14 May, 2021

Goldilocks and the Jerry Bears

Goldie raced up the steps to the front door of the small cabin. She doubled over, catching her breath from running through the woods. As she was bent down, she peeked over her shoulder. Seeing no movement behind her, no one present bursting from the trees into this small clearing, she stepped up to the door and stood on tiptoe to look in the diamond-shaped window in the front door. 

The interior was dim, with light coming in from one window, and some light spilling through a doorway off to the side. All was quiet inside: no sign of movement. Goldie looked around again, then tapped lightly on the door with one knuckle. 

No response.

Looking around once more, Goldie tried the knob. Miraculously, it was open. She was safe.

She eased in and leaned against the door as she closed it with a quiet click. "Hello?" she called. There was no sound of movement, but judging from the light spilling through that doorway, someone might be home. It was not her intention to intrude but she had finally made her escape and this was the safest place she had seen.

As Goldie's eyes adjusted to the dim interior, she saw a cozy living room. The shades were drawn on one window, but the other allowed some slanting rays in and her breath evened as she watched motes of dust dancing in the sunbeams. A few chairs, some shelves, no electronics. Good. Maybe these people were "off the grid". 

Turning to her right, Goldie was drawn to the doorway streaming with bright, white light. Okay, not completely off-grid. That could only be flourescent. She crossed to the doorway and saw a table with breakfast still laid out.

Unbidden, Goldie felt the saliva burst into her mouth. She was jonesing for some of those pancakes. Why did these people leave in such a rush they left their breakfast on the table? 

There was a serving platter full of pancakes, butter and honey on the table, and she found that the three bowls held some kind of porridge. Maybe Malt-o-meal or Cream of Wheat. It didn't look lumpy like oatmeal always did. She sniffed at the porridge but, finding a plate in a cabinet, piled on pancakes, slathered on the butter. 

Goldie paused, looking for syrup, but decided not to raid her unknown hosts' pantry and opted for a smidge of the honey that had been set out. Goldie was so hungry she moaned with pleasure at each bite. Why was she so hungry? "Mmm... Ohh... Hmm..." 

Goldie leaned back, her hefty appetite sated. Her head was clearing and she found herself jolted by a noise outside and rushed to peer out the window over the kitchen sink. Nothing.

She had escaped, but they'd be coming for her. Now that she was fed she needed to rest, to be better able to run when they came for her. Sleepy, she was so sleepy. 

Back in the living room, she noticed for the first time a crude stairway going to a loft upstairs. Yes. Sleep. Wait, no. If she could grab a catnap down here, she'd have easier exit if needed. 

Goldie tried the coziest looking chair - and almost lost herself in the abundance of fluff. No, no-no-no, she leapt out of the chair and stared at it in annoyance. Such a comfy-looking chair had no business being a death trap! 

There was a window seat, and a very firm looking wingback chair that she decided to skip. The only other seat available looked comfortable enough, so she gave it a try. Hearing the frame crack, Goldie again leapt out of her seat. She wasn't fat! What the heck! It looked alright from her angle in front of the chair, and she didn't see the clearly broken leg at the back of the chair. 

Goldie looked around, suddenly very tired indeed. The window seat? Should she try it? That would mean that if her captors emerged from the forest into this glen, they could quickly see her and drag her back. 

Drat. She gave a side-long glance to the rickety stairway. She'd already broken a chair: dare she attempt climbing? Nothing for it but to try.

With a firm grip on the banister, Goldie ascended to the loft, where she saw three beds, a pair of dressers, and another window. Perfect. If she fell asleep near the window, she could see any danger approaching. Maybe. If she woke. It was a chance she had to take. She hadn't slept well in days.

Goldie lay down on the bed nearest the window - which was also the biggest - rolled around a little to find comfort, then gave up and tried the next bed. She was trying not to disturb the bedding, lying on top instead of under the comforter, but the comforter closed in on her like the comfy-looking chair downstairs. "Oh hell no!" She exclaimed, bolting out of the bed and collapsing on the smallest of the three. Not comfortable, not big enough for her, but by now Goldie was so exhausted she didn't care and quickly passed out.

Her dreams were fraught with colorful bears making her dance when she was too tired or stoned to do it. She was moving through clouds of smoke, looking for clean water to drink, and finally running out the door only to be dragged back inside by a green bear grinning maniacally.

She woke up to a blood-curdling scream: "MAAAaaaaa!" and screamed in return "AAAaaaah!" at the bear cub staring at her and screaming for his mother.

As the mama bear's head rose above those rickety stairs, Goldie protested, "Wait, wait-wait!" Mama bear's mouth gaped open, but she drew no nearer.

"Pops? You gotta see this," she called down the stairs.

"Please," Goldie was holding her hands up in a peaceful shrug to show her innocence. "No one - I don't - No one was home. I just wanted -"

"What? You wanted what?" Growled the big bear now joining the others.

"I'm being followed. I'm in danger. I just wanted to rest before..."

"Get out." That big third bear wasn't hearing it.

"But I -" Mama bear came to the bedside and pulled on her arm to get her to stand. "Best you do as he says," she stated. The family watched as she stepped toward the stairway. They watched her begin her descent, then Mama bear followed, motioning for the others to remain aloft for a while.

At the bottom of the stairs, Goldie reiterated, "I'm in danger. I need help. Is there anything you can..."

"Sh..." Mama bear angled her ear to the door and crossed to the window with the closed blinds. She pressed down one of the slats and peered out. "Ugh," came the growl. She whispered. "Here they come," and tapped on the banister a rapid beat. Her husband appeared at the top of the steps and seeing her motion with her head toward the door he and the cub descended.

With Mama bear consulting with the family, Goldie couldn't resist peeking. She bent to the window sill and pinched two slats together at the corner to see what was so distressing. Her heart raced in a panicked pulse as she watched the five brightly colored bears striding toward the cabin. How did they know?

Dropping the blinds, Goldie backed away from the window, tripping over an ottoman and collapsing into the super-soft chair that started to swallow her again until strong, furry paws pulled her out. She hadn't heard the family's whispered conversation, but now Mama bear herded Goldie and the cub into a small doorway hidden in the wood paneling under the stairs. "Sh." She repeated as the three of them crawled into a dark space. "His cousins."

Every Friday, a new flash fiction story, inspired by reader comments (if possible). Feel free to leave a prompt for future use in the comments below. I hope you liked that story, based on the prompt "Jerry bears" given by J Lenni Dorner (of Blog of J Lenni Dorner) during my 2019 #AtoZ Challenge.

Playlist in the background while writing this: Psychedelic Rock

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.

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.

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.


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.

25 April, 2021

Uninterrupted Quiet #AtoZChallenge U

Starr was not in a happy mood as she walked out of the house in the early hours. Amidst grumbling to herself she noticed the small feather in the grass along the sidewalk. She bent to pick it up and a small smile creased her fine features as she remembered her grandmother. She looked up to the sky as if searching for her in heaven, then blew the feather out of her palm like a lost eyelash. Starr wished it was her grandmother visiting instead of her parents.

She had invited them down for the holiday weekend since she couldn't afford to be away from her work to make the trip to them. Like any adult child to picky parents, she wanted to show them that she was doing well. Her visual arts degree hadn't been a waste of their money, as they had always feared. She was living independently in a small house on the edge of the city, with a small yard and a small grill on the small deck out back, perfect for summer grilling.

Her dad appreciated that they could have a traditional cook-out, and promptly took over the cooking of the meat. Then after dinner last night her parents grilled her as she expected, but then they devolved into sniping at each other.

Annoyed at the thought, Starr's feet led her toward the city center. She turned onto a more major thoroughfare where she would be soothed by the sounds of the traffic. Soon Starr was humming "Downtown", an oldie she'd heard on her parents' radio as a kid. "Just listen to the music of the traffic in the city," she sang along to the tune in her head and smiled.

Her mind took her back to childhood breakfasts with the radio on and her mom singing along, Starr joining in on bits as she learned from repetition. 

Her mom singing. 

Her mom and dad fighting. 

No. Don't think of them fighting.

Starr had been satisfied with dinner last night - a calm way to show evidence of her maturity. Then as they were talking in the living room the fighting started. She couldn't remember what started it, but neither one of her parents would give an inch. Starr finally excused herself to go clean up the kitchen. 

No! Not worth dwelling on it. She was getting annoyed again.

A light, sunshine-y drizzle started as Starr turned another corner. A bakery was a few buildings down the street and Starr felt led in that direction. A few minutes later, she was standing in their doorway looking out at the rain, an artisanal hearty oat loaf in a bag in one hand, and a small cinnamon bun wrapped in a napkin in the other. She nibbled the treat as she watched light streaming through the droplets of water coming down. Or were they suspended in air?

Stepping out, Starr was refreshed by a light mist that soon gave way as she continued down the block. She liked the skyline of her small city, and looked up at it. A rainbow was growing out of the roofs of the highrises and Starr sighed in happiness at another memory of rainbow-watching with her grandma. She turned her feet toward home, finishing her cinnamon bun as she walked. It was time to try to find some inspiration and get something down on a canvas, parents fighting or not.

At home, she sliced off a hunk of the fresh bread for herself in the still quiet house. She knew she needed to paint, but what? An idea began to form and her head angled as she went into her mind to try to trace the thought, untasted bread suspended in one hand in front of her.

In a movement, she grabbed some cheese from the fridge, and hurried up to her attic studio with the bread and cheese on a plate. As she stood in front of the canvas, she heard her mom calling out, "Starr? Where are you?" She didn't answer, but prepped her palette with suitable shades.

"Starr?" The voice was rising toward the attic stairs. "Starr?" Then Dad's voice joined in. "What's happening? Where is she?"

"I don't know. What's this door?" And then they were in. "Oh, hi honey! We're -" 

Starr spun around. "I just need some Uninterrupted quiet. That's all. Please."

"But we're..."

"There's food for breakfast. Make yourselves at home. I'll be down when I'm done." She pushed them out the door as they peered around her doubtfully at the blank canvas.

In peace again, Starr began sweeping, swooshing, and slashing paint onto the canvas, taking intermittent bites of bread and cheese as she stood back to consider her work at different stages. 

Hours later, she stood back to look at a cityscape painting with a fading rainbow above it, glad that her walk had provided her some inspiration. The rain slashed down through the painting like the angry strokes of a madman but she decided she liked the contrast of the peaceful and the chaotic. She had an idea where that angry energy might have come from.

Starr sighed. Time to go down and talk with her parents. Hopefully they'd keep the peace.

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.

"Uninterrupted Quiet" came from a prompt about artist inspiration provided by Holly Jahangiri of A More Positive Perspective, in a comment left on my C post, here. To be honest, this is not the story I thought I was starting about "uninterrupted quiet"! Funny how that happens.

24 April, 2021

Tourists #AtoZChallenge T

The castle didn't look like much to Max. That was to be expected. He was 16, spending spring break with his parents and nerdy little sister, in Germany of all places.

At first it was fun to joke about with his friends. The names of some of these places? Hilarious. Worms. Ha. Wartburg. Ha-HA!

Why couldn't they take this trip later in the year? Max would be 17 before Oktoberfest, and could have really enjoyed the trip then!

"Another moldy old castle?" He muttered as he looked up at the blocky beige building. His mother smacked his arm with her rolled up tour brochure. "Hush. It's your heritage." She smiled at Mrs. Lofgren, just descending from the tour bus, and waved her over. "Jody!"  Max didn't even bother to roll his eyes; he just wandered to the side to lean against a bollard.

The group followed a tour guide through room after room. Bad enough he was stuck on vacation with his family; it was a trip organized by their church: Sites of Martin Luther's Life. Of course they came. After all, his parents were so Lutheran they named their kids Martin and Katharina after Luther and his wife. Gross! Thankfully, everyone knew them as Max and Katy, so it didn't matter much.

Still, he had to admit some of the things he was seeing were pretty cool. And super old! Against his instinct, Max found himself looking around with the other Tourists.

"...and this room is where Martin Luther translated the Bible into German, allowing commoners to read it for the first time. You can see a replica of his desk..." The tour guide was explaining details about the room as Max looked around.

An animatronic ghost was seated at the table with quill and ink pot, going through the motions of copying the Bible into German. "Cool..." Max breathed. He felt his mother's arm drape his shoulders. She leaned down. "I'm glad you're finally enjoying this," she said with a contented smile. He shrugged out from under her arm and moved over to get a closer look at the "ghost". No one noticed, as the guide was explaining other elements of the room.

Max leaned to see what was on the paper in front of the "ghost". It was all German so he couldn't read it, but he was amazed to see that words were being added as the ghost worked. Seeing movement in the corner of his eye, he turned to see another animatronic ghost at the door. This place really went all out! This new ghost spotted the Luther ghost and crossed the room, passing through the tour guide as he did so. Max's jaw dropped. Not animatronic. Real?

Ghost number two stood near Luther and leaned down to consult with him for a moment. Max heard whispers of German, under the murmuring of the tour group who were now milling around looking at things in the room. He looked at his fellow Tourists. None of them seemed to be interested in this corner. Could they not see the ghosts?

"Hey, you're Martin Luther, right?" he ventured to ask, but the ghosts were still talking. "Look, hello?" He waved a hand in front of where Luther had been writing, forcing both ghosts to look at him. "Hi." He smiled. "Are you THE Martin Luther?"

Luther glanced at his companion in confusion, and Max wondered if he understood. He pointed to the seated ghost. "You. Martin Luther?"

"Ja, ich bin," came the answer with a nod. Luther raised his eyebrows at the boy and turned back to his ghostly companion. 

"Whoa, man!" He looked around again, but since no one seemed to see the ghosts, he couldn't very well tell them. "Luther, Luther, hey, my mom's a big fan. Hey, hey..." He waved to get his attention again, then pointed to his mom. "My mom. Big fan. She loves you!" Luther and his partner glanced over toward the group, then Luther rolled his eyes and muttered something before returning to his work. 

Max got in closer, trying to make out words on the page. He didn't know German, but if this was a German Bible, surely some words would be recognizable. As he reached to point at a word and try to say it, Luther suddenly turned, exclaiming "Geh weg!" in angry German. Max backed up a step in alarm, but not far enough for Luther's comfort. He picked up the inkwell and threw it at Max. 

Max ducked sideways, but still felt the ghost-of-an-inkwell pass through his cheek and watched it shatter silently on the plaster wall behind the tile oven. Max spun around, eyes wide, and rejoined the group as they left the room. His mom smiled at him. "You liked that room, huh Max? You seemed obsessed with the writing desk."

He returned his mom's smile, but said nothing. His mind was turning over what had just happened. His mom was still talking. "Can you believe he actually threw an inkwell and stained the wall?"

Max stopped, aghast. "You saw that?"

"Of course not! It was 500 years ago, and don't lollygag." She pulled him forward with her. "The guide told us about it. Did you miss that part? The legend is that he felt the devil was present in the room and threw the inkwell at him. The stained plaster is gone of course, but he certainly made a mess!" 

Max smirked. "Cool." Now he was a part of history. Or he could tell his friends he was anyway.

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.

"Tourists" was inspired by a combination of prompts. "Dismissive Ghosts" was provided by Tired Hamster of Very Important Stuff Here, in a comment left on my N post, here. "Renaissance" was provided by Anstice Brown of Curious Daydreams, in a comment left on my F post, here. Thank you both! This took a little research, but I had fun. I hope you do, too.

22 April, 2021

Sorrow Shared #AtoZChallenge S

"Table for one?" 

Chloe returned to reality through a fog, and the maitre d's face floated in front of her, tilted at a sympathetic angle with patient eyes that turned down at the corners. His whole face looked a frown, and it distracted her for a moment. He had said something, hadn't he?

"Um, Sorry?"

"Will anyone be joining you, or do you want a table for one?"

"I - I don't know..." Why was she so disoriented? She searched her memory. The last she remembered was watching her husband's life ebb away in the recovery room. The ER had been noisy and hectic when she brought him in, but this place was quiet. "I don't know if... I think - My husband just died." The flat statement came out automatically, instinctively, although not an answer to the question.

The maitre d's face grew solemn and he bowed his head with a "Yes, ma'am," followed by a moment of silence before he raised his sympathetic eyes and explained, "This is the Grief Train, Miss."

She looked beyond the slim tuxedo before her and saw a narrow aisle between two columns of tables. She was in a dining car. "The..."

"Grief Train, yes. Will anyone be joining you?"

Her eyes warmed and the room swam as tears marred her sight. The sympathetic maitre d'  made a guess. "This way. We can change tables as more arrive." He offered an elbow for support which she accepted as an automaton, and they made their way down the aisle between narrow tables on one side and larger ones on the other. Chloe allowed the tears to overflow her eyes, and her vision cleared enough that she could make out some other diners.

Another solo woman wept into her arms folded on the table before her. A couple held hands around a candle, sitting in silence broken only by choked sobs. There was a trio of children with wide eyes staring at each other wordlessly. The dining car seemed to stretch endlessly before her. The tables with more people had fewer tears, she noticed. There were tears, but there were a few smiles as the groups talked together. Grief shared, she surmised.

As she was given a small table along the side, she wondered who would join her. Her last memory was John's death. No one was at the hospital. No one knew about the accident except the EMTs and Chloe. She had to get back. "Excuse me, how do I get back?"

The maitre d' was placing a menu in front of her. He smiled his sad smile. "You have to go through the tunnel and come out the end." 

"And... where is this tunnel?" Looking out the small windows all seemed dark. Was it night? Foggy?

"We are in the tunnel now."

"And, how long until I reach the other side?" Not even his parents knew. She must find a way to reach them. "I have to let people know what happened."

"The length of the tunnel is different for everyone." He put a hand on her shoulder. "You are letting people know. Don't worry. They'll join you in time." 

She looked at the small, paper menu. It was divided by emotion and goal. The "Numb" heading was followed by strong drinks. She ordered the one that listed the most alcohol and waited. 

Chloe had no way of knowing how much time passed in the real world, but by the time her drink arrived, the waiter escorted her to a larger table to join John's parents and her own, along with his twin sister. At least now they could cry together for a little while.

As she hugged his sister, Chloe thought they might both be sharing a long journey on this train. As sad as the thought was, she was relieved to have company.

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.

"Sorrow Shared" came from the prompt "The World's Saddest Restaurant" provided by Tired Hamster of Very Important Stuff Here, in a comment left on my N post, here. Writing this was somehow cathartic for me. For more of my musings on death and grief, you could visit almost any of my posts from September 2019 on. The more recent, the less heavy.

21 April, 2021

Rest and Relaxation #AtoZChallenge R

This was it. The final day before Josephine could relax again.

Everyone sympathized with her as a "boy mom" but lately her daughter was just as high maintenance as the boys. While the teenage sons kept Jo busy with sports and high school activities like dances and dating, Amy was going into 8th grade this year. Her tastes changed gradually during the last school year, and more drastically over the summer. Her babysitting money went to clothes and make-up, and her attitude went off the rails.

She was off for last minute back to school supplies, giving her some peace in the car as she drove. The kids could be tearing each other limb from limb over a box of cheez-its for all she knew. This brief respite wouldn't last.

Sure enough, the big box store was full of other last minute shoppers. It was like Christmas, but less "holly jolly". The supplies of notebooks, pens, and pencils were picked over of course. She passed that aisle without a glance. Josephine Willows wasn't so last minute that her kids didn't have their classroom essentials yet. But there were other things they needed.

Doing laundry, she'd noticed that her eldest seemed to be running low on clean and hole-free tighty-whiteys. The shampoo in the family bathroom was at the bottom of the bottle, reminding her that Amy would want to keep some at her locker. She was trying out for cheerleading this year, and hoped to be a main player on the basketball team, too.

As Jo put these and other non-school back-to-school essentials in her cart, she ran into Kim from down the block. "You too, Jo?" Kim asked, scanning the cart.

"Hey Kim! I am so ready for the kids to be back in school. How about you?"

"You know it. Their daily band practice in the basement has frazzled my last nerve! Now at least they'll have to limit it to weekends." Kim pointed out the two bottles of wine in the top basket of her cart. "You should come over tomorrow. We'll have a little 'back-to-school' lunch."

"Good idea! What about Cathy?"

"I haven't seen her in days, but if you talk to her, yeah, let her know." She started moving her cart to the checkout. "And bring some wine. We'll kick off 'Rest and Relaxation season' right!" They both laughed at the idea of a whole season to relax, but at least there would be less drama during the days.

Jo smiled at the idea of relaxing with the girls the next day. If this was like Christmas, R&R was the "reason for the season". The mom's could take back their houses, at least for a day. She turned in the direction of the liquor section with a happy smile on her face.

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.

"Rest and Relaxation" came from the prompt "Back to School" provided by Liz A.  of Laws of Gravity, in a comment left on my H post, here.