Into the Woods

I haven’t participated in Friday Fictioneers in a long time. If you’ve never heard of it, Friday Fictioneers encourages participants to write a 100 word story based on a photo prompt. Click the blue froggy to read the other stories.

© Rachel Bjerke

© Rachel Bjerke

I went to the place where we used to meet, where we shared secrets with sheltering trees. I followed my wandering feet, back to the place where we used to meet. The moss grew thick over the stones and the earth; time thickened air that once was sweet. The well was there, as I knew it would be, the old well in the place where we used to meet. I leaned over the edge and stared into the deep. The water was black and the only face was my own, alone in the place where we used to meet.

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Time and Tide

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Photo © David Stewart

 

She waited impatiently. The sun was almost at the apex. Reaching out, she ran her fingers along the surface of the old tarnished bell.

“The flowers look lovely this year,” he said.

She gasped and turned. He looked like one of the tour guides, but their clothes were costume and his were real. The wind blew and the bell chimed softly. He wound his fingers through hers.

“I’ve missed you, love,” he said.

He returned for twelve hours once a year on this, the anniversary of his death. This wasn’t how they had planned eternity together, but it was enough.

Sometimes The Truth is Better Than Fiction

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If you read nothing else about love today, read this two part tale of how one darling, daring dilettante earned her spots–stripes*?–anyway, how she got her name and ended up behind the wheel of what is now one of my favourite blogs of all time. And that’s not a typo, darling. 

I Know Very Well How I Got My Name by Helena Hann-Basquiat

Part I

Part II

*Unintentional Stick It reference. Blame the Olympics.

Eyes of Blue, Lips of Red, Don’t Look Now, You Might be Dead

Helena has been doing some “unhappily ever afters” or, as I like to call them, “happily never afters” on her blog for some of the past Friday Fictioneers photo prompts. I hope she doesn’t mind me borrowing a princess this week and if she does, well, I expect to be publicly castigated and/or flogged.

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Photo by Janet Webb

“Mm this looks good,” she said. “What is it?”

“Sangria,” Florian said, sliding the drink closer.

She looked around at the familiar, colorful décor, sighing happily. The Mirror Café was the first place she met Florian; he saved her when she fainted while waiting in line at the popular brunch spot. She drank deeply from the sweet drink and licked her lips.

“Mmm,” she said approvingly. “What kind of sangria is this, darling?”

“Apple,” he said,

Her eyes fluttered and she put a hand to her head.

Florian smiled, why settle for the princess when he could have the queen?

Read other stories here: 

*Florian is Snow White’s Prince Charming’s real name.

Réquiem ætérnam

Chuck Wendig’s latest Flash Fiction Challenge: choose from a list of conflicts* and write your face off.

Original Photo Here

Original Photo Here

         The simple pine box was plain and smelled of fresh sawdust, bright and clean against the heavy, damp scent of overturned earth. The top rested beside it, not yet sealed. The mourners stood in a huddle at the base of the hill, where the widow could not hear their whispers. Such a sad thing, to die so young. Lady Daria Vuldava’s shoulders shook with suppressed emotion.
         “Lady Vuldava,” the priest broke free from the flock and walked through the damp, blowing grass.
         “Father,” she took his thin, dry hands in hers. “Thank you so much—it was a beautiful ceremony.”
         “Lord Vuldava will be missed,” the priest’s smile quivered at the corners.
         “My Andrei,” Daria pressed her lips together and looked away, “would have appreciated your words. He so loved your homilies each Sunday.”
         “I am honored, Lady Daria,” the priest freed his hands from her grip, turning to look at the coffin.
         “Was there something else, Father?” Daria could not help but notice the way he clutched his rosary, fingers clicking across the beads.
         “Lady Daria, this brings me such grief,” the priest swallowed and Daria watched his Adam’s apple bob in discomfort.
         “Please, Father, speak freely,” Daria pulled her thick black furs tightly around her shoulders.
         “Your husband—God have mercy on his soul—died so suddenly, so unexpectedly…” the priest abandoned his rosary, dry-washing his pale, bony fingers.
         Daria looked expectantly at him, twisting the enourmous ruby on her left hand. When she did not speak, the Father’s shoulders heaved in a sigh.
         “The townspeople…given the circumstances of Lord Andrei’s death, would be put at ease if the old rites were performed.”
         ‘The old rites?” Daria’s hands clenched on her handkerchief. “You want to put a stake through my Andrei’s chest? To desecrate his body, consecrated unto the Lord, whom you claim to serve?”
         “Please, Lady Daria,” the priest glanced down the hill at the townspeople. Their pale, shapeless faces were all turned towards the Father and the widow. Daria stepped away from the priest, her black gown billowing out behind her in the gusting wind. The priest scurried after her, an errant leaf blown in her wake.
         Daria looked down at Andrei’s face. His skin was pale, almost translucent, in death. The thick eyelashes that rested on his cheeks like black crescent moons, the full lips forever stilled. She took a deep, shuddering breath and knelt next to him, crumpling as though her knees could no longer hold the weight of her sorrow.
         “Fine,” she rasped, looking up at the priest. “It shall be done. But not by you. He is—was—my husband. No one else shall touch him.”
         The priest finally nodded, his fingers twisting and twining like coupling serpents.
         “Lady Daria…it is no easy task…” he faltered at the look in her eyes and cleared his throat. “Those that prepared the body took the liberty…” he reached down a shaking hand and parted the thick furs and fine silks that draped Lord Vuldava’s body. A crude X was marked on his breast, just over his heart.
         Daria brushed her fingers over Andrei’s smooth, cold cheek, holding out a hand to the Father. She did not look at him as he laid the heavy wooden stake in her palm. Her fingers closed over it, feeling the splintered wood bite into her bare skin.
         “Leave me,” she said, her hand shaking as she examined the stake.
         “My Lady, I must bear witness—”
         “You will close the lid, will you not? You will see that I have done what is required of me. Now, go. If this desecration, this mutilation must happen, it will happen at my hands alone,” Daria waited until she heard the sounds of his hurried footsteps departing, the murmured reassurances he offered to the crowd of carrion crows waiting below.
She rose up on her knees, steadying herself on the edge of the coffin before gripping the stake in both hands and raising it high above her head.
         “To Thee, I commit his spirit,” she cried, loud enough for the gossips and their spiritual guide to hear.
         The stake met the resistance of cold flesh and bone. Sinews and muscle. Thick, black blood welled out like tar. Daria leaned heavily against the side of the coffin. Half the stake’s length was buried in his breast; the rest of the dry wood seemed to drink in the dead blood. Daria buried her face in her hands, ignoring the pressure of the priest’s hand on her shoulder as he came to examine the body. He lifted her gently away as the gravediggers came to seal the coffin. He released her long enough to make the sign of the cross and murmur “In nomine Patris, et Filis, et Spiritus Sancti” before the pine coffin disappeared into the hole. With the thuds of dirt on wood echoing across the hilltop, Daria let the priest lead her away.

——–

         The wind that blew as the gravediggers filled in the last of the hole picked up as the shadows drew and the day was devoured by the evening. Lightning rent the black sky with brilliant tongues of white fire, though no rain fell. The candles in the church flickered fitfully and the farmers and their wives closed the shutters tightly. No moon shone on the hilltop, but the windows in the Vuldava mansion glittered like a thousand eyes shining in the darkness.
         Daria stood alone on the hill, watching as the lightning lit the crosses and monuments with eerie, pale light. No veil of mourning covered her face and the wind whipped her dark hair free of its bindings and lashed it across her face. She reached down to grip the long fingered white hand that thrust out of the soil. She tenderly brushed the filth from his face as Andrei pulled the stake from his chest and cast it to the side, looking at her with pale, luminous grey eyes that drank in the lightning.
         Daria smiled exultantly,“Welcome back, my love.”

* a difficult funeral

Bones

“I hate this song,” she said to the dashboard as the thrumming synthetic music pumped through the speakers.
Caroline didn’t realize it was true until she said it aloud, to the empty seat beside her, to the rain slipping soundlessly down the windshield. It was on her iPod, the computerized vocals and the dissonant electric background sounds that started a headache right at the top of her nose. He liked it, so Caroline did, too. Until she didn’t.
        It was at odds with the dripping trees and the rain and the heater clicking as it struggled to warm the car. Caroline turned the music off and listened to the silence. He could never have silence, not in the car, not at home, not in the bedroom. Always the radio, the television, the stereo. Always the noise grated and scraped at her. He fell asleep with the television blaring, the newscasters yelling their stories of horror into the room, the lurid light pounding pounding pounding against her eyelids. Once his breathing slowed and evened, she turned off the incessant racket. Caroline tried to breathe with him, to be with him in sleep. To be present. She felt her heart hammering in protest as she tried to match each inhale, each exhale. The rebellion of her lungs, protesting this jarring of her body’s natural rhythm.
        Her knuckles whitened on the steering wheel and she stared at her long, thin hands. Skinny, like the rest of her, he once said. All angles and bones, she thought. She relaxed her fingers, focusing on them instead of the lightning that heralded the rumble of thunder and mimicked the struggling heater. It injected hot air into the sedan, but the chill air outside still permeated her body. This black coat had never kept her warm. She wore it when they walked, side by side, almost-touching.
      She remembered the electric anticipation of the almost-touch, the almost-kiss. Before it became the almost-touch of hesitation, of doubt, of hiding. The noise was a mask, a wall, a whispered phone call in the dead of night when there should be only silence. The almost-touch birthed the space that widened between the sheets, the invisible line that he never crossed after their bodies that joined in passion separated. The empty space did not stay vacant; fear, doubt, denial, and revulsion crowded in, peppering the silence with their snickers and pinching fingers and the sound of his breathing that she could not match. Perhaps they breathed together on the phone, when he spoke to Her at night. Perhaps they breathed together as they clung to each other in a bed that had no space. Perhaps the Other never felt the pain of the almost-touch that turned to never-touch, to never-again-touch. Perhaps the Other was soft, not made of bones, but of flesh.
        Caroline took a deep breath, before pulling on her gloves, one of the fingers catching on the ring that clung to her thin knuckle, refusing to release its grip. She stepped out of the car and rain dripped down the neck of the black coat as she struggled to open her umbrella. Wet gravel slid beneath her feet. She looked at herself in the side of the dented sedan: long, thin legs hidden by thick dark stockings and her coat. Caroline walked over the wet grass through which the black dirt seeped upward in the steady rain that dripped from the hanging branches. The umbrella stretched out around her, big enough for two, holding only her. Rain sluiced down the sides. The crowd ahead was small, huddled under umbrellas and the small canopy sheltering the yawning hole in the ground. They stared into it, searching for an answer. Some half turned toward her as she approached, nudging one another. She was careful not to step on the flat headstones sunken into the ground, soaked by rain.
         I’m standing on your grave, Caroline thought as she glanced down at one of the stones. Do you feel it?
        Easier to look down at the dead than up into the eyes of the living. The preacher had spoken, the songs sung, and the woman standing closest to the waiting hole was weeping into an overused tissue, her sobs harsh against the gentle patter of the rain. The Other. She looked at Caroline as she approached, her red-rimmed eyes widening above the sodden tissue, mascara dripping down her otherwise perfectly painted face. Someone moved, as though to catch Caroline, to stop her from walking forward. Caroline saw it out of the corner of her eye, from inside her umbrella cocoon. The funeral home employee, oblivious to swirling social undercurrents depressed the button that began to lower the gleaming casket with its wreath of be-ribboned flowers into the hole. Caroline waited until it vanished from view before tugging off her gloves. The cheap knit catching again on her ring. She leaned down, her umbrella lowering like a deflating balloon, and gripped a handful of thick, spongy dirt. She stood and let it fly, listening to the shower of earth that echoed against the lid of the coffin. The woman stopped crying, anger stemming her tears. Caroline met her eyes. The other woman took a step forward, pricey heels sinking in the grass. The pastor reached out a hand to steady the other woman or to stop her and she gripped his arm, the diamond ring on her left hand sparkling like a grotesque, over-sized raindrop.
        Caroline wiped her hand on her cheap black coat, feeling the grime cling to the ring on her right hand, the paltry imitation of a claim. The space in the bed grew and grew until she was alone. Until he went back to the Other, to the Only. She turned and walked back to her car, feeling the grains of dirt work their way into the lines on her palm. Into the love line and the life line until both were etched in black.
        Now he was only bones.

Advice I Chose to Ignore

In classes and on blogs, I have read advice on writing–how to write, what to write, when to write, and on and on it goes.  Some people will tell you that you have to write short stories as a young writer because no one will read a 400 page draft of your novel if you don’t have some sort of previous experience/publication as a reference. Others will tell you that you absolutely cannot write “genre” fiction if you want to be taken seriously.  There is good advice and bad–much of it specific to the writer. I do believe there is truth in learning the rules before you choose to break them…but break them you probably will.

The Advice: Write What You Know

One of my favorite authors of ALL TIME told me this when I had the opportunity to attend a lecture he gave. At first I took his words as gospel because, come on, I was fan-girling that I was even in the same room. But then, I started to consider what he said, perhaps not the way he intended it, and I was disheartened. What did I, a young, female college student from a happy, secure childhood know about anything? I let this advice fester for a long time, bothered by the implications. If I could only write what I know then I might as well give up. No one wants to hear the day-to-day complaints of someone who has the kind of life many people lust after.

Finally I began to ask myself some things: Is it limiting to write what you know? Is that even a real thing? I write male characters, but I am female. I write fantasy and those places certainly don’t exist. I write love but I have never been in it. I write heartbreak when I have never felt it. I write loss when I have barely experienced it. I write murder but have never committed it.

If we only wrote what we knew, the literary world would be filled with the mundane, the 8-5, the unrelenting normalcy in which we live.  There would be no tales of dragons or far off space or the Nicholas Sparks brand of love. Maybe as writers, it is our job to delve into the unknown and bring a piece of it back to those that cannot go there themselves.

The Advice: Outline

I have had numerous professors/fellow writers/people who would not know writing if it punched them in the nether regions tell me that outlining is the only way to go. To them I say, “Not for me, thanks.” Maybe it’s an inherent dislike of being told what to do–especially when concerning my writing–or maybe that technique simply doesn’t work for me. It makes writing feel too much like an assignment and gives it a rigidity that I believe is the nemesis of creativity and inspiration. Once my story starts going, I may jot down a loose list of who will go where and do what, but inevitably that list is filled with gaps and vague descriptions such as : “A and B go here to do…something. A battle ensues.” Hardly a concise and developed plan of the story. But that’s just the way my mind works. I have my major scenes in mind and the rest fills itself in as I go. If outlining works for you, carry on. If not, don’t feel compelled to do it because someone said that was the only right way.

The Advice: Write Something Other Than Fantasy

This is more of a past tense rejection (I have since been forced to follow this advice). Interestingly enough, my first forays into writing were very much set in the real world with realistic, every day characters and problems. But fantasy (reading and writing) has always been my first love and I don’t anticipate that changing soon. However, since fantasy on my part tends toward the epic, I was forced to write out of my comfort zone (which is advice every writer should take) for classes. I ended up with material that got me into graduate school, and that was well received by my classmates–proving to your very reluctant narrator that I can and should write non-fantasy fiction. This advice is specific to me, but, if someone ever tells you to stop writing what you love, I give you permission to spit on them and walk away. Or just walk away, whatever. It’s true that you should try other styles and genres and settings, if only to find out where your weaknesses and strengths lie. Perhaps you are excellent at descriptions but your dialogue is lacking–switching genres can give you a chance to experiment with things that did not fit in the situation in which you originally placed them.

 

In other words, take each piece of advice someone gives you with a grain of salt and a good deal of thought. It could be that you need to take their advice to heart and it could be that you need to decide to take bits of it or ignore it altogether. In the end, it’s your writing, for better or for worse, for published or for unpublished, in agony and in ecstasy, for as long as you both shall live.

Unrelated to writing: Don’t eat that, don’t drink that, don’t touch that, don’t text him back, and don’t you think you’ve had enough?

But I’ll let you make your own mistakes in your real life.

50 Plates of Brunch: a Serial Short Story

50 Plates of Brunch

Disclaimer: This should in no way be taken seriously.  Any resemblance to previously written works of romantic fiction is purely coincidental. Thanks to my friend Frosty for giving me this idea. I also almost called it: “50 Plates of Brunch: a Cereal Short Story” but I thought that would be punishment.  Sorry…couldn’t resist that one.

I.

Sidney watched him from across the restaurant, poking at the last of her scrambled eggs and waiting impatiently for the fresh fruit she ordered that never came.  He quietly asked customers’ names as they ordered and rang them up quickly and efficiently.  The café by day and upscale restaurant by night had no separate kitchen, all the food was cooked in the open and ice for the drinks was scooped unceremoniously out of a red igloo ice chest.  He occasionally scanned the café, making sure everything was as it should be.  She took another bite of her eggs that were almost cold and drank some more of the ice cold water, trying to rinse the taste of the cigarettes from the night before.  She only smoked when she drank too much and someone offered her a cigarette in the surreal glow of a lighter.  The smell of the smoke always took her back to France, to the perpetual scent of tobacco, bread, and sunlight that hovered under the café umbrellas.  Sidney knew the taste would be on her tongue for the rest of the day and that the headache that was starting under her cheekbones would spread as the day went on.  The water helped momentarily, but it couldn’t completely dispel the cottonmouth feeling the combination of vodka, nicotine, and a hint of marijuana left behind.

She sighed and smiled across the table at her friends as they joked about the night before and recalled events that were, thankfully, somewhat fuzzy to her.  The smell of maple syrup from one of the girl’s French toast was cloying and she leaned slightly away from it, staring into the bottom of her coffee mug where a teabag slumped in the dregs of the once-hot water. Sidney caught herself watching him again, admiring the way his dark hair was just long enough to cover the tops of his ears and to have that tousled look.  His gaze slid past hers and she looked away, laughing as her friends glanced over their shoulders to take a peek.  They were acting like teenagers, checking out some cute college guy in the mall food court.  She rolled her eyes at herself and turned back to the remains of her brunch in time for her friend’s boyfriend to steal the last of her toast and cram it into his mouth.  Her friend Catherine was scanning her iPhone for movie times with her roommate Allison as Richard and Monica bitched at each other good-naturedly.  They were always bickering; Monica would say something idiotic and Richard would roll his eyes in an overly dramatic expression of martyrdom.  Sidney shifted in her seat, annoyed at the three of them, especially Allison who was whining about something for the umpteenth time that morning.

“Like, literally, this is the most hung-over I’ve ever been.  I literally think he was trying to get me plastered,” she complained to Catherine, pushing her thick dark hair away from her pointed, pixie face.

“Well, you did go home with him,” Catherine pointed out, her normally cheerful tone tinged with jealousy.

“I mean, yeah.  But like, literally nothing happened.  I was so drunk that we just like cuddled and went to bed.  But he is literally the cutest guy I’ve ever been with.  And he’s literally so nice.”

Sidney blinked and avoided looking at Richard who was tallying the number of times Allison said “literally” by holding up his fingers and wiggling his eyebrows at her.  Allison never noticed.

“I think I’m going to pass on the movie,” Sidney said, taking another huge gulp from her glass of ice water and sneaking another look at the gorgeous cashier by day and maitre d’ by night.

“But Sid, it’s supposed to be so good!”  Catherine protested, looking up from her phone at last.

“I heard it’s like literally the funniest movie of the year.  Literally,” Allison said, looking at Richard in confusion as he burst out laughing.

“Wait is this the one with the guy?”  Monica asked.

They all laughed at Monica protested that she hadn’t gotten to finish what she was saying and tried to remember the name of the actor.  Which was completely pointless since he wasn’t in the movie anyway.  In the end, Monica and Richard decided to go along to the movie with Catherine and Allison.  Sidney stayed firm in her decision to stay behind, claiming that she had a book to finish before class and a long-overdue conversation with her mother.  As they left the restaurant, she drank the last of her water and crumpled her napkin in a ball.  She toyed with one of her earrings as she pretended to read through emails on her phone, skimming them and quickly consigning them to the trashcan as she peered over the top of the screen at the nameless but undeniably attractive cashier.  She wondered if he was the owner of the place.  He seemed like he could be.  Young, confident—not too high and mighty to run the register.  He did forget her side of fruit…for which she paid an outrageous $4.85.  But in the grand scheme of things that was nothing.  He was busy, and absentmindedness could be adorable.  Plus, she was certain that behind the aqua blue eyes and beneath the perfectly tousled hair there was a brilliant mind.  He was probably witty and sarcastic, with just the right hint of gentleness.  Sidney just knew that he was no ordinary waiter.  He must be smart to come up with the idea of a casual brunch restaurant for the daylight and a swanky diner locale for the night.  In a town known for its restaurants that never sleep and are always willing to serve breakfast to the sleepless, it was genius.

Unable to procrastinate and finding her inbox cleaner than it had been since she purchased her phone, she gathered her things and got up from the corner booth.  Unintentionally, she told herself, her eyes sought out the object of her restless thoughts and their eyes met.

“Thanks for coming, have a great day,” he said.

“Thanks, you too,” she replied, throwing him a smile.

“Come back sometime,” he said as she walked through the door.

She smiled wide as she pulled her sunglasses down to block out the blazing sun.  He didn’t have to ask; she would be back and not just for the omelets.