Seeing is Believing (Nicole’s June Prompt Story)

Prompt: You run after someone who left a strange book on a bus and they go into a house. Through the window you see…

There are days that are simply great. Those are the days that I wish I could relive over and over again. Today was not one of those days. Today was simply horrible.

Anything that could have gone wrong did. I had a pop quiz in Geometry this morning, one that I undoubtedly failed. The cafeteria ran out of turkey sandwiches at lunch and I was stuck cold, lumpy potatoes and a gray looking slab of meatloaf. And as if the gray meatloaf wasn’t bad enough, the school bus I’m currently sitting on has started smoking and has shuttered to a startling halt.

“Everyone stay seated!” the bus driver barks as he proceeds out of the front door. There’s a heavy sigh and several dozens of kids slumping even further down in their seats. I plug my ears with my earbuds, jack up my music, and defeated lean my head against the glass window.

I wait for the engine to rumble back to life. I wait for the driver to take his seat behind the wheel. I wait for this yellow monstrosity of a bus to drive me back home. I wait, but absolutely nothing happens. My fellow schoolmates look just as anxious as I feel. Some are doing homework, some are chatting animatedly with their friends, and some are sleeping.

People start moving around, hopping from one seat to the next as if it’s musical chairs. There’s a group of beefy guys in the back tossing a football back and forth. And then there’s me and Wyatt Chase, the school loners. Wyatt’s sitting across from me with his nose stuck in a book. But not just any book, the same book he seems to always be reading: The Outsiders. As of lately, he’s taken on a Two-Bit Matthews look: slick-backed hair, popped collar of his faux leather jacket, and a sleeveless tee with Donald Duck emblazoned on the front.

“Hey,” I call over to Wyatt, not really sure what has possesses me to strike up a conversation. He looks up but doesn’t respond. He stares at me expectantly. “You know Two-Bit wears a Mickey shirt, right?” He smirks and returns to his book without a word. Without looking up, or skipping a beat he finally responds saying “That’s the movie Two-Bit, not the book.”

As quickly as our conversation started it has ended. Wyatt is definitely cute. But he’s also strange. Stranger than the average strange.

I go back to holding up the window. Bored, I close my eyes in an effort to sleep. My insomnia has been kicking my butt lately and I’ll catch any amount of zzz’s I can, no matter what time of day it is. But before long I feel someone position themselves on the seat next to me. Right next to me. So close that our thighs are pressing against each other. I side eye whoever it is and discover it’s Wyatt.

“Let me guess: you’re a Ponyboy fan?”

“Says who?”

“Says every girl who’s read The Outsiders,” he says almost accusingly.

“You’re wrong,” I say.

“If not Ponyboy, then who?”

“Does it matter? Maybe I don’t have a favorite.”
“Everyone has a favorite outsider. And it does matter.”

“Fine, Darry’s my favorite,” I answer.

“Really? Why?”

“I guess I see myself in him, well in his character.”

“Interesting,” he says nodding. “When did you first read it?”

“Freshman year. Don’t you remember, everyone in our class had to read it.”

“I wasn’t here freshman year,” he says reminding me that he transferred in halfway through sophomore year.

“You?”

“Me, what?”

“When did you first read it?”

“When I was seven or eight. But technically I didn’t read it, my grandfather read it to me. Every night after dinner he read a chapter aloud.”

“Strange choice for storytime,” I comment.

“I only wanted to read it because my older brother was reading it. I thought I’d be cool, like him, if I read it.”

“And did it work?”

“No,” he says chuckling and shaking his head. “It didn’t make me cooler. In fact, I think it actually made me a bit stranger.”

“But it’s sweet that your grandfather read it to you.”

The conversation lags a bit. I notice Wyatt’s copy of The Outsiders. It’s old and beat up, but there’s something different about it. It’s not like any cover of the book I’ve ever seen. From my vantage point, it looks as if the cover is made from a strong, clear plastic. The artwork is faint, but from somewhere on the actual hardcover there’s an odd symbol.

I can’t seem to pull my eyes away from the book. Wyatt notices and shifts the book into his other hand, the hand that’s furthest from me.

“So why Donald?” I ask.

“He just seems … cooler.”

“Donald Duck is cooler than Mickey?!” I say with a snort.

HIs cheeks turn a deep shade of pink and he looks down at his lap. Nervously he shifts the book back and forth in his hands. I start to reach for it, wanting to get a closer look at it. But I stop and ask, “may I?”
He looks at me, confused.

“May I look at it? You’re book?”

“Oh. Um … “ He’s hesitant. He’s looking at the book as if it’s his most prized possession. Biting his lip, I can see the fear of letting this book slip into unfamiliar hands. But he takes a chance and passes it to me tentatively.

I don’t reach for it.

“You wanted to see it, right?”

“Not if it makes you uncomfortable.”

“I’m not. Uncomfortable that is.”

“You are, and it’s okay. I shouldn’t have been so forward. I’m sorry.”

“Forward isn’t necessarily a bad thing.”

Before I have the chance to take the book from Wyatt, the engine rumbles back to life. The driver trudges up the steps and takes his seat behind the wheel. A group of kids from somewhere in the middle let out a loud cheer. Internally I cheer too.

The driver continues on his normal route. After the first stop, Wyatt starts to gather his things. His jacket. His hoodie. His hipster hat that he left on the seat across from the aisle. He rearranges a few books in his messenger bag, placing the old copy of The Outsiders down. I’m tempted to pick it up. I resist the strange urge to hold this book in my own hands.

Just like Wyatt, there’s something strange about this book. I (literally) can’t put my finger on exactly what it is that makes it so, but I just can’t help but feel drawn to this book.

“Catch you later,” Wyatt says as he starts to move toward the front of the bus.

“Hurry it up back there! We haven’t got all day!” The driver yells.

“Sorry,” Wyatt calls back. He starts to run up the center aisle. I realize just as the bus door’s open that he’s completely forgotten about his book. I know I should run after him, and that I should give it back to him, but something stops me.

Unable to control myself I flip open the cover. And instead of discovering the familiar opening lines of S.E. Hinton’s classic novel, I find what appears to be … I’m not actually sure what I’m looking at. There are strange symbols, and the text seems to be written in a foreign language. One that I cannot read.

I flip through the pages and come across a few pages that have English writing on it. I don’t know what it means, but it looks like a spell of some sort. Yes, a spell as in a witch’s spell. I’m baffled and lost in thought, so much so that I miss my stop.

When I finally get off the bus I decide to backtrack to Wyatt’s house. I don’t exactly know where he lives, but with the help of my school’s student directory I can easily find out. It’s not as close as I want it to be, but it’s walkable.
It’s a bright and sunny day, but Wyatt’s house is shrouded in shadow. A chill runs up my back. I take a few hesitant steps towards his front door. I pause and take a few more steps. Before I know it I’m at the door, ringing his doorbell. I can hear footsteps on the opposite side. I hear muffled voices. And from the corner of my eye, I see movement by the front window.

“Wyatt, I have your book!” I call, hoping it will entice him out.

Maybe the doorbell doesn’t work. I knock hard on the door, and cross my fingers, hoping someone will let me in. No one does. There are high shrubs in front of the window. It will be tight, but if I can shimmy my way in I can peek in through the window.

Before resorting to that, I ring and knock impatiently. When no one answers I resort to the only plan I have. I make my way down the few steps and step over the small rock garden. I start to shimmy through the shrubs, but they’re pointy and they hurt.

Before long I break through and am crouching just below the window. I pick a stray leaf or two out from the nest that now is my hair. I wipe at my cheek, checking for blood from the small scratches I have. And when all seems good, I start to stand. Not at my full height, but just enough to peer into the living room.

And when I peer in, I’m horrified by the sight in front of me. Wyatt is standing in the middle of a chalk-drawn star. There are four blonde girls surrounding him. They are wearing dark cloaks in varying colors. Each is standing at one point of the star. I can’t see their faces well, but I can tell they are all related to Wyatt, maybe sisters. The girls are holding hands, and while I can’t tell exactly what they are saying I know they are talking.

I stare wide-eyed as Wyatt joins in. He appears to be talking as well.

The lights inside the house flicker. There’s a boom of thunder from somewhere behind me. And then it happens. I see Wyatt … levitate. I scream in horror. Wyatt and the four sisters look up, and the spell is broken. I run, run as fast as I can, and I never look back.

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The Bus, The Witch, Her Book, and the Reluctant Apprentice (Emma’s June Prompt Story)

PROMPT: You run after someone who left a strange book on a bus and they go into a house. Through the window you see.

The woman started crying almost as soon as she got on the bus. Or maybe she had been crying before the bus even arrived. It was hard to tell with the way the rain was pouring down in sheets outside. She wore a black trench coat that was covered in embroidered flowers. It dripped onto the floor as she stepped onto the bus.

Her red hair had been braided but it was mostly hanging lose now, also dripping. She had no umbrella. She carried an enormous tapestry bag. Looking at it Ivy thought it must have been a carpet bag–the seemingly ubiquitous piece of luggage that orphaned heroines always seemed to carry in the historical novels Ivy liked best.

The woman sat down across from Ivy, seemingly in her own world. Ivy had started the ride reading but now she had her headphones plugged into her phone while she listened to music and ate a mint as she tried to ignore the nausea-inducing jerks of the bus moving through rush hour traffic. A few people made eye contact with Ivy as they moved farther back on the bus but for the most part no one paid her any attention. It confirmed what Ivy had suspected for a while: headphones were the best tool a person could have for people watching.

The crying woman didn’t look like she would have noticed if anyone was watching her anyway. No. That wasn’t quite right. People were watching the woman and she did acknowledge them while she took hiccoughy breaths and started rummaging through her bag (it was far too big to ever call a purse). The woman had to know she was making a spectacle of herself as the other riders on the bus watched. It wasn’t that she didn’t notice. She just didn’t care.

For a wild moment Ivy wondered what that might feel like. She found that she couldn’t imagine such freedom.

Traffic was slow and the bus ride was long. Ivy was listening to an EP for a new band. Fantavia. It was a short album–only six songs. The whole thing was maybe twenty minutes long, thirty at most. Ivy listened to the rest of the album once and then listened to the entire thing again while she furtively watched the woman sort through her bag.

Over the course of the trip the woman pulled out several objects and considered them briefly before returning them to the depths of the bag. The items under scrutiny included a thermos with a crack down one side, a wooden doll that looked disturbingly lifelike as it was placed back into the bag with one arm swinging freely, one green high heeled boot (with a broken heel), and a long feather that Ivy realized belatedly was a quill pen. The last item she pulled out was a large book.

The book was tall and thin. Not quite the normal size for any book Ivy could remember seeing. It was also thick with easily as many pages as one of the old almanacs her great aunt insisted on keeping on a shelf at home even though they were all at least fifteen years old.

There was no writing on the cover of the book that Ivy could see. It was brown and closed with a complicated buckle and strap. The woman didn’t open the book but she ran her finger along the buckle. Then she traced the book’s edges until the pages started to glow. Or maybe not. Lighting painted the sky sunlight-bright for a moment and when Ivy looked back at the book its pages were just regular pages again.

Ivy did a double take. The book was sitting on the seat which was surprisingly dry for the rainy day. The woman was gone.

Movement near the exit door caught Ivy’s eye. It was the woman’s coat as she stepped off the bus.

Ivy grabbed the book and ran off the bus without thinking.

She dropped the book into her messenger bag and opened her umbrella in almost one motion as she walked quickly down the street after the woman. Her coat was easy to spot on this dreary day. Most people were inside, smartly avoiding the rain, so Ivy had no trouble keeping up with her.

Strangely, Ivy soon realized that the woman was walking back in the direction the bus had just come from. Maybe she had gotten distracted on the ride and needed to backtrack because she missed a stop. Ivy wasn’t sure and she was sorry to be moving farther from her own destination which had only been a few stops away before she left the bus.

The woman turned a corner and Ivy followed, narrowly missing a large puddle. It didn’t make much difference, though, her shoes were already soaked through. They squelched unpleasantly with each step.

She was just started to worry about being terribly lost and terribly wet when the woman slowed down. She stopped in front of a dilapidated brownstone–a rare single family home that was much more common in the outer boroughs now than anywhere in Manhattan. The woman opened her bag and pulled out a ring of keys. Ivy was surprised to see that she found them on the first try without any of the desperate searching she seemed to have been doing on the bus. Maybe the bag had pockets that Ivy hadn’t been able to see from her vantage point across the aisle.

The woman turned several keys in several locks and opened the door. The windows on the first floor began to glow pleasantly as lights were turned on inside.

Ivy stared at the house for a moment. Her impulse to be a good Samaritan suddenly felt not just impulsive but unwise. She was late now. In a strange neighborhood. After following a strange woman. In the rain. Anything could happen.

Ivy decided that she would leave the book at the top of the stoop. If the woman was dangerous it wouldn’t matter because Ivy wouldn’t have to interact with her. And the woman would open the door eventually and find her book so the good deed would still count for something. She wasn’t so far off track that she couldn’t retrace her steps back to the bus route. It would be fine.

Ivy carefully climbed the steep steps. Her eyes moved toward the window to the right of the door. She saw the woman inside. Her back was to the window and Ivy realized she was standing in her kitchen. The window was beginning to fog up from the trapped steam as Ivy watched the woman pick up a ladle. She expected the woman to move to the stove or a counter. Instead she stepped away from the window and Ivy saw her move toward a large fireplace where, improbably, a cauldron was hanging.

Witches weren’t unheard of around town but this was the first time Ivy had seen such a traditional one at work. The bag and its contents began to make more sense. Ivy stared at the book in her hand. That did not make sense. Witches never let their spellbooks out of their sight. And this book had to be a spellbook. It seemed so obvious now. The only time a witch ever let anyone touch a spellbook was to recruit a new apprentice. Ivy wasn’t even sure if anyone else could touch a spellbook besides the owner or their apprentice.

Ivy stared at the book in her hand with growing horror as she began to understand.

She might have been watching people on the bus. But the woman had as well. She hadn’t left the book behind. At least not the way Ivy had thought. It had never been forgotten. It had been a test. And Ivy was severely disappointed to realize she had passed.

The door opened violently just as Ivy was trying to drop the book and leave. The woman stood in the doorway, waiting. She had taken off her coat to reveal a long black dress with flowers on the skirt that seemed to be growing up from the hem. Her hair was beginning to dry and fan around her head in a frenzied corona.

“Finally!” she exclaimed with as much fanfare as Ivy had expected from her performance on the bus. “It took me long enough to find you. I hope you appreciate how much effort I put wandering around in the rain–all week, I might add–trying to find you.”

Ivy did not appreciate it. She did not want to be a witch’s apprentice or a witch. She wanted to be a doctor or a librarian or anything non-magical, really. She wanted to move far away from all the magic that concentrated in this city.

The door opened wider as Ivy felt her options for the future narrowing. It was impossible to reject an apprenticeship once it was offered and Ivy was pretty sure the abandoned book had been the offer. She was just about to try one more time to walk away when the witch smiled and beckoned her inside.

“Do come in out of the rain. We have so much to discuss.”

Ivy narrowed her eyes. If the witch knew Ivy was unhappy with the invitation she didn’t show it. Ivy supposed she might just be oblivious. No one ever said anything about witches having preternatural talents for reading body language, after all.

She took a deep breath. This was a setback. But it didn’t have to be the end. It didn’t have to change anything. Ivy could be forced to become a witch’s apprentice. But no one could force her to like it. No one, she realized with sudden clarity, could force her to excel.

Fine. Ivy would become this witch’s apprentice. But she would make sure neither of them would enjoy it. With one last glare at the witch Ivy stepped through the doorway and listened to the door slam shut behind her.

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I Challenged the Darkness (Emma’s June Story)

It was always there standing on the periphery. Waiting. Haunting. I had always been told to avoid it. My grandmother’s warning rang in my ears every time I let my eyes stray toward the alley, every time I considered how the alley could possibly be dark in the full sun of a summer afternoon.

“Do not walk down that alley,” my mother always warned.

“Tomasz, do not look at that corridor after midnight,” my grandmother cautioned. It is a warning she had been repeating for as long as I can remember.

I always listened. Until I did not.

No. That is not quite true. I always listened. Always. But I do not think I ever listened as closely as I should have. I never listened as if I believed I had anything to fear.

I know better now. For all the good does me.

It happened the way you might expect. The way it would have gone in a story told around the fire after dark to scare children who did not want to go to sleep. It happened exactly that way. In fact, it is a story that is still told around certain fires in certain towns. I have become the horrible danger my mother tried to warn me about.

I have no one to blame but myself. It has been long enough for me to realize that now.

Do not mistake me though. It was not the same as a scary story. Because stories end. The fear dissipates. I was afraid and in those moments I knew it would never end. But I am far beyond such things now.

It was eleven when I left the party. I had ample time to get home. Especially when I was feeling invincible myself. Music from the party was still thrumming in my veins. The noise of the party and the feel of my hands on Agata’s hips were still fresh in my mind. I was twenty years old and strong. I was young and in my hubris I convinced myself that the night was as well.

How wrong I was.

I walked Agata home. We dawdled. Strolled. I tested exactly how long a girl who thought herself in love might kiss a young man in the dark. It was longer than her parents liked but not near so long enough for me.

It was half past eleven when I left her swollen lipped and disheveled, alone to explain why it had taken her nearly thirty minutes to walk home from a party down the lane. I was not sorry then. But of course I would be.

I knew I did not quite have enough time to cross the alley before midnight. Still, I did not run or even quicken my pace. Such hubris.

I fancied that I could weigh myself in the balance against the darkness. I imagined that I would not be found wanting but whole. Superior.

I was wrong of course.

I got to the alley as the clock in the bell tower began to strike. I thought I still had time to cross the chasm of the alley as the I began to count the strikes.

Two.

Three.

Four.

I was mindless of the way the darkness thickened and grew. Heedless of what was to come. More fool I.

Seven.

Eight.

I was in the center of the alley when the smoke drew my eyes to the darkness. I slackened my pace and then stopped as the darkness began to peel away from the alley. A figure stood in the center of the corridor.

Distantly I heard the clock continue to strike. I heard my mother’s warnings. I heard my grandmother’s. I could not tear my eyes away.

The clock went silent as she took her first step toward me. Her black hair hung behind her like a shroud, stark against the white shift she wore. As she moved toward me I saw that her feet were bare. Her ankles and calves scandalously visible. The darkness seemed to shift out of the alley, following her. But as the moonlight struck her I saw that her shift was nearly sheer. My eyes traced greedily over her form. Fear was far from my mind then.

It would not be for long.

She reached a hand toward me. If I had noticed the way her fingers seemed too thin, her nails too long, I would not have cared such was my lust. My own hunger to touch her.

As she kissed me it was nothing like Agata’s hesitant, rushed kisses on the walk home. She was sure and steady–things I had never known a girl could be. I could taste her own hunger on her lips, her tongue as she pressed against me. I tasted blood as her teeth broke the skin of my lip but such was my frenzy by then that I did not care. I did not think.

It was only later when I broke away to catch my breath that I realized what I had done.

The moon was stark in the sky now. It fully illuminated her, not just the parts she had intended to entice me.

Her shift was still white but I saw it for what it was now. Funeral raiment long past its prime. The hem not scandalously high but in tatters better, now, to reveal the muscle and bone showing through the rotting flesh on her legs. I turned again to her face. Her black hair hung in strings around a gaunt face. Her eyes had turned completely black.

She raised a hand toward me and I saw that it was entirely stripped of flesh. In the deadly quiet the bones of her fingers whispered against each other as she pointed at my heart. I looked from her hand to her face again and I saw that her lips were red with blood.

My own blood. My own damnation.

The smoke and darkness folded around both of us then. I did not try to resist as she and it–for they were one and the same, I understood as much now–began to pull me toward the mouth of the alley. Such was my fright. Such was my downfall.

That was a long time ago but the magnitude of my arrogance, my shame now, still burns. I challenged the darkness without the protection of daylight or the midnight toll. I did not win.

Terror soon burned off every other feeling I ever remembered or would ever have until even that began to lose its weight in the face of apathy and regret. Such regret. Perhaps you can imagine what came next for me.

Should you find that alley that remains dark even in the heat of midday and stare into the darkness, the same thing will surely come for you.

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The First Touch (Nicole’s Story)

“Hey Lis,” Drina mumbles are she walks up to the shop doors. She stops and begins to dig through her oversized shoulder bag. Not only is she late, which is usual for Drina, but she also cannot find her keys.

“Hey,” I say handing her a cup of steaming coffee. She smiles at the cup as if it’s the best thing she has ever seen. She takes a long sip and stands savoring the complexity of it. She takes another sip, forgetting the task at hand, and when her thirst is quenched she wipes small beads of coffee from her upper lip. She uses the sleeve of her sweater. I sigh audibly, wanting her to know that we have exactly two minutes to open and clock in. She continues to search for her keys, avoiding eye contact.

“Sorry this is taking so long,” she offers. But it’s isn’t enough. She knows I’m already annoyed. “It’s been a really crappy morning.”

If she’s waiting for me to take the bait, she’s going to be waiting for a long time. Every morning Drina has to open is a crappy morning. But I know it’s not work, I know it’s her loser boyfriend Dev. If I could gamble I would bet that he broke up with her. He breaks up with her at least once a month. But she keeps going back. I can’t feel bad for her when she willingly makes that decision.

“Dev broke up with me,” she says.

One minute until we’re supposed to open and clock in.

She finally meets my eye searching for some friendly sympathy. But I have none.

“You deserve better,” is all I can manage to say without sparking an argument.

“Lis, don’t, okay? Can’t you just listen to me vent?”

“We don’t have time Drina, we’re late!” I snap.

She continues digging through her practically empty handbag, whose contents are now sprawled out on the concrete sidewalk. I take the keys that Sonny gave me and step in front of her impatiently.

“Where’d you get those?” she asks accusingly.

“Sonny gave them to me,” I answer as I open the door, shove it open, flip on the switch and head toward the register.

“When?”

“I don’t know, last week I guess. Does it really matter when?”

“Yeah, it does.”

I ignore her. If I respond it will only end in a massive blowout. And I really can’t handle that, not now or ever. Drina has a flair for the dramatics, and a tendency to make a mountain out of a molehill.

“Clock in, you’re going to be late,” is all I say.

“You’re not my boss Lissa, stop acting like it,” she snaps back.

“If I was I would have fired you months ago,” I snap back. I know it’s wrong, and I should be more respectful because she is a manager. But respect is earned, and she’s never earned mine. The door swings open. I’m expecting it to be a customer, but it’s Sonny. And he’s steaming.

“Drina, back office now!” he bellows. Sonny isn’t a big man, but if you were judging by his voice, you wouldn’t know that. I scurry out of the path and out of Sonny’s line of vision. As Drina passes me, she scowl’s in my general direction as if this is my fault.

In a few seconds, I hear the back office door slam shut. Drina will be in there for a while. I go through my routine: I check the register to ensure there’s enough in the till to make change. I check all the printer’s to make sure there is receipt paper. I check the store’s e-mail and respond to any pressing questions. I check and fill four orders. And when all of that is done, I fill out a new “staff recommendation” card to accompany my newest favorite book.

Since Saturday mornings at the Shelf Reader Bookstore and Cafe are generally slow, I head over to the magazine racks and try my best to reorganize them. They’re always a mess. I really wish we’d get rid of all the magazines but Sonny swears that the bring is revenue. I’ve created a monthly report for him to pinpoint what collections move and which don’t. But Sonny is old school and I doubt he even knows how to read my spreadsheets.

When I’ve done everything I could I pull the book I’ve been reading off the shelf and settle in behind the register. I wait, staring out of the door for a few minutes. When no one seems to be approaching the store, I read. Sonny generally doesn’t like us to read on the job, but I’ve convinced him that it’s good for our jobs, it helps us know and therefore push our stock. I told him it was employee development and he bought it. And while it’s true, it’s really just an excuse for me to read even more books.

I sit and read, but I can’t seem to concentrate. I desperately want to know what’s going on back there. I hate that I’m so nosey but it’s a character flaw that I can’t seem to shake. A part of me feels bad for Drina. An even bigger part doesn’t. I glance from the office door to my book to the front door, hoping something will happen. But nothing does.

It stays this way for an hour. And then Drina storms out of the office is a near rage. She grabs her bag from behind the register. I stare at her.

“Don’t stare like you don’t know what happened,” she says angrily. I don’t respond. I do know what happened. But I want to hear it straight from the horse’s mouth. “Are you happy? Sonny fired me!”

Of course, I wasn’t happy. But I didn’t say that. I would never be happy about someone getting fired. But I warned Drina several times. I tried to warn her, urged her to change. I even went out of my way to to make her look good – filling out staff recommendation cards, clocking her in early when Sonny complimented me for something I’d tell him it was really Drina who deserved the credit. I did everything I could. I want to say this, but I don’t. Instead, I let her walk out knowing that I would never see or talk to Drina again. As much as she annoyed me, I missed her already.

From somewhere behind me, Sonny bellows “Lissa, put the out to lunch sign up and come into the office.” I know Sonny isn’t in a good mood, so I don’t point out that it’s terrible to have just opened and to already be putting a break sign out.

I put the sign up and scurry into the office. Sonny is at his cluttered desk. He sighs heavily as I sit down opposite of him. I feel like I should ask if everything is alright, but it’s a dumb question.

“I fired Drina,” he starts. I’m not sure how to respond, because it’s obvious that I already know he’s fired her. He continues, “she didn’t give me a choice. What was I supposed to do, Lissa?” He doesn’t say it angrily, instead, he’s actually questioning me.

“I don’t think there was anything you could do but let her go. Listen, Sonny, can I be honest with you?”

“Go ahead.”

“I like – liked- Drina. But she deserved to be fired,” It’s a rude thing to say, but it’s the truth. I have a real problem – I’m too blunt. Dad always says it’s my biggest flaw. But I can’t help myself, so I continue, “She was great with customers and could make a sale like no one else could, but she lacked responsibility and motivation. She didn’t want to be here. She was always late, she didn’t know or even care to know what we have and didn’t have in stock. Sooner or later, if you kept her on she would have been a drain.” I wait for a response or a reaction. When I receive neither I say, “Sorry,” I squeak quietly.

“Don’t apologize. I appreciate your honesty. Listen, this shouldn’t come as no surprise to you, but I’m offering you Drina’s position.” He pauses. He takes my silences as an invitation to keep speaking. “I know you’re still in high school. You already have a busy schedule, and don’t necessarily want to spend more time here. But you’re the best I have.”

I’m too young to be a manager. I’m only sixteen – there are friends to hang out with, boys to kiss, and parties to attend. All the things I am supposed to be doing. I want to say yes, but a small part of me wants to pass. I know this would look great on college applications and future resumes, but … I’m sixteen!

I know Sonny is expecting me to say yes. For sixteen years I’ve been the girl who works hard – straight A’s, president of the student council, head of the community service club. For sixteen years I’ve been the girl who does what everyone expects me to do. And most of my sixteen years I’ve dreamed of being anything but the person I am, I’ve dreamed of being typical.

Sonny sees my hesitation. “It’s a big decision. Why don’t you take a day and think it over? Talk to your parents.”

“Thanks, Sonny,” I say standing up and heading to the front of the store.

I go about the rest of my morning in a haze. It’s a slow Saturday so the majority of my day is spent reading behind the counter. When I have read most of my book I get up, mainly to stretch my legs. I’m ready for lunch but my coworker Suzy isn’t here yet. My stomach grumbles with hunger. I shouldn’t have skipped breakfast. As I check the e-mail the overhead bells chime. I don’t bother to look up right way, it’s probably Suzy. But when the person walks past the desk I look up, wondering where Suzy is going. It isn’t Suzy. Instead it’s quite possibly the most beautiful boy I have ever laid eyes on. I want to tear my eyes off of him, but I can’t. He doesn’t realize that I’m staring at him. Either that or he’s being polite and ignoring me. It’s like I’m in some sort of trance. I don’t even hear the chimes.

“What are you staring at?” Suzy asks sneaking up behind me. I yelp in fear and turn in her direction quickly.

“No-nothing,” I stammer.

“Does nothing happen to be tall, dark, and handsome?” She says nodding toward the strangers direction.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I say hurriedly.

“Lissa, it’s totally okay to check a guy out. Especially one that looks like that,” she says taking a seat on the single stool behind the register.

I’m embarrassed. “I wasn’t checking him out.”

“Whatever,” she says ending the conversation. Suzy and I have been going to school together since pre-k, but we are hardly acquaintances. She runs with the popular crowd and I don’t run with any crowd really.

She ignores me when we’re at school. Or if we see each other in town. The only time she does talk to me is when we are here at work and that’s only because there isn’t anyone else to talk to.

“So, Drina’s on lunch?”

“No, Sonny fired her this morning,” I state plainly.

“What?” she asks outraged. “You’re kidding right, Sonny wouldn’t sack her! She’s like … the best employee here.”

I can’t believe she’s serious right now. Suzy drones on and on about what an injustice this is, how Sonny is off his rocker, and how this place isn’t going to be the same without her. When I had enough, I finally say, “I’m going on my lunch. It’ll be longer than an hour since I’m working a double today. Mind the shop, if you need anything Sonny’s in the back.”

I pick up my bag and charge out the door. I normally take lunch in the staff break room but today, I need to get out of there. Even though I’m going through the motions, I don’t feel like I’m actually working. I’m stuck in my head, over thinking Sonny’s offer. This should be a no-brainer, but it just … isn’t. What’s keeping me from saying yes?

I head to the small diner at the end of the block. Even though it’s one of my favorite places, I’m sad to say the rest of the town doesn’t think so. It was an old Woolworth’s at one point in time. Most of the store has been torn down and renovated into one trendy boutique after another. But the Woolworth’s Lunch Counter side of the store still stands. Maude, one of the original Woolworth’s waitresses bought the store when it was closing. She didn’t care much about the actual store, so she sold the store and the lot it was on and kept the counter open. She’s kept it open as breakfast and lunch spot ever since.

“Hey Maude,” I say as I take my seat at the counter. Maude’s back is toward me. I can’t see what she’s doing but I don’t have to see to know that she’s working on a crossword puzzle. She is obsessed with them. Maude and I have a deal: I bring her a crossword puzzle book from the store in exchange for a few free lunches a month. At first, I felt bad about this deal, I mean how could she keep this place open if she was literally giving away meals? But she insists, and it’s wrong to argue with an elder.

“Hey sweetie, you want your regular?”

“Yes, please! What kind of shakes do you have today?” I ask. Her newest cook used to be a soda jerk at an ice cream shop. He’s great with ice cream and a blender!

“I don’t know why you ask, it’s not like you’re actually going to get something different.”

“You never know.”

“Dark chocolate raspberry, pistachio caramel swirl, and maple walnut. Any tickle your fancy.”

Since she can’t see me I scrunch my nose. “No, I’ll have my regular.”

She turns around, eyeing me over her glasses. “Told you!” she says with a chuckle. “Stevie! One grilled cheese, a side of fries, and a mint chocolate chip milkshake! Top it with whipped cream and extra chocolate drizzle!” She hollers back to the cook.

When I’ve ordered and am settled on my stool at the counter, I take out my book. I read the same page for five minutes without absorbing a word. Maude has finished her crossword, she turns and takes the new book of puzzles I placed on the counter. I like Maude, she’s like a grandmother to me. She’s sweet but stern, she cares about me but not in an overbearing way. She’s interested without being overly nosey.

“Hey Maude, can I ask you something?” This makes her turn around.

“Anything, sweetie,” she says, turning around so I can have her full attention.

“Sonny offered me a managers position,” I start. She nods taking in what I’m saying. “And it’s a great opportunity, but I’m not sure I want to take it. Is it stupid to turn it down?” She thinks about it, mulling over an answer.

“Sweetie, if you wanted the position you would have accepted on the spot.”

It seems so obvious when she says it. She slides two plates in front of me and passes a bottle of ketchup. “Easy on the ketchup,” she says. She says it every time I’m in for lunch.

I dunk the corner of my grilled cheese sandwich into the glob of ketchup and take a bite. It’s crispy, buttery and gooey just the way I like it.

The diner is practically empty. That is until old man Paulsen comes in. Old man Paulsen is old, at least as old as Maude and I think he’s in love with her. She says I don’t know what I’m talking about. But there’s a twinkle in his eye every time he’s here. It’s love, there’s no other explanation.

I swivel around on my stool to meet his eyes.

“Afternoon Mr. Paulsen,”

“Why good afternoon to you Miss Lissa,” he says smiling warmly and taking his straw hat off his head. He’s holding the door, waiting for someone to follow him. I want to ask why he’s holding the door open, but before I can ask I see why. The same guy from the bookstore is trailing behind old man Paulsen. My eyes widen, and I can feel my cheeks immediately pinken. My heart pounds wildly in my chest. And once again, I’m staring.

Mr. Paulsen sits in his booth, and the young stranger sits across from him. Mr. Paulsen doesn’t offer an explanation as to who he is. And I don’t question. I’m hoping Maude will when she goes over to take their order, but she doesn’t either. She doesn’t refer to the boy by name, at least I can’t hear if she does.

I eat the rest of my lunch in a hurry, and when I’m done I scurry out.

I spend the rest of the day with Suzy buzzing annoyingly in my ear. I wish she pretends we were in school and just ignore me!

“Look out Lissy,” she says, using a nickname I actually hate, “lover boy is back!” I spin around to see that same strange boy walking up the door. Suzy is right about one thing: he is most definitely tall dark and handsome. He’s at least six feet tall, his skin is a beautiful shade of Carmel. His hair is dark, almost jet back. And while most of his hair is shaved, the patch at the top is wavy. I’d love to know what it’s like to run my fingers through it.

“You’re catching flies,” Suzy says snapping me out of my trance. Not only am I catching flies but I’m actually drooling. Gross!

I wipe my chin and tear my eyes away from the door. The last thing I need is to be caught staring again. I turn away pretending to be busy when the overhead chimes tinkle again.

“Good evening! Welcome to Shelf Reader Books and Cafe. I’m Suzy, is there anything I can help you with?” She greets him over excitedly. It’s so sweet it’s obnoxious. He doesn’t respond but keeps walking. The floor is old and squeaks with every heavy, and measured step. I turn as he passes, instinctively I look up. He winks as he passes me.

Did he just wink? Impossible, guys like him don’t wink at girls like me. He’ll let’s be honest here they don’t even look at me! He must have a bit of dust in his eye.

“Well, what are you waiting for?” Suzy says sneaking up behind me.

“What are you talking about?”

“He’s obviously not into me. Ho talk to him!”

“What?! I can’t!”

“Oh don’t be a prude Lissy! You’re sixteen! You’re in the prime of your life! Your ass is never going to look as good as it does now. Use it!” She says shoving me out from behind the register.

I don’t know why I’m listening to her. Oh wait, I do. Suzy has been the prettiest, most popular girl ever since pre-k. She’s had a string of grade A boyfriends since seventh grade. She’s way more worldly (a word Maude uses instead of experienced) than I am in the subject of boys.

I take a few steps, and finger comb my hair. I turn back to look at Suzy. She’s shaking her behind at me. She spins back around and mouths “go!”. Like a good girl I listen.

“Hey,” I say as I approach him. “Is there anything I could help you with tonight?”

“Hi, yeah, what would you recommend?” He asks casually. His hand is laying gently on a book, one of my favorites actually.

“This one,” I say gently touching the tips of my fingers to his hand. He looks up, eyes locking me. He smiles at me, and I practically melt into a puddle.

I have never believed in love at first sight, but that changes with our first, electric filled touch.

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The Heart’s One True Wish (Nicole’s May Prompt Story)

PROMPT: You realize that a shop you walk past everyday is only visible to you and no one else. What awaits you inside?

“Hey,” Leah says walking up behind me. I’m so lost in thought that I’m startled. I turn around and give her a weak smile.

Ever since ….

Ever since that day, things between Leah and I have been strained. And neither of us knows exactly how to make it better.

“How are you feeling?” she asks. She’s asks me this every day. And every day I give her the same answer, “Fine, I guess.” She nods as if she understands.

“You know, if you ever want to talk, you can – “

“I’m fine,” I say cutting her off.

She shakes her head in annoyance. “Listen, I know you’ve had a rough couple of weeks,” she starts timidly. “And I can’t imagine what you’re going through, but I think it would be healthy for you to talk. You don’t have to talk to me, but you should talk to someone.”

“You think I need a shrink, don’t you?!” I ask accusingly. She averts her eyes and is looking anywhere except at me. “I’m not crazy.”

“You don’t have to be crazy to talk to a therapist. And yes, I do think you should talk to one. You’re not moving past this!” Her voice rises.

“I can’t do this right now,” I say as I storm off in the direction of home. Leah follows at a close distance. She’s talking at my back, but I’m not paying attention. I catch words and phrases here and there: terrible accident, help, and it’s not your fault. All words and phrases that I’ve heard from everyone.

She continues to talk, shout really at my back. I walk and walk, until I hear Leah say, “You just need to get over it!”

Her words slap me across my face. I spin around and stare her coldly in her crystal blue eyes. Not thinking, only acting I slap her harshly across the face.

“Death isn’t something you get over Leah!” I yell, finally silencing her. I hurt Leah. Something that I never thought was possible, but she hurt me too.

Her hand is resting on the cheek I slapped. Her cheek is bright red, and my there’s a faint outline of a hand, my hand. When my eyes meet hers, she’s crying. Pushing past me, she walks off. She doesn’t even look back.

***
I wasn’t always like this.

A month ago I was your average seventeen-year-old girl. I was the oldest of three kids. I loved my two little sisters as if they’re my own. My mom and dad are quite possibly the greatest people on this earth, not to mention they are the coolest parents a girl could ask for. I had a best friend, Leah, who knows the inner workings of me. I had a boyfriend, Noah, whom I loved more than anything else in this world. And I laughed all the time.

But all of that changed in an instant.

Noah was on his way to pick me up. He texts me that he was making a pit stop at the ATM machine since he was running late. It’s silly but I didn’t want him to stop. It wasn’t that I was in a rush to get to the movies, it was that the ATM machine closest to his house, the one and only one that doesn’t charge a fee, wasn’t in a great area. In the past year, three people had been robbed there. I told him I had cash, and to not worry about it. But even though I couldn’t see his face, I could sense how I hurt his pride.

It should have only taken a few minutes, but I found myself waiting and checking my phone constantly for nearly an hour. We missed the movie.

And then my phone rang. My screen lit up showing a picture of me and Noah at Disney World. We were riding the teacups. I answered on the second ring. But when the voice on the other line asked to speak to me, it wasn’t Noah’s voice. It was his older brother, Jason’s voice.

“Jason, where’s Noah?”

“Listen, something happened,” he pauses. I hear him sniffled as if he’s crying.

“Jason, what’s going on? Is Noah okay?”

“He’s in the hospital,” he says. He takes a deep breath before continuing. “He went to get cash out of the ATM and he was attacked.”

“Attacked?” I ask as if I don’t understand.

“Nora, it’s not looking so good. You should get down here.”

“But I’m not family,” I say stupidly. It’s an excuse. I don’t want to see Noah there in a hospital. A hospital where people die.

“That doesn’t matter, just … please. He needs you,” he says pleading.

I hung up, grab dad’s spare car key from the key hook, and run out the door. I don’t even think about what I’m doing. It doesn’t matter that I only have a learner’s permit. It doesn’t matter that I’m supposed to be driving with a licensed adult. All that matters is that I get to Noah as soon as possible.

What seems like hours later, I arrive at the hospital. Bursting through the doors I find Noah’s family slumped in various chairs around the waiting room. His dad is filling out paperwork. His mom is sobbing quietly, Noah’s older sister Annie comforting her. Jason is pacing back and forth. No one notices me.

“Jason?” I say questioningly. He turns and in two giant steps, he’s in front of me. He’s suddenly hugging me. It’s awkward yet oddly comforting. “What happened?”

“I don’t know the whole story, the only thing the police told us is that he was beaten up pretty badly. He lost a lot of blood. He was laying there for an hour.”

“And the doctor?”

“Hasn’t said anything yet.”

The waiting room door bangs open, two very sympathetic police officers walk in. Noah’s dad stops filling out whatever it is he’s filling out and comes to stand by Jason and me.

“Good evening folks,” the older of the two officers says. “I know this isn’t a great time, but we’d like to ask you a few questions.”

“Questions about what?” Noah’s father asks.

“About your son. We have two people in custody. We’re just trying to figure this out. Get some justice for your son.”

“What’s not adding up?” I interrupt.

“You are?” the younger officer asks.

“Nora, Noah’s girlfriend.”

The police officers look at each other. “Would you mind answering some questions for us?”
“Sure,” I say. I start to walk away, but Noah’s dad follows behind. I’m grateful that I won’t be alone.

“Nora, was it?” the older officer asks.

“Yes,” I respond.

“How long have you known Noah?”

“My whole life. We started pre-school together.”

“And how long have you been dating?”

“Seriously, about three years. Since we were freshmen.”

“Were you not serious before that?”

“We were in eighth grade, is dating ever serious when you’re in middle school?” I ask.

“You’ve got a point there. How well would you say you knew Noah?”

“Know,” I correct.

“Excuse me?”

“You said knew as if Noah’s dead. He isn’t. And outside of his family, I know him better than anyone else.”

“So you’d know if someone had any problems with him? If he had any enemies?”

“Yes. And he doesn’t. Everyone likes Noah.”

“Well, the two people we have in custody don’t seem to like him that much. At least judging by what they did.”

“Nora, do you know these two gentlemen?” The officer takes out two pictures. He hands them to me. Jason and Noah’s dad lean in closer to get a good look.

“Of course I know them, they’re friends of ours,” I say staring at the old yearbook pictures of Chase and Chad Jonston. They must be from their last school’s yearbook.

“How well do you know them?”

I shrug, “They just moved here a few months ago.”

“Have they ever said anything about their family? About why they moved here?”

“No,” I say.

“Have you ever asked?”

“Sure, but they shrugged it off. Said they moved around a lot because of their dad’s job or something.”

“Well, I guess they weren’t lying about that.”

“Officer, are you saying that Noah’s friends are responsible for this?”

“Sadly, yes.”

“That’s impossible! Chase and Chad wouldn’t do that!”

“How can you be certain, you said yourself that you didn’t know them well.”

I want to argue, but the police officer is right. I don’t really know them, or what they are capable of, of why they would even do such a thing to anyone let alone someone they consider to be a friend.

“Listen, we can’t go into details since we aren’t one hundred percent. They haven’t confessed to anything. And my guess is they’ll have a lawyer within the next hour. But we have reasons to believe that this wasn’t the first time they were involved in a serious crime like this.”

“Are you sure?” Noah’s father questions. He’s a good guy and tends to see the best in people, even when they’re at their worst.

“We found them hanging around the area. When we started to approach them, they ran,” the older one starts.

“Not quick enough though,” the younger officer chimes in.

“Anyway, one of them dropped a wallet,” the officer taking a plastic bag out from the inside pocket of his jacket.

“Does this look familiar?”

“That’s Noah’s,” I say.
“They’re not talking, but all signs are pointing to them. Sir,” the older officer says turning to Noah’s father, “how do you want to proceed?”

He looks confused.

“If we can get solid proof or a confession out of either one of them, it’s up to you and your wife if you want to press charges. You don’t have to answer tonight, just something to think about.” The officers stand and extend a hand to Noah’s father. He stands and shakes it as if operating on autopilot.

“And sir, I really hope your son pulls through.”

With that, the officers turn and leave.

***
But Noah didn’t pull through.

Noah died at exactly 11:59 that night.

***
I continue my walk home, barely looking up. I’ve walked this path home my whole life, I know it better than anyone else. I know that in exactly fifteen feet there an upturned paver. People who don’t notice it normally trip over it. I know that in exactly 50 feet from the paver, there’s the tree that hasn’t grown in the past three years. There was a petition to uproot it but nothing was ever done about it.

And I know that in exactly five blocks, directly across from my apartment building’s door is the entrance to a new store, one that I’ve been dying to go in and check out.

The front window is shrouded in thick purple drapes. some days they are pulled back with golden-colored ropes. I like when they’re pulled back. When they are I cross over to peer in to see what kind of store it is. But every time I look I see nothing but darkness. The window must be tinted.

As I approach I see a different sight, not only are the drapes pulled back but the door is wide open. I take it as a sign that this mysterious store is open and I should go in to check it out.

I’m nervous as I approach. Nervous, and a bit excited.

I enter and a tall, slender man approaches. He’s tanned as if he spent about a month lounging on the white sands of Hawaii. His eyes are shockingly green, almost emerald if I had to assign a color. His face is covered with a well-groomed beard. And his smile is warm and inviting.

“Good afternoon young miss, how can I help you today?”

As he greets me I look around. There are shelves lining each wall except the back one, but they are all empty. Well, not exactly empty, there’s a thin layer of dust upon each of them.

I’m not exactly sure how to respond? So I say the only obvious answer “I’m not sure.”

“Welcome to Unfinished Business, a one of a kind store,” he starts. “My name is Enrico, and you are?”

“Nora. Nora Layton.” I don’t know why I’ve said my full name.

“Well, welcome Nora Layton. Unfinished Business only opens to those who need something. What do you need?”

Again the only thing I can answer is “I don’t know. What do you sell?”

“We aren’t in the business of selling goods. We’re more in the business of granting wishes. You’ve been welcomed into Unfinished Business because you’re in need of a wish to be fulfilled. Tell me, Nora Layton, what’s your hearts one true wish?”

“I don’t know,” I say dumbly.

“Sure you do? Dig deep,” he instructs. I take a few long moments. I want Leah to understand and to not be constantly angry at me, I want my life to go back to normal, I want Noah. I know having Noah back is impossible, but I’d give anything to have a few minutes with him, just to tell him I love him, to tell him he was the greatest boyfriend, and to say goodbye.

“Noah,” I whisper.

“Are you certain that he is your wish?”

“Yes, but it’s impossible. Noah -“

“I know, Noah died.”

“How did you know?”

He holds up his hands and waves them around, “the universe told me,” he says as if this is the most obvious answer. “You don’t believe me?”

“I didn’t say that,” I answer defensively. “I just don’t understand how that is possible?”

“It’s possible but there’s a price. You must give a part of your soul to the universe. Offer it up, and you’ll be able to see Noah. The bigger the piece of soul you offer the longer you’ll have Noah here.”

“My soul?” I ask. This is sounding more and more like that scene in The Little Mermaid. I’m Ariel in search of legs, and Enrico is Ursula, the sea witch. It’s my favorite Disney movie, I should know better than take this offer.

“Your soul,” he says plainly. “But it won’t hurt if that’s what you’re worried about.”

I’m not worried about if it will hurt or not. I’m worried that if I give a part of my soul, I’ll be even more broken than I’m already am.

“A visit with Noah will make you feel whole again Nora. You know that, right? If it wasn’t so the store wouldn’t have opened itself up to you.”

“What do I have to do?”

“You’ll have to sign a standard waiver first, just business,” Enrico starts.

“A waiver, for what? You said it won’t hurt.”

“Oh, it’s business, in case you die or something. But it won’t hurt, I promise.”

“Die?!” I nearly shout.

“I’m kidding! After you sign the release, I’ll need you to write your wish on this paper, we’ll burn it and send it out into the universe. Then, we wait.”

“For what?”

“For Noah. Traveling from the afterlife can take a while.”

I nod as if this is totally understandable and not totally insane. “How much will it cost?”

“Nothing, just a bit of your soul.”

I should take a moment to think, but I don’t need to think when it comes to Noah. I’m desperate – to be whole again, to see him, to right all the wrongs of my life since he left it. But I can’t wait any longer. “Where do I sign?”

Before my very eyes, Enrico seems to have summoned a scroll-like paper from thin air. I rub my eyes to make sure I’m not being deceived. My vision is perfectly fine. Holding my breath I take the pen that is offered to me and I sign on the dotted line.

“Perfect. Now, come and sit. Write your wish out on this paper. The universe knows what’s truly in your heart, but be detailed. Ring the bell when you are finished,” with that brief explanation he disappears behind a plush dark curtain hanging at the back of the store.

If the universe knows what’s truly in my heart there’s only one word I need to write: Noah.

I take an extra second before ringing the bell. Enrico appears a minute later. He sits across from me. “Now we burn the wish, send it to the universe.” He takes out a small lighter, flicks the lid and ignites the paper. He moves his hands in odd circles over the flames as they threaten to rise higher and higher. With his eyes closed, he chants something I can’t quite understand. The words seem straight out of a Dr. Seuss book.

He stops suddenly. His eyes open wide. “Now, we wait,” he says.

“For what?”

“You’ll know it what you hear it,” he says as he stands and walks towards the door.

“Wait, where are you going?”

“My service here is done. Close the door when you’re done, it locks automatically.”

“But what am I waiting for?”

“Be patient Nora Layton, you’ll know when you hear it.”

“And my soul?”

“A part of it already belongs to me.”

“So that’s it?”

“For me. You just have to wait.”

And with that, he waves a hand over his shoulder and disappears into the sunny afternoon. I sit there and wait. I wait until I think I can’t wait any longer. And then I hear ….

“Nora,” Noah calls.

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Behind the Yellow Door (Emma’s May Prompt Story)

PROMPT: You realize that a shop you walk past everyday is only visible to you and no one else. What awaits you inside?

It took a full two years for Jasmine to notice anything strange about the store. She walked by it twice every day. Once on her way to school every morning. Once on her way home. If she was running errands she might pass it as many as six or eight times in a day.

The store was tiny–not much wider than its bright yellow door and about as deep as the door was tall. Most days the door was propped open, tied back against the security gate that shuttered the store when it was closed. Of course, the door was closed shut when it was cold outside. The yellow paint on the door was incongruously bright against the wintry gloom, and the large window in the door fogged up with the trapped heat.

The store had no sign. No indication of an address or other contact information. No listing of hours. Sometimes it was open until late at night. Sometimes it seemed to close in the gloaming at dusk just before sunset. There was no discernible method to it.

Whenever she tried to get a glimpse inside the store seemed to be especially dim. Or especially bright. Or it would be a day the door was definitively closed. Sometimes she got the impression of rows of shelves but not much else.

Jasmine didn’t remember when the store first opened. It felt like the store had been there for ages but she’d been walking the same route to school for almost four years–she was a senior now–and she was certain that she had never seen the door before Latoya and Ahmed had moved away and transferred respectively. She would have remembered if they had discussed the store or at least its bright yellow door. It might have even come up in one of their increasingly sporadic group chats on HereNow. Or maybe it wouldn’t have. Because they seemed to talk less and less about anything that actually felt like it mattered.

Now, standing across the street and watching the yellow door Jasmine felt that it mattered very much.

Because she had been watching from across the street for an hour and not one other person seemed to notice the minuscule storefront.

It was only after she started walking to and from school alone, after she started spending more time alone in general if she was being honest, that she started to consider the oddity of the store that was seemingly never frequented by anyone and never promoted by anyone. And now, Jasmine realized, a store that was seemingly never seen by anyone.

Except her.

Jasmine had waited out the interminably long hour to confirm her suspicions. But now she was tired of waiting.

She was going inside.

When she first started to consider investigating the store, Jasmine had thought someone might stop her. That’s what happened when a person investigated a mysterious secret, wasn’t it? But no one paid her a second glance as she crossed the street and approached the store.

There was no lock or other barrier to stop her from turning the large crystal knob. No alarm sounded as she pulled the door open although a row of jingle bells tied to the other side of the knob chimed briefly.

The store seemed incongruously large on the insider. Longer, it seemed, than would be possible for such a small storefront. Instead of dim light, the interior of the store seemed painfully bright as she crossed the threshold. As her eyes adjusted she saw this was partly due to the bright sheen of the wooden floors and the rows of lights down the middle the store.

Then Jasmine noticed that the shelves were glowing.

Every piece of the walls was covered with shelves from floor to ceiling. There was nothing else in the narrow store. She thought she saw a counter with a register at the other end of the store but it was too far away to see if anyone was behind it although Jasmine felt decidedly alone in the store.

Every shelf was lined with rows upon rows of bottles. Some of them seemed empty, while others might have been filled with sand or glitter. All of them glowed as if lit from within. Several of the shelves had large signs that read “Do Not Touch” in bold, angry letters. Others had signs that read “Look Carefully.” While still others had no signs at all.

Jasmine was nearly at the front of the store when she came to a shelf with a different sort of sign. While the others had been typed and printed in a bold sans serif font, this sign was handwritten in delicate cursive. It also hadn’t been there a moment before, she was almost certain. The sign was smaller than the others, easy to miss. Its note was simple: Open Me.

There was only one bottle on the shelf. This one was a bit duller than some of the others. It didn’t have the luster of the bottle she had passed that said it was filled with a pearl’s tears. It didn’t sparkle like lost dreams. It wasn’t as fathomless as the bottle filled with love unrequited. It was difficult to see inside the bottle itself. The surface was mottled with chipping silver paint that must have made it shine once. Now the entire thing was rather tarnished. The stopper was a simple cork.

When Jasmine lifted the bottle off the shelf she saw another “open me” note was attached to the bottle itself. In case the sign on the shelf had not been entirely clear, she supposed. Holding the bottle in one hand, she looked around the store again. She waited for someone to stop her, to tell her to be careful, anything really. No one came.

Slowly she brought her hand to the cork and opened the bottle. When nothing happened she realized that she had been expecting some kind of bang or a crash, smoke fizzing out of the bottle in a whoosh. Something to convey that she had made a terrible mistake. As she stood with the opened bottle in her hands, completely unassuming, she relaxed her shoulders so that they weren’t tensed near her ears.

The bottle wasn’t filled as she had expected either. Instead there was a rolled note inside. She pulled it out carefully. Just as she was moving to unroll the note, it seemed to open itself until it was a flat sheet the size of her palm. It was written in the same cursive as the “open me” notes. It was just as terse, too. The note read: “You’re hired.”

Jasmine turned toward the counter when she heard another door open. She hadn’t realized that she had walked nearly the length of the store. As she stared at the counter a man climbed out from behind it. He was taller and broader than she might have expected in a tiny store filled with fragile bottles. He wore a tweed suit that seemed to fit him badly somehow. Not quite too large or too tight but as if he wasn’t very comfortable in it all the same. His dark hair was combed and neatly parted at the side. He was quite conventionally handsome except for the way his ears were pointed and the fact that his eyes were a deep red.

He stared at her for a long moment perhaps doing a similar inventory as his eyes passed over her jeans and peasant blouse, pausing to take in her messenger bag and windblown hair.

His voice was surprisingly melodious—not the deep bass that Jasmine had expected—when he finally spoke. “Took you long enough, didn’t it. I’ve had a hole in the wards for years waiting for you to come inside. I didn’t realize my new apprentice was going to be as timid as a dormouse when I first opened the wards, did I?”

Jasmine wanted to make a retort but found that she was quite speechless at his outburst. He looked at her again. He furrowed his eyebrows before raising them as he asked, “Well, what are you waiting for? We have a lot of work to do and none of it happens with the front inventory.”

That seemed to at least give Jasmine enough sense to reply, “I didn’t apply for anything.”

The man laughed. “Well isn’t that a silly thing to say. Of course you did. The store wouldn’t have let you in if you hadn’t applied. And you certainly wouldn’t have opened that,” he added as he pointed to the bottle that Jasmine still held.

“I suppose we won’t need this for a while,” the man said with a shrug. He pulled another sign off the counter to put away. This one said “Help Wanted” and Jasmine was certain it hadn’t been there when she first came in.

“I didn’t apply for anything,” she said again. “I’m not looking for an apprenticeship. Who has apprentices anymore? What would I even do here?” She looked around the shop, her eyes drawn to all of the bottles once again. “Who would buy any of these things in a bottle?”

The man grinned. “Finally, you’re saying the right things. I can answer all of those questions, but only if you accept the position and follow me.”

Jasmine turned to look back at the yellow door. It seemed very far away and much less inviting from this side of the shop. “I have to be home in time for dinner at 7.”

“Of course. Most important meal of the day.”

“I thought that was breakfast,” she replied automatically before she followed him behind the counter.

 

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The Endless Kitchen (Emma’s Story)

“In the end, won’t death be an endless kitchen?”

-From Pablo Neruda’s Book of Questions

It made sense, really. As much sense as waking up after a fatal car crash could be said to make anyway. Maybe it was the shock but as she looked at the rows of clean, white cabinets and shiny quartz counters she kept asking herself, “Where else would I be?”

The kitchen was the kind of space she would have died to have when she was alive, an irony that was not lost on her. This kitchen was miles bigger than the kitchen in her tiny two bedroom apartment. It was the kind of big her sister would have called cavernous.

She hoped her sister was okay but then again “mourning” and “okay” never really went together, did they?

The first refrigerator was as tall as she was and nearly as wide. She could have paused to consider the strangeness, the fact that there wasn’t just one refrigerator but rows upon rows of them. But considering that would force her to consider other things she wasn’t ready to confront. Like her mortality. Was mortality still a concern after you had died? Was it something that transcended death?

She shook her head as if the movement could push the questions forcibly away. She pulled out a carton of eggs and butter and walked them to the stovetop that was so new it took her three tries to turn it on. The dial clicked and the gas made a snick sound as the flame finally caught. She stared at the lit burner for a moment. Her mind turned to open flames, the bangs of explosions, and the way flesh burned at a certain temperature would smell vaguely of pears.

She pushed those thoughts away too and found a skillet in a cabinet under the sink. There wasn’t anything else inside. When she opened it again a moment later to find a spatula, she found that too. She must not have seen it before.

The butter she’d left to melt had burnt to black by the time she returned from the pantry with flour and sugar. She turned it out into the sink and rinsed the pan until it stopped sizzling.

She added more butter and this time she stayed to watch it melt, only turning away for a moment to get milk from the first refrigerator. She didn’t remember seeing it when she had taken out the eggs and the butter. She mixed the flour and the sugar with an egg and some of the melted butter. She started a second pan heating while she mixed.

Her first pancakes started to sizzle and bubble as she opened a cabinet and found two white plates and nothing else. She set them both on the counter. She couldn’t eat two servings of pancakes. She wasn’t sure if she ate at all now that she was dead. But her recipe was for two servings so she started to fill both plates as the pancakes cooked.

She was just starting to feel foolish–cooking for some stranger who would never come–when down the long corridor she heard a door creak open. She wondered if she should leave her stovetop (it already felt more like it belonged to her than anything she’d had in life) and investigate when she heard the door close. In the vast, silent space the slam of the door sounded so much like an explosion. Like a crash.

Footsteps sounded down the long, white corridor shoes tapping against the slick white tiles as she poured the last of the batter into the pans.

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The Penny (Nicole’s Story)

I don’t consider myself to be a lucky person. In fact, I am quite certain that if you were to look up the definition of unlucky you would probably find a picture of me, Lucy Garner, staring back at you. It wasn’t always like this.

Once upon a time, I was one lucky kid. But that all changed one day some seven years ago. Picture it: It was June 13, 2008. Friday the thirteenth. I was nine years old and spending my first day of summer holiday snooping. I was on a mission to find my birthday gifts. I had searched mom and dad’s usual hiding places: under their bed, in the crawl space, and the small patch of space in the far right corner of our already packed basement. I was desperate though, I even checked the garden shed.

Bored and frustrated with coming up empty handed I decided to check the one place I hadn’t looked: mom and dad’s closet. It seemed like an obvious place, but that’s exactly why I hadn’t checked. It was too obvious and mom and dad both knew this. I stood there and scanned the farthest corners. I found a few boxes of old love letters. There were boxes of designer shoes lined up across the bottom length of the closet. I shifted articles of clothing from left to right, checking in between every nook and every cranny. Just when I was about to abandon my mission, wave my white flag of surrender, I spotted an unfamiliar box.

That year I asked for a Nintendo Wii, not because I’m some gamer or some wanna be gamer. I was a very realistic nine-year-old, I sucked at all video games. But I wanted one all the same. It was what all the cool kids had and I wanted to be cool more than anything else I wanted. More than I wanted that Nintendo Wii. The box was Wii sized. My heart leaped with joy. So much so that I couldn’t leave well enough alone. I stretched and managed to grab a hold of the box. As the box slipped off the shelf and towards my outstretched arms I quickly realized two very important things: first, the box was much heavier than I expected it to be, and second I was a complete klutz.

Instead, it crashed with a loud thump and an even louder crack onto the linoleum-lined floor. Something had broken. I just hope it was something forgettable and not some family heirloom. I opened that box hesitantly, afraid of what I would find. There was a lot of junk in there, but among that junk, there was a mirror that had cracked and broke into what seemed like a million pieces. I stood there with three broken shards of glass in my hand. Realizing that just like that, I was struck with seven years of cold, hard bad luck.

At first, I did not think anything of the broken mirror, but as the air shifted around me, something felt different. Something wrong even. The very next day bad luck settled upon me as the dust settled upon a useless figurine. I needed to talk to Calvin, my one and only friend. I had to talk to someone, I had to find a logical reason why I was suddenly feeling like there was an ominous black cloud hanging over my head. But as luck would have it, bad luck reared its ugly head.

I never made it to Calvin’s house because I tripped on an uneven pavement stone. In the act of trying to break my fall, I ended up breaking my wrist. Breaking my wrist caused me to miss out on some desperately needed summer fun. A few days later I finally had made it to Calvin’s. And once again there was bad luck. Before I was even invited into the house Calvin told me he didn’t want to be friends with me anymore. He said I had a bad case of the cooties. I heard the snickers of a group of boys coming from behind the door. I stood there, shocked and on the verge of tears.

Within a week I had broken my wrist and lost my one and only best friend. The following week didn’t get any better. My pet lizard died. I lost my cell phone. And worst of all, mom informed me that I’d be spending a week with Aunt Kim and my cousin’s, affectionately known as the devils’ spawn.

The summer of 2008 was a crummy one. I had experienced more bad luck than I would have thought was humanly possible. I just had to wait it out, that’s all. I started high school with high hopes. But as the days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months, my bad luck shrouded me like a cloak. That year I flunked physical education and was forced to take it again in summer school. Calvin still wasn’t talking to me. In fact, the only time he really paid any attention to me was when he played some mean-spirited prank on me. And when I broke my own personal rule of not wearing a skirt to school I ended up flashing the entire class my undies. I more than flashed, I advertised.

And here we are. The first day of summer holiday, seven years later. I waited bad luck out and I had survived. Things are going to change. Starting today. The bad luck spell was broken, well at least I’m hoping it is.

As I walk to Mo’s Music on Main, minding my own business, I stop. There in front of me was a small, wild-eyed squirrel and it was barking. It’s never a good sign when a squirrel barks. He positions  himself to attack. And just when I thought he was going to go about his squirrel business, he launches himself onto my already beat up sneaker. He tears at the laces with all of his light, but I’m bigger and stronger. With a powerful shake of my leg he flies backward into a shrub that lines the walkway.

Obviously  this has shaken me, and I think that maybe it’s best to skip this outing all together.  I’m only going to Mo’s, and it’s not like the store will not be there tomorrow.  Maybe seeing if my order arrived isn’t as important as not pushing my luck. I sit on a bench across from Mo’s. Should I or shouldn’t I? Should I go to Mo’s, shouldn’t I go to Mo’s? Should I go home? Should I face my bad luck head on and continue on across the street?

I know I look stupid, but I can’t help myself. The past seven years haven’t exactly been a cakewalk. With my head down, I sigh heavily, a bad habit inherited from my father. It’s then that I spot the penny. But this penny isn’t your average penny, it’s shiny. So much so that it looks as if it could have come directly from the money press. Besides that, it’s heads side up.

This has been the sign I’ve been waiting for. A sign to tell me that once and for all luck will be on my side for once. I pick it up and turn it over in my hands. It’s warm as if it’s been laying in the sun for some time. More than that though, it seems important somehow. I pocket the penny and head across the street to Mo’s.

Mo’s is probably the only store in town that I shop in. It’s a record store and it has a really great collection. Mo’s carries a large collection of both CDs and Vinyl, two formats that some would argue are out of date. That is unless you are either a die-hard fan or a hipster. There’s also has a large collection of audio cassettes, you know for the collector types. And if it isn’t in the store, whatever you want can easily be ordered. Sure shipping can cost an arm and a leg, but sometimes it’s worth it. At least for me, it is.

I walk through the doors, sending the tinkling chimes into a frenzy as I push open the glass door that is so laden with band stickers you could hardly tell that the door is in fact glass. Mo, the owner and who the store is named after looks up from his magazine. “Lucy Lu!” he exclaims. “Mo!” I shout back with false excitement.

“What’s up?” he asks as if he doesn’t know the reason why I am here. It’s the same reason why I’ve been coming in every other day: to see if my imported Sexy Mavis record came in.

“Nothing much but the sky,” I say lamely.

“Good one. You here checking on Mavis?”

“You know it!”

“Sorry Lucy Lu, I don’t think it’s in yet,” he says with a shrug of his shoulders.

“Can you check?” Even though he checked two days ago, he doesn’t argue. He’s a good guy, even though most everyone thinks he’s some sort of weirdo. He saunters off to the back room. I wait, fidgeting. I want to look around but can’t. I can’t let myself spend another dollar in this store. I’m almost broke, and the funds I do have to go towards public transportation to get me back and forth to work.

I wait, and wait, and wait until I cannot stand it any longer. I start to roam the aisles looking at what’s new. I sing along to the song that’s playing throughout the empty space. And then stop when the bells above the door tinkle loudly. It’s a rare sight to see more than three customers in a time. I often wonder how Mo can keep this place open, but don’t question in fear that if questioned, it will fall apart and my beloved indie record store will cease to exist.

I glance towards the door too curious to stop myself. It’s Ethan Finch. I stare awkwardly. Stare to the point where it’s blindingly obvious.

“Hey,” he says with a small wave. I look around. Is he really waving at me? No way, guys like Ethan Finch don’t casually wave to a girl like me. They don’t even notice me. “You’re Lucy, right? I think we had Chem lab together last year.”

“Yeah, I’m Lucy.” I can barely manage to speak. All the words have left my head. What. Is. Wrong. With. Me?

“Do you come here a lot? I thought I was the only one who ever shops here.”

“I’m here at least twice a month. You?”

“About once a month.”

We stand there staring nervously at each other. “What do you listen to?”

“Listen to?” I ask sounding confused.

“What kind of music do you listen to?”

“All different stuff. You?”

“It changes. Right now, I’m into experimental prog-rock,” he says excitedly.

“Like Sexy Mavis?”

“No way! You know who they are?”

“Of course! Have you listened to their basement sessions yet?”

“Not yet,” he answers.

“Dude! What the hell is wrong with you? Are you waiting for some kind of invitation?!” I say a bit meaner than I intend to say this.

“I missed it when they were live on their website. I had debate team practice that night. You have no idea how angry I was about missing it?”

“There are other ways to listen to it, you know?”

“Yeah, but the sound quality is pure crap.” I nod knowing exactly what he is saying is the truth. “Wait … did you say you’re on the debate team?” I ask with a condescending snort.

“Are you laughing at me?” “No! I’m…I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to laugh or to offend you. I just didn’t expect you to be on the debate team.”

“Well, what can I say? I’m full of surprises.” Is he flirting? Is he flirting, with me? My face instantly flushes.

“I guess you are,” is all I manage to say. Geez, where is Mo? Did he fly to Australia to get my album? I don’t know what to say to Ethan. I can tell that he doesn’t know what to say either. When I think the awkwardness will kill me, I hear the door at the back swing open. “Lucy Lu! Looki-y what Mo’s got for you!” He said as he held up the Sexy Mavis album I special ordered.  He hands it to me. It’s the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. I turn the album over in my hands, looking at every inch of it.

“Mo, you are the best! Seriously! I love you, man!” I say enthusiastically!

“Ah! Look who it is! Sir Ethan, I didn’t even see you standing there. How’s it hanging man?” Mo says.

“Sir Ethan?” I interjecting questioning this odd nickname.

“Don’t ask, please.” His eyes are pleading with mine. It’s too soon in our relationship to know all of his deep dark secrets.

“Sir, you’re order is here too,” Mo says as he bends low behind the counter, digging around for what I assume is Ethan’s order. He hands Ethan a CD but I can’t make out exactly what or who it is.  There is absolutely no writing on the cover. In fact it’s just one solid orange colored cover. I’m intrigued. Not exactly knowing what to do or say since I got what I came here for and don’t really need anything else. I mutter a “thanks Mo!” and slip out of the door and onto the sidewalk.

I lean against the brick wall, thinking about mine and Ethan’s brief exchange. Even if I never talk to him again, I will always have this day.

“Hey,” Ethan says as he slides up next to me.

“Oh, hey,” I say, startled.

“I didn’t mean to sneak up on you?.”

“It’s fine, really.”

“Do you want to do something?”

“Uh, I guess.”

“Don’t sound so enthusiastic,” he said

“No! It’s not that. I’m just ….”

“Surprised? I told you I’m full of ‘em Lucy Lu!”

“Okay, let’s do something,” I say with a smile. He took my hand and we walked in the opposite directions of Mo’s. I wasn’t sure what he had in store, but he walked with purpose and direction as if he had pre-planned this.

“Where are we going?”

“You’ll see,” he slyly responds. We walk on further, and in silence. But not the awkward kind of silence. But rather the kind of silence where you’re comfortable and at ease, a silence of familiarity. We stop walking, just outside of the city limits. We’re facing what appears to be an abandoned warehouse. Unsure and a bit uneasy, I wonder if this is some sort of elaborate prank schemed up by Calvin. But it can’t be, Ethan and Calvin aren’t friends. Or at least I don’t think they are.

“Where are we?” I ask.

“You sound scared? Don’t you trust me?”

“I don’t know you that well.”

“That’s what today’s for. Come on,” he says tugging my hand.

“Seriously, where are we and what is this place?”

He sighs. “If there’s one thing to know about me is that I love surprises. I love to be the one who surprises people and I like to be surprised.”

“That doesn’t answer my question.”

“Let me finish. I like you Lucy. I have liked you for a long time. But I didn’t know how to tell you. So I figured that I’d show you instead. I didn’t just randomly bump into you at Mo’s today. When I came in to pick up the new Pinball Adam, that was all planned. The cd had arrived at Mo’s easily a month ago. But I knew you hung out there, and I asked if he could let me know when your album came in so I could coincidentally bump into you.”

“Wait Mo actually told you when my album came in before telling me?” I ask outraged.

“Yeah, he also told me that you visit the store two times a month like clockwork and that you just happen to be his best customer.”

“It’s a little creepy that he told you all that. It’s even creepier to know that you wanted to know all of that.”

“Mo’s my uncle. And if it’s any consolation, I had to pry this information out of him. He went on and on about privacy and that I shouldn’t be so creepy. But I didn’t want to just be like ‘oh hey, Lucy who I barely know but think about constantly, I like you.’ You would have thought I was totally weird.”

“You are totally weird. But I like that.” At that moment I trusted Ethan. Maybe it was because he was being so candid. Maybe it was because Mo was Ethan’s uncle, and I trusted Mo. Whatever the reason, I knew Ethan was someone I could trust.

“Well, what are we waiting for? Surprise me, Finch!” We spent the entire afternoon inside that supposed abandoned warehouse just outside of the city limits. Turns out that warehouse was really an old-school roller skating rink. Inside, not only did we roller skate, but there was an ice cream bar where we splurged on the largest milkshake I’ve ever seen.

Today was sheer magic. And I know once and for all that bad luck was no longer a friend of mine. And it was all thanks to the penny in my pocket. When night fell, Ethan walks  me home. Never letting go of my hand, never letting the conversation falter. When he drops me off at my front door, he kisses me gently on the lips, leaving me breathless. We didn’t exchange numbers but instead promised to meet at Mo’s tomorrow at one. I practically float into the house.

“Hey Lu,” mom greets me from the kitchen. She’s cooking dinner, judging from the smells wafting through the house.

“Hi Ma,” I call back as I run up the steps and toward my room. “You hungry?” She calls up the stairs. ”

Starving!”

“Good! Dinner will be ready in fifteen minutes. Bring down any dirty clothes, it’s laundry night.”

***

I try not to leave my house before a half past noon. The walk to Mo’s will only take about fifteen minutes, but if I walk slow enough about twenty. I don’t want to look over-excited but I can’t help myself. And deep down I don’t care if I do look over-excited. I know Ethan is feeling the same way.

I take my time walking to Mo’s. The sun seems to be shining even more than normal. The birds seem to be singing just a bit louder. I haven’t even seen Ethan yet, but it’s already a great day. I arrive at Mo’s a solid ten minutes before we planned on meeting. I don’t go in. Instead, I lean against the brick wall outside and check the time obsessively. With two minutes to spare I start to panic. I thought he would have been here by now. I

look back into Mo’s thinking maybe he’s been waiting inside for me, but it’s empty except for Mo, who like yesterday is perched at the front counter reading a magazine. I wait another ten minutes. Ethan told me yesterday that he doesn’t drive and that he doesn’t plan to so he relies heavily on public transportation. I tell myself that the buses are just running late. But the tiny voice inside of my head tells me different.

I push those negative thoughts out of my mind and decide to wait. I wait another ten minutes. It’s now twenty minutes after one. I knew we should have exchanged phone numbers. I could have called him to make sure he was okay. Because at this point, I am convinced that something terrible has happened to him. And again that voice chimes in. I shove it deeper down and ignore it. I wait another ten minutes. It’s now half past one and I know in my heart of hearts that he isn’t coming.

The realization that yesterday was all a big joke crashes down on me. It takes everything I have not to break down in front of Mo’s. I turn back and peer into the store. Mo looks up and waves at me. I know I shouldn’t, but I have to ask. I walk into Mo’s determined to get the answers I’m looking for.

“Hey Mo,” I say.

“Lucy Lu! Two days in a row! What did you think of that Sexy Mavis album?”

“I didn’t get a chance to listen to it yet. Hey, listen Mo, can I ask you something? About Ethan?”

“Sure.”

“We were supposed to meet today. But he never showed. Is he okay?” Mo looks confused. So much so that he actually scratches his head.

“Are you sure about that Lucy Lu?”

“Positive,” I say confidently.

“Well, sorry Lucy Lu, Ethan, and his mom went away last night. They won’t be back until August.”

I’m shocked. I nod and mumble a thank you in Mo’s direction. He keeps talking but I don’t hear him. I’m so upset I don’t care who sees me crying. Why would Ethan do this to me? Why would anyone find toying with someone’s emotions funny? Why? Why? Why? And suddenly I stop.

The penny!

It’s because of the penny! I reach into my pocket and sure enough, I lost the penny. It must have fallen out somewhere. Maybe when it was in the laundry. All I know is that the penny is gone, and so is my good luck.

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The Prompts So Far

We are picking our prompts from

To start we chose some prompts that we both like and are excited to write about.

Here are the prompts we plan to work from first:

      1. You realize that a shop you walk past everyday is only visible to you and no one else. What awaits you inside?
      2. You run after someone who left a strange book on a bus and they go into a house. Through the window you see..
      3. My mother only had two basic rules. Don’t ever fall in love and never summon a demon. I couldn’t honor either.
      4. – Bored at college you start tapping inaudibly under your seat. You find a note stuck to the bottom of it.
      5. – You come home to find an old fashioned phone sitting in the middle of your table. No wires lead to it. It rings.
      6. – ’14th Century’ read the sign by the pub. Odd. The building looked old but definitely hadn’t been there yesterday.
      7. – The lights of every house in the town were on that night, except for one.
      8. – Your villain has to go to therapy to discuss their issues. Write about what transpires during the session.
      9. – Five people meet over dinner. All their deaths are scheduled for two weeks time. Some want to die, some do not.
      10. – An innocent tweet about your breakfast spirals out of control, when a strange police squad arrests you for treason.
      11. -As the elevator door is about to close, you lock eyes with someone on the other side…someone from you past.
      12. – You come to work one day to find all e-mails and social media accounts logged into another person. Who are they?
      13. – A local take-away doesn’t have a menu or serve food, but weird customers come and go. You get a job to investigate.
      14. – In a train station, you see someone interesting and steal their bag and ticket. Where will your new items take you?
      15. – In a book shop, she sees a book with her name on the spine. Her picture is on the book jacket. She did not write it.
      16. – I knew it was over the day he shouted mushrooms.
      17. – She began to run, faster and faster, as quickly as her short legs could carry her. There was no turning back now.
      18. – A lady finds notes in books she borrows from the library. She searches for the sender.
      19. – ‘Is your name Lisa?” asked the waitress. ‘Yes,” she lied.
      20. – He was the one person I hated more than anything. And now I’m stuck on an elevator with him.
      21. – The window in the garden wall was been boarded up forever, but tonight a dull, violet light pulses in the cracks.
      22. – What if the sun doesn’t rise tomorrow?

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The Little Women are Back!

Greetings everyone!

I’m happy to report that after a long absence Nicole and I are back and ready to share more short stories.

Here’s what you can expect from Little Women Stories as we gear up for our May relaunch:

  • Two stories a month from Emma and Nicole
  • Each month we will share one free write story each
  • Each month we will each write a story based on a predetermined prompt

Nicole and I are both really excited to get back to short stories, this blog, and writing. If you like any of those things I hope you’ll join us on this journey and read some of our stories!

Here’s to seeing a lot more of each other!

-Emma

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