New Beginnings

Hello friendly readers! I’ve been off cruising, and I’m now just getting back into the swing of things with my writing. Today, I wrote a flash fiction piece for Chuck Wendig’s blog, Terribleminds. I also did something CRAZY, and I submitted a Flash Fiction piece to The Master’s Review. Wish me luck!

Today’s challenge is about real estate. To be honest, I started about three pieces before I finally settled on this one. It’s about memories, but with a little twist.



New Beginnings — 997 words

Cabin

Callie hadn’t been up the mountain in years. The path stood out, still worn by feet. Her father had taken her hand one day, walked her down the path to the valley below, and told her how this footpath had been worn by Indians long before white men ever settled in these parts. Callie never knew if that was true, but she liked the idea of an Indian family walking up to their tee-pee in the same place their log cabin stood.

The cabin stood strong like a soldier but worn and weary from battle. The clearing around the cabin had weeds that went all the way up to Callie’s knees. She bent down and fingered some of the clover by the wooden steps, thinking about how she and Maymay used to make clover crowns to braid into their hair.

Callie stood in front of the steps, amazed the cabin didn’t even have a broken window. It had obviously been deserted years ago. How long after she packed up a bag and disappeared into the moonlit night had the rest of them left? She would never know.

Callie walked up the creaking stairs. She turned and looked at the view. The mountain sloped down and huge evergreens towered up. She could barely see the creek running below and smoke from a rooftop at the center of town rose and disappeared into the blue sky.

She sighed and turned back toward the door. As a little girl, there had been a screen on the door. They never had air conditioning and the screen let the cool air in and the left the bugs out. She had sat on this porch with her sister, brothers, and parents and rocked in handmade rocking chairs while Poppa played the guitar and they all sang out of tune.

She felt a shiver as if the ghosts of her childhood had come up the mountain with her. She opened the door, listening to the familiar creak as the wood pushed against the frame. Dust swirled on the inside of the house, and she waved it away. Light began to filter in, and she adjusted her eyes.

Callie was shocked. Inside the house, her momma’s pink chair stood in the corner with an afghan draped over it. She remembered the afghan. Great Aunt Bertie had made it when Will had been born fragile and premature in the dead of winter. The rainbow pattern had been a favorite of Callie’s, and she remembered sitting on her momma’s lap and touching the coarse wool as Momma sang to little Will.

The bookcases lining the wall contained the Bible and all the classics. She took the Bible down and opened the front page. Her family’s history, inscribed in her father’s scrawling cursive stared back at her. Momma’s birth and death date. And Will’s. Her birth date and Maymay’s and her brothers’ names glared back at her. She thought of the days by the fire. The good old days, she thought of them, where they hadn’t had much but they’d had each other.

The fireplace stood empty, covered in ash. Her brothers hated to clean it out. They would sneeze and cough and complain until Poppa smacked their faces. Momma always came to their defense, but Poppa tsked tsked her.

Callie felt the tears before she knew she had started crying. She walked to the back into her momma and poppa’s room. The bed stood in the corner with dust bunnies under the frame. The mattress was long gone, probably buried with Momma. Will had been six that winter. He had been such a sickly child. He started coughing first. Momma thought he just had a cold, but it settled into his chest and he struggled to breathe. Momma became feverish within a day.

Callie remembered making dinner on the stove and begging Poppa to take them down the mountain to the doctor. She could hear their breathing from behind the closed door. Poppa refused.

“We don’t have the money for that. The herbs will work.”

Only this time, the herbs didn’t work.

Standing in the little room, she remembered the sound as Will took one last raspy breath and never let another one out. Four hours later, Momma did the same. Within a day, Poppa went out to the barn to make their coffins. He left them in the bed until they smelled, unable to stomach the idea of burying them.

Callie remembered sitting by their bedside and holding Momma’s hands. She could still remember Momma’s white face, her cold-stone dead eyes staring up at the ceiling. Poppa said people were supposed to look peaceful in death, but Momma looked fearful. Callie had never forgotten that look.

Six months later, Callie, fifteen years old, left the cabin for good. She awoke in the middle of the night lying in the bed she shared with MayMay. When she crept out onto the porch she stared out into the dark, trying to make out the two crosses. She turned once and looked back through the windows into the living room where she had grown up. She thought about Momma reading the Bible stories to her, with a heap of children gathered around, and little Will securely on her lap. She thought about Poppa with a pipe in his mouth and a grin on his face, rocking in the chair telling Momma not to rile the kids up before bedtime. But mostly, she thought of the two cold, soulless bodies who had sucked the joy out of the house. She hadn’t seen Poppa smile since.

Callie poured the gasoline in the living room. She had placed the Bible in her purse—one thing to remember everything by. She looked around before lighting the match. She tossed it into the puddle of gasoline and watched as the flames began to dance. She walked out the door and down the path as smoke began to fill the crystal blue sky.

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The Dark Half

I wrote this for Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge again. The Challenge was to pick one of Stephen King’s titles and write a completely different story. I’ve never read The Dark Half by Stephen King, but the title spoke to me.

The Dark Half — 1,151 words

P-E-R-F-E-C-T. There’s no such thing. At least that’s what Carmen’s teachers always said. Nobody’s perfect. But Carmen knew better.

“Anything less than perfection is not acceptable.” Her father’s words reverberated in her head. As such, Carmen’s life was ruled by these words.

First an ivy league school, then an 80-hour-a-week job. Then the perfect husband,  then 2 perfect kids, and a golden retriever, living in the perfect neighborhood in the perfect town to complete her perfect life. Who could ask for anything more? And still she didn’t feel like she had her father’s approval. It was enough to drive anyone crazy.

On December 6, she woke up in a clapboard house on a mattress shoved up against a graffiti covered wall. A tattooed man slept next to her. His chest rose and fell as she shielded her eyes from the brightness of the sun streaming through the slats covering the windows.

Carmen had no idea how she had ended up in this halfway house or whatever the hell kinda place it was. And she had no idea who the man beside her could be. She pulled the sheet down and much to her surprise realized she was naked. But worse than that, he was naked too. She gasped in horror. And apparently this gasp was louder than the drum beat going on next door or upstairs or wherever the hell it was going on, because it woke up Tattoo man.

“Hey baby,” he said, moving his naked-as-a-mole-rat body toward her.

She scooted to the far edge of the mattress and pulled the sheet all the way up to her chin, trying to cover up and retain at least a little bit of her decency.

“Who the hell are you?”

“What do you mean, who the hell am I?”

Tattoo Man sat up and scooted closer to her, pulling the sheet down as he did. Carmen tried to scoot further from him and almost fell off the mattress onto the dirty black and white tile floor.

“I have no idea how I got here.”

He scoffed. Then he stood up and walked across the room, completely naked, with everything hanging out. Carmen averted her eyes.

He grabbed a cigarette and lit it.

“You want one?”

“I don’t smoke.”

“The hell you don’t.” He looked at her out of the corner of his eye and shook his head.

“I have to go.”

Carmen stood up, trying to shield her naked body from his wandering eyes. She didn’t succeed. She threw on the dress, one of her favorites, a blue button-down Ann Taylor dress. At least her clothes hadn’t changed. She slipped on her heels. Tattoo Man watched the whole scene with a look of amusement on his face.

She headed toward the door.

“See you tonight, Love,” he said and reached toward her. She avoided his outstretched arms and skirted out the door.

How the hell did she get there? She looked down at her watch. Christ, it was 8 AM.  Tom would be wondering where she was. Breakfast wouldn’t be made. The kids wouldn’t be driven to school. Tom would be late for work. She would be late for work.

Her car sat badly parallel parked in between two overflowing trashcans. She noted with alarm that she was in East Marlboro, an undesirable area, over the bridge and railroad track from Marlboro. She sped up, hitting 90 after merging onto the Interstate. She couldn’t imagine what Tom was thinking.

She pulled into her driveway. She stared at her beautifully manicured half acre yard. She took in the row of beautifully blooming pink azaleas. She looked at the windows with their perfect symmetry and the front porch, complete with a porch swing. She had worked so hard for the perfect life. She sighed a breath of relief.

She ran into the house, listening to the beep of the alarm on the backdoor as she strode into the kitchen. Tom sat at the table, reading the newspaper.

He looked up at Carmen with surprise.

“God, you scared me. Your conference is already over?”

“What? Why are you home? It’s 8:45.”

“I just dropped the kids off. I’m going into the office later. You’re supposed to be gone another two days.”

“Oh, I, um. I just forgot something.”

“So you came all the way back?”

“From where?”

“Buffalo.” He looked at her like she had two heads.

“Buffalo?”

Why the hell would I be at a conference in Buffalo, Carmen thought. She sat down at the table next to Tom and glanced at the newspaper in his hand. December 8th. Pearl Harbor Day. She had lost two days somehow. How was that even possible? She knew with certainty it was December 6th. And Buffalo? Why would she tell Tom she was at a conference in Buffalo. Her head spun, a tension headache rising up on the back of her neck and making her feel hot. She fanned herself off and stared at Tom with her sickly sweet, perfect wife, mother, employee smile planted on her face.

“I just forgot the presentation.”

“I could have emailed that to you.”

“Yeah, but….Listen—I’m going to get it and drive back to Buffalo. I’ll see you on the—” She realized she had no idea when she was supposed to come back home.

“Tenth.”

“Yes of course.”

Carmen headed toward the door.

“Carmen, aren’t you forgetting the presentation…again?” Tom asked, looking up from the paper.

“Oh yeah.”

Carmen took the steps two at a time like she used to do as a kid. She walked into their perfect Master bedroom, with the perfect shade of gray on the wall, and the perfect comforter—not too warm for the summer months. She rummaged around in the drawers, pretending for Tom’s sake, to look for the presentation. She found a jump drive in the back of her underwear drawer. What the hell is this?

She drove back to the slums of East Marlboro. She took the steps two-at-a-time to apartment 208. Tattoo Man opened the door.

“Back already?”

“You have a computer?”

“Laptop. It’s a Chromebook. We bought it together, Carmen.”

“Yeah, whatever. Where is it?”

He pointed her to the table. She squeezed her temples trying to recall the last few days of her life. Carmen plugged the jump drive into the Chromebook’s USB port and a file labeled The Dark Half popped up.

She clicked it and several newspaper articles came up with the dates: January 4, 2017, February 26, 2017, April 10, 2017, April 14, 2017, July 8, 2017, September 26, 2017, October 3, 2017. She scanned the headlines on the articles. Grand Theft Auto. Bank Robbery. Attempted Murder.

One title in particular caught her eye: Modern Day Bonnie & Clyde Continue to Elude Cops.

She felt breath on her neck. She turned her head and looked into Tattoo Man’s eyes.

“You made a file,” Tattoo Man said, nodding affirmation.

“Are you Clyde?”

“Yeah. And you’re Bonnie.”


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A New Life

Hello lovely readers. Today, I wrote a blog for Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge. The challenge this week was to write something with the prompt new life. 

A New Life — 650 Words

When Star turned thirty-one she wished for a new life. She even wished for a new name. The commitments of everyday life seemed too much, and like her name sake, she almost wished she could fizzle out or be sucked up into the nothingness of a black hole.

On a Thursday, she went to her job at Thomason’s Bolts. She sat at the front desk, staring at the wood-paneled walls, waiting for a customer to call or come in. The clock on the wall ticked away, reminding her of how little time she had left to really make a difference.

Mr. Thomason, who had a red mustache despite his head full of black hair, walked in, threw a file on her desk and said, “What the hell happened with the Parker contract?”

Star took a deep breath and stared at him. For years she had been waiting for this moment. She stood up, put her faux Michael Kors purse on her shoulder, and walked out much to the gaping Mr. Thomason’s surprise. She had felt like cussing him out, but instead she walked out with her pride still intact. A silent revolution of sorts.

Star had always trusted her intuition. She trusted it when she met Bobby Dixon at a night club five years back. She trusted it when she walked down the aisle with him two years earlier. She trusted it when she followed him to a Motel 6 on the edge of town three weeks before, and saw him walk into Room 504 with a bleached-blonde tramp wearing hooker heels. She even trusted it as she packed up the boxes in the two story end unit townhome they owned together and walked away from Bobby. Their relationship had grown stagnant, and she knew his transgression was as much her fault as it was his. At night, they had started to politely ignore one another. And she realized their life together had become boring, monotonous even, and who could fathom living out the next 50 or so years that way. Not her.

On Friday, Star sat in the airport. She had turned off her phone after approximately 52 phone calls and about 150 text messages from Bobby. Mr. Thomason had only called her once and left this message, “So I take it you quit?”

Star bought a one-way ticket to Peru. She had been there before. She had been a teenager, on the brink of adulthood, when her parents had dragged her to the rainforest. They had taken her to small villages tucked along the Amazon where they provided medical services for people in need. Her parents had been upset by the poverty of the people. Star had been entranced by the happiness they found in their simple life.

Star couldn’t explain it, but when she stepped off the plane and shook Señor Arizmendi’s hand, she told him not to call her Star, but to call her Zora.  Señor Arizmendi complied, despite the contradictory evidence of her passport.

They took a bus then a boat to the small village. When Señor Arizmendi stepped off the boat, all the children gathered around him, asking for candy and staring with their big brown eyes at Zora. She smiled and patted their heads, and she handed out the candy Señor Arizmendi had given to her in preparation for this moment. The children flashed toothless grins at Zora, and one small boy, who couldn’t have been older than four, placed his pudgy hand in hers and led her toward the one room school house.

Zora sighed in relief as she found her way in this new life. Zora found new meaning in this simple way of life. She found a way to relax and be happy with just being, surviving, teaching, and letting the children help her grown into the person she knew she had always been capable of being.

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Party Over

This is another Flash Fiction piece for Chuck Wendig’s blog Terrible Minds. The theme of this story is, “Why is it so hard to accept the party is over?”

Party Over (997 words)

ping pong

Solo cups littered the ping pong table. Spilt beer stained the green ping pong court. A ball sat still in a puddle of Bud Lite or worse, PBR. Bodies littered the floor, some of them snoring, cuddled together as if they had just dropped down where they had been standing. Holly sat with her back against the wall. Her eyes wanted to roll up into her head. She had won, or was it lost, at Beer Pong. Either way, a lot of cheap beer had gone down her throat and now the room moved beneath her feet.

Dan stumbled into the room. He slid down the wall next to Holly, his shirt catching halfway up and revealing his left hip bone and ab muscles. He tugged at the shirt, trying to pull it down, as he sat down next to her. Holly felt electricity filter through her body and a longing to put her hands all over Dan’s body. But Dan was just a friend. Just a friend, she reminded herself. Hands off.

Dan leaned into Holly and nestled his head on her shoulder. She leaned into him, feeling her heart beat faster. She wanted to grab his hand and squeeze it.

“I drank too much.” Dan slurred all the words.

“Is there any beer left?”

“It’s 2 in the morning.”

She looked at Dan. Brown wavy hair had fallen forward in front of his eyes. He struggled to keep them open. She knew he would pass out if she didn’t talk to him.

“Maybe I should go.”

“Don’t go,” Dan muttered, pushing his body closer to hers.

“The party’s over.”

“Nooooo.” He drew the “o” out so long then crumpled into a laugh.

“Where have you been?”

Dan pulled his head off of her and sat up straight against the white wall behind him. His green eyes opened widely as if he were suddenly the soberest person on earth. He reached into his pocket and pulled out an empty Trojan wrapper. He placed it in Holly’s hand. A grin grew on his face and then he laughed again, as if this were a personal joke between the two of them.

Holly slumped further down on the wall. She felt a lump in her throat liked she swallowed a tortilla chip the wrong way. She wanted to tell Dan how she felt. She’d wanted for so long to say, “Why don’t you see me? I’m right here waiting for you.” But she couldn’t. It was never the right time.

She thought she would tell him tonight. She thought she would come to this party, have a few drinks, then sit down with him and say, “Look. I’m in love with you.”

But it didn’t happen. First, her best friend Lindsey showed up. They had a beer, then two, then a glass of wine. Lindsey dragged her to the middle of the party to meet some guy who had acne scars on his face. What’s his face? Michael? Or Bill? Something like that. Holly couldn’t remember, yet she spent at least an hour talking to him about his trip to Borneo last spring and all the intricate details of his life. When Dan showed up, Holly had her head close to Michael/Bill, with one hand on his bicep. She saw Dan flit his eyes at her and then walk away. Why should she care anyway? They were just friends.

And so when beer pong started up, Dan joined her and they joked and kidded around for awhile, but the next thing she knew it was 2 AM and she was drunk as hell. And she hadn’t said a damn thing to Dan. Well no fucking wonder. He was off screwing another chick this whole time. She fucking hated him for that. And now she felt like she could cry.

Holly tried to stand up.

“Wait, where are you going?” Except Dan’s drunken words made it sound like, “Late, where you glowing?”

“I need to go.”

Dan reached his arm up and tried to pull Holly back down onto the floor with him.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

Holly now stood in a crouch against the wall as if she were in an exercise class working on her hamstrings. The room seemed to spin around her, the ping pong table askew. She felt bile rise in the back of her throat and felt like she might throw up.

“What are you sorry about?”

“Getting drunk.”

“It was a party. That’s what people do.”

“I’m sorry, Holly,” only it sounded like, “I’m slorry, Horry.”

Dan’s slurs were getting worse, and Holly simultaneously wanted to run away and throw her arms around him. Instead, she sat back down on the floor with him.

“You have nothing to be sorry about,” Holly said.

She laid her head on his shoulder this time. He reached up and ran his hands through her golden-blonde hair.

I love you, Dan. The voice inside her head tried to goad her into saying it, but she pushed the words aside. They had both been partying and were drunk beyond all belief. He wouldn’t even remember it if she told him how she felt now.

How many more hours or days could she live this lie? Holly didn’t know. At the beginning of the night, she had felt so much promise. It would be like a romantic movie. She’d tell him, he’d throw his arms around her, and profess his undying love too. But life never played out that way. She’d wanted to tell him for the last year that she was sick of being his friend. She wanted more for their relationship, but there was something, some little part of her holding her back and she didn’t know why.

She closed her eyes, and she wished for the party to be over. The room spun out of control in the blackness of her mind. She leaned over and green colored vomit gushed from her mouth all over the hardwood floors. She wiped her mouth and knew tomorrow would be exactly the same as today.

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In Control

Today’s blog post is a Flash Fiction piece for Terrible Minds again. The assignment is to pick lyrics from one of your favorite songs and use those words as your theme. The song is In Control by Greensky Bluegrass, and the video is after the story. Enjoy!

The Theme:

Though I am not without weakness I will define what lies ahead; I’m not out of control    -Greensky Bluegrass from their song In Control

In Control — 1123 words

What are you going to do when you get out?

His words echoed in my head. Not this, I wanted to respond to his ghost. I didn’t know how much I’d miss Peter. I hadn’t thought the ache would drive me to the needle. I closed my eyes as the liquid seeped into my veins. I could see Peter’s face, his delicate eyelashes that looked too feminine against his scarred face. His bright blue eyes beacons of light which seemed to beckon me back to him.

What are you doing?

I could hear his words, as if he were speaking to me, echoing in my head before the sudden blackness hit me. Too much or not enough, my last thought.

When I woke up I wondered if sheer blackness was what we had to look forward to when we died. I still had a faint hope in God, but why would he give me so much pain? I tried to move but realized my arms were restrained. They took it as a suicide attempt instead of just falling off the wagon.

I opened my eyes and looked to my left.

Peter, my rock, sat in the sunshine next to the window. My eyes struggled against the too bright light to make sense of him there. I had not seen him in months. He looked good, his scar faded slightly, his eyes twinkled, as he leaned forward setting his elbows on his knees. His face emanated kindness and concern.

“Astrid.”

“I’m sorry.” I mouthed the words. My throat felt dry as if I had walked through the desert.

Peter stood up. He looked larger than life. He pushed a button over my bed. A nurse came in wearing a white cap.

“Water.” She nodded at Peter and left.

The wise man built his house upon the rock. The children’s song went through my mind as I gazed at my wise man, the rock, piedra, Peter.

“It doesn’t have to be this way.”

I couldn’t talk. My throat felt like sandpaper. The nurse returned with the water. Peter propped a pillow behind my back and grabbed my elbow, helping me up. He held the cup to my lips and I swallowed the water in one gulp.

“Don’t gulp it down. You’re already weak. You don’t want to throw up.”

“I don’t remember anything.” My voice was scratchy but there.

“Your mom found you. Called me here. It was touch and go at first. But they pulled you through. You were lucky. She let herself in two minutes or so after you overdosed.”

“I guess she’s sending me back.”

“You know it’s a voluntary program. Next time, you get the desire to use will you call me?”

I nodded.

“You know, you’re in control of your life. You’re the one who says whether you live another day clean. Whether you decide to use again. It’s hard. Trust me, I know. I make that decision every day.”

Peter brought his hand up to his face, touching the scar etched against his skin—a constant reminder of his weakness.

“Tell me the story.”

Peter grimaced. “I’ve told this story hundreds of time—to all of my sponsors—but it never gets easier. It’s a reminder to me that weakness has the power to destroy, but can be overcome. Your weakness does not define you. Through my tragedy, I took control of my life. I defined the way I wanted to live.”

He sighed releasing the pain into the story.

“It was Matthew’s eighth birthday. You know, the name Matthew means ‘gift of God,’ and he was. My wife and I couldn’t have kids. Or at least we didn’t think we could. We tried and tried, and when we gave up, Matthew came along. He didn’t seem like other children. He came into this world with his eyes open so wide. He always seemed precocious, like he knew something we didn’t. That day, I had to drive him to Chuck-E-Cheese for his birthday party. I wanted one hit. One hit before I left. I’d done it before, taken him places while I was high. It wasn’t like I was drunk. I felt like I had control when I did meth. Felt like nothing could go wrong. ”

He sighed again. He sat on the edge of my bed, smoothing down the wrinkles on the white hospital sheets and looking over my head.

“But of course, that was just the drug. It made me feel happy–invincible. Or I thought it did. And then we were in a wreck. And Matthew, Matthew who was only eight but acted older, Matthew was gone.” Tears sat in Peter’s eyes.

“I went to jail for 18 months for manslaughter. Driving under the influence. But the worst punishment was losing Matthew. Meg left me. I’d hit rock bottom. And then in prison, I met my sponsor. He took me under his wings. He taught me to forgive myself and to take control of my life again. He taught me to fight against my weakness, my addiction, every day. He told me nothing could bring Matthew back, but that I, like everyone else, deserved a second chance. This scar—” Peter touched his face, “reminds me of Matthew every day, but it also reminds me of the decision I made to change my life and take control. And I know, Astrid, this is only a minor setback for you. I know you can do it. If I can do it after losing everything, you can do it too.”

“Everyone deserves a second chance,” I said, finishing his story for him.

“You have the power inside you to change and to take control. It will be hard to conquer your addiction, but if I can do it anyone can.” Peter said.

He took my hand in his, warmth against cold stone, and squeezed it. In that moment, I felt my blood start pumping again. I felt alive, like I hadn’t felt in months. I felt willingness and control seep back into my veins, passed from Peter to me. Strength, like no other.

I knew he was right. I had to try and believe in myself, to take control of my life, and to conquer the evil that had invaded my life and tried to wrestle control away from me. I had to take it back. I had to become a rock like Peter.

2 Timothy 1:7 <em>For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.</em>

 

 

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The Tree

Here’s another one from Chuck Wendig’s Terribleminds challenge of the week: write about a tree. I had a hard time with this, because I’m writing about a tree in my current novel. I wanted to share some of that novel, but I’m intent on having it published some day. At first, I thought I’d bypass this challenge, but this idea came to me. I hope you enjoy.

The Tree — 924 words. 

virginia-live-oak-440351_1920

Running. Feet pounding the ground. Ashton ended up where she always did, in front of the great big oak tree. The branches spread out like giants’ arms against the clear blue backdrop of the Southern sky. She placed her hand on the trunk and felt the warmth of the tree.

When she had been just a girl, her dad had strung a tire swing to the big horizontal branch. She had swung, laughing, and pushing her head back against the wind. She looked up at the green leaves as they danced in the sky. The tree held life. Her life, a memory of her fleeting childhood existence.

When she and Deke married, they took over the land. Then her dad got sick—lung cancer from too many cigs smoked as he herded cows into the dust. He held on for two weeks after the doctor diagnosed him. Ashton’s mom moved to the back room. She let Ashton, Deke, and their clan of little children take over the house. Ashton liked to listen to their bare feet on the wood floors. It reminded her of her childhood where there was always too much noise and clatter in the small farmhouse.

Ashton held her hands up to the tree. She rubbed the silkiness of the green leaves.


“You know, Ashton, this could all be yours one day,” her father had said, one day when he pushed her on the swing.

Ashton had laughed her high-pitched little girl laugh, tossing her blonde curls into the wind, feeling like she could fly away.

Her father stopped the swing. He kneeled down in front of her and took her small, soft hands into his rough, calloused ones. His blue eyes twinkled in the fading light of day. He smelled of Old Spice and cow manure, the smell of Ashton’s childhood.

“I mean it. You’re the one. This is the place.”

A rustle of wind blew through the tree, and it seemed to wave at Ashton. She looked up at the tree and could almost feel it wrapping its life-giving warmth around her. Her dad squeezed her hands, then hugged her. He started pushing the swing again.


“I want to put a tire swing up for the girls,” Ashton said.

“There?” Deke asked, pointing to the tree as they walked toward the wind.

The girls had stayed home with Ashton’s mom. The memorial service had been two weeks ago already. Ashton’s mom had taken to wearing only black and making pies: peach, apple, pecan. There were more pies than they could ever eat. The sting of Ashton’s father’s death still took her breath away. The tree gave her the air she needed to breathe again, to feel again.

“I was thinking about selling off this acreage to the Boyers’,” Deke said.

“Oh,” Ashton said. She looked at the tree, and it seemed to bow its head in sadness.

“We could make some money. Put it in a college fund for the girls. This farm just don’t produce as much as it used to.”

“You can’t.”

“Why can’t I?”

“Because that tree is important,” Ashton said, pointing to it. The tree seemed to stand up a little taller, the leaves danced against the bright light of the midday sun.

“Don’t be silly, Ashton.”

After dinner and the girls’ baths, Ashton sat in the living room with her mother while Deke read to the bouncing girls who had wired themselves up, slap-happy before bedtime. Ashton knitted while her mother ate a piece of peach pie a la mode. They conferred and agreed. Ashton kissed the urn on the mantle before heading off to bed.

The next morning, Ashton ran to the tree. Running made her feel so alive. She hugged it and swore it hugged her back.


“I met someone,” she said.

“Who?” her father asked.

She sat on the tire swing, holding the worn ropes, her keds firmly planted in the dip her bare childhood feet had made on the ground.

“His name is Deke Malloy.”

“Irish, is he?” her father had joked.

Ashton, in the full throes of adolescence, rolled her eyes.

“I think I’m in love, Dad.”

Her father smiled, held her hands, and gave her a kiss on the forehead.

“I think it’s about time we took down the tire swing,” he said.

“Oh Daddy, I love this old thing.”

They both looked up into the branches of the old oak tree. It had seen so much on this land for the last hundred years, so many people coming and going. Ashton could feel its spirit. The next day, Ashton’s father removed the tire swing. Five years later, Ashton and Deke married.


In the afternoon, they all dressed up. Ashton and her mother wore blue, the color of the sky, and her father’s favorite.

“I guess I didn’t realize how important the tree was to you,” Deke said.

Ashton’s mom held her hand. The little girls followed along, picking daisies they would later make daisy chains with. Ashton could almost see the outline of the tire swing. She looked at the tree, and she thought she saw her dad there waving at her. She smiled, and held up her hand. The tree waved back.

Under the tree’s shade, she and her mom struggled to open the urn.

“Ashes to ashes and dust to dust,” Ashton said.

She poured her father’s ashes into the dip her childhood feet had made. The leaves of the tree waved in the wind, and the ashes swirled a little then settled into dust. Ashton smiled, imagining her daddy standing there, her hand securely in his. She put her arms around her mother’s waist and around Deke’s squeezing them close to her and looking at the wonder of an old oak tree.

“Now about that tire swing…”

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Living With Harmony

Here’s another short story for Chuck Wendig’s weekly challenge. This week, the theme was “To fix something, you first must break it.” I’m not quite sure if anything in my story ever was actually fixed, but maybe that’s the point. You decide and let me know what you think.

Living With Harmony (1,025 words)

Harmony liked to take things apart and try to fix them. Her mom and dad said she would be an engineer some day. Her brothers said she was the worst. She constantly took apart their drones, robots, or any other amazing electronic they had received. Most of the time she couldn’t figure out how to put them back together again.

At school, Harmony didn’t quite fit in. All the other girls talked about princesses then as they grew older they talked about makeup and boys. She liked boys, but makeup didn’t make one iota of sense to her. Why would you put makeup on your face like a clown? Didn’t people know lipstick had been created to cover up the effects of tuberculosis? She didn’t understand how she could feel so smart and so able, but not fit into the box of society.

Then she met Reed. Reed fixed everything. The first time he came over to her house, the door creaked as he opened it. Reed asked if they had WD40. This cemented what Harmony already knew: they were made for each other.

Their relationship grew and eventually they married.

“Are you sure he’s the one?” Harmony’s oldest brother asked.

“Why wouldn’t he be?”

“He’s a fixer.”

“I’m a fixer too,” Harmony insisted.

“No. You’re a destroyer. That’s what you are.” Her brothers laughed at her.

But Harmony didn’t see it that way. She and Reed both liked to fix things or at least try. She couldn’t figure out what her brothers were driving at so she ignored them.

Harmony and Reed moved into a studio apartment on the East side of town. The apartment started out as perfect as their marriage. They tinkered together toiling steadily over different projects. Reed landed a job in an up and coming architect firm while Harmony continually questioned what to do with her life.  And Harmony grew bored. There was nothing for her to take apart and for Reed to fix in the little apartment. The super took care of all of that.

On a Monday, Harmony burnt the pancakes on purpose.

“Maybe there’s something wrong with the burner,” Reed said.

“There’s nothing wrong with the burner. I just burnt them.”

“That’s okay,” Reed said, giving Harmony a kiss on the cheek as he headed out the door.

Harmony sighed. Now she sat alone in the apartment bored with her perfect little existence. She took apart the television. Only, she couldn’t figure out exactly how to get it back together. She did the best she could, screwing in bolts and nuts, and putting the bunny ears back on top of the television.

Reed came home, sat down, and tried to turn on the boob tube.

“The TV is broken,” Harmony said.

“How’d that happen? I wanted to watch Johnny Carson”

Harmony shrugged. She went into the kitchen and scrubbed the pristine counters. Reed worked on the television. That night they made love more passionate than they had in six months. Harmony knew what she had to do to make things work.

The following day, Reed’s car wouldn’t start when he left work.

“I’m going to be late,” he said over his office phone.

“Working on a tough project?”

“Car won’t start. But it’s the strangest thing—I took the car to the dealership yesterday and everything was okay. I’m wondering if someone messed with it.”

Reed’s voice had an edge to it Harmony had never heard before.

“Honestly, Reed. Why would someone want to do that to you? You’re being paranoid.”

“Yes, I guess you’re right. Save me some dinner.”

He almost caught her with the toaster. She pulled out a piece, and when he went to fix it he found the piece in the drawer.

“Harmony, did you mess with the toaster?”

“No,” she said from the living room where she worked feverishly on a particularly difficult crossword puzzle.

“But I found a piece to it, in the junk drawer.” He stood, towering above her, holding the piece.

“I don’t know where that came from,” Harmony said, looking up at him for a minute then looking back at her crossword puzzle. “Do you know a four letter word for sex?”

“Fuck, I just don’t get it. Everything is breaking around here.” He slanted his eyes toward Harmony, but she had returned to her crossword puzzle.

That night when he crawled into bed, his breath smelled of gin and tonic. Harmony pushed her body closer to him. He pulled away.

“What’s wrong?”

“I’m so tired. Do you realize I’ve fixed three things today? I feel like everything is falling apart.”

As time marched on, Harmony became more adept at breaking things and Reed became more adept at fixing them. With everything Harmony broke, she felt closer and closer to Reed. She loved how he could fix even the most complicated things she broke. But then she started to notice Reed pull away from her and retreat into himself. She felt as if they were no longer in concord with one another. And she had no idea how to fix it.

The second summer of their marriage, the air conditioning went out. The apartment sweltered. The Super had gone on vacation.

“Aren’t you going to fix it, Reed?”

“Fix it? I’ve fixed everything. And everything keeps falling apart. It’s like I’m cursed or something.”

“Well have you looked at it?”

“Hell, I just don’t know what to do. It seems like it started when the car wouldn’t start. Then the TV broke, the fire, the carburetor in the car, the stupid toaster, and now this goddamn air conditioning. I just don’t see why all of this keeps happening?”

“But Reed, you’re so good at fixing things.”

“Harmony, there are some things that can never be fixed.”

With those lines, Reed walked out the door. Harmony looked out the second story window and watched as he hailed a cab. She had no idea where he was going, but she knew he wouldn’t be coming back. Harmony could create problems, but she could never quite figure out how to fix them.

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Pride Cometh Before the Fall

Today’s story is another flash fiction piece for Chuck Wendig’s blog over at TerribleMinds. The assignment was to write Good vs. Evil in whatever genre we chose. I chose Southern Fiction. I had a hard time coming up with an idea for this, as I don’t believe in purely good and evil. Walking the dogs today, I thought about this character Henny who I had been thinking of writing, and the story came to me. Please leave a comment and let me know what you thought! Thanks!

Pride Cometh Before the Fall (795 words)

Henny bent down to pick up the pecans that had fallen from the trees. She loved pecans, hard on the outside but soft on the inside, just like Papa. Papa’s hands had calluses and his face felt like leather, but he had a soft kind spirit that made Henny prideful.

Mama always said, “Pride cometh before the fall.”

Henny knew it was a Bible verse but whenever she thought of that phrase she thought of Mama’s hard, grim face and puckered lips.

The bag of pecans rustled against the tire of her bike as she pushed it through Mr. William’s pecan grove. She almost had enough.  When Mama baked pies with Henny some of her worn-outness disappeared. Sometimes Mama would soften like the dough, laughing and smiling as they kneaded it, creating something out of nothing.

“Henny, you run out now and get some pecans from over at Williams’ place so we can have a sweet pecan pie tonight. Shoo—go along now,” Mama said.

Henny knew she had been sent away because it was her little brother’s nap time. Mama said Henny could make more noise than a heap of Indians. Henny couldn’t sit still either—that’s what her teachers said. She had an abundance of energy she somehow could not deplete. Papa liked to tease her and would say, “Henny, it’s a wonder your battery ain’t never run out.”

Henny heard a rustle on the far side of the pecan grove. She rolled her bike through mountains of nuts stepping gingerly to avoid crunching any pecans underneath her feet. What she saw made her eyes grow big. The Klan—just about six or seven of ‘em. Her heartbeat sped up making her feel light headed. She put the kickstand down, and hid behind a big pecan tree.

Two men with white pointed hats held a black man by the arms.

“Don’t do it,” the black man screamed. “I din’t do it. I promise. Lemme go. I got a family.”

The Klansman leaned close to the black man and whispered in his ear. The black man looked like he peed himself. Henny stood still with fear. Another man came from the distance carrying a length of rope. They all looked like little toy soldiers. Dressed all in white there was no way to tell who was who. The black man wept. His eyes were red with tears.

He prayed out loud, “Dear God, please save me.”

Henny repeated his prayer. “Dear God, please save him.”

The men switched places, and the tallest Klansman made a loop in the rope. He cut a piece of it with a knife and tied the black man’s arms behind his back. The black man began to shuffle, hysterically trying to get away. The tallest Klansman dropped the knife but kept a strong grip on the rope. He pushed it over the black man’s head and tightened the loop. By this time one of the other Klansmen had climbed the tree. They hoisted the black man up and tied him there. The Klansman in the tree jumped down. There was noise in the distance, like a gunshot. The Klansmen looked around, but Henny couldn’t see their eyes. All seven of them stormed off into one direction, probably looking for the source of the distraction.

Henny’s eyes filled with tears. The black man was not dead. He hung there, struggling for breath. His hands remained tied behind his back. He gasped for air, the rope slowly digging into his neck, and turning his face as red as a tomato. His whole body swung with the effort to escape.

Henny made sure the white-robed men were gone. She tiptoed out from behind the tree.

She grabbed the knife the tallest Klansman had forgotten on the ground. It felt familiar in her palm, but she had no time to think about it. She shimmied up the tree as fast as she could. The black man’s eyes finding hers as he struggled to breathe against the tightness of the rope. She started sawing into the rope as fast as she could. Harder and harder until clunk, the black man was on the ground.

He coughed, grabbing at his neck. Henny looked down from above. She could see a red ring around his neck. She wanted to throw-up.

“Thank you, little girl. Thank you.” The hoarseness of his words made him hard to understand.

“You better run,” Henny said.

He nodded, rubbing his neck, and took off.

Henny climbed back down the tree turned the knife over and saw the inscription.

“To Papa. Happy Birthday. Love Henny.”

She sunk down to the ground and began to cry. The wind rustled in the trees as pecans fell to the ground like bullets. Fall was coming.

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