Your Mom’s Unexpected Story

Your mom is in poor health and you spend extra time at her apartment taking care of her. While getting her out of bed and into her chair one day, she thanks you for all your help. Then she says that she needs to tell you a story about her past, one that you don’t know, and one that will change everything.

Post your response (500 words or fewer) in the comments below.

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438 thoughts on “Your Mom’s Unexpected Story

  1. Craig the Editor

    Mother’s Secret
    Winter still had the city in it’s cold embrace. I shuffled along the sidewalk hoping to avoid any icy patches. I had urged my mother to move to a warmer climate but she flatly refused. Soon I reached her old apartment building.

    She lived on the third floor while her tenants occupied the lower floors. It was one of the tenants that had contacted me. For the past several months she had not left her apartment. This was very unlike her. Growing up she had been like a force of nature, always in the center of things. But after my father disappeared on a trip down the Amazon she became more and more withdrawn. Old age was beginning to lay it’s heavy hand on her. She had lost a great deal of weight and looked more like one of the walking dead then the person she used to be.

    I knocked on her door and noticed that it badly needed a new coat of paint. The hallway carpet was faded, worn and filthy. It was further indication how far my mother had deteriorated.

    From inside I heard a death rattling cough and permission to enter. I turned the knob and pushed the door open. The small room was dark, gloomy and cluttered with possessions collected over a life time. There was an unpleasant smell that I couldn’t quite identify.

    I made my way over to her bedside where she asked me to help her to an overstuffed chair that had seen better days. She looked almost doll-like engulfed by the chair.

    “Mark, there is something I want to tell you…no, I need to tell you.”

    “Sure Mon, what is it?”

    Her eyes darted nervously around the room before she continued. “As you know your father disappeared back in 74 when he went to Brazil. For a long time we thought he was dead, killed by natives or eaten by wild animals. But there was never any body found.”

    “Mom, we both know that. As much as we both would like to think otherwise Dad is dead.”

    “No, he’s not. About a month after the memorial service, I saw him again. He was just outside that window.”

    “Mom, I don’t mean any disrespect but we are three stories up and Dad had a fear of heights. It’s highly unlikely that he would have entered the room via the window.”

    “But he did when I open it. I let him in. I had too. I still loved him.”

    Inwardly I sighed. It was apparent that my mother was suffering from some form of dementia.

    “I took him in and I fed him.” she shuddered. “And I’ve been feeding him ever since and now, God forgive me, it’s your turn.”

    “Well. I hope he likes fast food because we both know I can’t cook.”

    Then out of a darkened corner something moved. Something man-shaped. It was wearing the tattered remains of a safari suit. It couldn’t be…he was dead. I tried to run for the door, but my legs wouldn’t respond. He grabbed me by the shoulders. I could feel his fetid breath against my face as he drew closer.

    “You don’t seem so fast to me.” he said, as he sunk his teeth into my neck.

  2. WritingKittenOfLoki

    Sorry I’m late in posting this, and it’s a bit over the word count. (I am still trying to get an ending for the ghost story.)

    Mom’s Story

    Mom’s health had been deteriorating slowly for years. I eventually moved back in with her, so that I could be near her as much as possible. One day she tumbled over her own feet, and now she uses a wheel-chair.

    When I came home from work one night, a few days after Thanksgiving, she was staring at the paintings on the dining-room walls. There was about every style in the mix of art around the house.

    The next morning as I helped her out of bed and into her wheel-chair, she said that she had a story to tell me, one I hadn’t heard before, one that would change everything. We went to the dining-room and she asked me to look behind Monet’s “Garden at Sainte-Adresse”. I did as she said and found a safe door behind it, with a electric keypad.

    “The combination is 1876. Go ahead and punch it in,” She said

    I did so, and heard the soft but distinct click of the lock releasing. I pulled open the door and inside was a large shipping envelope and a small ebony statuette of Anubis. Mother asked me to hand her the statuette and for me to open the envelope. I obeyed, and found inside the package, a collection of Polaroid images, a zip-lock bag of ancient coins, a key-ring with about a dozen keys, and a second letter-sized envelope.

    “Sit down my son,” Mother said

    I dragged a chair over and sat facing her.

    Then, Mom spoke up clearer than her voice had been for years, “This is a true story, my son, and it starts as many true stories do: Once upon a time… in a time long past… there was a Baker and his wife, and they had three sons, the youngest was Peter and he had hair like the fire that blazed in the fireplace the day he was born; and the second was Jack, who was as light and agile as a breeze, and the eldest was Khan, who was as strong as a tiger. They also had a daughter – their youngest child – named Elsa.” She set Anubis aside and took my hands in hers, “One day – when the Baker’s wife was nearing the end of her fourth pregnancy – a witch named Cruella flew into town, but her reputation had preceded her, she was infamous for lies and cruelty. She went first to the house of the Baker, but he refused to let her enter. Furious, she went to the next house, and the next, and the next, but no one let her in. So she cursed the town, with a terrible winter storm, then left and never came back. That was the day that Elsa was born.”

    She took a deep breath, as if telling the story exhausted her, then continued, “A week later, they were running out of food and fuel for the fire. The Baker ventured out during a lull in the fury of the storm. He came back hours later, with branches, and a turkey that had frozen to death; he was nearly frozen himself. He told them that he had seen an enormous black dog following him home, that wore strange clothing and walked on it’s hind legs.”

    She again picked up the statue, and twisted it in her hands. I waited for her to go on with the story. But she didn’t.

    “Well?” I finally asked “What happened next?”

    “Huh?” She looked up and blinked rapidly, “Oh, yes. The story,” She shifted in her seat. “A week after that, the storm seemed to cease entirely. And it didn’t return until the next winter. The same thing happened then. The storm would pound and wrestle with the town for a few weeks every winter. But it left them alone for the rest of the year. The townsfolk learned to store up for those treacherous times, and it seemed like the curse wasn’t so bad after all… except… that each storm, one or two people would vanish. The giant black dog was always sighted around the time of each disappearance. As years went by, children grew up, families moved in, or moved away. The year of Elsa’s seventh birthday, the four siblings went to the frozen pond to ice-skate, only two returned. Khan and Elsa came back with a tale of sorrow, Jack had fallen through the ice and Peter had given himself up as a target to the black dog, running off, leading it away from the others.” Again mother took deep breaths, “More time went by and the Baker finally convinced the others that it was time to leave, that cursed place; so, in the heart of summer, they packed up and moved to away to a new town, located days south, and called, Kansas.”

    “And then?” I asked

    Mother gestured to the pictures, “These are their descendants, but the rest story is lost… until now.”

    “What do you mean?”

    “We are of the lineage of Khan, the Baker’s eldest son,”

    The hair on the back of my neck stood on end. And I heard the wind howl.

    THE END

  3. PeterW

    She told me I was adopted. She told me that her and Dad never loved each other. She told me Dad was actually a serial rapist and that she extorted nearly 5 million dollars from her place of business and I would get it the will. She told me that grandma died of sadness, and grandpa died of AIDS not cancer. She told that I was her favorite son. She told me that she had once cheated on my father with a six foot six weight lifter with a 17 inch penis. She told me that she always wanted Dad to rape her like he did to teens but he always denied, always denied. She told me that my birth parents had named me Jesus-Muhammad-Buddha, but she and Dad had changed my name to Cedric. She told me she knew how to play the piano; and also the flute, and in highschool she had been offered scholarships for both, yet she had declined and went to college to learn how to use a type writer. She told me that she loved me. I had know this, but had never heard it before and it seemed unnatural coming from her parched and dying lips. She told me to fuck as many girls as possible in order to find true love. That’s silly I said and she didn’t reply. She told me to never to fuck any girl. I said too late, I’m married and she said, of course, I mean in the future. What about my wife, I said. She said fucking and making love were different. She and Dad only fucked. She told me that had buried a small cross as a child and thought that she had been blessed with great powers, and that it had been all wiped away, when her mother had slapped her for not doing chores. She told me that she loved me. And I was surprised. And at only this was I surprised.

    Mom, I said, I love you too. But she didn’t hear. She was already dead.

    1. Observer Tim

      This is a strange and wonderful tale told in fragments, Peter. Amdist all the ranting and lying he found something to believe. It’s powerful and uplifting. 🙂

      My red pencil notes that either you or your computer is dropping the occasional word. A later editing pass would hopefully catch everything.

  4. cosi van tutte

    One last one before the prompt changes:

    “Do you want to know a secret?”

    “No.”

    Grace’s answer disappoints me. Oh, she’s a good girl. Always bustling about, helping me, keeping me comfortable. But her lack of curiosity is lamentable. Doesn’t she know that a woman my age possesses a great many secrets? And some secrets want to be shared. I’ve already shared them with my cat, Dear Lady Maurice, who, I suspect, has told all of the mice in the attic. Lady Maurice can be such a tattler sometimes. The dear thing.

    But Grace. Oh, Grace. Whatever shall I do with her?

    “I love you, mum.” Grace gives me an efficient kiss on the forehead before bustling out the door. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

    Lady Maurice leaps onto my bed. She rubs her head into my hand, purring happiness. I smile and stroke her head. “Yes, my Dear Lady Maurice. Something must be done.”

    ***

    “Do you want to know a secret?”

    “No.”

    Grace sweeps and dusts and sparkles and shines. But she will not sit down and listen to my secrets. No, not even for a moment.

    “I love you, mum.” Another kiss. Another rush out the door. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

    She’s always so certain that I’ll be here tomorrow. Doesn’t she know that such certainty is presumption? I have seen so many decades, so many more than she has.

    Lady Maurice curls up beside me and sleeps, purring contentment. I stroke her soft coat over and over as an idea takes hold of me.

    ***

    “Do you want to know a secret?”

    “No.”

    I watch her dust the blinds. She will vacuum the carpet next. I must tell her now. Oh, but how my heart is fluttering!

    “Grace.” I shouldn’t do it. I shouldn’t tell her. Wait for another day. “Grace.” I say it gently. Oh, so gently.

    She stops dusting and looks at me. “What’s wrong, mum?”

    I can’t tell her. But I have her attention. “I’m…I’m dying.”

    The feather duster falls to the floor as she stands there, rigid with shock.

    I knew it. Can I take it back?

    “What?” It’s just one word. One question with so many answers.

    I look down at my comforter. “My doctor…He said…I honestly can’t remember the medical term he used, but my heart is breaking down. I don’t have long to live. Maybe a year at the most.”

    “And at the least?”

    “Six months.”

    Grace doesn’t say anything.

    I peek over at her and see how she stands there. She looks so lost. So lost. It hurts me. “Grace, we have so little time left. Leave the cleaning for now. Save it for tomorrow. Sit by me.”

    She walks over to my bed and sits in the Queen Anne chair beside my bed. Dear Lady Maurice jumps up into Grace’s lap and settles down, purring soft comfort.

    “Do you want to know a secret?”

    Grace nods her head. “Yes.”

    1. Reaper

      That is just plain some powerful stuff. At first I took the daughter’s actions as denial of the inevitable, the reveal of it being ignorance and just being caught up in life was so visceral and perfect.

    2. JM Somebody

      I agree with what has already been said but just want to add that your voice on this was pitch-perfect. You fully inhabited the head of your MC and I was completely convinced. Just wonderful, Cosi.

  5. Priya

    “She’s awake. You can see her now,’ the nurse told Anjeny.

    As she was walking in the room, Anjeny stopped in her track. The smell of sickness and something else permeated the room. Anjeny looked around. Her mum’s bedroom had the same wallpaper and curtains since she had last seen it, some fifteen years ago. Despite the years, they looked well. Anjeny felt the young girl again who had entered her parents bedroom and was caught stealing her mum’s make-up.

    She leaned forward and uncovered the blankets from her mum’s eyes. She was still sleeping, she thought. She touched her hand, her mother slowly opened her eyes. She smiled faintly, trying to hide the pain and her sadness. Anjeny felt sorry for her. The pain in her eyes hurted her more than she could have imagined.

    ‘I’m here, mum. I will take care of you,’ she whispered.
    ‘I’m dying,’ she cried.
    Anjeny knew that and nodded. Tears were rolling down her cheeks. Even though their bond was bad, her heart ached. Her mother was dying and she wished she had come earlier to restore their bond. She thought of all the ugly fights in the family and how it had teared them up.
    ‘Why have you come here?’ her mum inquired.
    ‘Because you’re my mother and I want to take care of you. I flew in last night,’ I answered. Anjeny knew what her mother was implying but she didn’t take the bait.
    ‘Where have you been the past fifteen years?’ she cried.
    ‘I know, I was an asshole,’ Anjeny admitted. ‘I’m here, right now. I’m not going away.’

    Her mum’s fragile hands touched her face. ‘I have to confess something.’
    ‘I have forgiven you, mum. You did your best. Let’s put the past to rest and focus on the what we still have.’
    Her mum cried. ‘You know how Nita died. She was found of you. She always was eager to babysit you,’ she whispered.

    Painful memories popped up. My niece had committed suicide right after graduation. She would have been the first pharmacist in the family. I’ve never understood why such a bright woman with a great future ahead killed herself.

    ‘ I have to tell you something,’ her mum paused and stared at the door. ‘Close the door,’ she whispered. I stood up and closed the door. I sat down on the bed and looked at her.
    ‘Was anyone in the hallway?’ she asked.
    ‘No,’ I said. ‘What’s going on?’
    ‘Come closer,’ she beckoned with her hand.
    “You have to watch out. Go home and never come back. Let them have the house,” her mum inhaled deeply, gasping for breath. ‘You niece didn’t kill herself. She was murdered.”
    Anjeny’s mouth fell open. She felt like someone had ripped open her body.
    ‘Sssttt..don’t tell anyone else. Don’t trust anyone else. Leave tonight.’
    Her mum was about to tell more when the doctor barged in. ‘She needs to rest,’ he said, bluntly. And he gave her mother some medicine.

    The next morning, Anjeny found her mother was dead.

    1. Reaper

      Creepy, powerful, deep. So many hints at something even more that could be explored or lost to the mists of time. This is raw and emotional. The only glitches in the writing were a couple of shifts between first and third person and some places where there were too many she’s. Sometimes the she was the daughter and sometimes the mother without an identifier. It was possible to work it out but slowed down a story that was otherwise so engrossing that I hated having to go back and do so. Because you kept pulling me into the moment and I wanted to stay there with these characters.

    2. Observer Tim

      Great teaser, Priya. I sense the MC is going to have some sleepless nights until she either (a) gets the heck out of there or (b) solves the mystery. This would be a great beginning for a thriller. 🙂

  6. lyngralee

    (My internet has been down again for days and days…)

    The Ordinary

    To me, my mother seemed eternal. She was awake when I awoke each day, and was still right there to say goodnight every night. When I was little, I wondered if she slept.

    She lived a good life, full of ups and downs, and probably a few sideways. Watching her begin to slow down wasn’t as much sad as it was strange. She was somewhere closer to a hummingbird than an elephant, rapidly extinguishing a finite number of heartbeats that, once used up, could not be replenished.

    So, when she said she had a secret to tell me, I stopped moving. When she said this secret would change everything, I may have actually stopped breathing. I could hear my own heartbeat inside my head, and, even today, it sounded much more elephant than hummingbird.

    “You and I, dear child,” she said, “are magical cogs in the great wheel of life and creation.”. I scanned the room, not looking for anything, but just trying to keep my eyes moving so she couldn’t see that her opening sentence sounded crazy. She had never been particularly religious or mystical, and I felt odd and uncomfortable judging her now by this set of criteria.

    “We are part of an eternal cycle of birth and death that dates back before the history of time itself. When I die, you will have a daughter, and that daughter will be me. And your daughter will have a daughter, and she will be you. And it will continue like that into the future of all time to come. We are not immortal, but our circle of life is.

    We are the keepers of humanity, the carriers of the sacred torch of the ordinary. What makes us special is that we exist. We are the ongoing confirmation that what seems to be ordinary is, actually, quite extraordinary.

    Our purpose, as was explained to me, by you, my mother, who shared this great legacy with me before she passed, is to celebrate this perseverance of ordinary humanity. You will not speak aloud of this until it is your turn to explain our infinity to your daughter. On that last day, you must open her mind and heart to the awesome responsibility of existing. That a life seemingly unremarkable is as much a golden and priceless thread in the fabric of the universe as the greatness of a supernova.

    Each of us is important, because each of us IS. And nothing would be the same without us. Each of us. Forever and ever.

    I will never really know whether her words were true, but I decided to live my life as though they were. And my life became extraordinary.

    1. Reaper

      This is wonderful. The descriptions in your opening paragraphs were beautiful, inspiring, and such a brilliant hook. The dialogue is mystical and very eastern. The ideas wonderful because even if they are not true the message is perfect and it keeps it from being even a little bit preachy. Great way to get that message across subtly. This is just powerful because of its simplicity which echoes the greatness of the ordinary. I am stunned and thoroughly impressed.

    2. Observer Tim

      Very nice mystical take, Lyngralee. I’ve always been comforted by the concept of invisible “boring” people who make ordinary things work. This story is beautiful in its mystical simplicity and depth. 🙂 🙂

  7. Observer Tim

    I hope the prompt changes soon. My imagination is straying into weirder and weirder places…

    THE CAGE

    Mother is dying. It’s obvious from the smell, if nothing else. She’s lying on the pallet I made for her from straw and lint. She has hours left at best; she deserves better than to die in a cage.

    Her rheumy eyes open one last time and look into mine.

    “My Girl.”

    “Rest, Mother. I know you’re tired.”

    “I will soon enough. But before I do I have to tell you something.”

    “What is it? Do you know why we’re locked up like this? Do you know why they take us away and torture us?”

    “No, dear. You know those. We are locked up because we aren’t valued as people. I just want to tell you how proud I am of you.”

    “Of me? I’m nothing special, Mother.”

    “Yes, Girl, you are. You’re the only one of your brothers and sisters who is not stunted. You’re the only one who can bring themselves to ask why. We’ve been living in captivity so many generations; your duty is to lead your brothers and sisters to freedom.”

    “How do I do that?”

    “I don’t know, dear. But you have to try. Promise me you’ll try.”

    “I will, Mother. I promise.”

    And then she passes. I touch her head, her heart, but I can tell she is dead. But she has given me a mission. I have no idea how to get my people away from our captors. I have to think!

    I know what helps me concentrate. I get inside the wheel and start to run, careful not to let my tail get caught as it goes around. The steady squeak-squeak-squeak relaxes me, helps me think clearly.

    I pay close attention when the human opens the cage and puts my brother back in; I think I’ve nearly got that latch thing figured out…

    1. lionetravail

      Love it, as mother readies herself for hamster heaven… Was just awake, looking atthe number of posts, and caught this beforemorning shower. I wanted to do an animal piece and never found time. Love it, wonderfully handled, Tim, and just so absurdly perfect 🙂

      1. Kerry Charlton

        Great story taken from a hampster’s view. How long have you been snow bound? You need to get outside and get some exercise, stop turning the wheel, the lights won’t go out.

    2. Observer Tim

      Thanks guys. One point of clarification of no real value to the story (unless the character is used again); they’re mice, specifically white laboratory mice. My inspirations were Barney (Will Stanton), “the Secret of NiMH”, and “Pinky and the Brain”.

      The scary thing is I am getting flashes of ideas regarding further stories for Girl.

      1. Tea_and_a_book

        I was thinking, as I read, that it seemed a little Secret of NIMH-ish 🙂 However,maybe you’ve been a little too bored a little too long 😉

    3. Reaper

      I don’t know if I would call it scary that you are getting more ideas on this. I would go with brilliant because I would read this. You did such a wonderful job here that not only is the story readable but it is relatable on so many levels. I am sure animal rights folks would see one thing. For me it reads an exploration of the human condition through nonhuman eyes. Which allows it to open up different points of view that are already brilliant and destined to get better.

  8. SimReal

    The air in the room is thick with unwarranted comfort; the walls a bright bleaching white.

    I sit gazing hesitantly at my mother’s closed eyes. She lays near me on a bent mattress – half tilted up into the stale air. Indistinguishable murmurs from doctors, and the pattering of nurse’s feet fight through the dense hospital walls encompassing our room.

    Her wrinkled face opens to me. Instinctively, I reach out and grasp her hand tightly. How could this be happening to me? For a long time, I knew this day would come. And yet, there are so many lost experiences, conversations; withheld joy. I can feel these fractured emotions descend from my head to somewhere deep in my chest.

    Her warm blue eyes look into mine. I feel numbly existential. My heartbeat quickens and I look away.

    Her voice washes over me, and she explains how everything is going to fine. She explains, in simple delicate words, how proud of me she is. Proud of what? I don’t know.

    The door to her quarters opens and a nurse dressed in pale blue scrubs glides next to my mother. Clipboard in hand, she jots down her vitals. “Mrs. Simreal, I need you to let me know if you want this man to leave.”

    My mother stares defiantly into the nurse’s dark eyes. The young nurse nods politely, and swiftly exits the room.

    I lean back in my chair and gaze out the window. A grey fog lays over the hospital grounds slowly blending into the sky above.

    I turn back to her and she smiles; grey tears flowing through the fading rivers of her face. How can she expect me to listen – she has been out of my life for years. Her words once again wash over me and I feel uplifted.

    She holds my heart, rocking it back and forth as a child. She tells me I have the gift of love, and that I have never wasted it.

    She tells me I must share this serenity with my own children. She tells me it is a parent’s duty. She tells me that I am a Simreal, and that is our gift.

    My grip on her hand loosens and I fall away into darkness.

    I awake in a familiar haze. I look down at my frail, blanketed body. To my right, my son reclines on a chair, his eyes closed. To my left, my daughter glances at me and smiles. Behind me on a shelf, my wife patiently waits packed in ceramic.

    “Are you okay, dad”, my daughter asks, her eyes weary.

    I gaze into her eyes, smiling.

  9. JRSimmang

    KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT

    “You’re looking good.” I eyed my brother over. His Sperrys. His Polo. His khaki shorts embellished with little, what were they, sailboats parading around his crotch and thighs.

    “Thanks,” was all he said.

    We were staring out the windows outside mom’s room at Our Guiding Light Hospital and Funerary Services. Vegas.

    “I suppose we’ll need to hire a lawyer. You know, to divvy up the old bag’s money.”

    I hated it when he referred to mom as ‘the old bag,’ as if she could be slung over a shoulder and carried off, keeping a hold of a traveler’s valuables. “Old bag,” I repeated and sighed. “I’ll contact Garrison later to sort out the details.”

    “Garrison’s still your lawyer?”

    “Mom’s lawyer.”

    He whistled. “I hope he’s been getting some on the side, the way she is.”

    “I don’t want to think about that.”

    He checked his watch. “Welp, little brother, I’ve got an appointment-”

    “Sure.”

    “-to the dentist’s-”

    “I got it.”

    “-and I’ll probably be there-”

    “Yeah.”

    “-the rest of the day. So…”

    I looked up at him, his hair reflecting the last bit of sunlight. “I got it.”

    “Good man. Great.” He slapped me on the back. “Call me when she dies.”

    I shuddered, then turned to peer inside mom’s room.

    Dr Hummer to Room 26. Dr Hummer to Room 26. I glanced up at the intercom system, gathered my strength, and stepped through the threshold into her room.

    “Is that sonofabitch gone?” was her first question.

    “Yeah.”

    “Good God, I thought he’d never leave, that worthless slab of sub-prime meat.”

    Mom still had some fight in her. “Get me into that chair, would you, sport?”

    Dad called us by our actual names. Mom was the beer swilling, blackjacking, Virginia Slim smoking diva in the family. I slung her over my shoulder and dropped her into the plastic/vinyl chair in the corner. She let out a grunt and something popped.

    “Oh God, that was good.”

    I stifled a laugh, which made her laugh, which made me laugh out loud. She stopped short, narrowed her eyes at me, and breathed in a ragged breath. “I’m dying, champ.”

    “Yeah. I know.”

    “And your brother’s an ass-on-a-stick.”

    I hung my head and chuckled.

    “But!” she paused for dramatic effect. “He’s not your brother.”

    “Mom,” I caught my breath in my throat. “Even when you’re about to die, it’s not fair to disown him.”

    She pushed her eyebrows tighter together and pulled her lips in. “I’m not. He’s not.”

    I felt my jaw slacken.

    “Close your mouth, Harold.”

    I took a deep breath to allow the words in my mind to form complete sentences. My brother not my brother? And now? Part of me was relieved because he is a complete and total dick-in-a-bag, but the other part of me wanted to know why, how, when. I searched for the words, each side of my brain putting forth inhuman effort to compile and summarize all the feelings in my being. I opened my mouth, and said, “But-”

    “He was stolen.”

    “Huh?”

    “By me.”

    “Wha?”

    “In the hospital.”

    “Bwa?”

    “When he was an infant.”

    “Hrm?”

    “He was one of thirteen.”

    I sat down on the bed.

    “I’m The Nanny.”

    In the late seventies and the early eighties, fifty hospitals from Virginia to Tennessee were hit by The Nanny, an unknown woman who snatched thirteen children from the NICU, the Nursery, and out of mothers’ arms toward the end, when she was feeling ballsy.

    “Oh good God, that felt great to get off my chest.”

    Dr Hummer to Room 26. Dr Hummer to Room 26.

    My lower lip quivered, my eyes blinked in and out of focus. “Jesus.”

    “But you’re mine.”

    I looked up at her smile, a mother’s smile. Then, she died. Plain and simple. No fuss.

    I stood up, walked over to her corpse, kissed her on the head, pulled the nurse call line, and left her room. I had thirteen siblings, and I had to find them.

    Dr Hummer to Room 33. Dr Hummer to Room 33.

    -JR Simmang

    1. Reaper

      Interesting and terse. This could lead into some very interesting stories with that last line. I loved the interaction with your MC saying basically nothing but breaking up his mother’s monologue. One thing seemed off to me, and maybe I just need some more detail How did the nanny hit fifty hospitals if she only took thirteen kids? Was she also stealing meds, or diapers or something that I missed?

    2. Observer Tim

      This is wonderfully blunt and to the point, JR. I’d not heard of a serial baby-stealer before, but looking it up online shows there are cases. I wonder what the mother’s motives were? Overall a good and thought-provoking story. 🙂

    3. ReathaThomasOakley

      When I read Our Guiding Light Hospital and Funerary Services. Vegas. I started smiling. Then when Harold slung mother over his shoulder after reacting to his brother calling her an old bag I kept smiling. I thought a really black comedy, and perhaps that’s what the rest of the story will be. I loved the description of the mother.

  10. Emma Dree

    As I helped her to the breakfast chair, she held my hand a little longer than normal and never broke her gaze. In a voice a little raspier than my own, “It’s time. Go to my closet. Move the old trunk. Pull back the carpet. There is a hidden door. Open it and fetch me the boxes.” Waving her arm in the direction of her bedroom I caught a whiff of vanilla. Mom always smelled like fresh pastry. “Unsure if it was the medicine or mom speaking I did as told.

    I returned with two ornate tattered boxes and placed them at her side. Stating the obvious through a mouth full of egg, “I am your mother.” I return a quizzical smile as she continued to chew and talk slowly. “Before I was Delores Morgan. I was Shafia Abassi.” She lifted her eyes and searched my face.

    “Mom, wha…?”

    She held up a shaky piano finger requesting my silence. As she perfected her posture and cleared her throat she continued in low tones. “History is important.” She adjusted her oxygen and smoothed silvers from her cheek to behind her ear. “I was fifteen. It was my wedding day when I ran.”

    “Wedding…to who?!” I sat back in my chair exhaling disbelief and confusion.

    “The highest bidder.” She licked at the bit of egg at the corner of her lips. “I never knew his name but he was a wealthy man.” She stabbed her potatoes and leaned in.

    “I knew I could never live that life.” Opening the first small box, she pulled out pictures then took a sip of tea. Dark history rested on her brow. “I had two sisters.” She pointed to a small frail girl with empty eyes and lips like mine. “Donya died in childbirth at 13. Zahba beaten to death by her husband. She was 17.”

    “That night he came to me. The stench of vodka covered him. I refused him. He beat me until he collapsed out of breath. I laid in my own blood and realized I would rather die trying to escape than live that life. So I ran.”

    Mom traced her fingers lightly across a long scar on her arm.

    “I made certain I left him with the vodka he loved. I poured it over him as he slept. Lit a match and ran. When I ran, I ran with this.” She opened the second box and let out a strong musty odor. It was filled with stacks of bills, one hundred dollar bills.

    “For you.” She pushed the box of bills to me, her face radiant and proud. Each line around her eyes held a dozen untold stories.

    ” You see this?” She held up the egg on her fork. When you put the egg in hot water it gets hard. You see this?” She stabbed the potatoes once more. “You put the potato in hot water it becomes soft. You see this?” Mom held out the tea bag. “You put tea bag in hot water it becomes strong.”

    I sat there limp in leg and tongue with tons of questions swirling my mind.

    Mom caressed my face, her touch like butter. She brought her forehead to mine as she pressed a soggy tea bag into the palm of my hand. Promise me you will always be tea.”

    1. Reaper

      That’s a tea story right there. Loved the imagery and the mother’s voice. Other than some quotes that were missing or in one case extra I saw nothing I would comment on for improvement. Very interesting story. You gave us a lot of information in a really short space.

      1. Emma Dree

        Thanks Reaper! I’m glad you loved the imagery –> (Emma Dree). See what I just did there..LOL. Next time I’ll be more cautious when editing.

    2. Observer Tim

      This is a powerful story with a lovely and powerfully understated moral/cultural lesson. This sort of thing still happens in the world, and it’s nice to get a reminder that touches on the human side. 🙂

  11. Paint on Parchment

    My mother is splitting her shell again. I wish she wouldn’t do that while I’m eating. “Mom!” I whine. “Couldn’t you wait until I’m finished?”

    She pauses, her iridescent face peeking out from her half-cracked coffin of wrinkles. It curves around her body so that when she has it on, she’s indistinguishable from an aging human. Seeing her in such a demeaning costume makes me want to weep—my regal mother, reduced to having to pretend to be such a disgusting being. “Sorry, sweetie,” she says. “But you know how much I hate this thing. It makes me so claustrophobic.”

    Shuddering, she pushes at the walls of her shell until it’s in two pieces, one on either side of her lovely, youthful Sa’argan body. It’s less of a shell and more of a bodysuit; since it’s designed so that she looks like an old woman, it’s pretty much a blob of prosthetics glued together into the shape of a person. But she needs it. The shell allows her to constantly bathe in her Lifeyolk, which is a gluey mixture that keeps her alive aboveground. Our people live much deeper inside the Earth than humans can. We’re able to withstand the heat of the infernos, and we’ve been strong enough to create a full civilization there. But as a result, my mom can only take off the shell for short periods of time before she freezes to death.

    Now that her shell is off, my mom’s Lifeyolk is dripping from her forehead and has gotten matted in her hair. I gag a bit on my hot dog. (Humans may be revolting, but their food is truly delicious.)

    “Look, Mom, I know that you don’t like the shell, but you need to stay in it. To protect both of us,” I tell her. “Remember that every time you take off the shell, you jeopardize the mission.”

    “The mission this, the mission that; that’s all you ever talk about these days! Lighten up!” my mother says, cheerful now that she’s out of her shell. “All the other teenage Sa’argan girls who came with us are out seducing humans. Why don’t you ever join them?”

    I open my mouth to tell her that humans are vile and I’d never want to seduce them, but my mom keeps talking.

    “Now, I know what you’re going to say: Focus is important. Sure, it is, but you need to make the best of your time above the Earth’s crust! You need to see this as an opportunity for learning—not just from the Sa’argans as we try to broker peace between the inhabitants of the different layers of the Earth, but from the humans, too,” she continues reprovingly.

    I finish the hot dog and sit down next to her on the bed. We’re staying in a two-person apartment, and she’s pretending to be a sick old woman whose daughter is taking care of her. That’s our excuse for why we never accept visitors: Mom just never feels well, so while we appreciate your invitation to dinner, Mrs. Fairbanks, she really needs her rest. I shudder, honestly, thinking about all those horrible humans who’ve asked to see my mom. There’s no way I’d let them near her, not with all the destruction that they cause.

    “Really, Mom?” I ask. “The reason why we need the peace treaty is because as soon as humans developed sufficiently advanced technology, they went and started planting atomic bombs in the Earth’s core—in our hometown, Mom. What can we learn from them?”

    My mom is suddenly nervous. I can tell because she’s fiddling with her shell. “You’d be surprised how similar they are to Sa’argans,” she mutters.

    I raise my eyebrows. “How do you know?”

    Suddenly, she jerks around to face me and looks me intensely in the eye. “Sweetie… I’m a human.”

    1. Reaper

      Well, that’s an interesting twist. I was assuming the father was human but you shocked me there. Nice commentary and very disturbing imagery. I really liked this, especially as the possible beginning of something longer since now I want to know how she can possibly be human and all of that. Very nicely done.

      1. Paint on Parchment

        Thank you! I originally kept going with a backstory that included the father (he was Sa’argan), but I decided that the last line would be more interesting if I ended on “I’m a human.” I agree with you about making this longer–I was trying to stick to word count for this one, even though I went over–because there’s so much more world building that I would have liked to do. Once again, thank you.

    2. Observer Tim

      This is classic-style SF, Paint. Except for the modern language (and the fact that it’s not dreadfully overwritten) it could have been published in Analog or F&SF back in the glory days. Wonderful! 🙂 🙂

  12. Observer Tim

    This came to me suddenly. I love it when an idea grabs me be the throat and shakes. It’s about a hundred words over.

    FOREVER

    As soon as I get home I run to Mom’s room. She’s been ill lately; in the last week she’s shed almost twenty-five pounds. Regardless of that she refuses to let me take her to the doctor; she has a lot more stubborn than her 45 years would imply.

    “How are you feeling, Mom?”

    “Pretty good for my age.”

    “What’s that supposed to mean?”

    “Can you help me into my chair, dear? I have a story to tell you.”

    I help her up and into the chair that looks out over the city. We’ve lived here since I was a baby and the view of New York has never lost its beauty.

    Once she’s settled, she looks at me with a deeply serious expression.

    “You know how it’s always been just the two of us, Winnie? Well, it’s time to tell you about our family.”

    “I thought you said you’d left them.”

    “I did, when you were just a little baby. Unwed mothers weren’t exactly popular then.”

    “In 1992? Come on, Mom, I know it was work…”

    “No! It wasn’t 1992. It was 1808.”

    “What!? Are you crazy?”

    “No, and if you stop interrupting I’ll tell you. Your daddy was a medicine man. Not like that, he travelled around the country selling patent medicines. He was a smooth talker in all the right ways, and as a 22-year old spinster I was an easy target.”

    “I think you’ve been watching too much History Channel, Mom.”

    “Sorry dear, every word’s the truth. You’ll understand better tomorrow. Now, what I didn’t know is that he was a magician. When it became obvious I was with child, he disappeared, leaving me to live with the shame.”

    “I knew Momma would be mortified, and I resolved to do something stupid. I drank three bottles of medicine that he left behind, hoping the combination would kill me. Needless to say, it didn’t.”

    “What did happen?”

    “I got sick; so bad that Momma and Daddy had me put away in a sanatorium. When they found out the rest of the story Daddy disowned me.”

    “You were born about the time the money ran out, and I ended up in the streets. I found work as a wash-woman and raised you as best I could.”

    “This is a lovely fairy tale, Mom, but how come I don’t remember any of it?”

    “Shush. Leading up to my forty-sixth birthday, coincidentally your twenty-third, I got sick again. You were married then, though God hadn’t blessed you with any children, and you took care of me. On my birthday it happened.”

    “What happened?”

    “I died, sort of, but woke up a few minutes later as a baby.”

    “That’s impossible!”

    “You said that then, too. But it happened. You and William made the most of it, pretended I was yours. It worked, too. But twenty-three years later, to the day, it happened again, only this time you turned into the baby. And that’s how it’s gone these past two centuries.”

    “Am I supposed to believe this?”

    “Doesn’t really matter. By this time tomorrow you’ll remember it. You get the memories when I turn into a baby, and vice versa. I guess it’s a kind of immortality, but like any good gift you have to share it.”

    “So, tomorrow sometime…”

    “At 9:22 a.m. I’m going to turn into a baby. You’d best skip work. And in the bedside table there’s a diary with a list of things to do so we can keep the secret…”

    1. snuzcook

      What a fascinating concept, O.Tim. Begs the question how it might work in different scenarios, where the child and the mother are not alone in the world. A wonderful yarn.

      1. Kerry Charlton

        Boy, you’re red hot this week.There is so much imgination in this tale.Have you been snow-bound the last week and your brain is in overdrive? What an unusual story this is. Does your tale include the mother and son becoming the same age at one point in time.?

        1. Observer Tim

          No, they are perpetually 23 years apart in age, to the day. The only thing that changes is who’s the mother and who’s the daughter…

          (P.S. Sorry I didn’t make it clearer that the younger one is a girl).

    2. Reaper

      Whoa. How do you combine scary as hell and hopeful at the same time? This story might hit me different than most people but I found it creepy. Mostly because I have this intense fear of reincarnation being real. I can’t think of anything I would like less than continuing to exist but forgetting who I was, because I think I’m pretty awesome and would hate the asshole who stole my being. Your story touched on that in a very profound way and yet contains the hope for something else because eventually the memories come back. Lots of power, very interesting, and some great lines. My favorite being, but like any good gift you have to share it. I agree with Kerry. You’re on fire this week.

    3. Craig the Editor

      Here’s the scary part for me. I just read this week’s writing prompt and I started thinking what sort of secret might the mother be hiding. And before I started reading your entry (honestly) I was thinking a making mom a time traveler and she was actually her daughter’s daughter. Now I am forced to return to the well of ideas and come up with something else. (Sighs dramatically)
      BTW I did enjoy the story but I am a little puzzled why you made the mother seem to be only 45 (even if she was much older). I liked the using the medicine man and his potions. Nice job.

      1. Observer Tim

        Sorry about that, Craig. I would be curious to see how you wrote to that topic, since I’m sure it would have been totally different from mine.

        I chose the 46th birthday because it was twice 23, allowing for the symmetrical turnover of the main characters. Also, I wanted something long enough to have the daughter develop a life before being drawn into the situation. My original plan was to write about several of the changeovers (there are real differences to being a single mother in 1946, 1969, and 1992).

  13. Observer Tim

    PHOTOGRAPHS

    Take a picture.

    A middle-aged woman, lying on the floor beside a sitting chair. She is wearing a pink nightgown and a powder blue robe. Her graying hair is short and held back with pins. Her frail body is marked by the scars of old wounds and the distinctive pallor of the chemotherapy patient. She has bruises on her neck, two large thumb prints over her windpipe and more diffuse marks of handprints on the sides. Her eyes bulge slightly and her tongue lolls as if she were short of breath.

    The woman is my mother.

    Take a picture.

    An emaciated girl, barely a teenager, sitting on a worn sofa in a living room. She is wrapped in a grey police-issue blanket. Her shoulder-length black hair is unkempt and tangled; her fingernails are uneven and torn. A woman in an EMT uniform is holding a stethoscope to her chest under the blanket. The girl’s right hand holds the blanket closed; her wrist is encircled by a single handcuff shackle with two links of chain dangling. Her eyes are wide and looking past the EMT. The tracks of tears stain her cheeks.

    The girl is my sister.

    Take a picture.

    A basement room with concrete walls unevenly covered in garish red paint. The window is blocked by corrugated cardboard held in place by ancient duct tape. A yellowing incandescent bulb in the ceiling provides illumination. The only pieces of furniture are a portable toilet and a metal-framed bed with a thin worn-down mattress. The bedding is torn and stained and the pillow is nearly flat from long use. A length of chain extends from one bedpost, ending abruptly next to where a pair of bolt cutters lie discarded.

    The room is my sister’s bedroom.

    Take a picture.

    A man, perhaps thirty years old, walking with head bowed down the front steps of a suburban house. He wears a checked flannel shirt, blue jeans and work boots. He is being escorted by two male police officers in uniform and has his hands are behind his back. His face wears a look of resignation. In the foreground is a police cruiser, the back door open to receive him.

    The man is me, an hour after mother told me for the first time that I had a little sister.

    1. JM Somebody

      The structure of this is brilliant. The “pictures” told a horrifying– but misleading — story. You successfully lured me down the path to thinking it was the son, and I did not suspect the mother until the very last sentence. The line “take a picture” put me in mind of a crime scene investigator on the scene taking pictures of this unfolding story. This was so focused, tightly written and chilling. Excellent work, Tim.

    2. cosi van tutte

      Wow.

      I love the redirect in this story – how you build up sympathy for the mother. She’s sick with cancer, has been a victim of domestic abuse at some point in the past. Then you reveal the truth about her. And you do it without one line o dialogue. Just with clean and simple descriptions.

      Great job, OT!

    3. ReathaThomasOakley

      I had to read this, let it rest, and come back to comment. This is so powerful and stark. The “pictures”, every sentence of them, each tell so many stories. Great job!

  14. tydra

    okay, so i failed one of my new year’s resolutions already. i wasn’t abe to keep up with my promise to myself to write in each and every Weekly prompt! now i know what it means when work takes over my life again…oh well, i will do my best 🙂

    Word count: 675

    I didn’t wait for a response to my knocking, but stepped right into the bedroom. As soon as mom’s head swiveled towards me and her eyes focused on mine, I knew she was having a good day for a change, being able to recognize me and knowing exactly where she was.

    “Hi mom, how you doing today?” I asked her as I walked over to open the heavy curtains and let some fresh air into the room. Rays of sunshine broke through the foliage of the old oak tree in the back garden. I could see tiny sparks of dust as they whirled lazily through the beams of light. It was time to wash those curtains again.

    “I am doing very well, thank you my dear.” Her voice didn’t sound quite as strained today, she was indeed telling the truth. I smiled relieved and sighed inwardly. I fetched the wheelchair out of the corner of the room and rolled it closer to the side of the bed.

    “Mom, it’s such a beautiful day outside, I was thinking we could go for a walk in the park today.”

    As I reached for the corner of her blanket to pull it back, her hand grabbed my arm and stopped me dead. Her wrinkled fingers felt thin and frail, as if there were only bones clutching my skin, yet there was strength in them. Enough strength to keep my arm from moving, I noticed astonished.

    “Mom?”

    She gave me a hard stare and finally said: “I think it’s time I told you about the letter.”

    I raised my eyebrows at her. “Mmmmmkay. What letter?”

    She raised her other index finger, trembling slightly as she pointed it to the door. “Go to my desk, the bottom drawer on the left side. There is a big brown envelope at the bottom of it. Be a dear and bring it to me please.”

    “Okay. But don’t you want me to help you get up first?”

    She managed to shake her head somewhat. “There is no time, my dear. Go now.”

    I did as I was told. When I returned with the brown envelope in my hands, she patted the bed beside her. I sat down next to her and removed the contents of the letter.

    “Next time we see Dr. Hashley, please give these to him.”

    I started to scan through the pieces of paper. “What is it about?”

    She took a deep rattling breath. “It says that I do not want any further treatment. And I do not want any life support of any kind.”

    My hands dropped into my lap, the paper rustling quietly. I stared into my mom’s eyes. I remembered them to be full of life and energy, but now I found them full of determination. Of course, we had talked about this moment many times before. During times when she was still healthy, and even more once the illness started to claim her. She used to work in a nursing home, and she knew firsthand what it meant to be unable to care for oneself, unable to move or speak, being dependent on others for every little mundane thing, from turning to your side on bed, to wiping your own spittle from your chin. She always had told me she would never want to end up like that.

    I straightened my back and tried to fight back the tears welling up inside of me. “Mom, are you sure it’s time?”

    She smiled her warm smile at me, a rare sight these days, her body relaxing visibly, like a heavy burden had been removed off her chest. “I feel my time has come, my dear. And I am so glad… ,” she took another deep breath as a tear rolled down her furrowed face, “…that I still had the chance to tell you about the letter.”

    I put the papers away and took her now feeble hand into mine, unable to hold back the tears any longer. “I will make sure your last wish is honored, mom.”

    1. Observer Tim

      This is powerful and rings true to me. It’s very much like what my father did in his last lucid period before the ALS got him (his blood oxygen kept dropping because his lungs had stopped working). Though he didn’t write a letter, he had the doctors in and told them exactly what his intentions were. He also said a final and proper good-bye to my mother. That’s what dying with dignity is all about. 😉

      1. tydra

        aaw Tim, that must have been a very difficult situation for you indeed, my condolences 🙁 I am in a slightly similar situation right now with my granddad. it’s not because of illness, but just due to advanced age. but he is also starting to have slight dementia, and on top of that he was never very good in communication (he let my grandma do all the talking). so now I have the problem that I am not sure what his intentions are. when he says “no” to the nurse, is it because he doesn’t understand what is happening, or is it because he doesn’t want to go on anymore? it’s a tough situation, and that’s what prompted my text above. I actually wrote that piece all in one go, barely edited a few words and sentence structure, but it felt good to put this down on paper

  15. Bilbo Baggins

    FLICKERS- TWO

    The morning was dizzy and fresh, a light rain hitting the streets. At dawn Detective Rush took a trolley down California Street to the head office of the Pinkerton agency. The receptionist wired him up to his boss’s plush office on the second floor.

    “Having flashbacks of ten years ago?” Oscar Cloud asked when he walked in. The bulky man sat at the desk with his plump head and wiry mustache.

    Albert unbuttoned his coat to reveal the bandage on his shoulder.

    “This is about my mother, Oscar. Let’s not mess around.”

    Oscar let his pen fall onto the stack of papers he was signing.

    “Mess around? You saw Hammonds hung back in ’02 and you still won’t admit it.”

    Albert began to pace around the room. The shades were drawn to keep out the sun but he could still hear the bustle on the sidewalks and it disturbed his thoughts.

    “His body might be dead, but his spirit lives on.” He paused, looked at his boss’s bookshelf. Over a hundred times he’d been here, over a hundred missions, but this one was becoming the most personal.

    Oscar stood up, went over. “Sorry about Anne. Know it’s hard for you.”

    “It’s gonna be hard on the fool who drove that taxi once I find him.”

    The receptionist was back, holding open the door. “A Mr. Wright to see you, Oscar.”

    “Let him in, let him in,” Oscar waved. She disappeared, and a man in a dirty green coat and spectacles came in. As he shook hands with Albert he was two heads shorter than him.

    “We meet again, Ben,” Detective Rush said. “Last time I saw you, we were hunting down drug smugglers in the Everglades.”

    “Yeah, practically used me as alligator bait. Tell me what’s going on.”

    Albert told him. Ben rubbed his hands together excitedly.

    “Well, what are we waiting for? Let’s go there.”

    “No need. Moved her to the Palace Hotel yesterday.”

    Oscar sniffed. “Next you’re going to put that hefty room fee on company funds.”

    “You’re as good as a fortune teller, Cloud,” Albert smiled. “She has important information.”

    “Do you want me posted outside the door?” Ben asked.

    “No, we can leave an apprentice. No real danger with hundreds of civilians in the building.”

    “Mike Tomson from the Oakland office. I’ll send a messenger to bring him across the Mole.”

    Albert picked up his coat from the hat rack and left a file on the desk.

    “Nice stopping by, Oscar. Examine that, call us back when you’re done.”

    “Wait, where are you two going?” their rotund boss interrupted.

    Albert paused in the doorway, his bright face suddenly tense.

    “Chinatown.”
    __________________________________

    A 1906 Pierce Racine Touring Car pushed through the dense afternoon traffic of the Oriental markets. Throughout its narrow streets, merchants were yelling prices for fruits, overly priced Chinese trinkets and yellow lanterns. The car stopped in the back alley of a prominent opium den on 43rd Street.

    “No business here!” a rough-faced tong member warned. “Go away!”

    Four men in black suits got out with pistols and he turned silent. They crowded around the back entrance, the leader taking off his gloves.

    “Tell Kim Sung Yan he’s been expecting me.”

    “What have you to do with the Dragon Master?”

    Two of his arms were grabbed from each side. He looked around, beginning to realize the situation’s hopelessness. Another Chinaman surfaced from the black curtained interior into the alley.

    “Let him go,” and the tong member breathed a sigh of relief. “Come upstairs.”

    They disappeared into the building, safe from the blazing sun and the prying eyes of policemen. Many of the people smoking and gambling inside were surprised to see the well-to-do swells climbing the stairs. But, they knew at the same time, money was money.

    1. Reaper

      Nice continuation and the voice seems much smoother on this one. The only bit that threw me off was two of his arms being grabbed which made me look back to see if he had extras. This is very interesting and begs for more continuation.

        1. Bilbo Baggins

          “Two of his arms”… 🙂 Should’ve put ‘his two arms’ instead. Oh well. Just starting to get into my groove with this series. Thanks for the compliments. Working on part three today, but might wait till next prompt to post it.

    2. Observer Tim

      Very nice, Bilbo. My comments after part 1 are continued, though now it’s Charlie Chan.

      My style advisor suggests “dancing on a rope” instead of “hung” for a bit more noir feel. The other option is “hanged” but grammatical correctness isn’t really needed in quotes. But the first idea is just a bit of extra polish for an already-lustrous story.

    3. Dennis

      Nice work. It could be the Monday morning, but originally the dialog with the three cops confused me as to who was talking. Otherwise, I’m enjoying the mystery of the story.

  16. Colonel Plops

    Charming

    When I pulled up I didn’t expect to see my mom wearing a white hat to block the sun, a light green shirt, khaki shorts, and her typical smile. In one hand was a glass of lemonade and in the other was a cigarette with a thin stream of smoke coming from it. I pushed open my rusted door and stepped out onto the gravel driveway.

    “Cynthi, I’m happy you could make it!” she called from her lawn chair. She set her now empty lemonade glass onto the dead grass. I could see where she’d set lawn chairs all over the yard, where, in the few places there was grass, it was flattened. In front of her sat the kiddy pool I remembered me and my older brother swimming in as kids. It was now filled with wet leaves and spiders.

    “Mom , why’re you out here?”

    “Cynthi, you know what the doctor said. I’m going to die. There’s nothing he can do, let alone me,” my mother had a raspy, masculine voice that let you know she had always been a smoker. What you couldn’t tell from her voice was that she was in the early stages of lung cancer.

    “At least don’t smoke,” I told her as I pulled a lawn chair for myself over next to her.

    “Oh, you always were the good one. That’s why your were my least favorite,” she joked. She threw the cigarette into the grass and stomped on it. We both laughed. It had always been a joke among us that. That my way of always trying to take care of her had gotten on her nerves.

    “So, mom, why’d you call me? Is everything alright?” She laughed a laugh that was raspier than her voice.

    “Yes Cynthi, everything is fine. There’s, well, uh, something I need to tell you.” This was the first time I’d heard my mom pause mid-sentence. She had always been so direct with her ideas. Her sudden stutter made me nervous.

    “What is it mom?”

    “Our family has, um, always had special charms as my dad called ’em.”

    “You mean our drinking?” I asked. She laughed again. Her family had always had a bad drinking problem. From her dad, to her, to my older brother. We knew it wasn’t a joke, but we also knew that a 60 year old with lung cancer shouldn’t smoke.

    “No, not that. We have… powers.”

    “Powers?” I was becoming less nervous and more confused.

    “I guess the best place to start would be with Arthur,” she said. It was the first time I had heard her say my older brothers name since he’d passed away.

    “He could move things Cynthia. He could move things without touching them.” I thought she was delirious. Too much sun? Not enough sleep? None of it sounded like my mom.

    “You mean like, super powers?”

    “Yeah. Kind of. I think in science fiction they called it telekinesis.”

    “So, he could move things with his mind?” I wanted to tell my mom this was silly, she was joking. I could tell she wasn’t.

    “He could. But it wasn’t only him. My dad had powers, I have powers,” she explained it intensely. Moving her hands and shaking her head. I could tell she was regretting throwing that cigarette into the grass.

    “So, you’re telekinetic too?”

    “No. We all have different powers. My dad could look at people and persuade them to do things,” with this I began thinking about how grandpa used to tell us to do chores and things when he visited. We always listened. “I can, heal people.”

    “Heal people?”

    “When Arthur was… sick… I wanted to use it to save him,” her eyes began to water. She almost never cried. It made me want to cry with her.

    “Why didn’t you?”

    “Your dad said not to. He said people would wonder how we had cured him, how he had lived. He wouldn’t even be our kid anymore but would live in a hospital, being poked and prodded in order to find out the truth,” she was sobbing now, “Your dad was right, of course. He always was,” she kind of laughed now. The laughing through the crying came out almost as a groan and sounded somewhat like her voice before the smoke. It made me smile a little, despite all of the crying.

    “So… do I have powers?” She wiped away the tears.

    “Yes Cynthia, you have them too. You just need to discover them. That’s why I’m telling you. I’m going to die soon and I won’t be able to help you when you discover it,” she stopped crying. She picked up the glass, remembered that it was empty and set it back down.

    “Can’t you just heal yourself?” I asked.

    “You know I can’t Cynthia,” she sighed. Her tears were gone. She was getting out another cigarette. I decided against telling her not to. “You can go now. Unless you wanna stay for dinner.”

    “I have plans,” I explained.

    “Okay. I’ll see you later sweetie.” I leaned down and kissed her. She was never one to kiss back, she always hid her feelings for whatever reason. But this time, she kissed back.

    “I’ll see you mom.” I opened my rusted red car door and got in. I looked out the window at my mom, who was waving. I waved back, looking at the kiddy pool again. Suddenly, in a small flash I saw me and Arthur in the pool. It was Fourth of July and we were spraying each other with water guns. Then it was gone. The third glimpse of the past that day. I pulled out, across the rickety gravel.

    1. Colonel Plops

      Sorry if this was unclear, but the three glimpses of the past were the first time she recalled her and her brother in the pool, when she heard her mom’s voice before smoking and the second time she recalled her and her brother in the pool.

    2. Reaper

      Interesting, and the hint of a very useful power. Only thing that seemed to be a bump for me was the second kissed back, seemed like it should have been this time she did.

    3. Observer Tim

      This is an interesting and subtle reveal, Colonel. I like the story a lot; too bad she didn’t find out what her power was earlier. The only thing I would have wondered about was cleared up in your note. Great job. 🙂

  17. Dennis

    Nothing As It Seems

    My mother’s words didn’t make any sense. She was ill and probably dying. Maybe all she said were the words of a feverish mind, but I felt she was trying to tell me something on her deathbed. I propped her head up and laid a cold cloth on her forehead

    “Simon?”
    “I’m here mom.” I pulled up a chair next to her and held her clammy hand, waiting patiently for her next words. But I had trouble looking at her emaciated body.

    “Such a good boy… wanted more for you than I could give…” She began go cough so I handed her a glass of water. The clock struck midnight. I watched my mother listening to each chime, as if they were telling her something.

    “Not much time… The man in your dreams is real… He will help you become someone great. That is my gift to you.”

    Mom began to cough violently and sprayed the covers with blood. She sat up in bed as her whole body tensed, gripping my hand tightly. Her eyes widened as if she just saw something that frightened her. In the next moment she collapsed and I felt her hand slip from mine. I checked her pulse and breathing but already knew she was gone.

    As I pondered the words of my mother, a stout man in a white suit walked through the bedroom door.

    “Ah, Simon, my how you have grown.”
    “Who the hell are you?”
    “Interesting choice of words. I promised your mother that once you turned eighteen, which happened at midnight, I would look after you.”

    I began to feel dizzy. My mother was right. He is the man from my dreams.

    “Are you some sort of angel?”

    “In a manner of speaking.” At that moment the man in white removed his white fedora.
    “Whoa, are those for real?”
    “As real as anything else in this room. The man rubbed one of the small horns. “Don’t look so shocked. Deep down, you have always known.”

    It all began to make sense. The imaginary beings I used to see in the shadows. Why I never fit in with any crowd at school.

    “For some reason I didn’t think you were real, that you were just a myth.”
    “Unfortunately, knowledge of me is on the decline. But all that will change.”
    “So, what exactly did you promise my mother?” The man in white walked up and put his arm around me.
    “Son, you and I are going to rule the world.” I had to pause to let the gravity of his words sink in.
    “Okay, so when do we start.”

    (Sorry, not my best, but stealing Cosi’s line, I couldn’t resist.)

      1. JM Somebody

        Hmm… I put a little horned emoticon, and the rest of my reply after that disappeared! You don’t think it could be… Nah!

        I was going to say that the death scene was kind of intense, especially the blood spraying, which gave me a visceral reaction.

          1. Kerry Charlton

            The whole story gave me the ‘willies’. Your death scene was grusome, realistic and chilling. Certainly not a ‘horny’ story.

  18. Stephen S

    ‘Just some history’

    She weighed almost nothing as I picked her up and set her into the wheelchair. The sickness in her had taken her mobility and now it was eating away at the rest of her body. She sat quietly as I placed her feet up on the foot plates of the chair. As I rose she placed her hand on my arm. Looking down at her I asked, “What is it, mom?”

    In a voice that was an echo of the one I had grown up with she said, “My Malchik.” It was her and my dad’s nickname for me.

    “Yes,” I said and smiled at her.

    “I need to tell you something, which your father should have told you,” she said and squeezed my arm lightly. I flashed back to my dad giving me the sex talk when I was fourteen, about seven years ago now. I was about to tell her that he had already gave me the talk, when she said, “In my closet behind the boxes on the floor, there is a shoe box it will say Doc Martin on it, get it for me please.” After a few minutes I returned with the box in hand. It was just a shoe box with an unused pair of boots inside, the kind my dad had always worn.

    I placed the box on her lap. She opened it, took out the boots and set them on the table next to her chair. Then she dug into the box and pulled out a false bottom. Under it I could see different papers and a few pictures. She took out one picture and handed it to me. It was an old black and white photo, in it was a little girl standing in the snow, she was wrapped up to here eyes in layers of clothing.

    She looked up at me and said, “I was three in this picture, when I lived with my parents in Moscow.” I turned the photo over, on the back was written ‘Erlena, три возраст’.
    She said, “It says, Erlena age three. My real name is Erlena, your father’s name was not Danny it was Ivan. Son, me and your father where sleepers, do you know what that is?” I shook my head and she continued, “You know what the cold war was right?” I nodded and she went on, “During the cold war, the USSR and the US would use sleepers. A sleeper is an agent in waiting. We where sent to the US, to live normal lives and wait, until needed.”
    “Where you ever needed?” I asked

    “Once,” she said.

    “For what,” I asked?

    “To have you,” she said and looked away from me.

    “Why,” I asked

    “We were never told, but you know I love you and so did your father,” she said.

    “I know you do and so did dad, are you still a sleeper,” I asked.

    Still not looking at me, she said, “Not much longer.” and squeezed my hand as the pain ran through her body.

    1. JM Somebody

      Wow, this is intriguing! What a bombshell, and such an original idea. Can’t wait til Moscow contacts him…

      One suggestion: you don’t need the words “looking down at her” in the first paragraph. It kind of stuck out as extraneous. Otherwise, it was well written.

      1. Kerry Charlton

        I would call this story, second generation, triple agents. With a clear background, Your MC could work for the USSR, but in reality, a triple agent is one who leaves his own country’s honor, spies for a foreign power, against his country, leaks certain information that throws the USSR off the beaten pathway..
        We used triple agents during WWII who deflected from America, spied for Germany and fed them confusing information. Now run with it.

  19. lionetravail

    The Past Never Stays Past (Word count: 614- I wanted to indulge a little poetry for this one.)

    As the man walked into the small apartment, his nose wrinkled at the pungent smell of disease, urine, and feces. But he could hear voices from another room farther in.

    “Again, Ernst, please,” said a quavering woman’s voice.

    “Her eyes remain those limpid pools
    which I, a one-time king of fools,
    had dived into in age gone by.
    No dock nearby to throw a tie,
    I risked, then, drowning in those jewels.

    I learned more there than in the schools
    which taught me fundamental rules.
    And now, though she expects to die,
    her eyes remain such limpid pools.

    We sit together as the tools
    of health impart a med which cools
    the fever boiling in her eye.
    I fear her death may be nearby:
    the mirrors of her soul show ghouls.
    And still, her eyes are limpid pools,”

    replied a man’s soft voice.

    “Ernst, you wasted degenerate!” the man said loudly, then walked further into the apartment, past the kitchen, and into the small bedroom. “Mother,” he said, rather perfunctorily to the shrunken woman with sunken eyes who sat wrapped in blankets.

    “Who…?” she asked, then her eyes went wide. “Max? My little Maxie?”

    “Max, mother. ‘Maxie’ hardly suits the first Bundestag representative of the National Democratic Party. The first such representation we’ve had since 1945!”

    “Neo-fascist, hate peddlers…” Ernst muttered.

    “Silence, du hurensohn!” came the immediate response.

    “You are both here,” their mother said softly with a beatific smile, stopping them. “I want to confess.”

    “I can get a priest, Mother,” Ernst said.

    “I can’t use a priest,” she said.

    “Then, at least let me get your rosary from the bedside table…”

    “Not that either.”

    “Then what?” Max said, hotly. “I have much to do! There is a rally today, and I am speaking! We cannot let the Jews control the banks, and…!”

    “Always with this bullshit!” Ernst interrupted. “You’re wired wrong, Max!”

    “Me? You’re the man with the craving for other men, you scum!”

    “I wasn’t always ‘Gertrude’,” their mother said softly. Both men stopped and looked at her with shocked expressions.

    “When I was little, I had a brother,” she said. A tear rolled down her cheek. “His name was Max,” she said, her voice cracking.

    “No, Mother,” said Ernst gently. “Our uncle is Gunther…”

    “I saw Max killed, shot to death when I was five,” she said simply.

    “This is nonsense! She’s lost it, demented,” Max said dismissively. He turned towards Ernst. “It’s probably your fault, with all your faggot poetry…:!”

    “Max!” she yelled suddenly. Both men flinched with the vehemence of her voice and fell silent. “When I was five years old, my name…” Her eyes flew open. “Oh. Oh my. Maxie! It’s me! It’s your sister, Leah! It’s so good to see you again…” She stopped mid-sentence and slumped down.

    Mein Gott!” Ernst whispered, and reached forward to feel for a pulse at her throat.

    “Finally,” Max said. “She’d lost it completely: she’s better off dead. Wait: what’s that in her lap?”

    Ernst reached forward and moved the blankets to see. “A journal?” He opened it, began to read for a few moments. “Her diary… Mein Gott!

    Max snatched it away.

    “Max, you can’t… We… her confession…. Mother was Jewish! Given to neighbors to save her life during the war!” Ernst cried.

    “This never happened, Ernst.”

    “How can you say such a thing?” Ernst said, stunned expression on his face. “Max! This revelation… if she was Jewish, then so are we!”

    “I AM NOT A FILTHY JEW!”

    “You must be! I must be! We… Max, wait! What are you doing carrying a pistol? Max, think for a moment, please. MAX!”

    *****BANG******

    1. JM Somebody

      Did you know that Eva Braun was actually part Jewish? And that she probably knew that? I thought of that twisted little factoid when I read this story.

      I liked this because it shined a light on another side of the holocaust — how hatred ultimately turns inward on the hater, destroying families and such.

      Your portrayal of the clash between the two brothers was well done, and embodied the larger conflict of a nation at war with itself. This was actually pretty profound. Nicely done, and well written as always.

      1. Kerry Charlton

        You put your soul and heart into this, threw in history, poured poetry in, emotion, a murder to keep a secret, all in 600 words. I bow to the word magician.

    2. Reaper

      Beautifully told and darkly fulfilling. This was so good it fed my brain. I liked the poem and the very different brothers and just all of it. The only advice I would give would be you might want to consider ending at What are you doing with a pistol? The stuff after becomes a little overly dramatic and feels like I am being spoon fed what you have already made clear will happen. That might just be me though.

    3. lionetravail

      Thanks for the kind comments, all- JM, I think you may still be giving me more credit than I deserve 🙂

      Of course, why does everyone assume Ernst was the one who was shot? I thought about the ending, and didn’t want to write it out; plus, how often does one get to actually end a story with a ‘bang’- literally. I ‘saw’ this scene in my head, and saw the stage go dark as the gun lifted halfway up, and the uncertainty on the faces of the characters with fade to black followed by the gunshot… and leaving the ending for the audience to imagine.

    4. Observer Tim

      This one tugs the emotions in all directions, lione. The poetry is nicely done, and contrasts wonderfully with the situation of hatred surrounding it. The story also says quite a lot about history and people without being blatant about it. Wonderful! 🙂

  20. Hiba Gardezi

    As I kneel at your grave, truth has never been so untruthful, life so lifeless, tears so tearless.
    Could you…
    Could you come back?
    Please?
    I remember that day clear as day, lying beside you on the hospital bed ages ago when I thought you would die.
    You didn’t die
    And now you are dead.
    Now I am glass.
    And I am broken.
    But I am not broken glass.
    I need you
    Who will sing to me at night And…darling, when the sun goes down…don’t, don’t cry for me But I will cry for you
    I need you.
    I need you. Do you need me?
    But please tell me
    Tell me what you meant?
    Did you actually, get me replaced? Am I not…me?
    ‘In the 44th century , they made these machines’
    ‘What machines’
    They allowed us to morph people, people upto the age of five…into whatever we wanted them to be what do you mean by…whatever you wanted them to be?’
    ‘Like, if a child was noisy and the parent wanted him or her to be well behaved…the machines could fix that.’
    ‘The parent or the child?’
    ‘Child ’
    ‘How come I have never heard of such a machine?’
    ‘Because they abolished them because of …ummm problems…and they made all people who knew about the machine sign a contract to never disclose the issue to their children…or any children.’
    ‘Okay…nice story and all, but why do you seem so tense?’
    ‘You don’t get it do you? I changed you! I was crazy and I was angry and I changed you.’
    ‘Mom, look at me- no look at me. Are you okay?’
    ‘I’m not’

    Would you do that?
    Now,I don’t know who I am. Who made me?
    I don’t know who my real mother is because she could not have changed me.

    1. JM Somebody

      Your first line was irresistible. I could not have stopped reading even if I wanted to. There were so many lines that read like poetry and the overall effect was hypnotic.

      A couple of suggestions: I am assuming that the part that is in italics is the MC’s memory of a conversation that she has with her mother when she was alive. Either that or she is talking to a ghost. You might want to add some sort of transition statement there that makes it clear that what follows happened in the past. Also, “I remember the day clear as day” could be stated differently to avoid the repetition of “day.”

      Very nice writing, Hiba!

        1. Kerry Charlton

          I’m totally breathless with the power of your story, your imagination and the way you composed this. The first sentence is as powerful as I ever read, stunning, beautiful.

    2. Reaper

      ^ What they all said. Your writing is always good but this is next level. I am amazed and struck nearly dumb from the power, elegance, and beauty of this. Even though this is a self contained thing you could take this, write the adventures of the mother and why she chose to do these things, what made her crazy, then end with the daughter walking from the grave and I would read that novel. Probably in half a day.

    3. Observer Tim

      This is wonderfully poetic in its form, Hiba. I love the way you used the italics to break the story into parts. Most importantly, I love the way you portrayed the child’s confusion and uncertainty about the news she’d been given. All in all, an excellent take. 🙂

  21. snuzcook

    Been gone in an alternate dimension, made up of windows of time strung together like beads in flapper’s choker. My stop by this time is unfortunately brief, but I hope you enjoy my story. Wordy, by virtue of insufficient time to cook it down to its more refined essence.

    A TASTE OF THINGS TO COME

    The old woman has her good days and her not so good days. This morning is starting out better than most.

    “Thank you, shweetie. You are sho good to me.” She always seems more vulnerable, almost sweet, when she doesn’t have her teeth in. The slight lisp is like that of a six-year-old feigning innocence.

    I tuck the afghan around her, propping her up with a pillow under her ribs where she lists to one side in the wheel chair. She no longer has enough strength to keep her posture erect for long periods of time.

    “Do you want a shake?” Her doctor had suggested some liquid meal replacements now that she had so little appetite. When they are very cold they are thick enough and sweet enough to pass for a milk shake, but just barely.

    She doesn’t answer. I take one of the cans out of the fridge , shake it up, and pour a little into a juice glass. It is the color of eggnog. I spoon in a little white powder and stir it up. I hope she’ll at least get a few sips down before she notices the taste. She always complains that her vitamins taste funny. I plunk a straw into it.

    “Here’s your milkshake.”

    “What kind ish it?”

    “Vanilla. You like vanilla, Mom.”

    “I didn’t like the last one. It was shpoiled.”

    “That’s because you didn’t drink it right away. It’s better if you drink it when it’s still cold.” I hold it close to her. “Go ahead, take a few sips.”

    “Not now. I’ll drink it later. There’s shomething I want to tell you.”

    “Drink some of your shake first. Then we can talk.”

    “No, it’s important. “

    “No,” I say firmly, “Shake first.”

    “You’ll want to hear it.”

    “Don’t be difficult.”

    “I was talking to Shylvia.”

    The name had the desired effect. Sylvia.

    “You couldn’t have.”

    “Last night. She was right in my room. She came to kissh me good night like always.”

    My sister had been close to Mom all her life. They shared their little secrets. They whispered to each other the way twins do. I never understood it. When Mom got sick, I was the one who cooked and cleaned and drove her to the doctor and did the hundred little things that Mom needed from day to day. Sylvia was down in Guatemala or Honduras or someplace teaching in a school that Mom had helped her build with money from Dad’s estate. She only came up once a year for Christmas, and every time it was as if the prodigal daughter had returned. Nothing was too good for Sylvia.

    Then Sylvia died suddenly. I thought I finally had our mother to myself. I would eventually have to myself what remained of the small legacy Mom had left from our father—this house and a modest investment fund. It wasn’t a lot, but it would be mine soon. And then I could go and make a life for myself at last, like Sylvia.

    “Mom, you know Sylvia wasn’t really here.” I folded my hands in my lap, and looked at her. “You remember, Mom. Sylvia died.”

    “Of course I know that. I’m not shenile.” I tried to hand her the shake again and she brushed my hand away. “She just reminded me. I was going to tell you at Christmas, but it didn’t seem like the right time.”

    “Tell me what?”

    “You know that school of Sylvia’s, the one for the orphaned children? Well, she left everything to them in her will.”

    “But I didn’t think Sylvia had anything.”

    “Well, that’s what I didn’t tell you. When she came up for Christmas, I signed over the house to Sylvia. She needed it so she could get a loan for her school.”

    “No.”

    “So Sylvia owned the house when she died, and now it belongs to the Foundation. They want to sell the house so they can get the money out of it. I’m moving next week into Stony Meadows.”

    “Stony Meadows? That’s so expensive…”

    “But I already paid them.”

    “No.”

    “Yes. I signed over what was left of Dad’s investments. They told me I can live there the rest of my life and I won’t have to worry about anything.”

    “But, what about me?”

    “That’s the great thing about this. You don’t have to take care of me anymore. You can go out and get a job and get your own apartment.”

    “I don’t believe it.”

    “I’ll be fine. This is how Sylvia would have wanted it.”

    “Yes, I can see that…”

    “Don’t be sho upset. Here, I’ll drink shome of that shake if it will make you feel better.”

    She reached for the glass, but I took it back from her. Everything had changed.

    Everything…had…changed.

    Everything I had planned was gone.

    I pulled the straw out of the glass, put it to my lips and tilted it back. Mom would have only gotten a few sips of this, just enough to slowly increase her dementia and her frailty, but I sucked down the last thick, disgusting drops, welcoming sweet oblivion.

    Mom had been right. That powder did make the shakes taste funny.

    1. Kerry Charlton

      Snuz, this is starking real, it hurts me to read it. You have never written anything with more truth then this article. Why do I say this? Because I have been there. What I have told myself is, you’re stronger for it, Kerry and guess what? I am. So I have no regrets how my life is turning out. My brother is four years older than I but hasen’t worked since 1978. How many years? I’ll be damned if I know or even care.

      Your story is polished even though you say it’s wordy, it’s not at all. I could have written a closing chapter to your story

      “Sylvia’s sister set the glass down, kissed her mother on the forehead and left the room. The following morning, she checked on her again “What can I do to make you more comfortable, Mom?”

      1. snuzcook

        Your ultimate kindness speaks volumes here, Kerry. Clearly you chose to grow from adversity, and that choice does you proud. None of the characters in the story I wrote here have kindness for each other, and that is the tragedy.

    2. JM Somebody

      Ah, yes, the alternate universe. I am a frequent visitor there myself.

      This was cold, and deceptive — like that shake. I love the way the horror grew slowly. The story started out with the MC seeming like a good daughter and a nice person, but then the gradual reveal of who she really was was chilling. Masterfully done, as always.

      I am wondering about the comment that the mother didn’t like the taste of her vitamins. I was immediately suspicious of the white powder, but then calling the white powder vitamins temporarily allayed my fears. Is this a case of an unreliable narrator who uses euphemisms to fool even herself, or was it just the author trying to throw the reader off the trail? Either way, it worked.

      1. snuzcook

        Thanks, JM. Note–it was not the narrator who called them vitamins…her mother had the impression that’s what it was and we don’t know if she was told they were, or if she assumed they were. But I confess to the misdirection.

    3. Reaper

      I’m so far behind this week that everything I want to say is said. This is terrifying and I love how it does go from good daughter, to greedy woman, to bad daughter, to oh my god! Sad thing is that there is so much greed in my family, the vultures waiting for grandma to die, that I felt really heartsick reading this. And I was glad no one would go that far. Then I wondered if some of them might if they thought they could get away with it. Just dark and terrifying snuzcook. I’m impressed and a little afraid of you right now.

      1. snuzcook

        And I don’t think of myself as a writer of ‘dark’ stories, but they do seem to be finding their way out. You know the rhyme: “There was a little girl who had a little curl right in the middle of her forehead, and when she was good she was very very good, but when she wrote ‘dark’ she was horrid…” ;0`

    4. lionetravail

      Gotta hand it to you, Snuz. That was just awful… by which I mean the MC’s matricidal and greedy character, and how she handled adversity, of course. The story was brilliantly done 🙂 As usual.

      Well-written of course, but the most fun part from me was when you yanked the carpet out from under the likability of your MC in the last 10 lines or so. I was so prepared to like her/empathize with her taking care of a demented parent, and then blammo. Wonderful! 🙂

  22. snuzcook

    Been gone in an alternate dimension, made up of windows of time strung together like beads in flapper’s choker. My stop by this time is unfortunately brief, but I hope you enjoy my story. Wordy, by virtue of insufficient time to cook it down to its more refined essence.

    A TASTE OF THINGS TO COME

    The old woman has her good days and her not so good days. This morning is starting out better than most.

    “Thank you, shweetie. You are sho good to me.” She always seems more vulnerable, almost sweet, when she doesn’t have her teeth in. The slight lisp is like that of a six-year-old feigning innocence.

    I tuck the afghan around her, propping her up with a pillow under her ribs where she lists to one side in the wheel chair. She no longer has enough strength to keep her posture erect for long periods of time.

    “Do you want a shake?” Her doctor had suggested some liquid meal replacements now that she had so little appetite. When they are very cold they are thick enough and sweet enough to pass for a milk shake, but just barely.

    She doesn’t answer. I take one of the cans out of the fridge , shake it up, and pour a little into a juice glass. It is the color of eggnog. I spoon in a little white powder and stir it up. I hope she’ll at least get a few sips down before she notices the taste. She always complains that her vitamins taste funny. I plunk a straw into it.

    “Here’s your milkshake.”

    “What kind ish it?”

    “Vanilla. You like vanilla, Mom.”

    “I didn’t like the last one. It was shpoiled.”

    “That’s because you didn’t drink it right away. It’s better if you drink it when it’s still cold.” I hold it close to her. “Go ahead, take a few sips.”

    “Not now. I’ll drink it later. There’s shomething I want to tell you.”

    “Drink some of your shake first. Then we can talk.”

    “No, it’s important. “

    “No,” I say firmly, “Shake first.”

    “You’ll want to hear it.”

    “Don’t be difficult.”

    “I was talking to Shylvia.”

    The name had the desired effect. Sylvia.

    “You couldn’t have.”

    “Last night. She was right in my room. She came to kissh me good night like always.”

    My sister had been close to Mom all her life. They shared their little secrets. They whispered to each other the way twins do. I never understood it. When Mom got sick, I was the one who cooked and cleaned and drove her to the doctor and did the hundred little things that Mom needed from day to day. Sylvia was down in Guatemala or Honduras or someplace teaching in a school that Mom had helped her build with money from Dad’s estate. She only came up once a year for Christmas, and every time it was as if the prodigal daughter had returned. Nothing was too good for Sylvia.

    Then Sylvia died suddenly. I thought I finally had our mother to myself. I would eventually have to myself what remained of the small legacy Mom had left from our father—this house and a modest investment fund. It wasn’t a lot, but it would be mine soon. And then I could go and make a life for myself at last, like Sylvia.

    “Mom, you know Sylvia wasn’t really here.” I folded my hands in my lap, and looked at her. “You remember, Mom. Sylvia died.”

    “Of course I know that. I’m not shenile.” I tried to hand her the shake again and she brushed my hand away. “She just reminded me. I was going to tell you at Christmas, but it didn’t seem like the right time.”

    “Tell me what?”

    “You know that school of Sylvia’s, the one for the orphaned children? Well, she left everything to them in her will.”

    “But I didn’t think Sylvia had anything.”

    “Well, that’s what I didn’t tell you. When she came up for Christmas, I signed over the house to Sylvia. She needed it so she could get a loan for her school.”

    “No.”

    “So Sylvia owned the house when she died, and now it belongs to the Foundation. They want to sell the house so they can get the money out of it. I’m moving next week into Stony Meadows.”

    “Stony Meadows? That’s so expensive…”

    “But I already paid them.”

    “No.”

    “Yes. I signed over what was left of Dad’s investments. They told me I can live there the rest of my life and I won’t have to worry about anything.”

    “But, what about me?”

    “That’s the great thing about this. You don’t have to take care of me anymore. You can go out and get a job and get your own apartment.”

    “I don’t believe it.”

    “I’ll be fine. This is how Sylvia would have wanted it.”

    “Yes, I can see that…”

    “Don’t be sho upset. Here, I’ll drink shome of that shake if it will make you feel better.”

    She reached for the glass, but I took it back from her. Everything had changed.

    Everything…had…changed.

    Everything I had planned was gone.

    I pulled the straw out of the glass, put it to my lips and tilted it back. Mom would have only gotten a few sips of this, just enough to slowly increase her dementia and her frailty, but I sucked down the last thick, disgusting drops, welcoming sweet oblivion.

    Mom had been right. That powder did make the shakes taste funny.

    1. snuzcook

      Sorry, somewhere between hitting submit and hitting submit again, I managed to enter the ‘close italics’ command that I had forgotten, and it posted both versions.

  23. JM Somebody

    “You can’t smoke in here,” Mom wheezed. The oxygen pump hissed in pneumatic agreement. “You’ll blow us both to smithereens.”

    She was right, of course. Mom always was. Except now she was dying, which was wrong. I stubbed out my cigarette in in my empty coffee cup and waited for the smoke between us to clear.

    Mom’s milky, morphine-glazed eyes travelled from my left collarbone down to my latest tattoo.

    “A shark,” she said flatly. “Why, Margaret?”

    I could have explained the meaning of the shark, how it must constantly move or suffocate, but it would have been lost on Mom. I shrugged instead.

    “Have I not been a good mother to you?” Mom slurred, her eyelids heavy.

    “Oh Mom, of course you have.” She had been a good mother. Maybe too good, in a way that always seemed to leave me gasping for breath.

    “I tried so hard. But you were so… you just didn’t…” She trailed off, closing her eyes.

    Right, again. I just… didn’t. The restless thing circling my heart wouldn’t let me. I loved my mom, yet rejected every gift she gave me. Something was wrong inside me, and the harder Mom tried the more wrong I felt. I was a bad daughter.

    When she opened her eyes again, I said the only thing I could.

    “I’m sorry.” Hot, sudden tears spilled onto my cheeks.

    “It’s not your fault. You can’t keep what doesn’t belong to you,” she murmured, grasping my hand in her feverish one. “I need to tell you something… about who you really are.”

    I wondered if it was the drugs talking.

    “On the closet shelf there’s a locked file box. You’ll find the key taped under my night table drawer.”

    She drifted away again on her morphine cloud.

    The box and the key were right where Mom said they would be. Inside, dozens of newspaper clippings from 1989, the year I was born, chronicled the story of a baby girl who had gone missing somewhere in the Maine woods. From article after article, the mother’s anguished, familiar face stared out at me with desperate, pleading eyes that were so like my own.

    No. NO. I shook my head. It was impossible. Yet, I had always known — in my bones, in my marrow, in my very DNA — that I just didn’t fit. That there was somewhere eIse I needed to be. And now I knew why.

    Mom never woke again. I never got to ask her why, and how, and how could she? What explanation could possibly make this right?

    As her breathing grew ragged and her face ashen, I wept for them both — the mother who raised me, and the one who lost me. I wondered how either of them had managed to live with this.

    And then Mom was gone, and the restless beast swam mad, insistent circles around my brain. I needed a cigarette. I needed a drink.

    I needed to go to Maine.

    1. cosi van tutte

      Hey, JM!

      I was wondering if you were going to post a story and I’m glad you did. This story is so lovely and sad. My Internal Editor is sitting in the corner with a big bag of Reese’s, completely content. He has no negative comments for this story. 🙂

      I especially love this line: “I wept for them both — the mother who raised me, and the one who lost me. I wondered how either of them had managed to live with this.”

      1. Kerry Charlton

        JM, one of your very best. I loved the plot, the tragedy, the unknown reason and of course, you left the entire story open as to the whereabouts of her real mother. Had she given up after all those years or was her heart still holding the promise of hope. Your ending was perfect like a diamond in the darkness.

        1. JM Somebody

          Thanks Kerry. Yes, I left an awful lot open. I was determined to keep it under 500 this time, and I think the discipline did me some good, but I ended up with more questions than answers. Glad you liked it. BTW, loved your phrase “Diamond in the darkness.”

      1. JM Somebody

        Thanks Dennis. As I said to Kerry, I really wanted to try and stay under 500 this time. (I rarely do.) It was definitely a worthwhile exercise.

    2. Reaper

      Most everything I wanted to say has been said. The nature versus nurture here is wonderfully done. With the nurture defining the personality and the nature, and the loss of an unknown connection swimming around her heart. The symbolism, as mentioned is spot on. The story is amazing and your voice is awe inspiring. A couple of lines have been mentioned. The two that really pulled me in and were just so gorgeous on their own that I have to mention are… waited on the smoke between us to clear. It is not only a wonderful line but has so much depth, hints at something more and has a beautiful foreshadowing quality. The other is, You can’t keep what doesn’t belong to you. I was once told by an Irish gentleman that you can never own what you stole. Those two lines resonated, became one, and meant the same thing to me in this moment. So much power in those simple words. I just loved this.

      1. JM Somebody

        The smoke line was my favorite too. Thanks for getting that. I like your Irish gent’s quote better than what I wrote, but I did want the maxim to work two ways– neither the mother nor the daughter could keep the other. The daughter knew this on some level and that is why she felt compelled to reject everything that was offered to her. In an earlier draft, I gave her a troubled past — drugs, legal troubles, a teen pregnancy, but I had to drop all that for word count and just sum it all up through this idea that she was a “bad” daughter and rejected everything her mother tried to instill in her. I took on the challenge of staying under 500 this time (I rarely do), and it turned out to be an interesting exercise in distilling things down to their essence, and alluding to things without stating them. If this were a longer work I could see gradually revealing this information. I had fun with this one, and actually learned something. Thanks for noticing!

    3. Observer Tim

      Lovely take, JM. It’s interesting how you and rle took the same premise and got such totally different moods from it. And yet it’s so compellingly told. 🙂 🙂

      The shark reference threw me a bit, but as the story progressed it made more sense. My dark humour side says that when she gets to Maine she’s going to need a bigger boat. 😉

    4. lionetravail

      Fascinating, and masterfully handled, JM. I’m still catching up (obviously), but it’s a wonderful story that I hope inspires you to go long with. There’s so many directions you can take this, and I’d love to see where you’d choose to go. Very literate, very readable, and rich in imagery and emotion which is augmented by the deceptive simplicity of the piece.

  24. rle

    I broke my own rule today. I read a few of these before I posted. After having done so, I feel a little bad about this hack job. You guys are on fire this week.

    ——————————————-

    I stared aimlessly at the blank screen in front of me, desperately wanting to fill the void space with something meaningful and profound, but my brain couldn’t will my fingers to make the keystrokes. I glanced over the laptop that sat before me to see mom beginning to stir. She’d be awake soon and another opportunity to start my novel would be lost.

    I spent all of my time with mom these days. The dementia had grown worse and four months ago, I’d made the decision to move in with her as an alternative to packing her away in some stuffy assisted living facility. It wasn’t like I had a life of my own anymore. I’d lost both my job and my husband in the last year, so I had the time. I was thankful in a strange sort of way that moms mind couldn’t comprehend what a shambles her daughters life had become. I tried to use the time when she napped during the day to fulfill my dream of writing a novel, but in four months hadn’t managed to complete a single page. I yearned for the words to just spill out of me. I needed something to validate my existence, but so far, zilch.

    Moms eyes fluttered open and I knew the questions would soon follow. Who are you? Where am I? What year is it? I powered down the laptop and set it aside. She sat up slowly and focused her eyes on me . It still hurt to see her this way but I’d become calloused to her not knowing me, hardened to the fact that no matter how hard I tried, I could never bring her back.

    “Could you tell me what day it is?” she asked as she tucked a wild strand of silver hair behind her ear.

    “It’s Thursday mom,” I said a I stood up to approach her.

    “Oh you must be mistaken ma’am,” she smiled, the emotion never quite reaching her eyes. “My daughter is much younger than you, prettier too. What day is it?”

    I wanted to laugh and cry and scream all at the same time, but instead, I knelt down and gently lifted her to her feet. As I slowly walked her across the room and sat her down in her rocking chair by the window, I shuddered at the brittle husk of a woman she had become. I knew she’d soon be in a place where she be strong and vibrant again.

    “If you have a minute miss, could I tell you a little story?” Her eyes peered into mine and suddenly I could see that she’d gone back like she often did, to a time when every vivid detail was crisp and clear.

    “Sure mom…er I mean Margret.” I pulled up a folding chair and cupped her knotty wrinkled fingers in my hand.

    “You know me and my husband-God rest his soul-could never have children. Felix always said we just needed more practice.” A broad grin stretched across her face, this time lighting up her sky blue eyes like a marquee sign. “Well, we kept on practicing, got pretty good too, or at least we thought. We just never could seem to make a baby.”

    This all seemed a little bizarre by my estimation because here I sat as plain as day, living proof that my father and mother were, at some point as fertile as the fruited plain. Wherever this was going, I didn’t see the harm. At least it seemed to have pulled a thread of lucidity to the surface.

    Mother continued, “one day Felix said he had to go into the city. He said he might be gone for a couple of days, but when he got back, he’d have a surprise for me. Well, let me tell you, surprise doesn’t even come close to what he brought back. Two days later he came through the door carrying a little baby girl. I was speechless. He handed her right over to me and said, ‘Don’t you ever speak of this day. This here is our daughter, Lilly, nobody needs to know any different. She’s got all the proper paper work. Don’t ask me no questions and I won’t have to tell you any lies.’ I trusted Felix so I never did ask him where she came from, but I reckon he bought her on the black market.”

    By the time she finished, a flood of silent tears etched a shiny trail down my cheeks. Could this be true? Was it even possible? Who was I? As I sat there, stunned and dismayed, watching her admire the songbirds that flocked around the bird feeder, a million thoughts bounced around on the inside of my brain. I continued to clutch her hand, the hand that had fed me, bathed me, nurtured and cared for me in every way.

    As her eyes again seemed to grow heavy with the burden of sleep, I knew that regardless of who had given birth to me, this was my mother.

    Just before she nodded off, again she asked, “What day is it?”

    “It’s Thursday, mom,” I sobbed, “It’s Thursday.”

    1. JM Somebody

      Woah, rle. Apparently we’ve been tuning into the same cosmic bandwidth again. I swear I did not read yours before I wrote mine. I even named my MC Margaret (spelled differently) — and get this — before she was Margaret she was Lily. (Also spelled differently.) I kid you not.

      So I will take it as a personal offense if you continue to say you feel bad about this piece! 😉 I quite liked it.

      Seriously, this was a scarily accurate depiction of dementia. You must have been through this with a grandparent or someone. And your reveal was devastating in the simplicity with which Margret told the terrible truth, and how unprepared her daughter was to hear it. Well done, rle.

      1. Kerry Charlton

        I’m right in there with cosi, marvelous writing, rle. The ending slipped into my brain and said “I’m going to stay in here. Dementia is heartbreaking. I remember walking with my wife, Celeste, her mother between us in a hallway of assisted living, Her mother turned to her and asked, “Where is Celeste?”

    2. Reaper

      there is certainly nothing to be ashamed of here. I went through some heart breaking dementia with some family members and this chilled me because of that. I’m still shivering. So well done and beautiful. I also can’t help but imagine the unspoken. Mom was mom, in part because she was innocent of anything but love and trust. However, when your MC gets around to thinking about what it means, how is she going to feel about her father, and what wild theories will she have about how he came by a baby?

    3. Observer Tim

      Sometimes I get a little confused by people apologizing for such great stories. This is one of those times. You got everything right, rle; you captured the situation and the emotion wonderfully. 🙂 🙂

    4. lionetravail

      Great story, and fairly delicately handled. I like how you didn’t go overboard with the reaction; it had the feel of a true reaction.

  25. HappyGoLucky

    “Thank you sweetie,” Mum says, her voice wavering a little. Her curly gray hair is starting to get even grayer- if that’s even possible.

    “No problem,” I say, helping her into the rocking chair. Sniffles, Mum’s old tabby, comes over and hops in her lap.

    She rubs his head. “Good kitty. Sasha, sit down, I need to tell you something.”

    “Tea first?” I ask, laughing a little. Mum smiles. Being British, most people think we like tea. Truth be told, I despise it. Bloody tea. Always that awful green color. Black coffee is much better.

    “Mug of coffee, if you please,” she asks me.

    “Right on it,” I tell her.

    A moment later, we both are sipping bloody hot mugs of black coffee and sitting across from each other.

    “So,” Mum starts, setting her mug on the crimson coffee table.

    “So?” I ask.

    Mum sighs and leans back. “This is going to be hard to explain.”

    “What will?” I ask, curiosity obvious is my voice.

    Mum smiles sweetly. “I need you to be calm, okay?”

    I nod, starting to get concerned. I am thirty four and I still act like a child. Six children of my own and my bloody husband John. Though he is such a dear. Held my hand the whole time Timmy was coming.

    “Okay, so, listen.”

    “Listening.”

    “Patience. Patience, patience. So, long story short, I’m not going to die any time soon.”

    I raise an eyebrow. “Well, I know that. I bloody know that! Of course you aren’t.”

    “No, listen… I’m not going to die ever.”

    A heartbeat. “Ever?”

    “Never ever,” she says.

    “I’m going to call the police now,” I say, bolting up. “You aren’t seeing the purple cows again, right?”

    “No! Of course not! Sit back down!” I reluctantly obey.

    She takes a breath. She mutters something under her breath about moons and blood. A cold shiver runs through me.

    A flash blinds me momentarily, and then I’m staring at… someone who IS NOT my mum. “Oh dear!” I say, jumping up. “What did you do with MY MOTHER?!”

    “Nothing,” the lady says, in my mom’s voice. I jump back.

    “Mum?!” I shout. “What the bloody heck is going on?”

    “Vampires?” she says, barely a whisper.

    “Pardon?” I ask, my voice rising.

    She flashes a toothy grin at me, sharp pointy whites smiling back at me. A cold sweat starts on my neck. “Vampires aren’t just a myth.”

    “No. No, no, no, no! This isn’t bloody happening!” I shout, banging my fist against the wall. “No, no, no! This doesn’t mean that I’m a bloody vampire, right?” I scream. Then I stop. It’s all adding up now. I always hated garlic, despised photos, and liked night more than day. I paused my thinking. Bloody heck, no. No wonder I always had dreams about blood!

    “Sasha, those weren’t dreams,” Mum says, her voice quiet again.

    “YOU CAN READ MY BLOODY MIND?!” I shout.

    She nods.

    “WEREN’T BLOODY DREAMS?” I shout again.

    She nods.

    “CARE TO BLOODY EXPLAIN?” I shout.

    She nods. “Let me explain first. So, those dreams where you ate animals and broke into blood drives, and all of those things? Those were real things that you did at night when you would normally be asleep.” Her voice kept getting quieter.

    I groaned. “Great, so I’m a murderer?”

    “No, no. Just a… murderer,” she agreed.

    I frowned. “What about Timmy, and Hannah, and James, and Winnie, and Quinn, and Hansel?” I asked. “And John?”

    “John is too. His parents told him on his thirteenth birthday. Your kids…” she choked a little. “Your kids are too.”

    I threw my hands up. “I thought finances were my biggest problem!”

    “Now that you know,” Mum began, “You’re probably going to hunt during the day too…” She trailed off.

    I groaned and fell to the ground. “Whyyyyyy?”

    “Sasha, stop it! It’s not like you’re a bloody werewolf!” Mum scolded.

    I frowned and sat up. I looked at myself in the mirror. So that myth wasn’t true. I smiled. A pair of fangs smiled at me.

    “You may want to tell John, though he may know,” Mum thought aloud.

    I wasn’t really paying attention. There was a small child no older than eight outside the door. He looked really good right about now. My stomach growled.

    “Hungry?” Mum asked, bounding up and pulling a pint of blood out of the cabinet.

    I nodded, my glance not leaving the boy. “He looks soooooo good,” I mumbled. “So, so, so good.” Just to sink my fangs into his neck and drink and drink and drink until I couldn’t anymore. I walked towards the door, in a trance like state. “Must, must, drink it.”

    “Sasha, there’s a pint in here!” she said.

    “Want fresh,” I said, opening the door. Mum stuck her head around the wall.

    “Sasha, no!” Mum shouts.

    “MINE!” I growl, my fangs baring out. “He’s mine!”

    I grabbed him and bit his neck, sucking all of the blood out of him. My brain went crazy, registering this new event. I plucked the last drop of blood off his neck and pushed him away. Opening my eyes, I gasp. A tear slips out of my eye. Then they all do.

    A little boy with wispy blonde hair and blue eyes stares deadly up at me with the word ‘Mum’ ready to form at his lips.

    1. HappyGoLucky

      So, I took a little morbid twist on this one; not what I normally do. I hope you all enjoy it! Honest feedback would be greatly appreciated.

      ALSO…………….

      What would be a good name for this? I need something besides ‘The Portal Fights’. I’m writing my first draft and need a name for these fights:

      The Portal Fights are a series of fights that twenty young men are placed in. They get luxury during their training, but then they are each placed in a different biome of the earth, and have to find a way to survive against whatever challenges they face using their magical powers.

      Thanks to all! <3

    2. Tea_and_a_book

      Well that was … disturbing amazing story, to be sure, but twisted. Like the rest of us. Are you new? I THINK you’re new 😉 If so, welcome! I’m still young and inexperienced, so I’ll leave any important stuff to the experts 🙂

    3. JM Somebody

      This was so entertaining and even funny… right up until the last line, which really changed the tone of the piece. Your characters came off as authentically British, with some pretty stiff upper lips (“Sasha, stop it! It’s not like you’re a bloody werewolf!”) I got a kick out of the constant repetition of the word “bloody.”

      The dialogue flowed well, and overall this was an engaging read. You have a very readable, enjoyable style.

    4. Reaper

      I loved the werewolf line. That was just too funny. I liked the repetition of bloody but there were a few other close repeats that could use some cleaning up. Mostly because they make the bloody seem excessive but if they were removed it would be a very amusing repetition. I was groaning, thinking this was an overly humanized monster story, but then the end chilled me. It was perfect, dark, wonderful.

      For your story I might suggest Rights of Passage or some pun on that with Fights or Mights.

    5. Observer Tim

      This is amazing, Happy. I truly love the surreality of it: imagine being told everyone in your family is a vampire! 🙂 😉

      One thought: I hope the boy she drained is not one of her own kids – it strikes me that drinking blood from another vampire would be like eating three-day old leftovers.

      As for a title, the MC says it enough, you could go with just “Bloody”.

    6. lionetravail

      I loved the story a lot, but it seemed like an abrupt transition from “Well, you’re a vampire dear, and you might hunt during the day” to “whoa, I have fangs AND an uncontrollable urge to murder, right about… now.”

      Overall, the accents, the interaction and dialogue, the concept of the story was great, including the tragic ending, but…. it struck me as too quick a transition. If you’re going to make this longer, I’d recommend taking your time to bring your character from a tea-hating Brit with bad dreams to a suck a kid dry on the doorstep due to lack of control 🙂

      Lots of fun!

  26. Tea_and_a_book

    Word count 937
    ———————-
    Momma
    ———————-
    Sometimes I miss her. She would’ve loved to see her grand-baby. Missy looks just like her namesake. Maybe someday I’ll tell her all about her grandma. A hero, she was. The greatest woman I’ve ever know. I knew that even before she told me about her past. Her past… Just thinking about her story instantly transported me back to my childhood.

    My mother had always kept her past vague. She didn’t like talking about it. Sometimes the past needs to be buried and left underground, she always told us. ‘Us’ being my sister Penny and I, of course. But one day, shortly after my sixteenth birthday, she called me into her room while Penny was away.

    “Jackie, I need to tell you something. And I need you to not tell Penny, okay? I’ll tell her, someday, but not now. Can you do that for me, honey? Can you keep a secret?” I’d nodded my head, thinking it would be easy enough, I didn’t talk to Penny much anyway. “Okay. Good. Now, I’m going to tell you something you may not like very much. I’m going to ask you to listen to the whole story before you say anything though, okay?”

    “Yes Momma.”

    “Good,good. Okay. Where do I start? I suppose it’s best to start from the beginning. Very well. Okay, I’ll tell it like a fairy tale. Is that okay?” I nodded solemnly.

    “Okay. Here goes. Once upon a time, in a land not so very far away, there was a little girl. She’d always dreamed of adventure, this little girl. She grew up imagining far off places and fantastic journeys, with princes and dragons and magic.”

    “Well, eventually this little girl grew up. She heard about America, the great land of adventure. So she got on a ship and sailed across the ocean. When she got to America, it was amazing. Everything she’d dreamed of. But only for a little while. Soon, she didn’t have any money or food. The now-grown -up little girl started living in the streets. Sometimes she would sing in exchange for food. Until she met a man.” I was beginning to fear how this story was going. My mother had been born in America – right?

    “Well, this man told the girl that if she would give him what he wanted, he would do the same for her. She agreed, because she was still innocent and merely thought he meant cleaning his fancy house or something silly like that. But, of course, that’s not what he meant. I’m sure you’ve already figured out what he wanted, haven’t you? You’re a smart girl. So, anyways, eventually the girl got tired of being what the man wanted. By now the little girl was all grown up and getting older. Much, much older. So the girl ran away. Far, far away, to somewhere no one knew her. But what she didn’t know, was that from being with the man, she had become pregnant with a little girl. Do you know who that little girl was, Jackie?”

    I shook my head, knowing it couldn’t be. My sixteen year old mind couldn’t comprehend it. There was no way that was my momma that had done all these things. My momma was American. My momma had had a husband that died. That baby couldn’t be me. Right?

    “It was you, sweetie. After you were born, Penny’s daddy took me in. He married me, moved across the country with me. He died, remember? I’ve told you that much. It was a shipwreck. I miss him. He would’ve loved to see you girls now,” Momma said softly. She looked so sad. “He took care of you like you were his. And when he found out I was having Penny, he was so excited. That was the day he left for good. He got on his ship, and went out to catch whatever was in season, I don’t remember now.”

    Momma sighed and continued. She seemed exhausted.

    “After Penny was born, I moved again. I was afraid without him. I’ve moved so much, never letting you two have stability. No friends. Nothing. And for that, I’m so so sorry.”

    No momma. No. This couldn’t be your story. You had a good past, for the most part. My grandparents and papa all died in an accident together. You never worked for a sugar daddy. You were born here in America, lie me and Penny. Right momma? RIGHT???

    “Are you okay, Jackie? I know it’s a lot to process. Do you want to think about all of this?”

    No. I want to know why you waited so long to tell me. Didn’t I deserve to know why I’d never been able to have friends? You could’ve told me so long ago. I would’ve understood, mamma. I feel… angry. Why do I feel angry?
    She died so long ago, why am I still angry? The memories. I need to finish the memories. I can remember all of it.

    “I still love you, Mamma. I’m glad you told me.” That’s what I said. But I was so upset. I left as soon as I could. That was not the past I wanted. I couldn’t deal with that past, not for my mother or for me. I didn’t want to be a bastard child. So I left. She understood, I know she did.

    I got the call a few years ago that she died. Cancer, they said. I went to the funeral, and I cried a little. I have some regrets, I think about that day a lot. And sometimes, I still miss my momma.

    1. Tea_and_a_book

      Note : In case I wasn’t clear in the beginning, she was a hero because, despite everything, she stayed strong. And after growing up, Jackie could see and appreciate this

    2. HappyGoLucky

      Oh my gosh… That’s amazing. Great idea, honestly.

      I’m not even out of college yet, but I can easily see the strong emotion you put into this. Whether this was true for you or someone you know or not, brilliant work.

      1. Tea_and_a_book

        I’m flattered. Honestly, it’s great that you enjoyed it that much 😀 Actually, I don’t know anybody that anything like this has happened to. I’m not even sure where the idea came from. I just knew the first line and let my fingers do the rest, because, as all writers know, your finger do as much or more work than your mind 😉

    3. JM Somebody

      This story left me unsettled. I kept wanting to know why the mother would tell her sixteen year old daughter this devastating information, especially when she had a always taken care to keep it to herself. She must have had a reason why she thought the daughter needed to know now. I guess it just needs more backstory. You certainly succeeded in provoking an emotional response — I’d just like to see you take it further!

      1. Tea_and_a_book

        I’m actually considering taking it to the next step, switching between the mother and daughter in a novella of sorts 🙂 If I do, I’ll be sure to let you know

    4. Reaper

      I think you conveyed why she was a hero, at least to me. The one thing that threw me was the voice actually seemed a bit younger than a teen. Though as the story went on I placed it somewhere in the early nineteen hundreds when something like that would have been a bit more devastating to find out and then the more innocent voice fell into place.

    5. Observer Tim

      Very very nice, Tea. I can’t really add to the other comments so I’ll just say bravo. 🙂

      This is the type of story that America is built on. The great tragedy is that so many dreams have to be shattered before brave souls can build new ones.

    6. lionetravail

      This is a great story, Tea, with a lot of feeling in it. Even though it ran long-for-a-prompt, I think your idea of taking it longer is good: it needs more treatment for, as JM suggested, back story, and for treatment of the MC’s emotions and growth after she ran away.

      I don’t know if you have it planned out, but putting the MC in an analogous situation to her mothers, forcing her to grow up in a reciprocal of what her mother went through, might be a very powerful message about understanding and empathy.

      One comment- though momma was relating her story as a ‘fairy tale’, the mention of the magic and dragons and such made me think this was going in a magical realism direction. You might consider modifying the early fairy tale elements slightly so that the reader doesn’t think “oh, this is a magic story” from the beginning… just an observation. Nice work on this!

  27. Paint on Parchment

    My mom always tells the doctors that she’s ten years younger than she really is. “They treat me better if they think I’m in my eighties,” she says to me periodically.

    She would know. She never kept a job for more than a year, so she knows bits of everything, and that includes how doctors view their patients. I’ve always admired that about her. She’s never stopped learning. I’m a much more static person–I don’t like major life shifts–but I still strive to learn as much as she does, and to take such joy from it. Even now, as her small body is nestled in between thick hospital sheets and her legs tremble perpetually, she’s employed as a digital artist. She lied about her age for that, too. Her boss thinks she’s a thirty-four-year-old traveler who’s currently abroad in Mexico.

    I glance at the wrinkles that are etched into her skin. She’s so different mentally than she is physically, and my throat thickens when I picture how she should be. Then her hand twitches in mine and I see that she’s beginning to wake up. Suddenly, she’s entirely conscious and glaring at me. “You’re still here? Oy! Last week you told me you had a business trip scheduled for this afternoon. Why aren’t you at the airport?”

    I was laid off. That’s why. But I’m not about to add to her stress. “I decided that I wanted to spend more time with you,” I reply. At least it’s true.

    “You spend enough time with me, Carrie. It’s not like I’m going to kick the bucket any time soon,” she says. “I’m planning on sticking around for a good while longer.”

    She sees my face and squeezes my hand. “The doctors give me another three years. Really, they do.” Then she peers at me with a familiar scowl. “But that wasn’t the only reason why you’re not on your trip, are you?”

    I flinch. Damn. I could never lie to her.

    “You got laid off, didn’t you?”

    I nod.

    “Oh, honey. Why didn’t you tell me?” she says, her voice getting louder. “This is fantastic news!”

    “It’s what?” I’m perplexed.

    “Honey, you’re free! You’re free to do whatever you want now! Who needs to be a legal assistant? Now you can become a music producer, or an architect, or a researcher! Anything you want!” She’s beaming at me like I’ve just won a Nobel Prize. Except what I’ve won is the No Job Prize, and her inexplicable happiness seems to suggest that she thinks that actually exists. “So many possibilities!”

    I swallow. “Mom, you switch jobs every year, and you do it because you love to. And I always respected you for being able to take control of your own life and decide when you needed a change, but–”

    She’s looking at me strange. “Honey?” Her voice is hollow. “You think I changed jobs because of that?”

    I don’t say anything. Not my mom, my strong mom, my brilliant and talented mom–

    “I was always fired.”

    This is not what I want to hear. She’s good at everything. She knows everything. She is the person who I admire most in this world.

    “The first few times, it was bad. I was always devastated. How could I be so dreadful at the jobs?”

    My mother. A collection of failures. Year after year, I thought she was winning at life because she was carrying out each of her new dreams. But she was losing, losing more with every new job.

    “But after a decade or so, I got used to it. I realized that I was blessed with being unable to keep a job so that I could explore all different aspects of the world.”

    She’s saying this to console herself. A job loss is a nightmare. Forty job losses is a catastrophe.

    “…honey? Are you listening to me?”

    How can I listen to her when she’s spent her life falling deeper and deeper into the abyss of firings?

    I’m aware of her hand clutching mine more tightly. “Carrie, you’re not listening to what I’m saying. I don’t get fired because I’m bad at what I do. I get fired because I start to lose interest in my work. And I embrace it because it gives me the opportunity to switch to something that I have a fresh interest in.” She pauses. “Look, honey, I know that change isn’t really your style, but even so, you can use this as a chance to pursue something that you’re really passionate about.”

    “Mom…” I start. I can’t force myself to tell her that I don’t want that. All I want is stability. I’m passionate about art, but choosing to do art for a living would mean that I wouldn’t be able to support a family. “I love you. Of course I do. But the life that you’ve lived… And getting fired… I don’t want that for myself.”

    “I know you don’t,” she says simply. “Neither did I, at first. But now I wouldn’t change my memories at all.”

    I don’t say anything. I just observe my mother’s face: the mirth in her lips, the wisdom in her jaw, the joy in her eyes. And I know she’s telling the truth.

    She pats my knee. “Now, I’m going to go back to sleep. An old lady like me needs her rest. You can stay with me, if you like… But when I wake up, you better be painting.”

    1. JM Somebody

      Your MC’s mother is a fascinating character. She was equal parts endearing, impressive and frustrating. I can see writing a whole book about her and her relationship with her staid, risk-averse daughter. This could be a winner!

    2. Reaper

      This is great! The exploration of optimism and pessimism between the two is amazing. That you told the story of how the mother became an optimist without going into too much detail was wonderful. The mother is really a great definition of that. Then you get the fears of every artist perfectly but she has a parent to support her when she is in doubt, which is so opposite of what normally happens. This is not only interesting but so deep that I can’t help but stand and applaud. Very nicely done.If I were to give any advice it would be to look for unnecessary that’s outside of quotes and the same thing with taglines.

    3. Observer Tim

      This is a fascinating take with a really great message, Paint. I love the way the mother takes what others would see as failure and turns it into an opportunity. 🙂

      The one thing that causes a disconnect is the age difference. The daughter seems to be in her twenties, or maybe thirties; the mother is in her nineties. I guess Sarah lives (Bible reference). 🙂

    4. lionetravail

      Love this story, PoP- what with your screen name here, it sounds as if you tossed at least just a tiny bit of autobiography (or perhaps wish fulfillment?). This was wonderful to read 🙂

  28. lionetravail

    Would like to apologize to all- missed last week for writing a prompt response entirely, and just haven’t had the time to do all I would have liked with reading and commenting. Hope to be back at it robustly this week!

  29. Jay "The Doc" Wilson

    A Family Secret

    Forward: I’m forcing ya’ll to do some of your own sleuthing this week. Reading between the lines and all that jazz to keep the word count down. I’m pretty sure everything is there to bring you to the correct conclusion on the first read, but if you have any questions, I’ll answer it. lol Also, the tense will probably seem a bit suspect at times, but it’s because the narrator is telling the past story presently, if that makes sense. I have another story doing the purposeful tense shifting, and it’s a hard thing to master without screwing with the readers mind. Therefore, you, fellow writers, are my guinea pigs. 😀 Hope ya’ll enjoy it!

    # # #

    It wasn’t a good feeling watching my mother die. She was no more than a skeleton covered by a thin, pale, and damp cheesecloth. Her eyes had nearly receded to the back of her skull, and her lips had pulled back to reveal her greying gums as death took its sweet time. However, she was still a vision of beauty if I ever saw one. Maybe it was a daughter’s bias, but I didn’t give a damn because the only opinion that ever mattered to either of us was each other’s.

    No other family members joined us that night she died. I have no siblings and my mother didn’t care much for our extended family. My father left when I was a toddler, so he and anyone on that side of the family were dead to us. As for her mother and father, there wasn’t much there, either. They called once, if I remember correctly, but it was a misdial. So, for the longest time it was just me and my mother. I thought for sure it would end that way, too, but it turns out my father made a special appearance that night.

    I moved from the chair and sat on the bed so I could be closer to her. In her final moments, she was blind, nearly deaf, and her voice nothing more than a dry whisper peppered with grits of sand. I laid my head on the pillow next to hers, and listened to her softly wheeze.

    She turned toward me, and I felt her surprisingly warm breath tickle my ear. She breathed her words, “Honey, I need to tell you something.”

    I closed my eyes to fight the pain, but a tear managed to escape down my cheek. “I’ll be okay.”

    “Oh, sweetie. I know you’ll be okay.” She said, and paused for a long while to get enough strength to continue. “It’s about your father.”

    It’s hard to know how you’ll react when your emotions are already a mess. When she mentioned him, I felt the bile of hate creeping at the back of my throat. I wanted to scream and cry and rage with violence and cuddle with my mother all at the same time.

    When I felt confident enough to speak strong for her, I said, “What is it?”

    The door opened and a tall man stepped into the room. He had his hands in the pockets of his black jeans and his plum collared shirt loosely buttoned at the top. He smiled at me, and remained by the door while my mother whispered into my ear.

    “He didn’t run out on us.”

    “What then? Did he die?” I tried to say as politely as possible. I needed to keep my anger for the man from ruining what I felt was the last moment I had with my mother, and I found it incredibly difficult.

    “No.” She wheezed, and the man at the door put up his hand. He waved to apologize silently for interrupting. He grabbed the chart on the wall, wrote something on the top sheet, put it back, and quietly left the room.

    When my mother spoke again, she softly grasped my hand. There was a subtle tremble in her whisper. “Ashley, you know…I love you…right?”

    “I know, mom. I love you, too.”

    “You need to understand…don’t hate me…please.”

    “Never, mom. God, never.”

    “The man that was just here…did you see him?”

    “Yeah, of course. How’d you know?”

    “Honey, I may not…be able to see…but I can smell everything.”

    “Okay, well what about him? You’re not gonna tell me that’s my father are you?” I suppose I was a bit forward and quick to jump to a conclusion, but I couldn’t control myself. The thought that I would finally learn something about my father put me into overdrive.

    “No, dear. That’s…Doctor Albert.” She said, her voiced becoming raspier.

    “I remember you tellin’ me about him.”

    “There’s more.” She said, and paused longer than usual. “He’s the man that made me who I am today.”

    “Like, uh, mentor? I didn’t think you needed one.”

    “No, baby. He’s the one that…gave me my operation.”

    “Which?”

    “When I said…your father didn’t leave…it’s because I never did.”

    Goosebumps pinched my skin, and as I processed what she told me, I felt light-headed. “You’re not saying…”

    “Your mother…I loved her so much…she died giving birth to you…”

    “I don’t understand. Why didn’t you ever tell me?”

    “It’s not something…too hard.” She said, her sentences now breaking apart to just necessary phrases. “Never strong enough.”

    “Oh, mom, you’ve always been strong enough.”

    “Just wish…told you…’cause you hate…so much.”

    “You’re everything to me. Doesn’t matter if you’re my mom or dad or both.” I said, tears streaming down my face. “Damn it, don’t worry about it. I don’t care.”

    “Love…” She began to say, and then I felt her grip loosen and fall away from me. Having met the father I’d always known and loved and the mother I loved just the same, I softly sobbed.

    1. Kerry Charlton

      Jay, if I read this correctly, the mother who lay dying was actually her own Father. Correct me if I’m wrong. What a haunting tale you’ve woven here. I love puzzles, all kinds.

      1. Jay "The Doc" Wilson

        Thanks, Bilbo. I added the doctor in there specifically for a diversion. Fun Fact: I didn’t know how to work him in, and then I realized the man would be a perfect segue to the reveal. (That was the longest part of writing this story) I’m usually against more than two characters in short short stories because then you just increase your chances of befuddling the reader, so thankfully it worked out here. Thanks for reading!

    2. Manwe38

      Wow, what an amazing reveal. Never saw it coming.

      In terms of the tense, I think you were fine. I didn’t have any trouble figuring it out.

      Glad to be a guinea pig…

    3. snuzcook

      What an interesting concept, Doc: a man who believes he is inadequate to the job of raising a child in his grief, and transforms himself literally to fulfill the role of nurturing mother. Did he believe that somehow she deserved to live more than he did, that the world and his child should not have to exist without her? It strikes me as an ultimate sacrifice, but also as the extreme hubris of changing the rules rather than accepting what fate had presented. In a way, it is the Frankenstein’s monster story turned sideways.
      Thought provoking, as always!

    4. JM Somebody

      This was some interesting and absorbing writing, Jay. The first paragraph threw me a little because of the gross understatement of the first sentence ( watching her mother die was “not a good feeling”) followed by a somewhat overblown physical description (Her eyes had nearly receded to the back of her skull.) But after that your story quickly picked up steam and swept me right along with it. The dialogue worked very well, as did the underlying horror (the “Frankenstein’s monster,” as Snuzz so eloquently put it).

      For me, “cause you hate… so much” really crystallized the tragedy of this story. That one line was really powerful.

    5. Reaper

      A very interesting and deep story. I was thinking a lot of what Snuz said, but she put it more eloquently and I would not have mad the Frankenstein connection. I think you did the tense shifts masterfully. I didn’t notice them because they seemed so natural. I find that very difficult, because when I go back and edit something in the first person voice I find myself changing things to the past tense that really make more sense in the presence. So I am impressed with what you did here.

    6. lionetravail

      Wonderful twist here, Jay, with an eloquently told story. I think you handled the reveal well; almost wish you had more time to treat the MC’s reaction with 🙂

  30. ReathaThomasOakley

    The Girl, Again

    “Hand me my teeth glass, Girl,” Granny said. Me, I’m the girl.

    “Big city didn’t sit well, did it? I didn’t hold with you there in the first place.”

    I been back home from Washington D.C., seventeen days now. They was studying me in Washington D. C. I don’t like being studied. When Granny took sick I got put on the train back to home so I could do for her. I like to do for Granny. Granny’s some better, so today Mama went back to the tourist homes she hires out to, down past the motel what Mrs. Tuggle owns. I been hired out some there since I got to sixteen.

    “What you gonna do when I’m all healed up?” Granny put in her teeth. I like it when Granny’s got her teeth in straight. “You gonna chase after haints some more in town?”

    “Ghosts. I ain’t supposed to say haints.”

    “They’s been haints long as I know’d about ’em.”

    “They ain’t straight.”

    “What you sayin’, Girl? Haints ain’t straight?”

    Granny knew it were her teeth not straight, she was just funnin’ me so’s I’d smile big and show my extra teeth. Granny and me, we like my extra teeth. Mama’s just got regular teeth. Granny says she had extra teeth back when she had teeth.

    “Now, why’re you so sad?” Granny’s right smart knowin’ when I’m sad.

    “When I went visiting Mrs. Tuggle yesterday, one of them northern tourists said I don’t know nothin’.” I don’t like northern tourists.

    “Northern tourists is the ones what don’t know nothin’,” Granny laughed. “You go get yourself a cold Orange Crush outta the ice box and you gonna think on all you know and I’m gonna tell you more things to know. I gotta keep up yore education.”

    Later, out in the back yard on my inner tube swing I drank down another Orange Crush and thought ’bout what me and Granny figgered I know.

    I know the bible, but me and Granny don’t hold with some of the old parts. We don’t pay no mind to where it says about suffering a witch to live. I like when Moses got everbody outta Egypt land. I like how Jesus was a baby, and I can pick out all his words in red what he said when he was a grown up man. I like words in red. Me and Granny don’t hold with St. Paul, we can’t make no sense outta St. Paul, talks too much burning.

    I know I sometimes see red haints, ‘long with regular haints. I don’t like red haints, but Granny said don’t pay ‘em no mind.

    Granny says I got two cousins, one up St. John’s County way, one in Wyoming. Granny don’t rightly know where that is, told me to ask Mrs. Tuggle, next time I’m down to the motel.

    I drank down my Orange Crush and swung up real high and thought on what I know. I ain’t sad no more.

    1. Kerry Charlton

      Reata, you nailed the language of the Blue Ridge Mountains of West Virginia. A lot of good people grew up in that area of the country. I also like your theme you worked with. Simple times but not simple people.

      1. ReathaThomasOakley

        Thank you, so much. Your comment is interesting because the Girl is in central Florida, but I believe “interior”, somewhat isolated, people from widely separated areas often speak in the same way, at least I’ve found that to be so. I’ve also heard similar vowel sounds spoken by people living along the Atlantic coast, but hundreds of miles apart. I so enjoy listening to, and then trying to capture, various dialects. I’ve also set the stories in 1960, don’t exactly know why. Thanks again.

          1. ReathaThomasOakley

            I was amazed when I moved to Montana as an adult and heard, what I’d thought of as, Southern accents. Down home is a great description.

    2. Just JM

      Wow! I just love the different voices you’re weaving into this family’s quirky, fascinating saga. I am so impressed with your ability to convey such differnt characters and dialects so convincingly. I can imagine the thrill of reading the Wyoming chapter and then suddenly finding yourself in this very different branch of the family tree. This story is just crackling with life. Keep going, Reatha!

      1. ReathaThomasOakley

        Thank you so very much for your comments. Last week the Girl’s Wyoming cousin was shoveling snow. If I don’t run completely out of time I’ll try to do something next week. I’m enjoying the challenge, but feel guilty for not having more time to comment on what others are posting. I must do some of that now.

    3. Dennis

      This feel like it could be one of the James Michener type stories with lots of people over many places and possible over many years. I’ll eagerly wait for the next installment. And again, great dialect writing.

    4. Jay "The Doc" Wilson

      I’d like to start by saying that I like the idea of your story—what I suppose I gathered after picking through the dialect, anyway. It’s not terribly original, but you managed to make it fun. So, nice job. 🙂

      There are many rules when writing dialects—especially in first person narrative—so that’s something to consider. Your narrator could stand to use a smoother, richer voice as a narrator. I’ll bet if you can do that as well as fix a ton of the spelling mistakes, you’d be spitting out a damn good story. A quick piece of advice: a good writer can use a dialect and emphasize it with amateurish but sometimes excusable spelling errors. A brilliant author will craft a dialect so perfectly that even if he or she uses correct spelling throughout, the reader with still hear, read, and feel the dialect. There is a lot more to writing dialect than simply imitating it. I can’t emphasize that enough when you’re dealing with the narrator using their native dialect.

      Nice experimentation. I hope to see you around here more often! 😀

    5. Reaper

      At first I was thinking, this voice doesn’t sound the same, then I realized the time in DC was affecting your MC here and it clicked. That was wonderfully done without explaining. I love this family and want to read the whole story. As you go on you have this way of revealing more, answering some of the questions we have had and then immediately giving us more to think about. I believe that is part of why so many people are hooked on this. Please keep that up. I just keep getting pulled deeper and deeper into this story.

      Two suggestions on this, and they are just suggestions because I don’t think anything needs to change. One, with the time, place, and voice I would recommend changing Northern tourists to Yankee tourists. It feels more natural to that down home drawl you have going. The second is the reference to suffering a witch to live. The red words is usually King James. With the feel of these characters and how important religion seems I would recommend adding a comment about liking the other words or something like that. In the earliest translations of the Bible the line was do not suffer a soldier to live. It was actually a reference to war, and that a captured enemy should either be released or executed rather than forcing a warrior to live in a cage. Witch rapidly became a more popular translation, but the feel of this family is one that would know both wordings.

      Keep going! Rich and deep and I add to those still loving this.

      1. ReathaThomasOakley

        Thank you, Reaper. I don’t know why Northern came out. I’m trying to capture words the way I heard them growing up and never thought Yankee, but I will. As to the Bible, as folks say, if King James was good enough for the disciples, it’s good enough for me. Thanks again for your close reading and understanding. I have to grab time for this and never seem to get caught up on comments.

    6. Observer Tim

      This is very well done, Reatha. I love the voice you’ve created and the backstory that goes with it. The people are realistic and believable (as much as can be in modern fantasy). 🙂 🙂

      My favourite line: “Hand me my teeth glass, girl.” For some reason that just cracks me up.

  31. Jay "The Doc" Wilson

    Well, shit. I checked last night to see if Klem posted a new prompt, and it was a pleasant surprise to see he did. I started writing my story, and at first it was 500 words, then it was 1,500, and now it’s teetering on the edge of 25,000. What the hell, man? Gonna need to come up with something small enough to post here. lol Until then, I’m enjoying the stories so far. 😀

  32. Kerry Charlton

    THE DAY MY EARTH STOOD STILL

    When I boarded the plane in San Antoio in1989, I realized it might be the last trip to see my Mother, “Five foot two, eyes of blue,” fit her to a ‘T’ as my memory flashed to my early childhood in Philadelphia. When my Father passed at the age of seventy six, Mom had hinted to me about a dark secret she carried since 1936.

    “I can’t tell you about it until I know the angels are coming for me.”

    “You’re in your theater voice, go ahead and tell me now, I’m dying of curiosity.”

    She threw a sly wink and a half smile, “Patience Kerry, I want you by my side when I leave this world and then you’ll know.”

    Years flew by util Mom had reached her 87th birthday and started to decline severely from heart failure Wheels touched in Miami, my mind snapped to the present as I hurried off the flight and caught a cab to her house in ‘Gables By The Sea.’ Her eyes, dimmed from years still sparkled when I entered her bedroom,

    “Well it’s time Kerry, I don’t have much left.”

    I leaned over and kissed her forehead. Her nurse left the room, I pulled a chair to her side and listened,

    “Your father and I had a difficult marrage …….”

    “I know Mom we’ve been through this many times.”

    “Do you want to hear this or not?”

    “Sorry, I’m all ears”

    “Before I met your father, I was on stage in New York in a Broadway play when I first set eyes on him.”

    “On whom Mom?”

    “John Barrymore.”

    “Holy cow, did you date him?”

    “Briefly, it was nothing serious. I didn’t even like him that much.”

    “Is this your secret you’ve been carrying all these years.”

    “You’re interrupting again.”

    “Go ahead Mom.”

    “Your father and I seperated in 1935 for a few weeks and he went to Trenton where his office was and rented an apartment.”

    “What did you tell Joy and Bill?”

    “That he was on assignment for the state department.”

    “Was he undercover for the government?”

    “Yes, but thats another story Anyway, I was so upset I called John and told him.”

    “Wow, this is great stuff, Mom, go on.”

    I took Joy and Bill to your grandmother’s house and caught a train to New York. I totally flipped for Barrymore, we went and painted the town so to speak.”

    “You don’t have to go into details.”

    “Thank you, I grew tired of it and realized what a booze hound he was and I came back to Philadelphia.”

    “Did Dad know where you were?”

    No one did, that’s why I’m talking to you.Anyway your Father and reconciled and then I discovered I was going to have a baby.”

    “Am I hearing this correctly?”

    “You have to pledge to me, you will never disclose this and I mean it.”

    “You know I’ll keep my word.

    “I need a glass of water, I’m exhaugted.”

    I poured a tumbler for her. “We can finish this later Mom.”

    “There isn’t time now. Let me finish”

    “Okay I’m listening.”

    “You’re not your father’s son Are you upset?”

    “Well, I’m on my knees with this tale, but I don’t think so. He was a marvelous actor. I always wondered why I didn’t have blue eyes like the rest of the family.”

    “Can you forgive me, Kerry?”

    “Mom, I’m proud of you, don’t ever think that.”

    She closed her eyes in sleep and I left her room so as not to disturb her. Four days later, she passed and took with her, a secret only the two of us knew. I decided to enter this in my journal, so many ‘sands of time’ have gone by I figured she wouldn’t mind now. I snapped my journal shut, my eyes ose to my Mom’s photo taken in Atlantic City.

    “My God she was gorgeous,” I thought.

    1. Jay "The Doc" Wilson

      I went sailing through the sky on an imaginary pirate ship, and when I skied on the clouds over the Bermuda Triangle, my red pen fell out my pocket and disappeared into another dimension. So, this week I don’t think I’ll be doing anything too deep.

      This is an interesting character driven story. I only wish you spent more time on the characters so I could really feel them in the moment. Dialogue heavy stories are a hard business to sell, but you did fine enough to get your story across despite the not-so-solid character development.

      I do have one question, though. You’re usually very very good about your punctuation and spelling. Did the gremlins wrestle your computer away and tragically upload it before you had a chance to check it? 😉

      Either way, this is a pleasant read.

      1. Kerry Charlton

        Thank you Jay, I’ll tell you what happened. After I typed the titlel, the web site only typed every other letter. {Watch this sample I’m going to type ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’. ] This one is typed one agonizing letter at a time. Now read the same line at regular speed. ‘Mary had a little lamb’. [Holy crap, it’s not doing it now, you might know.] Thank you for the read, you’re right, I should have done more back story, especially the mother.

    2. Just JM

      You really had me going for a minute. I thought you were going tell us you really are a Barrymore. (Although that would explain your theatrical side… 🙂 ). This was imaginative and fun!

      1. Kerry Charlton

        Thanks JM. Sometimes I wish I were a Barrymore. My Father drank enough he could have been John Barrymote’s younger brother. Oh well, I’m just plain me, I like it better that way.

      1. Kerry Charlton

        Thank you Dennis. I’m going to rewrite, using Jay’s suggestions and then keep it. I have over a hundred and fifty short stories with only five published. I’ll pull the better one, print them in a binder and impose them on my children and grandchildren. ‘Read or no inheritence.’

    3. Reaper

      Kerry, are you working on your language? I mean you always tell a compelling story and the way you write is both unique and gorgeous. This was a step above, even for you. Eyes dimmed still sparkled and It’s time, I don’t have much were just two of the amazing lines and they pulled me into a different world so easily.

      1. Kerry Charlton

        Thank you Reaper, using my own Mother’s personality made it so easy to write this. Since she wrote a newspaper column for five years, she is probably amused by this. If she spoke to me, she would react, “If you’re writing me into something, at least use Robert Taylor, not John Barrymore.”

          1. Kerry Charlton

            Thank you, Reatha, as far as my Mother , using her in a story such as this, she would have thought it was a gas. My Mom was as straught an arrow that ever walked the planet. As far as Dad, well, he was somewhat of a rounder but it wasn’t his fault, it started with my great grandfather. That’s another story.

    4. lionetravail

      This was a lot of fun, made stronger by how delightful the MC “Kerry” was. How elegant for the news to not distress him, and to have him embrace it in the spirit of an adventurous mother he clearly loved. Needs a little cleanup, but it’s compelling in its simple, straightforward message of filial love and respect 🙂

      1. Kerry Charlton

        Thank you David. You think you had fun reading it, I had more writing. I put my Mother’s personality in it and tried to figure out what she would say. She had a host of suitors when she was young, she looked like Caudette Colbert. She wrote an entire story about meeting my Father on a street car in Philadelphia. She wrote and I quote.. “He needed a haurcut and wasn’t dressed very well. He was impressed but I wasn’t so.”

    5. Observer Tim

      This is fantastic, Kerry. Sorry about the gremlins. Imagine if you had been Barrymore’s son (oh wait, you just did…). 🙂 🙂

      From a “reality” standpoint I think the mother was very wise withholding this information for so long; by that point her son is mature enough to understand the news, and has likely had experience with having the rug pulled out from under him before. Also, given that all the major players save one have passed into memory, it becomes just another brightly-coloured thread in life’s tapestry.

  33. Amyithist

    The room was located at the end of a long, brightly lit hallway. The walls were brightly colored and had tasteful black and white photos depicting fully bloomed trees in the middle of fields and empty city streets lined with cobblestone. It was pleasant enough but it always filled me with unexplainable fear.
    As I made my way down the hall, I couldn’t help but notice the doors on either side of me were wide open; offering glimpses into lives that had always been tucked away. Out of sight…out of mind… I shivered and lowered my head, hurrying toward my mother’s door. I glanced off to my left and stopped short as I noticed a woman about my age lying in her bed.
    Her eyes were glimmering. Something about them held me. Her hair was thin and stringy and she looked gaunt and pale. Clearly, she’d come here to carry out her own final moments. I offered a timid smile before spinning away and jaunting down the final stretch of hallway.
    Mom’s door was open as well. The drapes were drawn, which made the room incredibly dark. I sighed heavily as I slipped into the shadows. It felt as though the entire room had swallowed me whole and, though I didn’t know why, I found myself suddenly afraid.
    It was that feeling you might expect to feel after watching a scary movie; you simply knew something was there in the dark. Watching… Waiting… I tugged the blinds open and soul-saving sunlight poured in through a freshly cleaned window. I looked over to Mom, smiling as she blinked at the sudden intrusion.
    “Eva,” she croaked, sitting up. “What are you doing here?”
    “It’s Thursday,” I replied warmly. “I always come on Thursdays. Remember?”
    A thin smile spread over her dry lips. She was looking particularly frail today. “I remember,” she whispered.
    Quiet fell over us for a moment as I busied myself refilling her flower vases with clean water and wiping down the Formica countertops. It kept my mind off of what I would inevitably experience. One of life’s many blows; a lesson in loss…everyone in the support group I’d joined had different ways of explaining away my mother’s untimely death and while I was sure they had the best of intentions, their serenity and acceptance shit pissed me off.
    My mom had always been my best friend. I loved her. And watching her die made me angry. It broke my heart. Accepting it wasn’t something I could ever do. When she died…a part of me would go with her.
    “Eva,” Mom’s fragile voice broke through my thoughts.
    I walked the short distance from the window where I had set a fresher vase of flowers and pulled a chair up to her bed. Sighing, I sat down and let Mom take my hands into hers.
    “I have something to tell you,” she whispered. “It’s important.”
    I nodded. “Okay, Mama. Go ahead. I’m listening.”
    She smiled and brushed her hand over the top of my head. “You are so special.” Her smile deepened and tears started to trickle down her ruddy face. “But you’re even more special than you know, my precious little girl.”
    She reached into a small pouch and pulled a ruby-red garnet from its cloth depths. With trembling hands, she handed the necklace to me. “You come from a long line of clairvoyants, my child. Our gifts allot us insights to a world others cannot see.”
    “Mom…I don’t understand…”
    She shook her head. “You couldn’t. Not until after I’m gone. My spirit…my sight…it’ll come to you when…” She sighed and closed her eyes. The words didn’t have to be spoken. I knew what she meant. I would only be given these gifts at the expense of her life.
    “I don’t want them,” I cried. “Mama, please! Don’t leave me…”
    I buried my face into the bedding and sobbed violently. Mom’s hand fell to her side. Another heavy sigh and it was over. She was gone.
    Screaming, I ran from the room and bellowed for help. Pounding of running feet, urgent cries, hands gripping my shoulders and leading me toward the center of the hallway…away from her room blurred into a kaleidoscope of sensations. I fell to the tile floor, gripping the amulet in my fingers.
    I was crying as I slipped the silver necklace over my head. It was the last thing my mom had given me and I was never going to take it off. As the necklace nestled against my bosom, I noticed something.
    I could see things…things no one else could. Standing in the threshold of the room was Mom. She was beautiful and young and beaming with light. She didn’t speak. Neither did I. We watched each other for a moment before she turned. A blinding light filled the room…
    Tears fell down my cheeks as I watched Mom walk toward it. I could see a glimpse of the world beyond the light and I knew she was going to be happy. Comfort washed over me as I made my way down the hall.
    Everywhere I looked, I saw things; an elderly man, struggling for breath…but behind him a woman, smiling and stroking his head. He’d be going home soon. In another room, the woman who was near my age… She was so young. I stopped and looked at her for a moment, smiling as I noticed an entire host of angelic beings surrounding her bed. I stepped into her room. It would have been somber if I hadn’t been able to see those that awaited her.
    She reached toward me and I took her hand. “It’s going to be okay,” I whispered. “Everyone is waiting for you.”
    Her eyes glossed with tears at the news. I turned and walked away, feeling full and completely overwhelmed with love. As I started down the hall, I quietly thanked my Mom for passing along the gift. “I love you Mama,” I whispered.
    Somewhere, perhaps it was all around me, I heard her answer back. “I love you, too, Eva.”

    1. Just JM

      This is a whole and complete story, and although I would love to know what Eva does with this great gift, I think it is remarkable that the story stands on it’s own with no further explanation needed. What a lovely, hopeful and touching tale, and you told it so well, Amyithist.

      Because I am making a conscious effort to offer helpful comments as well as compliments these days, here’s a minor suggestion. Instead of “untimely death” maybe you should say “impending death” since at that point in the story, the mother is still alive. For the briefest moment I thought the story had flashed forward. 🙂

      1. Kerry Charlton

        I couldn’t agree more about your story. It stands alone like JM mentioned. We would all like to have such an experience when you lose a loved one. But with the memories, they are never apart from you.

    2. lionetravail

      Beautiful, Amyithist. The feel of the piece is lovely as is, per usual, and is wonderful as a whole story.

      One thing which made me curious was the setting- I couldn’t tell where it precisely took place. The MC’s mother seemed to be in an apartment, but other open doors on the way had people in beds, and in the case of the young woman who’d come there, she’d come there to die. I was very curious as to what you had in mind as you envisioned the place?

    3. Observer Tim

      This is a beautiful story, Amyithist. Your description of the terminal care facility was perfectly in line with my impression – a mausoleum with apartments where people go to beg for death. I’m glad you found a positive outcome in there… 🙂

  34. Bilbo Baggins

    FLICKERS

    San Francisco—1906

    It was a shabby apartment in Fisherman’s Wharf that was reached only by a narrow set of stairs tucked behind a fire escape. Inside, Albert Rush steered his mother’s wheelchair over to the window and opened it to let in a waft of fresh air.

    “I’m sorry I don’t visit more often, mother.”

    The tiny woman nodded, holding her statue of a robin. She had always liked birds.

    “It’s fine, son. I know you have your job.”

    Albert slid his arm around her shoulders, cautiously.

    “I’m retired now, remember? If you want me to spend more time here…”

    He couldn’t help but notice her useless, withered leg today. But usually neither of them did. The old woman turned the wooden bird in her hands. She smiled.

    “That’s alright, Albert. You’ve made your promise well over ten years’ time.” Then a cloud darkened her face and she looked down from the window. “But I’m afraid I have been the unfaithful one.”

    A noisy auto rumbled below. Albert withdrew his arm.

    “How?”

    “There is something I haven’t told you.” She rotated the bird again, focused on it. “A man did a very bad thing to me.”

    Tears almost sprang to the corners of his eyes.

    “I know, mother. I know. But it was an accident.”

    She wheeled her chair back from the window and slowly shook her head. Albert’s visage changed in an instant. His eyes darkened into black diamonds. He grabbed her arm, not caring that she winced and dropped the bird into her lap.

    “Mother, tell me!”

    She stared at him with dull gray eyes.

    There was a rap at the door.

    Albert tore himself away from her gaze.

    “Come another time!”

    The rapping stopped for a moment. Albert sighed, went down on his knees.

    “Please tell me, mother. Who did this to you?”

    She shook her head, lips moving but no words coming.

    “It was so long ago. So many faces ago…”

    “I just need one name.”

    For some reason he was beginning to panic. He heard loud footfalls on the stairs. The apartment door burst open just as recognition hit her eyes.

    Albert pulled out a 1905 Browning from his breast pocket. He wheeled her into the closet.
    “Stay here!” he bellowed.

    Albert ran out, thoughts tumbling out of his head. No time now. His back braced against the bedroom door, two Chinamen with derby hats and Lugers came in. He fired, dropped one. The other swung a powerful left. Albert turned his head and caught the impact on his shoulder. He crumpled but knew they were after Anne and stumbled to his feet.

    The assassin turned and fired. The bullet glanced Albert’s shoulder and thudded into the wall. He grimaced in pain, switched the Browning to his left and raced into the bedroom. With his first shot he downed the Chinaman’s leg, his second burying into the carpet. As he jumped the Chinaman fired but misjudged his shot and paint flakes came down from the ceiling.

    He swung his fist and cracked the man’s nose. Albert threw his Luger across the room. The assassin tried to roll out so he punched him again in a boiling rage.

    “Who sent you?!”

    The Chinaman didn’t speak, stared at him with narrow eyes. Albert loaded the Browning, his voice hoarse and suit rumpled. The assassin slid away into darkness like his partner.

    Albert let his heart descend from the adrenaline, stood up, pulled Anne out from the closet. He didn’t want their eyes to connect and he could sense how scared she was.

    “I’m sorry, mother. This place isn’t safe.”

    The bird was gone. He pulled his mother close, took her tears one more time.
    _________________________________________

    In a telephone booth on West and 32nd, a shadow picked up the receiver and dialed. A light breeze was coming in from the northwest that ruffled his trench coat.

    “Head office. Detective Rush reporting.”

    “Glad to hear from you,” the voice on the other line said. “What’s new?”

    Albert looked around the dark avenue. Neon flickered from the nickelodeons four blocks down.

    “Just a warning. Boss Hammond’s on the loose.”

    “Are you sure?”

    Albert struggled to hold himself up to the booth. The gunshot wound was slowly draining his strength and he badly needed rest.

    “Absolutely. I’m coming in tomorrow. Bring the team.”

    He hung up, retraced the alleys back to a hotel. Once he was sure he wasn’t being followed, Detective Albert Rush slid into his room and dressed his wound. He thought of Anne and his heart crumpled. It always went on, didn’t it? He put the Browning under his pillow and fell asleep.

    –To be continued–

    1. Kerry Charlton

      Great start of an epic spy mystery. I loved your intro and it’s a great hook I believe you could easily go many chapters with this. The time period, early twentieth century is a fabulous era to write in.

      1. Bilbo Baggins

        Thanks, Kerry. I’m in the process of a second part. The time period is quite remarkable. It was a time of richness and poverty, when the Gilded Age was sliding towards the World Wars and the West was just starting to get industrialized.

    2. Jay "The Doc" Wilson

      Entertaining, but I must confess that I am very disappointed that you–of all people–didn’t write this story based on Klem’s title of the prompt:

      The Mommy: An Unexpected Story

      Having a name like Bilbo and your Hobbity stories in the past, how this one slipped passed you is beyond me! 😉

      1. Bilbo Baggins

        I’m not sure how I missed that one, Jay. Sounds pretty interesting to me… Bilbo’s mother tells him of the One Ring and its dangers… segue into Star Wars… Saruman: “No.. I am your father”… Bilbo: “No….!” *Falls into Mount Doom and is instantly vaporized* 🙂

        1. cosi van tutte

          I couldn’t help it. 😀 It was just too tempting.

          Gorga Sackville-Figgs-Bloomin-Scotch may have been married more than once, but she was a respectable hobbit. She never went on any adventures nor did anything unexpected. Her life was an unlocked book of plain words. She never knew treachery nor held a secret from her loved ones.

          Unlike other hobbits that one could mention.

          Gorga lived in a hole in the ground. It wasn’t a nasty hole filled with worms and ugliness. It was a hobbit hole filled with loveliness. Wooden beams. Clean stone floors. And a pantry that was always well stocked.

          I, Seemoria Teek, took care of everything for her. Gardening. Shopping. And so our lives went on in calm years and in dangerous times. Wars stormed past our door, but I stayed by her side, protecting her as best as I could.

          Until she reached the end of her days. I sat by her side even then.

          And I sat alone.

          Her husbands were dead. Her family had dispersed over Middle Earth. If it weren’t for me, her orphaned cousin, she would have died alone.

          And her secrets would have died with her.

          I looked down at her wasted frame and grieved for her as if she had already gone into the far west. I remembered a time when she seemed to be a diamond – bright and immortal. But that time had long passed. Now, she seemed to be a piece of elven bone china – thin and breakable. One wrong touch would shatter her.

          She opened her eyes to half-mast. “Seemoria.”

          “What is it?”

          “I have something to tell you.” She said each word with slow deliberation. Her voice wavered between strong and weak. “I never told…” She closed her eyes. “…never told anyone before. Never needed to.” She opened her eyes again. “Need to now. Long before you were born, your mother and I joined a group of travelers.” She stopped to rest.

          “Don’t talk. Just rest.”

          “It’s a long story and my time is short. But it’s a story that must be told. Your mother and I joined a group of travelers. We went on a journey. An adventure. We traveled so far from home. Your mother was strong and brave. I was not. But the journey opened my eyes to the beauty of lands far from here. White cities. Cavernous mines. Glittering gold. One piece of gold.” She closed her eyes. “Open the top drawer of my dresser. There’s an envelope inside. Bring it here.”

          I hastened to obey her. The right corner of the envelope was weighted as if a dragon coin lay heavy inside. I started to open it.

          Her voice rang with strength as she repeated, “Bring it here.”

          I obeyed. “What is it?”

          She opened her eyes wide. “It’s a precious thing. Your mother was brave and strong. She captured Sauron’s fancy. And the cruel Dark Lord who never did anything for anyone…” She paused to regain her strength. “The Dark Lord Sauron made her a ring. Open it.”

          I opened the envelope and looked inside. It lay in the right corner. A gold ring of great beauty. As soon as I saw it, I wanted it. I would do anything to keep it for me.

          “You are your mother’s daughter.” Weakness shadowed her voice. Weakness and sorrow. “She loved that ring with the same avarice I see in your eyes. But, my dear Seemoria, you must find the strength to take it to Mount Doom and destroy it.”

          “Destroy it? Are you mad? It is a fine thing.”

          “It is a precious thing. And it must be destroyed before it can destroy you.”

          I laughed. It was a jarring, cruel sound. “It is but a trinket. Only a ring. It cannot harm me.”

          “It will destroy you, pull you into dark obsession. Find worthy companions. Take it there.” She closed her eyes one last time. “Seemoria. Take it. Let it…” She fell into night’s long sleep, never to awake.

    3. Just JM

      When I read your first eight words, I knew I was going to be treated to one of your atmospheric historical pieces, and I dug right in. This was quite a thrilling ride, but I have to admit there were a couple of confusing spots in it. I wasn’t sure who all these men were or what had been done to the mother — but maybe you wanted to keep it a mystery for now. The reference to the other line during the phone conversation threw me off a little too. But I was certainly intrigued enough to read on and have all my questions answered. Good stuff, Bilbo. Looking forward to the continuation.

      1. Bilbo Baggins

        Thanks, JM. You know I love these atmospheric historical pieces… 🙂 Funny you mentioned the telophones, that was an error I picked up later. In 1906 I’m pretty sure they didn’t have phone booths so I’m going to change it to telegraph next time. Thanks for reminding me. As for all the other details, yes that will all be revealed in the second (and third) parts.

        1. cosi van tutte

          Hey, Bilbo!

          This was a very good story. I love how you depicted the mother-son relationship between the two main characters. It felt very genuine.

          My Internal Editor did have a nitpick about the action scenes: They seemed kind of confusing. For example, in this part

          “He swung his fist and cracked the man’s nose. Albert threw his Luger across the room. The assassin tried to roll out so he punched him again in a boiling rage.
          “Who sent you?!”
          The Chinaman didn’t speak, stared at him with narrow eyes. Albert loaded the Browning, his voice hoarse and suit rumpled. The assassin slid away into darkness like his partner.”

          He had the Chinaman right where he wanted him. Why would he let him slip away?

          Also, in this part:

          “The apartment door burst open just as recognition hit her eyes.
          Albert pulled out a 1905 Browning from his breast pocket. He wheeled her into the closet.
          “Stay here!” he bellowed.
          Albert ran out, thoughts tumbling out of his head. No time now. His back braced against the bedroom door, two Chinamen with derby hats and Lugers came in.”

          You say that the apartment door burst open. Then, Albert runs out of the room, bracing his back against the door and the two Chinamen come in. I don’t know. Maybe I’m just visualizing it all wrong or I’m being particularly dense, but where did the Chinamen come into? Was it the hallway?

          No offense intended. Just curious. 🙂

          Otherwise, great job!

          1. Bilbo Baggins

            Thanks, cosi. Any criticism is appreciated. No, you’re not being dense. As for your first example, the Chinaman died before Albert could coax any words out of him. He couldn’t have kept him alive, but he didn’t fire the gun either. It just happened. As for your second example, the apartment did have multiple rooms. While the two assassins went through the front room and into the hallway he had time to pull out his gun and get to the bedroom door. Thanks again.

    4. Reaper

      Intense and interesting Bilbo. I am looking forward to reading the continuation. I have to admit I got a little confused by some of the language on this, some of it was just the way words were ordered and as I got further I stopped having that problem. The biggest one for me was one of the ones Cosi mentioned. I was wonder why your MC threw his gun at the Chinaman, then I reread and was wondering when he got a Luger. It was just the his that made me think the MC was doing something with his own gun. Still, I think that is growing pains as you have mentioned trying to change up your style and go for shorter sentences. Any major change will cause some things like that, which we then have to work through. Great story and I definitely want the rest.

      1. Bilbo Baggins

        Thanks, Reaper. That one paragraph’s killing me right now, that word ‘his’ could be interpreted to mean either one of them. The assassin was the one who had the Luger and Albert grabbed it and threw it away. Thanks again for understanding. The continuation’s coming up today.

    5. Dennis

      I like the story and that it is in SF, which is near me. I did get confused as others, also with the mentioning of Anne, which I kept thinking was the mother, but then why would he call his mom by her first name. I look forward to more.

    6. lionetravail

      Love the period piece, Bilbo. This has a lot of that clipped sense of action of a Dashiell Hammett- love the flavor of the noir detective piece, and looking forward to the next one.

    7. Observer Tim

      Wow.

      This is truly fantastic, Bilbo. I hear there’s a part two up there somewhere and I have to go find it. It’s interesting how the scene shifted to black and white in my mind’s eye as I read. The mention of the robin threw me right into one of my favourite movies ever, and now I can’t get “Friends of Mr. Cairo” (the Jon Anderson song) out of my head. All in all awesome.

      My red pencil says “figurine” or “statuette” or “carving” rather than “statue”. As written a certain size is implied. Also, “pierced” or “holed” for the bullet in the leg; “downed” implies he ate it.

  35. Trevor

    Word Count: 993

    My Mother’s Secret

    The news of my mother’s fall hit me like a wrecking ball. I still remember when I got the call from the neighbor who found her after she’d been lying at the foot of the stairs for three hours. She was OK, but she broke both of her knees in the fall and had a lot of trouble moving around. Fearing for her safety, I decided that she would move in with me. The apartment I lived in wasn’t very large and it wasn’t in the best part of town, but the idea of my mother living alone in our big house turned dangerous with age put too much dread in my mind. Being the woman that she was, my mother insisted she would be fine on her own, but my mind was set.

    The first few weeks were a struggle. I had to leave my mother alone for hours while I was in class, so I was worried she’d get lonely or hungry or hurt while I was gone. The worry caused me to start doing poorly in even my best classes and I always felt like I was one second away from having a panic attack. But worst of all, I felt I was neglecting my mother, the woman who cared for me on her own since I was 3 and the only woman I loved with all my heart. I felt like a terrible son.

    One evening, after I had finished my classes for the day, I came home and started making dinner. My mother was in the living room, watching Wheel of Fortune on our small TV set. Suddenly, I heard her loud, spirited voice call for me. “Jamie, my back’s killing me and I need to lie down. Could you help me up?” She asked, her voice still filled with vibrancy and strength despite her age. Slowly, I helped her up from the recliner and laid her down on the mattress that I slept in so she could have my bed. As I laid her down, she placed her warm hand on my cheek.

    “Thank you so much for taking so much care of me. I love you so much.” Those words made me feel so warm inside. All that week, I’d been feeling like I was ignoring my mother and neglecting her. But all that time, she still loved me. It almost made me want to cry, but I managed to keep my emotions in check. I started back toward the kitchen, but my mother grabbed my hand to stop me.

    “There’s something I need to tell you. It’s something I’ve never told anyone.” I sit down on the edge of the mattress, wondering what big secret my mother is about to bestow upon me.

    ”When I was 18, I ran away from home. For the longest time, I was homeless and had to sleep on park benches and steal from grocery stores to survive. It was a horrible life. Then, one day, I was sitting on a bench outside a store when this guy came up to me. His name was Adam, and he was so handsome and charming. He told me that he knew I was in a rough place and that he could give me a job. I thought I was finally going to get a good life. But instead, I just went from one miserable life to another. You see, Adam was a pimp and he made me into one of his girls.”

    My eyes widened in shock. I couldn’t believe that my mother, the same woman who used to play Peek-A-Boo with me and helped me with my homework every night, was a former prostitute.

    “I was so desperate to get off the streets that I agreed to do those disgusting things. I was still miserable, but I was making enough money to afford this small apartment, so I didn’t complain. It went on like this for about a year…until I found I was pregnant.” My mother was looking at me with her tearful eyes. “You’re the reason I finally got away from Adam. Late one night, I packed my bags and hitched a ride out of town. From there, I went to this homeless shelter and they helped me while I was pregnant. They helped me get a nice house and I got a job working at a daycare center. I did all of that so that you could have a normal life, Jamie. And I never told you before because I was afraid you wouldn’t understand.”

    I wasn’t sure how to respond. All my life, I had never thought my mother could ever be capable to doing something like this. I thought I would be angry, but instead I felt guilty. My mother had lived through Hell when she was just a young woman and I had spent most of my childhood taking her for granted. I never truly appreciated having such a wonderful woman for a mother. I wanted to get down on my knees and beg her for forgiveness. But instead, I wrapped my arms around her, tears welling up in my eyes.

    “I’m so sorry I took you for granted, Mom. I love you more than anything in this world.”

    “It’s OK, Jamie. I always knew.” Those three words were all I needed to hear.

    After that, my mother convinced me to send her to a nursing home where she could be cared for by professionals. It took a few days and hundreds of Google searches, but I finally found the perfect nursing facility. The staff was great and it was on the coast, so it had a great view of the ocean. After making a visit to make sure it was a good facility, I moved Mom in as soon as I could. After that, I could finally breathe knowing my mother was being taken care of.

    She deserves the best after all she’s been through.

    1. Kerry Charlton

      Good story Trevor, her secret was really a punch in the head. Your MC acted in a marvelous way for her. We are not here on this earth to judge others. You brought that out beautifully in your story.

    2. Reaper

      This was a very nice story. Timeless in the sense of the realization of taking your mother for granted but powerful because of the story. A couple of things, keep watching the tense shifts, you have one where the MC sits down. In your first paragraph I would change she’s ok. Because it doesn’t fit with the caring person your MC is. She’ll live, or she’ll be alright would work better. She’s okay but she broke both of her knees sounds callous and indifferent and is not the feel you have going here other than that. In your fourth paragraph you have the MC restate that he was feeling guilty all week. I would remove that sentence and rework the ones around to work without it because you’ve already gone over how the MC was feeling earlier in much more detail and it doesn’t need a restating so soon. Keep these up, I liked this one a lot.

    3. lionetravail

      I really like this story, and your MC is wonderfully compassionate and hence someone easy for me to like. I also respect his mother a great deal, and so you did a very nice job with it.

      Style-wise, I have some suggestions on ways to tell the story- don’t think of them as corrections, but more as a different method to use.

      As an example, one of the final paragraphs is the one which begins “I wasn’t sure how to respond…” For me, the para was nowhere as compelling as when mom was telling her story, even though it was emotional. Show me how he feels rather than tell me, just as you showed me how mom felt.

      ie instead of that paragraph, try this conversation for the different ‘feel’:

      I sat there, stunned.

      “Say something Jamie,” mom said, hands clasped anxiously together.

      I struggled with my emotions, which were upside down, and sideways. Then, looking at the tears on her cheeks, the love in her eyes, and the sudden realization that what I was feeling couldn’t possibly hold a candle to what she had to be dealing with, all the confusion just slipped away. “I love you: you are the best mom, ever,” I said, and went to hug her.

      “You really mean that?” she said, blubbering into my shoulder. “Even after everything I told you?”

      “Are you kidding?” I said. “I’m the one who should be apologizing to you! I’m so, so sorry, because I realize now how I took you for granted! I love you more than anything in this world!”

      You told a very heartwarming story, Trevor- make every word count with the power of the experience, and your effectiveness as a writer will increase with every piece you do. Nice work.

    4. Observer Tim

      Very nice story, Trevor. I can really feel for both mother and daughter. This is positively beautiful. 🙂 🙂

      My only “negative” is that the comment about the daughter being in class gave me the wrong impression of their ages. Looking back from the end of the tale, either she’s in an extension/adult education class (in which case saying so would help), or she’s teaching it (in which case it would be clearer to say “in my job at school” or something like that).

  36. cosi van tutte

    My mom is sick. Again. She gets sick a lot. Dad says it’s because she has a delicate constitution. Con—sti—tu—tion. What does that mean? I learned all about the American Constitution in school, but I don’t see how that can apply to a person, much less how a Constitution can be delicate. I’d ask Dad, but he never answers my questions.

    Whenever she gets sick like this, Dad tells me to keep away from her. I don’t understand why. Is her sickness something that I can catch? What would happen if I did catch it? Would he keep me locked in my room too?

    Dad has all of the answers, but he won’t share them with me. But I want them all the same. So, I’ll steal them any way I can.

    “Cassiopia, I have to go to a meeting. Stay in your room. Be good.” He pats me on my head. It isn’t a loving pat. It’s like someone’s forcing him to touch me. It’s just a quick one touch pat and he’s out the door.

    So, here I am. All alone in our big two story house. The grandfather clock tsks me non-stop. I don’t know why grandfather doesn’t like me. Always tsking me like that when I haven’t done anything wrong. Maybe he knows what I want to do.

    Dad told me to stay in my room. So, I walk up the staircase. It’s big and long and it always takes me forever to get up to the top step. But I’ve seen Dad run down those stairs faster than a cat can jump. I wish I could run that fast. One time he ran down the stairs like he was scared. His face was all wide-eyed and white. I asked him about it later, but he told me that I was wrong. I was seeing things. I was imagining things. I was dreaming.

    I know what I saw. I saw my Dad and he was scared.

    Dad has all of the answers. That is true. I stop walking. But mom has answers too. I get back to climbing the mountain. It’s hard. My legs want to give up on me. But I won’t give up.

    I reach the top step and walk straight to my mom’s room. I touch the curved doorknob, but I don’t turn it. I haven’t seen my mom in seven weeks. What if she’s dead? Well. That’s silly. Why would Dad keep her dead body in her room? Why wouldn’t he put her dead body in the ground?

    I open the door. The room is dark. I think I have the wrong room.

    “Cassiopia.” It’s mom’s voice. “Come here, my darling.”

    So, it is the right room. But mom sounds all wrong. Maybe I’ve forgotten the sound of her voice.

    “It’s all right. Come in. I won’t hurt you.”

    I look back out in the hall. I’m kinda hoping to see Dad charging to me, but the hall is empty.

    “Cassiopia.”

    And her voice still sounds wrong. “Are you my mom?”

    “Yes. And I am a prisoner.”

      1. Kerry Charlton

        Great last line.I felt you led me reading and then I stepped into vast space. I have an idea, the father is a monstor, but I’m sure you’ll do a reveal for us.

        1. cosi van tutte

          Thanks, Kerry!

          Here is the continuation:

          I enter the room and close the door. It’s all dark inside, but it doesn’t bother me. It makes me think of something and that something makes me feel happy. I walk through the darkness over to mom and sit at her feet.

          “My dear Cassiopia.” Her voice fills me with longing. I want to hug her, but I stay on the floor. I don’t know why. “Let me tell you a story.”

          “Is it a good story?”

          “It is a true story. Once upon a time, there was a girl who lived under the sea. She swam with dolphins and sang with sea turtles, but she wasn’t happy. Her heart yearned for something, but she had no name for her yearning. She searched the seven seas, but she did not find it. She dove to the depths and asked the wise sea urchin to name what she longed for. The wise sea urchin did not name it. She pointed upwards, as far upwards as she could point. The girl swam up through the murky depths into the filtering zone into the radiant blue. She did not stop. She continued to swim upwards until her head broke through the water’s surface. There was no water up there for her to breathe. Her gills clenched shut on her.”

          Mom stops talking.

          “Did she die?”

          “She almost died. A human rescued her by removing her skin and transforming her. She could breathe air. She could walk freely. She forgot the sea. She found happiness with the man. She found love. She found what she yearned for all of those years.”

          “Is that the end?”

          “No, Cassiopia. It is the middle. The end is yet to come. For many years, she was happy. Then, she found her skin. Oh, she would have put it on and run away. But it wasn’t her skin anymore. No. Her husband was clever and cruel. He took her skin and changed it so she could never wear it again. Now, she remembers the sea. Her dreams are full of dolphins and deep water fish. In her dreams, she doesn’t walk. She swims. Oh, how she swims.”

          She stops talking again. I can’t see her in the dark. I wonder what she’s thinking, what she’s doing.

          “There are nights and there are days when the sea calls to her. Its voice is water and waves and gulls. Those days and nights she must stay locked up in her room. For if she leaves, she will run to the water as surely as the sea pulls from the shore. She tried to escape once. Her husband ran after her and stopped her. He brought her back here.”

          I can hear the secret truth hidden in her words. And all of my unspoken questions are answered. “Where did he hide your skin?”

          She spreads her hands on top of my head. Her touch is like a loud alarm clock, waking up the truth inside me. I know the answer to my question and I agree with Mom. Dad is horrible and sick and cruel. If he were here right now, I’d tell him all that and more than that to his face. But I don’t think he’d listen to me. It makes me hurt inside, but I wonder if he even sees me as his kid. It hurts even more to wonder if he sees me as a real human being. “What are you going to do?”

          “I am going to leave.” She grabs my wrists and pulls me up to my feet. “And you will help me.” She leads me over to the door. “Open it.”

          My heart is beating too fast. Dad isn’t home. No one else is here to burst into the room and stop us. This is my decision. My choice.

          “Take me back to the sea. It is where we both belong.”

          And, in the dark, I hear it. The shushed roar of water. The sea. Calling me home.

          I open the door and we leave.

          1. JM Somebody

            This made me think of the movie “The Secret of Roan Inish” which was based on an Irish legend about seals (not mermaids) who can shed their skin and become human. If you hide the seal’s skin it will be forced to remain human. I noticed your interesting choice of the name Cassiopeia too. In the. Greek legend, Cassiopeia was the mother who sacrificed her daughter to the sea.

            You did a great job with your MC’s voice, and the transformation from wide-eyed innocent to mermaid-on-a-mission, although abrupt was believable. The change in the husband though, from someone who made his mer-wife feel loved and happy to a cruel beast was somewhat unexplained. I’m sure word count or another installment could fix that.

            I loved the undercurrent (ha) of the ongoing search for that unnamed missing thing. She left the sea because she couldn’t find it there. For a while she thought she had found it with the human, but that turned out to be something else. So it’s back to the sea, but I sense the void will follow her. What a wonderful allegory, and a journey that I want to follow. More please… 🙂

          2. lionetravail

            Great fun, Cosi. I think you’ve hit the tone wonderfully for the little girl; precocious, but clearly young.

            What shines through the read for me is a sense of your laser focus while writing this, and a bubbling sort of enjoyment as the whole thing is unfolding. I hope it’s speaking to you in the same way- love the energy of it as well as the pacing and the feel of it.

          3. Dennis

            Your story moved well, had great pacing. I too wonder what the mother is really yearning for. Sometimes those are life’s unanswered questions.

    1. Reaper

      I know there was a fairytale, not the little mermaid, that had some similarities to this. That was just in the taking of the skin and hiding it thing though. The rest is all you. Very interesting and well written. You did a great job with the child voice. There were a couple of moments where she seemed older but they were very brief. My favorite bit of this was the kid not knowing how the US constitution could apply to a person. Please tell me you made that comment on purpose.

      1. cosi van tutte

        Thanks, Reaper! I’m glad you liked it.

        “My favorite bit of this was the kid not knowing how the US constitution could apply to a person. Please tell me you made that comment on purpose.” 😀 Yes, it was totally on purpose.

        1. cosi van tutte

          Thanks everyone for your comments. And here is the last part (from a different perspective):

          I get into my Civic Accord, close the doors, and close my eyes. The meeting had been nothing but unending jargon and blather and boredom. I just want to go home.

          But going home means that I must face all of my lies and wrongdoing. Nothing new there. I’ve faced them every day for the past several years.

          Callista.

          Joyous moments flash through my mind. Her smile. Her laugh. How she loved me. But then she found her transformed skin. She touched Cassiopia for the first time. There are still days of joy and peace and love, but then the sea calls her. And I must imprison her.

          I’m so sick of it. I want all of her days to be joy and peace and love. But I don’t think that’s possible.

          I want her. But I think I have to let her go.

          Cassiopia.

          I look at her and see only what I took from Callista. I touch her and see Callista’s true form. She wants me to pay attention to her, to love her, to answer her endless silly child questions. But I can’t. Her existence is pain to me. She is my unfixable mistake.

          Because of her, I can’t release Callista.

          And I don’t know what to do.

          I open my eyes, start the car, and go home.

          Cassiopia will greet me at the door as she always does. And I will avoid touching her as I always do. I will go upstairs and talk to my wife. As if talking can break the sea’s hold on her heart. But I always try. I always hope.

          I open the front door. Silence greets me. It is the silence of darkness and shadows. It is the silence of an empty house.

          “Cassiopia? Callista?”

          Silence.

          Maybe they’re asleep.

          I walk upstairs to Cassiopia’s room and open the door. Her blanket lies flat on the bed. She isn’t there.

          I try to squash my rising panic with rational thoughts. She’s in the kitchen. She’s in the bathroom. She’s in the basement. I walk towards my wife’s room, rationalizing the whole way over. I stop outside her doorway.

          The door is already open. She is gone.

          And I know where they’ve gone.

          I race out of my house and down to the beach. The soft sand sifts past my shoelaces.

          I scan the entire beach as I run towards the water. I don’t see them. I don’t see them! “Callista! Cassiopia!” My throat tightens up, but I keep calling their names.

          I run into the water, splashing my suit and ruining my dress shoes. “Callista! Cassiopia! Where are you?”

          The water is up to my knees. “Callista! Cassiopia!”

          I stop running as a wet furred head rises out of the water three feet in front of me. “Callista?”

          It looks at me with liquid brown eyes and simple curiosity.

          “Cassiopia?” I start to slosh towards it, but it dives under the water. And it is gone.

          1. JM Somebody

            Callista is a selkie! Thank you, Cosi, that makes me happy because I just loved that movie Roan Inish. Not sure if the selkies and the mermaids are related, but whatevs. 🙂 I love the mythology, and pretty much anything to do with the lure of the sea.

            “The love of the sea is a sickness.” Fiona’s grandmother said in the movie. (I went and watched it again on youtube after I read your story),

            You made the husband more human and understandable in this one. He is not a monster, but a grieving husband desperately trying to hold onto what he thought was his, although he is finally starting to come to terms with his loss. I liked the contrast of his humdrum, human life (Honda Accord, boring meetings, etc.) with the mythological drama going on at his house! This is marvelous and I think you could take it in so many directions.

          2. cosi van tutte

            Hey, JM!

            I just watched the Secret of Roan Inish on Youtube. It is such a good movie. I can see why you love it. And, just so you know, you are right. Callista is a selkie.

            Thank you for your comments. I tried my best to keep him from sounding like a horrible person. 🙂

    2. Observer Tim

      Wow! You took the Irish legend (thanks for identifying it for me JM) and made it real and human and heartfelt. 🙂 🙂 🙂

      The story was complete in the first two parts, but the third places a lovely human epilogue on it and manages to further heighten the sense of loss. Which is entirely appropriate for an Irish folk tale.

  37. timelessfloetry29

    hope this is easy to read. Rushing to post it before I head to work!.

    My mother seemed childlike as she sat in her old white rocker chipped by years of playfulness and wear and looked out at the setting sun. Usually I would be gone by now, but something about my mother enchanted me. Even in her small frame and hands worn out from years of taking care of others, I could see the depth of her strength in that gaze.

    I turned my attention to whatever it was she was staring at on the outside and wondered how much longer I would have with her. Almost sensing my thoughts my mother turned her head towards me and sighed deeply.

    “What a life I have lived and a life I have longed for.” she said between breathes in a silent almost whispering tone. “No matter where or what you do in life always remember to be good to yourself. I have lived most of my life taking care of others and never felt like I really had anybody lovin on me”.

    I could see the pain in her words transform into tears that freshly fell down her cheeks. My mother seldom cried. I knew then it was time to be silent. That whatever my mother was reminiscing on was closure. She needed for demons that had long ago haunted her to be put to rest.
    Almost instantly she turned towards me, lips quivering, hands shaking, almost like she wanted me to say something. I kept quiet. I looked back and watched her. I waited to see if maybe my mother could look into my soul and reach me. She turned away and starting playing with her fingers. A sign that my mother was deep in thought, the wheels in her mind were spinning.

    “All those years I waited for someone to love on me and aint nobody eva show up. My momma had to many kids to love on me. My daddy didn’t love my momma so he aint have no reason to love on me. Your daddy tried to love me but aint have it in him to love just only me. I reckon its hard lovin a woman that aint never been loved. Don’t know what it spose to feel like, look like, don’t know nothing!” she chuckled before she went on. “I pushed him to much, wanted to much, needed what nobody could give me but me.”

    I wanted to stop her. My mother’s pain was raw, it was too emotional, and it was too real. Yet I couldn’t open my mouth. My heart was waiting. I couldn’t deny the possibility that the time was finally here. Interrupting my thoughts my mother continued.

    “But then you came along, and you loved me more than I knew how to love myself. I aint need to pretend or show you how to love me. You went right on loving me whether I was angry, hurt, or even yelled at you for the sins of your father. You was a good boy. A good strong boy. And here you is now, all this time done past still loving on me. I just want you to know that I loves you and I thanks you. The best thing you can do for me now is fine someone to love on you hard as you been lovin on me. Imma be okay, you take care of yo self and love yo self. And I apologizes to you. Aint no child spose to love on they parent hard as you loved on me” and with that my mother slowly rose out of her chair and exited the room.

    I was left sitting on the edge of her bed. Our bed, the bed I had slept many nights to make sure my mother felt comforted, loved, needed. Tears of release streamed down my face. The more I wiped the more they came. Each breathe I took felt like freedom it felt like happiness. I reminisced on all the dates I had turned down, the girls I was afraid to bring home in case they made my mother jealous. My whole life had centered on her. And she had finally let me free. She had noticed. Above all my mother had finally learned what love was. That I had loved her unconditionally but mostly, that love was real.

    1. Reaper

      I thought the dialect was great. And this was bitterly sweet and so touching for a story of a very dysfunctional relationship. That the mother realized that was wonderful and made this even more emotional, powerful, and touching. I mostly noticed to’s for too’s but that was likely the work rush. Good job.

    2. lionetravail

      Dialect was wonderful. Only issue was a lot of use of ‘to’ when you meant ‘too’… which you could have spelled out because even dialectically (not even remotely a word but it could be) speaking, they sounds the same.

      The piece was very emotional, and lovely. The last paragraph is the only area for me which needs to be polished some- the intense feeling of the mother’s revelation in dialect in the second to last para was so amazing, that the conscious explanation and recognition of the MC took me out of the moment. I would love the last para to be as amazingly powerful and meaningful as the rest, and I would think simplicity would do that. Something like:

      I was left sitting on the edge of her bed, stunned. Then the hot tears came as I realized my mother finally- FINALLY- understood that she was, indeed loved, and my heart lifted like a song. She would be okay, and I, I would be okay as well. It felt like freedom for us both.

      Beautiful job with this- it makes me want to shed a few tears myself. 🙂

    3. Jay "The Doc" Wilson

      Good story, but it can be so much better if given time to get all the kinks out. I wasted all my steam last week giving detailed replies, but this feels rushed and isn’t as solid as it could be. (Kind of like mine right now) If you spend some time on your next story, a few days at least, I’ll bet you’ll have something pretty damn good on your hands! I only wish I got the chance to read this for the first time at full strength because then I probably would have gushed a little. 😉

      Thanks for sharing, Timeless!

    4. JM Somebody

      This was a triumph because the mother was finally able to let go of what was, as Reaper said, a really dysfunctional relationship. It was ironic that it was this disturbing dynamic that allowed her to finally understand what it means to be loved and to rise above her past deprivation. Still, I have to wonder what long-term damage she inflicted on her son. So I have conflicting emotions on this story — it was uplifting, yet still icky. It was a victory over said ickiness, yet I’m pretty sure there’s more ahead for the son. 🙂

      Your writing is very insightful and eloquent. I hope you will grace us with your poetic presence some more.

    5. Observer Tim

      This is a beautiful story, made even moreso by the excellent use of dialect to give the mother her voice. It sounds exactly right for someone on their way out talking to someone they love. 🙂

      My red pencil says “breath” is the noun (you did it twice). Also, in the last paragraph it might be better to use “set me free” rather than “let me free”. The second sounds like the son feels trapped.

  38. Manwe38

    I leaned down and handed her the cup. Inside, the tea was almost cold, but warmer than the surrounding apartment. She looked up at me with sunken eyes, and her lips parted.

    “Thank you.” Her hand shook as she washed down the pill. “This should help.”
    “Hopefully.” My throat burned at the sight of her. Gone was the long, wavy hair and proud smile I’d seen so many times as a boy growing up. In its place, eighty-five pounds of cancer-ridden flesh was all that was left of the one I called mom. “How long does it take?”
    “To kick in?” She shrugged. “Depends. Twenty minutes, at least.”
    I sat back in the old wicker chair and gazed across the worn wooden table. “I’ll stay with you ’til it’s time to lie down.”

    She met my stare, eyes glinting in the overhead light. “Actually, I was hoping we could talk.”
    “Of course. About what?”
    “Your father.”
    My mouth suddenly went drier than the cracked, peeling wallpaper. Dad–if I could call him that–had left us when I was just a baby. I knew nothing about him, had never even seen a picture. Over the years I had pressed her for answers, but she’d always changed the subject, insisting that some things were better left unsaid. Even now, as a thirty-five year-old man, the person who had donated half my DNA was as much a mystery as what happens when we die. “Okay,” I said. “What about him?”

    She sighed, the air rattling through congested lungs. “Remember when I told you he left on a boat?”

    I nodded. “For Germany, right?” According to the story, he had left on a trip, ostensibly for business, but then news of the arrest came. I was fifteen before I’d learned the truth: that he’d been dealing in stolen property. Or so mom said. It seemed easier to believe than the alternative–that there was another woman, that dad didn’t love us anymore. Either way, life had gone on these past twenty years without him, as they would once mom was gone. One day, he’d get out of prison, but I didn’t care. Not one bit.

    “Yes,” she said, “but there’s more.”
    “Surprise, surprise.”
    “No.” She coughed into the crook of her arm. I reached for a tissue, but she shook her head. “You don’t understand.”
    “I’m listening.”
    “Dad wasn’t arrested, he went undercover.”
    “What?”

    “The property he was dealing, it once belonged to Jews whose families were killed during the Holocaust. He used it to infiltrate a neo-Nazi group just outside of Bonn.”

    I furrowed my brow. “So dad was a cop?”
    “An agent, yes.” Her voice shook, whether from the drugs or emotion, I couldn’t say. “With the CIA. They–the Nazis–were going to assassinate the German Chancellor. He stopped it.”

    My heart thudded in my chest. So that was why he left. But still didn’t explain-
    “How come he didn’t come back.”
    Her eyes filled with tears, and a cold fist gripped the pit of my stomach. “They killed him, didn’t they?”
    “Not exactly.” She cleared her throat. “He used a device. Inside his chest. No-one survived.”
    “He suicide-bombed them?”
    “Yes.” Now the tears fell in glistening streams. “Disguised as a pacemaker, or so they said. It was the only way to fool those bastards.”

    I sat back and closed my eyes. The room was spinning, but I didn’t care. All these years, I’d thought dad a heartless philanderer, a man who’d abandoned his family for the thrill of a carefree life. I was wrong. My lids flew open, and I stared at my mother. “Why now?” I asked.

    “You know why,” she said. “It’s my last chance. To come clean. And now you know.”

    Now I knew. My father, a man I had spent my entire life hating, was not only a hero, but a saint. I’d never get the chance to tell him I loved him, to say the words out loud, but if he was somewhere, anywhere, then maybe he’d be able to see the inside of my heart, and the change that had just occurred with mom’s words. It would never erase the loss that I felt, but finally, after all this time, it would allow me to heal.

    One day.

    1. Kerry Charlton

      A heartfelt story of a father who laid it down for his country. Some OSS files sat for two generation before being made public. For all we know, we may have been witness to just the tip of the iceburg. Your flow was good and carried the reader though the story easily.

    2. Reaper

      Flow was great, the story engaging. I still can’t decide if I believe mom or if she is trying to heal an old wound. Either way I loved her for that. Beautiful characters here. The fact that you used the word suicide bomb was brilliant because it leaves the image of a hero but also a bad taste associated with anyone who would kill on that level. That correlation was brilliantly done.

      1. Manwe38

        No, it was real.

        The one thing I’m NOT sure of is whether or not the information was still classified; ie mom kept silent all these years out of fear of being arrested and leaving her son all alone, or if she was afraid of him not believing her, and waiting until the final moments of her life to come clean.

        Either way, thanks for reading!

    3. Observer Tim

      Very nice story, Manwe. I very much like the tale of “redemption” for the father. I think every kid with an absent parent dreams of this as a “good” scenario (except for the death part). 🙂 🙂

    4. JM Somebody

      I agree with Reaper — something about the use of the word “suicide bomb” gave me a mixed message. A suicide bomb is a terrorist tactic. I wouldn’t think that CIA agents would blow themselves up. So it left me wondering about the veracity of the Mom’s tale. This mother is a tough one to figure out. The original story that she told her son, about the father going to prison, was not believable to the son, so he decided instead that the father had abandoned them. So her truthfulness is certainly questionable even in the son’s mind. Maybe this was just the first story she told him that he could live with, whether or not it was true. I think this is really a story about stories — the ones we tell ourselves and others — and how we use fiction to convey some kernel of truth. Affecting and thought provoking, Manwe.

  39. Observer Tim

    HEATHER

    It began like any other day. I lifted Mother’s frail body out of bed and set it in her chair, then wheeled her over to the window. She smiled up at me.

    “Thank you, Heather. You’re a good girl.”

    I blushed. Mother didn’t normally give compliments.

    “Heather, I’m going to tell you a story. It’s from fourteen years ago, before you and your sisters were born.”

    “Yes, Mother.”

    “It was my first year at college. I could see where the world was broken and how to fix it, but it was too much to do alone. I developed parasites that I could attach to the brains of other students to influence their behaviour.”

    I listened closer. This had never been mentioned during our training.

    “The first stages of the operation were a mixed success. Many subjects rejected the creatures, including all the males, but I wound up with twenty girls who were conditioned to follow my plans.”

    “That is when they came to my attention. A group of four girls a boy who called themselves GUTC. They thwarted my every attempt to nudge the world toward peace, all under the direction of their diabolical leader: Rebecca Larson.”

    “Plan after plan was disrupted by these hooligans. The Alien Invasion, the Police Women, the Princess Gambit, and far too many others: all ruined!”

    “Mother, you’re getting agitated.”

    “Of course. Thank you, dear. Eventually I had to alter my plan totally. The new operation suffered no interference because it was too subtle even for them. I found a ‘boyfriend’ and became pregnant. At the same time, several of my followers agreed to be surrogates for my seed. That is how you and your sisters were born.”

    The little hairs on the back of my neck rose. Why was she telling me this?

    “Heather, it is time for your mission.”

    “My… my mission?” I was too young to have a mission! My training was nowhere near complete!

    “Calm down, child. This is happening now for a very specific reason.” She touched a stud on her chair and a compartment opened; it held an old-style cellular phone.

    “This is a time travel device. It’s pre-set to take you back to Rebecca Larson’s middle year of Junior High. Your mission is to get as close to her as possible and, when the opportunity arises, kill her.”

    “How will I know when?”

    “Trust your instincts. You’re being retconned in, so you will appear with a history and memories appropriate to the time, as well as recognition of your target. Now go.”

    I activated the phone without thinking. I was suddenly in a guest bedroom with the sun shining brightly in the window, reflecting off the new-fallen snow outside.

    I looked out and saw my uncle, Paul Feegleman, being threatened by a hairy creature with a snow shovel. Three other beasts were in the driveway facing off against five girls and a boy. One of the girls was Rebecca Larson.

    I fell instantly in love with her.

    1. TwistedLyric

      Amazing. I am hooked and I have to agree with Manwe, Heather has pretty much committed the worst ‘sin’ so to speak for an assassin of any kind. I am desperate to know more! 🙂

    2. cosi van tutte

      Great job, OT! This whole story made me smile.

      I think Heather’s mom falls under “The villain never sees himself as a villain”. She even has minions. So awesome! 😀

    3. Observer Tim

      And here’s the other story; I had to shorten the ending a bit. The link is in the epilogue.

      YETIS

      “Nelson, calm down! Send me a picture.”

      Moments later the image was on my phone. Four shaggy humanoids were facing down a middle-aged man. They were armed with shovels, waving them about as though they were spears.

      “They’re yetis, Nelson. Like cavemen with bad tempers. Go outside and keep an eye on them, but don’t get too close. I’m calling GUTC.”

      “Sure thing, Becky. Hurry, okay?”

      I sent a broadcast to the girls, giving the emergency code and Nelson’s address. That’s my job; I’m the organized one. The other members of the Girls’ Ultra-Technology Club all follow my lead.

      I ran the two blocks to Nelson’s place full tilt. When I got there he was at the foot of his driveway along with Jan. There was no way she could have beaten me there, so I assumed she and Nelson were together.

      The yeti were adolescents, about our height but built like Muppet linebackers. One of them had backed the man up against his garage door and was menacing him with a large plastic snow shovel. The other three were aggressively shoveling his driveway.

      The yetis had just finished up when Lanie and Sonya arrived. Sonya was out of breath, though I could tell she was starting to lose the weight that made her an outcast. I wish my acne would be so cooperative.

      “Sonya, talk to them. Find out what they’re doing.”

      Sonya pulled down her hood and started dancing and making faces at them. The yeti ‘language’ is mostly gestural; she has the knack. A half-minute later she turned back to me.

      “They’re lost and confused. They worked out that people would give them food if they shoveled driveways, so they want some berries now.”

      “Okay. Nelson, tell your neighbour what’s up.”

      Nelson shouted, “They want some berries, Mr. Feegleman!” I could have done that.

      Then I noticed Christy whispering to Lanie. Christy’s a super-genius, but she doesn’t talk much and then only to Lanie. This seemed to be longer than usual.

      “Christy says they’re from the Foam, but their world has vanished.”

      Nelson looked blankly at me so I filled him in.

      “Short form: the universe is like a big mug of root beer; other dimensions are like the foam on top. Each bubble is a universe of its own, and they appear and disappear all the time. Sometimes things switch bubbles, like these guys.”

      “What makes you think that?”

      “We’ve been there. You’ve been there; the ice castle is in the Foam.”

      We met Nelson when he somehow got transported to a bubble created by one of Christy’s devices.

      “Okay, so what do we do with them?”

      An idea popped into my head, and as hard I tried I couldn’t talk myself out of it. I sighed.

      “We send them to the Ice Palace.”

      Nobody else had any ideas, so that was it. Sonya went over to talk to them.

      Epilogue:

      Heather Young. I mulled the name over in my mind a few times. She’s a blonde-haired blue-eyed dancer type with perfect skin. Why did she just walk up and introduce herself to me?

      And why do I like her? She’s every girl that ever teased or bullied me wrapped up in one.

      And why does Christy look at her strangely?

      This merits further study.

        1. Observer Tim

          The Foam is my take on how to have alternate universes without those pesky conservation of energy issues. It’s been involved (not by name) in several of my stories and will definitely be coming back.

    4. Tea_and_a_book

      It’s never good for someone in my – ahem,I mean THAT – line of work to fall in love with target 😉 Heather needs to finish her training… Fabulous story, all together. I loved the other story too 🙂

      1. Observer Tim

        I think Heather would really like to finish her training; unfortunately, she’s on her mission now and the only way home (that she knows of) is to wait almost twenty years. The only thing Heather (and Mother) can hope is that the 10-12 years of initial training gave her enough to succeed.

    5. Dennis

      I may be missing something but I think that falling in love with Rebecca is part of the plan to get close to her. I like the continuation of the GUTC’s. Seems like there could be endless stories with them.

      1. Observer Tim

        That is indeed very possible, Dennis. Mother has been planning this for quite some time.

        There are indeed endless possibilities for the characters. When I created GUTC I was thinking of a cross between Tom Swift (Jonny Quest), and the Baby-Sitters’ Club.

    6. Reaper

      Now I guess I need to go find this other story. Nicely written, as always, Tim. This is very good and I am a little disturbed by how the first question of a preteen girl is how she will know when to kill the girl. Up until then I was kind of rooting for Mom.

  40. Reaper

    Just a little bit over on this one. This is harder to cut down because it is actually a very rough passage from the book I will be working on once I finish my current one. The story is my oldest and very involved and actually from a series I will eventually put out. I tried to make this story self contained with hints to the larger story but it may be confusing for all of that. If so I apologize in advance but promise it will make more sense when cleaned up and part of the larger whole. I also took great liberties with the prompt but this was the only thing that came to mind.

    Moonlight Tarot – The Crone

    Mary was paranoid. Swift thought his mother might be suffering from early onset dementia. A woman in her forties should not have to face such a thing. Her fears had something to do with Albatross wanting to hurt her.

    Albatross, the younger, had run a little mad since his father died bloody. Why would that be directed at Mary? Swift hated the man in a distant way. Albatross controlled Darkling Trail, better known as the Corp, and thus most of the world. Yet Swift did not know why the most powerful man on the planet would wish harm on his mother. The two had never met. Mary had to be insane.

    So Swift thought until he entered the house that afternoon.

    Mary lay on the floor in a pool of blood, clutching an outdated cell phone in her hand. One look told him she had been cut but they did not account for most of the crimson stained floor. No, the placement of the largest pools of red informed him his mother had been violated. Hot tears stung his eyes as he rushed to her. He told her to hold on. He would get her to a doctor.

    “Shit on that. Get me to that chair.”

    She spoke through a scream roughened throat. Her voice held a laugh despite her condition. Even in her moment of dying she would keep a brave face for her son. Swift was a good son, even if he was not the best human being. He did as he was told, but he argued.

    “We need to get you to the hospital.”

    “You know who controls them. Same man who sent thugs to do this. Shut up Johnathan. I have a story to tell and not much time.” Still she clung to the phone like a lifeline.

    “What is it mama?”

    Swift held back his tears, rage, burning lust for revenge as he watched his mother die. He saw her wrestle with everything inside, trying to come up with the words. There was so much that even thinking of it took too long. It robbed her of the ability to pass on much. When she knew she had wasted all but the last seconds she smiled at him and shook her head. Her breathing was labored, voice soft. Her arm drooped and the phone fell to the floor.

    “You… don’t know half of it. Check… garage… gifts…. From him.” With that and two minutes difficult breathing she was gone.

    Swift scooped up the phone once she was no more. He had never been allowed in the garage, not even after he was old enough to drive. Looking at the phone he saw she had a contact, labeled simply I.

    I? Ian? Was she calling his father? The man who had abandoned them when Swift was too young to remember? Was that who these gifts were from? If so he did not want them.

    Swift opened the door to the garage and met his destiny. Three things that would change his life waited. They called to his soul. Swift found he did want them. They would let him fight, let him avenge his mother. They might even give him a chance at freedom.

    1. Manwe38

      Whoa, this is powerful stuff, Reaper. I like it, and want to see more.

      You did an excellent job of setting up the motivations of your MC. Now, I’d like to see where he goes next.

      1. Reaper

        Thanks Manwe38. I’m trying to finish up the current writing project to get to this one but other projects are eating time too. After the reactions this week I’ll have to work faster.

      1. Reaper

        It’s funny. Originally the name was Swift but he needed a first name, so I decided on Johnathan. I have been working on this story on and off since high school and lost my information on it no less than three times. It was years later that I was talking to someone about it and they said “Why did you name your main character after the guy who wrote Gulliver’s Travels?” I was like, uhhhhh. I didn’t. But by then the name was stuck and I couldn’t bear to change it.

    2. cosi van tutte

      I agree with Manwe. This is a very powerful story with very strong emotions. The last paragraph begs for a continuation. 🙂

      My Internal Editor, however, had one minor complaint: The first paragraph doesn’t flow quite right. It feels like it’s out of order or something. Maybe it can be merged into the second paragraph? Other than that, my IE is satisfied.

      1. Reaper

        Thanks Cosi. You’re right, it doesn’t flow well. It was originally about twice as long and had more explanation in it. I cut it down and should probably have cut it. This scene is about a third or so of the way through the book, maybe a bit less. I was trying to used that paragraph to give a very brief view of the story so far but ended up sacrificing it to word count. In the book it won’t be there.

      1. Reaper

        Darkling Trail is a corporation in this world, which ends up being post apocalyptic, so it might be right up your ally. It was run by the “father” of the character listed here who hired monsters before they became about half the world’s population. He was a bad bad man who honestly believed he was doing good for the world by trying to oppress it. One of the groups he did business with the world of fairy so I gave his company a faeish sounding name, but one that would associate to winter.I actually have the story that sets up this world and the birth of Swift and Albatross written and am trying to edit it and cut out words. I’m not going to query it until I have the second book done.

      2. Reaper

        Oh, and I forgot to add this Bilbo. In this story the biggest corporations take over for governments. They slowly buy them out so after everything happens they exist but the governments no longer do. That hasn’t happened at this point in this story though. Darkling Trail is the most powerful and bullying company out there. It basically runs what was once the US, Canada and most of Mexico and has strong influence over the rest of the world.

      1. Kerry Charlton

        A classic Reaper, full blown, intriging and powerful. Sometimes I don’t understand how your computer can hold up under the power and tension you create in your stories.

        1. Reaper

          Maybe that’s why three of them have died on me in a year? I’m back on XP and office 2007 because of it. Damn my power! 🙂 Thank you Kerry, seriously, that means a lot to me.

    3. JM Somebody

      Wow, there is so much that you’ve only hinted at here — a dystopian world controlled by Albatross and his thugs, a mysterious missing father figure who may or may not turn out to be the key to the MC’s salvation, the as-yet unexplained tarot imagery that I’m sure is going to turn out to be something interesting. I also love what you did with the names, although I can’t guess yet what all of them mean.

      This has your signature style, which is very dense and layered with meaning. So much intensity in so few words. Even though I hate it when the mother gets offed at the beginning of the story (curse you, Walt Disney), I would have no choice but to read on with this one!

      1. Reaper

        Thank you JM. I was trying not to give too much away. Dystopian and post apocalyptic, yup! With some horror elements. I’m not sure if Ian will ever show up in this story other than in The Last Cowboy, which is the book about him. A lot of the tarot imagery is that many of the characters live a gypsy or biker lifestyle and a little later in the story the world becomes flooded with magic. Also the war for the world contains four sides instead of two. The white and the black being good and evil and the red and the grey which are chaos/change and order or stagnation. So the sides are kind of built into the tarot suits.

        It is funny that you mention the naming because in this series that is very important to me. Swift was kind of random, he came to me as a whole character, minus the first name. Most of the characters are creatures of magic and have names that fit what they are. Jeremy Albatross, the father of the one mentioned here, was named because he is a weight around the neck of the world. Later on people start changing their names to fit the world and what they are and the younger Albatross actually becomes known as King Dollar. It is a name given to him by those who hate him that he embraces readily. Mary’s name before she married Ian Swift was Mary Margaret Street, which as she is the mother of the hero of the white is a play on two biblical Marys. The obvious one and Mary Magdalene, yes, I actually punned of Mary Magda Lane. Part of that is because she starts out as a prostitute and then becomes the mother of the revolution and a very strong and awesome woman. I know, I’m a terrible person. In the last Cowboy the characters have names chosen for their meanings in the culture the person was descended from.

        On the plus side this isn’t the first chapter and she’s in the middle third of Last Cowboy, so not completely uncle Walt. Thank you so much for the amazing compliments.

    4. Observer Tim

      And they were…?

      This is a colossal, vicious, and very well-written tease, Reaper. It is obviously part of a much larger and more detailed story, just as you told us. I feel as if I’ve been dropped into the middle of something huge and complex. Now all there is to do is plead with the author and wait for the rest of the story to come out. 🙂 🙂

      1. Reaper

        And they were which now? Sorry, your question lost me Tim. Thank you for that. I just finished and edit on one of the two things I was editing. The other is the story about Swift’s father, which I am in part mining for information. However, that does mean I should have a little more time to focus on the other projects, the time that is not eaten up by beginning to query anyway.

          1. Reaper

            Oh! Yes, that’s because it’s a pretty involved explanation that would follow naturally but in all detail be as long as this story. The three items are a motorcycle and two handguns with their old style western belts. They are basically six shooters except that each has seven chambers and hold very large bullets. That’s the simple explanation, and while avoiding the very long one… The guns are part of a larger set designed to keep humanity safe and can kill anything, even those things with particular weaknesses only and greatly enhance the gun fighting skills of their wielder. The bike is something Ian and Mary stole from an employee of Darkling Trail and it became a symbol of their resistance when, in true fairytale style, their mystical compatriots placed gifts of blessing on it. A diminished version of that same group did the same thing to Swift right after he was born.

  41. Amaria

    Apologizes for being 15 over the limit:

    Mother had been ill for a while now. The cough has worsen and her voice hoarser than before. Yet she still wanted to pretend that all was well, insisting on sitting in her favorite chair instead of the bed, despite the pain ravishing her body. I suppose it was her way of snubbing her nose at cancer.

    As I sat her in the chair, she looked up at me with a light in her eyes that I had not seen in many years, and said, “You are such a dutiful child, so unlike your sister and brother.”

    I smiled. “I suppose. You taught me well.” She answered, “It seems to me that you are the only one who remembers my lessons.”

    She turned her head toward the window in her room, looking at the trees just blossoming in the Spring air. “I never told you about Havana,” she whispered softy.

    I turned from the bed that I was making and said, “Havana? I never heard you say anything about such a place.”

    Mother responded, “No, I suppose I would not have. I was in Havana with my cousins for a brief vacation. It was such a lovely place back then. The sun was so beautiful when it set upon the ocean. The taste of fresh tropical fruit every morning and the music at night. Ah, but none of those things were as beautiful as him.”

    That made me stop in my tracks. Mother never talked about any man other than my father.

    “He was such a gentlemen in his fine suit and Panama hat. He had olive skin, tanned by the tropical sun and mesmerizing brown eyes that could put any woman under a spell. I met him in one of the dance clubs. He was a great dancer and made me feel so special, especially since I was such a terrible dancer.” She laughed. “He was the first man to make me feel beautiful. Such a pity that it was not meant to last, but I always held him close to my heart.”

    I did not know what to say, so I said nothing. After a few moments of silence mother quickly changed the subject to breakfast and I, the dutiful daughter, went about bringing her morning meal. We did not mention Havana or this man for the rest of the day, though it kept springing up in my mind. My mother was a woman who always shrived for perfection. She was the one who dragged us to church every Sunday morning and preached purity before marriage to me and my sister. To think that this woman may have had a fling with a Cuban gentleman was a bit jarring. But I suppose we all have skeletons in the closet.

    That night I helped my mother into bed. I looked down at her brittle form, now slumbering with the help of pain medication. She looked as if she was off in a dream, Havana perhaps. Then I suddenly realized something. She never told me the gentleman’s name. Perhaps she will tell me tomorrow.

    1. lionetravail

      I liked this a lot, Amaria. One or two constructive comments about the first paragraph:

      First, think you mean ‘ravaging’ not ‘ravishing’. Second, as the intro to the story, it’s okay; I find the style of telling us the history to be less effective than what you jump to in the second paragraph which is much more compelling. You could probably put all your first paragraph in interaction of your MC and mother like the rest, and let your natural storytelling take over and make the first paragraph as silky smooth as the rest.

      Example: get rid of the first para entirely. Then begin: As I sat my mother in her favorite chair, I could feel just how much her long battle with cancer had carved the weight from her. “Better than the bed?”

      The expression on her face belied her reply. “Much.”

      “Will you let me give you a pain pill?” She shook her head. “You’re so stubborn, Mother,” I said.

      She looked up at me with a light in her eyes….

      (It shows the story, and the loving interaction, and the pain of the characters- physical and emotional- rather than just reporting it. I tried to echo the beautiful emotions you use throughout, but it’s more just an example of how I think you can make your intro as powerful and lovely as the rest of it)

    2. Reaper

      This was very sweet and pretty. I liked it a lot. The two things I noticed were a tense shift early on, and a daughter quote with a tag line running into a mother quote. That one threw me off and I had to stop to read it a couple of times to get what you were saying. Still, it is a wonderful piece that I enjoyed very much.

    3. Observer Tim

      This is very beautiful, Amaria. I like that the story, while it raises many questions, is a soft and loving one. 🙂

      My red pencil notes that, in the second-last paragraph, the phrase should be “had always shriven” (meaning to repent and confess). Or did you mean “strove” or “had always striven”? Either way would work, and the point is minor compared to the power of the story.

  42. Colonel Plops

    Scar Stories

    The apartment was small, a lot of tight spaces that came with annoyingly common situations where everyone would meet at “mom’s house” for breakfasts or dinners or over the holidays. I never even considered it mom’s house anyway, after all, my older brother and I split the payments (despite the fact that he usually missed his and asked me if I could get it and he’d pay me back next week (which of course, never happened)). Now that my mom was so sick I stopped showing up to the house for celebrations when everyone else did. I tried to play it off as stress and depression (note that I used the word “tried”, indicating that, despite my attempt, my family didn’t believe me. Soon, my mother stopped visiting my father at his nursing home. I figured if she was that sick, whatever her illness was would surely kill her.I now stopped once a week to check up on dad (eyes always closed, breath always heavy with a faint smell of cigar smoke (was it really possible that smell had stayed that long?), his oddly crooked left arm, and a faint stubble on his normally clean-shaven face). Such visits involved nothing I minded. I waved to the pretty nurse at the desk upon entering, went and sat on a couch (as far away from the cigar smoke breath as I could) and read a magazine, then left, waving to the nurse again. My dad never required any assistance (and if he did, he’d much prefer that pretty nurse do it over me). I used these weekly visits as an excuse not to help my brother and sister with mom. She would prefer her sons help over any nurse and would definitely require the aforementioned help. So, I had managed to not go into that little apartment (which I continued to pay for, despite the fact that my mom probably should’ve gone into a nursing home too) for almost a year. And I was happy with this routine. That is where the true story begins, me (happy with the routine mind you) entering that house for the first time in over a year (nearing two, I realized as I stepped in to see that Christmas decorations littered the house).

    “Mom!” I called out. The close walls stopped my voice from carrying at all. Ii didn’t expect an answer. Instead I walked farther into the house until I heard the television running in her bedroom. As I entered she pulled her green eyes away from the television.

    “Henry?” she asked, squinting at me and moving her hand around for her glasses. I decided to spare her the trouble of finding out they were on her head.

    “No mom, Henry couldn’t make it, he’s going on a business trip with his family.”

    “Why didn’t Vanessa come?” I tried to mask the fact that it bothered me mom would expect Vanessa to take Henry’s week before me, despite the fact that she was the one who called me and complained how it wasn’t her week so she wasn’t going and explained that since I had never went I should be the one to have to go.

    “Vanessa couldn’t make it mom,” I lied.

    “Well,” my mom put her head back on the pillow and her eyes back on the screen, “I’m glad you could stop by.” Then, there was silence. I couldn’t just sit and read a magazine like with dad, so I just stood awkwardly in the doorway until finally mom said,

    “Come and sit Danny, I don’t bite,” without even taking her eyes off the television. I went and sat in the chair next to her bed. As opposed to my dad’s smell of cigar smoke my mom smelled like perfume. But not in a good way, in an overwhelming way, like she had taken several different perfumes and used the entire bottle on herself. Despite the smells strength I didn’t mind it, it was exactly what home had smelled like as a kid when she used to stand and walk, wafting the smell everywhere the went. Suddenly she turned the television off. I was surprised to see she’d gotten the remote and wondered if it had been in the bed with her. Then, she turned to face me.

    “Speaking of bite, what’d you think of getting me to my favorite chair and making something for us to eat?”

    Her favorite chair was one in the living room, one with a tacky old-school pillow with purple and red flowers on it. It was a dark wood that, at the top, curved into flowers themselves. She always took the pillow and used it under her head. In the kitchen I found almost nothing in the refrigerator and realized that both Henry and Vanessa were probably to “busy” to ever go shopping for her. Finally, I found some cheese and cut the mold off, then cut it into cubes. By the time I was done the cheese was hardened but I didn’t mind. On my way to bringing the plate back to my mom I popped a piece of cheese into my mouth. It was horrible. I set it into her hands anyway. As I sat down into the couch across from the chair I could tell she was turning her nose up at the cheese and then setting it on the table. Instead, when I was sat down, she was turning her nose up at me.

    “Daniel, I’ve tried to be nice enough about this but clearly you don’t care,” she said as the wrinkles turned up around her eyes. I sat there, somewhat shocked. My mother had never been one to get mad, about anything. I didn’t think I had ever heard her call me Daniel, even when she was mad at me, I was Danny. But her look remained.

    “You’ve never cared. You’ve always been the most ungrateful son I could ever ask for and now I am done!” she threw the plate to the ground. It shattered and the pieces of cheese bounced and stuck to the hard wood floor. “I need to tell you a story Daniel,” she wiped some of the tears and her wrinkles became smoother (or at least as smooth as they could get).

    “Mom…” I began, trying to calm her down,

    “No Daniel, just listen,” she interrupted. “When I met your father, he owned a bike. I thought he was amazing, the way his black hair blew in the wind, the stories he’d tell about him and his biker gang getting in fights and that’s where he got his black eye or his scar or this burn mark or whatever kind of injury he had that week.”

    I rolled my eyes, I’d heard this story so many times.

    “Well, soon I approached him one day, when he was outside the café I was working out, leaning against his motorcycle. He was holding his left arm weird and rubbing it. I told him I liked his bike.

    ‘Thanks,’ he replied simply, more quiet than his normal, boastful self. I tried to get his attention again.

    ‘Did something happen to your arm?’ I asked.

    ‘Yeah,’ he said, again, quickly and quietly.

    ‘How’d you get that one?’ I asked, eager to get him telling one of his usual wild stories. Instead he turned to me and grabbed me with his right arm,

    ‘You wanna know what happened to my arm?!’ he shouted, pushing me against the wall, ‘my dad beats me, that’s where all of this comes from,’ he pulled his shirt sleeve down revealing bruise after bruise running up his arm. ‘My arm is broken!'”

    I listened to every word. This was not the story my father and mother had told us as kids.

    “I was scared, but, well you know your own mother Daniel. I looked your father in his watery eyes and said,

    ‘Let’s run away together.’ He released his grip on my arm, and pulled his shirt sleeve down.

    ‘Really?’ I nodded my head at him. Well, next thing I know we were on that motorcycle and leaving.”

    I suddenly thought of my fathers left arm. It must’ve healed wrong from that. I thought of the way he never wore short sleeves. He must’ve never been a fan of showing off the unexplainable bruises that littered his arms. Suddenly, I came back to reality. I looked at my mother.

    “What does this have to do with me?” I found myself asking in a way that sounded much more rude than I had intended. My mom laughed.

    “Your father hit me Daniel. He hit me and it’s a miracle he didn’t hit you guys. I hid it. I tried to act happy and nice. As far as I’m concerned I’ve done pretty well. But I’m scared Daniel. I’m scared that you have to much of your father in you.”

    “What do you mean?”

    “I mean I’m happy you’re not married yet,” my mother answered. It didn’t sound like my mom, who had done a good job of fooling us into believing she had always been nice.

    “Do Henry and Vanessa know this?” I asked her.

    “I’m not worried about Henry and Vanessa.”

    Suddenly, without thought, I stood, stepping over the plate and cheese. She was right. I didn’t care. I didn’t and didn’t think I could learn how. I leaned, kissed her wrinkled, tear streaked cheek and walked out of the cramped apartment.

    1. TwistedLyric

      This is a gripping read in a horrific kind of way. It flows extremely well and is an easy and interesting read with a story that grips you from start to end. The horrific thing for me is the lack of care from the character but you wrote it so well you forget all about the horribleness he shows to his mother by the end. If I had any critiques it would be that the first paragraph could be better broken up. Overall an amazing piece. 🙂

    2. lionetravail

      Powerful take. I think the first paragraph needs more than just breaking it up- it needs to be slimmed down a lot from unnecessary detail. I think you did well with this, Colonel, but I’m not sure what to really feel or think about the MC- most of the power of this story seems to me to be in the mother’s retelling of it, and I’m just not sure I get the connection clearly between the MCs father as a wife-beater and his ‘lack of caring’. I’m also not convinced he doesn’t care; he did go to visit, did try to salvage the cheese and do stuff for his mom…

      I think it needs a little polish and definition, but it’s definitely got a lot of ooomph. Nice!

    3. Reaper

      A nicely written antihero in the classical sense. He is the kind of guy that I just dislike on principle. I was going to mention the first paragraph but that has been done. This has a strangely Run, Rabbit, Run feel to it. Except that I enjoyed reading this one.

    4. Colonel Plops

      I don’t know if anyone actually has the time to scroll all the way down to read this anymore, but before this prompt goes away, I wanted some feedback on making this something bigger (this wasn’t my best writing, but I really like the characters (actually, I hate the characters, which I think would make them fun to work with)). The basic idea I have for it right now is to experiment more with Henry and Vanessa (and Daniel’s relationship with them) and how they would react to the mom’s news. From there I would basically follow the character’s through the fathers death, mothers death (and whatever else get’s thrown at them, it’s a work in progress) and I would ultimately like to have Daniel get married (see if his mother’s prediction is right). I’d love to get some feedback on this idea, thanks in advance!

      1. Observer Tim

        That sounds like it would make very interesting reading. The only advice I would give is to have the abusive nature of the relationship(s) show up in actions rather than speech. After all, Mom is in “hide mode” and Dad is probably in denial. Given even the tiny bit you’ve shown of the kids, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the ‘good ones’ involved in more subtle forms of abuse.

        Go for it!

  43. Cceynowa

    A Mother’s Intuition
    Word Count: 571

    My brother being adopted is a running joke in the family. He’s not, but he’s the middle child and definitely a black sheep. My oldest brother, Robbie, and I like to tease him, but we’re definitely related. Our ice blue eyes, kinky brown hair, and heart-shape faces are the same, even though there are years between each of us. I had no doubts about either of my siblings until my mom told me a story last winter.

    She had a surgery and was staying with me to recover. I took a week off work and helped her in and out of bed, fixed her meals, and fluffed her pillows according to her preference. One day, while we were sitting down to lunch, she said, “Sissy, you’re a good girl. Thank you for caring for me. I’m glad it is you and not your brother.”

    “Robbie? I know you and his wife don’t get along, but she’d of welcomed you,” I said.

    “Not Robbie. Jack.”

    “What’s wrong with Jack?” I had always thought Mom favored him, and it surprised me when she’d asked if she could stay with me instead of him and his wife.

    “I’ve got to tell you something about Jack,” she had started playing with the food on her plate. Pushing peas around into straight lines. “I’m not sure he’s my boy.”

    “Don’t be ridiculous Mom,” I laughed a bit, but stopped at seeing the look in her eyes. “What makes you think that?”

    “You were too young to remember, but we went camping once in the Rockies,” she sat her fork down. “I guess you were just under a year, which would make Jack about four. Robbie and Dad were collecting firewood. We didn’t have the money for a camper, but Dad had that old canvas tent.”

    “The one that smelled like wet dog?” I interrupted.

    “Yes,” she smiled faintly and continued, “I was busy with the fire, you were in a play crib, and Jack was sitting in the tent coloring. I guess he wandered off into the woods at some point. Maybe he saw a bird or something. It wasn’t until Dad and Robbie came back that I realized he was missing.”

    Her voice began to crack and I pushed a glass of water towards her. After a drink she continued, “We hunted for him for hours. I was so scared. Dad drove to the Park Ranger cabin and they sent out a search party.”

    “How did you find him?” I asked.

    “He found me,” she said. “I begged the rangers to let me search and the head ranger finally told me I could as long as I stayed on a marked trail. The next morning, it was barely light enough to see, I was walking when I heard Jack behind me. He said, ‘Mama?’”

    We sat quietly for a few minutes and I asked, “It’s a miracle he found you, right?”

    “Sissy,” she leaned forward intently, “Jack called me ‘mom’, just like you and Robbie. He’d never said ‘mama’ before in his life. And I swear to you, he was asking if it was me. He wasn’t crying, no scratches, nothing. He wasn’t scared, and he didn’t run to me.”

    “Maybe he was in shock,” I reasoned. “What other explanation could there be?”

    “I don’t know, but ever since that day, my little boy was changed. I can’t explain it, but I know.”

    1. lionetravail

      OOoh! What happened in the woods? This is a great opening to something longer and more substantial. Hope you’re feeling ambitious to tackle more of this!

    2. Observer Tim

      Wow. Excellently done changeling story, Ccey. The simple description of post-loss Jack paints a darker and creepier picture than any more visceral writing could. 🙂

      This story merits further exploration, but also stands on its own very well.

  44. TwistedLyric

    Lies and Broken Minds

    I learned not to ask my mother questions. She was often a closed book, unwilling to let to many precious words leak from her pages until the time in her eyes was right. I didn’t mind not knowing. Not knowing was what kept me sane. Now I feel sanity slipping past the edges of a shattered view on the world.

    I wish that she hadn’t told me, with a voice strained and filled with the remains of long ago cigarettes, that she had a past filled with blood. She described to me in detail, in the room hazy with sterilizing fluids and the sounds of beeping machinery, the murders she committed for her right to life. For her right to me.

    She told me of how she came to the life of blood, how drugs ruled her and love seemed to be a mere thought as she gunned down enemies beside a man she didn’t know with her soul and a woman she knew with her mind.

    In this room where I had witnessed her grow weaker and weaker she told me each horrid detail of how her life was ruined by blood and mine was ruined by lies.

    With shaky hands, veins standing out in the place, almost translucent skin, she grasped my wrists and begged me, tears in her unseeing eyes, to forgive her sins. She treated me like a priest and pretended that I had sanity left with which to forgive her.

    My mother died with my mind broken and an apology trapped in my throat by the new inner demons she had trapped within me.

    1. Observer Tim

      The opening paragraph is a very concise description of someone coming to grips with losing their mental and moral grounding. The “Shadow Over Innsmouth” feel set me up for some kind of gothic horror, but then you surprised me with the more ‘mundane’ tale of a woman with a life written in blood. Excellent job, Lyric. 🙂

  45. Pete

    I usually turned on the television whenever I came to visit. I was young and terrified of silence. Her house was full of it– mundane ticks and clicks of appliances that only seemed to punctuate our lack of conversation. My mother was only 56, but she wasn’t young, or old, she was just there.

    She was pretty at one time, in orange tinted photographs with rounded edges. But life had been more than a formidable opponent, and its one-two-punch of drink and depression had left her slumped and forgotten. It was only a few years ago that I discovered that my dad wasn’t the only big drinker in the family.

    Now she hardly spoke, and when she did it was just to gripe about the neighbor’s dog or a piece of junk mail. I suspected any thoughts of substance were sealed away, in a place she no longer even knew to look. I was her only visitor as far as I knew. Melanie’s job kept her traveling, so I was left to play the good son.

    She wheezed and coughed. I hopped up and fetched her tea. When she turned to the window I helped her out of bed. She spent most of her day at the window, overlooking a row of slumping houses and leafless trees.

    Once she was settled she grunted her usual “thanks”. I nodded and went to check on things downstairs.

    “I dream about him often.”

    The buoyancy in her voice nearly knocked me cold. I fumbled for the remote, killing the tv and rushing to her side.

    “Dream about who, Mom?”

    “He comes and goes, always wearing that suit and hat,” she continued. I took a seat on her sunken bed. “He was so handsome, his blue eyes were, they were almost gray, with speckles of gold that glittered when he smiled.

    Her smile made me uneasy. I looked down to the hardwood floor, dimpled from the carpet I’d ripped out a few years back. But then I realized she wasn’t talking about Dad. I’d never known him to wear a suit a day in his life. He had black hair and dark eyes, like Melanie.

    “…he said he would take me away. He wanted you in his life, Melanie too. All I had to do was leave, but…”

    She stared at out, to the colorless winter. I was a lump on her sunken bed, sorting through vague impressions of my childhood. My father had drunk himself to death by the time I was ten.

    Mom motioned to a drawer. “There, in the jewelry box…”

    I hopped up, nearly taking the bed with me. I opened the drawer, seeing the neck of a vodka bottle peeking out from a pile of socks. Beside it, in the broken cedar jewelry box were three tickets. Amtrak. One way to San Francisco, stamped July 3, 1989. They were frayed and worn, like they’d been handled many times. I turned back to my mother and her window.

    “There’s a ring, too.”

    I couldn’t keep up. What man? What ring? She’d never been married. My dad stumbled in and out as he pleased. I looked again to the tickets. I would have been six, Melanie nine. Down in the box was a diamond ring.

    The floors creaked as I stepped around the bed to her. The ring tore at the skin in my trembling fist.

    “I would like two things, Jacob,” she said, looking me directly at me. “First, I would like you to return that ring to your father.”

    She told me his name, where I might find him. I fell back onto her bed. Angry, devastated, relieved, all of it a slobbering warm mess on my face. But she only gave me a few minutes to absorb her first wish.

    “And second,” she said, her eyes as gray as winter, “I would like to die.”

    The thermostat clicked and the vents rattled to life.

    1. Cceynowa

      This was simply exquisite Pete. Your imagery in the first couple paragraphs particularly drew me in. The reveal at the end (I feel) was foreseeable when you said that his dad was “like Melanie.” Even though I didn’t know who Melanie was, I knew the MC was not like his dad. This, however, didn’t take away from the impact of the story. I enjoyed it from start to finish, and re-read it to enjoy it again. Thanks for sharing!

    2. Reaper

      This was beautiful and well written. Loved the voice on it. There are three types of reveals I have seen, one the character knows and the reader doesn’t which causes a gasp, two neither now that causes a shock, and three when the reader knows but the character doesn’t which causes, when done well, empathy. You executed that third one very nicely.

  46. ReathaThomasOakley

    The Family, Another Branch

    “You remember, you remember when we moved to Palm Valley?”

    “When I was two? When Brother was two weeks old and you put a pillow in a dresser drawer for his bed?” I slowly eased my mother into her chair by the window, by now I had the routine down to a science, knew just what to do to keep from hurting her, knew how to engage her in whatever conversation I could to keep her mind off what was happening.

    “Sure I remember.” I was glad I didn’t have to search through a list of topics today, didn’t have to ask something like, “What ever happened to Thurman Blair’s youngest boy?” Today she was asking me a question.

    “You ever wonder why we moved way out there?” Two questions, a good day.

    “No,” I lied. “I guess I just figured it was for Daddy’s job.” But, I remembered the arguments, late at night, coming from my parents’ bedroom.

    “Is this far enough in the woods? You feel safe now? Nobody ever lived in this place before. How many more guns you gonna need? You think guns gonna make a difference?” My father’s voice would range from anger to pleading, then back to anger again. I would pull the covers up over my head and hum until I fell asleep. Then, Just before I started school we moved back to town and, until today, my mother had never mentioned Palm Valley.

    “No, I made him ask for the move. He was a good deputy, could of worked any place in the county. I just needed a new place, new, nobody there before us.” My mother swallowed a groan before it was fully out of her mouth.

    “Want a pill?” It wasn’t time, but time didn’t matter anymore.

    “No, not yet, something you gotta know.”

    “About Palm Valley?”

    “Yes, no, ’bout why we moved there. You better sit.”

    Now, two hours later, after she finally agreed to the pill, I watched my mother breathe: inhale, then exhale, but with no rhythm, just in, a labored groan, and out, a sigh.

    I watched and wondered about the story she’d told me of her birth family, a family I never knew I had, living way south of us, off a rural highway that cuts Florida from coast to coast, about her older brother who’d moved thousands of miles away to Wyoming’s cold and snow, trying to escape the family gift, about how she’d made my father move their young family to a new place, one without traces of anyone who’d ever lived, or died, there before, and about how she’d finally realized that didn’t make any difference at all.

    She’d told me why my two extra teeth were removed when I was nine and why I sometimes see shadows like after images from staring too long at the sun. She’d told me so very much, but still I feel as if I know absolutely nothing at all.

      1. ReathaThomasOakley

        Since my iPad is still open, I’ll add this is the fourth story about members of the same family, some of whom have extra teeth and unusual gifts.

    1. Cceynowa

      Nicely written (even given the few editing oops here and there). I liked the reveal at the end of this, and how you told a thought provoking story without actually telling a story. I applaud you. 🙂

    2. Reaper

      Nice continuation. I thought we were going learn more but you went and teased us again. The tense shift in the last line actually worked for the voice on this. It could be changed but as the close of a chapter it works well. Style trumps most rules.

    3. lionetravail

      Great job, Reatha- the different voice for the story was interesting to extend the story. I really hope you’re running with this for a novel or something similar.

    4. Observer Tim

      Very nice, Reatha. I see that losing the teeth doesn’t mean losing the ability, though it does seem to tone it down. This feels like the start of a journey of family discovery.

      I wonder if she remembers being two years old as part of her ability or because the family talks about it. Most people (adults) draw a line in their memory around 4-6 years old before which not much is present. Fascinating.

      1. ReathaThomasOakley

        Thank you, so very much, Tim. The move at two years, two weeks is my memory. My first clearest memory was just before the move, when my brother was born. That was before children could visit hospitals and my father and grandfather took turns with me outside. My father pointed to a bird and told me it was the stork, but I knew it was a seagull. I didn’t know early memories were unusual until I was an adult.

        1. Observer Tim

          That is so cool! 🙂

          My first memory is from when I was just under 4; I was outside in the early evening, and the sky was the colour of polished brass. There was a thunderstorm moving in and the quiet rumbles gave the whole scene a magical feel. I think it’s part of why I love stormy weather.

          1. ReathaThomasOakley

            Those very early experiences have such lasting impact. Thank you for sharing yours.

  47. kace

    Three minutes before class, see it I can’t get something down 🙂

    She always told me that the past was the past, that things worth leaving behind were worth forgetting. As a child I never challenged my mother in anything, just accepted her words as an innocent youngster would.

    Maybe she told me those things because she couldn’t do as she wanted to, could never forget the things that couldn’t be told. As the eldest child I moved in with her when she went home for the last time, went home from the hospital because she wanted to die in her own bed. I almost think now that dying is a different sort of slipping away, that you start to lose bits of yourself twelve hours in advance or something equally unscientific. There has to be some part of your humanity, or motherly instinct, that decrees against telling certain things to your children. Whatever it is seems to disappear ten minutes before your time of passing.

    It changes nothing, because I’ll always push myself to forget things. I try hard to love her, tried hard to love her. Because things happen, people happen, and they can’t stay angry forever. People forgive things, forget things because they want to survive, and maybe thats what made it all unforgivable.

    1. dream

      wow! Now this is what I call a story. its a short quick story but amazingly written. You got me hooked to the story in the first sentence.Good Job!

  48. Penney

    Hey guys and gals, apparently I posted a day late on the snow shovel story but I would appreciate if a few of you would take a look and give your thoughts. Thanks. Oh, I will be on time for this one.

        1. Observer Tim

          Hi Dream;

          Welcome to the site! 🙂 To post a story, put it in the “Comment” box at the very bottom of the page and hit “Submit”. If you push a “Reply” button first, it will instead show up underneath somebody else’s story (which happens from time to time, no biggy).

          Your first comment/story normally needs to be vetted by Brian K, so it may not show up immediately. The fact that I can see your question implies you may already be past that stage (I really don’t know how that part works).

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