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?”

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.”

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.

What Friends Are For

We’ve known each other since we were 15. Introduced by a mutual friend, we soon discovered many shared interests, none of them healthy. It wasn’t long before we were cutting class to steal doughnut holes from the local grocery store or wander around in the nearby woods in search of  mischief.

Over the years we reached all the same milestones at approximately the same times. She discovered boys first, but they started noticing me soon after. In high school, we both began a decade long on again off again relationship with cigarettes. There was even a smoking section on campus back then. We both suffered the obligatory sexual assaults, followed a couple of years later by the inevitable pregnancies; hers first, immediately followed by marriage. Mine, three months later, but I waited until after giving birth to tie the knot. I transferred to a home school program and received my diploma; she dropped out shortly after, but later enrolled in an alternative high school and eventually went on to earn a bachelor’s degree. We both divorced around the same time, too, after approximately five years of trying to make our marriages work.

Time passed and we each filled our resumes with a decade’s worth of disposable jobs. Occasionally we even worked for the same companies at the same times. Over the years, one or the other of us would move from Washington to Oregon to California, then back again. Eventually the other would make their way there, as well. We were even roommates for awhile, our children grew up considering each other cousins.

Eventually, though, we grew apart. Her child went to live with his father, mine stayed with me. We each bought a house in different cities, worked for different companies, talked less, and rarely spent time together. Even still, we both managed to become romantically involved around the same time with younger men that we had known as friends for a decade or more. I was engaged first, but she remarried first, all less than a year apart.

Hers was more of a whirlwind romance and almost an elopement. The only people at the ceremony were their parents and the judge. This did not sit too well with their friends, but it was too late to do anything about it by the time we found out. Her new husband had been in our circle of friends since the beginning of time, but he and I didn’t cross paths very often. Quiet, solidly built, and kind of bookish, I didn’t really know him well. 

Growing up in his parent’s bakery, he developed impressive skills in the kitchen. Those skills are what eventually attracted his wife, who has no cooking skills to speak of, but has always had an insatiable desire for carbohydrates. Together, they love to entertain. She flits around filling wine glasses and cleaning up after guests, while he creates the meal. My husband and I shared many meals with them over the first few years of their marriage. They also became our favorite traveling companions. We’ve enjoyed chocolate croissants in Switzerland, Lamingtons in Australia, steins of beer in Germany, and s’mores on the beach in Hawaii. Life was pretty sweet for all of us.

Several years into their marriage, though, things began to change. It started with a few innocuous fitness competitions. Scattered here and there were 30 day challenges for avoiding alcohol, or sweets, or whatever food was being demonized in the news that month. She could take or leave the fads, but he tried them all. None had staying power until he came across the book. He’s an avid, but slow reader, so it took a while for the whole thing to sink in. He’s also charmingly gullible. Once the book had been read, and the concepts accepted, he began to implement those ideas in his life and hers. After that, there was no stopping him.

While this transition was occurring, my husband and I were busy moving to a city farther away in celebration of our new status as empty-nesters. Our search for a new house and new jobs, in part, prevented us from picking up on the warning signs as quickly as we might have otherwise. Even if we had known how serious this would eventually become, I don’t know for sure that we could have headed it off. Even his own wife couldn’t stop him.

My best friend, who had cleverly married the son of a baker, has suddenly found herself in an entirely gluten-free marriage. There are currently no signs that this situation will improve. I know how hard this must be for her, so I remain supportive by providing cake on our birthdays and sending her boxed, shelf-stable bread, when I can find it.

But secretly I giggle at the irony. Because really, that’s what friends are for.

Author’s Note:

Alright, I may have taken awhile to get to the point of this one. I guess I just felt like I had a lot to share and I happened to be writing this story at the time.
The inspiration for this one came when I saw a shrink wrapped loaf of bread in a box. The “best by” date was several months out. It was the perfect gift for a gluten widow. I mailed it off to her and proceeded to write my story.