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The Luckiest of Colors

The Luckiest of Colors

Katrin glowered at the two messy braids trailing down either side of her shoulders. Their coppery tones were even more bright with the fire casting its orange glow on them.

“It is your fault I’m out here,” she muttered.

She was the only child in her village with red hair, and that’s why her parents didn’t like her. Her mother would look at her, sigh, and tell her that they should have used black tea and sage to darken her hair before anyone saw her flaming locks. Her father thought she was bad luck and would blame every accident or ill fortune the family had on her. If Katrin caught a cold, it was because she was redheaded. If her brother fell and scraped his knee while playing with her, it was because of her hair. If a storm blew through and blew the shingles off the roof, if the crops didn’t grow well, if foxes came for their hens, it was all because of Katrin’s red hair.

And that’s why Katrin had to run away. She knew she was too young to be on her own—only eight—but she couldn’t stand anymore disgusted looks from her father and pitying ones from her mother. She would prove that she wasn’t “bad luck.” She would live on her own for a few days, and when no illness befell her, no trees fell on her, and nothing else happened that could be blamed on her hair, then that would prove that it must be someone else bringing the bad luck.

Katrin pulled a leaf from one of her tangled braids. She threw it into the fire, hoping it would give it a little more life, but the dying flame hardly seemed to notice Katrin’s offering.

“This is bad luck,” Katrin whispered to herself. She desperately searched the ground within the fire’s ring of dim light, but didn’t see any twigs she could add. Katrin gave a nervous glace at the shadowy trees around her, beyond the firelight. Her eyes played tricks on her, making the darkness wriggle and slide in way that made her sure something was out there, watching her.

As much as she didn’t want her only light to fizzle out, she was terrified of going out there to gather more firewood.

Katrin hadn’t been scared when she left her house before dawn, or while following a deer trial through the woods, or even as the sun began to set as she gathered firewood. But now that the moon was just a sliver in the sky and the sparks from the fire the only stars, she wished more than anything that she hadn’t left her house.

She may not have been allowed to throw wood in the fire (because her father thought her bad luck might cause the house to burn down), but at least there was a fire.

She wished she had gathered more branches, but hadn’t expected the wood to burn so quickly. She had been so proud when she lite the fire with the matches she took from the house, just like her brother showed her when her father wasn’t around. She had watched the flames leap unto the branches she collected and wished her parents could see her now. He father couldn’t say she was bad luck. She started a fire and nothing bad happened!

Katrin curled up in a ball and squeezed her eyes shut. She should go to sleep before the fire went out. Then she couldn’t be afraid of the dark because it was dark when she slept anyway. But Katrin didn’t feel any safer with her eyes closed. She kept imagining shapeshifting animals from the stories coming for her. They would start as tiny bunnies coming out from the shadows, then they would morph into wolves that howled and snarled.

When the sun rose, she would go straight back to her house. Being left out of every game the other village children played and having adults scowl at her when she walked by was better than being eaten by shapeshifting bunny-wolves.

Katrin bolted upright as an owl called out. She loved listening to owls from her bedroom at night, but out here they sounded menacing, like they were calling her to step out beyond the fire’s light so they would swoop down on her.

“Forget sleeping,” Katrin said. She made herself stand and inched toward the edge of the fire’s light. She froze. Did something move out there?

She listened, but didn’t hear any rustling.

Katrin took a deep breath, like she was about to dunk her head in the creek, as she moved from the fire’s small ring of orange light.

She squinted at the dark ground and let out a breath of relief when she found a stick. She swooped on it and kept looking.”

“One, two, thr—” Katrin let out a yelp.

Two silver eyes peered from the darkness just a few feet from the stick she was about to grab. She withdrew her hand and clutched her two sticks to her chest like they could shield her from whatever it was the eyes belonged to. A raccoon? A wolf?

There was the soft rustle and the eyes began to move. Towards her.

Katrin held the sticks out, one in each hand.

“Don’t come near me or I’ll hit you!” she said, even though she knew animals didn’t understand words.

The eyes kept moving.

“Ahh!” Katrin yelled and thrashed the sticks through the air, hoping to scare the animal. It stopped coming towards her, but it didn’t go away. Now that it was standing just in front of her, she could see that it wasn’t a very big animal. Bigger than a raccoon, but much smaller than a wolf. It hardly came to her knees. She could make out a slim body, pointed ears, a slender snout, and a long fluffy tail.

“A fox?” she asked. The silver eyes blinked at her. It’s tail twitched and Katrin thought it might pounce, but that isn’t what it did at all. Instead, it stayed where it was at, but it was definitely still moving.

The shadowy figure of a fox began to waver, dark shapes bubbled and morphed in the darkness in front of her.

Katrin walked backwards until she was back by the fire, still holding the sticks out. It was a shapeshifter. She was sure of it. Maybe the little fox was about to turn into a bear.

Her heart was beating so hard that she heard it in her ears. She was about to run, when a boy stepped into firelight.

He was about her height and looked to be eight like her. His hair and eyes were silver.

“You have red hair,” the boy said.

Katrin forgot to be scared. “Red hair? You’re a fox who just turned into a boy, and that’s what you are worried about? My red hair!”

“I’m a boy who turns into a fox.”

“I know that!” Katrin sputtered, still miffed that he pointed out her hair right away. Apparently, even forest animals didn’t like girls with red hair.

“You said that I’m a fox who turns into a boy, but I’m a boy who can turn into a fox. There’s a difference.” The boy smirked like he said something clever.

“Great. But you are still a fox boy. That’s weirder than having red hair.”

“I didn’t say your hair was weird.”

Katrin was about to say, “Yes, you did,” but then she realized that he actually didn’t say that. “Why did you say I have red hair then?”

“Because you do.”

“You have silver hair,” Katrin shot back, still not sure if this boy was insulting her or not.

“Yep.” The boy looked very pleased with himself.

And silver eyes,” Katrin said as if that would get to him.

The boy clapped his hands slowly. “You know your colors. Good for you. Or at least red and silver. What about the color of that tree over there.” He pointed to the darkness beyond the fire.

Katrin clenched her teeth, trying to think of something to say back. Oh, this will make him mad. “I see why you are a fox. I bet no one likes you when you are a boy.”

“I bet no one likes you either.”

Katrin smacked his shoulder with one of her sticks. “Go away!”

He held his hands up. “I didn’t mean that they shouldn’t not like you. I just meant that they don’t. Because of your red hair and everything.”

Katrin could feel tears prickling eyes. Even out here in the woods, she couldn’t escape people who teased her because of her hair.

The boy’s silver eyes widened a bit, then darted to the fire. He looked uncomfortable. Katrin wondered if he saw that she was about to cry. “I didn’t mean…I meant that people don’t understand us.”

“Us?” Katrin’s voice came out wavery.

“Yeah. Us shapeshifters.”

“I didn’t know they were people,” Katrin said. In the stories, they were always animals who turned into bigger, scarier animals.

The boy’s sliver eyes blinked and he cocked his head to one side. “Aren’t you a shapeshifter?”

“Of course not. Why would you think I am a shapeshifter?”

“Because you have red hair,” he said at the same time.

“What does that have to do with it?” She, frowning.

“People with red hair turn into red foxes. Just like people with sliver hair,” he pointed at himself, “turn into silver foxes.”

Katrin wished she could turn into a fox. Then she wouldn’t be afraid of being in the forest at night.

“I can’t turn into a fox,” Katrin said, shaking her head.

“How old are you?” the boy asked, tilting his head in thought.


“Yeah, you have plenty of time before your awakening.”

“What is an awakening?”

“It’s when a shapeshifter first turns into their animal. It happens around eight, nine, or ten.”

Katrin wanted it to be true. If she could be a fox, then the woods could be her home, and she wouldn’t have to go back to her parents. Weather she was bad luck or not.

“Someone would have told me if I was a shapeshifter,” Katrin said. “My parents never told me that one day I would turn into a fox.”

He shook his head. “They wouldn’t. Normal people are afraid of us.

“They aren’t afraid.” Katrin sighed. “They’re just mean.”

“Nah, they act mean because they are afraid of what you can do.”

“I can’t do anything.”

“Yet.” The boy gave a her a smile.

Katrin shook he head. “I need to go back home. Can you take me there?” The woods would be a lot less scary with a fox boy beside her.

“I can. Or I can take you to our village.” He turned and stared walking.

“Wait.” Katrin didn’t want to be alone again, but she wasn’t sure she should follow him. “What village?”

“The one all of the shapeshifters live in.”

“But I’m not a—”

He turned back around and rolled his eyes at her. “If you weren’t, you wouldn’t be out here.”

Katrin hesitated. Maybe she was a shapeshifter, and that was why everyone acted so strange around her. They were scared she would one day turn into a fox, right in front of their faces.

But maybe she wasn’t a shapeshifter. She could get him to take her home and then tell everyone that she’d survived a night in the woods without anything bad happening. That might be enough to prove that she wasn’t unlucky.

“Can you take me back home?” she asked.

He shrugged. “If that’s what you want.”

She smiled at the thought of going back to a big warm fire and a bed and all her dolls.

She frowned. Back to her mother’s disappointed looks and her father’s blaming of her for everything that went wrong.

Katrin stepped up beside him. “Let’s go to your village.”

The boy grinned and his silver eyes glinted in the dying firelight. “Are you going to keep those sticks the whole way.”

“Yeah,” she grinned and whispered, “There are foxes in these woods, you know.”

“Yep. Two of them.”

Katrin liked the sound of that. She wasn’t the only one with an odd hair color anymore.

Katrin put both sticks in the single flame left of the fire and watched them light. She handed one to the boy.

As they walked into the darkness, flaming sticks held high, Katrin looked down at her messy braids. They reflected the flame’s orange light.

She smiled. You’re the reason I’m on my way to a new home.  

As Katrin skittered through the shadows, listening to the boy describe her new home, she thought of something that she’d never thought of before. Maybe red hair was the luckiest of colors.


Enna, the Dragon Tamer

It would be much easier to tame a wolf pup if I didn’t have my little brother with me. Finn trudged beside me, bundled in caribou-skin coat, tan round face nearly hidden by the fur trimming the hood around his face.

My own hood was down even though the chilled air turned my bare ears to ice. Step one in taming a wild animal was to keep a keen eye on your surrounds, and I didn’t want my hood to block my view.

I pushed my mitten-covered hand into my pocket to make sure the dry meat I was going to feed the pup was still there. I didn’t want my brother to know, but I was feeling a little nervous. I may have read Taming Wild Things from cover to cover at least fifty times and knew the steps for taming all the animals listed by heart, but I had never actually tamed an animal before.

“Don’t you think we should get one of the older ones to help us?” Finn asked. He meant our older brothers and sisters, Bennjim, Sennori, Minnsy, and Ivinn.

“That would ruin everything,” I said.

“It would ruin everything if a wolf bit your hand off and you couldn’t knit anymore.”

“That, actually, wouldn’t ruin anything,” I said, blowing out a sigh that fogged the frigid air in front of me. I wasn’t good at knitting or needle work like Sennori, our eldest sister. She was so talented, that the trader that came in the spring would take the beautifully designed scarves and blankets she knit and sell them to villages miles away. After he brought her thirty-five silvers from her in payment for the things he sold for her, she was known to the village as Sennori, Silver Needle.

And everyone seemed to forget my name. I was just Sennori’s sister.

Then Bennjim, our eldest brother, killed the fierce white bear that roamed the mountains and brought terror to the village with a single roar.

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He became Bennjim the Bear Slayer. And I became Bennjim’s sister.

The twins, Minnsy and Ivinn were known for their skill of music. Minnsy had a voice more beautiful than any in the village and Ivinn’s played his lute so well that it brought tears to people’s eyes.

They were the Twins of Golden Melodies. I was the twins’ sister.

The only thing I was good at was being braver than Finn, which wasn’t very hard. He was only eight, three years younger than me, and mam said he worried as much as an old man. Which is why I couldn’t believe he wanted to come with me when he caught me sneaking off to tame a wolf pup.

“You smell like cheese,” I told him, catching a whiff as a gust of icy air blew around my uncovered head. Finn believed in that superstitious nonsense about cheese being a lucky food that warded off bad luck and was constantly slipping some into his pocket.

I hoped the smell didn’t make the wrong animal come to us and ruin my chances of finding a wolf pup. Today was the day I became Enna, the Wolf Tamer.

“I think we are being watched,” Finn said, ignoring what I said.

I rolled my eyes. “You always think that.”

“I’m always right.”

“Like that one spring when you thought there was a bear in the blueberry bush and it turned out to be Bennjim hiding in the bushes to scare us?”

“That was when I was a kid,” Finn sulked.

“What about the beginning of this winter when we were at the market with mam and you said someone was watching us. It was just the vender’s toddler under the table.”

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Finn frowned down at his snowshoes, seeming to concentrate harder on each step. “Who cares who it was? I was still right. Someone was watching us. My neck prickles every time, and it is prickling now.”

“So, what is watching us this time?” I teased. “A fluffy rabbit? An old woman with steaming hot tea?”

“You’re not funny.”

Before I could tell him that I was actually quite hilarious, something came flying towards me. I thought that Finn threw a snowball at me from the glimpse of something white, about the size of my hand.

Whatever it was came whizzing back from behind me, nearly hitting my shoulder. It didn’t fall to the ground, as a snowball should, but hovered in the air right above my head.

It blinked.

“Enna?” Finn squeaked. “What is that?”

I was trying to determine that very thing. The creature before me was no bigger than a bird, and had wings like one too, but that was where the resemblance ended. Instead of feathers, it was covered in white, fluffy fur. Unlike a bird, it had four legs, each ending in small claws peeking out from its fur. It had a tail that swished back and forth like an excited puppy’s. Its ears were hardly bigger than blueberries and were shaped a bit like a doe’s. Right above its fuzzy ears sprouted delicate, silver horns, twisting in twin spirals the size of my pinkies.

“It’s a dragon,” I breathed, scarcely able to say the words.

The dragon seemed to understand, doing a kind of hop in the air and making a series of sounds that reminded me of the yipping of playing foxes.

“Dragons are bigger,” Finn said in a confused, yet awed voice.

“Not snow dragons. The largest ones are only as big as a man’s hand,” I said, remembering the words from our village’s only book on dragons. I had read it a dozen times, like every other book in our dusty book shop. I ran through the facts it listed about snow dragons and realized that it had, unfortunately, left out the ones about how to tame a snow dragon. Taming Wild Things didn’t have anything about taming dragons either, so it looked like I was on my own.

I held my hand out.

“Don’t do that!” Finn yelled. “It will bite you.”

His voice startled the dragon, who took off flying towards a cluster of trees.

“You scared him!” I tried to hurry after the dragon, but hurry wasn’t a pace you can go in in snowshoes and I ended up falling, mittened hands sinking deep into the snow.

“You can’t run in snowshoes,” Finn said, unhelpfully.

“This was the most exciting thing that has ever happened to us,” I huffed, struggling to pull my arms from the snow, “and you ruined it.”

“You were going to get bit,” he insisted.

“I was not!” I yanked my arms from the snow. One of my hands came up without a mitten. I rolled over and collapsed on the snow. “We’ll never find it now.”

A yipping sound made me sit up. A little, white puff ball was diving into the hole my arm made in the snow.

“It came back!” I crawled to peer into the hole and nearly got my head smacked as the dragon came whizzing out with my mitten captured in its mouth. “It got my mitten for me,” I said, delighted. I reached to take it, but the little dragon darted away, letting out an excited yip.

“It stole your mitten,” Finn said, sounding horrified.

“It can have it,” I said. “It’s Minnsy’s old mitten and it is too big for me anyway.”

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But I knew mam would be angry if I lost it, so I made another attempt to snatch my mitten from its pin-sized teeth. The dragon darted out of the way again and I nearly fell face first into the snow.

Finn, who was standing behind the fluffy dragon, tried to sneak up on it and capture it between his hands (which was quite brave for someone who is as scared of everything as he is). The dragon made a chortling sound and flew out of Finn’s reach.

I thought it might disappear again, but it came to hover in front of my face, huge silver eyes blinking at me.

“I think she is playing with us,” I said, grinning.

“How do you know it’s a girl?” Finn squinted at the dragon.

“Silver eyes are girls. Blue are boys,” I said. “Haven’t you read any of the dragon book?”

Finn didn’t answer because he was too busy toddling on his snowshoes towards the dragon who bobbed playfully in the air.

I grinned and joined him.

Finn and I did our best to get the mitten back from the cheeky little dragon. Our snow shoes slowed us down, but the dragon always came back for us if she got too far ahead. Soon, we had gone back down the mountain, and I had forgotten all about taming a wolf pup.

“I am going to keep her,” I said, reaching my bare hand into my pocket. Instead of Enna the Wolf Tamer, I would be Enna, the Dragon Tamer. That title was much more impressive.

“How are we going to keep her?” Finn asked, “She is too fast to catch.”

“Watch,” I said. I pulled out the dry meat intended for the wolf pup I was going to tame and waved it in the air. The dragon’s eyes widened and, with a happy squeal, she dove toward it. My glove fell at my feet as the dragon traded it for the meat.

“Thank you,” I said, scooping my mitten up and pulling it over my icy hand.

The dragon landed softly on the snow and used her two front talons to hold the meat to her mouth. Her small teeth worked at the tough meat, but she didn’t seem to be able to break into it.

Frustrated, she dropped it on the snow and tried to shred it with her claws. When that didn’t work, her silver eyes turned up to meet mine and she let out a disgusted yip.

I laughed. “That’s what I think of it too.”

She looked back at the dried hunk of meat in front of her and a stream of light came from her opened mouth.

Not light. Fire.

I hopped back and watched as the dragon made more tiny bursts of flame appear until the dried meat was black and the flame sizzled out by from the snow.

“I guess that made her mad,” Finn said.

I stared helplessly at the burned meat and ball of white fluff that was my only chance at standing out from my brothers and sisters.

“Here,” Finn pulled something out from his caribou coat pocket and knelt down to offer it to the dragon.

I was surprised that he wasn’t afraid of the dragon after its display of fire, even if its flames were only as big as a candle’s. Even I was wary of sticking my hand next to its mouth like that, just in case it decided to char my fingers for giving it an insufficient meal.

“Dragons like meat,” I said, seeing what Finn was offering. Cheese.

She took the cheese in her tiny claws, took a dainty sniff, then nibbled. She made a humming sound in the back of her throat, which I guessed meant she liked it because she stuffed the rest of it in her mouth.

“She likes it.” Finn looked up at me, delight playing all over his round face.

“Let me try,” I said, eager to win the dragon’s favor. Finn let me have a piece of cheese and I offered it to her.

We took turns feeding her until Finn ran out of cheese.

The dragon must have still wanted more because she fluttered to my shoulder and perched there, large silver eyes blinking at me.

The dragon licked her mouth and nuzzled her face against my cheek. It was as soft as the baby chicks we had running around our yard every spring.

“You’ve just made me Enna, the Dragon Tamer,” I told her.

I just made you a dragon tamer,” Finn corrected. He paused, face scrunched in thought. “Actually, I’m a dragon tamer too.”

I pursed my chapped lips for a moment, wondering if letting him share in my accomplishment would mean I was back to just being “so and so’s sister.”

“More like Finn the Cheese Hoarder,” I snort.

“You’re not funny.”

“I’m absolutely hilarious,” I said, and the dragon rubbed itself against my neck and made a purring sound. “See, she thinks so too.”

Finn shook his head in mock annoyance, then began clomping towards the village, snow shoes crunching on the snow. “Come on,” he called, his voice strung with anticipation. “We have to tell everyone that we are dragon tamers now.”

Never in all my daydreams about winning a title for myself did I end up sharing a name with Finn. But I never would have thought that Finn’s pocketed cheese would be useful, especially for taming a dragon.

“Slow down, Finn, the Dragon Tamer,” I called after him.

“I bet I can beat you to the house.” He laughed and made his voice deep and important, “Enna, the Dragon Tamer.”


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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!

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How to Write a Short Story

Writing a novel is daunting. Train yourself to finish what you started with short stories.

For a good year, all my stories were 5,000 words or less. If any of you have been following my blog for a few years, you’ll know that I posted a lot of flash fiction/short stories in the beginning. It wasn’t just a ton of fun to get feedback from readers instantly, or the gratification of writing a whole story in just a few hours that made these stories so useful in those early years. Writing story after story proved that I could, well, write.

When you’re first starting out, it can seem overwhelming to write a novel-sized story. Instead of jumping straight into a 100,000-word story, start with one that’s just a couple of thousand words until you’ve sharpened those writing muscles and are ready for bigger challenges.



Oh, and today’s topic was suggested by Nandini, a good friend and talented blogger. Just wanted to say thanks for the suggestion!

And if any of you have any topics you’d like to see covered, tell me in the comments. I’d love to know what you’d want to hear more about. 🙂


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.




Twitter_bird_iconThis little blue bird will take you to my Twitter page where it will continuously feed you random lines about writing, blogging, and the world inside my head.





Charlek’s wife was having tea with the King and didn’t have the decency to tell him about it. He knew why though. “Having tea with the King” was code for something much less innocent.  The King had a reputation of being a womanizer longer than the train draping from his shoulders.

Tea indeed! He would like to have his own private “tea” with the King. “Tea” being code for “duel.”

He paced up and down the length of the richly colored rug, his quick motion wrinkling the fine cloth of his shirt and trousers.

What was a fellow to do? It was the King after all. Which made everything ridiculously unfair. One couldn’t challenge him to a gentleman’s duel. The only thing to do was sit back and let the King take your wife like she was a common bar maid.

There was nothing more degrading than not being able to defend your household. It was downright unmanly.

Perhaps he chose his wife because Charlek was so popular among the other lords. It was his way of reminding Charlek who really had the power.  He probably threatened her.

“Power-hungry maniac,” Charlek muttered.

Charlek stopped pacing and looked at the portrait of Serina and himself on the mantel.

Serina was lovely. Perhaps it was her beauty that caught the King’s attention and not Charlek’s growing popularity.

“Dishonorable cur.”

Still, Serina did agree to meet him, and if she weren’t threatened…. Did she actually want to go?

Neither one of them had a choice in the marriage, but he thought they got along amiably. They weren’t a passionate couple perhaps, but they’d never argued in the two years of their marriage.  He let her spend what she wanted on gowns and jewelry. What else did she want?

“Baffling things, women,” he huffed.

They were a good-looking couple in the portrait. Surly, it wasn’t his looks she found lacking. Though he had put on a few pounds since the wedding. There was a little paunch around his middle that wasn’t there before.

But the King had twice the girth Charlek had. What did he have that Charlek didn’t?


He looked at the portrait: Serina sitting, Charlek standing behind the chair. She was sitting as to not draw attention to the height difference.

That demandable half inch. Charlek’s one flaw; he was a bit short compared to some.

But he wasn’t that short. It was nothing worth running off to “have tea” over.

The door opened, and in stepped Serina.

Charlek drew himself up, almost standing on his toes. “How was your ‘tea?’”

“My what?” She sounded too innocent.

“Your ‘tea with the King?’” Charlek squinted at her watching her reaction.

“Who told you that?” Defiantly defensive.

“Never mind how I found out. Did you want to go?”

“Want to go?” She looked confused. Or was that an act? Women were such confounding creatures.

“I know what it stands for, your little code.”

She paled. “You do?”

“Yes. So, did you go willingly?”

She gave that confused look again. “Willingly? I did go on my own, so yes. I guess it was.”

On her own? What did that mean? Did she mean she approached him?

“Were you thinking at all? How do you think it will make me look if anyone found out?!”

“There are actually quite a few other woman doing it. Notable women. It’s becoming quite acceptable.”

“Acceptable? Acceptable! When is taking another man’s wife acceptable?”

His wife blinked. “What are you talking about?”

“’Tea with the King’ madam. I’m talking about tea.” He threw his hands up.

“I don’t think ‘tea with the King” means what you think it does.”

“Don’t insult me, madam. I know exactly what—“ He stopped himself. Serina was wearing that look. The same look she had when he was ranting about the duke not showing up at the party he held.  When he was done, she told him that the duke was ill with a fever. There was something she knew that he didn’t.

He tugged at his rumpled coat. “Why don’t you put it into less obscure words then. I may understand what they imply, but you know that explaining these ridiculous terms people come up with is not my forte.”

“Of course, husband.” She gave a smile that bordered a child’s mischievous smirk. “It’s a discreet term for having tea with someone quite below your social station. As a good deed. It’s becoming quite fashionable.”

Having tea with someone below you? What nonsense. Why waste your time with someone who couldn’t do you any favors? But then, the baron did say that his wife had this strange new notion that spending time with those beneath her made her appear more caring to the lower classes, and would increase her and her husband’s popularity.

“Was that what you understood the expression to mean?” his wife asked.

“Of course. I just wanted to hear you explain it. It’s such a strange new fad.” And a strange thing to call it. It must have been a woman who came up with the name, determined to give her husband a heart attack.

“Does it bother you that I do it?”

“It doesn’t matter to me what you women do.” He waved a hand.

“I’m pleased to hear that. I was under the impression that you were greatly disturbed at my outing.” She gave that infuriating smirk and glided out of the room.

Charlek sank into the cushioned chair and took a deep breath. Ridiculous women and their silly names for things. He’d almost looked like a fool.

A maid came in balancing a tray in her hands. “Would you like me to serve your tea in here today, sir?”

He closed his eyes and leaned back against the chair. “I’ll have to decline. It seems those in fashion only drink tea with the King.”


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I didn’t want to be at grandpa’s house surrounded by aunts, uncles, and cousins who all wanted to know if I’d dreamed my gift dream yet. I didn’t need to be reminded that I was the only twelve-year-old girl in my class that didn’t have their gift.

I tried to escape grandpa’s over-crowded sitting room, but as I headed to the back porch my Aunt Helen cut in front of me.

“Lora, you’ve gotten taller since the last time I saw you. Looking like such a little lady now.” She moved her hands when she talked and I thought she was going to drop the pie she was holding. “I bet you’re having fun learning about your gift aren’t you?”

She didn’t even ask if I knew what my gift was. I guess it was so uncommon to not have your gift by this age that no one thought it possible.

“I don’t–” My aunt didn’t let me finish my humiliating confession.

“I bet you are an artist like your mother.” She nodded her head and the tower of hair she had piled on her head jiggled. “You have her curly hair and dimpled smile—you’re the image of her when she was your age—you must have her gift.”

I didn’t say anything. Maybe she would keep talking and I wouldn’t have to admit that I hadn’t had my dream yet. That hope didn’t last long. My annoying eleven-year-old cousin butted it.

“She doesn’t have a gift,” Edward said stuffing one side of a roll in his mouth. His round cheeks made him look like a squirrel with too many acorns stuffed in its mouth.

“Of course she does,” my aunt insisted.

“No she doesn’t. Ask her.”

They both looked at me, and I wished that I still believed that covering my face made the rest of me disappear like I did when I was two.

“It should come soon,” I told her, even though I had no idea when I would have my dream.

Aunt Helen took in a breath and pulled her head back, making her hair wobble. “You haven’t had your dream yet?”

Did she have to say it so loud?

“You are twelve aren’t you? Or did I get you mixed up with Leah. She’s twelve and you’re eleven?”

Before I could answer, know-it-all Edward did for me. “She is twelve, but she still doesn’t have a gift.” He stuffed the other end of the roll in his mouth. It wasn’t time to eat yet. He must have snuck it out of the kitchen when no one was looking.

“So I was right,” Aunt Helen said. “ Leah is eleven.”

“Leah is fourteen, Aunt Helen.” Edward rolled his eyes.

“Oh dear, you are all getting so big. Growing up so fast.”

“Except for Lora,” Edward said.

I could’ve taken the pie from Aunt Helen and shoved it in his face.

“Don’t tease poor Lora. She can’t help that her gift hasn’t come in the normal time.”

If Aunt Helen was trying to make me feel better, it wasn’t working. I was relieved when Uncle John called for everyone’s attention.

Edward zipped off to get to the front of the group so he could see what was going on.

“Oh my. I better get this pie to the kitchen or I’m going to miss all the excitement,” Aunt Helen said as she plowed through the crowed sitting room.

I was finally left alone. I almost dashed out to the back porch, but decided to stay to hear whatever the big announcement was.

Uncle John stood near the mantel with his arm around his daughter.

“Clara has some exciting news to share with you.” He looked down at her. “Why don’t you tell them?”

Clara smiled shyly at everyone. “Last night, I got my gift.”

The room erupted in “congratulations Clara” and “No way, that’s so great,” and other statements of surprise and happiness, but all I could do was stare. Clara was only ten. How could she have had her dream already?

She beamed at the praise. My stomach twisted.

“What was it like?” asked one of the younger girls.

“Don’t leave us wondering,” Aunt Helen piped in, back from the kitchen. “Tell us your dream.”

Clara glanced at her father and he nodded at her. “I was standing in a field of grass, behind me, flowers sprang up and filled the path I’d walked. Then the whole field started growing flowers, and vegetables, and fruit. And a cherry tree grew right over my head.” She shrugged. “When I woke up, I knew that my gift was growing things.”

“A practical and beautiful gift,” Aunt said nodding her head in approval. Her hair was going to wobble right off her head.

Of course Clara would get such a perfect gift. Everything she did was perfect. Even her strait blonde hair, that unlike mine, stayed neat after it was brushed instead of tangling in a mass of curls the moment the brush was set down.

“How did you get your gift already?” Edward asked. “Even Lora doesn’t have her gift yet, and she’s way older.”

The adults laughed at Edward like what he said was cute and looked at me. My face burned. I wished I’d put that pie in Edward’s face.

“Everyone get’s their gift at different times,” Grandpa said, standing beside the fireplace.

Maybe some of us never get our gifts. I would be thirteen soon. Who ever heard of a thirteen year old without a gift?

Everyone was back to congratulating Clara, and I started for the back porch like I should have before all this “good news” was shared. I squeezed though my aunts and uncles and just made it to the kitchen door when Grandpa said, “Before we eat, I have a game for the children.”

I stopped. A game would be more fun than sulking on the porch. At least I wouldn’t have to think about my lack of a gift.

“I have hidden twelve gifts, one for each grandchild, in parts of the house.” Some of the younger kids squealed and jumped. “Once you find a present, it is yours. You can’t keep looking once you’ve found one.”

“Can we open it and decide if we want it?” Edward asked.

“Once you find a present, it is yours,” he repeated, giving Edward a look before continuing. “There aren’t any in the yard, but they could be in any part of the house. You’ll know you found one because they are each tied with a red ribbon.”

Grandpa had all the little kids go first. They scrambled off giggling and squealing. Next he had the nine and ten year olds go. By now, some of the kids from the first group were coming back, holding up their prizes proudly: a handful of candy, or chocolates, or a spinning top.

“They’re going to get all the good stuff,” Edward whined beside me. I couldn’t help but agree with him. We were the only two left. Grandpa let Edward go. I thought he would let me go right after, but he didn’t. Maybe he forgot I was playing. I looked up at Grandpa. “Can I go now?”

“Just a little longer.”

I shifted my weight from foot to foot as I watched more kids come in with their presents. If I didn’t start looking soon, all of them would be gone except one. Probably the smallest one that no one wanted.

I looked back at Grandpa.

“Alright, your turn.” He winked at me.

I took off, not bothering to search the sitting room. I was sure that all the presents in there were gone by now. I looked through the kitchen: opened cabinets and drawers, looked under the table and chairs. There wasn’t a single present.

I ran to the bedrooms, but even after looking under the beds and in the closets, there was nothing. Maybe there was a gift still hiding in the sitting room.

I went back to the sitting room, which was emptying out as people went to the kitchen to began eating.

I slipped around one of my aunts who was complaining that Grandpa should have waited until after we’d eaten to give the children candy, and slid past some of my cousins comparing gifts.

I looked under the rocking chair, around the fireplace, and behind curtains, but there wasn’t a single thing with a red ribbon around it.

“You aren’t very lucky with gifts are you,” Edward said, seeing I was still without a present. I made a face at him, but he didn’t see. He was showing someone the large chocolate bar he’d found.

I looked through the whole house again, but still couldn’t find a present. By now, everyone was in the kitchen, dining and laughing, but I didn’t feel like eating.

I slumped into a rocking chair in the sitting room and listened to the chatter in the next room. Not only was I the only twelve-year-old that didn’t have a gift, but I was the only one of my cousins that was too stupid to find their present.

Edward was right. I wasn’t lucky with gifts.

I glanced around the room, trying to think of a place I hadn’t looked. I’d searched the whole house. Maybe there wasn’t another present anywhere. Maybe Grandpa counted wrong and forgot to get me a present.

I guess I better get used to being without a gift, since it didn’t look like I’d be having my gift dream any time soon.

I put my feet up into the chair and hugged my knees. My throat was hot and tight and I thought I might cry, but someone came beside the chair.

“You’ve given up already?” It was Grandpa.

“Are you sure you hid enough gifts?”

He nodded.

I rested my chin on my knees. “I’ve looked everywhere and there isn’t one.”

“Are you sure you looked everywhere?”

“I’ve looked in every room in the entire house.” I let out a frustrated sign. “And you said they weren’t in the yard…” I realized there was a part of the house I didn’t look. “Wait a minute,” I said, jumping out of the chair. I ran though the kitchen, dodging between people standing up to get seconds.

I flung the back door open and stepped out on the back porch. I didn’t even have to look for it. Sitting in the rocking chair, was a huge basket with a red ribbon tied to the handle. It was filled with candies, chocolates, and little toys.

I grinned and took the basket into the kitchen so everyone could see that I didn’t have such bad luck with gifts.

“Not fair,” Edward said, dropping a spoonful of pudding halfway to his mouth. “She got a bigger present than anyone.”

Grandpa, leaned on the doorway between the sitting room and the kitchen. “But she had to look the hardest for hers. Sometimes, the best gifts come after the longest wait.”

I smiled, wider than Clara did at her announcement. It didn’t matter that my gift dream took longer to come than anyone else’s. When it did come, it would be the greatest gift dream there was. Because the best gifts come after the longest wait.



Twitter_bird_iconThis little blue bird will take you to my Twitter page where it will continuously feed you random lines about writing, blogging, and the world inside my head.



I was disappointed to find that I was still alive. It meant I hadn’t carried out my mission.  The symbols tattooed up and down my arms ensured that my heart would keep beating until I had. I was leaning against one of the cement walls that enclosed me, being careful not to move my head which still throbbed from where the gun hit.  My hands were cuffed in front of me, I had no idea where I was, or how long I’d been there, but it didn’t matter.  What I did know was that I would kill Janice the people’s “benevolent” leader.

She had to be stopped. She may have cleaned our streets and feed us, but the price for these things was higher than we were willing to pay.  We didn’t want clean streets if it meant we couldn’t be on them after a certain time.  We wanted to work for our own food, not be given a set amount each month.  We wanted the freedom to teach our children what we wanted, not send them to be brainwashed by the government’s ideas.  No one wanted them to grow up thinking that humanity needs a dictator to tell them when they should be in their homes at night or to ration their food like they were cattle.

The door to the tiny prison cell opened and the guard that came through roughly pulled me to my feet. He led me down hallways lit by flickering florescent lights, then we went through a set of doors that lead outside.  Hot afternoon sunlight hit my face.  I must have been the cell for at least a day.  The speech that I was going to assassinate her at was over.  But that was the least of my worries.

In front of me was a platform with a noose.

With each boot that hit the steps leading to the noose my belief that I would complete my mission waned. When I reached the top, an announcer   began droning my offences: attending unauthorized meetings held by groups not recognized by the government, owning a weapon, and plotting to assassinate the leader.   I scarcely heard him.  The noose hanging two feet away seemed to turn off my hearing.   I couldn’t die yet.   The old woman had foreseen it.  My death would only come after my mission was over.

My eyes shifted from the noose to the crowd. I stopped myself from smiling.  A very important person had decided to attend my execution: our leader herself.   She sat looking very poised and in control in her cream suit coat and black dress pants.

In an instant, I rammed my elbow as hard as I could into my guard’s stomach, took the pistol out of his belt, and shot him. I thanked my lucky stars—or maybe it was the tattoos—that they were stupid enough to handcuff my hands in front.  I didn’t hear the people’s screams or see their panicked faces.  All I saw was a cream suit coat.  I pulled the trigger.

As I watched the bullet enter her forehead, a blast of pain erupted in my own. I knew, this time, I wouldn’t wake up.


In honor Flash Fiction Day, I’ll be posting flash fiction throughout the day. Be ready to read. There’s more to come!

Here’s the other stories I’ve posted today. Letters, Shattered , Loki’s Interview , MansionsThe Chalice,