Pistachio Cupcakes

*My entry for Challenge 1 in the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Contest 2020. My assignment prompts were Romantic Comedy, Farmer’s Market, An Eraser. I hope that you enjoy!

Claudia double-checked her sister’s list. Two people had called in sick, leaving both the bakery and the Farmers’ Market booth short. So here she was, late and rushing to open “Kerry’s Kreations Bakery” with an insanely detailed prep list.

Everything was done except the sign. Claudia grabbed the large board and chalk markers. She checked the cheat sheet that Kerry had given her and found the specials for the day.

People were already perusing the stalls, so she periodically glanced toward the passing crowd as she wrote. She didn’t have the best handwriting, but she tried. Kerry would expect pictures of everything. Claudia didn’t blame her. Everything here was representative of her brand. Davy was the one with the excellent handwriting, but he was sick.

A lady in her forties paused by the tarts before moving down the line. Another stopped by with questions about the bakery and said she’d return. Refocusing on the sign, Claudia went back to work on the daily specials.

Claudia glanced up, dutifully again and saw her. Her skin drank the light that reflected off her dark curls. She looked momentarily sad, but then laughed at something the guy beside her said.

“Of course, she’s straight.” Claudia shook her head but didn’t take her eyes away from the woman’s broad lips, or the way that her eyes crinkled as she laughed. Taking a deep breath, Claudia tried to release the tension in her chest.

Looking back at her work, she saw that she’d drawn one long line where a small dash should have been. She cursed quietly and grabbed the eraser that her sister had packed for the board. Rubbing out the mark, she stared resolutely at the sign until she’d finished it. Claudia finally placed it on the ground, and looking up came face to face with her.

*

When Gary had insisted she go with him to the Farmer’s Market, Lilly had been secretly grateful. She’d complained, but they both knew that a change of scenery would do her good.

Since Sharon had left, he’d given her space. Gary had been her best friend for a long time, and he knew that she needed time to let go of people.

“There might be some cute girls there,” Gary had mentioned, brows wagging, as a means of incentive. Lilly wanted to move on, and he knew that. Getting out of the house was the first step. She’d grieved long enough. He wasn’t wrong, even if she still struggled with comparing other women to Sharon.

“Pistachio alert,” he said at one point. She looked at him, confused. He subtly nodded to his right. A particularly cute girl stood behind the booth. “That looks like a snack.”

“She’s really adorable, but that’s a bit objectifying.”

“What?” He paused in confusion before his eyes grew wide with realization. “Oh! No, they’re selling pistachios. I just meant that we should get some for a snack.”

Lilly started laughing to the point that she was bent over. “I should have known better.”

“Where is your head at?” It quickly became an ongoing joke throughout the morning.

Lilly found herself stuck in her thoughts again when Gary said, “I bet they have pistachio cupcakes over there.”

She started laughing abruptly, and for a moment, she’d forgotten about Sharon again. To patronize him, Lilly looked over at the bakery stall. That was when she saw her.

Long swaths of dark hair fell over her face, but it couldn’t hide her high cheekbones or the intense concentration that she held over the chalkboard in her lap. Lilly watched her long legs as she walked confidently to place the sign down on the ground. For almost no reason at all, Lilly felt a strange flickering in her chest.

Then she saw the sign. “Pistachio Cupcakes – $2 each.” Something came over her, and Lilly didn’t hesitate to walk over to that sign and that girl. For the first time since Sharon had left, Lilly was oddly grateful and hopeful. She didn’t know why.

 The girl looked up, and Lilly came face to face with the most astonishing brown eyes she’d ever seen. They pulled her in, and her breath caught in her throat.

“Hi,” the woman said, slightly startled.

“Hey.”

“I’m Claudia.”

“Lilly.”

“Lilly,” She breathed the name like it was a prayer, then glanced around like she was looking for someone.

“Could I have two of your pistachio cupcakes?”

“Of course.” Claudia’s eyes shifted. Lilly recognized customer service mode when she saw it. “I hope you and your boyfriend like them!”

“Boyfriend?”

“Yeah, the guy you were with, earlier.”

Lilly laughed loudly. “Gary? No. Though I’m sure, he would find that funny. He’s my best friend, but he’s not my type.” Lilly paid her and watched her making change. “Keep it.”

“Thanks.” Claudia smiled again, this time a real one.

“Do you like pistachios? Well, I guess you must, it’s your shop.”

“It’s my sister’s actually, but I do like pistachios.”

Lilly held out one of the plastic containers. “Would you like the other?”

“Oh no, that’s okay. I would hate to get between a beautiful woman and her desserts,” Claudia laughed, and her whole face lit up with it.

“But I bought it for you.” Claudia gaped at her, and Lilly just smiled. “Pistachios are my type, and so are you,” Lilly said it a bit too fast and almost cringed at her joke but held steady, smiling as confidently as she could.

Returning her smile, Claudia accepted the cupcake and offered Lilly a seat in the shade. Two years later, they served Kerry’s pistachio cupcakes at their wedding.


You can also read my entry for Challenge #2, “Souvenirs.”

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Quiet Time

*TW: Self-care for Mental Health

My Quiet Time is an essential part of my self-care routine.

I will admit that I heard the term when I was still a part of the church. Because of my past associations with it, I avoided it for a long time.

I don’t see Quiet Time as a religious practice anymore, although it can be. Years later, when I was discovering self-care routines that worked for me, the term Quiet Time was there waiting. It was the easiest way to describe to friends and partners what I needed to do for myself.

If it brings you peace, then bring it into your Quiet Time. It can be a few minutes with your coffee and silence. It can be your morning prayers. It can be sitting down with your tarot cards. It can be meditation. It can be thirty seconds where you take a few breaths to calm yourself. It can be countless other things.

It’s about meeting yourself where you are emotionally, mentally, and physically. It’s about getting to know yourself and appreciating all of your needs. It is about self-love, and loving yourself will influence the way that you actively love others. The best way to have Quiet Time is to choose practices that fit you and your life.

I don’t always do the same things, but my Quiet Time often looks like:

  • Being still
  • Playing music
  • Looking at affirmations
  • Reading
  • Meditation
  • Contemplation
  • Journaling
  • Mindfulness
  • Focusing on gratitude
  • Being Present
  • Whatever I need at that moment
Quiet Time is a flexible self-care routine.

I might use any or all of these techniques. I meet myself where I am at that moment. Some of those techniques you might have heard used interchangeably, but the subtle differences can change how they work for you. I have had different experiences with them all.

Quiet Time doesn’t have to take long. It can be ten minutes to yourself before you get ready for school, work, or before the kids are awake. As long as I’ve known her, my mother has had Daily Devotions. It is a spiritual practice that prepares her for the day and all of its uncertainties. For you, it might look completely different.

It’s an essential part of both my morning and evening routines.

At night I use it to let go of the day that’s already gone. I use it to clear my mind before bed and forgive myself for the blunders of the day. I calm my thoughts and minor anxieties. As a result, I tend to sleep better on nights that I respect my Quiet Time.

I use it in the morning to prepare for the day ahead. There is a notable difference in my mood before and after my Quiet Time. If I’ve taken time to fill my glass, it’s much easier to have something to pour into others.

On days that I take advantage of Quiet Time, I feel far more capable of facing the day with its inconveniences and uncertainties. I started to learn how to make myself feel better even when my anxiety was high for no reason. I find myself beginning my day in peace and confidence instead of worry and hurry.

If you take medicine for anxiety or depression, Quiet Time is not a replacement for your medication. Medicine may also be an essential part of your self-care. Quiet Time is only a companion to take on the journey.

Set yourself up for success. Create a space of time for yourself every day. It doesn’t have to be called Quiet Time, and it doesn’t have to look like mine. But give yourself some peace in the present. You deserve it.


If you liked this article, then you might also enjoy Surviving Seasonal Depression in 2020: Routines to Help You Cope, on Vocal.

Spring Cleaning

The first day of spring arrived, rainy and full of thunder. Spring always sparked a strange excitement in the town of Haverston. The widow, Gloria, re-opened her shop today. She was open each year from the first day of spring through Halloween. Outside of Haverston, no one believed the hype, but the locals swore by her.

Rain streamed down the edges of Ava’s red umbrella, as she reached the storefront. The only indication that it was more than a house was the white sign on the lawn. It read, “SPRING CLEANING – Declutter your home, declutter your life.” As Ava opened the door, a bell sounded above her. It looked even less like a shop, on the inside.

 “Hello.” Ava turned her head toward the voice. The woman was young. She couldn’t have been older than forty. Her face seemed to glow a bit, but that was probably only a trick of the light. Ava wasn’t sure what she’d expected.

“What can I do for you?”

Ava felt lost for words. She’d planned a speech, but it was gone. There was no way to recover it now. Gloria seemed to understand. Smiling quietly, she led Ava to a side room. A sturdy table held a china tea service. Ava hated tea.

“Don’t worry. I have coffee there too.”

Ava smiled gratefully as she settled into one of the over-sized armchairs. The silence drew out between them as Gloria filled their cups. Gloria smiled and glanced out the parlor window, as though they were only two friends, enjoying a quiet moment. Despite herself, Ava fell into the comfortable silence. Amidst that stillness, the courage became more substantial than her fear.

“I need to move on from my Ex.” Gloria smiled kindly but didn’t respond immediately. Ave continued, “One of my friends told me, that what you do…helps. She said that one visit from you, and her uncle never touched another drop of liquor. She told me about her parents and how you saved their marriage. Kayla said that they’re happier than ever, and they were about to divorce. She said that you can do anything. I need anything.”

Gloria looked at her for a long time. Ava started to open her mouth again, but an unusual peace fell around her. The way that Gloria looked at her was like being wrapped in a warm blanket on a cold day. All of her thoughts disappeared, and the quiet deepened, as Gloria sipped her tea.

“I didn’t save their marriage, you know. I just helped it along. I’ll tell you what to do to start the magic, but you’re the one that’s going to make it happen. That is if you really want to move on.”

 “How much?”

Gloria seemed to consider the question. “However much you want to give. No more, no less.”

“Okay, what do I do?”

“I want you to go home and clean your house. When you’re finished, go get your hair cut.”

“That’s it?”

“Yep.”

“Does it always work this way?”

“Nope.” Gloria chuckled.

Shrugging her shoulders, Ava paid her and walked toward the doorway. A man was waiting inside the foyer when she entered. She’d barely reached the front door when he said, “I need to get some vermin out of my flower beds.” By the time she’d crossed the street, he was back on the sidewalk.

*

When she arrived home, the heaviness and loneliness hit her like a brick. She didn’t waste any time. As she vacuumed and scrubbed, Ava thought about the life that she wanted to build in Haverston. She imagined herself washing all of that pain away.

Ava started to notice things in her house that she didn’t need or want anymore. As she packed up the items in a donation box, it felt like she was curating her life.

When she reached her bedroom, her eyes went straight to a single unpacked box by her bed. She didn’t have to ask what was in it, but she opened it all the same. A few things went into the donation box, and some went into the trash. Satisfied, she headed to the salon.

“We don’t take walk-ins. Would you like to make an appointment?” The older woman asked when she arrived.

“I guess I’d better.”

The woman looked at her curiously. “What do you mean?”

Ava didn’t know why the woman had bothered to ask or why she answered so honestly. “Gloria, from ‘Spring Cleaning,’ told me to.” Ava shrugged.

The woman’s entire face changed. “Well, then, I’ll make an exception.” A bell sounded, and two older ladies seated themselves. “Tonya,” A young girl with pale pink hair walked over to them.

“What’s up?”

“Will you take care of Ms. Lathum and Ms. Harris? This lady has a prescription from Gloria.” All three women perked up their ears, and Tonya nodded eagerly. “I’m Charity, by the way. Follow me.”

As Charity washed and massaged her scalp, Ava felt something heavy wash away with the dirt. Strangely this special treatment made her feel connected in a way that she hadn’t managed since she’d moved to Haverston.

“Are you new here?”

“Sort of. I moved here over the winter, but…” Her eyes welled up with tears that choked her throat.

“Hmm…say no more.” They didn’t speak again until Ava was in front of the mirror. “How do you want it?”

 The thought came to her in an instant. “Cut it short. I want it all gone.”

Silently Charity cut away. Ava’s glasses sat on the counter. Although she couldn’t see, she felt it all drop off. It felt as though he was dropping away too.

Charity handed her glasses back to her. As they slid onto her face, her new image slid into focus and new feeling beside it. It was then that she decided that she was going back to “Spring Cleaning,” and she was going to give Gloria more money.

The Journal Process That Changed Me

*TW: Mental Health

Journaling isn’t for everyone.

For a long time, I thought that journaling wasn’t for me. I tried over and over throughout the years, but it never stuck. If you had mentioned journaling, I might even have rolled my eyes.

Far too often, I started a journal and then ripped pages out (or tossed it completely). I wouldn’t have treated my other books that way. Journaling brought something out in me. Fear, embarrassment, frustration, you name it.

Now, journaling is an essential component of my self-care routine and Quiet Time. It’s also something that I wield when I am going through hard self-work. It has become a sword and shield when I’m moving through tough times and healing from uncovered trauma.

A big part of why it’s become so important to me is because of how I use it. I want to tell you what I do, not because it’s the “right” way, but because maybe it will help you in the same way that it helped me.

If my process doesn’t resonate with you, toss it out. There might be a better process for you, or journaling might not be for you at all. We don’t all need the same things. But if it does, then consider how you can begin applying it to your life. Consider how to add this to your mental health tool kit.

When I started this process, I was at an incredibly low point in my life. I think that I started because I was looking for any way that I could survive myself. As cheesy as it might sound, that year was also the year that I learned to love myself.

Loving myself changed the way that I responded to everyone around me.

It changed the things that I valued, and it changed my relationships completely. I wish that I had learned to love myself sooner. I might not have burned so many bridges when I was younger.

Journaling this way helped me begin that process. I’m not saying it will fix all of your problems. I’m saying that it helped me to fix some of mine.

One of the first things that helped me was what I decided to stop doing. I removed the things that I didn’t like about journaling. If you want to find your process, then think about what you consistently don’t enjoy about journaling. It might be a place to start.

 What I DON’T do:

  • I don’t use first-person pronouns unless it’s an affirmation. (E.g. “I”)
  • I don’t vent about what’s going wrong. (It tended to make me spiral down and fixate on things that were making me unhappy)
  • I don’t write details or specific incidents of my daily life. (Goals are the exception to this. I mainly disliked diary-style practice.)

*Venting and Diary Style practices have value, but they don’t work for me.

 I don’t limit what the journal needs to be for me, beyond these rules. I let the journal transform. The purpose of your journal will change as you do. When I began my journaling habit, it looked quite different than it does now.

 I was incredibly depressed, hurt, angry, overwhelmed, and bitter. I felt rejected, abandoned, and quite frankly, I had no idea how to be loving to myself. A friend gave me a type of bullet journal, so that was where I started. I hadn’t knowingly bullet journaled before this point. I’m not saying that journaling fixed those things, but it helped me begin the process.

In the beginning, my journaling looked more like this:
  • I wrote a LOT of lists.
  • I wrote down goals that I wanted to accomplish and hopes for the future.
  • I wrote down the things that I did accomplish.
  • Sometimes I wrote down fears, but only if I was also writing why I shouldn’t be afraid.
  • I wrote affirmations.
  • I wrote quotes.
  • I wrote gratitude lists.
  • Sometimes I wrote sentences like “just breathe” over and over until I felt better.

I wish that I had kept that journal. I would love to look back and see how far I’ve come. It was the last journal that I threw away. My journaling looks a bit different now, but I learned what worked for me.

What I DO include in my journaling process, now:

  • I use the second-person pronouns. (E.g. “You”)
  • I write everything to myself. (Before you laugh, I don’t write, “Dear Jessica”) I write, as though I am talking to someone I love. In the beginning, that person wasn’t me.
  • I write about what is going well, although I try to stay general if it’s not a gratitude list.
  • I write things that make me feel better. (For myself, this includes quotes and gratitude lists. It might be different for you.)
  • I write new ideas or personal breakthroughs.
  • I write about stuff that I’m learning, even if it seems irrelevant or unimportant.

It’s a love letter to my future self. I write to a girl that might be heartbroken, or in pain. I write to a girl that might be dealing with intense anxiety or overwhelming sadness. When I use second-person pronouns, I can read the words as though they were from someone else.

When I was already sad and saw a quote that made me feel better, I would add that too. It felt like a knight finding a sword in the middle of battle. I didn’t want to throw that away. I wanted to take it with me. Eventually, I changed and the things that I saw changed with me. Slowly I learned to love myself by practicing loving myself.

Why journaling helped:

  • I could see what I wanted to accomplish
  • I could read my gratitude lists and remember that everything was probably okay, even if it didn’t feel that way.
  • I could read my common fears and see beside them, the truth that they weren’t real
  • I could shift my attention away from what appeared not to be working and toward solutions.
  • I learned to be loving to myself.
  • I could read what I was learning and see how far I’d come.
  • Sometimes I would come across an old entry and receive the reminder that I needed at the moment.
  • It re-wired the way that I thought.
Journals overlapping each other.

A journal might not be for everyone because we all need different things. My process might not be for you. But if you’ve been struggling lately and need a new tool for your self-care, I hope that you’ll give it a try. Journaling doesn’t mean that you lay down your other methods of self-care. It means that you add more to your collection.

Maybe my journaling process isn’t for you, but find as many tools as you can. Give yourself a fighting chance. Journaling isn’t a cure-all, but it could be a place to start. I hope that you learn to give yourself all the love that you deserve. It’s always more than you think.


If you liked this article, you might also like Surviving Seasonal Depression in 2020: Routines to help you Cope, on Vocal.

Iridescent Darkness

They were surrounded in impenetrable darkness. It was a physical force that pressed against them. Mark tried, uselessly, to shield Pat. There was no single side that he could defend.

This was a thick entity, an engineered mass. There was a rumble in the depths of the shadows. The darkness deepened somehow, as though it had yawned its mouth, to swallow them. And then it did.

Abstract painting billowing black shapes.

It felt like everything they were, was being torn to pieces. They tried to fight it, but it was only renewed by their vigor. Mark screamed as the black mass ripped his skin and bent his arms. Pat heard a bone break, although she saw nothing.

She felt like she was drowning in a sea of helplessness. There was nothing that she could do, but she didn’t want to stop fighting. She didn’t want them to know that they had won.

Stop struggling. A voice whispered in Pat’s mind. Despite her better judgment, she obeyed. Where a moment before she had been drowning, now it felt like floating. An instant later, something inside of her cracked.

A different kind of darkness exploded from her chest. Even as it streamed from her, it shaped itself into a physical force. It shifted as it moved and billowed outward. It was unlike anything she had seen. It glowed from within, and its surface shimmered, with the iridescence of a fire opal. It didn’t make sense, and yet there it was.

That strange substance covered Mark’s body, knitting him together. Then it flowed toward the shadows, that attacked them. They dissolved entirely, devoured by her energy.

Iridescent Darkness - Watercolor Illustration
Iridescent Darkness

The kids found themselves back in a dirty, bare room. Crouched on her knees, Pat breathed heavily. That iridescent darkness streamed around her like smoke. Mark stared at her, but she stared at the mirror before them.

They were there. They were watching. She didn’t know how long it would be until the Others regrouped. Pat grabbed Mark’s hand, and then she unleashed her power upon that room and the building that imprisoned them.

Confronting Our Shadows

I’ve had a couple of conversations with friends recently, regarding Shadow work. You may already be familiar with this term, or it might be brand new to you. This year, especially, we are being brought face to face with our Shadows.

I doubt that many people would disagree when I say, that 2020 has been hard. There seem to be endless problems cropping up, with little to no breaks. This year has been pretty overwhelming, and it’s only half over. We joke about the year being “canceled,” but Shadow work offers another way to see it.

Shadow Work is about confronting the deep rooted issues.

These are things that have hidden in the dark. Shadow work is the process of going inward and confronting our fears, our guilt, our prejudices, our anger, and our trauma.

When you’re intentionally doing Shadow Work, you begin to see trials as opportunities to “do the work.” Anything that shines a light on your Shadow can be seen as helpful.

I want to be clear, that the pain you have experienced is not invalidated by your healing. Furthermore, bad experiences aren’t made “okay” because something good seems to come out of it later.

You are valid and your feelings are valid. When you’re going through this, you might have a lot of so called “ugly” feelings or responses. This isn’t the time when you shame yourself. This is when you do the work. Everything becomes an opportunity for healing. And it begins with confronting the issues that come up for you, in the moment.

Even if you aren’t planning on doing the work, you will be faced with opportunities to confront your Shadow. Situations will arise, that make you feel like everything you care about is being attacked.

In a way, we are all being confronted by our Shadow, right now.
Shadow Self - Watercolor Illustration

In my experience, the best way to cope isn’t always to run away from it. Your Shadow will always be there waiting, for the next opportunity to show its face. Instead, face it down. Don’t be afraid. Shadows might be illuminated by the light, but they are easily transformed that way, as well.

Remember to practice self-care. Self-care is incredibly important when you are undergoing big changes. Be kind to yourself, while you’re fighting the big battles. Give yourself time to rest, as well as examine. Set yourself up for success.

Confronting your Shadow isn’t about creating or avoiding problems. Problems will happen anyway. It is about deciding for yourself, how they change you. When i’m doing the work, I am choosing to use my experiences for self-examination and growth. I am choosing to use them for healing.

This year is bringing about the kind catalytic experiences, that will alter us entirely. So when you feel like these experiences are pulling you under, remember that you get to choose the person that you’ll be when it’s over. You also get to change your mind.

Don’t be afraid of your Shadow work. It isn’t your destruction. It’s your transformation.


You might also like my article on Vocal: Surviving Seasonal Depression in 2020: Routines to Help You Cope.

Between Two Cliffs

Clara covered her mouth to stifle the noise. She was far enough away to catch her breath, but they weren’t far behind. She didn’t know why they were chasing her, but she knew that she didn’t want to be caught.

As she raced farther into the forest, she tried not to think of Diana, lying dead on the ground. She bit back the tears and focused on surviving. As she burst into a clearing, her fear heightened. She was completely exposed.

She barely registered the multitude of flowers beneath her feet, or the bright sun shining above her. A yellow dress flashed out of the corner of her eye before it disappeared into the forest. She ran toward it. Both her lungs and muscles were aching. Only the adrenaline in her body and the shouts at her back propelled her forward. They’d spotted her!

A moment after she stepped beneath the tree cover, she was running out of it again. There were two cliffs in the distance. They were so close together that they might have been a single slab of stone cleaved into two.

The area between the cliffs tapered narrowly, as she rushed between them. Eventually, the space became so narrow that Clara was forced to halt. She caught her breath for only a moment as she surveyed the crack. It was big enough for her to squeeze through, and there was light on the other side. If it wasn’t a dead end it could be her best escape.

Clara expected the stone to scrape against her as she pressed through. Instead, she was sucked through the opening. Astonishment and wonder filled her senses as she surveyed her surroundings. The gap had widened by a full car length. The cliff walls were smooth and polished, driving straight up to the sky.  Where only moments before, it had been mid-day, now the sun was replaced by a thin, crescent moon and a field of stars.

She turned to face the crevice, but there was only smooth unbroken stone. Clara took a deep breath.  I wasn’t going back, anyway. Facing forward, she walked between the two cliffs.

Small lanterns lit the pathway, and a brighter glow emanated ahead of her. When she reached the source, she was met by an immense stone structure. Everything around it was illuminated.

That was when she saw her. Her breath caught in her throat, at the sight of that yellow dress. It glowed in the shimmering light, but it was nothing compared to her face. Diana stood a moment longer before stepping through an archway and into the darkness.

Clara didn’t hesitate to follow. Something surged through her as she crossed the threshold. At first, it felt like flames, burning and devouring her. Then Diana was beside her. She wrapped her body around Clara and dissolved into her.

The pain was instantly transformed into indescribable joy. Clara held her chest. A light bloomed within her. It grew and expanded, consuming her entire body.  She was momentarily blinded as everything faded to white.

When her sight returned, she was back in the field. The men were rushing toward her, but she could clearly see that they were not men. A dark evil pervaded their eyes. It seemed to ripple beneath their skin.

 She stood still as they charged her. She held out her arms, and a bright light filled the clearing. Something that was not quite flame but more solid than light rushed from her, consuming the creatures. Their roars became a distant echo, before fading into nothing.

The men stared uncertainly around them. Confusion filled their now human eyes. They didn’t know where they were. She decided not to tell them.

Her skin had returned to normal, but the sensation remained. It felt a lot like love. Diana’s voice whispered inside of her, and their purpose ignited within her mind. A spark flashed at Clara’s fingertips as she disappeared into the trees.

Autumn Songs

Josephine stepped out her door, and a crisp wind tugged at her dark curls. The late afternoon sun intensified the trees’ rose gold tones. The forest seemed to hold its breath in anticipation for the night ahead.  

The entire town of clover took part, but the seniors were always in charge of preparations. It was a rite of passage. This year it was Josephine’s turn. She quickened her pace when she remembered how late she was.

“Jo, over here!” Josephine turned her head in time to see her best friend, Kelsey, running ahead. She laughed and followed after her.

The dappled light shifted quickly. When did she get so fast? She’s so far ahead. She pushed herself to run faster, but Josephine couldn’t seem to catch up with her. She halted only a moment to catch her breath. When she looked up, Kelsey was long gone, and so was the path.

She didn’t bother searching for the luminaries lining the pathway. They wouldn’t be lit for hours. Turning around, she began retracing her steps.

Her mind wandered as she did. It became a haven for plans and a flurry of thoughts. When she finally turned her attention back to the present, she was more lost than ever. Her fingers were growing numb, and the forest was quickly growing dark.

An uncharacteristic rage overcame her. She screamed. She screamed louder than she ever had before. It wasn’t a call for help. It was pure frustration.

When she realized what she’d done, she clamped her mouth shut. Josephine glanced around, but there was no one there to offend. It had felt really good, so she did it again. She felt a lot better until she heard the crackling and crunch of leaves behind her.

She turned quickly. Standing there was a thin man. He was covered head to toe with mud. It seemed to be caked-on him in sections. Random leaves and twigs, stuck to the mud, and twisted in his hair. Pale skin peeked out, from beneath the dirt. He cackled loudly before charging at her.

Something shifted inside of her and reverberated outward. It echoed beyond her body. Before he could reach her, the man burst into countless embers, their light crackling and drifting toward the sky. With no consideration for direction anymore, Josephine ran. She ran and ran until light began to show in the distance. She hoped it was the clearing.

Josephine pressed through the tree line and found herself standing before a large bonfire. It was ten times larger than the bonfire that they built for the Singing. It billowed, as a thick branch collapsed into the scorching flames. Josephine stared at it, hypnotized.

“So you killed him, then? Well, that’s lucky for you.” She was instantly dis-enthralled. For the second time that night, she whirled around to confront a stranger. “No need to get defensive with me. I don’t mind that he’s dead. He’s not really dead. Nothing really dies, now does it?”

Josephine didn’t know what she meant but was far too overwhelmed to ask. “I just want to go home. The Singing is bound to start before long, and I haven’t even dressed yet.” As the words left her mouth, Josephine considered how trivial she sounded.

The woman cocked an eyebrow and smiled as if she knew. “Well, you’ve done your part for the night, and the autumn songs must be sung. Follow me.” Josephine looked at her hesitantly, but the lady only laughed and walked into the night.

Despite her reservations, Josephine walked back into the darkness. The lady’s dress seemed to twinkle in the dark. It was a subtle beacon, leading her forward. Josephine wondered if she should feel regret for whatever she’d done, but didn’t feel anything at all. She said he isn’t really dead. Whatever that means. A shiver ran through her as she walked onward.

They stopped after a time, and the woman turned toward her, holding a slip of fabric in her hands. “You’ll need this.”

Josephine reached out and caught a pale dress. Warily, with an eye on the stranger, she changed out of her clothes. The dress slid over her body in one smooth movement. It shimmered, even in the darkness. It was paper-thin, yet warmed her better than the layers she’d worn all day.

She reached to pick up her jeans and realized that all of her other clothes had disappeared. “What the…?” She swept her hands over the ground desperately, but the woman only sighed.

“Don’t worry. It’s all back at your house. It’s the least that I could do, since you did my job for me tonight. Come along.” She walked forward with purpose.

Josephine seethed until the lights began to show through the trees. The town bonfire came into view. She turned to thank the stranger but found herself alone. The drums were already beating a steady rhythm. She took a deep breath and entered the fold. She quickly found her friends.

“Where have you been? We did everything already, and it’s about to start.” Lara hissed angrily.

 “I got lost in the woods.” Lara rolled her eyes and motioned for Josephine to take her place. “Where’s Kelsey?” She whispered as she scooted next to Lara.

“She’s checking on the feast preparations. She’ll be right back. She’s been here since noon.” Josephine felt her body run cold, with those words.

She remained paralyzed until everyone was assembled. Then something in the air shifted, and she with it. As one, they lifted their faces to the bonfire and to the sky.


If you enjoyed “Autumn Songs” and you want to read my recent work, try one of the links below.