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.

20 April, 2021

Queen of All She Surveyed #AtoZChallenge Q

The Queen stood at the broad window looking beyond the velvet curtains, to the gardens below. There were ducks in the pond, and it appeared one family had recently hatched their eggs. She'd have to spend some time down there checking them out. Although wild, she considered them "The Queen's Ducks" and therefore she took an interest in them. 

"Excuse me, your bath is ready, ma'am." Ah. The maid. The Queen appreciated Madge. A good, strong woman, she knew her business, and knew how to keep the Queen's business to herself. One must have a solid sense of discretion to be in service to royalty.

"Thank you, Madge. Please let Trevor know I'll walk the gardens after breakfast." A little advance notice was so often appreciated by the help, so they could ensure all was perfect. Not that she'd complain if something was out of place, but she felt that it might make him feel bad. The Queen tried to always think of those beneath her with compassion and consideration. It set a good example, as one must.

In the bathtub, the Queen leaned forward to allow Madge to scrub her back. She was of an age where it was silly to try to pretend she could still reach her back. That was another reason she treasured Madge: she didn't make it seem awkward that she was in need of assistance. She washed the royal back, then stood aside to ready the Queen's bathrobe.

As they re-emerged into the Queen's quarters, there was a light tap on the door and a kitchen maid poked her head in, "Excuse me, what does she - her majesty - want for breakfast?" It was clear that Sheena didn't see her royal highness when she first looked into the room. Sheena. A ridiculous name, but one couldn't fault a child for their parents' taste. Sheena must, the Queen assumed, be good at her duties or she would be let go.

Madge had a quiet conversation with the girl and returned to attend the Queen. "She didn't curtsey," noted the Queen. It was an observation, not made with malice, but to point out an area where Sheena needed training. "Yes, your highness. An oversight." As Madge assisted with the clasp on the Queen's pearls, she was told, "I'd like the silk brocade jacket this morning, I think." 

"To breakfast?"

"I'll go through the gardens after breakfast. There may be a chill. You did alert Trevor, yes?" There was plenty of time during the Queen's bath when Madge might have called down to the gardener.

"Ah, yes." Madge retrieved the jacket from the wardrobe and slid the sleeves up the Queen's arms. 

"Thank you, Madge." Some may say pearls and silk was "overdressed" but opulence was second nature to royalty. The Queen smiled at her appearance in the gilded mirror and nodded to Madge.

Madge escorted the Queen from her quarters to breakfast. On the way, the Queen nodded acknowledgement to those they passed. She did not see Dr. Carlisle catch up with Madge from behind, and therefore was oblivious to his inquiries as they continued moving. "How is Ingrid today?"

"The same. Cheerful, as far as that goes."

"Still thinks she's royalty?"

"Apparently. Sheena didn't curtsey when she asked about breakfast, and it was noted."

"Ah." Dr. Carlisle looked down at the neat, white French twist on the head behind the walker. He smiled. "Well, it's a common enough delusion. As long as she's not hurting herself or anyone else, let's not be too concerned."

"As you say, Doctor." The doctor turned off into an office before they reached the dining room. As Ingrid sat down, Madge fixed the collar of the chunky beige cardigan which, in the code of Ingrid was "silk brocade". Sometimes Madge wondered what Ingrid saw in her world.

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.

"Queen of All She Surveyed" came from the prompt "Opulence" provided by Anstice Brown of Curious Daydreams, in a comment left on my F post, here.

19 April, 2021

Personal Politics #AtoZChallenge P

Cordrey walked down Main Street like he owned the town. He didn't. Not really, but the way things worked in this little corner of the world, he might as well have. Borgan Falls was in a remote part of the state. Cordrey had connections with the County Sheriff's office, and that was just as high as control went out here.

If Cordrey was okay with what you wanted to do, it would be okay. He'd see to it that no trouble came your way. The State didn't pay attention. No real trouble happened out here to make their little town cross the governor's radar.

"Oh, Mr. Mathers, do you have a minute?" An attractive brunette was speed walking to catch up to him, her cowboy boots clacking on the pavement. Cordrey turned with a smile. "Always a minute for you, Gina."

She returned the smile with no thought and reached into her back jeans pocket. "Thanks, Mr. Mathers." She had pulled out a folded piece of paper. "For your next campaign." She handed him the folded check. "From my husband and I."

"Why, thank you Gina. And thank Paul for me. Elections always pop up faster than I expect." He chuckled in that phony "someone's watching" way. "I appreciate your support."

"You have the support of everyone at 'Heels Up', too, Mr. Mathers. Don't forget we're having that party this weekend. You and Connie are welcome as always." It was a formality. Cordrey and Connie Mathers would never be seen in Gina's bar on the outskirts of town. But the "party" was after legal opening hours and Cordrey would keep the officials cool about it. 

He didn't know his own son was expected to be there. His son was part of the MDMA supply chain throughout the region. Dad was so busy accepting bribes and greasing palms that he didn't know what happened in his own house. Most others in town knew his wife was taking her own bribes and favors, but she kept that from him. Squirreling it away, Gina thought, but for what no one knew.

Further down the street, a greying woman with ample hips under her peasant skirt popped out from a store front as he passed. "Mr. Mayor, please! Five minutes of your time!" She had harassed him every day this week, and at least once a week for over a month prior. Usually he didn't stop to chat.

Cordrey plastered his most sympathetic look on his face - he thought. "Mrs. Plummer, yes. I have just a moment before I'm due in chambers." He called his office "his chambers" even though he wasn't a judge, not a lawyer, never majored in political science. He was good at the game of Politics though, and therefore had become Mayor Mathers.

His smarmy smile didn't fool her for a minute. "Mr. Mayor, you must do something about the vandalism in this town!" Mrs. Plummer was the proud owner of the only IGA in town. If you needed groceries in quick order, you went to her. For high volume shopping most people drove the 15 miles to the box store in the next town. Everyone utilized the IGA, but her business was one of the holdouts that didn't grease the Mayor's palm, and therefore her concerns were often unheard.

"Mrs. Plummer, the police are quite busy and understaffed due to budget cuts. If you catch the vandals on camera, maybe we can do something about it. Without any evidence, it's a bit of a witch hunt, don't you agree?" His eyebrows raised in feigned concern. She sighed and folded her arms, frowning. "Have a nice day now, Mrs. Plummer." Cordrey tipped his hat to her and continued up the street to his office.

He was not accosted by Mrs. Plummer on the street anymore for the next three months. 

One night at dinner his wife dropped the bomb that she'd heard someone was opposing him in the next year's election. "Connie, my sweet, my most illustrious campaign manager, tell me, who will I be running against this year?"

Connie was cutting her steak, looking down at her plate as she said, "Um, Geraldine Plummer, actually."

He burst out laughing. "Wow. That relic? We'll bury her."

Connie raised a forkful of meat to her mouth. "Not 'we', my sweet. I'm managing her campaign this time."

The instant frown was a shadow of the shock he felt. "What? No you're not. You're my campaign manager." She was a rain-maker, very good at what she did. She had managed higher level campaigns before she fell in love with Cordrey and opted for this rural life, managing his campaigns and household for years.

"I'm your wife. I'm Geraldine's campaign manager." She chewed a moment, looking at him, then smiled. "Don't be offended. It's not personal; it's politics."

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.

My "Personal Politics" story came from the prompt "Politics" provided by Iain Kelly of IainKellyWriting, in a comment left on my M post, here. I never talk politics, so I was hesitant to take on the subject, but I'm letting my readers call the shots!


18 April, 2021

Opal's Opponent #AtoZChallenge O

"I'm sorry Dad, for everything." Opal struggled to say those words. Not just because apologizing is hard, but because she wasn't used to seeing her father lying in a hospital bed, looking like such a weak old man. She'd certainly called him a weak old man during her tumultuous teen years, but did she really think he was? Maybe in the heat of a fight.

"Don't be sorry," he said. "I raised a strong, stubborn daughter. I know that. And I'm proud of the woman you've become. Have I ever told you that?"

He hadn't. Theirs was not a cozy relationship. Growing up, Opal had seen him as less an ally and more of an Opponent. She had grown so used to the opposition that she'd intentionally take an opposing view just to fight him on something. That debate skill helped her become a powerful attorney, but the hard relationship behind it made all future relationships hard, too.

She shook her head in response, unable to form words as tears welled up. It was enough. He saw and reached out a hand. Opal hesitated, but took his hand. His bony hand, with flesh like crepe. Her dad's smile reached his eyes with a mischievous gleam. "No..." Releasing her fingers he pointed to the wheeled table nearby. "Care for a re-match?"

Opal stared at the table. A chess set was prepared for play to begin. She hadn't played against her father since her brother's funeral seven years ago, and that had turned into a blow-up. They hadn't even spoken since then. Could they play a game of chess without it turning into a fight about something?

Moving as if in a dream, Opal pulled the table between them. Knowing he was too weak to grip a piece in his fist, she did the honors, allowing him to select sides. He got black. She'd be white. Opal zoned in on the pieces, touching each with a tiny movement, centering them in their places. Then she began.

They played without speaking. It was the quietest match between these two Opponents in her entire life. She knew her father was weak, and assumed his thought had to go into each move and not conversation. For her part, Opal was in the zone, but had a nagging thought at the back of her brain: This would be the last time they were Opponents. In anything

Her father was at death's door, and Opal wouldn't be coming back to the hospital, even if he hung on for a few more days. It was their final match. Neither one ever "let" the other win. It was a code of honor. The first time she had won against him, she was exultant. Thereafter, losing was a torment to her. As the match wound down to checking and moving out of check, Opal saw she was going to win. 

For a moment, she thought of throwing the game. It was only a passing thought, though. He would know it was intentional, and to throw a chess match would be an insult. 

After winning her final chess match against her dying father, Opal left him to rest. She had noticed a change in the noises of the room - the beeps and hums of the machines seemed slower now. "Rest in peace, Dad," she whispered as she closed the door behind her.

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.

"Opal's Opponent" came from the prompt "A final chess match" provided by Tired Hamster of Very Important Stuff Here, in a comment left on my N post, here.

17 April, 2021

Not Again #AtoZChallenge N

The rangy warrior looked around the room, checking out his rivals. Who would he be pitted against? A half-dozen hopefuls were seated sporadically about the space, each eyeing the others with suspicion. In a short while, they would be chosen to pair off. "May the best man win."

In another room, the warrior's true Nemesis sat doing the same. Different contestants, different audience, similar battle to be faced.

When the time came, they went out onto the field of battle, each man armed with his wits and whatever strength he carried with him. His opponent was not as strong as he, but had long legs and great speed. It would take all his wits to lay traps against the tall man and so level the playing field.

In the next arena, Nemesis was doing similar maneuvering. They would see each other at the end, no doubt.

A grueling hour passed before the judges determined who would move to the next level. This time the warrior bested his opponent with no trouble. He was on fire. Not because of his opponents in this arena, but because he knew his Nemesis was doing the same elsewhere. Winning each contest didn't matter as much as making better times and more points than that Nemesis did. 

And he couldn't find out how they fared until both arenas closed for the night. That was the passion that kept him going. 

Exhausted after a day in the arena, the warrior returned to his car. He had done well for himself. It only stood to see what happened in the other arena. He drove through the vast parking lot to where she awaited him outside the rival arena. Natali bounced over to the car with more energy than she had a right to have if she had fought half as well as he had.

She took the passenger seat and leaned across to kiss him. "Hi, honey. How did you do?"

"Took second," he growled, waiting for her summary.

"That's great!" she gushed. "I mean, I won, but second is awesome!"

"Not again!" She hadn't asked about his time. It didn't matter yet. They'd compare times over the newspaper in the morning. If he had beaten her time it would be her turn to say "Not again!" She, his greatest love and worst Nemesis.

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.

My "Not Again" story came from the prompt "Nemesis" provided by Anstice Brown of Curious Daydreams, in a comment left on my F post, here.