Lookout!

“This one’s a feather fern,” Andy gestured toward a snow encrusted mound with a single frond exposed. “The shape gives it away.”

Lacey knew it was actually a sword fern, but she let it slide. Andy could be such a bore. What her best friend saw in him, she’d never know.

Too bad Anne couldn’t be here right now. They had planned this hike a month ago. When Anne got called into work for an emergency, Lacey and Andy decided to go anyway. They promised to send a selfie from the fire lookout at the top. All three knew that this was probably the last chance this winter to hike their favorite trail before the snow was gone. After that it would be clogged with tourists.

The trail was mostly clear already, if a little muddy. It was a beautiful day for a hike, though, even if the conversation wasn’t spectacular.

They rounded the final bend to see the tower dead ahead. Andy led the way up the final mound of boulders and into the historic building.

The sweeping view from the observation deck always took Lacey’s breath away. A thump and Andy’s voice pulled her attention back.

“I have something to ask you,” he said as Lacey glanced down at him.

He must have dropped something, she thought. What a klutz.

Just as she was about to return her attention to the valley below, Lacey noticed Andy fumbling with a tiny, hinged, box. It finally popped opened and he thrust it toward her, the diamond catching and refracting the late morning light.

Lacey’s jaw fell as her mind raced. Look at that diamond! He’s boring, but he must be loaded. Anne would never forgive her.

Andy spoke again before she could collect herself.

“Do you think she’ll like it?”

Perfection

I’ve always been a dancer. Movement is the only way I’ve found to feel truly free. Countless hours I’ve spent twirling in front of the mirror while the music plays. All that exists in those moments are focus and precision.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the whole production of it, too. The pointy satin shoes, layers of soft tulle floating over my hips, each golden strand swept up into a tidy bun. I never tire of it.

And, of course, nothing feeds the soul so much as starry-eyed little girls watching intently as they imagine themselves being just like me someday. The only advice I can give them is to just believe in yourself. Nobody can take your dreams from you, you can only give them up willingly. Oh, and practice! That’s especially important.

There can be some long stretches between performances, but I don’t waste a single minute. Even when I’m not moving, I’m still dancing in my head. I gaze at nothing and allow the first memorized notes of Tchaikovshy to wash over me. In my imagination I rehearse my entire act, one graceful pirouette following another, just as though I were performing it physically. I do it again and again until the dance is burned into my brain, body, and soul. I can’t allow complacency or I run the risk of being unprepared for my adoring audience.

I shudder to think of how humiliating it would be to hear the key wind, (click, click, click) and not be prepared to spring into action when lid pops open, the light turns on, and the music fills the air. That would never do. I would die of shame right there on the stage.

This is why I practice all the time. I must stay on my toes.

Author’s Note:

This was written for a contest entry using the prompt words: wind, believe, act. I noticed immediately that the first word has three very different meanings. I decided to take the path less traveled. Sure enough, all of the other contestants used the weather related meaning. Yes, I read my competition. You should, too.

The Ties That Bind Us

Zoe felt responsible, and this time it wasn’t just her ingrained catholic guilt. William had been the most straight laced person she knew until she corrupted him. He never would have done it that first time if it hadn’t been for her goading. Now she longed to take it all back.

When William had said he’d do anything for her, she should have told him to stop and think about that first. Instead, she had him prove it with the edgiest taboo she could imagine.

What’s done is done, though, and you can only continue to trudge through the messes you’ve made for yourself.

Now here they were, William and Zoe, in this filthy alley, approaching a seedy, nameless shop. How did William even know about this place?

Stepping through the doorway, Zoe filled with dread, William with anticipation, they were greeted with the smell of marijuana. William wasted no time in tracing it to its source, a greasy, shirtless, long haired dude smoking a joint on a tattered couch. Muscles rippled under densely packed tattoos.

Zoe found a stool in the corner and worked on being invisible while William negotiated the trade of cold hard cash for his new obsession.

She watched his face as the needle entered William’s scarred arm, the initial sting quickly resolving into an expression of pleasure. She couldn’t watch, but she couldn’t not watch. It was both gruesome and fascinating all at once.

Later, she led him glassy eyed from the shop. If only there were some way to make him stop this craziness. It was all because of her. Zoe’s shoulders slumped under the burden she carried. She had ruined William and she would look after him until the bitter end.

Meanwhile, William admired his newest tattoo, the largest one yet of Zoe.

Author’s Note:

This flash piece was written for a contest and it won first place! The prompt was to use the words sting, trade, and stop.

Haunted

Marty knew they were testing him. He was the new kid. He’d lived in town his whole life, but he had gone to Mountain Heights Elementary while most of the other kids had attended Lincoln Elementary. Now they were all together at Montgomery Middle School.

Brian and Nate had let Marty hang out with them at lunch right from the beginning, but the relationship was still new and he didn’t want to jeopardize it over something so stupid.

When Nate and Brian started talking about the haunted house, Marty was silent.

“You’re not scared of a haunted house, are you Marty?” taunted Brian.

“No, guys. We’re just a little too old for ghost stories. It’s just an old house.” His reserved tone told them otherwise.

“Just an old haunted house,” Nate added.

“It’s not haunted.” Marty didn’t sound like he believed it.

“No?” said Brian, ”I dare you to go in there.”

Marty knew he was screwed.

That’s how they ended up in front of the house at sundown on the Tuesday before Halloween. They stood on the corner of 13th and Switch and proclaimed it creepy as ever. Ancient trees loomed over the derelict structure, set back from the road just enough to leave most of it to the imagination.

“You guys coming?” Marty asked, heading for the front door.

Brian and Nate exchanged a look of surprise, then followed Marty as he strode up the porch steps and pushed open the door.

Nate and Brian hesitated at the threshold, watching Marty fade into the darkness of the living room. Their bladders shrunk when a specter glided toward Marty and a wavering voice called out, “Mmmaaaaarrrty.”

The last thing both boys heard as they ran screaming from the porch was Marty’s cheerful voice.

“Hi, Grandma. I brought some friends.”

“But, mom”

“I’m eleven now,” Buffy reasoned, “I’m old enough to go by myself. It isn’t even really dark out yet.”

“Fine. You can go as far as the fire station, but that’s it. And I want you back in an hour.”

“Thanks mom!”

“Have fun, sweetie. But be careful!”

Her warning was lost as the door slammed shut behind Buffy.

She decided to head out first and collect candy on the way back. Buffy was well past the fire station when she noticed it was full dark. She wasn’t familiar with this neighborhood, but they were sure to give better candy than hers did.

She picked out a house, but only took a few steps before she saw a trio of vampires coming down the walk. Buffy’s skin crawled and she stepped behind a nearby hedge. She didn’t understand why she was so scared.

They passed in front of her, talking among themselves. She hoped she was hidden well enough despite her sparkly princess dress. Bloody mouths and dark eyes made those boys look super creepy.

After they passed, she waited for her pulse to return to normal. She took one more deep breath, then doubt crept in.

What if they did see me and are just hiding around the corner? No, that’s silly. Plus, mom will start worrying soon. I’ll just do one house, then head home.

She emerged from the bushes and headed up the walk.

“Trick or treat!” followed by, “Thank you!”

She breathed a sigh of relief as she reached the sidewalk again and turned to go home.

Then she saw the vampires and finally realized what was wrong with them. Their feet weren’t touching the ground. In a flash, they were upon her.

This Halloween she was a princess, next Halloween she’d be a vampire.

College Girls

Disembodied voices carried through the dense fog. The campus was deserted.

“This seems really risky,” said Tammy, “I could lose my scholarship if we’re caught.”

“We won’t be caught,” Amber assured her. “Besides, college life is more than just studying and that’s all we’ve been doing. Tonight I want to feel alive.”

When Bryce had approached Amber and asked if she wanted to bring a little something to a private party, her heart went into overdrive. A chance at Bryce would be a dream come true. His family name was on the botany lab where she spent her days.

Their forms gradually materialized as the fog thinned near the old maintenance shack. Tammy reached for the door handle.

Just then, a deep voice called, “STOP! Consider this your warning.”

Muffled laughter seeped through the thin door.

“Bryce, don’t be a dick,” said Colin, opening the door.

“Come on in, Ladies. Have a seat. Could I interest you in a fine beverage?” he asked, detaching the last two cans from a six pack as they entered.

Tammy accepted for both of them while Amber rummaged in her bag.

Amber lit the first joint and passed it to Bryce.

“I knew you’d come though. Is this your special blend?” He asked, taking a hit.

“You know it,” said Amber, before lighting another and passing it to Tammy. “Time to get this party started.”

As Colin took the joint from Bryce, the young men lustily appraised their guests, imagining the pleasures to come.

Amber met Tammy’s eyes, seeing nervous anticipation reflected back. Nobody knew they were here.

Bryce fell heavily onto the rotting floorboards, followed immediately by Colin. The fear in their eyes was apparent, despite the paralysis.

Setting down their barely touched beers, Tammy and Amber approached their victims. Then they feasted.

The Accident

Light filtering through her eyelids appeared red to Darcy. She couldn’t make sense of it. She could feel her arms and legs, but she couldn’t make them move. She could feel motion, though. And there was noise. She slowly moved her head from left to right and back again, plastic pillow crinkling underneath.

Darcy’s eyes fluttered open as the fog began to lift. She watched ceiling tiles scroll slowly above her as the noise separated into voices. One sounded very close.

“It looks like she’s waking up. Darcy? You’re in the hospital now. You’re okay.”

Hospital? Something must have happened. Was she in an accident? Why couldn’t she move? She closed her eyes again and sifted through her hazy memories. A collection of silent snapshots floated up to her awareness.

Three friends perched on barstools, laughing, drinking. A rare ladies night out.

Cab ride home, late, she’d get her car tomorrow.

Master bathroom, toothbrush, Ambien, did she take it already? Better be safe.

Dark bedroom, one sleeping body, hers. David comes home tomorrow. Her gun rests, unseen, in the nightstand.

The voice intrudes on her reverie. “Here we are, Darcy. Exam room two. You can rest on the gurney for now, just until the doctor sees you.”

Thick cobwebs stretched between her tongue and the roof of her mouth as she forced the words out, “I can’t move.”

“It’s for your own safety. Just rest now and the doctor will see you soon.” The door failed to latch as he exited.

Voices drifted through the opening as she closed her eyes and tried to remember.

“Poor bastard caught an earlier flight and surprised her. When the cops got there she was incoherent from the meds and booze. It was too late.”

Another snapshot appeared. Shadowy intruder, gunshot, screams.

Darcy screamed.

Author’s Note:
I wrote this for a contest using the prompt: light, noise, fog.
Since it’s October now, I’m trying out a few creepier ideas. If that’s your thing, stay tuned for more.

Dog Days

If only she were a little bit taller all her problems would be solved. Lisa made one last attempt to touch the ground, straightening her leg and pointing her toes as much as she could without falling off. It was no use. She was too little to get the swing going by herself.

She was suffering through another long, boring, summer day with nothing to do. She sat under the big oak tree on the rope swing that wasn’t swinging and sulked.

She couldn’t play with the neighbors because they were on vacation. Mom wouldn’t let her ride her bike because of the road work. Her big brother was away at summer camp. Her mom was busy. Even her dog Rascal wouldn’t play with her. All he wanted to do was lay in the shade. Nobody cared about Lisa. Her life couldn’t get any worse.

Suddenly she let out a yelp as she reflexively bent to slap at her calf. Gravity took over and the next thing Lisa knew, she was on the ground with an itchy mosquito bite. Her face grew hot as she struggled against tears. Summer is stupid!

Just then the screen door creaked and Lisa looked up to see her mom holding a plate of snickerdoodle cookies in one hand and in the other a pitcher of lemonade.

“Lisa!” She called. “Come in and wash up. I’ve made us a snack.”

Tears forgotten, they sat on the shady porch enjoying the treats and sharing stories about American Girl dolls.

“Let’s clean up these dishes and then I’ll push you on the swing.”

“You’re the best, mom!” Lisa was done feeling sorry for herself. How could she have thought nobody cared?

She guessed summer wasn’t so awful after all.

Author’s Note:

This little story was created for a flash fiction contest using the words tree, road, and bite. I immediately pictured a wooden swing under a big oak tree. The story developed from there. This is a new perspective for me, writing about a frustrated small child. I did default to a happily ever after ending, though. It’s hard not to when writing about kids.

Washed Up

Cool tendrils of water found their way inside Eddie’s borrowed wetsuit as he eased farther from the shore. He was surrounded by fit, athletic, people who had exercised everyday for the privilege of competing in this triathlon. Not Eddie. Eddie was here because he exercised his mouth.

He didn’t lie, exactly, but when he told his son Rob he had been on a swim team he somehow forgot to mention he was a child at the time. Eddie had not set foot in a pool for twenty years. He couldn’t remember ever swimming in a river like this one.

He had no idea little Rob had been talking him up until this past Friday. When Eddie picked him up at school, like usual, Rob waved him over to talk to his classmate and the kid’s dad. As Eddie approached, he heard Rob telling his audience, “Of course my dad can do it! I told you he was on a swim team.”

Eddie knew he was in trouble. When the kid’s dad explained that they needed a swimmer for their relay team, Eddie was put on the spot. He would sooner drown than embarrass Rob in front of his friend; there was no option but to swim.

The gun went off and the swimmers churned the water. Eddie gasped for breath, searching between windmilling arms for the nearest safety boat. Too far away! He turned toward the bank and saw it drifting slowly by. Eddie realized that he was still alive and floating downstream. He saw little Rob cheering from the bank. Eddie decided the least he could do was try. He kicked and paddled as best he could, reaching the swim exit exhausted. He tagged his teammate, then collapsed.

“How was it, dad?”

Eddie smiled wide,“I had a ball!”

Author’s Note:

This was written for a Flash Fiction contest. We had twenty four hours to write up to three hundred words in a story using the words: Ball, Boat, Cool. I actually wrote two stories for the same prompt and I submitted the other one. Stay tuned, I’ll share that one next week. They’re so different you won’t even recognize that they had the same prompt!

Party

“Ow! Watch it!” Whispered Kurt as he struggled to keep his right shoe on.

“Sorry. I can’t see anything.” Jake apologized, after stepping on Kurt’s heel. Thirty seconds earlier he had nearly gone face first after stubbing his fat skater shoes on a root. They had been wandering in the woods for an hour, having lost the trail immediately after sunset.

“You said you knew where it was,” accused Jake.

“I did! I do. I just didn’t expect it to be so dark. My brother said it was just off the fire road. We need to get back to that.”

“Shhh… listen! Is that music?”

“I hear it! We’re close now. Follow me and keep quiet!” Thank God, Kurt thought. He was getting worried they’d never find the party. The moment he overheard his older brother talking about it with his friends, he started scheming. He and Jake were the only two kids in the whole sixth grade that had never been to real party. His plan was to sneak in through the woods and quietly blend in with the crowd. He saw lights up ahead and knew this was about to be the best night of his young life.

Twenty paces later, Kurt came to an abrupt stop as the woods ended at the edge of a stream. On the other side, in a small clearing, he saw a campfire with two dozen high-schoolers milling around, holding beers. His brother was standing really close to a pretty girl. It looked like they were about to kiss. Gross.

Jake stared at the trail, trying not to trip. He ran into Kurt, and they both tumbled into the stream with a big splash.

Fifteen minutes later, driving the wet boys home, Kurt’s brother thought “This is the worst party ever!”

Author’s Note:

This is a flash piece I wrote for the prompt: This is the worst party ever!

I’ve yet to win, but I’m having a lot of fun with these flash pieces so expect to see more in the future.