Past Home by Selena Taylor

oliver-paaske-760582-unsplashWalking as if he was always there was usually an easy task but when Death was placed in the middle of a corn field it was not as easy. His robes were snagging and pulling on every corn stalk. Sighing, Death tried to keep his pace. Reaching out trying to push the stalks out of his way was not helpful either. It resulted in a stalk crashing him in the face pushing his hood down exposing most of his white skull.


Small but brilliant flames replaced his eyes and a scythe appeared in his hand. With a mighty swing the whole corn field was set on fire. The fire did not touch Death. He welcomed the heat as it was doing him a big favor. As fast as the flames came, they were gone.  Small plumes of smoke came from the ground but nevertheless it was so much easier to walk on. Death’s clipboard warmed in his other skeleton hand. He read the message.

What? I thought you would like the dramatic entrance.

Death rolled his eyes. Something was different about this collection.

Yes, this is different.

He looked away from his clipboard and continued to the farm house in the distance. The walk was easy, and nothing got in his way, only the nagging thought that something was different yet familiar. The porch was not empty, but two rocking chairs and one was occupied. Death glided up the stairs and stood by the figure in the rocking chair.

She just kept smiling. Death checked behind himself to make sure it was him she was smiling at. Having his scythe disappear back to wherever they come from, he pointed to himself.

“Yes you.”

“Why are you so eager to see me?”

“I am not eager. I am merely happy.”

Death looked at his clipboard. It glowed with her information. He read it quickly and let his eyes cast back over to her. Just as he was about to speak, he thought he got a whiff of something. The smell only a Midwestern farm can give. He sighed but continued to speak to the woman.

“You have lived a long life. Some tragedy with your children already being gone. Overall kind and good. No big issues. The seventies were a little fun for you, I saw.” A soft chuckle came from the woman. “So why are you happy to see me?”

“Sit and rock with me, please?”

Death just looked at the old woman.

“Oh, come on. One sit?”

He was not upset about her request; most people made strange requests of him. No, what upset him was the land. It was the smells, it was the house, it was the rocking chairs.

“Why is this time different?” Death turned around and looked out to the land and the setting sun. “This is so familiar.  Yet much has changed.”

“Yes, there have been many changes.”

“The house was never this big.”

“No, it was a two-room cabin. But the porch was here. Some might think it is small today, but it is beautiful. Look at the trim work around the railings. Those are small metals pieces placed in the wood to make the flowers. It took the maker several years, but it was his goal. It has lasted all this time.” The old lady picked up her cane and rubbed a metal piece with the tip of it.

Death looked at her eyes and saw tears go down her cheeks. His emotions got the best of him and he took his skeleton hand, grabbed a piece of the metal, and gave it to her. As the piece left his hand his heart gave a strong beat and he saw something. A memory?

 The old woman asked again about the rocking chair. This time he nodded his head and sat down. This time he became flooded with memories.

“The rocking chairs belonged to him too. They belonged to you.” She reached over and grabbed his hand. A small tear left his eye. It was not how he thought things would go. How could he?

Death searched her eyes, and then turned inward, seeking knowledge on how his line had treated people and how his line was treated by others. Then he saw himself coming from Europe to the United States struggling to make a way in New York. No one dare hire a nasty foreigner. He found a love that helped him gather money and they left for the farming land in the west. They had found this land with a few trees, and they were able to call it home.

Taking some of trees he’d built this cabin. He’d created the porch and carved the lovely set of rocking chairs. The love of his life raised their two children in the tiny home, but it was the nasty Civil War that had stolen his life from him, and he from his family.

His family took the land and made it grow with help of the free people. With all their help his family grew and made a name.

Now it was just her. Him and her again. Together.

“So much has changed.”

“I think it is time for us to go on.”

“You are taking over my job?” Death looked confused.

“It looks to be that way.” His black clothing began to disappear, only to reform on his relative.

She just continued to smile.

“Every way is different I suppose.” Death was becoming himself again. A simple man who wanted to make his wife happy. He saw the country in turmoil. The country that had given a home was hurting. He’d wanted to see all people free an end to slavery. His wife had wanted the same.

“What is to become of this country?”

“I do not know.”

Slowly, a grand mansion formed, replacing the simple cabin. The One formerly known as Death rose from the rocking chair feeling gladness in his heart for the first time in… it didn’t matter how long. A warm, bright light beamed from behind the door, and he moved to face it, and the newly-appointed Death.

“I’m grateful it’s you,” he said. “Thank you.”

Death just nodded her head. A clipboard appeared in her hand and glowed, causing her to look down and chuckle. Flipping it around, she showed him the words.

You are welcome TOO!

He addressed the clipboard. “Good bye to you too, and thank you.” The object merely continued to glow its appreciation.

Death and Death-no-More walked to the door hand-in-hand, but they let go when he reached for the door to open it. The bright light was beautiful. It was overwhelming. It was something no one could truly comprehend without experiencing it, and could never explain… and yet, it was undeniably present.

He turned to the no-longer-old woman – the new Death. “If you need me…” He let the sentence trail off and become and offer rather than a question.

“Yes. Or if you need me.”

The One who Had Been Death walked through the door and into the light. Alone.

About the author, Selena Taylor

Selena TaylorSelena Taylor is a wife, a mother, and a woman who strives to tell the many stories that occupy her mind. She is active in the Rhett & Link fandom and appreciates dark humor.  She and her family live in Illinois, where she takes every opportunity to lose herself under the stars and let her imagination run wild. For more from Selena, check her out on Facebook.

Just for One Day by Selena Taylor

Photo by Spencer Imbrock on Unsplash

Take a deep breath. Try and hold it.
“But the clothes are smelly.”
Do you want him to find you?

I cannot hold my breath my fear is so strong. My hideout in the laundry is pretty good. With so many lumps what is one more? I can hear him moving downstairs. For some reason he left the house; maybe he thought I was going to go out there. I am not sure.

You should try to control your breathing.
“I am really scared this time.”
I know. I am sorry.

The footsteps come up the stairs.

“Oh, no!”

I begin to sing and play music in my head in an attempt to quiet my thoughts, or at least mask them. His footsteps go right to the pile of clothes, but he does not investigate at all. He does not move within the room, but I can hear his stupid breathing.

He can breathe just fine. Nothing makes him want to stop breathing. Nothing makes him try to control an asthma attack, so his beater doesn’t find him. Nothing makes him want to run away and give up. Nothing.


Something in the other room must have fallen over. I have no idea what it is, but he actually leaves the room to find the answer.

Run now.
“No way!”
You can make it.
“No, I can’t.”
There are the stairs. They’re a hurdle for sure.
“Told ya.”

His footsteps leave the other room and start back. Panic is just the beginning and fear is always there.

He is yelling, and it is deafening. I can hear all the nasty names and whatever else he wants to make up. Just because all he spews are lies doesn’t mean the words don’t hurt. The tears run down my face and on to the reeking clothes. My breathing becomes more strained, roaring inside my head. I try to stifle the sound with a sock. It works… almost.

All too soon, yelling is no longer enough. Objects are flying around the room. I can hear them crashing into the walls, the lamps, and the dresser. Something strikes the pile and the sock does not muffle my “oomph.”

“NO!” That is the only thing I can scream as he grabs me by my hair.

I am always here. I will pray with you.

“Our Father….”

His blow to my mouth makes me move my prayer from my speaking voice to the one inside my head. My thoughts and me stay in prayer. When we finish the, I hear a soft melody.

Can you hear the music I started?
“Yes, I can.”
Sing with the music in here. The music will help.

I retreat further into my mind and let the music wrap me in a warm blanket. I sing in my mind and I let it help me slip into sleep. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose and know it instantly, but sometimes you have to wait to win.

“Oh, there you are. Welcome back.”

The Ambulance is cold and unforgiving with every bump. The paramedics tell me that I was unresponsive in the house. They managed to restart my breathing and moved me into the ambulance. I cry and cry.

“Can you play some music? Please. I love music.”

“Sure thing.”

With a push of a button the radio comes alive.

What luck! It is your favorite singer on the radio with one of your favorites playing.
“It seems like I am lucky in more than one way today.”
Indeed. Sing now.

I begin to whisper-sing the song with tears going down my cheeks. My eyes close as I see the paramedic give me a small smile.  I let my mind go and fall into song.

I will be a hero one day.
I will find my way out.
I will get away.
I will escape.

I will be a hero, even if it is for one day.

About the author, Selena Taylor

Selena TaylorSelena Taylor is a wife, a mother, and a woman who strives to tell the many stories that occupy her mind. She is active in the Rhett & Link fandom and appreciates dark humor.  She and her family live in Illinois, where she takes every opportunity to lose herself under the stars and let her imagination run wild. For more from Selena, check her out on Facebook.

Truth by John Hulme

Copyright: <a href=''>nejron / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

It was so hard in the early days,

scanning pollen grains through beams of curdled magnetospheric plasma,

examining their intricate combinations under the microscope for evidence of a release mechanism.


So arduous, painstaking and dispiriting was the work, I was often driven to riding Ergannine across the moors


(Ergannine was my pet sauropod dinosaur, thawed out and reanimated from the secret ice caves of East Cheam, and the quiet majesty of her company would do much to soothe my tortured soul in those days).


Many times I considered giving up the struggle – but Truth, as elusive and omnipresent as it was, would not let me go.


There was a secret coded into these pollen grains, and I knew it.


Once I had liberated it, I would know how to open up these giant alien flowers that now dominated the skies over London, Liverpool and Glasgow.  I would be able to decipher the intricate petal work and reveal what our cousins from across the stars were saying to us.


Eventually, a pattern revealed itself.


Using the algorithms gained from studying the pollen, I was able to trace a core pathway through the petals of one of these enormous blooms, using a giant steam-powered laser and a set of felt tip pens.


It worked.  The petal sculpture unpeeled itself, and the aliens’ message was revealed.


“Truth,” it said, “is about who has the best video on Facebook.”





What could it all mean?

Image copyright: nejron / 123RF Stock Photo

About the author, John Hulme

John HulmeJohn Hulme is a British writer from the Wirral, a small peninsula near Liverpool in the North of England. Trained in journalism (in which he has a masters degree), John’s first love was storytelling, trying to make sense of the world around him using his offbeat imagination. Since the death of his mother in 2010, John’s work has grown increasingly personal, and has become heavily influenced by Christian mysticism. This has led to the publication of two poetry books, Fragments of the Awesome (2013) and The Wings of Reborn Eagles (2015). A mix of open mike performances, speaking engagements and local community radio appearances has opened up new avenues which John is now eager to pursue. He is hoping to go on a kind of busking road trip fairly soon, provisionally titled Writer seeks gig, being John.  Find out more about John on Facebook.

Death Works Holidays by Selena Taylor

0264 - Death Takes Orders via FlashPrompt

“How big is the order?” Death reached under his cloak to read his clip board. The Deaths looked at each other and grimaced.

“There will be at least 30 souls there for us to collect,” the other Death told him.

The two Deaths started to walk towards the old manor, passing through the cemetery that was on the property. Each carried a plastic jack-o-lantern half filled with candy retrieved when children had dropped it. They both felt ridiculous, but it helped them blend.

And She had been clear: blending with the humans was vital on this day.

“Fitting.” The other snorted at the word.

“It looks like there are bodies all over the house. I have been called to the basement. I really hope there are no spiders. They give me the creeps.”

“Oh god, I know what you mean. I once was called to a forest where a man was bitten by several deadly spiders. I had to stand there holding up my cloak as the man came to terms with his demise. He kept twitching and arguing with me. ‘Maybe there’s anti-venin close by? Maybe you’re mistaken?’ That was a long day. This one is looking to try and beat that day.”

It was Halloween. A day to be happy and celebrate the work they did, and to acknowledge others who helped their kind. It was the one day children were less afraid of the so called “monsters” and embraced the supernatural. But… not this Halloween. This Halloween had them collecting the real monsters of the world. Behind a headstone were a few buckets of candy. Death slowly picked one up.

“There are lots of them back there. Lots.” As they looked at the candy, they heard a sound coming towards them. By the light of a candle that appeared in the Death’s hand, they learned that the sound was a little girl, skipping. Skipping towards them.

Some might wonder why such a young girl would be skipping through a cemetery, but they knew why. They knew it was just a trick. It was not really a little girl, but rather, one of the most dangerous demons ever given life.

She stopped in front of them, her fairy wings and glowing halo lending an air of innocence she didn’t possess. “Hello, boys.” Her voice was nothing like the child she appeared to be. Rather, her words came out in a dark purr. “I wish I could say Happy Halloween, but this is a sad day.” She stopped skipping right in front them. She wriggled her shoulders. “Time-stops make me itch. Hope it’s not bothering you. Did you get my special note?”

“Oh yeah, we got it and we understand it, too.”  Death felt the pull of time come back to where they stood. “How come we stopped time for so long here?”

“That was me, today,” said the not-really-a-little-girl. “One of the souls crossing over really needed his teddy bear. So, I went to go get it.” She paused, her face softening into a wistful expression. “It will help.”

They started to walk towards the manor.

“How old is the one who needs the bear?”

She held the bear close to her heart. “He’s only three. He was with his older brother when they got separated from their parents. They are waiting for me with the others. “

“How many?”

“Thirteen. Just today. I have been dealing with this group for a while, and today I finally won. If you call this winning.”

They all sighed.

“Boys, I know you have seen it all, but I was extra-creative with these people.”

“We promise we will be just as creative. Did you see I actually brought my scythe? I think it looks really nasty. It should work fine – instill fear and obedience. That sort of thing.”

“Oh, that’s great. Thank you. I have been working on this case for so long. Going the extra mile is appreciated.”

Searching the sky, Deaths and the not-a-girl realized that the time barrier had nearly dissipated, and all would soon be back to normal. Pity. They could have used the extra cover from human eyes. Mere mortals should not witness such as they.

“Let’s get to work, boys.”

About the author, Selena Taylor

Selena TaylorSelena Taylor is a wife, a mother, and a woman who strives to tell the many stories that occupy her mind. She is active in the Rhett & Link fandom and appreciates dark humor.  She and her family live in Illinois, where she takes every opportunity to lose herself under the stars and let her imagination run wild. For more from Selena, check her out on Facebook.

The Estate Sale by Bernie Brown

Ella wanted to be a blithe spirit, a la Noel Coward, but she couldn’t rest, join her beloved, and escape this limbo existence until her three most precious treasures found happy new homes. That was why she was hanging out at her own estate sale watching people buy her belongings.

The moment the estate agent unlocked the door, the bargain-hunting crowd hurried in. A short, pear-shaped woman made a bee line for Ella’s gold-spangled evening jacket, the one she wore at the Berlin Pediatrician’s conference. That’s where she met Johan, with whom she had a fling lasting several months and involving a trip to Bavaria, a cruise on the Rhine, and some jaunts to remote Alpine villages.

The woman slipped on the jacket, running her hands admiringly over the spangles. She beamed a smile as bright as the spangles, twirled around, stopped and said “I just love it,” to no one in particular. The jacket’s dramatic line needed someone more statuesque to do it justice, but it so clearly brought the woman joy that Ella wanted her to have it.

This was going to be easy. The jacket had already found a happy home only minutes after the sale began. Next up, the needlepoint pillow Archer, another fling, bought her at the London conference.

A man over six feet tall examined the pillow with its elaborate floral pattern and the saying “You can never be too rich or too thin” in filigree script. A flawlessly tailored jacket on his long, lean frame and Italian leather shoes on his elegant feet proved he had both the financial resources and the body type to appreciate the pillow’s message. He smiled at the man with him, a shorter, more muscular fellow, and Ella guessed they were a couple. She hadn’t considered a man owning the pillow, but this man was the perfect match. At this rate, she’d be on her way by dinnertime.

Two blonde, giggling twenty somethings were leaving with the pink leather Gucci bag and the embroidered satin evening clutch from Milan. Ella wasn’t as emotionally attached to those bags, but it pleased her to know they would have a fun life.

Ella sighed in satisfaction. This was going well. Her career as a pediatrician, her life of travel, her carefully chosen belongings, all had brought her pleasure. Each held a memory. But now, she wanted others to enjoy them, to find life the joyous adventure she had found it. So far. So good.

There was still the painting. When the right person claimed the painting, Ella could go. She could leave everything else to fate, but the painting must go to someone very special.

It was called “The Doctor.” In the scene, a doctor sat next to a bed in which a sick child lay. Light splashed on him as he sat, chin in hands, studying the child. The distraught mother prayed at a dark table in the background, her head down. In the shadows, the father hovered, haunted and bereft. Darkness nearly filled the room, except for around the doctor and an arched window. Through the window, sunlight spilled onto the green plants on the sill. The light in these two places meant hope to Ella, hope that the doctor would find a cure and hope that the child would thrive like the plants.

The painting was her most treasured possession because it not only featured her profession, a doctor of children; but the man who had given it to her, Clark, had been the love of her life. The others she’d dated like Johan and Archer, they’d been fun—lots of fun—but Clark had been much more. Although Ella had never married, never wanted to, Clark changed her mind.

They were both in their fifties when they met. That was the year the conference was in New York. As they got to know each other, they made repeated trips upstate to country inns, ski resorts, and antique shops. When they saw the painting in a Rhinebeck shop, they simultaneously knew they had to have it. Both of them had been in the doctor’s position, calling up all their skill, knowledge, and experience to help a sick little one and relieve the anguished parents.

And then Ella had lost Clark, lost him before they could get married. A heart attack took him away with cruel speed. After that, she had withdrawn, no more fancy trips abroad, no more designer clothes. She spent her extra time volunteering in free clinics.

And now she had a second chance to be with Clark, not the way they had planned, but together again, all the same. But Ella couldn’t complete that journey until the painting was held by deserving hands.

A couple stood in front of the painting. “The frame is perfect. We could just cut out the picture. It’s so depressing, anyway,” a gum-chewing man said to the overly-bleached blonde woman with lipstick on her teeth.

The idea appalled Ella. Nothing doing. Cut out the picture, indeed. Ella whipped between the couple and the painting and hissed. “Ssssssss. Ssssssss.” They backed away, their eyes wide and searching, probably for a snake. She hissed again, longer, more fiercely. Ssssssssssssst. They nearly stumbled over each other trying to leave the room. Ella dogged them until they were gone. Sss.Sss. Sss.

She had better stay right here on guard if lowlifes like that were around.

Several people stopped, studied the painting, murmured appreciative sounds, and then moved on.

Two middle-aged women looked interested. One carried a tote bag with “Support Community Theater” emblazoned on it. “This would be great for the set,” she said. “It casts just the right dark mood.” So, they meant to use it on a set for a play. Not exactly purgatory, but not exactly personal. What happened when the play was over? Would it be stashed and forgotten in some storeroom?

Ella considered this prospect less odious than the previous customers, but still not a desirable destiny for her precious painting. No, it just wouldn’t do. As much as she had enjoyed the theater in life, it was not the right home for “The Doctor.”

She didn’t want to frighten these well-meaning women, but she had to discourage them.

She could tickle them, but tickling wasn’t severe enough. She could scratch them, but she didn’t want to hurt them. She had one more idea, which she really hesitated to carry out. It just wasn’t her style. Still, the painting was at stake.

As the women studied the painting and reached into their purses, Ella farted.

Not one of those super nasty, wave-your-hand-in-front-of-your-nose farts, more like a baby’s toot. Being polite women, they ignored the smell, probably assigning it each to the other. They showed no signs of discouragement about their purchase. Ella realized she would have to be more dramatic.

In the most indelicate way, she let one rip, its odor permeating the corner where the painting hung. The first woman leaned in closely and sniffed the painting.

Just to be safe, Ella again passed gas worthy of a farm animal, and the baffled woman drew back.

The tote bag carrying one said, “Maybe the paint has spoiled or something, or it has been stored someplace inappropriate.”

Her friend, less tactful, said, “Face it, Evelyn. It stinks to high heaven. It smells like a port-a-potty at a construction site. We aren’t wasting our meager budget on something like that. The actors wouldn’t appreciate it.” And they moved on.

Ella watched them go, wishing them well.

The afternoon wore on, and the crowd thinned out. Lots of merchandise had marched out the door with customers, but her precious painting still hung, lonely and alone in its corner.

Ella second guessed herself. Maybe she should have let the theater ladies buy it. At least it wouldn’t be ripped apart.

The estate agent started consolidating the remaining merchandise. Ella realized Clark would have to wait. She couldn’t complete her journey yet.

The door flew open and crisp fall air preceded a tall, thin bespectacled woman, and a short, round bald man came. Their presence, chatter, and laughter enlivened the room.

Ella perked up. She liked the looks of them. Academics, maybe.

They looked around, picking up a Venetian glass bowl and admiring how the light shone through it. Ella watched anxiously. Would they look at the painting?

Just then the estate agent removed “The Doctor” from its hanging spot and carried it across the couple’s line of vision.

“Wait,” the man said.

The estate agent stopped, smiled, and held up the painting for them to see better. “It’s wonderful, isn’t it? I thought of buying it myself,” she said.

The wife said, “It’s more than wonderful. It’s a chapter in our lives.”

“What do you mean?” the agent asked.

The husband offered, “Our daughter was critically ill with meningitis when she was six. She wasn’t expected to live, but she did.” He stopped to wipe away a tear, and his wife opened her purse and handed him a tissue. He went on. “Thanks to brilliant doctors, she pulled through, and grew up well and healthy. We have just come from visiting her and our granddaughter.”

By now, the estate agent was sniffling and getting misty, too. “Here, take it. It’s yours.” She thrust it at them.

“No, no that wouldn’t be right,” the wife said with a gentle laugh.

“Well, then, I’ll reduce the price.”

They agreed on the price and talked some more, but Ella was no longer listening. Blithe at last, she took one backward glance from the doorway at the remains of her life, and fulfillment flooded through her. It was time to go. Clark was waiting.

About the Author: Bernie Brown

I live in Raleigh, NC where I write, read, and watch birds. My stories have appeared in several magazines, most recently Better After 50, Modern Creative Life, Indiana Voice Journal, and Watching Backyard Birds. My story “The Same Old Casserole” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize by Modern Creative Life. I am a Writer in Residence at the Weymouth Center, which is the perfect spot to work on my novel-in-progress.

Grandmother’s House by A.M. Moscoso

Photo by A.M. Moscoso

“I have one very firm, very strict rule in my house ” Sunny Longyear’s Grandmother told her on the night she stayed at Grandma’s house for the first time. Sunny stood straight and looked up, seemingly up for miles to her Grandmother’s stern face. Sunny did not blink, she did not grin or fidget. “I will not tolerate you sneaking off to the kitchen in the middle of the night for snacks. Your mother did that and she left crumbs and greasy smudges all over the bed linens and the door frames and everywhere else sticky messy fingers could leave a mark. I hate messes always as much as I hate disobedient children.” Photo by A.M. Moscoso

“Yes, Grandmother.” Sunny said.

Her grandmother looked down at her. “Yes?”

“You hate disobedient children.”


“Do you know what I hate?” Sunny asked.

“I do not care.”

“I hate not having midnight snacks.”

Grandmother’s mouth twitched. “Go and put your things in your room.”

Sunny picked up her bags and she bounced – her long black pony tail swinging from side to side – down the hall and up the stairs to her very own bedroom that was on the top floor of her grandmother’s three story house which sat alone on a cobblestone road called Hideaway Hills.

Grandmother’s house was old. Very old. It was older then Grandmother, and it had been brought stone by stone, with all of it’s woodwork and doors and mantelpieces, from the place where the old woman had been born.

“Where was that?” her family had asked once, when she was in the kitchen making dinner

“None of your business ” she had answered. She’d had a knife in her hand at the time. She had been standing with her back towards them, and she had lifted it up to her face and used it to see their reflections over her shoulder. Her dark eyes had flared in the wide band of silver.

The question had never been brought up again.

Sunny and her grandmother had spent the afternoon in her grandmother’s garden where they tended her herbs and weeded her vegetable patch and took care of her bee hives.

“Can I have a snack?” Sunny asked, when they were done and they were headed back into the house through the kitchen door.

“Yes. There’s some things in the pantry you can choose from. Don’t forget to cover the food back up with the cheesecloth, and if you open any containers shut them.” Her grandmother lifted a key from the inside of the door and handed it to Sunny. “Lock it back up when you are done, and young lady, I mean it: do not take any food up to your room. That’s why we have a kitchen and dining room table.”

Sunny took the key and she trotted merrily off to get her snack.

Photo by A.M. Moscoso

* * *

Sunny, her Grandmother safely assumed that evening, was in bed and either reading a book or listening to music- either Mozart or Ravel. Those were the choices she had given the child,  and she had no reason to think that wasn’t what was happening in the bedroom she had specially decorated for her first and only grandchild. At least, she had no reason to think otherwise until she heard the thunder of footsteps racing up the stairs at the end of the hall.

Her breath slowed – dangerously slowed –  in her chest. She smoothed her covers carefully, and pushed them to her left. Then she swung her long legs over the side of her bed and stood up.

Grandmother heard the symphony coming from above her head – and it was most certainly not a symphony by Mozart. It was a symphony of feet.
There was a little thud and then she heard Sunny say, “Uh-Oh. That’s going to leave a stain.”

Grandmother reached for her robe.

Before she had become Grandmother, before she had even become Mother, she had been Saturnina Guillermo, the woman who had once ridden alone through a mountain pass with a murderous band of men and women on her tail, and nothing to protect her but her wits. And now? Now she was being played for a fool by her eight-year-old granddaughter, who was every inch the ill-mannered pup her mother had once been.

Saturnina opened her door and threw it  to the side. She didn’t run down the hall or up the stairs. She hit each step hard with her heel. Then, standing before her granddaughter’s bedroom, she took a moment to collect herself before pushing the child’s door wide open.

Sunny was standing beside her bed, her nightdress covered with Saturnina’s special marinade  – the one that smelled like cinnamon and a touch of basil. There were was more of it on her handmade quilt.

“I dropped it.” Sunny confessed.

“I can see that.”

Sunny pointed under her bed and hung her head.

Saturnina walked slowly towards her granddaughter. She hovered over her for a moment, and then she reached out and grabbed the girl by the front of her nightdrePhoto by A.M. Moscososs and threw her up and onto her bed. She leaned down, reached beneath the bed, and  and then Saturnina leaned over and reached under the bed to retrieve the child’s snack.

Still leaning over she looked up at Sunny, who giggled mischievously, and said, “My, Grandma, what big teeth you have.”

Saturnina’s teeth had grown more prominent, and her eyes were huge in her weathered face. She pulled her arm from under the bed, to reveal a hiker – a woman named Gilly Anne – being held in her huge, clawed hand.

“Get yourself cleaned up, and if you ever sneak a snack into this room again I will ground you until you’re as old as I am. Do you understand me?”
The old woman stood up, and with a skilled flick of her wrist snapped the hiker’s neck.

“I mean it young lady ” she said to Sunny, whose soft, black and white fur was beginning to sprout in downy poofs all over her face and arms and whose eyes  had also grown bigger – big enough to see easily in the moonlight streaming through the bedroom window. “March.”


About the Author: A.M. Moscoso

Anita Marie Moscoso Anita Marie Moscoso was nine years old when she decided to become a Writer/Pirate/Astronaut. She is now so far away from the age of nine that it’s comical, but it turns out that she did become a writer, and she’s told stories about Pirates and Astronauts. Anita has also worked in a funeral home, explored the cemeteries of New Orleans alone, and has a great dog named Hamish and had a cat named Wolfgang.

More about Anita (in parts) can be found at her blog: Enduring Bones.





Snapshots from the Shore by Melissa A. Bartell

She stands at the edge of the sea, her messy sun-gold braids hanging down her back, her tanned face and hands sticky with watermelon juice.

59743115 - portrait of a happy charming little girl on the beach“Rinse off,” her grandmother urges from beneath her enormous straw sunhat, the one that offsets the prominence of the equally large bosom sheathed in a practically bulletproof bathing suit.

(She remembers once on a family trip that it ended up on the floor, and she fell on it and hurt herself. But she’d been little then – two or three – and maybe the memory isn’t really hers. Maybe she’s just heard the story so many times that she’s absorbed it into her psyche, the same way she’s absorbed the foghorns that wake her and put her to sleep every night.)

Bending over, a little, a lot, a lot more, her tiny hands can’t quite meet the water. She takes another step forward, and then another. She’s not afraid of the gentle, rolling waves. This water has been her second mother almost since the day of her birth.

Here, in this water, she learned to swim before she could even walk.

A few more steps and she’s waist-deep, and now her grandmother’s encouraging tone has become one of caution: “Not too far! Stay where I can see you!”

But when the next wave comes, she ducks under it, even though the knows that the older woman on the beach will clutch at her chest in melodramatic worry.

She surfaces, laughing. The melon juice is gone, she is no longer sticky from sugar, and her braids are soaked through. She’ll be itchy from the salt when they finally dry, but it’s worth it. It’s always worth it, the freedom she feels in the sea.

* * *

“Just put your feet in,” she coaxes the man who has come to drive her to the flatlands in the middle of the country. The flyover states, they call them. Except now they’ll be the land-in states. She wonders if the wind on the prairie can ever come close to the soothing sound of her beloved waves.


“Come on,” she urges. “Seriously, it’s not that cold. At least take your shoes off. You will not actually melt into goo if your bare feet touch the sand.

But he refuses. And she wonders if maybe she’s making a mistake in choosing someone who doesn’t love the beach the way she does. Still, she splashes in the choppy surf, dodging sharp white-crested waves and body surfing the gentler blue ones until she’s tired and sated.

Swimming in the sea, she thinks, is the only thing that even comes close to being as good as sex with the man she loves.4483503 - blond girl sitting on the rock at the seaside

Two weeks later, in their new townhouse, where there are no foghorns, but she can hear the mournful sound of a train whistle at night and in the morning, he locks himself into the downstairs half-bath and makes her promise not to open the door until he says it’s okay.

She assumes he’s settling in for a reading session – doesn’t everyone read in the bathroom? But she’s never been more delighted to be wrong, because he opens the door a couple of hours later, and she sees that he’s hung a string across the room. A string to which he’s clipped a collection of black and white photos of her last day at the beach.

She hadn’t even realized he’d had the camera out.

She smiles and kisses him, and they end up making love on the living room couch because it’s just too much effort to climb the stairs to their bedroom.

They finish the evening with a shower for him, and a bath for her, and then they share a carton of Ben and Jerry’s Cherries Garcia ice cream while watching a science fiction movie in bed.

* * *

They are back on the coast after three years on the prairie, and he learns to navigate cloverleaves and to say highway and freeway instead of interstate. The beach is half an hour away, and they don’t go as often as she might want, but it’s enough, most of the time, to know they can.

Still, they do go.

They drive to the beach in the funky town that was used in that movie about the vampires where they ride the wooden roller coaster and walk on the sand (he still insists on wearing shoes) and drive out to the end of the municipal pier and have clam chowder and beer and feed bits of sourdough to the seagulls that buzz the windows.

They buy calamari and feed it to the pelicans, the bold-as-brass birds that have no fear of humans and are nearly as tall as she is. He snaps a picture, one grey day, of her with her golden braids streaming behind her as she’s nose to beak with one of the birds, and there’s a kinship in the way the two are standing: human and avian. Woman and Bird.

The photo is accepted by an ezine that specializes in digital photographs, and people print it for greeting cards, and wonder who the woman is.

They will always wonder.

* * *

They never make love at the beach, though they’ve come close more than once. Their favorite spot is further up the coast, and to get there you must park across the road, dash across the highway, cross a field of artichokes, and climb down a flight of rickety stairs 43804508 - back view of a couple taking a walk holding hands on the beachthat are just enough too tall that he must help her.

She secretly likes having him help her. Or rather, she likes that he cares enough for her that she never has to ask for his help.

They spread a blanket on the warm sand and in between her trips into the surf, they read novels aloud to each other, a page at a time.

It’s at that beach that she nearly drowns.

A rare combination of undertow and rip-tide. A moment when she has her back to the waves because he’s got the camera out and pointed at her, and just this once, she wants to be an active participant in his art.

The wave knocks her over and drags her backwards before she can surface. She is rolling in white-water and cannot track the bubbles to find which way is up. She does the one thing she has never done at the beach: she panics.

And then there are sure hands clutching at hers, strong arms pulling her back toward shore. Blindly, she lets him guide her back to the blanket, wrap her in towels, whisper soothing words into her ears.

“I’m sorry,” she says when she can breathe – when she can speak. “I was stupid.”

“Not stupid,” he says, “just not paying attention.” He smooths her wet hair away from her tan face. “You lost a braid.” The observation comes in a soft and tender voice.

They hold each other, touching forehead to forehead, until she laughs, “I finally got you into the water.”

He registers his wet sneakers and soaked khakis, and he chuckles ruefully before he swallows her laughter with his kiss.

* * *

The next time they go to the beach, he takes off his shoes and socks, rolls up his pant-legs, and lets the water tease his toes while he snaps photo after photo. She, of course, has her hair in braids.

About the author: Melissa A. Bartell

Melissa is a writer, voice actor, podcaster, itinerant musician, voracious reader, and collector of hats and rescue dogs. She is the author of The Bathtub Mermaid: Tales from the Holiday Tub. You can learn more about her on her blog, listen to her podcast, or connect with her on on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.


Photo copyright: marchibas / 123RF Stock Photo
Photo copyright: luxora / 123RF Stock Photo
Photo copyright: luckybusiness / 123RF Stock Photo

Melpomene at the Gates

Photo by Milan Surbatovic on Unsplash


Melpomene stood with her sisters at the Gates of Imagination, and waited for the Call.

Unlike the others, who could provide artistic or scientific inspiration on a whim, her gifts were reactionary. They had to be triggered. Terpsichore could tickle a baby’s foot and that child would grow up with the gift of dance. She’d done it so many times: Isadora Duncan was a favorite example. And Euterpe – she was always name-dropping. Everyone from Bach to Billy Joel had felt that sister’s Touch.

But Melpomene was the darker Muse. Her lot was to Whisper into the ears of those who had experienced tragedy, suffering, pain, and loss, and help them find the tiny spark of creativity that always managed to survive.

Her sisters worked alone. They were of the light, and their strength was found in sun and warmth, laughter and joy.

Mel (she thought of herself as ‘Mel’ – more approachable, right?) had a team. Trolls and imps and leather-winged nameless beings. They were her agents, ugly on the surface, with grotesque faces and twisted frames.

And yet, they were gentle beings, who only wished to help.

There! A photographer contemplating the way we look when we die is Visited by the imp who guides her camera. Use the light THIS way. Change the focus like THAT.

And there: a woman grieves for her miscarried fetus. The Troll she sends helps turn that tragedy into a brilliant career as a grief counselor.

But over there – Mel shuddered and Summoned her agents to her side. For this disaster, they would be her escorts. Maybe it’s a hurricane, and she would help the suddenly homeless replace places and things with fond memories, or inspire a nurse to volunteer as an aid worker. Maybe it’s a great fire, and her winged Helpers could Whisper to those who would help save animals, provide shelter, build firebreaks for their neighbors.

The Muse of tragedy Walked among the lost and the hurting, identified a need, and helped spark a solution.



Sometimes Mel got to act a little more like her sisters.

The boy who feared a neighbor’s dog and was almost hit by a car was urged to turn his fears into stories and novels.

The young woman who loved to read classic poetry became the adult who set them to music, and went farther, eventually composing haunting tunes about mummers and midnight train rides.

And the child who had the image of a strange man’s face, looking up at him from the street below, engraved upon his memory, turned that fear into an idea, a pitch, a script, and eventually a franchise about a monster who haunts your dreams.

Erato, Clio and the others were lauded for the way they Pushed their charges into music, poetry, dance, and drama.

Mel was often overlooked: The smallest sister. The one with murky moods and a quiet Otherness about her. She could be cryptic sometimes. She meant well, but her power came from the dark.

Still, tragedy struck randomly and far more often than most knew – or cared to – and when it did, Melpomene and her Darklings would be there, ready to help in their own way.

And until then?

Melpomene and her imps and trolls waited at the Gates of Imagination, watching as the other Muses came and went in light pursuits, as they remained, waiting, straining their ears to hear their Call.

Photo by Milan Surbatovic on Unsplash

About the author: Melissa A. Bartell

Melissa is a writer, voice actor, podcaster, itinerant musician, voracious reader, and collector of hats and rescue dogs. She is the author of The Bathtub Mermaid: Tales from the Holiday Tub. You can learn more about her on her blog, listen to her podcast, or connect with her on on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

My Soul to Take by Selena Taylor.

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash


When I think about my childhood dreams, I never saw this coming. I wanted normal things:  grow up , find a partner, and do something I was good at.

Apparently, collecting souls is what I’m good at.

It started roughly 70 years ago, right at the end of The Second World War. I wasn’t going home. I was shot while I was giving medical attention to a fallen brother. It all happened in a blink of an eye. I was struggling to keep the man down as I worked on his leg, then there was a sharp pain in my head, and finally I was standing next to myself.

I did cuss.

Then that man was standing next to me. He cussed too.

The passing of duties to me is all blurry but it also felt like I had always been collecting souls.  So, when the clipboard appeared I spoke his number and we turned around and walked into a light.

Time passes differently then how I perceived it when I was alive.

I am also not alone. Humans die at an alarming rate. No matter how time passes, I can not be in two places at once. So, there are a lot of us. You might say, there’s a team. We all wear the same get-up –  keeps it easy and the stories clean. We don’t have to use props, but it’s encouraged.  I tried the scythe for a while but I had a knack of knocking things over with it.

It never stops and I am not sure if this is a forever-gig. At first, I worried, but after being with so many after their deaths, I want to keep going.

I listen a lot and talk only a little. Hold them. Whatever is needed.

Hi, I’m Death, and I am here to collect your soul.

About the author, Selena Taylor

Selena TaylorSelena Taylor is a wife, a mother, and a woman who strives to tell the many stories that occupy her mind. She is active in the Rhett & Link fandom and appreciates dark humor.  She and her family live in Illinois, where she takes every opportunity to lose herself under the stars and let her imagination run wild. For more from Selena, check her out on Facebook.

One-Way Trip by Melissa A. Bartell

0199 - Mil Gracias via Facebook Flash-PromptHe’s waiting there, at the edge of the parking lot, in the spaces where flitters and aircars are parked nose-to-nose with family-sized SUV’s, the end of a cigarette between his teeth. His skin is weathered, his hat is likely as old as he his, but his eyes, faded blue – like old denim – are gentle. It shows his age, but he’s got a bolo-tie strung round the collar of his shirt.

Señor, are you the one we are meant to meet? The Helper?”

The woman holding the envelope of cash in both trembling hands can’t be more than sixteen. Maybe seventeen. But she has two little ones clinging to her cotton skirt and her eyes are ages old, and hold too much knowledge for ten lifetimes, let alone one.

He knows her type: Single mother by circumstance rather than choice. Probably from one of the remaining ranches in southwest Texas. Not that the One Earth government acknowledges ‘Texas’ as anything but a geographic reference, these days.

,” he answers, keeping his craggy voice soft and gentle. “You need to get Across, I’ll get you there, you and the wee ones, too.” He pauses, takes in her gaunt face and the way the kids’ lips are pale and cracked. “When’s the last time any of you ate?”

“We had bread with us, but the train driver took it away. The water… we could not pay.”

Of course, they couldn’t pay for water. Mag-train fountains require a credit chit. This woman has only cash money. It’s a miracle she could even get boarding passes.

“Come with me.”

He leads them through the parking lot and into an all-night diner. It isn’t anything special, but the food is hot and cheap, and most important – real. No texturized this or reconstituted that.

“Four for breakfast,” he tells the hostess. “Is Sam working today?”

“I’ll put you in her section.”

They are hustled to a booth in the back, and Sam – her glossy black hair woven into countless braids – appears within seconds. “Coffee?” It was her customary greeting.

He glances at the woman across from him. Sees her hesitant nod. “Two, with cream. And chocolate for the kids.”

“Gotcha.” She fills coffee mugs, pours hot chocolate from her other pot, leaves menus, and disappears again, though not before she admonishes him: “You know you can’t smoke in here.”

He sighs and pinches out his cigarette between a calloused finger and thumb. Then he sips from his mug of coffee.  “Protein,” he says after a beat. “The hot cakes here are amazing, but you’ll want protein to cushion your systems. I’m guessing you’ve never Flown before?” He says it with a capital-F, so they know he means a ship and not a plane.

“No señor. We have been earthbound. We never planned to leave, but the government took more and more of our ranch. Took the cows, took the children’s dog. Took my Julio, too.”

He reassesses the young woman’s age. Maybe she’s older than he thought. Yeah. More like twenty. Still, too young. Too damned young.

They order eggs and bacon and fried potatoes, and all of them eat with quiet urgency. Sam comes back once to refill mugs, and a second time with the check and four water bottles. “Kids eat free on Tuesdays,” she says, giving him a knowing look.

They all know it’s Friday, but they accept her gift.

Gracias,” the young woman whispers. “Mil gracias.”

Sam grips her shoulder briefly, a sign of encouragement. “Don’t be afraid,” the waitress says. “This one will take care of you.”

They head out the back way, climb into his truck, and take the old road out to the municipal launch pad. It’s a long trip. The kids are asleep before they’ve hit the half-way point. Their mother finally closes her eyes when they’re two hours out.

He lights another cigarette as soon as she does.

His ship is waiting, older than dirt but sound, even so – waiting in the light of false dawn. He hates to wake the sleeping family, but there’s no time for dallying. “Okay, everyone,” he puts as much energy as he can muster into his voice.  “We’re here. As soon as the ramp is down, you’ll cross the tarmac. Make sure you have everything with you.”

In the early-morning sun, the pavement is not yet hot, and you can’t tell that there are places on the ship’s hull that have been patched and re-patched over the years. The hatch opens with the press of his remote. The ramp unfolds with aching slowness, stretching toward the ground like an old man flexing his limbs first thing in the morning.

“Go on in,” he tells his sleepy passengers. “Get comfortable. I won’t be long.”

He watches the three figures scurry across the tarmac and into the ship. His ship. It’s been his life these last several years. The second pick-up truck shows up a few minutes later, parking next to him, so the driver-side windows are adjacent. The other driver is young, bright-eyed, optimistic.

“You sure about this?” The younger man’s voice is full of concern. “Never thought you’d be making a one-way trip.”

“It’s time,” the old man answers. “Long since. I got a grandkid waiting for me. Promised to take me fishing at the Underground Sea.” A faint smile flits across his leathery face. He clears his throat. “Nothing left for me here, since Hildy’s gone.”

“You’ll be missed.”


The younger man sighs. “Alright. Whatever. You got the money?”

“IDs first.”

A Manila envelope is handed from window to window, and the old man takes his time, untwisting the strings on the clasp, pulling out the documents and examining them. Three chits, each with the photo he’d provided. His own ID was legal; his departure approved months before.

“All good,” he says. He passes over the envelope of cash. “I’ll wait while you count it.”

“No need.” The younger man takes a beat. “You will be missed,” he repeats.

The old man merely inclines his head. It isn’t the time or place to argue. He cuts the engine on his truck, offers the keys across. “Take these. Give the truck to someone who needs it. Doesn’t look it, but she’s got another decade in her, easy.”

The younger man hesitates, but eventually does as he’s asked. “I promise.”

He waits for the other man, the young one, to leave before he stubs out the cigarette he’s been smoking, leaves his own vehicle, and boards the ship. His passengers are already buckled in. Their bags are stowed. Good.

“Launch prep will take twenty minutes,” he says. “Trip will take six and a half days. Once we’ve cleared Earth’s atmosphere and are cruising, you can move around. There’s food replicators. A decent head. Sonic shower. I’ve got some games and vids in the back to keep you occupied.”

He brings up the ramp while he’s talking, punches in the prep sequence for launch. The computer’s warm tones ran under his speech.

 – Oxygen mix completed. Outer hatches sealed. Inner bulkhead doors secured. –  

“Okay, any questions?”

“Just one, Señor. You know that I am Claudia, and the children are Miguel and Rosa. If we are to be with you for all this time, por favor, what is your name?”

He is startled by the question. Thirty years of running refugees across the space from Earth to Mars, and not one has ever asked for his name. Maybe she’s the one passenger who can sense the truth. This trip is different. This trip is one-way.

He’s quiet for a moment. Giving her his name is… is permanent. Real. He’ll stop being ‘The Helper’ and become a person once more. His voice cracks as he answers, “Thomas. I’m Thomas Maxwell. You can call me Tom.”

The woman – Claudia – smiles at him, and it’s like a benediction.

Mil gracias… Tom. Mil gracias.”

He looks away from the view-screen, meets her brown eyes with his own faded blue ones. “You’re very welcome, Claudia.”


About the author: Melissa A. Bartell

Melissa is a writer, voice actor, podcaster, itinerant musician, voracious reader, and collector of hats and rescue dogs. She is the author of The Bathtub Mermaid: Tales from the Holiday Tub. You can learn more about her on her blog, listen to her podcast, or connect with her on on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.