. Mud met skin, dampened clothes, and jagged rock pierced flesh. Blood leaked freely, causing the bleary eyed traveler to wince. Nothing ever went as it should. Not even getting your head straight.

He loved her, but wasn’t in love with her. It was a strange concept to accept. How can a person hold such affection for you, yet not need you? Not wish to claim you as their other half and home? She knew the landscape of her heart. It was riddled with cherry blossoms whispering his name. He, however, held not a flower for her. Not even a bud or a pedal.

Crying had been no good. It simply widened the gulf of despair; an earthquake of remorse and regret singed her belly with each teardrop. Something had to be done. She would forget him. She would take a walk so she could breathe in the autumn chill, and breathe out her love for him. So far, the girl’s early morning ramble left nothing but a throbbing in her bones and a sour expression upon her lips.

Passing a fiery leafed tree, the string propping up the wanderer broke. She collapsed onto the mossy ground, hands gripping nothing but dirt and dew. This season has always been the hardest, she thought.

Everything fell in the fall; everything died until spring. She supposed she had nothing to look forward to until roses bloomed. The time in-between was to be brutal, much like the pain on her shins and the scars expanding within her heart. And yet? She would go on. It was all she knew how to do.

Sighing, footing was found again. Time to return to bed and perhaps forget the world for awhile. Sure, there would be a missed voicemail later that day. His voice apologetic as usual. He’ll say something like maybe they could discuss things further? Over coffee or drinks? And BEEP there’d be the end of the message (much like the end of their relationship). Abrupt. Brief.

The girl winced as she buried herself under woolen blankets. Her knees were still tender; her eyes still damp from earlier shed tears. Whatever happened, she guessed, there’d always be another stroll to take tomorrow. She had time to figure things out. The language of love would simply have to remain as elusive as the arms of her old lover for now. Yup. No answers to be had here. Just the quiet. The slumber. The chill of a cold crisp day. And falling asleep until her heart refused to break.

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The Attic

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The attic was dim and musky. Shrouds of dust clung tightly to various forgotten relics. A lampshade circa 1890 looked drenched in the dirt. Cobwebs twinkled in beams of sunlight just out of your line of sight. Memories and memorabilia were all shelved away here. 

Sophie sighed heavily. What was it she was looking for? Oh, right. It was grandma’s old senior yearbook. The matriarch couldn’t remember the name of a girl she used to bum cigarettes off of. Silly really. Still, when grandma Stein says “jump” you say, “How high?” 

Spying an oaken trunk under some quilts, Sophie glides towards it. The MIA yearbook might be hidden there. (You know, for safe keeping). With careful hands, the lock is undone and the lid swung wide. Frowning, the granddaughter is disappointed. All she finds are old letters and pictures. 

Feeling defeated, curiosity then takes its hold instead of blind purposefulness. Sophie rummages through faded penmanship, scuttling past old time photographs and leather bound diaries. Eventually, her green eyed gaze settles on a bundle of correspondence. It’s in another language. 

The paper smells of exotic perfume; the various messages are bound together, carefully, in pink ribbon. Delicately these mystery letters are brought to rest upon Sophie’s lap. She peruses their contents. Ah, love letters. 

Though the scrawl remained alien, the story of these notes rung loudly. A lock of raven hair in one envelope (Grandma Stein’s) was a symbol of fidelity. The pictures of two youngsters (one in uniform and the other a swing dress) displayed puppy love. The way this man looked at Sophie’s grandma was breathtaking. As if grandma were the only woman in the world to him; as if she were a goddess divine and he a devout follower. 

More letters, more evidence of a past life Sophie knew nothing about. Dance cards with his name repeated over and over again. Ticket stubs to plays and movies they must have seen together. A tear stained paper, official looking, mentioning a word Sophie did know “death.” 

This gentleman (no, kid) must have died in action. Suddenly ashamed of her snooping, Sophie hastily discarded these mementos back inside Grandma Stein’s trunk. Slam! The closing of the trunk reminded Sophie of the closing of a coffin lid. 

It was easy to forget that your parents (and their parents) had lived long winding lives before you knew them. Grandma had loved and lost and laughed and despaired with another before marrying Grandpa. Was that why their union had always seemed a cold one? Had Grandma settled? Losing all of her hope after he had died on the battlefield? Far from home and fatally wounded? Sophie couldn’t say (though her heart seemed to know). 

“What is taking so long?” It was Grandma Stein (or Margo once upon a time). “Nothing,” Sophie replied. Her voice was shaking. “Just can’t find your yearbook. Sorry.” The sorry came out defeated and weak. There was a pause then, “No worries child. Let us eat some cookies. I’ve got plenty of cookies. You come down now please.” Sophie nodded, following the airy voice of a woman she hardly knew, but was going to make an effort to know now. 

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The Wolf

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The woods were dark and dangerous this time of year. Wolves and other such creatures became bolder. Town elders mused it was because of the lack of sunlight that predators prowled. Winter was a desolate season after all.  No sense denying that. Like clockwork it crept across the landscape in flurries of snow, burying all it touched in a tomb of white silence. ‘Twas no wonder it brought death. It blanked out the sky with its shadow far too densely to provide any reprieve from the unknown.

Red wrapped her cloak around herself tighter. She wasn’t cold so much as she was scared. It had only been a fortnight since she had lost her cousin Lizbeth to the woods. The dearly departed girl would have been fourteen in August. Such a little goose Miss Lizzy was! Such a tender soul full of vim and vigor! The village wouldn’t feel half as welcoming without Lizbeth’s giggling voice or toothy smile.

“It’s the wolves’ fault,” Red muttered. “It’s because of their hunger Liz is gone.” Angrily Red digs her boots into the ground with increased fervor as she walks. It was time nature feared man; vengeance would be hers. The big bad wolf had slashed one soft belly too many for Rowena Red’s liking. The very thought of Lizbeth’s stomach having poured open like spilt grain from a mill sickened Red and left her reeling with disgust.

Lizbeth had been nothing but kind. A sweet girl with the voice of a canary. Dead now. Torn to shreds. The bits of her remaining left to repose in a grave on the edge of town. Lizzy’s mother Aunt Sybil had wrapped her daughter in her favorite lilac colored dress. Nothing left to mourn but pieces and fabric.

Since the funeral, Auntie had succumbed to a fever. The brutal loss of her child unhinged her and brought on a thick sickness the likes of which no regular herb or poultice could heal. Granny wouldn’t be swayed. There was one last healing draught to be had, but the mushroom needed lay in the heart of the trees. Red had volunteered her services. She was able bodied, lithe and quick on her feet. She could face the terrors unseen and win too. She knew she could.

Before leaving, Grandma had urged her granddaughter to be cautious. It was hardly a needed reminder. Red was always careful. She was no fool. Beneath the crimson of her robes she hid a nasty looking blade. It was a beauty too. Seven inches long with an edge as jagged as a cougar’s maw. Simply devilish! Father had good taste and wisdom for gifting her such a weapon. It would be the perfect implement of destruction for any big bad ugly to dare creep her way.

As the crimson cloaked lass wandered, two eyes of the deepest blue scrutinized her figure from the undergrowth. It couldn’t help itself. This girl was unlike anything the leering shadow had observed before. Yes, the young woman was scared. The observer could taste that sticky tart emotion upon its tongue thanks to the smell of the girl’s sweat as she trudged by. Fear was normal, as was cowering from it. What caused the creature pause wasn’t the lack of fear but the fact it walked beside the girl, and the girl didn’t flinch away from it.

The raven haired interloper carried herself as if her shoulders could bare any burden. Her strides were confident boot marks that glided upon the icy ground. Wolf was impressed. He wasn’t dealing with a child here: He was dealing with a huntress, a worthy adversary among men.

Before he knew it, Wolf had developed an admiration for the girl. She seemed so breakable yet powerful in his home. This one was an enigma; a curious puzzle to solve. His pack would protect her. How often had a human walked with such bravery in his woods without clinging to their pride and brashness? Not often. This girl was a wonder. She seemed humbled while stone faced. Whatever crossed her path she would stand her ground. Oh yes, Wolf liked this two legged one. She had spunk.

Huffing and puffing Red adjusted her basket. Where was that blasted aloe? It was the last component to Gran’s potion yet remained unseen. Such a rotten herb to find! No matter how hard Rowena searched for it, the herb remained stubbornly lost. Legs sore from hours of wandering, Red reclines against an oak tree. She scrunches her brow to clear her head. Where hadn’t she looked before? What was she missing? Taking two deep breathes, Red opens her eyes once more. Ah, there it is. A cave. And what should be thriving around said cave’s entrance? Why it’s aloe. Of course it is.

Cursing to herself, Red sloshes across a stream to reach the cave. Teeth shattering, Red curses to herself. She knows that young ladies such as herself shouldn’t resort to the profanities of men, however, this particular young lady has had a long and lonely day. And she was wet. Bound to contract a fever of her own at this rate. Whenever Red reached the sanctuary of home she would sup hot soup and merrily sip warm tea, all while regaling her Granny with tales of her adventures. Red silently prayed her blade wouldn’t remain clean either upon her triumphant return. No, not when fiends murder children in the woods.

Just as Red’s hand grasped the aloe bushel, something knocks her down harshly. Wheezing Red’s eyes wander up the length of her attacker. It was furry, large and formidable. It was a wolf. The wolf. Red sputtered and felt for her knife. It was time for action; it was time to become as ruthless as the wolf himself.

Lunging the youth screams with all her might. Her throat constricts. Burns. Red never knew she could growl that loud or that savagely. It’s a guttural sound. One of rage and grief. A cacophony of feral hatred. But, alas! That sharp wicked blade missed its mark! The wolf had sidestepped the attack in one long loping stride. How queer. . . Wait. . . why was this thing standing on its hind legs?

Shell shocked Red gazes upon her enemy: Erick the village woodcutter. There the wretch towered, face muddied with dirt and feces. His clothes covered by wolf pelts; his face obscured by the fur. Oh gods and his ax was raised. But why? How? Then Erick begins to laugh. His ax slumping down beside him. Red can feel the vibrations of his bellows through her very chest. They’re thunderous. Appalling.

“Not quite the age I like,” the man giggles. “But seventeen ain’t like being grey haired between the legs is it love?” And Erick reaches for her. Tears at Rowena’s cape and dresses. He’s so close and where oh where is her blade? Where. Is. It? There! It’s beside her. She must reach it, but his breath! His breath is so foul. Can’t move. Can’t move. He’s on top of her whispering such grotesque things. Then Red begins to shake. Lizbeth died this way. Her girlhood stolen before being butchered by a friend.

Erick must have been doing this for years. Red shuddered. Every winter the wretch had followed children into the woods under the pretense of retrieving wood for the village. There he violated and tortured them far from their families. If seen, people could mistake him for a wolf because of his furs. The shelter from the trees as well as the grey clouded skies of the most desolate season provided the coverage Erick so needed. The bodies too were easily disposed of. All the madman had to do was dismember his victims corpses then later leave the pieces where they lay, so the surrounding wildlife could devour them. The true wolf was Erick.

Suddenly Red and Erick stop their struggle. The woods erupt in an unsettling howl. Wolf leaps atop the Woodsman. His black fur bristling with fury. How dare this man wear the skins of his fallen brothers and sisters! How dare this beast touch this girl! This wonder of the woods! Wolf’s jaws snap around soft tender flesh. He rips and tears and slashes with his claws. His rage never abating.

In the chaos, Rowena Red rolls away. Fur and arms collide as Red slumps to her new position in the earth. Before Erick had a chance to react, Wolf had ripped his worthless throat out. Chomping at his neck as if it were a Sunday rib roast. Nausea overtakes the girl. She vomits. Berries and bread from luncheon spray onto the earth. Too much has transpired. Too much. But what about Lizzy? Red can’t leave things this way.

Erick’s death was a quick one in comparison to Lizbeth’s. It made Red’s stomach once again churn in revulsion. Wiping her mouth resolutely Red picks up her dagger. Wolf sits away from the sputtering man. It’s as if he’s giving Red permission to strike. Nodding her head Red whispers, “Thank you.” Mericessly Red cuts at Erick’s bloated body with a passion. The wolf simply sits and waits for her anger to subside.

It wasn’t until dan that Red’s hunger for revenge had been sated. Still her savior remained with her. There was an understanding between girl and beast now. They were more than friends it seemed. Almost as if Wolf had accepted Red as one of his own pack. Funny how earlier Rowena pledged her life’s purpose to ridding her woods of wolves. Now she knows the opposite: the world’s most fearsome foes were man not beast.

Absently, Red pets Wolf’s head as he follows her into the village, past the gaping villagers, and into her home. Without a word, Granny envelops her granddaughter. She doesn’t ask the girl about her new companion. She simply accepts his existence into their house as the new normal and begins preparations for her healing potion.

By the next winter solstice, Wolf became known as the town guardian. His pack too were welcomed and revered. A festival was even thrown in Wolf’s honor for his bravery and compassion towards a wayward youth in his woods. As for Red? She became the wisest village elder and fiercest huntress known to us as “Little Red Riding Hood.”Her legend, along with that of the wood, thrive even to this day. She lived happily ever after and (more importantly) Erick never lived to see another day happily or otherwise again.

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Sleepwalker

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Chilly tonight. Her legs prickled from exposure. No jacket though. No shawl either. Just a simple swing dress. Bare armed, without anyone to guide her homeward. She was her own sentinel against the night. 

Odd to be dancing like this. Streets devoid of music; cobblestones wet with rain. Alone. All dolled up for what? For nothing. She had no place to go. Time was irrelevant here. 

To think she once bartered her happiness upon a lover? A man half her spirit. He called when lonely but never when happy, and he lied.

Romance oozed from his lips like a sludge. She drank it naively and took it for wine. Gone now. No more stolen glances. No more the aching for something (anything) substantial. She knew it now. It rang true in her sleep: She was just an amusement. 

Still twirling, the dreamer laughs hysterically. Her parents across the hall swear they hear her. Suddenly, street gives way to sand and sand to ocean waves and waves to drowning. Her dress ripples in the water. There is no waking up from this. There is only rock bottom. 

When dawn creeps across her still form, her breath catches. Eyes pop open. Dress is replaced with simple pajamas. Sheets are her terrible sea. Touching her cheek it hits her——she survived a revelation. 

He does not love me, she thinks. But I can love myself despite his shaky resolve. I can weather his storm. And with that, the tired girl awakens as woman. She is ready to dance alone. 

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