1. Please Don’t Go, Part 1

    New week, new stories! Check out the rest over at Short Story Salad!

                ”Fuck,” Gwen said, a little louder than she would have liked. Her hands were already shaking before she began physically thrusting her clinched hand there and back, as if it would wipe that tiny pink plus from existence. Tears stung at her eyes, but she refused them. She wanted to feel the heat on her cheeks. Why? She didn’t know. “…Fuck…” she whispered.

                There was a knock at the door. “Gwen?” It was Grandpa Pat, “You’ve been in there a while. Uh, you alright?”

                “Fine, my stomach’s just upset,” she cringed at the thought of morning sickness. “I’ll be out in a minute, Grandpa.”

                “Do you got the runs?”

                “No, Grandpa…” the brief, embarrassing thought of her Grandpa asking about diarrhea almost made Gwen smile. That moment of levity was quickly smothered by the reality of it all. She quickly, and all too happily, threw the test back into its box and stuffed it into her purse. She flushed the toilet and resolved to wash her hands of this situation, literally and figuratively. Nothing much she could do about it right now, she told herself.

                She stepped out with her bravest face, arms outstretched. “Ta da!”

                Grandpa Pat chuckled. “Glad you’re feeling better, just in time for dinner.” He lead the way through a narrow hallway to his tiny kitchenette. Grandpa Pat lived on the ground floor of his triplex right off the Turnpike, almost directly situated on what was left of the New Jersey wetlands. If Gwen looked out the screen door that led to the back stoop, she would see the brown reeds flanking board screams of water that emptied out into the Passaic River, but not tonight. It was cold and humid and a thick fog lingered outside.

                The old man pulled the tin foil back from the casserole dish and moved to pull out a chair for his granddaughter. “Ladies first!”

                Gwen smirked. “Age before beauty,” she replied.

                He winked. “Then you still sit first.”

                Gwen’s mouth opened in pretend shock but she obliged. She had been coming to visit her Grandpa every weekend since she was five and though common thinking would dictate that a seventeen year old girl would have much more fun places to be than her Grandpa’s for the weekend, her parent’s recent divorce made her visits a welcome distraction.

                The drop-leaf table barely fit in the tiny kitchen but Grandpa Pat always insisted he was only one man and didn’t need much room. He preferred renting the larger, nicer, upstairs apartment to the Lopes’ who worked two jobs each to feed their three kids.

                “So how are things?” Grandpa Pat asked, stuffing his face. “Anything new?”

                Gwen scooped up a large spoonful and dug in. “Nope,” she said plainly.

                After Grandpa Pat went to bed, Gwen sat out on the back porch swiping through her phone restlessly. Her thumb kept bringing her back to the Rodney’s face in her contacts list but each time she returned to the home screen. She’d already texted him goodnight, there was no point in waking him; he had class in the morning, then he’d go straight from campus to work. Wouldn’t be home until eight at night. Besides, something like this was best to say in person. Maybe.

                The light from her screen faded and Gwen was left in the dark. An orange streetlight flickered on the street and only cast shadows into the yard. The Lopes’ had finally gotten their kids to bed and all that was left was silence. Silence and the taste of the fog that hung in the air. Gwen let her head sink between her knees. “…Fuck…”

                The soft shifting in the reeds caught Gwen’s ear and she glanced up. She squinted, not sure what to make of what she saw. Phone in had she woke up the screen and shined what little light she had in front of her. A fully grown stag walked out from the reeds and approached the porch. Gwen gasped. Did deer even come out this far onto the wetlands? She’d seen cranes and ducks before but never such a big animal. Grandpa Pat once said he accidently ran over one up in the Catskills and it messed up his truck real bad. Gwen stood up, slowly, making her way inside to put the house between her and the wild animal.

                “Please don’t go.”

                Gwen froze.

                “I need your help.”

                Gwen’s mouth fell agape as she turned to look at this creature again. It was closer now, within arm’s reach. It’s bright blue eyes stared intently at her, and being so close, she realized that a beautiful blue moss grew on its antlers. Its black nostrils flared as it brought its muzzle forward and let it hang here, like a hand, extended in greeting. Gwen couldn’t help herself, her hand reached out and gently rested on the cool, wet nose.

                And then they were gone.

     

  2. Stitches, Part 3

    Please read Part 1 and Part 2 before reading on! More shorts are up on Short Story Salad so feel free to check those out too!

                Mrs. Reynolds cleaned her hands on her apron. “No, sugar,” she said, “I haven’t seen your brother all day. You said his truck was still in the driveway?”

                Shara nodded trying to catch her breath, “Yes, ma’am.”

                “Well then he couldn’t ‘ve been meaning to go far. Noah probably just went for a walk, you’ll see.” She smiled and opened her squeaky screen door. “C’mon in and have scone. Made them fresh this mornin’, sugar.”

                “No, thank you Mrs. Reynolds,” Shara turned to race down the front porch stairs. “Maybe another time?”

                “Well you just hold up right there!” shouted Mrs. Reynolds. Years of living nearby the Reynolds taught Shara that she stay put when Mrs. Reynolds shouted, so she stopped promptly. In a moment, Mrs. Reynolds was out on the porch with a paper bag filled with baked goods. “There’s no way Imma let Margaret Adam’s daughter leave my home empty handed and empty stomached!” She came down the stairs and opened the bag for Shara to see. “These blueberry buttermilk scones will put some weight on those hips of yours, heh.”

                Shara smiled politely and took the bag; it was kind of Mrs. Reynolds to still try to look after her best friend’s children even when they were almost fully grown. Mrs. Reynolds reached out and brushed some of Shara’s hair away from her face. “You look so much like her, you know. ‘Specially when you braid back your long hair like this.”

                Shara was about to speak when Mrs. Reynolds reached into the bag and stuck one of the scones in Shara’s open mouth. “That’s a good girl! Now get on home, sugar. I’m sure you’ve got some chores to get done, don’t you?”

                Shara had nodded and walked off back to the path through the woods toward her house, but she wasn’t planning on going home. Lady barked and wagged her tail as she saw Shara approach and then peered in closely to get a good whiff of the treats inside the bag. “No, Lady,” Shara kept walking, “I’ve got an idea.”

                There was a line of scones resting in the woods, just far enough apart to lead someone to a treasure trove of scones beneath an oak. Shara sat hidden on a low hanging branch and Lady was tasked with scaring off any other woodland creature that might be looking for a quick lunch. She waited.

                And waited.

                And then she jumped.

                “ACK!!” yelped the goblin. They wrestled to and fro for a moment, then Lady appeared and growled ferociously. “Lady?!” The goblin stopped struggling. “Shara?! Shara, love, what do you think you’re doing?”

                “Making sure you don’t get away!” Shara pressed herself close to the ground and winched. She could see blood staining her bandages.

                “Look what you’ve gone and done!” The goblin wiggles out of Shara’s grasp and took a look at Shara’s wound. “Those’ll need to be redone.”

                Shara pulled her arm away from him. “Don’t you go on and pretend to be my friend, I know what you did!”

                “Did? All I did was bite you, and I thought that was in the past. I thought we were friends.”

                Lady sniffed at Shara’s bandages but she paid the dog no mind.”How could we be?! I don’t even know your name and you stole my brother!”

                The goblin snapped his fingers. Shara froze, so did Lady. “Stole? Now that’s pretty harsh don’t you think? I was only doing what we agreed upon.”

                “That’s not true!” Shara managed to say.

                “Oh? You can talk still?” The goblin’s eyes narrowed. “I guess it takes affect sooner than I thought… All right, you can say isn’t not true, but you never told me not to get rid of your brother. In fact you said it yourself, you’d wish he’d die.”

                Shara’s heat fell to the pit of her stomach. “I-I didn’t mean-“

                The goblin pulled Shara’s arm out and started to unwrap the bandages; there was nothing she could do to resist. “I know what you didn’t mean, love,” he said setting the bandages to the side and taking up a needle from his vest. From the needle, hung shimmering string, and with it, he began to resew the stitches. “You big folk don’t tend to think too clearly, some folk say it’s takes so long for a thought to cross the entire brain. I didn’t kill your brother. He’s been resting out here with me for the while and he’s already back in your house, nappin’ off the drought I gave him. He won’t remember a thing.” As the goblin sewed up the wound with the magic thread, it sealed her skin together, as if nothing had ever been there at all. “Tell you the truth, I would have given you the same, but there’s no point. You’re different now.”

                “Different?” asked Shara.

                He nodded. “My fault really, I wasn’t thinkin’ straight when I bite you like that.”

                “Wait, am I a werewolf or something!?” she exclaimed.

                The goblin chuckled. “No. Nothing so exciting. Them wolves are mean things though, you wouldn’t want to be one of them.” He finished sewing and bit the string to make it break. “No, you’re still human. Just… different. Can’t magic away a memory just like that.” He snapped his fingers and Shara could move again. She pulled her arm toward her and almost forgot to breathe- it was completely healed. “Soon that trick won’t work quite right either.”

                “Hm?” asked Shara.

                “Never you mind,” said the goblin, picking up another scone. “You should run along home to your brother. He’ll be up soon-“

                Shara pulled the goblin in and gave him a be smooch on the head. “Thank you! Thank you so much!”

                The goblin shoved her away. “That’s enough of that.” He took a big bite of scones. “Next time it’ll cost you. Maybe I’ll take some of that pretty hair of yours.”

                “My hair?”

                “Maybe,” he turned to leave, “Oh, Shara? The name’s Jex.” And with that he was gone.

                Shara raced home with Lady in tow and when she ran into the kitchen she saw Noah standing in front of the fridge perplexed.

                “I have the worst headache,” he said. Shara threw her arms around her brother and squeezed the air out of him. “That’s not helping!”

                Shara was too pleased to think straight, “Are you hungry?” she asked.

                “Yeah… yeah I guess.”

                Shara pushed Noah down into a chair. “Lasagna?”

                “Sounds good.”

                Shara opened the fridge and frowned when she saw the lasagna was gone. All that was left in the dish was a note that read in a poor excuse for a scribble, Hope you don’t mind.

     

  3. The Girl in the Photos, Part 2

    Read The Girl in the Photos, Part 1 before moving forward. More stories are up on Short Story Salad for your enjoyment! Click here to vote on what genre you would like to see us write next week!

                I could barely keep up with her and I was quickly out of breath. Sure, I wasn’t in the best shape, but I was still impressed how she ran so fast without shoes. She wasn’t worried about stepping on the broken bottle pieces littering the alleyways, just her destination. My phone’s text message notification chimed and I had to smirk, that tune always made me feel better. I glanced at the screen; Damien was wondering where I was- and then I tripped, nearly landed head first into a pile of garbage.

                As I whipped off someone’s Happy Meal, I realized that I didn’t see which way she went. “Shit,” I breathed. The ocean. She wanted to go to the ocean. The only way to the beach was over the Roosevelt Bridge so I rolled up my sleeves and continued. In retrospect, I felt a bit like a cheesy, cartoon villain; I had just about ogled her for hours on end and now I was pursuing her… to what end? I shook the feeling off and ignored another text jiggle as I turned the corner.

                I was at the bridge, but I didn’t see her. Had she gotten lost? Had I? There wasn’t a soul on the bridge, walking or in a car. Reminded me of a strange ghost town. I thought it over again but I was sure that this was the only way to the beach- you could even see the bay where the river emptied out into.

                Thick, beautiful waves of long, dark hair wafted longingly toward that bay. She was climbing up and over the walkway’s guardrail. “Fuck.” I ran toward her. She was going to jump. She was over the rail now, toes curling over the narrow metal landing. She hadn’t seen me yet. I took a slow, steady breath, knowing the next few sentences could decide her fate.

                “SOMEBODY ONCE TOLD ME THE WORLD IS GONNA ROLL ME-“

                Her face looked at me with shock and terror, almost as horrified as I was. Fucking Damien. Why the fuck was he calling me!? I saw her hands letting go of the railing.

                “I AIN’T THE SHARPEST TOOL IN THE SHED-“

                I lunged forward and grabbed a handful of the slick, spotted coat she clung to. She lurched forward but wouldn’t release the fur. “Let go! You’ll tear it!” her voice rang with panic.

                “SHE WAS LOOKING KIND OF DUMB WITH HER FINGER AND HER THUMB IN THE SHAPE OF AN ‘L’ ON HER FOREHEAD.” It went to voicemail, thank god.

                “N-no, listen,” I managed, “This isn’t the way.”

                “Just let me go!”

                In the pale orange light coming from the bridge I realized she wasn’t wearing anything, she had only covered herself with the furs. She glared at me, hatred boiling behind her eyes.

                “I-I’m Lynn. What’s your name?”

                “Why do you care?!”

                “I just do!” I blurted, “W-what’s yours?”

                Her nostrils flared. “Maili,” she growled.

                “Good. It’s good to meet you, Maili. I would like to continue to know you-“

                “Stop! Just let me go! You don’t understand!”

                “Suicide isn’t the answer, alright Maili?” I said, trying not to sound too accusatory.

                “I know what I’m doing!”

                “Look, you don’t want to do this.”

                “Yes I do! Let me go!”

                “R-really? Then why don’t you just let go of the coat?” I caught her, I could see it in her eyes. “If you truly wanted to die, you wouldn’t let a silly coat stand in your way. So j-just help me help you up-“

                “You don’t know anything!” she barked. I was taken aback; her voice was so much less graceful than she appeared. “You don’t know him!”

                “Him?” I held tight, but searched my mind for answers.

                “Yes, him. You know him, you work for him but you don’t know him!”

                “I know-?” I paused, “… Fisher? Carrlin Fisher? Your photographer?”

                Her face was still contorted with fury, but onyx eyes were shiny with tears. “My captor. H-he forced me. Kept me. Hit me. Said he’d burn it if I didn’t do what he told me to.”

                I looked stupid, I know I did. My jaw was slacked open. Her eyes moved from my face to my wrists. The salt water fell from her face. “I’m not like you. I don’t want to end it. I just want to be free.” I could hear my heart pounding in my ears. “Please,” she begged, “Let me go.”

                I heard a sound I had only heard in movies; of a gun’s safety being turned off. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you, Lynn.” I slowly turned my head to the left. Fisher approached with a semi extended out toward her. “I don’t want to do this, but if you let Maili go, I might just kill you.”

                I heard the funny jiggle of another text message, and somehow it didn’t make the situation any better.

     

  4. Stitches, Part 1

    Welcome to a new week and a new story! Head over to Short Story Salad for more shorts! We’re also asking for input for next week’s batch of stories, so please feel free to check out our poll!

                Shara held her arm frowning. “I know what I saw, Noah.”

                Noah opened the driver’s side door. “Just get in the car.” He tossed the emergency room paperwork into the backseat.

                “Why don’t you believe me?” hissed Shara.

                “Because you sound like you’re on crack or something.” He slammed the door. “Just shut up and come in.”

                Shara stepped in and buckled up but stared directly in front of her refusing to bat an eyelid. If she did, she might cry. She knew what she saw; a pair of glowing green eyes huddled beneath her car. She rubbed the bandages thoughtfully.

                “You need to stop protecting that stray you know,” Noah said sternly as they came onto the interstate. “It was one thing to keep putting food out for it, but that thing is wild. It’s dangerous-“

                “She needs a good home.”

                “It needs to be put down. I’m calling animal control in the morning.”

                Shara put up her bandaged arm. “Lady didn’t do this! It wasn’t her!”

                “Then tell me what did, Shara-“

                “It was a gob-“

                “I don’t give me that fairy crap!” His voice was harsh and cut with authority. He stopped himself and exhaled slowly through his nostrils. “You can’t hide things like this from me… I’d never forgive myself is something happen to you.”

                “Look, Noah,” sighed Shara, “I know you still think I’m a kid, but I’m not. I’m 16 and I can take care of myself.”

                Noah’s eyebrows bounced up skeptically. “Coulda fooled me.”

                “And I don’t need my brother bossin’ me around and telling me I didn’t see what I saw.”

                “I’m more than your brother I’m you’re legal guardian.” He snapped, “And I don’t care what fairy tale you want to tell yourself, but you lost a lot of goddamn blood from that bite. And what if that thing goes off an starts mauling kids, huh? They’ll need a lot more than stitches! That dog is being put down or so help me.”

                Shara crossed her arms. “You missed the stupid exit.”

                Noah cursed under his breath and started to find a way back around. Shara rolled her eyes. It’s not like Mom was around anymore to scold him for cussing like he did. When they got home, Shara slammed the passenger door and walked off without heeding her brother’s shouting as she bolted for the woods.

                He didn’t follow, she knew he wouldn’t. It wasn’t like there was anywhere she could go. Maybe to the Reynolds’s farm two miles down the road but they’d call Noah and let him know that Shara was just ‘blowing off steam’ with them. Shara didn’t want that, she wanted Noah to worry, just a little. But even more, Shara wanted to find … what bit her.

                It was getting close to supper and Shara’s stomach was growling. She ignored it. “Lady?” She called.

                Shara hadn’t seen the stray all day, but she tried not to worry, remembering she’d been in the hospital for most of it. It was odd for Lady not to be around the house around this time, the dog had always been happy to greet Shara around the time she came home of school. Shara was pretty sure Lady was a mutt, maybe something like a cross between a German Shepherd and a Labrador with her shiny black coat and pointed ears. “Lady?”

                “Rrrrroof!”

                “Lady?” Shara quickened her pace in the direction of the bark. What was Lady doing this far out in the woods?

                “Rrroof!”

                Shara turned a corner around an overhanging boulder. She saw Lady’s tail sticking straight out from behind it. A twig cracked beneath the weight of Shar’s foot and Lady whirled about, happy to see her. “Hey there, girl, where have you been?” Shara scratched the spot between Lady’s shoulders and the dog panted happily.

                “Ugh-“

                “Huh?” Shara peered past Lady.

                The shiny, black mutt turned and started growling in the direction of the strange voice. The space between Shara’s eyebrows narrowed as she leaned in to look under the overhang. She gasped.

                There was a small, lumpy creature with a potato-looking head, long slim ears and a rounded beak-like snout, spectacled with spots. It wore a dull blue woolen shirt and beads in the braids of its pale gray hair. The creature was clearly ruffed up a bit, with scratches and bruises over its arms and legs- was that Lady’s doing?

                The goblin stirred, it’s green eyes looked like reflectors staring back at her. It swore, “Imp’s ass. Not you again.”

     

  5. Golem, Part 3

    Trying to be more on time this go! Please read Part 1 and Part 2 before reading on! More stories are up on Short Story Salad! Thanks for checking in!

                The sun was going down on the Summer Solstice and Dad was crushing up newspaper to tuck them away in strategically placed spots throughout the bonfire pile. The Summer Solstice wasn’t anything like Christmas, but it was a pretty important holiday to stone masons. Something about keeping the light going for a long as possible. I could never repeat the verse verbatim, but I always thought it was rather beautiful.

                Robby wheeled in beside Mom, who was carrying a plate of s’mores supplies. Robby had a gallon of water on his lap.

                “You need to light it soon, Ethan,” said Mom, “Or you’ll miss the twilight.”

                Dad winked at her. “It’s so cute when you take these things seriously, ‘Ri.”

                Mom shrugged. “Something about love, honoring and observing, you know.”

                “I think you got that last one wrong,” Dad scooped Mom around the back and pulled her in.

                Mom pushed a square of chocolate into his puckered lips. “That’s what you think.” She kissed him but then stole the rest of the chocolate from his mouth.

                “Gross…” whispered Robby.

                I smirked. “It’s almost cute when you get to be my age, Robby.”

                Robby gave me a look and shook his head. He wasn’t buying it.

                Mom playfully pushed Dad toward the pyre where he withdrew his flint and stone and started trying to get the paper to catch. Mom pulled Robby up from his chair and sat him beside her.

                I felt a familiar tremor as Golem approached with a large stack of fallen branches bundled up in its earthen arms.

                Dad peered up. “Good man, Golem. Place them with the others.”

                It did. “Should Golem get more?”

                “Nah, you’re good. We’ve got plenty to last us past midnight. Plant your rocky behind next to your favorite lady.”

                My body jumped a little when Golem dropped its body beside me. I giggled.

                Robby was anxious. “Dad, you’re gonna miss the sun!”

                Dad clicked the rocks together. “No…” Click. “I’m…” Click, click, FSHH. Dad smiled. “Not.” He stood up and bowed his head, which must have been a feat considering how pleased he was with himself. “And just as Thine Light breathes life into the Stone of the Earth, Let our Light aid in delivering the gift of life into all we touch.

                Yeah, that. We all had our heads bowed now. I closed my eyes and listened to the sound of the fire rushing through and crackling into the pyre.

                It was dark, and Mom was still insisting that she made better s’mores than Dad. Robby was happy to be judge, I just hoped he wouldn’t barf later.

                I sat with my knees to my chest, letting my finger trace the runes I couldn’t feel below my shirt.

                “Would you like another s’more, Julie?” asked Golem.

                “No thank you. I’m full,” I replied.

                “Are you holding your stomach?” asked Golem. “Are you sick?”

                I smiled and looked at that gentle stone face. “No. I’m just thinking.”

                “What about?”

                I glanced over and assessed that the laughter from my parents was loud enough to drown out my hushed words. “I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately.”

                “… What about?” it asked again.

                I forced a laugh. “About what I’m doing.”

                “You’re holding your knees.”

                “I know.”

                “Ah.”

                “… I haven’t been feeling like myself lately, I think.”

                “You’ve grown up a lot, Julie.”

                I guess I must have. Didn’t make me feel better. “I don’t know where I belong, or what I need to do.”

                “… But you are still Julie,” said Golem, “And if there is something upsetting you, you should do what you told Golem when Grammy died.”

                I paused. I could barely remember Grammy’s funeral. Golem had taken it pretty hard, almost as hard as Dad. But I didn’t remember what I had said. “…What did I say?” I asked.

                “Nothing,” said Golem, “Nothing at first. You just sat beside Golem.”

                I smiled, “…did I say anything eventually?”

                Golem nodded, “After a while, Golem asked why you were there. And you said, ‘Because I love you.’”

                I watched the fire made the shadows dance on the contours of its face.

                “You do not need to know where you belong or need to do, not right now anyway.” Golem smiled. “Golem will sit beside Julie for as long as you need.”

                I could feel my eyes sting, but I didn’t know if it was the fire or Golem. Still, I slid over and leaned my body up against Golem’s boulder-like frame. “… I think I’ll make another s’more soon,” I said.

                “That’s good,” said Golem.

     

  6. Maren, Part 2

    Be sure to read Part 1 before moving on! If you want Golem Part 2 head over to Short Story Salad!

                Maren threw herself into a dodge roll or something like it. Meer wasn’t pleased. “Why did you do that!?”

                “I don’t know!” Maren snapped back, trying to keep her voice low. “What else was I supposed to do? Stand around and wait for someone to stab me in the back?”

                The voice chuckled. Maren held herself low behind another gem display, spying this way and that. There was no one else in the room.

                “Oh silly, little Magister,” the voice was cool and smooth, masculine sounding perhaps, “You think you can hide?”

                Maren was breathless.

                The display Maren hid behind split in two, cutting through metal and shattering the glass. As if an invisible sword was slicing into warm butter. The security alarm began to sound with an ear piercing screech.

                Maren gasped and ran out toward another display. Still she saw no one.

                The voice was dauntless. “Hide as you might, it matters not. Soon you will taste my, Diamond Blade!

                Another display cut through and Maren dashed to different cover. Meer’s feathers were all puffed up in defense. “You can’t run forever!” she hissed.

                “You see, the Green Eye doesn’t belong to you, little Magister.” Sliced.

                Maren sought the impermanent safety of another display. “Meer we have to leave! The police will be here soon!” She shouted this time, there was no point in whispering with the alarm ablaze.

                “You cannot leave that magnifier in his hands!”

                “Ah! But mine are the rightful hands!” Sliced.

                Dodged.

                Hid.

                “This power was never meant for human hands! It was you Magisters that made the Star fall in the first place!”

                Maren was frantic. She was out of displays and the sirens from the police approaching the museum began to join the alarm’s horrid chorus. Her attacker was completely invisible and silent when he didn’t speak. And he didn’t seem at all phased by the mind-numbing alarm. Damn that alarm! It’s 10xs worse than a fire alarm-

                Maren looked up and spotted the numerous steel circles on the ceiling. “That’s it!”

                “What’s- eep!” Meer could barely hold onto Maren’s shoulder as she dashed out from her hiding spot and threw her open palm out toward the ceiling.

                “Are you giving up, little Magister?” asked the voice. “I’m surprised, but it is wise. I’ll make this quick.”

                Focus… Maren felt the heat bubble in the pit of her stomach, Focus.

                Meer understood. “Yes! Do it! Do it now!”

                Fire sparked on Maren’s fingertips and spun until it gathered up in a soft-ball sized sphere of flame at the center of her palm. She pulled back, threw the ball toward the ceiling and shouted, “Pyro Prom!”

                The sphere exploded on the ceiling and from the flames, water erupted from the sprinkler system above. Maren turned her gaze to search about her and smiled. A human-like form appeared in the veil of water cascading down.

                “You stupid  little-!” The form was blasted back with a raging fire ball, which had admittedly shrunk in the spray.

                The water was her blessing and curse here, and she instead dashed for the marvelous peridot in the center display. Maren’s footing slipped as she ran, nearly crashing into the display itself.

                “Quick! Get the gem!” urged Meer.

                “How!?” There was way into the display without a key and her fists couldn’t crack the glass.

                “DIAMOND BLADE!

                Maren looked up and saw the water-revealed figure flying through the air toward the case.

                                                        ***

                Maren sat in the courtyard, face dug into her sore arms. Meer flew down from the tree and began to peck at the untouched sandwich beside Maren. “Maren you need your strength! You did very well last night.”

                Maren tilted her head toward Meer, barely seeing the red bird through her thick strands of hair. “I barely made it out of there before the police entered the room, Meer. And I didn’t even get the stupid thing.”

                “But you got half,” said Meer, beak filled with lettuce, “That’s a half that they don’t have.”

                Maren could feel the weight of the precious stone wrapped in a handkerchief in her hoodie pocket. “Forgive me if I’m not as excited as you.”

                “You need to look on the bright side, Maren.”

                Maren turned her face to the crux of her arms. “That’s what my friend, Cristal, does. Not me.”

                Maren felt Meer’s feathers flutter by her ear. “That bird was eating your lunch,” said an unfamiliar voice.

                Maren pulled her head up and narrowed her eyes. “You’re… Tami?”

                The girl shrugged. “Tamami actually.”

                “Aren’t you a junior?” asked Maren.

                “Yeah, so?”

                “Why are you talking to a sophomore?” asked Maren.

                Tamami pushed the stray dreads out of her face and smirked. “Let’s just say, you’ve… sparked my interest.”

     

  7. Golem, Part 1

    New week, new story! Check out more shorts over at Short Story Salad!

                Robby was sat beside a large stone mass, resting up against the boulder behind him, his thin legs laid out in front of him. He was reading his picture book aloud. “Ja-Jackie Robin-Robinson wa-was the fir-rst,” well, he was trying to read his book aloud.

                We lived up in the mountains a bit off the beaten path where it would be a little more difficult for someone to find us. Mom didn’t like it much, she said it added an extra hour to her commute, but she loved Dad, so she only gripped about it when she was really grumpy.

                “Robby!” I called, “Lunch is ready!” I had been away all year at college, and I had missed home the entire time, so I really didn’t mind making my little brother his lunch.

                Robby glanced up, closing the book as he did. He looked up and the boulder-sized stones that sat beside him began to shift and move. The stones stood up and stepped forward from the shade of the tree it and Robby were sitting under. In the daylight, I could see the old, worn out face embossed on its surface. It picked Robby up and carried him toward me. It smiled and spoke in a soft voice, “Hello, Julie.”

                I smiled. “Hi, Golem.” I turned to Robby, “Do you want your chair?”

                Robby shook his head. “Golem can carry me, right Golem?”

                “Right,” it said.

                I smiled to myself; Golem never said much, but each word was earnest and sweet. “Okay, I’ll go get Dad then.”

                “Whatcha make?” asked Robby as I began walking off toward Dad’s workshop.

                “Grilled PB&J!” I shouted, “Better get going before it gets cold!”

                I heard Robby gasp. “C’mon, Golem! Before it gets cold!”

                I trotted down the familiar stone steps to Dad’s outdoor workshop with a steady, quick pace. Moss had always tried to creep in on the steps, but never got farther in than the corners; our steps had worn them through. It wasn’t a long way down to the plateau, and the closer I got to the workshop, the more runes were carved into the bare rock of the mountain side. “Dad? Lunch is ready,” I called as I turned the corner.

                Dad was a big man, barrel-chested with big arms tatted from shoulder to fingertip with different runes. Seeing Dad, I remembered where I got my board shoulders from. He looked up. “Did you make PB&J, Junebug?” he said with a smile.

                “You’re just as bad as Robby,” I said, approaching Dad’s workbench. “You better come up or your sandwich is gonna be cold too.”

                Strong as he was, Dad had a gentle face, one that currently read of dread at the very thought of a cold grilled sandwich. “Yes, ma’am,” and he placed his tools down.

                Dad was a stone mason, a special kind of craftsman that wielded life into cold, hard earth. I took a peek over at what Dad was working on but sighed, it was only a simple working golem. Mindless little stone bodies with no soul. Dad could see my disappointment and bought me in by the shoulder. “These guys help pay the bills, Junebug.”

                “Their so sad though,” I murmured.

                Dad took off his work apron and washed his hands and face in a shallow basin. “People just don’t want big guys like Golem anymore. Too big, too much to care for. A golem is a pretty big responsibility.”

                I met Golem when I was five, it was the last creation Grammy had made. Mom didn’t know if we should take it in, but Gramm insisted, and once I named it, I was smitten. I named it Golem because, well, that’s what it was. And with Robby needed help to get around, it only seemed like Golem was meant to be a part of our family.

                Dad raced toward the patio and snagged his seat beside Robby. “Hey there, Big Guy,” Dad ruffled up Robby’s hair and kissed his forehead. Robby had peanut butter and jelly all over his face.

                After lunch I went to my room and looked over my summer reading material. I had to be ready for next year because I had fool heartedly chosen World Literature with Professor Greenhart as the instructor. Other students had warned me that if I didn’t read the books on the syllabus before the beginning of his class I was doomed. And I was looking forward to all these books too, but when I looked out the bay window out onto the grassy hill that overlooked the rest of the mountainside, littered with trees and stone jutting out over the landscape, I just sighed. I opened the window and let the breeze come into the room. I spotted Golem, carrying Robby back out to the shady spot under the tree and listened to Robby’s book about Jackie Robinson.

     

  8. The Leaning Tree, Part 3

    Please read Part 1 and Part 2 before reading this conclusion! Read the other stories over at Short Story Salad!

                ”There’s a buncha stories about that old tree,” said Pa, I guess the morning silence was too much for him. “About how it came to be. Used to come up here with the gang and swap stories. You ever hear of ‘em?”

                We followed the river in the woods, it was the easiest way to the tree. Pa was a goddamn idiot if he couldn’t remember something like that.

                “Maybe?” Every town had its urban legends, something to make the town seem special. Nothing special about this hell hole though, so I never paid them mind.

                “Well-” Pa huffed as he spoke. All that beer had made him fat and slow. “One story says the tree is an old witch that was ‘bout to be hung by the townsfolk, so she made a deal with the devil but he ended up tricking her and trapped her in that tree.” Pa kept huffing, “Which is why it looks like an old hag.”

                I adjusted my bookbag. In it was everything I needed. I wouldn’t play it the way I did with Madison; this would be an accident and I ‘run’ into town, horrified at what I had seen. In a few weeks, after the funeral, I would tell Mom that I just couldn’t bare living in this town anymore. Not after seeing Pa fall. And that would be the accuse she needed, that we needed to be free of it forever. There were several affordable moving companies that Mom and I could use, maybe live somewhere outside the city. But none of that was going to happen unless Pa moved his worthless ass.

                “You alright, Pa?” I asked in as kind of a voice as I could muster.

                Pa spat. “Yeah, just haven’t been up out here like this in a while.” He straightened up and walked past me. “It’s kind of nice. Just some man-to-man time.”

                I raised my eyebrows but said nothing and kept walking after him.

                The silence got to him again. “Another story says the tree is an ol’ injin medicine woman. Said she poisoned some of the settlers that killed her tribe’s warriors and raped her. The ‘white man’ chased her up the cliff and she prayed to the spirits-“

                “That’s all sounding a little racist, Pa.”

                “Hush up, I’m only telling it like I heard it,” he snapped. “She prayed for the spirits to save her. So they hid her in a tree. But they was angry she killed like she did, so they kept her there.”

                I could see the tree in the distance, and my heart raced with excitement.

                “Either way, all the stories end the same. That tree is cursed.”

                We were close now.

                “… It sees everything. And forgives nothing.”

                I paused, turning my head slightly. “What?”

                Pa shrugged it off and approached the tree. He stood there, staring the gnarled old thing in the face. He almost smiled. “Hey there, ol’ gal.”

                I set down my bookbag, somehow disgusted on the inside. “Come on, Pa. We’ve got all this garbage to clean up.”

                Pa adjusted his belt and walked down a spell near the river. He stooped down and began thrusting the police tape into the trash bag. I surveyed the area looking for easy places to slip and fall. I just needed it to look natural. Standing beside the tree, I noticed that the roots were all tangled up in the rocky surface. Perfect place to trip. I didn’t look up at the face of the tree that leaned over the falls. Told myself it was bad luck.

                “Hey, Doug,” called Pa, “Look what I found.”

                Irritated, I glanced in his direction. “What?”

                Pa held up something that reflected a silvery shine in the sunlight. “It was dug in real deep between the rocks here.” And then I saw it. “A quarter!”

                I glanced to my bookbag and saw the hole I had told the sheriff about six months ago. My chest tightened and I couldn’t help it. I looked at the leaning tree’s twisted face and saw Madison.

                I stepped back, then there wasn’t any place to back any farther from it. I cried out but grasped a low-hanging branch. my palm stung with splinters. I could hear Pa’s voice but all I saw was Madison glaring at me in the moss framed face of the old hag. But her face shrunk away, leaving only the merciless eyes of the warped old woman.

                I could have sworn that I had a tight grip on that branch, my life line. But then it felt as if someone released my hand altogether.

                Goddamn Pa showed up just then, he reached out, but I was already falling.

     

  9. A Good First Sentence, Part 2

    Read Part 1 before reading on. More shorts are up on Short Story Salad.

                Parents can be funny sometimes.

                I stare at the words appearing on the screen. I think back to horror movies and am somehow comforted that the keys on the board aren’t typing themselves out. Honestly, I think a ghost would be less creepy.

                They were so happy to have a second child, even father was happy enough to have a second daughter. Maybe he figured his seed was cursed and finally embraced his daughter. Or at least he embraced the second one. Britanee was his little princess. I played sports, she did ballet. I built the garden boxes, she got to garden. I wore pants and skorts, she wore dresses and skirts.

    Sibling envy Man that sucks.

                It got worse when mom died. Guess it took a lot out of him. ‘We have to be strong, for Britanee.’ Fucker never tried to be strong for me. He would take us to mom’s grave and only hold Britanee when she started to cry. Now Britanee can only cry at mom’s grave. She should just suck it up, really. If I sound bitter I probably am.

                I almost jump out of my chair when Michael put a cup of coffee next to my laptop. He pats my shoulder and pecks my cheek. He turns to the TV and sighs. Michael says it’s such a shame. My eyes are still glued to the screen, but Willemina is silent for the moment.

                Michael says he remembers Willemina from home ec. I turn to him asking what he meant. Michael says he knew Willemina in high school. That she was kind of a lonely girl. They got paired a lot for projects, mostly because no one else would pick either of them as partners. They were never ‘friends’ though, not really. She only got worse when her mother died.

                I ask him if he still knows this woman. Michael takes a sip of his own coffee and shakes his head. He cut ties with a lot of people back home when he came out, and it wasn’t as if they were close. He tries to smile but can’t. Says he wishes that he could have helped her, taken her with him on the bus out of town.

                What about her sister? I ask. Michael is surprised, how do I know about that? I nod to the TV. Michael shrugged, saying some of us have it easier than others. Brit was good looking and popular, Willemina’s opposite. Not that Willemina wasn’t pretty, she just didn’t care to linger on her looks much.

                Michael turns and says enough about that. He leans over to peek at the screen. I slam the screen down. I think a murderer is hacking my computer It’s not ready. Michael put up a hand to make peace and smirks. Fine, fine, he says, he’ll read it later when I’ve figured out the ending. I shake my head, tell him that I don’t know if this story is getting out of control. He rubs my shoulders, and says the same thing he always says, that I can change the world with my writing, before kissing my brow and saying he’s going to take Rocco out for a walk.

                The dog is barking like crazy but fades away when the door closes behind them. I dare to open the laptop again.

                Brit never understood why I was so miserable. I’m probably a disappointment to her too.

    No more idol hands. Maybe she would if you talked to her.

                I doubt it. Bitch never saw much beyond her mirror. She won’t see much past anything pretty soon.

                My heart skips a beat. What do you mean. Are you going to hurt her?

                I’m going to do more than that.

    I take a deep breath. No, you won’t, Willemina.

                I won’t?

                I’m going to write a different ending. I’m going to change the future.

     

  10. The Leaning Tree, Part 1

    New week, new (creepy) story! More stories over at Short Story Salad!

                ”Listen, Doug! Please! Please, no!”

                I didn’t listen and I pulled the trigger.

                I dragged the body to the waterfall and watched it tumble limply over the rapids. No one from town would find it. Even if they did, they wouldn’t recognize the face anymore that’s for sure.

                I turned and gasped at the eyes staring at me. I gathered my senses and realized that it was just the gnarled bark of a large tree leaning over the waterfall. Moss gathered like braids of hair around its horrid face.

                                                                            ***

                “And that was the last you saw of Madison Guzman?”

                “After school, yeah,” I said, sitting in the police station, “We helped Mr. Truman take down the history projects and then walked home.”

                Sheriff Helen sighed and meditated over her cup of coffee. “She didn’t seem out of turn, or upset?”

                I envied her the coffee. I hadn’t slept at all. I shook my head. “No. Said she wanted to meet up this morning and go over our book reports, but that was all. I was in a hurry to get home.”

                “Why’s that?”

                “There was a hole in my book bag,” I said. It wasn’t a lie. “And I had lost all the quarters I had for the payphone to call home if I was staying out too late.”

                The Sheriff smirked. “Happened before?”

                “Yes, ma’am,” I nodded. “I forgot to call home and Pa was so mad he slapped me silly. Took away my books for a week too.”

                “Took your books?” Sheriff Helen laughed. “My boys pray that I take their books as punishment.”

                I smiled politely. Mom walked into the Sheriff’s office in her uniform. She handed me some hot chocolate. “How you doin’, Dougy?”

                “I’m alright.” I took a sip. I eyed the gun on Mom’s holster. Wondered if I’d need it again. Decided not to think about it. “Any word?”

                Mom looked at me and then the Sheriff.  “Once Madison’s tracks get in the woods, it’s hard to figure out where she went. It was raining so hard last night, it’s all muddied up.”

                “Nothing from the dogs?” asked Sheriff Helen.

                Mom shook her head.

                Sheriff Helen placed her empty cup on her desk. “You can go with your Mom, Doug. Let us know if you remember anything.”

                I grabbed the handle of my book bag. “I will.”

                Mom kissed my cheek. “Pa’s waiting for you in the pickup out front.”

                                                                            ***

                Pa tried to talk in the car but I didn’t. He told me that Mom would find Madison, that he knew we were close. Pa knew nothing, he proved it when he asked about school. “How’s it going?” he asked.

                Girls at school were already getting pregnant. The boys would be dropping out and working at the mill and then die here of alcohol poisoning. Or they joined the military and died somewhere else, probably still drunk. Babies would be born with or without fathers, it’s not like it mattered. “It’s alright,” I said. Pa turned on the radio and let that drown out the silence.

                Pa was one of the worst examples of this shitty small town. He was born here, raised here, knocked up my mother and now kept her here. He worked at the local mill, like all the other fathers. On the weekends he watched football and waited until Mom got off her shift to remember he was hungry. I learned to cook so that Mom could rest when she got home.

                “You look like a sissy in that apron,” he hissed at me one day. Mom said I looked handsome. She was too good for him. We were too good for the whole goddamn town in the middle of goddamn nowhere. I would leave. We would leave… not all of us though.

                Pa warmed up some leftover chili in the microwave but I wasn’t hungry so I went up to my room. I wept before I slept.

                I saw Madison’s face in the darkness, her braids framing her face. She smiled at me and I wanted to kiss her lips. She spoke but I heard nothing. She was scared then she looked like she was in pain. I reached out but before I could touch her, the gnarled bark of the tree shredded through Madison’s face and screamed at me. I woke up, sweat drenching my bed. I didn’t sleep for the rest of the night.