Author Archives: missprint

About missprint

Librarian. Writer. Blogger at Miss Print since 2007. Reader. Feminist. SLJ reviewer. YALSA Hub Blogger. PPYA 2015/16. Amateur spy. Zen. 🦄

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 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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No Time for Sweetness

I listen to the hall clock strike eleven while I stare at Daddy’s pocket watch open in front of me on the kitchen table. The hallway clock is five minutes fast according to Daddy’s watch. He was always fussy about it keeping good time what with being a train conductor and all. I can’t say it’s as accurate as when he was alive but I’ve done my best to keep it wound since he was shot down.

The hallway clock clangs its way through all eleven chimes. Each one sounding more and more like a nail in my coffin. If Mama was still alive she’d tell me these dark thoughts are what come from plotting revenge. But all I have left of her is the rifle in my lap hidden beneath the white linen tablecloth so I suppose it doesn’t matter too much.

I told Jess Cartwright to meet me here at eleven. I’m not sure now what time he might go by. All I know is I plan to point Mama’s rifle at him as soon as he sets himself across the table from me. Mama and Daddy both would have said there were better ways to get information from a man, especially for a pretty girl like me. Especially when the whole town knows Jess has been sweet on me since we were children.

But Lord knows I don’t have time for sweetness. Not when the train robbers who shot Daddy already have a three day head start on the trail heading back east.

I’m spending so much time picturing Jess across from me with Mama’s rifle pointed at his chest while he tells me what I need to know, sweet as you please, that I almost miss when he actually walks into the kitchen through the back door. We never used to lock that door when Mama was alive. I won’t be here long enough to worry too hard about protecting what’s mine. Not when I know Daddy won’t be walking through that door any time soon.

“Christ, Cora,” Jess exclaims when he spots me in the dark kitchen. “You could scare a soul half to death sitting in wait like that.”

He pulls out a chair and I raise my rifle onto the table as he sits. “Don’t you go dying of fright on me just yet, Jess. Not before you tell me what I need to know.”

I can tell he wants to jump up. Maybe run to Sherriff Pomeroy to tell him the town’s got a hysterical orphan on their hands. But then Jess sees the steady hold I have on the rifle and the coldness that’s settled around my eyes—I’ve seen it myself looking in the mirror Mama kept on her dresser. There’s not a thing there to suggest I won’t shoot Jess where he stands.

“This trigger is getting a might slippery Jess. It sure would make things easier if you started talking,” I say evenly.

“Cora, I don’t know what you think you’re going to accomplish but I don’t know a damn thing you need to know.” He doesn’t bother to apologize for his language. But then we never did stand on ceremony like that. Not with each other. Not until I had to point a rifle at him to make sure I get the truth.

The sun is beating through the windows and I can feel the sweat trickling down my back. Mama and Daddy always loved Arizona. Said there was nothing quite like a sunset out west. Lord, I dreamed of going back east and seeing the ocean Mama grew up next to all the way in Maine. Never thought I’d be planning to head east without either of them. But first I need to know where to go.

“I know as well as you that isn’t true,” I say calmly. I rest the rifle more steady on the table so I can lean forward and look Jess in the eye. “We both know you were on that train Jess. Daddy told your pa he’d keep an eye on you. You had to see what happened.”

“Cora, I can’t tell you what you need to know.”

“I don’t remember saying you had a choice.”

Jess shakes his head so violently it sets his curly hair bouncing. “Nothing doing. You might think you know what you’re doing but your parents wouldn’t want this. Not for you. Not ever.”

I clench my teeth so hard I’m surprised they don’t snap off right in my mouth. “Daddy was shot when the train was robbed and the men who did it have a three day head start. Mama’s gone and has been for five years. There is nothing here for me.” I stop abruptly when I hear the way my voice cracks. I can’t cry anymore. I have no time for it. I ignore the hurt look Jess gives me as I continue, “But if you tell me what you saw, maybe I can follow the men back east and make sure they’re taken in.”

“You and what army, Cora? Those men are outlaws. Your mother’s hand-me-down rifle isn’t going to anything against them. Even the sheriff couldn’t mount a posse. What makes you think you can do what they wouldn’t even try?”

“I guess I don’t have anything left to lose.”

“Cora—”

“No!” I cut him off as I point the gun squarely at him. “I will not have you protect me. I don’t care what history we have or what you think you might owe my parents. I will do this. It’ll go faster with your information but I’ll do it either way. And if you don’t start talking, I will shoot you.”

Jess stares at me for a long, long moment. In the silence I wonder if this is what it feels like when a bone breaks. I think it must be.

“There were eight of them. The Pinkertons on the train shot three in the chaos just before your father was shot down. Six rode off but one was favoring his right side. They were heading east. I heard one of them mention Independence. That’s all I know.”

I return the rifle to my side of the table before I stand. “I thank you for that.” I walk away from the table. I still have a mess of things to prepare before I can set off.

I don’t realize Jess is walking toward me instead of out the door until I feel his hand on my shoulder.

“Cora, please. I’m asking you not to do this. Let the law handle things.”

I turn to face him. “You said yourself that the law isn’t going to do a thing to get justice for Daddy.”

“Your parents wouldn’t want you to do this,” he tries.

“They aren’t here to stop me,” I say as I step away from him.

“I am.”

I look at Jess. He’s asked me to marry him before. Last Christmas and just last week on my nineteenth birthday. He’s told people before that he was sweet on me. But I said no. Both times. Mama didn’t raise me to want to tie myself down. Daddy didn’t teach me to put my own life second to any man’s. Even one like Jess.

“You can’t stop me either. And if you try I will never forgive you.”

Jess looks real wistful as he says, “I could come with you, Cora. I could help.”

“We both know that isn’t true.” Not when Jess has three sisters and an entire farm to tend for his ailing father.

Jess nods. “It never would have been enough, would it?” he asks as he turns to the door.

“What’s that?”

“I always thought eventually you’d want to settle and maybe your eyes would turn my way. That never was going to happen though, was it?”

“Everything’s different now, Jess. I can’t rightly say.”

He nods, real thoughtful like he gets sometimes. Especially when I tell him no. “I suppose we both always knew how out story would end.”

I pick up Mama’s rifle and add it to the saddlebag I started packing last night when I decided this was the only road I could take.

“I suppose we did,” I say as I turn my back to him. I don’t stay in the kitchen to hear the finality of the door closing between us.

 

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Rain

He stared at the blank computer screen. Waiting. He knew from the past three years of school that spells didn’t write themselves; that some magician was behind every spell ever recited, every piece of magic written. He also knew that if he didn’t write and hand in a new spell in the next twelve hours he would fail Advanced Spell Creation 301 and would have to repeat his final year.

Phillip Carton, to put in bluntly, was in bad trouble.

He ran his hands through his hair. He didn’t remember when he’d last had time to comb it. The way his hands stuck in the mane of curls suggested it had been a while. He pushes his glasses higher up his nose and stared again at the screen. No words had materialized on the screen. No inspiration struck.

Phillip took a deep breath as he struggled to tamp down his rising panic. He’d had two months to write this spell. All of his other work was turned in, grades submitted. Literally the only thing standing between him and his Magician Certification was this one unwritten spell.

He had tried to write it, of course. He’d written hundreds of spells. Most of them still littered the floor of his dorm room.

The problem was none of them worked.

He could perform spells. He’d memorized all of the important potion formulas. He could treat magical injuries. He was the top of his class in illusions.

But somehow, in the course of his five years at the school, Phillip had never caught the knack of writing new spells, of putting words to page to create some new piece of wonder; he still didn’t know how to make his own magic.

Phillip closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Five years of school and now it would come down to this. Twelve hours and one spell. He would have no time to test it himself before submitting it to the Graduation Board.

His eyes roved over the failed spells that littered his floor. Maybe the problem wasn’t that he couldn’t write spells. What if, he could hardly believe the audacity of it, but what if he was just thinking too small?

What if his spells to find missing socks and mend broken glasses were too mundane? What if the spell to make perfect scrambled eggs was too unoriginal?

Phillip Carton was a clever man. All of his teachers said so and many of his classmates hated him for it. Perhaps it was just time for Phillip to do what he did best. It was time to be clever.

Birdsong brought his gaze to the window. It hadn’t rained in a month—nearly unprecedented in the typically rainy area where the school was based. Phillip returned to his computer screen with a new vigor as the words he would need began to form in his mind.

Phillip’s fingers raced along the keys of his computer. He would have just enough time to proofread and print the spell before he would run to submit it to the Graduation Board and observe while the members of the board tested and probed the spell.

This spell, he knew, would work. It had to.

Phillip Carton was going to make it rain.

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Noticed

Alice waits another week before she gives up. Then she carefully picks everything up and hides it away. Deep. She deletes the one email he wrote to her. (Responding to one of the three she wrote to him, of course.)

She pretends to forget the bright blue of his eyes. She stops looking for him in every part of the store. She tries hard to convince herself that his hair was cut so short because he was dealing badly with premature baldness in her effort to create flaws where previously she saw none.

She pushes it all aside and reminds herself that she has nothing to be sad about. Because nothing ever happened and, she realizes with the unique clarity that comes from hindsight, most likely nothing ever would have happened.

She tries to tell herself it doesn’t hurt now. She studiously ignores the gaping hole where something more could have been. She must have imagined this loneliness and want that she can’t quite ignore and can’t quite name.

***

In retrospect, again that painfully clear hindsight, it isn’t much of a surprise. All of her crushes—the bad ones—have been on coworkers. All of them have been disasters.

Loving a celebrity from afar always seems too easy; too much like cheating to pine for someone so obviously unattainable. So no. Her crushes—the painful ones she can only think about in quick, fleeting moments after the fact—are always real. Always too close.

Nick wasn’t any different.

***

She never actually had a chance to call him Nick. They never said each other’s names. She knew his name after a lengthy search through the staff directory. And he knew hers after the first email. But that was all. Even now, with the bitter aftertaste of what could have been burning in her throat, there is something scandalous about thinking of him that way—a name that never was never really hers to use freely.

Later, after he replied to her first email and they actually spoke to each other out loud, she learned that they had started working at the department store on the same day. It took a few weeks for her to notice him. Maybe Appliances involved more training than generic checkout. Maybe she just hadn’t paid attention.

But after she saw him, after she realized she was unconsciously tracking him across the store, she knew it was only a matter of time. She knew she was in trouble.

That was before any of the emails. Before she tracked down his name and found excuses to talk about the intricacies of the hierarchy between departments just to mention him. Before she called him anything but That Really Cute Guy in Appliances in her head.

After that but before he replied to the first email she thought something had changed. It wasn’t exactly that he noticed her. Girls who got noticed never had these problems. They were handed phone numbers. They were asked out on dates.

Alice didn’t get noticed. In particularly bleak moments she wondered if Dorothy Parker had been right about boys and girls who wear glasses. Girls Who Got Noticed never seemed to wear glasses. They didn’t have complicated crushes that lasted for months only to fall apart like a spectacularly elaborate house of cards.

So no. Nick didn’t notice her. But he did start talking to her. He did, it seemed for a while at least, seek her out. But maybe that’s something any handsome guy would do. (No matter how much she tried to drive home the idea of the premature baldness, Alice could not deny that Nick was attractive. It was a pointless exercise.) And what attractive person doesn’t want to be adored?

She never put much stock in books that talked about characters blushing until those heady early weeks. She must have looked like a lobster from the way her cheeks heated up when he so much as smiled at her.

The problem with having a painful crush on someone you only see in passing at work, though, was that it’s hard to get to know a person that way. It was hard, Alice learned, to find anything to talk about that didn’t make her sound like a blathering idiot.

He kept coming back though so maybe that was all right. After so much waiting, maybe something was going to happen. Maybe, for once, Alice (wildly hoped) she would actually be Noticed.

But Nick was transferred instead. To Electronics. In another store on the opposite end of town.

That’s when she sent the first email. When he wrote back. When they finally both knew the other’s name.

She sent the second email a little later. When she was sure he was well and truly away and the crushed seemed well and truly pointless. When she thought she had nothing to lose because being brave seemed like a grand idea and pride seemed like a small thing to risk.

He was transferred back the week after that. Of course. After the second email asked him out and admitted that she had Noticed him for quite some time. But maybe that was obvious all along with her lobster red cheeks and incoherent speech and the way she politely refused to acknowledge the bald spot even existed. (In hindsight and with just a little bitterness she can admit now that the bald spot was, in fact, significant in size.)

After he came back, for a little while anyway, it seemed like something might happen. She added more cards to her card-house-crush and she thought for once it might stay strong. She made plans. She had hopes. She named things she wouldn’t usually talk about like that loneliness and want that hindsight are making her feel so acutely right now.

She wondered, briefly and fantastically, if this was what it felt like to be Noticed the way all of her friends who did not wear glasses or have elaborate crushes seemed to be Noticed.

But it wasn’t like that.

Two weeks after he came back, three after she sent that reckless second email, and he never said a word to her. He waved the one time she passed him on her way to the register. They looked at each other quite a few times across the cavernous aisle that separated the bank of registers from Appliances. Once, she was so so sure he was going to walk over. But he never did any of those things. He never emailed even though Alice was sure it would have been the easiest thing in the world.

Suddenly, in such a short time, all of the potential and hope fizzled away to uncertainty and confusion as Alice wondered how she could have possibly been so wrong. Again.

That’s when she sent the third email. And she isn’t proud of that. But pride, it turns out, really is the first thing to go when emotions start to run high.

There were a lot of things she wanted to say to him. A lot of questions to ask, if she was being honest. Instead she kept it simple and she tried to stay civil. She didn’t talk about how many hopes she had pinned to him. She didn’t admit that the idea of being Noticed seemed so much more exciting that noticing someone. She didn’t even hint at the weeks of silence. Instead she went to his email—the only one he had sent when everything still seemed about to happen—and she hit reply again. She didn’t think too hard before she wrote that he could have just said no. He could have given her that small dignity of acknowledgement.

 

***

Alice waits another week before she gives up. For real this time. Then she carefully picks everything up and hides it away. Deep. She deletes the one email he wrote to her. She deletes her replies too. She doesn’t need them to remember that she tried. She doesn’t want them to remind her that it didn’t work.

Eventually his eyes don’t seem quite as bright. And his hair really is short because of the bald spot. He is still handsome, perspective can only change so much, but not in a painful way. Not in a way that makes her heart ache anymore.

She pushes it all aside and reminds herself that she has nothing to be sad about. She tries and succeeds when she tells herself it doesn’t hurt now. She tells herself there are more important things and she is going to find them soon. Maybe they’ll even Notice her.

She tells herself all of that and she believes it because, she realizes with beautiful clarity, that it’s true.

That is what she’s thinking, with a small smile just for herself not for any crush, when she sees a new message with Nick’s name in her inbox. That is what she is thinking as her cursor slides uncertainly between “open” and “delete.”

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Letters

Prompt: Write a ghost story. 

She sat down at her desk. She pulled out her monogrammed stationary. She uncapped her favorite black pen. She pulled her hair out of her way over one shoulder, set pen to paper and began to write him a letter.

He never replied. She had been writing him long enough to know he likely never would. There was a certain freedom in that. She felt she could tell him all of her secrets. Even if he did read them, he would never judge her. Not, perhaps, because he was as perfect as she imagined, but because he would never reply. It was enough.

“I think I’ve loved you for my entire life,” she wrote before signing her name.

She closed the red door of her house and walked out to the mailbox on the corner and slipped the letter inside. It was mid-afternoon with sunlight so bright her pale skin seemed transparent. She nodded to the old woman walking her dog. The woman studiously ignored her, instead keeping her eyes on the phone in her hand. The old woman’s dog growled and barked until the old woman tugged on his leash and they moved further down the street.

Every day, she sat down at her desk. She pulled out her monogrammed stationary. She uncapped her favorite black pen. She pulled her hair out of her way over one shoulder, set pen to paper and began to write him a letter.

She told him about her life in the drafty old house. There used to be other occupants but it had been a long time since she had seen them. They had moved, she supposed. She imagined other people might be lonely. She imagined she should be lonely. But she had her house and she had her letters. It felt like enough.

“I don’t remember what it’s like to be around other people,” she wrote. “I think I’ve loved you for my entire life,” she finished before signing her name.

She moved through the red doorway of her house. She walked out to the mailbox on the corner and slipped the letter inside. It was cloudy and nearly dusk. The darkening skies seemed to pull the light away from everything, even her already pale skin so that she almost glowed. She nodded to the old woman walking her dog. The woman studiously ignored her, instead keeping her eyes on the phone in her hand. The old woman’s dog growled and barked when she tried to pet him. The old woman tugged on his leash and they moved further down the street.

The next day, she sat down at her desk. She pulled out her monogrammed stationary. She uncapped her favorite black pen. She pulled her hair out of her way over one shoulder, set pen to paper and began to write him a letter.

Her pen stopped writing in the middle of her letter. She stared at it for a moment. She couldn’t remember the last time she had needed a new pen. She didn’t know if she had any others. She looked around, disoriented, and wondered for a moment if there was something she was missing. But she had a letter to write.

She set pen back to paper and kept writing. “I feel lost,” she wrote, “and I’m not sure why. Is there somewhere else I should be?” She didn’t expect a reply from him and found no answers in her own mind. “I think I’ve loved you for my entire life,” she finished before signing her name.

The red door offered no resistance as she passed through. She walked out to the mailbox on the corner and slipped the letter inside. It was late by then. She had been delayed by the pen running out of ink. She didn’t remember getting a new one, but she had the letter in her hand so it must have been fine. There was no old woman and no dog. She found she missed them. She slid the letter into the box and drifted back home.

It was too dark to see the eye peering at her from behind a living room curtain. She would have ignored it if she had seen it though. It was getting early and she had a letter to write.

The girl in the living waited until the ghost disappeared through the front door of the house with the red door. Everyone knew about the ghost and pretended they didn’t. Her grandfather was the only one who talked about it—a legend passed down from postman to postman and, sometimes, to curious granddaughters.

They said that the ghost was the woman who used to own the house with the red door. She and her husband moved there after their honeymoon. Before her husband was drafted and deployed.

She told him she would write every day, a promise she kept obsessively. Even after he was declared MIA in Burgundy. Even after V Day and the search for his remains was abandoned.

The way her grandfather told the story, the woman died of a broken heart. But she kept writing. Every day. Waiting for his husband to find his way back to her. If the mailbox on the corner ever seemed cold to the touch, or the air held a sharper bite, he said it meant the woman was mailing her latest letter.

Sometimes her grandfather had even found an envelope in the box. No return address, nothing on the envelope save for a too-old stamp and a name. Her grandfather had never opened the envelopes because he was a professional. The girl had, though. She steamed one open to find a page so faded it was nearly blank. At the bottom, slightly darker than the other words on the page, the girl could make out the words “I think I’ve loved you for my entire life.”

The girl stared at the opened letter now. She could just make out the ghost’s name with a magnifying glass and some guesswork.

She sat down at her desk. She pulled out her white stationary. She uncapped a blue pen. She pushed her bangs off her face, set pen to paper. Carefully, in her neatest handwriting, she wrote: “He’s waiting for you. It’s time to move on.”

The girl sealed the envelope and walked to the house with the red door. She didn’t know if the ghost checked her own mail; her grandfather had no reason to deliver mail to the vacant house nor any useful stories.

The girl squared her shoulders and walked up to the red door. She slipped her note through the mail slot in the front door and stayed for a moment to listen. The house was dark so she would never be sure, but she thought she saw a shadow move past the front window and heard a sound like an envelope being torn open.

The girl was certain, however, that she heard a slow sigh before she peered through the mail slot and saw her note and its envelope float back down to the floor.

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The Lies You Tell

Prompt: A lie that gets bigger and bigger

Lying is a tricky thing. It takes practice and just a hint of sincerity. You have to commit to the lie. Which is something bad liars never seem to understand. You have to tell a lie until you can recite it in your sleep. You have to say it out loud. You have to make every lie so beautiful it will break a person’s heart just to hear it.

You can never believe the lies you tell. Not really. When you start to believe your own lies, the only heart that will break is your own.

Fool that I am, I thought that rule wouldn’t apply to me. I was wrong.

Some people have faces that pull others toward them like magnets. He had that kind of face, beak of a nose and all. Some people have voices so striking that everyone stops to listen when they speak. His voice was like that, sharp enough to cut through the noise around him and still smooth like butter.

But maybe you already know what he’s like. Maybe you can imagine and I don’t need to say anything else.

I suppose everyone had to love him, just a little. That’s how it started for me, slightly dazzled but distant enough that it felt harmless.

He breezed into my life, my town, like a whirlwind. He left chaos in his wake until it all righted itself and it felt like he’d always been there as a clerk in the bank.

He flirted with everyone. He talked to everyone. We all knew. You probably noticed yourself. But it never felt like that. It felt like you were the only person he saw. I never knew what it meant in a book when a heroine said she blushed uncontrollably until the first time I had to stammer through a conversation with him.

I told myself it didn’t matter. That was the first time I lied to myself.

It’s almost imperceptible sometimes, when someone starts to matter dreadfully. My eyes began to track his movements across the bank whenever I was there. I started to watch for him. Wish for him. I didn’t even know his name.

I barely had savings and little need for a bank. Still, I found excuses to be in there almost every day. Loose change to trade for bills. A quick deposit when the ATM had a line. Inquiries about new account options. Any reason I could take. Speaking to him was the best, of course, because it always felt like something could happen. If he was busy–or worse not there–I would finish my business and get on with my day. If I managed to catch his eye before I left all the better.

I told myself it didn’t matter so much, either way. That was the second time I lied to myself.

The problem with lying to yourself is that it becomes much harder to keep track of the truth. It’s easy to get lost.

He always had a smile for me and, on one sensational day I won’t soon forget, a wink. I didn’t stop to think it might mean anything. The line between fantasy and reality was already too blurred for that. I could imagine any number of sensational scenarios. It wouldn’t change the fact that he was paid to be affable and polite. It wouldn’t change the fact that he didn’t know my name.

I wouldn’t know it for some time but those turned out to be the biggest lies I ever told.

I was near the bank just after closing. Not to see him, for once. I was finishing my own shift at the supermarket–one of the few places in town that would hire high school students when I started applying that fall. I was a senior waiting for graduation to finally roll around. He caught up to me while I waited as the bus stop.

Despite all of my surprise visits to the bank, I was still shocked to see him outside its walls, out from behind the big counter where all of the tellers stood. His hair was still carefully combed but he had on a t-shirt now instead of the button down shirts all of the men at the bank had to wear. It was a few seconds before I realized I was staring at his upper arms, at the curve of his neck without a collar obstructing it.

He pulled off his sunglasses to smile at me. I wished, desperately, that there was a bench at the bus stop as I was no longer certain my legs could continue holding me.

“I see you in the bank all the time.”

I nodded dumbly before I replied, ever so witty, “Finances are very important.”

His teeth were so white when he smiled that I immediately forgot how idiotic I must sound.

“So, this is embarrassing because you’re always at the bank, but I don’t know your name.”

He stood so close to me that I could see the stubble beginning to shadow his jaw. It made him look older–the way he was supposed to look, I realized with a shock–not the fresh-faced boy who had been inhabiting my imagination for months.

“I’m Isabel,” I said slowly. “Isabel Downes.” As soon as I said it, I regretted giving him my full name.

“Such a proper name.” Another smile. He stepped closer to me which didn’t seem possible when he was already the only thing I could see. I had spent so long willing him to talk to me like this at the bank. It was only now, when it was actually happening, that I stopped to wonder why he would possibly have anything to say to me.

I licked my lips, nervous and not sure why. “Shouldn’t you tell me your name now?”

“Don’t you think we’ll have plenty of time for that?”

“My mother told me I should never talk to strangers,” I said with a smile as if I were flirting. Another lie, this one too small to even track.

“My name’s Ian,” he grinned this time, all sharp teeth and wants I couldn’t quite name. His eyes roved down to my chest for one beat too long before he finished. “Ian Johannes Abbington.”

I smiled back tightly. His gaze shifted to the bus that was coming. I tugged the neckline of my top a bit higher. Not that it mattered. The shirt, I realized, wasn’t too low cut at all. I tugged on the red sweater I had in my bag, buttoning it despite the heat.

As the bus doors opened in front of us, I tried to think of reasons to walk away. It suddenly felt like too much. He was too close to me. He was too happy to see me. It was too fast despite my own efforts to speed things along. A bead of sweat trickled down my back under the sweater as he gently took hold of my elbow before I could move away.

“Now that we’re not strangers, I think we’ll have a lot to talk about on the ride.”

I stared at him as we moved toward the bus door. The way the night might go unfolded before me. It could be everything I had wanted so badly since the day I saw him. More even, if his behavior was any indication. Or it could be a disaster. The worst mistake I would ever make.

I still wasn’t sure as I followed him onto the bus.

He waved me into a window seat before settling himself beside me, his arm already around my shoulders. “I always like meeting new people,” he said as the bus lurched forward.

“Oh, so do I,” I replied automatically as I watched the bus stop get smaller and smaller in the window.

It was hard to tell, with so much good humor and so many smiles, which of us was lying.

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The Day After

Prompt: A conversation with a stranger.

“What if I told you I might be falling for you?” he asked as they walked toward the entrance to the subway.

Strolling near the park should have been romantic. The perfect ending to a day of adventure and surprises. It could have been, if she let it. But she already had what she needed from him. Even without knowing each other’s names or any personal information, she already felt like he knew too much. She felt like he had come much too close.

“That isn’t going to happen. You don’t even know me.” She pushed her glasses higher on her nose.

“I know enough,” he said, as he pushed a tendril of her red hair behind her ear.

They walked into the subway in silence. He already knew they were going in opposite directions. She’d made sure to tell him that much.

His train was first. She stood with him near the top of the stairs. She took his hands. “You aren’t going to fall for me. You don’t love me. After tomorrow you never will.”

“What are you talking about?”

A train had come. She timed her reply with the onslaught of people. “None of this, nothing today, had anything to do with you.” She let go of his hands. “You had something I needed. I have it now. That’s all this ever was.”

She moved away and disappeared down a set of stairs before he could follow. It didn’t surprise her when she found him staring at her across the tracks. Nothing about him surprised her. Not after today.

“I don’t understand. Why did you do this? Why would you tell me?” he shouted at her, voice stricken.

She remembered when she kissed him, hours ago, probably harder than she should have. Definitely longer. She remembered forcing her hands out of his hair, her body away from his.

She couldn’t kiss him now. Not with an entire set of subway tracks between them. Her glasses were dirty and she could barely see him across the platform. She knew he was upset. But she could only guess at his face. Was he angry? Sad? She wondered if he would look for her as she yelled back, “Because we’re never going to see each other again!”

Her train was coming. She heard the rumbling and saw the gleaming light moving out of the tunnel. He finally noticed the train a moment after her. She watched him turn toward the tunnel.

“I’ll remember you!” he called when he realized he was running out of time. “I’ll remember today and I’ll remember you! I don’t believe it meant nothing!”

“I am sorry! Believe that at least!”

The train came then. It was too late to say anything else. It had always been too late.

She walked into the train car. He watched her, offered a feeble wave. She put her hand against the glass and smiled at him. She didn’t know if he saw it. She couldn’t tell if he watched the train as it left the station or if he would try to follow her. He wouldn’t find her. She knew that much for certain.

She left her glasses on the train when she got off at the next stop. Her vision cleared without the dirty lenses. For the first time all day she could see properly.

She waited until she was in the middle of a crowd before she pulled off the red wig. Her own dark hair was already in a bun. She threw her green sweater into the trash as she wove her way through the station to a different train. She kept her purse. It had the clone of his cell phone—the one that would clear all the obstacles that stood in her way. Tomorrow night she’d use it to buy her freedom. Then she would walk away.

She would sell the phone as promised. There had never been a choice about that. But she also knew she would save the information somewhere. Just for her.

He could try to look for her. Part of her hoped that he would. But he wouldn’t find her. It was much too late for that.

But maybe the day after would be early enough for her to try to find him.

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Notes in Books

Prompt: Write a story that is 500 words or less.

Notes in Books

I stand awkwardly in the cafe wondering if she’s here yet.

In my last note I said I would be wearing a blue sundress and a hot pink cardigan. Check.

I considered going for a brighter, more obvious dress–what if the cafe is hot and I have to take off the cardigan?–but my only other clean dress was the yellow one from Aunt Maureen. Aunt Maureen still thinks I share her and mom’s pale complexion instead of dad’s brown skin and crazy curly hair. She somehow missed that yellow does nothing but wash me out so I look sick, sick, sick.

I look around when the door chimes as it opens.

In her last note my friend said that she would have a purple shirt and a black twirling skirt. I’m still not sure what that means but I think it’s probably a dirndl skirt.

We’ve moved onto writing each other postcards and letters but this all started with a sticky note in my favorite book at the library.

I always leave notes when I’m browsing at the library.

I never thought someone would write back.

When I opened the book three months ago a note fell into my hand.

Sometimes I left my notes in the middle. Or at the very last page.

“This book saved me life,” I wrote once. “It felt like nothing was going to be right ever again. But then this book was perfect. And slowly, so slowly, it started to feel like other things could be okay–maybe even perfect–too. I hope you loved it. I hope you’re okay.”

It was that same copy–I recognized the torn and wrinkled dust jacket.

I stared at the note in my hand and then the book before I turned to the last page. The sticky note I left was still there. It still declared that this book saved me and it was still true.

On the folded paper was an address and in thick, blocky capital letters the words THANK YOU.

I added another sticky note beneath the original.

“You’re welcome.” Beneath my note I wrote my address before I could talk myself out of it. I placed the book back on the shelf.

Her name is Olivia and she told me her family is Mexican by way of Newark. We are both avid readers and she might be my best friend. This is the first time we’ll ever meet.

We exchanged numbers last week when we settled the details. I am clutching my phone wondering if she will call to say she’s arrived.

Or maybe send a text to say she changed her mind.

The door chimes as it opens. I hear a girl shout “Lisa!” as she runs toward me, a blur of black and purple. She crashes into me, her arms already hugging me.

I smile.

“I’m so happy to finally meet you!”

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