Thursday, June 30, 2022

OPEN CHAPTER

 

I’m afraid to go in but I’m more afraid not to.

The church is a small chapel, the kind you’d find in a small town like Belmont, North Carolina. I try to pull the wooden door open but it’s heavy, maybe that’s a sign. Yep. Not going in. I turn around and head for my car. People are staring, but I don’t care. They don’t know me. Last time I was here it was a month ago and it wasn’t a Sunday and I’m pretty sure none of them were there.

The stone path leads through some trees and shrubbery and into the parking lot. I lean against my old Honda and rummage through my purse, trying to find my keys. Where are they?

“Can I help you, Miss?”

I don’t look up. “No thank you,” I say. “I’m fine.”

My purse falls out of my hands and onto the ground. My life scatters across the parking lot. Bending down, I notice an older gentleman with white silk hair out of the corner of my eye.

He walks over and hands me my car keys. “Is everything okay?”

Our eyes meet and I say nothing.   

Once I’m home, I kick my shoes off and walk into the kitchen. The house is still, quiet. I should be used to it, but I’m not. I stare at the large stack of mail that I’ve shoved into the corner of the bar, knowing responsibility calls, but I’d rather close my eyes and pretend it’s not there. Bills, bills, and more bills. Scanning each envelope before I see one that’s addressed to my mother. I’m not sure I can open it. My hands tremble as I slide my finger underneath the seal and start to read:

 

Dear Ellen,

How does one start a letter like this one?

It has taken me sixty-five years to write this. I have started this letter many times but could never finish it. How could I? Because of me, you have suffered.

There are some things I remember and some I’ve tried to forget. When one lies for so long as I have, it starts to feel like the truth. But I know better.

I’m not the man I want to be. Nor have I been for some time. The darkness festers within me and eats at my soul. I want to be a better man, like the man I once was before the accident.

Even now, it is hard to speak the truth, but I cannot go on with this burden anymore. It has weighed me down, sinking me into waters, deep waters. And though I was not prosecuted by the law of government, I was prosecuted by the laws of life.

Soon after the accident, I started drinking. One drink leads into another, then another. I was hopelessly seeking refuge, but it never came in a bottle. My preacher told me that refuge only comes when one faces the truth, and until now I could never do that. I was too weak. I’m old and have not much more time on this earth. I need peace.

I will be at Riverside Park a month from now on May 4, 2000. Please let me confess what I have done.

Sincerely,

Joe

 

Sitting at my computer, the lamp light flickers on and off. I know you are here, Daddy. I can feel you beside me. I have so much to say to you, though I cannot. It hurts too much, and the memories now have faded with time. How can I bring them back to life again? I thought I had closed this chapter in my life but now it has reared its head and opened a wound that had never really healed.

 

Joe,

The woman you have written to is no longer with us. My mother passed away one month ago to this day.

Peace is what you want, but I cannot offer such a thing. You see because of your actions my family had to learn to go on without a husband, a father. Because of you, I had to move in with my grandmother who was a wretched woman. I had to make a new life for myself, one that was stripped of love. My mother was never the same after the accident. Her warm hugs turned into icy stares that looked past me. That day, I not only lost a father but a mother too.

I’ve tried to forget that day. The memories come to me in flashes as I was only four years old. I remember the heat that morning. The sun had torn its way through the clouds and had climbed above my head. I was sitting in the driveway, playing dolls, when a police officer pulled up in front of my house. They tried to make small talk with me, but I remember running inside, looking for my mommy. When the officer entered my house, he took off his hat and held it to his heart, and said, “sorry ma’am.” My mamma dropped to her knees, screaming. I didn’t understand why at the time, but I started crying too. I tried to hug my mamma, but she pushed me away. It was something she would do from that day on.

My dad loved trains. He used to bring out his toy train every Christmas and put it around the Christmas tree. He would tell us stories about the trains that used to pass his house when he was a little boy. He walked that way to work every morning, so that he could see the train. He knew the schedule by heart which is why I don’t understand how it could have happened. I knew two lanes of the track went into one lane over the river and they said that’s where he was, but that couldn’t be true, he would never have walked that way until he knew the train had passed.

Meeting you is out of the question. I cannot face the man who killed my father. I’m not sure what good answers will do at this point anyway.

Tallulah

 

Dear Tallulah,

I understand why you wouldn’t want to see my face. But please if not face-to-face, let me explain. I wish I never would have had to make that choice that rainy November night in 1957. It was never really a choice at all. Death was inevitable.

I was a young Father with three little girls. Mary had just been born right before the accident. We had many sleepless nights back then. This I remember was one of them. I had slept on the floor, next to her crib, pacifying her with my words as father’s often do. The hours of the night slid by me. When I awoke, I was late for my shift.  

I remember my wife kissing me goodbye and I didn’t want to leave her as she also was tired and needed my help. My eyelids were heavy, but I could not miss another night of work. The road foreman had already given me one too many chances.

The route was as familiar to me as the back of my hand. I knew every stop, every crossing, and landmark.

It was a cold rain, one that felt like winter was coming soon. The passengers had already boarded the train and my crew had put the run switch in the start position. I could hear the engine turning over and smelled the exhaust.

Fifty miles in, the headlamp was glowing, bugs were flying in the fog, rain spit from the sides. In the distance, I saw movement on the track, a man with a hat, but the train was going too fast, I was trying to make up time. I blew the horn, I did. But the man looked as though he had frozen and couldn’t move. I wanted to stop the train, but I knew it would wreck, and possibly all who were on it would die.

That night, I went numb.

The police questioned me, and I knew what I was saying but couldn’t believe I was saying it. I should have told the officer that I was speeding, trying to make up time because I was one hour late to work, and when he asked me several times if I saw him, I should have told him yes, I saw him. That night and many other nights before, standing on Eagle Street waving his hat in the air, smiling like a young schoolboy.

The officer handed me a blue and white striped hat, one that a conductor like myself would wear. I should have given it back. But instead, I stood there, speechless, taking the hat and putting it on my head as though it belonged to me, but it did not. It felt as though my soul had left my body.

Words matter, this I know and knew then, but at the time I didn’t know what to say. I could have told the truth, should have, but I thought about my three little girls and my loving wife, and words left me.

Sincerely,

Joe

 

I stare at the letter for hours.

Sunday morning, I put on my coat and try again. I feel drawn to going back. This time more than ever. Trying not to be seen, I sit on the back row and keep my head lowered as I read the church bulletin in my hands and listen to the sermon which today is about choices and the freedom to make them.

I hear crying. I try not to look up, because all I want to do is cry too.

After the sermon is over, crowds of people head into the aisle, pushing and shoving. I glance over and notice the same older gentleman from the other day stumbling and looking side to side. I grab his arm and help him out of the church.

“I’m sorry,” he says. “I don’t know where I’m going.”

“Me neither,” I say. “Maybe we could walk together.” We start walking toward the parking lot. “I’m Tallulah, and you are?”

He turns toward me. His eyes are full of tears. “I have something that belongs to you.”

I do not understand but I follow him to be polite.

He reaches into the backseat of his car and hands me my father’s hat. “I cannot ask for your forgiveness because I feel I do not deserve it. I’m sorry. I should have said that a long time ago. I know those words are not enough. Nothing will be enough. I’ve earned this pain and will carry it with me for the rest of my life.”

I can’t speak, I just nod. I have pretended that I am a soldier going into battle. But I am no soldier and the only battle I am in—I’ve already lost.

Brought together by such tragedy. There is only one way to overcome.

I smile at him, this man who killed my father. I should be broken as I have spent my years for way too long but instead, I am somehow saved. Because of him, his letters, his honesty, I know what matters, and it is not what I have lost, it is what I have found, peace. “I forgive you.”


Thursday, April 28, 2022

ANNELIESE

 

Night of November 9, 1938, Germany, everything changes.

I run to my window. There are people everywhere. What are they doing? Wait…I recognize them. My neighbors. They are carrying a flame in one hand and a brick in the other. My teeth start to chatter. I see the dark images moving closer. I back away from the window. Glass shatters at my feet.

“Papa!”

He opens his arms and I run into his embrace. Someone is pounding on our door. The house starts to shake. Books fall to the floor. The shutters knock against the stone exterior. He pulls me closer. I lean into him, crying against his shoulder. He strokes my curly blonde hair. I think he might have said something to me, but I can’t hear him. Dogs are barking, people are shouting obscenities. “It is time to put you people in your place.” I hear someone shout.

“Someone’s coming!” Papa says. “Hide. Quickly. Under the bed.”

“Don’t leave me, Papa.”

“Shhh,” he says.  

The door creaks open. An officer enters, raises his arm out. “Heil Hitler.”

I try to remain quiet, but my teeth are still chattering and now my body is trembling with irrevocable fear.

“By the order of Joseph Goebbels, you are under arrest.”

“Please, sir. I can’t go.”

The black-clad SS soldier looks around. “Is someone else in here with you?”

My Papa’s silence is an obvious answer.

Another soldier runs into the room, blowing his whistle. I hear footsteps coming closer. I try to hold my breath, but I can’t. I need air. In the darkness, a hand snakes out and coils around my wrist. Tightening his grip, he yanks me to standing. “Foolish girl.”

Papa looks down at me with eyes of defeat. “Go upstairs to Tante Victoria. She will look after you while I’m gone.”

The soldier releases his grip. Quickly, I run over to my papa, clutch his hand, and bury my wet face into his brown wool overcoat.

“You should do as your told.” The soldier’s voice is like fingernails on a chalkboard. He walks toward us, his black boots marking up our floor and pushes Papa forward with the barrel of his gun. I can smell the cigarette on his breath and notice a scar above his left eyebrow.

“No, no,” I demand. “You will not take him away from me.”

The soldier gives me an assessing look and takes my arm. I can see merciless power searing from his evil eyes. Drunk on it. I yank my arm back from his grip and become unsteady. He smiles and pushes me across the floor, sending me into the wall. I can feel warm blood in my hair, running down my face and into my mouth.

Papa bends down at my feet. “Anneliese.”

“Don’t,” the soldier says sharply.

Papa moves closer to me.

The soldier cocks his gun. “Steh auf!”

Papa glares at the soldier. He slowly stands and looks directly at the weapon. The soldier takes aim. I can see the white in his eyes. Papa lurches for the soldier’s gun. Bang, bang. Papa staggers sideways and turns to look at me one more time. Blood drips from his shirt and his face turns pale. His knees buckle and he falls face first onto the hard floor.

“Papa, wakeup, wakeup…”

“Hanns,” the other soldier says. “Let’s go.”  

The two men disappear. I hold Papa’s cold limp hand, not wanting to let go, not ever. My eyelids are heavy. I try to keep them open—but I can’t. My head, it’s throbbing, a pain I’ve never felt before. The light from the oil lamp is flickering on and off or is it me?

There’s an unfamiliar aroma, chicory coffee and fresh bread. Wait…I blink my eyes open. Papa doesn’t drink coffee. I sit up. The room is spinning, and my head is pounding. This is not my bed. Where am I? How long have I been here? “Papa! Papa!” I grab my stomach. “Oh, Papa…Come back to me.”

“You need to eat something before we go.” Victoria wraps her scarf around her head and neck. She reaches for the wholemeal bread. “Eat. No time to dawdle.”

“I’m not hungry.” I brush the plate away from her hands and it falls to the floor and breaks.

Victoria frowns. “Tsk, tsk…You want to starve, so be it.” She pulls a brown leather suitcase from under the bed. “Hurry, dress. We must go.”

I follow her downstairs. There are people in my apartment as we pass by, my neighbors. They are stealing from us. Taking our good paintings. Leaving black shapes on the wall in their place. Tante Victoria shoves the suitcase in front of me, blocking my eyes. I glance up at her and see her stare at them with a sting of judgement.

The sky is bright red. As we pass the Synagogue, I see flames engulfing the building. Nearby, firefighters stand idly by, making sure flames don’t extend to other buildings. School kids watch from across the street. Smiling and laughing. It looks like they are at a circus. I am so confused. This destruction, it is bad not good.

I climb the steps of the train, hearing the whistle blow, keeping my head down. Victoria rushes me to my seat and nods for me to scoot near the window. I am grateful for the black whirling smoke from the train that fills the morning air. It prevents me from seeing out.

Victoria leans down and whispers, “If anybody asks, you are my daughter now,” she says. “From this point you’ll be Sophie Durand. You were born in Paris like your mum and me.” She adjusts her scarf to cover most of her face. “It is good that you look like me. Oui?”  

I don’t respond.

“Your mum, she was beautiful.” She clears her throat. “I miss her every day.”

Warm, salty, tears fall, unchecked.

“No, no,” she says. “You mustn’t fall apart.” She tilts my chin up. “Courage, it is in you. I know it is.”

When we arrive in Paris, automobiles rumble past us as we walk down the narrow cobblestone streets. Ivy pours down the side of the limestone buildings and the balconies are embellished with colorful mums.

In less than twenty minutes, we arrive at a stone country villa, two-story with red shutters, that has overgrown shrubs. Centered in the courtyard is a statue of a naked woman carrying fruit on top of her head with weeds climbing up the sides. Around it rests damp red and orange leaves. The place looks sad, almost as sad as I feel.

Victoria pauses before she opens the sturdy red door. I notice her hand is shaking. She looks around the orchard and then pushes the large door open with her foot. We stand in the salon for a moment while she sets the luggage down on the floor. Then, she starts ripping the white sheets off the furniture. “Anneliese—” She hesitates. “I mean Sophie. It is dangerous for us to mention that name again.”

I nod.

 “We’re home.” She flattens the front of her dress. “It’s time to clean and get settled in.”

While dusting, I stare at a picture of my mum that sits on the mantel above the fireplace. Her deep blue eyes radiate with joy. I sense she is here. Papa never kept her pictures visible for me to see. I do not know why. Maybe, her memory was too much for him. Now, I have something to hold, to talk to.

Victoria comes up beside me. “This picture,” she says. “I remember this day. Our parents took us to the park to have a picnic.” She snickers. “Your mum. She thought she was invincible. She walked the top of fence posts and rode her bicycle with no hands.” She sighs. “Listen to me. In the coming days, life…it will get hard. I need you to be brave like your mum. Can you do this for me?”

I glance at the picture and then back at Victoria. “Yes.”

“Good,” she says. “Now, come. Let me fix you some supper.”

 

 

On a cold day in early January 1941, I stare out the window looking at the six inches of snow that blankets our yard. Last night, I had a dream that my papa and mum were holding my hands. I woke up smiling. These days, it is rare that I smile.

Wearing layers of clothes, I walk downstairs and feel a wave of warmth splash over me, noticing the fire that Victoria has made. Quietly, she sits on a divan in the living room, reading. Darkness fills the room even with the light from the fire. Curtains stay closed these days. She says only danger lurks outside.

Someone knocks on the door.

“Don’t answer it,” she says, with a jerk toward the door.

We both stare at one another. Silence.

A few minutes later, another knock at the door but this time it’s louder.

“Stand behind me.” The door rattles. Another knock. Victoria reaches for the knob, but before she can open it. The door swings open, knocking her to the floor. “Mon Dieu,” she mutters.

A German soldier drops a piece of paper to the floor and kicks it over to Victoria. “I have a requisition order to billet here.”

“A Nazi living in my home?” she questions. “I think not. You must leave.”

“I will do no such thing.” He removes his military hat and stands as straight as a flagpole with blood shot eyes.

Those eyes. They are familiar and that scar. “No, no,” I say. “We must not argue with the soldier. Here. Let me take your things to your room.”

“Finally,” he says. “A girl who knows how to respect a man of my status.” He hands me his bags.  

Victoria tilts her head to one side.   

This is an unusual twist of fate. Does he know who I am? Of course, he doesn’t. I was not a human being to him that day.

He chooses the biggest bedroom in the house and looks around.  “Yes, this will do.”   

I drop his bags with care and turn to leave.

“Wait,” he demands.

I swallow hard and turn around.

“I am Hanns Ewers. You are?”

“Mademoiselle Sophie Durand.”

He takes a cigarette out from his shirt pocket, lights it. “Why are you being so nice to me?”

“It is how I was raised, perhaps?” I force myself to not look away.

His slimy blue eyes study me behind a veil of white smoke.

“Is there anything I can get you?”

He waves his fingers in the air and lowers his head. “No.”

I step out of the room. Once I’m out of site, I release my breath. Victoria comes around the corner and drags me into the kitchen. “Are you mad?” she whispers. “He will kill us if he finds out the truth.”   

I wrap my hands around hers. “You told me to have courage, right?”

She shakes her head. “We’ll need more than courage,” she says. “We need a plan.”

I want to tell her this is the man that killed my papa, but we have a plan to discuss and before I can explain my actions…

“Ah, Madame and Mademoiselle,” he says, his gaze narrowing as he approaches. “There you both are.”

“Oui,” Victoria says, taking a deep breath.

“I will of course need to see your identity papers,” he says. “It is only customary.”

“P-papers?” Victoria says, her voice unsteady.

“Did you not hear me correctly?” His voice thunders.

She starts to walk toward the living room.

“Where are you going?”

“To get the papers as you asked,” Victoria says.

“You tell me where they are, and I’ll get them.”

“There’s no need. It’s much easier for me to retrieve them for you.”

He stomps his foot, leaving a muddy footprint on the floor. “You will not leave my sight.” He points to me. “Girl, you go get the papers. Now!”

In the living room, I stare for several seconds at the locked drawer in the desk. I know what’s in there. Victoria showed me. The key is hidden underneath the chair.

Slowly, I draw the Pistol from the drawer and hide it beneath the papers and walk into the kitchen. Paralyzed. Face-to-face with a man I do not know but has declared himself my enemy. I cannot move. Nor do I want to. It’s all lies. All of it. Our people are no different than his people. Why doesn’t he understand this? Why must I lie about who I am to protect their injustice? “My name is Anneliese Strauss, and you killed my papa.”

“I know who you are,” he says.

Bang, bang.

The room becomes out of focus. My body is heavy, so heavy that I cannot stand anymore.  

“Anneliese!” Victoria cries, crumbles to the floor and sweeps me into her arms. She lifts my head as warm blood drips from my stomach.

“Was I brave like my mum?”

“Oui,” she says brokenly. “So brave.”

I feel her arms slip out from beneath me.

Bang.

He staggers backwards and collapses. 

Friday, March 25, 2022

SHINING LIGHT - SHORT STORY GENRE: SCIENCE FICTION

 



I’m starting to learn that reality is a fickle thing. The truth can be distorted, stretched into new dimensions and not many can see it for what it is.

At school they call me Grey Cloud. I guess because my hair is grey. My name’s really Ellie. According to Mom, I’m a DreamWalker. She says I was chosen by the gods to walk between worlds when I dream. The truth is I don’t really believe her. She has an overactive imagination. She says I must believe.

“Hold my hand,” I say to Sarah. She grabs my pinkie finger which is frozen. “We’ve only got two more blocks.”

“Sissy, I’m tired.”

It’s hard to see. The heavy wind pushes us back as we try to gain momentum. Storms. I’m so done with the storms. Our weather is so unpredictable. One day it’s hot with thick unbreathable air and the next day we have snow. “I know you’re tired. I’m tired too. None of us have slept in days.” I bend over and wrap Sarah’s scarf a little tighter around the lower half of her face. “Look, Mom needs us to get a few things from the store. Tomorrow’s Christmas.”

She nods.

I grab Sarah’s arm. “Stop!”  

A hologram appears in front of us on the sidewalk. An image of the world spins and slowly darkens. “WARNING. Earth is no longer inhabitable. President Genesis has made it mandatory that anyone under twenty-one years old must leave to live on Mars. We have been told that a new habitat has been created there underground.”

“Sissy, look. Lights.”

I hold my forefinger to my lips. “Shush. Stop annoying me.”

“This is the beginning of the end. The world will no longer exist in eight days. There won’t be a year 3000. Global warming. Our ancestors knew plastics were bad for the environment. They knew that they were non-biodegradable. Even though our ancestors knew the consequences of plastic, they continued to make it. Plastic tables, chairs, toys, toothbrushes, glasses, plates, floors, car parts, even houses. The list goes on and on. It was as if they wanted to destroy the planet on purpose.”

Sarah tugs on my shirt. “Sissy, sissy…Look.”

“Will you stop?”

She jumps up and down. “Pretty lights!”

“I don’t care about the stupid lights!” I snatch her hand. “Now, come on.”

There are crowds of people at the store. Most of them children. They’re the only healthy ones. After three hours of waiting in line, we make our way into the store. “We should’ve come earlier like Mom asked us to. There’s nothing here.” I grab Sarah’s hand and pull her around the store. “No water, bread, non-dairy milk…What are we going to do?”

Sarah shrugs her shoulders.

“Oh good,” I say. “Meatless turkey. Sarah, put it in the front of the cart. I don’t want it to get smashed.”

Sarah wraps her small hands around the cold meatless turkey and drops it into the front. “Sissy?”

“Yes.”

“Why do you hate Christmas so much?”

I start to chew on my lips. “No more questions. We need to get this stuff home so Mom can start cooking.”

We enter the house bubble and lock the chamber door behind us. Slowly, we take our oxygen masks, thermal coats, and gloves off, releasing the pressure. Then we make our way into the living room. The walls are decorated with a paper Christmas tree, some paper lights, and paper stockings. But it doesn’t feel like Christmas. Not anymore. But that’s fine with me. Every year it comes too early. Mom and Dad get stressed out, fight. Everything I liked about Christmas is gone. And now…How can I leave my family? How? What will happen to my parents?

Christmas morning, Sarah sits by the tree opening her gift. “Mommy,” Sarah says loudly. “Someone’s knocking on the door.”

Mother and Father turn toward each other.

“Ellie, take your sister upstairs,” Mother says.

We sit at the top of the stairs and hide behind the wall. I motion for Sarah to scoot next to me. With care, I peek around the corner.

Father moves in beside Mother, placing a hand at the small of her back, urging her to move forward. She opens the door. Two men are standing there, both wearing white robes with a bluish silver belt.

“We’ve come for Ellie and Sarah,” says the older of the two men. His hair is white, and his skin is pale with eyes veiled by a net of wrinkles.

“No, you can’t,” Mother says.

“It’s orders,” he says.

“We’re their family now.”

“But they’re not your daughters.” His voice low but his words are like a crack of a whip.

“We love them and have raised them as our own. We kept them safe as we were asked. They won’t understand.”

“Perhaps not,” he says. “They need to be with their kind. We cannot leave them here to die.”

Mother leans over with her hands on her knees, gasping for air, unclean air.

“G-girls, come down,” Father yells with his voice breaking and his chin trembling.

We slowly come downstairs, taking one step at a time.

Mother and Father rush to our sides and bend down together to hug us. “We will always love you,” Mother says. “Remember that.”

We stare at our parents with tears and confusion.

“Mommy? Daddy?” Sarah says.

“Ellie,” Mother whispers. “Take this.” She hands me a small gift. I tuck it into one of my socks. When the gift touches my skin, there’s a faint glow.

The two men grab our arms and rush us into their silver bullet spaceship. Sarah launches herself at the window, pressing her palms up against the glass. “Mommy! Daddy!” Just like lightning—we’re gone.

We travel through dark vastness that’s scattered with light. It’s like an unbounded continuum of music notes that dance and feed off the rhythm of celestial bodies. All working together as one.

“Where are we?” I ask. “This doesn’t look right. Mars is supposed to be red not white.”

“We have taken you to the beginning of time,” he says. “Everything you know to be true, isn’t. Humans were created here on planet Zera. Our kind have used other planets as experiments. Earth being one of them. We wanted to see how long it would take humankind to self-destruct. It’s human nature. It lives in our subconscious. We innately know what is right and what is wrong but time and time again we choose to be selfish and greedy. All planets have failed.”

“This can’t be true,” I say.

The man points to a woman with long white hair. She wears a sheer white dress that brushes the sand beneath her. The sky is iridescent, and the air is breathable. There is no hazy fog like home. Shimmering lights hang from the trees and lanterns line the pathways.

“My name is Aster.” She pauses. “You’ve come a long way.”

“Why?” I ask and then look down at my sister who hasn’t stopped crying.

“Christmas day. This day to most was a symbol of what humanity should be but isn’t. It was pure. Earth’s atmosphere used to shine on this day, like a star. We could see it from here. But now, oxygen levels have plummeted. Threat is imminent. And no one can stop it.”

“We can change,” I plead. “I know it. Send us back and I’ll persuade them all to change.”

“My child, it’s not that simple,” she says. “We planted seeds, sent storms of warning, transmitted messages through dreams. None of it was enough to stop the destruction. Mankind leads with filthy hands. They purposely hurt each other with words. Hatred spreads like wildfires. Oceans of bloodshed. And for what? Nothing. No one gains anything from it. Their hearts have darkened. Their minds have become riddled with jealousy, ungratefulness.”

I narrow my eyes toward her. “So, you punish them with death?”

“No. They punish themselves. Every injurious behavior leaves them emptier inside. They do it.”

“What about my parents? They’re good people. You know that. Why must they die?”

“Life is unfair. Our decisions are based on what the majority does. We cannot single out all the good ones. It would take too long.”

“But doesn’t that make you as bad as they are?”

“Ellie, you do not know what you speak. Your heart has darkened like theirs.” She points into the air. “Men, send these two away.”

One of the men yanks me nearly off my feet and drags me away. The other man marches forward and grabs Sarah by her arm.

Sarah stumbles to the ground. “No!”

I break free from the man’s grip and reach for Sarah, guarding her from the evil men. “Stay away from my sister!” I say, gritting my teeth.

Aster raises her arm and a ray of light pulses from her hand. It separates us. “Girls, please…We don’t want to harm you.”

“Then let us go,” I say.

“Once we erase your memories, then we’ll set you free.”

“But I—”

“No more pain, Ellie. You will live in peace. Isn’t that what you want?”

“What about my sister, and my family…”

Aster shakes her head. “They’ll no longer be your family.”

I blink back tears as Sarah looks up at me with red puffy eyes. She reaches her hand out for mine. Our fingers touch.

“Take them away,” Aster says. “Do not let them sleep. Now go.”

We are put into a white room that has loud piano music blaring into our ears. Sarah cuddles up beside me, holding my hand. Believe…believe…I hear my mother’s soft voice. I take the gift out of my sock and open it. It is a small star with no color. Almost looks as though it’s dead.

“Lights, sissy.”

“Not now, Sarah.”

Sarah stands up and points to the star in my hand. It’s dark.

I throw the star across the room. “Don’t you get it. We’re never going to see Mom and Dad again. Who cares about some ridiculous lights!”

Sarah walks over and picks the star up in her hand and hands it back to me.

I close my eyes, then open them again. The star begins to flicker. But when Sarah removes her hand from mine it turns dark again. I grab her hand and place it back onto the star. It shines but stops. Sleep. Why would they not want us to sleep? “Sarah, close your eyes.”

Sarah closes her eyes and I close mine. The room starts to shake, keeping us from sleeping.

“We’re going to play a game, okay? Let’s pretend were popcorn. Can you do that?”

Sarah nods with a smile.

“Now close your eyes and think about Mom and Dad.”

She closes her eyes as we are thrown around the room.

“Mom, I need you,” I say. “Can you hear me.”

“Believe, Ellie. It’s within you. Your name means Shining Light.”

I open my eyes. “Sarah, am I the light?”

She nods her head up and down really fast, smiling from ear to ear.

“I believe.” Something inside of me grows. I grab Sarah’s hand and hold it tight and lift the star in my other hand. A ray of light springs from our bodies, sending a colorful radiance through the galaxy.

Earth shines again and so do I.

“Wakeup, sissy.”

I rub my eyes. “Home?”

She drags me downstairs. I smell gingerbread and feel the warmth of the fire. “What’s this? A real tree, stockings, gifts. It can’t be. I must’ve been dreaming.”

Mother kisses me on my cheek.

Father pats my head. “Your hair? It’s white.”

“But how?” I ask.

Mother smiles and gives me a wink.

 


Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Flash Fiction - A NEW DAY BY ABAGAIL SUMMERS


 




I have decided to continue writing After the Storm behind the scenes, which means I’m taking it off my blog. Writing, editing, and publishing in one week has been a challenge. I decided a few years ago that I wanted to be a writer, not knowing all the pitfalls, and there are so many…But I’m not quitting. Why? Because, in my heart I’m a writer. I love it. It is a part of me that I’m not ready to give up. With that being said, I plan to share my short stories with you instead on my blog. This way, you can read the story from beginning to end. Plus, it is important to me to deliver the best quality of work that I can deliver which takes time and many drafts. What you have been reading is my first draft. Thank you to all who have taken the time to read my chapters. I assure you that when I am finished, I will publish and run promos so that you can read the ending. 


I wrote A New Day for a flash fiction writing contest. It is about redemption and forgiveness. Without further ado, I present the following video. 



Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Chapter 30

 

Nashville: The Country Music Capital of the World. A place where serious musicians consider moving to. A place that once was home for June. Now seemed out of reach. June feared she had lost her grasp on this town. Had they forgotten her? Maybe she wanted them to. Doors only stay open for so long. She knew that. And still, she didn’t mind sweeping her career under the rug. Her calling wasn’t calling her anymore. And with the empty space it left behind, she had trouble knowing how to fill it. Family, to her was all she needed. But as the years left her with loss and broken dreams, she needed, yearned for something to replenish that void inside her. It was out there. She could feel it, just couldn’t see it. Unfortunately, as she walked blindly into the unknown it delivered an invisible path that made her want to turn around. 

Last night’s snow turned into a chilly rain in the morning. June could see her breath as she sat in her truck with the engine on. The heat had stopped working a long time ago in the truck. It was another thing she had on her list to fix in the last year. Honestly, she didn’t mind the cold. It had a way of waking her senses, bringing clarity.

Coming full circle, she parked in Diana’s driveway and stared at the mansion. It was like a replica of Diana. It stood with confidence. The sharp angles were abrasive but sturdy. The green shutters screamed prosperity. The white columns were unnecessary but brought beauty to the home. The second-floor balcony was like her eyes. She always could see what was going on even when June tried to hide things from her. A canopy of trees surrounded the house to not only bring it shade but privacy. To keep the house guarded from outsiders. The statues that lined the walkway were like her sense of humor. They didn’t match the classic style of the house. One was a jockey riding a racehorse. Another was a woman carrying fruit on her head. Then, there was the fountain in the center. The heart. It pumped an endless stream of water that cascaded down the sides of each tier.

“Well, boil me an egg and call me a cockatoo,” Diana said as she opened the stain glass door. “Look who decided to show up.”

Melody rushed out of the house, pushed past Diana, and clung to June’s hips. June pulled her in closer and kissed the top of her head. Mally peeked out from behind Diana and stared cautiously at June as she stood on the stone steps. Cold rain slid down June’s cheeks turning her skin a pale blue and her clothes were soaking wet.

“It’s been a long time,” June said. “This place hasn’t changed much.”

“No need to change perfection,” Diana said with a bright smile.  

Mally forced a tight smile as Diana looked back at her seeking her accord.

“Come on now, get inside.” Diana motioned for them to come into the house. “This cold rain is making my old bones hurt.” June and Melody did as they were told. They stood huddled together in the foyer, dripping water onto the hardwood floors. “Let me get y’all some dry clothes.” She turned and went upstairs.

Once Diana was out of earshot, Mally pulled June into the drawing room. “Listen. We need to talk about some things, privately.”

“I know.” June shifted her weight to her other foot. “She bought our land, but why?”

Mally shrugged. “She’s like a dog, she can sniff paper money from a mile away. Then there’s you. She knows you love that land more than anything.”

“Now Mamma. Let’s not jump to conclusions. You don’t know her like I do.”

“Well, maybe not, but people don’t spend millions of dollars to be nice. Especially her. She’s got a plan and I can guarantee we’re not going to like it.” She raised an eyebrow. “Did you know she’s building us a house there?”

“What?” June tried to lower her voice. “Hmmm…”

Melody ran into the room grinning from ear to ear and hopping up and down. Diana followed with her hands on her hips. “I was upstairs rummaging through my clothes and thought of something.” The ladies looked at each other. “Wouldn’t it be fun if I took y’all shopping. My treat.”

Mally shook her head. “We can’t let you do that. You’ve already done so much for us.”

“Nonsense, I want to,” Diana said. “Don’t say another word.”

Mally rolled her eyes as Diana walked away to find her purse. June shot her mamma a look that said, please stop.

June couldn’t remember the last time she’d been shopping. Even before she moved back home, it wasn’t something she did. Most days her attire consisted of two sweatshirts that she wore on alternating days and the same pair of jeans that she washed occasionally. But now that wardrobe had turned into dust from the fire. The rags that hung from her skinny body were humiliating to be seen in. June stared down at Melody. She had an oversized t-shirt on that was tied up on the side. Mally had given it to her to borrow. Her black leggings that she wore were bought from a cheap department store called Free Fashion. June had to admit, they could use some sprucing up, for sure.

When they walked into the boutique, the store clerk stopped in her tracks and looked up. “Are my eyes playing tricks on me?” she said. “Diana Foster, is that you?”

Diana greeted the lady with a kiss on each cheek. “Shelly,” she said. “How are you?”

“Fine, fine,” Shelly said. Then she glanced over Diana’s shoulder and noticed June. Her expression shifted from a smile into a blank stare. “Why, June…you look…”

June’s face flushed. She could see the sudden memory of what she used to look like passing through Shelly’s eyes. The place became silent. June hated this awkwardness, her pity. This was one of the reasons why she had avoided everyone from her old life. She knew the pity in her eyes was judgement on her for being unable to put her life back together.

“How are you, June?”

“I’m good.” She lied.

Shelly adjusted her stance and tried to focus. “Now, what can I help you ladies with today?”

“I want the star treatment for my girls,” Diana said.

“My girls?” Mally questioned.

Shelly led them past two other customers, both with blonde coiled hair and makeup as thick as rubber. One of them saw June and began to whisper into her twin friend’s ear. The boutique was black and white with white shag carpet in the walkway. Black and white pictures hung from the walls featuring some of the great singers who had made it in Nashville. June’s picture had hung on one of those walls, but not anymore. Now it had been replaced by another young singer whom June couldn’t recall the name of.

Diana turned and headed for the door.

June grabbed her elbow. “And where do you think you’re going?”

“Oh, you know,” she said. “I’ve got business to attend to, but Shelly here will take good care of y’all.” Diana flicked her hand in the air. “Anything they want, just put it on my credit.”

Shelly nodded.

“Well, no wonder she wanted to drive separately,” Mally said.

Before June could think, Shelly had Mally and her trying on dress after dress. She had a flutter of nerves that had settled somewhere deep inside her empty stomach. She was glad when another client walked in that had attracted Shelly’s full attention.

Melody frowned. She had been sitting on a stiff Valor chair in the dressing room for about an hour. She thought they were going to a mall where she could play on the merry-go-round or ride the escalator up and down. This place was small and boring. “Can we go now?” Melody asked as she knocked on June’s dressing room door. 

“In a minute,” June answered. The black dress she had on clung to her. It was all too much, the clothing with rhinestones, sequins, fake diamonds. June looked at the price tag and swallowed hard. It cost five hundred and ninety-nine dollars. She carefully unzipped the dress and shimmed it down to her ankles and placed it back on the wooden hanger. She picked up her raggedy clothes from the corner of the fitting room and held them in her hands. “Mamma, are you ready to go?” She heard her mamma grunting on the other side of the wall. After a few seconds, she could hear her zipping up her dress.

“What’d you say?”

“You ready to go?”

“Yeah, just give me a minute.” Mally opened her fitting room door. “Come out here. Tell me what you think.”

“Oh, Grandma. You look—”

“Stunning,” June said as she cracked her door open.

Mally stood there as though she had just won a Grammy.

“Are you going to get it?” June asked.  

Mally turned to the side in the mirror. “What on earth would I wear this to? It’s impractical. That’s what it is. Could you imagine what your father would—” She paused.

June opened her door more and grabbed her hands. “You should get it.”

Mally shook her head and withdrew her hands from June. “It’s not right. None of it.” She plopped down in a chair next to Melody.

“Grandma,” Melody said in a soft voice. “I think you look very pretty.”

June went into her dressing room and put her clothes back on, opened her door and sat on the other side of Mally. “Look at us,” June said. “The three of us with long faces. This was supposed to be fun.”

Melody kicked her legs up and down to the music that was playing in the boutique. “This isn’t fun. We never have fun anymore.”

“Mamma, how about we go to the mall?”

“But we don’t have any money.”

“We don’t need money to have fun. How about y’all go and warm up the truck, and I’ll put your dress back.”

Mally nodded, stood, and looked at herself in the mirror. Taking in one last moment before she went to take it off. 

As soon as the two left the boutique, June carefully put the dress back on the hanger and draped it with plastic. She stared at the dress. Picturing her mom’s smile again. She couldn’t put it back. She brought it to the counter where Shelly was busy talking on the phone. She had her back turned. June waited for her to finish her phone conversation.

Shelly turned back around and hung up the phone. “Found one, I see.”

June blinked a few times. “Can you hold it for me?”

“I can ring it up for you, but I cannot hold it. We no longer reserve or hold styles due to the growing popularity of our boutique.”

“Please, Shelly. You know me. If I say I’ll be back for it, I will.”

She walked past her and disappeared into the fitting room. June followed. Shelly was zipping the dresses back up that they had tried on and neatly covering them. She looked at June, her eyes narrowed. “Just put it on Diana’s credit. She insisted.” 

“I don’t want to. I’d rather pay for it myself.”

She walked over to June and looked at the price tag. “Okay, it’s four hundred and ninety-nine dollars.”

“I don’t have that.”

“How will you be able to pay for this dress tomorrow if you can’t pay for it today?”

“Look, I’m not looking for charity here, all I’m asking for is for you to hold this dress for one day. That’s it.”

Shelly sighed, took the dress from June, and flung it over her shoulder. “One day. That’s it.”

“Thank you, thank you.”

“The only reason I’m doing this is because your Diana’s friend. So, no more favors after this. I could lose my job. We have very strict policies for a reason.”

She was still talking when June turned on her heel and walked away. She didn’t care that she’d been judged so. She’d gotten her way. Nashville was full of people like this. They acted as though they were the guardians of the wealthy and famous. She’d seen Shelly’s other side before when she was famous. She knew she was a fake. And now, she had proof.

The mall was decorated for Christmas, red and white bows hanging from the glass ceiling, garland and white lights wrapped around the banisters. When they reached the Christmas tree that was adorned with white angels and stars, children were standing in a long line. June had forgotten about the holidays while she was in the hospital. It hit her hard. What kind of a Christmas was Melody going to have? They had no money, no home. As a mother, she wanted to give her child the world. Right now, the small things had become big things and the big things were so distant from reality.  

Melody’s eyes lit up when she saw Santa Claus sitting at the base of the tree. “Can I? Can I?” she asked while pulling on June’s shirt.

June took a deep, calming breath and walked with Melody to stand in line. The line shuffled forward. June stepped to the front and found herself staring at the white-haired man with skin the color of snow. Saying nothing, she led Melody toward him.

With white gloves he picked her up and put her on his knees. “Now tell me what you would like for Christmas.”

Melody looked at her mother. June’s worry returned. How would she give her what she wanted? It would be another thing she would fail at. June’s eyes glazed over with tears.

“June?”

She turned so fast she almost tripped on her own feet.

Mally tilted June’s chin up. In the silence between them, she heard the laughter of children around her and smelled the peppermint candy canes that Santa was giving out. June gave a weak smile. Then, straightened and looked at Melody who was giggling. Her smile was so bright. She hadn’t seen her so happy like that in a long time. For a mere moment June felt a rush of emotion so pure and sweet that not even worry could stop it from spilling over into her heart.

 👗👗👗

 

That night, sometime after seven, June crept from her bedroom and went into her mother’s bedroom. Moving gingerly, she closed the door gently behind her. Mally was sitting up in bed reading a book. June eased her way toward her and climbed into bed. Mally took her reading glasses off and laid the book down on her lap.

“Can I borrow some clothes?” June said quietly.

“Are you going somewhere?” Mally said in a tired voice. “You shouldn’t. It’s cold out there.”

June shrugged and gave a slight nod.

“I’ve seen that look before. What are you up to?”

“It’s no big deal. I just need something to wear that’s halfway decent.”

“Are you going to see Tom?”

“Mamma…please…”

“What? It’s not that outlandish.”

“No. I’m not going to see him. Besides, I’m pretty sure he doesn’t want to see me right now.”

“Oh, June. You always had a way of pushing that poor boy away from you. You’re just being scared.”

June had no words.

“I’ll be back well after midnight, so don’t wait up.” June rolled out of bed and started rummaging through Mally’s clothes in the closet. Holding each dress up and shaking her head. “No, not this one or this one.” She noticed how worn her mother’s clothes looked. Most of the dresses had thinned and color had lightened. In the back of the closet, she pulled a white button-down shirt and held it up in front of her. The length ended at her knees. Then, she grabbed one of her mamma’s belts and wrapped it around her waist. “This might work.” 

Mally stared at the shirt that June was holding. She tried to fight back the tears; pretend she was fine. But the memories of Henry wearing that shirt came to her like a river rushing toward a waterfall.

June dashed to her mother’s side.

“I’m fine,” Mally said while covering her face.

June pulled her close and wrapped her right arm around her. “No, you’re not. And neither am I. But we’ll find a way. We’re the Waters and we never give up.”

Mally took the shirt from June and breathed it in. “It smells like him.”

“He’s here,” June said. “I can feel it.”

“I can too. That’s why I say his name as though he’ll walk right back into our lives.” Mally lowered the shirt and held it tight against her belly. “I miss him.” She and June exchanged a pained look. She handed the shirt over to June. “Whatever your plan is…Don’t be scared…because when you get to be my age, you’ll reluctantly look back on your life and think about all the things you gave up on because you were scared.” She put her reading glasses back on and lowered them, peering over. “But I know you—you’ll succeed.”  

June eased closer and kissed her mother’s cheek. “That’s what I’m afraid of.” 

OPEN CHAPTER

  I’m afraid to go in but I’m more afraid not to. The church is a small chapel, the kind you’d find in a small town like Belmont, North Ca...