Category Archives: Short Stories

The Song

She was innocently beautiful.  Her hair was a golden waterfall cascading over her slender shoulders and falling to her waist.   Long lashes framed sapphire eyes and her lips were like a soft pink petal.  She had a quiet, smooth way of moving that should have made her invisible, but instead brought every eye to her.  Daron wondered if she was quiet because she was too modest to want attention or because she thought herself so above everyone that she didn’t care if she was noticed by them of not.  Her face held no trace of scorn, but neither signs of bashfulness.  She was as impassive as a marble statue as her willowy form walked through the city at his side.  Perhaps that was what drew the stares—the mystery that lingered beneath her serene gaze.

Daron knew her secret.  She looked years younger than him, fifteen or sixteen at the most, but she had lived thousands of years.  She was one of the Old Ones.  The ones who lived since the beginning of the world and were gifted with ancient wisdom that humans did not have.

The Old Ones once lived among them and shared their wisdom, and the land was prosperous under their watch.  But that time passed long ago.  The Old Ones journeyed across the sea to a land they could make their own after mankind refused to practice their ways and heed their guidance. Mankind declared they didn’t need the Old Ones.

Only they did.  Thousands of years after the departure of the Old Ones, drought and famine plagued the land.  It was why Daron left on an impossible mission to cross the sea and find an Old One who was willing to come back with him and help their dying land—to sing the ancient songs that would call down rain for their withered crops.

Daron looked at the Old One beside him and thought how lucky he was to find her. He was warned that not all the Old Ones would be helpful. There were some who resented humans for their arrogant ways. Their disdain for humans festered inside of them and blossomed into a hate so strong it changed them.  These Old Ones grew cruel and vain.  They were so intoxicated with their power and eaten with thoughts of revenge that they were sent away from their own kind. If Daron had stumbled on one of them, it would have meant death.

But the danger and uncertainty of that journey had passed.  Daron would soon present the Old One to the King as proof he had succeeded in his mission.

—–

They stood on the steps of the front of the castle, looking into the courtyard filled with hopeful faces.  The bright-haired girl stood in the center with the king standing to the right and Daron to her left. She didn’t address the crowd but closed her eyes and hummed. It was so low that Daron could scarcely hear it even at only a few feet away.  It didn’t change in pitch but grew in volume.  Then her soft, girlish lips opened and a melody of words drifted past them and filled the courtyard.  Daron didn’t understand the words.  She sang in an ancient language that the Old Ones alone had mastered.  Even without the knowledge of the meaning of the song it was entrancing.  The song rose and fell in somber minor notes.  Her voice softening, then swelling to portray first sorrow, then urgency.

Daron thought that he would be watching the sky during the Old One’s summons for rain, but he couldn’t look away from the girl.  From his peripheral vision, he saw that the others were equally entranced with the golden-haired singer.   Her eyes remained closed and her face focused as her silky voice bounced off the courtyard walls.  Small pricks ran up Daron’s arms.  As the song went on, he almost forgot why they were gathered or the reason for the song.  There was nothing in Daron’s mind but the captivating melody spinning sorrow and hope.  He shook himself when a shadow passed over him.  Rain!  Rain clouds were forming and blocking the sun.

He looked up and was confused.  Something was blocking the sun, but it wasn’t rain clouds—not unless rainclouds were ebony black and moved as one shimmering mass.  Wait.  That wasn’t shimmering.  It was flapping.  Thousands of crows filled the sky.  Gasps and whispers filled the courtyard.

“What’s going on?” demanded the King, but the girl continued singing.

Daron tried to get her attention. “Old One, the skies are filled with crows.”

She didn’t acknowledge him.

“Thousands of them,” he continued.  “They’re coming at us.  Take them away!”

Her chilling song mingled with the people’s confused cries.

“Is this some trick?”  The King asked, red faced.  Daron was sure it wasn’t a trick, but a mistake.  Maybe the Old Ones forgot how to call down rain.  Maybe in all their years of isolation, they lost their skill.  Or maybe this particular Old One didn’t know how to call rain.

The sky was getting darker.  The birds would land soon and what little crops they had left would be destroyed.

Daron strode forward to shake the girl out of her trance.

As his fingertips touched her shoulders, a shock went through his bones and he staggered back.  The girl’s blue eyes opened.

“Don’t touch me human snake!”  It was her voice, but it didn’t come from her lips which were still forming the words to the ominous song filling the air.

Confused, Daron tried to form words.  “The crows will eat our crops.”

Her laugh filled his head.  The harsh sound didn’t match the softness of the girl before him.

“The crows aren’t going to eat your crops.  They are going to eat you.”

He must have heard her wrong.  An Old One wouldn’t speak such words.

“You, the humans who destroyed the land and drove the Old Ones out with your erroneous ways.

In an instant, Daron understood who the girl was.  Not an Old One, understanding and willing to help mankind like the Old Ones thousands of years ago, but one of the wayward Old Ones he was warned about.  She pretended to help them so she could destroy them.

Before he could call out a warning to the others, the crows fell on them.  Shrieks mingled with the incessant cries of thousands of crows.  People ran or fell to the ground and covered their face as the winged terrors swarmed them.

Daron ran, but there was nowhere to go that wasn’t already filled with crows.  Sharp beaks picked at his arm and shoulders.  They pulled his hair and bit the tender skin on his neck. He kept his arms in front of his face but their sharp beaks jabbed at his chin and cheeks.  He wanted to cry out, but was afraid they would poke their nasty little beaks into his mouth and rip his tongue to shreds too.

He tried to keep moving, hoping he could find a door that would bring him into the safety of the castle, but the crows were so thick and so many wild thrashing bodies kept jostling him that he didn’t know if he were moving at all.

He fell. He didn’t know if he tripped from the crows gathered around his feet or if his legs gave out from the panic that snared him.

He laid in a huddle, feeling wet, sticky blood run down his back and arms.  He was screaming now.  His mouth pressed to the ground and his tongue tasted dirt.

He was ready for death.  Anything to stop feeling hundreds of holes being dug into his body.

Everything began to fade, until one last sound remained.  A haunting melody sung by a sweet, smooth voice.


I hope you enjoyed my spooky story! If you want to go on a dark adventure–keeping with the Halloween mood– check out Zorok, the story of a murderous pirate who may not be as invincible as he thinks.

Happy Halloween!

Join me for tons more fun, writing tips, and a glimpse into the daily life of a writer!

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Zorok

Zorok pulled his sword from the child’s body and watched it crumple to the ground, wondering if he had ever been so frail and easy to kill. He was sure that he was impossible to kill now. There was nothing good aim and gun powder couldn’t protect him from.

He stepped over the bodies that littered the ground and paid no notice to the gruesome details illuminated by the flaming huts: tanned torsos with bloody bullet holes, looks of fear frozen on women’s faces, glazed-over eyes reflecting orange flames. His boots tread on an arrow, breaking it in half.  It amused him that these villagers thought they could defend themselves against his attack with such primitive weapons.  Bows and spears did little against pistols and gun powder.

The flickering orange light from the burning huts deepened the shadows in his hardened face making it look even more ominous. The top half of his dark, shoulder-length hair was pulled back showing a small hoop of gold in his right ear and the scar at his temple.

“It is time we claim what we came here for.”  Zorok’s deep voice rumbled as he reached his gathered men.  They cheered in agreement.

Zorok and his men grabbed torches from the pile they left in the cover of the trees on the outskirts of the village.  They lit them with fire from the nearest hut and headed into the jungle, toward the cave.

It would have been easy to sneak into the cave.  He could have led his men straight there and bypassed the destruction of the village, but he had to prove a point; no one told Zorok, most feared pirate in the land, that he couldn’t do something.

When he arrived on the island, a group of men from the village told him—through one of his crewmen who knew the language—that the cave was an ancient place of worship, and only a select few from their tribe could enter.  They wouldn’t allow him to go in and tried to scare him away by telling him that their god lived there and would kill them if they went in.

Once they shot down the men, they used their swords on the women and children. There was no reason to waste gunpowder on something that posed so little threat.  Normally Zorok would have taken those who looked strong enough captive and sold them on the black-market, but if the legend were true, he wouldn’t have room for slaves.

He could hear his crewmen murmuring eagerly to each other as they reached the cave.  The villagers claimed that it was a sacred place, but Zorok knew the real reason they didn’t want anyone to go in: treasure.

The cave’s ceiling was low and Zorok had to crouch over as he led his men down the winding tunnels. The scuffles of their boots bounced around in the enclosed space, making the group of just a little over two dozen sound like an army.

In the orange glow of his torch, he could see markings covering the walls. They were all symbols he didn’t know the meaning of or words written in a language he didn’t understand, so he paid them little attention.  Not all his crew members shared his indifference.  He could hear Tom, the one who had a flare for languages, reading the words painted on the stone walls.

“’All those who value their lives should not enter.’”

“Like I haven’t heard that before,” laughed one of the men. Tom laughed with him then continued reading the rest of the writing, all of it warning those who entered the cave.

“’Take care not to disturb the great god of the island,’” Tom stopped to read, squinting in the torch light.

“Would you stop reading those,” called a man behind Tom, “You’re holding up the line.”  Tom moved up to fill the gap, then read another one of the inscriptions.

“’Great evil lies within.’” He paused to translate the words in his head. “’If stirred it will devour the souls of those who dared to waken it.’”

“At the rate you’re going, Tom, we’ll have the treasure loaded on the ship and be setting sail while you’re still standing in front of a cave wall,” the crewman directly behind Zorok said.  The men laughed.

“And you’ll have us stuck in here with you,” said one of the men in the line behind Tom.  Tom stopped reading and moved on.

Just as the whole line was moving steadily, Zorok stopped.  There was nothing but cave wall in front of him.  Someone from the back of the line cursed at Tom, thinking he was the one holding it up again.

“Well that ain’t no treasure,” said a crewman right behind Zorok.

“All this way for a wall,” grumbled another.

“Quit your whining,” Zorok said. “It doesn’t end here.”  He dropped to the ground and crawled forward into a hole that his men hadn’t noticed because they were too busy complaining.

Zorok expected to find himself in a claustrophobic tunnel, but instead his lone torch barely reached the shadows of the cavern in which he stood.  The center was filled with knee-high chests.  Zorok went to the nearest one and shot the lock.  He opened it.  Shining gold coins filled his gaze.

“This is it boys.” He grinned.  He turned around and the grin came off his face.  None of his crew were there.  He grumbled under his breath as he walked back to the hole.  Were the idiots scared or just too stupid to find the hole, or was it Tom and his walls of doom holding them up?

The hole was gone.  Zorok scowled and moved his torch along the cave wall, searching for the place where he came in.  It wasn’t there.  He called out to his men, but it remained eerily silent except for a trickling sound on the other side of the cavern.  He cursed at the wall. He knew he came in from this direction.

A small wind brushed against his cheek.  At first he thought it came from the hole he was looking for, but then realized that was impossible.  They had walked too far and took too many turns for wind to be coming through that hole.  There must be another, one that led directly outside.

Before he could follow it, the wind grew stronger, coming from all different directions including  the solid wall behind him.   The wind merged into one place in the center of the room and a mass of swirling black appeared.

The wind stopped as the black shaped itself into a seven-foot, human-shaped form covered in a black, hooded cloak.

Zorok drew his pistol.

“You can’t fight me,” said a raspy but deep voice from under the hood.

“Give me a reason why I can’t,” demanded Zorok.  Holes that disappeared, wind that came from solid walls, and hooded figures that appeared out of nowhere made Zorok uncomfortable, but blasting things with gun powder was something he could handle.

“Your time is up, Zorok.  You made a deal with my master, and he wants his payment,” the form said in an eerie dead-pan voice.

“I don’t make deals,” he said keeping his pistol up and his stance ready. “I do what I wish and crush those who oppose.”

“You made a deal,” said the hooded figure, “Now your soul belongs to my master.”

Zorok laughed dryly.  “What do I care for my soul?  Tell your master, whoever he is, he can have it.”

“He doesn’t need your permission,” said the figure moving forward.  Zorok was ready to hear some enchantment murmured that was supposed to take his soul, but the figure put his hand into his cloak.  He drew out a sword that glowed slightly, giving off a faint white light. The moment he did, Zorok fired. The bullet disappeared in his black torso.  A rumbling sound came from under the hood that could have been a laugh.

“You can’t kill me.” The glowing sword moved steadily toward him.  Zorok stepped back and drew his own sword. An feeling foreigh to Zorok began to make its way down his spine: cold fear.

“Who is this master you serve—the one who wants my soul?” he asked, hoping to stall so he could look for a way out of the cavern.  

“The devil.”  The figure brought his sword down.  Zorok already had his sword drawn, and blocked the blow.  He spun out of the thing’s reach.

“I made no deal with the devil,” said Zorok backing away slowly.

“That’s what they all say,” said the eerie voice.  “But you’ve made the deal early in life and confirmed it many times since.”  The thing didn’t move after him, so Zorok took the chance to look around for some way out.

“Every time you stabbed your sword into a woman, every time you shot a man, every time you ordered your men to kill the innocent, a deal was made.”  The figure thrust his glowing sword at Zorok. Their swords clanged against each other and locked.  The thing was strong, and Zorok had to use both hands. His torch flickered as it dropped, but it continued to burn as it hit the stone ground.  He didn’t need it anyway.  He’d found his way out.

“You can tell the devil,” he said, grunting, “that my soul is mine for today.”  He used all his strength to push the glowing sword off his own, and ran toward a glistening ribbon on the cave floor.

White blasts of light flew past him.  One of them hit his shoulder.  He faltered and cried out as hot pain filled it.  He looked back and saw that the blasts of white lights came from the tip of his sword.

He froze.  There was one coming at him. His sword was up as if it had moved on its own and somehow he managed to deflect the shot with its broad side.  It ricocheted off his sword and hit the figure’s arm, knocking the sword from its hand.

Zorok spun around and headed for the dark liquid ribbon behind him.  He was taking the chance that the river didn’t stay underwater for too long, but it was better than being trapped with an enemy that couldn’t die.

As he jumped, he heard the eerie voice call after him, “Your cannot keep your soul forever. Memento mori.”

Cold water merged over his head. He swam with the current hoping it would lead him out of the cave.  After a few seconds, he tried to come up.  He was met with hard stone.  He kept swimming and tried again, but he was still underground.  It made him angry to have escaped a demon, just to die by drowning. It wasn’t the way Zorok, most feared of the seas, should lose his life.

Just as he was sure the devil would get his soul tonight after all, his head burst out of the water and his lungs filled with air.   He could see the moon half hidden behind the jungle foliage.  He dragged himself to the bank and a wild laugh of relief came out of his mouth.  He was Zorok, the pirate who defeated the undefeatable.  He had beaten a demon.  He had tricked the devil.

His laughter died.  The last thing the hooded figure said to him stopped his little celebration.  He didn’t need Tom to understand what those last two words meant.

Remember that you will die.

_________________________________________________

This is a little bit darker and more gruesome than the little tales I usually post here, but it is fun to change things up a bit. Plus, my WIP, Blood Debt, has a tone similar to this (although my main character, Azrin, isn’t a bloodthirsty, treasure-seeking pirate).

I hope you enjoyed the story! 🙂

Join me for tons more fun, writing tips, and a glimpse into the daily life of a writer!

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The Pact

7 years old

She looks like me. That was the first thing Tyler thought when he saw girl who was moving into the house next door. He wondered if she moved here straight from China or if her family had been in the U.S. for generations like his.

She was sitting on the porch steps, chin in her hands. She didn’t look very happy. For some reason, he wanted her to look up at him.

Tyler grabbed the scooter leaning against his house down his driveway then stopped at the street. He wasn’t allowed cross the line where the light cement of the driveway ended and the black pavement of the road began. But she was watching him now, and he didn’t want her to think he was a baby, so he crossed the line and let the wheels roll over the road.

He stopped when he reached the next driveway.

“Can I ride in your driveway?” he asked. She nodded and he scooted his way right up to her porch. He stopped in front of her.

“Did you just get here from China?” Then he remembered how every new kid at school would always ask him that and how it annoyed him, so he added, “Or has your family been here for generations? Mine has been here for four. I’ve never even been to China.”

She blinked at him. She probably wasn’t used to having people actually realize that just because she was Chinese didn’t mean she came from China.

He was sure she was impressed until she said, “I’m not Chinese.”

Now it was Tyler’s turn to blink. But she looked…Oh. “Japanese?”

She shook her head. “I’m from the Philippines.” She said words strangely. She had an accent.

To keep from feeling silly, he changed the subject. “I’m seven. How old are you?”

She brightened. “I’m seven too. That means I’ll be in your class at school right?”

“Yeah. I can show you the ropes.” He’d heard that phrase in a movie. It sounded cool.

“You will show me around?” She seemed confused. She probably didn’t know what “show you the ropes meant.”

“I’ll show you around and tell you everything you need to know,” Tyler explained, feeling important.

“Oh, good. I’ve never been to an American school before.”

Tyler remembered his fist day of school and how nervous he’d been. “We’ll make a pact,” he said, because he’d seen a boy and a girl make a pact in a movie once and always wanted to do it. “I’ll be your partner for everything that happens at school.”

“Ok,” the girl said.

“Shake on it?” Tyler asked, holding his hand out. That’s what the boy and girl did in the movie. The girl put her hand in his. He grinned, and she grinned back.

Tyler rode home on his scooter feeling very satisfied with himself.

Then he relized he didn’t know the girl’s name.

 

12 years old

“Marie!” Tyler called as he rushed down the hall, dodging the other kids to catch up with her. She turned around and smiled. She wore her hair differently and she wore different clothes, but that smile hadn’t changed since she was seven. Changing the look of her smile would be like changing the flavor of chocolate chip cookies.

“I’m going to be in the talent show,” he said. “Want to be my partner?”

Marie’s face fell. “Amber just asked me.”

“Well, I’m sure she’ll understand. We’re always partners.” Ever since the day of their pact, they’d been partners for everything. The science projects in the third grade that got baking soda and vinegar all over Marie’s new shoes because Tyler wanted their volcano to have the biggest explosion. The fifth grade book report that was almost a disaster because Marie wanted to read Charlotte’s Web and Tyler wanted to read Bridge to Terabithia. Luckily, The  Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe saved the day. It had animals and magic.

“I already told her I’d do it with her,” Marie said. She no longer had the accent she had when she was seven.

“But we’re always partners,” Tyler said lamely.

“We can be partners with other people sometimes.” Marie looked apologetic.

Tyler paused, hoping she’d change her mind, but she didn’t say anything. He shrugged. “I guess I’ll find someone else.”

She smiled at him. That smile that didn’t change. Somehow it hurt to look at it.

 

17 years old

It hurt to watch Marie talking with the guy by her side. Laughing, smiling that killer smile of hers. He’d probably asked her out to the junior prom already. It shouldn’t bother Tyler. He was already taking someone.

Still, somehow he’d imagined taking Marie, even though they’d slowly drifted apart over the years. His family moved to a different neighborhood when he was in eighth grade, then came junior high and different class schedules. They still talked, but Tyler wasn’t sure it was enough to ask her to be his date.

He’d daydreamed about asking her. He’d even thought about reminding her of the pact they made when they were kids, but he wasn’t even sure if she remembered. He would end up looking stupid. So this morning, a day before the junior prom, he asked a girl in his math class that didn’t have anyone to go with. It was safe. His friends said she’d had a crush on him all year long. It wasn’t Marie, but at least he wouldn’t make a fool of himself by asking and getting turned down.

Tyler turned away from Marie and the annoying guy by her side and opened his locker. He pulled a notebook out and a folded piece of notebook paper fluttered to the floor.

Thinking it was some stray notes, he started to put it back in the notebook. Then he saw his name written on the front.

He’d seen that handwriting nearly everyday in elementary and middle school. He’d watched it change from block letters to the rounded ones that spelled out his name.

Marie’s handwriting.

He slowly unfolded it, feeling like he was unwrapping a Christmas present he’d waited all year to open.

 

Hey Tyler! 

I know it’s a bit late, but I was sort of hoping you’d get around to it first. Then I thought, “Why does it have to be the guy that does the asking?” I tried to think of a fancy way to do this, but then decided to keep it simple. You always did like to keep things simple (unless it’s a paper mache volcano). 

You can probably guess what I’m about to ask you, so I’ll just go ahead and say it. 

Will you go to the prom with me?

You can’t say no because you made a promise that you’d be my partner for anything school related. 😉 

Anxiously waiting your response,

Marie

 

Tyler grinned. She remembered the pact they’d made.

Then his smile dropped. He’d already asked someone else. It was too late.

Maybe he could get out of it. Maybe he could explain it to the girl he’d asked.

Explain what? That they’d made a pact when they where in second grade to always be partners in everything. That they hadn’t been partners for anything since they were twelve, but now all of a sudden it was important for him to go with Marie even though it meant rudely dumping the girl he’d asked?

He couldn’t do that, even if this was what he wanted. He would have to tell her that he was going with someone else.

Tyler’s stomach knotted at the thought. Never in all his daydreams did he have to turn Marie down.

He sighed and folded the note. Why hadn’t he just ask her? Why couldn’t she have asked him just a few hours earlier?

Maybe she’d waited so late because she was hoping someone else would ask her. Maybe she was only asking him because she didn’t want to go alone. What was that last line? You can’t say no because you made a promise that you’d be my partner for anything school related. What if she was only asking him because she knew he’d say yes? He was nothing but a back-up plan.

Well, he wouldn’t be a back-up plan. Hadn’t she been the one to say that they should have other partners?

Tyler shoved the note back in the locker and pretend he never saw it.

 

18 years old

Tyler hurried through the empty school halls. He’d left his jacket in one of the classrooms and hadn’t realized it until he’d stepped into the fridges air. He was getting a ride home with one of his friends because his car hadn’t started that morning. First his car wouldn’t start, then the girl he asked to prom already had a date, then he forgot his jacket. What else could go wrong?

Tyler opened the classroom door. He froze.

Marie was sitting in one of the desks.

They hadn’t talked since last year when she’d slipped that note in his locker. Tyler felt so guilty about the whole thing that he avoided her. It wasn’t hard to do. Tyler suspected she was avoiding him too. He wished he’d at least written a note back, explaining why he couldn’t take her. But the more time that went by, the more awkward it seemed to approach her.

As if the distance between them weren’t uncomfortable enough, Tyler could tell she’d been crying.

She quickly wiped her face and gave a weak smile. It made Tyler’s heart twist. It wasn’t her smile. It was like chocolate chip cookies without the chocolate chips.

“I forgot my jacket,” Tyler said, feeling the need to explain why he was invading her privacy.

“That one?” She pointed to the jacket hanging over the back of the desk right in front of her. Of course it would be right next to her. It couldn’t be right by the door so he could grab it and leave.

He made his way over there, keeping his eyes focused on the jacket as if it would disappear if he lost sight of it for even a second. He felt he should say something, but didn’t know what. It was her business. Whatever he said would probably make it worse anyway.

Marie stood and scooped her backpack up from the floor, getting ready to leave. By then he was already in her row and just a couple of steps away from his jacket. She picked it up and held it out to him.

His fingers brushed the tips of hers as he took it. His stomach fluttered.

He realized that he was standing there, blocking her way, but instead of moving he said, “Are you alright?”

Marie shrugged. “I’m fine. Just a rough day.”

She wasn’t fine. She looked like she did after the goldfish he’d won at a fair for her died and her mom flushed it down the toilet. “It wasn’t such a great day for me either,” Tyler said.

“Can’t be that bad,” she said. “Unless you got dumped too.”

Dumped? She’d been with that guy since Christmas. All that time together and he broke up with her a week before prom? The jerk. She deserved better than that. “My car wouldn’t start this morning.”

She laughed. The sound made Tyler grin.

“I think I’d rather take a stubborn car than a brake up right now,” she said. The smile faded and she sighed. “I guess I just don’t have luck with these things.”

“Yes you do. I mean you should. I mean he’s the unlucky one. Who wouldn’t want to go to prom with you?”

“Quite a few people actually,” she said, sharply. Then she looked down as if she hadn’t meant to say that.

Tyler knew she meant him. It’s not as if that note could have gotten lost in a little locker. She knew he saw it. She probably wondered why he never brought it up, even after the prom was over, to explain. It didn’t help that he’d avoided her. Of course she was mad at him.

“I should go,” Marie said, hinting that he should move. But he didn’t. He couldn’t let this opportunity go. What were the chances  that he would run into her right after that jerk broke up with her, and before someone else asked her? Tyler silently thanked the girl who’d turned him down earlier.

“I have to tell you something,” he blurted. “I saw the note you left in my locker–”

“I know you did,” she said. “I was walking by you as you reached your locker. I looked back as you opened it up.”

Tyler swallowed. He remembered her walking by, but he didn’t know she’d seen him.  “I’m sorry.  I’d already asked someone else and didn’t know how to tell you.”

She shrugged. “It doesn’t matter. Junior Prom is over.” She smiled. Another smile that wasn’t hers.

“It does matter. I should have told you. I shouldn’t have let all this time go by without explaining.”

She shrugged again. “People get crushes on people who don’t like them back all the time. It’s just one of those things. We don’t have to make things awkward.”

He grinned on the inside. She had a crush on him. Then the feeling faded. She had a crush on him last year before he’d ruined his chance with her. What did she think of him now?

She took a step forward, as if to make Tyler get out of her way.

He didn’t move. She was standing so close. “Yes,” he said.

“What?” She looked up at him, startled.

“I’m answering your note.” Tyler’s heart beat. She’d probably slap him. “I’ll take you to prom. If you’ll go with me.”

She raised her eyebrows. “Are you trying to be funny?”

“We made a pact. We’d always be partners for anything that happened at school. So, it may have taken me awhile, but I’m making good on that pact.”

“You don’t have to ask me to prom because of a promise we made when we were kids.”

“That’s not why I’m asking you.”

“You don’t have to ask me out because you didn’t answer my silly note.”

“That’s not why–”

“I hope you aren’t asking me because you feel sorry for me because my stupid boyfriend dumped me right before prom.”

Tyler smiled. It had been a while since he’d talked with her. It was nice to hear her voice again. Even if she was a bit mad.

“What?” Marie asked.

“I’m asking you because I like you.”

Marie blinked up at him, registering his words. She didn’t say anything and he wondered if she was going to push him out of the way. Then, she smiled. She smiled her smile.

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Hey Epic Dreamers! I know today was supposed to be a post on writing tips but since Thursday fell on Valentine’s Day it seemed a waste to pass up the opportunity to do something special. I hope you enjoyed the story!

The Criminal (Part 3)

The burning in my lungs chased away thoughts of miracles and prophets. My breaths in were difficult, but breathing out was impossible with my arms stretched out and over my head. I needed to pull myself up, but I couldn’t move. My muscles weren’t responding to the command. Up. I need to breathe.

Did I need to breathe? Why not stop breathing and end this misery now? Cramps assaulted me. The muscles around my chest and shoulders angrily squeezed themselves into tight balls of fire.

Instinct took over, and even though my mind told me not to prolong this agony, my body began to rise. Fiery swords twisted into the holes in my wrists and feet. I was sure I could hear bones grinding against the iron spike. The assent rubbed my back against the rough timber, scraping it until there was blood running down my legs.

I reached the top, and my lungs moved up and down. The cramps subsided. Then my arms began to shake and I let my knees buckle beneath me. The movement jolted the spikes in my hands sending searing pain through my fingers and arms. I would have to go down more slowly.

“Father.” The zealot carpenter from Nazareth was talking. “Forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.”

The angry mob paid little attention to the man’s words—they continued to hurl insults—but I wondered why he would say such a thing. Was he trying to play the crowd? Pretending to be the merciful messiah to the end, hoping that someone would believe his act and get him down?

No. I felt my body pulling apart just as he, and pain like this didn’t leave room for acting. It stripped a person of all pretending and exposed who they truly were. He meant it.

I looked to the soldiers who gambled over his clothes. Did he mean them too? The ones who held him down and drove spikes into his flesh? What person would forgive that? Unless, he wasn’t just a person.

I’d seen a miracle once. I don’t even know why I went that day. I think part of me hoped that there was a prophet among us again. There was a mob there to hear the man preach. Such a vast crowd—it was like one I’d never been a part of. If that many people believed in him, then maybe not all the rumors were false. I don’t remember much of what he said, but I do remember the taste of the fish and bread. It looked ordinary, but it had a taste like no other fish or bread I’d ever eaten before or since. Maybe because it wasn’t the food of this earth.

I saw what the man had to feed the massive crowd—five barley loaves and two fish. It was hardly a meal enough for one man but somehow, as his followers broke the food into pieces and handed them out, the food didn’t run out. The entire crowd was feed on such a meager portion. It was food coming out of nowhere, like the manna my forefathers received in the desert. There was a prophet amongst us again.

My taste buds remembered the meal as I thought of that day—a small pleasure in the middle of my torment. I glanced at the bloody face of the man next to me. The misshapen face didn’t look like the man that spoke that day, but how many carpenters from Nazareth could there be claiming to be the Messiah?

“Your name is Yeshua? Isn’t it?” I gasped.

The man nodded.

A soldier heard my question. “You’ve heard of him, huh? What is it like to be put to death beside a king?” He gave a roaring laugh, then turned to Yeshua. “That’s what you are, isn’t it? It’s what your sign says. Well, if you are really king of the Jews, then why don’t you save yourself?”

“Come off your cross,” said another soldier, “Aren’t you their messiah? Don’t you have the power to help yourself?”

“Where is your power?” called someone from the crowd, “Where is your army of angels? Can’t you call them to save you?”

“Why don’t you call them?” I recognized that voice. It was Jesse, hanging on the other side of Yeshua. He would join our tormentors in berating this man? He had no decency, to turn on a man dying in the same way we were. Would he start yelling insults at me too?

Jesse continued his mocking. “If you are God, then save yourself. While you’re at it, save us.”

The solders laughed and one said, “Your fellow criminals want you to help them. Are you going to disappoint them?”

“We’ll be your most devoted subjects. Won’t we Johan? All hail the King of the Jews,” Jesse gave a laugh that sounded more like a cough, “What’s wrong oh king? Come, we don’t have all day.”

Let him mouth off to the Romans if he wanted to. They deserved it. But what did he know of Yeshua? I balanced shakily on the spikes so I could breath. “Don’t you have any respect?” I asked him. “We are under the same sentence. At least we deserve it.” I hung my head and took a breath. “We are punished justly. But this man isn’t like us. He has done nothing wrong.”

“He’s still dying ain’t he? Just like us.” He snorted. “He’s no different than we are. Even if he does have a fancy crown.” He gave a hollow laugh. “Death. The great equalizer.”

Death wasn’t an equalizer. Yeshua wouldn’t be going to the same place as Jesse. Or me.

This man was a king. Not just King of the Jews, but king of an other-worldly realm. If anyone could help me, if anyone could change my destination after death, it would be him.

I let my head roll in his direction.

“Yeshua.” The man looked at me. “Lord. Remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

The soldiers laughed. “He wants the king to remember him.”

One of the soldier nudged another. “He believes the carpenter has the power to come off the cross and hopes he’ll get him down as well.”

I paid them no attention. Yeshua was pushing himself up, grimacing as the wood peeled away the flesh of his back. Once he caught his breath, he would give me an answer.

Suddenly, I dreaded his response. What chance did I actually have? It was too late to go back and live my life in a way that would ready me for death. Did I spend time reading the Torah? Had I prayed twice every day with the scriptures tied on my arm and head? Did I recite the Shema every morning and night?

But he was a man of compassion. Even if he wouldn’t do what I requested, he would respond with an indulging answer simply to comfort me in his time of death. Perhaps a kind lie was more than I deserved.

“I answer you truthfully,” said Yeshua, “today you will be with me in paradise.”

My muscles where shaking. I slunk down the wooden stake and let my weight again hang from my arms. I was too out of breath to say anything.

“You’ve earned a place in a paradise with the gods!” bellowed a soldier.

Another looked at Jesse and said, “What about you? Are you going to join them in their kingdom?”

“Fool.” Jesse spoke to me, not the soldiers. “Fear of death has addled your mind.”

I closed my eyes. My muscles tightened, then teased me by slowly releasing before squeezing even harder in a jerking movement. I fixed the word “paradise” in my mind so that it blocked out all other words. It soothed me. Soon it would all be over, and a new life would begin.

Now, all that was left to do was die.

———

Time was my enemy. It moved slower and slower, stretching infinitely. I pushed myself up, and eased back down. I breathed. I bled. This went on for days. No, not days. It was only hours. Sometimes consciousness would slip away. I was always disappointed that it came back.

Why was I still breathing? My back scraped up and down along the wood so many times I wondered if my ribcage showed.

Finally, relief came. A club smashed against my legs until my bones broke. My tongue was swollen and my mouth so dry, screaming was difficult.

Now I wouldn’t be able to lift myself to breath. I would suffocate.

This small mercy was only given to me because whoever was responsible for our burial was impatient to finish his job before nightfall when Shabbat began and work wasn’t allowed. Any other day, and I could have hung for days before drawing my last breath.

My arms were out of their sockets, but the ache of their stretching was overshadowed by pressure in my chest. I could inhale, but couldn’t exhale. My lungs were going to explode.

My head was floating. The people still gathered meshed and wavered like a candle.

This was it. What would happen after the end? My panicked mind fought to hang on. Me in paradise? It would take a miracle to get me there.

Something filled my mouth. It was a taste that I’d only savored once before. Bread and fish. Miracles did happen. And I’d met the one who did them.

Then, everything was still. My muscles were free of cramping. My body wasn’t being torn apart.

A circle of light appeared in front of me, and out of the light walked two men.

It was him! The man from Nazareth was standing free of blood or bruise wearing a white and purple robe. There were no thorns on his head, but a crown that glimmered with more jewels then even Solomon himself could have had.

Behind him was a man I hadn’t seen in years. My father. A huge grin lit his face.

Yeshua stretched out a hand. “Come Johan. Let me lead you to the kingdom.”

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Part 1

Part 2


Hi everyone! I hope you enjoyed this three-part story that tells an age-old tale from a perspective not often seen. The two criminals hanging side-by-side with Jesus is a powerful visual for the options each person is given. Both men were beside Jesus in the darkest moment in their lives, and both would have been given the comfort of everlasting life, but while one dared to ask the unthinkable, the other could only spew insults. Even at death, all he could think of was temporal things that wouldn’t count as soon as he breathed his last. By joining in the catcalling, he put the views of the people gathered that day ahead of his soul.

 

Interesting facts:

Johan means “God is gracious.” I chose this name because God was gracious enough to give him everlasting life in spite of anything he did.

Jesse means “God’s gift.”  The greatest gift was pinned to a tree, bleeding before his eyes, but he chose to refuse it.

The Criminal (Part 2)

The soldiers hoisted a wooden beam onto my bloody shoulders. My body swayed slightly as it adjusted to the weight. It wasn’t enough for these pigs to simply kill us. They had to humiliate and torture us as well. Perhaps so that when death came, we would welcome it.

Earlier this morning, Jesse and I were flogged with a nine-tailed whip riddled with bone and glass. The claws of the whip didn’t stop digging into my naked flesh until I sagged unconscious, dangling from the rope that tied my hands above me. Now that half the life was beaten out of us, we would have the privilege of carrying our own instrument of death.

Beside me, the soldiers placed a beam on Jesse’s shoulders. He spat at their feet and was rewarded with a fist in his jaw. Jesse laughed wildly as if he thought it was funny that a punch would mean anything to him when the worst death imaginable awaited us. It was a slave’s death we were sentenced to. A death only given to the worst and lowest of society.  It wouldn’t be a quick one.

Another prisoner was lead out. He looked dead already. His own blood covered every inch of him, including his bruised and swollen face. Maybe he’d spit at the Romans too.  He must have done it more than once by the look of his face.

The people in the crowd began to boo as soon as they saw him. He must have murdered many people, or maybe of a very loved and important person judging by the crowd’s reaction. Whatever he’d done, I was glad he was being executed with us. The crowd saved all their insults for him, and Jesse and I were left alone.

After the murderer’s beam was secured across his back, the centurion ordered the procession to begin. The centurion lead the way with the badly beaten murderer next, then me, then Jesse behind me. Soldiers walked beside us, as if ready for us to try to escape. Like that were possible with a hundred-pound piece of wood on my back.

The Romans lead us down a highway, so as many people could see us as possible. On either side of the street, people stopped what they were doing to gawk. Some ran to join the crowd that was forming behind us. Others stood to the side shaking their fist and yelling.

“Die! Kill them.”

The murderer in front of me stumbled and fell. Jesse cursed under his breath. The soldier beside the fallen man kicked him.

“Get up!”

“Yeah, get up,” Jesse said. “We have an important appointment to keep.”

“Come on,” I grunted under my breath. Every moment this man sat there was a moment longer I had to stand with the weight of the beam cutting into my shoulders.

“Can’t you lift yourself from the ground, oh great Messiah?” taunted someone from the crowd.

Messiah? So this man wasn’t a murderer. He was one of those mad zealots that told everyone they were the Messiah as a ruse to get followers. No wonder the soldiers beat him so much. He was encouraging people to rebel against Rome.

The soldiers must have realized the zealot didn’t have the strength to get up because they pulled a man out of the crowd and had him carry the beam. I was surprised he complied. It seemed everyone in this crowd hated the zealot. He didn’t really have a choice though. Argue with a Roman solder and he might be joining us for more than just the walk.

Freed from his burden, the zealot shakily stood and began walking again. I stepped forward, my bare feet treading on the street’s worn stones, wet with his blood.

I don’t know how long we walked before we left the road and were led over a rocky path. The ground inclined and I had to stoop even farther forward to keep the weight on my back from toppling me backward. I cursed the Romans for putting their killing ground on the top of a steep mound. Jesse grunted behind me as if agreeing with my thoughts.  The beam across my shoulders rubbed at my open flesh making fresh blood pour out. My leg muscles burned and began to shake.

Finally, we reached the top and the centurion gave the order to halt.

My body sagged in relief as the beam was lifted from my shoulders. My eyes wandered to the eight-foot stakes rising out of the ground like naked trees. I would hang on one of them in just a few minutes. I wondered if the Romans knew what Moses wrote, “Cursed is the man who hangs on a tree,” and picked this tortured death just for us Jews.

A soldier offered me a drink of wine and myrrh, as was custom. I knew it would do little to numb the pain, but it was better than nothing, so I drank. The myrrh left a bitter taste.

The soldier moved to the zealot, but when the ladle was put to his lips, he shook his head. He was refusing?

“Stupid,” said Jesse beside me, “Does he think that refusing the drug makes him tough? Or does he think his little act of defiance insults the Romans?”

The soldier came to Jesse and he drank, keeping his eyes locked on the zealot who watched him. He swallowed once, then filled his mouth with more. When the ladle was pulled away he spewed the wine mixture out on the Roman. The soldier backhanded Jesse so hard he stumbled back. When he regained his balance he looked at the zealot.

“That is how you insult.”

The man didn’t have time to answer. A soldier came and pulled his clothes from him.  More came and stripped Jesse and me. The blood on my back had hardened so that the cloth was part of the forming scabs. As the garment was pulled over my head, the cloth took my dried blood and pieces of skin with it. I hissed as my back was ripped off with my clothes.

Once I was naked, I was pushed to the ground, the beam I’d carried was beneath the back of my neck and my open wounds pressed to the rocky ground.

They pulled my arms out so that the back of my hands rested on the beam. My right arm was held down and a metal point pressed into my wrist. I knew what it was, but I turned my head to look anyway. The spike that rested against my skin looked longer than the seven inches it actually was. How many hammer strikes would it take before all of it went through my wrist and into the wood beneath?

Pain. It took my brain a second to realize that the pain that shot through me was related to the slightly shorter spike. It was a moment before I realized that I’d seen the hammer fall and it was already coming back for a second blow. My body jerked, and I yelled as the hammer struck the head of the spike. I heard the metallic zing this time. It was the loudest sound there was.

My hand twitched like a separate entity as the spike burrowed deeper into my flesh. My arm was a betrayer, sending wave after wave of pain. I didn’t want to watch the blood bubble out of my wrist and spill over the wood beam anymore, but I forgot how to move my head.

Finally, the spike was gone. It was nothing but a flat bit of iron resting on my skin. It was over.

But had it only started. My other arm was held down. I didn’t look.

Once I was pinned to the beam, soldiers lifted each side and hoisted me to the top of one of the stakes already in the ground. My entire weight was hanging from my staked wrists.

My feet were placed on top of each other and my bottom foot made to lay flat against the wood. My knees were left slightly bent. I tried to brace myself for what would come next, but nothing could prepare me for the pain that coursed through me as a third spike entered my body. Every blow slowly moved the iron through my muscle. First my top foot, then it broke through the skin at my foot’s arch and in the same movement cut open the top of the foot beneath. The hammer struck again, and again. It would never end.

Then, I realized that it had. The hammering was done. The sound of the crowd came in a rush, their angry voices slapping me in a demand to be heard.

This is not how I should die, pinned and mounted, stretched out like an animal hide at the tanners. Hanging naked for all to see while people hurled insults. I should die peacefully with a family gathered around.

But was that the death I gave the man on the highway? It wasn’t the death my father got.

Father. If only he hadn’t died while I was so young. I would have grown up to be respectable like he was. He would have taken me to the temple at my thirteenth birthday for my bar mitzvah. I would have become a man by reading the Torah before the congregation instead of by swiping food in the midst of beggars. I wondered if the man I put a knife through had sons. Did they have a mother? Or would it be the streets that raised them, turning them into criminals instead of sons of the law?

A sign was nailed above my head. It let everyone know what I’d done so they could scream their indignation at me. I waited for their cries to come, but the word murderer didn’t arrive.

“King!” someone shouted, “What kind of king are you?”

I scanned the crowd. They weren’t looking at me. I followed their gaze to my left where the zealot hung. All of their anger was for him. He claimed to be a king? The ring of thorns that crushed into his skull made since now.

“You said you could raise the temple in three days,” cried another, “Well coming down from the cross shouldn’t be so hard then should it?”

“Prove to us your divinity. Are you the Messiah? Or are you the carpenter from Nazareth?”

A carpenter from Nazareth who claimed to be the Messiah? I’d heard of him. Who hadn’t? All of Judea was talking about the man who could make crooked legs straight and blind eyes to see. I’d even heard that he cured the incurable leprosy.

None of it was true of course. There were always rumors of messiahs. The people were hungry for a deliverer—someone to get them from under Roman rule. Someone who would build a vast kingdom and usher in a great age like that of Solomon. Miracle workers only existed in people’s minds or in the times of old when prophets were in our land. Still, there was that one time…

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In honor of Easter, I’m sharing this three-part story telling the crucifixion from a nontraditional point of view: the thief on the cross.

For some of us, the crucifixion story is so well known that there may be a tendency to sort of “zone out” when hearing it again. I wanted to write something that would trick our brains into paying attention before it went into I-don’t-have-to-pay-attention-because-I-already-know-it mode.

I hope this story will allow those of you who have heard about Jesus on the cross many times to have the chance to experience it like someone hearing it for the first time.

If you haven’t read the first part, here it is.

Part 1

Look for part three tomorrow!

 

Interesting facts:

The nails used to hang criminals to the cross were often reused. The materials used to make the nails were too scarce to waste by leaving them in the dead body.

The stake that went in the ground (the part of the cross that stood upright) was also reused because trees that would yield beams that large were in short supply in the area. That’s why the stakes were already in the ground when Johan reached the top of the hill.

The Criminal

The soldiers shoved me, and I fell through the opening of the cave-like pit below.   My hands and knees took most of the impact. The smells left by the previous inhabitants filled my nose: sweat and urine. My fellow thief, Jesse, landed on top of me. I grunted as his kneecap slammed into the middle of my back.

“Get off,” I grumbled.

“Am I making you uncomfortable Johan? Terribly sorry. The whole purpose of this prison is our comfort.  I wouldn’t want to ruin that for you,” said Jesse as he pushed himself off of me. I scowled at him.

“I’ll show you comfort.” I thought about punching the grin right off his face. How he could smile with death looming over us was beyond me.

“What’s wrong, eh? This prison isn’t up to your standards?” Jesse asked. “Do you hear that?” he called to the Roman guards standing above us in the entryway, “My friend doesn’t like your prison!” He cackled. I hurried to my feet and grabbed his shoulder.

“Shut up,” I hissed. He turned to me.

“What? What are they going to do to me? Kill me?” He snorted, then in a flat tone added, “We’re already dead.” Jesse turned and walked to one of the rough rock walls and slumped to the floor. He sat, one leg sprawled out and the other pulled in so that his arm flopped over his knee.

“Don’t be stupid,” I told him, “There is a lot they can do before they kill you.”

“Are you scared Johan?” Jesse sneered. I again resisted the urge to punch him. I didn’t hold myself back because I was afraid of Jesse’s fists. He was two inches shorter and weighed a good deal lighter than I did. It was a habit of mine to spare Jesse even when he deserved a hit. Through the years, I’d learned Jesse couldn’t keep his mouth shut, and he became especially mouthy when things were dangerous or he was cornered. Besides, I only had a little more time to live, and I didn’t want to spend my last moments beating the daylights out of Jesse.

But what did I want to spend it doing? Praying? Reciting passages of the Torah? A few hours of scripture recounting couldn’t erase an entire life. I didn’t even know if I remembered the scriptures my father taught me. My father…. It was a long time since I’d thought of him. I taught myself to ignore his image looming in my mind early on. It was too painful.

My father was beaten to death by robbers while traveling to Samaria. My mother died some years before, so at nine years old, I was left to take care of myself. Life on the streets was cruel. I tried begging for money, but I didn’t get much. There were droves of orphaned children on the streets of Jerusalem and the ones who made the most money were the blind, or crippled.

It didn’t take me long for me to I realize that some of their disabilities were fake. Once we were huddled in our tunnel for the night, blind folds would come off, canes and crutches were thrown to the ground, and  “lame” legs were suddenly strong enough to walk.

It would be easy to tie a strip of cloth around my eyes, but it would be dishonest. My father would never do something like that, and even if he wasn’t with me physically, he was alive in my mind. I wouldn’t disappoint him.

After a few weeks, the hunger in my belly became more real than the memory of my father. I tore a strip from the bottom of my tunic and tied it around my eyes. Why should I starve just because people were naïve enough to give money to a fake blind kid?  Honesty got me nothing but hunger pains.

The blindfold wasn’t enough to keep the gnawing hunger away. I’d watched other children swipe a fig from a cart or bread from a bakery, but I never tried. It was wrong to steal. But my aching belly told me it was wrong that people should have so much food, and not share it.

The first time I stole a barley loaf, I thought that the Almighty would strike me dead, but the moment I put it in my mouth, I didn’t care if he did. With a bite of stolen food, I banished God and my father from my mind.

Now, hours away from my death, they came back.

I slumped against the wall, tired of pacing. I had learned to live one day at a time, keeping all thoughts of life after death out of my head. Now, with nothing to do but wait for death to come, I couldn’t help but wonder what would happen to me after my lungs breathed their last.

When I was a boy, I would have said that I would go to the bosom of Abraham like all my forefathers. Like my father. Even if I could go there now, I doubted my father would want to see me. He wouldn’t be able to stand what I’d become.

I eventually outgrew snatching food from the market and graduated to patrolling the highways for unfortunate travelers with Jesse. One day, we got lucky and a wealthy man rode by. His clothes were fine, and he was riding a horse instead of a donkey. Best of all, he was alone.

The man put up a fight. He charged at me with a knife. I knocked his arm aside and plunged my own dagger into his gut. Blood gushed over my hand. I pulled my dagger out and watched his body crumple to the ground. What was the fool thinking? He could have lived. We wanted his money, not his life.

As l looked at his blank eyes staring wide at the sky, I wondered if that’s what my father looked like when he was found. Then I realized what I’d become.

I was a murderer. No better than the one who killed my father.

No prayer could save me now. When the Romans put me to death tomorrow, I would go straight to hell.

Part 2

____________________________________________________________

In honor of Easter, I’m sharing this three-part story telling the crucifixion from a nontraditional point of view: the thief on the cross.

For some of us, the crucifixion story is so well known that there may be a tendency to sort of “zone out” when hearing it again. I wanted to write something that would trick our brains into paying attention before it went into I-don’t-have-to-pay-attention-because-I-already-know-it mode.

I hope this story will allow those of you who have heard about Jesus on the cross many times to have the chance to experience it like someone hearing it for the first time.

 

 

 

Golden Apple

The festive sparkles that dotted the low stooping branches had to be the most succulent fruit in the forest, but the elders forbid anyone from eating even a bite. I thought it was because the apples would make a person sick, but they looked harmless as their skin winked in the sunlight.  I told myself that I should leave. There was no reason to stand there gaping at fruit I couldn’t eat, but they were so beautiful and looking at them wasn’t forbidden.

“I see you are admiring my fruit.” I jumped at the voice, thinking one of the elders caught me so close to the apples. I whirled around to see a man leaning lazily against a tree behind me.  His dark hair was slicked back and smoothly fell to the nape of his neck. I’d never seen eyes like his before; they were as golden as the apples.

“Did you say ‘your tree?’” I asked. How could he own a tree?

“I did,” said the stranger stepping away from the tree.  He strode toward me in slow, carless steps and chuckled when he saw my puzzled expression. “Did you think a tree with such fine apples just made itself?”

I shrugged. “No one makes the other trees.”

“Ah, but those are the ordinary kind of trees: the kind that produces only blue or orange or yellow fruit.”  His stood beside me and swung an arm over my shoulder. “But a tree that produces golden fruit—only I know the secret to making those.” He tapped his temple.

“What does gold taste like?” I asked him.

“Why don’t you find out?” He spread the arm that wasn’t around my shoulder out in front of him, palm up, gesturing to the tree.

“I didn’t mean I wanted to,” I quickly stammered, slipping out from under his arm.  “I couldn’t…”

The golden eyed man chuckled, “Don’t worry about me. I don’t mind if you take an apple from my tree.”

“Maybe you don’t but…” I started to explain, but the man continued as if he didn’t hear me.

“I planted it here so that its fruit may be generously shared with all those who live in the forest.” The man flung his hand out to the rows of trees as if a crowd were there.

“That’s very thoughtful of you, but I wasn’t asking to eat the fruit myself,” I explained. “I just wanted to know what it tastes like, that’s all.”

The man’s eyebrow arched over his golden eye. “Why not tasted it for yourself then, if you’re so curious?”

“They might be free for the taking, but I’m not free to take them,” I said, trying to keep the disappointment out of my voice.

The man frowned. “What do you mean?”

“The elders—they told me not to.” I shrugged, feeling a little foolish that I didn’t have a better reason. I seemed wrong to refuse his generosity.

The man’s shoulders drooped and he shook his head. “Again?” he muttered to himself.

“What’s happened again?”  I asked.

“The work, the rumors, the waste.”

He let out a frustrated sigh and sat down under the tree with the golden fruit.  “I only want to spread my gift for others to enjoy, but ignorant fools always find a way to ruin it.”

“This has happened before?” I asked.

“In every forest I go to.”

“You’ve been to more than one forest?” I said, shocked.  The elders said the other forests were dangerous.

“Of course,” he said as if my question were silly.  “One with a gift such as I have shouldn’t stay in one place, hording all the golden apples to myself. I travel so that all may taste of my wonder.” He frowned.  “But no one can taste if no one believes it is safe.

“It’s happened again and again.  My golden apples go un-tasted because someone spreads the rumor that they are poisonous or some foolish thing like that.”

“How do they know if they’re poisonous?” I asked, “Doesn’t anyone ever try them?”

The man leaned his head back and laughed. “Clever boy.  That is precisely what I’ve always wondered.”  His strange golden eyes looked at me expectantly.  “Why doesn’t anyone try them?”

“I guess they’re afraid,” I said.

“But what is there to be afraid of? This?” He reached up and pulled a shimmering apple from a low branch beside him. He tossed it in his hands, watching it go from one hand to the another.

“Are they afraid of a shiny piece of fruit?” he asked, his eyes still focused on the moving apple. “Or, I wonder if they are afraid of what it might do to them.” The apple stopped.  “Because it will you know. Do something to them.” His glimmering eyes left the apple and found mine. I swallowed. Was he saying they were poisonous?

His eyes left mine and the apple began to move between his hands again. I waited for him to explain, but he silently watched the glittering fruit as it bounced from one hand to the other.

“What would it do?” I blurted.

“This,” he held the shining apple between his thumb and finger, “holds a special power that no other fruit in this forest can give. Why is it, that every tree I grow in every forest is forbidden?”

His golden eyes held mine, and I waited for the answer. “Because they don’t want to share the power! They want to keep it for themselves.”

Was it true? The elders never did say what would happen if someone ate the golden fruit.  Maybe it was because they didn’t want anyone to know what it did.

The man leaned his back against the tree and stretched his legs out in front of him, crossing them at his ankles. “One bite out of one of my golden apples can show you things that no one else can see.” He tossed the fruit in the air and caught it.

“Like what?”  I knelt down beside him.

“The world, boy.” He spread his hand before him and slid it through the air. “The world…” He stared ahead for a moment as if looking at something I couldn’t see. Then in a sudden movement that made me jump, he turned his head to me and held the apple out. “The world could be yours. Only a single bite and you will see beyond this forest and into lands you’ve never visited.”

The apple sat glimmering in the palm of his hand, offering the chance to see beyond this forest. I reached out and picked it up. It was warm and smooth. I could see my reflection on its golden skin.

“Eat it, boy. Take a bite and see the world.” His golden eyes gleamed.

My teeth sank into gold.

It was sweet. And tart. It tasted like an ordinary apple, only its flavors were a little stronger. It was a little disappointing. I thought a golden apple would taste more exotic.  I wondered if I would see the world now. I looked out at the forest, but it looked the same.

“Where are the other forests?”  He didn’t answer me. Instead, he laughed. It started as a low chuckle, then grew louder.

It was a trick. The apples didn’t do anything. I looked down at the apple in my hand, ready to toss it. I stopped.

Inside the apple wasn’t gold, but black. I moved to throw it again, but my hand seemed stuck.  I couldn’t move it. The man was still laughing, as the blackness inside the apple began to change. Colors swirled into the dark of the apple until an image immerged.

Slowly, image after image began to appear of other people from other forests. They weren’t filled with smiling people and bright green grass and leaves peppered with a rainbow of fruit like my forest.

Branches stood bare against a bleak, pale sky that was neither dark nor light.  The bark was moldy and black in patches.  The few bits of fruit that hung on the sickly looking branches were shriveled and dry.

What was worse than the barren forests, were the people in them. As much as I wanted to turn away, I couldn’t.  The apple had me under its spell. I saw people being beat, women screaming, men killing. There were people starving, children crying, and men maiming each other. I saw death and blood.

Finally the images stopped. The apple fell from my hand and rolled away in a mix of gold and black. I buried my eyes in the palms of my hands. I wanted to rub away the images, but they stayed in my head.

I had a feeling that they would never be forgotten.

The man was right. For a moment, the world was mine. And the elders were right. The apples were poisonous.

 

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