The Day, Continued

The Day, Continued (Week 3 winner)

Keys, shoes, pointless umbrella – I had everything I needed and still stood staring at the door. I knew it wasn’t going to open itself. I knew it was up to me to cross the threshold to start my day. 

And I didn’t do it.

I put the umbrella back in the closet. I put my keys back on the hook next to the door. I took off my shoes and put them back onto the mat. I did get as far as touching the door but not until I’d already undone my preparations, waiting to make even that minimal contact with the potential of the outside world until I’d made it clear to myself that there wasn’t a chance of meeting it that day.

From the safety of the big chair furthest from the door, I considered my options. I had built quite a comfortable life for myself within the walls of my apartment. I didn’t, technically, need to leave it for anything. The internet brought all the world I could stand and then some to my fingertips. I was, through my computer, able to meet all of my basic needs from the comfort of my big chair. Groceries found their way to my doorstep and friends appeared on screen at regular intervals.

Outside wasn’t a necessary part of my existence. Or, at least, I’d convinced myself of such. Even so, at least once a week I went through the process of attempting to go out into it. That day wasn’t new – I had gotten dressed and shoed and wrapped my keys in one hand and my umbrella in the other on fifty one other days. And, on each of those days I found myself back on my chair, staring at the door from the furthest distance possible in my apartment. 

That day was my fifty second attempt. My fifty second failure. 

Have you ever failed at something that consistently? I think it does something to you, failing that many times. I’m not really sure I had any hope around my failed attempts. Had I honestly thought that I would open the door that morning? Had I used the same old self talk script to hype myself up enough that I got dressed and put on my shoes? Looking back it’s hard to imagine that I had any belief left.

My chair  supported me and held me, and that had been all I needed for a long time. All I had, anyway. My apartment was a fully furnished single room with an overstuffed chair, a bed that disappeared into the wall, a table that adjusted in height so it worked for all uses, a few pictures on each wall, and three bookshelves. The only wall without a bookshelf was the one taken up by what passed for a kitchen. It didn’t have full appliances – there wouldn’t have been room to live if it had. The range (no oven), microwave (half-sized), fridge (quarter-sized), and sink (single basin) got the job done.

Minimalist is what the wise souls on the internet called how I lived. Having a lable for it added ligitimacy to my mishigas in a way that was almost as comfortable as my big chair. I rubbed the arms of that chair as I contemplated what my day would be since it wouldn’t involve the outside world after all. For almost two months I’d had the pleasure of reorienting my day’s plans around my failure and I’d gotten rather good at it.

Tucking my feet underneath me I leaned back into the chair and closed my eyes. I had books I could read and house chores I could do, but in that moment I didn’t want to do anything beyond sitting in my chair and licking my proverbial wounds. As had happened on the other fifty one days, I went over my options and reasons and ideas as if doing so might help me move forward.

I nearly jumped out of my skin when my computer, not my phone, started ringing. The sound was jarring all on its own and only more so because it was such a rarity. Talking on the phone was something I avoided only slightly less than the outdoors and anyone who knew me understood that calling was something reserved for dire emergencies. Those non-existent calls would come to my phone, though, not the computer.

It took me a minute to decide to act and another minute to get myself up and over to my computer. It wasn’t even on. It was sitting, closed, in its spot on one of the bookshelves. Unplugging it and turning it off was something I’d read about online as a way to limit the compulsive checking of all the things. For the last three weeks I’d been dutifully disconnecting it and shutting it down. The only change it had made so far was that I was getting a bit more activity in with all the time spent bending down to plug and unplug it every time I thought of something I needed to do online. 

The ringing continued as I got the machine up and running. I found myself missing “the olden days” when phones, the ones that plugged into the wall, anyway, would only wring a certain number of times before going silent. My first taste of an adrenaline rush of, in my youth, came from racing across the ground floor of our family home to skid to a stop in the kitchen and retrieve the handset from the phone before that last ring. It didn’t matter who the call was for back then because there was no way of knowing. The simplicity sounded delicious in that moment.

I found myself shaking as I fought to find which app I had that could make a noise matching the ring I heard. It turned out to be one of the social platforms – one that I spent too much time on and that was the impetus to start disconnecting the computer. I paused for a moment of thanks that it was not, indeed, a phone call I was about to need to face. Once the app was open and on-screen I was confronted with the face of a dear friend.

“What took you so long?”

“I thought you were calling me and that slowed me down.”

She stared at me for a moment and I thought I saw the corners of her mouth twitch like she was holding back a grin. My shoulders tensed up as I readied myself for a fight.

“We both know I know enough not to call you.”

She was right. She did know me. She knew me better, or at least more honestly, than I knew myself. That the knowing wasn’t a two way street was something I’d struggled with for far longer than I’d struggled to leave my apartment. Helene. Helene Granscene. Helene Granscene in all her flamboyant, intense, loud, and boisterous glory had been placed next to me in the twelfth grade and hadn’t left my side since. For a time she and I led parallel lives though that’s not something most people would assume looking at us today. 

She’d smiled and shouted her way through high school and college while I slinked along in her shadow. Helene took center stage in all venues while I was happiest behind the scenes, but we were together through it all the same. We shared a friend group made up of people quieter than her and louder than me with the two of us marking the edges. 

“I have a proposition for you.”

My eyes narrowed and I pulled back from the screen. “What sort of proposition?”

“One that’s going to get you up and out of that damn apartment.”

“You’re not going to strong-arm me out the door, Helene. I’ll leave when I’m ready.”

“I said a proposition, not an intervention.”

“I’m not sure you have that in you.”

Helene was a force and always had been. We’d had similar conversations over the last few months and I knew she was shocked that she hadn’t gotten her way yet. History was behind her in that – I’d always capitulated to her desires in the past. She’d managed to get me on a bug-infested safari in Africa and on one of those ridiculous glass bottomed ledges that were all the rage in skyscrapers. When I retreated into my apartment she let it go for a little while. In the last couple of months, though, getting me out into the world seemed to have become one of her projects. She wasn’t nearly as used to failure as I was.

“Can I at least tell you what I’m thinking? Would you actually listen without shutting me out?”

“I don’t think I’m up for it today. Maybe tomorrow.”

She looked down and, even though I am well aware of how technology works, I leaned forward as if I could peer over the edge of the monitor to see what she was seeing.”

Majestic Beings

Majestic Beings (week 3, day 1)

“She is, in a word, majestic.”


“In a word, yes.”

“Are you looking at the same dog as me? ‘Cause I’m not getting ‘majestic’ as the first word that comes to mind. Persistent, maybe, or resilient, but not majestic.”

Slane folded his arms across his chest and peered down his nose at Bobby. “You’re not looking hard enough.”

The two friends stared at each other for a moment before breaking into simultaneous grins. The dog in question wagged her tail.

“See? She’s smart and majestic. A true intuitive.”

“I don’t know if you’re trying to convince me or you but whatever.” Bobby put his hand out for the dog and she moved tentatively towards him. “If you want to adopt her, do it. You don’t have to give her some important attributes or anything. Just say you think she’s the one and let’s go.”

The other dogs in the room were bounding to and fro, passing just close enough to Slane and Bobby to consider pets and then dashing away. Only the dog Slane had decided was majestic was quietly lingering by the two men.

“I’m not convincing anyone of anything. I’m just calling it like I see it. She’s majestic, intuitive, and likely to come home with me someday.”

Bobby sat down on the floor and the dog put her paw on his thigh. “She might want to come home with me at the moment. Just sayin’.” He looked up at his friend. “Not like she’d be the first bitch to choose poorly.”

Shane shook his head and pinched the bridge of his nose. “A dad joke? About a dog?”

“What? I gotta get ready don’t I?”

“Practicing at the pound…wait til I tell Melanie.”

“You’re not going to tell her shit. You’re going to be too distracted by this majestic beast.”

It didn’t take long to fill out the adoption paperwork and pay the fee. Shane left Bobby with the dog while he took care of the details and only picked up her leash after everything was finalized. She looked up at him with her expressive brows up as if to ask a question.

“You’re coming home with me, Maji.”

“Magi? As in…gift of the?”

“Maji as in Majestic.”

Bobby let out a bark of laughter that made the dog jump. “Sorry, sorry.” He got up and put his hand out to Maji in an attempt to rebuild trust. “Maji works.”

Shane led the way out of the pound and towards his car. He didn’t have much in the world as possessions went. He lived in a studio apartment, and he drove the same car he’d bought over a decade ago when he was just a junior in high school. His clothes were well-worn and he didn’t wear jewelry. From the outside no one would guess that he was worth seven figures and could, essentially, have his pick of whatever he’d like. 

He and Bobby had been friends since the third grade and had traveled disparate paths while remaining friends.

In the Dark, Continued

In the Dark, Continued (Week 2 winner)

Darkness thick enough to feel filled the world for as far as she could see. She knew, she remembered, that there were trees lining the rough road but she couldn’t find even hints of them when she squinted. Her only hope of orienting herself now was for a car to drive by, and that was almost as likely as the sun deciding to rise four hours early. She lifted her arm to check her watch and laughed at herself for forgetting how impossible even the simple act of checking the time was in the nowhere she’d found herself.

Keeping herself facing the same direction had become deeply important. It had been over an hour, she was almost sure, since she’d found herself in the midst of the darkness. She could feel the rocks under her feet, and she could smell the sea even if it was shrouded by the darkness. Alternating between squatting and standing was all the movement she’d allowed herself for fear of losing herself while she waited for something to happen. 

She’d maintained an almost constant internal monologue, talking herself into a state of relative calm. Everything would be fine was a phrase she’d uttered too many times to count, and those were interspersed with plans for the future and regrets from the past. The past. For as little time as she’d spent out there she’d managed to revisit a remarkable number of missed opportunities. The people she hadn’t reached out to, the steps she hadn’t taken – all of them had played a part in her ending up in the pitch black situation she found herself in, and she knew it. 

Without a change in the intensity of the darkness, the world around her was starting to reawaken. She could feel the subtle shift in the air, the movement of creatures she couldn’t see, and the slow increase in temperature. She waited, straining her eyes to find some hint of light coming from somewhere. The light, she told herself, had to come. She didn’t know if it would come from in front of her, behind her, or on her right or left. She hadn’t thought to track the sun before the light disappeared. Why would she have?

She bent her knees, lowering herself until her palms touched the ground. The sharpness of the gravel against the smoothness of her skin was comforting. It felt real. More real than the darkness, and that was enough to keep her looking for the missing sun. She shook her head and banished the idea that the sun, the ever-present sun, could be missing. This, she told herself, was just night. Night was real and normal, just like the gravel she felt her fingers closing around. Night happened and was inevitably followed by day, she just needed to stay calm and be patient.

The wind started to pick up and grew strong enough to lift her hair off the back of her neck. Her skirt moved, too, and she closed her eyes in thanks. 

It was the crunch of tires on the road that made her heart race. The first tendrils of light were starting, just enough for her to begin to discern the presence of shadows. She turned her head towards the sound but stayed down in her crouched position, just in case. The car or truck or whatever was driving towards her was going so slow, too slow. She strained against the dark and was just able to make out the edges of the vehicle. There was slight contrast where the headlights should be but not enough to make sense. They should have been bright beacons cutting through the darkness and illuminating everything in their path. Instead, it was just a slight difference in the quality of the darkness that told her they were there. She felt her heart beat faster, harder as she tried to make sense of it all.

The shadowed vehicle stopped before it reached her. She heard a door open with a reluctant creak, heard the shift of the vehicle as someone emerged, jumped at the snap of the door as it was pushed closed. From her position close to the ground she could smell the gas fumes, the stale smoke from inside the car, and something else emanating from the disturbed gravel. The vehicle was close enough to block some of the wind and she missed the breeze. Each step the person took seemed to reverberate through her body, making the hair on the back of her neck stand up for a different reason. 

Leather, denim, cigarettes, and sweat – the smells commingled in her nose as the person approached. She squinted, trying to see more than the barest of shadow where the person started and stopped. Her muscles tensed as she realized they were crouching down across from her, putting themself on her level in front of the would-be headlights. She heard their labored breathing and was thinking about who they might be when they spoke.

“My name is Xiana, and I’m here to help.”

The person’s voice was smooth and warm. She felt like their short introduction was like a blanket wrapped around her shoulders. The hairs on her neck laid back down and her muscles relaxed. The sun would come or it wouldn’t. She would be ok.

“You’re here to help? To help me?” Her voice sounded painfully loud in her head. Loud and not quite right. She wondered if it had been that long since she’d spoken, and then realized that yes, it had been. How long had she been out there? 

“Yes, to help you. Do you think you can stand up?”

She brushed off the question as nonsense. She’d been standing. Standing, walking, running – she was only crouched down to keep her bearings until the sun returned. “Of course.” Her voice still sounded wrong. “I’m just waiting for the sun.”

She felt the person pull back and felt their scent change. The other scents were still there but were now joined by a tangy spike of fear. 

“I’m not sure what you mean. Waiting for the sun to do what?”

“Arrive. It’s too dark to stand.”

Silence fell between them and she was aware of the extra charge in the quiet. She didn’t know what the person was afraid of. Was it her, or the coming of the sun, or something else entirely. Her heart rate had slowed down once she heard Xiana’s voice but she could tell that Xiana’s had sped up once she started talking. 

“How about you take my hand and let me help you stand up?”

Xiana stood up and she felt the wind about her again as a shadow of a hand appeared in front of her. Letting go of the ground didn’t feel safe but she remembered the blanket quality of Xiana’s voice and let the gravel go. She reached up to the shadow and put her hand where it seemed to stop. She felt Xiana’s hand wrap around hers and was startled by how warm it was. With Xiana’s support, she straightened her legs and let go of the gravel in her other hand.

She turned her head from side to side, expecting to be able to find the sun. How long had it been since the shadows started? Long enough that the rest of the world should have begun to come into shape. Everywhere she looked seemed to be equally shrouded in shadow with no sign of a horizon line. She turned towards the shadow that was Xiana, holding onto the warmth her hand provided.

“Let me walk you to the car. You’ll be warmer inside.”

She felt the gravel through her thin-soled shoes as she let Xiana lead her to the car. The smell of gasoline intensified as she got closer and she waited for the groan of the car door. As she lowered herself down onto the seat she became aware of a new leather scent, different from the one that clinged to Xiana. The interior of the car was leather, as were Xiana’s boots, but of a different quality. 

It wasn’t until she felt Xiana climb into the driver’s seat that she felt the panic rise in her chest again. The sun should have been there. Now, inside the car, there should have been lights. All she had to orient herself were smells and sensations and the barest glimpses of shadows. 


There was a pregnant pause before Xiana replied, “keep breathing and everything will be fine.”

She gripped the fabric of her skirt in one hand and the arm rest in the other as she willed her heart to calm down and her breathing to go deep. Her first instinct was to go through her grounding exercise but as that started with “five things you can see” the thought of it only brought forth more terror. 


Another pause, and then she felt Xiana’s hand cover hers. Feeling the armrest beneath her hand and Xiana’s warm skin on the top helped, at least a little.

Route to Peace

Route to Peace (Week 2, Day 3)

“What’s in your hand?” Rita held her hand out in front of her and waited for her son to do the same.

“Do I have to show you, mama?”

Rita looked at his round face and worked hard to keep her expression stern even though she wanted to melt. “What do you think?”

“I think I have to show you.” Kwante’s face crumpled and his bottom lip popped forward into the sweetest pout.

“You open your hand and I’ll watch you.” Rita pulled her hand back and rested it on her knee. “I won’t touch whatever you have, I’ll just listen.”

Kwante kept his head down and slowly opened up his hand to reveal a small shell. “His name is Fatty.”

“What now?”

“His name is Fatty.”

Rita started to reach for the shell and Kwante closed his fingers and pulled his hand to his chest. “You said you won’t touch!”

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” Rita put her hands up in front of her. “You’re right. I won’t touch. Why did you name the shell Fatty?”

Kwante gave her a skeptical side eye as he opened his hand again. “He’s not a shell, mama. He’s a snail.”

“A snail?” Rita stood up and backed away in the same breath. “Where did you find a snail?”

“He found me, mama. I didn’t try to find him.” Kwante took a big breath, blew it out, and added, “that’s not all the way true.”

Eyebrows up, Rita asked, “what part isn’t true, Kwante?” When Kwante answered in a whisper too quiet for Rita to hear she lowered herself down onto the ground and crossed her legs. “Come on, Kwante, tell mama.”

“I made him find me, mama. So I have to take care of him.”

“You’re going to need to line some things up for me, Kwante, because I am not understanding right now.”

Kwante’s eyes widened and he leaned forward, keeping the snail close to his heart. “I did it from Yoga, mama. He found me because of the yoga.”

It took everything Rita had to keep from laughing out loud at his earnest pronouncement. They had been doing yoga together every morning for about a month at the recommendation of Kwante’s teacher. The woman had bent over her desk and scribbled for a few minutes before handing Rita a piece of paper with little drawings of stick figures in different shapes. The top of the sheet was labeled “Hatha Helpers – A Route to Peace” which had made Rita need to stifle a giggle. The whole thing was beyond out of Rita’s comfort zone but, for Kwante, she would do almost anything. Almost.

“Kwante, I don’t think snails do yoga, and I know I don’t want a snail in our apartment.” Rita stood up. “You need to return that snail to the grass or wherever you found it and we need to go.”

Shaking his little head Kwante closed his fingers around the snail again. “Mama, please? Fatty needs to come home with us. He found me and we match.”

This is part of the 2022 500-Word Short Story project. Comment with “Tell me more” if you’d like to vote for this to move to the next round.

Cradles Rock

Cradles Rock (Week 2, Day 1)

Cradles rock and parents sing, that’s how the world is run. Babies squeal and children scheme, that’s how the world is fun. Teens feel and adults think, that’s how the good is done.

Agnes sat on the porch, her feet tapping the bottom step while her fingers drummed the top one. The overhang of the roof provided a bit of protection from the blazing sun but not enough to keep her from sweating. After fourteen days straight she’d resigned herself to having pit stains and chaos hair. Agnes kept her gaze focused on the gas station sign across the street. There wasn’t much else to look at and she wasn’t about to be caught watching eagerly for his car to pull up.

Living in this one-street town hadn’t been a part of her plan. Nothing had been a part of her plan which, she knew, was the problem. One of the problems, anyway. Agnes would have stood out in most spaces given the combination of her height, hair, and fashion, but she was so much of an oddity in this place she didn’t get even a moment’s respite from the reminders that she was different.

Agnes felt the car turn onto her street well before she heard it. That magnetic pull he had on her was one of the few things she could count on these days and she hated it. She kept her head forward and her eyes on the sign all the way until his car pulled into her line of sight, and only after she heard his car door open did she look at him. 

Dale wasn’t handsome, he wasn’t built, he wasn’t even charismatic. He was everything this small town represented – short, squat, and defeated. It was as if he and the town were linked in a deeper way than even the five generations warranted. That he and the town shared a name was just icing on the cake. Dale Fountainhead the Fifth didn’t carry himself like local royalty. 

As he made his clumsy way around the front of his car, tripping over a rock and stopping to kick it out of the way of his beloved tire, Agnes sighed. She wished he would push her out of the way like he had done to the rock, and then shook her head at the idea of being jealous of an inanimate object.

“Are you ready?” Dale stopped at the passenger side of his car, seemingly afraid to come any closer.

“Ready enough.” Agnes pulled her shoulders away from her ears and forced herself to go towards Dale and the car even though every fiber of her being wanted to turn away from him and walk off into the eventual sunset. Walking away might have been an option if she were playing a part in a romantic movie but here in Fountainhead unwed pregnant women didn’t have that sort of luxury.

Dale opened the door for her and snapped it closed once she was settled. Agnes felt the backs of her legs immediately glue themselves to the seat.

This is part of the 2022 500-Word Short Story project. Comment with “Tell me more” if you’d like to vote for this to move to the next round.

Middle Feet, Continued

Middle Feet, Continued (week 1 winner)

Little feet take many steps and barely leave a mark. Big feet, no matter how few steps they take, are sure to tell you where they’ve been. My feet? They fall somewhere in the middle.

I was a precocious child, or so they tell me. I walked and talked early and often. I burned through toys and puzzles, getting bored quickly which led to mischief. By the time I was seven I understood that I was different from other kids and not necessarily in a way that enamored me to the adults. By the time I was in middle school I’d stopped caring. 

Carefree twelve year olds are, in a word, dangerous. It’s only the clarity of hindsight that allows me to say that from here. At the time? Well, again, I was dangerous. 

My lack of care protected me from the normal prepubescent and pubescent angst. I drifted through those years blissfully unaware of the impact I was having on those around me and oblivious to the struggles of my peers. Maybe things would be different now if I’d been more affected back then, and maybe the now was destined to be no matter what.

Feet, in particular my feet, have a tendency to follow paths. My feet walked me right into adulthood without need or want of much in the way of connection. I took care of myself and only myself. I didn’t ask anyone for anything at anytime for anyreason. 

I’m sure you will understand, then, why I didn’t jump into action when I found Gransene sitting on my doorstep.

I could have invited them in, or asked if something was wrong. Hell, I could have called the police and let them deal with Gransene. If I’d cared, there were plenty of options available to me. But I didn’t care. When I opened the door and found them sitting there I did what any logical, precocious, disconnected being would do. I closed the front door and left through the back instead.

Yes, I took the briefest of moments to determine that nothing was immediately wrong. There was no blood, for example. No cries of pain or fear. I suppose if there had been I would have made a different choice. Probably. Instead, I closed the door restoring the barrier between them and me and went about my day.

Gransene wasn’t my responsibility. I wasn’t attached to them anymore than I was attached to anyone. They had appeared in my life a few months before they appeared on my doorstep and with just as much notice. I had walked into a shoe store in search of a pair of bright yellow shoes. The style didn’t matter, just the color and fit. I’m sure you have similar urges from time to time, and on that day my focus was on finding a pair of shoes in a bright enough yellow – nothing more, nothing less. I’d satisfied similar urges at this particular store and walked in reasonably certain I’d be able to complete my task quickly.

When you go shopping, are you looking for random strangers to glom onto you and bring you news from another realm in hopes that you’ll help them slay a proverbial or literal dragon? No, of course not, and neither was I. Gransene was sitting on one of those little stools that only exist in shoe stores. The aisle they were in was the aisle that had what I thought might be the perfect pair of shoes. I promise you, had I been on a different quest or on no quest at all there is no way I would have chosen to join them in the same air space.

Gransene, though I didn’t know their name at the time, sat there on that stool in the middle of the aisle. They were muttering something that wasn’t necessarily in English and I’d decided I didn’t care what they might or might not be saying. I was, after all, there for the shoes. It wasn’t until I reached out to take down a pair that looked promising that Gransene stood up and put their hand on my arm.

I froze. I don’t do strangers, I don’t do mutterers, and I certainly don’t do muttering strangers who make physical contact without direct invitation. Gransene looked me in the eye and I felt my heart speed up.

“You’re the one.”

I wasn’t sure if this was some incredibly awkward pick up line or an accusation born of mistaken identity but, as if I were in a movie, I looked over my shoulders – both of them – before responding.

“Excuse me?”

“You’re the one.” 

I felt myself heating up from my neck outward and was unsure of how to read that particular sensation. I was used to floating around people without them having the most impact on me and here was some stranger who, with a single sentence repeated twice had me feeling feelings and heating up. All I wanted was my yellow shoes. I decided, as any misanthropic human would, to pretend they weren’t there or at the very least weren’t stable. I walked past them and reached down to grab the yellowish shoes on the shelf.

That was when they touched me. Hand to arm, skin to skin. They reached out and put their hand on my arm and stopped me in my tracks. 

“You’re the one.”

Their hand was cool and dry on my hotter than usual skin. I stared at their fingers because that was easier than looking them in the eye. Their fingers were long and pointy, with nails that tapered into what looked to be painfully sharp points. Or rather, into points that would feel painfully sharp to anyone who ended up beneath them. There was an odd contrast at play between their delicate and soft fingers and those angry nails. 

Instead of letting myself get lost in figuring out what was going on or engaging with them any further, I slipped my arm out from underneath them and left the store. No pair of shoes was worth that sort of drama.

The second time I encountered them was when I learned their name. I was skirting the edge of an outdoor performance of some play without much intention of stopping when I saw them sitting on a picnic table. Not at the table, ON the table. They were sitting in the center of a picnic table off to the side of where the production was happening, but they had their back to the activity. They had their legs folded and one hand up towards the sky with the other reaching out in front of them. No one was anywhere close to the table for obvious reasons, and yet it looked like they were gesturing towards someone. 

I wasn’t going to stop. I even thought about turning around and walking the other direction. And yet I found my feet walking me right up to them, putting myself in their line of sight, and saying, “what’s your deal?” 

They didn’t move or blink, they just looked at me. I stayed there for more minutes than I should, watching them stare at me with their arms up and out. My feet seemed to think I was where I belonged so I stood there, waiting for them to say or do something. 

Eventually, they blinked three times and tilted their head. “It’s you.”

“Is it?” 

“You’re the one.”

My feet decided it was time to go and I turned to walk away. They reached out and touched my arm again, and their skin was cool and their nails were still dagger sharp. The difference was that this time I didn’t pull away. 

“What do you mean and, pardon me, but who the fuck are you?” Tact was not something I typically brought to most situations.

They closed their hand around my arm and gave it a small squeeze. “You need me.”

“Oh, no. No I don’t.” I moved to pull my arm from their grasp and was surprised at the strength with which they held firm.

“You do, and you’ll realize it eventually.” They let go of me and blinked three times again. “Gransene.”

Even though their hand was gone I still felt them wrapped around my arm. The coolness stayed and I seriously thought they might have left a visible mark on me. They hadn’t – I checked – and that somehow was more disconcerting.



“What is that?”

“Gransene is me. I am Gransene.”

I put my hands up, backed away, and let my feet lead me away from Gransene and their coolness.

The third time I saw Gransene was the first time their existence was challenged. I was sitting at a bar, alone, the way I like it, when I saw Gransene sitting in a booth in the back corner. They didn’t have a drink or anything else with them. They were sitting on the seat this time rather than being perched on the table top. If I’d been standing I’m not sure I’d have stayed.

This is part of the 2022 500-Word Short Story project. Comment with “Tell me more” if you’d like to vote for this to move to the next round.


Breaking (March 2022, Week 1 Day 1)

“You ok?” 

“Mhm. Why do you ask?”

“The table is clean.”

“Fuck you.”

She’d left after that. Without a word. She left and didn’t look back. 

He didn’t let himself break. He kept all his appointments and completed his tasks. He was just as charming at the monthly meetings for book club as always. He kept himself together by sticking to his routines and not poking at the gaping hole her departure had created. He even, every so often, sat at the empty table. Only ever for breakfast or lunch – never dinner. He knew enough not to go too far.

It was on a trip to the grocery store that he broke for the first time. The grocery store, of all places. In the aisle with cheap wines on one side and freezer cases on the other. Maybe it was the sheer audacity of the incongruity of the aisle that did it – that’s what he would blame it on later, anyway. Standing there, looking at the wine bottles working to intuit which one would be decent enough to bring to book club and not leave him with a reminiscent headache afterwards, he felt a tear sliding down his cheek. Just one tear, on one cheek. It took him a moment to identify it. He had only just pulled the desperate puzzle pieces together enough to realize he was, indeed, crying, when a raspy voice came from behind him.

“You ok?”

Instead of doing something reasonable like waving away the question or even answering with a brief, “yep” with or without “!”, he broke. He watched it happen as if he were a spectator, as if he’d been the one to ask instead of the one to be decidedly not ok. He saw his knees buckle, saw his grip on the basket in his left hand loosen, saw himself fall to the ground and crumple into a heap. 

“Shit!” The gravelly voice said, closer now.

He saw himself as clear as day but the person with the voice stayed out of his vision somehow, even though he saw/felt their hand on his shoulder and saw/felt them crouch down next to him. His spectator-vision didn’t extend beyond his person. The voice-holder stayed by him as other unseen beings added their voices of concern to the scene. He stayed on the ground, forehead pressed against the cool floor. He found himself thinking that, perhaps, the floor was cooler in this spot because of the presence of the freezers on the other side of the aisle and wondering if the temperature difference was enough to impact the wines on the shelves. Thinking about wines and freezers and floors was much safer than thinking about the fact that he was crumpled on the floor of the grocery store, sobbing silently. 

“Give him space,” the gravelly voice was saying now, and he saw/felt the other people backing up. He wondered if it was the gravel in the voice that caused the others to listen and obey, of if there was something more to the person talking that commanded attention. 


This is part of the 2022 500-Word Short Story project. Comment with “Tell me more” if you’d like to vote for this to move to the next round.

Have and Have Not

Have and Have Not (March 2020, Week 3 Day 3)

Sighs communicate more than one thinks, and Francis sighed a lot. He used them instead of words, without awareness, whenever possible. Words, to Francis, were dangerous. They sounded innocent enough in his head but when he let them out he seemed to find himself in trouble. Or discomfort. Or in love.

On Tuesdays, Francis volunteered at a homeless shelter in the center of town. Every week he would close out of all the programs he used to make money for people who had plenty so he could leave work early to give food to people who had none. It didn’t right the scales but it felt like the right thing to do. He’d been going from work to Waldmen House every Tuesday for three years. He was their longest standing volunteer and he had said maybe two dozen words in the space. Some words were used over and again, like “hello” and “more.” It wasn’t unusual for a shift to go by with him only having used those two words, plus “goodbye.”


Mitchell tripped as he scrambled to get his briefcase packed. The room was a tornado of clothes, books, dog toys, and toiletries. His briefcase stood out as the only thing in the room with order beyond Mitchel himself.

“Mitchie, relax!” Sandra twisted herself around in the bed to face him without emerging from under the covers. “You’re not the one who needs to do the impressing today.”

Mitchell signed as he flopped down into a chair only to pop back up again. “Shit. How do you put up with all this stuff?” He waved a one-eared mouse toy at her.

Sandra shrugged. “I look before I sit?” She ducked as the mouse toy whizzed over her head. “Ok, ok – it will be spotless in here by the time you get back.”

“Spotless? How about ‘less chaotic’ as a start?”

Sandra stuck her tongue out as she lowered the comforter down to give him a flash of her breasts.

Mitchell smiled and dove into bed with her while she giggled. The two of them lost themselves in each other until Mitchell’s watch pulled his attention away.

“Sorry. No time.”

“No fun for you, anyway – I don’t have anywhere to be today.” Sandra sat up and let the blankest pool around her waist. “Go. Be impressive. I’ll be here when you get back.”

Mitchell kissed the top of her head, reached for his briefcase, and lurched towards the door. “I thought they were the ones who have to impress me. Your tune changed quickly.”

“You’re the boss there, as of today. You’ll impress them by being impressed by them.” She smiled and left the room.

Mitchell shook his head as he pulled the door closed behind him. He used the trip into the city to rehearse what he’d say to everyone at his first staff meeting. He had it down to thirty minutes by the time he got to the train.


Francis fidgeted at the back of the conference room.

The Storyteller, Continued

The Storyteller (March 2020, Week 2 Day 7)


“What baby?”

“Tell my a story?”

“Me, baby. Tell me a story.”

“Tell ME a story?”

Crystal closed her eyes. “Baby, I’m all out of stories.”

“No, mama.” Krissy pulled herself up onto the tall chair across from Crystal, her short limbs dangling for a moment before finding purchase on the railing. “You has one more story.”

“Have, baby.”

“You HAVE one more story. You always has – have one more story.”

Crystal looked at her daughter sitting on her own chair across from her, with tousled hair and smudges on her cheeks. She thought about all the stories she’d had to slog through at work, each one worse than the one before it. She thought about the mamas she’d left who wouldn’t be telling any stories to their babies anytime soon. “Once upon a time,”

Krissy’s face exploded into a smile that crinkled the smudges on her cheeks. “Yay! I like once upon the time stories!”

“A time, baby. Once upon A time. Let me clean you up and get you ready for bed, then I’ll tell you your story.”

Krissy scrambled down the chair and padded off to the bathroom. Crystal cracked her neck, first right, then left, and got up to oversee the clean up. Their apartment was small enough that nothing was ever too far away and large enough for Crystal to be able to have privacy after bedtime. They had moved in earlier that year and she was still working on making it feel like home.

“I brushed my teeth, mama.” Krissy waved her wet and foamy toothbrush around as proof of her words.

“And I’ma brush them once more. You know I need to do my part.”

“Yes, Mama. Aaaaaah.” Krissy opened her mouth and thrust the toothbrush into Crystal’s hand.

Bedtime was their time. No matter how crazy things got at work Crystal made sure she was always home for bedtime. Brushing those little teeth and scrubbing Krissy’s chubby cheeks before helping her into pajamas and tucking her in were the highlights of Crystal’s day. 

It took some back and forth to get Krissy into the right pajamas for the evening and to have all the right stuffed animals surrounding her pillow and to have the right nightlights on. As Crystal eased herself down onto Krissy’s bed it was all she could do to keep from climbing in alongside her daughter and falling asleep.


“What baby?”

“I’m ready for my story.”

“Of course you are.” Crystal leaned back on the wall and let her eyes close.

“Mama, don’t fall asleep!”

Crystal opened her eyes and smiled. “I’m not sleeping, baby. I need to close my eyes to see the pictures.”

“Can I see the pictures?”

“If you close your eyes you just might.”

Krissy snuggled herself down deeper under the covers until only her chin peeked out. “Ok mama, I’m ready. You close your eyes and I’ll close mine.”

Crystal let her eyes flutter shut and started the story again. “Once upon a time,”


Crystal looked at her daughter and smiled. Krissy’s eyes were squeezed so tight her cheeks almost met her forehead. “What baby?”

“Will the story have a princess or a knight?”

“Are those my only choices?”

Krissy’s eyes popped open. “Mama, Once upon a time stories always have a princess or a knight.”

“How about a knight who is a princess?”

“Oh!” Krissy’s nodding shook the bed. “A Knight Princess?”

“Yeah, baby. Now close those eyes so I can get to telling.”

While Krissy snuggled herself back into place and closed her eyes, Crystal sifted through the faces from work, choosing which one would fuel tonight’s story. 

“Once upon a time, there was a princess named Krishanda. She was tall, strong, and smart as all get out. She and her seven sisters worked to keep their kingdom and subjects safe and prosperous. Their mother, Queen Crystalta, ruled all the land that could be seen from the topmost turret of the castle.”

Krissy, her eyes open again, said, “like you and me, Mama”

“Yeah, baby.”

“Am I going to be tall and strong and smart as all get out?”

“Only if you close those eyes and let me finish this story.”

Krissy smiled and pulled one arm out from beneath the covers, reaching for Crystal’s hand. “Ok, mama.” 

Crystal continued where she’d left off. “Princess Krishanda was riding her horse through the eastern part of the kingdom when she heard a woman crying. Following the sound, Princess Krishanda led guided her horse down a lane and found a woman not much older than herself sitting on the ground in front of a small house. She held her head in her hands and her tears dripped onto her skirts.”

Crystal had almost been moved to tears by her final interview of the evening. It was always hardest when the woman sitting across from her, shackled to the chair, was someone who reminded herself of herself. Thinking ‘there but by the grace of God go I’ was never a good feeling, not in her line of work.

“What’s the matter, kind woman?” Princess Krishanda asked as she climbed off her horse.

The woman, not used to having a princess address her directly, stopped crying and swiped at the tears on her cheeks as she scrambled up to standing. “Your highness, forgive me.”

“My name is Krishanda, Princess Krishanda if you must be formal. Please, tell me why you are crying.”

They never expected compassion, and it was often all Crystal had that she could give them. Compassion and dignity were in short supply out in the world and especially in the criminal justice system. 

The woman gave a small bow before answering. “Princess Krishanda, I’ve lost my son to the dragon’s den.”

“Mama! Dragons!”

“Hush, baby.”

“Dragons are scary!”

“Should we stop the story and finish tomorrow?”

“No, mama. Princess Krishanda will take care of the dragon and the lady and the son. Right? But maybe she won’t hurt the dragon, either?”

Crystal chuckled, warmed by her daughter’s concern, “Baby, do you want to tell this story instead of me?”

Krissy squeezed her eyes shut again. 

“Princess Krishanda secured her horse and followed the woman into her home to hear the rest of her story. She sat the woman down, took leaves from her pouch and made her some tea, and then sat across from her to listen. “Tell me what happened, everything that happened, and only speak the truth.”

Crystal thought about how she had taken notes while the woman shared her story, using her laptop as a shield. The clink the chains made as the woman attempted to use her hands underscored her captivity. She had cried the whole time, begging Crystal for the chance to see her son, promising that she had never done this before and wouldn’t do it ever again. Explaining that she’d had to leave to provide for her son since his deadbeat dad had skipped out on them the month before leaving her without resources or a way to get them. Assuring Crystal that she’d left the house locked and the child in the playpen so he wouldn’t get into trouble while she was gone. Swearing that she’d only planned on being gone for an hour round-trip. Justifying her aggression with the officers that blocked her from seeing her son when she returned home.

“Princess Krishanda, my family is in trouble and I had to do something. You saw my land and how barren it is? Our once-fertile crops have stopped growing. Our cows and chickens are hungry and have stopped sharing their milk and eggs. My husband left us in search of work or food or both and hasn’t been seen in twenty-eight days. I am here, alone, with my baby boy and not enough food in the cupboards for either of us. As you can see, we are down to our last turnip. I had to do something to keep us alive.”


“What baby?”

Krissy sat up and rubbed her eyes. “This is a scary story.”

Crystal put her hand on Krissy’s cheek. “Are you doubting Princess Krishanda, baby?”

“Oh!” Krissy’s eyes brightened. “The Knight Princess! She will save the day!” Krissy shot one arm up into the sky as if she were pointing a sword.

“I sure hope so, but only a certain little girl stops interrupting and we can find out what that dang dragon has done and fix it.”

Krissy giggled and put her arm down. “Mama?”

“Yes, baby.”

“I need to go potty before we find the dragon.”

Crystal pulled the covers back and moved some of the stuffed animals out of the way. “Go on and take care of your business.”

As Krissy padded off to the bathroom Crystal rested her head in her hands and looked around the room. This was the most finished room in the apartment. She had filled the walls with art and words to surround her daughter with images and messages of strength.

Small Gifts

Small Gifts (March 2020, Week 2 Day 5)

“Fran, what are you doing?”


“You are so doing something. I can hear you.”

“Shut up. I’m not doing anything that you need to worry about.”

“Who said I was worried? Do I sound worried?”

“You sound annoying.”

“That’s not very nice.”

“Neither is nosing into stuff that isn’t yours to nose into.”

“I don’t know how I was supposed to know that I wasn’t supposed to know if I didn’t know what you were doing in the first place.”

The silence that filled the room made Nell smile. Outthinking her sister was almost better than knowing what she was doing. 

“You’re so annoying.”

“So you mentioned.” Nell reached over and flicked on the light that sat on the bookshelf behind her bed. It made the room glow in a warm pink that gave her sister’s eyes an extra twinkle even as they glared at her from across the room. “What are you doing?”

Fran slapped the bed before throwing off her comforter. What she had been doing came into full view. “This. But it’s still totally none of your business. And don’t say anything to Mom.”

Nell leaned forward to see what her sister had in her lap. “A present?”


“Were you opening it or wrapping it?”

“What does it look like?”

Nell crossed her arms. “Well, as I didn’t see it until this very instant it’s a bit hard for me to glean what might have been happening in the dark. You could have been turning it around, looking for the very best possible piece of tape to remove first.” 

Fran had this weird habit around opening gifts. She would never just tear them open like you were supposed to – she always had to inspect the wrapping and touch each piece of tape. There was some set of criteria that, no matter how much Nell teased her, Fran kept to herself. The search could take three minutes, or it could take close to an hour. The current maximum, because of course Nell kept track, was forty-eight minutes and had happened on Fran’s fifteenth birthday. 

The flush that filled Fran’s face that had nothing to do with the lamp-light proved to Nell that she already had the answer. She continued anyway. “Or you could have been fumbling with tape that’s still out of sight to wrap up some naughty gift you didn’t want me or Mom to see.”

“I hate sharing a room with you.”

“Like it was my idea.” 

Nell had moved back into their shared bedroom a few weeks ago when their grandma broke her hip. Sharing a room with your big sister when you were fourteen and she was seventeen was, so far, the worst thing that had happened to Nell. She imagined that Grandma’s hip hurt more but wasn’t entirely sure that was true. “Nice deflection, by the way. I’ll leave you to your naughty package. I wonder who you’re going to find to open it.”

“It’s not something naughty. And stop saying naughty – that’s a stupid word.”