Identity

My identity was as much a mystery as where I was or how I got here. A deep buzzing sounded, vibrating through my bones. Even breathing made me dizzy in the thin air. Small rocks pressed into my back, but otherwise, the ground was somewhat soft, like sand or powder. I tried to sit up, and lights flew past my eyes, tiny sparks that appeared and disappeared as quickly.

I was on a flat plain with almost no noticeable structures, but one. A single, immense black sphere floated in the distance. Unfortunately, I couldn’t estimate how far away it was.  There wasn’t so much as a hill or shrub as far as I could see.

My mind searched for anything familiar, but I had no frame of reference. In fact, even the memories were drifting away, disappearing like echoes. It was as though everything before this moment was a blank. I searched a darkened memory for who I was, trying to grasp the echoes, but there was nothing.

Certain words were even missing from my vocabulary, concepts only apparent in their absence. Thoughts dropped away, unable to explain or preamble. There was nothing to do. There was nowhere to be.

The spots of light returned and condensed, shimmering around the edges of that far-off Sphere. Then they blinked out again, as though I’d imagined them. That was when I felt the tug in my chest, and everything around me appeared clearer, brighter, almost glittering in its brilliance.  

As I stood, my eyes focused on that Sphere. There was nothing before now and nowhere else to go. As I walked, I felt the strange sensation that someone had inserted a hook through my solar plexus and tugged.

A touch of unease suggested that the Sphere might be dangerous, but another whispered that being out in the open was just as dangerous. In the end, I didn’t know why I should feel either way, and the tug was insistent. Walking forward, the thoughts disappeared again. It was quiet for a long time.

*

I don’t know how much time passed. Eventually, I glanced up at the bright bare sky as though it might have answers. But something was missing. It suddenly occurred to me that the sky was missing a sun. I couldn’t really remember what it looked like, but the word popped into my mind before drifting away again.  

I walked more quickly now, disconcerted by the awareness that something was missing, that without a source, the brightness didn’t make sense. But the words eluded me again, and the world didn’t fall apart.

Eventually, I relaxed and forgot about the oddity. The word “Sun”  floated around untethered somehow. I could easily have made it up. Although I didn’t remember making anything up, it clearly didn’t exist.

As for the Sphere, it still seemed so far away, like I hadn’t made any progress at all. While I knew that couldn’t be true, my sense of time was tenuous at best. Nevertheless, that hook was always drawing me forward and toward what I hoped were answers.

Even from a distance, that blackness became a singular focal point, hypnotizing me with the light that sparkled along its edges before being swallowed whole by the darkness. I wasn’t paying attention to anything else. Still, there was nothing but a flat landscape, so I was surprised when I tripped and fell hard.

When my knees hit the ground, it didn’t seem so soft anymore. The pain reverberated through my body, ringing in my ears, and I screamed despite myself. Even the light shifted: shades of pink, pale green, and blinding white light.

When my head finally cleared, I saw the body beside me.  They lay in a heap, arms and legs entangled around them,  their body so similar to mine. I noticed their long fingers and brought my hand close to my face, examining it for comparison. Uncertainly, I reached out to touch them.

As my finger brushed their arm, countless memories rushed through my mind. I watched the images pass across my vision and all around me. The landscape shifted, and other people walked beside me.

Then I saw the sun outside and felt the whole world moving through me. I saw trees, mountains,  and so much more. I had an entire life full of pain, loss, and love. When I woke beside them, my eyes cleared. Although I clutched the memories, they began to float away again. Joy, pleasure, pain, it all disappeared. I grasped for them desperately, wanting to keep them, but they were gone. They were only dreams.

 Suddenly the sleeper’s eyes fluttered open. The sleeper grasped my hand, and I remembered them like they were a part of my own body. They sat up groaning, blinking their eyes drowsily, and I wondered if that was what I’d looked like so long ago. I reached to help them up, and as our eyes and fingertips connected, a high-pitched noise filled the silence.

We were suddenly propelled across the landscape.  I couldn’t process the speed, and so I didn’t try. We landed in a heap beside The Sphere, and the actual size filled me with something like awe or fear. We were such small things, dwarfed by its size, but also its inherent darkness, as though we might be swallowed up and never recover.

I jerked my head toward the one other being like me, but there was no longer only one. There was a host of them, staring into that dark Sphere. Even my companion was captivated. I touched their hand and felt that eerie sense of remembering.

Then they were all a part of my body, our body. There was no way to know whose hand we held because we were all lost in the same sensation of unity. As one Self, we lifted our eyes back to the Sphere.

Identity - Mixed Media Painting

With that single movement, a knowing overcame us.  The entire world was our Self, and it contained every thought, every experience, all now. Nothing was lost. And that sphere was not dark but filled with light, more than we could previously conceive. In fact, it was brighter than the sun, pure energy and shifting form. Even the sphere was Us, a part waiting, signaling, bringing us together.

We were only waiting for the rest of our Self to awaken. Strangely there was no worry or impatience. It didn’t matter how many times we fell asleep or how long we slumbered. We’d all eventually end up here, trying to wake up one last time.

And in the knowing, there was no more fear or pain. There was only indescribable joy and peace. There was only love, not a facsimile of emotion, a shadow of reality. It wasn’t desire or need. It was what we were, the fabric of reality, whether sleeping or awake, whether we remembered or not. We existed in a state of pure rapture. My Self was everywhere, and we were walking now.


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Snowdrifts and Echoes

*”Snowdrifts and Echoes” was written in response to a Reedsy.com prompt:

“Write about two people going sledding for the first time in many years.”

Authors note: As a writing exercise, I tried incorporating all five Reedsy Prompts for the week.

My other inspiration was memories. Sometimes they are like echoes, and other times they build up like snowdrifts until we’re ready to heal.

There is something about the snow here. It may come down softly at first, but it can transform into a full blizzard in little time at all. The last time I’d checked, the snow had been a speck on the horizon. Now the snowflakes looked closer to golf balls.

I glanced back at my computer screen. It had shut down 10 seconds ago with nearly everything else. I don’t know how it happened so fast. These buildings were set up to handle worse weather than this.

Looking around, I surveyed the empty offices. Of course, I’d decided to come in on my day off work. I did that a lot now. I vaguely remembered a different life that wasn’t all about my job. I shouldn’t have come in when snow was expected, but it was too quiet in my apartment, and there was a lot to do here. Well, there had been a lot to do.

I thought that I had more time. I sighed and picked up the phones to call security. There had to be a generator for this place. No dial tone. Great. I switched on the flashlight connected to my phone. There was still light filtering through the windows, but that wouldn’t reach far.

Sluggishly I stood and walked toward the exit. I’d either find someone to help or just go home. Well…if I wasn’t already trapped. The overhead lights flickered then flared back to life just as I passed The Door.

We didn’t go in there. None of us did. Some people said this was where they kept the prototype. All we knew was that we weren’t allowed inside. You needed better clearance than I had.

The lights flickered off again, and it was almost pitch black except for the cold illumination of my flashlight. I was sure it was locked, but curiosity was suddenly stronger than reason. I aimed my phone toward the doorframe, and its harsh blue light made the door seem more sinister than it was.

It was locked anyway. I was sure of it. My fingers tentatively pressed the handle, and it clicked open. I passed my light through the small room. It looked like a closet, but there was a darkness that my flashlight couldn’t penetrate.

This was the moment when you were supposed to leave or be the first to die in a bad horror film. Something tugged at me, though, irresistible. One step inside, and everything changed.

The darkness turned to bright sunshine, and I wasn’t in the closet anymore. I glanced behind me, but the door was gone. Instead, there were vast stretches of field, a lake, and a bare forest.

My breath quickened, and the fear rose, chilling my whole body. Then a real chill fell, and snowflakes began falling all around me. I held out my fingers and felt the cold drops tingling. It tasted like real snow too. The smell of it was in the air, mingling with something else…wood smoke.

I turned my head and saw the smoke puffing steadily from a small cabin in the distance. They’d have a phone, I was sure of it. However, as I got closer, the cabin looked more familiar, and my heart plummeted with the cold. I’d told myself I’d never come back.

Then I saw her. Alice. She stood on the porch, holding my heart, and I knew there was no phone. There was no electricity. There was just a wood stove, soft hands, and eyes that could melt chocolate with their warmth.

She waved at me, and I started sobbing as though I wasn’t standing in snowdrifts up to my knees now. I rushed toward her, and even when she was in my arms, I couldn’t make sense of such boundless joy and sorrow wrapped into one.

“You’re alive!”

“Of course, I am, sweetheart.” My heart was cracking, and I cried like I might never stop. When I finally calmed down, she took my hand and led me inside.

“Why’d you go outside, wearing that? Go change. I’ve been waiting to go sledding all day.”

I blinked, and a host of memories filled me in the quiet. I ran to change, but as I walked into our bedroom, I found myself outside again, although more suitably dressed.

“Come on.” Alice laughed, and its strange, beautiful music filled my whole chest.

As we loaded into the toboggan, her hands around my chest brought that familiar flip that I hadn’t felt in years. Even as we careened down the steep hill, the adrenaline was no match for that. As we stood unsteadily, I kissed her, and she laughed, clearly delighted.

I noticed the way her button nose was bright pink, and her eyes sparkled brightly like they had before she got sick. I was caught off guard when my arm jerked, and she pulled me up the hill.

I knew that I would sled all day if she asked me, and we almost did. When we finally headed inside, my toes felt frozen, and I was sure that hers did too. Her fingers and toes always got cold sooner than mine.

My fingers burned as we entered the warm cabin. We stripped off our coats and boots and hung them by the stove. Bits of ice turned to water and water to steam. Alice placed a mug in my hand before I knew what was happening. She’d always been that way, taking care of others before she took care of herself.

I knew before tasting that it was her home-brewed hot cider. The cinnamon filled the air, coating everything with sugar like it coated my tongue. I drank the cider, and my eyes drank her.

I tried not to think about when she passed, and I had passed along with her. I wasn’t ready to die again. I wanted to live today. I would worry about the consequences later.

At one point in the afternoon, I noticed her ice skates. Before, I’d never wanted to skate with her, and she was always asking. Now there was nothing I wanted more. I held up her skates. “Well?”

“Yes. Finally,” Alice squealed and kissed me fiercely. We twirled around for a second before she set to work on the laces. There was a pair beside my feet suddenly, though I was sure they hadn’t been there before. I didn’t care.

I looked up, and suddenly we were beside the cold frozen lake. Alice took my hands, leading me onto its still surface. Tentatively I stepped onto the slippery ice and predictably tripped over my own feet. But she caught me, and I marveled at how lovely it was to be out of control if she had it.

I didn’t improve, but after a time, we whirled together, her propelling us forward and me trying not to get underfoot. Sometimes it’s okay to just not get in the way.

As we spun around, I noticed the snow starting to fall again and snowdrifts gathering like memories in my mind, like echoes of reality. I wasn’t ready for the echoes to end. I wanted to let the memories crop up until I was buried beneath them.

But the evening was quickly falling, and I was a bit afraid that the dream would too. So I held Alice tighter, breathing in her scent and reveling in the cold of my nose against her neck.

We finally walked back to the cabin, stumbling, frozen, and happy. I hated the cold, but here with Alice, it was the most precious feeling in the world. But so was the heat as we walked into the warm cabin.

So were the warm blankets as we got ready for bed. So was Alice’s skin as we held each other tightly beneath the quilts. Throughout the night, I was unable to discern what was memory and what was a fresh experience. It was some strange amalgamation that was as good as any reality I’d ever had. I didn’t know if I’d ever been this present before, this desperate to experience everything.

As we fell asleep, I heard an owl hoot and the brush of branches against the windows. I noticed how hot Alice’s skin felt beneath mine. My legs wrapped around hers, like roots beneath the earth, like a poem about a snowy night. I almost laughed, but I didn’t want to wake her.

Eventually, I fell asleep too.

When I woke on the floor of the bare closet, it was like being ripped from the world and plucked in a cold approximation of life. I desperately wanted to wake whatever lived inside this room and go back to Alice, but something whispered to leave before I was caught.

I’d barely stepped into the hall and closed the door when the system restarted. I didn’t stay longer than it took to grab my stuff.

As I hit the elevator, the pain moved through me in waves. Years of built-up grief, snowdrifts of pain, echoes reverberating through my body. I pulled myself together as I crossed the lobby, but it was like trying to hold back a furious storm.

When I stepped outside, the snow had miraculously stopped, and all that remained was a thick quiet. Once in my car, I slammed the door hard, screaming loud enough to scare any passersby. I roared again, a roiling gale of anger and regret. Then I glanced at my dashboard.

Only a couple of minutes had passed since I’d gone in the room. It almost shocked me out of my fury. I drove home in silence until I felt a tug, like the one by The Door. There was somewhere I needed to go first. I didn’t want to, but I knew that I needed it. I can’t tell you why.

What might have been minutes or an hour later, I sat beside a cold ice rink. At first, my fingers fumbled with the laces, then I could have sworn I felt Alice’s fingers on mine. A calm swept through me in waves, quieting the pain. 

I finished lacing up the skates and paused momentarily. I swear I felt Alice squeeze my hand, and then I stepped alone onto the rink’s frozen surface.

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Read the short fiction, "Snowdrifts and Echoes," for FREE on J.M. Elam's blog
Snowdrifts and Echoes – Read for FREE on J.M. Elam’s Blog and Reedsy.com

Light in the Dark

With the days still short and uncertainty rampant, sometimes we all need a little light in the dark. And all light begins with a spark. Although the holidays are over, I hope these stories will brighten your day and provide sparks of inspiration.

Light in the Dark

The first of these is my short story, “Winter Daughter: A Yule Tale,” recently nominated for Spillwords “Publication of the Month.”

Winter Daughter: A Yule Tale

You may have noticed one of my latest illustrations in “Winter Daughter: A Yule Tale.” This is the full watercolor painting!

Winter Daughter (Light in the Darkness)
Winter Daughter Watercolor Illustration in “Winter Daughter: A Yule Tale” on Spillwords.com
Original (12×9) – $108 | Giclée Print (14×11) – $46 |Canvas Print (20×16) – $128

Sometimes stories inspire art, and sometimes art inspires stories. I honestly think that we can find inspiration in almost anything. That is what this poem is about. Although the holidays are over, the winter is not, and sometimes the smallest things can keep us going.

A Little Cheer: Sparks in the Darkness

Some memories are like snapshots and wordless impressions. I remember that it was a tiny apartment, full of empty spaces. Sometimes it felt like loneliness, but other times like solitude and safety.

It was another Christmas alone, and the decorations felt too heavy, too much. But a string of lights, I could handle that. As I stood in the Christmas aisle, a bit overwhelmed yet determined, I saw them.

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If you enjoyed these, you can read more of my work here.

I’m sending you lots of love as we press through the winter days and toward spring. It’s not far away, and it is coming.

Light in the Dark

Souvenirs

*TW for “Souvenirs”: Physical Violence

*“Souvenirs” is my entry for Challenge #2 in the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Contest 2020. My assignment prompts were the Thriller genre, a golf course, and a coupon. I hope you enjoy it!

Her body rocked against the inside of the trunk. She didn’t know how long her attacker had been driving, but her tears had dried on her face. The time for tears had passed, and her heart was beating like a drum.

The car came to an abrupt halt, and her face slammed against something solid. She could taste the iron of her blood. Only the tape over her mouth kept it from smearing over her face.

When the trunk opened, a flashlight shone in her eyes, revealing a dark silhouette above her. There was no doubt that she looked like a pathetic mess. Her dress was ripped, her makeup smeared, and long streaks of mascara streamed down her face.

He pulled her roughly out of the trunk and began dragging her across soft grass. She took in her surroundings. She saw a sandpit and a small pond glinting beneath the bright full moon. The golf course seemed somewhat neglected. The disrepair was evident in the untrimmed grass and bits of trash scattered around. 

They reached the edge of a wood on the property, and he shoved her beneath its shadows. Millie’s knees bit the earth and gravel hard.

He grabbed her long blonde hair and yanked her across the ground, pulling her farther into the dark wood along the golf course. Millie struggled and pulled away, digging trenches in the dirt with her heels.

When he finally came to a stop, he pinned her to the ground and ripped the tape from her face. She screamed loudly, and he didn’t even try to clamp her mouth. He laughed sickeningly and pulled something from his pocket. Millie heard the click of the switchblade, as a flash of moonlight glinted off its edge.

“Scream all you want. That’s why I brought you here. This golf course has been out of business for a while. No one is coming here to save you, and no one will find you. You’ll be gone. You will be nothing, except for this little souvenir.” In a single swift movement, he cut a swatch of her hair.

“Why me?”

“Doesn’t matter. You aren’t the first, and you won’t be the last.”

“You’re a bit sloppy for someone that’s done this before.” She shot back at him. He swiftly punched her in the ribs. As they cracked, a bark of pain left her mouth.

It occurred to her that this might be the way it ended, painfully, at the hands of this predator. It was the way that it ended for so many women. Calm swept over her then, where there should have been fear. But then there had never been fear, only that killing calm waiting in the wings. She’d been out of commission for a long time, and she’d become complacent.

“Personally, I don’t like to be this sloppy, but I needed time. It turns out that anyone can get caught off guard.” A deep growl escaped her throat, and she felt the familiar adrenaline course through her body.

Millie snapped through her restraints like they were made of paper. Of course, she’d been working through them while they struggled, and he babbled. With a twist of her body, Millie expertly flipped him over and trapped him beneath her.

“What are you?” Her attacker gasped when he realized he couldn’t escape.

“A woman tired of monsters.” She grabbed his switchblade and stabbed him, seemingly at random and yet effectively.

Millie stood momentarily to observe the wreckage, taking in the evidence from here to his car. She knew what she needed to do.

When she’d been an agent, Millie hadn’t been this disorganized with her kills. When she’d woken up in the trunk, Millie had known that she needed time to get loose, and she needed to cover her tracks.

Crouching down, she rifled through his pockets and found his cell phone. Hitting the emergency function, she made her report to the operator. Millie cried hysterically, and it was only partially an act. She was also crying for the women that hadn’t escaped.

After Millie hung up, she rifled through his coat. There were more people like him, and she was sick of it. Out of an inside pocket, she pulled a crumpled coupon for free ice cream.

Resolve settled down around her. Millie smoothed it reverently and tucked it inside her bra. She liked souvenirs too, and she thought she might like some more.


You can also read my entry for Challenge #1, “Pistachio Cupcakes.”

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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.

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.

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.