Renée stood on the warm side of the sliding glass doors, holding her favorite mug. Scents of cinnamon and clove mingled with orange warmed her from within even though the tea was still too hot to drink. Scanning the fenced backyard, her gaze came to rest on the open gate.

Stepping into snow boots, she quietly muttered, “Where’s Willy now?” She set down the tea and instantly forgot about it as she lifted her down parka from the coat rack and slid it over her bathrobe.

She knew he couldn’t have gone far, not in these freezing temperatures. She was grateful that they didn’t still live in Amarillo, where by this time the crust on the lingering snow would have prevented any tracks. Instead, delicate layers of flakes had captured each of his tiny footprints. Renée followed them across the yard, through the open gate, and towards the woods.

Fortunately for Renee, these were not the deep, dark, woods that one reads about in horror stories. However, like all undeveloped areas, there were some local legends of extraterrestrial activity explaining the oddly precise triangular clearings found deep within, far from any roads. It was an interesting hypothesis, but not one that Renee put much stock in.

These tall pines, with their sparsely grown, high branches, allowed plenty of soft morning light to filter through onto the path. While they had captured some of the snow, a light dusting remained. Just enough for Renee to spot an occasional footprint to follow.

“Willy? Willy!”

The woods responded with complete silence. In other circumstances Renee would have found it peaceful, relaxing even. After all, this is what she moved out here for. It had seemed like such a safe, quiet place for her and Willy.

Renee’s mind began to work through scenarios, all of them horrible, as she followed Willy’s trail. She wasn’t very familiar with this area yet, she hadn’t even really finished unpacking, much less explored the woods in any depth. She had been here with Willy just once. They had followed the path down to a creek and splashed in the water for a bit. This was right after they moved in, just before the weather turned.

She rushed along that path again now, hoping to find Willy safe and sound at the edge of the creek. Gruesome images swirled through her head, though. Were there wild animals out here? There had to be. Little Willy would be no match for a hungry tiger or bear. Could he drown in the creek? It was almost certainly frozen over, but would the ice be thick enough to hold him? She just didn’t know.

Underneath the chaos of catastrophic thoughts, Renee was burdened with the knowledge that if she hadn’t stepped away from the window to selfishly make herself a cup of tea, Willy would still be in the yard enjoying the snow. If she was honest with herself, she would acknowledge that she should have been out there playing with him instead of cozy inside.

With growing apprehension, Renee began to wonder if this was even the same path. It seemed twice as long and half as wide as she remembered it. Plus, it felt much more sinister than last time she was here. Other than her frequent, calls, the woods remained silent.

Her unanswered calls to Willy were cut short as she caught her toe on a root and sprawled face first onto the snow dusted dirt. A rush of air escaped her upon landing and the impact shook her out of her thoughts. Closing her eyes for a moment to collect herself and take stock of the damage, Renee felt dread rushing back.

She hadn’t realized she was crying until she felt Willy’s sandy tongue licking her grimy tears.

“Willy!” Relief flooded in as Renee pulled herself to her knees, scooping up the shivering Chihuahua and hugging him to her chest. “Thank God you’re alright!”

Renee planted a big kiss on his snout before tucking him inside her jacket and heading back to the house. There would be no more unsupervised playtime until she had a chance to check out that latch on the gate.

Back at home, Renee was delighted to find her tea still warm. She sipped it, snuggled in her favorite chair, with Willy curled on her lap. As she daydreamed of the future, so did Willy.

He had thought this was a pretty dull place until this morning. He was playing in the snow when a person-like thing with no smell floated out from the woods and opened the gate for him. They had played in the woods for a bit until his human had interrupted them. That’s okay for now, though. Willy knew he would be seeing a lot more of his cool new friend.

“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.

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!