“Legacy” – Flash Fiction for Friday Fictioneers

The following story was written for Friday Fictioneers, the weekly prompt provided by Rochelle on her blog, Addicted to Purple.  We get a photo for inspiration and no more than 100 words to tell a story.  Check out Rochelle’s blog and her impressive writing!  This week’s photo is from J. Hardy Carroll.  Also, if you’d like to read more responses to this prompt, or if you’d like to add your own, click on the blue frog below.

J Hardy Carroll

Photo Prompt copyright J Hardy Carroll

Legacy

(100 words)

Stepping through the doorway into the rampant weeds, I’m a child again, and Dad’s brought me here to explain his childhood.  Trees stretch up toward him now, not stopping to tell any secrets.

I wish I’d paid more attention.

Now, my imagination takes over.  Kitchen, there—bedroom, here.

And the fire started here, where there’s a bare patch in this wilderness.  It’s silly to think nature remembers what I’ve forgotten, but still.  Dad left home after that, another of grandpa’s drunken mistakes.

What about mine?  Would Dad return to the scenes of my betrayals?  Would he find anything worth saving?

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“Spring Spirit,” part 3 (The End!)

Here is the conclusion to my short story, “Spring Spirit.”  If you missed parts 1 and 2, you can read them here:

Part 1

Part 2

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copyright Emily Livingstone 2016

Spring Spirit, part 3

When Dahlia returned to her home, Laura was just bidding farewell to another gentleman caller.  He was still a bit drunk, and was protesting that he’d like to stay until morning, but Laura was insistent.  Dahlia rolled her eyes as she watched the man stumble into the dark.  And then she had an idea.

Before she could think too much about it, she went inside, careful to remain invisible.  She’d noticed that now, as it got closer to spring, if she really concentrated her energy, she could appear to Laura.  She’d done this a few times for fun, appearing in the mirror behind Laura and that sort of thing to give her a start.

Now, she had something different in mind.

She followed Laura up the stairs.  Laura seemed to sense something.  She tilted her head back for a moment as if listening, pausing, but then she continued.  Just as she reached the top step, Dahlia grabbed her ankle and pulled hard, using all her energy and will.  Laura tumbled down the stairs hard, and landed on her neck.

There was a moment of sickening nausea for Dahlia, looking at Laura as the life drained out of her, thinking of what she had done.  But the moment passed.

It wasn’t too long before Laura’s breath ceased to come and her pulse stopped.  Then, a familiar ghostly form rose from the crumpled corpse.

“You idiot!” Laura shrieked.  “Now we’re both ghosts.  Well done.  Did you think you would get your life back this way?”

“No,” Dahlia said.  “I didn’t.  I would never do what you did.  I’m not going to kill someone who doesn’t deserve it.”

“So high and mighty,” Laura said. “Still a murderer, though, whatever you may tell yourself.”

“I can live with that—or, I suppose, I can exist with it.  Looks like we’re going to be roommates.”

Laura glared at her.

It took some time for the body to be discovered. Eventually, the house sold cheaply to a young couple just starting their lives together.

Laura did all she could to disrupt their lives, and Dahlia was there to thwart her at every turn.  It drove Laura crazy that Dahlia could, at any time, choose to try to coax someone into performing the ritual, and could get her body back.  Dahlia was certain she never would, but though she didn’t admit it to Laura, she did take satisfaction from the fact that she could, one day—especially if she found someone who deserved the consequences.

THE END

“Spring Spirit,” part 2

Here is the second installment of “Spring Spirit,” a short story about a ghost, a curse, and a misguided desire to help others.  Click here to read part one.  There is a link to the conclusion at the end of part 2.

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copyright Emily Livingstone, 2016

Spring Spirit, part 2

Dahlia watched as the gray woman took to her stolen life with gusto—sold Dahlia’s possessions, bought new clothes, took men home to Dahlia’s upstairs bedroom.  She seemed to be thoroughly enjoying herself, but Dahlia got few hints about who she might have been before or what had gotten her into this situation.  With little ability to affect the physical realm, Dahlia started to explore outside her home, searching for the key to her escape.

There was an old cemetery a block away from her house.  The house itself dated from the Victorian period, and Dahlia thought the gray woman might have come from then.  Her dress had been torn, but had the structured corset of that time.

She did see spirits wandering here and there among the stones and trees.  A few looked at her curiously, but most seemed lost in their own thoughts.

When she found a section of the graveyard with graves from the right time, she started looking around.  A woman in a purple Victorian gown caught her eye and made a beeline for her.

“Here for a visit?” she asked, taking in Dahlia’s modern attire.  “I’m certain I don’t know you.”

Dahlia sighed.  “I’m hoping you can help me.  I’m in trouble.  You don’t know me, but I’m hoping you might know the woman who got me into this mess.”

“I’m Isabella,” the woman said, gesturing gracefully to the tombstone in front of them with the assurance of a well-practiced hostess: Isabella Walters, Beloved Wife and Mother, 1832-1881.

Dahlia told her story and Isabella listened.

“And where is the house?” she asked, narrowing her eyes.  She started nodding as Dahlia described it.

“Laura Hutchinson,” she said.  “Thought she was better than everyone else.  Invited Henry and me over just to put on airs.  She tortured that husband of hers—always nagging at him and bringing down his confidence.  She was a tyrant to every servant in the house.”  Isabella leaned in confidentially.  “And that’s what did her in, in the end.  The maid had been studying witchcraft, people said, and cursed her.  Laura was out in the garden—that was the one thing she seemed to genuinely enjoy, they say—always brightened a little when the crocuses came up in Spring—and she pricked her finger on a thorn.  Shouldn’t have caused any trouble, but she falls ill, and can’t be cured.  Later—when it was too late, you understand, they found strange symbols drawn on the wall in the maid’s room and books no respectable woman would read.”

Dahlia frowned.  “This must be the same woman, but how do I reverse the curse?  How do I get my life back?”

Isabella shrugged.  “No one really knew what the curse was exactly.  No one was going to read those blasphemous books.  I’m not sure you can undo the curse.”

Dahlia clutched the woman’s wrist, and the woman looked alarmed.  “So you’re saying I’m stuck like this?  And she gets to just keep on living my life?”

“No, that’s not what I’m saying.”  The woman leaned in again with a whisper.  “I’ve been wandering around here for some time, as you might suppose.  I’ve learned a few things—general things about the way these things work.  I’ve no idea how to undo the specific curse, but I think I know how you get back in the flesh.”

“How?”

“Get someone else to do what you so foolishly did.  Then that person will take your place, and you can go back to the world of the living.”

“But I don’t see how Laura would do it—she’d know it was a trick.”

“Oh, not Laura, dear.  I agree that would be quite impossible.  You’ll have to find someone gullible and well-intentioned, like yourself.  I’m sorry, dear—but you must see you’ve been rather stupid.”

Dahlia sat down and leaned against the tombstone.  Tears came to her ghostly cheeks.

“I can’t do this to someone else.”

“Then I suspect you’re stuck, dear.  Give Laura my regards.  Perhaps she’ll come see my stone—hers is rather shabby in comparison.  I think her husband took pleasure in its plainness.”

Dahlia thanked her and left the cemetery.  She had a lot to think about.

***

Click here to read part 3.

Read “Not Safe” in Black Petals Magazine! I’m published!

I’m excited to announce that my short story, “Not Safe,” was published today with Black Petals Magazine!  My story appears right under that of a close friend, M.C. Colby, whose story, “Micah’s Gift,” appears in the same issue.  This is my first publication with a magazine, and I’m psyched!  There are many fabulous pieces in this issue of Black Petals, and I hope you’ll check it out and let me know what you think!

Here’s the tag line for “Not Safe”:

In this story a woman encounters a ghost in a converted textile mill. The terror inspired by the ghost’s warning makes for a deadly ride home.

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“The Rogue Pilot” – Flash Fiction

So, I have another post ready sooner than I thought I would.  It is not yet the longer one with reflections that I’d mentioned, but I got a rejection in my inbox today for this story (no, that’s fine, we’re all used to that, right?  It’s part of the process), and I thought I would share that story here.  The prompt was from Mash Stories, and you need to write a story under 500 words including randomly selected words “honesty,” “blow-dryer,” and “cockpit” (The competition deadline is 15th–follow the link to check it out!).  At first, I was stumped.  After a few false starts, this was the story that came out.  I used to work in a diner with a take-out window…but not with Roy!

Though you might not know it from this blog, since I’ve started experimenting with flash fiction shortly after beginning writing here, most of my stuff is longer.  I have one completed literary fiction novel with paranormal elements and another novel in the works which is upmarket women’s fiction with paranormal elements.  I also have several longer short stories.  Talented friends from my writer’s group (Margo Carey and Dianne Herlihy) got me interested in trying flash fiction, and I’m still exploring it.  It’s exciting to work with–I’m enjoying finding out about many of the great authors on WordPress and elsewhere writing in flash fiction!  I feel like I’m still learning a lot from flash fiction and I’m finding it an interesting challenge, so I intend to keep going!

Anyway, this one has a different tone from some of my others…hope you enjoy!

*

cockpit

The Rogue Pilot

Grandma said that honesty was the most important thing.  Grandma practiced what she preached.  From the moment Molly rose in the morning, Grandma was honest:

“Molly, put some cold water on your face.  It looks swollen as a beach ball.”

“Molly, don’t put so much dressing on that salad.  You need to lose weight.”

“Molly, don’t let people tell you that ‘the right person will come along.’  Nothing in this life just ‘comes along,’ and that’s a fact.”

Molly had taken to turning the blow-dryer on high and scorching her scalp just to block out Grandma’s truth.

Under the honest onslaught, Molly had developed survival skills: omission, vacant agreement, and secrets.  Today was Molly’s first day of work at the diner.  She’d quit her retail job, and hadn’t told Grandma.  Hell, she was eighteen, and she could do what she wanted.

She wanted to work with Roy, because Roy was hot.

Roy greeted her at the door and handed her an apron.  He led her to the take-out window.

“You’ll start here.  It gets busy.”  He gestured to the kitchen.  “That’s the command center, and this here, this is your cockpit.  You need to perform like a fighter pilot, quickly and efficiently, but—” He held up a finger, “with a smile.”

She smiled.

“Exactly,” Roy said.  Roy was good with words.  She had been in English with him, and wow, he knew how to catch your attention.

Molly tried to be decisive, but she had to keep questioning Roy.  He had placed her in the cockpit, but hadn’t told her where to find the order pads or coffee filters, or whether a customer could substitute a salad for fries.

Roy was annoyed.  “Molly, stay in the cockpit!” he said.

Molly cried as she scooped the ice cream.  Hot Roy was yelling at her.  His words were weapons.

Finally, Molly asked the question that pushed Roy over the edge: “How late do I stay?”

Roy slapped the green Formica countertop.  “Where is your dedication?” he said.  Customers turned to look.

“I don’t have any,” Molly said.

“Well, that’s the problem!  This is a simple job!” Roy shouted.  The customers looked away, embarrassed.

“Stop yelling at me,” Molly said.  “You haven’t told me a single thing about how to do my job.  I’ve had enough.”

Molly undid the apron, shoving it onto the counter.  One customer whistled and clapped.

“Fine,” he said.  They stared at each other.

She nodded and crossed her arms.  “Try not to eat so many french fries.  Your face is swollen as a beach ball.”

Then, Molly did whatever she wanted.  Her apron stayed on the counter.  She placed orders including substitutions.  She told customers they were out of chocolate chip cookie dough because it was the hardest to scoop.  She gave extra scoops to children who said please.  She was the pilot, gone rogue.

At the end of the day, Roy said, “I always thought you were nice, in English.”

Molly shrugged.  “I’m honest.”

 * * *

I had fun participating in the Mash Contest, and I’ll keep my eye on the Mash Stories website!

If you enjoyed this story, I hope you’ll check out some of my other flash fiction works:

The Toad

The Cocktail Party

The Song in the Night

The Arrangement

Just in Case

The Spider and the Fly-Man

Play Date

Contest Win on Blog of Fantasy Writer, Jennifer Deese!

I have some exciting news to share!  I entered the photo-prompted fantasy flash fiction contest on author Jennifer Deese’s website, “To Write is Right!”, and I won!  My story, “Play Date,” is currently posted on her blog, along with Karen Mossman’s “I Am Alive,” which took second.  Karen’s story is very creepy and hints at a difficult backstory for the narrator!  I hope you’ll check out both stories and share your thoughts!  Here is the photo prompt used for the contest:

IMG_52669112475450 (Jennifer Deese, “To Write is Right!!!!”)

As a prize, I have the opportunity to read Jennifer Deese’s new novelette, The Orchid Keeper.  I’m away for a few days right now and borrowing a computer to write this, but I’ll get reading when I return and will let you know what I think.  Here is the description from Amazon.com: “Buried in addiction and digging in even deeper with denial Cora’s life is a mess. Until one day her reality takes a turn that lands her in an unfamiliar world. With the otherworldly assistance of Sol she will begin to realize how close she has brought her soul to fading away completely. Is it too late? Or can Cora face down her demons and save her soul?”  Very intriguing!

You can follow Jennifer Deese on Twitter: @d_eese

These are her blogs: jennjenn388.wordpress.com and jenniferdeese.wordpress.com

Happy reading and happy new year!  Thank you Jennifer Deese!  I’m grateful for the opportunity to have participated in your contest, for your blog post, and for your book!  A great way to transition into 2015.  : )  I’m also grateful for my good friend, author Lisa Pais’s kind words on her blog, The Enchanted Notebook.  Lisa is a very talented writer as well, producing fantasy, science fiction, humor, songs, and just about anything she sets her mind to!

If you are new to my blog and enjoy reading “Play Date,” I hope you’ll read some of my other flash fiction:

The Cocktail Party

The Toad

The Spider and the Fly-Man

Just in Case

The Arrangement

The Song in the Night

Flash Fiction: The Cocktail Party

The Cocktail Party

The party had been going on for a few hours.  Most people had had a few drinks.  Most people had confined themselves to a corner or a chair or a place by the window.  A few drifted between the groups, failing to wedge themselves in permanently, failing to fully blossom into social butterflies.

Someone made a loud comment about the president.

Someone else said at least he cared about global warming.

At that, everyone looked toward the polar bear where he stood by the window, sipping at a martini and ducking his head.

Does the president really care about global warming?” a woman with dark hair and pointed glasses asked.

The man next to her in the tweed jacket that was too warm for the overheated apartment leaned into the woman, put his hand on her upper arm, and gestured toward the polar bear.

“Please don’t,” the bear said.  “I don’t want to be a ‘polar bear’ tonight.  I just want to be Mike.”

Everyone felt insensitive.  One man in a tight black t-shirt clapped the polar bear on the back and said, “Of course, Mike!” too loudly.

Everyone forgot about that awkward moment after Freddy showed up.  Freddy came uninvited to the party of his ex-girlfriend, bringing a date who looked as though she barely knew where she was.  Freddy kept an arm around her and propelled her through the party, bowling into the guests’ tight configurations squeezing her side as he slurred.

I went over to talk to Mike, and we averted our eyes from that fiasco.  Then we had a very serious, very deep conversation.  I told him about my dreams of becoming a writer, and how this would be very different than my current, soulless existence.  He told me that he missed the polar ice cap, but how he couldn’t take being around all of the moaning anymore.

“It was a bad scene,” he said.  “Everyone down there is so depressed.  Everyone is always talking about this melting and that melting.  You start to see that you’re really off-white compared to snow, once you look at it long enough.”

It was too much for him.

“Your coat looks lovely in the moonlight,” I said.

Mike blinked at me, and I could tell he thought I was being insincere.

I shrugged and smiled.  I walked away.  Freddy lunged at me with his new girlfriend, and they breathed hot booze onto my skin.  I shook my head to clear it and left the party, pulling on my coat as I clunked down the stairs and outside.  When I looked up at the lit windows of the party, I could see the shape of the polar bear against the window.  He started to move, but I turned away before I could see what gesture he would make.

* * *

If you enjoyed “The Cocktail Party,” please check out my other flash fiction stories, “The Toad,” “The Spider and the Fly-Man,” “Just in Case,” “The Arrangement,” and “The Song in the Night.”

Flash Fiction: The Toad

I didn’t have a chance to work on some of my extended projects this weekend, but I did work on a new flash fiction piece, drawing on the following list of words for inspiration:

rotting, trapped, slab, faith, paradise, mangle, toad, match, wolf, lamb, ginger snap, nursing, bones, newts, bathtub, abroad, protectors, lodging, elapsed, diminished, married, confidence, indulgence, welcome, ragged, mysteries, lively, intelligent

Words selected from Life Studies and For the Union Dead by Robert Lowell (1964) and Gothic Tales by Elizabeth Gaskell, Penguin Edition (2004)

*

The Toad

            The feeling had diminished, whatever it was.  Earlier, she had felt it crouched inside her: a lumpy toad, spreading a rancid chill amongst her organs.  It was, she supposed, a type of depression.  There were strains, too, of anger.  There were hints of loneliness and undertones of dissatisfaction.

Harriet had given lodging to the toad.  What choice had she had?  Yet, she’d left the door to the creature’s abode open, to try to tempt it to leave.

Time had elapsed, and the toad had left her abdomen and had hopped onto the kitchen counter, where it watched her preparing dinner.  It sneered at the french fries as she poured them, frozen, but still greasy, onto the pan.  Under its intelligent eyes, she felt guilty for the indulgence.

After the terrible meal, her stomach had become a slab, and the toad hopped to it and settled there once more, and he made her feel cold and little afraid, so she ran a bath for herself: hot with fragrant bubbles.  These were enough to make the toad unsure of his welcome, and he once again departed from her, though he didn’t go far.  He sat on the vanity and peered down at her obscured, but naked form in the bathtub.  Harriet felt sure that none of her mysteries were secret to him, and saw that his eyes were more lively than she had hitherto realized.

Regarding the toad from tub and meeting his liquid eyes, she felt herself warming to him.  Might he not be a protector?  A supernatural gift?  A benign influence bent on nursing her back to health?  It might only have been her own bleak feelings which had initially framed him as a bad omen.

Reading her thoughts, the toad launched himself down to her from the vanity, and perched his squishy body upon the edge of the tub.  Next, he would slip down into the water.  Harriet felt a quiver of apprehension at that, a wavering of her confidence.  Why had the great beyond sent her a toad, after all?  Why not a wolf, or a lamb?  Why was her familiar a creature so universally known for ugliness—a creature whose only defense mechanisms are camouflage and peeing into the mouths of predators?

The toad read these thoughts in Harriet’s eyes and turned, launching himself onto the bathroom rug and exiting the room.  When Harriet stood, toweled herself dry, and peered into the hallway, she was alone.  The toad had gone, punishing her for her lack of faith.  Who knew what he might have been, if she had been patient?

Harriet felt a new heaviness settle inside her, as yet unfamiliar.  She vowed that she would not be so careless with this entity.  She would guard her thoughts.  She would strive to be grateful.  She would hold back any desire to cringe at an unexpected form.  She would kneel at the knee of this new shape, and she would study its lessons and recite its mantras.

As she made these fervent promises, the new creature lifted its head from its coils, and Harriet reached out a hand, free of trembling, to stroke its scales.

*

If you liked “The Toad,” please take a look at my other works of flash fiction, “The Spider and the Fly-Man,” “Just in Case,” “The Arrangement,” and “The Song in the Night.”  

More Flash Fiction: “The Spider and the Fly-Man”

I’ve been reading a lot of flash fiction as I investigate such literary magazines as WigleafPank, and others.  Feeling inspired, I decided to write some more flash fiction, and to try a more experimental piece.  It’s been awhile since I went for something with this feel to it.  This was fun, and made me want to search the disorganized archives of my older writing for a piece I had been working on maybe four or five years ago that reminds me of this one.

I decided to go again to the random choice of words for some inspiration, though I didn’t limit myself to 150 words this time.  The following list was taken from the Winter 2014 issue of the Journal.

The words: riddled, aloofness, forehead, blame, function, pronouns, superhero, dependent, plastic, positive, shock, ribcage, charges, neighborhood, proximity, ballooning, forest, dioramas, margins, pinpoint, arachnid, eyeliner, cracking, diffusing, natural

 *

The Spider and the Fly-Man

 *

            Each table in the restaurant is a diorama, when one surveys the scene, sweeping the eyes from one corner to the other, observing with the necessary aloofness, refusing to assign blame, only accepting the scenes as they present themselves in vague pronouns, not personal to one’s own life, nor dependent on one in any way.

For example, at the very next table to ours, there is a woman bent forward like a hungry, pleading arachnid, pining after a superhero fly, much larger than herself, much more important, in fact, positively ballooning out of his chair with natural and supreme function.  She leans toward him, orienting herself to him, trying to draw his eyes to hers through the skillful use of dark eyeliner.  The low lighting reveals the gleam of sweat on her forehead.  The forest of chairs and tables and diners around the two of them are nothing to her.  There is only the desire to be near her superhero as he is diffusing little castoff, half-dead particles of himself into the air.

He, on the other hand, sees her as a bit of plastic, which he will take home, and hold by the ribcage, and rescue fleetingly with his own power, until he feels the shock of himself momentarily cracking through his system.  Then he will release her into the neighborhood.  The neighborhood will be a new forest for her, and frightening.  There she will drift toward the margins, trying pinpoint how she came there, and how she might return to her own place, not sure if she is happy or sad, or something else entirely.

One can see that it is starting, when the superhero charges the meal, and the fragile arachnid leans in to put her eighth leg in his strong hand.  When they rise to leave, and the superhero circles his arm around her, right before his cape billows out, one can see that she has the red hourglass.  Maybe, after all, the woman will win out.  Certainly, one knows that they can’t both survive unscathed.  Certainly, one knows that there will be blood.  None of these dioramas contain the everlasting grail of peace; of course not.

* * *

If you liked “The Spider and the Fly-Man,” I hope you’ll also check out my other flash pieces on this blog, “The Song in the Night,” “The Arrangement,” and “Just in Case,” as well as my short story, “Glass Eyes.”  I’m working on other short fiction and a novel, which will also hopefully be available to you one day.

Flash Fiction: “Just in Case”

I decided to try another flash fiction story.  These have been helping me to focus my writing brain before working on some on some of my ongoing projects.  I departed from Robert Frost for my inspirational words this week, and pulled two other, much-loved books off of the shelf.  I hope you enjoy–if you’re minded to try the challenge of writing a 150-word story using at least ten of the twenty words below, I’d love to see your story in the comments section!

Challenge: 150 word story

Using: 10/20 words: shook, colors, rattling, discontent, name, bells, chill, tattoo, moaned, scratched, winding, gallantry, commands, deserved, warming, grinning, iron, cage, wicked, inheritance

Words are taken from Shake Loose My Skin: New and Selected Poems by Sonia Sanchez and The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle

Just in Case

In the dim light of the party, he’s grinning at her.  She’s warming to him, though her eye drifts to the tattoo on his arm: an iron cage with its door wide open.  It chills her; there’s something wicked about it.

He offers his name: John.  Perfectly ordinary.  He is all gallantry, getting her another drink, asking about her life.

Still, the warning bells sound.  But perhaps they are wrong.  She’s been on edge so long, ever since her sister disappeared.  Since then, her environment has degenerated into flashing signs: Warning!  Caution!  Yet away from the alarming colors of the outside world, there is only dull discontent.  Part of her has been caged, and now it scratches at the lock, wanting.

John runs a hand down her arm.  He asks her, low and charming.  As she follows, she sticks her hand in her purse, feeling the outline of the knife.

* * *

If you liked “Just in Case,” I hope you’ll check out my other two flash fiction stories, “The Song in the Night” and “The Arrangement.”