Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The Crossing

Etha was the first to arrive at the clearing, a heavy deerhide bag slung over her shoulder, a long spear that doubled as a walking stick held lightly in her hand. She was dressed for travel, in fur-lined leggings under a heavy goatskin tunic, and hide boots with thick soles made for long distance trekking. She loved to journey, and hoped the others would arrive soon.

Etha had come to the Riana Valley with her cousins, Pyre and Agua, four moons before. Here they’d been trained in the Rianan arts of mindspeak and imagery. The young tribeswoman had enjoyed her summer away, but she missed her family and the familiar environs of her home beyond the Kuran River, and she was ready to return.

Eventually, the others joined her, eight travelers who would escort Etha and her cousins to their home at Eagle Peak. Thin fog obscured the sun, which peeked out occasionally as they trekked steadily down out of the higher elevation of Riana towards the Kuran Riverlands. The mist cleared just as the sun edged along the horizon, and Etha saw a flight of vultures circling ominously above the next hillcrest.

“Hold up,” Tulie called out, gesturing for the travelers to slow their pace. Tulie was the unofficial leader of the group; she was the Rianan Heir and highly respected for her experience in teaching survival skills to the youth of Kakaesia.

As they crested the hill, they were astonished to observe a small wolf cub snarling and snapping in fury at a vulture as it swooped down and tried to land next to the mother wolf, which lay in a pool of blood, seeping from a fatal head wound.

“Oh, the poor thing,” Etha exclaimed, as the others came up beside her.

“It looks like she’s been gored by a hoof,” Pyre suggested.

“Maybe she attacked a herd of deer and got struck,” said another.

“I wonder what she’s doing this far west,” Tulie mused, as the cub scampered into a nearby den of rocks. "Wolves are so rare in this part of Kakaesia. Be alert. There could be others nearby."

“Curious little thing, isn’t it.” Agua admired, seeing the pup peering at them from the relative safety of its shelter.

This close, Etha could see it had pale green eyes and whitish, grey fur, like its mother; except the cub had a patch of brown fur on its chest and front paws. The markings were quite distinctive, and Etha recognized him from an encounter she had had with the young animal just a handful of days before; when she’d first learned to touch the spirit of Gaea and had celebrated the bond.

The young wolf locked eyes with Etha for a long moment, as if it remembered her too. Then, turning his gaze upon his dead mother, he gave a soft whimper and scooted away deeper into the rocks.

“We’ll stop here for the night,” Tulie decided. “Petya, you and Misha gather firewood. Bring enough to burn overnight in case there are other predators nearby.”

“What do you suggest we do with that?” Elder Celynn nodded towards the dead wolf. “It’s such a beautiful animal.”

“If we were on a hunt, it would go to whoever made the kill,” Tulie said, fidgeting in indecision.

“It would be a shame to damage such a beautiful pelt,” Pyre advised. “Davos, I hear you’re one of the best skinners in Kakaesia. Perhaps you would like it?”

It took quite a while for Davos to finish the job, and afterwards to move the carcass away from camp. They sat up late around the fire, admiring Davos’ stone and bone tools that he used so expertly; discussing the curing process that would render the pelt soft and pliable. It was quite late when the group settled down to sleep for the night.

Etha was awakened suddenly near dawn to the sound of a low, menacing growl emanating from a creature that crouched down by her leg, where it had slipped out from her bedroll. Small white teeth gleamed in the dark, beast eyes reflecting from the firelight. Etha’s heart beat erratically. She struggled to make sense of what was happening, when Pyre, in the bedroll next to Etha, used his gift to call fire and brought illumination to the scene.

Tulie was on her feet in the same moment, spear poised to throw at the creature. The wolf, however, was not growling at Etha, but at something on the ground near her exposed leg.

There, coiled and ready to strike was a large, poisonous viper.

“No!” Etha screamed, fearing the spear that flew past her head was meant for the wolf. Instead, it struck the viper dead on, causing the cub to jump back in shock, retreating quickly from the camp.

“That was close!” Agua exclaimed. “I thought the wolf was coming after you; but he may have saved your life!”

“I think so too,” Tulie sounded impressed. “I’ve never known a wild animal to protect a person before. That was amazing.”

Etha was pleased and captivated to see the cub still there in the morning, peering at her from its den. It looked hungry and forlorn. When she thought no one was watching, Etha approached the rock warren to leave a portion of her morning meal. The wolf didn’t even growl at her. She hoped the pup had been weaned off its mother’s milk and could eat the rabbit meat she’d shredded.

Agua tried to distract Etha when it was time to go, sensing her distress at leaving the cub behind, for it would not have occurred to her to try to capture or tame a wild animal. Not even one that had saved her life.

Tulie cautioned everyone to be on their guard against further wolves or predators, but aside from a herd of gazelle, there was no other sign of wildlife as they descended out of the forested hills and onto the open steppe that ran alongside the Kuran River.

Etha was enchanted when she noticed the cub following behind. Over the next few days, she found strategic places to leave bits of food for him, even though Tulie warned her not to do so. Tulie had even tried to chase the beast away when it came too near. The cub would run off to a place of safety, but Etha saw that it continued to follow them. Etha was no longer in a hurry to get home, for she had no idea what would become of the wolf when they arrived at Eagle Peak.

The river crossing ran fast and cold, but in the place of crossing it was only ankle deep and easily traversed. Etha was the last to cross, grieving to leave the cub behind, for she had grown attached to him. When she turned back, he was whimpering and howling at the river’s edge; clearly afraid of the water, and, Etha supposed, afraid of being left alone.

“Come on, Sasha,” She whispered the name, holding her breath with hope and desire. Then her heart leapt with joy when, at last, the wolf stepped boldly into the river and began a crossing of its own.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Hunger Pangs

Prompt: Buy or Sell

Word count: 750 Words exactly

Due 4/18

Hunger Pangs

Clarissa was starving. Hunger gnawed at her belly; long convulsive cramps that hurt as bad as labor and left her just as empty.

The last meal she’d eaten had been in the hospital, two nights ago, before checking herself out and disappearing into the cold March night. All she’d eaten since then were some saltine crackers at the local diner she’d dared enter yesterday afternoon, spending the few coins she possessed on a pot of boiling water and tea, which she’d used to transform ketchup into tomato soup.

The few bucks she’d stolen off a table on the way out had gone towards a six pack of beer, which she drank alone last night in her hidey hole, a few blocks from the hospital. She’d found a group of densely growing trees with space to burrow under for shelter, where she’d tried to ignore the cold and the pain and the frantic texts of those she sought to hide from.

Now it was late morning. She had a pounding headache and she was starving. She'd discovered the farmers market outside the hospital a little while ago; people in scrubs and business attire and clean clothes going about the business of buying or selling fruit and vegetables, honey and nuts, fresh baked muffins, and such.

It was a veritable feast, and none of it for her.

Clarissa sat on a bench on the periphery of the market, trying to pretend to be invisible, though she saw plenty of looks of disgust and disdain directed her way. She combed dirty fingers through long, scraggly hair, wiping the grease and grit on oversized pants, feeling gross and unworthy amongst this clean, well fed crowd.

She had no money. The only thing of any value she had was the baby stroller she used to haul her meager belongings around. Clarissa couldn’t bear to part with that, though, even if she’d never have a baby to stroll in it, now.

She’d been seven months along. After four miscarriages, and the tubal pregnancy two years before, she’d finally allowed herself to hope. But then had come the premature labor, and the stillbirth. Placental abruption, they’d termed it, though she’d been in such a state of physical and mental agony that she’d not paid attention to the details. All she knew was that they’d left her in the maternity ward, where the wailing of newborn babies had shattered her heart, and perhaps a bit of her sanity as well.

The phone vibrated in her pocket, a beacon in the dark.

“Rissie, Please, Please Come Home!”

The use of his pet name for her and the plea of the text wrenched at Clarissa's bruised heart.

She pulled the thin jacket closed, crossing her arms and pulling them tight across her empty belly, where her baby should have been. How could she go home? With the scent of fresh paint a constant reminder, the new crib just set up and all the gifts from the baby shower lovingly placed in the spare room.

Clarissa squeezed her eyes shut against a new wave of fresh tears.

Just then an elderly Indian woman, dressed in brightly colored silks, sat beside her on the bench. She had kindly, compassionate eyes, and a paper plate with strawberries and a muffin outstretched in offer.

“Oh," Clarissa choked on the word, her throat constricted, palms raised up in denial. “No, I couldn’t.”

“Of course you can.” The woman set the plate on the bench beside her, then stood, sunlight glinting off a gold cross that hung at her neck. “Be welcome." She didn’t even look back to see if Clarissa would accept the gift.

She didn’t want to. She didn’t deserve this kindness. Not after deserting her husband, whom she realized now must be grieving as much as she. Clarissa had not been thinking of his pain, though, just her own. Suddenly, the thought of what he must have been going through when he discovered her absence filled her with shame and regret and remorse. She thought of the money she’d stolen, motivated by the need to drive away the demons of loss that had kept her out in the cold and the dark, filling her belly with cheap beer in an attempt to dull the pangs that consumed her even now.

Clarissa found herself starved for more than mere food, although that would be a good start. Choking down a bite of muffin, she picked up the phone. It was time to go home.


Friday, March 23, 2018


Word Count: 2500 Words exactly Genre: Fantasy

‪Etha felt an overwhelming desire to see the open sky. To breathe the fresh, cool air of the outside world, to be out from under the darkness and the crushing weight of the Riana Caves, and to feast her eyes upon the beauty of the Kakaesian landscape.

Instead, she followed the Riana Leader away from the cave entrance, down a narrow passage toward an unknown destiny that Etha sensed awaited her.

Madra had approached Etha, and a handful of others, during the morning meal, asked them to participate in one last session to mark the end of their training, before the final celebrations would be held and the Initiates released to their homes. To return to the lives they had left behind at the beginning of spring, five moons before.

The passage narrowed as they descended. Madra led them slowly to allow their eyes to adjust to the increasing darkness. Etha wondered why Madra didn’t just light their way with an Elbrus Crystal, but she didn’t question the Leaders action; for Etha was accustomed to obeying her Elders. The group progressed into the subterranean depths, where they eventually emerged into a large, open chamber. It had an ancient, hollow feel to the place and Etha was sure she’d never been here before. She could hear the others shuffling about nearby, could just barely make out their shapes. When she bumped into something solid and unmoving, her nerves jangled, relaxing only slightly as she identified the misshapen structure of a living column growing up from the cavern floor.

The initiates settled on the ground at Madra’s instruction, and Etha sought to still her nerves. Normally confident and self-assured, she had always enjoyed Madra’s lessons. But something seemed different to the young initiate, though she could not say what or why she felt that way. She just felt uneasy, filled with a sense of trepidation; and a sudden irritation at the incessant whispers of the other trainees around her.

"Let’s begin.” Madra’s voice stilled the others. “I chose you to participate in this session because you have each shown an affinity for Gaea; an awareness of Earth and her many aspects. I brought you here, to the heart of the Riana Caves, so that you might open yourself to Gaea, to see if you might tap into Earth’s essence and hear if she will speak to you.”

The Spirit Leader’s voice was soft and muted. To Etha it seemed as though her words were being swallowed by the cold, dark rock of Gaea herself.

“In your time here at Riana, you have learned to mind-speak with your fellow Initiates; and you‘ve done well with that skill.” The words came in a soothing tone, and Etha realized that Madra no longer spoke the words aloud. “This exercise will be somewhat different from the other lessons you have experienced during your season here, for now I will ask you to open your minds to Gaea, and to let her speech come to you.”

The small hairs on Etha’s arms and at the back of her neck quivered. Fear mingled with anticipation. For she had felt Earth’s pull upon her before, knew herself to be drawn to Gaea’s power, though she had no idea the extent of that power, or what to expect from it, and this frightened her.

“Lie back, now, and close your eyes. Set aside your fear.”

The words sounded only within the borders of her mind.

“Listen to my voice and tune out the stray thoughts that distract you from your purpose. Slow the rhythm of your breathing, and listen.”

Etha heard the rustling of someone nearby. Forced herself to concentrate on Madra’s voice instead.

“Breathe in... Hear the sound it makes within you.”

Etha took a long inhalation through her nose. It sounded loud in her ears.

“Breathe out, now; slowly. Slowly”

Etha felt as if she were floating in air and darkness, as she focused on the cadence of Madra’s speech.

“Breathe in... Breathe out. Extend your awareness towards Gaea. Feel for the rhythm of Earth’s pulse and match it to the rhythm of your own.”

Madra's words quieted, and Etha did as the leader suggested.

She felt the cold touch of the stone floor radiating upwards, through the deerskin tunic and leggings she wore, seeping into her skin. She felt the pressure of earth weighing down upon her, and Etha willed her consciousness to move beyond the boundaries of the cave.

Down. Down into the depths she sank, allowing her spirit to become immersed and absorbed within the earth, though she knew her body remained behind, safe and guarded by Madra. Gradually, she became aware of another presence and Etha knew the exact moment her psyche merged and melded with Gaea's, and she fought back panic. For this was a power far greater and more infinite than Etha had ever imagined.

She lost all sense of self and time as she traced Earth’s lifeblood along its course. Its movement was slow and ponderous, pulsing and beating with a rhythm that flowed, sluggishly, ever outward. It pulsed with a steady beat. Pushing. Seeking. Burrowing outwards through a dark heaviness and slowly reaching upwards. Searching and seeking until, at last, Etha’s senses found and infused a network of roots and tendrils and life.

Her consciousness expanded. Twisting and twining. Pulsing and surging. Outwards, upwards, further and further, until Etha felt herself stretched beyond her capacity to comprehend and she feared she might lose herself within the immeasurable being that was Gaea. She sensed power calling to her, welcoming her, nourishing her own lifeblood as surely as she knew her spirit had infused a network of living plants.

Etha hungered for this power in the same way her body hungered for food.

This hunger frightened the girl, for she did not understand it. This was so far beyond her scope of understanding, and the more she tried, the more panicked she became. In alarm, Etha began to struggle against the weight and the presence of Gaea, closing off her senses to all but her panic and her need for self. Forcing her thoughts back into the confines of her own body, which lay on the cold, hard floor at the heart of the Riana Caves.

Consciousness returned and Etha’s eyes snapped open, and though they filled with the darkness of the cave, it was not nearly as dark as Earth’s depths had been.

Movement stirred beside her. A dim, warm light pulsed into being from a crystal that Madra held in her hand, illuminating the Elder and giving detail to their surroundings.

“Where… where are the others?" Etha asked, as awareness settled around her and she saw that she was alone with the Spiritual Leader.

"I sent them away," Madra answered. "They weren’t able to reach a trance state like you did.”

Etha nodded, disoriented, and unsettled. "How long have we been here?”

“Quite a while. The meal bell has chimed twice since we began. Are you able to speak of your experience? Did Gaea speak to you?”

"I... I don’t know." Etha shivered as her sense of self slowly returned, even as she yearned to return to that state of selflessness; so at odds with the fear of being consumed. She found she was not ready to share the experience just yet. Needed time to absorb what had happened. "No. I’m sorry”

Madra nodded, and Etha could tell by her expression that she was curious about Etha’s experience, and therefore disappointed. Perhaps troubled as well.

For the barest of moments, Etha saw herself through Madra’s eyes; light brown hair falling out of its braid, tangled and matted against a pale, angular face. Her eyes wide and wild. Blue eyes, so unlike everyone else’s. Except Agua's.

But Etha did not want to think about Agua just now.

Madra's lips twitched slightly, as though she had heard the thought; which was entirely possible, Etha knew, at that moment of joining.

“Has Gaea ever spoken to you?” Etha asked, impudently; and was not expecting the response when the Spiritual Leader shook her head.

“No. She has not.” Etha heard rueful frustration in Madra’s response. “Though not for lack of trying. My Mother, Terrell, was the only person I’ve ever known to tap into Gaea’s power, and she did it rarely. She died before passing on her knowledge to me, and as far as I know, she never trained anyone else to use the ability.”

“So, you knew of this power? And that’s why you had us try, today?”

“I test each group of initiates, at some point in their training. When I touch your spirit, Etha, I sense something beyond the normal gifts that we teach. Something I felt in my Mother, once, when I was young and she was training me. Much like I sense in your cousins, Pyre and Agua. You all have such unique abilities.”

“But… Why did you wait until now? We’ll be going home at the next full moon.” Was it anger she felt, or betrayal? “How will we learn to use these abilities if no one has any knowledge or experience with it? Who will train us to use these gifts?”

“We will give you guidance, Etha; and you will find your way.”


Etha fled, driven by the need to put distance between herself and the yearning desire to connect with Gaea that yet consumed her soul. Up the narrow passage she ran, scraping and bruising legs and arms against rough walls, as loose dirt and debris crumbled to the hard packed ground as she passed.

Finally, she made it to the cave entrance, where she had expected to find bright sunlight and blue sky. Instead she found day fading to dusk behind a low layer of clouds, heavy with the scent of fallen rain and the promise of more to come. She barely slowed her pace as she burst past the entrance, sucking in large gusts of air into her lungs as she went, not paying attention to the path at her feet until she tripped upon an upthrust root and fell, sprawling among the brush.

Momentarily stunned with dizziness and disorientation, she stared up at rapidly moving clouds while the ground remained solid and unmoving beneath her trembling body. She felt bereft; disconnected. As though she had lost something precious and was just realizing its full worth.

A fierce longing for her family suddenly rose up in her heart. Etha realized she hadn’t given much thought to her family or tribe since she’d come to Riana. Too busy learning to fit in with her new surroundings, she supposed, and embracing the lessons and the skills she’d come here to learn. It had helped that Pyre and Agua had come as well, for they were of her tribe, and blood-kin; though Agua was three springs the elder, Pyre had been born the same summer as she. Having them near had kept the loneliness at bay, while they learned the intricacies and intimacy of mind-speech and imagery. She had excelled at the training, pushing herself to learn more, to open herself to each lesson and embrace the experiences as they came. But now, alone, feeling strange and empty, Etha sought comfort in the memories of her mother, and she let the images flow into her mind.

Memories of Ariel calming her young daughter when Etha’s first moon-blood had come, four winters past, and she’d been frightened by the change to her body and her position in the tribe.

Of Ariel’s compassion, last summer, when Etha thought herself in love with Agua and been told that cousins were not allowed to mate; though Agua was not true blood-kin like Pyre was.

Of Ariel’s pride, just five moons before, at the start of spring, when she’d bid her young daughter farewell, and Etha set off with Pyre and Agua on this journey to Riana, to learn the arts of the Rianan Initiate, and discover what hidden talents might lie within.

A small wolf cub scampered out from beneath a bush, made eye contact with the girl and froze in place, before scooting back into the dense brush. The action brought Etha back into the moment, connecting her again to the here and now.

Gray, shifting clouds contrasted with the greens that surrounded her, where Etha sat under a spreading canopy of low hanging branches, embraced by leafy ferns and sharp, prickly brush. Sweeping hills and snow-capped mountains graced the horizon, a sliver of light reflecting off the Riana River, snaking its way through a distant valley below.

The sound of a stream, swollen from recent rain, teased her senses; gurgling and swishing its way down a rock strewn bed. The ground cover was wet, the earth soft and spongy under Etha's hands, and as she focused upon these sensations she remembered what it felt to be merged with Gaea’s lifeblood. And with that simple contact she found herself attuning again to the network and the nature that was Gaea.

Expanding her awareness, Etha knew that she could choose to merge her spirit into the splashing waters of the nearby creek and trace Gaea's lifeblood upstream, far to the North and the East, where the glacial walls formed the borders of her homeland of Kakaesia; or follow its winding course down to the Riana River, where eventually it would flow into the Black Sea, where she’d traveled once with her family when she’d been a child.

She knew that she could allow her spirit to sink down again into earth’s soil, to find and meld with the network of plant-life that existed below ground. For some inexplicable reason, this knowledge didn’t bring the same sense of fear that Etha had felt under the crushing weight of the cave, where her spirit had been enmeshed in the soil and her lifeblood forced to seek out the network of life that existed at the border between earth and air. Because here, in the open air, Etha was surrounded by Gaea’s bounty, and her soul did not need to seek out that bounty, to touch it and feel it and know it.

Earthsong erupted around and within her, a celebration of Etha's awakening awareness to Gaea’s presence and this new found bond they now shared between them. Once again she was known and no longer alone. Gaea rejoiced at the joining, and Etha felt the trembling of Earth’s joy rumbling deep underground, where her lifeblood pulsed and sang. And Etha trembled as well.

A flock of birds took wing in wild abandon and a herd of gazelle bounded out of the woods and into the clearing, full of grace and beauty. Trees swayed in rhythm to the dancing wind, rustling the leaves and swirling among the waters of the stream, where crickets and frogs lifted their voices, and a wolf cub sang out in unison, a grand chorus that echoed Gaea’s celebration.

She was known and no longer alone!

The Deadline

The Deadline

The phone rang, shrill and startling in the silence of her home. It took three rings to find the phone, while she forced her mind back from the far distant past, and the desperate people she’d been writing about.

Reading the number on caller ID, she clicked the speaker button. “David, how many times do I have to tell you not to call me after eight? You’re lucky I even answered."

“Maggie, sweetheart! I hope I didn’t disturb you?”

“Of course you did! I told you my inspiration had returned and that I’d be writing. What do you want?”

“Ah, Mags, don’t be so harsh. You won’t believe it, but the History Channel wants your story. They loved your outline and are intrigued by the premise. I’ve scheduled a time for you to meet with them in the morning.”

“You're kidding?” she squealed, a rush of adrenaline pushing her to her feet. “That’s fantastic! Aren’t they like the eighth network you’ve been to!”

“Indeed it was, and believe me, this was not an easy sell.”

“Yeah?” She forced a deep breath, grounded in reality. “So, what’s the catch?”

“Well…” His voice cracked, and she heard nerves behind his hesitation.

“What? David! What have you done?”

“Well, they have a slot to fill next season, and they need to start filming right away. I told them you could have the pilot to them by Monday.”

“You did what!? Are you crazy? It’s Thursday. I’ve barely written ten pages.”

“That’s great, Maggie! And you’ve got your muse back, you said so yourself. I don’t see the problem?”

“David, one episode can be up to sixty pages; most pilots are two episodes. You expect that by Monday?”

“But you already have ten pages! You know you work best under pressure; especially when your inspiration is back.”


Maggie's thoughts were flowing faster than she could type, her fingers flying over the keyboard at a furious rate. She’d been working practically non-stop for the last three days, alternating between feelings of elation that her screenplay was going to be aired on TV, despair that she would never finish in time, and self-doubt that it wouldn’t be good enough.

The phone rang; a disturbance completely at odds with the scene she was writing, and scattering it into the ether.

She should have silenced the phone, Maggie thought despondently, even as she turned the device over to read the caller id.

"Hey Mom," she sighed, answering the phone and pushing back from the desk.

"Hi sweetie. I thought I should check in with you. How are you coming along with your deadline?"

"Oh, God, I don't know," she lamented, at once glad for the opportunity to vent, while mourning the lost time. "I've got about twenty pages left to go, and it won’t be accepted it if I don’t have it, in person, at the Network by 8’oclock tomorrow morning. I’m not sure I’m gonna make it."

"Of course you will! Where’s your faith?”

“I left it behind in the last scene, when my characters started acting up and refused to go where I needed them to.”

“Haha, that’s funny, dear. Just give them a stern talking to and get them back in line.” She snickered at her own joke. "Have you eaten?"

"I'm too amped to eat. What time is it, anyway?"

"It's just after 7:00; you must be engrossed in your story."

"I am! I just finished writing the earthquake scene, killing off most of the tribal leaders who were holding a meeting inside the caves of their homeland, and destroyed tons of people in tents gathered outside. It's getting desperate for these people, because their whole way of life is coming to an end, and they're panicking, because they don't yet know what they're going to do."

"Ah, but you know what's going to happen?"

"Yeah, I've got it pretty well outlined, and I'm not too far off where I need to be, but I still have twenty pages more to go, and my characters aren’t cooperating.”

“You sound as desperate as your characters.”

“You’re telling me!”


“Maggie? Maggie, wake up!” A warm hand on her back gave her an insistent shake.

“Hmm? What?” She found her eyelids heavy and crusted with sleep, her neck stiff, and her cheek pressed into the keyboard.

“Darlin, you’ve got to wake up. It’s Six-Thirty, sweetheart; we need to be downtown at Eight. Wake up, damnit!”

“David? What are you doing here?” She couldn’t shake off the fog in her head. The last thing she remembered, it’d been 4:30 and she’d sent the finished episode to the printer. Her brain finally engaged, and she came upright with a jolt, her eyes focusing on the clock. 6:33. “Oh, crap!”

“Please tell me you’re finished?” Her agent, and, incidentally, her best friend, asked in a tone that brooked no argument.

“It’s on the printer,” Maggie yawned and stretched, reaching over to collect the work.

There were only about ten pages there.

“Oh shit! No! No, no!!!”

David, ever calm, peered at the readout on the printer. “It’s jammed.” He looked at his watch, then at her disheveled, panicked state. “No, settle down. Listen, Mags, I’ll get this printed while you take a shower. As long as we’re on the road by Seven, we should be ok.”

Ten minutes later Maggie returned, stylishly outfitted and running a comb through wet, curly hair.

The printer was still jammed.

She pushed David aside, investigated the inner workings of the printer and finally found a tiny sliver of paper jammed in a place it should not be.

“There,” she sighed with relief as the machine whirred to life. “Thank God it’s high speed.”

Traffic was backed up when they arrived at the interstate at 7:35, no way they could make the deadline by that route.

Chancing surface streets instead, they encountered a string of green and yellow traffic lights, like an omen of goodwill, and arrived with just five minutes to spar

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Love's True Sight

Love’s True Sight
Posted on January 24, 2018 by Peggy Rockey
Prompt: The Bridge Word Count: 1200 Words Genre: Fable

Once upon a time, in a village surrounded by the deep forest of olden Bulgaria, there lived a man who was in love with a fair maiden. Mikhail Stoyanov had loved Katerina Ivanov for as many years as he had known her. Indeed, he had loved her since he first laid eyes upon her fair beauty, while he was still a young boy in knickers, and she a fair maid in pigtails.

Alas, Katerina did not appear to know that Mikhail even existed.

Eventually, the time came when Mikhail knew he wanted this fair maiden for his wife, and he arranged events so that he could meet his heart’s desire at the most romantic place in all the realm, which was an enchanting bridge that spanned the Danube River. There, with glowing words of praise and poetry, he pledged his love to the fair maiden and asked for Katerina’s hand in marriage.

But the fair maiden, being young and self-centered, fancied herself in love with another, a man ever so much more handsome and wealthy than this one; and without nary a thought to Mikhail’s feelings, she rejected him with harsh words and cruel laughter.

The hurt and the anger at this rejection burned so hotly within Mikhail’s heart, and it angered him so much that his response was perhaps more forceful than he intended. “This man does not love you the way I love you, Katerina Ivanov! May your eyes be opened to love’s true sight so you may see the truth of his heart, and see for yourself the blackness that exist within him. May love never touch your heart again, until you see with Love’s True Sight, and you come again to stand upon this bridge with love’s true sight within your heart!”

The words were said with such force and resolution that they became a binding curse upon the fair maiden. For this was a place of magic.

When, a few days later, the other man came to call upon the fair maiden, she now saw him with love’s true sight, as the curse demanded. And with the blinders of supposed love removed, Katerina now saw the true nature of Boris Gruev’s inner person. She saw that beneath his handsome good looks, his wealth, and position within the realm, Boris was, in reality, a selfish and controlling brute. Katerina saw now that what she had mistaken for charming, tongue-tied shyness, was really just contempt for women in general; and Katerina could see that Boris only pretended to love her. She knew this was true, for her father was a goldsmith, and Boris had thought that by possessing the fair maiden, he would possess her father’s gold as well.

Katerina was appalled at the situation. She wondered how she could ever have loved this man in the first place, and she called off their engagement immediately. Boris was outraged, and his displeasure at the rejection was great. He threatened to tell damaging lies to the villagers if she did not marry him, and said other hurtful words that gave truth to his nature. Despite the threats, the fair maiden remained steadfast in her refusal to marry Boris, and as a result Katerina suffered much abuse from her father and the villagers, who all believed the foul lies that Boris told about her.

Many years passed, and the fair maiden became a lonely spinster; for though Katerina had had new suitors, she was never able to see past their individual flaws without love’s forgiving sight to blind her to their nature. Her heart hardened with each suiter that she rejected, until, eventually, no one could penetrate the hardness that now encased her heart.

Over the course of time, Katerina grew more and more lonely. She attempted to make friends with the villagers, but the curse that Mikhail had unwittingly laid upon her heart did not allow even for the love of simple friendship. For with the curse she was forced to always focus on the falsehood and the insincerity that existed within the human heart. Eventually, she had shunned so many people that the opportunities for friendship had dwindled, and then disappeared altogether. Even her father barely tolerated her in his home, for she constantly berated him for his character flaws; and what man likes to be nagged in his own home, day after day after day?

Then one day, as Katerina went to market, she came across the man who had once loved her and who had put the curse upon her, all those years ago. It seemed odd that they had not encountered each other throughout the years, but perhaps not, as Mikhail would have made an effort to avoid her. Katerina thought she should have been angry with him, but to her amazement, she found no anger in her heart for Mikhail at all. For Katerina knew, in her heart of hearts, that he had, however inadvertently, prevented her from marrying a man that would have made her life even more unhappy than the lonely one she’d lived in the home of her aging father.

For Mikhail’s part, he found he still held a stirring of love for this woman, who had once been his heart’s desire. She still consumed his thoughts and hopes and dreams. He was therefore wonderfully surprised when she approached him, for he had thought never to speak with Katerina again, after the rough words he had spoken to her upon that enchanted bridge.

She lingered in his company, there in the market, and when he asked about her well-being, she told him of her unhappiness and how lonely her life had become. She never thought to give this man the time of day again, but he treated her kindly and sympathized with her loneliness.

Katerina had learned to see people for who they really were, and now knew the curse was actually a blessing. For it had given her an ability to see beyond the outward appearance, the fa├žade with which people chose to portray themselves. And though Mikhail was far from handsome, he was neither wealthy, nor did he hold a high position, yet he was a kind man and she found herself drawn to his company, and found that she enjoyed being with him, and the way he made her feel.

There followed a time of courtship and, eventually, he brought her back to the bridge. There he pledged his undying love and asked her again to marry him. This time, his words sent a thrill of love throughout her being, for she saw him with Love’s True Sight; and when that happened, she felt the hardness of her heart fall away like scales, and the curse that had once been laid upon her lifted. And though she could see all his flaws, she knew without doubt that she would love this man, and she agreed to be his wife.

They rushed away to tell his friends and brought her father and the preacher back to the romantic, enchanting bridge. There they were married, and she left her father’s house to make a new home with her husband. And after that, they lived happily ever after.

The End.

Published as my first of twelve short story prompts for 2018 at 12shortstories.com

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Joy Comes Late

Georgina saw the younger woman enter the shop and felt as if God had just blessed her with a gift. It seemed to the elderly lady that the whole store brightened, lit by the blond hair and pale skin and delicate frame of the woman; though Georgina thought she looked sad, with her solemn expression and downcast eyes.

The woman didn’t see Georgina, nor did she make eye contact with anyone in the shop. She went straight to the sales rack and riffled through until she pulled out a plain blue skirt, then wandered to the blouses, fingering the material and examining price tags, finally selecting a white short sleeved, button up blouse and a light blue cardigan. As if she knew exactly what she was looking for, and no need to look any further.

The elderly woman ducked behind a clothes rack as the blond one passed her on the way to the fitting room. She slipped out of the store as the other went to try on her clothes, then positioned herself so she could see the sales counter, yet not be seen herself.

Georgina fidgeted with her purse, fluffed her hair in nervous anticipation and found herself struggling with emotions she’d thought long laid to rest. Her heart beat erratically, feeling as if the dead had been raised to life and was even now heading straight towards her, full of life and energy and totally unaware of the chaos she’s wrought within the old lady’s memories.

Georgina had always been bold, not one to let opportunity slip by and so she moved quickly, following the girl just to the mall door, then called out, tremulously.

“Virginia?” Her pulse raised and her heart seemed to constrict when the other woman turned towards her. “Yes, it is you! Oh, Virginia!  I would know you anywhere. Why, it’s like looking in a mirror at myself, forty years ago!”

“Nana?” It was said in the barest of whispers, the blue eyes widening in recognition, and for the barest of moments a glimmer of warmth shone from them, only to be replaced with steely ice and cold reserve.

“No!” She turned away from the elderly woman, her body ridged, tensed. “No! I’m sorry, but I have nothing to say to you. Excuse me.” Virginia turned away, but Georgina moved quickly, need propelling her forward, cutting off the exit the younger woman would have taken.

“Is that right?” Anger, and grief, strengthened Georgina’s voice. “You’ve nothing to say to your Grandmother, whom you haven’t seen or spoken to in twenty-five years? Why are you here?”

“That’s none of your business. I didn’t come to see you.”

“No. I’m sure you didn’t. But here we are. Could you not spare just ten minutes to sit and talk with me?” She hated that she felt the need to beg.

“And talk about what, Nana? How you drove my mother away and broke my father’s heart? How you… “ Her voice broke on a web of emotion, and she clutched the bag with her new clothes hard against her chest like a shield.

Two teenage girls brushed past them, chatting unconcernedly and letting a warm breeze filter in through the door as it opened and closed behind them.

Neither woman moved, as if frozen in time.

Georgina swallowed the lump in her throat, knowing that this may be her only chance to say the words and bridge the gulf that had separated them for so long. “I know that’s what you think. George must have thought it too, else why move so far away, so soon after Gloria left? But I was not to blame, Virginia. I only wanted your mother to get help, not to abandon her family.”

“I was there, Nana. I heard what you said to her. ‘You’re no good to them,’ you said, ‘you’re not a fit mother’ and ‘you’re not a fit wife’. I heard you!”

“Yes. God help me, I did say those things. And it was the truth. She was not a good mother…”

“But she was my mother!”

“And all I wanted was for her to get help. Twenty-eight days, Virginia, that’s what I suggested. As God is my witness. Twenty-eight days. She could have gotten the help she needed and come back to us.” The tears spilled over, the words caught in her throat. “I loved her too.”

“I don’t believe you. She would not have just left me.”

“I’ll not malign your memories of her. Either you don’t remember what it was like or you were unaware; which, given how young you were, seems more likely. But your father’ll remember. You ask him”

Her heart ached, and she could barely speak now through the tears that fell freely. She wiped at the tears with a finger, then reached out and stroked the younger woman’s face before turning away. “You ask him,” she said, opening the door, “and if it makes a difference in how he remembers, please have him call me.”

It was the hardest thing she’d ever done, Georgina thought, leaving her granddaughter behind.



“Virginia?” The voice on the other end of the line emanated concern, “What’s wrong, honey? Where are you”

“I’m in my hotel room. Remember? I told you I had to go to Walnut Creek for business. Daddy, I…. I saw Nana today.”

“Nana? You saw Nana? Where? Why?” Was that anger she heard in his voice?

“Oh, it’s a long story. I flew in this afternoon, but the airlines lost my luggage and I needed to find an outfit to wear to work tomorrow, and she was there, at the mall and she said…”

“You saw Nana at the mall?” He sounded puzzled, obviously not connecting the dots to the story she was telling.

“Yeah. She was there, and she recognized me and she stopped me and wanted to talk.”

“And what did she say?” It was definitely anger and it made her feel as if she had somehow betrayed him for even speaking to his mother. A woman he had disowned over twenty-five years ago. A woman she had loved, and desperately missed, especially after her own mother had disappeared from her life.

“I didn’t want to talk with her. I told her it was her fault that Mom split on us and she said that she was only trying to help.”

“To help!” He laughed with bitter sarcasm, “How was convincing my wife that she had screwed up our lives supposed to help?”

“She said she only meant for her to go away for twenty-eight days. She said I wouldn’t remember what it was like, but you would and that I should ask you. Dad? Did mom have a problem with drugs? Or alcohol?”

“Oh, honey. No!”

“She did, didn’t she? I remember coming home some days and the house would be a mess and she’d be sleeping on the couch and I couldn’t wake her up. I remember! You used to argue all the time and she’d leave and not come home until late at night. You were so angry with her, and so was Nana. That’s why Nana said what she said, isn’t it? ‘You’re not a fit mother.’ Well, maybe she wasn’t.”

Virginia fingered the ring on her finger, thinking of her boyfriend and the grief his brother had caused to so many people. “Why did we blame Nana all these years, Dad? It’s no different than Justin’s brother, David. Always lying and stealing so he could buy his drugs, then promising he wouldn’t do it any more once the drugs were gone and he was no longer high. But David got help, didn’t he? He went to one of those programs, a twenty-eight day program, if I remember rightly!”

“No,” her Dad’s voice had grown quiet, contemplative. “No. She was doing better, she didn’t need ‘help,’: as Nana liked to call it.”

“You know what, Dad? You sound just like Justin’s mother! I’m sorry, but you do. She never wanted to believe that David was to blame for his own problems, she was blind to his addiction and the trouble he caused.”

“Oh come on, sweetheart. You know that Nana never liked Gloria, and she never tried to hide it. She was always putting Gloria down, telling her how she should keep the house or learn to cook. It was Nana’s fault that Gloria left.”

“I don’t believe that, Dad. Not anymore. I think Nana truly loved Mom, at least for our sake. I can only imagine what it must have felt for her when we left too. At least we had each other. She had no one!”

“So what? Are you saying we abandoned her, like your mother abandoned us?”

“Yeah, Dad. It kind of seems that way. Maybe we needed someone to blame for our hurt and we took it out on Nana.”


“Hello?” Georgina answered the phone, her heart full of joy when the voice on the other end asked:


This story was written in response to a short story challenge, the prompt "Joy", 1500 word count exactly.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Daily Writing Prompt 9/4/15

Write the saddest scene you can think of between a little boy and a little girl. Except it's the first time they've ever met.

The little girl gladly took the ice cream cone from the man behind the counter, admiring the single, hand-scooped cone as she turned away. She barely noticed the little boy who was next in line, although it registered that he ordered the same flavor as she did.

Rocky Road was her favorite, and she took a small lick, and then another. But the next lick dislodged the scoop of chocolatey goodness and there was nothing she could do to stop the ice cream from falling to the floor.

The boy had just paid for his cone, and witnessed the whole scene. Feeling sorry for the pretty girl, he gallantly offered his own cone to her, heroically trying to stop her tears and bring a smile to her captivating eyes.

"Oh,thank you," she replied, "but I just couldn't." But her eyes spoke the lie as she hungrily gazed at his cone.

"But I insist," the boy was raised to be polite and generous, and he smiled in delight when she accepted.

She would have liked to pay him back, or buy him a cone as well, but she had used all her money with her own cone. She took the cone from the boy, thinking him the cutest boy she'd ever seen, and at his prompting she gave the cone a lick.
The boy, happy with himself, but sad that he didn't have any more money himself, watched as she licked the ice cream, once, and then again.

She smiled at him, and took one more lick. But then, again, to her utter dismay and disbelief, she did it again! The sound of the ice cream plopping on the floor was the saddest sound either of them had ever heard.

Horrified, she burst into tears, but this time there was nothing the little boy could do to help, and, feeling rather lousy as this turn of events, he felt his own eyes well up with tears.

Of course, not being able to end a story on such a sad note, I should tell you that the man behind the counter gave the little boy and the little girl each their own Rocky Road ice cream cone, as well as one for himself, and proceeded to give them a lesson on the proper way to lick an ice cream cone.