“The New House” – Flash Fiction for Friday Fictioneers

This story is for Friday Fictioneers, the weekly prompt Rochelle Wisoff-Fields gives on her blog, Addicted to Purple.  We get a photo and no more than 100 words to tell a story.  This week’s photo is from Douglas M. MacIlroy.  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.

My take this week is grim.  Sorry about that!  Not sure how I got there…I think I was trying to make sure it wasn’t just a playful romp, but still had some plot, since the picture seemed so happy to me initially, and I think I overcompensated!

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Photo Prompt – Copyright Douglas M. MacIlroy

The New House

(100 words)

Daddy tried to make unpacking exciting, chasing us with grandpa’s diver’s helmet, but even as we squealed, we felt dread.

That night, there were strange knocks and shadows.

We grew to accept these.

Eventually, we began to see another family: a father, mother and two boys.

In our dreams, the father and mother told us to leave.  The boys warned of consequences.  We woke from their pinches to see our doors swing open.

We didn’t leave.  Not in time.  After two years, Daddy fell down the stairs and died.  Mama sold the house, and we left, two years too late.

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“A Change in Perspective” – Flash Fiction for Friday Fictioneers

This post is in response to this week’s Friday Fictioneers prompt, furnished by Rochelle on her blog, Addicted to Purple.  Check out her blog and click the blue frog below to read other stories and to add your own.  We get the photo (this week from Marie Gail Stratford) and up to 100 words to tell a flash fiction story.  Mine this week is more of a character than a story, but I hope you enjoy anyway!

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Photo Prompt copyright Marie Gail Stratford

Change in Perspective

(99 words)

The city always seemed confining—towering buildings, people rushing around…and the noise creates walls even where there aren’t any.

It’s strange to look at it, now that I’m dead.  Everything is muted, manageable, and  I can pass through the walls.  I simply walk into this apartment or sit down in that cab.  I watch the father put his child to sleep.  I listen to the executive on the phone with her mother while walking to a meeting.

There’s one place, though, that I cannot go: back.  I can’t talk to those who knew me.  I can’t make it right.

I’ve also finished the final installment of my short story, “Spring Spirit.”  If you’re interested, here are links to all three parts:

Spring Spirit, part 1

Spring Spirit, part 2

Spring Spirit, part 3

“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.

Short Story: Spring Spirit, pt. 1

It’s been a little while since I last posted on the blog.  As I work to reclaim my writing life, I went back to a writing exercise that’s been inspirational for me in the past.  Here’s part one of the story that resulted.

If anyone else wants to try making a story with the same parameters, I’d love to read it!  Post the link or story in the comments section.  : )

My challenge:

Use at least 10 of the 20 words chosen at random from A Wild Swan and Other Tales by Michael Cunningham: lucky, convincing, bluffing, red, cross, board, insisted, modesty, rose, flayed, effort, stalked, gratitude, recognized, fingers, reminds, offer, generations, conjurings, envy, crocus, strangled, branches

Spring Spirit

The crocuses had just begun to show, green and new, amid the dead leaves and the remnants of the last snowstorm.  Dahlia couldn’t help the feeling of gratitude that rose in her when she saw them, despite what they signaled.

That night, Dahlia woke up to fingers gripping her arm and a strangled whisper in her ear.  Whose conjurings had originally brought forth this ghost, she didn’t know, but as sure as spring came every year, this frantic spirit returned and stalked her nighttime hours.

This year, Dahlia vowed, would be the last.  She took out a spirit board and placed her hands lightly on the planchette.  “I will do whatever it takes to help you,” she offered.  “Tell me what you need.”

What came through in the series of swipes across the alphabet on the board held no hint of gratitude or modesty.  The spirit laid out instructions and insisted they be followed to the letter.

Dahlia spoke words she didn’t recognize and blew out a candle as she stepped into a design she’d drawn in chalk on her kitchen floor.  A cold wind blew through her.  This is it, she thought.  The end.

In front of Dahlia, a woman appeared, dressed in a tattered gray dress and wearing a smirk on her red lips.

The cold didn’t leave Dahlia, but instead seemed to deepen until it was all she felt.  Dahlia looked down and realized she could not see her own body.  She spoke, and the voice was only in her own head.

“It took me three generations to figure out how to escape the spirit realm and find humanity again,” the woman in gray said.  “I wonder how long it will take you.”  She laughed and Dahlia felt a sinking feeling.  She clutched at the woman who slept in her bed, clawed her way into the woman’s dreams, found ways to move small objects, but none of it helped.

When spring turned to summer and the days were hot, Dahlia’s power to affect the world dwindled.  She knew she had to wait for the crocuses to reappear.  Until then, she would watch and listen.  She would speak to other spirits, if she could, and ask after this strange curse.   

TO BE CONTINUED…………To read Part 2, click here

“Playing Fair” – Flash Fiction – Friday Fictioneers

Here’s my contribution to this week’s Friday Fictioneers prompt run by Rochelle here.  This picture (copyright Melanie Greenwood) made me wish I was a kid who could play there!  Visit Rochelle’s website weekly to check out her work and participate in her writing challenge, writing a story in 100 words or fewer based on the photo prompt provided.  Click on the InLinkz frog below to read other wonderful stories based on the same prompt, or to add your own.  Also, be sure to check out the Micro Bookends 1.17 results, posted later today.  : )

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Playing Fair

From the balcony, Sophie saw her son in the center of the hedge maze.  Christopher hugged his knees and moved his head slightly, as if speaking and listening.

Later, making lunch, Sophie asked, “What were you playing, bud?”

Christopher shrugged.

“Who were you talking to in the maze?”

“Max.”

“Max?”

“A boy.  He lived here before.”

“In this house?”

Christopher nodded.  “But he fell off the balcony.  He stays outside now.”

Sophie froze.  “Does he scare you?  Is he nice?”

Christopher grimaced.  “We play hide-and-seek, but he disappears.  That’s cheating.”

Sophie cleared her throat.  “You’re right.”

This prompt reminded me of another maze-related piece of writing I worked on about trying to write when feeling blocked.

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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Foreign Dream beside an Antique Floral Bowl

Wrapped in layers of blankets,

lost in a hot dream

that isn’t mine,

I have a discussion

with words from another time

and prepare for an event

in a room I have never seen.

I feel a pain that isn’t mine.

The faces are familiar

and unfamiliar.

The sights, the clothes, the events,

are exact, cutting, real,

but not mine.  Not mine.

*

I wake, dried out, wrung out.

On the dresser, sits a broken bowl

that has been glued back together.

It is an object of another time.

I suspect it of containing the dream.

A broken bowl, glued, sold,

removed to a new locale,

holding an energy,

an energy not always contained,

but sometimes leaking out,

through the cracks.

Flash Fiction: The Song in the Night

Two of my friends from my writer’s group attend the New England Crime Bake every year, and have met with great success with the Flashwords contest.  The contest asks writers to create a 150-word story about a crime using ten out twenty words selected from featured novels.  I’ve been impressed and inspired by their work, so I decided to try the exercise.  (Who are these two friends, you might ask?  One is Margo Carey, on Twitter @novatrek, author of The Haunted Pen, and the other is Dianne Herlihy author of Dianne’s Place)

I’m not really a crime writer (or not right now, anyway…who knows what I might one day write?), so I decided to choose words from the book I’ve been using to ease myself into my writing sessions lately: The Poetry of Robert Frost, edited by Edward Connery Lathem.  The result of my experiment is below:

Assignment: 150-word story using at least 10 of the 20 words chosen from The Poetry of Robert Frost

20 words: kitchen, dusty, rough, undergrowth, burned, witchcraft, strand, stirred, violin, conspire, lure, flattened, preach, constellation, stroke, prey, ancient, expand, parasite, curves

The Song in the Night

The lure of the violin was strong, especially on a night so like that other, when her father had disappeared.  The fluid notes sang brilliantly through the sky, calling to Hester.  Unresisting, she entered the dark forest.

 Each stroke of bow on strings conspired to bring Hester deeper.  Constellations gazed down, blinking a warning, but their ancient wisdom did not reach Hester.

Finally, the source was straight ahead.  Light burned through the curves of the branches.  She crept forward to look.

Her father’s face stared at her across the wooden body of the glowing instrument.  What witchcraft was this?  The bow paused.  He beckoned.  Hester advanced, then saw the unnatural gleam in the eyes, the gaunt shadows of the face.  This was a parasite.  She was prey.  Hester broke her gaze from his and turned away.

Behind her, the music resumed.

Hester’s will was flattened.  She swayed toward her doom.

*

What do you think?  I’d love to see other stories using these words, or stories based on your own words, taken from a different text.  If you try this experiment, I hope you’ll post your story below!

Special thanks to Margo and Dianne for the inspiration.  You’ll be hearing more from them one day soon!

Research into the Paranormal

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Lately, one of the ideas kicking around in my brain is about the existence of ghosts, spirits, past lives, and some of the many things that may come with these.  I’ve done some reading, which has fed both my writing and my curiosity–a lot of Michelle Belanger, to start.  I read Paranormal State‘s Ryan Buell’s book, Paranormal State: My Journey into the Unknown.  I read most of the way through Sylvia Browne’s Psychic: My Life in Two Worlds.  In my fiction writing, I’m interested in exploring how traumas can shape people for better and worse.  The way that people deal with their pasts–with a haunting, either literal or figurative–is a big draw for me.

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I’ve had my tarot cards read as a walk-in in a few different stores over the last ten years, and those readings didn’t make much of an impression.  My husband went with me when I wanted to go to a local bookstore to hear Mark Anthony, Psychic Lawyer.  Last year, I had a phone reading with a psychic I knew more about, and that experience made a big impression on me.  I spent some time in few graveyards, photographing old headstones and reading the inscriptions.  My husband laughs at me when we drive by graveyards now and mocks me (lovingly), “What graveyard is that?”

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I’m following up on my interest whenever I can.  I’ve found this to be a successful way for me to stay inspired as a writer.  I remember my college writing professor urging us to give ourselves up to our influences so that we could learn what we needed to learn.  I’m doing it, to the best of my ability.  I’ve watched every episode of Paranormal State and Animal Planet’s The Haunted that I could access on Amazon Prime.  I’ve watched a fair number of Ghost Adventures episodes, and my husband always greets the sound of Zak Bagan’s voice with a joking impression: “What the f*** was that?”  I am impressed by Lorraine Warren, and researched Ed Warren, after seeing Lorraine on Paranormal State.  I learned the word “demonologist,” how dangerous it is to play with Ouji boards or conduct endless EVP sessions, that house blessings and Benedictine medals can be helpful ghost deterrents, that negative spirits feed on negative energy, and that filling one’s life with positive things can, among other things, help with a haunting.

Recently, I discovered The Haunting of… with Kim Russo.  And is anyone else watching the new Lifetime show, Ghost inside My Child?  There was a new idea for me.  I hadn’t spent much time thinking about past lives.  The young children on this show (if we have faith in the way the show presents information to us) seem to have real memories of past lives, down to specific and obscure details which match other places, times, and people–details which seem impossible for them to have known.  My husband and I are fascinated by this show (though we were disappointed they changed their hilarious creepy child singing three notes of music intro to a less hilarious piano intro).  A girl who remembers all the symbols of an ancient culture’s alphabet?  A boy who knows which Civil War regiment he served in and the little-known battle in which he died?  There’s a new parenting challenge: helping your child to make peace with her or his past life.  (At least, if we have kids, I’ll have an awareness of this, if it comes up!)

Is anyone else following some of these shows?  Any thoughts?  My research has definitely fueled my writing, though I do suffer occasionally from nighttime nervousness.  For about a week and a half in August, I woke up at either 1am or 3am (which I know, from ghost investigation shows, seems to be a paranormal time!) and felt like something was there, while at the same time feeling that it was all very likely a symptom of watching too many ghost shows.  I did try to wake my husband up one of the times, but he has the enviable gift of being able to sleep through anything….so, on the night I woke up at 3am and needed to go to the bathroom, I woke up my sleeping dog and got him to come down the hall with me, thinking: in the shows, the animals always know if the ghost is there, so I’m good.

While I’m fascinated with all of this, most of what I write I wouldn’t put in the “paranormal” box, though I don’t like strict categories for literature anyway.  I’m interested, above all, in how humans work, and for me, that’s a focus on trauma, memory, choice, and rituals.  Ghosts in literature work well as metaphors, but they can also be characters in their own right.  Only one of my short stories has a ghost.  My first novel has one.  My current novel has more.  We’ll see what happens in the future and where this will take me.  I’m still working on my beliefs.  I’ve met a lot of people who have had paranormal experiences.  It’s an interesting lens to bring to different events.  I definitely believe there are things that we don’t understand about the world around us.  I believe that sometimes, there are connections and events that seem to rely on an explanation beyond what we commonly accept as real or possible.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about these topics.  Do you believe in ghosts or spirits?  Do you believe in past lives?  Have you had a paranormal experience?

(All photos are mine, taken in the last few years in some of the cemeteries I’ve visited)