07 May, 2021

Fiction Friday - For Want of Pickles


Margery was deep in the fridge. She wasn't going to make the mistake others did of not moving things, not looking behind the front items on the fridge shelves.

No pickles.

Actually, wait... She pulled a jar from the back. Yes!

No. No pickles, just pickle juice. Who did that?

Margery removed the jar of pickle juice to the counter in frustration and commenced opening cupboards at a rapid pace. Nothing was familiar. She was flinging cupboard doors open at random, and moving on if they were full of dishes. Whose house was this?

A baby wailed in the background somewhere. A neighbor? Upstairs? Margery kept moving, ignoring the crying. Pickles! 

A cabinet with food products - yes! ransacking it, she shoved things out of the way, letting spices and sauce packets fall to the floor, looking for the telltale glass jar. Nothing.Where are the pickles? Whose house was she in anyway, and when would they come home? Was it too much to ask for pickles to be accessible?

A door to the side, maybe a pantry? Nope. Broom closet.

Margery escaped out the back door of the kitchen and crossed the darkened lawn in a crouch. No one should see her here. She didn't know why, only knew that no one should be seeing her right now, right here. That screaming baby was definitely coming from a neighbor's house, but she didn't know which one. It was louder out here.

Margery's heart was pounding with urgency as she reached the tall wooden fence at the back of the yard. She lifted the latch and peered out into the alley. No movement. Lots of shadows. She hurried across to the opposite gate and reached over the top of the gate to lift the latch.

Maybe these people had pickles. She needed pickles, even if she didn't know why. Edging into the dark yard, Margery pulled the gate shut with a quiet click, then heard a growling off to the side. A dog. They had a dog. RUN! Her brain set her going and her feet flew across the dew-damp grass, always a few steps ahead of the chasing, barking dog. She took the steps to the porch at a leap and yanked the door to the mud-room open.

The dog stayed outside, barking, but the house remained dark. Remarkably no one was awake. She entered this stranger's house and found the kitchen. 

The fridge had a half-full jar of pickles and Margery dug greedily into the jar for a dill spear. Yes. Success. She sighed in relief as the baby's incessant cries grew louder in her head.

"Sweetie? Hon?" Margery blinked her eyes open as Steve stood over her, rocking their crying infant. "I tried. I can't stop her. I think Grace needs you."

Margery groaned as she sat up and accepted the baby into her arms. "Do we have any pickles?" She asked as Steve lifted his blankets, ready to get back in bed and go back to sleep. 

"Uh, I think so."

"Could you bring me some? I think I'm pregnant again." She opened the top buttons of her pajama top for the baby while Steve froze in place at the news she'd just dropped.

It's FICTION FRIDAY!
Every Friday, a new flash fiction story, inspired by reader comments (as much as possible). Feel free to leave a prompt for future use in the comments below. I hope you liked that story, based on the prompt "A search for pickles" given by my husband Brett (of The Transformed Non-Conformist).

If you choose to join in for Fiction Fridays, post a link to your story below in the comments. If there's interest or participation, I may start suggesting prompts here for the following week.

04 May, 2021

Reflections #AtoZChallenge 2021


Well, it's over. We made it! We did it! Well, I did it, and if you're reading this, I assume you did it, too. Or at least part of it. It was harder this year for me, somehow, and I was a day late once or twice. What about you?

My theme was Flash Fiction with Audience Participation. I did that in 2019, and loved it. Basically, I committed to writing a new post each day based on audience suggestions. I got some doozies this year, too! It was interesting as I was writing them, to notice how dark my writing has gotten since my last run of flash fiction two years ago. I had to really concentrate on making sure at least a few of my stories were funny or light-hearted.

As for visiting and being visited, I started strong, hitting at least 5 new blogs a day, but got into a low-energy phase when it took effort just to get the writing done. I did not visit as many blogs as I'd hoped, but got through all the writing ones, plus a few others. In the end, I found a few new blogs to add to my blogroll, and reconnected with a couple bloggers I'd found in previous AtoZ's.

What's next? I am bringing back "Flash Fiction Fridays". I am committing to writing a new flash fiction story every Friday. Personal posts may occur on other days. This means I'm always open to suggestion for a new story. I hope you'll pop by some random Friday and check it out.

I'm following Brett's idea and listing my A to Z here, for your convenience. (And for my reference.)

A = Award Certificate [To start the month, I took inspiration from real life]

B = In the Bar [Sometimes you tell yourself what you need to hear, true or not.]

C = The Cellist ["Inside every successful artist is an element of insanity." Based on a video prompt.]

D = At the Dance Club [The prompt I used happens to fit a specific Japanese meme character.]

E = The Agony of Empathy [Is empathy a gift or a curse?]

F = Freedom [Dystopian, 200 years in future]

G = Grayson and Gwennie [Kids will be kids]

H = The Hologram [Some time in the future, in a coffee shop.]

I = I've Got Nothing ... This was the only not fiction post this month. I hit a wall.

J = Jack and Jill ["fractured fairy tale". Not very fairy tale-like, but inspired by the rhyme.]

K = For King or Kingdom [ Another fractured fairy tale. It could have been much longer.]

L = Labyrinth [A fun little story connected to our current day and age.]

M = Mabel [Teenage identity crisis]

N = Not Again [inspired by the prompt "nemesis"]

O = Opal's Opponent [Chess and death]

P = Personal Politics [Small town mayor taking advantage of his position. Might be revisited during Flash Fiction Fridays.]

Q = Queen of all she Surveyed [Aging royalty sees the world with gilt edges]

R = Rest and Relaxation [inspired by the prompt "back to school"]

S = Sorrow Shared [The grief train. I'll probably continue this one in further flash fiction.]

T = Tourists [A fun one (for me) about a teenager forced to travel with his family instead of hang with his friends.]

U = Uninterrupted Quiet [I imagine every creative person seeks a quiet space at times.]

V = In the Video Store [Remember video stores? Personal interaction can be different there than anywhere else.]

W = WTH [A continuation of a story I began during 2019 A-to-Z. Will probably continue.]

X = XOXOXO [Love comes from the most unexpected places.]

Y = The Yacht Club [I may have to continue this story. I have no idea what might happen next!]

Z = Catching Z's [A final fractured fairy tale. For now. Might revisit this one later, though.]

30 April, 2021

Catching Z's #AtoZChallenge Z


The princess was in the castle, sleeping. That much he knew. Everyone knew it. It was what commoners called "common knowledge". That was part of Henry's problem. Everyone knew it, so he couldn't surreptitiously ask for help without revealing his hand.

"I heard three more suitors went up to the castle just this weekend," one man was saying, sitting at the corner of the bar in this run-down village pub. Henry glanced in the man's direction. "Any success?" he asked.

The man let out a huge guffaw and his nearest companions chuckled. "Don't you know there's a curse?"

"Well, yes, of course. The princess is sleeping... ZZZzzzz," he imitated snoring. "We all know that, don't we?"

"There's more to it, friend. Buy me a drink and I'll explain."

Henry was skeptical. A frown formed as he looked at this strange man. "What do you know that the rest of us don't?"

A man seated between the talker and Henry leaned in close and breathed out pungent fumes as he said, "Skallen's not just nobody, mister, he's a palace guard, y'know." Henry's frown deepened.

"Was. Was a palace guard," the man called Skallen clarified. "I was out of the palace grounds on a patrol when the curse took effect. Still keeping an eye on the gates, but from a distance. Those brambles she put up to keep out suitors keep out marauders, too. Not a lot to guard right now."

The bartender was watching this back and forth like a tennis match, waiting for an order. Henry caught his eye and put some money on the counter. "Two ales, one for me and one for him," he gestured at Skallen and moved around the breathy drunk to sit closer to his new informant.

"There. I bought you a drink. You said you'd tell me something everyone doesn't know."

Skallen drained the mug he'd been drinking before the bartender placed a fresh one in front of him. "You know about the thorny brambles that encircle the castle, leaving the princess trapped inside until the right suitor finds a way through to her."

Henry nodded. "Tell me something I don't know."

Skallen leaned in. "First, they're a maze."

"They're amazed at what? And who is amazed?"

"No! Listen! The brambles are a maze. There's no telling how many suitors are lost in the maze, or - it's been what, three years? - probably dead in the maze by now."

Henry's eyebrows rose. That was good to know. "Why aren't they just hacking straight through to the gate?"

"The first ones did, but the brambles grew back behind them, and I guess that scared some of the others. You  get in, see there's a place to turn, and think, 'why chop and hack and waste time cutting at tough branches when a path is here?'" He paused. "I guess. I mean, I haven't watched the attempts in a while."

Skallen might be the kind of person who could actually help Henry. He had to be careful not to give away too much, though. "I think I saw the castle's silhouette before I came in here," he offered, pausing to take a drink before adding. "It doesn't look too far away."

Skallen laughed and gulped at his ale. "It isn't, for one who knows the way."

"Is that so hard?" Henry had come a long way. Presumably most suitors were local. "I guess now you're going to say there's a secret path to get to this enchanted castle."

Skallen drained his mug, eyeing this stranger askance around the side of his mug as he drank. He slammed the empty mug down. "I haven't seen you around here, have I?"

Henry took a long drink from his own mug and motioned to the barkeep to refill Skallen's. Then he said, "Probably not. But I've seen that castle's silhouette from about every angle as I cross this country. Never been close. Never tried to get in, but I see it. Just in silhouette."

Skallen's brow creased in thought. "Always from a distance? Never getting closer even if you think you should?"

"I guess," Henry was keeping it nonchalant, but that was precisely it. On his own, he could not approach the castle from any direction. The silhouette receded before him.

"Maybe she thought of everything. I'd like to see that in action. Care to ride closer?"

"Um, now?"

"Naw, 'course not." He leaned in. "We'll leave in the morning. You and me, together. Maybe you don't know how to go, or maybe she cursed the path of ... a true suitor. Lotta losers around, y'know."


Thanks for visiting my #AtoZChallenge! I intend to continue writing flash fiction on Fridays for the indefinite future. All of the stories this month were inspired be reader prompts, and that is my preference, so please continue offering ideas!
Do you have a writing prompt to suggest? Don't worry about choosing a letter of the alphabet, just leave me a word, a thought, a place, a concept... anything! and I'll add it to the list.

"Catching Z's" came from the prompt "Silhouette" provided by Anstice Brown of Curious Daydreams, in a comment left on my F post, here. I also took inspiration from a suggestion provided by Gail M Baugniet of Gail M Baugniet - Author, in a comment left on my G post, here.

 

29 April, 2021

The Yacht Club #AtoZChallenge Y


They looked around the large entry lounge. The Yacht Club looked like a hotel lobby to Kira. There were small clusters of seating arrangements with low tables for members to converse around, plush carpets, and a desk where members checked in. 

Her husband turned in that direction, when suddenly a man in a blue blazer appeared before them. "You must be the Barrons," He said, extending a hand. "I'm Cliff. Let me show you around." Kira sighed with relief. She didn't feel like she belonged in such a fancy place. They had only begun to look into buying a boat, but...

"Thanks, Cliff!" Her husband gave Cliff's hand a hearty pump. "I'm Ray, this is my wife, Kira. Nice to meet you."

"Let's walk, shall we?" Cliff didn't wait for response, but turned and stepped toward the lounge area.  There was a trio of members sitting together, but otherwise it was empty. "Members are welcome to use the lounge area at any time, meet guests, conduct business, even if you are not using the docking facilities at the time." 

Walking away from the lounge area, he led them slowly toward a corridor. "Please notice the artwork. Intricate paintings, aren't they? The detail is immaculate." They paused at one and Kira took in a breath.

"My goodness! That sea-spray almost looks live!" Cliff smiled and moved to the next.

Ray stayed by Cliff's side, trying to explain. "You know, this is all a bit overwhelming, Cliff. We were only looking into buying a boat. We don't have one yet." Cliff smiled and nodded encouragingly. "Our salesman suggested we look around the Yacht Club to help us make up our mind." He didn't know why he felt the need to explain their presence. "So, I guess, it might help you to know where we're at."

Meanwhile, Kira was fascinated by the paintings. "Oh, Ray, look at this one."

"Ah," Cliff explained what type of vessel it was, although there was a placard next to each painting stating the stats. "You like that one? You have good taste."

"Oh, well..." Kira was embarrassed at the compliment, and stepped back to take Ray's hand.

"No-no. Get in closer to the painting. Really look. You are here for help deciding on a boat, right?" Cliff encouraged.

Kira looked at Ray with a child-like gleam of excitement, then they both stepped forward and leaned in for a closer look. 

The sea-spray splashed them with such force that Ray let go of Kira's hand and she was swiping water out of her eyes and laughing. Opening their eyes after the splash, they found they were out on the water, in the painting. 

"Afternoon, folks!" shouted a young man with dark hair. "Sorry about that splash! You got here just as we hit a wave!" As the boat slowed and the sea calmed, he lowered his voice. "Ready for a tour?"

"A what?"

"I'm sorry, aren't you here from the Yacht Club?"

"Well, yes, but..."

"Follow me, please." They followed this guide through the boat, noting the positives and negatives, and at the end he asked. "Any questions?"

They had none, so he pushed them overboard. They landed back on their feet, staring at the painting of that very same boat, albeit somewhat damp around the face.

"And what did you think?" Asked Cliff as if nothing odd had happened. He offered them each a hand towel to wipe their faces.

"Um..." started Ray.

"Well..." said Kira.

"Perhaps a few others for comparison." Cliff led them on down the corridor. After three more similar experiences, Kira confessed to Ray, "This is a bit tiring." Ray turned to Cliff and said, "I think we've seen enough for today."

"Have you made a decision?"

"Well..." said Kira, looking to Ray for confirmation of her opinion.

"Um..." started Ray.

"If you'd like to discuss it together, you are welcome to partake of our restaurant. On the house."

"Oh, well," Kira looked down at her casual dress and tried to straighten her tangled hair. She looked helplessly at her husband. They weren't dressed for dinner at the Yacht Club!

"You'll be fine, I assure you," added Cliff, who pulled two guest badges from his breast pocket and said, "People here are most welcoming. Follow me." And so they followed, wondering if they'd ever be allowed to leave before making a decision on a boat.

Thanks for visiting my #AtoZChallenge! All month I'll be writing flash fiction, with the theme "Audience Participation".
Now it's your turn, lovely audience member. Do you have a writing prompt to suggest? Don't worry about choosing a letter of the alphabet, just leave me a word, a thought, a place, a concept... anything! and I'll add it to the list.

"The Yacht Club" came from the prompt "Interactive Paintings" provided by Tired Hamster of Very Important Stuff Here, in a comment left on my N post, here.


28 April, 2021

XOXOXO #AtoZChallenge X


XOXOXO. That wasn't too many X's and O's, was it? Bay-Lyn reread the letter with a little thrill. At 17, this was the closest she had to a boyfriend. They'd been corresponding for over a year, keeping everything secret for now. Her aunt and uncle would throw a fit if they knew.

Bay-Lyn thought about that for a moment. Would they be upset? Would they care? They didn't seem to notice her much these days, so much so that it was the simplest thing in the world to hide incoming letters from him. She made it one of her "helpful" tasks to check the mail everyday and that was it.

She remembered their concern when the first letter arrived. It had to come through them. She was only 16, and they were her guardians. They'd asked her to sit as soon as she walked in the door, and she'd thought she was in trouble. After dropping her bag to the floor, she sat warily on the edge of a chair. William started, while Aunt Peggy watched Bay-Lyn closely to see her reaction. 

"There's been a letter." William's tone and the look on his face showed that he thought the letter was bad news.

Bay-Lyn blinked. Her parents were violently killed six years ago. What kind of bad news could this be? No worse than being orphaned and forced to move in with relatives who - well, she couldn't complain about Aunt Peggy and William, but there wasn't a ton of affection there either. She remembered shrugging, urging him to continue.

"It came from the prison, dear." He always called her "dear". Like a principal who wanted to inject warmth into his life lessons.

Bay-Lyn, confused, looked at each of her guardians in turn. "Is he dead?" That had been her greatest hope for the past six years. After finishing a wreck of a school year newly orphaned, she had managed to pass fifth grade, and thereafter redirected the energy of her anger and grief into her studies. That, and collecting news articles about the trial and conviction of "Phil". She had drawn pictures and written stories for her therapist, putting Phil in horrible, painful situations. Torture, death, versions of hell or hell-on-earth.

The hate didn't die, but shifted to the side as she set her sights on college. Those therapeutic drawings and writings had actually helped her hone her skills in those areas, and she excelled at every subject she threw herself into. Then, "a letter from the prison".

"Not dead." William shook his head as Peggy's immovable face watched Bay-Lyn. "He wants to apologize. To you."

Finally Peggy spoke and Bay-Lyn noticed a manila envelope on the table in front of her. "You're a minor, so they sent his letter to us, to decide if you should see it." Bay-Lyn's face was bland, but her head was spinning.

William added, "Now, dear, we've read it and there's nothing inappropriate in the letter, we think. But you are an intelligent young lady, and we think you are mature enough to decide for yourself if you want to read his words."

"Can I think about it?"

"Of course, dear." Bay-Lyn rose to go to her room. 

Later that night, after getting ready for bed she came back down to the living room where they were watching TV. "I want to read the letter."

William muted the TV and Aunt Peggy patted the seat next to her on the sofa. Bay-Lyn sighed. She would have preferred privacy, but she sat and was handed the letter. She'd intended to keep her face passive, but couldn't stop the silent tears. It seemed a sincere apology. Maybe the years had changed Phil. She still hated him for what he did, but... "Is it okay if I write a reply?"

Peggy nodded. "If you like. We'll send it back to the case worker. Just let us know when you've done it and we'll send it on."

And so it had begun. The man she hated, had every reason to hate and still, on some level felt the hate toward him inside her, she had grown to love. She added another "XO" and sealed the letter in the envelope.

Thanks for visiting my #AtoZChallenge! All month I'll be writing flash fiction, with the theme "Audience Participation".
Now it's your turn, lovely audience member. Do you have a writing prompt to suggest? Don't worry about choosing a letter of the alphabet, just leave me a word, a thought, a place, a concept... anything! and I'll add it to the list.

"XOXOXO" came from the prompt "paradox" provided by Anstice Brown of Curious Daydreams, in a comment left on my F post, here. It's an abrupt ending, and may actually need more, but I felt it was getting wordy. Hope you like it!


27 April, 2021

WTH #AtoZChallenge W


This story is a continuation of a flash fiction story I wrote during the 2019 A to Z Challenge. You can read the first part here

Chad and Chrissy looked across the table at each other as they heard Chad's brother moving around upstairs. He wasn't happy with the arrangement and Chrissy knew it would not be an easy visit. She gave a tight-lipped smile and squeezed her husband's hand. "He's up. So I guess you're up next. Are you ready for this?"

He took a big swallow of coffee and rose to refill his mug, pouring out a cup for Thad as he did. "Whether I am or not..." He sent a heads-up text to their older brother who was cleaning up the work site before they started on repairs this morning. A moment later the phone dinged and he glanced down at it. He sat next to Chrissy again and reported, "All evidence of booze is gone, spills cleaned, and he's airing the kitchen so it doesn't smell like a distillery." Last night's intervention got messy, so now the three brothers were going to repair and renovate Thad's kitchen together.

"Good. That could be a trigger." Chrissy was a counselor, and had some knowledge about the subject.

Thad came into the kitchen, a frown on his face. "Poured you a cup of coffee, bro," Chad told him, pointing to the mug on the counter. His brother crossed to it, took a sip and looked around, then opened and closed cupboards in a search.

"Can I help you find something?" Chrissy asked. She knew what his brothers did to his kitchen last night and didn't want him taking revenge here.

"Sugar."

Chrissy crossed to the counter corner and pulled a canister forward. "Help yourself." She busied herself straightening up and wiping the table as he heaped two spoonfuls into his cup, stirring as he leaned against the counter. 

After he'd drunk some of the coffee he asked, "What now?"

"We go fix your kitchen."

"Humph." He chugged the rest and said, "Okay, let's go."

***

They arrived at the double-wide that had been Thad's home since their father died, and saw Brad's truck already backed in. The bed of the truck was piled with wood, tiles and painting supplies.

"What the hell?" Thad slammed the car door and strode through the front door of his home. "What's going... What the hell are you doing?!?"

Chad sighed as he followed with the box of donuts they'd picked up on the way. He entered into an argument. Well, half an argument. Thad was in a fight, but Brad was answering in his usual calm, steady voice. "Just doing prep work." He now ran their dad's construction business, so he was de facto in charge.

"You ripped out my cabinets? What the hell, man?"

"We're going to replace them. You knew that when we left last night." He took a donut from the opened box Chad held out to him. "Want to help?"

Grudgingly, Thad picked up a crow bar and started prying a board loose from the wall. Chad set down the donuts and went to work stripping nails out of the loose boards lying in a pile. This was going to be a long day, but at least they were all doing it together.

Thanks for visiting my #AtoZChallenge! All month I'll be writing flash fiction, with the theme "Audience Participation".
Now it's your turn, lovely audience member. Do you have a writing prompt to suggest? Don't worry about choosing a letter of the alphabet, just leave me a word, a thought, a place, a concept... anything! and I'll add it to the list.

I decided to write this sequel "WTH" when I was given the prompt "Anger" by Liz A. of Laws of Gravity, in a comment left on my R post, here.


26 April, 2021

In the Video Store #AtoZChallenge V


Veronica meandered through the aisles, unsure what she was looking for. Action? Drama? Horror? She skipped the "family video" and "romantic comedy" sections. This old video store was one of a kind these days, but she liked coming here. It was quiet. And retro. Of course, it wasn't truly a "video" store anymore. Almost everything they had was DVD or Blu-Ray. 

What to watch? She hadn't been here in a few weeks, and a new guy was manning the register. She eyed him surreptitiously over and between the shelves. His black t-shirt advertised a band she hadn't heard of. At least she thought it was a band. It was possible he was supporting a video game or YouTube channel she didn't know. His head was down, flipping through a magazine or comic of some sort, so she couldn't make out his eyes, and his dark hair flopped over his eyes even when his head was up.

Returning her attention to the horror movies, Ronni debated over renting an old classic or trying something new. She pulled a Japanese horror that she'd heard was the original of a recent Hollywood flick. The original was usually better. Especially if it was Japanese horror.

Ronni took her selection to the counter and slapped the case on the counter. The dark haired guy looked up with dark eyes. "Wow. You actually picked something." She didn't realize he'd been watching her peruse the shelves for the last half-hour. He glanced up at her and took in her black leggings, black tee, and black and grey flannel shirt. "You in black to protest Valentine's?" 

It was a valid question. Tonight she was the only one in the store because the majority of people were out dining with a lover. That was the myth, anyway. Ronni scoffed and pulled at her flannel. "Psshhh. I could ask you the same question."

He looked down at himself as he swiped the DVD across the scanner. "Eh. Not protesting. I don't care about Valentine's either way. It's just a nothing day." He stopped and lifted a corner of his mouth at her. "Don't you think?"

"Yeah, that's pretty accurate." She handed him her member card. "I'm not anti-love, just anti-focusing-it-all-on-one-day." She placed a five dollar bill on the counter as he checked her membership.

"Exactly. I mean, I'm working tonight, why? Everyone else requested off for a made-up holiday." He shook his head and entered the cash in the register. As he handed her the change he asked, "What about you? A date with Japanese horror for the night?"

"Yep. Probably a three-way with a pizza, too."

"I like your style." As she crossed around the counter to collect her DVD he pointed a question at her. "Want to get together sometime?"

She eyed him more closely. "Why not? Anytime that's not February 14th, of course."

"Of course." He pulled the receipt out of the machine and wrote his number on it. "Here's my cell."

She looked at the paper. It gave the name "Tony", followed by ten digits. "Cool. I'll call you." And she would. Just not tonight. Not that she cared about Valentine's day, but she wasn't going to honor it, either.

Thanks for visiting my #AtoZChallenge! All month I'll be writing flash fiction, with the theme "Audience Participation".
Now it's your turn, lovely audience member. Do you have a writing prompt to suggest? Don't worry about choosing a letter of the alphabet, just leave me a word, a thought, a place, a concept... anything! and I'll add it to the list.

"In the Video Store" came from the prompt "Valentine" provided by Deborah Weber of Temenos, in a comment left on my P post, here.