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Prompt: A promise made and/or broken.

When my parents died six years ago Poppy was the only family I had left. And at that time, he was barely that. But still, without hesitation, he took me in. And he provided me with, not only the basics, but so much more. Poppy loved me unconditionally right from the very start.

It didn’t matter to him that my existence was news to him. It didn’t matter that we first met the day my parents were being buried in the cold ground. He loved me.

Truth be told,  I didn’t love Poppy. Not at first. I barely knew this man who seemed to have more hair sprouting from his ears rather than from the top of his head. For twelve years, he was a mystery I never dared question. But as days turned into months, and months turned into years I grew to love Poppy. I loved him like I have never, ever loved before. After all, he became the father I never really had the chance to have.

Of course we had our ups and downs. Poppy had a temper and I had a stubborn streak. But we always made it through – and never went to bed angry with one another. Even when life wasn’t great, it was good.

Until the day the doctor told us that Poppy was sick. The world stopped revolving, and as the doctor talked my heart barely beat.

Poppy had early onset dementia – a disease that would eventually strip Poppy of his memories. As time went by, the illness would progress from dementia into full-blown Alzheimer’s disease.

The doctor talked about the different stages that both Poppy and I would experience. He talked about medications that would, not cure, but would prolong the disease’s progression. He talked and he talked. But the only think I was hearing was the Poppy could, and would probably forget everything and everyone … including me.

I decided then and there that I’d make the most of my time with Poppy. I would do everything in my power to take care of him the way he took care of me when I needed him most. That meant, dropping out of school a few months shy of graduating. That meant putting my life on pause in order to give him the fullest one possible. That meant breaking a promise I swore – to both myself and to him – that I’d keep.

After having found out that he was sick, Poppy sat me down to have a heart to heart. We were sitting in a cracked vinyl booth of our favorite diner. Both of us pushing food around our plates. Poppy’s fish and chips were getting cold, and the cheese on my bacon cheeseburger was starting to harden.

“Kiddo, listen. I know this is a lot to process. And I know the gears in your head are already fast at work thinking about what you can do to make this better. There is nothing to make this better.”

“You don’t know that,” I responded quietly.

“There are things we need to talk about — things I need to say and you need to hear.”

“I don’t want to talk about this.”

“You don’t have a choice. I’ve never been stern with you Ginny, but I’m putting my foot down.”

“Fine,” I huffed.

“There’s money in an account. There is enough to cover my expenses at the Cherry Blossom nursing home.,” he started, but I stopped him before he went any further.

“Stop talking like this, I’m not putting you in a home.”

“You don’t have a choice in this, I refuse to be a burden.”

“You’re my grandfather, it’s my responsibility to take care of you,” I argued.

“No, it’s my responsibility to take care of you kiddo. And I won’t be able to do that for much longer. When the time comes, I want you to take that money and check me into the home. My name is already on the waiting list.”

He wanted me to promise him, but I refused. He didn’t press the issue, but I knew this wasn’t the end of this discussion.

He continued, “The house is yours, everything in it, and the property it sits on. I’ve already had the deed put in your name.”

“It won’t be much of a home without you,” I said quietly.

“It was never a home until you move in kiddo. But I need you to promise me something.”

“Anything, Poppy,” I said without a hint of hesitation. He could have asked to me knock off the local liquor store, and I would have gladly. I would do anything and everything for this man, and he knew that.

“Promise me that that house will always be your home, always Ginny.”

I couldn’t fathom why he would want me to promise such a thing when he already knew that that house was more than a house that sat upon a pebble driveway. That house was home, and would forever be my home.

“I promise, Pop.”

—-

At the time I swore I could keep such a promise. After all, it wasn’t a difficult one. But after a time, it seemed like with each passing day a little bit of Poppy’s memory slipped. Before long, I faced reality: I couldn’t take care of him any longer.

The first few days after leaving him in that place was hell. I cried until I couldn’t cry any more. But eventually I learned to live on my own in that big empty house that sat upon a pebble driveway. I learned to function like a normal human being – working during the day, visiting Poppy at night.

Money was tight and emotions were high, but I thought I was doing okay. Sure I was a few payments behind  on a bill or two, but it was nothing I couldn’t handle. I had already handled my worst nightmare. But when the bank sent notice that because of one  too many missed payment, they were foreclosing on the house.

I begged. I pleaded. And I borrowed for anyone who would lend me a dime. But it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t enough to save me, to save the house, to save the only promise I ever made.

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A Promise Kept

Prompt: A promise made and/or broken.

A Promise Kept

My name is Lilac Dupree and I always keep my promises.

The man I want to kill barely spares me a glance as I pass him on the street. Violet laments the duration of our extended mourning period and bemoans the black crepes and silks that comprise our entire wardrobes. I’ve reminded her several times that it is only a matter of weeks until we can transition to half mourning when she’ll be able to wear some of her precious mauves again. She hardly cares.

No matter. Mourning attire suits my purposes just fine. People rarely pay any notice to a young woman bedecked in black from head to toe. Even the men keen to spot a well-turned ankle coming out of a carriage quickly avert their eyes when they see that ankle is covered by a black dress. Their eyes quickly pass over any pretty face obscured by a black bonnet or parasol. It helps, I think, that the black does little for my complexion beyond washing me out to a sickly pallor against my dark hair.

In mourning I am able to all but disappear. And I need to disappear if I want to exact my revenge.

The man I want to kill walks the city for most of the afternoon. I am grateful for the work boots I borrowed from Josiah and the way that they blend with the black of my skirt and petticoat. He won’t appreciate the strength of my need, or the absence of his boots, when he needs to muck out the stables. But I can hardly be blamed because Mother took the opportunity of transitioning the house into mourning to also transition my own sturdy boots into the trash. Mother claims young women of quality should always wear appropriate footwear. I would like to see Mother tromping around New York City’s cobblestones in her boots with their spool heels. At any rate I could hardly be expected to accomplish anything in such boots. Luckily Josiah is but eleven and has not yet hit his growth spurt. I only needed one extra pair of socks to make his boots fit.

If I didn’t know better I would say the man appears melancholy, morose even. I linger near a window when he walks into a corner pub. The sun is setting. It is the first time I have been out near dusk without a chaperone. I instructed Violet to tell mother I was dining with the Peabodys and staying with their daughter Olivia for the evening. I can only hope the two dollars I gave her with the promise of a new jet bead purse will help to make her a better liar.

My black dress blends into the shadows until I can scarcely tell where one stops and the other starts. Unfortunately it does little to help me blend in. Unattended women are not supposed to venture this far downtown, certainly not this close to the water. The anonymity I enjoyed in the bright afternoon light is quickly morphing into unwanted attention and lingering stares that make my skin crawl.

Just when I begin to question the wisdom of my outing, the man I want to kill exits the pub and passes entirely too close to where I am loitering near the entrance. His eyes are glassy with drink and I sag gratefully with relief when he passes me without a second glance. I lift my skirts to my ankles so that I can follow him more quickly down the street as he rushes through the intersection.

With only a rough idea of where I am in relation to the family brownstone, I can little afford to get lost tonight. I can worry more fully about how to get home after I exact my revenge. I quicken my pace again as the man begins moving east.

My father was murdered eleven months ago. He was a respected banker and much loved by his wife and his two daughters. Everyone says it is a tragedy—his life shot down far too soon. No one knows why anyone would have wanted to kill him. No one knows that I was on my way to meet Father when he was shot.

From across the street I watched the tableau unfold as Father raised his hands in the air before being pushed to the ground by the force of the bullet striking his chest. The street became a throng of people then, a mob of gawkers and Samaritans alike trying to get to Father while still others panicked and tried to run in the opposite direction.

My feet felt rooted to the spot as I watched a man taking in the scene. Our eyes met across the street before he began walking briskly through the mob.

No one stopped him. No one, I realized later, saw him. In that moment I promised myself that I would find him and I would get justice for my father.

I keep my eyes on his brown jacket now as he moves through the street. His red hair is easy to spot in the gloaming—a bright spot in the otherwise darkening night. It took months to find him, tracing his movements on that day eleven months ago by asking merchants in the area and other witnesses. I had despaired of ever finding him when I noticed him near the bank yesterday skulking from shop to shop looking for work or perhaps just gauging if anyone were tracking his movements. My vigilance was rewarded when I left the house early this morning and was able to follow him from the bank all the way downtown to here.

I stop abruptly at a corner to avoid barreling into the man. I’m not a fool. I know I cannot confront him in the middle of a crowded street. My hope, as he winds his way through the streets of the Bowery, is that I might find whatever rooming house he is calling home so that I might enter his room. I grasp my clutch in both hands. After I get him alone, Mother’s pearl handled revolver will do the rest.

It is full dark now. I can only hope we are near his destination. Already my attire is drawing stares amidst the poverty of this neighborhood. Women here have no money to spare for full mourning and women who can do not walk alone at night. I am drawing unwanted attention. The part of my mind not occupied with watching the man’s progress begins to worry how I will get home in one piece much less unnoticed.

The man rounds a corner and I follow quickly down an alley. The only light comes from a door that has been wedged open with a discarded brick. It is not enough to illuminate the man I have been following where he hides in the shadows. I walk into his hard chest before I realize what has happened. His hands clamp around my arms before I can think to back away. No one knows where I am or what I had planned today. Not even my little sister Violet. For the first time since I began my search, I realize I have been the worst kind of fool.

The man turns me so that we are both closer to the light. I am surprised when I see that his eyes are concerned and not at all glassy after his time in the pub. Instead his gaze is shrewd. His hold on me loosens when something like recognition passes across his face.

I waste no time reaching for my clutch. The effect is somewhat ruined by the way my hands shake as I pull Mother’s revolver out of my clutch. “You killed my father.” I raise the revolver until it points to his chest.

“We both know you aren’t going to shoot me, Miss Dupree.”

“You don’t know anything about me,” I say as I fumble with the hammer on the back of the revolver. Much to my horror it catches on the lace of my glove. He stares at me a moment before he easily palms the revolver.

“I know many things about you, Miss Dupree. Including the fact that you placed yourself in great personal peril by following me today,” he says as he places the revolver into his jacket pocket.

I open my mouth to deliver a choice retort when a more pertinent question occurs to me. “How do you know my name?”

“Why do you think I killed your father?” he replies as he leans against one of the alley walls, eyeing me warily the entire time.

“I saw you there. You looked at me, calm as you please, before walking away. What else would you have been doing there?”

He clenches his jaw and stares at something just above my shoulder. “What would you say, Miss Dupree, if I told you that I had been hired to protect your father?”

“I’d say you did a miserable job of it for starters!” I reply indignantly.

“No one would argue that point,” he says with a shake of his head. He returns his focus to me. “My name is Cormac Breen. Your father had reason to believe his life was in danger and he hired me to provide some measure of protection.”

“I dare say you’ve been out of work for the better part of this year then,” I snap. “And I will need that revolver back, Mr. Breen. My mother will miss it.” I hold out my hand for the gun.

“You’ll get it back when I know you won’t try to shoot me again.”

“I thought you said we both knew I wouldn’t shoot you,” I reply caustically. “Changing your mind already, Mr. Breen?”

“Let’s just say I hadn’t heard about the elder Miss Dupree’s temper. As to the matter of my employ: Your father paid generously and I dislike failing. I have been conducting an investigation into your father’s shooting.”

“Wouldn’t that fall into the jurisdiction of the police department?”

“It would,” he says with a nod. “Which is why it’s fortunate that I was only moonlighting for your father.” He lifts the lapel of his jacket to show me a badge. “It’s actually Detective Breen, if you would be so kind, Miss Dupree,” he adds with a smile that is entirely too flattering to his overall countenance.

I do not smile back. “It would seem to me,” I say after a moment, “that between your so-called moonlighting and your official job with the police department that you might have found answers long before now.”

Detective Breen leans forward unexpectedly; close enough for me to see the green of his eyes and the ghost of stubble along his jaw. I take a careful step back as he says, “What would you say, Miss Dupree, if I told you that your father’s death is but the beginning of a conspiracy I am only now beginning to fully grasp?”

“My father was just a banker, Detective,” I say with a scoff as I wonder if Bellevue is missing one of its inmates.

“I assure you I am deadly serious, Miss Dupree. Your father was involved with something that got him killed. I intend to find out what.”

“And what does any of that have to do with me?”

He takes a step closer so that now I am the one against a wall. He has an excited gleam in his eye as he answers my question. “A police detective can only go so far in your family’s world. Particularly an Irish one. You, however, have no such barriers and have already proven yourself an adequate investigator. Since you are so keen to avenge your father and clearly have no regard for your personal welfare in the process, I may be persuaded to accept your assistance so that I can keep my eye on you and assure that another tragedy does not befall your family.”

I stare at him for a moment.

He takes my hand and places the revolver in it. “What do you say, Miss Dupree?” he asks as he holds his hand out to me.

I place the revolver into my clutch again before I reply. I already know my answer. I suppose I’ve known since Detective Breen told me what he was really doing. I suspect he knows as well.

“I promised myself I would find out what really happened to my father, Detective Breen. And I always keep my promises.”

We seal the bargain with a handshake before I can change my mind.

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Fried

Prompt: Write a story inspired by an image of your choice (found online).

summer-sidewalk-hot-enough-to-fry-egg_shutterstock_14073988

“I’m bored,” Callie whined as she folded a torn out magazine page into a fan. “It’s hot. Let’s go inside.”

“You’re always bored, Callie.” I replied absent-mindedly. It’s true, Callie is always bored. Always buzzing from one activity to the next, she has never followed through on anything. Except being my friend — best friend.

“Come on, Lizzie! Let’s do something fun!” She squeals from the lounge chair next to me.  I barely look up from my magazine. Something fun equals me getting in trouble.

“Want to jump in the pool?” I suggest. “We could play Marco Polo.”

“Marco Polo is lame with only two people.”

“We can play UNO.”

“Even lamer than Marco Polo.”

Exhausted from this conversation, I sigh. “Than what would you suggest? And don’t say watching TV.”

“Oh! I know! Let’s play mad science!”

I don’t like the sound of mad science. The last time I played one of Callie’s made up game, we ending up blowing the door of my microwave and breaking my mother’s favorite coffee mug. I was grounded for an entire month. Even worse than being grounded was the fact that I had to take all of my life savings to buy a new microwave.

“I’m not in the mood to blow up the microwave again.”

“We’ll think up a new science experiment! And I promise we won’t blow anything up.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“Let’s play a joke on Simon!” She says enthusiastically. Simon, my older brother who’s home from college, hates to be bothered. From August to May he studies furiously. He’s been a straight A student since he came out of the womb. Or at least that’s what I’m told. However, any break or day off he sends furiously gaming.

“You know Simon doesn’t like to be bothered. Besides he’s in the middle of some big quest or something. Dork!”

“Come on Lizzie! Please!”

I don’t want to admit this to her, but playing mad science would be better than what we’re currently doing. She stares me, making that sad puppy dog face that she knows will sucker me into any one of her crazy ideas.

“Let’s play handball,” I suggest. I rule at handball. “My mom just bought me these purple tennis balls!”

“You know I don’t like handball. I have no hand eye coordination. And beside the last time we played you whacked the ball so hard it bounced off the garage door and whacked me smack in the nose. I had two black eyes thanks to you.”

“That was an accident. I still feel terrible about that. I promise I’ll go easy.”

She shakes her head. Callie has never been athletic. Her idea of organized sports is shopping at Macy’s on black Friday. It’s reasons like this that make Callie and I best friends. We’re complete opposites. The only thing we have in common is that we were once the new kids at school.

“What about extreme hop scotch,” I say enthusiastically. Extreme hop scotch was a game that Callie and I invented last summer. Instead of eight boxes we made our board with sixteen. And with each toss of the shooter we didn’t just jump – we created different ways to get to the end of the board. One of the ways was by slapping on a pair of old school roller skates and jumping to the end of the board. It was a good idea until I fell, hard and broke my ankle.

“Yeah, let’s play that again. Maybe this time I’ll break my ankle,” she says sarcastically.

I give up. I wave my white flag of surrender.

“Fine, let’s play made science,” I say. After all, I’m just as bored as she is.   “What’s the plan?”

“Mom was telling me about something her and Aunt Jeanie used to do when they were little,”

“You mean, younger. Both your mom and your Aunt Jeanie are short,” I say with a chuckle.

“Don’t get technical,” she huffs. “Anyways, they used to fry eggs on the sidewalk.”

“That’s impossible Callie. Not to mention a waste of a perfectly good egg!”

“You don’t even like eggs, so what do you care if it’s a waste.”

“It’s not that I don’t like them, I’m allergic.”

“Still, who cares. It’s only a few eggs.”

I don’t know why I give in so easily. “Fine, but we can’t use the eggs in the fridge.”

“Why not?”

“They’re old. Like super old. We were supposed to color them for easter. Instead they were shoved to the back and forgotten about. So, yeah. Rotten eggs on a hot day … yuck!”

“Let’s go to the store. Do you have any money?”

“No, but I know someone who does.”

“Who?” she asks.

“Simon. He leaves money in his pants pockets all the time. Mom hasn’t done laundry yet, so I bet we could scrounge up a few bucks. Maybe even enough for eggs and a slushy.”

We head inside and into the laundry room. At the top of the hamper I spy a few pairs of Simon’s shorts at the top. Score! I reach in and pull out a camo cargo pair. There are many pockets. The more pockets, the more bank. I reach my hand into the first pocket and find only pennies. In the back pocket I find lint and a partially ripped dollar bill.

When the cargo shorts proves fruitless, I move onto the pair of jean shorts. Three of the four pockets have used tissues. I’m thoroughly grossed out. The fourth pocket of the shorts, I reach in and find a ten-dollar bill.

“Victory! Ten bucks – enough for eggs, slushies, and then some.” I announce waving the money in front of Callie’s face.

We walk to the quick mart. The cool air circulating from the overhead vents blasts us as we walk in. The store isn’t the best – it’s kind of dirty, the customers are sketchy, and you have to check the expiration dates on everything – even the water. We wave at Tammy, the check out girl. She’s flipping through one of those books with the half-naked guys on the front cover.

“Hey girls,” she calls from the counter. “Cherry slushy machine is broken, only blue raspberry works.”

We nod in Tammy’s general direction as we make our way to the refrigerated section. We’re scanning the coolers looking for eggs. When we finally find them, we dig out a carton that isn’t expired or doesn’t contain any cracked eggs. We also get a jumbo sized blue raspberry slushy to share, a pack of strawberry pop rocks to pour into said slushy, as much junk food as the remaining five dollars can buy.

Once home, we stand on the sidewalk an egg in each hand.

“Do you think we should use some of that spray oil?”

“For what?” I ask.

“So it doesn’t stick.”

“You’re not going to actually eat this egg, are you?” I say with just a hint of disgust in my voice. She doesn’t answer me. I can see the gears turning in her head. She’s actually considering eating the egg. “Callie, you are not eating the egg. It’s disgusting! Do you know what kind of things happen on the sidewalk?! People’s dirty shoes trample all over it. There are bugs. Animals go to the bathroom on the sidewalk.”

“Okay, I won’t eat it.”

“So what do we do? Just crack the egg on the ground?!”

“Basically.”

We find the perfect spot of concrete – no shade with the hot full sun beating violently down on it. I press the palm of my had to the ground to see just how hot the ground is. Picking it up quickly, the ground feels as if it’s on fire. Squatting down side by side, Callie and I tap the hard white shell against the curb. When a think crack appears, we jam our fingers into the shell, and crack it wide open, and let the gooey egg drop. Standing we take a few steps back to make sure our shadows aren’t blocking the sun.  We stare. We wait. We stare and we wait.

Nothing happens. An army of ants consumes the egg. Before long, all there is a sea of tiny black wriggling insects.

“Well, that’s gross,” Callie says, disappointed.

“I don’t think the ground is hot enough. We need something that will conduct enough heat to get a sizzle.”

“Like what?”

“I know!” I say as I run into the house. “Foil! It’s the perfect conductor.”

With foil down, we crack some more eggs. And still  … nothing but ants.

“This is useless,” I say sitting on the drying grass of my front lawn. “I knew this wasn’t going to work,” I mutter to myself. Calling is still looking at the eggs hoping for the slightest simmer.

“I’ve got it! We need more heat!”

“Duh,” I exclaim.

“No, more than the ground and more than the foil. We need a car!” She runs over to Simon’s beat up Jetta. And before I can stop her, she is cracking an egg onto the car’s hood. I run over, intrigued to see if this is actually going to work. After a few seconds we hear a faint crack, pop, and fizzle.

“Callie, you’re a genius!”

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The Tree and the Bicycle

Prompt: Write a story inspired by an image of your choice (found online).

BE3k7BYCcAEvHGdThe Tree and the Bicycle

Everyone knew about the bicycle in the tree.

Local children measured their height against how far they were from it and their bravery by whether they could climb to it. Teenagers at the high school north of town passed along the superstition that touching the bicycle’s tire could bring good luck. The high school to the south believed touching the same tire would give you a broken heart that no love would ever mend.

There were other rumors, of course.

Mrs. Doyle claimed the bicycle belonged to her sister. That she left it chained to a tree before running away in the middle of the night to pursue an acting career in Hollywood. But everyone knew Mrs. Doyle’s sister ran away with a newspaperman with a nasty temper and a drinking habit to match. Everyone knew they eloped and died in a car crash before any kind of honeymoon.

Old Tom Button once suggested the bicycle was left by a boy before he went to join the army. That was too plausible to believe.

The only person who might really remember was Paula Putnam–the oldest woman in town. Busy with her wealth and whatever being ninety-nine might involve, Paula Putnam kept to herself. She did not visit anyone. She did not invite anyone into her mansion. The only time she was seen in town was every Founder’s Day. The pub had an ongoing pool for when Paula Putnam would finally die. Odds were recalculated and bets renewed once she made her appearance. Some people wondered if she would ever die.

Paula Putnam did not waste her breath on idle conversation. But every year at the Founder’s Day dinner she would tell anyone who would listen about waiting at the tree every night for five years to meet her sweetheart. He rode his bicycle over from the neighboring town–one hour each way, she said–just so he could gaze into her bright eyes and try to steal a kiss. For years he told Paula Putnam that he would marry her. For years Paula Putnam told him she was too young to marry anyone, especially a handsome young man with a fine bicycle and little more to his name beyond striking violet eyes.

But then the story got strange. Paula Putnam did get older eventually, as people are wont to do. Her bright eyes got sharper, her face thinner and suitors came calling from all around. But Paula Putnam’s thoughts stayed with the handsome young man and his fine bicycle.

Paula Putnam didn’t notice it at first. It’s hard, she always said, to notice changes in a person when you see them every day. But then Paula Putnam turned twenty-one and that called for parties and dinners and such that she couldn’t get away even for a moment to meet her sweetheart by the tree.

A week passed.

Paula Putnam saw her sweetheart one more time beneath that tree. She always said it wasn’t the same that final time. She always said that absence doesn’t always leave a heart aching although even those who never knew the full story understood that part for the lie it was.

Paula Putnam ended the story the same way each year late into the Founder’s Day dinner. With her walking away while her sweetheart watched from the tree. She looked back once, she said, and saw him there watching. The moonlight cut through the night in such a way that his brown hair seemed to glow red and even with an entire path between them, she saw the hurt in his unusual violet eyes.

Paula Putnam never saw her violet-eyed sweetheart again but the bicycle stayed there. Paula Putnam told the story as if the bicycle were a reminder of her beauty and her discriminating taste. Nothing more. She would not allow herself to consider what she knew she would never have again.

No one ever knew if Paula Putnam could be trusted. Most people thought she could not. Most people were certain her Founder’s Day story, as it came to be called, was just a story. A way for an aging woman to remember what it felt like to be beautiful and young with her entire life ahead of her.

If anyone did believe Paula Putnam’s story, no one admitted it.

Still, everyone wondered about the bicycle in the tree. For years and years they wondered. Like so many things that become a part of town tradition, the bicycle and the tree started to blend in until it was part of the larger backdrop of the town. Sometimes people would walk by the tree, look up, and remember the strange stories.

When Paula Putnam died the local paper published her story. People talked about it for a while. But nothing lasted forever; not rumors or stories and certainly not memories.

Eventually the tree and the bicycle were forgotten.

Gabriel Sullivan waited a very long time for people to forget.

Covering violet eyes or darkening brown hair to black were easy things in this modern age. It was harder, he found, to erase a previous century’s behaviors. It was harder to change a dialect more commonly associated with another time. Aside from which the colored contact lenses always made his eyes ache.

Gabriel was used to waiting. He had gone entire decades doing nothing else and would likely do so again. He waited for Paula Putnam to stop telling her story about her violet-eyed sweetheart with his fine bicycle. When it became obvious she would never stop, he waited instead for her to die.

It was an easy thing, waiting. Gabriel had nothing but time.

Many years ago Gabriel’s tutor told him once that legends rarely knew they would live forever in myth or song. They were just ordinary people, he had said, often leading ordinary lies. His tutor told Gabriel every subject of every legend was dead and gone long before their stories were told.

Back then Gabriel believed his tutor. It was a long time ago and Gabriel believed things much more readily.

Now he walked, a legend of sorts, through the town that had forgotten him.

If anyone had passed Gabriel they would have noticed the cut of his trousers was a bit sharper than most off-the-rack clothes found in the area. They might have thought his coat a bit out of fashion as he walked toward the cemetery, his hairstyle wrong. Odd. They may have wondered why he stared so intently at Paula Putnam’s tombstone. But it was raining and Gabriel was the only one outside. He preferred it that way.

Gabriel had needed to wait longer than he expected to make this trip. The carved name on the tombstone not nearly as sharp as he would have liked. He brushed moss away from the top corner while he said his goodbyes. He placed a ring box in front of the grave. She deserved more but he had nothing else to give.

He stopped, briefly, to stare up at his bicycle.

He remembered the night he left it chained to the tree. Remembered when the tree began to grow around it and pull the bicycle up off the ground. Gabriel had watched it often, from a distance, over the years. The same way he watched Paula Putnam

Staring at it now he remembered her. She was the prettiest girl in town, no one denied that, but she was also the smartest. She was the one Gabriel loved without quite knowing how much it would hurt. It would be many years before he learned to consider consequences so he courted Paula with wild abandon despite being eight years her senior–with flowers and late-night confessions, with stolen kisses that lasted long than would be deemed proper even now in this modern time when women wore trousers and skirts above their knees.

Gabriel had been so used to time working in his favor. It never occurred to him that a week apart would be his undoing.

Paula Putnam had been meeting Gabriel under that tree for five years when she turned twenty-one. Gabriel was used to watching for small changes so even before that night he noticed how Paula Putnam had aged and grown. He never realized until that night how Paula Putnam might notice some things as well.

Staring at him under the too-bright moonlight she saw his unlined face and its open admiration. She saw that he looked exactly as he had when they first met those five years ago. She asked him what it meant, of course. If he had laughed at it or shrugged her question away, things might have gone differently that night. Except he had no answers. He had no reassurances beyond his love and a ring she would never see.

Gabriel’s eyes stayed on the bicycle as he remembered the fear in Paula Putnam’s eyes as he tried to explain, to tell her it didn’t matter. Paula Putnam was the prettiest girl in town, no one denied that, but she was also the smartest. She knew better than Gabriel himself how much staying with him would cost. She knew letting him go would be nothing compared to getting older and watching his beautiful face stay exactly as it was.

Paula Putnam left him with his bicycle under the tree. Even with an entire path between them Gabriel knew her bright eyes were already turning away. He walked away too, leaving the bicycle behind–another reminder of what was lost to him.

Legends could last for lifetimes stacked one on top of each other. But memories only lasted as long as you let them. Gabriel, for all that it hurt, knew he would remember Paula Putnam for a very long while. But only when he wanted to because Gabriel had lived long enough to know when it was time to move ahead to new places and to new people as well.

Now was such a time.

Nodding once he turned his back on the tree and the bicycle and walked on, pulling his hat down against the thickening rain. Gabriel had seen a great many places and done a great many things. Now that he had said a proper goodbye to the girl he might have married and the life he might have had, he planned to do many more.

After all, Gabriel had time on his side.

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Little Women Stories is back!

After a long absence, Nicole and I have decided to resurrect Little Women Stories. We’ll both still be blogging at The Book Bandit’s Blog and Miss Print, respectively, but we want to also use this site to hone our creative writing.

Here’s how this new incarnation is going to work:

  • Nicole will pick the theme for the first half of the month.
  • Emma will pick the theme for the second half.
  • Emma’s stories will post on the first and third Mondays of the month.
  • Nicole’s will post on the second and fourth Mondays of the month.
  • We’ll explain the prompt in each story post.

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October Writing Prompt

The October writing prompt is:

“Something spooky story or a horror story and/or something Halloween related.”

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There Are Dragons Here

Gertrude’s grandmother used to tell her there were two types of people in the world: People who preferred art museums and people who preferred natural history museums. Theoretically there was also a third group consisting of people who did not like any museums, but Gertrude never had much use for them anyway.

The skeletons and dioramas of long-dead animals never brought to mind old ghosts or lives cut short when Gertrude wandered the museum exhibits. History was filled with both, of course, but seeing it on display always felt more like a privileged window to somewhere far off rather than a cautionary tale or something to fear.

Natural history museums used to be the domain of dinosaur bones and speculation. But that was years ago. Before glaciers began to melt and dragons awoke to migrate farther south.

No one knew what happened to the larger dragons–the dangerous ones. No one knew why the smaller dragons came to the cities, only that they chose to settle in the sewers and subways systems. Some people–foolish ones–adopted hatchlings that had been abandoned or orphaned. They told themselves a collar and a leash could make a fierce predator into a house pet. How Gertrude envied their reckless confidence.

***

When she was younger, Gertrude’s grandmother would braid her hair while they watched game shows in the early evening. As her grandmother combed her wavy, dark hair Gertrude would ask what it had been like before the dragons came back.

As she divided Gertrude’s hair and began to braid, her grandmother would talk about days when the subways still ran without interruptions and water mains broke for reasons that had nothing to do with dragon teeth or claws. The tugs on Gertrude’s hair would punctuate each story as she tried to imagine manhole covers without the now-common warning “THERE ARE DRAGONS HERE” emblazoned on them in bold capital letters.

Her grandmother was always careful to tell Gertrude to be wary of dragons and remind her of their many dangers. But even as a child she heard the longing in her grandmother’s voice. The wish that she’d been one of those foolish people with a dragon of their own.

Gertrude had been eleven when her grandmother’s arthritis put an end to the braids. Three years later, at fourteen, she had seen her grandmother placed in a nursing home. She had died a year ago. She was buried the day after Gertrude’s seventeenth birthday.

She never found a dragon to adopt. As far as Gertrude knew her grandmother had never even seen one outside of newspaper clippings and television segments. And, of course, museum exhibits.

Her grandmother was also a lover of natural history museums.

Walking from the bus stop to the American Museum of Natural History, Gertrude studiously avoided the grates and manhole covers in the sidewalk. It had been years since any incineration incidents, and even those might have been more urban legend than fact, but as her grandmother had always said, “You can be reckless later. As long you’re careful right now.”

Her grandmother’s warning ran on a loop in her head. She told herself she had to remember the part about being careful but it was the part about being reckless that she kept hearing over and over.

***

Gertrude stood at the base of the museum’s steps as she cleaned her glasses with the hem of her lucky red shirt. Even with the short-sleeved shirt and sandals, her jeans were uncomfortably warm in the summer heat.

The museum’s heavy air conditioning would be a welcome change. There was plenty to explore in the museum’s various wings and exhibits and a variety of places to hide with a sandwich and a laptop to while away the hours. So far she had made it an entire week without being asked to leave or informed of the museum’s policy on outside food and drink (or loitering).

Surveying the front of the museum now with her clean glasses, she realized she wasn’t the only one hoping to spend the summer haunting the museum.

She had first noticed him four days ago when he leaned against a museum wall while he smoked in a light shower. The rain had been heavy enough to soak his button down shirt and change the color of his khaki pants but light enough that his cigarette stayed lit. He had looked a bit like a wet cat as she watched him from the shelter of her bus stop. That is, if a wet cat could look supremely unimpressed, dashing, and just a little bit dangerous–like he might claw you if you tried to touch him.

Today he sat on the steps in a black t-shirt and khakis again staring intently at a laptop computer perched on his lap. Gertrude was embarrassed to notice that his hair was shorter, newly cut, and he had on glasses.

He was smoking again. She wondered if anyone had told him that cigarettes would kill him. A girlfriend must have. Unless she was a skinny model who smoked to keep the weight off. Then she wouldn’t care. Maybe they split a pack of cigarettes every week. Or maybe he smoked a pack a day by himself.

He was probably already eighteen but with the short hair and casual shirt he looked younger. As she watched him remove the cigarette from his mouth, holding it between his thumb and index finger, Gertrude was struck by how much more illicit the cigarette looked held that way.

Too late, she realized she had stared at him for too long. His eyes shifted from his computer to her direction. Quickly, and probably without much subtlety she looked away. As she climbed the long row of steps, she forced herself to keep her eyes straight ahead.

***

Restless from her encounter on the front steps and an idea she couldn’t let go, Gertrude found no comfort in the museum that day; her own skin felt snug and scratchy. Having done a quick circuit of the prehistoric dragon skeletons on display, she accepted defeat and proceeded to the coat check to retrieve her too-large-for-security’s-tastes-bag.

Moving through the coat check line, she thought about her grandmother’s warnings to be careful and save reckless for later. Gertrude began to wonder if it might just be time to be a little reckless.

As she waited for her bag to be exchanged for her coat check token, someone tapped her shoulder. Turning around, she was unsurprised to see he had found her. After circling each other for days in various parts of the museum, it only made sense that he would find her now, stopping next to the coat check line to approach her.

His laptop was hidden away in a messenger bag with a museum ticket stub pinned to the front with a large safety pin. The cigarette was gone though the smell of smoke lingered on his breath and maybe even his clothes. Inside, this close, she could see that his glasses were thin wire-rims; the lenses still too tinted from the sun outside to gauge the color of his eyes.

“I saw you watching me,” he said with an easy smile. “I’ve seen you a few times actually.”

Gertrude didn’t know how to reply. As they looked at each other she wondered if he noticed her eyes widen. She hoped not.

He leaned closer to be heard over the din of the museum’s entrance hall. She felt his breath against her ear as he said, “Does your red shirt mean stop?”

She said, “Isn’t that what red usually means?”

Another smile. “What if I don’t want to do that?”

“I guess I’d need a reason to let you keep going.” As she said it, smoothly and without any indication of her nerves, she couldn’t tell which of them was more surprised. Their eyes locked and she could see now that his were brown, almost black.

They walked out of the museum together as he asked, “How about I keep you company on your next errand? That seems like a pretty good reason.”

Back on the pavement she turned to him. They were almost the same height. Eyes level with his, she said, “A name would be a better one.”

“You first.”

“I asked first,” she replied, still impressed by the calmness in her voice; the easy way she could talk even as she took in the square line of his jaw, the elegant curves of his fingers, and wondered how she was standing on the street talking to someone like him as if it didn’t matter at all.

“Alec,” he said after a moment. “Now you have two good reasons. And you owe me a name.”

“Gertrude,” she said as she automatically offered her hand to shake.

“Pretty name, but you must get lines about that all the time,” he said with another easy smile as they shook hands. Instead of letting go, Alec shifted position so they were holding hands as he looked toward 82nd Street. Gertrude was inordinately glad he couldn’t see the blush that must be creeping along her cheeks.

“So,” he said, “where are we headed next?”

A moment ago, Gertrude would not have had an answer. She would have said her awkward goodbyes, headed home, and tried to avoid Alec the next time she came to the museum–if she came back at all.

Now, as she held a stranger’s hand on the sidewalk in front of hundreds of people, she realized she had been careful long enough.

“Downtown,” she said with complete certainty.”I’m adopting a dragon today.”

***

It was too loud in the subway to talk. As the train moved them closer to Union Square, Gertrude wondered if she was making a terrible mistake. Really, though, if anyone was to blame it was her father.

As she handed him his carry-on suitcase, her father had smiled at her.

“I expect a signed book for every day you’re away,” she said as she always did before he went away.

He offered the expected reply, “I hardly think you need that many copies of my books.”

“I’ll muddle through somehow,” she said as they hugged. As his tour continued, shipments would begin to come from various destinations with inscriptions from all of the authors her father had met along the way. The glamour of so many books, so many gifts, made up for her father being away for weeks at a time whenever a new book came out. Mostly.

It was harder when he left this time—his first tour since they had buried Gertrude’s grandmother. Previous tours had seen Gertrude spending her days visiting her grandmother and listening to stories about dragons. Now that she was old enough to be left alone, now that there was no one else to be with, Gertrude wasn’t sure what to do with herself.

Before he had disappeared into a waiting taxi, her father had given her one more kiss and hug. His parting advice had been, “Don’t adopt a dragon while I’m gone.”

Since then, she had thought of little else.

She started haunting the museum hoping to assuage her sudden dragon-shaped want in other ways.

It hadn’t worked.

Even as Gertrude had told herself it was madness, she knew she was just marking time–just waiting for some sign that it was the right time to find her dragon. Since the idea had taken hold she’d had no doubt that there was a dragon out there meant for her. There had to be.

Sitting next to Alec, still somehow holding hands, Gertrude knew she had finally found her moment. Soon, she was certain, she would find her dragon.

***

Union Square was known for its weekend farmer’s market. Even dragons could not change that. Now, though, instead of the usual produce and freshly baked foods some industrious vendors also had dragon hatchlings. Orphaned before they hatched or too small to make themselves known among their brothers and sisters, these unfortunates would die without intervention.

Most people—the sensible ones—thought the hatchlings should be left alone. Darwinism at work. Reduce an already undesirable population. Stop pretending dragon teeth were meant for anything but rending flesh from bone and causing destruction.

Other people—people Gertrude now sought—rescued these runts and orphans so that they might still be saved.

Standing in front of a stall full of dragons, Gertrude let go of Alec’s hand for the first time since they’d left the museum steps. She gave her donation to the man sitting behind the table. He easily palmed the bills with a hand dominated by gnarled knuckles.

She offered that same hand to the smallest dragon on the table. Squat with four legs, a long tail and wings that had not yet opened, the dragon had purple scales tipped with yellow. Eventually those scales would shimmer as if they were made of gold or precious gems.

She could easily have held the dragon in one hand. Years of reading and countless museum visits told her the dragon would not get much larger. She held her hand out to the hatchling as it blinked its round, orange eyes at her. Staring intently at her hand, the dragon made a squeaking sound.

You only had a few seconds to impress a dragon—moments to move from food to friend. If you missed that chance, or worse wasted it, the opportunity was gone forever. It might be possible to train them, maybe even domesticate some, but no dragon changed its first impression of a human.

As Gertrude held out her hand, letting the dragon find her scent and sense her temper, she held her breath. It was too late, she knew, to find any other dragon. Far too late when she already felt her heart constrict watching this small, plum-colored hatchling. Alec inched closer to her.

“I think it’s a girl,” he whispered, neither of them taking their eyes off the hatchling. “I read that females always have longer tails. Most of her length is tail.”

“I think you’re right,” Gertrude whispered back.

She waited for the telltale pinch of the dragon biting her hand, telling Gertrude she was not wanted. It would hurt.

She closed her eyes and took what comfort she could from Alec’s presence. He wanted her. He, she somehow knew, would not be leaving her.

As the dragon leaned forward Alec moved closer still so that his arm wrapped around Gertrude, holding her other hand.

Slowly, the hatchling opened her mouth. But instead of the bite of sharp teeth, Gertrude felt a leathery tongue scrape across her hand, licking her. Claiming her.

Gently, the dragon began to climb up Gertrude’s arm.

Alec cleared his throat as he watched the dragon ascend. “What are you going to call her?”

“Adelaide,” she said immediately. “It was my grandmother’s favorite name in the world. After Gertrude, of course.”

“Of course,” Alec said with a smile Gertrude could hear in his voice.

Carefully, Adelaide found a comfortable seat on her shoulder. Poking past a strand of Gertrude’s hair, she leaned over and licked Alec’s cheek—claiming him as much as she had claimed Gertrude.

Gertrude stared as Alec’s eyes widened behind his glasses.

“I’ve never read about them doing that,” she said quietly, letting Adelaide wrap her tail around Gertrude like a necklace.

Alec leaned over hesitantly to stroke Adelaide’s head as he said, “Neither have I.”

Still holding hands, they walked away from the stall with Adelaide easily keeping her footing on Gertrude’s shoulder.

“I guess this means you’re stuck with me,” Alec said into the silence.

“My father comes home next week. I’m making spaghetti to welcome him back,” she said as she watched a bus turn the corner.

“I do love spaghetti,” he replied as they stepped over a “THERE ARE DRAGONS HERE” warning carved into the pavement.

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The Sacrifice

“Vivianna, don’t walk away from me. We’re not through with this discussion.”

“Yes we are Mother. I’m not doing it.”

“This is your rite of passage, Vivianna. Please don’t be difficult.”

“You can’t make me!”

“You know very well I can. I didn’t want to resort to that.”

“So you’re threatening me?”

“I’m not. I’m urging you to do this on you own accord. But I’m begging you, for all of Naroona’s sake, don’t make me force you.”

“Why? Why me?”

“Vivianna, you’re my only heir. The throne of Naroona is destined to be yours but only if you go through with the Awakening, you know that!”

“What if I don’t want to be destined? What if I want to be an average women, born only to bear children and the burden of my husband?”

“You’re better than that. And you know it,” mother spits between clenched teeth. She’s obviously fuming. Steam will shortly stream for her ears.

“You can’t make me, Mother.”

“I can and I will. Don’t test me Vivianna, you have no knowledge as to how far my wrath reaches.”

“But…”

“Don’t test me Vivianna. This discussion is over. Don’t bring it up again. In two nights time, when the moon is full you will sacrifice yourself to Naroona.”

I knew better to push Mother any further. I stop protesting and stare into my mothers cool yet kind turquoise eyes.

“You have a lesson. You don’t want to be late, now run.”

“Yes, Mother,” I said quietly bowing my head.

I scurry off down the stone corridor, and push my way into the third door to my left, the music room. In the middle my golden harp stands tall, towering over my five foot frame. Beside it, Lady Barrow sits waiting. Her lips in a tight straight line. She’s cross. I’ll suffer for my tardiness.

“You’re late.”

“My apologies Lady Barrow. I was discussing…something with my Mother.”

“You were arguing with your mother, that’s what you were doing.”

“You were listening, weren’t you?”

“What if I was?”

“It’s a despicable trait you know,” I say, adding a tone of disdain to my voice.

“So is being late.”

She always had to have the last word. But I’m a pro at this game.

“Eavesdropping is worse than tardiness.”

My lesson is exceptionally painful. When it’s over and I suffered for my tardiness I loiter about the castle I refer to as home. But the stone walls bore me. I move into the garden, the only outside world I know. It’s the only place in all of Naroona that doesn’t expect something from me. It’s the only place I feel most at east, most like myself – a simple girl born into a not so simple life.

I know nothing outside of Naroona, the lone island that makes up the new world. Whatever I know is what I’ve learned from ancient text books and equally ancient tutors.

The island of Naroona was founded some five hundred years ago when the old world – the former United States – came to a surprising end.

According to my text books it was 2012, December 21, 2012 to be exact. Throughout the year news reported the Mayans prediction of the end of the world, but the people’s ignorance was blinding.

The prediction: a series of intergalactic events would occur millions of miles away, ultimately causing a series of catastrophic happenings that would transform the world as people of the twenty-first century knew it. Some probably assumed it was nothing weather patterns would change. That California for the first time in history would have four separate seasons – fall, summer, winter, and spring. And New Jersey would be cast in a perpetual state of unbearable heat. But most thought it was a bunch of nonsense made up by the media outlets to scare the general public.

On December 21, 2012 seven ten point zero magnitude earthquakes simultaneously shook each of the seven continents. The world did not end, but it did in fact change … drastically. Parts of the world crumbled and sunk into the depths of the ocean. Parts of the world shifted, eventually forming one island: Naroona.

But something else happened, something the Mayans didn’t, probably couldn’t, predict. When the land finally shifted, settled into on extremely large island, something spectacular was released. Magic. The new world of Naroona was full of magic. Not just full of magic, but full of magical creatures. Every tree hole was a house for fairies. The waters were filled with selkies and sirens alike. And even dragons soared the airs above.

Even though humans occupied the Southern territory and the magical the Northern, people feared this new world in which they lived. we each had our own, separate territories, people were hesitant. That is, the people who did survive the Mayan Apocalypse. Yes, some were enthralled by this new magic. But most were confused and terrified.

Fingers pointed in every direction searching for someone to blame for the “unnatural” world that they were forced to live. They blamed the government for running the economy down. They blamed the Nazi Germany of the 1940s, saying this was the cosmos way of punishing humans for all their crimes and sins against humanity. They blamed the church for telling them not to believe in what was being called the ultimate rapture, but instead believe in a Christ that was nowhere to be found when the rapture did come.

But eventually humans learned to coexist with these once mythical creatures. And by coexist, it really means they kept to the North of Naroona while we humans kept to the South. Our only shared, common ground was Mount Ca-Vel, the center point of Naroona.

When there was finally some semblance of peace the eldest of each family gathered at the most center point of the newly formed world to discuss everything from the formation of a new government to the newly magical world they were not accustomed to the food supply that would surely dwindle rapidly.

Because details about this meeting didn’t go into any specifics within the pages of my ancient text books my ancient tutors taught from, I’ve learned most about it from my family. It was decided, since so many people ultimately blamed the democratic government for the events that occurred on December twenty-first, they decided on implementing an absolute monarch – one person or family to rule. Whether by pure luck, unabashed stupidity, or sheer magic the citizens of Naroona voted someone from my bloodline. No one really thought that one family, my family that is, could possibly rule an island for over five hundred years.

After ten years of living under the thumb of the same iron-fisted queen – a queen my own mother is ashamed to admit we’re actually related to – the people of Naroona pleaded their case to the island elders. Realize they had outgrown this monarchy approach, the elders set out to Naroona’s highest peak, Mount Ca-Vel, in search of, not only peace, but answers.

It was on Mount Ca-Vel that fate intervened, making the elder’s task a whole lot easier. They claimed a cosmic voice spoke to them, supplying an answer for a question they’ve yet to ask: if not democratic vote, how would a queen be elected?

A task. An answer so apparent and so simple the elders of Naroona overlooked it. It was decreed by this cosmic voice that every woman, on the dawn of their sixteenth birthday, was to hike the trail to Mount Ca-Vel. There they would meet their fate, and be asked to complete one task. If the task was completed up to the fate’s standard, a new queen would prevail.

But here’s the thing about the Awakening: no one knows exactly what’s waiting for them on Mount Ca-Vel. Each fate, each task differs. We go into this archaic ritual blind, only carrying a few items our mothers carefully selected for us based on their own experience.

Hundreds of girls await their fate, their task. All but one fail. It’s one girl out of hundreds. And for me, this means so much more than it does for the other girls. For five hundred years my family has ruled over Naroona, if I don’t complete this task, shame will fall on my family’s royal name. Our legacy lies in my hands.

In a mere forty-eight hours fate will either decree me Naroona’s next queen or will strip my family of its beloved titled, dethrone my very own mother, and shove us into a life of poverty. All of which my family – myself included – fear for.

As much as I fear being left penniless, what I fear most is facing the unknown. Even though generations of women have gone before me, no one can tell me what fate I will face. My own mother will not even what she had to face atop Mount Ca-vel. No matter how much I pester her about it, she will not relent. So, the only option I have left is to refuse, even though I know that my refusal means nothing. In two days I will hike the jagged path that leads to the top most peak of Mount Ca-Vel.

The temperature is swiftly dropping. The willow trees that surround my secluded bench in my beloved garden swish and sway in the chilly breeze. Shivering, I know it’s time to retreat inside.

When I step into my welcoming bedroom I’m shocked to find my mother sitting at my vanity. Her turquoise eyes stare at me through the mirror’s reflection. But unlike the cool eyes from hours before, there’s a softness found within her gaze.

“Sit down Vivianna.”

But my guard is up, still obviously put off from our previous disagreement.

“I’m fine standing,” I say.

She closes her eyes, searching for composure. I push every one of her buttons.

“Please, Vivianna. Please sit?”

I move over to the edge of my down comforter clad bed.

“I don’t want to argue with you. Arguing always proves fruitless.”

“So what do you want Mother?”

“I know this isn’t easy for you. I know because I too went through the very thing you fear. Even though I know you don’t believe me, I know what you’re feeling. It wasn’t easy for me either, you know.”

She pauses. I’m not one hundred percent sure as to where this discussion is going.

“This goes against everything I believe, every ounce of my being. But your are my daughter Vivianna, and I swore the day you were born that I’d do anything in my powers to protect you. You wanted to know what I faced during my own Awakening, well I’ll tell you.”

For the second time in only mere moments I’m shocked. My mother is going against her own principles, her own morals.
I wait. She looks pained. She knows that if anyone finds out what she’s about to do, she could risk losing the thrown, the crown, the life she’s struggled to provide me with. I consider her risk.

“I don’t want to know,” I say quietly, even though, on the inside I’m dying to find out.

“But Vivianna,”

“What difference will it make Mother? My Awakening will not be like yours.”

“I thought it would help.”

“It won’t. It will only make it worse.”

“If that’s how you feel.” She takes it as a stinging slap in the face. I pushed her away. She doesn’t realize I did this for her. It doesn’t matter that she doesn’t realize this.

“Here.” She hands me a cloth bundle tied in a golden silk ribbon.

“What is this?”

“Everything I think you will need to get through your impending Awakening.”

I don’t open it. I just hold it there in my lap.

“Aren’t you going to open it?”

“Not now. I don’t want to think of all this right now.”

“I understand.”

She stands up. Walks slowly to the closed-door, and reaches for the knob. She stops, and turns.

“Vivianna, you know if you didn’t have to do this, if the Awakening didn’t matter to me or to Naroona, I wouldn’t force you to do this.” She waits, when I don’t answer she pleads, “Vivianna, please answer me.”

“I know,” I whisper. She turns around and opens the door. She steps out and into the drafty hallway. “Mother!” I call as I run to the open door. She stops and turns her head, just enough to look me in my own turquoise eyes. “I’m sorry about the things I said before. I will graciously step forward, I will graciously accept what ever fate the cosmos deem worthy of me.”

She turns back and kisses me on my cheek. I don’t say anything, and step back into my room.

The bundle beckons me to the bed. I sit across from it, hover my palms just above the golden bow. Carefully I untie the ribbon, unfold the linen, and reveal the secrets the bundle carries: a black cloak, a jagged stone dagger, and a vile full of a think, amber liquid. I’m engrossed with the three items. I have several cloaks, all of which are prettier and sturdier than the one Mother has provided me with. The dagger is ancient, and I wonder if it could really do any damage. The vile sends an uneasy chill up and down my spine.

I tear my mind and my eyes away from the three items, and notice a small piece of paper. It’s fold into four neat square. It’s written on crisp gold cardstock, and sealed with wax. I tear at the seal, hastily opening the letter I’m sure my mother has spent hours writing.
I’m surprised to find that this folded piece of paper doesn’t contain words of encouragement and words of love. Instead there is only one sentence. A mere five words:

“Trust in what you are.”

I don’t know what to make of it. I fold the letter back into four neat squares and try my hardest to stop thinking about it.

That night I sleep restlessly. I toss from one side to the other. My dreams are full of nightmares. Dream after dream I find myself lying on the crumbling edge of Mount Ca-Vel writhing around in sheer and utter agony. I scream out for help, but no one hears me. They’re all miles below waiting to see if I’ve been decreed the new queen. I writhe and wriggle, my back arching and hunching over. From between my shoulder blades two green iridescent wings poke their way through the surface of my skin. They’re terrifying and magnificent all at once.

Just when I begin to hear the faintest voice, I’m pulled out of my dream state and back into the reality of my stone chamber. I wake up dry mouthed and in a cold sweat. Thoroughly shook, I crawl out of bed, move silently out of my room and through the castle corridors. I slip out into the moonlit garden. I slip into the glass gazebo, and lay on the bench. I stare out to the stars and the moon above me, wondering what secrets the night is keeping from me.

“Why aren’t I asleep, Mrs. Moon?”

She doesn’t answer me, she never does. Instead, she shines down above me, and with a gentle breeze lulls me to sleep. I sleep peacefully, near perfectly for the rest of the night, and wake only when the gardener shakes me awake. I sit up slowly, cautiously wondering why and how I got out here. But than I remember the dreams, than I remember the fear that I’m about to face. At at ten p.m. tonight I make my way to Mount Ca-Vel.

By the time I make it to the peak at exactly midnight, I will officially be sixteen years old. I will officially find out what my fate holds.

I spend the day camped out in the safety of my bedroom. When I don’t find comfort in my bedroom I move to the music room where I pluck a few lonely chords on my harp. And still, when that doesn’t easy my nerves I move down to the kitchen and scrounge up any sweets I could find – a candied apple, a few pieces if Turkish delight, a marzipan maple flavored leave, and a handful of fig cookies. But no amount of sweets can make me feel any better. In fact I feel worse. If that;s even possible.

Before I know it, it’s already nine o’clock. My mother sits with me. She strokes my hair as I prepare for my trek. I wear a soft pair of black slacks. snug black turtleneck shirt. When it’s time I let Mother tied the cloak to my neck. She covers my shoulders, and looks me square in the eyes.

“I love you Vivianna!” Her tone is fierce. My eyes well up with tears, but I swat them away. I can’t respond verbally, I nod, and when that isn’t enough I through my arms around her waist, and relinquish my tears against the smooth velvet bodice of her gown.

“Mother, I’m scared.”

“I know, but you are strong.”

“No! I’m not like you.”

“Vivianna, listen!” she raises her voice, takes my face in her palms and raises my turquoise eyes to hers. “Listen to me! Something unbelievable is about to happen to you. You have to believe in yourself, and trust in who – in what – you are.”

I nod and swipe the falling tears from my cheek. A light knock raps upon the door. A maid pokes her head into my room.

“Your Majesty, I’m sorry for the intrusion, but the carriage is here to take Miss Vivianna to Mount Ca-Vel.”

I’m whisked away to the awaiting carriage. My mother follows close behind, when I’m loaded and locked into the carriage I poke my head out the small oval window.

“Goodbye Mother,” I whisper.

“Don’t forget Vivianna, I love you and you are stronger than you know.”

At exactly ten I’m dropped off at the base of Mount Ca-Vel. The maid who’s traveled with me hands me a flickering lantern, along with it the jagged stone dagger.

“The vile! I left the vile,” I say near hysterics.

“Calm down Miss Vivianna, it’s here,” she sais handing me the vile. It’s dangling from a thick, black leather cord. She places it over my head and around my neck. I open the carriage door wanting nothing more to get the task at hand done and over with. When I climb out I look back at the maid who still sits in the carriage.

“Be brave Vivianna.”

Those are the last words I hear as a human.

At exactly midnight – I could tell by Mrs. Moon’s position in the darkened night sky – I crest the peak. I struggle to stand up on my the small ledge. My legs shake with ache. My breath staggers out of my lungs.

It’s cold. My teeth chatter noisily as I stare into the darkness, unsure as to what’s supposed to happen next. I tuck my cold hands into the cloaks pocket. An unfamiliar piece of paper tickles my fingertips. I pull it out, curious. It’s a note, but from who I’m not certain.

I unfold it, and realize that this piece of paper isn’t a note after all, it’s a set of instructions. At first I think it’s from Mother, but that I realize that I don’t recognize the writing at all.

“Vivianna.” My name is quietly carried on the wind. I pull my eyes away from paper and look for the source who called my name. The voice of the cosmos is a lot quieter than I expected

“Who’s there?”

“It is your fate calling.”

I’m not scared. I’m terrified.

“I accept whatever fate I am to face.”

“Read.”

I do as I’m instructed. I look down at the piece of paper in my hands.

“With the stone dagger break the vile and drink the liquid contents,” I read aloud.

I crack open the vile by tapping the crooked edge of the dagger on the thin glass. I down the amber substance, but not quick enough. It’s thick and bitter. My mouth is coated like chalk dust on a blackboard.

Seconds after I down the liquid I drop to my knees. A searing pain shoots throughout my body.

“What’s …. happening … to … me?!” I yelp out in between screams of agony.

“Vivianna, you are destined to be the next Queen of Naroona, but only if you are willing to give up who you are.”

“I’m willing,” I spit out. I can’t take the pain.

“Vivianna,” I hear my name again. But the voice is different. It’s the voice of my mother. “You must sacrifice yourself. You’re human self.”

“I don’t understand?” I try to stand up but I can’t. I don’t myself on all fours, a throbbing pain searing the space between my shoulder blades.

“You must give you your life. You must throw yourself from the rock’s edge.”

I can’t speak. This is not the fate I was expecting. But at the moment flinging myself of Mount Ca-Vel seems better than suffering though the pain.

I slowly stand up, my knees shaking with pain. I shuffle forward a few short feet. My toes hang over the edge.

I can’t believe I’m about to meet my death. But something deep within me knows I will survive this, something deep within me knows I will live.

“I give myself to Naroona,” I yell through the pain and tip my body forward. I fall full speed, the wind whipping through my loose hair. After a few solid seconds the searing pain courses through my body. It pulse from the tips of my toes and throbs all the way to my shoulder blades, where I feel two wings bursting their way out.

I am not longer falling to my death. Instead my newly sprouted wings flap against the wind, lifting me higher and higher. I fly for what seems like hours over mountain ranges and below the clouds.

It’s not until I’m soaring just above a lake that I catch a glimpse of my reflection. I’m so startled, so scared I lose focus and my wings falter. I’m not longer human. Instead I’m a … a dragon. This can’t possibly be.

Shocked and amazed I head back to Mount Ca-Vel in hopes of finding some answers. When I get there the ledge is just how I left it. Cold, dark, and empty. In a few short swoops I’m at the base of Mount Ca-Vel. A Carriage awaits. Still in my dragon form I creep over and peek inside. I find my mother. She peers out at me.

She blinks back tears and emerges from the carriage.

“Vivianna, you’re beautiful.” She extends a hand and cups my long snout in her hand. My skin is silky smooth and the color of pure gold. For the first time in my life I’m tall and slender. My wings flicker in the moonlight, sending a cascade of color over my mothers face.

I know, after looking into my mother’s eyes that I now inhabit two complete bodies, two complete souls: my human soul which will physically rule Naroona and my dragon soul who will spiritually guide my path as queen.

“Vivianna, we are empresses of knowledge – wise beyond our years. Our bodies are temples of strength that could withstand any weapon and any army. You have all the tools you need to rule Naroona.”

“But I sacrificed myself, my human self Mother. How can I possibly inhabit two bodies?”

“Because you willingly sacrificed yourself for your country, for your dragon self, you did not lose your human life, you only gained a dragon life.”

“Can I change forms?” I ask wearily.

“Of course.”

“How?”

“You’ll learn, in time my sweet Vivianna.”

“But,” I start to protest.

“Tonight we fly!” She says shifting into her dragon form. My mother was always beautiful, but to see her like this, like a dragon she’s breathtakingly beautiful. He skin is the color of rubies, her wings are gold. Her eyes, still cool yet kind, are turquoise.

“We fly,” I say as I push-off the ground and shoot upward towards the moon.

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September Writing Prompt

The writing prompt for September is:

“Dragons.”

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Jack Stewart’s Car

I almost didn’t see the note. But then, my vision always tended to narrow when rain clouds started moving in. I barely managed a wave to Ian as I barreled out of the mall proper into the enclosed parking lot. He might have said something about seeing me the next day. Or maybe he told me to be sure to check Jack Stewart’s car. I couldn’t be sure. That’s the problem with not listening—even if you do have a good reason—you miss things that are hard to make up for later.

Lately, it had been a fair trade. Avoiding all conversation with Ian had been key to my sanity. If we never talked, I could pretend I had never seen the hungry looks he gave every time he walked past the Dough or Dye while I was at the registers. Looks that had nothing to do with the store’s brightly colored donuts. I could even pretend that he really did walk past the store when I wasn’t there; that he hadn’t been going out of his way for weeks to see me at work.

Ian and I had worked in the same section of the mall since he’d been hired to hand out fliers at Hot Topic a few months ago. We had a couple of years’ history before that too. He was my friend. And I was his. But lately, when he thought I wouldn’t notice, I’d seen Ian looking at me like I was an answer to something–some deep want he hadn’t even let himself fully acknowledge.

And sometimes, if I let my mind drift too far, it felt like Ian could answer that same thing for me too. If only I could figure out how to move from being friends to that something more.

But I couldn’t.

Not before a weightless feeling a lot like falling pulled me back and made me ignore Ian instead. I told myself that if I didn’t listen for just a little longer everything would stay the same without my ruining anything at all.

Walking out of the mall that day I was keen to get to my bike and get home before the rain started. That immediate concern pushed all thoughts of dealing with Ian out of my mind.

The mall’s parking lot looked the way it always did hours after the five-o-clock rush ended with hours to go before the late-nighters or early risers would come. A few cars sat scattered throughout the lot, forlorn and hinting at the lives inside the building. The cars belonged to all sorts of people: Kids who caught rides from friends after a movie, store managers working strange hours, night-shifters marking time until they could finally close up and go to karaoke or margarita night or whatever it was you did after work when you were perpetually nocturnal.

Then there was Jack Stewart’s car–hardly a surprise since it had been without tires for over a year. Sucked for Jack Stewart. But it made my life a lot easier.

With the car being a fixture in the lot and the color of a particularly nasty sunburn, it made a great landmark to use to park my bike when I worked my shifts at the Dough or Dye. Before Jack Stewart’s car parted ways with its tires and took up residence in the parking lot it could take me a full fifteen minutes to figure out where my bike had gone at the end of the day.

Jack Stewart’s car was old. If it weren’t hideously decrepit with more rust than paint, it would probably be a classic. If Steve McQueen really did need a fast machine the way that song says, chances are he’d want Jack Stewart’s car. Or he would if the car had tires. Obviously. I still wasn’t sure about cars or driving and even I felt a small thrill every time I saw the car’s smooth curves and sleek lines.

Jack Stewart stayed remarkably calm about the whole thing. He never explained what happened to the tires or why the car now lived in the mall parking lot. But he never threw a fit about it either. Jack Stewart didn’t talk much. Lack of information never stopped me from wondering about Jack Stewart’s car and its tires though.

The day I saw the note I was contemplating the possibility of Jack Stewart’s tires being collected to pay an obscure but pressing debt when I stopped to really look at the windshield. Something had changed. Although he never made any effort to move the car or replace its tires, Jack Stewart kept an eye on his car. The windshield always gleamed but that day it looked strangely cloudy. Milky, even.

At first I thought someone leaving from the hardware store had spilled paint. Except only the windshield was obscured. Then I realized it was covered almost completely with writing scraped on with soap the way used cars always have their prices marked in the sales lot.

Except Jack Stewart’s car wasn’t marked for sale or priced to buy. The windshield read: “Every time I say, ‘Let’s get together sometime,’ I secretly hope you’ll say ‘Why not now?’ But you never do.”

I stared at the writing for a long time before I got on my bike and pedaled away. The part of me that watched too many crime dramas every weekend worried about that note being for me. The part of me that secretly pined for Captain Wentworth worried about that note being for anyone else.

Mom was at a comic convention all week and Dad was still at work when I got home. It was hard to fit in school and my job at the mall. Sometimes it felt like I lived alone, perpetually out of sync with everyone else I knew.

The skies opened as I locked the front door, making the house feel especially large and especially empty. I turned on all the lights along my path to the kitchen as the rain made it darker and darker outside.

I ate dinner standing at the kitchen counter and wondered what a TV police detective would do about the note on Jack Stewart’s car. Then I went upstairs and re-read how Anne Elliot reacted to Captain Wentworth’s letter. It felt like a solution to dealing with the note on Jack Stewart’s car might rest somewhere between the two if I could just find it.

My mom always said the definition of narcissism was believing everything was about you or meant for you. In a world so vast, she said, it hardly seemed likely. She never said that about me–she hated that kind of parent. She said it more about characters we saw on TV or in the news. Very rarely about Dad when he got it in his head that he was the only one who could re-catalog the entire audiobook collection at the library on a holiday when the rest of the staff got to be at home with their families.

My mom’s definition of narcissism wasn’t the real definition, of course. But thinking about Jack Stewart’s car I couldn’t help but wonder who else the note could be for. No one else parked near it, as if disappearing tires were contagious.

I was the only one who gave Jack Stewart’s car a second glance. Except that wasn’t true anymore, I guessed. At least one other person had seen it. Maybe they’d seen me too.

***

The next day I walked by Ian in his usual spot passing out fliers in front of Hot Topic. He always spent the beginning in front of the store. Later, when the last of this stack disappeared, Ian would start walking the mall floor. When he finished with that stack, he’d return to the storefront.

He wore glasses, wire-rimmed not thick black plastic, and his dark hair stopped well before it could get in his eyes. His jeans fit but not tightly. His T-shirt was a solid, cheerful sort of green. Wholesome like an apple or a checkered tablecloth. If anyone but Ian’s sister managed the store he would have never been hired.

Ian waved the pile of fliers at me as I passed. I waved an imaginary stack of papers back at him as he said, “Hey Fiona.”

I smiled back and kept walking as I wondered about Jack Stewart’s car and the note. I didn’t think about how much thought I’d put into my pink top or my grey and pink dotted skirt which I had worn even though biking home from the mall in a skirt is a huge pain. I also did not think about the extra time I’d taken pulling my hair off my face with clips trying to show off the last of the red highlights I’d gotten from the summer sun.

Ian was in the middle of his shift and I was late to my own thanks to the day’s history class running over, so I told myself this didn’t really count as avoiding him.

I didn’t stop to ask what he had said to me yesterday. I didn’t mention Jack Stewart’s car.

I told myself it was because I didn’t have the time, but it probably had more to do with the note being the start of something. As I walked down the long hall to Dough and Dye I pulled the rest of my hair into a ponytail. I felt Ian’s eyes on my back the whole way.

Ian was long gone by the time I left that night. His sister had been known to close the Hot Topic early if the store was dead. Or she had a more pressing engagement.

As I crossed the parking lot to my bicycle, I paid special attention to Jack Stewart’s car. The windshield still looked white but as I retrieved my bike, I saw the note had changed. Now it said: “How I feel about you isn’t likely to change. What are you afraid of Fiona?”

I tapped my fist against the hood of Jack Stewart’s car before I picked up my bike. My hands felt shaky the way they did after I stayed up until four in the morning typing a paper for my AP Lit class. I’d had the exact same jitters the first time I felt Ian’s eyes on me. And the first day I admitted that I saw the way he looked at me now. And it terrified me for reasons I couldn’t even understand.

Now I knew the notes really were for me. It wasn’t narcissism–my mom’s kind or any other. The notes on Jack Stewart’s car had been left for me. I even knew who they were from.

I’d guessed it yesterday. Probably, I should have expected something like this. Ian had always been one for grand gestures and movie moments. Of course he’d written the notes on Jack Stewart’s car.

Though he would never say it, I knew what else the notes meant. I was running out of time. Ian had already waited quite a while for me. The notes had an air of desperation to them as much as grandness. They were his big move.

I had to decide now if I wanted to make a move of my own. I leaned my bike back against the side of Jack Stewart’s car and walked toward the mall entrance.

***

The Dough and Dye supply room was stocked with everything I would need. My favorite supervisor, Carla, was on duty. She liked me so I didn’t even have to sneak the supplies out as I had planned.

It took a surprising amount of effort to clean soap off the windshield of Jack Stewart’s car. As I scrubbed at it with paper towels and window cleaner, I wondered how Ian had managed to replace the first note so quickly.

I stared at the clean windshield for a long time as I waited for it to dry. I expected to feel the same dread, the same irrational panic, I’d been having around Ian for weeks.

Instead, I found I couldn’t remember why I’d been afraid in the first place. I still stood on the edge of change. It just didn’t feel like I’d be falling now. As I opened a fresh bar of soap, I realized Ian had taken the exact same risk. I didn’t know where this note would lead. Neither had Ian when he wrote, “Every time I say, ‘Let’s get together sometime,’ I secretly hope you’ll say ‘Why not now?’ But you never do.” on Jack Stewart’s car.

I carefully wrote out the letters of my own note on the glass. The soap stuck at every stroke, requiring much more pressure than I had expected. When I finished, I rubbed the soap off my hands as best I could and threw away the stub of soap I had left.

Wiping sweat from my forehead, I stepped back to admire Jack Stewart’s car and my handiwork. The windshield on Jack Stewart’s car now read: “I’m off tomorrow. This is me saying, ‘Why not now?'”

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