Categories
short stories

The Flower

There was once a flower that thought it could forget its roots and continue to grow.
It stretched towards the sky, constantly reaching for the stars. To most, the flower could touch the sun if it wished so. However, there were a few, a select few, that knew of the flower’s roots from inside their painted pot and chose to remain silent. After all, what harm could come to a flower that continued to climb so high?
It was a particularly starry night when the flower began to die. The city’s belching smoke and gurgling gas remained quieter with the egress of its human population, which meant the grey clouds that often smeared out the night sky thinned. Because the flower saw this as a perfect opportunity, it once more tried to touch the stars. Wind danced along the flower’s stalk and birds trilled their song, yet as the flower grew and grew, the wind became frantic and the birds’ song sounded like a warning. However, this wouldn’t stop the flower. Air became thinner, and the flower continued to grow. Light became dimmer, and the flower continued to grow. No wind touched the flower’s stalk, and it continued to grow. Finally, when the flower’s vision blackened to a singular point of focus, it realized it had gone above the clouds. A silence, gentle enough to be called peace yet too forced to be tranquility, permeated the upper atmosphere. When the flower reared its petals towards what was left, it began to realize that the stars were still many miles away. Too many miles. Desperation overtook its logic, so the flower continued to stretch. Clouds shrank and blurred into nothing, while the flower’s vision became completely dark.
The flower stretched until it felt warmth on its petals, so different from the icy isolation it dealt with past the clouds. Although the flower could not see, it knew it had reached its destination. It trembled with joy, past the point of exhilaration. Unfortunately, the quivers of excitement the flower emitted were enough to break its clay pot several million miles below. In the process of achieving its dream, the flower had forgotten where it planted itself, and so it began to crumble. Warmth faded as frigid blackness returned, and the flower cried out for the sun. However, the sun did nothing as the flower fell towards Earth, past the stars and the clouds and the trees.
When the flower’s petals contacted the ground, the flower died. Its head was too delicate to support the impact of the cruel, hard ground, and its stalk had died long before that. However, the flower did not die wrapped around the Earth 3,790 times as it would’ve if it truly reached the nearest star. Instead, its grandiose descent happened from a mere six feet off the ground, large for a flower yet not as large as the flower’s thought. The flower’s “sun” had merely been a porchlight but blinded by the idea of reaching such direct warmth and pleasing its admirers, the flower made it its mission to reach what it thought was the sun.
The flower was mourned by its admirers, yet they knew of its eventual fate. Rocks had already been laid out, songs had already been sung. Eventually, the petals of the flower decomposed to feed the unforgiving ground beneath it, until a new flower sprouted. Unlike the others with poor vision, this flower became content with its vast view of green fields and friends. Never did it reach towards a false sun, and never did it suffer a predicted death.

***

This was written with the first line in mind, like many of my entries. It is written with the tone of a fairy tale, and like most fairy tales, carries a message. Reaching for something extravagant and unachievable in life leads to failure, often much more grandiose than the victory. A little sad, a little dark, but it does end on a happy note. Failure sometimes breeds out mistakes in successors.

Categories
short stories

The Porch

I’d never seen a storm before.

As I stood on the porch, which screamed with every press of bare feet against splintered wood, I gazed out onto the grumbling clouds. They rolled like great trains across the sky, with faint murmurs of thunder and a flash of lightning here and there. Mama wasn’t home, so I was allowed to be on the porch. Which meant I could see the storm.

It came closer, and light raindrops began to kiss the dampening grass. I felt Mother Nature’s laughter as she came closer, yet the clouds betrayed her true anger. The sun vanished behind a mass of charcoal-gray, and part of me wondered if it would ever return. For the most part, I didn’t mind. Not when the storm was so beautiful to behold. 

The storm made me brave, in a way I hadn’t been brave since I was little. Raindrops grew heavier and heavier as I inched towards the edge of the porch, with my toes hanging off the rotted step. One more, and I would be off the porch. I’d never gone farther than the porch. I don’t know what the grass feels like because Mama always told me the outside world was poisonous. However, as the soft murmur of thunder became a roar, my confidence grew. Nature wasn’t poisonous, not when it created such beautiful and terrifying things. Time slowed as I inhaled deeply, lifted my right foot, and stepped off the porch.

The grass was different than I imagined. It felt like coarse wool, yet there was a gentleness to it that I didn’t suspect. A choked laugh escaped me as it began to pour, the rain softening the dirt until mud splashed up my legs. That laugh turned into a scream of delight as I danced across the muddy lawn, stomping in puddles and dancing in the storm. Lightning struck a tree nearly two miles away, and I laughed as its trunk blackened and split in less than a second. As thunder continued to roar and the wind began to howl, I let the storm carry me away from my home and out towards the open desert. I never heard Mama’s truck pull up to the driveway, nor her scream when she found me running as hard as I could away from the house and the porch and the false security she offered. The storm let me fly, and I wouldn’t stop soaring. 

***

We had a free write period in the meeting I join twice a week, and all I could think about was the rain during a thunderstorm. The quiet that settles over the world. Just like when snow falls, time stops when rain pours. Where I live, it is sometimes deafening. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Categories
short stories

A Resigned Fate

Daniel knew he would die today. Perhaps it was because his bedsheets were just a little too warm when he woke up, or perhaps it was because he’d left his phone on the bed table not the charger or he’d forgotten to call his mother. Whatever it was, when he woke up that morning in a bed just slightly too hot for spring, he knew that was the last time he’d wake up in it. Ignoring his alarm, Daniel laid back down and stared at the ceiling for a minute. There was a stain in the top left corner of the room which vaguely resembled either Elvis Presley or Walt Whitman. He couldn’t tell. Once the minute passed, Daniel said a silent goodbye to his bed and stood up, ready to start his last day.

As if making up for the warm bed, Daniel’s shower was the perfect temperature. However, the pressure was so low it was almost more of a drip than a shower. Nevertheless, Daniel stood under the stream of lukewarm water for what seemed like hours. His fingers began to prune and the shower turned from tepid to cool. However, Daniel didn’t step out. Was this how he died, he wondered? Drowning in shower water, or accidentally slipping? Despite his morbid musings, Daniel knew in his heart that now wasn’t the time. The universe had given him at least the next few hours to make the most of his life before he died. After turning off the shower water, Daniel fumbled for a towel and wrapped it around his waist.

Daniel’s morning routine was no different from how it usually went. He dressed in a work-issued polo shirt and pants, grabbed a stale pastry from the plastic box on the counter, and found his watch from under the couch. When the analog’s hour hand ticked to eight, Daniel grabbed his keys and headed for the office.

Something about Daniel’s car was off to him today. Maybe a bird had pooped on the passenger’s side, or a spider had infiltrated his ventilation system and spun a web up in the corner of his windshield. However, when he reached his Honda Civic, he saw neither bird poop nor spiderwebs. On his way to work, Daniel called his mom. She didn’t pick up, so Daniel left a message. “Hey mom. Just wanted to let you know that I transferred the money that you needed for the house fixture. Don’t worry about paying me back; consider it an early anniversary present with Dad. Have a good day. I love you. Bye.”

Daniel was a consultant at Wicker and Brehm’s Development. He’d only ever met Brehm; Wicker had yet to show her face at the downtown offices. He spent most of his day answering calls, scheduling meetings, and engaging in mundane small talk with coworkers. One asked him what he was doing this weekend. “I think I’ve got a funeral this weekend,” Daniel replied. The coworker offered their condolences, but Daniel shook his head and said it was alright. He didn’t know the deceased very well.

During lunch, Daniel spent some time sorting out affairs. He made funeral arrangements and called up several family members, some he hadn’t talked to in years. Many were confused about why they were hearing from Daniel, yet he assured them that he just wanted to make sure everything was in order. Daniel also checked to see if his will was updated, which outlined that everything he had would go to his sister and his parents. As he made the arrangements for his death, a nagging thought in the back of his mind surfaced. What if he didn’t die today? All his money, all his possessions were already in the process of being transferred to his sister. After lunch, he was set to turn in a letter of resignation. For now, Daniel ignored the thought and finished up his phone calls, then returned to work.

At the end of the day, Daniel entered the office of his boss and handed him the letter of resignation. Daniel’s boss looked down at the paper then up at Daniel, as if he’d never seen one before. It wasn’t a great letter; the formatting was hasty and the word “offer” had three “f”s instead of two. However, Daniel wasn’t worried about being hired again. “Why are you quitting?” Daniel’s boss asked.

“I’ve been offered a better job at a different company,” Daniel lied. Daniel’s boss frowned. His nameplate read “Charles Khatri”, but Daniel hadn’t ever referred to him either as “Mr. Khatri” or “Charles”. In his mind, he was simply Daniel’s boss.

“We’ll miss you here,” Charles lied. In truth, he hadn’t thought of Daniel since he hired him until Daniel walked in with the letter of resignation. Daniel nodded, and he knew Charles was lying. However, he didn’t say anything. There was no point in arguing on his last day. He walked out of the office and closed the door behind him, just as Charles tossed the letter onto a large pile of papers that needed to be reviewed.

Because Daniel would die on a Tuesday, he decided to go down to the Mexican restaurant three blocks from his workplace. Their tacos were free every Tuesday, as long as a customer also bought a drink or another meal with it. He passed several people on his journey, and he wondered if they knew when they would die. Would they be scared? Or would they accept it, with the same kind of apathy Daniel felt? His thoughts were cut short by his arrival to the Mexican restaurant. The host greeted him kindly and ushered him to one of the outside tables. Mosquitos plagued him as he ate, but Daniel couldn’t blame them. The restaurant’s beef tacos were excellent.

When Daniel arrived back at his car, he immediately knew he would die in it. Daniel stared at the silver handle for a moment, then slowly placed his palm over it. It was a good car; the Honda had served him for over five years. Although he almost never went to other places besides Wicker and Brehm’s Development or home, he felt it had served its purpose. He opened up the driver’s side door and crawled in.

The drive home was fairly smooth. A light sprinkle had begun as the sun lowered across the horizon, blues turning to pinks and oranges turning to inky blackness. Daniel turned on the radio to Today’s Top Hits, only to switch it the Classic Rock station halfway through his drive. Cars swiftly passed him on the thick stretch of road, which crossed all the way from his state to the next. An intersection sat ahead, with three lights spanned across the divided highway. As the light turned red, Daniel decelerated his car towards the stop line. This isn’t what killed Daniel. His brakes were in perfect working condition and the Honda Civic stopped just before the stop line. What didn’t stop was the eighteen-wheeler behind Daniel’s car. Intoxicated from cheap booze and cigarette smoke, the driver hadn’t noticed the light turn from green to red in time to stop the truck.

Ultimately, the collision was a terrible and wonderful sight. The semi first barreled into the back of Daniel’s Honda Civic, effectively crushing its trunk and the first two back seats. A great roar sounded from the collision of the two vehicles, which sobered the drunk driver into attempting to stop the vehicle before more damage could be done. Two smaller cars T-Boned it from the area of the intersection where the light was green yet were fine compared to the damage the semi-truck had wrecked on the Honda Civic. Because the eighteen-wheeler hadn’t stopped until well after the stop line, it skidded to a halt on the other side of the intersection with the mangled remains of the Honda Civic in tow. Cars came to a complete standstill as drivers anxiously waited, unsure of whether to be more upset about the crushed driver or their cold dinner.

The doctors declared that Daniel died almost instantly after the moment of the collision. At the very least, he had been unconscious when the great, powerful wheels of the much larger vehicle smothered the rest of his. This was the universe’s boon to Daniel, if it hadn’t already given him one with the knowledge of his death. In many ways, Daniel was extremely lucky. If his spirit had wanted vengeance, the police arrested the drunk driver for vehicular manslaughter and driving under the influence. If his spirit had wanted recompense for his family, his sister used his money to buy herself and her wife a new house in the countryside, where they both had always wanted to live. If his spirit had wanted a legacy, there was a giant, green sign near the intersection that read Please don’t drink and drive: in honor of Daniel Jones. However, Daniel’s spirit did not want any of this because it did not exist. What existed after his death were his mother’s tears, the drunk driver’s arrest, and the green, metal sign near the intersection. Although these would fade in time, and the story would slip from the news, it was just as inevitable as Daniel waking up that morning and knowing that he would die.

***

I had the first line of this story stuck in my head for ages. I feel like this is a common trope in some novels, but it isn’t talked about much because the idea is contradictory to human belief. Everyone would like to think that if we found out we were going to die today, we would do everything in our power to stop the inevitable outcome. However, I believe some people can just resign themselves to the fact, like Daniel did. Not exactly a tragic story, but definitely a tragedy.

Categories
short stories

Late Night Strolls

It was far too late in the evening for someone to be busking, yet here she was, with an instrument so old the strains looked ready to crumble and a voice so defiantly strong that it immediately grabbed his attention. He smiled to himself as he approached her, her pleasant melody drifting through the air to mingle with the usual ruckus of the streets. Even when the hour drew close tot ten, he could hear dogs barking and neighbors screaming obscenities at their children. When he passed the battered guitar case–which only held on ten, two ones, and a few pennies–he dropped in a nickel. The amount was so pathetically small that the woman stopped for a moment and scoffed. “That’s all you have, pal?” she challenged. There wasn’t any greed in her words, just a bitter resentment. One look at the designer coat he wore and the expensive watch on his left wrist told her that he could burn twenties for fun and still walk away without a dent in his checking. Her bitterness grew when the man ignored her and began to stroll away. Just before the nightly shadows enveloped his form, he stopped and turned his head.

“Be careful, young woman. Here there be monsters,” he warned. Before he could take another step into the darkness and let the shadows swallow him whole, she plucked a chord from her guitar that commanded him to stop.

“Here there be monsters, this man would say. Yet, this is a man who hasn’t worked a day. Who schemed and connived with a heart filled with greed. Taking and taking without thought to plead. Here there be monsters, yet he ignores the greater fear. Abandon all hope, ye who enter here,” she sang, the simple couplets vicious and icy. She never lost her technique as she sang, and the wicked beauty of the simple verse intrigued him. His laughter bounced against the walls and ran shivers up her spine. When he finished, he spun around and took a step forward, away from the darkness.

“I applaud your improvisational verse, and your use of Dante’s famous quote,” he complimented.

“Do I ring true?” she asked, her fingers absentmindedly stroking the strings. The notes were sad, lingering faintly in the air before dying quickly. She leaned against the post of the lamplight and stared at the man, eyes filled with skepticism and stone. He bowed his head, simultaneously ashamed and irate.

“While there are some like me, who long to be free, of the chains we made to bind. There are some of us here, who have little fear, of what we leave behind. My bank is large and my wealth obscene, and with money I light my fires, but at the end of the day, I get little say, in the destruction of my ire’s,” he replied. The woman slowly nodded, then looked down at her guitar. Silence hung thick with the stench of wet trash and cigarette smoke.

“Any requests, white collar?” she asked. A small, cold smile crossed the man’s lips.

“Hallelujah,” he answered, the word bitter in his mouth. Without another word, the woman gently played the intro on her instrument, allowing her voice to join in a moment later. The man closed his eyes and leaned against the brick wall of a business office, enraptured by the music and its creator. He felt goosebumps prickle against his skin as she allowed her voice to effortlessly climb, reaching passionate octaves and swells that made his heart rate increase. It had been so long since he’d heard such music, such emotion. When she finished, he noticed several people were peeking out from cheap blinds with wide, wondering eyes. She sat motionless, her hands still poised for the last chord and tears gently trickling down filthy cheeks. His footsteps echoed across the empty street as he walked towards her and dropped a crisp fifty into her guitar case.

“Hallelujah,” he whispered, the word soft and reverent. She continued to cry, even as the man walked away and the raucous noise of the street ensued as if the meeting between the starving musician and lonely businessman never took place.

***

I wrote this as an entry for a small gathering of writers, all challenged to write about the same theme: Isolation and Protection. This short story demonstrates Isolation more clearly, for I feel that the guitarist is much more fulfilled in her life than the businessman is in his. I hope I do the description of nocturnal streets justice.

Categories
short stories

Imaginary Friendship

When you came home, I once again felt whole. Some people might say it’s selfish of me to want to keep you here, stuck in the middle of last week’s laundry and yesterday’s pizza, but your presence is what keeps me alive. Unlike the usual sigh of relief you give after being forced to interact with the public, there’s a small, triumphant smile on your face. “I made the appointment,” you say. I grin.

“What’s wonderful! I’m very proud of you,” I answer. You smile and hug me tightly when I approach. “We’re one step to getting better.” The words are soft against your ear, and I can feel your smile widen against my neck. When we pull away, you immediately set down your keys and flop onto the couch. Although there’s victory behind your actions today, I know they’ve still drained you.

“When’s the appointment?” I ask.

“Tomorrow at noon. I wanted to get it scheduled before I lost my nerve,” you admit. I chuckle and sit next to you. We spend the rest of the night watching movies and scrounging through the fridge’s meager inventory for something new to eat.

The next morning, I help motivate you out of bed and into the shower. Although the mornings are always the hardest for us, lately, they’ve become easier. You come out smelling clean for the first time in a week with a glimmer in your eyes I missed. “How do I look?” you asked. My grin stretches from ear to ear.

“Perfect. Eat something before you go,” I encourage. You snatch one of the granola bars strewn about the kitchen counter before picking up your keys and grabbing the door handle. “Have fun!”

I can still hear your laughter as you closed the door. That door only opened once more.

When you come back, you are quiet. There is a look of determination etched into your features, and I can feel that something changed over that simple conversation. Without a word, you hang your keys up and begin to scoop piles of trash into garbage bags. “How’d it go?” I ask tentatively. You ignore me and continue your mad cleaning spree.

Hours pass, all silent except for the crinkle of plastic bags and the spritz of cleaning spray bottles. Once you finish restoring the apartment to its original shine, something I haven’t witnessed in years, you sit down. Anxious, I sit next to you. Silence hangs thick in the air, nearly suffocating me, until you ask softly, “when did I first meet you?” Inappropriate laughter bubbles up, too loud and too brash for the quiet seriousness the room adopts.

“Don’t you remember, we were uh… I was…” the words die on my throat before they even fully form. We both remember how we met; I showed up literally out of nowhere on one of the worst days of your life. The timing was so perfect, that we both suspected from the very beginning that it wasn’t coincidental. Years later, we both figured it out. The realization never seemed as sad as it does now. You stand up, and in a moment of panic, I reach for your hand. My fingers slip right through and a hollowness fills me.

“Please, don’t go,” I whisper. You just stare at me, as if this is the first time you realize I’m not real. I can feel the world fade around the edges like a forgotten memory as you continue to stare. Finally, when my vision is almost black, you kneel by my side.

“I’m getting better. Don’t you want that?” you ask. Tears muddy the rest of my vision, but I think I see you cry as well.

“I don’t want you to go,” I sob, trying to grab onto anything. “Please—” Before I can finish the sentence, my entire world goes dark. No more sound permeates my ears, and I wonder if this is the end. Even though I can’t see, I know I’m still crying. I hope wherever you are, you truly are better. I hope that I never have to see you again, even if it kills me to admit it. And I hope, out of everything I dare to want, that no one ever feels the need to call out for someone like me ever again.

***

Another prompt, another piece. This was good practice for me writing in present-tense, and I believe it helped convey the emotion of the story more. Although it isn’t much of a twist, I do hope that it surprised some readers.

Categories
short stories

Silence

There wasn’t much I minded about the dark because it pairs well with the silence. However, it was when the lights came on that I began to feel… uncomfortable. Something clashes, something scratches at the edge of my mind and I can’t quite describe it, as if the thing itself wasn’t entirely real. I tried to explain this in a joking manner over a few glasses of wine with friends, but they didn’t understand. Some accused me of being crazy, or just plain irate. However, I know I’m right.

I wasn’t always irritated by the mixture of light and silence. When I was seven, I reveled in being in quiet rooms, perhaps because they reminded me a lot of hospitals. As a child looking through a picture book and never stepping foot in the real thing, I let my imagination run wild. It wasn’t until I was forced to sit in a small waiting room, night after night, that I truly began to loathe bright lights mixed with hollow quiet. Living alone made it worse until I stopped turning on lights. For some reason, the daylight isn’t concerning, perhaps because I know other people walkabout during the day. At night, however, I learn to navigate my way through touch, because I refuse to flip the switch that might bring clarity but also an aspect of fear.

One night, the kitchen light was on. I hadn’t turned it on because I never turn the lights on. My electric bill declined every month, and it helped me pay for other things such as groceries and a nice pair of earbuds that blasts a playlist eighteen hours long on days that I really struggle with the silence. I listened to that entire playlist for a week straight once. However, I didn’t have my headphones now, and I desperately wished I’d taken them from the drawer in my nightstand. The second wish I had was for the pistol hidden in the drawer below. As I stepped into the kitchen, I heard no noise; just that damn silence. There were no burglars, no thieves, no unexpected friends. That scared me a lot more because then I asked myself if I had turned on the light without noticing. After a few minutes of debating why the light was on, I began to hear something, something other than my frantically beating heart. A whisper, so quiet the words were indecipherable yet growing in volume. It seemed to head straight towards me, but the source was unclear. All I knew was that it came from the darkness, a darkness I had sat in for hours of sleep and contemplation and enjoyment. When the whispers almost turned into screams, the words still indecipherable, I grabbed the nearest knife and pointed it towards the darkness. My eyes squeezed shut, and the sound of the whispers almost rivaled the sound of my pounding head.

Just as quickly as they began, the whispers vanished. Tentatively, I opened my eyes and kept a white-knuckled grip on the steak knife. When I was sure that the whispers were gone, and my heart rate became normal, I slowly turned on the living room light. Nothing. I ran from the study to the guest room to the bathroom, flipping on as many lights as possible. If my electricity bill would skyrocket, I didn’t care. I never wanted to hear that whisper again.

I spent the night with wide eyes and the bright lights. Around midnight, I turned on all the lamps as well. At two in the morning, I made sure even the little glowing figurines I receive from my grandmother every year were flashing. Two hours later, the sun began its glacial ascent across the horizon. A sigh of relief escaped my lips, and I began to turn off the little statues and lamps. For now, I kept the main lights on. There wasn’t any way I was going to take that chance.

It wasn’t until high noon that I finally turned off my main lights. The windows were open and allowed the sunlight to pour through, piercing even the darkest corners. My eyes felt like sand and my head was full of cotton as I shuffled through my home, waiting in an uncertain limbo. Sleep evaded me; the room was too bright. However, I would rather stay away than allow the darkness to come back.

The quiet prevailed.

When the sun touched the horizon, I flicked the main light switches back on. Before the sun completely disappeared, I turned on the lamps and the small figurines once more, just in case. A ringing began in my ears and a headache began minutes later. I grabbed some water from the kitchen yet didn’t stand on the linoleum for more than a minute. Events from the night before were still too fresh in my mind. Once the pink and orange hues of sunset melted into the blues and blacks of the night, I sat on the couch and waited with wide, bleary eyes.

By midnight, I was exhausted. My hands shook so terribly I set my cup of water down, emptied hours before. I began to doze off periodically, always jarred awake by my fear of the darkness. The ringing in my ears overpowered every other sound until I clapped my hands on either side of my head in a desperate attempt to stop it. How many hours had I been awake? Thirty? Forty? Fifty? Basic math evaded me, and my ears continued to ring. This was ridiculous. What would truly happen to me if I slept? It was stress, I thought. Stress from work, from past memories, from everything that brought about my hallucination last night. Yes! That’s all it was. Merely a figment of my imagination. Despite my reasoning, I couldn’t bring myself to stand up from the couch. When I tried to lay on my side, I immediately jolted up once more. Fear spiked through my veins, and the adrenaline from pure exhaustion and paranoia caused my tremors to worsen. A whine escaped me, matching the pitch of the ringing. Would I continue to stay awake until I saw the darkness again? Or would I die from sleep deprivation first?

The room went black.

I took my hands off my ears and stood up, trying to figure out where my invisible enemy was. The ringing in my ears ceased as soon as the lights turned off, even the battery-powered figurines flickering only to die seconds later. A feeling of dread settled low in my stomach as the hairs on the back of my neck stood erect. Slowly, I began to walk towards the garage, hoping it was nothing more than a power outage. Although the power lines in my neighborhood were underground, seismic tremors still caused the occasional damage. Before I could fully turn, the light in the kitchen flickered on. Another wave of adrenaline shot through me, just as potent as the first. My tremors became so violent that I fell on my way to the kitchen, knees hitting the carpet with a bruising impact. Using my hands, I crawled towards the cool linoleum and rested my cheek against the floor once I was bathed in light. Everything echoed in the silence, including my heartbeat and breath.

I heard it.

The unintelligible whispers were back, originating from the same darkness I sat in moments before. As they drew nearer, I desperately tried to stand, only to collapse back onto my knees. My hands went to the side of my head as the voices began to scream, and I finally understood what they said.

Silence.

And moments later, it was silence that remained.

***

I am not one to write horror stories, but I recently read one that piqued my interest enough to get some inspiration from its tale. If you haven’t read House Taken Over by Julio Cortázar, I highly recommend it. The difference between the character portrayed in this short story and the characters of House Taken Over is this character experiences bouts of paranoia and fear brought on by sleep deprivation. Moral of the story: remember which lights you keep on.

Categories
short stories

Never Fall in Love

“You will be my last love.” I glanced over and laughed at the ridiculous statement. We’d been dating for little under three months, and I certainly think it was too early to declare any sort of eternal connection. “You mistake me. You will be my last love, even after we terminate.” Part of me is flattered by your words, yet another becomes concerned. What do you plan to do if I am your last love? If I am the last person who you kiss and hold and cherish? Where will your heart go while the rest of us have ours broken and mended and soaring? However, when I rest a hand on your shoulder, I see no pain in your eyes. You seem almost… content, as if this is an epiphany you’ve denied yourself for so long that you almost forgot it existed.

“What happens when your heart finds another, even if your head keeps the vow?” I ask. You throw your head back and laugh, but there is something bittersweet about the sound.

“It shan’t. I’ll lock myself in a cave or rewind my memories. Perhaps I’ll make myself so ugly that no one else could love me. Whatever I do, I will not have my heart broken again,” you explain. I glance at your scars. No, you are not beautiful in the traditional sense. I see no defined cheekbones, bright eyes, or shiny hair. However, I do see your intricate tattoos and your cropped hair, and I see the smiles that stretch from ear to ear and your strong hands. Although I may not see physical beauty, I see internal.

“Making yourself ugly won’t do anything,” I contradict.

“You mistake me again. Ugliness is found on both the inside and the outside,” you respond, and bitterness continues to lace your words. I chuckle, and it’s your turn to glance gaze incredulously at me.

“You can’t make yourself ugly, no more than the sun can stop shining or the birds stop singing. Beauty and ugliness, from within, are inherit. Even if we become hard or selfish or cruel, we still hold our nature in our hearts,” I comment. You stare at me, and then a small smile tugs at the corner of your lips.

“And that’s why you will be my last love,” you say, and the words seem even sadder than before.

I can’t remember what happened to you. One year later, we broke up because I moved to the U.K while you stayed in the States. Years passed and seasons changed as the people did. Some I spent alone, others with lovers and friends and family. Work kept me busy, but travel allowed me to meet people from everywhere. There were days where I saw movies that made me think of you and rainy nights where I could hear your voice. However, you were only a chapter in the story of my life, and I have many others.

I traveled back to the States for a road-trip one year. When I passed through Georgia, I thought I saw you sitting on a bench. In New York, I thought I saw you standing on the corner. In Washington D.C., you sat near the monument and stared into the water. It wasn’t until I made my way to Portland, Oregon that I truly saw you.

Blue

10/17/1962-12/4/2000

That seemed too damn young to me.

***

Consider my two weeks of absence a hiatus of sorts. I apologize for no notice, but my outside duties took up more of my time and resources than normal. I am very tentative about this story, because its plot isn’t definitive and it exists as little more than a word splurge. I will disclose that this story was based off a very real conversation, and one that I don’t think I’ll forget until my brain rots. Do tell me what you think.

Categories
short stories

Opal Eyes

“You may not know me, but I know you. I know your smiles, your laughter, your tears, your anguish. I know every strand of hair that falls across your beautiful face, and I am jealous of every coat that’s ever kept you warm and every glove that’s touched your hand. I spend my mornings waking to the ghost of your voice from my dreams, and my nights recalling. My life is spent in your hands, and all I ask is that you do with me what you truly wish,” I whispered. The ripest tomatoes couldn’t rival the shade of red my face took upon my confession. You looked down from your throne and smiled, and it made my heart soar through my ignominious confession. A smile, just for me and me alone. When you slowly stood and approached, however, I shrunk back. I couldn’t fool myself, not truly. There wasn’t a creature on this world who tolerated goblins, and a goblin I was. Hesitantly, as my last peace offer, I held out the flower I picked from the gardener’s land. If he caught me with it, he would thrash me later. How loud I would scream all depended on if I could escape to a memory of true bliss or a memory of deepest sorrow. Your laugh surprised me, and I gasped when you plucked the marigold from my fingers. We were a wonderful contrast, you and I, with hands of finery and splendor and the softest skin brushing against knots and wrinkles and dried mud from the lake. It was your laugh that almost undid me, and a sob escaped my throat when you pressed the petals to your lips.

“Ah, my little love, how can you possibly lay such a precious life down at my feet, as if it is a gift to be discarded upon whim?” you asked, and a few tears trickled down my cheeks. They were lost in the folds and gnarls of my skin, yet your hand dispelled the few left. I held my breath as you cupped my face in your palms, the intoxicating scent of the marigold wafting around us. When your lips touched my forehead, I crumpled. You helped me up when I tried to grovel at your feet and wouldn’t hear a word of my apologies or sincerest thanks. As you bent over to look me in the eye, I felt the smile I kept buried beneath my heart’s surface for the first time in years. There was no one else in the kingdom with eyes like yours, white as opals and shining just as brilliantly. “Although I may never see your face, or your smile, or your laughter, I know them just as well as I do my own. I know every joke you tell, every song you’ve sung, every jest you’ve made in good fun. I know every time you’ve cried, every shout of rage, and every time you wished out loud you were something else, and I wouldn’t change any of it for the world.”

It was my first real hug. You embraced me tightly, kneeling before as if I were the ruler of our lands. I felt the marigold petals crushed against my neck, yet I didn’t care that they fell to the marble floors. I hugged you back just as fiercely, with tears spilling down my cheeks for a different reason than ever before. “I truly wish for you, and your companionship. That’s all I’ve ever wished for,” you whispered, and more tears dripped onto the floors. Our laughter echoed throughout the grand halls, like a new melody never before sung yet immediately treasured.

A monarch, a partner, a lover, and a friend. These nine words engraved into your tombstone do you no justice. As I sit near my pond, where I spent years sneering at my reflection and woefully scaring anyone who came near, I now guard your final resting place. Unfortunately, humans last much longer than goblins. However, I feel my time is near. Your body is gone, but I think you stayed with me in spirit. After all, how can one remember so much about their soulmate after they’ve already passed if they aren’t there? How can I still recall your laughter and your opal eyes? The sun begins to set overhead, casting her pink glow against the marigolds that bloom every summer around your grave. I pluck one and twirl its stem in my fingers, then rest against the grass near where your head should be. “You now know me, and I knew you. We spent years and years treasuring and nurturing and laughing and dancing. I am no longer jealous of your gloves because you held my hands as often as I wished, yet I still wish that I could’ve held them one last time. It is no matter, anyway. Soon enough, we’ll be together once more. Soon enough, my love.” The marigolds dropped from my fingers.

***

Ha! I did it! Take that, Father Time! I have an update, and a short story at that. Please enjoy this perfectly sad and fantastical tale about a goblin and their love. The best part about writing in the forbidden you-and-I perspective is the freedom of character. This is a product of maddeningly rattling of ideas towards the wee hours of the night, and I hope that whoever reads this enjoys its elaboration.

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short stories

Candle

I was handmade. I was dipped and shaped and formed through my earliest memories, then tested and scented and packaged. I sat on display with my brothers and sisters until a woman bought me, who wore the drabbest of clothing and sadness in her eyes.

She kept me on her desk, in a brass holder so my wax wouldn’t drip. The scratch of matches always excited me, for a second later, my flame illuminated her humble abode. Masks and miniatures lined her walls, from automatons to music boxes to little bits of broken glass bottles that shimmer in the light. Every night, when the sun had long retired and the moonlight was too weak, she ignited my spark and worked on her latest project. Sometimes she sang when she worked, in a tune always slightly off-key yet lovely all the same. The wind sang with her when she worked, yet always stole my flame from my wick as well.

I don’t remember when she started crying. It felt like months had passed since she bought me, and more of my siblings were strewn about the worn wooden surface. We all stood in mismatched holders, some made of ceramic and others of tin. Our voices were hushed as she entered, and the silence that followed almost suffocated our flames. Tears were dripping down her face, tears that splashed onto the wayward papers and extinguished some of my family’s flames. She sniffed and wiped her cheek with the back of her hand and set to work on a small piece featuring two masquerade dancers. Her hands shook as she molded their forms from lifeless clay, so she worked until the sun began to bid good morning to us. A few of my siblings had sacrificed themselves for her arduous and toiling night, and we all paid our quiet respects to their lost flames.

My wax was halfway gone when she came into the room crying again. More masks and more statues lined her walls, and her work had turned out even more heartbreakingly beautiful than ever before. Strange people wandered through this room in search of the perfect object, occasionally, and she always provided them with exactly what they needed. Now, as she painted the masquerade dancers with a clear coat of polish, tears threatened to dilute the shiny paint. Her hands trembled again, and more of my siblings slipped quietly off in the night, only ever offering a slight hiss and thin trail of smoke as they ascended.

I was the only candle left when she stopped making the masks and the miniatures. Grief spells grew more frequent, and more and more tears stained her wood. If I could trace their path, it would tell the story of our past few months together. Her art didn’t disappear from the shelves, but people stopped coming into the room. At times, when it seemed that I couldn’t fight off the darkness, she would begin to talk to her statues. Always light chatter, a soft murmur in the ever-present silence. Perhaps that’s what gave me the strength to continue my vigil, even as the melted bodies of my family lay around me, hugging the holders in a last plea for life. Tears continued to stain the masks and the miniatures.

My time was soon. I could feel my wick shortening with each passing day, as she used me for longer and longer periods of time. Statues began to collect dust on the shelves, even as she made an effort to keep them alive with conversation. What turned from idle chatter was now a diverse web of a family, from the laughing cousins to the solemn uncles and aunts. She spoke of her day, asked of theirs, made jokes, bantered, yet never laughed. And her smile always made my flame wane. As the last of my wax melted, spilling onto the holder and tarnishing the polished brass, she laid her head down with me. Brown curls obscured her face, but even as we drew our last breaths together, I knew she was still crying. With the last of my strength, I allowed my flame to burn brighter than ever before. Light just barely touched the edges of the room, but in one corner, I found a wooden cradle painted the way all the miniatures were. A fine coat of dust desecrated its simple beauty, and inside of the cradle, there was a single pair of baby shoes and a bib, both never worn. With a quiet hiss, my flame extinguished. She never woke up.

***

I started with a beginning line, then progressed from there when I wrote this short story. A bit of my inspiration pulled from Ernest Hemingway’s extremely brief tale “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” While I have very little experience in tragedy, it made it easier to write this piece from the candle’s rather apathetic perspective. However, despite the candle’s apathy, it is my hope as the writer that reader can feel empathy towards the poor woman in this story.

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short stories

Hollow Boy and Fire Girl

I waited for you. Hour after hour, day after day. We spent more time together than this. Usually. Finally, I heard a knock on my door. Relief, then trepidation. Tentatively, I turned the brass knob and opened it. Relief again. “Hello,” you said. The door flung open. A tight hug. A joke. A smile. Shutting the door behind me, we walked from the porch and the street and the civilization towards the ocean.

She calmed me. Her waves, her color, her tides. You sat on the sand, as gray as the sky yet still as tragically beautiful as ever. With a hand clenching the earth below you, and teeth barred into a smile, you said, “life’s a little too gray for me today”. I laughed.

That was my first mistake.

We returned and watched the sunset through my dirty kitchen windows. You said goodbye. I smiled and waved until the door closed. After a few minutes of starting at the spot where you used to stand, I went to bed. Said my goodnight to the moon and her stars. Buried my head in dreams and today’s memories. Your words were left on my nightstand. Alone. Forgotten.

The sun rose. A new day. I grabbed for the phone, dialed your number by heart. It rang. One. Twice. Three times. Your voice clicked, but it was nothing more than a recording. I frowned but carried on.

That was my second mistake.

The day came, the day went. Business kept me from calling, as more and more responsibilities dropped onto my heavy shoulders. No worries. I burned through them all, for I was a fire girl. You were my hollow boy. We were an unlikely pair. Sometimes my flames charred your flesh. Sometimes you extinguished my blaze. Most days, we found a balance. A thin wire we walked on precariously, together.

Another night passed, and this time my dreams were tinged with your grimace and the smell of the salty ocean brine. When I awoke, there were no new messages. Concern gnawed at my edges, distorting my disposition. I called you. No answer. Again. No answer. Again. Again. Again. Finally, in a final act of desperation, your mother. She hadn’t heard from you either. With dread looming over my head and licking at my flames, I took a day off and walked to your home.

It was a little dinky suburb, just like mine. Same paint, same cookie-cutter format. I jumped up the steps, two by two. Knocked twice. Waited for five minutes. No answer. Finally, I sunk down onto your welcome mat – the bristles tickled my legs – and I waited.

Hours passed.

Days.

A week.

A month.

I went out, every morning, and waited for you. Some days, I slept on the old wood made of fireflies and questions and music. Others, I glanced at your home before traveling to work. Every day, I called you. One. Two. Occasionally eight times. Once, two days ago, twenty times. The same voicemail, every time. “Hello. I’m not home right now. Leave a message.” Eventually, I stopped calling and just waited. It’s okay. Despite my fire, I was patient. There wasn’t anyone else I’d rather wait for.

That was my third, and final, mistake.

Finally, someone came. Relief, then trepidation. I looked up. Disappointment. Two men, two blue uniforms, two badges. “Ma’am? Do you know this residence?” one asked. Slowly, shaking, I stood. The dread that sat in my stomach for the last thirty-three days still ate at my mind. My flames burned blue, simmering instead of their usual passionate red. Blue as the police uniform.

“What happened?” I asked, and one gave me a gaze full of unwanted pity. I didn’t need comfort, or reassurance. I just wanted to know what happened. Where were you? It had been too long. Were you hurt? Vacationing in a far-off land? Taken? Pulling a joke? Despite your hollow inside, you still loved humor. And the sea. Almost as much as me.

“I’m sorry,” one of the officers said. His mouth continued to move, but I didn’t hear him. I couldn’t. My knees buckled and I collapsed onto the welcome mat, one that you would never wipe your feet against again. The two officers stood over me, two giants. Two reapers, with only useless words and condolences.

Your funeral was small. Me, your parents, your little brother. Everyone else wanted nothing to do with it. They said they found the gun in a different place. Of course you couldn’t do it here, I thought. Not with all the memories. Not with me around. I thought of the last time I saw you, on the beach, one hand clenching the sand while your face contorted into a smile unnaturally. “Life’s a little too gray today.” My first indication, and with every second I felt your death haunt me. The body in the casket wasn’t yours. It was a husked out shell, a hollow boy more hollow than you. You still whispered those words in my ear, over and over, until I wanted to scream.

I waited at your porch again. Lied against the welcome mat. The bristles no longer hurt because there was nothing to feel. Once my cheek pressed against the worn wooden door, I cried. Cried for your absence. For my absence. For your family. Most of all, I cried because your heart was broken and you never told me. Now, you would never tell me anything again. A small verse came from my lips, words I must’ve muttered before or scratched into my journal or the neighbor’s tree.

“You are my hollow boy

And I am your fire girl

Together, we’re broken

Inside a tiny fragile world.”

The words repeated over and over, raking its claws in my heart and picking up every buried emotion with it. You are my hollow boy and I am your fire girl together we’re broken inside a tiny fragile world. You are my hollow boy and I am your fire girl together we’re broken inside a tiny fragile world. Hollow boy fire girl broken fragile world. Boy girl broken world. Boy girl broken world.

My fire roared for the first time in months. It destroyed everything around it. Devoured your home. Our home. Our memories. Our lifetime. Charred the welcome mat. Blackened the wooden door. Melted the brass doorknob. Finally, it burnt out. And so did I.

“You were my hollow boy

And I was your fire girl

Life was a little too gray today

So we both left this world.”

***

This is the tragic story of two friends who couldn’t live without the other, a realization made only after the death of one. I’ve never experienced such loss, but it’s always been a great fear of mine that someone I loved should decide that their life wasn’t worth living. I hoped to capture this fear, and its reality, in the most artistic way possible while still writing a short story. For anyone who may relate to this story, whether they’ve been the fire girl or survived being the hollow boy, you have my condolences.